On my recent trip through various parts of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, I enjoyed tangling with some big, wild bull trout. It was the first time I've caught them on purpose. Because of the sensitivity of the fishery and a promise to the person who told me about the spot(s), I'm only posting the fish pictures -- stripped of any identifying information or metadata -- and omitting anything of the scenery, or even which state I caught them in. Suffice it to say everything was legal, all the fish were released quickly and unharmed, and I had an awesome time. Most were caught on streamers with single barbless hooks. One took a stonefly nymph instead.
The first mature bull trout of the trip was also the biggest I landed, a gorgeous 22" male:
Of the other seven big bulls landed, one was 16" and the rest were 18.5-21". I hooked and lost at least as many, including some that probably would have surpassed the 22-incher.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip came when I was working on a big (about 20") bull I had spied holding under a log draped along one bank in some fast water. It had chased my streamer on the first cast without taking, and it was now sulking below the log, ignoring one fly after another. It was holding in the sun, right on the edge of a deep black shadow created by the log and the undercut bank behind it. I focused like a laser on the fish as I swung various streamers past its nose. On the first cast with one new streamer, I was watching the big fish's lack of reaction when, just inches in front of its nose, the shadows produced into the sunlight the gaping maw of a much larger fish hot on the tail of my Sculpzilla. It pursued the streamer half-way across the pool, then turned around and vanished into the darkness, never to be seen again.
I spent at least another thirty minutes there and hooked and lost the 20-incher, but there was never another hint of the monster. In my memories of the ones that got away, that giant fish's head slowly emerging from the black shadow into the bright sun will be etched in a timeless frame next to the giant rainbow I lost at the base of the former set of Edoras from the Lord of the Rings movies in New Zealand.