Bob Jacklin claims he was just lucky in catching a 30-inch-long, 10-pound brown trout out of the Madison River last week. That's more than a bit of an overstatement.
Jacklin is one of the best fly fishermen in Montana. He's an expert caster. He's an expert fly tyer. He's been guiding on the rivers of southwestern Montana for almost four decades.
In short, he knows the bugs, the fish and all the ways to catch them. The luck part came in his timing of the big catch.
The West Yellowstone fly shop owner happened to hook the big brown in front of a two-camera filming crew which had film rolling when the trout struck.
"I was making a DVD on fly casting with F/T Video Productions, out of Fort Collins, Colo.," Jacklin said. "We were doing a DVD that I'm putting together on fly casting for trout."
The problem was wind. Winds were blowing strong, which isn't necessarily bad for fishing. But it did make it difficult to show precise casting techniques for an instructional video.
Jacklin chose a protected spot, setting up on the Madison River between Hebgen and Quake lakes where Cabin Creek flows into the river.
Terry Wickstrom and Karen Kullhem were handling the cameras — one at river level and the other on a hill up above the river where the fly line would show up well against the dark waters of the Madison.
It was about 3 p.m. last Friday.
"I was doing a segment on the correct technique for nymph fishing with an indicator," Jacklin said. "I had a March Brown and a No. 14 Jacklin's green rock worm caddis on.
"I cast right up into a small riffle. My indicator twitched, and I struck what felt like a really big fish. I knew it was a fish because it moved a little. Then it moved around the pool a bit," he said.
"I got a glimpse of the fish down deep, and I assumed I had hooked the biggest sucker in the river. I commented it was bigger than any steelhead I caught," Jacklin said.
He fought him for about five minutes with the two cameras rolling.
"Finally, the fish comes up top, and I see it's a big brown. The head is the size of an alligator. It circled me twice," he said. "I got him in the net, but the fish was twice as big as the net.
"I don't keep any fish," Jacklin said. "But I kept this one. It's going on the wall."
It was the biggest brown trout that he'd ever heard of coming out of the Madison River — certainly the biggest since he's been haunting these waters. The terminal tackle included 4-pound Maxima ultra green tippet material and that caddis nymph pattern.
"It's nothing special, just a simple caddis worm," he said and laughed. "But I sold out the couple of dozen that I had tied when I got back to the shop."
Jacklin felt that the location of the catch played a big role in the size of that brown trout. And, he's sure there are others still in the river like it.
"There are more like that. In that stretch of the river, it's connected with Quake Lake, and I'm sure the browns grow big in that lake. This fish was a native of the Madison River, but I'm sure he came up out of Quake Lake. I'd caught them before up to 5 pounds, but in 39 years of fishing that river, I never heard of anyone catching a 10," he said.
"I think the fishing is better now for bigger fish," said Jacklin, who has been fishing the Madison since 1967. "Everybody, for years, has been catching and releasing over that period of time. They used to keep all the big fish. This fish was probably caught three or four times over its lifetime.
"But for me to catch this fish right now, it was just luck. With all the cameras rolling, it would never happen," Jacklin said. "But it did."
In addition to producing videos like the forthcoming casting DVD and a DVD that Jacklin had previously done on fly tying, Wickstrom also does two television shows — Angling Adventures and Mountain States Fishing. Footage of the catch is certainly destined to appear on those programs some time in the future.
But even at that, Jacklin had to laugh.
"We continued fishing, but I couldn't get anything more to hit except for two whitefish," he said. "That TV show is going to have the 10-pounder and just two whitefish. That's funny, but that's fishing."
Mark Henckel is the outdoor editor of The Billings Gazette. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be contacted at 657-1395 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.