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To be honest, I'm still jacked up about the events of early that morning. After staying at one of the Linehans' well-appointed cabins up the Yaak the night before, I'd been heading toward Libby not long after sunrise. Coming down a gentle slope toward a creek bottom, I saw a tan flash on the left side of the road and immediately thought "deer" because of its size and color. Almost as immediately, I realized how wrong I was because the animal moved unlike any hoofed creature alive. In a flash the mountain lion loped across the road in two easy, impossibly smooth strides, towing a flowing tail that must have stretched four feet.
After the euphoria subsided I found myself emboldened in a big way. I wouldn't call myself superstitious, but how could you not feel a bit of extra juju, being on a mission such as mine and having witnessed what I just had? Wasn't there a moment there when the big cat turned its head slightly, throwing my way a fraternal nod that validated our respective positions as apex predators free to toy with the rest of the food chain as we saw fit? Yes, I think there was.
After the first couple of hours on the Kootenai, though, I've begun to realize that my brush with predatory nature was not a sign from above that I possess feral powers or, for that matter, any luck. In short, Mother Nature is kicking my ass. Many fishermen feel that significant weather changes—marked by large barometric swings, which we'd seen in spades over the past couple of days—put fish off the bite until they adjust to the new conditions, and that seems to be what's happening. After a stretch of mostly fruitless fishing, Tim ties a small, weighted nymph a couple feet below my dry fly and we still can't raise any fish—not even small ones, the kind you normally can't keep off a setup like this.
'That's telling, pal," Tim says. "The dinks should be hammering that thing. They're tight today."
By mid-afternoon I do manage to boat a couple of those dinks, along with a pair of stunning Kootenai rainbows in the 15-inch range. And near the end of the day, just a short stretch from the takeout, I get one last shot at glory.
We're in a long mini-rapid pocked with huge boulders, and Tim back-rows furiously to keep me in position as long as possible. The turbulence-encased eddies behind these rocks are notorious big-fish hangouts, and I'm slinging the sink-tip left and right, ripping a huge streamer through every eddy I can reach. From the underside of one of those boulders emerges a huge, dark form that lunges at the fly before turning on a frying-pan sized tail and disappearing back into the depths. It could probably eat every fish I've landed over the past two days for breakfast, and still have room for more.
Was it a rainbow? A bull trout? A state record of either species? I'll never know. And neither, unfortunately, will FWP prophet Ladd Knotek.
Record-seeking or not, you can have a fine time fishing with our guides.
• A Able Fishing Charters and Tours, for trips on Flathead Lake. Call 406-844-0888, or go to www.aablefishing.com.
• Linehan Outfitting Co., leading trips in northwest Montana and beyond. Call 406-295-4872 or 800-596-0034 (toll free) or go to www.fishmontana.com.