The Brown That Survived the Quake

August 30 & 31, 2011
The 7.5 earthquake that created Quake Lake on the Madison River in Montana occurred on August 17, 1959. There are certainly no brown trout still alive since that famous quake, but there’s a few that would make you wonder. Four years ago my friend Bob Jacklin, a well known angler, fly shop owner and resident of West Yellowstone caught the biggest brown of his life. The brown trout was 32 inches and 10lbs and was one mile upstream from where the Madison dumps into Quake Lake. There are big ones in there. They’ve lived there a long time. Although not nearly as big as Bob’s, today was Granny’s and my turn to catch a special one.

I’ve been fishing like a mad man of late and had no business fishing again especially after a week in Heart Lake. But Granny’s been working while I was playing and Tuesday and Wednesday are her days off. It’s my job to get Granny into some nice fishing and camping on her days off. This week she chose to go to Quake Lake in Montana. Its one of her favorites – mine too actually. We love the way the lake looks with all its dead trees that have been sticking out of the lake for more than 50 years. These trees make it kind of creepy and you wonder what lives below. Furthermore, there’s a buried campground down deep in the lake. A campground that was full of people that didn’t survive the quake. Pretty unreal when you think about floating around on top these days trying to fool big trout.

We weren’t in a rush to get to the lake Tuesday. We had the evening hatch in mind and the morning hatch for today. You can fish all day at Quake hatch or not. If the bugs aren’t on the water I hand crawl nymphs or strip leeches. But after my last day on Heart Lake Sunday, all I wanted to do is fish dries to gulpers.

We arrived at Quake Tuesday at 2 PM. Although hot and beautiful, it was so windy that we didn’t launch the boat. We just sat in the boat while it was still on the trailer and ate lunch and relaxed. Then at 4 the wind dropped just enough that we could go for it. I motored us up to the most sheltered end and tied us up to a protruding tree and we waited for rises. Rises came few and far between and the wind picked up again. We laid out the occasional cast with my favorite lake dry fly, the ant and let it sit for long periods of time. Twice we had a fish eat the pattern but naturally it was after one of those long periods and we weren’t paying attention. The truth is we both missed two fish.

At 7 a serious riser began. He was a long cast away but with the wind still honking it was easier to try the long cast rather than move. Granny assigned the duty to me and I lucked the ant to the right spot. The second it hit the water the trout was on. I landed a very nice brown for this lake. He was a solid 17 inches, not by any means huge but with all these trees and debris below, any fish you land over 15 inches is an accomplishment. Almost all the big fish break you off on tree branches deep down.

The wind never stopped yesterday and although we fished till black dark it was a struggle. We landed a mere four fish. Three browns and a rainbow. It was one of the slowest days ever on Quake for us. Granny made us a good dinner and we were asleep by 11 PM.

Today we awoke to a major thunderstorm pounding us in the truck. The rain was heavy and lightening was incredible. I looked at the clock and the time was 6 AM. While one would think we were screwed, way off in the Montana sky I saw a line of blue sky and it was coming our way. At 8:30 I was bailing the rainwater out of the boat under a glimmer of sunshine and fog and we launched onto a calm Quake Lake.

With Quake Lake mirror calm we could go anywhere. As we sipped our coffee we putted up to where Cabin Creek dumps in. Along the way I spotted many rising trout. I made mental note of the biggest trout I saw and exactly where they were. After a drive completely up to where the Madison River dumps in and our coffees were done, we went back to target some of the big boy trout I spotted along the way.

Let’s just say they weren’t as easy to catch as we expected. The first pod of fish were rising along the bank circling in and out of a thick weed bed. There were a few trees around but we had plenty of room to cast. I had Granny toss out my black ant but after showing the pattern to four different fish, two which swam right to it and refused it, we had to change. And change again and again and again until I had no idea what to throw. That’s when Granny tied on an ancient pattern called a Mattress Thrasher. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about her choice but why not. Sure enough, the first fish she cast to ate it and she landed some ugly poor rainbow that had previously escaped the talons of an eagle or osprey. Granny went on to catch about five nice bows on that fly.

The big trout of the day however would have nothing to do with the Mattress Thrasher. He and his buddies were eating small stuff. They were way too smart for a big ridiculous fly and Granny’s first cast to them proved that when they all left the area and didn’t return to for an hour. When they returned is when I went back to my ant, not just an ant, but rather a size 18 cinnamon ant. At first I had Granny fish while I rowed, but she didn’t like the small fly and had trouble seeing it. So I took over and immediately landed about a 16” rainbow. There was chance that this was a good fly. Then I landed another and another. Way back against the bank in literally a foot of water a fish was still feeding. On occasion it was apparent he was eating other fish just because of the charging wake he made right to the edge of shore. I was tempted to launch a Double Bunny but stuck with the ant. I’m glad I did because I got it right in front of him and his enormous beak nose cleared the water and ate it.

Always remember the bigger the trout is that eats your dry fly the longer you need to wait. In New Zealand, the land of giant trout, when they eat your dry fly you say “God save the Queen” then strike. It’s just long enough for those huge trout to close down. And if you fly is tiny say it twice. Somehow I had the composure to say it three times and I hooked and landed this huge brown. During the entire event Granny and I were a bit shocked and the experience was kind of a blur. We didn’t weigh the massive brown nor measure him, not even on my rod. I simply tailed him, took my fly out and asked Granny to take some shots. Both of us were nearly shaking. The brown was big. He must be old yet in marvelous shape and all I wanted to do was watch him swim away. The process went as planned and I guarantee this fish of a lifetime is cruising and eating as I type. Cool day on Quake Lake!

The big trout of the day however would have nothing to do with the Mattress Thrasher. He and his buddies were eating small stuff. They were way too smart for a big ridiculous fly and Granny’s first cast to them proved that when they all left the area and didn’t return to for an hour. When they returned is when I went back to my ant, not just an ant, but rather a size 18 cinnamon ant. At first I had Granny fish while I rowed, but she didn’t like the small fly and had trouble seeing it. So I took over and immediately landed about a 16” rainbow. There was chance that this was a good fly. Then I landed another and another. Way back against the bank in literally a foot of water a fish was still feeding. On occasion it was apparent he was eating other fish just because of the charging wake he made right to the edge of shore. I was tempted to launch a Double Bunny but stuck with the ant. I’m glad I did because I got it right in front of him and his enormous beak nose cleared the water and ate it. Always remember the bigger the trout is that eats your dry fly the longer you need to wait. In New Zealand, the land of giant trout, when they eat your dry fly you say “God save the Queen” then strike. It’s just long enough for those huge trout to close down. And if you fly is tiny say it twice. Somehow I had the composure to say it three times and I hooked and landed this huge brown. During the entire event Granny and I were a bit shocked and the experience was kind of a blur. We didn’t weigh the massive brown nor measure him, not even on my rod. I simply tailed him, took my fly out and asked Granny to take some shots. Both of us were nearly shaking. The brown was big. He must be old yet in marvelous shape and all I wanted to do was watch him swim away. The process went as planned and I guarantee this fish of a lifetime is cruising and eating as I type. Cool day on Quake Lake!

The big trout of the day however would have nothing to do with the Mattress Thrasher. He and his buddies were eating small stuff. They were way too smart for a big ridiculous fly and Granny’s first cast to them proved that when they all left the area and didn’t return to for an hour. When they returned is when I went back to my ant, not just an ant, but rather a size 18 cinnamon ant. At first I had Granny fish while I rowed, but she didn’t like the small fly and had trouble seeing it. So I took over and immediately landed about a 16” rainbow. There was chance that this was a good fly. Then I landed another and another. Way back against the bank in literally a foot of water a fish was still feeding. On occasion it was apparent he was eating other fish just because of the charging wake he made right to the edge of shore. I was tempted to launch a Double Bunny but stuck with the ant. I’m glad I did because I got it right in front of him and his enormous beak nose cleared the water and ate it. Always remember the bigger the trout is that eats your dry fly the longer you need to wait. In New Zealand, the land of giant trout, when they eat your dry fly you say “God save



4 Responses to “The Brown That Survived the Quake”

  1. Erik Moncada September 4, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    WOW! Excellant Brown Trout!!! Massive! And Quake Lake looks very eldritch… and eldritch is a cool word. It must of been nice to see that big brown swim away.

  2. Jeff Currier - Global Fly Fishing September 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    He was pretty spectacular. I wish I measured him and I wish I jumped in with him for better pics! It all happened so fast. JEFF

  3. Anonymous September 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Christ that is a beautiful fish. Kudos to Granny for not thowing your butt over board…see you in 1 1/2 weeks. Mark R

  4. Sam September 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Great fish Jeff…holy cow that’s a monster.

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