Resident (non-monster) Bull Trout, photo from US Fish and Wildlife.

It takes a bit of time on the stream to appreciate the coloration of trout.  In settings friendly to the human conventions of vision, above water or close to it, the collections of spots and faded colors can seem unimaginative (cutthroat), or perhaps merely pretty (brookie).  Once you’ve spent hours upon hours peering into the confounding depths of clear water moving fast over rocks and gravel, the appearance of trout makes perfect sense.

For my money, bull trout are the most beautiful fish in the Crown of the Continent.  It’s a delightful trick that the darkest of native fish are best suited and most thoroughly adapted to the clearest of clear streams.  Transparency provides the deepest shadows.  They’re called the river grizz for both their insatiable (skip to 0:48) and omnivorous appetite, as well as their sensitivity to habitat degradation.  In one of my favorite streams I catch a bull trout, usually little ones, for every three or four cutts.  Perfectly legal, though I always make a more particular effort than usual to get them back in the water as quickly and gently as possible, ergo my lack of any photos.  I do it out of proper reverence.  On average they fight a lot harder than the cutts with whom they share this particular stream, which makes my job more difficult.

I’m far from the only fly fisher in this part of the state with a mixed, conflicted, even contradictory attitude towards bull trout fishing.  Catch and release is religion here, but that faith is firmly grounded in the service of human wants.  The desire to fish for the top trout mirrors the paradox which underlies the human relationship with wild wilderness; to appreciate something for which we have so deep an affinity we want to better understand it, knowing all the while that if too many others were to do the same the possibility of anyone doing so would soon cease to exist.  The bull trout, like the grizz, are concrete evidence that this possibility still exists, their life being tied to consequential blocks of wild habitat.  So we seize on them as a connection with that part of the world we’re worried will be destroyed by the violent act of seeking intimacy.

There doesn’t appear to be any solution, other than to pay attention and be careful.