Hunting a Mythical Bow

My good friend, John Beth, has provided jus with a great story of a big rainbow that eluded him all season, until only a few days before the end of this year’s inland fishing season.  It is a great story of the Angler as Predator–predators are persistent, and this is certainly a tale of persistence.


This story started in the early spring this year – when it was already 80+ degrees in March and continued at least once a month, all summer. It concluded on the Thursday just before the end of the inland season. It played out on a spring creek in SW Wisconsin where I, and other friends, have been catching and releasing trout for decades.

Early in the spring, my fishing buddy, Doc Zavadsky, saw a couple of very large rainbows circling a pool – it was a pool that was perhaps the largest and deepest in the creek – formed below the junction of two streams. That’s where these rainbows lived – right where big fish should be. The funniest thing was – the big trout would make several circles around the long, large pool right it the middle of the day – high noon, more or less. Then, they would suddenly disappear.

For seven months – I fished this pool at least once every month, and on almost every occasion – I’d see the two big rainbows. I even caught the “smaller” of the two, but the larger one eluded me. Like a mythical beast of days long since gone, it seemed more a “presence” than a real fish.

And now, the season’s end was at hand–autumn came early this year—and the hillsides were brilliant. The fishing, however, had been slow. I walked to the pool around 10:30 am, just about the time Doc was leaving.  “Any sign of the big one”? I asked. “Nope, I didn’t see anything,” he replied. Doc had decided to head upstream, while I went down. Since the day had been so very slow, I decided, if nothing else, I’d finish out the season fishing the way I wanted to. I tied on a size 8, baby Bunyan Bug, my connection to the past. Perhaps, it might pass for a hopper, or at least something the fish hadn’t seen all year.

The morning wore on, and nothing much looked at the Bunyan Bug. It was approaching high noon, and I knew what that meant–maybe.

I worked back to the big pool. From the fast, plunging riffle at the top to the long slow flat at the end, I cast and drifted the Bug, over and over.  Then, I noticed it was 12:00.

Suddenly, at the end of a long drift, when the fly had become almost motionless, I saw a long shadow a few feet down and below my Bug. The shadowy form never moved. My bug sat there, and so did the shadow. A couple more drifts and still the shadow never moved. On the next cast, the shadow was gone.

I let the little Bunyan Bug slowly drift to the end of the pool. “Okay, so that was a fish” I reasoned. “Was it the big one?” On the next long cast across the pool, the fly again eased to the lazy end of the drift where the current barely moved. This time, I saw the big rainbow, now just 8″ under the surface and downstream from my fly; the overhead sun erased all doubt about what that shadow had been.

Then came the slowest “take” in my fly fishing memory. The fish would move forward and up about 1 inch at a time. The fly would ease downstream about an inch. Then it was the fish’s turn to move up and forward another inch. This went on for several more “increments”; certainly this took at least an hour—or so it seemed.  The big rainbow and the Bunyan Bug were closing in on each other; the fish was 1 inch under the surface, and now only 6 inches down stream from the fly. When the fly almost stopped the fish was only 2″ from it. I “ticked” my line and sent one tiny “kick” out to the bug. From 35 feet away I watched the huge rainbow lifted it’s head, and without so much as making a ripple or a ring, “eased” the fly into her lips.

It was a rare occasion for me because I didn’t “rip” the fly away–as my heart rate would have suggested I should. I lifted the rod tip and felt the dead weigh, but only for a second. She ran the length of the pool, prompting my century old reel to rasp hoarsely, and my silk line to flash dance through the guides of the old 6′ cane rod. The rainbow jumped her way to the deep end of the upstream plunge pool. After about 3 minutes (and 7 months) I worked her to the shallows. She was 25″ long. After a couple of quick photos, followed by a little revival time, she swam briskly back to the depths of the pool.

The day ended with me washing and drying my silk line, while setting atop a favorite log. The sound of the stream blocked out everything else in the world as I sat thinking about the day’s events, and the many years and memories before it.  The little stream had provided many memorably trips for me, but perhaps this was the best hunting trip ever.

The big bow sipped the baby Bunyan Bug so delicately it didn’t even leave a ring on the water.

The big bow as 1/3 the length of the o;d cane rod.

The log of contemplation where I relive many memories of rivers past.



  1. Theo Bakelaar says:

    Gary……in some dream I fish with you in those nice streams …..but when I wake up ‘ There is no stream no beautifyl Rainbow no water nothing ” Than I found out that I’am in Holland – without such a great streams and fish. YOU MUST BE A VERY LUCKY MAN. Cheers Theo

  2. John Beth says:

    Thanks Gary… Great to relive the story once again. I’m sure many of your readers have their stories too.. I’ve always believed that stream trout are for anglers…but the big ones.. are for hunters. JB