The trek draws to a close: Four men, 13 Mustangs and more than 3,000 miles.
I’d rather fly fish than just about anything in life—with the exception being exploring new country horseback—but I think that the two go well together. The best trout streams are at least a couple miles off the nearest road and the best way to travel through mountains, where the trout live, is horseback. Sure there are a lot of trout next to rivers with highways on the banks, stocked trout in ponds, or big trout in lakes. But trout fishing really isn’t about the trout, it’s the experience of getting to water that doesn’t get fished, casting a fly to a fish that hasn’t ever seen one, and having the bustling world stop and focus on your line.
On my birthday, August 8, we traveled about 18 miles of mountain passes, meadows, and cliffs in the Madison Range East of Ennis, Montana, to a high mountain lake reflecting snow-clad peaks above. One of those mountain lakes where you can attempt to describe its beauty or take a representative picture but you just can’t do it justice. We broke camp quickly because trout were jumping out of the water across the glass lake with a layer of bustling bugs just above the surface. Keep it classic, size-16 Parachute Adams fly.
The fishing was easy and the trout were hungry. My picket horse, Luke, was dirty and watching us catch one trout after another. He stopped eating after a while and I just couldn’t help but saddle him and try to catch a trout a-horseback. Luke is a great horse and you can do just about anything on him, open a map, take a nap, etc… and he’s rock solid. His one vice is that he’s buddy bound and can get kind of worked up when he’s not with his pals.
I put the rod in my teeth, traveled around the lake to where a sandbar jutted into the water, and directed Luke to head in. He went in to the lake without much coaxing and I pointed him towards the center to get more area behind me for a backcast. Another horse whinnied and Luke decided he’d rather be with his friends and out of a lake so we struggled to get our missions in alignment and during that struggle he slipped on a rock and went face first into the lake, falling so far my saddle horn almost got wet. I couldn’t stop laughing, almost bit through my rod, but it had a calming effect on Luke who looked like a cat that finally submits to taking a bath and just stood to get it over with faster. Excellent time to begin casting.
Trout were rising all around me and I positioned Luke towards a spot where a bigger fish kept striking the surface. Holding the reins in my teeth I let out line, wished I had a strip basket, and watched the coils go under his belly. After false casting for a couple repetitions Luke got acclimatized to the whirring above his head, relaxed and watched the neon green line swirl above him. Three or four casts later I got into the rhythm, let out enough line, and watched my Adams fly land in the same spot a trout rose just moments before. Two seconds didn’t go by and a ten-inch trout catapulted out of the air, fly in mouth! I set the hook and the fight was on. Normally on a small fish I would just bring it in by stripping in line, but the more line I stripped in the more line went under Luke, and I knew that would be a big wreck if he got tangled. Pulling back on the reins with my teeth, I managed to reel in the fish to within 15 feet before I couldn’t go any further because I couldn’t stop laughing. The trout was swimming back and forth in front of Luke and he was following the fish with his head like a cat watching a toy swing on a string. I let him follow the trout for a while before bringing it closer, lifting it out of the water, and holding it in front of Luke’s head with my rod. Luke looked cross-eyed at the flopping fish in front of his face and followed it as I brought it over his head and into my hands. That is a broke horse!
I’d like to say that we had a trout feast that night but after I unhooked it, it slipped through my fingers and back into the lake before I could get it into my saddlebags.
I was pretty proud of my horse for standing in a lake with fly line zooming over his head. These horses have come a long way, both in distance and in mindset. I’m giving Luke to the Mustang Heritage Foundation for them to auction off at the Mustang Million Contest in Fort Worth, Texas, on September 21. Money raised will go towards Mustang adoptions. If you want a great broke horse that has seen just about everything the wild can throw at a trail horse, come take a look at him.
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