As a little girl, summertime brought my family to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Montana, where the primary pastime was fly fishing. Still today, the memories remain etched in my mind. I would sit on the rocky bank of the river, watching my father work his way upstream. He elegantly whisked his fly rod back and forth, the line barely grazing the top of the fast-flowing water. If he got lucky, an unknowing rainbow trout would mistake his fly for dinner and take a bite.
My dad famously advised anyone learning to fly fish to “pretend you’re holding a whiskey bottle under your arm. Work your rod back and forth while pretending to hold this bottle.” Now if you knew my father, you’d know him as a borderline teetotaler, not wont to indulge in the beverage. Thus he probably never actually owned said whiskey bottle, making his advice all the more humorous.
Fly fishing stories and lore intertwined into the fabric of my upbringing. I remember hearing of a handful of high mountain lakes, accessible only by off-trail hiking, that were full of large golden trout. These elusive beauties were always deemed to be the ultimate capstone of trout. As you probably can imagine, these trout remained unreachable and thus safe from our fishing rods simply because we could never get our heads around bushwhacking over mountains to reach them.
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
Just a tad closer to our flies and tippets were the yellowstone cutthroat trout. This beautiful trout is distinctive for the bright pink splash of color around its gills and down along its sides. Even though they are considered native to the Yellowstone Park watershed, they historically and naturally migrated across the continental divide from the Pacific drainage into the Atlantic drainage, specifically the Yellowstone Park area.
Only very occasionally has a cutthroat been caught by a member of my family. When we stumble upon these beauties, we immediately release them back into the waters from which they came. Since we’re usually fishing in Montana rivers or streams, per that state’s regulations, we can’t keep them anyway. With such careful management as is happening in the states whether they’re found, these gorgeous fish will continue to flourish and multiply.
One of the most captivating trout designs I’ve painted has to be the arctic grayling. Their too-big-for-their-body dorsal fin gives them a comical air. Then their thin stripe of pink along the edge of the fin is the perfect finishing touch, not unlike a hint of lipstick elevating your look from “everyday” to “evening wear”. Their little splashes of pink and random black dots remind me of a toddler playing with forbidden make-up.
The arctic grayling, while relatively common in Alaska, is quite scarce in the lower 48 states, found only in a handful of high mountain lakes in Montana. Because of this, I’m sad to say I’ve never seen one of these in person.
Ah, the rainbow trout! Possibly the most caught and most talked about type of trout in my fly fishing circle. Every time I see the gorgeous rainbow stripes running down the sides of these trout, I remember again how special these fish are. This beauty graces our eyes for only a few minutes, as I run with the catch-and-release type of fishermen. Thus, these beauties always quickly return back to the waters from whence they came. However short and sweet our encounters, they never fail to delight.
It would seem that brook trout have a bit of an identity crisis. If you live in the eastern United States, where they are under stress, you adore this fish. However, those of us in the mountainous western states don’t have quite so much appreciation. That’s because the brook trout’s ability to flourish is causing populations of native trout to decrease. No matter your level of affection, you can’t help but admit they sport a captivating pattern of yellow and red splotches on their sides. Their squiggly spots made them quite enjoyable for me to paint.
Finally the brown trout, the most spotted of all the trout I painted. I love the coloring of this beauty, with its buttery tan lower abdomen that morphs into brown higher up on the body. Brown trout originated in Europe and were transplanted to the United States in the 1880s. These behemoths run an average length of 12 to 20 inches. Although they can be found in tributaries, they prefer to hang out in bigger waters. They are wily and can be elusive, making them “the one to catch” for many anglers.
The Trout Art Collection
It was pure joy to paint this trout series. Not only do the trout themselves hold a sacred place in heart, but their habitats do as well. Some of my favorite places in the world are the clear waters of the rivers and lakes they call home. The sound of the rushing stream, the smell of lodgepole pine, the flicker of a trout flipping its tail fin above the water during the evening rise…This is where my soul lingered as I painted these beauties. And like a mantra echoing in the recesses of my soul, I heard the voice of my father saying, “Now don’t drop that whiskey bottle!”