The Legend of The Yellow Bellied Mattress Thrasher

The very first time that we fished together, a while before we became partners in a guide service business, was the spring of 2000. We did an early May float on the Blackfoot River, and while the weather was great, the river conditions were not; it was off color with run-off and the fish were likely to be in a grumpy mood. But we'd planned the day, the cooler was full of beer, so off we went.

We enjoyed the curving westward roads over the Continental Divide out of Helena, cruising down the Little Blackfoot Valley before we swung north up the Nevada Creek Valley and toward the hub of the Blackfoot Valley, Ovando. A few more miles down the road brought us to the river where we pushed the raft down the long hill at the Clearwater Junction launch site, and after shuttling a few trips worth of rods and other gear we finally had our act together and we're ready to roll. The water where the muddy Blackfoot and the gin clear Clearwater came together beside the boat highlighted just how dirty the main river was, and got us thinking this might not be much of a catching trip, just a fishing trip.

Pat claimed the front angler seat and made a big production of selecting and tying on a streamer that he swore would catch fish regardless of conditions; the yellow-bellied mattress thrasher. This fly was a neon yellow streamer pattern that had big dumbbell eyes, a long strip of bunny fur and lots of rubber legs and other flashy materials. Not a traditional fly pattern to say the least, but it did look edible.

Before Garrett had even pulled the anchor and set the boat adrift, Pat rollcast that big, gaudy streamer into the river, right on the color line where the two rivers came together and twitched it once. What happened after that we'll never forget. The bottom of the river rose up, turned into a great big bull trout, and devoured the yellow bellied mattress thrasher just below the surface like it had been waiting for one all week. It was a most memorable trout, and the only fish we boated that day.

After our float we stopped at Trixie's Saloon - probably the most classic western bar in world - cracked a cold beer to celebrate the day, and Pat hung that fly in the bar rafters to memorialize the outing. We have since spent many, many more days on the water together and fortunately had much more productive fishing too (we are fishing guides mind you, we have to prove our salt periodically), but that day, that fish and that fly are some of the most memorable one's in our fishing careers.        

Garrett Munson and Pat Straub