The Story of Captain Black

The non-black side of Captain Black

I can’t honestly say that I have had a personal relationship with any trout that I have caught. Each one seems a small miracle to me, both in that I was able to catch it, and in its iridescent beauty. For the moment that I hold it, extract my fly and then release it back to river I am completely absorbed with it and grateful for the connection, but they remain somewhat anonymous even if I give them nicknames for the day: feisty fish, legit fish, hog, pig, sweet little thing…

However, there is also Captain Black. Captain Black is an 18” Cutthroat Trout (Bonneville?) that lives in a particularly deep hole in the Smith’s Fork River. He (I call him a he, but really I don’t know) hangs out in the pole position for insects that are carried down the rapids at the head of his hole. There are a bunch of smaller fish who hang behind him and get what he doesn’t want, I call them his wingmen. But he is clearly in charge, the Captain. The rest of his name is simply because half of his fish face is black. I’ve never seen this on any fish, a google search didn’t tell me why this might happen. He is unique, recognizable, fast, hungry and strong. In a river of anonymity, Captain Black can’t hide.

I haven’t caught Captain Black, but my husband has. He was on a summer fishing expedition and sent me a photo of a sizable cutthroat with a weird, kind of creepy, half black face. It wasn’t the biggest fish or the most exciting to catch, just one of many fish stories from the trip. He didn’t bother to name him. When we found ourselves back at that section of river a few weeks later and saw the flash of black as a fish looked at, and turned away from, my fly, we realized it was the same fella. I got to know him pretty well that day (well enough to give him a name, a posse and a back story…). I figured out what he liked to eat, I caught his wingmen, I left him alone for a while and came back for another try. He is one deliberate fish. What he decided he wanted, finally and totally, was a small pink hopper. I had him on the line! I was catching Captain Black! Until I wasn’t, and he had taken off with that little fly and I was left evaluating which mistake was the one that mattered.

Back at the truck we sat on the tailgate, drank beers and reflected on the day. Inevitably there was talk about the one that got away. This was different, though, because it wasn’t any fish, it was Captain Black. I was a little bit heartbroken, a little bit guilt-ridden (despite barbless hooks) and a whole lot respectful of my new acquaintance. Maybe I’ll go back and try again, maybe he will still be there. Of all the fish I haven’t caught, he is the only one I think of.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA