There's a Full Moon Tonight

By Joel La Follette

The full moon has gotten a bad rap.

Just ask any cop or emergency room doctor: weird things happen on a full moon. All sorts of childhood goblins have been centered on that time of the month when the moon is full. Many of those superstitions have been carried over into our adulthood. We fishermen for instance will plan trips so they don't fall on a full moon. Of course we base our plans on scientific knowledge concerning the feeding, mating or migrating habits of our quarry during a full moon. It's still bunk. We just don't want to be out among the wild things when the moon is full. You never know what will happen.

So when I glanced at the calendar and noticed that the spring break trip my wife Kellie and I had planned fell on a full moon, I wrote off the possibility of any world-class fishing and packed a couple books. A vacation is for rebuilding and refreshing spirit, and I was due. I would surely spend a few hours each day working on my casting for an upcoming bonefish trip, but this would not be a dawn till dark fishing marathon. I would pace myself--a skill I have learned with age.

We arrived at our retreat around lunchtime and Kellie made me a sandwich while I sorted through our gear and put together a few fly rods. She was amazed at the slow pace I had set and asked if I felt all right. I assured her I was fine and that I was on vacation and in no hurry to get to the river. It would still be there later. I continued working on the gear while Kellie took a short nap.

The Metolius River is a spring creek. It emerges almost full size from the base of Black Butte in central Oregon. It is home to rainbow, brown, brook and bull Trout, as well as whitefish and migrating kokanee. At one time salmon and steelhead swam in its cold clear waters, returning from the sea to spawn. They where unable to adjust to the changes caused by the completion of a dam on the Deschutes River, into which the Metolius flows. The runs where allowed to become extinct. Efforts are now underway some 40 years later to revive some of those populations.

The bull trout of the Metolius have always had a special place in my heart. They are the survivors of a species that in many parts of the west have disappeared. Here they thrive in the clean waters of the Metolius. They are indicators of a clean watershed and are the first to signal problems of water quality. For many years a bounty was placed on their heads due to their reputation of dining on other species of trout, their favorite being the stupid trout flowing from the pipe attached to the hatchery truck. I guess since tax dollars where paying for those fish, throwing a few more bucks at the problem was easy. The mentality of those days is hard to understand, but we have come a long way. The Metolius is now managed for wild trout and is strictly catch and release fly-fishing. Wild rainbows are coming back and have learned to survive even with the bull trout.

Afternoon turned into evening. I had caught four nice bull trout from 2 to 5 lbs. The first, a big fish, took a size 18 Copper John. On my Winston five-weight it was a battle for sure, but one that was soon won. We always carry a large catch-and-release net when fishing for the bulls, and Kellie is getting much better at its use. Although many anglers joke at such a big net on a small river, it does make landing and releasing large fish much easier. Playing a fish to the limits is hard on fish.

The following morning I headed out to the river at daybreak while Kellie caught a few extra winks. She was moving, but it was a slower pace. Much like the one I had set the day before. I was motivated after the evening's fishing to see if the full moon had adversely affected the mood of the bull trout. The moon still hung in the sky and could be seen to the left of old Broken Top, a peak named for it ragged silhouette. Several hours later I had nothing to show for my efforts and retreated to the weathered wooden chairs where Kellie now sat reading a book in the sun.

From my new perch I could see movement in the stream below. There looked to be three trout holding in the current. I grabbed my rod and tied on a stonefly nymph with a red Serendipity trailing off the back. One cast and my line stopped as a trout broke for freedom. To my left a patch of boulders offered protection, and there he went, my fly line trailing behind. I stepped into the water to see if I could clear the line that now seemed to be lodged in the rocks. Kellie had lain down her book and taken station downstream, our net in hand. We were both just a few feet from the bank and about six feet from each other.

I could now see the trout clearly on the bottom of the river. He seemed to be jammed under a rock, his white belly pointed to the sky. Then the rock moved. I could now see the gray head of a bull trout with my poor trout firmly in his jaws. I kept the pressure on and the giant fish only seemed to be more determined to hold on to his meal. Meanwhile Kellie stood ready to net whatever I slid her way. The battle grew closer and now Kellie could see both fish. Before we knew what was happening the bull trout released his grip and the rainbow skittered across the surface toward me. Meanwhile the Bull trout circled behind Kellie and came up between her and the bank in a last attempt at his lunch. He made a final lunge at the trout dangling from my line, but spotted me at the last second. Panicked now, he turned and bolted, swimming directly into Kellie's net. She as surprised as he.

After much laughter and a few photos both fish where released. I gave the rainbow a bit of a head start and he seemed to be in a hurry to leave the area. Can't say that I blame him, after all there's a full moon tonight and the wild things are out.