Living in Southwest Montana, physically getting to the water can be the hardest part of winter fishing, but when the chinook winds show up in mid-January and start raising the mercury it’s time to get out.

We got to the river after post-holing down from the highway and started with streamers. After just a few casts the line went tight, and there he was. Big esox style head-shakes and obvious weight, but he gave into the net unremarkably. My buddy Jeremy scooped him up chanting “dude” repeatedly with alternating emphasis, an exclamation to question. We snapped phone pics and recorded the release but got him home quickly.

He was pretty beat up missing part of his right gill plate, a few large discolored marks on his body, a tail that had clearly been digging and though it was healing it didn’t look good. His giant deformed snout and head were so misshaped, it looked like someone had used him like battering ram as his teeth were literally spilling out of the side of his mouth. Such a unique fish.

He swam away strong but it’s a bittersweet feeling catching an old soldier. You’re not doing them any favors and are more likely a nail in the coffin. So, when Jeremy and I went back in mid-February, with our friend and local photographer, Wesley White, we definitely were not expecting to see the old man again much less completely healed and packing on pounds, He ate a Galloup’s Flank-Back Creature the first time and absolutely annihilated a Peanut Envy the second. Here’s to Catch and Release.

Charlie Gordon is a Montana angler who loves roping in huge brown trout! Check him out on Instagram @buffshoals!

Photos courtesy of Charlie Gordon and Wesley White.

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