On the final day of vacation in the Black Hills, I knew it was possible. Having landed my first brook trout along with many more and discovered swarms of willing and readily biting large rainbow trout in the same lake-and-stream complex near our cabin over the week, and staked out a small tributary of Spearfish Creek with browns seemingly tucked under every bank and fallen log, all three targets were in sight. Sure, I’d caught them all over the week we had spent under perfect conditions, but the goal now was to catch all three in a single morning.
Setting out early, I knew where to start and I rolled our rental car into the lakeside campground while downing the last swig of coffee from my tumbler. It was the warmest morning of the week, and the fact that I left my light jacket at home was of no concern as I donned my vest over my T-shirt. The population of flies had grown on the foam patch on its left breast, as they dwindled on the foam lines in my fly box, a testament to the week’s activities. Tying on a copper-wired pheasant sawyer nymph, I wandered down into the valley and it wasn’t long until I had the fly dabbling in the water. Picking up the line, I rolled it out to the head of a three-foot wide pool and felt the tick-and-pull of a strike. I lifted the line up and the first brookie of the day came to hand. In no rush with one species on the board, I explored the upper creek and landed a few more before hitting the fenceline of the public area and heading back to the lake.
“One rainbow,” I thought to myself, positioning at the halfway point of the 10-acre flowage where my brother and I had caught so many in that 15-to-20-inch range throughout the week, as I didn’t want to get lost in the fast morning action that had been the highlight of our vacation.
The green-and-pink giants were surfacing on the hatching midges in between those surface spaces where the sunlight was beginning to peak through the shoreline trees, and I snapped off the nymph in favor of the X-caddis pattern with its trailing Antron shuck, which had worked so well throughout our trip. A sizeable swirl about 15 yards out from shore was my target and I dropped the fly in the fading ripples.
With a resounding “shoomp!” of a take, the surface boiled under my tippet and I set the hook. Playing the fish quickly, I netted the large silver-sided rainbow and snapped a picture before releasing it back into the lake as I had done with the dozens of others we had caught throughout the trip. I had two of three fish on the board, and still enough time to ply the creek downstream from the little dam that created the fishery. There, I’d find another rainbow that had flushed from the lake and a number of smaller brookies, until setting the hook in the final bend on a red-bellied fish that made the stream explode with its runs and jumps through a corner pool. At around 10 inches, it was my biggest brook trout of the trip and a great way to cap off the early-morning run.
With just a brown trout left to catch and about an hour and a half left in my morning, I made my way up to the parking lot, loaded a water bottle for the ride from the gallon jug in back and headed back toward town to make the 15-mile jump across the ridge and down into the little valley which I’d hoped would be loaded with those fish as it was earlier in the week. Arriving at the public fishing turnoff, I hopped out of the car and went back to a nymph. This time, a standard pheasant tail was my go-to, as it was heavy enough to get down to fish in the deeper pools, but still natural looking enough.
I went pool hopping down the stream, casting and drifting my offering in all the likely haunts where we had seen and caught the tight-quartered brown trout a few days earlier. I missed a quick take in the second spot and lost the fly on an errant cast into a pine tree. Retying a smaller version, I moved on and began watching the minute hand move on my watch, placing a sense of pressure on the tail end of the trifecta. I began to hit each pool harder, and as the clock ticked closer to 9:30 a.m., I began to feel that getting all three fish would likely not be in the cards for the day and require another attempt next year or at some other time down the road. Fishing the final pool available in my quickly-cramping timeline, I snagged on a sunken rock and broke off the nymph and checked the clock — it was time to go. Disappointed, I tied on a bead-head zebra nymph simply to hook into the cork handle and hold the line in place. I resigned myself to the fact that I was out of time and would have to keep the project on my bucket list for a future outing. Even without the brown, it had been a good morning, but that fact didn’t temper my disappointment much.
I headed up to the small road and began the trek back to the car, a bit dejected. As I came down the two-wheel track into the primitive campground, I looked over at the small pool where I had started. It was what you’d expect the perfect small stream spot to be, with fast water meeting slow, an eddy along a mat of green weeds on one shore and an undercut bank on the far side. I was amazed I hadn’t pulled a brown in my first attempts in the spot. The idea crept into my head that I may never get back to try for the feat again, so I paused on the edge of the grass and took a step toward the creek.
“What the heck, a couple more casts won’t get me that far off schedule,” I figured as I loosened the black beadhead fly — which has always been a go-to for me on the stocked and wild browns I had fished everywhere before — and roll-casted it into the stream.
I wouldn’t need any follow-ups.
The line jerked straight along the near bank and a brown trout — big for its small environs — rocketed out from under the cover of his weedy home and took to the air before splashing down and running under the far bank. I brought it back to shore and hand-landed it, my spirits lifted to the top of the bordering canyon hills by the black-and-red spots running up and down the fish’s sides. There it was, thanks to a final stop and that classic “one more cast” scenario, the third fish in my morning trifecta. With a quick photo and a release, the trout was back under its green ceiling in the small creek and I took off toward the car with a spring in my step and another amazing outing where everything came together, and there’d be no more waiting for another shot … in our outdoors.