Saturday, March 10, 2018

When the "big" one doesn't get away...

It is still about three months till mousing season will begin again in earnest.  At least here in Montana, where the lakes remain frozen over and in the hands of the ice fishermen. My yard has been covered with snow since well before Christmas. But every time I see a field mouse dash across the road in my headlights or find their tracks around the house in fresh powder I am transported back to July in my mind.  There are those hits that leave you aching for a second chance.  Those hookups that never get landed and fuel your imagination in the off season of what next year will bring. And "next year" is now closer than "last year."

Then there are those hookups where the "big" one doesn't get away.

scooping a  mouse-eating brown
Honestly, it's usually the other way for me - meaning that once a fish is in my net and illuminated by headlamp I often find it was bigger than I thought.  I'm pleasantly surprised when a fish I am fighting in the dark winds up being larger than I expected.  I don't typically find that I've misjudged upward.  Maybe it's because I just about never use an 8-weight for my daytime fishing and am thrown by the extra stoutness. Could be I'm just a conservative estimator.  But I'm also slow to react - often letting a good chunk of fight go by before I 'call' what I think the fish is.  Maybe that's cheating with regard to judging a fish, if there is such a thing.  But even then, with a heaping helping of clues, not everyone is right all the time.  So when you lose a "big" one, just how big was it?  Was it anywhere near as big as you imagined it?  Bigger even?  Who knows.  You'll never know, especially in the dark.  Who's to say you didn't snag a duck....

Several weeks ago now I was driving down a dirt two-track road in the dark after a late season deer hunt. A storm was coming.  Although the weather was calm and eerily still right then - and golden sunlight had just finished bathing the sagebrush-covered landscape in setting sun like a summer post card - it was December and snow would soon be falling. That night in fact. 

Mice were everywhere it seemed.  Scurrying and bustling in preparation.  Shooting across the tire ruts in the headlights.  They appeared to know that this could be the end - the last chance to get around from bush to bush without tunnels under the snow until spring thaw.  The fact that snow wasn't already piled over them was just good fortune on their part.

Of course I instantly thought of trout sucking them down - imagining a big whoosh of white foam when one swam out into the stream...... well, ran across the jeep trail.  They were all standard field mice.  I'd spotted about half a dozen of them in the last mile when suddenly I saw a whopper.  It was a kangaroo rat.  Twice the size of the other mice I was seeing, with a super long tail.  A very defined tuft was at the end.  It was in no hurry to escape the headlights but evaded me when I got out to take a picture.  My first thought was "Man!  I need to fish mice with longer tails!"  And then I began to imagine the monster brown that would eat this giant.  I chuckled because I figured it probably didn't matter - it'd get smacked by a 14-incher.  Which reminded me of a hot July night that'd I'd been fooled.