Lured from Above

Life and (nearly) death in a trout stream.

It was mid-June along a mountain stream in southwest Montana. A rainbow trout rose to the surface and swallowed another pale morning dun, as she had over 50 times already that morning. The trout swam back to the safety of the stream bottom to survey the world above, then she rose again to eat another PMD.

This time though, when she bit down, there was a strange resistance. Immediately she dove for the bottom, away from the unusual sensation she'd encountered on the water’s surface. As the trout tried to escape, the pressure increased. To counter this, she swam hard for the surface and broke through in a spectacular leap. Earlier in the spring this maneuver had helped her get away from a mink; with the splash diverting its attention, the trout swam for cover in a nearby muskrat hole. The tactic didn’t seem to work, so she tried it a second time, cartwheeling above the water’s surface. Quickly the rainbow dove for the bottom trying to escape this unknown force.

The fish was getting tired as the pressure persisted. As she moved toward the edge of the stream, she noticed that she was being pulled toward a large animal. Immediately, she dove for the bottom again. Again the resistance increased as the rainbow was towed toward the animal. Once more she attempted to dive for the security of the stream bottom.

But it was to no avail. This time, as she was moved toward the animal, the trout was engulfed in a wet stranglehold and taken from her watery world. She was tired, confused, and struggled in this strange environment, fighting for her life.

Then the trout was placed back into the stream. Feeling the grip loosen around her, she darted for the muskrat hole that had served as her sanctuary before. There, she attempted to gather herself. After some minutes the rainbow was rested yet still uncertain about what had happened.

As the rainbow trout peered out into her underwater home, dozens of Ephemerella duns passed overhead. It seemed safe, and there was just too much food floating by. So, cautiously, she rose to the surface as she had over 50 times already that morning.

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