On a side channel on Montana's Big Horn River, there once was a downed cottonwood tree that arched out a over shallow slick. It was swept away in one of the high water years. But before the log was washed away, it created an area that anglers couldn't easily reach. There were almost always a couple very big trout rising here. Rarely did fish rise below the log where you could get a cast to them. And you couldn't get a drift from above because only about ten feet of the slick remained before it hit a steep cutbank around which the side channel's main current flowed. If you tried an approach from above, the cutbank gave you no window to cast and forced you to be so close to the fish that you would invariably put them down.
This is why there were always trout rising here. It was a very good lie! From below was your only shot. To have any chance to reach this nearly perfect lie from below required a side arm cast driving a tight loop through the arch. If all went well, you could deliver your fly under the log and four or five feet up river to the rising fish. You could screw it up in a dozen ways: hit the log, cast too short, smack your fly, get hung up on the log as your fly drifted back etc. etc. I never saw anyone fishing this spot so I could always give it a try if I needed to thoroughly frustrate myself.
On this day, a single fish was eating midges above the log. He was very big. As I maneuvered into position, I was able to get a good look at him when he rose. As he elegantly sipped the tiny midges, I could see his dark snout pierce the flat silvery light of the slick. After watching him for awhile, I was fairly certain he was a big 'bow. After another rise or two, I was convinced he was a she. Soon she rose again and I rolled my parachute Adams forward then snapped it into a backcast. I dropped into a sidearm cast, tightened my casting arc and let it rip. I bounced off the tree. I'd been here before so there was no swearing or frustration, just a mental note acknowledging my ineptitude. I waited to get back into sync with the trout’s rise rhythm, then I repeated the cast. This time I was able to zip the fly under the log's arch. The fly settled about a foot above the fish and began its drift back to me.
Like I had planned it, the big bow lunged at my fly. I struck and the line came tight. Immediately, she jumped, smacked the log and my fly popped free. She had hit the downed cottonwood trunk very hard before falling back into the river. I winced. That had to hurt! The big bow shuddered as I retrieved my slack line and then she went still. She was now merely a big silver blob floating downriver. Worried for her safety, I quickly grabbed my net. As she slowly made her way toward me, she tumbled in the current. Before long, I scooped her up in my net making certain she didn't get by.
She was big... 22 inches or so. I did not measure her. I thought she was dead. She was belly up and still. As I reached to try and revive her, she suddenly came to life. She righted herself and finned in the net. She seemed fine. I gave her ample time to show signs of injury, but with time she became more and more agitated. Soon, she began punching against the net's fine mesh. Usually, a netted fish is spent from the fight. But this big Betty has expended very little energy before finding herself trapped in the net. She was very green and on the verge of panic. I tilted the net's frame forward so she could go when she was ready. I then tapped her tail. She rocketed forward and was quickly absorbed by the shine of the silvery surface. I never saw her again.
I've caught other fish that eliminated the catching part of the equation: I’ve had trout jump and land onshore. I've jumped tarpon that hung themselves in the mangroves. And I've frighteningly had a barracuda leap in the skiff. But I’ve never had a fish knock itself out. With this 'bow there was no fight. There was no pull and only the one jump. That was it! There was no catching... just caught. If you fish long enough you see some strange stuff!