The answer lies waiting in cold, clear water.

Shadows lengthen. My long-submerged legs, clad only in shorts, have gone blue with cold. A warming campfire beckons.

But not just yet. A twilight caddis-fly hatch has erupted, and the local lunkers suddenly rise everywhere, some leaping high and smacking the water as loud as beaver tails. Others expose only their lips to daintily vacuum the tiny mothish morsels from the polished surface. Ripples spread concentrically outward, like well-lived lives.

It will soon be too dark to fish, so with a sense of urgency I bite off my nonproductive Parachute Adams and lash on a #16 elk hair caddis. Using a nearby rise-ring as a target, I lay one out and hit the bull’s eye.

All is quiet as tense moments pass, then, kersplash/The water explodes as the lure is hauled violently under. I instantly raise my rod and set the hook. The trout sounds and runs deep and long; the scream of my reel is music to my ears.

Moments before, I was languid and freezing, but now my heart is dancing, my pulse jackhammering in my ears, all discomfort forgotten. By God, we’re alive, this fish and me!

After 30 yards, the brute abruptly ends its run and lies there, sullen as a boat anchor. I allow my opponent to rest, then apply slow pressure, regaining a few feet of line. This sends the trout into another run, only slightly less impressive than the first. And so goes the happy battle, back and forth as we play an ancient game.

In good time the fish begins to acquiesce, allowing me to work it closer, until at last I get a good look in the gathering dusk. It’s a cuttbow, loveliest trout of them all, a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid streaked hot-pink from cheeks to tail. And as big as–well, we like to pretend that doesn’t matter.

Rushing to release it, I reach into the water and slide both hands beneath the docile creature. As one hand gently encircles the tail, the other moves forward to let slip the barbless hook. I support the fatigued fish upright in cupped hands, allowing it to rest and recover. Then, with a startling and powerful torque of tail, my trout flashes away, diving for the sheltering depths. Thank you, friend.

Three hours of fishing for just one fish. And worth every minute.