It was the last day of March 2001, and Brent Pickett needed to catch a trout.
His streak depended on it – a streak he’d held for more than four years and wasn’t about to break.
The problem was, he’d had an emergency appendectomy days before, and a drain tube still jutted out from his abdomen.
He told his wife he had to go fishing. Pickett had caught a fish every month since 1997 in good weather and in bad, and he wasn’t going to let a ruptured appendix stand in the way.
She conceded, finally helping him onto a snowbank to cast into a little patch of open water outside of Chadron, Nebraska.
He caught one, then another, and finally his wife said it was time to leave. When he turned around, he slipped.
“I fell down the snowbank, and I’m lying there, and I’m in pain,” he said. “My sutures are bleeding more than they were.”
Sprawled on the ground, instead of feeling regret when Pickett looked up at his wife, he thought: “This was worth it. I’m glad I did it.”
That’s the thing about a mission – you just don’t give up. On Feb. 12, Pickett used a red rock worm in the North Platte River to catch the first trout of his 19th year reeling in one trout a month.
“That’s pretty impressive,” said Blake Jackson, head guide at the Ugly Bug Fly Shop in Casper.
But Pickett isn’t the only Casper angler forcing himself out in the cold and wind to keep a record strong. The Wyoming Fly Casters, a group of Casper anglers, has a fish-a-month-club. Fly Caster’s member Bill Mixer can’t remember exactly when it started, but he has a plaque dating back to 1998. His fishing buddy, John Dolan, has caught a trout in Wyoming each month for about 25 years.
What makes these anglers stand in water that’s barely above freezing as wind whips around their heads when most fishermen would be home tying flies and waiting for warmer weather?
Two reasons, they say: a goal, and a love of fishing.
“It prompts me to go out there,” Pickett said. “You get sluggish and homebound in the winter. Sometimes I don’t want to and don’t feel like it and I say, ‘It’s the streak. I have to respect the streak.’”
Pickett, 47, started his mission before he really knew he had a mission. He learned to fly fish in the mid ’90s and realized by the end of 1997 that he’d caught a fish every month since February. He kept a journal of his outings, which made keeping track easier.
Living in the Nebraskan panhandle at the time made some of those winter months even tougher.
But he kept a few secret spots in his head that usually guaranteed a fish.
Pickett now lives in Casper, and the North Platte River makes his situation even easier.
Water flows all year from below Gray Reef Dam. Flows are a little warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which means the trout stay plentiful.
“We have a world-class fishery,” Dolan said. “It used to be if you caught three fish it was a good day. Now you can catch 50 fish.”
Despite all the talk of records, neither Dolan nor Pickett say it’s all about the fish. Trips to the river almost always include eagle and mule deer sightings.
Pickett has now inspired others to try for their own streak.
Jeff McDonald, a Laramie angler and friend of Pickett’s, started his fish-a-month goal in January 2014. He made it through the first year and is beginning his second. It’s not always as easy to find open water in Laramie as it is in Casper. But he has his spots.
Following his example are his dad and a friend in Texas.
“I really found this to be motivating to get out in those winter months,” McDonald said. “It makes me be creative.”
While this kind of streak sounds easy if the angler is a guide or works part time, each fisherman says it’s possible even with a full-time job and family. It just takes a little planning and dedication.
“If it’s a priority, you can find half a day at least to get out there and find a trout,” Pickett said. “At least half a day every month of the year, I will go out and catch a trout.”