By Peggy Jordan
Associate Editor, FMC magazine
Some of those tall tales of the West are partly true, no matter how ridiculous they sound. As noted in the first installment of Roaming Wyoming, jackalope may be fake, but science does support the existence of rabbits that may look like they have horns.
Is there a factual basis behind the story of the fur-bearing trout? So far, not one has been found. Just plenty of good-natured humor.
The fur-bearing trout, also called the furry fish, beaver trout, or (probably jokingly) the sabled salmon, is said to live wherever water becomes cold enough to warrant a warm winter coat. This includes all of Canada, and most of the far northern states of the United States (including Wyoming).
The most publicized encounter with the fur-bearing trout appeared in a 1929 issue of Montana Wildlife magazine, the official publication of the Montana State Fish and Game Department. Mr. J.H. Hicken of Whitefish, Montana, told his story in colorful detail.
Mr. Hicken snagged a furry fish at a lake in Glacier National Park where the water was so cold it was below the freezing point. But, "Nature has taken care of her own by providing the fish with a thick coat of fur," Mr. Hicken remarked. He did add that since the fish are so cold, "the change of temperature from this water to atmosphere is so great that the fish explodes upon being taken from the water, and fur and skin come off in one perfect piece, making it available for commercial purposes, and leaving the body of the fish for refrigerator purposes or eating, as desired."
How convenient. It's almost as if fur-bearing trout were made to be turned into trophies. And they are. Just like jackalopes, trophy-mounted fur-bearing trout can be purchased from stores; in fact, the one pictured with this article came from a Web site called jackalopejunction.com.
Mr. Hicken is credited with finding a particular variety of fur-bearing trout that sports a neutral, tabby-type color. Other such fish have been captured in coat colors ranging from white (the Alpino-pelted trout) to dark brown and very smooth (the beaver trout). And, every now and then, Mother Nature reels out a particularly colorful shade of fur never seen before.
It could be that man is the reason for trout with fur, for one story says the fish began wearing coats after hair tonic was spilled in Colorado's Arkansas River. But certainly that once incident cannot account for reports of fur-covered fish across North America.
As the weather grows warmer during the spring, the fish shed their coats, only to re-grow them as winter returns. Any FMCA anglers who try to catch a fur-bearing trout while in Wyoming for the 88th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase in Gillette, Wyoming, are out of luck. It will just be too warm.
But that does not have to stop anyone from buying a trophy fish and displaying it proudly. It's just the cool thing to do.
For more Wyoming stories and travel suggestions as you travel to Gillette for FMCA's 50th anniversary Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, visit www.wyomingtourism.org or call (877) 813 8071.