One of our great Amish Trout traditions is "Club 22". A few years back, the Lil E was fishing so well that it was common and almost expected to catch fish approaching 20". And for that season, a few anglers even caught fish over 20", the first of which, a huge rainbow, was caught by Miller and measured at 22". The gauntlet had thrown down. And soon after, Beachy also took a bow measuring just over 22", five miles upstream from where Chris had taken his fish. A club was born.
To my knowledge, the club has only three member. I was with Stanifer and netted his monster on a perfect March Sunday morning. Notice, I am not a member of this elusive club, and though I love to catch trout, and do not get caught up in the size game, this is a burden on my soul. And not that I haven't come close... several times.
Those who fished the Lil E a lot had a pretty good idea where such fish could live and survive. And so, that spring I hooked this enormous trout in what is now know as "The Hatchery" not once, but four different times over the course of two months. Never bringing the beast to hand. Miller witnessed my last battle and quietly commented after her snapped of, "I think that fish owns you... And you should let her be". I took his advice and didn't fish the beat for the rest of the season.
The next year was on of the worst droughts in our history. And along with the loss of our precious water, we seemed to have lost our monster fish as well. We have been lucky this year with our weather and are starting to see some big healthy fish again. None, to my knowledge, big enough to join the club.
It should be noted that all the fish taken were Rainbows, however, we have seen and hooked a handful of browns that are club worthy. The rules to membership are smile. The fish must be caught on a fly on the Little Elkhart River and measured, photoed and safely released back into the stream. Worm dunkers and meat hunters need not apply.
I remain the only ATO guide who has failed to qualify.