On a perfect spring, summer, or fall day, one would usually not hesitate to jump in the car and head towards crystal clear waters full of hungry fish. I cannot imagine sporting a t-shirt or light fleece and trudging through refreshingly cool water in the pursuit of my obsession. To sit down next to a near perfect fishing hole with the pleasant feeling of the sun hitting my back and neck sounded heavenly. It's the sinuous, warm breeze often providing a harmonious rhythm along side the undulating tone of water. The creatures that hide themselves while I make haste begin to reveal themselves as I sit motionless near the bank. Mule deer, whitetails, moose, and otters are a few critters that I share these waters with. Even birds and waterfowl, as meager as they seem, will cause me to stop what I'm doing and stare with appreciation. It's days like these that "fishing" may not be why I am out here at all. I might as well leave the pole in the car, but catching a fish would be a nice bonus on such a perfect day.
This winter feels especially cold, much colder than last year. Cabin fever has set in. I know that fishing follows the same aspects during the winter as my activity outdoors declines. The fish slow down and the fishing isn't worth writing home about if the temperature is below thirty-two degrees. At the first glimpse of a thirty-eight to forty degree day, you can bet that I will be heading towards my escape.
This particular mid-winter outing was a blessing for not only my sanity but for my overall quality of life. To some, fishing is as I explained previously, a good reason to enjoy the outdoors. But for others, fishing satisfies the soul. Setting out to accomplish the task of reeling in a beautiful specimen from a beautiful, untainted body of water is something we've tried to express in articles for decades. No longer are we fishing for the survival of our families but for sport. A half day jaunt into their world only to succeed in what we set out to do is a very good feeling. Walking in and out of mother nature's world only to catch, photograph, and release trout; leaving no sign or trace except for the digital files I take is a win in my book. On this mild day in January, I found all of this remains true to me and a very blissful experience followed.
The middle of winter submitted to a wonderful fifty degree day. I was lucky enough to be off of work on this day and I knew just what I was going to do. I arrived at the river around noon. It was nice to leave the jeep without gloves, a mask, or a hat. I didnt care how the fishing was, the day was too perfect to be indoors. I remember having the feeling that I was the only person fishing or perhaps the first person to fish this river since fall of last year. The woods and stream had a remarkable vibe that day. The instant that I stepped into this world something engulfed me, I started to get that feeling deep inside. This wasn't the picture perfect day like I had been dreaming about but it was its own unique blend of pristine serenity and beauty. I had miles of shimmering river that was mine to fish alone, which I generally enjoy. Not to say I dont enjoy fishing with friends, but fishing alone is what I enjoy most. While I made my way to my honey hole, which is about a mile walk around tight bends and through several crossings, I had spooked several mule deer which in return spooked me. Eagles gazed down at me as I passed under their perches. I thought I could toss them a trout and make some friends out here. On this day I was happy to be outside and with all I've seen I could have left happy. Then I started thinking about why I was here. I had the urge to catch fish.
As simple as the phrase "catch fish" sounds, its really quiet deep. This was no task of simply putting on a lure and casting for fish. I was in predator mode, trout slayer mode. It was such a perfect day, however I had yet to please my urges. If I had brought a partner with me it would've been hard to hide my excitement. Like a bass angler sizing up his competition during a tournament, I too was sizing up my opponent; the river. Many say when it comes to trout fishing, that slower is better. Its taken me two years to focus on this idea. Fishing slow for trout can mean fifty different things. Today, me being slow means walking and moving slow while near water that holds fish. I also vowed to myself to fish each hole with more patience, allowing nearly four times the length of time I would usually fish one spot. My bad habits include making ten casts and moving on to the next hole or run. My theory today was conjured with the idea of catching the most fish possible (have to catch as many as I can). The ideology behind the fishing slow is good for a few reasons; mostly because the trout were still cold and a bit lethargic. Fishing slow gives the trout more time to see and consume my flies. It paid off very well.
I fished my honey hole harder than I would have during warmer seasons. This spot was like a control in an experiment. If I couldn't take my time and catch fish here, I wasn't going to have much luck anywhere on this river. Normally I will fish with general flies that I know work; san juan worm, girdle bug, leech, eggy, blue midge etc. but this day I managed to retie a few times until I found something that worked. I managed to slow down, be patient, cast, cast, retie, cast, retie, repeat, repeat repeat and it paid off! I landed six trout once I had figured out what they were eating. The fly of choice by hungry trout happened to be a number twenty-two olive midge nymph. They were going nuts for it! I finally dialed into exactly what they were feeding on.
During my walk back to the jeep, a small riffle of water quietly flows into a 15x10x3ft pool and catches my eye. A stealthy approach gets me within viewing distance and I see nothing but cold dark water seemingly void of all life through my polarized glasses. Should I keep moving or gamble wasting time on such a small pool? Maybe they were holding tight against the sides. I plan my assault, observing everything about this deep little pocket of water such as how I imagine the bottom to be, possible depth, current, obstructions, fish flashes. First cast into what seemed like a hopeless, lifeless body of water and I get snagged. The snag suddenly turned into the shape of a golden silver torpedo as he started to fight, reflecting light off his sleek body. I was just stoked! I was amazed at how many trout and whitefish were in this small pool or water. Life was literally thriving everywhere. From there on, every hole I stopped at held many, many fish. They were stacked up in these holes which I had fished so hard on my way to the honey hole. The right fly was the game changer it seemed. I took my time and landed a dozen fish and hooked twice as many on my way back.
While my trail merged with another, I spoke with a fly fisherman who was just getting back from fishing upstream. We exchanged info. In that I learned he hadn't had the great day that I did. The empty hole in my soul was now stuffed with satisfaction of a day well fished. We walked back to our cars together talking about what a great day we had. I showed him what I had used to catch my trout and he was happy to be informed. We had a lot in common I realized in just those few minutes we chatted. We were the few who yearn for such days, and the only ones taking advantage of this particular day. I knew that despite this older gentlemen being skunked, he had just as great of a day as I did. I took a moment to reflect these thoughts. More often than not we're out there alone. It's either a guide with a client or a couple when I see pairs. I love this place because of fly fishing, if not for fly fishing I wouldn't fully experience it. I feel fortunate to have discovered the world of fly fishing and trout in big sky country. Fly fishing has mended with my spirit just like the connection of a mighty trout through a fly rod. Tight lines all!