The fishing community of Bozeman has been abuzz this week with rumors, speculation, and finally confirmed reports of Salmonflies out on the Big Hole and Lower Madison. It seems everyone and their dog is headed to the same rivers. Can’t say I blame them. The Salmonfly hatch is the event of the fishing season for a lot of people. So where did Shane and I decide to head to on Sunday?
The Upper Missouri to look for carp. Carp.
Why? Because neither of us felt like dealing with crowded rivers and we were in the mood for an adventure. There was a couple of moments where we debated about going to the Lower, as Shane had floated it a few nights before. The fishing sucked, but he did float past two busty college girls wearing nothing but tiny bikini bottoms…
Anyway, we felt the call of something new. So we loaded up the car somewhat early on Sunday morning and headed out to one of the spots we’ve been to before and seen a lot of fish. This particular spot requires about a mile walk down the railroad tracks. Take my advice: When you have a mile walk down the railroad tracks, don’t bring the cooler. Sure, the ice cold beer is worth it at the end of the trip but damn that thing gets heavy.
The tracks follow the river to the dam, with a 20 to 30 foot drop down to the water. In other words it is perfect for spotting fish. The first fish of the day we saw were probably 25 of them along a rocky stretch of bank. Even not knowing what you’re doing the sight of those big fish in the water is enough to get your heart racing.
For the next two hours or so we wandered the river and lake shore, straining our eyes to catch even a glimpse of the freshwater bonefish. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, hot and not a cloud in the sky. During our time there we saw more than a few, cast to most of them, and succeeded only in spooking them all into the muddy depths. About the most exciting moment came when I almost stepped on a dead snake on the tracks. If you ever want to see two guys jump and scream like six year old girls, that will do it.
Eventually tired of seeing nothing but weeds and poofs of mud where a carp had been just a moment ago, we made the call to head back to the first spot we had seen fish. By now the wind had picked up and we’d each had a couple PBRs. So we wandered down and set up shop.
Not too long after I heard a noise, looked over my shoulder and saw Shane’s 6-wt bent double. Grabbing the camera and hurrying over I could see the big grin on his face from a mile away. The fight was short and sweet, and I bet everyone in the canyon heard the shout of triumph as he put hands on that fish.
Shane had caught his carp.
The fish wasn’t particularly big as carp go, but to a couple of trout fishermen it seemed pretty good sized. It was beautiful; all copper and gold. Shane couldn’t have been happier, and I couldn’t have been happier for him. It’s pretty cool when you get to share these kinds of things with a good buddy.
Many pictures were taken, much video was shot, and many high fives, fist bumps and “fuck yeah man!”s were traded. The river flowed on, and the carp were still there so we continued to ply the waters. It wasn’t all that much longer when I looked over again and saw a taut line coming out of the water leading to a very bent fly rod. He’d done it again.
I could tell from the expression on his face that this was a bigger fish. That, and the fact that the rod was bent all the way down to the cork grip. Which is impressive when you consider it’s a fast action broomstick of a fly rod. When the fish finally rolled on top we both kinda freaked out… It was a big fish.
We never did get an accurate measure of that fish. Our closet guess after the fact was that he was probably pushing 30 inches and 10 pounds. Mind you, neither of us is well versed in judging carp weight, so that could be way off. Regardless, it was hands down the biggest fish Shane had ever caught on a fly rod. Which is pretty damn cool.
Figuring that pool had blessed us enough, and with winds almost blowing us over into the river, we decided to head down to Townsend and get something to eat. You would think we would learn to bring lunch along with us… We put the moves on several other carp on the walk out but to no avail.
Following a short lunch and the realization that we were both pretty badly sunburned already we moved on to the next spot: Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Canyon Ferry is much more famous for its carp bowfishing than for its fly fishing, but Shane knew a place where they were thick and heavy.
Before we got to that spot though, we were distracted by the siren’s call of a dirt road that looked like it almost might lead down to the water. When you are an adventure trip, you kinda are obligated to drive down some roads you don’t know. This time it panned out. The road dead ended at a sleazy looking backwater filled with branches, trash, shoes, very muddy water and lots of big carp.
The next three hours consisted of stalking along the banks, trying to peer through the turbid water to catch even a glimpse of a fish. Once you get the hang of it and know what you’re looking for, it’s not too bad. We both had a lot of shots at fish, and I even felt the tug of an eat. In the end we returned to the car emptyhanded, muddy and scratched from taking a “shortcut” (“I bet the road is right on the other side of this wall of bushes” etc).
We opted to end the day where it had begun. We got there right as the last direct light was on the water, and stayed until it was almost too dark to see. We saw a lot of fish, including a ton feeding on the spillway of the dam, but never hooked up.
It was a hell of a day. Any day you can check a fish that you’ve been chasing for two years off your list is a good day. I may not have gotten one, but I don’t think I could have enjoyed the trip any more if I had. And there is always next time….