Knowing that your time is short makes doing anything that much sweeter. In less than two weeks, I’ll be driving a Budget truck west. Better get as much good trout fishing in as I can.
Last week, Ethan and I cleared our schedules and headed down to the Upper Madison in pursuit of big fish. Ethan is a man on a mission. He wants a 25-inch brown. Not a “Eh, that looks close to 25” kind of fish, but a legitimate by God 25-inch hog. What better time and place to catch one than the Madison in fall? I’ve been itching to try a new Skagit line on my Spey rod and get some two hand practice in before heading West.
Having gotten some good info about the spot earlier in the week, we busted out of town at 4:30, despite winter storm warnings and predictions of snow, wind, and generally miserable conditions. Things didn’t get bad until around Quake Lake. When you’re the first car to travel the snow covered road that day, there aren’t any tire tracks to follow. We began to realize that, oh shit, it might actually be snowing a bit when we finally stopped at the access and stepped out of the Jeep to three or four inches of snow.
Gearing up and hitting the water before first light is the way to do it. No one else is there and all is calm and peaceful. You know that your fly will be the first the fish see all day. The day is filled with possibility…
And snow. That day was filled with snow. Snow so heavy and thick that at times you couldn’t even see across the river. Amazingly, there was no wind for hours. Big, heavy flakes filled the air and not one of them was disturbed by so much as of breath of breeze. It was beautiful.
I quickly learned that I have a lot to learn about Spey casting. But with some effort and experimentation I was able to fling that streamer where I wanted it. Graceful? Perhaps not. But damn, I felt like a freaking bad ass. Ha.
In honor of the second issue of Swing the Fly going live, I wanted to catch fish on the swing. So I swung. Ethan was taking a more active approach, stripping and bouncing his streamer. The first fish of the day was a short and chunky brown. He ate a yellow sex dungeon (on the swing!) right in the current seam where he should have been. After a couple hours of no action, a sudden tug and pull scared me to death. He was richly colored, with tones more dark and deep than any brown I’ve caught to date.
The day wore on, and we moved down the river. Snow continued to fall, lightening up enough at times to allow us glimpses of mountainsides covered with snow laden trees. Several hours later, at the tail of the one of the most famous runs in the area, my methodical swing and step, swing and step, was interrupted by a solid thump.
Halfway through the swing, I felt a big bump and my line just stopped. There was a split second where nothing happened, but then I felt a big pull and shake. This was a big fish. Several nerve wracking moments later, I got my first glance. Yep, this was a good fish. A whispered call to Ethan (not wanting to alert the group creeping up behind us) to grab a camera brought him running up as I moved the fish into quieter water. When I finally got a grip on him, I couldn’t get my hand around his side.
I’ve caught fish like this out of our secret honey hole lake, but never out of a river, and never a brown. Taking a quick measurement on my arm, we both judged him to be around 23-24 inches. And thick. And so colored up it was like holding a painting. This was a fish to be happy about, and if that is the last brown I catch as a Montana resident I could live with that.
We fished for the rest of the day, changing spots more than once, and stopping for lunch at a very busy access point. Backpacking meals do really taste great when you’ve been out fishing all day. By that point, the snow was beer can deep and then some and still coming down like crazy. Made it feel like January.
Ethan never did catch that 25-incher, but he did manage to land three very nice fish out in the valley. The wind was starting to really howl, but we pounded away at the pocket water regardless. Let me tell you, a 13’ Spey rod isn’t the best pocket water rod… We both agreed that the fishing would only improve later this month, and that the odds would be better then. We would both get into those monster browns next time.
Always next time.