by Dave Micus
schewing my usual tradition of celebrating the 4th with a 5th, I chose instead to exercise my God-and-divorce-given right to spend the day fishing. Though the rivers are still a bit high and fast, run-off is over, and I decided to check out a spot on the Bitterroot that I learned of from guide Ben Hart (but only after heeding his admonition not to share).
I arrived early and foolishly crossed the river at a spot that, though shallow, was about ten times the cfs I felt comfortable wrestling. Crossing a river like this is kind of like going from single to being married; you can try to turn around and go back, but you’ll get knocked around in the process. So I forged on and made it to the other side, still not sure how, but not before I had another one of my “this is how stupid people die” insights. I hope the lesson is learned.
But though I wouldn’t attempt it again, the other side was worth the effort. A short walk across what turned out to be a mid-stream island brought me to a nice, slow, side channel, invisible from the other side, where, just after my arrival, trout began to rise. The problem now, though, was figuring out exactly what they were rising to. It was the dreaded multiple hatch, with mayflies and caddis, and, I think, a few green drakes on the water. I went through my dry flies, first one, then another, and finally figured out what these trout were feeding on—it was whatever was not on the end of my tippet. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I tied on a bead-head hare’s ear and swung it in the current while slowly stripping it in. Though counter-intuitive, this had the desired result, and I caught three vividly colored rainbows before a couple of knuckleheads in an aluminum canoe thrashed through the pool, sending all of the trout to whatever netherworld it is that they disappear to when spooked.
And before you think ‘knuckleheads’ is too harsh, let me explain. That they paddled through the pool does not bother me—they were floating the river and there was no where else for them to go (though they could have practiced a bit more stealth). What did bother me was when they passed within 15 feet of me and I pleasantly said “good morning,” they chose to rudely act as if I wasn’t even there. But the river gods have a way of striking down the unworthy, and as they paddled ten more yards they hit a bit of fast water, the canoe turned sideways, and all three took a swim. The water was shallow and they were in no danger, so it took all of my will power not to burst into loud guffaws. I only hope they learned that rivers tend to punish the ill-mannered.
As that spot was ruined, I moved upriver and came to the penultimate fly fisher’s dream—a wide pool with a prominent eddy caused by a fast riffle at its mouth. In the pool were numerous trout sipping spinners, all within 20 feet of shore.
I’m a saltwater guy, and this serious trout fishing is new to me, but I amazed myself by not rushing into the pool and whipping the water into meringue. Instead I got down on all fours, crawled slowly into the water at the edge of the pool, and kept a low profile by fishing from my knees. The water was so placid that any poor cast would have scattered the trout, so I lengthened the leader with 6X tippet, tied on an 18 LWF (little white fly—I didn’t have any spinner patterns, of course), and as delicately as I could I fished for those trout feeding closest to me, gradually extending the cast so as to reach the entire pool.
I caught three chunky cutthroats, left the fly in the mouth of two others, and missed numerous strikes. I’d been there maybe an hour before a guide came through in a drift boat with two sports and spooked the pool. But, unlike the boorish canoers, all three of this boat’s occupants gave friendly salutations, and, as I was ready to call it a day anyway, their foray into my fishing nirvana didn’t really bother me. In short, I was satiated.
I’ve frequently had 50 fish days when fishing for striped bass, have hooked fish that took off to the bottom of the Atlantic that I never even caught a glimpse of, and even once hooked a mako shark that shot out of the water like a Polaris missile, but I have to say that casting to and catching feeding trout in a crystal pool on a translucent Montana river using a small dry fly has to be the pinnacle of the sport.
I’ve said it.
My saltwater brethren can now officially label me a Trout Weenie.
Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he was an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer, instructor and "star" of an episode of the outdoor show, Fly Fishing America. In 2006 he made the move from sea level to the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he has taken up fly rodding for trout, hunting and enjoying life in the "Big Country."
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