Like an old friend dropping by unexpectedly, the odd--yet not that unusual--mid February warm up is a welcome surprise every year in western Montana. You can't predict when it'll come, and if you don't act fast you'll miss it. Rest assured, it is still absolutely, positively winter. After three days of above 40 degree temps and mostly sunny skies, things are cooling right back off this evening and the mountains are expecting 8-10" tomorrow. Good thing the skis are still leaning in the corner of the kitchen, the pool of water collected at the tails having only recently dried from the last blower pow day.
We thought about resisting the lemming-like urge to hurl ourselves in to the nearest open piece of water come Sunday's sunny, 50-degree afternoon, but it was futile. Come 2 p.m., we were driving down the Root, poking in to fishing accesses only to find three, four, six SUVs and pick-ups sporting similar TU license plates and industry-related "cool" stickers on the back windows. Dirt bag fishing bums, every last one of us. Or at least we want to be. Anarchists unite.
Here is where I could ramble on about just how nice it was to be out, to soak up the sunshine, to run the dogs. And it was nice. We found a few decent winter runs to ourselves, kicked the gravel and talked about bugs. I even caught a few trout under the bobber, though the only cuttbow worthy of even a half-hearted point-and-shoot photo was snagged in the ass with a pink worm, and I figured that was already sufficient soul robbing of the critter for one day.
What caught me off guard, though it shouldn't, was how many damn people were out fishing that afternoon. It's safe to assume anyone who owns a fly rod has the shack nasties by mid-February, so it only makes sense that the Root, which usually warms up the fastest and starts fishing the earliest, would see some of it's first true pressure of the season on a weekend like this. But Jesus, you'd think it were first week of April and the skwalas were peaking. As we walked back to the truck, there had to be four or five boats pulling out at the bridge. Several looked to be brand spanking new: Christmas presents or splurges from last fall that had been just dying to make it out of the garage on a maiden voyage. My old roommate had floated from here down. Two other friends were taking out here. Wade fishermen were scattered throughout all the visible, likely-looking runs. I wouldn't have been surprised if a guide had rolled up with clients, sporting his shiny new 2011 tags.
Poor trout. Suckers have a reputation for being smart (well, then there's cutties...), but against these odds many of them don't stand a chance. All of a sudden, after what really only amounts to two or three months of relative peace and quiet, every potential food source once again becomes suspiciously threatening. Stonefly nymphs bite back and scar lips. Other fish's eggs swim upstream through the current before miraculously launching from the water--only to reappear again moments later. And you'd be smart to question any big, squirmy-looking creature wiggling across the surface of the water before taking a bite...especially if it's pink or chartreuse.
Yep, let the games begin. As an outfitter I work for often says, in the spring it's not so much about fly pattern as it is boat position. Get up early, get out fast, keep moving. I have friends and colleagues who love this type of float fishing. I tend to prefer a mellower pace and will opt for lower fish counts or slower overall action in favor of fewer boats and less molested trout. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't come to Montana to get in line. So as winter breaks free and spring fishing actually starts to show signs of heating up (as opposed to this mid-winter tease), I'll take every chance I get to wander around a bit and find some good fishing outside of the daily Bitterroot skwala junk show. You'd be wise to do the same--just don't follow me.