Monday, March 7, 2011

OK, now it's fishing season...

Now I remember what this is all about. It never takes long.

A couple weeks ago, back before the rafts were inflated and cleared of snow and you could still legally fish with "last year's" license, a freak warm February afternoon tempted me, my buddy and just about every other fly angler in western Montana out to the Bitterroot. It was my first day on the water this year, and for a short wade fishing mission, it served its purpose perfectly. Walking around on gravel bars, letting the dogs stretch it out and looking at trout water is good for the soul after the winter we've had. I even got the skunk off, albeit in the same way I usually kick off each season: by snagging a trout in the ass with a worm. I also caught one on an egg-- even classier.

Yesterday was different. The boat helped. For better or worse, after spending just eight short years in Montana, I find it hard to consider a wade trip a "real" fishing day anymore, particularly on any big western river. It's just so much easier to efficiently cover the big water when you're floating, not to mention the camaraderie and storage space a boat provides. Four rods, three dudes, two dogs, three boat bags, miscellaneous other shit and a growler of Single Hop ale take up a lot of space. One upside of the early season is you don't need a cooler to keep your beer and $5 foot-longs cold, though four hours of bouncing around on the floor of a self-bailing raft with the aforementioned dudes and dogs can do a number on Subway bread.

The trout played an important role as well, mostly because they were biting. In nicer weather-- provided the company's good and the beer's cold--even the slowest day of fishing can be a lot of fun. Early season, when the forecast high of 40 or 45 may only hang around for an hour or two before the sun dips behind the Bitterroots and things start to refreeze (like your fingers), a slow day of watching the bobber not bob can seem downright your time would've been better spent staying home and tying flies while you wait for the fishing season to honestly start.

Though far from red hot, the fishing yesterday was decent; some might even say good, considering that just last week we were skiing 3'+ of fresh powder and as I write this anywhere above 4,000 feet or so in elevation is still very much clenched in winter's icy jaws. Sure, we fished some bobbers, but at least they went down every once in a while--only to return to the surface with a scrappy trout attached to the end of the line. I also moved several nice fish swimming an articulated sculpin around on a sink tip, though the farmer in me only landed one.

It just felt like the river was waking up. The water looked more green than gray, and every once in a while a fish would randomly rise, even if it was just a whitey eating a midge. We poked our noses back in to a spring-fed slough where we found half a dozen nice fish holding in near-still water, its glassy surface occasionally dimpled as trout lazily rose to slurp something invisible out of the film.

Then Brett tied on a dry fly--a real, honest to goodness size-10 skwala of his own design--and in one of my favorite spots on one of the Root's most popular floats, this happened:

So it's here. With forecast highs in the low to mid 50s much of the coming week, it looks like this just may be the start of it. We didn't see any adult skwalas yesterday, but we also didn't look very hard, and they aren't exactly known for being the most social stoneflies in the world. Even during the peak of the hatch you may only see half a dozen on the water over the course of a day. That trout sure acted like he had at least seen a couple.

But who knows? As I write this it's snowing outside the living room window, and another nasty cold snap like we've become so accustomed to this winter could easily put things on hold for another week or two. But it sure seems like all signs point to the Root giving up some of the first solid dry fly fishing of the season in the next week or so. Rest assured I'm not the only one who feels this way, and you better believe the river is going to see some pressure this week as every trigger-happy fishing guide in the county heads out to test their new skwala pattern and get a few licks in before clients show up.

I knew I should've tied more flies and wrapped up any remaining winter chores earlier, because from here on out, I'm going fishing every chance I get.

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