Monday, May 9, 2011

Time Off.

Well...this isn't that cool. I'm standing on the bank of a city park pond--and by "city park pond," I mean to express every sense of an entry fee-laden, no-dogs-allowed-enforced, blacktop paved, padlock-and-chained picnic-tabled and locked-every-evening at sunset by an impenetrable wrought steel gate kind of pond--my back no more than 20 yards from the howling growl of Seattle-bound tractor trailers and yellow Hummers from Kalispell ripping westward on I-90. A well-traveled gravel fishermen/dog-walker/high-school debauchery path lines the perimeter, dotted with cigarette butts, styrofoam worm cups, discarded Durexes and the like. This is decidedly not what alien visitors--and potential future "residents"-- expect when they drool over two-page spreads in the Big Sky Journal of Under Armor-clad fly fishermen wetting a line in any one of Montana's world famous trout streams that await them out their front door as soon as they drop 2.7 million on that "contemporary Western villa with ski-in-ski-out access to both Big Sky and Moonlight Basin." This is not the Montana of Howard and Maclean fame. Nope, as soon as you fall off that achingly romantic puffy white cloud that carried you here from wherever you are from, you realize that this sad, impoverished little local pocket of trashed recreation space--as is the case with many "heartland" areas of this country--this is Montana.

I'm here because it's run off, and the pond's waters are the only clear ones to be found for miles. Not only is it run-off--that timeless and essential high elevation snow melt that scours our rivers and feeds them cold blood all summer long--but it's a BIG run-off, and it's only started. Thanks to la Nina, much of the inner-mountain West received a solid whomping of snow this winter, and it's only in recent days that any of us in Montana, Idaho or Wyoming have come to believe that we will ever actually see the sun again. Instead of diminishing snowpacks with gentle warm-ups in April, we saw below-average temperatures and accumulating snow in to May. Let me tell you, we were all tired of fishing in sideways frozen shit this spring. The fishing was good and we got 'em, but it's safe to say that everyone--including the trout and bugs--could have benefited from a little more sustained sunshine before May 10th of this year.

Instead, we enjoyed a ski season our grandkids will hear about, and we dealt with difficult fishing conditions much of the spring. Now that the warmth has arrived, our 150%+ of average snowpack needs to melt, and it's going to come down in what the National Weather Service has already described as a "spectacular" run-off. As a former journalism professor of mine said, "when the NWS dips in to the adjective grab-bag, you know it's going be a doozy."

So now we wait it out. June is only a week away, and with plenty more snow to come, it's a safe bet that most of us Missoula guides will end up spending much of the next month on the Mo, harassing all our buddies over there who just wish we had our own tailwater to fish during run-off. At 15,000+ cfs it's a worm and split shot game, and unlike much of the rest of the year on the Missouri when you don't lose too many flies, I tend to relinquish lots of dirt snakes to the flooded willows and backyard bird feeders that create excuses for trout "holding lies" at these flows. I already tied 10 dozen worms this winter, but thanks to higher-than-average water this spring they're mostly gone, which means I need another 50 dozen before the end of the month. 50 dozen worms...or cross-eyed, carpal-tunnel-induced insanity; whichever comes first. Then there's all the other flies I fish that need to be tied as well. But worms come first.


Ever the effective procrastinator, I've found one of the ways to put off said worm production during run off is to check out the under-explored and unheralded warm water fishing in this part of the state. There's pike in the Clark Fork drainage (thanks a lot, asshole), and plenty of perch and walleye if you know where to look, but I'm looking for bass: 'merica's fish. Like many people, I grew up with more and better bass fishing closer to home than any trout opportunity, and I still love catching a bass on a fly (eh-ehm, or a buzzbait...) as much--if not more because I do it less often now--as any salmonid.

Granted, this is trout country, and Montana is not known for it's bass fishing for good reason. We've got a short growing season, there's not a lot of warm, still water around and frankly, most people could care less about catching a bass around here. At least in your elitist, well-equipped trout nerd circles with which I tend to run. But the bucketmouths are out there, and over the years I've been shown--and occasionally found--some pretty fun, beautiful places to have good bass fitchin' in the Big Sky state.

This State Department of Parks and Recreation puddle is not one of those places. But it's only 15 minutes from the house, it sits in the sun all day and I've seen honest-to-God five pound hens on their beds during Mays past. In Montana, that's a big bass. High water season on the rivers tends to be the only time I have to fish for them anymore, which just happens to coincide with the spring largemouth spawn. I haven't yet wrestled with the ethical contention and personal decisions that I've subconsciously made over the years that for whatever reason have left me feeling that it's acceptable to fish for spawning bass but not trout, but that's how I feel. And to this day, I still think there is very little in freshwater fishing that is more appealing than watching a big, fired-up hen largemouth flare her pec fins and puff her gills as she attacks whatever you drop in the middle of her bed. Even if I don't catch 'em, I just like seeing 'em. It scratches an itch.

But it's too early. Even here, this water has only been receiving sunlight and warmth for a few days, and the water's just too cold. I don't see a single fish cruising in the shallows, much less a bed. Next week. I just hope the sun stays out.

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