Spring-time in the Montana high country means no tourists, no bugs, and eager fish. This beautiful mountain lake cutthroat was caught using a damsel pattern and was released to swim another day.
“Sometimes I caught fish – sometimes I didn’t. …….I lived merrily, mindlessly, uncomfortably on the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” – Nick Lyons, The Intense Fly Fisherman
There was a time in my youth when I chased fish with all the passion I had within me – with all the force and vigor and excitement I could muster. I would get up two hours before dawn and drive four hours just to reach the first available trout water. I’d fish all day, stopping only to eat a quick lunch or move to another spot on the river. When darkness fell, I continued to fish – pushing the limit of effective fishing and the legal limit of fishing regulations. A four hour drive back home would end with me dragging myself into the house, leaving all my gear in the truck to be cleaned out the next day, or the day after that perhaps. I was “on fire” for fly fishing and I ate it – drank it – obsessed over it – loved it – was consumed by it.
This went on for some time. Years passed, then decades and then one day I experienced a great tragedy in my life when my father passed away suddenly. At the same time, I lost my job. I was devastated. I stopped fishing almost completely. I think I may have spent time fishing, just a few hours each time, only twice that year. In my salad days fishing happened every other weekend for years and years. I fished only twice in that most terrible year and thought several times that I might give it up altogether. Over the next few years, there were times when I felt like flinging my rod and reel into the lake or river. No, I’m not kidding. I just couldn’t get that passion back, even though when I wasn’t fishing it was still there and as strong as ever.
I still consumed fishing articles, photos and chat like they were going out of style. I loved to talk about bass on poppers and trout flies that sit just so, right in the film. I’m still a sucker for hearing another angler talk about a river that’s new to me. Last year I even took my very first trip out west to fish in Montana and Wyoming. I’m fishing more now – probably twice a month or so when I can get away and I’d fish more often if I had the time and money. So, I had to ask myself – what happened? How did I come back from the brink of leaving the sport behind me for good?
I think what it all came down to, was that I had to realize two things: that I didn’t have that 24-hour-7-days-a-week passion that I had in my youth, and that not having that passion was OK. Once I stopped worrying about the fact that I didn’t go fishing as much (and frankly didn’t catch as much either) I was able to begin to enjoy my time outdoors again. These days it’s not so much about the fishing. It’s more about being outside and enjoying time spent around the water. It’s the feel of the river on my legs and the fleeting glimpse of a deer on the drive home. Now that I’ve had a couple of years of this relaxed fishing life, I think I rather prefer it to living on, as Nick Lyons so accurately put it “ …the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” Maybe someday you’ll be there, too. Maybe you already are?
I used to look forward to a week of skiing in Montana at the end of every March. And somewhere along the line, probably as I passed through Livingston – with the sun shining and the Yellowstone River underneath the Interstate – I got to wondering about the fishing.
As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good. The crowds are gone, the rivers are in good shape – ‘cause it’s pre-runoff – and the temperature is likely to be 50 or 60 degrees.
So a few weeks ago, on our way to ski, my girlfriend and I stopped by the Yellowstone Angler in Livingston. They pointed us toward Armstrong’s Spring Creek and stuffed our fly box with egg imitations, BWO’s, and midges.
A day on Armstrong’s during the height of the summer PMD hatch means booking a year in advance and paying a $100 rod fee. We got there on a gorgeous Sunday morning and paid the off-season rate of $40. And had the river all to ourselves. All the snow was on the ski hill and would have to wait…
I have to admit. I was a little apprehensive. Spring creeks and their technical, flat water are a bit of a mecca for small fly gurus. But I’m no small fly guru. To me, finesse is replacing the big split shot under my indicator with a small split shot.
Nevertheless, for every flat water glide, there was a deeper, rumpled run. A 20 mile per hour wind was keeping the BWO hatch at bay. We tied on indicators, beadhead zebra midges underneath eggs, and a split shot. I must have been in finesse mode; it was a small indicator and a tiny split shot.
There were six or seven browns and rainbows in those deeper, rumpled runs that definitely wanted to play. The browns smacked the eggs and the rainbows sucked in the midges. The browns bent the rods double and went deep. A couple ‘bows did cartwheels. The biggest fish was a solid 16 inches. Not a spectacular day’s fishing, but extremely satisfying. Especially when fishing back home would be not much more than gazing at an eight inch hole in the ice.
Next year, we may just forget about the skiing altogether…
(We actually spent the next day wading the big, broad Yellowstone River. There were risers in the slack water by the bank as we pulled up. I was eager to work on my small fly skills but a 30 mile per hour wind came up and ended the hatch. So back to an indicator rig with zebra midges and small pheasant tails. A few eager rainbows and cutthroats soon found our flies. Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the wind started to feel like a gale and it was time to quit. Or at least think about going skiing.)
“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.” ― Edward Abbey
Check out more Douglas Barnes Photography at www.nowpicturethis.com
For helpful hints, visit: Take Me Fishing (http://www.takemefishing.org/fishing/family/fish-with-your-kids)