27 September 2006

Fall Fishing on the Big Hole River

Walking down to Tech this morning, there were a bunch of mulie does and fawns along the trail just north of Kennedy Elementary School. The cool fall weather stimulates all creatures to prepare for winter, and the mulies are seeking out the best forage while they can. I am so thankful for Kriss Douglass and the other local heroes that put an end to ATV traffic on Big Butte.
Yesterday I fished the Big Hole and came home with a sore arm. Usually I fish only a few hours and am content with two or three larger fish, but yesterday I was a glutton. With not another angler's boot track or a boat in sight all day long, it was as if these fish had never seen an artificial fly. It was a very windy day, blowing down canyon which made casting upstream difficult. Usually I adapt to those conditions by pitching the fly downstream with some slack line. For some reason, however, I kept missing the fish that were taking in this manner. And so I sucked it up, increased the line speed, and the combination of 5X tippet and #12 yellow humpy did OK when the gusts were not TOO strong. Sometimes the wind blew hard enough to lift spray from the river's surface and to push me off balance. Still, the warm sun made for a pleasant day.
I fished the swift waters of the canyon, carefully working back and forth across the river so as to hit all the good little pockets amid the boulders.
There were lots of smallish brown trout in the slack water along the edges, but the larger browns and rainbow trout were in pockets and surprisingly fast runs from one to two feet deep. The takes were very delicate, and most times I could not see an actual rise--just a head slurping the fly from slightly beneath the surface. The fish I caught were generally 10 to 15 inches long, but a few nicer ones came to hand. It is delightful and a little unusual (for me) to catch larger fish on dry flies, so I made the most of it--fishing from 9 in the morning until nearly 4 in the afternoon.
RolyTheDog had a great time, swimming back and forth across the swift waters, climbing out on the occasional boulder to bask like a seal in the sun, and trying to inspect every fish I caught. She is very good at staying behind me and swimming only in waters that I've already fished. Rarely does she get so excited while inspecting a fish about to be released that she gets her feet tangled in the line.
Several larger fish turned out from their station into fast water and headed down river. Usually I end up losing such fish even before they run me into the backing, as if they get much slack it is easy for them to shake a barbless hook. Also, a hook wears a bit in its hole, and the longer you play a fish the larger the hole wears and the easier the fish escapes--especially with no barb to hold the hook in place. But no matter, as I was not out to kill a lot of fish.
One of the last fish I caught was a strong rainbow of about 14 inches. It turned from its pocket and raced down the swiftest water toward a hole several hundred feet downstream. I wanted to land this fish, and so (foolishly) tried to move across the swift run to where I might land the fish against the gravelly shore. Alas I slipped on a slick boulder in three feet of water and took a good dunking. Surprisingly, though, when I found my footing the fish was still on; I landed it and killed it for supper.. This made for cold fishing, as the sky had clouded over, the wind continued to blow, and I was soaked. I fished for another half-hour or so, caught and killed one more fish of the same size, and called it a day. Both fish I killed were stuffed with nymphs, including several large, black salmonfly nymphs.
Well, as George Grant liked to say, "We don't catch fish because we are good anglers; we catch fish because they are there!"
Life is good, enjoying these lovely Indian summer days from my home in Butte, Montana.

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