Sunday, September 30, 2018
My excitement grew as we weaved our way down the dusty gravel road into the mountains. Window's down, the cool breeze was a welcomed relief from the oppressive Florida heat that I'd become accustomed to. I was back in Montana and thrilled to be going to the same place I caught my last Montana trout. Long gone were the warm summer days that I got to experience the year prior. Instead, I was greeted with a breath of crisp, autumn air, and the multicolored sight of leaves changing before the onslaught of winter.
This time I'd come prepared. Last year I'd shown up with minimal gear, knowledge, experience with freshwater stream fly fishing. Being from Florida, my entire fly fishing experience had been saltwater. Redfish, trout, snook, tarpon, etc. Not Browns, Rainbows, Cutty's and the like. It's an entirely different animal and to me, and it came as a puzzle. An extra challenge, if you will. It was something to solve, and ever since catching my last Montana trout, it'd been an obstacle I'd been chomping at the bit to overcome. I wanted to get better at it. So this year I arrived with brand new waders, boots, landing net, and even a new 6wt rod to tackle the Montanan streams and rivers.
My first day in Montana last year consisted of tumbling down a cliff and snapping my fly rod in the process. Despite being mildly perturbed, I set about immediately replacing it. That new rod served me the rest of my stay out west, made it down to Utah where I caught several Browns with it, then did quite a bit of work down in South Florida chasing invasives in their myriad of canal systems. It was a good 3wt.
About an hour outside of town, we finally pulled up to the creek and I excitedly began getting everything ready. I threw my new waders on, laced up my boots, and grabbed my box of flies. With my rod still disassembled in its four pieces, my friend and I weaved our way down to the rocky creek bank.
It had been over a year, I had flown over half way across the country, and here I finally was. With the anticipation of landing another trout, I began assembling my rod. In front of us, fish were already rising, and each splash made me even more excited to begin slinging flies. Once I finally rigged up, I walked to the water's edge, stripped out some line, back-cast and....
Something was wrong. My rod felt weird. It wasn't loading right.
What in the...?
To my dismay I looked up to see my rod broken, just below the last connection point.
Contrary to what most might expect, I actually didn't throw a fit. I didn't go on a wild cussing rampage, or throw my rod into the water, or anything like that. I merely looked up at my poor rod as the last foot of it dangled in the breeze like a limp noodle, and I let out a heavy sigh.
Of course I wasn't pleased. But what could I do? It was the only rod we brought that day, and I'd have to simply grin and bear dealing with the return policy and replacing the rod once I got back to town. So rather than get upset, I calmly put the rod down, sat next to the creek, and cracked open a cold beer. Over the next hour we watched as numerous fish rose and fed, and I was forced to simply watch. Unable to do anything about it but enjoy the scenery and the pleasant day. Luckily the fish weren't going anywhere, I had another month left in Montana, and I swore right then and there that the Montana streams and rivers would soon feel the wrath of rod #2.
The looming mountains slowly passed by as we bounced our way down the Bitterroot Valley to the south. It was another perfect day outside, and with the windows down, I occasionally checked on the bright blue raft that was being towed behind the truck. I'm not exactly sure what it is about towing that makes me paranoid, but I constantly check to make sure the boat/raft/kayak/whatever is still secure. For some reason I'm just constantly worried, and today was no different.
My buddy Jeb and I were on our way to float and fish a river. This was especially exciting for me because the previous year I'd visited, Jeb didn't have a boat which meant we were stuck to just wade fishing. Now we had access to -much- more water and I was excited to redeem myself after my last failed attempt to fish. My new 6wt was ready to sling some flies.
With the raft in the water, Jeb, his dog Sage, and I loaded up and took off down the river. This would be my first time fishing from a raft and it took a little getting used to. Fly line has the incredible ability to become impossibly tangled on any item that's laying around in the boat. A net, water bottle, fly case, shoe lace, etc. You name it, fly line will -always- get tangled on it, and this day was no exception to the rule. But I fished as Jeb rowed, and Sage sat quietly waiting with almost as much anticipation of landing a fish as I had.
We passed fishy looking spot after fishy looking spot, and with the exception of one little dink trout, nothing I threw seemed to work. I tried streamers, various types of dry flies, droppers with nymphs. Nothing. I began to get a little frustrated. This was almost exactly like my last experience in Montana. Fish everywhere, but I can only seem to land tiny little baitfish sized trout. Annoyed, I decided to pass the rod off to Jeb. After all, I actually wanted to try my hand at rowing.
For the last 6 months, paddling has been my job. After a recent move to Saint Augustine, Florida, I quickly landed a job as a kayak guide leading eco-tours. This put me paddling around for a few hours a day at least five days a week over the summer. And on days that I wasn't working, I spent them fishing out of the kayak as well. So I actually consider myself pretty damn good at paddling. But rowing?
Never done it.
One would think that rowing and paddling go hand in hand. And that kind of do. But rowing is, for lack of a better term, opposite of paddling. It literally is opposite. Backwards, even. So it took a little bumping, scraping, and spinning uselessly in circles for a while before I finally began to get the hang of it. But since more technical parts of the river were quickly coming up, and I'm sure Jeb didn't want me to pop a hole in his brand new raft, we opted to switch again.
Around midday we stopped to eat some lunch. A grocery store in town made us a few sandwiches that I'd been dreaming about ever since we bought them in the morning. But, as my luck holds true, we opened the cooler to discover that the melted ice had soaked almost every inch of bread for my sandwich. Each bite squirted water and the soggy Italian sandwich was anything but satisfying. To add to our troubles for the day, we'd forgotten an important item to bring along: Water. In our rush to get out on the water, we grabbed everything we could think of. Oars, life jackets, fly rod, flies, sandwiches, chips, beer, ice, everything. Except water. So rather than go thirsty, we simply opted to drink all the beer we brought along.
Back on the river, the day began to wane. Low clouds rolled off the mountains to the west and occasionally shaded us from the sun as it dipped lower in the sky. While passing through a relatively slow moving, shallow part of the river, Jeb finally piped up.
“Fish just rose, 11 o'clock”, he said as he made a small adjustment with the oars.
I could clearly see where the fish had made rings on the still surface of the water.
“Got it...”, I whispered as I began to cast.
My caddis fly landed just upcurrent from where the fish had risen, and it took only about two seconds before the same fish came up and swallowed the fly.
“There he is!” I exclaimed as I confidently set the hook and felt it sink in. The hook set had been one of my biggest problems last year, and I feel as though I finally figured it out. I used to think freshwater trout are these dainty, fragile fish. A saltwater hook set on one would surely catapult the poor fish into orbit if I really put my heart into it. And so I kept under-setting the hook. I'd gingerly raise my rod in anticipation of actually hooking the fish, but to no avail. But eventually I got the hang of it. They certainly aren't saltwater fish, but they aren't all that dainty either. You can set the hook like you mean it. Just don't do it like professional Bass fishermen and you'll be good to go.
After a brief fight, the fish found its way into the net, and I landed my first Montana Brown trout. The fish also proved to be relatively camera shy.
A little while later and I soon found myself hooked up again with a nice Rainbow trout that actually put up quite a fight. It was at that moment I wished I'd had my 3wt with me, but I couldn't complain. I was finally catching fish, and this was what I'd ventured all the way across Florida to find. The rainbow was soon netted, unhooked, and sent on its way before I even thought to get a picture.
The sun was beginning to set as we approached our get-out point. The last hundred yard stretch of the river was ahead of us and we could already see fish rising everywhere. This would be my last chance for the day, so I needed to make it count. A large boulder jutted out from the bank and around it swirled a deep eddy where the fish were rising. I took aim, cast, and watched as a trout gulped at my fly. Excitedly I set the hook and...
Nothing. Swing and a miss.
Guess my hook set isn't -quite- right yet.
I stripped in some line as we got closer and prepared to make another cast. Focused on where I wanted the fly to land, I quickly began casting, only to suddenly feel a tug mid-back cast.
“Aww shit..”, I muttered as I turned around to see my fly stuck in the bushes of the river bank. I'd managed to make it an entire day without losing a fly, and on my last cast, with fish rising , I successfully sacrificed my caddis to the bush God's.
It'd been an awesome day and a huge learning experience for me. We couldn't ask for better weather, I got to row my first boat, and we managed to survive solely off of beer for the entire day. I really feel as though I'm beginning to figure these fish out a little more, and landing fish (even small ones) is satisfying enough to keep my interest. I received word today that my 3wt is repaired and on its way back this week. With any luck I can break it in soon. Well...Maybe not break. Maybe...Well...You know what I mean.
Rain coming over the Bitterroots
**You may have noticed a major lack in posts the past few months. That comes from a combination of a heavy work load, as well as other projects I've been working on. Details to come soon though, and I've plenty more to write about in the coming months. Stay tuned!**