This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
June 6th, 2005

Counting Noses

One of the loveliest things I've been privileged to see is to watch a fish sip a dry fly from the surface of the water. I had a favorite place where I could see this every summer, but since we don't live there any more I haven't seen it for a few years.

The place was Armstrong Spring Creek, Paradise Valley, Montana. There were large moss/aquatic vegetation 'mats' somewhat anchored by roots to the bottom, which floated. These mats made a very nice hiding place for trout. Armstrong is a spring creek, you can walk up to its source and see the water coming out of the ground in the creek itself. The immediate area around the spring hold lots of aquatic plants which move and wave in the current like an underwater forest. Also great holding places for large trout.

I'm told the head of fish the creek once held are not present now, but when we lived, fished and guided on Armstrong it was a wonderment. Almost from the moment you stepped into the water you could see trout everywhere. If you took a step or two fish swept in to gobble up anything which you had unintentionally dislodged from the gravel bottom. There were so many fish it was difficult to choose a place to cast.

Since the water temperature is a constant 52 degrees year round coming from the spring, the insects had adapted to the conditions are were present year round. Yes, hatches and spinner falls every day. The trout did see a lot of artificial flies, the Rod Limit was I believe 10 rods per day. Which meant probably 10 anglers, although some did fish a half day and someone else fished the other half day. All catch and release, and I've mentioned previously I don't recall seeing any dead fish on Armstrong, but it could have happened. I suspect most who fished it were pretty careful with their fish handling.

Pretty good conditions for the trout - and the angler. I do know for those whose casting wasn't up to par, or who could not buy a decent drift for their dry fly it could be very challenging. I do remember talking to a well-known casting instructor and guru who had fished Armstrong a day before we fished it and had not had a fish to hand. I released twenty or so, I really wasn't counting. Perhaps he should have hired a guide.

At any rate, I can still see in my mind the lovely noses just barely poking out from beneath the mats, sipping in a small mayfly and backing up into its hiding place. If you were wearing a watch, or counting, it became evident there were more insects than the fish was taking. It rose (or poked it's nose out) on a very regular schedule. If you placed your cast up steam, didn't line the fish or its mat, and had a perfect drift to your fly, the fish would dutifully take it. If your timing was off, sorry. Kink in your leader? Opps.

I have watched fish follow a good fly for some distance, 5, 10, 20 feet only to turn away. Sometimes a 'flat refusal' comes a lot faster, but having a fish follow your fly and not take it can be maddening. What you aren't able to see of course, because we aren't underwater looking up through the fishes window, is what was wrong with the fly or its drift/float. We can guess, and we may have an educated guess, but drag is likely to be the big cause - especially if the fish is following a fly and we are watching both - we probably have lost track of what the line and leader are doing. That's part of the excitement of dry fly fishing.

Our little Koi ponds here at home have some duck weed, and a few floating lily pads. There is also a small Palmated maple which overhangs the larger pond. Even though we aren't into summer, our Koi utilize all the cover they have at their disposal. While I don't believe Koi are surface feeders by nature like trout, I still get a kick out of seeing the noses peek out from under the lily pads or duckweed to grab some bit of floating food.

Not as exciting as sitting on the bank at Armstrong and watching for the noses. But it works for me. ~ DLB

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