You're never too old to learn. Here, for example, are some
things I learned on my trip to Montana in March 2002:
It had been a long winter. My job had me traveling three to four
days a week, and my enthusiasm for the job was low. The economy
was shaky, and my company had gone through layoffs in each of the
four preceding quarters. I hadn't had much enthusiasm for fishing
(or anything else), and when I did the weather didn't cooperate.
I needed a break, and in early February I decided to take a long
weekend, spend some of the pile of frequent flyer miles I had
accumulated, and go fishing. I polled the FAOL bulletin boards
for ideas, and settled on a trip to Montana. I'd fish the Missouri
below Holter Dam one day and DePuy's Spring Creek the next. As an
added bonus, I could visit my friends Ron and Mary Ellen Johnstad
- Gloves are best organized into pairs consisting of one
each for the right and the left hands. Pairs consisting of two for
the left hand are less useful.
- Tie good knots!
- When working around water, it's a good idea to tape the
battery compartment of your camera shut.
- Anyone who tells you that the beginning of March is early
spring in Montana is either delusional or dishonest.
Hans Weilenmann suggested I get in touch with John Mundinger and
Chris Brozell for information about the Missouri and DePuy's. I
did, and arranged to meet and fish with them. John knows the
Missouri well, and Chris fishes DePuy's at least twice a week.
You can see some of John's and Chris' flies on Han's web site,
I planned to fish on March 8 and 9, and travel the prior and
following days. As my departure date approached, I monitored
the weather reports and forecasts. An Alberta Clipper had dropped
down over the Rockies. Overnight lows were running in the minus
teens (Fahrenheit), with highs in the single digits. A snowstorm
was expected late in the week. By Wednesday, it was clear that
it would remain cold at least through Friday, but it looked like
it might warm up for the weekend. So, I pushed my trip out by a
day and hoped for the best.
When I got off the plane in Helena, there was four inches of fresh
snow on the ground. The temperature was minus one, although it
felt warmer with the bright, late winter sunshine and a light
breeze. The forecast for Saturday was hopeful, predicting highs
in the mid 30s John had plans for Saturday, so would be unable
to meet me to fish the Missouri. Fortunately, he had recommended
some fly patterns. Dean at Hatchfinders Fly Shop in Livingston
recommended a couple of spots to fish.
Saturday morning was clear and sunny. The fabled Montana wind has
returned, out of the South, and temperatures were climbing quickly
from their overnight lows. I headed up I-15 to the Wolf Creek exit,
which would lead me to the Missouri just below Holter Dam.
While I had heard and read about the Missouri, this was my first
time fishing that river. The stretch between Holter Dam has a low
gradient and a fairly regular cobble bottom. Overall it is more
like a spring creek than a tail water. There was only a little
shelf ice to deal with despite the cold.
The first of Dean's recommended spots was occupied, so I crossed
the bridge at Wolf Creek and headed downstream. I found a gravel
bar that ran diagonally most of the way across the river. I could
wade along the bar and nymph into the drop off below.
Although the air temperature was now above freezing, the wind was
blowing straight upstream. I was cold as I geared up, and glad I
had brought along one of my two pair of fingerless gloves with
fold over mitts. After pulling on, zipping up, tying, snapping,
and otherwise fastening all of my gear, I pulled the gloves out
of my bag. Hmmm. Two lefts. Sadly, not the first time I had
made that mistake. I was fortunate to find the wool gloves
I bought for tailing steelhead, in the bottom of my gear bag.
This was the maiden trip for the new 6-weight that Dave Lewis
built for me on a Sage SLT 690-4 blank. This rod replaced a SP 590-3
with which I never really came to terms. I'm happy to say that
the rod performed very well for me casting multi-nymph rigs,
plus split shot and strike indicator, in the stiff wind. Dave
did a very nice job finishing the rod, too!
There was a consistent hatch of #18-#20 baetis the whole time I
was on the river. However, there was no surface activity that I
noticed. I started out trying a variety of baetis nymphs,
soft hackles, wets, and drowned emergers, to no avail. John
Mundinger had recommended a couple of midge patterns: the Red
Hot and the Lightning Bug. I tied on a lightning bug below a
tungsten bead head prince and proceeded to fish an area where
choppy standing waves and a change in water color indicated
a deep slot.
It took a couple of casts to get the drift I wanted, and then
I was into what felt to be a large fish. I played the fish for
a while, and backed into shallower water to net it. The fish
thrashed in the shallow water and my leader parted. When I
retrieved my line there was a pigtail in the end of the
leader - knot failure. My guess is that I wasn't careful
enough when tying on the fly with cold, bare hands.
I tied on another lightning bug, tied on a #20 TMC 101, and
waded back out to the slot. This time I hooked and landed a
very nice rainbow, this one 22 inches. Unfortunately, I left
the digital camera back in the car, as I didn't trust myself
to handle it over water in the cold and the wind; so, no fish
pictures from the Missouri.
As I moved down the gravel bar, I hooked three more fish, of
which I landed two: one 24" and one 18". The third bent the
hook and escaped. All five fish were hooked on #20 lightning
bugs. These are beautiful fish, big shouldered, deep, and fat.
After landing the last fish, I decided to call it a day and
drove down to Livingston.
Paradise Valley is aptly named. The broad valley floor stretches
between the Absaroka Mountains to the East and the Gallatins to
the West. Cottonwoods mark the path of the Yellowstone River as
it meanders northward from the Park towards its eastward turn
in Livingston. The valley narrows at the North end, funneling
the ever-present winds. The famous Paradise Valley spring creeks
are at the throat of this narrowing, with Armstrong's and DePuy's
on the West shore and Nelson's across the river.
I had fished Armstrong's once, several years ago. This time I had
reserved a day on DePuy's. Winter rod fees are one-third of peak
season. Although I don't fish a lot of pay-to-play water, I highly
recommend that you fish these waters at least once. They are
beautiful, and real graduate schools for fly fishers.
I met Chris Brozell at the DePuy house when I pulled up to pay
my rod fee. The house is quite out of place in Montana, being
modeled on a Southern Mansion. Still, it is in a beautiful
setting. The creek is dammed up in front of the house to create
a small pond. There was a pair of swans in the pond, and a small
herd of wooly sheep, plus one watchful llama, in a pasture across
the pond from the house. DePuy's has the best amenities of the
three creeks, with several warming sheds (including chairs,
tables, and woodstoves) and a small fly shop along the creek.
This time I brought the digital camera with me, and got a few
pictures. However, later as I took the camera out of my vest
pocket, however, the battery compartment opened and the rechargeable
battery fell into the creek. I managed to retrieve it, but did not
want to risk damage to the camera by putting in the wet battery.
The lesson: next time I'm going to tape over the battery compartment
to prevent such a mishap.
The temperature had warmed to the mid-40s, but the Chinook wind
that ushered in the warm air was blowing strongly out of the South.
Chris and I sought out a quarter-mile stretch of the creek that
was sheltered from the wind by a high bank, by the upper end of
the creek. Chris was fishing a broad section of very fishy looking
water below a riffle. I started in a deep pool just below the
culvert dividing the DePuy section from Armstrong's. It was
about 10:30, and the baetis hatch that Chris was expecting
had not started yet, to I tied on an olive CDC soft hackle
below a small, olive, bead head hare's ear. I managed to take
a couple of rainbows in the 14-inch range out of that hole
on the soft hackle before the fish started rising.
Once the rises started, I switched to a #16 CDC baetis emerger
on three feet of 7x tippet and started casting to rising fish.
These fish are very, very well educated, although not particularly
spooky. Imitations must be good, leaders fine, and presentations
first-rate. Any carelessness on the fly fishers part will put
the fish down. It seemed to me that you had at most two casts
over a fish before they would stop rising.
If you've looked at Chris' flies on Hans' website, you know that
he has some patterns tied with tightly twisted thread bodies.
The thread bodies are nicely ribbed, and very durable. Chris
gave me a #16 olive bodied parachute, with a knotted antron
shuck, to try. I fished this fly for the rest of the day.
Final count: 11 fish, 7 rainbows and 4 browns, with the
largest being a 'bow of about 16 inches.
On our first trip to Paradise Valley, my wife Colleen and I stayed
at a bed & breakfast owned by Ron and Mary Ellen Johnstad
Ron and I hit it off immediately based on our shared love of
fly-fishing, and I'm fortunate to now count Ron and Mary Ellen
among my friends. Ron was injured in a car accident late last
year, and my trip gave me the opportunity to visit with them
on my last night in Montana. I'm happy to report that Ron is
recovering well from his accident, and I look forward to my
next trip so that he and I can fish together. ~ Stu Farnham