"It is not fly fishing if you are not looking for answers to
questions," suggested St. Norman. Sometimes these questions
are epistemological conundrums that have puzzled man since he
first crawled from the primordial swamp; other times they are
as simple as 'what are they bitin' on?' A pristine pool in
the mountains of Montana is a great place to seek answers to
questions both large and small.
Today was a 'what are they bitin' on?' day. We've had a record
heat wave in the west, one day actually reaching 107, but with
no humidity so that an eastern transplant like myself can brave
this type a weather a bit better than a true westerner (and I
must add about the only thing I can brave a bit better than a
true westerner). But, still, the weather is not conducive to
trout fishing, and it will only be a matter of days before
rivers are closed to angling.
With this in mind I head out very early to fish a few spots on
the Bitterroot. I'm an early riser, which until now has been to
no advantage, but I arrive at a good spot not well known, but the
type of place where one is company and two is a crowd, and find
I'm the first one there. Though not yet stifling, the temperature
is steadily rising and the river itself even seems to be worn out
by the heat; it is slow and placid and lacks the energy that usually
emanates from moving water. Worse, though bugs are rising in such a
fury that the rings they generate as they break the surface almost look
like trout feeding, there are no fish.
I move to the next spot.
As I cross the bridge to find river access, I look down and can
clearly see a line of trout in a feeding lane, and it is as if
I'm watching a National Geographic special on trout behavior,
with the bigger fish occupying the apex, decreasing in size
until only very small fish are at the wide end of the feeding
triangle. Some young upstarts try to jockey for a better position,
only to be chased away by the larger trout. But though they look
to be standing in the chow line, none of them appear to be eating.
I determine from the bridge which side of the river offers me the
best angle to these fish, slide down on my butt to keep a low profile,
throw multiple casts and multiple flies, working from the back of the
line up toward the front, and the trout act as if my nymph is invisible.
Then suddenly there is a large splash behind me, and I have a sense
of déjà vu. This wasn't a small or even a medium sized fish
delicately sipping a may fly; this was a feed worthy of a striped
bass slamming a pogie. And I lapse into my striped bass mode,
recklessly wade to the other side of the river to get a better
casting angle instead of slowly leaving the pool and crossing
at the bridge, and in the process spook the pool. The sun is
rising, the temperature increasing, and, as Yogi Berra said,
"it's getting late early."
I walk to the third bridge hoping that three is a charm. It isn't.
I go to a nice pool formed by a slow eddy where I've had luck before
and find it loaded with trout. I approach stealthily, cast delicately,
and the trout all turn and leisurely swim to the other side of the
pool. I cautiously work my way to the end of the pool where the
trout are, cast, and the pod of fish turns again and casually swim
to the other side. This ping pong match goes on for a bit before
I leave, suppressing the urge to throw a large rock in the middle
of the pod to get their hearts racing like mine has been.
"You're either giving a lesson, or getting a lesson," observed Iron
Mike Ditka. This day, I got a lesson. ~ Dave
Until recently Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
He just moved to Missoula, Montana. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He wrote a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and taught a fly fishing course at Boston University.