Neil Travis - Jun 18, 2012

I grew up east of the Mississippi, thirteen years in upstate New York and seventeen years in southern Lower Michigan. While fly fishing for trout became my passion, I spent many delightful hours watching a bobber dance while a fat bluegill or a slap-sided crappie tasted my bait. My older brother Robert and I owned a 12 foot aluminum V-hull with a 5 horse motor and we spent countless hours fishing the numerous lakes around our southern Michigan home. In time I discovered fly rod poppers and rubber spiders, but the targets remained the same.

That was long ago and in a time and place that now reside only in memory. I moved away from the Midwest nearly 40 years ago, and my older brother has gone to his final reward, but I still enjoy an occasional day of chasing gills on a warm water lake. Here in western Montana we don't have many places that harbor these warm water fish, but by traveling east it's possible to find a place to cast a sponge rubber spider for a few feisty gills. Recently Tom, my nephew, and I left home while the sun was still below the eastern horizon and drove to Colstrip, Montana to fish Castle Rock Lake.

Castle Rock Lake is a small, manmade impoundment about 150 acres in size. The lake was built in 1974 to provide water for the coal fired power plants. The water for the lake comes from the Yellowstone River through an underground pipeline that is 30 miles long. The edges are covered with bull rushes and the margins are quite weedy. This is idea cover the several species of warm water fish that inhabit this lake.

We arrived on the water about 10 o'clock after a 3½ drive from our home in Livingston. We actually arrived around 8:30 but we had to gas up the truck, air up the float tubes and find a place to eat breakfast. It's funny, but the only place in town to eat seemed to be the clubhouse at the golf course. The place is called Mulligan's, which seems appropriate, and the food was excellent. This all took time, so by the time we actually got on the water it was close to 10 o'clock.

Castle Rock Lake does not allow gasoline motors, which means no water skiers and no jet skis. We brought our float tubes, which is a convenient way to fish this lake. The cottonwood trees were in the process of shedding their seeds so the lake surface was covered with white cotton.

It did not take long for the fish to start attacking our flies. It seems that the local largemouth bass population is doing quite well, and we started to catch one small bass right after another. They were mostly about 6 inches long, but Tom caught one that was about 10 inches. We never did catch anything larger, but we did catch a boat load of them.

We continued to prospect along the lake edge hoping to find some bluegills on the spawning beds. At the far end of the lake we found a pocket of larger gills and a few crappies. Like the bass, we never did catch any large crappie, and we only caught 3 or 4 crappie between us.

Everything seemed to like the sponge rubber spider that we were both using. We fished until nearly 3 o'clock and would have continued but thunder showers were building, and the distant rumble of thunder sent us packing. I occasionally like fried fish, but I never acquired a taste for fried fisherman, especially if the fried angler is yours truly.

Fly fishing for bluegills and crappie is a diversion for those of us that live where trout are king. It's fun, not overly demanding, and a real great way to laze away a few hours on a late spring day.

Editor's Note
All the images were taken by Tom Travis. The editor's camera ate all his.

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