On a rather crisp March
morning this past year, my husband, Mark, and I ventured out to the pinto bean
fields outside of
Mark and I watched the water as Will launched his drift boat. Didn’t see a lot of rises, but the water looked good and the lake seemed to offer a lot of different opportunities for different fish and fishing. We climbed into waders just in case, although it looked like it was a lake to purely float not wade. We gathered rods with sink tips and floating lines and clambered aboard. Will was determined to choose the fly and I let him. It was a large greenish-beige wooly bugger, about size 10, with some soft hackle. Other than that I don’t remember much about it. I am just not that good at remembering the flies that I catch fish with, except whether they worked. And boy, did this one work.
We drifted over to the east side of the lake, near some shallows with some buried trees. There weren’t many rises but we could see fish moving. The water was crystal clear. I cast to the deeper part of the lake and bam!—a good hit. I set the hook and pulled in a beautiful cutbow about 18". I was surprised to see a cutbow in the lake. Will had said there were lots of choices in the lake but we were most likely going to be catching rainbows or browns. I think he was somewhat surprised to see a cutbow, too. He marveled at the hybridization of the fish over the time that he’s fished the lake.
From there we drifted to the deeper part of the lake. I kept the same fly and line and cast out again to the deeper side of the boat. After a few casts, another hit. This time a good-sized brown, nice and fat, and a beautiful deep yellow. I was feeling rather pleased with myself getting two good fish on one fly. We fished a bit longer there with not much action. So we drifted over to the west side of the lake along a straight bank with some good willows that were submerged.
I cast hard against the bank and pulled through the willows. Another hit! This time, unbelievably, a largemouth bass. Good size, not a lunker, but a nice fish. My amazement was that the same fly had attracted all three of these fish. We eased the bass back into the water laughing about my luck. Still had that same fly on.
We took the turn at the corner of the lake and again I cast at some limbs sticking out of the water. But no luck. Mark wanted to hit the bank so I cast out to middle of the lake. Imagine my surprise when there was another hit. I was successful in getting the fish set and was incredulous to land a smallmouth bass. It was the first one I had ever caught. And on the same fly that a largemouth, brown, and cutbow had been interested in.
We drifted the south bank for a long time. Will told us that the lake had been iced over until just a few days before. The farmer who owns the land told us that a herd of elk had crossed just as the ice was thinning and three of them crashed through the ice and drowned. He said they were the last in the line of the herd and we surmised that at least one of them had to be a bull. So we scouted the water for antlers. No luck. I am kind of glad we didn’t find that elk. My engagement ring is an elk’s tooth—the whistler—with a golden trout set up next to it. I think Mark might have dived over to find another set of whistlers, and that water was cold.
Back to fishing. At this point, I had four different fish in a row on the same fly. I figured I’d hit another brown or bass. The lake seemed full of fish. As we drifted near the southeast corner of the lake, it got shallow and full of weeds. We saw fish moving and then saw tails. Wow, there were carp in this lake! I am married to a man otherwise known as the “Carp King,” so we had to at least make an effort to attract these fish. We tried. With that same fly on—but no luck. Mark could have kicked himself for not bringing some carp flies. Will was skeptical that we could get any of them to take a thing, and he was right.
So we headed back to the deeper part of the lake, casting wherever we saw some movement. I saw a good swirl and cast that way. A good hit, fought the fish for only a brief time and, get this, pulled in a 20" rainbow. It took a moment for me to realize what had just happened. Five different fish on the same fly, right in a row, in the same lake. I was dumbfounded. But not too dumbfounded to keep fishing. These five fished all happened before lunch!
The rest of the day was a marvel, too. Mark had a fish literally dance across the water for a good 10 yards. Then he had a large brown almost jump into the boat with us. We had caught so many fish at that point, that we told Will we wanted to switch over to dry flies and see if we couldn’t entice all those fish we could see rising.
Will was a Doubting Thomas. He said that the fish would never be interested in dry flies this early in the season. They were just too hungry after ice-out to make the effort for dries. Well, we proved him wrong on at least 20 fish. Maybe more because we stopped counting. And they were all browns. Rising over and over and over again. I do remember that fly: an elk hair caddis about size 16. Damn, wish I could remember the fly for the first five fish! But at least I have the pictures.
After two years of enjoying Texas trout fishing, Carol and I have moved north. She retired from the Air Force in August (I retired 10 years ago), and we have settled on the Gallatin River, just outside Bozeman Montana. OK, keep the moans of condolence to a minimum.
The big brown spawn is over, and the browns are on their redds, but the rainbows are hovering below the redds, feeding on eggs. There is still great fishing here, and the uncrowded rivers are REALLY empty with the elk and deer seasons in full swing.
I read about the "MRE" nymph (named for the military "Meal-Ready-to-Eat" rations) in Fly-Tyer magazine, and it has become my Number 1 producer here in Montana waters. The recipe follows:
Hook: #16 scud, preferably with upturned eye, and a 3/32 gold bead
Thread: #6 or 8 black
Body: A single biot from a mottled turkey wing, started half way round the bend of the hook
Wing: Short and sparse white calf's hair or light elk hair, (12 to 15 hairs) tied in no longer than the start of the bend
Thorax: Single strand of peacock herl, wound over calf hair tie-in
Collar: Orange thread, 4 or 5 wraps, (plus 3 or 4 turns of whip finish) ahead of peacock herl, extending just up onto the gold bead
This little emerger is easy to tie, and really has outfished my pheasant tails, princes, and gold-ribbed hare’s ears wherever I've fished it. In fast water, I'll rig it as a dropper behind a bead head wooly bugger.
I'm tying #32 midges for
the winter spring-creek fishing now, but that's another story.
Tight lines all around.