Spring Comes to Montana

Southwest Montana’s Tobacco Root Mountains at the end of winter.

The moment of the vernal equinox came last week in the early morning hours of March 20. Most people consider the equinox as the beginning of spring.

The equinox is an astronomical event, when twice a year, the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the center of the sun, as the tilt of the earth changes in its rotation around the sun.

Still, it really doesn’t mark the beginning of spring.

This year, we might have marked the beginning of spring in mid-February when we started to get weather warm enough to start melting the snow.

I noted the first emergence of tulips the last week of February as a sign of spring. A few days later, in the first week of March, I spotted the first sprouts of garlic emerging from a deep cover of mulch from last October’s planting.

On the morning of March 5, I heard the first calls of a robin, proclaiming he was back in Butte and marking our neighborhood as his mating territory.

High school sports enthusiasts might point at March 6 as the beginning of spring, when, two days after the basketball tournaments, athletes and coaches turned to spring sports. Others look at when major league baseball teams go to spring training.

I suppose some might call the day when they put skis away as the beginning of spring.

I might be hoping for one more snowstorm in this coming week but for me, spring, the true beginning of spring, came on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

I know, most everybody in Butte, Montana is at least a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but I tend to avoid the revelry and get out of town. If the weather is bad, I like to go skiing, but if the weather is good I’ll go fishing.

On St. Patrick’s Day, the weather was great, with clear skies, calm winds and bright sunshine; a perfect day to load a couple fly rods and other fishing gear in the truck and hit the road for the Madison River and the first fly-fishing of 2017.

Our black Lab, Kiri, was happy to jump in the truck and join me on the outing. For her, it was the first ride in the truck that made any sense since the end of the duck season back in January.

It felt good to put on waders and assemble a fly rod again. I know that some enthusiasts are out fly-fishing all winter, but I hadn’t been on a river since the end of September, when ruffed grouse and pheasants took over all my outdoors attention.

I’ll spare the suspense. In several hours of casting various fake bugs I had no response whatsoever from the trout of the Madison River. They totally ignored my offerings. That’s okay. The water was still icy cold and there wasn’t much bug activity, other than a few midges buzzing around.

I certainly wasn’t alone out on the river. The standard flotilla of drift boats was working the river, and lots of other wade anglers were scattered along the shallow areas of the river. Occasionally I‘d hear an exclamation from a boater, indicating some fish action.

Kiri, who’d just turned age two a few days earlier, is turning out to be a respectable fishing dog. Much of the time she was sitting on the bank, or perched on a rock, watching me intently while I whipped the water. For her, the best part of the day was when she got a ragged old baseball out of the back of the truck so I could throw it for her. Kiri isn’t much good at the bat, and she doesn’t have a good pitching arm, but she’s an enthusiastic fielder.

Kiri keeping a close eye on me.

For me, the best part of the day was sharing a sandwich with Kiri, then leaning back in my camp chair and taking a little nap, with warm sunshine and the murmur of the river quietly carrying away the winter’s tensions and worries.

It’s spring.

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