First Flyfishing of the Year – Must be Spring!

The beautiful Big Hole River at the end of March.

Spring is where you find it, even when it’s temporary.

Everything about the spring of 2018 is behind schedule. It was the middle of March before I saw any sign of emerging tulips or garlic, and after St. Patrick’s Day when I first heard robins calling their territorial claims in my neighborhood.

When March comes in like a lion it’s supposed to go out like a lamb. This year, March came in and went out like a lion, and April started on a wintry note as well.

Still, there are occasional peeks at what spring might be, and I found one of those momentary glimpses on the next to last day of March. The weather forecast called for strong winds, but relatively mild temperatures, so I declared it to be spring for a day and went fishing.

It had been a long time since my last fishing outing. Sometime in late September I put my flyrods away for the duration, as chasing grouse and/or pheasants would be my top priority for the fleeting autumn season.

After the end of the hunting seasons my outdoor adventures turned to skiing and as a lot of skiers will confirm, this cold, snowy winter became an absolutely fantastic skiing season. I had enough trips to Discovery to make me regret I didn’t buy a season pass a year ago. The snow kept coming and the skiing held up to the end. In most years, by late March, bare spots start showing up on sunny slopes but not this year.

Still, after my last ski outing I ran my truck through a car wash and declared it spring.

The Big Hole River, the trout stream I call my “home water,” is a lot different in early spring than it is in mid-summer. There just isn’t much going on in the public access spots, especially compared to all the traffic of floaters, guides and shuttles, and anglers of all ages looking for places to fish.

At the end of March, the river is just starting to wake up. The ice in the lower Big Hole is out, though there are still big slabs of shelf ice on the edges of the river, slowly melting on those rare warm days. They’ll probably stay in place until high water flushes them away in the first good surge of runoff.

Aside from the murmur of the water in the riffles, it’s relatively quiet. Some robins are calling, but if there were ducks and geese in the vicinity they were abnormally quiet.

My black Labrador retriever, Kiri, is ecstatic about the outing, and she joyfully splashes through the shallows and swimming in the middle of the river. A dog charging through the riffles probably isn’t good for fishing, but it’s hard to convince her that she would be happier sitting by me along the shoreline. Besides, if she isn’t churning the river waters, she’d probably be back in the brush looking for things she shouldn’t have, and in fact, on one of her excursions she came back with a deer leg. She thought it was a great chew toy and didn’t understand why I took it away from her.

My expectations for my first fishing outings are realistically low. The water is ice cold and there isn’t any insect activity happening to make the fish more active. So, the lack of fish on this particular fishing outing doesn’t particularly bother me. In coming weeks, as the water warms, I know I’ll catch my share of trout.

There’s a huge snowpack in the mountains this spring. It’s going to be interesting to see how all that ice and snow will come down to the rivers. We might hope for a slow and gradual warm-up that will keep that snowpack in the high country until mid-summer, but I don’t have a crystal ball.

I do know, as Kiri and I shared a sandwich in the relatively warm spring sunshine, we have the satisfaction that we’ve mostly made it through winter and life is good.

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