On a float trip down the Big Hole River, a week ago, the most common sight wasn’t rising trout. It was Canada geese; big families of geese, with this year’s goslings almost full-grown, just waiting to grow some more feathers so they could start taking flying lessons.
Their parents, seeming models for attentive parents, were likely telling them to be patient. After all, the adult geese were temporarily flightless, as well, in the middle of their summer molt.
Soon, all those geese, adults and goslings alike, will have their flight feathers and will be practicing flying skills, in preparation for heading south when winter weather comes back to Montana.
And, “Whoa!” I can just hear some readers muttering, “We’re barely into summer and you’re already talking about winter?”
Yes, in Montana’s mountain country, summer is that most fleeting of our seasons. Summer comes late to our high elevation valleys, and often, like last year, ends with September snowstorms.
So, just as Canada geese and other waterfowl have to grow up in a hurry, some wild fruits, such as gooseberries, are ripe right now. On a weekend of camping and fishing, it was easy to get a quick snack of some sweet and tart gooseberries. It’s sometimes a bit of a challenge, as wild rose bushes or stinging nettles guard some of the gooseberry bushes. Once you find a gooseberry bush that’s accessible, you have to contend with the sharp thorns of the gooseberry bush.
It’s a challenge, though I have experience of coping with thorns. On the large garden on the Minnesota farm where I grew up, we had a number of domesticated gooseberry bushes, and being a kid, it was my blood that was deemed worthy of sacrifice for the sake of gooseberry jam. Incidentally, with the abundant rain this spring, the fruit of the wild gooseberries, this year, is larger than usual, almost as big as domestic berries.
The fleeting aspect of summer applies to the fly-fishing as well. On a couple floats on the upper part of the river, the fishing was challenging. With the now shallow water and bright sunshine, it was rare to see any fish rising, either to insects or to my dry flies. The lower water is also beginning to make floating a bit of a challenge. Even on a small pontoon boat, I was getting hung up in the riffles.
On the other hand, as evening approached, in the last couple hours of daylight, there was an abundance of aquatic insects in the air, including mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. It took me a little while, one evening, to figure out what worked, but in a short flurry of action, I caught four trout, including a 15-inch (or thereabouts) brown trout for my angling thrill of the week. All the trout came up to a #16 mayfly imitation.
It’s no secret that anglers are the eternal optimists of the outdoors world, and I plead guilty to being one of those optimists. I’m looking forward to the next couple weeks when, in addition to the usual aquatic insects, we’ll see trout rising to the annual flurry of spruce moths as they seemingly migrate to their deaths on the Big Hole and other western rivers. Catching trout feasting on spruce moths can lead to some of the best dry fly fishing of the season.
In the next week or so we should also be seeing the beginning of the trico hatch. Tricos, short for tricorythodes, are the tiny mayflies that emerge from the waters for a few hours as a flying, winged insect. After seeking out mates, the mayflies return to the river’s surface by the thousands and millions to lay their eggs to start the next generation of tricorythodes. Personally, I catch more trout, along with more Rocky Mountain whitefish than I can count, during the trico hatch than any other time of the year.
So, think evening, think terrestrials, and think tiny. There’s a lot of interesting fly-fishing that’s will be happening as we enter late summer.