I’d been anxious for this day. It was a long time since my last fly-fishing outing last September, and over two months since my last hunting outing. This gap between hunting and fishing seasons can be a long one, and this year seemed especially long.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t getting outside, of course. Through February and early March I got a lot of exercise shoveling and blowing snow and many weeks I made a trip to Discovery Basin ski area and enjoyed exceptionally good snow conditions.
Still, I was overdue for a day on a river. In most years I often have an outing in late February or early March, depending on the weather.
The day finally came. We’d had the Vernal Equinox, with longer days and enough energy behind the afternoon sun to warm things up. I’d finished my writing assignments for the week and, as a bonus, filed my taxes, so caught up on obligations and with a good weather forecast, my black Lab, Kiri, and I headed for the lower Madison River, one of my favorite early season destinations for fly-fishing.
I usually don’t have expectations of catching fish on these first outings. The water is, typically, super cold and there isn’t much insect activity, and the trout are sluggish.
Still, there is always the possibility of fishing action and that’s good enough.
In most years, the lower Madison River as it emerges from Beartrap Canyon, is a good place to find spring. Typically, in late March, the snow is gone and there are shoots of green here and there. This time, the biggest challenge was finding an access point that wasn’t blocked by snow.
Incidentally, I wasn’t the only person looking for fish. Fishing guides and clients were putting drift boats in and other anglers were wading the river. That comes as no surprise. I’ve never been to the lower Madison without seeing other anglers.
In my first walk in the river, I didn’t have any action, though a couple other guys caught a few fish that were feeding on midges.
I also discovered that my waders had some tiny leaks, so my feet got damp and chilled, and a lunch break and time to thaw toes seemed appropriate.
After a lunch break Kiri and I worked our way upstream, still not having any fishing action. We came to a spot where a tributary stream empties into the Madison. I recalled from an outing some 20 years ago with the late Sylvester Nemes, his saying that this spot can be really productive.
I cast my fly, a small beadhead nymph, into the current and, surprise! I was hooked on to a small rainbow trout. I landed and released the fish and cast again. And I had another fish on the line, pretty much a carbon copy of the first one. Then a third and then a fourth fish. I had to change flies a couple times because of hooking a snag, and then pinching my tippet, not the hook, in releasing a fish.
I thought, Let’s go for ten. Then a dozen.
By the time the fish in the little run had caught on that something phony was going on with these free lunches, I’d caught and released some 19 rainbow trout, all running around 6 to 10 inches.
There was a grin on my face as I trudged back to the access point and stowed gear for the trip back home. As mentioned previously, I usually don’t have high expectations for my first outings of the year and certainly not for racking up a big catch.
While I had fun on this trip, there were other bonuses. For a few hours, there was respite from Congress, the Lege, the unending news cycle. The river and the fish that live there don’t know or care about politics, scandals and the like.
Standing in 37º water, there is just the river, a flyrod and a fly on the end of the line, with the success of the whole enterprise depending on the whim of a fish.