On the second day of March I went online to buy my 2020 hunting and fishing license. I’m now licensed to go fishing, plus hunt upland birds and waterfowl for the coming 12 months. It cost a little more than a few years ago, especially considering there were a couple years when it was free for geezers. Still, if all goes well, I figure it should all amortize out to around 75 cents per outing and, living in Montana, it’s more than worth it.
Before I splurged on that license, I took the advantage of a relatively warm day, for February, to use my 2019 license one last time.
The lower Madison River is one of my favorite destinations for early season flyfishing. At the lower end of the Beartrap Canyon, it’s usually ice-free and there are plenty of access points. I’ll also note that it’s mainly public land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and there will be special places in purgatory for any politicians who think the Federal government should get rid of that public land.
With that rant out of my system, it’s a special time, that first time out in the year, when I put on waders and assemble my flyrod for the first time. I briefly wonder whether I still remember how to tie on a fresh tippet on my leader or tie on a fly. I’ll confess that I had to re-tie one of my knots, but that’s about average for any time of the year.
This stretch of the river gets a lot of use by the public. I don’t think I’ve ever gone there, regardless of season, when there weren’t other people fishing, either wading or putting in a drift boat. Still, I’m always impressed by how productive the river is.
I really wasn’t too worried about catching fish, not when it’s February, and the water isn’t much warmer than ice. I was pleasantly surprised when a fish took my fly, a small beadhead nymph. The fish felt like it might have some size to it, though in the icy water it was still kind of sluggish, and mostly tugged back instead of jumping or going for a run. It managed to slip the hook before I could identify the fish.
After taking a break for lunch and to warm my feet, I got back in the water and this time I hooked and landed a little rainbow trout, that I put back in the water after removing the hook and saying thanks to the fish gods.
As is usually the case, fishing the Madison is defined by the wind. When I first started, it was a little breezy with occasional gusts. By the time I gave up, it was a lot of breezy with occasional gusts that about blew me over. On one of those gusts I leaned hard into my wading staff to brace myself against the wind. I finally took that as a sign that it was time to go home.
On this penultimate day of February, spring was in the air. At one spot on the drive, I spotted a pair of Canada geese that were paired up and thinking of starting a family. A hundred yards further, two pheasants were in the same frame of mind.
Along the road a couple magpies flushed from the ditch. As I passed the spot, out of the corner of my eye I saw a golden eagle in the ditch. I’d guess the eagle and magpies were feasting on a road-kill deer.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the week. On Monday, I went skiing at Discovery ski area, enjoying fresh powder and some of the best snow of the season. Now a few days later, I was fly-fishing one of Montana’s premier trout rivers. Life is good, and I feel thankful for living in an area where all this is possible.
I’ll also note that with this last outing, I used my 2019 fishing and hunting license in every month of the license year, and that’s my plan for my new license, too.