“Have you been catching any fish?”
That’s usually a question I don’t mind answering. I may not be the greatest fisherman since St. Peter, but over the seasons I catch my share of fish and consider myself fairly competent. After all, I can tie flies, build rods, identify many aquatic insects, and occasionally I even get paid to share some angling expertise with an otherwise unsuspecting public.
Also, in recent years I’ve been participating in the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fishing log program. During the year I record a few things about each Montana fishing outing and at the end of the year the statistical wizards in Helena enter the data into their computer system and generate angling statistics they share with the world. But that’s the rub: to make it work, I have to do my part by keeping track of each fishing outing.
So, by looking back at my fishing log I am frequently reminded that fishing isn’t always about catching fish. Sometimes it’s about learning humility.
Back in mid-March I took my first spring trip to running water, enjoying some sunshine but getting blown around by strong winds roaring down the Madison River’s Beartrap Canyon. It was still a nice day to be outside and I don’t expect to catch anything the first time out anyway—or so I tell myself when I don’t catch anything. Nevertheless, that first trip started a pattern, or so it seemed.
The next few trips were to my favorite trout stream, the Big Hole River, and learned that past angling success doesn’t mean anything, and that if you go fishing in early April, you’d better plan on nasty weather. On one of those days, storm clouds hung over the mountain ranges west of the river, though bright sunshine warmed me as Flicka, my faithful Labrador retriever, and I shared a sandwich while I put on waders and assembled my rod.
The sun was still shining when I stepped into the river’s icy waters and began casting flies into the river’s current. I had a couple bumps by fish hitting my fly—and just as quickly refusing it. At least I know there are fish out there, I told myself.
Then those storm clouds roared down the mountainside. At first there was a little drizzle in the air. That quickly changed to graupel, icy snow pellets that bounced off my jacket before being swallowed up by the river. In minutes that changed to wet, heavy snow that soaked my clothing and chilled my hands. Flicka and I beat a retreat back to the truck where I turned the heater on high until feeling returned. The storm then let up a bit so I found some gloves and returned to the stream for a few minutes before I finally concluded I wasn’t having fun and drove back home through the snowstorm.
Bad fishing luck continued, pretty much in lock step with continuing cold weather and icy waters, now beginning to get murky with the beginning of what will likely be a long runoff period.
Still, that’s no reason to quit fishing. On my last outing I returned to the Madison River. While the peaks on the Tobacco Root Mountains seem to have more snow than in mid-March the lowlands are turning green and many fields are freshly planted with this year’s planned crops. Unexpectedly, the winds along the river were relatively calm.
The fish continued to ignore my offerings. I tried several spots, all to no avail. I was ready to call it another unsuccessful outing when I noticed little mayflies flying all around, plus some rises on the water. I cast my line and was gratified by the take of a fish. That fish got off, though it stayed on long enough to qualify as a ‘long distance release.’ A few minutes later another fish struck and stayed on long enough for me to land it and send it back to the river.
I’d finally caught a couple fish. I declared victory and went home.