I knew it would happen when I chose to work in a fly shop again. First, it’s been a mild Montana winter with tons of good fishing days. Secondly, I’m surrounded by fly fishing goods. Thirdly, I hear Montana fly fishing reports daily and I constantly converse about fly fishing. The result is increasing amplitude of an already fervent desire to fish every spare moment. Working full time and being heavily scheduled with active children, makes spare moments a rare commodity and very precious when they come.
I’ve been working with Paul Bloch. Paul has the unquenchable fishing gene like me and he’s a fellow cheese head and Packer fan from Wisconsin. His girl friend is off in New Zealand catching big browns while on a spring semester program through MSU. That’s a somewhat touchy subject. Paul managed to graduate from MSU in less than a decade despite the distractions of testing gravity on snowy mountains and probing all flowing trout waters in a large radius of the Bozone. He is fishing every moment he can and his life is currently structured so that he can. We usually have opposing days off and/or I’m usually obligated/scheduled. This past Sunday, I was in town with no youth hockey games and no pressing family obligation, other than facing down the thousand yard stares when I said I was going to be gone all day to quench my fishing crave. I was about to get locked.
I met Paul at the boat ramp in Craig and we dropped my rig and rambled up to Holter Dam, after a quick stop at Joe’s Bar for some carry out refreshment. I was already wadered up, so while Paul was pulling on his waders, I tied on the streamer de jour he had picked out. I took a swing right off the ramp and I got locked. I’ve never seen someone wader up so fast. Maybe it’s because he does not bother with boots.
We launched Paul’s South Fork Skiff and started fishing just a few feet off the ramp where I’d just hooked up, but no more fish were willing. We slid across the river and worked the inside of the Upper Bull Pasture bend. Locked. We literally got a grab on every drift until we had cleared through a swath of fish. Then we repositioned and did it again. I enjoy nymphing for an hour or so. When the fish are chomping, you can ensure that plenty of fish come to hand for bragging rights later. Then it’s more fun to try other methods. For me, that usually involves swinging the 2-hander or casting streamers from the boat.
We stalked some fish in very skinny water and watched one eat the streamer. Paul was locked again. It was a good
sign that the trout had eyes for bigger meals than midges. As we neared one of my favorite swing zones, I realized why Paul was not wearing wading boots. There was a pitifully shrunken looking pair in the boat with the soles peeling off. They resembled BWO cripples more then wading boots, and looked like something even a desperate dumpster prospector would pass on. Paul was not planning to wade this day.
While I have fished from many different drift boats and water craft, I have never been in a river skiff style drift boat. We anchored up, and I quickly discovered that the squared off nose of the skiff left me plenty of space for spey casting. After a couple fish, I gave Paul the bow and he showed me how to fish from a skiff. You sit down. The “Sit & Swing” was born.
It goes like this. You sit up tall, launch a cast, and then make a mend if needed. Then you slouch back and put your feet up, grab a cold drink, hum along to Bob Marley, give the fly a little bump as it nears the hang down and you get locked. Your partner nets the fish, so you don’t even need to get up and there is time for another sip or a chomp on a snickers bar, before the process repeats.
After a few casts, I was back in “Sit & Swing” position. A boat approached from upstream, bearing some beer drinking Missoulan fly fishers. Paul knew the oarsman and the typical fly fishing banter ensued. So far, they had not been well received by the Missouri River trout. We traded some intel and told them they could slip ahead for first water in the slot below, in exchange for several Budweiser Tall Boys. They moved around us and started nymphing.
Soon there was a whoop as a huge whitey strained against the rod. At the time, I was locked to another “Sit & Swing” rainbow. As we enjoyed their Bud’s, Paul commented; “Sometimes you’re just not in the game.”
The Missouri River is like that, as most waters are. Fly Fishing is a game and one we love to play. Sometimes you’re just not in the game. It happens to everyone; even veterans, experts and
guides. The wrong pattern choices, the wrong timing, the wrong leader, the wrong amount of weight or just a huge group of fish with a hive mentality keeping their mouths shut. If it did not happen that way, “In the Game” days would not be nearly as much fun.
We stayed in the game that day, as we worked down the river. Streamers were intercepted, a particular pocket yielded a surprising quantity of fish to the indicator drift, and we polished off a perfect day on a pod of rising fish at sunset.
It was dark when we loaded up the boat. I avoided tragic impact with a sprinting deer by a hairs width on our return shuttle. Timing is everything. We hit Joe’s in Craig and got locked on fresh beer, a warm atmosphere and some fishing flap with the Missoula boys. Paul stayed in Craig. His plan was to grab an hour or so of fishing at sunrise and get locked before the bonsai back to Great Falls and another day in the Big R Fly Shop.