Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mixed Signals

All week I kept an eye on the forecast.  Monday the weather service called for snow starting Tuesday, then it called for moderate snow by mid-Tuesday.  Monday afternoon the snow was bumped back and was expected to hit late Tuesday evening but accumulations were expected to be significant in the mountains.  I tentatively prepared to hit the slopes Wednesday.  Tuesday morning's check of the weather service website showed snow by mid-day Wednesday.  By Tuesday guessed it, the snow wasn't expected until Wednesday evening but now there was a winter weather advisory in effect for the mountains of western Montana.  I put the call out to my local Big Mountain guy Urban T. to see if he was down to hit the slopes Thursday.  He must've been checking the weather service forecast as well because his enthusiasm for a Thursday boarding trip seemed cautiously guarded.  The trepidation proved justified as Wednesday turned into Wednesday evening and hourly checks of the radar showed only slight precipitation.  Urban texted me Wednesday evening and said he was on the way to his yurt outside Whitefish and promised to let me know if it was dumping when he arrived.  By this morning it was obvious we had not received the winter weather that was promised so I did what  comes natural, I went fishing.
By the time I was free to go early this afternoon, the temperature was a balmy 45 degrees.  My plan was to hit the lower river and maybe fish to the mouth if I had time.  As I made the turn into the parking area I saw a car.  I'm thinking "what in the hell is this place coming to?  Someone else here?  On a Thursday afternoon, in February?  Are you serious?".  It just gets better, as I was making my way back onto the highway, I see two guys crossing the bridge with SPINNING RODS!  Now I'm thinking "Gearchuckers?  on MY river, in MY spot, on a Thursday afternoon?".  I quickly decided that I couldn't blame them, it was 45 degrees after all and with that I bid them adieu in my mind as I forced a friendly return wave.  Besides it was only a couple of miles upriver to my next haunt so off I went.
Upon arrival I will admit I was relieved to see I was the only one there. 
I decided to wade upriver first and fish my way back down.  With the temperature hovering in the mid-40s and the occasional splashing of sunshine I spotted a few bugs flying around.  During the sparse bouts of extended sunshine if I squinted my eyes a little to blur out the mountains I could almost imagine it was September and would strain my eyes a little harder at each new bend of the river.  It almost seemed like if I squinted just the right amount and wished hard enough, I could will a fish to the surface to eat.  Just as I was passing into a lull and was sure I was going to see a fish slurp a bug on the surface, the sun would roll over a peak on the southern horizon and bring me back to the realization that we were still in the clutches of mid-winter. My jedi practice segued into rhythmic casting as it usually does when I'm fishing underneath with no risers in sight.  It's a rhythm that lends itself to steelheading as well, cast, mend, mend repeat.....
Finally the indicator disappeared and I was eager to feel a tug.  I immediately knew there was foul play on the river's part as the line went taut, "Oh well, it was probably time to try something different anyway".  Drawing in the slack, I held the line to the rod and walked away, to my surprise, just as the line seemed ready to break the river let go and I was saved from re-rigging.
So here's my first catch of February. 

Under the bridge - the GoPro perspective

A score is a score, usually it's from a tree along the bank but when the river surrenders booty I'll take it.  At least someone else was thinking along the same lines as I was, so I decided to stick with the black stonefly and follow this unfortunate soul's lead and add a dropper.  A quick perusal of my limited nymph box and I thought I might as well go with two classics, so a beadhead prince nymph it was.
I was almost back to my car and the sun had only a small cloud to duck behind before hitting the horizon.  I was in no particular hurry and it was still fairly warm so I decided to fish out the rest of the run.  A few casts in and my indicator darted underneath and upstream, there was no doubt this time it was fish on!  The scrappy brown made a modest run upstream and then put on a little display of aerials, not once, not twice but three times!  It was a pleasant surpirse and for a moment I slipped back into my visions of September.  Upon bringing the fish to hand and feeling the cold water I was quickly brought back to reality and the fact that it was early February.  After a couple of quick pictures I gave the fish's tail a couple of gentle shakes and he darted back to his place in the river.  As usual I was also back in my place, as was everything.  Catching a fish (even underneath) just naturally puts everything into place for me in that moment in time.

Satisfied, I waded down the rest of the run, almost as an afterthought I decided to cast to a small pool near my parking spot where a small side channel re-joined the river, I had called my son Marshall to see if he wanted to join me on today's excursion.  He didn't answer and a few minutes later he texted me that he was in a meeting (poor kid) and wished me luck and to "catch one for him".  My first cast into the small pool and one mend later I was into another fish.  It was also a brown and although he didn't perform any acrobatics he put up a decent fight.  As I watched my second fish of the day fin eagerly back into the depths of the pool I again felt I satisfied that I had "caught one for Marshall" as well.
On the drive home my thoughts drifted back up the mountains and as i crested Ravalli hill the sight of the Mission mountains brought me full circle back to the complete reality that we are still in the grips of winter, even though she is handling us with kid's gloves this year.  
Talk about your mixed signals........

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