Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Stealth Mission

Every year I look forward to the summer full moons.  It's become somewhat of a tradition for me to hit my home waters late in the evening of a full moon.  I usually get on the water an hour before sunset or so, the magic hour when the sun is off the water and the bugs are popping.  I start off with a small dry, maybe a purple haze or an x-caddis.  I work my way upstream throwing to risers, my anticipation level rising in direct correlation to the sun setting.  Soon after the sun sets, the full moon climbs over the mountains........

I'm not necessarily out there fishing after dark to become a bona fide night fisherman, from what limited knowledge I have it seems that they typically wait for the dark of a full moon, many of them throw mouse imitations in hopes of very few but very large fish.  I'm there as much to enjoy even more solitude than usual, and to immerse myself in the river and bond with the fish in a different level as I am to catch more or larger fish.  I typically continue to throw dries as long as fish are actively feeding on the surface.  As corny as it sounds, something changes after dark, my senses heighten.  My vision becomes crisper, my hearing sharpens, etc.  Another transformation also takes place.....the feeling I have that the rod, line, leader, tippet and fly are an extension of my hand and arm increases along with my senses.  I lay out a cast and even though I may catch a fleeting glimpse of the white parachute of my #16 purple haze, it's quickly out of sight.  I instinctively move my gaze downstream as though I can still see the fly.  When my timing is really good, I lay out a cast in cadence with the rising fish, I track the drift without seeing my fly, and everything comes together and the fish rises on cue.  I lift the rod and feel the familiar heft of a fish.  It truly is a zen-like experience.

Once the surface activity begins to die down (which in my experience and in my neck of the woods usually happens to be somewhere between 10:45 and 11:15) I switch to an unweighted muddler minnow, one of my go-to flies, especially for evenings and after dark.  This particular night I go with a #4.  I begin working my way back down to a favorite run.  Two casts in with the muddler and I'm tight to a scrappy 14" brown.  Halfway to the run and a dozen casts later I have another brown to hand, this one in the 17" range, a respectable fish on any Montana river and especially on my rather small home river.  As I approach the top of the run I want to end up on, I miss what seems to be a rather small fish.  Typical.  (One thing that I've grown accustomed to whilst fishing a muddler is a fair number of fish, especially smaller fish, short-stroking my fly as the swing apexes, or after I've begun to strip the fly back upstream).  I methodically work down the run-nothing.  I move back up to the middle of the run and mix things up-stripping speed, casting angle etc.  After a good ten minutes of working the run over I lay a cast downstream at approximately a 45 degree angle and almost immediately as the fly begins to swing i feel the tug of a good fish.  I set the hook with a downstream sweep when all of a sudden the world erupts.  Before I know it the fish is in the middle of it's third jump, easily clearing the water each time by three or four feet.  After a few strong runs I have the broad shouldered rainbow to hand.  It stretches just beyond the 21" mark that was hastily made on my rod with  hemostats a couple of years ago (another story).  I snap a couple of quick pictures without completely removing him from the water, after all it's late July and the water temps are hovering in the mid 60's even at 11 pm.

I look at my phone and it is only 11:10.  I have brought a total of 7 fish to hand and farmed a few others, a decent night in anyone's book.  After a moment of reflection, I decide to clip my fly and head back to my rig.  Every so often there are obvious signs that it's time to call it a night......

I might fish a night or two on either side of the full moon but it's not quite the same, enjoyable regardless though.  One thing is for certain, even though my home river is not crowded by most people's standards, I'm beginning to run into quite a few more people lately.  It probably sounds ridiculous, but even if I can just see someone else while I'm fishing, they're too close!   Luckily I've yet to run into anyone else after the magical time-after the sun sets but the west sky is still pink and the full moon ascends in the east.

Another summer full moon stealth mission accomplished!

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