In Australia the aboriginal people call the time of
creation "The Dream Time." Now that I am solidly past
a half century of life I look back on my life and view
much of my early years as a kind of dream time.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
When I started to fish for trout with flies, fly fishing
was on the wane. Spin fishing was all the rage. With a
spinning rod one could throw a tiny spoon clear across
the river with less effort and skill than it took to
throw a fly 10 yards with a fly rod. Fiberglass and
nylon had revolutionized the fishing industry, and spin
fishing seemed destined to bury fly fishing.
A bamboo fly rod with two tips, in a cloth bag and
metal case could be had for under a hundred dollars.
A quality reel was under twenty-five dollars, and
hand-tied flies were twenty-five cents apiece. Fly
boxes were made of metal, with the individual fly
bins covered with tiny doors with glassine covers.
Mucilin came in metal tins that cost a quarter.
Flies were tied out of hair, fur and feathers. Wet
flies sank, dry flies floated and there wasn't
anything in between. You could carry an entire fly
tying kit in a shoe box, and have everything you
needed to tie any kind of fly you might need to
catch a trout.
The greatest advantage were the uncrowded trout waters.
After the flurry of opening day most trout streams, even
the 'famous ones' were virtually deserted. An especially
noteworthy hatch like the 'Michigan Caddis' hatch, or the
'Salmon Fly' might bring out a few more anglers, but what
we would have called crowded in those days would hardly
equal a normal day's crowd on most trout waters today.
If the trout streams were too crowded you could always
fish a lake or pond. Only a very few fly fishers
practiced their skills on stillwaters.
This change in angling pressure and technique was vividly
demonstrated to me last summer during a week in late July.
With the local spring creeks flooded with water from the
Yellowstone River, I decided to do some lake fishing. It
had been several years since I taken an 'angler's holiday'
and just spent several days doing nothing but fishing, so
I hooked up my trailer, threw in my float tube and took
off. My destination was a lake that for the sake of
privacy will remain nameless; enough people have discovered
During the past when I had fished this lake I had only
encountered a handful of other anglers. Most of them
were people that I knew. The lake is large, and there
was never any crowding. Fish were plentiful, and most
were good sized. In mid-summer the hatches were heavy,
and the trout rose with abandon. It was a delightful
experience to wile away a summer morning sitting in a
float tube casting to rising trout that were so numerous
that their rising made the surface of the lake look like
it was raining.
While I anticipated things would not be as they were,
I was hardly prepared for my first morning on the water.
While there were still a few float tubers plying the
water, an armada of water craft of every description
began to appear from every cove. There were canoes,
pontoon boats, McKenzie River boats, John boats and
even a salt water skiff with a raised front casting
platform. Several of the small one man pontoon boats
had electric motors, and one even had a fish finder!
Sailing majestically through this conglomeration of
water craft was a large cabin cruiser with rods
bristling out from every angle, like a porcupine
having a bad hair day. If it had not been such a
sad sight it would have been comical.
The effects on the fishing were even more dramatic.
While it appeared the hatch of insects had not been
effected by the increased crowds, the fishing had been
markedly changed. The large groups of feeding fish were
gone, replaced by an occasional riser that dared to
stick its nose above the surface to take a fly. All
of the fish were extremely spooky, and seldom would
any fish rise more than two or three times in any
location. The anglers were quickly scurrying from
one rising fish to the next as quickly as their motors
would get them there, hoping to get in a cast or two
before the fish quit. They were seldom successful. By
poking around quietly in a small cove I was able to
cast to a few trout before they stopped rising, and
they were the same good fish that I had enjoyed years
before, but the angling experience was not.
Later I spoke with one of the few old timers that
still fishes the lake. He said my experience was
typical of the current angling conditions. The
crowds come early and they stay until the winter
winds drive them away to warmer climes. The
increased pressure has caused the trout to become
very difficult to approach, and most of them are
now caught by trailers, or by anglers who fish
nymphs on sinking lines. Due to the competition
to try to reach the few sporadic risers most of
the float tubers have turned in their tubes for
pontoon boats equipped with electric motors. The
results have been that the fly fishing has
disintegrated into a battle fueled by technology.
On the rare occasions when the modern flotilla stays
in port the lake is strangely quiet; the trout never
resuming their old feeding patterns.
We stood beneath the trees and spoke of another
time, a time that seemed so long ago. 'The Dream Time,'
a time of rising trout, and uncrowded waters. A slower
simpler time. A time that will not likely come again. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
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