Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

September 10th, 2007

The Lesson
By Dave Micus, Missoula MT

"It is not fly fishing if you are not looking for answers to questions," suggested St. Norman. Sometimes these questions are epistemological conundrums that have puzzled man since he first crawled from the primordial swamp; other times they are as simple as 'what are they bitin' on?' A pristine pool in the mountains of Montana is a great place to seek answers to questions both large and small.

Today was a 'what are they bitin' on?' day. We've had a record heat wave in the west, one day actually reaching 107, but with no humidity so that an eastern transplant like myself can brave this type a weather a bit better than a true westerner (and I must add about the only thing I can brave a bit better than a true westerner). But, still, the weather is not conducive to trout fishing, and it will only be a matter of days before rivers are closed to angling.

With this in mind I head out very early to fish a few spots on the Bitterroot. I'm an early riser, which until now has been to no advantage, but I arrive at a good spot not well known, but the type of place where one is company and two is a crowd, and find I'm the first one there. Though not yet stifling, the temperature is steadily rising and the river itself even seems to be worn out by the heat; it is slow and placid and lacks the energy that usually emanates from moving water. Worse, though bugs are rising in such a fury that the rings they generate as they break the surface almost look like trout feeding, there are no fish.

I move to the next spot.

As I cross the bridge to find river access, I look down and can clearly see a line of trout in a feeding lane, and it is as if I'm watching a National Geographic special on trout behavior, with the bigger fish occupying the apex, decreasing in size until only very small fish are at the wide end of the feeding triangle. Some young upstarts try to jockey for a better position, only to be chased away by the larger trout. But though they look to be standing in the chow line, none of them appear to be eating. I determine from the bridge which side of the river offers me the best angle to these fish, slide down on my butt to keep a low profile, throw multiple casts and multiple flies, working from the back of the line up toward the front, and the trout act as if my nymph is invisible.

Then suddenly there is a large splash behind me, and I have a sense of déjà vu. This wasn't a small or even a medium sized fish delicately sipping a may fly; this was a feed worthy of a striped bass slamming a pogie. And I lapse into my striped bass mode, recklessly wade to the other side of the river to get a better casting angle instead of slowly leaving the pool and crossing at the bridge, and in the process spook the pool. The sun is rising, the temperature increasing, and, as Yogi Berra said, "it's getting late early."

I walk to the third bridge hoping that three is a charm. It isn't. I go to a nice pool formed by a slow eddy where I've had luck before and find it loaded with trout. I approach stealthily, cast delicately, and the trout all turn and leisurely swim to the other side of the pool. I cautiously work my way to the end of the pool where the trout are, cast, and the pod of fish turns again and casually swim to the other side. This ping pong match goes on for a bit before I leave, suppressing the urge to throw a large rock in the middle of the pod to get their hearts racing like mine has been.

"You're either giving a lesson, or getting a lesson," observed Iron Mike Ditka. This day, I got a lesson. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Until recently Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He just moved to Missoula, Montana. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He wrote a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and taught a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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