It is fall in western Montana, which means every spare
moment must be spent fishing. Unfortunately, the new
job is taking up much of my time, so spare moments are
few and far between and really only to be had on weekends.
When I was in Massachusetts I lived on a fertile estuary
system and I fished twice a day, before and after work.
If I had a bad outing I usually had to only wait 12 hours
or less to try my luck again. Now I had to wait six days,
which is a long time to smell of skunk.
I often fish a spot on the Bitterroot and I've done well.
I learned of this place from a friend who described it as
"a little bit outside of town." But distance is relative
in Montana. A "little bit" turned out to be 41 miles in
western parlance. Still, it's a pleasant drive through
the mountains and past my favorite fly shop in Lolo. I've
never been in it, but, still, it's my favorite.
When I arrive, I rig up and walk down river where a narrow,
shallow riffle dumps into a deep pool. The water is choppy
and forgiving to a sloppy trout fisher like me, and though
it is right off of a major highway, I am always the only one
I tie on a bead head prince and cast into the current,
letting it swing from the faster water to the seam where
fast water meets slow. On the third cast I have a big hit
and the line goes slack. I reel in to find that the fish
has snapped the tippet, 6X, so I cut it back 18 inches and
add 24 inches of 4X. Having hooked a fish so quickly, I
know this will be a good day.
I tie on another prince, but as I do I'm distracted and
sloppy. I tie a bad knot and I know it, but I fish it
anyway, like when you place a drink on the end of a table
while thinking, "this is probably going to spill if I put
it here" but you do and it does. On the second cast I see
a fish dart from the fast water to engulf the fly. It's
on for a moment and then it's gone and when I reel in I
see the tell-tail pig-tail that is indisputable proof of
a poorly tied knot. It's not the first bad knot I've ever
tied, nor will it be that last. I take another prince from
the wallet and tie it more carefully to the leader.
With mistakes made and rectified, I know I'll catch fish.
I move down three steps, cast a few times, and hook a nice
brown trout. I know it's a brown because I see it jump-one,
two, three times before it throws the hook. I reel in and
check the fly. The hook is sharp, the knot is good. What's
going on? I resume casting and hook another fair sized trout
that causes a big splash on the surface before it, too,
throws the hook. Why can't I hook a fish? I cuss out
loud even though I'm by myself.
I'm zero for four.
I cast again and hook a rainbow that thinks he is a
SAM missile, rocketing out of the water three feet
into the air. I play him on the reel, backing toward
shore, pleading with the fish gods to let me land this
one. I'll pick up the trash I saw streamside on the
way in! Just let me land this fish!
The fish gods don't negotiate, and on his fourth jump
the rainbow throws the hook despite my offer.
It isn't long before I hook another fish, but, like the
others, he throws the hook after a brief commotion on
the surface, and I can feel the emotions draining away,
replaced by that dull empty feeling that nothing can go
right. I change flies in case the point is dull, sticking
with the bead head prince (the fish are taking it!), but
at this point I'm just mechanically going through the
motions. My thoughts are not of angling, but of going
home and crawling under the covers.
I lose two more.
Finally, I get a solid strike and the fish stays hooked
for more than a few seconds. As crazy as it sounds, I'm
also a little disappointed. At this point I'm actually
cheering for the fish. My disappointment is short-lived-the
small rainbow throws the hook right at my feet, and even
though a former fishing partner claimed that touching the
leader with a fish on counted as a catch, I hold myself to
a higher standard. My streak is still alive, and I'm
zero for nine.
It has been overcast all day, the air begins to chill, and
when the cloud cover shrouding the mountains lifts a bit I
can see that they are glazed in snow. One more cast turns
into a dozen more casts, as it always does, and on the last
I hook a fair sized brown that splashes on the surface,
leaves the water, and throws the hook. I can't help but
Final score: Fish 10, Fisherman 0. ~ 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.