Many fly fishers have taken solace in the notion that
"trout only live in the most beautiful of places" on
days when the catching is a bit slow. It is certainly
true and an element of trout fishing that is often held
as important as the size or quantity of the fish present
in the location. So what happens when you find yourself
fishing in a locale that seems at odds with this notion?
I recently found myself in this dilemma trying to work in
some Montana fishing while staying in Anaconda for my
niece's high school graduation. We were staying at Skyhaven
Lodge just outside of Anaconda on Warm Springs Creek and
about three minutes from the 'Toxic Trough' of the Clark
Fork. I had only a couple hours each day to wet a line and
this included dashing over to the Clark Fork ten to midnight
one 'day' and 5-8 am another; a couple other afternoons gave
me an hour or two to explore the creek running by the lodge.
Neither location could be considered pristine or even
ascetically pleasing. The area of the creek I fished was
strewn with town garbage brought down by flooding and was
trampled by cattle as well as possessing pockets of putrid
black mine tailing sediment. The beginnings of the Clark
Fork for those who haven't seen it is a monumental Superfund
clean up site with much of the river birthing out of a spillway
from huge settling ponds and beginning it's way to the Pacific
winding through a somewhat lunar landscape.
As I took delight in browns slashing out from cover at streamers
I stripped through their territory I struggled to reconcile
the contradictory qualities of the landscape and the fishing.
As in all perceptions I had a choice, I could let my mind focus
on the debris and destruction around me or I could focus on
the beauty inherent in simply fishing to the fish. These
bulky browns had little concern for ascetics; in fact they
seemed to reflect the environment. They were bar room brawlers,
cantankerous and broad backed like the miners who carved a
livelihood out of this valley.
The first afternoon on Warm Springs Creek I fished my way
downstream, artfully drifting dries and nymph droppers along
undercut banks and just off of tangles of branches in deep
holes and ended up with a mile of nothing. Turning around
to work my way back up to the lodge I discarded civility
and tied on Cone-headed, Rubber-legged, Flashabuggers and
Zudlers ripping them through the same slots and logjams.
This guttural style brought forth streaks of yellow and
toothy strikes sometimes jerking the line out of my hand.
Following cow trails from hole to hole, stepping over
mangled tricycles and plastic bottles I knew I was learning
something but I wasn't sure what it was.
The last morning I dragged my nephew and my niece's boyfriend
down to the Clark Fork before dawn to get in a couple hours
on the water before breakfast with other family members. The
two young men were new to fly fishing but eager to learn.
We walked downstream while it was still dark and spitting
a light freezing rain, Whitetail deer scattering before us
like Killdeer on the beach. I set each of the young men up
on their own eddy and before I could put on a new leader my
nephew had brought a respectable sized brown to hand. I
rigged a Zudler and headed for a steep drop of pocket water
I had fished the year before. The eastern sky was just beginning
to lighten as I started into the pockets. By the top of the
drop I had only landed one fish but had strikes and crashing
fish in every lie along the way. I moved up into the next
ong deep run and immediately had fish of respectable size
tearing into my streamer.
As it got light enough to reveal the desolate landscape the
run came alive with rising fish. I could tell from the rise
forms, heavy with backs and splashy tails, they were feeding
just under the surface but I couldn't see any evidence of what
the food was. With that strange logic that only a fly fisher
has, I lengthened my leader and tapered it to 6x, cutting off
a fly (lure) that was working well so I could cast to rising
fish. I tried a few caddis emergers and pupas and kept scanning
the water for a look at what they were into. I didn't pack my
seine because I knew ahead of time that I wouldn't be fishing
such technical waters and I cursed my arrogance and failing
eyesight. The only thing I could see floating just under
the surface was perhaps some tiny aquatic worms. I was casting
my third or fifth attempt at something similar when my nephew
appeared and reported that the fish were rising but not to
anything they could imitate. I had to confess I too couldn't
match this hatch yet and when I did I would certainly pass
along the information. I could also see that he was struggling
with the cold, as he hadn't come prepared for such weather.
I spent the next half-hour tying on different flies in a
futile effort to find something that worked for the risers.
Nothing worked and I couldn't be sure if it was pattern, size
or position in the water column but my hands were getting too
cold to keep tying on flies.
I cut my leader back to 0x and put the Zudler back on and the
first cast produced a respectable fish but somehow I felt less
respectable for my tactics. It took me several minutes to hook
into most every fish that was feeding on the surface in the
bend and then I headed down to see how the youngsters were
doing. My nephew had lost the battle with the cold as it
had started to snow in earnest now so he took the keys and
headed for the car heater. I showed the boyfriend how I was
working the streamer, stressing that they really can't be
stripped too fast. He got it down right away and I informed
him I was going to fish my way back to the car.
All the water between there and the parking lot was new to
me and since it was still before 8am and snowing steadily
I figured I wouldn't meet too many folks along the way. It
became a smooth rhythm of cutting between the bends and
fishing the deep runs from the inside bank. Many times
fishing in Montana I have been overwhelmed by the quantity
of fish per mile (or even foot) in some of the rivers.
This spot is probably as great an example of that as
anywhere, yet my mind began to wander to the disappointing
environment and even my failure to figure out the rise
(which had stopped now), and a strange guilt began to
creep in concerning the quantity of fish I was getting
with such a low-brow technique.
I stopped and really took a look around. The snowflakes
were large, wet and settling quietly on the grass and
small trees. It was all part of the process of reclaiming
this land from the destruction wrought upon it before the
West awakened from a mania that went back to Lewis and Clark.
This ecosystem was not a disgrace, it was actually a wonderful
testament to the effort of humankind to right a wrong and
the ability of nature to heal and forgive. My daughter and
her children might very well find this river to be a lush
destination fishery in their day, an example of successful
wildlife management, but it will get there on nature's
timeframe not ours. My current desire to be awash in a
panorama of fly fishing marketing images was the short
fall of my own expectations, not an inherent flaw in
the environment. So too, my shame at not tossing a
"proper fly," was based more in media driven
preconceptions than any substandard experience.
All around me the world was showing the perfection of
flexibility and somehow I was trying to turn my back
on that and fit the day into a preconceived mold. For
God's sake it was snowing in June! These wet jumbo flakes
crashed on my cramped psyche like a Zen instructor's stick
and I became awake once more.
A reach cast dropped my fly on the edge of the undercut
and laid the line right down the seam, a few hard strips
while adding twitches with the rod tip brought a large
yellow streak from under the bank. It crashed on the
fly so hard the surface of the water exploded. As the
fish turned for cover I drove the large hook home with
all the backbone my 486LL had. This fish would come to
hand but not before repeated efforts to get back to cover
and then a few moments sulking in the depths. In hand
it showed itself to be the most colorful inhabitant of
the area and every outward appearance of health. I
continued up through pockets, bends and inviting seams,
picking up fish or missing explosive strikes, boils and
wakes. I saw a teenager bounding through the brush like
one of the Whitetails, only he was headed for a warm car.
I had the whole river to myself, the fish were on the feed,
snow was building up on my hat brim; how could this be
anything but picturesque? ~ Paul Dieter (pdieter)