January 19th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

A Memorable Evening of Fly Fishing

By Don Cianca (Uncle Don)

It was mid week and supper was finished. The fourth of July holiday weekend was now past and the longer evenings would still afford several hours of good Montana dry fly action. The business concerns of the day had been put to rest and my wife of over forty years was already expecting me to gather my fishing things and head for the garage. She was prepared to relax the remainer of the day with a new mystery novel. Only my Black Lab Ellie showed signs of excitement by prancing between me and the garage door, fully expecting to be invited along. While I would probably have preferred to be alone, how could any human being turn down those big brown longing eyes? With a nod of my head and a verbal "okay," Ellie was at the door before I was.

Her place is in the second seat of our super-cab pickup. Both the dog and I were properly trained by my wife, who has made clear that the front seat is to be kept clean and free of dog hair, mud and leftover tidbits. Toward that end, Ellie must wait for a command before leaping up onto her place. After having been fishing and she is really sopping wet, I may take the time to wipe her down with a towel I carry along.

With my equipment already loaded I gave her the "okay", and like an uncoiled spring she went from the garage floor to her seat in one leap. My interpretation of the look on her face was, "Okay, I'm ready, let's get this show on the road!"

About 45 minutes later I was slowing down along the northern portion of the Big Hole River near Dewey, Montana. Ellie sensed the slowing down and picked herself up from her nap and appeared to be determining where we were going to fish. I pulled off the road and headed toward the river which was about fifty yards from the road. The shadows that fell from the cottonwoods that lined the river provided a good place to stop and park. A black tail was in the back seat waving at a speed that might equal that of the prop on a military helicopter. It might take me a while to get ready, but Ellie was ready NOW! With her door open and that same look on her face as when at the garage door, it was "okay" and out she flew. Within a time span that could be called microseconds, she had smelled everything with in a twenty yard circle and peed at least three times. I would not have to worry about her as I began to prepare my equipment. She would go to the river, have a few more smells to check out and wait for me.

As I opened my rod case and started taking out the sections of my nine-foot fly rod, I glanced upstream and into the shadows of the trees, hoping to see signs of a hatch. Caddis are usually still in abundance early in July. There were some, but other insects, not as large were also flying about. By the time I had started to put the reel on my rod, I had already swatted at least three mosquitoes that were trying to sup on my heavily medicated blood. "Oh, that's what the other bugs are that are flying among the caddis," I said to myself. Experience taught me to stop what I was doing and apply some repellant, and to do it now!

I had already donned my vest and hip boots and laid my rod across the hood of the pickup so I could get my repellant out of one of the vest pockets. As I pulled it from the upper right hand pocket, I noticed that it was a little lightweight. Even more alarming was the fact that the cap was not in place and the contents had obviously leaked out since the last use. Frantically, I tried to drain out what few drops I could onto the back of my hand. It wasn't looking good. There wasn't enough to smear onto my face and ears and the message had already gotten out to all the other mosquitoes that were living within a hundred miles of the river.

Well, after all the mosquitoes I had encountered in Korea decades ago, these were not going to stop me from fishing this evening. With rod in hand and a fresh #12 Elk hair caddis tied on to my leader, I stepped a few feet into the river and started to feed out some line from my reel. Ellie was now at my side and when I commanded her to be still, opening my mouth resulted in one or two mosquitoes entering and adding to my daily protein intake. I may have managed to spit one out. Ellie was rubbing her face on the side of my hip boots. I saw why at once. Those hungry "flying Pirahanas" were swarming around her eyes and head. I bent down to shoo them away and heard a splash a few feet out in the river and discovered that a trout had taken my dragging Caddis Fly. Some "presentation," I thought. I brought the fish in quickly and stepped back onto the bank to release the fish. As I reached down I noticed that the mosquitoes were on the back of my hand, on the only spot where I had applied any repellant! Things were not looking very good.

What little wind that was blowing around six o'clock had now diminished. Trout and Whitefish were rising madly. This could easily prove to be one of those times when fishing dry flies would last in my memory forever, I thought to myself as I sucked in another mosquito, through my left nostril this time. Ellie was beginning to emit squealing sounds. At first I wasn't sure it was her because the high pitch sound already being emitted by the swarming mosquitoes now forming a shroud about my head. Ellie made a few moves toward the bank, then back to me and back to the bank again. It was obvious she was being overwhelmed by the pests and wanted to go home.

Feeling guilty, I made another cast toward the sounds of rising fish. The mosquitoes were now between my glasses and eyes and by sticking my finger there to shoo them out, found me touching my eye, causing it to water. So, I was casting to the sounds because I couldn't see through the blur of tears. It was impossible to see the fly now, and the mosquitoes were getting worse. Ellie was still squeaking and I was getting more miserable fighting off the relentless attacks of blood suckers. "To Hell With IT! Lets go home Ellie!" We both dashed to the truck and hurried to get in the protection of the metal cab. I didn't bother taking off my boots or vest, I let Ellie jump in without wiping her off, started the engine and headed home. A few bugs managed to enter with us so I opened the windows when reaching highway speed to suck them out.

It was just getting dark as I pulled up on the driveway. I parked outside of the garage to unload my fishing things. I removed my hip boots and vest and as I picked up my rod case, I noticed it was empty! A cold flash surged through my body. In my haste to get in the truck and away from the voracious mosquitoes, I propped my fly-rod against one of the cottonwoods and never brought it into the truck. After a few bursts of profanity, I told my wife what had happened and that I had to return to the river to get my rod (if it was still there.) Before I left the house, I found another container of repellent and gave myself a good dose. I also searched and found a flashlight to take along.

Driving fast at night is not only against the law in Montana, it's stupid. Several times I have encountered a variety of animals on the road. A squirrel, or rabbit present no harm. But hitting a moose or a big black angus can do more than just damage to your vehicle, it's "permanent lights out!" Furthermore, headlights attract a variety of bugs. The faster you drive, the greater the mess of smashed flying critters spread across your windshield, and the further it impairs your ability to see at night.

The trip back to my fishing spot seemed to take an eternity. Would my four hundred plus dollar investment in rod and reel still be there? I would never hear the end of it if it was not. The smell of insect repellant was still stinging the inside of my nose as I pulled into the spot where I had parked earlier. There were no other cars in the area, so that was a good sign. That didn't mean anything because someone could have pulled in for a while, tried to fish and got run off by mosquitoes like I did, and found my rod on the way out. I grabbed my flashlight and headed to the river. Before getting to the big cottonwood I noticed at once that no bugs attacked me. Must be the repellant I thought. Yet, not even Caddis were attracted to my flashlight. Maybe I should have toughed it out and stayed longer, I thought.

There it was, still propped against the tree as I had left it. Now I could relax. SPLASH! and splash again. As I got closer to the river I could hear fish rising in a frenzy. I stepped closer to the water and found a rock to stand on. Even though I wouldn't be able to see my fly once it was cast on the water, I just had to try a cast or two. I let out some line and judged what would be enough without getting my back cast caught in the cottonwoods behind me. I let the Caddis land somewhere up stream and by habit, mended some line to get a drag-free drift. I couldn't tell if the splashing sounds in the river in front of me were rises to my fly, until the line in my left hand went tight and was pulled from me, reel screaming. I couldn't see the fish but knew if I horsed it at all it would be gone. It took line downstream at first. Then when I though it had come off, it had actually turned upstream so that there was some slack in my line. It took a while before I realized it was still on. It was only when I was reeling in what I thought to be a line with no fish on the other end that I felt the rod throb. What do I do now? I asked myself. With no hip boots it was foolish to try and follow the fish, especially in the dark. The fish hunkered down and I couldn't move it. My imagination visualized a Brown of three to four pounds, twenty-plus incher. Fish continued to splash all around me. Then, a sudden surge, and my line was slack again. This time, when I reeled in my line, the fly was gone. After another string of profanity, I figured that since the fish were still going crazy, I'd use my flashlight and tie on another elk hair caddis. The only problem was that my vest was now comfortably hanging on a hook at home, thirty miles away! No profanity this time, only tears. And they didn't come from me putting a finger on my eyes.

The trout continued to feed and the mosquitoes appeared to have had their fill and left me alone. It was midnight when I returned home. Ellie was comfortably curled next to the bed, my wife was half way through her mystery novel, and I was searching through the medicine cabinet trying to find something to put on the hundreds of bites on my face, neck, and hands.

Yes, it was indeed a memorable evening of dry fly action. ~ Don Cianca

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