The Day of the Bull Sale
The Bull sale is the premier economic event in Wolf Creek, MT. It occurs in early March of each year and is put on by the Hardy Creek Ranch. HCR raises cattle, tho not your run of the mill bovines, theirs are sold as breeders and not for the table. Ranch owners from all over the West come to check out the Bulls for auction, comparing their bloodlines trying to figure which animals will work out best for their particular operation.
The reason I could go is that my wife, works for the ranch as their book keeper. On a ranch, no one has just one job title, so she pitched in with the set up of the barn for the big event. I went as a show of support and also for the prime rib lunch!
I found my normal seat in the farthest corner of the room and watched...... realizing this was another group of people I would never fit in with. Grizzled looking men in worn plain Western shirts, black cowboy hats and pointy boots. The women were in leaner, cleaner, fancier versions of the same coutre; you could see a lot of hard work and weather in their faces as well. A local fishing guide was seated in an opposite corner. His wife was volunteering at the sale and he either got dragged along or came for the free lunch. He has been at the few local social events I ve attended; we ve never spoken a word, probably never will either. This is the kind of guy I have the most in common with, go figure.....
Things got going pretty quickly after lunch. I d estimate approx. 300 people piled onto the neatly polished wood bleachers which faced into the East corner of the barn. If you would picture for a minute an equalateral triangle; there was an open space metal fence running along the leg of the triangle closest to the spectators. Behind the fence and in the body of the triangle, was a run way filled about ankle deep with white pine shavings. At each end of the runway were sliding panels which opened to outside pens. At the apex, perched up behind a barricade was the auctioneer and his assistant. As a young bull charged into the runway, fresh shavings churning, the auctioneer commenced his bibbly-babble. His assistants prowled the floor seeking out guarded surrepticious bids, shouting them out to the auctioneer; motioning like an umpire excitedly calling stike 3, as the bids were furiously placed. In less than a minute, a victor was established. With a swat on the rear the animal was ushered out the door and a new one let in.
I watched for awhile and then wandered to the front of the barn and found a"Volunteer" job I was capable of doing, succesfully running the winning bid tickets to the appropriate recording cashier. Having proved myself this year, I m kind of hoping to move up and be the bull exit door operator. My neighbor Jed had that privilige and he was right in the thick of things. That was one primo position !
A word about the bulls themselves..... First of all, I had no clue, you could tell some were bigger, some were wider and all were black. For the clueless, it was difficult to tell why one went for 5K and the next for 2K; perhaps that will be a subject to investigate during next winter's downtime.....Maybe next year Ill know enough to participate in the bidding as we could always use a combination lawn ornament/guard animal.
As the clock ticked down on the Bull Sale most of my attention became focused on what was happening outside the barn. Looking at the light, wishing for more cloud cover, watching the movement of tree branches, hoping the wind was dying as late afternoon approached. The day time temps had been over 50 degrees which should make for a strong midge hatch on the river and some good evening fishing. As they say " Hope Springs eternal......"
Yesterday, I was REALLY hopefull. The conditions looked perfect to me; lots and lots of heavy grey clouds, temps in the 40 s and lite winds. I prowled the river for miles and saw only a few bugs and rising fish. Today the conditions were a lot sunnier and warmer. Perhaps, I thought, there might be a good short window of fishing once the sun got below the mountains. Was I right !
I arrived at the Mo. River around 5:30, at my favorite midging spot, aptly named, "The Bull Pen", as some of the major HCR bulls have dug a mud wallow into the river bank next you can enter the river. They dont scare me, I figure worse comes to worse I could jump in the river and out swim them. At least I think so....
From the high bank where I parked my car I could see fish starting to intermittently rise . I scrambled down the bank, crossed a channel about 250' wide to a large island, the main river was running to the left of me eventually re-joining the channel I had just crossed at the end of the island a couple hundred feet away. The ends of islands, are usually a great places to fish. The main current functioning as a conveyor belt, bringing food past fish holding in the protected still water off the island. Generally, a cast into the seam, the line where current and still water meet will bring success.
However, on this nite, by the time I was ready to cast, the fish weren't just there, in fact, they were all over the place! Groups of fish were rising in the main current, along the far bank, in the shallow water along the near bank of the island and in the slack water off the island. I prefer casting into some current as I like to see the fly move but couldn't get even get out as there were fish rising 10 feet in front of me and I could hardly ignore them! So I stood on the bank, like any old bait chucker, casting a size 16 griffiths gnat, which had worked so well the other day. Well, Grande Nada this time around. They could of cared less about it and after a couple casts I wised up and tied on a size 18 emerger. I just scattered the fish in front of me and moved into the river to cast into the current where the action of the water would make my emerger simulate a hatching midge. In mid-stream fish were striking violently, coming up and taking insects just as they reached the surface leaving behind splashy wakes.
I dropped my fly in front of 2 or 3 feeding fish about 40 feet to my left, down stream. One of them jumped it immediately, a strike hard enough to jolt the entire fly line, I set the hook and he ran ..... After some play I netted an 18" mature rainbow. Even in the couple days since I had last caught fish, conditions had changed. This fish and ones that followed were a much darker green on top, the rainbow's normal silvery mid body was almost gold in appearence and the distinctive red stripe had a purplish hue. The jaws seemed to distend and were hooked. Its about that time of year again! Spawning.......
The best thing about Spawning time is the pre-spawn. Fish instinctively know they re not going to be eating for awhile and they re apt to overindulge while they have the chance. The downside of the spawn, is that they're not in the river and not all that interested in playing anyway......
The fish were certainly overindulging tonite and somewhere along the way I lost the size 18 emerger with which I was frequently catching fish. There was just enough light to get a new emerger on. The only one I could find was a size 22, about half the size I was using. Ill never catch anything with this I thought, its almost time to go anyway......
Well it turned out that size 22 emerger was the the "magic
fly". Every cast brought a fish to net. In furious succession I had
another 5 or 6 fish until it was too dark to continue. ( Which I define
as when I can t see the fly in a caught fish's mouth) I walked out, fish
still overindulging all around me. A good day and a hell of a night !