First Day of the Year's Fishing

This day dawned, as the sun came up, as most days do in MT. Upon awakening I was disturbed by something just beyond my perceptions. After some coffee, I realized that it was something that was missing; the lack of sound an almost physical pressure gone , as the howling Chinook winds that have shaken MT these past couple months had ceased.


Not believing my senses I checked the Internet weather and sure enough it creakily said Calm.....


Fast forward to lunchtime. I came in from the shop, worked with Glenn on tapping/drilling & inserting delrin tenons. Still no wind, and cloudy too, snow threatening but temps above freezing.

Hot Diggity Dog ! I thought to myself, today s a potential fishing day. I ate checked the wind again threw my stuff in the car and headed out with trepidation as sometimes the wind is down where I live and still howling on the river.


On my way out I dropped of a couple of pipe kits at the PO; making sure to say Howdy! to all the townsfolk I saw. ( this way they may think I m one of them instead of a carpetbagging East coast transplant)


I drove to Craig and the vanes on the local windmill were preternaturally still. My luck was holding. I stopped on the bridge and looked for midges and saw some flying in the air. There s no Mayfly hatch in the winter, just midges, which are very small gnat like insects but the fish eat them often, even if larger offerings are available. Looking down into the flat below the bridge all I saw were duck contrails as they skidded across the water to get away from me . I guess they re shy..... But as there were hundreds and hundreds of them simultaneuosly practicing their take off s , I couldn t tell if there were rising fish and it probably wouldn t be for awhile until the water calmed down and I d have been able too. So I head off for duckless pastures.


I arrived at one of my favorite spots. I was not yet fully commited to this enterprise as I hadn t put my waders or boots on yet. A herculean task which requires ones full commitment . Neopreme waders, a must in the winter, are snug & very form fitting. I bought these a number of years ago when my naturally stout, chubby body was not quite as stout and chubby as it is now . So getting these waders on is a major pain in the ass and the boots as well; for as I seem to be getting fatter, at the same time I think I m fortuitiously getting taller as my feet seem further and further away..... I wrestled one very dry boot on over a cotton sock, covered by a wool sock and finally the neopreme booty . Like trying to stuff 5 pounds of sausage into a size 1# case. The case being my boot, who s leather had stiffened & metamorphosized into iron from Winter s disuse. At this point the trip was almost over , as I then noticed I had grabbed one winter boot and one summer boot but luckily they were left and right ones respectively and the trip continued.


I did get one special bonus at this point. I filled and lit up my favorite fishing pipe, I big straight bell dublin given to me by an old carver who did special work for Barclay Rex Pipe Shop. I hadn t smoked it since I had been out in early December. What a treat, that pipe is so sweet ! I immediately realized I had lost my railroad track shuffle as I headed down the tracks to the first flat. I was stumbling every few steps. Could t get the timing down. Also after climbing up a bank I was out of breath and panting some. Hmmm.... maybe there is something to working out in the off season? Putting such silly thoughts aside, I began hunting fish.


None in the first flat. I looked long and hard too as it was another 1/4 mile walk up the tracks; in my heavy waders and boots that I had retied too tite after getting them wet enough to tie that was hurting my ankle and I really didnt feel like walking up there but as no fish were rising I forced myself and I did.


There are always fish in this flat and I figured I d spend all day there. I didn t see anything at first but experieince has taught me on grey, steely days fish are often hard to see especially in riffly water. I parked my butt and aching ankle on a rock overlooking the water, smoked my pipe and watched for about 15 minutes, and didn t see one damn thing !


Long walk back to the car, pant- pant, worst off I had to stop puffing. Driving back I tried another spot. Some more banks to climb down and up , more rairoad tracks to walk, and no rising fish, except far out in the river, even tho there were midges all over the water.


Back to the Craig bridge. Those stupid ducks had forgotten me by then and had returned only to repeat there earnest departure one more time. Nothing at California Island, the Casino Hole, or the Wolf Creek Bridge. By this time I was beginging to get discouraged. It was around three, I had only seen a few risning fish and they were where I couldnt reach them. All the good spots were coming up dry.


One last shot, I went up river towards the Braids . Some good spots off some islands up there. The first one had the first fisherman I saw that day, and wouldnt y know it, in my spot ! A Peckerwood from Cascade County nonetheless. The next set of islands up the road were empty and looking out the car window, I did see a few dimples in the water. I pulled over, thinking just to turn around and go home , but then thought, "Might as well give it a shot. "


Climbing down the bank I did see more rises. They looked like small fish but what the hell.... I went up river where it was shallower and crossed to the island. The little rises were more apparent now than they were from the car. It looked like fish and presumeably white fish were cruising the shallows picking off midges. I stealthily walked to the edge of the rim of ice which extended out into the river about 20 feet. I threw my first cast about 5 feet where I saw the last rise and let my midge drift slowly down. There was a small swirl under my dry fly . I lifted the rod and felt a solid take. The fish took some line and ran , I knew then it wasn t a whitefish by it s strong charge . A few minutes later I had a beautiful measured fat 19" rainbow. I was certainly pleased about that!. To celebrate I lit up a Reject Pot with some Navy Flake and began fishing in earnest.


Those " little rises" were getting more frequent now and further out into the river also. Tho for now I had pretty easy picking s without even moving, as the first fish had run towards shore and hadn t disturbed the other fish around me. I started picking them off one by one, an 18 " a 20 " , another 19, a break off, and early release, a smaller 16 which was the strongest of them all and even with the extremely cold water was energetic enough to race across the river and take me well into my backing and cause me some concern over being spooled. He really shook up the pod and while afterwards, I caught or hooked and lost another fish or two , that was the highlight of the day.


It was about 4 30 now, the rises were very intermittent. I noticed my legs were numb from hips and down and my pipe was out and the tobac was in the car. Definetly time to go home. A great first day of the years fishing.