Up Front Notes

Up Front Notes

  • By: Greg Thomas
Greg Editor Fmt

Almost every year in the northern Rockies, some morning in March or April, the weather forecaster comes on the air and says, “It’s finally going to feel like spring today.”

They call for a high of 58 degrees, but by 3:00 p.m. you’re in a T-shirt and wishing you were wearing shorts instead of waders, because the mercury is planted at 75 and there isn’t a breath of wind. Sweat rolls down your brow, and you vow this is the last time you’re on the water without sunblock. But that won’t ease the pain when you get in the shower that evening and water hits skin that resembles a cooked crab’s shell.

That’s what happened a few days ago, in early March, when the temperature in Missoula, Montana hit 66 degrees and I spent all day casting for cutthroats, rainbows and browns on the Bitterroot River. It’s a good thing the weather turned so nice. A couple times this winter I wondered what all this fly-fishing fuss is about, especially after seeing a pickup truck sporting a bumper sticker that read, “I Don’t Care if You Fly-Fish.” And I wondered, Do I care if I fly-fish anymore? It made me question whether I should spend free time doing something else, maybe golf, but more likely riding a fat-tire bike on mountain single-track; or maybe I’d just strap a pack to my back and set some kind of astronomical goal of hiking 2,000 miles between April and November, a sponsored effort to promote something crazy, like endangered salamander research or setting up a suicide hotline for lemmings.

It was only a week or so after reading that bumper sticker and pondering my future that the weather changed and we launched on the Bitterroot. By noon I was in a T-shirt with the sun beaming down, and a mile into the float I’d landed a solid 17-inch brown that didn’t have a hookscar on it and could have auditioned to be a super-model for the species. I’d made things easy and brought a single rod—a versatile 9-foot 5-weight—and a discombobulated box of flies, including a few Parachute Adams to match mayflies, and two—just two—adult skwala stonefly imitations to match a stonefly hatch we expected to see. And I brought a few skwala nymphs and four streamers for deep-water dredging. I had two tippet spools, 4X and 5X, and a basic weight-forward floating line. This wasn’t necessarily “going Tenkara,” but it was the scaled-back version of the gear whore I’ve become.

By the end of a day spent with two guides conducting “reconnaissance” I’d boated three good fish, and the boys had landed solid specimens, too. We threw hard at times and occasionally set the rods down to watch the country roll by or to toast the beginning of spring with swigs off our IPA’s. We saw several bald eagles, a bunch of whitetail deer, a mink, and only a few other anglers.

When I arrived home after dark and stepped into the shower, the water hit me with an unusual mix of major pain and pure satisfaction. I don’t care who doesn’t care if I fly-fish. With a spring float behind me and summer ahead, I know exactly who I am, where I need to be, and why.

—Greg Thomas