The Five Gallon Bucket

The Five Gallon Bucket

On many warm summer weekends you can find me out one of my favorite lakes, casting flies for trout.  I particularly enjoy the long casts and relaxed pace of cast and retrieve angling with either floating or intermediate lines, searching likely parts of the lake with a damsel or Callibaetis nymph.

In my experience there are really only two things that can ruin the calm that I find in this type of fishing.  The first is a grab from a nice trout, but you will never hear me complain about that!  The second is a tangled mess of fly line clogging up my stripping guide during a cast.

Fortunately, I’ve found a simple, inexpensive piece of gear that solves this annoying problem while offering some additional benefits.  What is this piece of gear?

The Five Gallon Bucket.

Yes, that kind of five gallon bucket.  The kind that drywall mud, or paint, or an completely excessive volume of mayonnaise might come in.  The kind that you can find for $2 or $3 at your local hardware store or for $0.25 at a neighbor’s garage sale.

Here is how it works.  Get yourself a five gallon bucket and bring it with you in the boat next time you go out on the lake.  When you get situated and anchored up and ready to fish, scoop up some lake water in the bucket – enough to cover the whole bottom to a depth of ¾ of an inch or so.  Make your cast, and instead of retrieving the line onto the boat deck like you normally do, retrieve it into the bucket.  When you make your next cast, you’ll notice a couple of things:

  1. The fly line shoots without tangling thanks to the magical properties of water and surface tension, and because the wind or motion of the boat was not able to move the loose coils of fly line around and create interwoven loops of line.
  2. The fly line shoots like a dream because it is lubricated by the water in the bucket and because no dirt, sand, and grit from the boat deck stuck to the line between casts.
  3. As the day becomes warmer with the climbing sun, you may also notice that, compared to when you used to strip your line onto the hot boat deck, your fly line stays cooler (and therefore stiffer) which also reduces tangles and improves shooting.
  4. As the season progresses, you may notice that your fly line is showing less wear than you might expect given the number of days you’ve been out here. The bucket is the reason!  Using it keeps the grit off the line and contains it while keeping you from accidentally stepping on it in the boat.

Are you convinced yet?  Saltwater guys have been using variation of stripping baskets and buckets for years.  I don’t know why it took me so long to do this on the lakes.  Give it a try!  You may already have a five gallon bucket in your garage.  If not, you can go and buy two of them for less than the price of a spool of your favorite fluorocarbon tippet!  Definitely get two, because your boat partner is going to want one when they see you using it.

I got mine at Lowes because I liked the blue color.  I think other places have orange ones, red ones, and white ones.  Nice.  Then, I put a few cool decals on mine to cover up the hardware store logo and make it look like a really fancy and expensive piece of fly fishing kit instead of… a five gallon bucket.  Sweet.

A couple more added bonuses that I’ve found:

  1. If I’m moving a short distance between spots, I just strip my line into the bucket and then put the rod butt into the bucket as well to keep everything tidy while I move the boat. As long as I’m not going full throttle everything stays together.
  2. If you happen to be a parent who likes to have their little one out on the lake with you, get an extra bucket for your boat. My toddler always seems to want to play in the water when we get out on the lake, and his mom and I have found that filling up the bucket with lake water turns it into an awesome toy!

Until next time.

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

Flylines and the AFFTA Standard:   What’s in a Number?   or  When is a 6wt line really an 8wt line?

Flylines and the AFFTA Standard: What’s in a Number? or When is a 6wt line really an 8wt line?

The short answers –

NOT MUCH, and

MORE OFTEN THAN YOU THINK.

But the long answers are much more interesting, and hopefully quite useful to you as an angler, so here goes nothing.

It starts out with a history lesson, of course.  Once upon a time, long, long ago, the physical weight of virtually all manufactured fly lines was done according to something called the AFTMA (American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association) Standard or the AFFTA (American Fly Fishing Trade Association) Standard.  Those standards were developed around 1959, to ideally bring some standardization to an industry which had, according to accounts I’ve read, run rampant for a while, creating confusion among anglers and manufacturers alike.  The idea was that the physical weight of the first 30 feet of a fly line (excluding level tip) would conform to an industry standard for the given line rating.  For example, this would make all 6-weight fly lines, in theory, more or less the same weight for the first 30 feet.  In a perfect world, this system would also serve to bring some standardization to the labeling of fly rods, making rod/line pairings (more on this later) easier.  As far as fly line taper, head length, and overall head weight, though, all bets were off.  But in the early days of synthetic fly lines, double taper lines were king, and our modern complex tapers were barely a dream, so it didn’t matter much.

The AFFTA Standard for single hand fly lines (not Spey lines or shooting heads) remains the same to this day.  Here is the table.  If you are like me, you’ll want to print one of these out for your wallet or save the image in your smartphone.  You’ll see why in a minute.

Where are we now?

The standards were developed in the late 1950s.  I didn’t come around to fly fishing until the early 1980s, and didn’t really get into the nitty gritty until the 1990s.  So, for some of this history I’m relying on second and third hand accounts.  An engineer by training, my brain desperately hopes that the industry strictly followed the standards, at least for a while.  One thing I do know for sure is that line manufacturers no longer follow that standard in most cases.  It is actually rather challenging to find a modern fly line that conforms to AFFTA Standards.  And, if you are like me, who typically really likes how rods cast when lined at or near the AFFTA Standard, just buying a fly line based on a product description and a numerical line rating on the box NO LONGER WORKS MOST OF THE TIME!

What the… ? 

When is a 6wt line really an 8wt?

I do a lot of research on fly lines, both for myself, my friends, and for Big Sky Anglers.  As a result, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of fly line designs – tapers, 30-feet weights, total head weights, head lengths, cores, and coatings vary WIDELY from line to line and brand to brand.  I love taper diagrams, tables, and spreadsheets that might give me a hint about how a line will cast when paired with a given rod for a specific fishing approach.  The more research I do, the more variations from the standard I find.  Even for someone who likes this stuff, it can be downright confusing.  For most folks that I know who just want to get a smooth casting outfit that is fun to fish with, it’s just black magic.

Why doesn’t the industry follow the industry standard?  It’s a good question.  There are more than a few answers that I’ve heard.  One or more of them may be the reason for the divergence.  Or not.  It’s basically a game of finger pointing.  Some say that modern, super-fast action graphite fly rods have become so stiff that a rod rated as a 6wt, really casts and flexes more like a 7wt or 8wt, despite its super light feel in hand.  And, as a result, line manufacturers have altered their numbering just so that their 6wt line feels right on that aforementioned 6wt rod (even though it’s really a mislabeled 8wt rod).  Many in this camp would like to see a full revision of the AFFTA Standards that conforms more with our modern fast action graphite rods that it did to historical fiberglass and cane rods with slower actions that were the norm at the time the original standards were developed.  Others blame casting ability, and the common desire for instant gratification without effort.   Those pundits say that poor casting ability among the masses has forced line manufacturers to create heavier and heavier fly lines so that those without the skills needed to properly load a fly rod at typical casting distances can actually FEEL something and get a cast out past the end of the driftboat oars.

The thing is, the reason for the departure from the standards isn’t important when it comes to picking the right line for you.  Fly line and fly rod manufacturers aren’t all of a sudden going to change how they label things just because there are guys like me that wish they would.  And there are still plenty of folks who own and enjoy fishing with glass, cane, and fuller flexing graphite rods.  So, what is most important is that you, as an angling consumer, are informed about this topic well enough to be able to make the right choices when it comes to your next big $ fly line purchase.  At a baseline, you should be informed enough to be able to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS when you are talking to an employee at a fly shop or a line manufacturer.

What are some things you need to know in order to get this right?

First, the good news is that modern graphite rods are typically designed with a progressive flex pattern, and are able to accommodate a variety of line weights both above and below their labeled rating, assuming the caster has a reasonable level of skill.  So perfection is not required to achieve functionality.  The bad news is that your rod might not FEEL as sweet as you want it to without the right line on it.

In the past, there was always a lot of talk about up-lining stiff rods to get more flex and feel out of them.  In many cases with modern lines, the manufacturers have essentially done that for you by creating a line labeled as a 6wt that meets the AFFTA standards for a 7 or even an 8wt rod.  Be aware of this trend, because if you were used to up-lining in the past based on the AFFTA standard, and do that with a modern line that is already up-lined at the factory, you may end up with something way heavier than you wanted.

When you decide to buy a new fly line, at baseline you should go to your local fly shop and talk with the in-house fly line nerd armed with an understanding of:

  1. What fly rod you own, and what the rod’s action is (fast/stiff, medium-fast, medium, slow). If you aren’t sure, bring it to the shop.  If you are sure, also bring it to the shop!
  2. What type of fishing you do, and at what distances. If you are a small water angler, nympher, long distance dry fly guy, lake specialist, streamer junkie, etc it will influence the line you choose.
  3. Your casting ability level, currently, including power application, tracking, typical amount of line you like to carry in the air when casting, etc. Be honest with yourself.
  4. Your goals for improving your casting ability. Everyone can get better.
  5. How you like to achieve distance. Do you like to shoot line for distance or carry more line in the air and shoot less for distance?

You should also go into the fly shop ready to ask some questions about the fly line that they might suggest for you.  Fly line manufacturer websites can also be a good source of this information.  At baseline, for weight forward fly lines, be prepared to ask:

  1. What is the head length of the fly line?
  2. How much does the first 30 feet of the head weigh (aka, the 30-feet weight)? And, how does that relate to the AFFTA Standard for that line weight.
  3. How much does the total head weigh, assuming it is longer than 30 feet?
  4. How does the fly line taper relate to my preferred fishing style and skill level? This is another can-of-worms topic that may need its own blog post.  Just remember, even if the manufacturer names a line something like “salmon and steelhead” or “indicator”, it doesn’t mean those lines are necessarily bad for the fishing you do which doesn’t involve those things.  Go at it with an open mind.
  5. Do you have any demo lines that we could cast on my rod out in the parking lot? This is the consumer’s ace in the hole.  If you can cast a line before you buy, DO IT.  Understand, however, that it is impossible for a shop to have demos of every line they carry on the shelves.

Without going down the rabbit hole of fly line taper design, if you can answer basic questions about your rod and your casting (the first list), and can get the answers to the questions about fly line choices (the second list) from your local fly shop, the line manufacturers website, or from the CIA, then you are ready to make an informed decision.  I would recommend following these general guidelines to start, and remember, if you can cast the line on your rod before you buy it, DO IT, and do it with a fly on leader rig that you intend to fish.

This is your brain on AFFTA Standards

When to Consider a Line “Way Heavier” than the AFFTA Standard

By “Way Heavier” I mean something like a 30-feet weight equivalent to 1.5 or 2 line sizes above the AFFTA Standard.   Consider a line of this type when you are:

  • a beginner level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • an intermediate or advanced level caster, own a fast/stiff action or medium fast action rod, and fish almost exclusively at very close range
  • any level caster, and like to load the rod very quickly with minimal line out of the rod tip, and shoot to achieve distance (As a side note, using a short, 30-feet long head flyline the equivalent to 2 lines sizes heavier than the AFFTA standard is essentially the definition of a “shooting head”). You will sacrifice the ability to carry longer amounts of line in the air as a result of this choice.

When to Consider a Line “A Bit Heavier” than the AFFTA Standard

Here, by “A Bit Heavier” I mean something like a 30-feet weight equivalent to 0.5 to 1 size above the AFFTA Standard.  Consider a line of this type when you:

  • a beginner level caster, and own a medium or medium-fast action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a medium or medium-fast action rod
  • an intermediate level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel some clear rod loading on shorter casts in order to cast your best, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • an angler who primarily fishes at close to medium ranges (say 45 feet or less)
  • an angler who is happy with carrying a medium amount of line in the air and shooting for extra distance when it is called for.

When to Consider a Line Weighing Similar to the AFFTA Standard

Here, by “Similar to” I mean something like a 30-feet weight within the AFFTA Acceptable Weight Range in the table above.  Consider a line of this type when you:

  • a beginner level caster, and own a slow action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a slow action rod
  • an intermediate level caster, and own a medium action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel some clear rod loading on shorter casts in order to cast your best, and own a medium action rod
  • an advanced level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • a caster who is ok with feeling minimal rod loading on short range casts and can still cast your best, and own a fast or medium-fast action rod
  • an angler who regularly fishes at medium to longer ranges (say 45 feet or more) and is capable of adjusting power application for shorter casts to still achieve good results
  • an angler who likes to carry a longer amount of line in the air and shoot less for extra distance, or an angler looking to both carry a long amount of line in the air and shoot significant line for extra distance. (Note that for the latter case the overall head length and fly line taper design you choose will be of utmost importance)

And with that, I believe I have said enough.  I have probably dug myself into a hole that I may never emerge from, and/or guaranteed that I will receive a series of corrective emails and texts from my casting nerd friends.  At the very least, I hope that this saves some of you who are thinking about getting a new fly line some trouble, and that you are able to find the joy that is a properly paired rod/line combination that meets your casting and fishing style.

Take Care and Fish On,  Matt

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

  • Originator:  Brian Chan
  • Hook: TMC 2302 or equivalent, #10 – 16
  • Thread: 8/0 Uni, dark brown
  • Bead: White, sized to match hook
  • Body: MFC Sexi Floss or Spirit River Flex-Floss, brown
  • Rib: Uni Wire, small, red and silver

Brian Chan is a Canadian Stillwater angling expert and signature tier for Montana Fly Co.  We’ve found his Chironomid Bomber patterns to be absolutely deadly on Hebgen both before and after the more glamorous hatches of Callibaetis, Tricos, and damselflies.  These can be fished static, under a strike indicator, or slowly retrieved using a hand twist on a floating or intermediate tip line.  You’d be amazed at how strong the takes are on a fly that is barely moving!  Another great thing about this pattern is that, if you tie your own, you can easily experiment with other color combos.

– Matt

In Anticipation of Ice Out – Thoughts and Theories from the Lake

In Anticipation of Ice Out – Thoughts and Theories from the Lake

It was 3 degrees and snowing here in Montana as I wrote this a couple weeks back.  Skiing season.  Maybe ice fishing season.  But a few days before writing it was nearly 50 degrees, and now it seems like the first lower elevation melt is really on.  A couple of my lake fishing buddies have already texted me, excited for the upcoming Stillwater fishing season.  I’ll admit that I am a bit excited too.  I wrapped up a few (dozen) flies for my lake boxes.  And now, through writing this, I’ve organized my thoughts in anticipation of ice out, which is coming a bit later than normal this year.

Throughout the mountain west ice out is a much anticipated event for many stillwater anglers.  For those who do not live in cold climates or have never visited a frozen lake, ice out is the short period of time on a lake where conditions change from the ice capped, frozen surface of winter to the open water of spring, summer, and fall.  From the time that the ice begins to peel away from the shore, until two weeks or so after the lake becomes completely ice free, there is often a fantastic window of opportunity for anglers to get out on the lake shore, beat the cabin fever of late winter, and find some great fishing.  Anglers who don’t have the luxury of owning a boat really enjoy the ice out fishing, because the fish tend to concentrate near shore.  Even when things don’t completely work out when fishing ice out, it’s fun to get out of the house, see some country, and maybe connect with the first open water fish of the new year.

Why is Ice Out a “Thing”?

I believe that ice out is a “thing”, because of the trout’s desire to find ideal conditions when it comes to water temperature, dissolved oxygen, light, and food or insect activity.

It’s well known that, when a lake is covered with ice and snow, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water is not continuously replenished by the action of wind and waves.  Lack of light under the ice also reduces aquatic plants ability to produce oxygen.  By winter’s end, when the ice begins to recede from the lake’s margins, the dissolved oxygen in the lake water under the ice may be at it’s lowest point for the entire year.  As the ice leaves the margins of a lake though, the air and wind can hit the water again and reoxyegenate it.

Also, remember that water is less dense when it is frozen than it is when it is at 39 degrees F (4 degrees C).  That’s why ice is on the top of the lake.  It also means that the warmest portion of the water column is likely toward the bottom of the lake in winter.  As the ice leaves the margins of a lake though, the sun can hit the water and warm it up locally.

The unique physical and chemical properties of liquid and solid H20 make ice out a “thing”.

So, long story short, at ice out, the increased temperature and dissolved oxygen in the water at the lake’s edge stimulate the ecosystem, get some chironomids and perhaps other trout food sources active, and create conditions more favorable to the trout than anywhere else in the lake.

Once the ice fully dissipates, the effects of wind and sun warm the lake, and mixing or turnover evens out water conditions over a much larger portion of the lake, you will find that the ice out bite dies.  The fish spread out throughout a much larger portion of the lake at that point, making them harder to find, especially if fishing from shore.  When that happens, either find another lake that is starting to ice out, or fish the rivers for a while, until other factors on the lake begin concentrating the fish again into summer feeding areas.

Where are the good places to fish at ice out?

Well, IN THE WATER!  It’s a bad joke, but if you are really on top of things, or maybe just a bit over zealous and out at the lake a bit too early in the year, look for any open water you can find.  Remember , though, that open water doesn’t guarantee the presence of fish.  Some areas of a lake are always better than others.

A couple of days too early, but we fished it!

Think back to why ice out is a “thing”.  Water temperature is a hugely important factor. Warmer water is better at ice out.  So, inlets and outlets that alter lake temps are a good thing to look for.  Warmer water may be entering a lake and helping thaw the ice.  Warmer lake water from down deep (remember water is most dense at about 39 degrees F or 4 degrees C) getting pulled up and out the outlet stream if there is one.  Also, ice free shallows with dark bottoms that soak up the heat of the sun, or drop-offs adjacent to said shallows are great places to find warmer water.  These same shallows, if the bottom is soft or muddy, will also be the place where the first chironomids of the year emerge.

Another good spot to look for fish are submerged points that funnel fish into and along travel lanes, creating concentrations of fish and increasing your own odds of intercepting one with your fly.  It’s no secret that similar places are great Stillwater spots the rest of the year as well.

Gareth Jones’ quote “Stillwaters are NOT still” applies at ice out as well.  When only the edges of the lake are ice free, there may be currents in the lake from inlet streams, springs, or other factors.  If you have ever ice fished, and dropped a bit of bait down the hole with no weight, you may have noticed that it doesn’t always sink straight down.  Even under the ice, the water can be moving.  Just after complete ice out, winds begins to really have an effect on the movement of water, and warming of the water begins to slowly initiate the currents that will eventually turn the lake over.  A buddy of mine down in California (who fishes the high Sierra lakes passionately) once mentioned to me that at ice out it seems like either one side of the lake or the other is good, but not often both.  This is a clever observation that I’d not thought of, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the movement of water and its effect on temperature and dissolved oxygen.

In my experience there are also definite ice-out “hot spots” for fishing that must have some secret (to me) combination of several factors that draw fish back year after year.  If you are at a lake at ice out for the first time, and the spots you tried at first aren’t producing, it pays to be mobile, walk, look, cast, and explore.  If you find one of those zones where it all is happening, make a note!

What about Flies and Presentation?

On stillwaters, summer is all about the bugs – Callibaetis, damselflies, caddis, tricos, scuds, chironomids, and more.  At ice out, though, the insect activity hasn’t really gotten rolling yet.  With the exception of some early season chironomids hatching (which you should absolutely be prepared for), ice out fish seem to be very opportunistic, looking to put on some pounds, and are willing to at least consider eating more general and larger attractor patterns.  Buggers, leeches, baitfish patterns, and some of the other gaudy attractor type stuff seems to work best for me and my fishing partners.  Experiment with colors on your home waters for sure, but never fear starting with standby stillwater colors like black, olive, and brown.  If you have your own favorites, by all means give them a shot, too.  We’ve also had luck with bright colors or natural colored patterns with bright trigger points like hot beads.

Olive BH Woolly Bugger… never a bad decision.

In terms of presentation, it seems like slower is usually better in the cold water.  When casting and retrieving your flies on floating or sinking lines as the ice recedes, try hitting the very edge of the ice shelf and let it sink down for a bit before starting any retrieve.  Often the fish will come out from beneath the ice and eat it on the fall.  If they don’t eat it, and it sinks to the depth you want to target, work a slower retrieve with emphasis on the pauses.  Be ready for a grab especially during the pause.

If the ice is still very close to shore, it can be effective to cast parallel to the ice shelf, and retrieve your fly back along the edge of the ice, just like you might do on a weed edge in summer.

Once the ice is well off shore, or gone completely, cover water by fanning casts and moving your feet, and working around visible submerged structure like drop offs and boulders.  It maybe goes without saying, but if you actually see fish, cast to them!  If access conditions permit, this may be the time to launch your boat or float tube for the first time and really cover some water.

Another effective ice out presentation method uses a floating fly line and strike indicator system to suspend your flies and allow for an extra slow presentation.  You can do this with the typical chironomids and also balanced style leech patterns.  Remember, this isn’t just basic bobber fishing.  Adding motion in subtle ways to your indicator presentations is often a key to success.

Now, for the catch.  Even in cold water conditions where you’d expect trout to be lethargic and prefer a slow presentation, I have seen instances where the trout may follow, but will not commit to eating anything but a FAST moving fly.  If you have fish following your fly right to the rod tip, but not eating, or if things seem totally dead, change things up and move your fly in a different way.  Especially if you have seen fish cruising the area and they aren’t eating your offerings.  Speed it up, shorten the pause, make longer pulls, or shorter pulls, and experiment until you get some feedback!  When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing…

The rainbow at the end of the pot of gold.

Fly Fishing Is For The Birds

Fly Fishing Is For The Birds

I’ve always had a bit of fascination with any living thing I encounter during my time afield.  Growing up fishing and exploring around Yellowstone might do that to a person.  Or maybe I just have an innate interest in other living creatures.  In Yellowstone’s wilderness, fishing comes with the legitimate chance of encountering creatures as diverse as chipmunks, marmots, bison, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, elk, and pronghorn – just to name a few mammals.  While not every angling setting offers up the chance of a grizzly encounter, every place I have fished does have its own unique ecosystem to enjoy.  And in my experience, every fishing spot is also home to at least a few species of birds.

I have memories of birds while fishing going way back into my childhood, but thinking back on it now, there was a moment in my life where I recognized that I was truly fascinated with the feathered friends I encountered while angling.  It was in May 2004 on the Rio Malleo in Argentina.  Looking up from the river at a set of towering rock spires, I caught my first glimpse of an Andean condor riding the thermals.  Even soaring hundreds of feet overhead I could see the telltale white collar, and I could tell that the thing was absolutely huge!  It made me want to learn more about it.  On that same trip I also saw my first crested caracara, chimango caracara, and an eagle even more robust than the golden eagles in Montana.  All of these birds were similar to birds from back home, but not really.  I was enthralled.

Fast forward a decade +/- and I found myself becoming more and more interested in the birds I was seeing during my time on the water.  I was enjoying these unique creatures (the last living dinosaurs, in fact), and having fun learning more about them.  Birding was enhancing my everyday routine as well as my angling adventures.

The legendary Bud Lilly often spoke of “The Total Experience”, when it came to finding joy through fishing.   It’s not only catching fish that draws us to angling, it’s the love of the fish and the rivers.   Enjoying our natural surroundings and unique geology, experiencing the local birds and wildlife, participating in unique cultures, and doing it all in chosen solitude or in the company of friends and loved ones, is what completes the angling experience and keeps our passion strong.

Birding has now become a favorite part of my own “Total Experience”.   I’ve accumulated a small stack of bird books, and gotten pretty handy using the web to do more research.  I’ve learned some of the key ways to identify similar species that I come across often, and even started to learn a few of the “songs” they sing.

What I’ve also found is that I now equate certain bird species with specific angling locations and situations, the same way I have done with insect hatches for many years.  I’ll always equate streamer fishing in Argentina with those giant Andean condors soaring on the ever present Patagonia winds.  Similarly, I equate winter fishing on my local home water, the Missouri River, with the flocks of bufflehead and common goldeneye that spend the chilly months diving for insects in the calm flats.  I also think of the resident bald eagles that are always happy to make a meal of one of the aforementioned waterfowl.

When I’m fishing any one of the small brushy creeks around SW Montana in the late spring, I’m always entertained by the migratory songbirds that return each year to nest in the riparian areas and feast on emerging insects.  Not even a bumbling angler stops them from singing. The holy grail of bird sightings in that time and place is a male western tanager  in full breeding plumage.  If you ever are lucky enough to see one, you’ll remember him for sure.

In the early summer on some of my favorite lakes, I enjoy seeing the blackbirds – both the red winged and, especially, the yellow headed varieties.  Again, the males are the show stoppers, full of color set off by the contrast with their predominantly black bodies.  They nest in the emergent wetland vegetation along the lake margins.  What I really hope to see are small groups of yellow headed blackbirds patrolling the beaches right along the water’s edge.  That almost surely means that the damsel nymphs are migrating ashore to hatch, and that I need to get my fly choice sorted and the line in the water.

A swooping frigate bird makes me think of baja, the dorado, tuna, or roosterfish that might be pushing the bait up the the surface, the salt air as the boat flies foward to investigate, and the margaritas we’ll have to celebrate another great day on the sea.

And, I’ll always equate an osprey nest on top of a telephone pole with a section of the Madison River where I spent so many summers camping and fishing with my family during my childhood.  That bird always caught a few whitefish from the riffle behind camp while we were hoping for a trout to rise to our dry flies.

I could go on, the more I scour my memory banks, but I will end it here.  Like the title said, fishing is, at least for me, for the birds as well as the fish.  Thanks, as always, for reading.  Your feedback is always enjoyable, and I hope that there are others out there who enjoy my words but remain unheard.

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt