From time to time my daily schedule takes me along the river. I don’t necessarily get to pick what time of day I’m driving past, or what the weather will be like when I’m there, so fishing conditions aren’t always optimal. But I do always try to stop at a few turnouts along the way to see if there are any fish rising.
So it was one fine day last summer. Mid afternoon, high and bright sun, little-to-no wind. An absolute glorious day in Montana. One of those days where a person can feel content just sitting on the river bank starting at the water and the sky, watching the fluffy white clouds, or their reflections, drift past. The morning hatch was long gone, the water’s surface glassy and still, and the fish clearly back down looking for drifting nymphs. First turnout – nothing. Second turnout – nothing. Third turnout – nothing. After about 5 minutes surveying the river at each spot, I was about to be on my merry way, but a subtle bulge and rings spreading on the surface well downstream caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks.
I’ve fallen for this trap before: gearing up to fish after seeing a single rise, only to have it turn out to be another “one-and-done” riser. So I just stood there and waited. Another rise. And another. Not in rapid succession, but enough to convince me to string up the rod. Besides, I could tell it was a good fish, in a very challenging situation. Well worth the effort.
Fishing is all about process. I knew from experience that there was a very good chance that I would spook this fish before ever making a cast, so I decided to take my time with the approach, and soak up the simple joy that is watching a good fish rise on a sunny afternoon. I took the long way down the bank, making sure to steer clear of the poison ivy and the electric fence that keeps the cows out of the river. I found a good approach angle with a nice clear back cast. A fat muskrat swam down to investigate what I was up to, and my fish stopped rising. So I waited.
While I waited, I lengthened my leader and added a long piece of tippet. The only bugs on the water were the dregs of the morning hatch and spinner fall. My gut told me to go with “trusty rusty”. A rusty spinner… when you don’t know what they are eating, or when all else fails.
The fish came up again. Closer this time. In the high sun and clear water I could clearly see the entire fish, hovering a foot under the surface in the slow, gin-clear flow. Oh, man. Tricky. Exciting. I had a feeling this was going to be one cast for the championship. There would be only two possible grades on this test – either A+ or F. Another rise in full view and I slowly pulled line off my reel.
I was feeling good as I made that first cast, until an unexpected gust of breeze came out of nowhere. Oh, no! The leader landed in a heap in the floating vegetation that divided me from the fish. The cast was so bad that the fish didn’t even know it had been attempted! Ha! I retrieved the fly, cleaned the algae from the hook, regained my composure, and went for it again.
The fly landed with a light plop about 5 feet upstream of the fish. Right on line. It floated two feet and then fell through the surface tension, out of sight to me, but not the trout. The fish pushed forward and up in a subtle, smooth, and confident stroke, and ate the fly. Fish on!
A short run and a jump and the fly pulled free. Silence and stillness reclaimed the river. I looked at my watch to discover that forty-five minutes had past since I saw the first rise. Two casts would be plenty for today. I reeled up and drove home, grinning to myself the whole way.
NOTE: Matt Klara is a good friend and our Social Media guy here at Big Sky Anglers. He was kind enough to share this piece, which was originally drafted for his Front Page post on sexyloops.com.