On a recent hunting and fishing trip that I’ve labeled “blast to cast”, I had a special day whereby I took a Montana-Medley of upland game birds; three pheasants, two sharp-tail grouse and one Hungarian Partridge. The next morning I awoke to snow…not just a smattering of the white stuff-but all out snow. In fact just to my west at Glacier they had 15 inches of snow overnight. I was up early and set my sails southward on Highway 13 from Wolf Point to Circle, Montana. There was a big chunk of land on my Montana map that looked like a good possibility.
Just a few miles north of Circle I turned east and hadn’t gone a few hundred yards when I flushed the first covey of Huns…another quarter mile and yet another covey. As I neared my destination I could see the familiar sight of what I knew were several pheasants in the middle of the gravel road; they were there picking up grit and doing so amidst snow that was peppering down at probably an inch an hour.
As I got close enough, there were at least a dozen roosters that lifted or ran off to the south. I eased the truck to a stop in the parking area, loaded my over/under with a pair of pheasant loads and then let Pappi out of his kennel. Ahead of us a few hundred yards was a creek bottom that had plenty of cover and I decided I had better loop around and use the wind to our favor. A half hour later we neared the cover and immediately Pappi became birdy…a few more steps and he locked on point. Truth is it was snowing so hard I could barely look into the snow, but I eased forward and up went a rooster that turned with the wind. I threw my gun ahead and pulled the trigger and he dumped into the adjoining grass. Within seconds of stowing away the bird, Pappi was once again on point…maybe three steps ahead of the first bird. This time there was no doubt as this rooster left cackling as it exited the cattails. Bird number two folded up cleanly; it was then that I noticed Pappi hadn’t moved yet? I knew the drill…he had yet another bird even closer. I popped one more shell into my double and quickly stomped directly in front of his nose…right up in my face flew my last pheasant of the day. This time I waited a bit so as not to blow up or destroy the bird; I now had my limit of Montana roosters in the bag and it wasn’t yet 9am.
I cleaned the birds, turned the truck eastward and off I went to Northeast Iowa…The Driftless to be exact. I pulled off I-94 just a few miles west of the ‘Twin-Cities’ in Minnesota to spend the night…I was back up and on the move again by 4am-which gave me the time to get to Iowa about an hour ahead of daylight. I had been chased by snow and cold-driving rain all night long…unfortunately it caught up with me about a half hour after I shoved off to fish my first stream. If you haven’t fly fished in 44 degree, sideways rain…then you don’t know what you are missing? The only good part was that I had all the water to myself; the only company I had all day were a few cows and a pair of eagles.
By noon, even though I had caught about ten trout…the cold started to get to me and thus I made my way to the truck, to the heater, some snacks and a Gatorade. For once the dogs were all toasty and I was the wet and cold one. I decided to try one more spot just a few miles further downstream and after an hour I was once again ready to fish…and it had stopped raining! This part of Waterloo Creek has always been good to me and on this day I would be there at just the right time to witness a hatch of caddis that simply had all the fish stirred up. I decided that ‘when in Rome’, one must do what the Romans do and tied on the smallest fly I had, a size 20…and for those of you that don’t know-a size 20 is so small that my 4X tippet hardly fit through the eye of the hook.
By placing my teeny dry fly just above the rising brown trout and allowing it to drift over the ‘bug-eaters’ below…I caught and landed six trout on this tiny bug. In truth this was the smallest fly I have ever caught a fish on and if I must be honest…it was a lot of fun as well!
When I awoke from my little camper the next morning, the mercury read a chilly 27 degrees; it had been a long night and I was more than ready for Mr. Sol to rise in the east…by the time it had I was walking towards the head of French Creek, once again not a soul in sight and the only company this morning was a pair of chirping bald eagles.
As I neared the first good pool or plunge in the stream my excitement grew and I forgot that I couldn’t feel my fingers. I stripped off about 30 feet of line and dry casted until I placed my hand-tied bug about ten feet above the pool. I made two upstream mends which allowed the fly to turn and take the current directly into the crystal clear water. I raised my rod tip to ‘high-stick’ (which allows the fly to travel with little or no drag), immediately my yellow floating line surged forward and I lifted. On the other end was now one of the finest, most beautiful trout I had ever seen. It leapt up out of the water twice before I could even get to the point of looking down into the pool. By keeping tension on the brown I was able to step down into the water and slip my net under the trophy…17 inches of strength. A fish that knew no other waters but this tiny, spring fed creek from an area that the glaciers forgot to flatten in the last ice age. I snapped a few photos as you can see above…then without even touching the fish slipped the fly from his jaw and watched as he quickly swam down into the depth of the pool that I had just caught him from.
This might have just been the single most perfect fly fishing moment of my life. I continued to fish for another couple of hours but couldn’t get the feel or sight of this immigrant trout off my mind. It is moments like these that make a drive of 3,250 miles all worth it; a time to simply step back from daily hassles and completely appreciate and Enjoy the Great Outdoors.