For the second year in a row I have had 4 days off, no wife or girlfriend, and salmon flies hatching on the Upper Madison. Sunday afternoon I blazed up after my 7-3 shift at Montana Troutfitters, past the scorched grass in Beartrap on the lower Madison, through bar-filled Ennis, to the West Fork bridge. My first stop was the willows, where the big bugs were few, but there. I then found a campsite, set up my lightweight mesh Kelty tent, and headed upstream to stake out my island hole where I knew trout would be rising at dark.
I tied on a Fluttering Stone and tossed it into the middle of the riffle, backlit by the setting sun. Four good browns rose to the fly on 6 casts, and I pulled the trigger early on each take. Then when the sun went behind the hills, the soft slick behind me became a sipping frenzy. I clipped the big bug, tied on a stimulator and a #18 CDC caddis, and by dark landed a few good fish, including a 17\" rainbow and two browns around 15\".
Monday at 7am I was wading and tossing the Fluttering Stone against the bank. It was explosive big brown fishing all day, including a 22\" brown, and several in the 16-18\" range. The evening's full moon came up to trout sipping PMDs and #18-20 caddis patterns.
Ironically, like a lot of trout fishing experiences, Tuesday's salmon fly fishing was off. I moved 5 browns in the morning, but none of them were committing to the big dry. I walked upstream, and found several rainbows rising at 11am to caddis. I caught half a dozen, the largest a 15\" rainbow in heavy four foot deep current.
My buddy Chris came up and met me at $3 Bridge at 1:00, both of us with expectations of repeating last year's phenomenal salmon fly fishing. No such luck.
There were a few big bugs flying around, but there were also 3 types of caddis, PMDS, Yellow Sallies, and Golden Stones fluttering, emerging, and splattering against my ears in the gusting 20 MPH winds. The bleary-minded anglers were as abundant as the wind and bugs, and an easy stroll downstream, and multiple fly changes, payed off with a couple good fish on a #8 Sunrise Chubby. Chris put on a Salmonfly and by 6 we started seeing fish come up.
We took a break, drank a Coke, and watched the parking lots empty out by 7. We wadered up, and sought out the willow banks and shadows for lurking browns. We decided to fish together, and had a blast watching browns swat, examine, and finally eat our presentations. As I was drooling, fishing vicariously through Chris's casts, a big rainbow came downstream for Chris's fly, opened his mouth over the fly, closed, Chris
raised his rare bamboo rod, it buckled, and the fly pulled out.
Then the wind died, and we each landed 17\" browns on salmonflies. Complicating this willow bank fishing, was an unenthusiastic lure fisherman decked out in L.L. Bean safari khaki. He kept leapfrogging us, wading through the juicy bank water, and whipping his Rapalas out into the heavy current while his German Shepherd hungrily observed us each time we approached. Finally the curtain of darkness forced him to leave, wearing a dejected plod upstream towards Raynold's Pass.
Wednesday I slept in the tent until 9:30, and went up to $3 where the wind was calm and the trout were sipping PMD emergers and #20 caddis. I parked myself in skinny pocket water, and my hopes of heading back to Bozeman faded with six sight-fished browns and rainbows 16-18 inches.
On an easy drive back to Bozeman, I realized that I live in heaven, and I vowed to never regret or waste another day of this life. Basically that means fish every hour I can. Work as little as possible.
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