By MATT DEVLIN
Well, I’ve thought for a while now that a flyfisher gets around five perfect days of fishing the Salmonfly hatch in his or her entire life.
I’ve got three left now by those calculations. You see, this master of all western stonefly hatches drives the masses wild, but the fact of the matter is the coincidental cooperation of weather, water conditions, insect activity, and willing trout is, in fact, rare… a very rare thing to time. And any angler worth a damn knows that timing is above all else, everything.
That is not to say that I haven’t had good days fishing these flies, but I am talking about great days, the Shangri-La of big bug trouting. A few days ago, a healthy highway trot away in the Big Hole Valley, we were in the right place at the right time as I have only been one other time in my fishing life.
Reports had been murmuring and humming as they do amongst fishing circles, but the hum reached a fever pitch detectable clearly from Missoula…TOMORROW IS THE DAY the rumors buzzed. The good thing about our line of work is that when you aren’t busy, you get to do things like drive over to the Big Hole river at the drop of a hat.
The gamble paid off, and from all accounts we shared in the first day that the hatch went off like you always hear it can but seldom see it do.
It is hard to describe what transpires on such a day. You are floating along, getting a few fish to mess with your dry fly, and then all of a sudden, it’s a bird no a plane, no…all hail Pteronarcys Californica!
One turns into a few more, and then a few more they come like kamikazes off of the willow bushes and just like that the Salmonfly hatch you’ve dreamt about is actually unfurling before your wide eyes and slack jaw. By lunch, we had caught a whole load of fish – big, dark, healthy browns and rainbows of this valley, and we pulled over for a bite.
Eating was difficult. Errant Salmonflies were diving into my boat, bouncing off my face, and generally displaying that they had not fully earned their wings. The trout obliged this misstep, and not two feet from the bow of the boat, a thick brown trout was sipping size-two flies. We grabbed some of the flight school drop-outs and tossed them in on the general line the fish was occupying, and, sure enough, the naturals would last a second or two tops.
Needless to say, we were giggling like a couple of youngsters holding a magnifying glass to an ant on a hot summer’s day. Or we perhaps were giggling more like the young girl of no more than six years old in the front of the driftboat across the river who just hooked her first trout ever, the tip of her bright yellow Echo Gecko fly rod dancing wildly.
I want to say that perhaps the most underrated emotion in the sport of angling is that of giddy resignation. This is an emotion produced only by those transcendant moments in fishing that we all chase. The ones where the experience is so full of life, or the fishing is so downright amazing that all you can do is laugh like a child, laugh like you haven’t in years, laugh like you sure as hell need to every time and again.
Two down…three to go. I drink deeply of such moments.
Fishing for more tales from the river? Check out Matt and Bryce’s other posts: Spring Fly Fishing Highlights and the Pursuit of a Dream, Zen and the Art of Not Fishing At All, and An Ode to Brown Trout, or visit the Fish It archive.
Be sure to visit the Make it Missoula fishing page.
Matt Devlin (left) is originally from Annapolis, Maryland and learned to fool trout on the technical waters of the Gunpowder River. He has fished in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. He thinks about flies and fishing a whole lot.
Bryce McLean (right) was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was ten, his family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his second season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth.
Their most recent fish-related project is BigSkyTrouting.com.