I sometimes confide my Catholic theory of fly fishing to anglers when the fishing is slow and the weather is nasty: namely, you have to suffer greatly in order to have great rewards. Of course the whole spiel is tongue-in-cheek, for the only correlation I have found with nasty weather is that the gray skies seem to enhance the fishing. Usually gray skies portend good insect hatches and plenty of dry fly fishing as long as the wind isn’t blowing too hard.
Last Thursday, Mike Faris and I fished the Bighorn River on a cold, drizzly June day. Faris had invited me to fish with him and his Bernese Mountain Dog, named Ruby. We didn’t get an early start, but we managed to get on the water before noon and started hunting for rising fish. The drizzle was just heavy enough that my glasses were soon coated with water droplets and lousing up my vision. The north wind ruffled the water, and it looked like we wouldn’t be able to find any rising fish.
Faris, however, fishes darned near every day when he is not guiding and had some protected spots in mind. It was only about 15 minutes when he spotted a few fish rising on the inside of a bend. Faris maneuvered his boat into a soft area about 20 yards above the fish and anchored close to shore. We disembarked and cautiously approached the pool where a handful of fish were rising.
The fish seemed to rise heavily for a minute or so and then quiet down to where we would only see a rise every 15 to 20 seconds. Faris managed to pick off a couple of 14-inch brown trout on a midge pattern.
I tried a couple of different flies but with no results. Finally, I tied on a simple size 20 black midge pattern, waded into thigh-deep water and cast to a small pod of fish. After about a half-dozen casts, a fish sucked in the midge and livened up my morning. It surged around the pool and flopped on the surface about 5 feet away, and then the hook came out.
Well, I didn’t have to get my hands wet and slimy, I thought. I was cold enough standing in the thigh-deep water.
I hooked two more fish in the pod and lost them in a manner similar to the first fish. Not only was I getting cold, but I wasn’t landing any fish. Finally, I managed to hook a feisty 15-inch brown and keep it on the line. After landing it, I felt a tad warmer.
Faris elected to head down the river. He rowed hard into a stiff breeze that drove the drizzle into my face. Fortunately, my rain jacket kept me dry, but the chill seeped into my bones.
Faris stopped at a flat where little tongues of current entered from the south side. The place wasn’t out of the wind but whenever the wind eased, we could see fish rising here and there. Faris anchored and hopped overboard into about 3 feet of water.
I told him that I would pass on this spot and sit in the boat because I was too chilled to stand another wade in 48-degree water and a strong breeze.
Faris picked up two or three more browns around 16 inches each on a dry fly. Pretty soon he hopped back in the boat and said, “Let’s look for some better action.”
Faris rowed for about 15 minutes and entered a side channel. We were only about 40 yards down the channel when he proclaimed, “Look at all the rising fish.”
Along the bank and out of the wind was a pod of 40 or more trout in a feeding frenzy. By the looks of things the fish were feeding on blue-winged olives that were floating down the channel like a small sailboat flotilla.
Faris managed to slide the boat in below the pod of fish and snug to the bank. I hopped out and got up on the bank so I could watch Faris sneak up on the pod. He hooked up on his first cast.
He quickly landed the fish, waded back up and took another cast; another fish.
I had been pacing the bank trying to warm up and hadn’t succeeded, but I wasn’t going to let a touch of hypothermia get in my way. I tied on a blue-winged olive pattern and waited until Faris walked downstream of the boat to land his fish.
I cautiously waded upstream in crotch-deep water to get into position to cast. The water above was a steel gray color in the afternoon light and the trout noses appeared to be black snouts in the gray water.
Finally, my suffering paid off. I didn’t hook a trout on my first cast, but I had one on my third. I let the trout run downstream, and I followed it down to a spot where I could grasp it. Faris slid in above me and connected on another trout as I unhooked mine.
I slid in to his spot as he walked his trout downstream. In four or five casts I hooked another nice brown and felt pretty good about the action and my Catholic theory of fly fishing. Yes, I was miserable and could hardly keep from shivering, but the fishing was great.
After a couple more fish for both of us, I suggested to Faris that we go in. I was cold, coughing a lot and just plain miserable. Faris complied and after an hour row we arrived at Bighorn fishing access site. I had caught fish and suffered greatly, I guess that proves my theory, but I hope I don’t have to replicate the trials.