It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating the New Year and here we are half way through the month of March. Old man winter has been a fickle beast so far. By the middle of February we were well below average with our snowpack and were somewhat reluctantly enjoying some very pleasant almost spring-like weather. That all changed towards the end of the month and into March. We were treated to a number of days where day time temperatures barely made it into the single digits and nighttime lows were well below zero. We also got the snow that we were desperately lacking and wishing for. The latest snowpack reports put us above average for this time of year.
It was during the mild days of January, while walking my lab along the river out behind the shop, that I would notice fish rising in the afternoon to some sparse midge hatches. As I have gotten older, and maybe not smarter but I hope wiser, I pretty much leave the fishing during the early months of winter to the younger fly fishing crowd. However, during the month of January there were days that were just to pleasant to ignore the call of the river. So, on one particularly beautiful January afternoon I decided to wader up and head out to one of the spots that I had seen fish rising. I made my way into position a good hour before I expected to see any activity so I would be ready when the action started. I felt that this preplanning was necessary because the fish were feeding in water that was barely deep enough to cover their backs.
The position I picked would require me to make a negative curve cast. This is not an easy cast for me to execute, but I wanted to approach these fish from the bank side less traveled. Even though this cast is a little difficult it is not one that demands perfect accuracy. The idea is to present the fly upstream of the fish on a fairly slack line and allow it to drift down to the target. I selected one of Rene’s CDC Hanging Midges as my fly of choice and attached it to a 14 foot 6X leader. I was now ready for action. I waited for what I believed to be the magical hour. That time passed and so did several more hours. Although the ambient air temperature was quite enjoyable, the water temperatures were in the lower forties and after several hours my feet were becoming numb. I decided that it just wasn’t going to happen for me on this day and I started to wade toward the bank with thoughts of a nice hot toddy at the Last Chance Bar and Grill.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a disturbance at the surface of the water. A closer look revealed another then another. I could see that in the fading light of the late afternoon a few midges were beginning to hatch. I had not gone far when the action started so I was quickly able to get myself back into position. I picked out what seemed to be the best fish of several that were working those midges and began to cast. It did not take long before I was into my first fish of the new year. The take was subtle as it usually is with midge fishing and when the hook was solidly set I felt the weight of a nice fish. I took my time with that fish especially because I was using a size 20 midge with 6X tippet and because I did not want to lose the first fish of the season. The struggle went on for several minutes. There were no blistering runs or high flying acrobatics just a doggedly strong resistance. I was getting pretty excited because in my experience often times a really big fish will hold its ground and not want to leave its preferred territory.
Over the course of several minutes I was finally able to get control of my prize and start to lead him towards myself into my waiting net. As I maneuvered that fish to the edge of my net I could finally get a good look at my first fish of the year. What I saw would make old Ed Dunn proud. What I had at the end of my line was a world class whitefish. Now I know that such a catch would be a disappointment for many fishermen but not for myself. The whitefish is a gamefish and he is native to the Henry’s Fork. Quite a prize!
News Update: Last week Yellowstone Park fisheries officials announced that after much deliberation they have decided to ban felt soled boots in the rivers, streams and lakes throughout Yellowstone Park. I know for many of our customers a few days of fishing in the park represents a nice distraction from the demands of the Henry’s Fork and the Railroad Ranch in particular. I hope this post helps in your planning for your summer visit to our area.