As I reflect upon my fly fishing adventures in the year 2010, I can't help but to think how far I have come since I first picked up a fly rod at the age of 7 or so. Those days as a kid were spent trying to cast and fish bushy hoppers and salmon flies with my cousin Jacob on the Yellowstone River in our backyard. Although I had no concept of fly fishing and the world it entailed, seeing an eager trout rise to the fly at such an early age is a memory I will cherish forever. Little did I know, this would be a memory that would be buried in the depths of my psyche until nearly 20 years later; where it would be resurrected by experiencing the nostalgic episode time and time again as a mature fly fisherman; where it would spark a passion that would burn inside of me the rest of my time on this earth.
It disappoints me to not know and not understand why I decided to put away that fly rod for so many years of my life. I dabbled with that old rod a few times throughout my adolescence, but not enough to gain much understanding of the sport. The distractions of growing up as teen such as girls, sports, and girls would be my only guess as to why I never gave fly fishing a shot during that time in my life. If only I could go back in time and gain the experience of what I know now at a younger age.
The year began slowly as high water levels on Belt Creek reduced to normal flows in early August, nearly 2 months later than the previous year. Most of my fishing was spent on the Missouri, until Holter dam managers released 1000's of CFS from it's grips causing wade fishing to become a very dangerous environment. Reaching nearly 20,000 CFS for 1-2 weeks, banks and boat ramps became flooded. Not my cup of tea.
A highlight of my year included fishing the North Fork of the Teton River near Cave Mountain on the Rocky Mountain Front. My cousin Donnie accompianied me with his bait rod, and hooked himself a nice cutt or two. Beautiful, full-bellied cutts and brookies eagerly took hopper patterns from the swift shallow riffles, and pockets behind large mid-stream boulders on my fly rod. Of the baker's dozen of fish caught, a 15 inch lavender-chrome toned brookie caught with a Joe's hopper was the "trophy" of the trip. Even the 18 inch cut-throat couldn't beat the beauty the brook trout possessed.
I'm dissappointed for not making a trip to the Bozeman area to fish with my cousin Jacob, who is lucky to have the Madison, Gallation, East Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers, all within a hop, skip, and a jump away to fly fish at his disposal. I'd say a trip this spring before the run-off is in order.
I also fished the Middle Fork of the Dearborn once again at Scott's cabin near Lincoln, MT over the 4th of July weekend. Compared to the 30-some fish I caught in the previous year, a mere handful is all I could muster to the fly this go around. It's a beautiful area and look forward to making another trip in 2011.
I also made a couple trips out with my girlfriend Missy to the Sun River and Belt Creek. Although she didn't fly fish, she was content taking photos, relaxing with music from her ipod, as well as studying the stream-side insects. I intend to buy an 8 foot 4 weight for the smaller creeks I intend to fish, and for the new ones I intend to explore in the new year. Montana has hundreds and I see no reason why I shouldn't be fishing them. Who knows, I just may find a new gem with some beautiful fish to catch, and this way, I'll have an extra fly rod for Missy to take along and learn with.
Other highlights of the year include catching what is the largest trout I have ever caught on the fly rod. It happened on Memorial Day, the day my nephew, Ethan Elliot Baker was born. I was out fishing on my own on the Missouri River near the Mid-Canon fishing access. I hooked into the heavy fish in the heavy riffle water, just a along the seam. The fish fought hard, as it took off down the river I frantically chased it in the same fashion as Paulie had in "A River Runs Through It." This fish went aerial more than once during the fight, thinking it was a rainbow. I knew this was a special fish as my heart raced and finally landed him 50 yards downstream. I was surprised to see a light chrome brown trout in the net as I laid the fish to rest near the bank. I was lucky to have gotten a pic with my not so good camera on my phone. The fish taped out near 23 inches and in my best guesstimation, it had to be about 4 lbs. Truly a pinnacle in my life of fly fishing.
Just recently, on Christmas Day to be exact, I nearly trumped that 23 inch brown with another monster. This fish, another brown, measured in at just over 22 inches. Not nearly as fat, but another trophy fish. Besides that brown, I also caught some fat 19-21 inch rainbows, and a nice whitey. Overall, I could not have asked for any better gifts on Christmas Day.
In other exciting news, I took a spey casting class in October on the Missouri River. Organized by Big R Fly Shop, Bruce Berry of Beulah Fly Rods came to Great Falls, from Oregon to teach a class of about 10 a few of the many different spey casts. I learned the switch, spey, double spey, and snap "C" or snap "T" casts. I can't say I am a "pro" yet at casting, but it has definitely opened my eyes to brand new possibilities to explore, even on the Mo'. Recently I purchased a Loop Evotec reel for the 11' 6WT Imperial Switch rod I've had since February. I have a Skagit and a Scandi head for fishing dries, nymphs, and streamers. As soon as the weather warms up this spring, I will be actually applying the casts I have learned and use them to put me into some fish in some runs I would never have been able to cast to before. It's amazing to know that I have learned the foundations to be able to easily cast 80 feet in any direction, 360 degrees around me, no matter my position in the river. I'm super stoked!
Once again, my sweet girlfriend decided to surprise me with an extreme gift (switch rod on Valentine's Day) this time with a 9' single man pontoon boat. I am so fortunate to have a girlfriend who fully supports my passion, and provides me with the tools to continue pursuing it. I am forever grateful to her. I CANNOT wait to put this thing together and float down the Missouri on a hot summer day, soaking in the sun and catching trout in fishy lies in which I would have never been able to reach without this boat! I also intend to search out some small mountain lakes and spend time camping and fishing. It's great how many new possibilities have opened up just by having access to a kick boat.
A new year arrives with new frontiers. My passion for this sport grows with every new adventure. I find myself constantly daydreaming about going to far off exotic places. If only money were not an issue or my career, I'd be on the next flight to fish the backcountry, gin clear rivers for large brown trout on the North and South Islands of New Zealand, or to the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in search of sea run browns, maybe to the Dean River in British Columbia for world class steelhead, salmon, and rainbows, or maybe even to the Florida Keys, Ascension Bay in Mexico, or the saltwater flats of Belize to achieve the Grand Slam of fly fishing, catching a Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit all in the same day. For now, these mere dreams will have to wait to become a reality, and while I wait, the many of Montana's beautiful streams and rivers will have to suffice, with which I have no qualms with whatsoever.