The rainbow on the other end of my line was giving a good accounting of himself. After a solid take, the winter rainbow awoke with several strong jumps, clearing the water with an impressive aerial display, before settling down to a solid tug of war with my 7-weight rod. I slowly worked the fish into the shallows, carefully backstepping on the gravel bottom of the Missouri River. As the fish grew weary, I slipped him into my net and gently slid out the #16 streamer that fooled him. Resting the tired fish, with a strong splash he gave a signal that he was ready to return to his home. I eased the glistening rainbow out of my net and watched satisfied as he darted back to the depths.
It was the middle of January, and my former home state of Washington was trapped in a cycle of wet, icy roads causing a general standstill from accidents throughout the Puget Sound area. Meanwhile, in Montana we were experiencing our first “Chinook Winds” , a warming trend I was told was a common occurrence in the Great Falls area. With temps hitting the upper forties I decided it was high time to explore the winter trout fishery that I had heard and read about on the Missouri River. In Great Falls the river was frozen from an earlier cold snap, but traveling 50 miles to the angling community of Craig revealed a free-flowing river devoid of the summer line up of drift boats plying the waters.
Reaching the Bull Pasture access, I shared a beautiful drift with one other angler. He graciously gave me some tips and an extra leader (I had forgotten mine!). Saying “I’ll see you on the water”, I followed at a respectful distance, giving him first water.
Moving to a new home is not easy. Moving to a new home in another state multiples the challenges and frustrations. For my wife and I it had been a year of packing belongings, cleaning, getting quotes for house repairs, and slowly but surely learning our new hometown, Great Falls. Somewhere in that mix of seemingly never ending tasks I vowed to myself that I would get some fishing and exploring in. Over previous visits my son Matt and I had fished different locations and so I knew a few places to go, but I also wanted to learn new spots and explore fresh places.
Montana has a wealth of angling options, but they are very different from Washington. Lakes are fewer and farther between. Trophy trout rivers are seemingly around every bend. Reservoirs offer big bodies of water which suited my Thunderjet well, but I was also looking for those local spots closer to home where I could make a quick drive, fish, and return home with time left in the day to do chores.
Fortunately, I discovered a totally unexpected source of fishing information other than YouTube and internet searches. That information source was none other than the various handymen and contractors that came to our home to work on building a fence, repairing a garage door, and graveling our driveway. Striking up conversations I quickly discovered that, like myself, these anglers were more than happy to talk about fishing and share places to go, times to fish, and gear to use. Following our chats, I would go to my computer and do the further research needed to start expanding my fishing horizons. New locations and fishing adventures were what I craved, and suddenly my world was opening to a wealth of exciting opportunities.
Networking is nothing new, but in our new age of social media it seems to me we are losing that piece of our human connection. Or, maybe it’s just that I’ve read one too many harangues of comments such as “I don’t share locations” anytime someone asks for help on social media. As if that is the cause of our woes as anglers, and being more selfish is the solution to shrinking opportunities. Perhaps the answer is we all expand our horizons, finding those new locations and species to target. And we share the wealth, instead of tightly clinging to our ever-shrinking little world, becoming bitter and inward focused. But I digress…
As I made new friends and we shared our passion for fishing, more ideas and destinations swirled in my head. Epic adventures lay ahead of me – a trip to Fort Peck to target land-locked chinook salmon, or maybe an RV trip to a remote high country lake to fly fish out of my belly boat. Or win the Montana angler lottery’s trip of a lifetime and float the Smith River on a four day camping-fishing adventure. Can’t forget Flathead Lake with its famed lake trout fishery.
In addition to learning new spots to fish, I realized with both a feeling of sadness but also intrigue that the fishing routines I was used to in Washington were going to be very different in Montana. For one thing, gone will be the days of waiting to hear what seasons will or won’t be open. No longer would my boat see the salt water and flow of the tides. Battling seaweed while trolling for salmon will be a thing of the past. Having my choice of dozens of kokanee lakes was done. And steelheading… I can only say I am very thankful to have seen the days when local rivers had healthy returns and anglers had a multitude of opportunities to catch these magnificent fish.
In their place, however, were new piscatorial pursuits. Reservoirs with solid populations of large walleye, bass, and pike awaited. Kokanee lakes, while less in number and more spread out, offered solitude and bigger fish. Smaller mountain lakes and high elevation ponds compelled me to buy a new belly boat, bringing me full circle back to my first year in Spokane when I would travel to the multitude of trout lakes and fly fish out of a float tube. I realized with a feeling of excitement that I would need to dust off my neglected fly rods, go through my fly gear, and reacquaint myself with the fine art of fly fishing. Montana is truly the Mecca of fly-fishing and my new home put me in close proximity to one of the most famous and bountiful trout rivers in the west, the Missouri River. I will confess, my first few trips to the “Mo” were humbling experiences. My fly-casting skills left much to be desired and Missouri rainbows are not easily fooled by sloppy casts. That said, I am embracing the challenge of becoming a better fly-fishing angler, and I observe with satisfaction a steadily improving presentation and distance in my fly tossing.
Most of all I am excited to share new adventure stories and TV episodes with our readers featuring the “Big Sky” country. I look forward to taking friends new and old out to enjoy with them the beauty that is Montana. In the meantime, wherever you call home, I encourage you to broaden your horizons, fish new waters, and share your love of fishing with other anglers. Take a kid fishing and help spark the passion in the next generation so our waters will have advocates to take care of them, help them flourish, and protect them.