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Al Agnew

Humble pie...

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My buddy Tom from Missouri spent the week with me out here in Montana last week, hoping to hit the Mothers' Day caddis hatch. My other buddy Tom from Montana, former guide and one of the best fly fishermen I know, Missouri Tom, and I spent the week chasing fishable water with a chance at bugs. The Yellowstone was barely clear enough to feel like fishing wasn't a total waste of time the first day, so we floated it. Tough fishing. I caught a couple on streamers and the others caught a couple on nymphs as we took turns rowing. The bugs didn't show up, the wind did.

The next day was cold and snowing when it wasn't raining, and I guess we've finally gotten old enough to be a little wiser and not so driven, because we decided to stay indoors and watch the river. The day after, we booked rods on Armstrong Spring Creek, and as usual, had a good day. Weather was beautiful, which meant there were no real hatches, but I caught several on dries anyway, plus a bunch on nymphs, plus a dozen or so on streamers late in the afternoon, so Missouri Tom said I'd done the grand slam, catching fish on all three types of flies. 

Then it was back to the Yellowstone again the next day, different stretch, more or less same results. The water temps were getting up around 50 degrees, and various sources say the caddis come off when it reaches the low 50s. We saw a half dozen caddis. Water was on the verge of being muddy. We always say that if it looks greenish it's going to be good, but if it looks brownish forget it. Well, it was brownish but still had more than a foot of visibility, so we had hopes. They were dashed. And the warm weather meant the rest of the low snow was melting and the river was going to be rising and getting even muddier, so we started looking for clearer water. We finally decided upon the lower Madison. A bit above normal for this time of year, but our sources said visibility was okay and the caddis should be showing up any day now.

We waited in line with several other boats at the put-in. The river wasn't going to be uncrowded. But hope springs eternal. We consider ourselves good fishermen. We figured we could catch some fish.

Two hours later, we were questioning that assumption. I think we'd caught two fish altogether, and they were 10 inchers. But...to make matters worse, there were several guides that passed us with obviously neophyte clients, and every time one would pass us they'd catch a fish. We watched carefully, trying to figure out what they were doing right and we weren't. They were nymphing as we were. And those clients had no clue how to mend, how to get drag-free drifts, or how to cast. They were just dangling nymphs off the side of the boat...and catching fish. Meanwhile, we were fishing hard and carefully, doing everything right, or so we thought...and nothing. The day ended with maybe 8 or 9 fish caught, none of them over 12 inches, one of the more frustrating days we'd ever had.

So...we had to do it again the next day. More warm sunny weather, surely the caddis would show up. We had a few other things to try if they didn't. The parking lot at the put-in had more vehicles with boat trailers than the day before. The fishing started out a bit better...we caught four trout in the first hour. 10 inchers, but better. Then it settled in to exactly the same as the day before, fishing those troughs and depressions in the bottom between the weedbeds carefully and well, great drifts, perfect presentations...and then another neophyte without a clue would catch another nice trout right in front of us. The bugs didn't come off. I finally caught a brown that was a whole 14 inches, the biggest fish of two days on the Madison. We caught a dozen among us all day.

Missouri Tom flew home the next morning. We joked that we had apparently forgotten how to catch Montana trout and we hoped he'd remember how to catch them back in Missouri. But it was really only a half-joke. Weeks like that make you question yourself. Of course, we all know that some of the biggest trout ever caught were taken on silly stuff like marshmallows and Velveeta cheese. But geez, you'd think that you'd get at least a little reward for fishing well.

Still, it was a great week with great friends. We've been fishing together in Montana for more than 20 years, and always look forward to this week of getting together on the rivers. And a little humble pie is a good thing, right?

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Did you try what the neophytes were doing, that is creating odd, against the current movement? Do you think the extra movement the drag caused actually attracted the fish?

I recall one opening day on a small lake when a bunch of high school boys limited out on trout using salt water lures while the accomplished fly flingers  caught only an odd one now and then. Made me wonder if the fish were illiterate and hadn't read the books.

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I can relate. 

Every time I take a pee at the office I wad my paper towel up, walk out the bathroom door, turn the corner and immediately shoot about 15 feet to the little trash can against the wall. 2 weeks ago I was absolutely on fire. I was nailing them straight into the can...with very few bank shots and no bricks. And this was with the new, thinner paper towels we get now. 

Then, last week I couldn’t make a shot. Musta been Thursday before I found the groove. But, this week I’m on fire again. Off yesterday, but 3 for 3 today with no bank shots. I’m seeing the can again. I coulda had more shots today, but I didn’t get as many attempts because I was tied up in meetings for much of the day. 

So, don’t give up. Focus. See the trash can/see the fish. 

Hope this helps. 

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