Well, while I was out on a guided float chasing Skwalas and mayflies, my guides were up to no good, as you can clearly see, chasing big Bitterroot brown trout, and definitely not using dry flies. Trout eat a little of everything, mostly aquatic insects, as they forage throughout the day in rhythm with the daily bug cycles. When the hatch at hand gets going, large numbers of fish feed throughout the river to take advantage of the increase in bug activity.
Then there’s these guys. Hatch be damned. Browns like this rarely fall for your ordinary insect imitations, their feeding patterns are impulsive, and their foraging is more like hunting and killing. These are the predators of our peaceful little rainbow/cutthroat stream: no little trout is ever really safe. That’s why we protect our beloved little dinks by targeting these bruisers with the only thing they consistently hammer. Streamers. Heavy, colorful, flashy minnow imitations with big ass googly eyes fished on a clear sink tipped seven weight. Oh Yeah.
Streamer chucking is not for the faint of heart, and many can’t handle it. Heavy stiff rods and weighted lines wear a person out, especially if one’s cast is inefficient, so we guides use caution when introducing our anglers into this realm: short periods keep our guests from getting frustrated and beat down. Now when it’s a crew like these two river monkeys in the photo, there’s no holds barred. Ten miles of swollen off color river, a half rack of Coors, and hundreds of heavy casts went into that one brown trout. Every cast has the promise of another leviathan: it may be the first deep log jam at daybreak, it may be somewhere on mile seven, or it may not happen at all. Keep hucking.
Have you ever been on a piece of water searching for a good trout lie, but you just can’t seen to find any holding water. So… you just keep on throwing that bug into the best available water for the present moment and Presto!, big brown coming out of nothingness. Soon you learn that “holding water” is relative to each river, and water that I might not usually deem cast-worthy is where all the fish in this river live. Essentially they have to live in this type of water, because the stretch of the Madison we fished this weekend really never changed from the moment we set out from Macatee bridge ten miles down to Varney. Granted, there are some boulders strewn about from Montana’s glacial history, but aside from that I don’t know if I ever saw water deeper than two feet.
Fortunately, as all weathered and beaten guides do, we persevered. Seven weights and streamers are always a good fallback on unfamiliar water, especially shallow unfamiliar water with no definition that’s hauling ass for Three Forks as fast as the Madison valley winds blow. Streamers stay high in the water column for snag free fishing, and you can cover beaucoup territory with a strong cast and a fast strip. We started with the old faithful flashy white and turned a few right away, but they seemed timid to engulf it. Sneaking it up a notch, we switched to the old faithful flashy black and started working the bug slower and more deliberate. Bingo! Fish Awn! We still had to strip like madmen to keep up with the Madison river flows, but once we felt the bug was in the good stuff we’d slow the retrieve and really dance it through the “hole”, all two feet of it.
And there they were, nice browns and rainbows that put up hella fights in the strong currents. We didn’t catch a slew of fish, but Chris and I can each say we learned a bit more about the Madison and can respect the opportunities this river holds on the right days. Fishing was downright hopeless at times with the gale force winds this valley dishes out, and we were both lucky not to lose our hats when the midday gusts let loose. But as I said previously, persevere. Patience, persistence, precision, Sierra Nevada, and little luck is all a couple of road weary fishing guides need to get it done in unfamiliar waters.