Last year after fishing the Firehole for two days, Marck and I decided to hit the Madison below Quake Lake. Having never before fished this locale, I was excited about the prospects of seeing someplace new. Also, being weary from not catching many of the relatively small fish in the Firehole, I was eager swap the 4 weight for the 6. We knew what we were getting into: High water, little-to-no visibility; streamers fished under indicators, tight to the bank. While I’ve never really enjoyed fishing under a bobber, I was giddy with anticipation to see the heralded waters of Montana’s great Madison River. We arrived at Three Dollar Bridge around 9 AM under mostly clear skies and a steady, but tolerable, breeze. It was beautiful, I’ll grant you that. The mountains rose immediately to the east and the broad valley spread to the west: The kind of scenery you’d expect to see in a Western, as opposed to The Bridges of Madison County (sorry, I’m sure that’s an overused reference). There were only a couple of other rigs in the parking lot, which, given the fact that it was Memorial Day Monday, both surprised and pleased us. As we geared up, we engaged in pleasant conversation with four folks from Bozeman who were planning to fish the opposite bank. The other group was already fishing a short distance upriver of the bridge on the near bank, so we set off upstream in search of some unoccupied water. We didn’t have to go far, and were quickly dangling strange, rubber-legged variations of the woolly bugger into water that resembled glacial runoff.
As one would come to expect when fishing with Marck, he quickly got into fish. Luckily for him, I was always within earshot when he hooked a fish, and dutifully joined him for a quick photo of his catch before returning to my own stretch of dirty water where I proceeded to enjoy the scenery while not catching fish. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did manage to land a fairly large rainbow that had obviously been turning away after balking at my offering. Yes, I’d foul hooked it— which made for a much less satisfying fight. When I reached for the fish, I realized that the foul hooking was only part of the explanation for the lackluster struggle: The bow had large wounds on either side of it’s dorsal fin, likely from the talons of the Osprey that called these waters home. The wounds had allowed for the onset of a fungal infection of some sort, and the fish was faded and lethargic. I felt bad for the old trout, aware that he wasn’t going to make it to see the clear waters of summer. I pondered the idea of putting him out of his misery, and while perhaps the moral thing to do, it would have been technically illegal so I returned him to the water to let nature run its course. Too bad, too, because he was a solid 18 inch fish and given perfect health would have provided future anglers a run for their money…like the fish Marck was catching. Back to that. It seemed that every 12 minutes the wind would carry the familiar sound of pure, unadulterated laughter toward me, and I would again set my rod down, grab my camera and dash to the altogether too familiar scene. It became apparent that the Madison held scores of beautiful, strong, healthy fish, and they were all eager to grab whatever Marck drifted in front of their noses. I felt privileged to be witness to such angling mastery, and happily snapped photo after photo, my memory card filling with images of Marck holding a plethora of dandy trout: Browns and rainbows varying in size from 12- 20 inches. This continued until it was unanimously decided that we’d return to the rig and grab some lunch. Also, the day was heating up and we both wanted to shed some layers. Afterall, we’d been working hard all morning: Marck fighting fish; me running wind sprints. After some beef jerky, power bars and Bud Lite we opted to fish downstream of the bridge. By now the parking lot was empty. Obviously the other anglers had grown weary of not catching fish, and cutting their losses, left the river to me and Marck. Properly nourished and rehydrated, we set off into the warmth of the afternoon, leaving fleece behind. I also left behind my lucky fishing hat, opting instead for a baseball cap. Why I did this I do not know, but it would reveal itself to have been a bad idea. Not that the hat had brought me any great amount of luck earlier in the day, but I had caught a fish (albeit a foul-hooked, fungus-riddled one). It was better than a skunking, and afterall–fishing is about more than just catching.
I’ll spare the details of the afternoon, but suffice it to say I could cut and paste what I’ve already written (without the part about me catching a fish), and that’s how the afternoon played out. I didn’t land a fish for the next 2 hours. Didn’t lose a fish, either. I simply didn’t have as much as a bump. As the afternoon wore on we decided to fish above the bridge on the opposite bank. I stopped briefly to exchange the baseball cap for my lucky fishing hat–it couldn’t hurt. It couldn’t get any worse, and besides–my lucky fishing hat makes me look taller. Immediately above the bridge, Marck pointed to a well worn spot where the earth had been trampled free of vegetation by the millions of anglers who’d been here before. As he prepared to make a short cast, I advised him against it. “Don’t waste your tim—” but my advice was cut short by the bending of his rod. On the other end was a 12 inch brown, picked from behind a rock not 8 feet off the bank. I tried to make myself feel better by commenting on the very modest size of the fish, but it was pointless. I’d have been thrilled to have caught that fish. A short while later I did manage to catch my second fish of the day–this time a 7 inch brown trophy. YES! I had my mojo back! That would be the end of the catching for me on this day, though I seem to recall Marck being fairly preoccupied with a tight line until we called it a day and headed down the road to eat dinner in Ennis. Along the drive I marveled at the beauty of the area and all the photos on my camera’s memory card: Marck with a brown, Marck with a rainbow, yadda yadda yadda.
One might ask, “Hey, Unaccomplished Angler–if it’s so demoralizing to fish with this Marck character, why do you continually subject yourself to such punishment?” Easy: He owns a drift boat.
Perhaps you’re one of the chosen few. We all know the type: Those who catch fish when the fish don’t seem to be playing nicely; the ones who cannot seem to keep fish from interrupting their quiet time on the water. I have a buddy like that. Let’s call him Marck (not his real name). Marck is a fishy son of a…gun.
I’ll admit that fishing with Marck can be similar to the morbid curiosity that occurs when we seeing something deeply troublesome–you know you should turn away and never look back, yet you can’t help yourself. And so it is with fishing with Marck: I know he’s going to catch fish when I can’t seem to get a look. My little angling confidence I have takes a beating, yet I continually fish with him, far and near. Maybe I hope to gain the satisfaction of catching a fish that he didn’t. Or maybe I can learn something by observing the Master. I think the reality of it all is that I’m just a glutton for punishment.
Every year on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend we meet at Marck’s house at 4:30 AM and drive to Yellowstone to fish the Firehole River (the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend marks the Park opener). We do this trip on the cheap, sparing all expenses by staying at the Ho-Hum Motel in West Yellowstone. I doubt, in this day and age when innocent terms from the past have evolved into modern slang with entirely different meanings, that anybody in their right mind would bestow that name upon a motel. But this place has been around for a good long while, named during an era when “ho-hum” meant “boring and dull; mundane” (so get your minds out of the gutter). The proprietor is a unique old gal with a penchant for cats–lots of them, that apparently use the carpet in her home/office to soak up their urine. Low room rates bode well for us because we’re on the water early until late, only enjoying the comforts (exaggerated term) of a hotel bed for a few hours at night. At the Ho-Hum you get what you pay for, which is perfect for us because nice lodging would only be wasted on us (same with good beer).
Anyway, back to Marck. He’s been making this trip since just after the park was founded in 1872, and he knows how to get it done on the Firehole. No matter what the fishing reports and fly recommendations at Blue Ribbon Flies or Arrick’s say, Marck uses the same fly every year, without diversion. It’s largely a subsurface game this time of year, and we fish nymphs dead-drifted without indicators. There is a chance for the very occasional blue wing olive hatch, but it doesn’t present itself every year, and sometimes even when a hatch does come off, the fish, for whatever reason, never turn on. So, to this end Marck’s go-to fly is a certain nymph pattern available at only one shop in town, and apparently Marck is the only person who knows how to effectively fish it.
Beyond knowing how to read the water he also seems capable of reading their minds, knows exactly where the fish are, and wades aggressively to get to them. I’ve tried following him a few times, but his inseam is about 12 inches longer than mine, so do the math and you’ll discover how water depths affect us differently. Fishing the Firehole on opening morning will yield fish to even the most unaccomplished angler and I’d be telling the honest truth if I said I’ve caught 25-30 fish on the first day. Well, Marck easily doubles that catch rate. Whenever I look over my shoulder to see if there’s a rogue bull Bison pawing the ground, eyeing me up for a bit of sport, I’ll see Marck with a bend in his rod, or having just released another rainbow or brown, or replacing his ravaged fly; shredded and dull-hooked from excessive action.
Fishing last year was not quite up to previous years’ standards, and just so you don’t think I’m making excuses, we encountered other anglers who proclaimed as much: Experienced fishermen who wore the long faces of despair, having caught single digit numbers of fish after all day on the Firehole. However, in addition to easily catching 30 fish on the
opening day last year (remember, this number was way down from years past) Marck also managed an act of mythical proportions by catching a brown on the lower section of the Biscuit Basin area that he taped at 20+ inches. I’ve never touched a fish on the Firehole over 13 inches (most seem to range between 10 and 12 inches) and if I thought Marck was exaggerating the size of the fish I’da called him out right then and there. But you see, Marck’s not a braggart, either. He’s actually a pretty quiet-spoken guy, reserving comments for stellar fish such as, “It was a nice fish.” So, while one never hears of fish like that being caught on that river, and I myself never saw the fish, I believe him. Mostly. Now, is he capable of having possibly miscalculated the size of that fish? Anything’s possible when you’re fishing at an elevation of 8000 feet. And who knows for certain what sort of havoc the sulfuric gasses emitted from the thermals can wreak on one’s mental capacities. But if I accused him of that, he’d just say I was spewing sour grapes.
And he’d be right.
What pattern does one decide to attach to their leader for that first cast of the day? Fish a dry, drift a nymph, or swing a streamer? This first-time blogger faces a similar decision: What should my very first blog entry be? Do I jump right in and get to the heart of the matter (whatever that is), or do I start slow, testing the waters first? Initially I’m writing to no one, and maybe it’s best that way because it follows the majority of my fishing experiences to a T: Casting repeatedly into a vast expanse of water, apparently to nothing. Should I fear rejection? Nah, I’ve suffered plenty of that at the fins and hands of fish and book editors.
It would also seem that writing is akin to fishing inasmuch as that which constitutes “good” is pretty subjective: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove may be considered by some (like me) to be the finest novel ever scribed, while others may think it to be just another stupid cowboy story. Similarly, one angler’s junk fish is another’s trophy whitefish; one angler’s miserable day on the water getting skunked is another’s marvelous day spent on the water not catching fish.
I may fail miserably at this blogging thing, as I’ve failed many times as a fisherman. And while there are similarities between fishing and blogging, I do see one glaring difference between the two endeavors: In order to partake of sportfishing, one must purchase a license. Conversely, right now anyone can start a blog, and maybe that’s a bad thing. Maybe there should be rules and licensing fees—regulations to keep things in check. Who knows— I may be just the catalyst needed for the authorities to implement regulations on the blogasphere. Let’s wait and see if my wading into this carries with it disasterous results.
The good thing is that if you don’t like what you read here, you can opt to never return—no harm, no foul, no barbs. It’s sorta like catch and release in that regard, and I’ve released a lot of fish (most using the Long Distance Release—the highest form of conservation-minded methods). If what you read here isn’t enough to warrant your return, that’s OK— I have thick skin. Just remember that there’s more to fishing than catching. Similarly, there’s more to reading than enjoying. I hope you enjoy.
That being said, let the ramblings of a catch-challenged angler begin.