three dollar bridge
In 48 hours I’ll be very close to being in Montana. We’ll probably be just about done with Idaho’s panhandle, headed East on I-90. The destination, as it is every year at this time: West Yellowstone, MT. The Ho Hum Motel, to be exact. The Firehole River, ultimately. Rather than waste your time writing about what to expect, let me just offer you a few recollections from previous years. It never varies a great deal, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring or redundant (except for the 14 hour drive).
The weather is always unpredictable when fishing at over 7200 feet in Yellowstone Park. Spring squalls will blow in one minute and we’ll be hunkered down to find a spot out of the driving snow. Then the sun will come out and we’ll be peeling layers. This year, however, it looks predictably bad. No matter- the fish will be gullible. It’s opening day of fishing in the park and the rainbows and browns haven’t seen an imitation bug since last fall. It’s stupid catching, and just what the doctor ordered. Then we’ll hit the Madison near Three Dollar Bridge and all that easy catching will come to an abrupt halt. I’ll get my arse handed to me. So will everyone else. Except Marck.
When I return, I’ll write up my recollections of this year’s trip. It’ll be remarkably similar to years past.
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.