The International Writers Magazine: Fly Fishin' Montana way...
a Hopper Kinda Day
know how it is sometimes when youre sitting in a restaurant
and you overhear conversations from the surrounding tables. Who
can help but listen in a bit, especially if youre on a fishing
trip and the other patrons are discussing how they did that day.
The scenario goes something like this; the waiter walks up to the
table to take their order and puts forth the big question, "So,
howd yall do today?"
The answers run
the gamut from, "Oh, we knocked em dead" to "Well,
we hate to admit it but we got skunked" and everything in between.
Now, fishermen are a naturally competitive bunch. We always want to
know how the other guy fared so as to compare our own success rate.
We were in Montana, my father and I, on one of our annual fly fishing
trips. We always use the same guide. We were introduced to him several
years ago through a friend of my fathers and now we cannot imagine
fishing with anyone else. On this trip we had fished the upper Madison
River for a day, outside a little town called Ennis. But most of our
time was spent floating down the awe-inspiring Yellowstone River.
The river is aptly named for its walls of yellow-colored rock. Rhyolite,
a brownish volcanic rock which turns yellowish through chemical action
and thermal heat, is the result of explosive volcanic eruptions and
the cooling of viscous lava. It is common in and around Yellowstone
National Park through which the river flows.
National Geographic Magazine once called the Yellowstone "the last
best river". The river flows some 670 uninterrupted miles from
its origin in Wyoming to its confluence with the Missouri River near
the Montana, North Dakota border. The river flows in a basically northward
path through the majestic Yellowstone National Park, over a couple of
spectacular falls and down along the magnificent Paradise Valley bordered
by the Gallatin range in the west and the Absoroka (pronounced Absorka)
range in the east. It then winds eastward toward the Missouri River,
The valley, once the stomping ground of the Wooly Mammoth and Giant
Bison, then dominated by the Crow Indians, is now habitat to grizzly
bear, elk, deer, many species bird including eagles, hawks and osprey
and of course, trout.
The trout in the Yellowstone River, mainly Rainbow and Brown, but also
Cutthroat, Dolly Varden and several species of Whitefish, grow big,
strong, wary, quick and beautiful. The average size is anywhere from
12 to 18 inches. But there also lunkers or "footballs" as
we like to call them, lurking deep within the cool water. When they
take your fly, man do you know it. On our third day fishing we were
drifting the "Stone". We were doing okay, catching fish; we
had tried so many different flies we still didnt really know what
they were going after. This is part of fly fishing, however, and we
were doing our best and our guide, lets call him Vince, was doing
his best as the fishing guide, to figure out what was on the menu for
the trout that day. Toward the afternoon we finally figured it out.
We had been hearing them clicking all day along the rivers edge
but we were so caught up in our quest to "match the hatch"
and nymph fish that we just didnt pay attention to the grasshoppers
being eaten smorgasbord. The next day we ventured back onto the river
armed with every kind of grasshopper imitation we could find. We tried
them all and caught fish and were having a great time. But I lost a
fly in the rocks. Vince tied a fly called a "Foam Hopper"
onto my tippet and told me to "Smack em, love em, and
leave em". This meant I was to cast the fly over to the rocks
along the edge of the river, smack it down, and then jump it into the
river. Once it was in the water I was to "love" it, in other
words, accept it as is and leave it alone, letting it drift. Think about
it a minute, a real grasshopper wouldnt land in the water gently.
This is a big insect. It would land hard, smack down then float, legs
working, wondering where the heck it was until a big trout flashed up
from the depths and engulfed it.
So thats what I did and Wham! A Rainbow Trout streaked up, took
the fly, broke the surface in a rushing leap and didnt stop it
aerobatic exhibition until we netted it, admired all 21 inches of its
luminescent beauty and gently released it back into the water. "Now,
thats what I call taking the hoppertunity", said
Grasshoppers are terrestrial insects not normally thought of as food
for the fish. When we think of the usual diet of a trout we think of
aquatic insects; caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies. Though sometimes
certain species can attain pretty good size we usually think of these
insects as being rather tiny and dainty. We speak of trout "sipping"
baetis flies off the surface. But think a moment about a grasshopper.
This is a big bug. I remember as a kid chasing 3 inch grasshoppers around
the fields behind our house. We used to catch them and put them in big
mayonnaise jars with holes poked in the lids to keep as pets. A bug
this size makes a good meal for a trout, a few of them constitute a
banquet. Couple this with the trouts natural tendencies as a voracious
predator and we have fly fishing extraordinaire.
It seemed that for the rest of the day we could do no wrong. Almost
every cast worked, it didnt matter it we splashed the fly clumsily
down onto the water or landed it artfully and strategically. And the
trout went nuts. We were catching bigger trout on a more consistent
basis then we had ever done before. "Its a hopper kinda day,"
said Vince (he has all kinds of little sayings; we call them Vince-isms).
It became a quest for that "football" that we knew was down
there somewhere. We were bringing in fish averaging 18 to 22 inches.
Every strike was an impressive attack with the trout clearing the water
by a body length or two. It was like films of Great White Sharks barreling
into a sea lion and literally knocking the prey fully out of the water
in a bursting, splashing, glorious display of power. The Rainbow Trout
is one of the most impressive fish in the world for its proclivity to
leap and fight.
That night at the restaurant, as we overheard the surrounding tables
talking about how they were getting skunked, we remembered our foam
hoppers, chewed and frayed by so many trout teeth, and we sat and ate
in amused silence. "Should we tell em?" I asked my father.
"Naw, let em figure it out on their own, like we did."
So we ate our dinner and spoke in a quiet hush so no one would overhear
us reminiscing about how we had had a hopper kinda day.END
© Jeffrey Beyl October 2004
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