[ED: This story courtesy of the Underground's Director in Charge of Montana Fishing and Intellectually Challenged Whitefish. Enjoy.]
Montana#8217;s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks requires new Conservation and Fishing licenses March 1. It#8217;s as official and appropriate an opening of the new fishing season as anyone around Missoula requires.
And March 1 really is auspicious; if it weren#8217;t for televised sports, the freezing, low-light months from November through February would terminate all habitation here.
A few local fly fishermen seek relief through winter road trips to tailwaters: the Big Horn and Missouri.
In fact, Montana still preserves a vestigial Opening Day - the hard-wired third Saturday of May small creek opener. Still, hardly anyone notices; the larger rivers -- the fabled magazine waters -- have been open to year-long fishing as long as memory serves.
The Paradise Valley spring creeks are very fishable by President's Day, but with egg patterns: tantamount to ordering a slawdog at a five-star restaurant. [ED: what's wrong with that?]
By the first of March spring is a foregone conclusion. Ice has largely left the rivers; the new fishing season is at hand.
Me and the (Apparently) Gullible Whitefish
I#8217;ve been prowling one of the local rivers the past several weeks. The first trip was mainly to break out Christmas loot. A pristine Rio Gold line spooled on a new Waterworks Purist ULA reel proved a high dollar mismatch against the first fish of the year- the always eager Rocky Mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni).
Several whities and a couple extremely surprised rainbows ate stonefly nymphs, and as far as I#8217;m concerned, the new gear was fully amortized that day.
Normally I wouldn#8217;t ramble on about Spring Training nymphing but an extraordinary event occurred during the first outing on the new license- the same fish ate the same fly almost immediately after being caught and released.
Whitefish do suffer a certain sameness. Their coloration is remarkable in its drab uniformity. Once you look aft of their rosy gill plates, the word #8220;gray#8221; fully describes them. They also tend to aggregate in groups of about the same size.
So how did the instant recidivist reveal himself? Specimen A had a heron strike mark on the right side of his back just behind the dorsal fin. (You don#8217;t catch fish with strike marks on the head -- they become ex-fish). He was roughly 11-inches in length.
After swinging in and releasing the fish, without moving my feet, I maneuvered a couple of drifts through the same slot.
On about the third cast, Fish B, bearing the tell-tale divot, vigorously ate the fly.