16 years ago when we struck out to fly fish the Madison River on New Year's Day I had no idea where that crazy idea would lead us... Since then it has become a Dilschneider/Trout Stalkers family tradition to fish the Madison on January 1st, and at least attempt to catch the first fish of the new year. Fishing for me is certainly not all about a bent rod. But New Year's Day is a little different. It's about one fish. Just one. I am proud to report that we/I have succeeded in that goal every year since then, including yesterday January 1, 2016.
This year was a little different. You see we made plans for our family to spend the the 30th and 31st skiing and staying at a hotel in Big Sky. At that time it didn't occur to me that it might interfere with the New Year's Day fishing plans. No big deal though, I figured we would just cut the Jan. 1 ski day a little short and get back down the mountain in time to catch a fish. It wasn't easy because the skiing was fantastic and the thermal inversion made it 17 degrees warmer at the summit than the base of the mountain. We made it down in time, but we cut it awfully close when you consider sunset these days is around 4:50pm.
I am blessed with a couple of tough, and adventurous daughters; Elina and Noni. And they never waivered in their commitment to go fishing yetserday afternoon, even as I did! They were not going to let the family tradition die, even if it was 5 degrees outside and getting dark. So we hurried to the house, dropped our ski bags and donned our waders and made tracks for one of our favorite winter fishing spots: Bear Trap Canyon just below Ennis Dam.
We arrived there at about 4:15pm with the canyon already in the deep and cold shadows of the setting sun. At 5 degrees it is a frozen world. Fortunatley I had already rigged my rod in the garage at home, because rigging in Arctic cold is not easy or fun. Merely taking your gloves off is painful.
We hike downstream to the run below the first foot bridge. The ace-in-the-hole spot. The girls quickly take off downstream to explore and play in the snow. My first drift hangs up on a rock and I lose my whole 2 fly rig. Doh! Bad omen? I don't know. Luckily I remembered a box of small nymphs and my bi-focals. I tie on a single #18 $3 Dip, and a split shot and start again. Slowly, in an almost dream-like state I hook a nice fish on the first drift. Good omen? It was a pretty hot fish in spite of the extremely cold water. It jumps twice and as I am yelling for my daughters to come see it, throws the hook. Victory? Sort of, but not really. So I keep fishing, targeting the same drift lane. Ice starting to build up in the guides now and the line is basically frozen stiff. This makes casting, mending, and stripping all pretty challenging.
Then Bam! I hook another solid fish. Same result. It gets off as I'm calling for Elina to come take a picture. Oh well. Fish photos are sort of cliche overkill anyway, arent they? Seems that they are biting pretty good so I break the ice out of the guides and off the line and keep fishing. The 3rd time is indeed a charm. I land a dark Rainbow of about 15" and officially declare victory for one more year. No glory shot because by now the girls are frolicking 200 yards downstream, and there is just no easy way to document when you're that cold. In fact, actually catching fish in deep winter conditions is sort of a curse because then you have to get your hands wet, which can sometimes be the end of it. I recommend barbless hooks and slack lines ;-)
As I'm releasing that fish, I see a rise in the far-side seam. They are rising!? No kidding, over the next 10 minutes or so I see several twilight risers in the soft water on tha far side. (Note to self) I try a few more casts a little further across the channel and come tight to another hot jumper. Struggling with my gloves and the frozen line stuck in the iced-up guides, and it gets off. 1 for 4 isn't a great, but it aint bad on a B'Donk-Ass-COLD winter evening. And 16 for 16 this century aint bad either. Who knows when it will end, but its sure been a great run.
As I look around at the awesome canyon, the river, and my daughters playing together I'm overcome by peaceful feeling of gratitude and happiness. God, I love them... fly fishing....Montana....winter...the Madsion....and wild Trout!!
Wishing you and your family a peaceful and healthy 2016 with plenty of outdoor adventure.