I’ve never fly fished on Christmas Day. I’ve fished on Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, but never on Christmas.
Yet I remember a year a couple decades ago when all I wanted for Christmas was to go fly fishing. I had a fly fisher’s Christmas wish:
‘Twas the week before Christmas, when there in my house
I looked out on the valley, and I started to grouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
But it’s my stocking foot waders I wanted to wear
Our house overlooked the north floor of Montana’s Gallatin Valley. From our picture window I could it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A dozen or more houses glowed with Christmas lights. An inch of snow covered the valley floor with a white blanket. Inside our house, the tree was decorated, and the sound of Karen Carpenter singing “I’ll be home for Christmas” filled our living room.
Christmas was seven days away.
But I was desperate to go fly fishing. It had been two months since I last flung a fly on the water. Just then an idea began to form in my mind. I knew that tomorrow was going to be in the high thirties, and I figured out a way to take off work in the early afternoon.
So away from the window I flew like a flash,
tore open my duffel bag where my fly gear was stashed.
Before long I was nestled all snug in my bed,
While visions of rainbow trout danced in my head.
The next afternoon, I left work early at two o’clock and headed for the Madison River. I arrived at the mouth of the Bear Trap Canyon an hour later. My plan was to park at the Warm Springs fishing access and walk up about three-quarters of a mile to the rock garden where some decent sized trout always seemed to lurk. But my heart sank when I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine.
I had just parked my truck when there arose such a clatter,
I opened my door to see what was the matter.
It roared like a freight train, that miserable wind.
I knew that my chances to catch trout were quite thin.
No wonder the parking lot was empty.
I had no desire to hike three quarters of a mile in gale force wind. But it occurred to me the bend in the river that wrapped around the far corner of the parking lot. I was in no mood to be true to my mantra: “Always walk at least a mile before you start fishing.” Besides no one in their right mind would have fished this elbow during the last few days of blustery weather.
More rapid than eagles the snowflakes they came,
so I shouted at the wind and called it a name.
Then I tied on a prince nymph and went straight to my work,
while hoping a rainbow might give it a jerk.
For the next few minutes, I got into a consistent rhythm: cast, shiver, mend, shiver, retrieve, shiver, complain, shiver. And then it happened.
The wind just kept whipping that new falling snow,
I was about to stop casting, about ready to go,
When what to my watering eyes should disappear,
but my miniature strike indicator, and this caused me to cheer.
For the next couple minutes, I felt the old familiar tug of a fish on the end of the line. It turned out to be a 14-inch rainbow which looked surprisingly plump for the time of year. I wouldn’t call that catch a Christmas miracle. But it made my day.
After I released it the fish, I realized that my shivering had increased. It was cold, and the sun had slipped below the mountain. So I began the long walk back to my truck—all fifteen steps. Later that night, I stood at our picture window and looked out over the moonlit Valley. Beyond the houses dotted with Christmas lights, I could faintly see the gap in the distant hills where the Madison River emerged from the Bear Trap Canyon. I was thankful for the light and warmth of home.
But I was also thankful for those fifteen minutes on the river that lifted my spirits.
There I stood by the window and looked into the night,
and thought about the trout that put up such a fight.
And so I exclaimed as I turned off the lights,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.