The rain is more of a West Coast drizzle than a hard shower.
At three o’clock in the afternoon the gray clouds hovering over Montana’s Gallatin Valley release the droplets of moisture they have been hoarding for the better part of the day. Before long, the rain droplets morph into wet snow flakes.
Five minutes later, the snow turns back into rain. The temperature hovers around 40 degrees. A September day like this is a terrible day for a fly fisher to venture outside. But I have learned that the worst weather for fly fishers is the best weather for catching trout.
On days like this, Blue Winged Olives emerge en masse on the East Gallatin River. When they do, the trout go into a feeding frenzy.
Stories of the River
I park my little red Toyota 4×4 at the edge of a rancher-friend’s pasture, a few feet from the river.
I can see my house, one mile away, perched on the first of several foothills which lie at the base of the Bridger Mountains. Captain William Clark and his Indian guide, Sacagawea, walked somewhere nearby as they made their way from the Three Forks of the Missouri to meet up with the Yellowstone River about thirty miles to the east.
More recently, local resident Jim Doig was killed when thrown from his saddlehorse not far from place where I am going to fish. His nephew, Ivan, tells the story in his memoir, This House of Sky. I peer into the Cottonwoods, Aspens, and the buckbrush which line the East Gallatin River. I am not expecting to see the ghosts of Clark or Sacagawea or Doig. But I half expect to see the large whitetail buck, which jumped across the Dry Creek Road in front of me a week ago about a mile from this spot.
The drizzle continues as I take my fly rod and walk through the tall grass to the river.
This stretch of the East Gallatin is no small challenge to fish. From an aerial view, the pattern of the river must resemble a piece of ribbon candy. This pattern slows the current to a crawl. Its surface is glassy, and a vague seam will appear for a moment and then disappear. The best places to fish are in the seams which separate an occasional stretch of riffles from the calm water. I find one of these stretches about fifty yards below a bend in the river. As I arrive at the river’s edge, the drizzle turns into snowflakes. BWOs flutter everywhere on the water. I prefer to keep things simple, so I tie on a size #18 parachute Adams.
Size #20 Dreams
Crouching at the edge of the river, I flip my fly at the head of a riffle, quickly mend my line, and get a reasonable drift.
Fish rise all around my parachute Adams. Five minutes later, I still have nothing to show for my efforts. It occurs to me that the insects with the smoky blue wings are tinier than my size #18 parachute.
So I switch to a size #20 — a fly that is ridiculously tiny, smaller than the head of a Q-tip. I drift the fly through the same riffle I had been fishing a few minutes ago. This time I get a strike. My rod doubles over and quivers as a healthy rainbow tries to shake free from the fly. This scene repeats itself again and again over the next twenty minutes. I end up landing eight healthy rainbows, all fifteen to eighteen inches long.
A quick glance at my watch tells me I need to head for home. I don’t want to leave.
The snow is softly falling. There are more trout to catch. There is a longing to stay in the moment. But if I don’t leave now, my cell phone will begin to ring. I know that my wife can see my red truck from our living room picture window a mile away. Dinner awaits. Then a work-related meeting. Reluctantly, I turn from the river and from the only run I have needed to fish, and I start walking back through the wet grass to my truck. It’s been a great day. But great days don’t last forever—not in this life. As I approach my truck, the snow turns into rain.