COURTESY PAUL CASEY
A pampered fly fishing expedition on the Yellowstone River can mean a beautiful day in Big Sky Country.
Fly fishing vacation can easily hook you
As vacations go, there's nothing that beats a fly fishing holiday. I never thought I'd like fly fishing but after a few sessions, I got hooked. It's not just about catching fish but about everything else that goes with it.
First it's an annual trek to Montana to be with friends. There are many places to go fly fishing but Montana is reputedly one of the best. There's the Yellowstone and Madison rivers and the Gallatin happens to be in my friends' back yard near Bozeman. This is Big Sky Country: wide open spaces, Yellowstone Park just a couple hours away, a rural setting with some city life close by.
Fishing is wonderful because you're surrounded by beautiful scenery: snowcapped mountains, forests, hills, rocks, greenery, flowing rivers and streams, wide open blue sky and everything else Mother Nature can provide, away from the sights and sounds of a city. The fresh air is invigorating. Occasionally you'll spot deer on the shore and bald eagles, Canada geese, sandhill cranes and other birds overhead. If you remember to look up and around in between casts, you can simply appreciate the surroundings and be happy in the moment.
One of the best parts of this peaceful activity is the sound of the water. As you stand in a river or float down stream in a boat, the constant trickle of water soothes and relaxes. It could be a rushing sound as the snow begins to melt in the spring and the runoff begins to flow into rivers. Or it could be a gentler trickle as water levels have decreased in early autumn. It's an addictive sound that makes you want to linger longer on the river.
While fishing looks serene and calm, it can be physically demanding. There's the hike from your car to the river bed along grassy trails and an occasional makeshift bridge. There's often a walk along streams and rivers on rocky beds. That gentle trickle of water can be deceiving; there's a current to deal with as you traverse the river. And if you're rowing your own boat, there's definitely some work involved.
COURTESY PAUL CASEY
Janice Casey shows off a prize catch, a rainbow trout.
PERSONALLY, I LIKE a pampered fishing trip. That means I'll go with a guide, an experienced fisherman who knows the waters and whose job it is to make sure you catch fish. He brings the rowboat, sets it in the water and rows the boat to opportune spots. He tells you exactly where to cast your line and how to do it depending on the terrain. Knowledgeable about the season and what will attract fish to your line, he'll tie on the right flies.
It is a game, after all, this whole fly fishing business. A game of deception, trying to outsmart the fish into thinking you have a real live bug on your line for them to eat. Wrong. It's an artificial bug pretending to be a bug that's hatching, that could be flying along on the surface of the water. The trick is to mimic that bug in the water or on the surface to cause the fish, hopefully a rainbow trout, to rise and go for it.
Then you feel the strike. The excitement is exhilarating. Adrenaline rushes, you let out a scream. No matter how many times you get a strike, the thrill is always there. Then you try to remember what you're supposed to do: Set the hook by raising the tip of your rod and start pulling in the line.
Let the fish run, your guide will tell you as he follows the action, net poised to help land the fish.
Once you've reeled in your fish, you take a good look and maybe a measurement, smile for a photo, then unhook and release the creature back into the water.
Time to cast again.
At some point in this day outdoors, hunger strikes. Your guide has thought of that and has brought provisions for the day. If you're as lucky as I have been, Bozeman Angler (one of many fly fishing outfitters around) guide Travis Morris sets up a grill, picnic table and chairs for a gourmet feast. I've had grilled elk and pheasant, freshly picked morel mushrooms (a bonus of spring fishing is morel mushroom hunting), summer zucchini and hot fudge sundaes. Lunch on the river can't get much better; even deli sandwiches taste wonderfully delicious in the open air. But you don't want to drink too much wine or linger too long: There's more fishing ahead.
Like every sport, fly fishing has its own gear. Waders keep you dry, protecting even your boot-covered feet. Fishing vests have lots of pockets and hooks for keeping everything you need at hand. Polarized sunglasses help you see fish in the water. A hat protects you from the sun but be sure you have a gizmo to keep your hat attached to your clothing in case the wind picks up. Of course there's a fishing rod and reel and a zillion different flies that fly fisherman buy up like candy.
The first time I went fly fishing I thought I'd tangle my line for sure. Yards and yards of fishing line with a small hook on a rod longer than you are tall is raised in back of you to straighten it then cast in front of you onto the water, supposedly landing with a gentle plop. There have been many times when I've made a tangled mess, especially when there's a lead sinker attached to ensure the fly goes deep into the water. But that's when the unwavering patience of a guide is so wonderful: He'll untangle your line or tie on another fly so you can continue the game of fishing.
As a fly fishing novice, I've got a lot to learn. But I've already learned that this sport gives great pleasure just in the doing; catching fish is the bonus.