As far as the shoulder seasons go, spring is my least favorite. Fall has bird hunting, turning tamaracks and the crisp, bracing feel of that first morning the dog water freezes.
Spring has dirty snow and mud.
I know there’s stuff going on out there. My friends are all telling me about the fish they’re catching. The skwala hatch was in full swing down on the Bitterroot and I was halfway out the door for a Saturday float on the first weekend of spring when my fishing buddy told me he couldn’t go. He’d spent Friday in a procession of airports and airplanes returning from Florida. We figured a day in a raft would be just the remedy for all the airline industry had inflicted upon him, but he realized late Friday night that he needed a day of rest first.
Sunday he’d be floating, he said, and I was welcome to join. But by then I’d already made plans to fish on the Blackfeet Reservation Monday morning, and that trip requires a predawn launch from Kalispell. Maybe in my younger days I would have been up for a float followed by an all nighter on the road followed by a day casting into Rez winds, but I can only faintly remember those days. So despite the reports of the best Bitterroot skwala hatch in years, I decided to stay home and work in the yard on Sunday instead.
That’s another reason spring lags well behind fall. At some point you can no longer ignore the carnage in the yard revealed by melting snow. Those of you who own dogs know exactly what I mean. This time I employed a creative, new technique to deal with this unpleasant chore.
It began last fall when I put off raking the leaves long enough for the snow to cover them. Out of sight, out of mind, I figured. Then, on Sunday, instead of scooping up the dog presents which had laid inert since November, I pulled on some rubber boots and just took the lawn mower to the mess. What was left was a fine mulch of pulverized leaves and doggie treats that should result in a field of emerald green in a month or so.
If this catches on it should make me a hero of men.
So after passing on that skwala float — my best shot at catching fish — I let a nasty weather report and the word that the bite wasn’t on persuade me not to drive over the mountains. Instead, my fishing buddy and I decided we’d put a boat in the water somewhere on the Flathead. The weather report indicated we’d have clear skies in the morning, but by mid-afternoon we could expect rain and/or snow.
Well, you know how these things go. Having talked ourselves out of the predawn trek to Browning, we got lazy and dawdled away the morning. We had designs of putting in somewhere on the upper Flathead or maybe the North Fork hoping to intersect some large cutthroats on their annual spawning migration, but couldn’t make up our minds where. On a gas run my friend was temporarily detained by Columbia Falls’ finest, giving me time to run up North Fork Road to scope out the Glacier Rim launch ramp. I didn’t get close as a six-foot berm of plowed snow blocked the turnoff.
Downstream the river was accessible at Blankenship, but the launch was a muddy mess and the Middle Fork was puking up a chalky brew of glacial debris. We’d already scotched our fallback plan to put in below Devil’s Elbow as dam operators had gotten word of our intentions and ramped up flows, killing the bite on the South Fork.
Eventually, we settled on a Hungry Horse to Teakettle float. Of course we’d screwed around long enough to be greeted by the predicted rain as soon as we pushed the raft away from the launch ramp. The fishing was, well, pretty bad.
It’s spring after all. At least we were on the water, which affirmed that the worst is over for another year, and the best two seasons are at the front of the queue.
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