Loons in Love

By Beacon Staff

As I write this the Flathead River is ripping through Columbia Falls at more than 43,000 cubic feet per second. That’s about where you want the river if your goal is to float from Teakettle to the lake in record time. For now river fishing is toast. And that goes for pretty much every river west of the divide.

Still, fishing must go on so I pulled the drift boat out of the garage for the first time this season. As usual this was an act of discovery. During the winter the boat serves as a fine repository for items for which I have no immediate need, but I am too lazy to put away properly. Hunting vests, umbrellas, maps and yard tools all find a resting place in the boat.

I tell myself every year that I will take a day, or at least a few hours, and go through the mess, putting things away properly and — more importantly — get the boat squared away so that when I get a last-minute call to float, all I have to do is hook up the trailer and go.

Every spring that’s my plan. I’ve yet to execute it.

I got a nice surprise cleaning out the boat this year. The cooler — which I’d last opened in September when I fished the Missouri with a friend from Arizona — sat in the boat all winter. When I opened it to dump the empty cans the cooler felt a little heavy. One of the empties wasn’t an empty at all, but a still intact can of Red Ale from Lumberyard Brewing Company in Flagstaff. My joy at finding this holdover from the southwest was a bit like finding 20 bucks in a pair of jeans I hadn’t worn in a while. I knew then it was going to be a good day.

With the river blown out the kids and I headed to Rogers Lake. We launched at about 5:30 p.m. under a cloudless sky. One of my daughters loves to row so I got to stand up front and cast. Having my offspring row while I fished is of course why I had kids in the first place.

It was a beautiful day, maybe too much so. The bright conditions seemed to put the fish off. Other than a bald eagle that flew low clutching a branch to add to its nest, and a pair of loons off in the distance doing what boy and girl loons like to do this time of year, there wasn’t much action on the water. Listening to the loons call back and forth professing their true love was almost enough to make me not care that only they, and not the fish, were in the mood.

As the sun dipped toward the tree tops the fish finally started working the surface. I switched to a purple haze cripple and that did the trick as I stuck a nice fish that turned out to be a cutthroat rather than the expected grayling.

As I hauled in the cuttie I was reminded that fishing with teen girls can be quite different than what I’m used to. None of my fishing buddies exclaim, “Ahhh, he’s cute,” when I’m engaged in an epic battle with a leviathan of the deep. And when one of the boys handles the landing net, his primary focus is securing my quarry, not hurting the poor thing.

That turned out to be the only fish we got to the boat. I broke off another on the strike, and then the wind kicked up and the fish turned off. I figured there was still a late evening bite if we stuck it out, but my rower had to get back to town, and if there’s one thing being a dad has taught me, it’s that once a teenager makes up her mind its time to go you may still pull rank and stay, but the fun is over.

After we had loaded the boat I took one last look at Rogers Lake. The water was boiling with rising fish like a pot of chili. The river will be blown out for weeks. There are plenty of days coming when I can fish the lake.

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