Out of Bounds

Turn, Turn, Turn the Season

There’s not much of an off-season from fly fishing in Montana these days

By Rob Breeding

There is a season for fishing, but for every season there is a time to turn the page, at least so far as summer fly fishing is concerned, because summer, in the northern Rockies at least, is nearly over.

My first season in Montana, in 1992, I wrote a fishing report for the daily newspaper in Hamilton, where I’d first washed ashore in Montana. The weekly report went swimmingly until about mid-August when I suddenly had a hard time getting ahold of my sources across western Montana. And when I did reach them, they were of little use. 

A guide up in Libby, who’d been feeding me detailed reports on the Kootenai all summer, finally came straight.

“You just moved here from California, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Sure,” I told him. “I wrote a report year-round down there before I moved.”

“Listen,” the guide said. “It’s August in Montana. Nobody’s fishing anymore. It’s either hunting season, or prepping for hunting season, now.”

That was the end of my fishing report, at least until spring.

In 1992 Montana was a different place. It was still reasonably old school, though things were changing. That movie was responsible for a lot of it, but the tsunami was building long before America got to see Brad Pitt shadow casting on the big screen. But at the tail end of the last century, especially the farther you traveled from Missoula or Bozeman, August was still transition time from fishing to hunting.

There’s not much of an off-season from fly fishing in Montana these days. Even in the dead of winter, someone somewhere will trudge through the snow to drift nymphs for “whitefish.” And the winters ain’t what they used to be — or at least that’s what folks who were here before 1992, say — so there’s more time for that.

But transition we will, at least around my place. August is time to refocus the dogs on bird hunting. This year it’s just “dog” for me. My long-time hunting partner, Doll, now 12, is no longer up to hunting multiple days a week, as she did most of last season when, after our first few hunts in October, my young setter, Jade, was lead dog. 

Doll had her moments, including a few remarkable points that pinned indelible stamps in my memory, but by the end of the season, she was just out for the walk.

Her best moment was her seated point on a quail she whiffed while quartering in the wind. The bird was right under her chin. She had to look down her nose toward her paws to indicate where she wanted me to direct my flushing efforts.

This fall the old girl will mostly stay home, though I intend to work in a few days for her on some easier spots to hunt. 

Jade’s summer refresher course started while visiting my daughter in the city. The kid lives on the third floor and going down the stairs proved a challenge for Jade. By challenge, I mean she would race ahead of me, leaping the final three or four steps of each flight. It was fun, but she usually ran out of leash mid-jump. To avoid that awkward jerk, I began whoaing her at the top of each flight, got ahead of her, then gave her the “find birds” command so she could fly down without throttling herself. 

I’ve also realized I’ve some winter fly fishing homework ahead of me. Casting an 8-weight with heavy carp flies this spring helped me recognize the value of the double haul. I’ve been single hauling my back cast forever, but it’s time to introduce that extra tug on my forward cast, for the heavy stuff especially.

My casting practice will wait until after the upland bird season. After all, there is a purpose for every season.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.

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