The ice was still thick on most Montana rivers, but the sunshine and warmer March temperatures beckoned us like, well, like fly fishermen to trout.
The tail waters fishery of the Missouri River (the “Mo”) was our best choice, or so we thought. But when we pulled off onto the access road, we saw a half dozen ice fishermen, including the couple we’d come to hook up with, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The old man (my husband Ron) had recently discovered this central Montana land of the giants, and he was super excited to share the experience with me. So around we went to see how far we’d have to drag our aluminum boat off the iced up boat ramp and onto the ice before reaching open water. We put our waders on and headed up the bank to assess the situation. We saw where someone had tossed a large rock onto the ice, so we commenced to do the same. Thunk! A mild scrape on the ice , but this close to shore, she wasn’t going to break through easily, if at all.
Ever the optimist, Ron said, “Once we get that boat on the ice, it’ll slide like a sled.” So we backed ‘er onto the ice, slid ‘er off the trailer, then pulled, and tugged, and pushed. She was no sled. Back onto the trailer with the Mirrorcraft.
We drove back around to our ice fishing friends to discuss other input options. And so began our 50 mile trek to gain access through a gulch on the other side of the river. We drove by “the cribbage capital of the world,” if you can believe the sign the town had posted. A few more miles, a few more goings around the mountains, and just through a quaint little town where two school boys played in a small park by the fire station, the pavement ended. We pressed on, and it really was a pretty nice 25 mile dirt road, all things considered.
Missouri River boon-dogging rig
At last we reached open water and an accessible boat ramp. Then began the tying on of the weighty Mighty Mo rig we’d be using. Well, I should say, the finishing touches. An hour had been spent the previous evening in preparation.
We used Bigfork Anglers’ adjustable thingamabobber nymph leader technique so we’d have a strike indicator easily adjustable to varying water depths (view on YouTube). Then a black swivel was tied on, proper leader, and another swivel.
Today we just had to put on a little weight, an egg pattern, a trout bead, and a hook. Pinch the barbs, back the boat in. Motor up the river. We were going boon-dogging!
Missouri River boon-dogging
I’ve fly fished for years, but this was my first time to “boon-dog.” The old man instructed me, “Just cast it back behind you, let it hit the water, but not sink, then break the water and throw it out in front of you. There’s not much finesse involved – it’s just chuck and duck.” To say the least! It took me a few frustrating tries, but by putting my weight into it and heave-hoeing, I was able to get ‘er out to where the old man thought (or somehow knew) the fish were. Bloop! Down went the strike indicator on my first good cast! Holy heck, reel, reel, reel, let ‘im run a bit. Wizzzzz! Reel, reel, reel, lean back, reel sideways, pull his head up. “Grab the net!” This rainbow had the jaw of a bulldog and was a 25” chunk. He glistened with deep red and pink spawning colors.
As happens with every first fish of the season, of any trip really, we were both excited. And when we get excited, things happen. Uh boy. Wetting my hands on the bottom of the net to ready myself for a photo with this brilliant fish, I promptly got the fly hook stuck deep into the flesh of my finger. I looked down to see massive amounts of blood. Not really, but it seemed that way. Did I yell? “Release the fish back into the water and cut this line free!”
So the first, and biggest fish, lives only in our memories. I’m sure he was a ten pounder. Or maybe he was a tirdy pounder (said in a Minnesota Norwegian voice). Over to the bank we motored, to surgically remove the hook from my finger. Ron called his buddy Larry over to help. I laid back in the brush, eyes closed, acting like the calm grown woman I am, even while the old man kept calling me by his daughter’s name.
Hook Removal Technique
Ron has always told me about his “hook removal technique,” so today I was going to get to experience it first hand, so to speak. He tied a couple loops of line around the bend of the hook and handed the loose end to Larry. Pressing down hard on the eye of the hook he said aloud, “Give the line a little slack, then on three, jerk it outward.” One … two … plink! The hook was out, the pain was gone. I said, “He pulled it on two!” Come to find out, that’s part of the technique.
Back in the boat we go. Heave ho. Heave ho. Bloink! A lovely satin silver and pink hen. Thank you and back into the water she goes. A minor tangle with the boat rope, grunt and groan, get ‘er out to where the fish are again, and what do you know? Another lovely. Another cast, another fish. His jaw got caught in the net, and I could plainly see a big white pointed trout tongue the size of my finger! It was something I’d never seen before. He, too, was set free back into his cool flowing home waters. Then another, and another, and by this time I’m sweating and my shoulder aches. I make noises, umph and argh, to cast, but Ron says, “Just one more time, further out.” So I comply. Shlunk! Oh my gosh, it’s the king! Whizzzz, whirl, reel, reel. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This guy’s a fighter. He jumps. He splashes. My new Ross Diamond 5 weight rod is bending in the most awesome way. I finally get this big guy to the boat so Ron can net him. Oh the glory of a 22” Mo ‘bow.
This could, and probably should, be the end of the day’s great adventure. But no. On the way back out on that 25 mile dirt road, what happens but the axle breaks on the trailer. We had to toss the old boat into the back of the truck and leave the trailer on the side of the road.
Darn it, we have to go back this weekend to pick up the trailer.
Boat’s still in the back of the truck …
by Ron and Tracy Watt
Sunday, March 9, 2014