Winter Fly Fishing and Intuition

Winter fly fishing can be challenging and hazardous in Montana. We wait for sunny days with no wind over forty degrees. That temperature is necessary so that the line does not freeze in the guides on the fly rod.

I usually avoid the dangerous and difficult fishing days by the simple expedient of muscle testing so I intuitively know when to stay home. My husband does not muscle test, so I missed quite a few times when he and his friends went only to get caught in bad weather.

However, I did participate in one of the worst ever fishing days on the Madison River a few years ago. It was the one winter trip I did not muscle test. It was a beautiful day, good weather report, and I just wanted to go no matter what. So I went.

The first hour was lovely. Then we saw a big black wall coming from the north, quite an alarming sight, especially since we had put in at Varney Bridge and had many miles to go before there was a place to get out of the river.

The wind hit first, driving snow sideways at us. That was unpleasant enough, but the temperature then dropped forty degrees in an hour. Trying to take a driftboat down a river into an intense headwind and heavy snow at ten degrees is an open invitation to hypothermia.

We abandoned any fishing and focused on getting out of there. Driftboats are designed to float high and light on the water so they maneuver easily, which means wind moves them equally easily. The boat was actually blowing back upstream.

It is a bad day when you have to row to move downstream. The wind got worse so that Alan and I were not strong enough to do it. That left the job to my husband, Bern, who is a big strong man.

Unfortunately, as the wind worsened he soon was not able to move it downstream either. So he turned the boat around and rowed backwards so he could apply more power. I stood up facing into the wind and snow and pointed where he should aim the boat so he did not have to twist his neck to see where he was going.

In the worst open stretches his backwards rowing did not work either. Then we all had to get out of the boat and push it downstream. I had ice on my waders from getting in and out of the boat.

We were quite relieved to get to the Burnt Tree boat launch. Our troubles were not really over yet because the launch was blocked by ice and mounds of snow. We were prepared to handle it though.

Bern backed the boat trailer to the top of the launch and attached a long rope to our winch and just cranked the boat up the ice and snow to the trailer. This is not a conventional loading method but it worked.

We were in no mood for photography, but I wish I had a photo of the boat with the four inch icicles hanging off the edge all around the sides. I have never seen icicles hanging on the boat any other time.

Alan went to get his lanyard that he had laid on the back deck but he found it encased in layers of ice. He had to leave it with the boat until we got it thawed out several days later.

You can see why I now stick to muscle testing whenever I decide whether to go fishing or not during the Montana winter.

Copyright © Lexi Sundell 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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