2016 is done. Está terminando. It was an interesting year on many fronts—and thankfully we are not going to revisit it anymore. It’s time to move on. And … go fishing. So I did just that on the first day of 2017.
My destination was the Gallatin River north of Big Sky, and it did not disappoint. Can I remind you how lucky we are to have this trout stream in our backyard? Can I remind you how vital it is we work to protect it, especially after 2016’s elections?
Dang. I promised to move on. Please just don’t get lazy in 2017, in fact get empowered. You can start by agreeing to take action in 2017—and that’s one of the New Year’s fly fishing resolutions. Here’s the list I came up in between fish on New Year’s Day.
Get involved now for the future. Whether it’s ensuring public access, protecting public lands, educating fellow anglers that climate change is real, or just picking up someone else’s trash on the river, the things that make living here special will not protect themselves.
Catch a native trout on the fly. Put some thought into this and it’s not as easy as you think. In our immediate area our native trout are Westslope and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Head a few hours west and you can add bull trout to the mix. Venture to the west coast and your odds increase with steelhead trout and sea-run cutthroat trout. Westslope and Yellowstone cutthroat are your best bet, but in order to do that you may have to fish more. Thankfully fishing more is on the list.
Fish more. Rip the Band-Aid off. A great angling friend of mine once said, “The sooner you put things off to go fishing, the more time you have to make them up once you catch the biggest trout of the day.” Or something like that. There’s truth in that statement. Fishing can be a means to escape the pleasant distractions in life: jobs, kids, spouses, and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. Or fishing can be an opportunity to enhance those relationships—bring along the family and the spouse or invite Mr. and Mrs. Jones to go fishing. Obligation or opportunity is in the eye of the rod holder.
Fish safer and better by investing in better gear. You took care of all the nice people on your holiday list. Now take care of yourself. None of us is getting any younger. Fortunately, gear manufacturers know that and have created products to help us stay safe, which means we can fish longer and more effectively. Patagonia’s Foot Tractor wading boot—the product that’s done the most to enhance angling safety and success in the past five years—has made walking-and-wading on slippery rocks safer.
Learn to tie better knots. Find some old fly line, old tippet or string and finally learn to tie the blood knot or the nail knot. While you’re at it, learn the perfection loop or the non-slip mono loop. Tying knots faster and better means one thing: more fishing time. On a recent trip to Belize I was able to catch and land two bonefish while my angling partner for the day struggled to re-tie a fly.
Take five minutes to observe before fishing. This will cue you into what could be hatching or could help you see wildlife you might have missed while sprinting from car to riffle.
Support your local fly shop. We’re lucky in southwest Montana because fly shops are alive and well. They are your best source for local fishing reports and free information.
Be more friendly on the river. We fish for various reasons: to be in nature, to challenge ourselves, for exercise, for solitude, for camaraderie, and many other personal reasons. Upon encountering other anglers, offer a polite “hello” or a “how’s the fishing?” You might meet a new angling friend or learn of an effective fly. If not, at least you offered a pleasant greeting.
What happened in 2016 will surely shape 2017. As I finished my New Year’s Day fishing outing and left the river to walk back to my truck, a large bull moose cautiously walked from the woods on the opposite bank. He paused and gazed in my direction. I reached for my phone and took a picture. My five year old and two year old daughters have seen moose many times before, but on this first day of 2017 it was important to share this with my future anglers.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.
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