By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
Now that March is over, April brings on fishing season in earnest. The occasional spring snowstorm forces us to keep our eye on the ski report and for fresh tracks off Lone Mountain. However, this is also the time of year we want to be on the lookout for springtime hatches and warming water temperatures, and to dust off the drift boat and tune the trailer.
We are a month or so away from the well-known caddis hatches, so think of the next few weeks as “spring training” for your late spring and summer fly-fishing endeavors. Here’s some help to work out the winter cobwebs.
Common casting errors. Regarding the most common casting error – stopping the rod too far back on your back cast – Norman Maclean, in his short story “A River Runs Through It,” said it best:
“Well, until man is redeemed he will always take a fly rod too far back, just as natural man always overswings with an ax or golf club and loses all his power somewhere in the air: only with a rod it's worse, because the fly often comes so far back it gets caught behind in a bush or rock. When my father said it was an art that ended at two o'clock, he often added, ‘closer to ten than to two,’ meaning that the rod should be taken back only slightly farther than overhead (straight overhead being twelve o'clock).”
For those that need more contemporary terms: #stopatnoon; #donotoverpowertherod #stopitoveryourhead
Pay attention all the time. Patience pays off and as you approach the take a few minutes for observation. As insect hatches increase in the next few weeks, fish are moving from their deeper winter lies to more shallow and bank-side lies. In most river environments, fish are not at the top of the food chain. Their ability to sense predators – such as birds flying above, muskrats, beavers and otters on the prowl – is how they survive.
You need to think like a predator – be acutely aware of your actions. Walk quietly into the water. If the sun is shining, observe where your shadow is being cast. This minor adjustment is major when it comes to bringing more fish to hand.
Start shallow, then work deeper. As you first approach a riffle corner or run, fish the water nearest you first – consider “baby steps.” If you’re the type of angler who walks knee deep into the water before making any casts, reconsider. Perhaps make those first casts with just your ankles in the water and drifting your flies in the deeper water.
Clothing essentials. In late March, I was on the river 10 times in 12 days. In that span I had a snowball fight in my boat, sunburned my nose, watched the rainwater drizzle off my hood, and stripped down to a T-shirt. Montana’s weather in April is like a toddler in a candy store – spastic and indecisive. Fishing tends to be good in inclement weather. Don’t be that guy or gal who cuts short your fishing because you were underprepared. And bring both your stocking cap and sunscreen.
Don’t believe the hype. If you’re new to fly fishing or considering it for the first time, get out there and do it. There are two common misconceptions about fly fishing: it’s too expensive and too hard to learn. Here’s a debunking of both: A rod, reel and fly line can cost under $200. Flies and tackle to fish a day can be had for less than $10. Learning the basics takes very little time, no one keeps score and the fish are always a good scapegoat. In this area, fishing occurs in scenic places. Being a good angler boils down to timing not strength.
March Madness ends April 4; the NBA playoffs haven’t started yet; and the first few games of 162-game major league baseball schedule don’t really matter. Hiking trails may be muddy, and powder days still exist but they’re numbered.
Why not get out there and fish? Do it now so you’re ready when things get really good in a few weeks. Pro athletes get a preseason and you should too.
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, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.