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The shortest days are often the best

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Pat Straub fishes the Gallatin River in 2013 with his daughter Adela, near their home in Gallatin Gateway. PHOTO BY THOMAS LEE

By Patrick Straub EBS CONTRIBUTOR

The pace of winter fishing fits my style: slow, gradual and deliberate. The quietness of the river is eerie, like the green at a small college on Sunday morning.

On the morning of December 21—the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year—a few years ago, I stand on the bank with my 18-month-old daughter Adela, watching the currents in the Gallatin River flow past.

Snowflakes hit the water, disappearing instantly. Occasionally, a trout rises to a hatching midge. Despite her silence, I know Adela is in tune and observing the scene. For me, the quiet is reassuring.

With Adela bundled up and loaded into the kid-pack, I step into the river cautiously, armed with waders, outerwear and a three-weight fly rod. In my first few steps, the water I encounter is warmer than the air temperature. My fingers stiffen in the cold.

Eventually I tie a couple feet of 6X tippet to my leader and onto that a size-20 parachute Adams. I make my first presentation to the rising trout.

“Watch this kiddo,” I whisper to myself.

But the fly only drifts past the rising trout and continues on. A few more drifts and I can feel Adela looking over my shoulder, expecting something.

I cut off the dry fly and retie 18 inches of fluorocarbon tippet and two size-20 beadhead zebra midge flies, the first one red, the second black. Above the knot of the new tippet, I tie a small tuft of yarn as a strike indicator. Adela watches as the trout continue to rise.

With my new offering, I make a drift to the rising fish. “This will get ’em,” I say, this time loud enough for her to hear.

The orange wisp of yarn goes underwater. I raise my rod and a trout leaps into the air, trying to toss the fly. Adela squirms, her small legs kicking against my back. I bring the fish to hand and then release it back into the clear, cold water of the Gallatin.

We work along the bank, hooking several colorful trout and landing a few. Eventually, they cease feeding—their window of activity is short in winter.

Back on the banks, Adela and I giggle as we make angels in the fresh snow. I stand up from the cold ground, reaching down to grab her hand. Our two snow angels lay side-by-side: mine, large and clumsy; hers, tiny and delicate.

In the months since, the memories of trout and the zebra midges have faded, but I vividly recall laying on my back below the blue winter sky and the warmness of my daughter’s laughter as we played in the snow.

A 20-year veteran fishing guide, Patrick Straub has fished the world-over. The co-founder of the Montana Fishing Guide School, he’s the author of six books and owns Gallatin River Guides with his wife in Big Sky.

A version of this story first appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Mountain Outlaw.

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