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Changing times, changing tactics

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By Pat Straub Gallatin River Guides

Fishing guides struggle with the change of summer into fall, our shorts and flip flops dangling from goose-bumped legs.
“It’ll warm up in a few hours,” we tell folks as our frozen hands grasp warm coffee mugs. Like an early season salmon fly clinging to a streamside willow, guides hang on to summer, despite frost on the pumpkins, ice in the boats, or fish no longer eating hoppers.
One day in mid-September I guided a high mountain freestone river. It’s a place so beautiful, I’m lucky to guide it and my clients are even luckier to get to fish it. After vigilantly force feeding trout flies that caught fish three weeks prior, my client finally said what we were both thinking: “Hoppers are done. Let’s try a size 18 Para Adams.” Next cast, a buttery golden Yellowstone cutthroat to net.
The following day floating the Yellowstone River with the same angler, we started the morning casting size 8 Fat Frank dry flies, but ended the day stripping streamers, looking for under water structure. The dry flies produced a few trout, but going deeper with big ugly woolly buggers and bunny-fur streamers served-up brilliantly colored, well-fed brown trout, more typical of fall then late summer. The shadows grew long as I pulled the boat from the river.
The streamer and woolly bugger fishing was so good the clients booked a few more days at the end of the next week.
When penning their dates in my book, I said aloud, “Sept. 22, first day of autumn.”
The client said, “brown trout eating streamers. Go figure.”
Our bittersweet progression into fall fishing is inevitable. It reveals human nature’s grass-is-greener tendencies, but fortunately, this year our fall fishing will be stellar. This resistance to change is perhaps our unwillingness to accept the end of summer and its tourist traffic (and the money they bring).
But, in a skitown like Big Sky, that’s OK, because as each day summer is in our rearview is a day closer to fresh powder.

Pat Straub is the owner of Gallatin River Guides. He is also the author of five books, most recently, The Frugal Fly Fisherman.

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