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.