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Wrestling with shoulder season

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Enjoy the down time because ski season is around the corner

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

Author’s note: I will be chasing bonefish and permit the next two weeks, so I have rewritten a column from November 2013. This is my way of dealing with shoulder season.

From fishing high mountain streams to chasing the last of the October caddis, fishing this time of year is both rewarding and bittersweet. It’s like the days before college graduation—there’s no need to wake until the crack of 11 a.m. and lurking in the underbelly of impending graduation is the question that’s always asked: “So, what are your plans after graduation?” It’s the same for fly fishers here in Big Sky. Or at least until the ski hill opens. “What are your plans in November?”

I know many fishing guides and die-hard anglers flee west or north to chase steelhead. This has never appealed to me—standing in the same run for countless hours methodically, almost as if in meditation, casting and drifting, casting and drifting, and casting and drifting. Then it happens … a steelhead is hooked on the 2,871st cast and it all makes sense. The immeasurable pull of a steelhead and its pace and determination to end the fight is felt throughout your entire body. The nights spent sleeping on the ground, cooking 23 meals with a JetBoil, and losing a girlfriend or two are forgotten with the first run of a hooked steelhead.

For anglers without the steelhead or saltwater addiction, the prime spots on our local waters are a little easier to occupy during the shoulder season. If a steelhead or saltwater adventure isn’t in your cards, by choice or obligation, here are a few local options to fish before it’s time to wax the boards and chase the freshies.

Hatches of Blue Winged Olives and midges on the Paradise Valley spring creeks. A little over an hour and half from Big Sky are three world famous walk-wade fisheries: DePuy’s, Armstrong’s/O’Hair’s, and Nelson’s spring creeks. In winter the fee is only $40 per rod and you’ll have minimal company. Head to the creeks on a day with little wind and you’ll find fish eating tiny dry flies. If little or no hatch occurs, fish size 18 or 20 midge nymphs below a very small indicator and you should have success. If you want a head start or wish to learn more about these fisheries, consider hiring a guide for a day.

Upper Madison between the lakes or above Lyons Bridge. As the lure of trophy bull elk keeps many people in the woods, the potential for large brown trout and solitude exist on the Upper Madison. Dead-drifting or slowly stripping large streamers is the most often used method, however hatches of midges are often a daily occurrence. If you like techie dry fly angling and you can easily spot tiny flies, be sure to carry along some size 18 or 20 dry flies. Watch the forecast because an overcast day certainly will bring more fish to net as Upper Madison trout are not fans of bright sun.

Gallatin River near Big Sky. And … of course the Gallatin River right here in Big Sky. Talking about the consistency of the Gallatin as a winter fishery is good and bad: you want people to know it’s damn good, but not so good that it feels crowded. Hatches of midges can occur, but most success will be had with tandem nymph rigs using an indicator. For Big Sky locals the Gallatin is ideal—you can get in a few hours of fishing during the best time of day and still have time to work, make a supply run to Bozeman, or in the case of a fishing guide in his or her downtime … take a nap.

For many of us, these next few weeks are special—summer tourists are gone, skiers and riders are not here yet; it’s the heart of big game hunting season; and for anglers who either hit the road or stay close to home, the options are unique and varied. Enjoy this respite before snow reports trump fishing reports.

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, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.

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