Outdoor Moments: Learning a new fishing technique can cure cabin fever

Alan Charles
Friday, February 8, 2019

PHOTO by Alan Charles
This hefty rainbow trout was caught below the tailrace of a Missouri River dam recently using spinning tackle, a weighted bobber and a fly weighted to suspend horizontally. The recipe for success was tipping the fly with maggots.

Acouple weeks ago, I drove to Helena to fish for big rainbow trout. Normally, this time of year, I’d be hauling the ice auger, sled and ice fishing tackle. But I checked ahead, and as I suspected, the warm winter weather we’ve been enjoying had not produced safe ice on the areas I like to fish. And I don’t set foot on the ice unless I know for sure it is safe.

Instead, I figured I’d fish in the Missouri River tailrace waters below the dams on Canyon Ferry, Hauser, and Holter Lakes. Often, this time of year, that fishing can be pretty darned good, and even if it is not, sitting around a warm campfire sipping hot beverages and visiting with friends is not a bad way to spend a winter day.

So I called several people to let them know where the campfire would be, packed some crackers, cheese and freshmade summer sausage into the cooler along with various cold and warm beverage supplies, and headed west.

Something I enjoy about fishing with different people is that there is always something new to learn. Sometimes, someone will have figured out a different way to tie a knot or rig a bait, or someone else will have discovered the newest and hottest lure on the market.

This time, it happened that Jay and his brother, Mike, had been perfecting a new technique for catching these early season, cold water trout. I’ll have to say, while it seemed a bit unconventional, their system really worked.

The area where we were fishing had steep banks, preventing an angler from casting with a fly rod. Instead, they used long spinning rods that were seven to nine feet long, with spinning reels spooled with light monofilament or Fireline. Their terminal tackle consisted of a three-way swivel, with one ring attached to the reel line, the center ring attached to a weighted bobber, and the other ring attached to a six-foot fluorocarbon leader. At the other end of the leader, they attached a brightly-colored fly that had an upturned eye, with a weighted beadhead just above the eye. The upturned eye with weight forward allowed the fly to sit horizontally when suspended.

But the secret, Jay told me, is the maggots. A fellow has to put two or three maggots on the hook. That makes all the difference.

While the general premise behind the technique is not that much different from what a fisherman using conventional fly tackle uses when floating a nymph under a strike indicator, this rig had none of the aesthetic allure of traditional fly-fishing gear.

But that didn’t bother these boys. They would put the big heave-ho to their rods and cast the baits clear out almost to the sheet of ice that hung about sixty feet offshore, and then they would wait patiently until a bobber went under. The rest of us kept casting our conventional lures like jigs, spoons and spinners until we played out, but no one else caught any trout.

While the brothers released most of the trout, Mike graciously let me keep two so that I could bring them home to share with neighbors who enjoy an occasional meal of fresh fish.

By sundown, the fire had burned low, and the temperature started dropping fast. We packed up our gear, polished off the last of the cider and hot chocolate, and headed home. As the miles ticked by, I kept thinking about how I’d probably have to buy another tackle box and stock it with new gear, so that I’d be prepared next time to try this new technique.

Come to think of it, buying new tackle and learning new fishing techniques is actually not a bad way to cure Montana cabin fever. I’ll bet I have a new catalog in the mailbox this week. I also better call Jay and have him send me one of those flies, so that I can tie some of my own. But I guess I probably don’t have to keep the maggots. The wife will be happy about that.

( Alan Charles lives and writes in the Pine Hills.)

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