The Professor arrived a few days earlier so he was waiting for me when I landed in Butte last week. It felt so good to be back in Montana – cool air, mustard-color autumn trees, bright skies, and snow capped mountains. The rigors and responsibility of everyday life vaporized on contact. We made our way to Dillon where we poked around, ran some errands and prepared for the first day of our fall fishing vacation. After much deliberation we decided to kick things off on The Big Hole.
Ooh la la, I am having a mad love affair with The Big Hole River!
I fell hard for this eerie, dreamy stream last summer. It was my first time to fish on the Big Hole and my first time to fish with The Professor. Both adventures were delightfully successful, so I was thrilled to launch our fall excursion there as well.
Oh, I’ve got it bad for the Big Hole alright….majestic mountain views, swift moving current, tea-colored water. A canyon that wraps you up then presents you to a gorgeous valley as if introducing a visitor from a foreign land. And let’s not overlook the remote Montana dive bars — or the aggressive trout that are just as native and just as wild.
The one thing I’ve learned on The Big Hole is that I have much to learn about fishing.
That’s where The Professor comes in. He’s not really a professor mind you. It’s just another tongue-in-cheek nickname, although I can’t take credit for this one. His three nephews dubbed him The Professor since he taught each one of them, as they came up through the ranks, to fish for trout on a flyrod. Casting, rowing, flies, knots, boat etiquette, netting techniques. He passed on everything he’s picked up over the years.
These days his nephews are well into their twenties and fishing on their own. The Professor needed a new project and graciously took me under wing. Of course there are many people who deserve credit for teaching me to fish and teaching me to love to fish – namely my parents. But in the spirit of continuous improvement, The Professor has taken a keen interest in fishing with me.
Last week was no exception. At first The Professor was startled to learn that I had very little experience streamer fishing. (Here we go again with the assumptions!) But he dug deep into his gear bag for a hearty dose of patience and an irresistible streamer pattern. With each cast, I threw out that big ole streamer and a little dash of hope. Whoa! There is nothing quite like seeing those fish follow that streamer, sometimes all the way to the boat. I’m happy to report that in its never-ending quest for dominance, my passion won out over my inexperience on this particular day.
The brown trout on this river are a different breed. First of all, the colors are exquisite. The yellowy-green is electric and intoxicating. And the red dots are magnificent. I have to say, this fish was particularly bejeweled.
The other thing I’ve learned from some trout that have mocked me on The Big Hole is that, once hooked, they behave differently than they do on The Missouri. Most of the big Missouri browns will hunker down before a dash downstream. As long as you stay focused and don’t horse them, you can often lure them to the net with the mind control of a snake charmer. But twice now I have broken off some big Big Hole trout that laughed at me over their undoubtedly hefty shoulders as they sped upstream in heavy current faster than I could mutter “3X Say What?”
No worries though because The Professor put me on the sticks and coached me on my rowing. Since I learned to row on the Missouri, it was a new challenge to these navigate faster waters and hidden rocks.
I couldn’t just cruise along, telling stories and watching him fish, I had to look downstream and pay attention to where we were going….constantly. And I heard “C’mon now, you better dig in and pull us away from this rock!” quite a number of times. I’m still not sure how to power stroke when you’re in shallow water. But that’s okay, much to learn in the rower’s seat, and I love it.
As our second day on the Big Hole neared its end, The Professor reminded me of yet another important lesson: perseverance. We’d been fishless for awhile, and my mind was drifting to the heater in the truck and a burger at the bar in Melrose. But The Professor, who is not one to go easy on me, made me fish out the last half mile with a sense of urgency. Thank goodness he did because we ended the day just above the takeout with this Big Hole calling card.
There is nothing better than topping off a cold day of fishing with comfort food, draft beer, and a jukebox stocked with Merle Haggard. Add some red wine and it’s a veritable fly-fishing fairytale. It was a magical time on The Big Hole to be sure. Throwing streamers, flirting with The Professor, hooking up with beautiful browns. Proving once again that on a trout stream in Montana, dreams really do come true.