The three foot high ice chunks that currently border, and often cover, the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley did not breed confidence as I sped my way south towards the Yankee Jim Canyon. But Dan had fished upriver from the canyon earlier in the week, and he found enough open water to catch some fish. I was hoping to find the same thing.
It was 43 degrees last Wednesday, well above my requirements of an air temperature that won’t freeze my fly line to my rod’s guides on every other cast. And I did find open water–even a few midges hatching–though I didn’t see any rising fish. The hot springs that enter the river in this stretch created a well defined, ice-free channel, but there was still a fair amount of shelf ice hugging the banks on both shores.
The following day, my wife Ruthann and I hiked near where I fished and as you can see in these photos, the river above Yankee Jim is very fishable.
I began by dead-drifting, then slowly stripping wooly buggers through the frigid water. Nothing. Not even a bump. The cold water must have made the fish just a little too lethargic to chase big flies. So I decided to nymph. It didn’t take long to catch my first fish of 2016: a plump whitefish. Now some might complain about catching a whitie, but for me they signify the west. There aren’t any whitefish in the east. So if I’m catching them, then I’m probably in Montana, and that sounds good to me.
I caught two whities before the trout made an appearance. It was a plump rainbow–my first trout of 2016. I’d catch 3 more trout before heading home. They all ate either an orange and black rubberleg nymph or a hot-spot flash back pheasant tail tied on a jig hook. It was a great afternoon of January fly fishing in Montana.
And now that the trout have joined the party, 2016 can officially begin.