Paradise Valley was beautiful last week–it’s always beautiful, but mid 50’s air temps in February made it feel even nicer than usual. Yes, there was some wind; there’s always wind as spring struggles to overtake winter along the Rocky Mountains. The pleasant weather brought great fishing conditions.
My friend, Jan Axtell, and I fished Depuy’s Spring Creek late in the week, and it fished well. Brown and rainbow trout (plus one whitefish) eagerly accepted my red zebra midge pattern in the morning, but things slowed a little in the afternoon as the sun became more intense, putting the fish on guard. The bright red cheeks on the rainbows I caught (see the pics above) exhibit the color change that occurs as trout prepare to spawn.
Brown trout had their spawn in the fall. The rainbows are just beginning now, and then the cutthroat will follow. Jan and I found a few bows already engaged in romantic activities in the gravel near Depuy’s confluence with the Yellowstone. Just a reminder….please don’t try to catch trout that are actively spawning. Let them do there thing so we have wild fish to catch in the future. Pre-spawn fish + Post-spawn fish = Fair game. Fish eating the eggs downstream of the spawners are OK. But let the lovers love.
Jan caught most of his fish with another sunken red midge pattern known as the Axtell Assassin. OK, maybe that’s just what I call it. But it has been deadly effective on spring creek trout this winter. After the sunken midge fishing slowed, Jan put on a streamer to search for brown trout. He found a couple in the pools at the outflow of Dick’s Pond.
The day before Jan and I fished Depuy’s, Dan Gigone and I fished the Yellowstone above the Yankee Jim Canyon. It was mostly a whitefish rodeo (I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that in a couple hours, we caught more than 30 whitefish between us). But after last summer’s parasite-induced whitefish die-off that caused the River’s closure in August and September, it was good to see the whities. By the way, everyone here seems to be in agreement that the Yellowstone’s whitefish population is still huge, and anglers that fished the river before last year’s closure won’t notice any difference this year in the numbers of fish they catch.
In addition to the whitefish, I caught the obese rainbow pictured above. Though she wasn’t very long, her girth is impressive–she obviously hasn’t struggled under the ice this winter. This chubby girl inhaled a wire worm that I was fishing after my pride left me for the day. Yellowstone rainbows my be the most beautiful examples of their species. They remind me of the Upper Delaware River’s rainbows which are also gorgeous.
I happened to notice the nymph pictured above crawling along the snow and ice that remain on the river banks while Dan and I were fishing. I’m nearly certain that it’s a young salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica). Salmonflies live for three years as nymphs, shedding their skins as they grow in a process called an instar. Judging from the size of this one, I’m guessing it won’t emerge till 2018. It must have crawled onto my waders, or maybe Dan’s, and then fell off as we walked along the banks. It was crawling the wrong direction – away from the river – when I found it, so I picked it up and returned it to the water where it was probably eaten by a fish that refused my stone fly nymph patterns all morning. But at least I tried.
Speaking of shedding…last week I mentioned that mule deer were trashing the trees along my yard and fields. Well this week I found out why: The bucks are beginning to lose their antlers and a nice tree is helpful to remove them. I found this little shed behind my house, beside the damaged tree that aided its removal. It’s about time to head to the hills to look for deer and elk sheds. If you’ve never been shed hunting, It’s a lot of fun and a great excuse to get outside in the late winter.
But please remember, it’s illegal to hunt for sheds on Montana WMAs units until their opening day. And never chase or harass animals to get their antlers. The deer and elk have had a rough winter too, and they can’t handle the extra human stress right now. Please read the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks web page found at this link or more information:
Finally, the outlook for this week’s fishing is more in line with seasonal norms: Daily air temperatures are projected to be in the upper twenties to mid thirties with nighttime lows from 10 degrees to the mid twenties. But I did notice on my drive to the fly shop this morning that the recent warm weather has created an open channel through the ice at the Mallards Rest fishing access. That stretch was the final hold-out of ice encrusted river, so I now believe that the Yellowstone is floatable from Gardiner to Livingston. We still need more frigid weather and mountain snow to provide cold river-water this summer, so let’s not pray for any extended warm weather just yet. But spawning trout and deer shedding their antlers are sure signs that spring is getting a little closer each day. I can feel it.