The Hogs of Winter
Note from Hilary: The story below is written by my pal Bryan, who I used to guide with at Glacier Anglers in West Glacier, MT. Due to a skiing injury, I am supposed to be on bedrest and I was not "allowed" to go on this float over the weekend. I hate boys who are bossy and hog the hogs. But I guess I love these boys, and I love the fish they netted on this beautiful winter outing at the crown of the continent.
From Bryan Anderson: Many folks find that the biggest fish are often caught during the winter months. The picture above is of Darwon Stoneman, owner of Glacier Anglers in West Glacier. True, fish become less active when it's cold, but the decrease in available food and fishing pressure means they get less finicky.
This is especially evident in the glacial waters of Northwest Montana since there’s not a whole lot of aquatic life to begin with. That, and the well-established fact that the local cutthroats are not the most challenging trophies anyway. But I won’t complain ‘cause there’s nothing wrong with catching dumb fish every now and then. Or in my case, I make a career out of chasing the easy ones.
Since we’re near the end of a mild winter that threatens to put a premature end to the ski season, it’s not as hard as you’d think to bundle up for a float trip. The bluebird weekend we had didn’t hurt.
The morning started out with heavy valley fog that burned away by noon to reveal bright skies and the snowcapped Rockies. Throughout the day, layers came off as the sun became hot on our backs. In equal intervals the layers went back on and a good winter coat came in handy as the sun eventually left and kept us wishing for July and a pair of flip flops.
The cutthroats here in the Flathead River are developing spawning colors and getting ready to make their annual trip to the tributary streams that surround Glacier National Park. The idea is to intercept those fish before the pilgrimage begins. When the timing is right, you’ll see sizeable average fish in decent numbers.
It was an open debate as to which sub-surface pattern from Montana Fly Company would be most effective. Although we did see two fish rise to something on the surface, a dry fly never hit the water. In the end, MFC's streamers and nymphs worked well and brought nice fish to the boat. We pulled the Flathead Trifecta--cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout. With the run in its infancy, there are most certainly better days to come.
So, yeah, we caught bull trout. Fishing for this protected species is not allowed, but since they eat what cutties eat, there’s nothing you can do but treat one well if you bring one to net. It's a special privilege to be a fisherman here, which brings the responsibility of helping protect native bulls. Just don’t “try” to catch one, or I’ll tell on you.
Before you head out and try to make a little spring magic of your own, there’s one item of gear most fishermen don’t consider. You’d better have some chains for your truck if you want a shot at floating the best sections as the spawning run progresses. Sliding the boat over a few snow banks at the put-in is inevitable but without chains, that haul could take up the better part of day. That’s just one more reason you won’t see much competition.
Photos courtesy of Marc Evans, Glacier Anglers fishing guide extraordinaire, whitewater guru, all-around great guy.