We found ourselves staring at the white caps of Hebgen Lake on the last morning of our fishing trip, and it was not what we wanted to see. Just the other day, before we left, Terry spoke with a seasoned Hebgen Lake angler who said fishing was slow this week, and if it picked up he would stick around; needless to say, his camper and truck were nowhere to be seen.
“Well, what do you think?” Terry asked, still watching the white caps on the lake.
“Let’s check with a local fly shop.” I said.
“Do you have one you like?”
“Well, no use sticking around here.” Terry said, and turned the truck around to head to the fly shop.
We should have done this the first day of the trip. Local experts explained what we had encountered and offered other suggestions we should have looked into from day one. It was still early in the day, so it was suggested that we hit the Madison River for a quick float. Terry and I picked up a few flies for the float, and when we arrived it was obvious we were getting on the river a little late.
The parking lot was almost full with trucks and empty trailers from anglers that hit the river long before us.
“Have you ever fished the Madison River?” I asked.
“Well then you are taking the front of the boat!”
“Okay.” Terry said, and after parking his truck he was back and at the front of the boat, casting before I had pushed off to row.
Terry was staying true to his hopper, but also added a small caddis as a dropper which paid off. No more than a few feet downstream from the boat ramp, Terry’s caddis got hit. He reacted quickly by jetting his fly rod high, which sent the little fish attached to the end sailing through the air.
“Geez, Terry, did you forget how to set the hook on a small fish?” I asked, as the little fish splashed back into the water, still connected to Terry’s line.
“Hell, I’m just excited to catch something!” He said, laughing and getting a handle on his fish.
Terry dropped the fish back into the water and was back at it again. The little fish were nailing his fly, and after he had caught a number of them we quickly switched spots. I tied on a small green beetle that railed behind a larger stimulater that the fish were not leaving alone. Together, Terry and I were relocating little fish as we drifted down the river.
The Madison is rich with foliage lined along the bank, and as you drift by it’s easy to notice small flies that have been cast into the bushes in search of the big one that may be lurking in the shadows underneath. Despite the warning signs, I gunned my fly under an overhanging branch. My fly line could not have unfolded any better, sending my fly deep in the throat of the pocket.
It was as if the river bed came to life. A brown trout was back there camouflaged in the rocks, and when it moved, it looked like the rocks themselves were moving. A quick swipe and the brown trout had my fly in its mouth, so I set the hook.
“Got em’, Terry!” I yelled.
“There was one back there!” He yelled, and starting back oaring to maintain control. We were in some shallow water, so after handing me the net Terry stepped his foot down on the anchor release to stop the boat. The rope uncoiled from his feet, releasing into the river for the anchor to take hold, and I could feel it dragging behind us to slow our drift. I had the brown trout beat by this point, and netted it with ease.
“That’s a nice brown trout there, Terry.” I said, obnoxiously proud of my fish.
“I bet you want a picture with it now.” Terry said sarcastically, and I was already lifting my fish up to the camera to answer his question.
After the brown trout, I handed Terry my fly rod and got behind the oars to give him a chance at hooking into a nice fish too. Just like before, Terry had already started casting before I had a chance to pull in all the rope he let out to stop the boat.
The winds had picked up, and the worst thing about it was it was blowing us downstream. We back-rowed the boat to slow down and allow the person at the front of the boat to get a good shot as we floated down. With the wind blowing us down the stream, every back row felt like I was trying to stop a train from floating down the river. And with the river being so shallow, I couldn’t dig deep without scraping the river bed with the oars to try slowing us down.
The wind wasn’t helping Terry any either. The trailing loop on his dropper kept hanging up on the leader as he casted. His old eyes were working overtime, figuring out the puzzle of untangling his leader. And, of course, he would refuse my offer to help, saying “I’ll get it!” as he tugged the tangle tighter.
Terry’s line was back in working order and out on the water. There was the occasional small fish caught, but no big ones yet. Terry was relentless, casting under every bush and pocket water we came across; so much to the point that he forgot how long he had been at the front of the boat.
“So, do you need a break from fishing yet?” I asked coyly.
“Are you thinkin’ it’s your turn?” He asked.
“Well…” Terry began to speak, then cut himself short, “Yep, it’s your turn!”
Terry handed me the fly rod without reeling in the line, which was not normal for Terry. I took it as he sat down behind the oars, and I noticed he was giggling. The anchor was not dropped, so the switch we made was fast. It wasn’t until I had started casting before I realized what he had done. Mid-cast a pile of fly line in a birds-nest-tangle soared by me. The tangle was so big that I could hear the wing ripping through it as I casted forward.
“What the hell?” I said, and looked back at Terry who was now laughing out loud.
“And you didn’t even drop anchor for me?” I protested with a smile, knowing that this tangle was going take some time to undo.
“I wouldn’t be that mean to ya.” Terry said, and dropped the anchor to give me time to undo the tangle he left me.
“That was fast.” Terry noticed, referring to the knot I had just untangled.
“That’s because I didn’t untangle it, I cut it apart and retied a whole new rig.” I said annoyingly, but Terry knew I was kidding.
“I should use that trick on all my tangles. It would speed things up.” He added before we started floating downstream.
With a newly tied rig, I was even more confident in my casting and accuracy. I was pulling out all the tricks: pile casting in front of pocket water so my fly drifted down slowly and without disturbance, reach casting to insure a long drift, and single hand spey casting to allow me to get my line out quickly with very little effort. The intricate twirls and loop I need to perform this spey cast gives the illusion I am simply looping my line all around me, ending with a short pointing of my fly rod to send my fly at a target. Because of the theatrics of it all, Terry had nicked named this cast Erik’s Zorro cast.
Wouldn’t you know it, out of all the special casting it was the standard overhand cast that did the trick. My fly line shot forward, yet I kept my rod tip high, allowing my fly line and flies to overextend so my flies would hit the water first. SMACK! Another brown trout took my green beetle, and I had it landed in no time at all. Terry was kind enough to snap a quick picture of it without stopping the boat.
I quickly released my fish and flicked my fly line back out near the bank.
“We can swap out any time, Terry.” I said, but still had my eye on my popper.
“Aw, you can fish for a bit longer.” He said.
“Well, whenever you want to switch I’m good.” I said, making another cast.
“Well, maybe I’ll stop then.” He said, and put his foot down on the foot-trigger to release rope for the anchor. I was right in mid-cast when I heard Terry yelling,“AW HELL!”
Terry shot out of his seat and was in full sprint towards the back of the boat, and without any hesitation he leapt out of the boat as if he was performing the long jump in track and field. I, on the other hand, had seen this before: Terry had released too much rope out of his boat to the point that the anchor was no longer secured to it. Anchors themselves can run about $130 to start, so it was no surprise when I saw him jump into action.
Terry landed with a splash on the slick rocks of the river, but was in perfect balance. He went to grab the rope to stop the boat as I quickly set my rod down and climbed behind the oars just in case he couldn’t stop the boat. Terry pulled the rope as if he was playing tug-of-war with the boat. Once it was stopped, he immediately turned to look for the anchor, while pulling the boat upstream with him.
“Do you see it?” I asked, also looking from the boat.
“Not yet.” Terry answered back, looking intently.
“This is one of those times when you wish you had painted your anchor bright orange.” I said.
“Found it!” Terry said, completely submerging his arm and pulling up his anchor.
“Yeaaah!” I yelled, as Terry carried it over to me.
“The only problem is, I’m not sure how to rig the anchor back through the boat.” Terry said.
“I know how. I had to do it twice on this very river last year.”
“Well, let’s put on the new rope I bought.” Terry said, pointing to where it was stored. I pulled it out and together we tied the knots needed and started threading the rope through Terry’s boat.
“I knew I would do this someday, I just didn’t think it would be here.” Terry said, looking around.
“No better scenery.” I added, while threading the last bit of the rope through the anchor latch, and the process was complete.
“That’s a nice looking rope there, Terry!” I said.
“Yeah!” He said back.
“You know, when you jumped off the back of the boat, I was glad we were not over one of those deeper holes that would have put the water over your head.”
Terry laughed. “I didn’t even think of that!”
“Well you saved the anchor, and for that…” I opened up the cooler and pulled out a colorful bag, “… you deserve some M&Ms!”
“I forgot you had those in there!” Terry said, scooping up a handful and popping them in his mouth. I too took a fair amount of the little chocolate candies and popped them in my mouth. The chill from the cooler helped the flavor to last a bit longer, and it was just what the doctor ordered before we went back to fishing.
Both Terry and I switched off and on the rest of the way down the river, with only this little brown trout to show for our efforts. I would sometimes laugh out of nowhere while replaying Terry’s heroic moment to save his anchor, and that usually got Terry to laugh as well.
“Well, it wasn’t a bang-up day to catch fish, but I had the most fun on this float.” Terry said, as we packed away our fly rods.
“It was fun!” I agreed.
“And look…” Terry pointed, “we are going to be famous! It’s the google car!”
Both Terry and I stood with our arms in the air as the Google car stayed still for a long period of time. We were hoping to get in the picture looking goofy, but after some time with no evidence of a picture, we put our arms back down because we felt stupid. We may not have been in the Google Maps picture, but it was nice to end the trip on a fun float down the Madison River, knowing I would be back in less than a month.