Written by: John McKinnie, Lone Mountain Ranch
Imagine sitting on the banks of the Gallatin River on a bright sunny day in late June. The afternoon transitions into evening as the sun peaks behind the mountains, and you wait for the hatch and surface feeding frenzy to begin. This situation could easily be taken for granted if you don’t get out and enjoy some winter fishing. Nymph fishing below an indicator through most of the season fosters an appreciation for the hatch and days of fishing dry flies. Layering up in warm clothing makes you long for the days of wading in shorts and sandals. But for me, fishing in February helps me appreciate where I now call home. Fortunately, in Southwest Montana and in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem you can go fly-fishing all twelve months of the year!
Yesterday, my love of the area and its great fishing was boosted by my new friends from Malaysia. Hao and Tao are living at Lone Mountain Ranch for the winter season and working as dishwashers in our dining room. Since the beginning of the season in December, they have been asking me about fishing and when they would be able to get out on the river. Finally, after enduring a recent week of un-fishable sub-zero temperature and finding days off that aligned, I was able to take them down to the Gallatin for a few hours.
Going into the day, I was kind of excited by some of the challenges that awaited me, even though it wasn’t really an official guided trip, and I wouldn’t even be doing any fishing on my own. Not only is teaching the sport a totally different ball game in the winter than it is in the summer, but there was an obvious language barrier and this would really be Hao and Tao’s first time fishing. As we drove into the Gallatin Canyon, the wind began to pick up as a snowstorm was rolling in.
In our first spot, we did not even get a bite from a fish. Teaching the basics of casting and line control took a few hours, as the snow continued to get worse. As we walked back to the truck to warm up and to move to a different spot, I was hopeful that we would at least see one fish during the day. The snow slowed down and both of them started to get comfortable with the fly rod in their hands.
Finally, the fish start to cooperate, and we ended up having a great afternoon! Each of them landed some very impressive fish for the Gallatin: Hao with a hefty cutthroat trout and Tao bringing in a beautiful brown. Between the two of them, they hit the Gallatin “grand slam,” landing a rainbow, a brown, a cutthroat, and a native mountain whitefish. On some of the best days of the summer, you won’t see this happen. In the end, their excitement and seeing the thrill that they got from landing those fish reminded me that any day on the water, regardless of the season, should not be taken for granted.
John McKinnie is the former Fly-Fishing Manager at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana.