Julia and I woke up in the Livingston Rodeway Inn a little late Saturday morning, not unexpected considering the excellent (and gluttonous) evening we’d spent previous having dinner at Gil’s Goods. We rallied, gathered up our stuff, and headed to the Dan Bailey Fly Shop to get the lowdown on where we should fish, not expecting much since it was already nearly 11:00 AM by the time we got there. We purchased a few flies then discovered that it wouldn’t have mattered what time we got out on the water, as a thunderstorm had hit Yellowstone Park the night before (just as it had one year ago when we had pitched a tent in the park) and sent a bunch of silt downriver, clouding up the action. We got some suggestions as to where else to go — the best option being an hour or so east to the Boulder River — then took off.
Not wanting to backtrack east (having just come from there the evening before), we thought we might try something around Bozeman, then changed our minds again and headed southwest for Ennis, MT, and a date with the Madison River. Not exactly on our way, it was at least closer to home than the Boulder would have been, plus we’d passed through town last year and vowed to return to fish there sooner than later.
We hit town around noon, maybe a little after, and discovered we had arrived in the middle of the “Ennis on the Madison Fly Fishing Festival.” The streets were crowded with cars and people. We didn’t linger; we found a place to park and grabbed a quick burger for lunch, then it was back in the car and off to the first access site we could find. We were finally on the river by 1:30 PM or so.
The Madison flows quickly here, and while rocky the surface isn’t particularly slippery. We picked our spots and waded in, slowly working out into the middle of the river. A raft and then a drift boat passed us. I couldn’t see how Julia was doing, but at that point the river wasn’t giving me any reason to think there were any fish in it . . . then WHAM! I had one on the line. It wasn’t much of a fighter and turned out to be a small Brown. In short order I hooked two more fish, but after a couple runs and leaps out of the water, they managed to extricate themselves from my hook (I keep the barbs pinched off). For smaller fish, I actually prefer when that happens, to be honest. The thrill for me is in attracting them to my fly, landing them is secondary. I love to hold the fish in my hands, but for a smaller one I’d rather it not get hooked so deeply that I need to free it; it’s more difficult, and, honestly, I feel terrible when I catch them. As much as I love it, I find fly fishing to be a moral struggle when it comes to a philosophy of “harm none.” Perhaps more on that another time. . . .
About this point I looked upriver about 50 yards just in time to see a big, fat, cow moose lumber down over the bank and into the river. Julia was near enough to me that I was able to holler at her and point; she saw the moose too. It shared our spot for maybe 30 minutes. I was careful to keep a consistent distance, and she was clearly aware of our presence, but didn’t seem concerned. It was beautiful to see. I kept fishing, but was more interested in watching the moose. It hung out a while, then turned and hauled itself back up onto the bank and away into the brush. Julia described her as being about the size of a small draft horse, and I don’t disagree. She was a healthy one, no doubt.
All in all we fished for about three hours before calling it a day, then drove home. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon. Seeing the moose was spectacular, one of those things that I love about getting out and fishing. Being on the water is just another way to get down into the very workings of the outdoors, and I notice and pay attention to so many more things than I did before: bird patterns, bugs, wind, current, eddies on the water and those spaces where fast water borders calm. These are benefits I never would have imagined when I was first out there, wrestling with my equipment, wondering how such an activity could possibly rival the fun of going hiking, or any other outdoor pursuit that didn’t involve squirrely lines and threading needles. Putting oneself into a place allows that place to grow accustomed to you, then life becomes apparent that one may miss when just rushing through. It feels less an invasion or something.
I couldn’t have asked for a better outing.