December 6, 8:54 a.m., West Yellowstone, Montana.
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A friend and I went fishing one afternoon last week on the Madison in the Park. We had our sights set on doing some Baetis fishing, and were hopeful that we’d find some big fall-run fish rising. When we pulled over to look at the river above Seven Mile bridge, a vicious upstream wind accompanied us. Mayflies were already emerging. Fish were feeding. We had no choice but to fish, and we knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
Our flies were #22 Sparkle Duns, our tippets 6x, our leaders fairly long. A difficult setup to control, but from previous experience one that we knew was necessary. My friend was excited and wasted no time in singling out a big fish. He waded out and began casting. In short order, he put the fish down. On to the next one. After several casts, same result. And then twice more. What was going on here?
My friend is an excellent caster. Perhaps too good, for I believe this was his downfall. He had chosen to approach each fish from cross-stream, in deference to the river’s tricky currents and the need for a drag-free drift. But casting cross-stream in such a violent wind required driving the fly to the target at high speed in order to achieve accuracy. My friend had no problem doing just that, but in the process was unable to get sufficient slack into his leader. Almost immediately his casts dragged, something those big fish wanted no part of.
I took a different tack. Figuring that the wind was too strong to fight, I deferred to it—instead of to the currents. I cast straight upstream, wind at my back, which permitted me a reasonable degree of accuracy and a chance to bring my fly down softly. With luck, I’d also get a little slack. (This upstream approach also enabled me to get closer to the fish, which made the presentation easier yet.) I didn’t catch as many fish as I hoped for (do we ever?), but I got some fine ones. I attributed their capture exclusively to my approach.
Talking afterwards, my friend was hesitant to accept that our respective angles of approach were responsible for his failure and my success. But there is no doubt in my mind. I’ve seen the same thing happen too many times.
So the next time you find yourself fishing in high wind, consider giving in to it. Put it at your back, regardless of what approach other factors might favor. Hopefully, it will help you as much as it’s helped me.
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Big, burly, free-rising whitefish are not as common around these parts as they once were. Though scorned by many anglers, I consider them trophies and I always thrill to the prospect of catching one. Here’s a look at a really fine specimen as he sips a mayfly from the surface. As a point of interest, distinguishing big whitefish from trout can often be difficult when they’re rising alongside one another. One giveaway, seen here in the fourth and fifth photos, is the spot-free, opaque gray color of the dorsal, adipose and tail fins of the whitefish. The whitefish tail is also distinctly pointed on its corners, in contrast to the more rounded appearance of the trout tail.