Fishing for Fall Browns in Montana

Fishing for Fall Browns

By James Anderson

Photos: James D, Jeffrey Carder, and Michael Warnick


Fall fishing in Montana isn’t for everybody. For most folks, the combination of clouds, rain, and cold weather make for a crummy day outdoors, more suitable for staying under the covers and reading a book than fishing. Yet for the angler, dark nasty days are heaven sent. Fall Baetis have begun to hatch, the crowds have dispersed, and the Browns, in their spawning colors are as vibrant as the leaves along the river. Sure, you can’t always tie your knots because your fingers are numb, and you have to shake the ice off your guides every now and then, but the feeling one gets while netting a colorful twenty inch Brown, makes everything well worth the effort.

After Mike, Jeff, and I had walked 15 minutes through a sea of knee high grass we arrived at the stream.  Jeff cracked a smile and said, “Well, looks like the foxes are in the hen house…”  It seemed like I was still stripping out my line when I heard a vicious slash up stream.  “Got one! … He looks like he might be mmm… 16″ …. 18″….”

I leaned my rod against the hood of the river bank Chevy and grabbed the net, hustling for the assist. “Yup. I think this is a good fish,” Jeff remarked as I slid waist deep into the middle of the run. I leaned forward into the current, ready to nonchalantly scoop up the fish like a spoon full of hot tortilla soup. However, when I saw the size and color of this golden Brown Trout, the game was on. In one pump, my heart dispersed enough adrenaline to return a kick in the Super Bowl. The Brown made several good runs before getting tired. Eventually he swayed back and forth in the current, much like a kite in a choppy wind.  I tired to match his snake-like movements with the net, but started to loose ground as my feet slipped in the current.  I extended as far as I could without doing a face plant, but still was out of reach. I wanted to say “Go go Gadget Net!”

But as luck would have it, we weren’t let down. Soon I had the Brown in the net and walked towards the bank, giving Mike the camera. “Would you mind taking a few shots?” I asked. “No, not at all.” Then, just before the shutter went click, the Brown kicked his tail and squirmed from my clutches. He swam right between my legs, “nut-meging” me like a striker kicking a soccer ball. I pushed the leader down like the top strand of a barbed wire fence and high stepped over it like Walter Payton juking a tackle. The Brown went screaming downstream like a freight train, yet amazingly under Jeff’s control. He had him back on the reel, “Whoa… he’s not done yet!” Thankfully we didn’t unhook him before the photo shoot. This was the advice that Joe Brooks gave my Dad years ago, and it served me well again that afternoon.

Back to the scene of the crime… Our team hovered around the pulchritudinous creature with awe and admiration. It was without a doubt, the most gorgeous Brown any of us had ever seen. After we had taken enough photos to satisfy the likes of Barry Beck, I moved the underwater Brown towards Jeff to release him. As I was asking Jeff if he would like to do the honors, the Brown bolted out of my grasp like a thoroughbred blasting out of the gates at the Kentucky Derby. I guess that’s one nice thing about fall fishing… the cold water rejuvenates tired fish almost immediately. I couldn’t help thinking how Fly Fishing rejuvenates our daily lives as well.

From there our day took us to a local lake – in search of even bigger hogs – but not before lunch. The boys watched for nearby risers as I heated up a batch of Tortilla soup my incredible girlfriend Amory had made the night before. Chicken on the bone, okra, asparagus, corn, carrots, a delicious broth, topped with fresh lime tortilla chips and grated cheese. After we all had finished our seconds, I busted a surprise desert out of the cooler. I passed Jeff a pizza box, which provoked a “what the heck!?” kind of look. Jeff grabbed the box and pulled out a round, flat, tin foil frisbee. As he opened it up he said, “Alright! Now, that’s my kind of pizza!” I knew jeff loved chocolate chip cookies, so while Amory was making soup, I had made one giant size Betty Crocker cookie. Big fish, Big cookie, Big day!

"Beat that," said "Mr. Wernikoff"...

Even though we caught a lot of nice fish that day, our focus was not all on fish. As local outfitter Tracy Allen puts it, “Fishin’ is more than just catchin’ fish.” He’s right. It’s about being out there and enjoying each moment. It’s about appreciating the beauty which surrounds you.  It’s about enjoying the company of close friends. Sure when you finally catch a phenomenal fish you feel on top of the world, but it’s not all about getting the white whale. It’s the journey not the destination. This is the perfect attitude to endorse, because you can be happy whether you catch 100 fish or get skunked. Those who fish too intensely often miss out on appreciating their surroundings. Things like putting the rod down to enjoy the rugged Absaroka peaks of Paradise Valley or taking time out to watch damsel flies flit and hover on the surface of a lake. Things like taking a deep breath of fresh mountain air and exhaling all the troubles of yesterday.  If you can find yourself in this frame of mind, you’ll release a lot more than trout on your next Montana trip.

Which brings to mind a saying I once heard… “A master can remain peaceful even in the height of war or conflict; the student can remain peaceful in everyday life; but the fool remains peaceful only when on top of a mountain or next to a stream. Does that make avid anglers a bunch of fools, addicted to an amalgam of expensive waders, coats, rods and reels?  Maybe so, but the fact is, we love what we do, and do what we love. We are passionate about our sport and want to share the experience with everyone.

Special thanks to JJ!

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