9 to 5

This story will appear in our forthcoming book, Nymphs and Wets, as an illustration of the modified Czech Nymphing tactic.

Montana had been under a siege of rain for weeks when Nancy and I arrived in late June to participate in a memorial service for our friend, Jim Greenlee, past owner and president of Weinbrenner Shoes. It was Jim that had invited me to work with him to design what eventually became the Ultimate Wading Shoe. We had planned to fish the Madison in Jim’s honor, but the river was running high and dirty. We would be back in ten days, and have another look.

Upon our return, Nancy and I found the river still high but only the slightest tinge away from its usual summer clarity. The willows were alive with Hydropsychid caddis adults, and in places also held adults of the big Golden Stonefly (Acroneuria californica), hanging like so much ripe fruit. In addition the PMDs (Ephemerella infrequens and E. inermis) were just beginning to hatch. It looked very much like my options were open. I sat in the motorhome and dressed a half dozen size 10 caddis larvae with a palest olive body, dark brown thorax, and copper bead head. The larva would be the lead fly in a two fly rig; the second fly would be a size 16 Flash-Back Pheasant Tail Nymph.

I set up the basic UniBody leader design using a leader ring between the .013 Maxima Chameleon and four foot section of 1X tippet. I added another leader ring to the terminal end of the 1X, also. A size 3/0 shot went just above this second leader ring. To this second ring I then tied on 15 inches of 4X, and knotted on the caddis larva. I used the in-line arrangement for the second fly, clinch knotting a piece of 4X directly to the hook bend of the larva, and added the size 16 Flash-Back P.T. The indicator hung on the leader about 15 feet above the terminal fly. It was a modified Czech nymphing rig, using shot to help hold the flies along the bottom in the Madison’s swift waters.

As the evening waned into dusk, I headed off down river, looking for a most favorable section of the “secret river” along my side of the white water rapids. About a half mile down stream, I located a huge rock with a small current on the inshore side and a powerful current on the river side. The smaller current ran across the backside of the boulder and tucked neatly into the heavy water of the main river. The waters formed a boiling turbulence line where they remixed on the riverside of the rock. It was certainly “fishy” looking water. A gravel bar edged its way along the downstream currents, and I could fish without the need to wade. A perfect setup.

I was using a bright fluorescent red and yellow “Turn-On” indicator; one half fluorescent red, the other half fluorescent yellow. These elongate cylindrical indicators consist of two, interdigitated halves, divided cross-ways of the cylinder with a slot cut lengthwise along the axis of the cylinder and to its core. A rubber band in the slot holds the two halves together. The leader is slipped into the slot, and the two halves turned to wind the leader around the rubber band, effectively securing the indicator and allowing for immediate removal as needed.

Turn-on indicators are fast on, fast off.

I plopped the rig into the currents at the rear of the boulder and held the indicator about a foot above the surface, watching it intently for any indication of a take. It’s bright colors made it easy to see in the waning light. Several casts later and I had not seen a single movement that would indicate a take. I just couldn’t believe that I had not had a take. It seemed to me in this strong, almost violently mixing current zone that the indicator was too far from the flies, and I was not getting a good sense of what they were doing. I shortened the distance between the terminal fly and the indicator to 9 feet, and plopped the imitations back up into the swirling water at the rear of the boulder, holding the indicator about 6 inches above the surface. Almost immediately the fluorescent marker leaped upstream, and I tightened on a 14-inch rainbow. “Now that’s more like it,” I mused, as I reeled the fish to hand.

Well, it was one of those spots that one hopes for. In the next half hour seven more nice fish came to hand from that single pocket. Five of them were rainbows and three were browns. Five had taken the larval imitation, three had taken the trailing Flash-Back P.T. The rainbows were all in the 14 to 16 inch class, but the browns ran larger—between 15 and 18 inches. Certainly a good evening hour’s of fishing.

The next morning I was up early and eager to try my “modified” Czech tactic on more of the Madison’s finny denizens. The blue sky promised a bright day, with a good chance for a PMD hatch later in the morning. I had only an hour or so to fish, and decided to stay with the same set up I’d used the night before.

Directly in front of the parking lot were a series of boulder headed pockets. They all looked good, but one seemed a bit more attractive to my eye than the others. Like the pocket of the night before, there was a sharp drop into deep water along the outside edge of the boulder, forming a dark slot in the currents. In addition, the water seemed to boil and foam over the top of the elongate rock in a very different fashion than it did over the other boulders in the vicinity. I waded into position, and set up my first cast. Immediately I was fast to a very fine whitefish—20 inches of twisting, current using muscle that gave a good account of itself. It was the first whitefish of the trip, and I released it happily, unhooking the little barbless P.T. with a quick flick of the forceps. Back at the boulder, things got hot fast. First a monster—all five inches of it. The little rainbow jumped and splashed around like a much larger fish. It was in superb condition, and I rejoiced at this strong come back of the Madison’s rainbow population. It too had taken the P.T. Then, it was back into the bigger fish. Four more came to the nymphing rig, three to the P.T. and one to the caddis larva, and all of then were very nice fish. The rainbows were from 15 to 17 inches in length, and the two browns were 17 and 19 inches long.

The tally for the evening and morning’s fishing was most interesting: 9 rainbow and 5 browns, 9 on the P.T. and 5 on the caddis larva, and all before 9 and after 5. And, oh yes, one very nice whitefish.