Bob Thomas: Bait, beer and the allure of summer
“Fishing with me has always been an excuse to drink in the daytime.” – Jimmy Cannon
Ahh. Summer is finally here, so it’s time for us old geezers to start thinking about fishing. I know you young whippersnappers think we older guys are nuts, but learning to think like a game fish, and outsmart him, is no task to be taken lightly. Those critters are not only smart but cunning, and they love to cost us money.
When it comes to game fish, there are different kinds of fishermen: bait fishermen, fly-fishermen, plug casters, boat trollers and a few others. We purists tend to look down on bait fishermen because they depend on the fish being hungry, so they sit in their easy chairs and wait for a bite. The rest of us pursue the fish wherever they may be with the object of making them angry enough (game fish are very territorial) to strike our super-special, top-secret lures and get hooked. However, without fail, every bloody time I’m working my tail off trying to select the right lure, some 12-year-old kid, fishing off the dock using worms for bait, will land a 12-pound trophy trout.
Fly-fishing is the most difficult, the most sporting and probably the most aesthetically rewarding of all of the fishing arts, especially using barbless hooks in the flies. To watch somebody with their waders on, standing in the middle of a fast-moving stream, casting their flies with deadly accuracy into still pools or under overhanging tree limbs to hit the spot where Mr. Trout is laying in wait for a morsel, is truly an art. When I try that, I snag a tree limb four times out of five. Plug casting for bass is also a fine art. Here again, casting the lure so that it drops just in front of the bulrushes in the water where Mr. Bass is hiding takes lots of skill, especially in a wind.
As I’ve now graduated to the lazier class of fisherman, I prefer trolling in my little trout boat trailing artificial lures, many of which I’ve customized. Gone are the days when I used to tramp all over hell’s half-acres of rocky terrain to get to a stream or river, don my waders and cast flies all day. Today, what little fly-fishing I do is from my boat.
Now, I’m going to break with tradition and reveal what I believe to be the best trout fishing area in the West. The sad part is that it’s in Montana, which is a bit difficult to get to for a weekend. I’m talking about Lake Hebgen, just north of West Yellowstone.
This lake is fed by several Yellowstone sources, principally the famous Madison River and Madison Arm. Anglers come from all over the country to fly-fish the Madison. And Lake Hebgen, too, offers good fly-fishing from boats or floats.
The entire area has an abundance of mature rainbow, German brown and cutthroat trout, with rainbow being predominant. Our boat will average about six to 10 fish over five hours, ranging from 19 to 28 inches, weighing between 2 and 8 pounds. These are not stockers. We have to work hard for our fish, continually changing lures and lake locations. We hit the water at 8 a.m. and fish until 1 p.m., when the wind usually drives us off the lake. Also, we catch and release without touching the fish with our hands. Once in awhile, we’ll eat a brown.
In all the years we’ve been fishing Lake Hebgen, we’ve had only one bad week and that was last year. We arrived too early, and the lake level had just been dropped 12 feet because of possible flooding from a heavy winter. The fish were totally spooked, and for that week they wouldn’t hit anything, no matter what depth.
Area accommodations are abundant, with excellent facilities for motor homes plus nice cabins. I first fished that area in 1950, and I can’t imagine anyplace else being better if you’re willing to work for your fish. They will not be jumping into your boat.
• Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who later served on the Carson City School Board, the state welfare board, the airport authority and as a state assemblyman. Go to http://www.worldclassentrepreneur.com.