Ahh, fall...my favorite time of the year! Yes, believe it or not autumn is officially just around the corner, hardly 36 hours from now as I write. It goes without saying that this has been an unusual year, but I feel like it’s been especially unusual weather-wise here in Western Montana since last September, when our first “winter” storm blew through at the end of the month. The leaves hadn’t quite started turning yet but the cold bite on the wind harkened to what was to come. It was an interesting juxtaposition: feeling the distinct chill of winter in the biting wind but having hardly settled into the first few weeks of what turned out to be a truncated fall. Fast forward one year and I’m starting to feel like we’re a little back on track, and for that I could not be more grateful.
The last day of August laid the groundwork for this transition with a nice wet, cold front that blew through on the 31st and ushered the change of the seasons. It was the first time in months that I sat outside on our balcony and got a legitimate chill, and I found it incredibly refreshing. Having been born and raised in more northerly latitudes, I’m a self-identified cool-weather creature, and fall is really when I’m in my element. It could be that I’m a September baby, but fall really just feels like it suits me. It’s pensive and reflective, but also nostalgic and optimistic. There’s time to slow down, pause even, and just be, but there’s also a spark that motivates and inspires for the times to come. I’ve also come to accept that 40-60 degrees is the temperature range where I’m happiest.
I also truly relish fall days on the water. It’s a time of transition so you can still have warm, calm days that harken back to the glow of summer, or you can have blustery, cool days with the whisper of winter on the wind. Recently I went up and spent a couple of days on the Blackfoot and could hardly have asked for better conditions. The thermometer read 42 on the drive up in the morning, but by the time I was rigged and, on the water, I immediately needed to shed my puffy. The direct sun still had warmth and life to give to the river and Its inhabitants, and I was happy to acknowledge that and abide.
I started with a big Stimulator-esque searching pattern to hopefully turn some heads at the prospect of a dawdling nocturnal stone, and within ten minutes landed an eager brown trout that rocketed up from the depths of the first pool to crush the hapless imitation. I was so tickled that I let out a giggle of surprise. I only needed to change the fly a few hours later when I found a bunch of cutthroats in one run methodically sipping emerging mayflies. I picked off a half dozen or so of them before I was satisfied and moved on. Mayflies produced fish in most of the expected spots from then on. Later, shortly after I noticed a breeze starting to kick up and the sun’s warmth gaining momentum, I decided it was time to switch to a hopper. My second cast over a submerged log brought a healthy 15” cuttie up to the surface to consume the irresistible morsel. Within another half dozen successive casts, I had two more cutthroat of similar size, and I was pleased with having listened to my intuition. I caught fish consistently all day, on almost everything I tied on, and gave hardly a second thought to fishing a second fly or dropper nymph.
The breeze was only intermittent, and when it wasn’t blowing the only sound to pierce the expansive calm was the river and the insects. It was also the first day I’ve donned waders in several months, a sign that fall was truly on its way. Though the peak of the day still held the warmth of summer months, I had to pull a bit closer to the fire later that evening as the stars arced towards their zenith in the moonless night, the evening air having lost the warm embrace of the sun’s rays from earlier. The next day was nearly a facsimile of the first with a crisp start, a slow building warmth as the sun ascended, and happy trout eager to eat dry flies all day long.
These are the simple, satisfying days on the water that speak to my soul.