Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Rainy Days at Montauk Never Get Me Down

There is a fine line when bad weather turns from "this might actually help me catch more fish" into "there's no way I'm catching anything in this." This past weekend at Montauk, I carefully toed that line and luckily was able to stay on the better side of it. Salem, Missouri was a balmy 50 degrees this weekend, which felt pretty fantastic considered how long, cold, dark, and wet this entire winter has been.

I don't know how its tail got in my jacket.
It was the first time I've been able to hit the water since November of last year, when I took a day-trip to Montauk for a morning and afternoon of catch & release fly-fishing. That was a gorgeous, bright and crisp November day. It was one of those dark mornings where the sun was only just beginning to peak over the horizon as I drove the 25 miles between St. James and Salem. In one surreal moment, I damned near crashed my truck trying to avoid hitting a billy-goat that was standing in the middle of the road. The goat ran along side my truck for a few yards as I drove past, jumping beneath a high fence line and back into its barnyard. You can see some weird stuff that time of the morning.

Ah, my truck. The 2002 red Ford Ranger that somehow seems to think of new and creative problems each time I drive her. First it was the flickering oil pressure gauge that would break out into a Jon Bonham solo every time I stopped at a red light. Then there was the time my transmission blew when I tried to change gears in subzero temps. Let's not forget the time an oil leak caused the entire engine block to bind up. Most recently, the cabin has developed a distinct yet irregular odor that has yet to be identified, though it's most likely either gasoline or antifreeze, depending on which youtube self-repair video you believe. But to her credit, she did get me to Montauk and back this trip with zero issues, other than of course the ticket I received from a Park Ranger for an expired registration. D'oh.

But I digress. The is a fly-fishing blog, not a truck blog. (VossTruck dot com would truly be a sad affair.) At Montauk in November, the water was low and clear, and best of all the park was practically empty. I fished above the dam, farther than I usually do, closer to the spring. The park is typically less crowded that far away from the main parking lot, and it was even emptier that day. I only saw a handful of people in the entire morning and afternoon of fishing. This is of course optimal.

And I caught fish, which is what this whole shebang is about, isn't it. My understanding is that the park doesn't stock quite as many Rainbows during catch & release season, but that didn't seem to matter. With the water so clear, I had no trouble spotting them all day long. Several put up good fights, but I was still able to net most of them without breaking my tippet or unraveling my knots.

This weekend's trip was a bit different. It wasn't catch and release. The weather was not gorgeous. And the park was not empty. That said, I still caught a lot of fish.

I was staying at one of the upper double-cabins at Montauk with my buddy Jake and a group of his friends. Oddly enough, even though I didn't know many of his friends, I actually work at the same company as two of them, but had never met them before prepping for this trip. They're a good group of guys, some fly-fishermen, some ultra-light guys. We spent Friday night watching March Madness, playing quarters, and I tied up a dozen or so White Floss Jigs to share with the group. To be perfectly frank, with the number of cans of Busch Beer that were drank that night, I was a bit skeptical that those flies I tied would be worth a damn, but their report from Saturday was that nearly everyone was catching fish on them, as surprisingly as that can be.

Usually when I leave for Montauk, I try to get there by opening bell. During April, the bell rings at seven o'clock in the morning, sharp, so I have to leave at approximately 4:00 AM in order to get there on time. That didn't happen this trip. Someone (not naming names) needed to be dropped off at his babysitter's at 7:30, so I wasn't out of the St. Louis Greater Metropolitan Area until closer to 8:00 in the morning, putting my arrival time at Montauk closer to 11:00.

Normally, the fishing will slow by a great deal around midday. The bright overhead sun heats up the water and the lack of shadows makes the trout much more exposed. So they're a little shy, typically, around 11. However, the sky was completely overcast that Friday, with the rain threatening to burst at any moment. And it did. Several times throughout the afternoon. It was one of the soupier days that I had spent at Montauk.

Am I crazy, or does that rock in the background look like Master Chief?
Despite the rain, the water remained clear on Friday, and I had only minimal difficulty spotting fish. No more than usual, I should say. It's amazing how once you spot one trout, your eyes will adjust and suddenly you can recognize them and distinguish between a Rainbow and a stick. Still, the rain was consistent, and by the time I ended on Friday, I could already see the brown murky water creeping in from the banks, particularly at the bottoms of steep hills where the rainfall runoff was more significant.

Thank god I was staying in a cabin. Camping would have been a muddy nightmare. But the dark clouds and steady rains meant that the trout had no qualms about spending the afternoon out in the open, and made for some damn fine fishing. I had my freshly re-sealed waders and a new raincoat, so I was perfectly snug and dry standing in the river. I even managed to keep my pipe lit in the rain.

The rain's disturbance on the water's surface allowed for some sloppy wading without immediately scaring every fish in the area. I'm an incredible klutz, and add in twenty or so inches of moving water over a bed of uneven invisible rocks, and I'm perfectly hopeless. The fact that I didn't plunge in this trip is a miracle.

At one point, while dropping gear off at the cabin, I noticed we had a line-of-sight to the river. It was just a hundred yards or so down a decently sloped hill, but it was under power lines, so the state had cleared most of the heavy brush away. It was an easy trek down the hill and it accessed some pretty decent and secluded water. I caught a good-sized Rainbow Trout I decided I wanted to keep, but then realized I had left my stringer back at the cabin. Even more frustrating, I even remembered exactly where I had left it. I gave my pal Mr. Rainbow Trout a nice bop on the head with a rock so he wouldn't have to suffer the return trip with me, and I began hoofing it back up the pretty steep slope I had descended mere minutes before. A lot easier going down than up, especially trying to climb it in waders without dropping your newly caught Rainbow Trout from your fishing net.

Friday night was a great time, full of grilling and drinking and quick trips down to the lodge for both Montauk's famous ice cream cones and to borrow their wifi. Being able to video chat the wife and tater tot makes the homesickness of these trips both better and worse somehow. Maybe I'm just turning into [more of] a lame dad.

Early Saturday, I did receive the call from my wife that she was running a 101 degree fever, so I had to cut the trip short and leave two days early. This was obviously a bummer for many reasons, and not least of which because I didn't get to partake in the longest trout contest the fellows were having on Saturday. One of the guys even 3D-printed a trophy of a naked lady holding up a trout. I have pictures but will not post them here for decency's sake. In my haste to pack up all my gear and get back to the city, I committed the ultimate fisherman's cardinal sin, and accidentally took someone else's trout from the fridge. I could die from embarrassment.

It certainly was no fun having to leave early, but there's really nothing you can do in that situation but shrug off the poor fortune. These things happen, and I'm certainly not going to leave my feverish wife at home unsupported with our kid causing a general level of chaos throughout the entire house. And besides, Saturday's rain was even heavier than Friday's, so it's not like I was leaving any world class fishing behind. But still, I do have that persistent and lingering itch. I'm going to need to go fishing again soon. The weather is only getting nicer (at least for a few weeks, until the St. Louis summer hits). I think it's about time I take Willie fishing for real.

He's ready.

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