The Birthday Fish

By Joe Odierna, Guest Contributor

I decided to go fishing for my birthday.

I call Connetquot on Monday to make a reservation for Thursday. I should have known better, the Park is closed on Mondays. I call Tuesday morning and the gent I spoke to said I am the first to make a reservation, for any session, so I should be good if I check in around 10:30.

Thursday comes

I decide to check in “early” – around 9:30. When I get there I’m told that I’m #6 in line for a spot. Damn – I thought I would have been #1, it is my birthday after all. The morning session is full and the afternoon is overbooked. “Them’s the breaks.”  I am hoping to get site 10 since I don’t remember fishing it before.  That looks doubtful now that I am sixth in line. 

I go across the street to Rattlesnake Brook…

to try my luck and kill some time as Check-in isn’t until 11:45. What luck I had! – two lures, a bobber w/ a hook still attached and about 50 yards of mono-filament line. I ended up doing more of a stream cleanup than fishing. Then again, two lures!

I leave and go to the Park to wait…

and who do I see, in spite of the distance and face-covering masks, but LITU buddies Stu Bruckner and Bob Zucker. Stu’s distinctive voice gave him away as he was on the phone.  Waiting on line to choose our sites, Bob gets #15 and Stu takes #11.  The gent who has 5th choice takes 10.  So close!  Does he not know it’s my birthday?

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I see 13 is open. 

I’ve fished it several times before and figured, what the heck.  Site 13 is where people heading downstream to the lower beats cross the river.  It can be bothersome, having folks tromping back and forth as you try to fool a fish, but I figured I could deal with it.

I usually set up from the platform first,

…upstream of the stairs, and will probably start working the water running right in front of the tree on the opposite bank.  The fish normally pool up there.  A rock weir and a log in the water just below it makes for some nice holding water.   Sure enough, there are multiple fish here and further downstream as well, below the rocks and log. Two nice fish in particular, 20+ inches, but right in the path were folks will cross.

I figure they have been spooked so many times that it’s not worth trying…

but I do. No luck with the big ones, or the smaller ones hanging out with them. I stick with this area for three hours and I am skunked – multiple hits you understand and several takes, but I just couldn’t get them to the net. The area has a lot of tree cover which is good for the fish but not so much for me. I lose so many flies I lose count.  One of the nice 14 inch fish next to the big ones FINALLY took my fly, but again spit it out. I gave up on those beasts.

I forgot to mention,

Stu followed Bob and I to the river. On the way to his site, he stops by Bob’s (15).  He catches two there before he continues on his way, stopping at my site before crossing. His secret? A dropper rigged up with a Zonker.  A Zonker!  I have used a Woolly Bugger dropper before but never a Zonker, not here.  Not anywhere. 

As luck would have it…

he got into a BAD tangle and had to re-rig after trying to undo it.  I must have tied on three or four flies and even a new tippet while he struggles with his tangled mess. It is that bad.  I toss an Iris Caddis, a small Hendrickson emerger, a Montana Monster, a Joe-Stack, you name it.  I even tied a dropper to the Montana Monster and quickly proceeded to tangle it in the same tree Stu had occupied.

Iris Caddis

I get hits,

…but no hookups.  Stu is impressed that I am getting them to hit on dries at all as he finally gets back in the water.  I let him work my water and move down to check the water between 13 and 12 when I hear a lot of splashing.  Stu is tight to one of the smaller fish by the platform.  He changed up his approach, taking my idea of tying a Woolly Bugger as the dropper. Damn!  I should learn to take my own advice! 

Above the platform is some shadowy, shallow, slack water under multiple trees.  A felled tree cuts across the stream making casting difficult.  All day long I watch a muskrat (I think its a muskrat) swimming along the far bank.  Back and forth this muskrat goes, busy as a little beaver.

Below me, in the water between 13 and 12,

…there is a large swan eating the vegetation.  It is in the distance and not bothering with me, so we are all good.  Now, all of a sudden as I am about to cast into the shadowy area to a few rising fish, yes, FINALLY rising fish, I hear peeping behind me. Guess who? The momma swan with her flock of babies.  There must have been 7 or 8 of them.  The mother and her babies come swimming across MY STREAM to have lunch just above the felled tree, on top of the once rising fish.  Another one who doesn’t know it’s my birthday! 

The mother grabs some vegetation from the bottom, shakes it free and lets it float down to the babies.  She plucks out 10 times what the babies take and the rest floats down to me.   I wait until they are finished and proceeded to cast.  I have a few hits on the Iris Caddis and one BIG fin swims towards it, but turns at the last minute.  At least they are still interested.

At 3:00, the gentleman from site 10 comes off early. “There are only 5 fish on 10 and I caught two” he says. Maybe his being ahead of me in line and taking 10 was not such a bad thing after all.  I tell him there are plenty of fish here so feel free to give’em a try. It’s nice to be nice and a great way to meet new friends.

We get to talking,

…I mention that it’s my birthday, and he wishes me well sending luck my way so I can have my birthday fish. We both continue at 13, me with the Iris Caddis, then a Henryville Special, a CDC caddis and did get a few hits, but again, no hook ups.  Scratching my head and trying to figure this out I remember a fly I was fooling around with while tying one night.

Monster Renegade by Joe O

I tied it on.

I can only describe it as a monster renegade. A size 10 with a deer hair compara-dun wing, peacock hurl body, white hackle at the rear and gold tinsel wrapped at the bend of the hook, a tag.  It floats like a cork.

I know just where to test it.

I have been trying for this rising fish just behind the felled tree ever since the swans left.  There are actually several of them and they seem to be showing some interest in my flies as the day wears on, but they just don’t take. 

So I put the new creation over them and low and behold – I hook one.  A nice fish, very strong.  My new friend says “Happy Birthday!” “Not ‘till I get it in the net” is my response.  I hooked a similar fish earlier that acted the same way, running all around the pool and then headed downstream.  That’s when I lost him. When he turned. 

But not this one – a beautiful 14 inch Brookie!

The Birthday Fish!

So that was the icing on the cake but there is more.

My new friend is suddenly into a fish! Thinking it is one of the monsters I have been watching I asked, “You get the big one?”  But no, it is a small Rainbow. Switching back to the Iris Caddis, and letting it swing, I have another small Rainbow as I see his rod bend again, big time.

It was a Rainbow, a female, a solid 20 inch cow. How do I know? – Because when we measured her on the platform her eggs came spewing out. No photo. He quickly put her back in the water and after a quick breath she swam away. 

What did he get her on?

Well, his wife had just given him some pink scuds as a gift.  What a gift!

I must say I was a bit saddened to see her eggs on the platform. 

Rainbow roe

It is just before 4:00 and we should head back soon. 

Those shadows by the felled tree are talking to me.  I flip my fly to the tree and BAM, another Brookie! It was the Iris Caddis again but to be honest, it wasn’t my fly. It was a Tom McCoy tied fly (I think designed by Craig Matthews of West Yellowstone).  Tom and I often exchange flies we have tied and he had given me a few Iris Caddis’ and told me to use them specifically on the Conny.  Even though he wasn’t there, I need to give him some credit for two out of three of these fish.

Joe’s Nice Brookie

As a side note,

…on the walk out we meet up with Bob and a few guys from the lower sites.  As we pass 15 and are just about into 16 we see yet another huge fish.  It’s flopping in the water, jumping and splashing and doing all sorts of tricks.  We think it weird and may be tangled in some tackle or  potentially sick.  One of the guys is able to net it and we notice numerous red circles with black centers on its belly.  We contemplate tossing it into the woods in case it is diseased.  What we probably should do is bring it to the ranger but, pondering the rules, and not sure who would be around, or how they would receive our specimen which is big (probably 20+), we carefully released him – or is it her?

A nice way to spend my birthday!

Beat #13