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cline okra 1Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

My mother was from the Deep South. When she moved to California during WWII she brought with her the taste for Okra. As I grew up in Southern California, Okra—fried, fried with green tomatoes and stewed with tomatoes showed up on our dinner table whenever it was in season. I’ve always enjoyed it, especially fried, and experienced it many different ways in my time in Asia and Europe. Here in SW Montana, Okra doesn’t seem to be that popular and apart from the peak of its season, it rarely shows up in the vegetable departments of local supermarkets. However there is one store that seems to carry everything and in the middle of winter you can still get Okra for $6.95 a pound. That’s too much to pay for a pound of Okra.

That’s pretty much how I feel about fly fishing in the depths of winter here in SW Montana, the cost is just too high for the return on effort. When the fly shop guys ask “Have you been out”, the answer unashamedly is always “No, I am not much of a winter angler”. But, every winter we manage to take some road trips here and there to check out the favorite rivers, to see what they are up to in the dead of winter. These trips always remind me why I don’t try to fish in the winter–dangerous ice, cold, wet, wind and lethargic fish. What follows are a few images of some of my favorite rivers in January 2015. After weeks of below freezing weather and a fair amount of snow, a Friday emerged with partly cloudy skies and afternoon temps in the low 40s. It was a blue bird type day and everyone we met kept saying they had Spring fever. Never fear however, in January there’s at least two more months of winter left.

cline okra 2We headed out of Bozeman west on I-90, crossed the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson, all frozen up on the way to Whitehall, Montana. There we headed south to Twin Bridges, stopping along the way at two of my favorite sections of the Jefferson River. Above at Waterloo Bridge, the shelf ice would limit any kind of safe fishing here.

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Further up river at Hell’s Canyon, there wasn’t as much shelf ice, but the gravel bars were littered with sheets of ice. Too treacherous to try.

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The Big Hole at Pennington Bridge was worse. Not only were the flows somewhat elevated, the shelf ice extended well out into the deep holes of the river.

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The same section on a summer morning at dawn.

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Just west of the Big Hole, the Beaverhead was actually in pretty good shape ice wise, but discolored a bit from snow melt. I would have needed the kayak here to access the better water without violating the private land. A lot of trouble just to stand around in cold, icy waters.

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Upstream from Twin Bridges and east of the Beaverhead, the lower Ruby River at Davis Lane was in pretty good shape. It was a little discolored from snow melt but the flows were not elevated. If I wanted to put the kayak in here and work upstream, it might have been productive.

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Farther to the East, the Madison River at Ennis was pretty clear of ice, but this is difficult water to wade at any time given the bowling ball size rocks that blanket the bottom of this river. Much too dangerous to wade in the winter.

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Below Ennis Lake, the Madison in Bear Trap Canyon wasn’t in too bad of shape either. In fact we saw several groups of anglers nymphing in this section. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing a 10-15 mph in the canyon so it wasn’t very pleasant.

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One of the most dramatic things we saw that day was the ice flows in Valley Garden. In the photo above the normal upstream edge of Ennis Lake is the first set of shrubs you see at the top left of the photo. Immediately to the right of the shrub line is where Fletcher’s channel of the Madison River enters Ennis Lake. The massive amount of ice covering the right side of the photo is actually covering what is meadow during the summer. Based on my knowledge of this part of the river, it looks like there’s at least 3-4 feet of ice covering the meadow. These large ice flows are created when the smaller channels in Valley Garden jam up with ice and divert the flows over the river banks. It will be a while before this is fishable.

As you can see from the photos, even though this was a nice day in Montana, the rivers were inhospitable. I know many people that try and go out and fish in these conditions—oblivious of the discomfort or danger. I am just not one of them. Just like it’s OK to visit the store and fondle a few Okra pods when you know you’re not going to pay $6.95 a pound, it is fun to see what the rivers are up to in the winter. I’m just not going to partake until the price comes down in March.

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