Best Birthday Ever

February 14-16, 2015

I had the best birthday ever. My wife of 26 years sacrificed Valentine’s Day. She suggested I go visit my youngest, Mark, 19 who is a freshman at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT for the long president’s day weekend. And it was awesome. Totally fun trip in so many ways.

Not counting the travel on either side I got to spend 3 full days with my son (and frequently his buddies) fly fishing and snowboarding

Who would have thought the fishing could be good in mid-February in Montana?!

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Saturday February 14th

We made the 30 minute trek to Livingston, MT to fish DuPuy’s. DuPuys is a private spring creek tributary of the Yellowstone River. Each fly rod costs $40 and limits the amount of anglers on this 3 mile stretch of river to 16 per day. Its barbless catch and release and totally worth my $120 to host Mark and his two mt state dorm buddies Irah (Montrose, CO) and Burnsie (Sacramento, CA). Of course we stopped at Yellowstone Anglers on the way and got some great guidance from our long time friend and awesome fishing guide, Paul Bloch. We also bought some highly recommended flies from Paul.

The fishing was surprisingly good. I mean it was mid February. But, montana is having a weird winter too. The temperature got above 60 degrees. What pleased me most was that all the boys caught fish. These three teenagers are no strangers to the fly rod, but Dupuys is very technical fishing; not a place for beginners.

We had about a mile of the Northern end of the spring creek to ourselves most of the day. That is where Paul told us to hole up anyways.

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Before I knew it Mark has two really nice fish; a brown and a rainbow. And Irah had a big brown. Burnsie caught fish too. Then it occurred to me….”I haven’t landed a trout yet and it’s close to the end of the day.” I was having so much fun watching the boys and doing a bit of guiding and re-rigging I just wasn’t fishing a lot. And I was mostly fishing behind them. And totally happy doing it. I had caught some whitefish and I lost two big trout I remembered. But, it seemed strange that I hadn’t landed a trout and was really happy about it.

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Well, towards the end of the day I suggested I show the boys the rest of the spring creek and we should pick a hole and finish it out. We ended up at the very southern end of the spring creek. And it was cold and windy and the sun was going down. Everyone was tired and achy. My GPS told me that we hiked a full 6 miles. Mark took a couple casts and called it a day. Irah went down river a bit and Burnsie was about 100 fee from me. I tried all the trout looking water with nothing. So I decided to hit some “spawny” looking water right by the car that everyone passed up and sure enough I nailed a nice spawned-out rainbow. Those “last cast” fish are so much better than the first cast ones….

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Sunday February 15th

“I dragged my snowboard all the way out here so we have to go at least once.” is what I told Mark. He was whining about the conditions: 60” of packed powder. I told him how spoiled Montana has made him; that the drought in CA is real and he wouldn’t believe what bad shape mammoth is in.

So, with an early start we headed to Big Sky. I had never been there and neither had Mark. The students and locals go to Bridger Mountain. The elite go to Big Sky. But, Mark had a coupon for us and we got a deal.

Big Sky is really wide open with all the advanced stuff mostly above the tree line. Mark took me off a double black that was kind of hairy but it was a really fun day overall. It is amazing how good he has become. A number of his buddies are expert skiiers from CO so it’s forced him to get really good. He’s 2x the snowboarder than I am now…. And I’m pretty good…for an old guy. He is comfortable switch and and 180 and 360. He goes so fast I can’t even keep up. But, what surprised me the most is the velocity he carries into the trees….and shoots out with 20 feet of air 100 yards down. He’s going to kill himself…or someone else. I’m so glad I bought him an avalanche beacon.

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The day ended kind of early and I was just fine with it because keeping up with him had me exhausted. But, the way it ended was kind of nasty. He was racing down the hill and I was struggling to keep up. A hundred yards from the lift he spotted a jump… failing a 360 he crashed to snow as hard as ice. I saw the whole thing and said to myself, “ouch”. I expected him to get up but he didn’t right away…. In fact it took him a number of moments to compose himself. He took his board off and limped to a bench. We did a couple more runs after that and he said he was hurting bad and asked if we could call it a day. I gladly accepted so we went to get a beer and a bowl of soup in town. he’s fine; he’s 19.

Monday February 16th

Well, it was unanimous that the 3rd day was going to be a fly fishing day. So, I dragged three teenagers out of bed early and we made the 2 hour drive to the upper Madison. It’s a beautiful drive. We ended up seeing over 500 animals; maybe closer to a thousand. Herds of elk, deer and antelope. We saw a coyote and bald eagles … and there was that moose.

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Paul and Bryce suggested we fish “between the lakes” (quake lake and hebgen) and that we might just catch the early spawn. It’s a beautiful part of montana. Even the boys said, “this is why we came to montana.” Unfortunately what we didn’t expect is 4 feet of snow and bitter cold conditions. And that really shut down the fishing. It was so cold the line was freezing to the rod.

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We ran into another couple advanced fly fisherman and they weren’t doing well and gave up early. we lasted a couple hours and ended up hiking over 4 miles, sinking deep into snow at points, above 10k feet. So, we headed to 3 dollar bridge about 10 miles back where I figured we’d do better. But, it was howling wind there. hmmm.

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But, if you could deal with the 20-30 mph gusts and fished the soft water and got a drift…you got whacked! In one 20 minute stretch I hooked up with 3 huge fish. Landed 2 of 3 of them. I was all alone because the boys spread out so I had to take a vertical phone pic quickly so I could release the fish quickly in the cold conditions as to not harm it.

At one point I was battling a fish and a bull moose jogged by 50 feet behind me.

Conclusions

This was the best birthday ever simply because of the father-son time. My son is getting older but, fly fishing is something we can enjoy together until I pass. Then, he’ll do it with his kids. It wasn’t the fishing or the snowboarding and I have most certainly had some wildly fun birthdays. There’s just something about spending quality time with your kids out in the wilderness. It’s hard to explain to people that don’t have a wilderness component to them.

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