Fly fishing in the American West

Three Dollar Serendipity fly dressed by Stephen Cheetham.
Three Dollar Serendipity fly dressed by Stephen Cheetham.
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“Good mornin’ y’all, what’s happenin’?” a Louisiana drawl drifted on the crisp (too) early sun-up air.

I squinted, Clint Eastwood-esque, against the low sun. I could see nothing and no-one.

“Gimee a coupla minutes and we’re all ready to rock n’ roll.”

In front of me stood a sleek float boat hooked up to a bright red truck. A figure wearing a huge grin and one of the most eccentric hats that I’ve ever seen slowly unfolded from within the boat, vaulted over the gunwale and made its way towards us.

If you imagine the head gear version of Joseph’s Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat, you will be getting close. An outstretched hand materialised as the hat made its way towards us.

“Hi guys, I’m Mickey, we’re goin’ fishin’ and we’re gonna have fun.”

My wife and I were standing outside Madison River Outfitters in West Yellowstone, Montana USA. This fishing trip was planned several months ago and I had eagerly anticipated it right from the start.

The plan was to climb into Mickey’s boat and float about 13 miles down the Madison River from Lyons Bridge. I would fish, Mickey was to be my guide and my wife would be a sightseer.

As Mickey launched the boat, I stared, disbelievingly at the river; a good 80 yards wide. Anglers might imagine the most perfect riffle that you have ever seen. Non anglers should visualise three feet of crystal clear water creating a corduroy surface as it flows quickly over a stony river bed.

In either case, you are looking at a veritable fish food factory. An impressive riffle on a Yorkshire Dales river might be 50 yards long; the one that starts life at Lyons Bridge extends for an exhaustive 60 miles!

I took my place at the front of the boat, Lesley sat at the back and Mickey manned the oars amidships. He handed me a fly rod rigged with a strike indicator, three pieces of split shot and two nymphs, size 18, the size of two match heads to the layman.

To ordinary people, a strike indicator is a float and when a fish eats the nymphs it bobs or stops. As we edged into the flow, the Deep South burr emerged from under that hat.

“I’m gonna give you lots of advice in case y’all don’t know what you’re doin’. When I shout ‘hit it’ you’re gonna lift the rod ‘cos you got a bite, clear?”

Just a bit miffed I pitched the bag of mashing into the water; I’ve been doing this fly fishing lark for more than 40 years and normally do quite well.

The strike indicator had travelled all of three feet downstream when Mickey yelled, “Hit it!” in my right ear. At the time, I was busy untangling the line from round my feet and failed completely to do anything.

“You gonna start listenin’ to me?” enquired Mickey.

“Cos if not, it’s goin’ to be a long day.” I swear that I heard a chuckle from the blunt end of the boat.

I may have mumbled under my breath as I repositioned the nymphs just upstream of the boat.

After another five feet of progress, just as Mickey opened his mouth, I lifted the rod which immediately started to buck like a bronco in my hands.

“Awesome”, the hat master proclaimed.

“Now we’re cookin’.”

After that little episode, everything went well and even Mickey was impressed. By lunch time, my right arm ached through landing fish.

As we lunched on the bank I asked Mickey the name of the tiny nymphs that had served me so well.

“That’s the three dollar serendipity,” I was duly informed.