[ED: This story courtesy of the Underground’s Director in Charge of Montana Fishing and Intellectually Challenged Whitefish. Enjoy.]

Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks requires new Conservation and Fishing licenses March 1. It’s as official and appropriate an opening of the new fishing season as anyone around Missoula requires.

And March 1 really is auspicious; if it weren’t for televised sports, the freezing, low-light months from November through February would terminate all habitation here.

A few local fly fishermen seek relief through winter road trips to tailwaters: the Big Horn and Missouri.

In fact, Montana still preserves a vestigial Opening Day – the hard-wired third Saturday of May small creek opener. Still, hardly anyone notices; the larger rivers — the fabled magazine waters — have been open to year-long fishing as long as memory serves.

The Paradise Valley spring creeks are very fishable by President’s Day, but with egg patterns: tantamount to ordering a slawdog at a five-star restaurant. [ED: what’s wrong with that?]

By the first of March spring is a foregone conclusion. Ice has largely left the rivers; the new fishing season is at hand.

Me and the (Apparently) Gullible Whitefish

I’ve been prowling one of the local rivers the past several weeks. The first trip was mainly to break out Christmas loot. A pristine Rio Gold line spooled on a new Waterworks Purist ULA reel proved a high dollar mismatch against the first fish of the year- the always eager Rocky Mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni).

Several whities and a couple extremely surprised rainbows ate stonefly nymphs, and as far as I’m concerned, the new gear was fully amortized that day.

Normally I wouldn’t ramble on about Spring Training nymphing but an extraordinary event occurred during the first outing on the new license- the same fish ate the same fly almost immediately after being caught and released.

Whitefish do suffer a certain sameness. Their coloration is remarkable in its drab uniformity. Once you look aft of their rosy gill plates, the word “gray” fully describes them. They also tend to aggregate in groups of about the same size.

So how did the instant recidivist reveal himself? Specimen A had a heron strike mark on the right side of his back just behind the dorsal fin. (You don’t catch fish with strike marks on the head — they become ex-fish). He was roughly 11-inches in length.

After swinging in and releasing the fish, without moving my feet, I maneuvered a couple of drifts through the same slot.

On about the third cast, Fish B, bearing the tell-tale divot, vigorously ate the fly.