Every time I think of this river I get the Kaiser Chiefs' song 'Ruby' stuck in my head. It's an incredibly catchy tune but unfortunately not the greatest song around to my mind. The phenomenon is known as an 'ear worm' and there are websites dedicated to getting rid of it. Apparently singing 'Walk like an Egyptian' by The Bangles a few times over is meant to help or failing that distracting yourself with something active, like fishing. Just don't go to the Ruby River... ah darn it, now the worm is back.
As I've quickly gathered, crowds are unfortunately part and parcel of fishing in Montana which is why on a Sunday morning I decided to head to the Ruby, a less popular but still widely known river. It's a short hop over the mountains from the Madison and a very pleasant drive passing through terrific scenery and quaint old mining towns. There's even a few trout ponds along the way and when I saw a trout rising in one of them I applied the brakes and pulled in, only to discover the pond is reserved for kids of 14 and under only. The trout continued to rise in front of me, teasing me, while I summoned all the willpower I could to leave it in peace. In the end it was only imagining the shame in being caught chucking a fly to a stockie fish in a kids only pond that moved me on. It's like helping yourself to a sweet from the sweet jar when you leave the doctor's room - you hope the nurse doesn't see.
The Ruby has a bit of a chequered past when it comes to angler and landowner relations. The law of Montana allows an angler to roam a river even if it is on private land provided he or she stays below the high water mark. However, I understand most of the local landowners simply don't want anglers fishing the river as it winds through their lands. Reading between the lines it seems a bad apple has spoiled the bunch of them and there have been several run ins, fines issued and apparently some lobbying to have the state laws changed. My guidebook stressed the need to stay within the high water mark and even the guys in a local fly shop were careful to point out the same. So I stayed well within the law but still had eyes in the back of my head for an angry landowner with a shotgun.
It was a beautiful, still, hot day and an absolute pleasure to spend it on a small river especially following the large and boisterous Madison River the day before. What made it even better is that the river was clear and I could sight fish. In fact, I crossed something of a mini Rubicon when I cast a nymph to a fish holding in skinny water without a strike indicator. It takes courage to leave the indicator off the line! The fish moved a fraction to its right to meet the nymph and I struck at the movement and sent the fish into a hooked frenzy. Catching this fish without an indicator, sight fished all the way, beats every other fish I have caught with a nymph and indicator. When the opportunity presents itself again I will be less reluctant to shed the indicator.
Make no mistake, even though this isn't one of the big name rivers it isn't ignored either and I encountered nine other fishermen and women in the space of about a mile. I was using 6x tippet in the bright conditions and twice I hooked fish and could only watch as they both bolted down to the pool below me where a couple were fishing. I had to offer profuse apologies each time for spoiling their pool but it was their choice to fish so close behind me I guess. Still, it meant I got a nice photo of the better of the two trout - a photo of it in the net somehow wouldn't have done it the same justice.
The fishing was never easy but I managed to pick off seven brown trout with nymphs. I ended the day with a prime rib steak and washed it down with a dark ale at Chick's Steakhouse in the nearby village of Alder.
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
Do you, do you, do you, do you
Know what you're doing to me?
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
And now I'm willing to bet you have an ear worm too.