By Chuck Petrie
Montana's Bighorn River is a duck hunter's fantasy come true when conditions are right: huge flocks of mallards and smaller groups of Canada geese elbowing each other to get into your decoy spreads. When conditions are right. When conditions are right, the temperatures are in the teens and every pothole and reservoir in the country freezes over, as does the dam-free Yellowstone River, so all the birds gravitate to the Bighorn, which-it being a tailwater below the Yellowtail Dam- remains warmer and stays open year round.
As I unpack my gear at Bighorn River Lodge, however, the outdoor thermometer registers in the low 40s. Not exactly bonefishing weather, but not real ducky, either.
Before dawn the next morning, I'm ensconced in a brush-covered blind that lodge owner Phil Gonzalez has built on a river backwater island. Phil is in another blind off to my right with Kevin Thompson. Kevin is an emissary for Sage, the fly rod and reel manufacturing company, a cohost on this trip along with the C.C. Filson Company. Between us, we have a great crossfire set up over the decoys. In this back channel of the river, there is little current, but enough water is moving through to make the decoys bob and wiggle enticingly on their anchor cords.
Enticing or not, few birds are moving along our stretch of river, but I hear an enviable amount of shooting coming from about a mile upstream, where three more of our group are set up, also off the main channel. My only bit of excitement comes well after sunup when a lone greenwing drake rockets past the blind and plops down in the decoys before I can get off a shot. I don't have the heart to flush the little bird and shoot it, so I let him swim around with his plastic brethren until he figures out the ruse and heads for parts unknown. Lucky duck.