Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brief tale of two trips... Or two tails?

Trip and tail #1 "Trout with m'boy"

William said to me the other day, "dad, when can we spend some daddy-William time, you know, like mommy-William time only with you and me?"  I love that kid.  I love all my boys, and it is fun to watch them grow older.  It is also amazing to witness their differing personalities.  But one thing they all (at least the two that can speak so far) have in common is that they love to fish with daddy.  And what can I say, it's in the blood.  Thanks to grandpa Blaylock,  my own father, and now myself, they don't stand a chance where that is concerned.

So, what did Will and I do the very next day?  Spent some quality daddy-William time harassing some local trout.  Pretty trout too.

This kid loves to fish.  It is unfortunate that he has pretty sensitive skin because holding fish causes him to break out in hives.  I imagine it will go away to some degree as he gets older, but it sure is a bummer now.  We work around it and he gets to do everything but touch them.

We mostly caught grasshoppers on the banks of the river and used them as bait on our spinning rods, but I couldn't reset throwing a fly for a little bit.   Will enjoys catching grasshoppers almost as much as catching the fish.

We also happened to see a fair amount of preying mantisisis... manti... well they were pretty darn cool to see.

It was great to spend some time with William on a one-on-one basis.  It gets a bit more difficult with multiple children, to still give them the individual attention they crave.  Love that kid.

Trip and tail #2 "Carp with friends"

Withdrawals: Anyone who has had a good fly-carping experience tends to have them when they aren't catching carp.  I had not been to see my fine barbel-mouthed friends since spring, and the drive to be re-united has been growing stronger.  Plans to chase some this week had already formulated in my mind, but had not fully solidified as of mid last week, but when my new carping fly rod broke, that premeditation went up in smoke.  It was only a couple days later that some sunlight burst through the carping clouds, and Brent Wilson (from the Uprising blog) came to my aid.

Brent extended an invitation to come along with him to chase some gold, and very generously offered one of his rods to borrow.  I was extremely grateful, and quite happy to be after these awesome fish again.  Shane came along and we all spent the day stalking some very wary fish.  We all managed to get into at least a couple, and Brent (being the carping animal that he is) stuck even more.

Shane "reflecting" on his catch. Pun intended.

Brent playing a nice fish.

These fish can move water!

A slab that found Brent's offering quite tasty.

Playing my short game.
The first half of the day I was shooting long casts out to areas I knew carp were cruising and looking for food.  There wasn't too much tailing going on that I could see.  After missing multiple little bumps I decided that my bright pastel-pink fly line was spooking fish.  At that point I had to regroup and decided to work the fish I could see (which isn't usually necessary in the spring).   My short game paid off and shortly after changing tactics I began hooking up.  From what I can tell, the shorter casts allowed me to control where my fly line was going and use more of my leader and less actual fly line.  It made all the difference.  Brent had a pretty sweet bone-fishing line that has already been included to the wishlist.

One of Shane's on his own creation.


The carping was more difficult than the spring, but in some ways that makes the whole experience that much more gratifying.  Easy fish are fun, sometimes.  But sticking a fish that made you work for it is like owning something that is all paid off.  I'm sure that makes sense in some way.

It is always great to learn from other fishermen.  If a guy is willing to ask questions and observe others techniques, there is a lot to be gained.  Thanks for the invite and loaned equipment Brent.  Hopefully my replacement gets here soon and I'll be back at it.  I'm already going through withdrawals.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hard Knocks: School's In Session!

The sun came up over the foothills in the east with a fierce red hue that reminds everyone that half the state is burning.  Man it has been a hot dry summer!  I was headed north to meet up with Shane for a day-long float.  I was late as usual, but Shane was a good sport... as usual.  Despite the hot, bluebird skies predicted for the day our plan was to throw tandem streamer rigs for some big shouldered trout.  I was filled with that excitement that all passionate fisherman feel preceding a full days fishing.  With the possibility of large aggressive fish it's hard not to feel a bit giddy (in a manly grunting sort of way).  Little did I know that the day would punch me in the face with a boga grip, swing me around in the air, and finish with a release that a Greek discus thrower would be proud of.

School's in session...

We shuttled the vehicles, rigged up, and were on the water without a hitch.  There were a couple grabs in the first few minutes of floating even, but nothing stuck.  After a short while Shane picked up a decent 18-19incher.

I followed with a handful of little guys.  It was enjoyable exploring new water.  We even rowed up a tiny side channel, and were rewarded with about six fish.  Here I picked up a similar sized fish to Shane's first.

Things were looking good so far.  We kept fishing and floating, picking up fish here and there.  There was a crazy hatch that was hard to identify.  Surprisingly, no fish were up top.

After rowing through some slack water and throwing a couple dries, we came to the money stretch.  We pulled the canoe to the side and began slinging the tandem streamer rigs.  I managed a healthy 17" bow pretty quick right were we stopped.  Shane headed to the other side and I worked my way through the hole to meet him.  Midway through I had the take I was waiting for.  Line peeled off the reel.  The fish fought hard and wouldn't come out of the heavy water.  It was a BIG fish.  A couple minutes into the fight the tension remained the same, but there was a sudden stop in movement.  My heart sank.  This wiley creature swam my trailing fly right into a large rock.  A couple more head shakes and then nothing.  I was heartbroken.  He stuck the fly well enough that I ended up breaking it off, which takes some doing with 14lb line.

Lesson #1:  Know the pros and cons of a trailing fly.  They can considerably increase catch rates, but also increase the snag-potential.  Bottom line: If fish are going for the lead fly, take off the trailer.

With the wind taken from my sails I followed Shane over to a diversion channel.  I picked up another healthy fish there, but was still brooding over the lost fish.  We decided to fish the hole back through to pick up the canoe and keep going.  I followed behind Shane again and worked the water methodically.  I placed one cast deep into some rolling water and few strips in I had such an aggressive take that my brand new BVK snapped!  It must have had a weak spot or something because it was in a weird spot about 3/4 the way up the rod.  I fumbled the 20+ inch brown in as best I could.  About three feet from my grasp the beast of a brown shook free and was gone.  I was livid.  The second potential two foot fish of the day slipped through my fingers and I was left with a busted setup.  If I were a cursing man my words would have been colorful to say the least.  After slapping the water repeatedly with the destroyed rod, and yelling indecipherable words, I decided to head back to the canoe and have a sit.

Lesson #2:  Always carry an extra rod.  A long float can quickly turn into an I'll-row-the-boat-and-work-on-my-tan kind of trip.

I had brought my 3wt for chucking hoppers, but it was useless with the heavy artillery.  Fortunately Shane had brought his 5wt for the same purpose as my 3.  He was kind enough to take his 5wt and let me use his 8 for the rest of the float.  It may be that he was nervous that I would break his nicer rod, but it was swell of him nonetheless.  

After re-rigging the rods to the preferred streamers we began working our way down stream, looking for a good spot to stop for lunch.   We kept casting as the water still looked good.  Shane had a couple bumps so we worked the hole a bit more.  Swinging was making all the difference and seemed to produce more fish on the entire trip than anything else.  Shooting a long cast out there with a heavy mend, I let the line swing down and set into my third 20+ fish for the day.  The fish used the current and took a lot of line.  Shane headed down stream with the net to help me out.  After a good fight the fish was coming into some shallow water.  Shane went for it, worried that the shallow water would get the trailer stuck.  He had the fish in the net for a millisecond, but some things aren't meant to be.  A moment later and the fish was gone.  If I were a baseball player, that would have been strike three!  At this point I seriously considered giving up for the day (I can't recall the last time I felt that way while fishing.  In fact I don't think I ever have).  It was so painful losing such good fish in such a short period of time.

Lesson #3:  When possible, carry a large net.  There isn't any reason we couldn't carry a long handled, large net in the canoe. 

A bit further down stream there was a large rock that Shane had done well by previously, so we headed there.  On one of his first few swings, Shane set into a great fish.

Believe it or not, on his very next cast out into the same run Shane set into another fish.  This second fish tore into the air and was another 20+ fish.  We must have had some bad juju because just seconds into the fight the fish shook loose!  Bogus.  I walked down river and Shane kept fishing the run.  He picked up another 16ish incher, and then we set sail once more.

It was midday and warm by now.  Hoppers were coming out, so I picked up the 3wt and started throwing at the banks.  There were some fun takes on it and surprisingly decent fish too.

Fishing slowed down considerably on the second half of the float.  We still picked up fish here and there, but not as frequently.  We spent most of the day fishing streamers, interspersed with a dry fly here and there.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because it still was an awesome day fishing.  There were just a few lessons that needed to be learned the hard way.  Shane was kind enough to put up with my grumbling.  

A few other lessons learned this outing...

Lesson #4: Always check your camera batteries.  Both of our cameras were out of batteries from the get-go.  We managed to eek out some pictures by shooting a quick pic after the camera turned on, just before it shut itself off.

Lesson #5:  Make sure you're protected from the sun everywhere.  My knees were fried!  I'll be investing in a good set of quick-drying wading pants this coming week.

Lesson #6:  Gauge the distance you are floating by the amount of time you want to fish certain areas.  A lot of the second part of the day was spent rowing to simply reach the end of the float before dark.  If we had floated a shorter stretch, we could have fished longer in the areas that were more productive.

Lesson #7:  Enjoy the whole experience.  Learn to laugh when things go wrong, and still have a good time.

Did you get your learn on?  I sure did.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Search For Cool Water

What is the deal with this HOT Idaho weather?!  The creeks and small rivers are getting the brunt of it.  Every creek that I would normally be fishing throughout the warmer summer months has been low and far too warm.  As I waded through Willow Creek a couple weeks ago, I was saddened to see little dead fish littering the bottom of the stream-bed.  I suppose that there are natural cycles, and drought is nothing new the west, but this is the first of this phenomena that I have experienced in my reckoning.  I think the trend is becoming obvious and few people would argue that the weather, in general, is becoming warmer. 

With the current situation looking something like a hot car interior after it has been baking in the sun all day long, we decided to fish some cooler water.  Shane, John (Shane's amigo), and myself, decided to float a section of the Falls River via canoe.

We met up in Rigby and headed north in a small caravan.  My little black Honda looked quite amusing with a long red canoe strapped on top!  After shuttling cars and rigging up, we hit the water. 

It was a bright, sunny day and the clear water felt wonderful.  It is a bit of a trick to fish from a canoe, so most of the time it was used to commute between fishing holes.  The scenery was beautiful, green, and relaxing.  The rocks along the banks were littered with stonefly shucks!  If someone could time it just right, the salmon fly fishing would be awesome.  There aren't many large fish in the Falls River, but I'm sure you could find them a bit easier with those big bugs on top.

The day was mostly spent nymphing.  Black and brown rubber legs seemed to be the preferred meal, and the average size was nothing to brag about.

There were a few sort-of-bigger fish, but most were under 16 inches.

John was waiting for a phone call from a potential employer.  The cell service was spotty and it was pretty funny to watch him contort into various positions while trying to get a good signal.  It's amazing he didn't drop his phone in the water. (It was in his mouth in this shot)

I was hoping to throw some streamers during our float, so I stayed up late the night before tying up a few.  I did not have any sculpin/olive patterns tied up and have lately been eying a pattern called the "Provo Hooker".  I didn't have the exact materials, but used the general idea and tied up my own version.

I had gotten my fill of fish from nymphing for the day, and had also caught a few on dries, so I decided to bust out my big ugly sculpin pattern.  We were fishing a bit deeper hole and it seemed that of any place to throw a big fly, this was it.  After a long cast, the fly began to swing around and I started a twitch-then-retrieve pattern.  A few twitches in and there was a violent take!  The fish wasn't huge, but it felt great to pick up a fish so quickly on a new pattern.

I continued fishing a streamer with good results, until I broke it off.  It was the only one of that pattern I had tied unfortunately, so I went back to nymphing till it started to get dark.

When it was getting dark and we were nearing the end of the float I threw on a large black streamer and had a few bumps, but no hook ups.  The nymphing seemed to shut down as dusk came.  All in all it was a great day.  We all picked up fish, though none of us caught anything to brag about, and it was a fun day spent floating and spending time with good friends.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Business & Pleasure

Butte, Montana.  When I found out that this was to be the home base for a week long work trip my mind automatically moved to the location's fishing potential.  Then my fingers quickly navigated through the world wide web to find possibilities.  Friends, acquaintances, and people I didn't even know volunteered information.  Ivan from over at YGF was particularly helpful.  Thanks again to all who helped.  Fishing new waters is always daunting, especially when you have no foundation to start from for a particular area. 

The Big Hole River

Late Wednesday afternoon I rolled into town at the trusty Super 8.  The next few days I wasn't sure how much time I would have to get out and fish so I refrained from getting a license until my day off.  I should have picked one up right away because I could have fished all but one day, at least in the evenings. 

Half way through the work trip my day off finally arrived.  I should have been on the water just as dawn approached but I was too lazy to get out of bed!  It wasn't until 11am that I started to pull my things together.  I picked up some food, a four day license, and then made my way to the Big Hole River.

I put on my boots, buff, lanyard, and then rigged up my 8wt BVK.  I put on a mini black streamer, feeling maybe a bit overconfident considering the fact that is was a very hot, sunny day.  I started to hoof it upriver to get a ways away from the bridge and the more fished water.  I thought I was strong but when the first good riffle came into view, my constitution weakened and the next thing I knew my fly was splashing on the water.  Right away a decent fish chased!  This was a good sign, and may have unduly padded the overconfidence.  After a while had passed with no more chases or bumps I decided to tie on a hot wired hares ear dropper and began to run the streamer through runs as more of a nymph.  This produced a couple hooked fish, but they quickly came off. 

A thunderstorm began rolling in, and lightening scares the bejeebers out of me, so I began working back down river following another fork that led to another bridge.  By now I had succumbed to the realization that nymphing would be the ticket for this afternoon.  The water was WARM.   I traded my streamer for a tandem nymph rig and right away picked up this little beaut of a brown.  It was my first ever landed Montana fish, caught on the fly.

The Big Hole river is a beautiful river with weaving braided sections and an upper rocky canyon.  It reminds me of the Falls River in Idaho, only it has brown trout and grayling too. 

I kept working my way down to the other bridge.  Fortunately the thunder storm rolled by without incident.  One thing about this river, and it is something I tend to forget about fishing in general, is that the holding water can be anywhere.  Shallow water can hold big fish!  One particular shallow but fishy looking run taught me this lesson once more.  I casted up stream and after a short float my hoppicator shot under.  I set the hook and ZING!  The fish took off and fought hard enough for me to think it was foul hooked.  I was shocked to see just how respectable this brown was.  My love for Montana fishing was galvanized... that didn't take long.

I made it back to the bridge without touching another fish and hoofed it back to the truck with the intention of heading up into the canyon.  I wanted to find cooler water.  It was hard to keep driving along the river as I saw a lot of potentially fishy water but I persevered and headed to the suggested location. 

Once there I decided to tie on a heavily weighted leech/stone variation that my good friend Shane had introduced me too.  I put on the same hot-wire hares ear nymph to trail it.  From here on out it was all about the swing.  It's a bit of a trick to get the feel of a successful swing, but when you can the rewards are great.  Cast upstream, get your flies down low, keep sensitivity tension, and then let her swing.  The real trick is keeping the sensitivity tension while the line comes downstream to you, and then keeping your bugs on the bottom for the swing.  You gotta love when you make a good cast and KNOW it is a good cast.  Nine out of ten times you can expect the BAM!  This particular method allows you to fish the water that most other fisherman pass up.  The water that is faster, more choppy, produces more oxygen, and as a result holds fish.  Don't pass it, or you will miss out.  Learn to feel the tension and swing through the zone and you will be pleasantly rewarded.

I made some friends on the river.  This little guy blended right in with the rocks.  He was having his dinner whilst enjoying the show.

The evening rolled around and a tough decision presented itself, streamers or dries.  Fish were rolling all over.  I hightailed it back to the truck, rigged up the 3wt with a caddis and rusty spinner, and made my way back to the river with two rods in hand.  It was a good decision.  Fish after fish plucked the rusty spinner from the surface.  Most were feisty bows that rarely reached the 12 inch mark.  After I had my fill of catching on dries and the light was too low to detect takes I broke out the big guns again.  Two casts in with the large black streamer and the line was hammered.  This 14-15 incher fought great and was beautiful!  The dark made it difficult to catch how pretty this fish was.  After that I decided to head out.  Throwing articulated setups in the dark can be pretty freaky, especially without protective glasses.  

The Boulder River

The next day I was routed to Helena and I thought I might have time in the evening to hit up the Boulder River on my way back to Butte.  The fates aligned and I found myself parked beside a beautiful stream-like river littered with large stones and boulders.  It was full of willing little bows and an occasional brookie.  Give me a 3wt rod, dry fly, and gorgeous river like this and I am a happy man.

This guy was an odd greenish yellow and had huge eyes.  I'll chalk it up to the local mining. 

I wish I could have gotten a better picture of this brookie.  It was beautiful, but it was dark by this time and it was a wiggly bugger.

The Big Hole River Part II

The next day I was routed in Butte and found myself done around 6pm.  The Big Hole River was calling my name so I hustled back to the hotel to grab my gear.  I was on the water about 7:30pm.  This time I made sure I had bug spray. (My first trip I was eaten alive.  It was a kind of mosquito acupuncture!)  I re-rigged both the 3wt and 8wt.  This time I put on a larger black streamer, hoping for a hungry brown.  The nymphing water was a bit of a walk and time was short so I threw the 3wt for a bit just waiting for the magic hour.  During the wait I picked up a couple spunky dinks.  Right as the sun started to go down I busted out the meat.  Second cast in I let the articulated offering sink down a bit, followed by a slow and steady retrieve.  The third strip in the fly was hammered.  It was a beautiful healthy brown.  Right after the hook-set I'm sure the residents living close by were unnerved by my victory howl.  No more takers came on the streamer so I went back to the dries for some more little guys.  It was another great Montana evening.

The next day I hit the Boulder River for about 45 minutes, on my way back to the hotel.  The only reason I did not fish longer is that I was in a hurry to get back home to my family and had planned on driving back to Idaho that evening.

Montana has some beautiful water and I only saw the very tip of the iceberg.  There may be another trip up there in a week, and if there is you can be assured I'll be mixing business with pleasure.