Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bitter Sweet

Sometimes you win and then don't, and then do, but still didn't, but in the end you do.  Makes complete sense right?  Let me explain.

The 9th annual Blackfoot Reservoir Carp Classic Tourney was drawing near.  I was pretty excited to fish with a couple of good friends (Brent and Shane) and compete on the same team.  The weather throughout the week was sunny and even got up into the 80's temp-wise.  It gave us all hope for some excellent carping.  One thing that is almost essential to good carping is a warming trend, or at least some sun.  As Thursday made it's debut so also did the cooling temperatures.  Then that evening the rains rolled in.  By Friday the temperature had dropped 20 degrees from the cooling temperatures of Thursday.  To cap things off, it was raining and continued to do so on and off all day and night up until Saturday evening.

Thanks goes out to Brent for all the Carp Classic Pictures.

Needless to say, it was crappy, not carpy weather.  Even so we showed up Friday morning around 8am, set up camp, wadered and rigged up.  Then we headed over to the registration tent.  After declaring our team name as "Cloop USA," paying our dues, and chewing the fat for a bit, we headed off to our first location for the day.  Conditions were brutal. Cold, windy, and wet.  We stalked the banks in search of any signs of tailing carp.  As we waded through the water we failed to spook a single fish.  We kept working the shoreline.  Once we climbed to higher ground we could see that fish were mudding like crazy out in the deeper water.  They were feeding, but not where we could get at them!  We kept on walking the banks, blind casting here and there with hopes of a miracle take.  As we kept leap-frogging each other along the banks I noticed what looked like a mudding fish about five feet from the bank.  I quickly began my stalk down to the waters edge from my high vantage point.  Once to the water, and just as I was about to cast to the muddy area I notice a slow moving sillouhette come up onto the bank right in dapping range, and it was feeding.  I flipped my san juan worm passed the fish, let it sink and then began a slow strip.  There was a quick take and the fight began.

From the hook set I could tell it was a solid fish.  It rolled on the surface and then took off the other direction.  After a fight that was probably only 5 minutes, but felt like forever, Shane helped me beach the healthy mirror carp.  I was so grateful to be on the board in such tough conditions.  I secured the fish and we kept searching for feeders.  We only found one other that was remotely close to the bank, but it was still too deep for an accurate cast.  After a bit we decided to go elsewhere.  I carried the 27.4lb carp in my arms almost a miles walk back to the truck.  Man my arms burned afterward!

We headed off to a couple other locations to hopefully find more active fish, but with no such luck.  At last we decided to head down to the river to see if we could catch a trout in the couple hours left before the weigh-in.  Brent picked up an awesome cut, and I lost a couple fish.  Shane had one more shot at a carp just above the dam, but had a bit of trouble with the cast and the carp bolted.  Bummer it was, as Yoda would say.

Brent's Beautiful Cutty

Back at the weigh-in only a handful of teams had fish.  It was clear that the fishing was tough for everyone.  The team that took the overall weight category had 50lbs in three fish.  My dandy was holding second place in that category, and took that days big fish award.  Up to this point I was given the impression that the contest worked on two separate days.  We thought there was a big fish prize for each day, and a team weight prize for each day, but that was it.  It was with this thinking that I was pretty bummed when they handed me a little sack off odd things (some tippet, a couple hats, nippers, and sunglasses straps).

After the weigh-in we all had some dinner, then Shane and I headed over to fish around Soda Springs.  Shane got his skunk off, we did some homework, munched on some french fries, I hit up an ATM to get money to enter the raffle, and then we headed back to camp.

Bear River below Alexander Reservoir

Shane built up the fire while I zonked out in the truck for a bit.  We sat by the fire for a while, and had some of our fellow carpers wander over to visit a bit. Brent eventually joined us again after his nap. It was nice getting to know other anglers in such a laid back setting.  It was also amusing to be around the really intoxicated ones.  After shmoozing and smores we hit the sack.

It rained all night.  The next morning the first thing I remember hearing was Brent saying "Gents, I think I'm gonna head home."  My heart sank, but I understood.  He was getting concerned about getting his trailer out with the roads getting more and more muddy, and he had a lot of work to do with a conference he had coming up.  I explained that I still wanted to go try the spot we had the day before.  I even suggested we fish the river all day and then head back for the weigh-in just in case my fish did win some overall prize.  Shane wasn't having it.  No matter what I suggested I could not convince him to stay.  So I tried not to think about it as we packed up and headed off to fish somewhere else for the day.  As we were driving along the reservoir I said to him how mad I would be to find out that there was a big fish overall category.

We tried some waters around Soda Springs again, without any luck.  Then made the long drive to some of our favorite waters.  There we found some success.  We both managed a couple carp, Shane caught one smallie, and then we night fished for trout with success.

Definitely not a fish to complain about.  Fishing at night... as Aladdin said, it's "a whole new world."

Fast forward to Monday.  I was perusing some of the fly fishing blogs I frequent when I came across Jeff Currier's report on the Tourney.  As I read, getting the details of the day we missed, the heat began creeping up my face and the sick feeling set in.  There were overall prizes both for big fish and teams.  Later I came to find out that the prize, which I had won but was not there to collect, was an F1 Ross Reel.   It went on to be raffled (which we also missed).  They say there's no use crying over spilled milk, but man... spilled milk doesn't retail at around $500.  We were also just 23lbs shy of first place in the team category, which our team took second place in with our single fish.  I'm a bit frustrated with my buddies for bailing when the fishing got tough, but I'm even more mad at myself for not even insisting we ask the official rules and structure for prizes.  I guess that is how life goes.  It's bittersweet.  Sometimes we choose the better, when we could have had the best.  Sometimes we get speeding tickets.  Sometimes you pay the late fee.  And sometimes, you don't get the reel worth half a grand simply because you aren't there.  In the end the whole event goes to a good cause, to help war veterans.  It's good to know that despite my own misfortune nothing changes that.

There always seems to be something going on in the world to bring me back down to earth.  I feel for the people lost, and those suffering in Oklahoma.  They are being prayed for.  I have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and am surrounded by people that love and care for me.  In the end all the material junk doesn't matter, and I'm grateful for my blessings.  Plus, I managed to catch some pretty sweet fish.  Bitter sweet, but when I REALLY think about it, I have a whole lot more sweet in my life than bitter.

PostBlog Afterthought:  Having read back through this post, a day after it was put up, it occurred to me that it could be taken in a negative way concerning the people involved.  That was not my intention AT ALL.  The post was written to cope with my personal frustrations about the situation.  I still think the world about my fishing buddies.  They are good people, some of the best I know in fact.  I look forward to many manly fishing trips with them in the future.  Friends matter far more than stuff, and they always will.

Monday, May 6, 2013

From The Ocean To My Backyard

If someone told me I had to walk 900 miles, scaling many cliffs, mountains, and hills, just to get some loving I would say they were crazy.  Some fish we respect for their fight, some for the difficulty of catching, some for their looks, some for the unique places they are caught, some for the ease of catching, and others because they are simply an amazing species.  Usually the fish we catch are a combination of such attributes.  Steelhead, or any anadromous fish for that matter, deserve their proper respect.  Beginning as a little smolt these fish travel all the way back to the ocean over waterfalls and multiple dams, passing countless predators, and all because something in their bones tells them to.  If I weren't willing to travel that far on foot for some sweet loving, I sure as heck wouldn't do it for some seafood.

After one to two years of swimming around in the salty blue, something tells these magnificent creatures it is time to return home.  In other words, it's business time.  Slowly they group together and work their way back upstream, across the same dams and waterfalls they passed when young, all the way back to the shallow headwaters they came from.  All this is done so the cycle can repeat itself.

These fish are a gift.  What they do and give is almost a selfless act.  So much of the ecosystems they reside in are blessed by their presence, life, and death.  They bring nutrients and sustenance to the waters by giving new life to their children and dying themselves.  It is quite a gift indeed.

"If our father had had his say, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him."  Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

It is with a great respect that I choose to fish for steelhead.  Understanding their sacrifice makes the experience all the more worthwhile and special.  To respect a fish is to know the gift it is to you.


I was beginning to think there would not be time to make a spring trip this season.  Various obligations threatened the idea, with school finals taking the forefront. It was either go later than I normally would or not at all.  Shane showed interest and so we made plans for a two-day excursion just after classes were out.

With Shane's little truck packed full of camping and fishing gear we set off around 11pm.  The plan was to arrive there around 2am and pass out in the car till dawn, then set up camp after a full day of fishing.  The amount of wildlife increased as we got closer to our destination. We arrived around 2am as expected.  After parking we couldn't help but throw on headlamps and scope out the water.  To our pleasant surprise we found a handful of fish hugging the bank as they worked their way upstream.  Shane threw on some crazy glow jig streamer I had handy and set to work.  He set into one and promptly broke off.  After putting on a large black streamer, and casting without any success we decided to get some sleep and put our energy into the next days fishing.

I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew Shane was telling me to get up.  I laughed as it was barely light outside.  He kicked the heater on and we wadered up while munching on poppyseed muffins.  It was C.O.L.D.  We beat the water and fought iced guides most of the day.  The four of five fish we saw the night before gave us a false impression about the amount of fish in the river still.

We moved around a lot.  The name of the game was searching and sightcasting.  Throughout the day we picked up one or two fish here and there.  By the end of the first day we managed to bring around a dozen fish to hand.

This hen was the first fish of the trip.  We had moved around to a few places that normally produce fish quite well, but with no success this time.  We found ourselves back to the first place we started, on our way back upriver, but on the opposite bank.  Shane had just worked upstream around the bend and was out of hearing. I launched my line out in the middle of the river, already having worked the bank.  Halfway through the drift the little indicator dunked and I set.  The steelie fought hard, and it felt great. The first fish of the trip was caught, landed, and photoed without a witness.  It felt good to get the skunkmonkey off my back.  Shane eventually made his way back and we fished the spot a bit more without any luck.  We then headed upriver to another hopeful spot.

The temperature had warmed to a comfortable level by then and we were no longer fighting ice on the guides, though the temperature was still on the verge of freezing.  On the second cast this beautiful male took.  Shane and I both thought the chances of there being another fish in the run were good so he took a swing at the same section.  Just as he was asking where the previous fish had taken I said "right there" as his indicator floated over the spot and tanked.  We both began laughing immediately as he set into another fish.

The net showed just how cold it was outside.  Funny how it seemed warm by this point in the day, compared to what it was all morning.

Shane got rid of his skunkmonkey and broke in the Loop XACT all in one time.

For someone who is unfamiliar with the area and pyrite, they might think they hit the jackpot. This "fools gold" is everywhere in the upper Salmon area.  Little flecks of gold-like substance flicker everywhere in the sandy places along the banks.

Shane making one of his characteristic faces.  He could give Jim Carrey a run for his money.

I have never fished for steelhead this late in the season, so it was quite a sight to behold when we first witnessed the smolt everywhere.  They were packed in the hundreds along certain sections of shoreline.  I watched them in awe as I thought of the journey they were just beginning, and that I may have the honor of catching one of those that I watched at a later date.

We kept working our way upriver, combing the water for any fishy places.  If there were redds, we would pass them and move on, though to be honest we probably only saw two during the whole trip.  The day continued with a fish here and another there.

Shane with a great one.  Most of the fish caught were wild.  I think only one was a hatchery fish.

The release.

The bluebird skies are deceiving when it comes to the real temperature.  The night we slept in the tent got as low as 9 degrees Fahrenheit   It was colder than we had anticipated, which made for a restless night.  Next time I'm bringing extra blankets for certain!

This was the last landed fish for the trip.  The second day we took our time, enjoyed the scenery, and didn't fish too hard.  We both hooked up with fish, but did not land any.  We were both so content with the previous days result that there was no need to push ourselves that hard, the trip had already been worth it.

This is a shot of a tree from the Galena Summit overlook.  The headwaters of the Salmon River can be seen from this spot, as well as a breathtaking view of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Though the trip was certainly later in the season than I would like to go, it was still remarkably enjoyable.  Shane always makes for great company, and the scenery is always fantastic.  It was a couple days well spent with a species I hold a great respect for.  I'm grateful they make the effort, and take the time, to come visit me in my backyard.