Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Annual Report 2016

I'll start this post with a scene to warm the holiday season.  A summer pond reflection from near Cooke City, Montana.  Only the mosquitos are missing.

The year started and ended frosty.   Sub zero temperatures in January and December bookended the year.  Other than minor inconvenience, the cold weather was short lived and offered a brief respite from fishing.

I've grown to prefer fishing midges.  Often, they're a most reliable hatch.  And, mid-winter, the only game if one desires casting to rising trout.  Thankfully, February and March were both nice and offered several pleasant days and opportunities for squinting at the waters surface. Midges continued to fish well into May.

In spite of declining visual acuity, fishing with twenty-two's became routine.  I comfortably ventured into the use of 7X and now view 6X as a luxury.  Five X is nearly suitable for dredging up halibut.

Lucy, the matriarch of the sofa claiming dog clan made it beyond sixteen.  She left behind three daughters, a grand daughter and two sometimes perplexed humans.  She was most photogenic and posed prettily with retrieved birds.

Brittany posing with ruffed grouse

Meanwhile, Katie, aka Noodlehead, showed signs of becoming a credible bird dog.  When birds were scarce she demonstrated her prowess at finding and retrieving the bones of big game animals of seasons past.

Brittany retrieving a Hungarian partridge

Summer arrived, and minor infirmity and a sudden bout of sensibility kept me from embarking on a major assault on the high country, at least one wherein I was the pack animal.  I had great plans.  I bought a new pack in the spring.  It still has the store tag attached.  It will still be new next year.

More days were passed on the water without wetting a line.  I spent more time watching, waiting and  hoping that all of the observing would teach me something.  With all due respect to Rene Harrop and his wonderful book Learning from the Water, I learned that I'm capable of spending  a lot of time doing nothing while staring at the water.

After a dismal 2015, the fruit trees and strawberries produced bountifully this year.  The wife's vegetable garden took most of the summer to come out of its early season funk.  But, eventually there were tomatoes on the table.  It was a great year for flowers though.  Why is it that the blooms are at their best when the first frost hits?

And, I reached a personal milestone, geologically speaking.  Sixty.  I've concluded that I'll never be perfect, bullet proof or young again.     The accumulated indignities have taken a toll.  This skinny little carcass wasn't designed to haul animals five times its weight or for shoveling countless truckloads of landscape rock.  Apparently, my lack of physical stature has been more than compensated for by an equal lack of common sense.  But as they say, life goes on.  How many more score remain?

Idaho.  My nemesis was and still is the Henry's Fork.  Someday I'll catch a "real fish".

It was another outstanding autumn.  September, October and November all fished well and I piled on miles between Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington.  Most satisfying were a couple of late November afternoons of casting blue-winged olives to rising trout.   December likely will pass without knotting a fly to the leader.  

Jo and the girls continue to be the hunters of the household.  My hunting license remained unused.  The old 30:06 stayed in its case.  I was content to watch deer rather than shoot.  Maybe next year the hunter gatherer urge will stir.

Til then, I will, as the natives say, continue to play with my food.  I'll content myself by casting small flies to small fish, which if caught, will be released to play the game on yet another day.

That is, at least, when I'm not staring blankly at the water.

All the best to all......

Thursday, December 8, 2016

On A Cold December Morning.....

On a subzero Montana morning.

Perhaps my favorite image from 2016.

If for no other reason than it captures an idyllic moment.

It was definitely warmer.

Dead calm.

Bugs in the air.

Bird sounds.

A lone angler casting to rising fish. 

May is not so far away......

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Magic Hour

A nice day recently.  In contrast to a windy previous day, this day was calm.  A quiet morning, with light snow gave way to a pleasant day with peeks of sunshine.

I nymphed half heartedly in the morning, then quit by eleven, hoping to find a few rising fish.

I broke for tea.  Settled in, and waited.

And waited some more.

After an hour, a fish rose.

Eventually, another.

After a half hour three fish were working.  Something had their attention.  It was time to slip into the water for a closer look.

A few midges buzzed but the fish weren't interested in my offerings.  

Midge cluster.  Nope.

Hatching midge.  Nope.

Pupa.  Nope.

A blue winged olive drifted by.  Well now.  I better take a look in my fly box.

The fish were rising more steadily now.  Their rises more enthusiastic.  Not the soft dimple of midging fish.

A fish ate on the first cast with the cdc olive.  It was a beautiful cutthroat.

I dried the fly, waited.  The next target rose, close.  Another cast.  Another eat.  This time a rainbow.  He jumped six times.  A great fish.

More rises, more eats.

In between fish, I doctored and revived the fly with the magic powder.  I marveled that a few dabs with the brush turned a matted feather into its former fluffy self.  I also noted that my supply of Frogs Fanny needed replenishing.  I'll have to write a note to Santa.

This day, if the fish saw the fly, they ate it.  There weren't enough of the real thing to distract them.  It was gratifying to cast and expect a take.  Not only that.  But to cast, watch the drift, say to ones self..."now" and have the fish eat, right then.   It doesn't happen near often enough. 

In a little over an hour it was over.  But what an hour it was!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Spring Creek Twig Eater

One recent day, with the days fishing done, I sat and watched this fellow as he munched on the streamside dogwood and willow.  Isn't it amazing that an animal could get so big on a diet of twigs?

The young bull moose seems to have found the spring creek riparian areas to his liking. He's been a local resident for at least a month.   I hope he spends the winter.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

One Colossal Brown Trout

I noticed this big dead brown trout on DePuy Spring Creek a week ago.  It was longer than two of my size 12 wading boots, and would have been the fish of a lifetime for most any fly fisher.  I concluded that the likelihood of landing such a fish on a three weight, small fly and light tippet was virtually zero.  At least I got my hands on a big one, even if it was dead!

I encounter a few such big browns each fall.  They're covered with a white fuzzy fungal growth known as Saprolegnia, which attacks fish that are stressed and weakened.  Spawning takes a toll as fish jostle on redds, chasing and biting each other, removing protective mucus and thus opening the door for the fungus to take hold.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Five Days in October

It's midge season, again. Time to get back to spring creek fishing. The mornings are extraordinary.  Most days, I spend the better part of the first few hours just gawking, watching the light change, snapping photos.

The game starts once the the fish start rising.  Nothing visible in the current, little on top.  Midge adults skitter sporadically on surface.  Is that what they're really eating?  The fishing is challenging and frustrating.  In a perverse way, I prefer it to all other fly fishing.  Heaven forbid that I get a sore arm from catching too many.  

I while away the hours.  Get a fish or two.  It's the usual routine.  Hook a few.  Break a few off. Some are really good ones.  It's shallow water fishing.  The fish know that they're vulnerable. Once hooked, they vacate the area in a hurry and put extreme strain on the delicate rigging. Often, the departure is sudden and leaves me questioning the tippet, my knots, both.  At home I tie up a new leader, test the tippet.  It breaks, at the knot.  I try again.  Is 6X meant to be blood knotted?  I wonder, and tie a surgeons knot instead.  It holds.

The age old question with fishing midges?  What is the right fly?  Is there a right fly?  I get a few on just about every midge pattern.  Nothing is the hot item.

I've maintained that even on a spring creek, with the requisite educated trout, one can always find a few fish that are willing to eat just about anything.  In contrast to midging, I've seen anglers use some of the ghastliest of rigs to catch these "sophisticated" trout.  How about a dropper rig with a San Juan worm the size of small anaconda trailed by an egg cluster?  Some creative anglers reverse the order and also add enough split shot to securely moor a naval vessel in the strongest of rip tides.  And yes, they do catch fish.  It makes little sense to an angler using 22's or 24's.

Given my predilection for a challenge, I'm determined to crack the midge code at least once.  Just one day where I raise most of the fish that I cast to.  Lately, the usual killer gray cdc pattern with the grizzly shuck has been shunned by most of the fish.  So, I tie up a light tan version since I think that's what I see the fish take.  Next trip they'll probably eat something else.  Maybe they'll be eating the gray pattern and I won't know it.  Who am a kidding?  Maybe I'll just tie up a midge pattern that looks like an egg cluster......

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


October means steelhead season, time to make the annual drive to Idaho.  I've been doing this for ten years.  I left a fog shrouded Gallatin Valley, full of hope and anticipation, as usual. After a summer of fishing with a three weight fly rod and minuscule trout flies, it was time for a change. Big rod, bigger flies.  Tippet?  No more screwing around with 6X or 7X.  It's ten pound test Maxima.

It's a simple routine.  Up early, out late, usually.  I perk coffee in the predawn dark.  The little single burner propane stove and lantern soon warm the tent and add cheer.  Caffeinated, I drive to the selected morning spot and wait for the light.  

It usually takes me a week of wading, casting, and occasionally falling in just to catch nothing.  So, first morning, I fish a new run.  It's showery, so I don't sling my camera.  Half way through I get a pull.  Line peels from the reel.  The fish jumps, a big one.  He's going downriver, cartwheeling, taking line, backing. Oh boy, this one's pretty special.  Several minutes into the struggle the line goes dead.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.  I try to retrieve line. No go, I can't get any back. What's going on?  I pull back with the rod, get an inch or two of line, grudgingly.  Repeat a few times.  I'm perplexed.  Then I get a foot.  I pull again, something pulls back.  Wow, it's still on.  I realize that the fish has wrapped my line around a rock.  I wade out as far as I dare and see the culprit.  A rectangular rock quartered diagonally, pointing to the opposite bank, river right. I pull, the fish pulls back.  We do this, back and forth, angler and fish in a minutes long stalemate mediated by a rock.  I can't believe that we're still attached to each other.  I pull, and pull, and pull.  Inch, by inch, by inch.  Then the line comes free. The fish goes nuts, jumps.  Line peels from the reel, again.

The battle resumes.

I start backing into shallower water, stepping over and slipping on the rocks.  Soon I'm knee deep, getting back line. Minutes later, I've got most of the Scandi head drawn in, then the leader loop approaches the rod tip.  The fish is opposite me, then I lead him upstream.  I can't believe that this is happening.  I let up and the fish drifts down towards me.  I grab the wrist of his tail, drop the rod in the water.  Just then a jet boat goes by.  I victoriously lift the fish. They wave, I smile.  Hell yes I'm happy. Big red stripe, red gill plate, head as big as my hand and outstretched fingers.   Then I notice the adipose.  Nice.  Gosh, what a fish.  I can die now.  The steelhead of a lifetime, mine anyway.  Of course, as I said, no camera.  Not that I could have handled the fish and snapped a photo.

I think that I should quit for the day.  But, it's still early, as in morning.  And, I quit drinking years ago.  Still, I relish the thought of a good beer.  You can have one for me.  

As I exit the river I notice one wading boot is a little sloppy.  No, it's falling off.  What the heck? One of the wires on my Korkers has been severed.  No fixing this.  I head to Lewiston, find a sporting goods store, and buy a new pair.  The old ones were pretty well worn.  Still, I hadn't planned on getting a replacement while on the road.  The new pair does fit pretty good though.

A few more days on the Clearwater and it's off to the Ronde, for a change of venue.

I'm in the water at first light as usual.  I get a grab within first few casts.  Three or four good pulls, then it's gone.  Disappointed, and fearing that I'd missed what may be my only chance for the day, I get out, step back upstream and resume fishing. Soon I get another pull.  It's a spirited fight, the fish jumps several times.  I carefully back out, trying to step over the big rocks. Eventually the fish is near and I close my hand around its tail.  A pretty hen.  An "A run" hatchery fish. This time I snap a few photos while she rests peacefully.  Then I send her on her way.

Later in the day I get another, bigger one, this a "two salt" fish.  No photo.

I must say that it's usually warm and dry, sometimes downright hot when I fish this area in early October.  Pleasant conditions for camping and fishing too.  This year I was not accustomed to, what in my mind, was a "damp" week.  I often woke to the patter of raindrops on the tent fly.  A few drops hitting tight nylon sound like a deluge and can cause paranoia.  Fearing the "reprise of the ark", I'd peer out and see that it was inconsequential.  One morning I woke to a bath tub sized, inch deep puddle outside the tent door.  Try stepping into that at three in the morning.  I did.  Still, fishing under sometimes overcast and drizzly skies was a pleasant respite from heat and bright light, even if the fish didn't cooperate.

And so, the rest of week was slow, productivity wise.  I never touched another fish.  It appears that I'd burned up my luck on the front end of the week.  The remainder of my stay would be devoted to casting practice.  Not a bad thing, except for those moments when my casting went to hell, usually when I got tired.  Still, on average, I think that I did better than in the past, and made more good or at least better casts than poor ones.

On what would be my last day, I drove back over to the Ronde on a surprisingly foggy morning. The drive over Rattlesnake was even slower going, given the near zero visibility.  Halfway down the "other side" it cleared.  

I expected a fish, or at least a pull or two, but got none.  C'est la vie.  It was a beautiful day, damp in the morning but bright for the remainder.  Later, I watched a bald eagle pursue and try to wrestle a fish from an osprey.  That the eagle was nimble enough to chase and stay close was a surprise.

That afternoon, as I drove along the river, I watched a group of anglers, their raft beached, net a fish.  I pulled over and watched as they posed for photographs.  That's the only fish that I saw that day.  Later, I visited with a technician doing creel surveys.  She indicated lots of anglers, little success.  The fish it appears had forgot that it was steelhead season.  At the least, they took the day off.

I had time for one more pass through a favored run and watched as the sun faded from the hills.

So went another year.

And now, it's back to the three weight and 6X or 7X.

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