Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Last Chance at Winter

Just a few images from a winter trip to the Henry's Fork in Idaho.   The Henry's Fork is not a winter fly fishing destination.  The area is normally buried under many feet of snow which makes it a haven for folks on snowmobiles.   This was a near perfect winter day.  Overcast, comfortable, calm.  The midges were out.  The blue-winged olives didn't come out to play.  And the trout?  They came out too, and played, a little.


I fished until late afternoon.

The tally for the day was twice my last outing.

Two fish.


Where did the time go?

I've used this quote before, but am compelled to use it again as it sums up the day perfectly.

"I wondered for quite a while about the fascination of fly fishing.  Why is it that I can wade into a stream at 10 in the morning, look at my watch in a "couple" of hours, and find out that it's late in the afternoon"........by Gene Hill from A Listening Walk and other stories.

Friday, March 6, 2015

March Pheasant

A day of chasing dogs and pheasants. Todays cast of dogs: Addie, Emma and Maggie, aka the twisted sisters.  Each dog had its turn.  Old lady Lucy stayed home.  Someone had to guard the yard from marauding rabbits.

The day started out cool, which, as it would turn out was a blessing.  Hot dogs don't hunt too good, hot humans either.  We didn't have to worry.  No sweat today.  The wind blew through us most of the day.  Thankfully it was from the south.

A skiff of snow lingered.  Handy for tracking the wily running rooster. 

The usual gig.  The birds were out there, just had to find them.  You get some, others get away, unscathed.  Once they get up and get wind under their wings, away they go.  And the ones you see first?  They've probably already seen you.  Can you say adios?

It's amazing how cagy a pen reared bird can be.  They can be strutting around, eating grain in the morning.  A few hours later, out in the field, they seem to realize....what do they realize?  Hell, I don't know, I'm not a rooster pheasant.  One thing for sure, their survival instincts kick in real quick.

Two dogs, tired but happy.  Fresh air and exercise make for good pups, good humans too.

Back home,  floor and furniture were festooned with human and canine bodies.  Everyone had a limp.  The dogs couldn't make it onto the furniture.  Us humans could barely make it to the floor to stretch out.  It must have been a good day.  And oh yeah, a sign of all of us being out of shape.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Normally, the rise to magnum food forms is attended by a more violent effort , causing a more pronounced break in the surface, sending out concentric circles that expand in all directions.    Vincent C. Marinaro --- A Modern Dry-Fly Code

Does the sight of surface feeding trout quicken your pulse?  How about the dainty rise of a midging fish.  And what of the "toilet flush rise" or fish hurtling skyward like cruise missiles?

I fished the other day, started the day nymphing half-heartedly. But once I noticed some sporadic rises, the jig was up.  No more nymphing for me.  It was dry fly leader time.  Time for a midge cluster and midge pupa too.

I cast.  Cast again.  Threw in some slack.  A fish rose.  I snubbed it.

The process was repeated, several times.  Same results.

After educating these few fish, the pool got quiet.  At least I got a couple to eat.

It was time for an exploratory walk to look for heads.  I eventually found a few more risers. Patient sippers they were, their rises barely disturbing the surface.  But, there was that occasional explosive rise, with fish leaving the water completely.  What could cause this?    

A large mayfly drifted by.  I fumbled to strain it from the water with my fingers but missed.  It drifted from view.  Somewhere downstream there was another explosive rise.  The fish were clearly excited by the prospects of a larger meal.

Another mayfly hopped and flip-flopped on the surface while trying to dry its wings and take flight.  I caught this one, admired it.  An early blue-winged olive.  A size fourteen? Sixteen?  No matter, it sure wasn't a twenty-two.  After a winter of few midges, small ones at that, it looked huge.   I'd forgotten how big the wings can make a mayfly look.

Now, I'd tied a bunch of patterns this winter in anticipation of hatches to come.  Nice ones too I might add.  Thoraxes, parachutes, hackle-stackers, half-back emergers, cripples.  A veritable cornucopia of blue-winged olive imitations.  Only problem, I'd left my dry fly box at home, on the fly tying bench.  Now who needs dry flies, in February, in Montana?  Word of advice, tied flies fish best when in the immediate possession of the angler.  Scratch that onto next years must have list.  Put flies into vest.

Luckily, I had a few crudely tied blue-wings weaseled away.

A whitefish grabbed the fly, inches into the first float.  Then several trout followed.  Another whitefish.  More trout, browns and rainbows.  This day, the stream generously shared its bounty.

I couldn't keep the fly afloat, which is why I really dislike CDC.  Big problem I know.  Cuss the fly that catches the fish.  I just can't seem to squeeze the fish spit from the fly in order to revive it and make it floatable.  Know what?  The fish ate the sunk fly too.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A February Float

Floating, fishing, February and Montana usually don't end up in the same sentence.  Other than wishful thinking, riverbanks clad in aufweis and or totally frozen rivers usually guarantee that river craft stay in their rightful place in the garage.

So given our mild winter and recent spate of fifty and sixty degree days, I gave it a go.  I was on the water by 10:30 a.m.  It was still a bit chilly, overcast too.  The promise was for fifty plus, not much wind.  A perfectly comfortable day I hoped. And, I dearly hoped for a midge hatch.  But what the heck, at least I'd be on the water, floating to boot.  Did I say February?

Fish activity wise, not much was happening as I bobbed downstream.  I stopped at a promising spot and rigged up with a single Possie bugger.  It's a pattern that struck my fancy a few years ago while perusing The Caddis Fly:  Oregon Fly Fishing Blog (their tying video can be found here.) For some reason, I never got around to using it.  This day it was a good choice.  Three fish on three casts.  Yikes!  What took so long? Actually, I've never cared for bigger bead head patterns.

Back to business.  Cast again.  Snag bottom.  Snap!  Dang it.  Time to re-rig.  Another possie bugger.  I added a small pink dropper too.

Another cast, another snag.  Dang it.  Snap.  Oh sure, no more possie buggers.  Closest thing that I had was a weighted bead head prince. 

Floating along in the flat grey February light, I stopped and fished a few likely looking spots.  The fish didn't want to play, they had lost their enthusiasm for my selection of fly.  I dallied at a spot that sometimes held rising fish.  But today the midges were absent, and so.... no dimples.

I flipped a few rocks.  Their underside was covered with the tiniest of wriggling mayfly nymphs. They've got some growing to do if they plan to hatch into winged adults this year.

Continuing along, I marveled at the relative scarcity of aufweis.  What's aufweis?  Well its those great big chunks of ice that stack up along riverbanks each winter.  It seems that it takes forever for them to melt.  Now, admittedly, there was some aufweis, but most of the riverbank was clear, a rarity, even into March or April.  What I did notice was the change in the streambed.  It's simply amazing how much the course of a river can change from one year to the next.  Whatever ice had been present, had scoured the channel and deposited gravel on the stream side bars. In some areas, beavers had dropped some huge trees into the water, thus further changing the stream hydraulics while creating new hiding places for trout.  Spring runoff will change things even more.  So, a few fishing spots will be gained, others will be lost.

I finished the float.  The late day light was filtering through the cottonwoods and reflecting on the water.  It was peaceful, quiet, calm.  Photos couldn't do justice to the moment.

I went home thinking, "maybe I'll try again in another month."  Hopefully there would be some midging trout.  In the meantime, I had some possie buggers to tie.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cold Feet and the Blanket Beaver

January has slipped away, rather quickly.  There were no major cold snaps, but it has been tough trying to fish around the wind.  There were a few excursions over the hill to the spring creek, but I didn't want to write about the same old thing. And, not wanting to stare at an indicator, I really wanted to hold out and cast to rising fish.  Too much to ask?  Well no, not really.  It never hurts to ask.  What were the odds?  Pretty good supposedly, except on the days that I went out.

Friday looked to be reasonably calm and comfy with forty degree temperatures forecast.  So I drove out to the Madison and took a walk up into Beartrap Canyon to look for heads.  A few adult midges buzzed lazily in areas where the warmth of the sun radiated from the canyon walls.  The shaded areas never gave up the frost.  No midges there.

There were lots of folks out walking.  Quite a few fishing too.  I stopped by some soft water.  It was shaded.  I was hopeful, but not too optimistic. It was notably cooler in the shade.  I didn't see any bugs either.  So I sat, fiddled with my outfit, trying to decide whether it was worth stringing the rod.  Amidst the slow soupy flow, a soft barely discernible ripple on the surface.  Hmm. Really?  Minutes passed.  My butt was starting to chill from sitting on the frozen ground.  Then, another ripple?  I trained my eyes on the spot, straining, trying to decide if I'd really seen something.  Then, confirmation, the nose and tail of a rising trout.

Ok, time to rig up.  Nothing fancy.  A midge adult and a pupa off of a short dropper.  The fish rose again.  I zeroed in and cast.  The fish rose, and I snubbed him, twice.  Then things got quiet. Time to wait some more.  A rise, another.   Then two simultaneously.  I got into position, slightly up and across, made the cast, and got my fish, a beautiful spunky rainbow, its sides tinged purple.

The next couple of hours were slow going, but I couldn't leave.  The sight of rising trout, even sporadically, was too much.  Frozen toes couldn't convince me to stop staring at the water hopefully and casting to the rare rise. Eventually my toes won out.  Thirty five degrees is plenty warm when one is moving their upper body.  Standing in a thirty five degree ice bath isn't.  No amount of toe wiggling can bring warmth to frozen digits.  I wonder how the fish manage.

Source:  USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

While walking out, I spied an object midstream.  I couldn't quite make out what it was.  It was big though.  Moose?  I'd seen them here before.  An oversized angler taking a break while sitting on a midstream rock?  Seen them too.  As I got closer, it just didn't look right. Definitely not a moose. And, the shape was not quite right for a portly angler.  It was stooped over, brown, fuzzy.  A hairy angler with bad posture?  Nope.  It was the biggest darned beaver that I'd ever seen.  I'm not a trapper, but I've heard the term "blanket beaver", maybe you have too.  But, what is it?  Well, you take one beaver, skinned of course, measure the length and width of said skin and add them up.  If the total is seventy inches or more, voila.  Blanket beaver.

Now wait a minute.  That doesn't seem right.  You mean that you add them up and come up with something that's bigger than it really is?  Heck, it's only three feet by three feet.  That's barely baby blanket size.  Who came up with that?  Oh, I know, the guy that decided to measure TV screens on the diagonal (don't get me started on that one).  But I digress.  Now show me a beaver that measures seventy inches across and from tip of nose to tail (like bear hides are measured) and we'll have an honest to gosh blanket for an adult human.

So, was the Beartrap beaver a seventy incher?  Probably not.  But it was a hell of a lot bigger than thirty six.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sun Gods and Tobacco Roots

Alpine sunflower, Tobacco Root Mountains, Montana

This photo brings color and cheer on a cold and snowy Montana morning.  It is my favorite photo from 2014.  No fish.  No grip and grin.  Just a pretty little flower and gorgeous mountain scenery.

The yellow bloom is an alpine sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora).  Also known as "Sun God", the large blooms were said to absorb sunshine from the rarified air and while taking on the color of the sun. In A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Flowers (Craighead, Craighead and Davis)  it was pointed out that:

 "Compass flower might be a more appropriate name for they do not follow the sun around but continue facing east.  The direction that any large number face is a far better indication of east than moss on a tree as an indication of north."

Now that I think back on it, these little guys were indeed facing east.  Granted, it was a small sample size.

Most importantly, the fact that I was able to hike to the high country pleased me to no end. Hopefully more good days to come for us all!  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Been A While......

It's been a while since I've written. I apologize.  I've shirked my duties as a blogger.  

It's been a while too since we've had occasion to use a hopper.  This one, patterned after Mike Lawson's Henry's Fork hopper, was tied with the intention of floating it in the Blackfoot.  Why the Blackfoot?  Beats me.   I just thought it was a good idea. 

Well, years passed.  The hoppers never saw the Blackfoot.  One day, this past summer, I found the forlorn hoppers in a fly box next to my tying bench. Their time had come.  I packed them off to the Madison. 

I've always liked the look of elk hair hoppers.  This pattern looks good on the water.  It floats like the cliched cork.  And, it's not too tough to tie.  

And, pray tell, how did they work that day on the Madison?  Well, pretty darned good.  There were no sippers that day.  The takes were pretty explosive. 

To quote Dan Holland from the Fly Fisherman's Bible:

A trout feels about a grasshopper the way I feel about apple pie:
 it should be eaten promptly.

I can relate to trout and their fondness for hoppers.  I love apple pie!  How about you?

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