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?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Salmon River Sojourn

Angler spey casting, Salmon River, Idaho

The Salmon, it's our home river.  At least it's the nearest with sea run fish.  By the time they make it to Salmon, Idaho, they've come some six hundred miles.  And that's not the end of the line. Some sockeye salmon make it as far as Redfish Lake, a distance of over nine hundred miles and nearly a seven thousand foot gain in elevation.  The Salmon River also supports the longest steelhead run in North America, with fish making it as far as Stanley, Idaho.

Friday would be our day for a long road trip.  We got up early and hit the road for the two hundred some mile long drive.  It pushes the limits distance wise for a reasonable day trip.  As regards comfort, it's about as much sitting as a person can take.

Along the way, we crossed the Continental Divide several times.  It's a scenic drive up through the Big Hole valley.  Then, over Lost Trail Pass and down the "hill" along the North Fork to its confluence with the Salmon.   Here, the Salmon is a "real river."  Why?  Well, real rivers have runs of salmon and steelhead.

This was our first, last and only chance of the year to try to get in a little spey casting.  Jo cast her Sage rod with Skagit type heads.  She covered the water pretty well.  I soon found that a "scandi" head doesn't move a tungsten cone-head leech very well.

We fished a few runs with nary a bump.  Midday, we found a sunny spot along the road which made for a nice lunch stop.  Later, we waded into another shaded run, only to be "low holed" by some folks in a drift boat.  No matter, they didn't dredge up any fish.

Even though the day was comfortably warm, it was cold wading. By mid afternoon, Jo took a break to warm her knees and went back to the car.  She kindly left her rod, and I went about lobbing casts with the Skagit setup.  I fished through another run further downstream.  No bumps other than bottom.  I'd reached what I thought to be the end of the line and made the proverbial last cast of the day.  Then the line came tight.  A fish rolled, its tail slapped the surface and I was fast to a fish that was racing downstream.

Isn't it amazing how a seemingly empty stream can suddenly come to life when you're attached to a steelhead?

The hook held its bite as I coaxed the fish upstream.  Once the fish was even with me, I was able to work him to shore rather easily.  A pretty fish, its clipped adipose indicated it a hatchery fish.  A torn gill plate further indicated a tough journey home.

I bonked him.  He finished his journey with a car ride over the divide.

Steelhead from the Salmon River in Idaho.  Caught while spey casting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Midge Morning

Get out early.  Beat the wind.  Fish midges.  That was the mantra yesterday.  I left home in the dark, driving eastward over the pass.  Outside of Livingston the temp was sixty-two.  A few miles to the south, forty-one.

I stopped along the Yellowstone and snapped a few photos before heading up to the creek. The morning sky was just starting to brighten.

I wondered...any midges this morning?

My question answered when I took a deep breath and sucked one in.  I wasn't the only one feeding on bugs.  Trout were rising too.

It was still calm when I waded into the creek.  Fish were rising actively.  I caught several right off. A few took a fuzzy CDC pattern that imitated a midge cluster.  I soon tired of trying to keep it afloat and switched to a nondescript midge pupa.  A few fish ate that too, then the action slowed, even though the fish continued to rise.

I moved downstream, found a few more rising fish and bided my time by trying to cast between gusts.  By now the fish had become quite finicky.  I switched to a serendipity like pattern.  It got a few grabs, but the hook didn't stick.  Then a nice brown took the fly, jumped, and snapped the leader. 

The legs of my waders were covered with small adult midges.  Even when clustered, they were small.     I suspect that the fish were picking off emerging midges.  Unfortunately they were much smaller than anything that I had in my fly box. 

I then tried a Griffith's gnat. A fish rose, nose right under the fly. It was counting hackle fibers, no doubt plugging the number into some algorithm that helped determine "eat" or "no eat".  It turned its nose downward.  "No eat."

Back to the serendipity.  I worked pretty hard for the next couple of fish.  By noon the the wind was blowing steadily with some major gusts. The trees were shedding leaves rapidly.

Fishing became pretty much impossible, especially as I was casting all leader and only a couple of feet of fly line.  I quit at noon, satisfied to have caught some nice fat rainbows on midges.

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