Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Year in Review 2009

The past year has come and gone, like the waters that once grazed my waders from the rivers and streams I have fished in 2009. It has been one of rekindled passion and adventure for me. Though, I was never able to fish out of state, my very own backyard here in Montana has so many special places that, arguably, hands down holds some of the most scenic and amazing rivers and streams around. Why travel 1000's of miles when I have some of the best fly fishing venues in the world at my fingertips, less than a days drive away?! Fly fishing the months leading into 2009 and year in whole will be experiences I will never forget. I have learned so much about the sport and fundamentals of fly fishing, and more importantly, about myself during my ephemeral yet perpetual angling quest. It's hard to believe that only a year ago, I didn't know the difference between a streamer, wet fly, or a top water fly and how to technically fish with each one. Now, I know to dead drift nymphs and drys, strip and swing streamers, naturally presenting them to their predators. Then, I had no idea how to tell the difference between a mayfly, caddis, or stonefly. Now, I understand and recognize the difference between most aquatic insect species, the life cycles each incurs, and the fly patterns that resemble each stage. My brain was a sponge, soaking up every last tidbit of knowledge it could handle without sensory overload. I now own a respectable pile of fishing magazines, which I am addicted to reading, usually reading them twice thoroughly before tossing them into the backseat of my car. I've resorted to buying easily accessible fly boxes, filling them incessantly with the hottest flies as if they are little multi-colored pills I use to get my fix for the fishing addiction I indulge in. My car has begun to fall apart from the numerous trips out to Belt Creek, the Missouri, and the occasional trips to Bozeman. As rickety and rackety as it sounds, it still wears the mud and dirt as well as the Trout Bum bumper sticker proudly. Most of all, the sport, the hobby, the art of fly fishing has given me a deeper understanding of who I am, and the passion that resides within a special place for something I never knew I had. I once felt this passion in college for my career choice as a graphic designer, and now to feel it again for something new is very exciting for me! I wrote in a blog post back in early August that touches on how fly fishing has affected me.

...the last year of fly fishing Montana's streams and rivers solo has "changed me". This may sound ridiculous to some, but I somehow have a deeper understanding of my life and what matters to me. I find it amazing that an instrument such as the fly rod and this magnificent playground God has made for us for the sport somehow puts things into perspective. Don't ask me how I know this, but it's just that everything seems so clear and focused, natural and intuitive when I'm on the river. Nothing else comes close to what and how I feel when I'm in this setting.

To touch on this a bit more, it's like I have found a soul mate. Yes, I believe the river is my soul mate. I have never felt more alive when it is just me and the water. It's a feeling difficult to describe, but it's one that goes straight to my soul. Therefore, soul mates we are and will be forever.

Moreover, this year has given me friendships accumulated through the fly fishing world. The guys over at Big R Fly Shop have indispensable knowledge for the sport and have been kind enough to share it with me. I have been able to relate to my cousin Jacob whose passion is equal to or greater than mine, in a way we were never really able to. Truthfully, it was he who somehow sparked the fire inside of me to pick up the fly rod again, and to really give an honest attempt at teaching myself how to fly fish. In return, Jake and I have been able to share our passion for the sport together, something I view as invaluable.

I am excited for what 2010 has in store for me! I can only imagine the places I will fish, the fish I will catch and who I will experience it with. I plan on learning to tie my own flies this winter, starting with streamers, then working my way to larger dries and nymphs. Being the creative type that I am, I'm excited for the path fly tying has to offer. I've longed for the feeling of achievement for catching a trout on a personally created fly. I am hoping to post in this blog more often than what I did last year, I have found I actually enjoy writing about something that passions me so, another positive that has come just from picking up a fly rod. I hope that the readers this blog reaches enjoy reading about what makes me the happiest in this world and can vicariously live through my experiences with the feelings and aptitude I live and experience along the way. To the readers who currently follow me on my journey, I can only express sincere gratitude for letting me tell you my stories, through my eyes, of the adoration and devotion I have for art of fly fishing. Cheers to the new year and to all the fish tales/tails it brings!

John Thomas Ewald
aka The River Bank Robber

Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Bears and Browns! Oh My!

A few weeks back, about the middle of September, my good friend Brad and I went out on Belt Creek for an afternoon of fishing. Brad, a Montana native, who now lives in the fast paced city of Las Vegas, was glad to be back in Montana for a weekend and to experience a relaxing day on the water, which he so seldom gets the chance to do. He told me he wanted me to show him the way of the fly rod, I was more than obliged to do so. It was a hot September day with the sun sitting high in the sky, not a single cloud, but a breeze that made the stickiness in the air dissipate just enough to make it a bit more comfortable. I decided I would take Brad to my favorite run in hopes he would hook up on a nice trout. I had never been to this spot on an early afternoon with the sun so high and bright, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had a feeling with the sun as high as it was and the water being as shallow as it was, I figured it might be best to get a nymph down low as I assumed the fish would be spooky. The silence of the surface confirmed my predictions as we got to the spot and fished it for a good half hour. I set Brad up on a large hopper pattern so he could see his fly and get a good feel of the rod. Brad had only fly fished a time or two prior to this, so I knew he would be able to independently cast on his own without too much of my advisement. I had on an Stalcups Hopper with a bead head dropper of sorts, hoping to feel out the top and bottom. Surprisingly enough, I was able to get a few strikes on the top. A couple looks came off the side of the riffle I normally cast to, and the other came mid-stream in the presence of the shadows across the surface. Too small I assumed as the strikes were just little flicks of water. I decided that we would go downstream to a nice little hole on the backside of a boulder. After multiple casts I finally hooked up on a whitefish on a bead head flashback PT. He wasn't of great length, but I was happy to have caught one. I decided to let Brad take the wheel of my rod and work the same little run.

A dozen or so casts later a large strike came at the Orange Stimulator. Brad pulled back, which was a nice hook set, had the fish on for a few seconds, but with his inexperience, he made another hard pull back and ripped the hook out from the trouts lip. We were both pretty bummed as I wanted so much for him to land that fish. It looked like a nice 15 inches. He pressed on and casted to the same spot over and over with no results. Overall, Brad and I had a blast out on the water, drank a few beers and mostly just enjoyed being out there. Even though Brad didn't hook into any fish, he seemed to enjoy the time out and I was glad to have the company in my most familiar setting.

Walking back on the trail I've walked many times, light and dark, Brad and I were noticing large piles a dung full of chokecherry seeds. Brad mentioned that it looked liked bear poo to him, but I couldn't be for sure. I had never heard of bears being in the area, although I hadn't really ever fished the area much prior to this year. I didn't think much about it until the following week when I decided I was going to go out and fish again, like I normally do on any given weeknight. I thought about going to Scheels Sports to pick up a can of bear mace, but I figured I was being over analytical about the situation and just decided to get outta town so I had enough daylight to fish. It was a perfect evening, sunny and clear. I wasn't 3 minutes into my walk on the trail when I heard some rustling just down off the slope of the trail in the bushes. Instinct set in and I immediately began clapping and whistling only to expect a buck or a doe to hop off into the distance. Rule #1, don't ever expect rustling in the bushes to be just a deer! Two seconds after my timid claps, whistles and whoops came crawling out of the bushes a good sized black bear! My heart stopped, and I froze. I was standing less than 30 yards from a 200 pound black bear. My instincts told me to run, but I knew better so I just stood there, frozen in fear. To my surprise, the bear just languidly trodden towards the creek foliage. As he gained distance from me, I pulled out my camera, and began snapping a few picks. It was at this point I heard some rustling just another 20 yards to my right. Again, CLAP, CLAP, WHOOP WHOOP I went, and not kidding you, an even bigger, 300 pound black bear climbs outta the bushes and rushes towards the creek along with his buddy. I had to check my boxer shorts to be sure I hadn't shit myself. This was the first time I had ever been put in this situation, and what a relief it was to see the bears just as afraid of me as I was of them. So after my heart dropped from its 180 beats per minute to a relatively calmer thumping, I was brought back to reality and without any rational thinking, began walking the trail as if I were going to make my way to my fishing spot. After taking about 10 steps, I realized I was walking in the wrong direction. I asked out loud to myself "Are you nuts! What the hell are you doing?" There was no way I was going any further down that trail, only to walk it back in pitch black and get eaten alive by a massive black bear. Not smart. I quickly turned around and got the hell back to my car where I would decide my next move.

After relaxing a moment, I decided that I wasn't going to let the exciting events of the night ruin an appealing night on the water. I decided to fish downstream from the Riceville Bridge, in uncharted territory for me. After walking down about 100 yards from the bridge I dropped in a Batman nymph with a Stimulator on top. Only after a few short steps of walking along side my drifting flies, I got a nice tug on the nymph. I immediately saw a golden brown flash in the shin high riffle. I let the brown run downstream as he wanted, only to put the brakes on him and get him close enough to put him in the net. It was a stunning 17.5 - 18 inch brown.

I released the beauty as I noticed a smaller fish feeding on some passing morsels near the opposite undercut bank. The cast was tight near an overhanging limb, but after three of them I managed to thread the needle. I watched as the small rainbow darted a few inches to the right for my fly. A quick fight and I had the 12 inch rainbow in my grips. I let him go and moved a few more feet downstream covering as much of the tight water as possible. It wasn't more than 5 minutes when I saw a riser 20 yards down alongside the bank. I slowly crept downstream below him and cast up to him. The first few casts rendered zero interest to the dry fly. On the next cast I felt a nice tug on the Batman nymph. Another brute of a fish. This one really took off downstream as he made a break for a fast riffle out of the slower moving water. I quickly realized I might lose him so I tightened the drag and stopped him in his wake. He obeyed and soon I had another solid brown just over 17 inches in my grips. He looked quite similar to the same brown I had caught only 10 minutes before.

Another one down and I still had a good 45 minutes of twilight left. I worked that stretch for a short time before moving down even further into the unknown. I ran into some classic riffles along side the outside bends of the banks. No hits, but the water was perfect and figured it was about the time the water should come alive. I ended up snagging my tandem flies in the top of an aspen tree behind me, wasting precious light retying the setup again. By the time I was at another run downstream it was dark and figured it was time to make my way back. The thought of a couple hungry bears were hanging in the recent still frames of my mind. I quickly walked back in the midst of swooping bats and hooting barn owls in the trees above me. Like many other nights out on this creek, the night was over in the blink of an eye. The only thing different about this night is that I had the adrenaline rush of unfamiliarity. The bears will be remembered for some time to come and I will learn to use caution while fishing in the area, or any other for that matter. In a way I feel that the encounter was a blessing in disguise. I was able to break out of my comfort zone and fish some new water with successful results. It's funny how things work out sometimes. I was amazed that just an hour or so ago I had escaped becoming dinner for two black bears, and had come to grips with two awesome brown trout. Nature has an amusing way of writing some interesting scripts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fish of the Year!

It all began like any other outing on Belt Creek. By the time I reached my favorite fishing run, it was already almost 7 p.m., about 30 minutes till sundown. I figured I would get some action as soon as I got on the water as this was usually the case around this time of night. To my surprise, I was able to hook into a 15 inch rainbow on my first cast on nice sized attractor dry fly. His holding spot was just in front of a rock which has recently been exposed from the draining flows. It's interesting to see the flows steadily change and decrease in gauge day to day, week to week. This fishing spot changes each time I fish it, revealing little nuances that make this run special and unique to me. Where the fish held in the current weeks ago, has been polished away and become extinct. The new holding spots are now further up the run where the current pushes through abrasively over the rocky stream bed. Soon, like the predecessors, these features will also be gone as the flow gradually depletes in discharge. So while these features still remain, I cast diligently to them, knowing eventually a feeding fish will take my fly as it drifts by him.

After fishing until sundown catching a few smaller fish, dusk was now upon me. The blind casting of a dry I know all too well by now was in full effect. With just barely enough light to see, I focus on floating my fly, in this case a size 12 Rubber-Legged Orange Stimulator naturally on the surface, ensuring a drag free drift to increase the odds a fish will mistake it for a tasty morsel. After casting upstream and drifting downstream repeatedly, reaching out my rod for the longest drift possible, the moment finally came, I heard the surface slightly break and felt a good tug on the end of my line. My rod immediately raised up to set the hook, as if my arms were trained without being ordered. This fish was heavy, but didn't put a lot of pressure on me. I slowly reeled in, with a few head shakes in between revolutions on my reel, the fish swam at me without resisting, like it wanted to be caught. Easily one of the quicker and effortless battles I've endured, I was able to successfully land and net the fish in under a minute. With the darkness surrounding me, I still was unable to see the fish in the dark, murky water. As soon as I raised the net from the waters surface, I felt the weight of this brute and could barely see the silhouette of his size, but couldn't make out the species. I walked the net over to the bank laid it on the rocks and took out the camera. As soon I took a picture, the flash lit up the bank like day, and it was at this moment... I about shit my pants!

I could not believe the size of this fish! It hadn't put up a huge fight, though it felt heavy, I was amazed to see the length and the beauty of this beast. It was surely the biggest I have ever pulled from this small creek! The bold bronze colors, the brilliant speckled red and black spots along the flank, the long toothy jaw of this brown trout is the type of fish I dream about catching when I go to sleep at night. And here he was, right in front of me flopping around, smooth to the touch.... and real! I had finally been given a gift from this creek for all the hours I have spent pursuing a big one... the perseverance had finally paid off. I measured the fish with my net's built in measuring system, and the beast lengthened out at 19 inches. By no means a record fish, but for me, a fish to remember, and a fish worthy of being dubbed an achievement and redemption. Everything in the world stopped at that precise moment, the chaos of the world around me ceased to exist. It was only me and that fish, the creek, the darkness and my surroundings, nothing else. I will be forever grateful to this fish, for he gave me something I will always cherish, something I cannot describe in words, but only in the emotions I was feeling at that exact moment. He will live on in my Soul forever!

For the first time in a long time, I left that creek feeling triumphant. I reflected upon the night walking the trail back in darkness. Everything for once had gone the way any seasoned angler would salivate for. The perfect evening September weather, not a breath of breeze in the air, the beauty of a nice fish after the first cast, no tangles, no snags, no lost flies and a fish of any boys dreams, gripped and released to live another day. And to top it off, a streaking shooting star in the vast blackened sky caught my eye as I appeared out of the brush and to my car. The perfect way to end a perfect night, and a night to remember for a lifetime to come. I made a wish upon that star that night, and when that wish comes true, I am sure it will make for another great adventurous fishing story, so until then... may YOUR best wishes come true!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Labor Day Weekend in the Bozeman Area Fishing Red and Blue Ribbon Waters

As the Labor Day weekend neared, I decided what would be a better way to spend the holiday than to travel to some excellent blue ribbon fishing waters near the Bozeman area, and fish with my cousin Jacob. I packed the car up with a few things, all my gear and hit the road for a weekend of relaxation and visions of catching some big fish.

Our first outing was to a spot where less than a week before, Jake had battled and landed a brute, the biggest of this year for him, a large beautiful, bronze brown estimated to be about 21 inches. The story and the pictures were enough to weaken my knees at the thought of maybe having a chance to hook into one these guys. Excitement and fear mixed together is a crazy combo, I long for the moment, yet fear I will screw up and lose what could be a fish of the year or lifetime. This spot is relatively under-fished, not thought of as a spot to fish below the blue-ribbon section; this is merely red-ribbon territory that is said to hold larger fish than the average 12-15 in. ranging sometimes up to 20 inches, yet in smaller numbers than the upper sections. As long as the chance of catching a brute was possible, I was willing to sacrifice quantity in exchange for this possibility alone.

It was about 3:00 in the afternoon on Saturday as we loaded our rods and a cooler into the truck and got on the interstate to fish our asses off. We were ready to hit it hard and long, whatever it took to catch the big ones. We waded out into the waist high water to cast back into the banks where the current steadily swept along at a medium pace. It was still early with the sun high in the West; I decided to cast a hopper/dropper set up. After working a couple hundred yards of bank, my first hook-up came around a small run off an outside bend. The fish fought hard and I immediately knew this was not an average size fish. As the fish drew near, I could see the fat side of the rainbow and was excited to see the girth I was not used to seeing. Meanwhile, Jacob had run from downstream to capture the action on the camera as I reeled in the trout to the opposite bank.

This fish had been caught or struggled out of being landed before as it had a massive battle scar on his right flank. The fish was heavy, yet only taped out at a healthy 16 inches. I was pleased as it was the first fish all summer that had been duped by a hopper floating along the surface.

It wasn’t 10 minutes later that Jake had one on a streamer upstream less than 100 yards from where I had landed mine. I ran up to view the battle as he was able to land the nice 15 inch rainbow near the bank.

It was nice to see some heavier fish than the skinny creek trout I have been used to seeing for most of the summer.

We worked a few more stretches as the day began to dwindle away. Still no monsters, but we were not about to quit. Jake ended up having a couple more hook-ups, only to have them shake loose quickly. As 7:30 rolled around we headed back to the original run where the 21 inch brown had once lurked only a week before. A few casts in, a 15 inch rainbow snatched my Sculpzilla streamer after two strips and a few feet from the bank.

It was quite a tug and sweet to feet the powerful take, as this was my biggest fish hooked on a big ugly streamer. We're not talking about little old bead-head woolies or cone-head rubber legs, the Sculpzilla is an all out rabbit hair/marabou combo built for catching big fish in deep runs and pools. It was my first time fishing one and was satisfied by the results.

Again, less than 10 minutes had passed and Jake, just upstream from me had a fish on, which could have been the catch of the night! He battled it for a minute before the rascal slipped off the hook and back into the depths.

Darkness was now fully set in as we worked our way back upstream casting blindly to the banks with streamers, hoping to coerce an unsuspecting, appetite ready trout to our grips. No such luck. The day was spent, as were we. After 100s of casts and a few fish to show for it, still a good day in my books. I was just glad to have the smell of fish on my hands again.

The next day we decided to hit up the gorgeous freestone, wild and scenic, Yellowstone River.

We hit the river at about 5:30, the wind was a little nasty which made throwing our lines a little tough, but we weren’t going to let that stop us, not even Jake’s 7 year old boy Noah was phased.

We got to a small side channel and Jake hooked into a small brown on the fly rod, which in turn, let Noah reel in the little guy.

Though Noah, a fan of fly fishing, has still been learning to cast and has yet to land his own fish on the fly, brings along his spin rod and like a pro, catches all trout of all sizes including a fish just over 17 inches on the Yellowstone earlier this year and recently a 4 pound Cutty out of Yellowstone Lake.

30 minutes later as Jake and I were swinging streamers through a nice deep run, Noah outta nowhere hooks into a healthy 10-11 inch rainbow right out from underneath us on his spin rod. I was pleased to see the little guy effortlessly reel in his prize and gleam like a boy in a candy store.

We moved our way over to the larger section of the river, to a run that was deep and quick and all the way across the river, which was difficult to cast to with wind and all. I had on a double-bead head stonefly nymph with a flashback PT dropper. I was able to get a dozen or so drifts in without results.

Jake Swung his Streamer pattern diligently through the tail out of a quick riffle with no such luck. We worked hard to cut our flies through the wind, though our perseverance was not about to pay off. After a good hour pressing the run we decided to move on, back downstream to the bridge where we had parked. Unbeknownst to Jake and I, Noah had rounded up about 20-30 minnows into a pop bottle hoping to bring them home to raise them to “big guys” in his bedroom aquarium. It’s the little things like this that bring back the childhood memories of growing up fishing on this river.

We worked some good looking water on the way back with no luck. I cast to some small risers along a short section, but no takes. Picky fish and small, but any action would have saved the day. By the time we reached the bridge it was dark, only enough time to swing a few streamers through in hopes of a tug. It was dark and we were hungry and tired. A little Arby’s and a 30 minute ride home to reflect upon our day was satisfying, yet disappointing. Better luck next time!

The following morning, Monday at the crack of dawn, literally, Jake and I decided to give it one last go. This time it was to the East Gallatin. The wake of the morning was a bit chilly, but we were ready to hit it again and give it our all. The stretch we hit was nice blue-ribbon water that meanders through grass fields of private property. A small bridge gained us access into the relatively low-pressure fishing territory. It was slow the first couple of hours, no hatches and no risers. I fished an attractor/dropper setup as Jake chucked streamers along the banks. After passing textbook riffles and runs with no action we came to a spot where a flurry of risers gorged plentifully in slow moving water. Just 10 minutes before I had noticed a hatch that appeared to be tiny blue-winged olives. I immediately tied on the pattern and slowly moved my way to the section downstream. It was a frenzy! After a dozen casts a not a single bite, Jake made his way by my side and became exited and tied on a similar fly. 3-4 casts later and I had a small little rainbow take the bait. It was tiny, but finally after a day and a half of fish-less fishing, I had landed something.

A few casts later Jake accomplished the same feat. We giggled at the moment and decided to keep moving.

About a hundred yards downstream, Jacob was drifting a Copper John through a riffle and had on a nice fish. I ran up to net it for him and noticed the fish had been hooked in the side. It was funny because the whole time Jacob had figured it was a good size fish, but realized it had only felt like a big one because of the fouled hook. Still it was nice to see a good 15 inch fish come out of his hiding place.

On the walk back, I cast to a few more risers on our way back, only to hook into some petite fish. Jake ended up belly hooking a brown, about 12-13 inches with a dark muddler. Don’t know what the odds of that are, but two in a row is pretty rare I assume. We both thought it was a monster, and it was funny to see just an average brown as the culprit. Again, we chuckled to ourselves and moved on.

Overall our trip out to the meandering waters of the East G was a great way to end my trip to Bozeman. We made our way back to the truck to head back home. But I wasn’t done yet…

After saying my goodbyes, I packed up and headed back to Great Falls and decided to stop along the Missouri to finish off my weekend of fishing. I fished some nice runs near Mid-Canon. I tried a little bit of everything, nymphing, streamers, and was even able to cast to a brute, sipping insects off the surface along the bank. I drifted an Orange Stimulator right over the top of him a dozen times without any interest. Picky fish I figured and decided to drive down further and stop at the famous “Untouchables Bridge”.

Boy was I glad I did! After hiking down to the waters edge and tying on a Caddis Pupa emerger and bead-head flashback PT dropper, my first cast landed me a seventeen inch brown from just 6 feet off the bank. He had only one eye and was surprised he was able to take the size 18 PT dropper. I was ecstatic. It was at about this point I witnessed the river come alive! Dusk was just setting in as sloshes and splashes were in every direction. I quickly changed to a Caddis dry fly and kept on the PT dropper. I was able to successfully hook 4 more fish after this fly change, but unfortunately was unable to land any of them due to the ungodly amount of weeds floating the surface. Talk about frustration! These weeds were like Swamp Thing entangling himself in your fly, tippet, leader, fly line, the whole nine yards. I found out that night that for once I was human and that the patience I can usually portray went all down the drain. I became flustered with every cast having to clean weeds from my line. Spent from weekend, I packed up and made the rest of the trip home, just happy to have had one of the best weekends I’ve had fishing in a long time.

It is funny how 4 days of fishing will wear you out and break you down after only catching a handful of descent fish. Yet all I could think about that night while laying in bed was that I couldn’t wait to go out and fish again! I guess that’s why I wouldn't call it an addiction or an obsession, but a passion, MY passion. And it is this passion that drives me to pursue the endless, unknown fishing rivers and streams I’ve yet to encounter in my lifetime. Thus, “I WILL FISH ‘TILL I DIE!” and let the Goodtimes roll!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Two For The Price of One and the Elusive "Midnight Sippers"

A beautiful little ghost cabin near the perfect run on Belt Creek.

The last few trips to a great spot on Belt Creek the last couple weeks have yielded satisfactory results. Fish have been rising to the fly like crazy with a few hookups on nymphs as well. For on one recent trip, I was able to experience a primordial event in my days as a fly fishing angler. I decided to throw out a Wulff on top with a small gold lightning bug dropper and four casts later I watched as an average rainbow slurped the Wulff and a split second later, a smaller rainbow take the dropper! I had two fish on simultaneously! At first I didn't know what had happened. I saw two flashes and began to reel. The line was heavy for about a few moments as I reeled in the dose of trout until the bottom fish slipped off the hook as it gained some slack. It was a moment I had never really thought about previously, let alone fathom would actually ever happen. I was able to land the first as well as miraculously deep set the dropper hook into the palm of my left hand.

I'm glad I had my forceps on me, otherwise the hook was staying until I got home that night. The pain was null as the adrenaline from the event alone was enough to forget about it after I began casting again, my mind dead set on raising the next unsuspecting trout.

Prime time on this creek is during the last two hours of the days rays disappear over the canyon walls. I find myself intrigued with this certain spot, a perfect run that tends to hold fish consistently. Fish average from 12-15 inches with a few monsters lurking in the 16-20 inch range. These guys are timid until 20 to 30 past sundown. Then the frenzy begins! Like clockwork, I know when to put on a larger fly to entice these bad boys from near range of the current seam and sometimes just off the banks. The smaller fish are more geared towards smaller patterns such as flying ants, and dark colored mayflies while the larger brutes snack violently on hopper and stimulator patterns, and the infamous Royal Wulff. When this little window of opportunity presents itself, I am usually blind casting the dry, for at this point the water is dark, only dimly lit by the backdrop of the early moon and spent rays of the sun. I tune into any noises on the surface of the water in the direction my fly is traveling, raising the rod at a moments notice. I have been able to successfully hook about 5 to 6 of these "midnight sippers" as I like to call them, each one putting up the fight of a lifetime. The angle and current at which the battle occurs is gut wrenching as the quick flow of the tail out is perfect for these fish to take a out ton of line. Tightening my drag and reeling them up current is a uphill battle from starting line to finish. It amazes me the 5 - 7 minute fights these guys have in them. Worried about increasing the odds of their mortality, I find myself knee deep in the run most of the time reeling and following the path of the trout downstream in hopes of getting them near the bank and out of the tiring current. Out of these 5 or 6 big boys I've had on the line, I have only been able to land two! That's right, I guess my inexperience has yet to really pay off. I finally bought a net recently as all the ones I lost were due to my lack of skill when it comes to getting close enough to the fish in order to land him. Frustrating, but I realize it's just part of the game. The two I was able to land were a 16 inch rainbow and a 17 inch brown. The brown was caught in relatively no light so no pic and the rainbow, I was able to get a snap with just enough light left.

The biggest fish I have had on my line at this spot came tonight as it was 45 minutes after sundown just after I had finished cleaning a 12 inch rainbow that didn't make it after a deep hook. It was dark, but I knew a brute had to lurking as I have become well aware of this over the past month of fishing here. The hook set came at a moments notice with an orange stimulator and this fish was heavy, close to 2.5 - 3 pounds. He took two head shakes, spooled out about 10 feet of line, jumped, rolled and snapped my fly off neatly at the knot. As he came down and splashed, the sound was like that of large log being dropped into the water. A sound I won't soon forget. "Damn!" I thought. There was nothing more I could have done, maybe some heavier tippet, but I guess I'll never know.

It's fish like this that keep me driving 40 miles out week after week in hot pursuit, aiming to achieve success in finally landing one of these elusive trout. I know they reside here, and it's only a matter of time before I am triumphant, finally leaving the fish feeling the effects of absolute defeat.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Big R Fly Shop

The Big R Fly Shop is a great area fly shop that offers many useful resources including current fishing reports and experienced and educated employees. Their shop is always stocked plum full of all the gear, guad, flies and information you need in order to be a successful angler. They have been kind enough to share my blog on their website, so I decided to give back and mention them in this post for all the hard work they have put in to hold a respectable establishment. They have certainly helped me along the way this year and know they will be of assistance to those who happen to find themselves among their company. Keep up the good work!

Here is a link to their August Newsletter with some great stories from their trip to Baja!

Here you will find the link to the bug blogs and current reports.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Losing A Big One

Tonight, I drove out to the Riceville Bridge and hiked in about 2 miles to fish the banks of Belt Creek once again. New territory for me this summer as it is only one of a handful of times I've been on this stretch. The water is quite low along most of the area, with a few boulders strewn between a few deep runs and shallow riffles. I fished a slow deep pool against a rocky ledge for the first hour. Smaller trout were rising every few minutes, sipping on very tiny insects. I couldn't figure out what it was they were munching on so I just threw out the normal go to patterns. Parachute Adams, Adams Naturals, Brown Caddis, Yellow PMDs, Griffith's Gnats, Yellow and Orange Stimulators, and even a Dave's Hopper. All falling short of even a strike, I became frustrated and decided to move ahead to some runs to nymph as my top water attempts failed miserably. Nymphing my go to Purple Bead Head Prince produced zero results. It was coming up on about 8:30 with about 25 minutes till sundown, so I moved upstream to a bend I had never fished. The current picked up some good speed forming a long run which held fish sipping on the tail out. My angle to the middle of the run was nonexistent so I waded around the tail across the bank to get some better casting room. As I passed the current seam, I looked on the water to see any insects passing by. To my knowledge, what I was noticing were little 18 to 20 red quill mayfly spinners floating along the surface. They were a dark brown almost reddish in color. I had nothing small enough to match the natural, and with daylight just about gone, I grabbed a size 14 Royal Wulff. It was red and it was large enough for me to see in the dwindling light. After about 7 or 8 drifts, I finally got a hit by a small rainbow. I was pleased that after a couple hours of fishing fishless flies, I had one in my books. As I was releasing the little guy, I noticed a bigger one sipping directly across my position just off the seams of the run. Two casts later I had him on, but only for a few seconds until he spit out the fly and was gone. Action slowed for about 10 minutes with no more rises. The sun was just going over the ridge in the West and darkness was setting in quick. With very little visual on the Wulff at this point, my strategy was to just cast slightly down and across and wiggle my line out to extend the drift as long as possible. After about 4 or 5 of these drifts, on a lift for a recast... BAM! My line went heavy. I figured it felt that way because I had at least 35 to 40 feet of line out. I lifted my rod high, and immediately put the fish on the reel. As soon as I began reeling in, the fish took off downstream another 15 feet! Holy Shit! This fish was not ready to brought in. I reeled the line at intervals, hoping to keep pressure and tire him in the current at the same time. Finally after a short struggle, he ran directly upstream right at me! I cranked the reel as fast as my hand could turn. He was 20 feet from me now and got a good look as he rolled around and hit the gas downstream again. At this point all I know is that my heart was pounding, instinct set in and I knew I needed to force this brute in before I somehow lose him. Pulling back on the rod turned him towards me and again he swam hard upstream. This time I had him 15 feet... 10 feet... 5... I had him slightly on the bank. With as much adrenaline that was running through my body, my head became weak, weary, and felt like I was going to pass out! All instinct was lost at this point and I felt like this was my first time ever catching a fish. I became clumsy and fumbled my rod, reached for the line to keep it near me. By this time, the mighty brown was behind me thrashing in the ankle deep rocky water. I thought to myself, "Oh my God, that thing has got to be 20+ inches". My biggest of the summer. It was dark, my knees knocked, I yanked the line close to me and... SNAP! SHIT! I threw my rod down, threw my body on the rocky bank like I was after a slippery football fumbled on a field. I got him... wait... no I don't got him. One slippery grip and a tail flick later... gone, out of sight. I had lost him! UUUGGGHHH!!!

It took me about 5 minutes to realize what had just happened. Mind you, it was all over in a matter of seconds of having him near the bank. Still in shock, all I could do is grab another big fly out of my box in hopes to catch him again. It's funny how the mind thinks when your adrenaline is pumping that hard. I had lost my mind! It was 9:15, dark as hell and I was trying to tie on another fly to catch to same fish. Wow! I had surely lost my marbles. I couldn't regain my composure, fiddled and faddled with my line and fly for another 10 minutes just making a mess out of my leader and tippet. I was done. The fish had gotten the best of me. The night was over and I still had 2 miles to hike back to my car, in darkness.

On the trail back to my car, I still felt crazy. "All this for what?!" "To catch some stupid fish!?" I replayed the scene over and over again in my head until it all became fuzzy! "What the hell happened!?" "Get a hold of yourself dammit!" "There's always tomorrow". I was immediately brought back down to earth and realized that this was all part of the sport and why I love it so much. I hadn't had a rush like that on the water in a long time! It's things like this that happen for a reason to keep me coming back for more. I don't regret a single moment of losing that fish, I had realized that it was just a learning experience for me to come back next time to try and keep some composure in a similar situation. It's moments like these that keep us human, and it made me realize, this IS why I fish.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Creek Runs Through It

With a sweet breeze in the air and the itch for fishing, Nate and I hit the road for a Sunday afternoon of fishing through the mesmerizing Sluice Box State Park. Belt Creek is a completely different looking creek above Armington Junction as it runs through shear rock walls, cliffs and caves. Massive boulders litter the creek bed of this gem and the pristine gin clear water calls for light tippets and spider-man like stealth. We hiked down along the beaten path near rocky ledges and 100 foot drop offs to a point past a set of cliffs usually inhabited by weekend cliff jumpers and recreationalists. The path down into the canyon to the creek bottom was steep and skiddish, though worth it as the view was absolutely stunning as we waded through the soothing water and into the prolific rocky walls of the canyon.

I immediately start nymphing a run along the walls that empty into a deep pool. The crystal clear waters were an added bonus as it was easy to see into the pools and scout any fish feeding off the seams. I looked around for any hatches, not much air born insect activity so I decided to tie on a hopper dropper setup. I tied a Stalcup's hopper on top and a type of iridescent bead head Lightning Bug. After moving through some slow runs with no looks on top and no takes below, we came to a nice run with some swifter water tailing out from some shallow riffles into a deep run about 20 yards long. I fished the tail out of the riffle with numerous casts before finally getting a fish on the bottom fly. The hookup came as I lifted my rod for another cast. I stripped in the little fighter of a rainbow and was pleased with the vivid array of colors on his sides.

I drifted the hopper/dropper pattern through the run another dozen times, witnessing a couple flashes at the hopper, but with disinterest, the trout would retreat, revoking the tasty morsel.

I moved up to a deeper pool where I could see a belly up trout in the bottom of the pool. It looked as though he could have possibly been snagged by a broken off line and had lived his last days trying to escape this watery grave. While checking it out, I saw a healthy 16-17 rainbow lurking a foot or two above the grave site moving in the current for passing tidbits. I had to retie a quick fly on as my dropper rig was too shallow for this deeper pool. After a world record fly change, I drifted a bead head flashback PT through the pool only to see the beast distracted and languidly move upstream. We saw a few more fish in this same run/pool, but the fish seemed a little lethargic, with not much of an appetite. By this time it was about almost 5:30, and with the combination of a few thunderclaps and some clouds moving in, I figured a prime window of fishing might occur. After hiking up and around a second set of cliffs with people hanging around the banks swimming, a drizzle began. We couldn't see another way down so we decided to hang out in a cliff overhang while the rain subdued a bit. It was a nice mellow rain, mixed with bright sun rays peaking through the clouds. It felt good sitting to watch the storm from the view of the jagged surrounding of the cavernous rocky wall.

After a short while, the rains let up a bit enough for us to make our way back down the banks to fish. We came across some cool looking caves near some of the cliffs we saw people near earlier. We decided to fish the spot though we figured no fish would reside in the area due to popular human activity. We wanted to press our luck. Hoping some hatches had popped off and the fish were looking up, I tied on a brown caddis dry. No risers and no hatches, I relentlessly casted and casted hoping to persuade a brown who just might have been looking up. No luck. It was worth the try, but we were right, no fish in the area.

By now it was about 7:30 and the rain was back, this time it came down harder, the thunder was louder now right above us, and this time accompanied by lightning flashes surrounding us. We should have gotten out of there while we had the chance. We found another rocky cove to wait it out again. We were mostly concerned with the lightning, so we laid our rods flat and a few yards away from us. We were very low and away from the creek so the odds of getting hit were extremely diminished. A short break in the storm came about a half hour later, so we bolted for it. We still had a 45 minute hike out on a slippery trail with spine-tingling drop-offs to worry about. We kept our cool, staying relaxed and safely made it to the car without a hitch. We were soaked and just happy to be out of the wet. It was a trip well worth it in my eyes. The jaw-dropping beauty I hadn't seen since a trip in the late 90's was gorgeous and reminded me of the considerable passion and enjoyment the outdoors gives me, even though nature's temperament can be tested on a moments notice, I was thankful we had made it out unscathed. Although the fishing wasn't very productive, I know I will return soon enough to find another hole or run in this rock walled paradise with its charming little creek quietly running through it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Super Hopper Dropper

Mikey Wier gives us some excellent tips and an innovative way to fish the popular Hopper Dropper rig.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lower Water = Lesser Fish

I fished my stretch on Belt Creek again Wednesday night with Scott. We fished the “Honey Hole” and the “Honey Pot” for about an hour before coming up empty handed. I couldn’t believe how much the water had depleted in only two weeks of not fishing it. One hole where a quick current once blasted around a structure off the bank is now a mere trickle of water producing half the size of the once massive toilet bowl back eddy. Another factor I noticed is that I could actually see the bottom of the holes now where before, the depth was unreadable. It’s amazing how the currents can change in such a short period of time. We moved downstream to a hole that still is very deep and now with some lower current, has actually exposed some rocks that produce riffle seams directly below them into to the minimum, 10 foot deep pool. As I decided to tie on a Double Bead Head Stonefly Nymph, Scott started drifted his Bead Head Purple Prince Nymph, courtesy of my recommendation, through the run and into the pool. Before I could even finish the improved clinch knot on my stonefly, he had a fish on. I finished the knot quickly and grabbed the camera.

After a couple minutes of tiring the rainbow out, he had him on the rocks. It was a nice 12-13 inch rainbow that fought like hell.

Scott released him after some pics and made his way back to the same run in hopes for another. I had just finished putting my camera back in my pack and was putting on an indicator when I hear, “I got another one”. Jeez! I couldn’t even get my line wet and Scott was having a hay day. The fish was smaller than the first, but still looked like a fighter. I finally got the chance to drop my line in. A dozen drifts later, no fish or hits. I looked in the air around me and saw some Yellow PMD’s floating around. The only fly I had to match was an old beat up PMD emerger that had lost all of its white mid section hackle, left only with a small vertical parachute and the yellow dubbing. I tied it on and added some floatant, then positioned myself above the riffles into the pool and began dropping the fly right off the seams. As soon as the fly moved into the swifter current along the seams, the fly would drown. After about the fifth drift as I was lifting my rod for a recast, a fish hit hard! It started to run and dive into the depths of the pool. I tugged back causing it to surface and perform a tail dance across the liquid dance floor. This guy was fighting hard, felt like a big fish.

After a short struggle, I landed him on the rocks. It was a nice fat little 12-13 inch rainbow.

I was surprised he took the beat up emerger, which without the hackle doesn’t really imitate an emerging fly, but somehow it got the job done. I think I’ll retire this fly and keep it in a special place. After all, I’ve had it since early June and have caught countless little brutes on it. After hitting a few more runs upstream, and catching some smaller fish, we decided to go back to the first two holes. It was getting dark so we had only a few minutes to press our luck. Scott came up with a nice brown right off the bat on his Yellow Humpy dry.

I got a small rainbow a few minutes later with a Yellow Stimulator. Overall the fishing has definitely slowed, fish are a bit smaller than what I’m used to, but was pleased we hadn’t gone home empty handed. In total, between the two of us we landed 8 fish. Not a bad night by any means so I can’t really complain. I’m thinking the fishing will either stay the same for the next few weeks or dramatically slow in this stretch. Maybe I’ll head up to the Riceville Bridge and hike into the Sluice Boxes my next outing. I’ve yet to fish it this year and hear the reports have been steady. I hope to bring back some great stories from one of my favorite creeks in the area, Belt Creek.