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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Big Water, Empty Handed

My last visit to the Missouri was mid week June when I went on a memorable drift. Up to that point, a half dozen times of getting skunked in late winter early spring, I finally had some redemption. Maybe I spoke too soon, after all it was only one afternoon of delight. Feeling confident, Nate and I packed up the car and the coolers and made our way down Sheep Creek Road near Cascade to a relatively secluded stretch of the Missouri. This spot holds a special place near and dear to me. Throughout my high school years, some close friends of mine had some great days spin fishing in this beautiful area. I remember catching a healthy 18 inch rainbow one of my first times out. I brought it home (wasn't a catch and release guy then) and had a wonderful dinner with the parents. This stretch mostly was guaranteed to give up at least a nice sized fish every time. Even this time last summer when I hadn't rekindled my passion for the fly, I walked away with 5 or 6 notches on the belt after only a half day of fishing with the spin rod. Towards the end of August last year, I decided to bring along the old beater fly rod for the first time in 5 years. The only action this rod has seen has been the dusty corner of the garage. I figured what the hell, I hadn't casted it in years. After hours of no luck, I tossed it downed and luckily had my trusty spin rod along for backup. Then, I was so quick to give up, take the easy way out for the lesser challenge. I look back at this and realize how much I had been missing out on the passion I had buried deep inside my soul for fly fishing. I missed out on a lot of years and probably some big fish.

Off topic, 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.

Back to the story, Nate and I were now on this same stretch of river I know like the back of my hand. Working the current with a Hopper/dropper rig, I diligently made blind cast after cast as I hadn't seen a rise all afternoon. An hour and half passed with no action as we decided to pack up and head further upstream in the car to find better fishing water. We drove all the way up past the Untouchables bridge to another bridge where we saw clouds of Caddis above the small pines which lined the banks. With a few scans of the water before hopping in, I could see a few rises off a riffle 20 yards off the bank. I tied on a pattern to match the hatch, though slightly darker than the natural, I figured the trout would take it over the hundreds of others on the surface. I casted to the rises, drifted over the top of the rises, sides, every possible angle. Frustration began to set in as I watched rise after rise and no hits. Darkness was creeping upon as I kept telling myself "one more cast, I got this". No such luck. Skunked again, head hangin' we called it a day. Nate never even had a bite on his spin rod which even surprised me. A positive for the trip is that Nate decided to try my backup fly rod for a change. I was bummed he had no action, wishing for him to catch one. Maybe I can get him to pick it up again next time, in a place guaranteed to catch fish. This is what I can't wrap around my head. I hear and read in so many places that the Missouri is one of the best rivers/tailwaters in Montana. And I understand this to be best fished in a raft or boat, but why can't this be true for us wade fisherman as well. Maybe I just don't know the "hotspots" or know how to fish it. I do know that it is a very technical river and that the fish think differently here. Seriously though, can it really be this difficult to catch fish here on the fly!?

I came across an article just days after fishing the Missouri last weekend, and it actually shed some light on why I may have such a challenging time on this river. I found the article on the Fish Wildlife and Parks website written by Neale Streeks in the recent publication of Montana Outdoors. Neale Streeks is long time Great Falls resident and guide for Montana River Outfitters. I have actually read a book written by him called "Stalking Western Trout". The book is written well and really encompasses the sport on Montana waters like the Missouri. This particular article from Montana Outdoors actually flicked a switch for me in regards to fishing the Missouri. I'd rather not go into detail of trying to describe what he writes, but I find the "The Rhythmic Rise" section very interesting. I've heard of the concept before, but have never applied it, which I hope to do the next time I'm on the Mo'. It just might be the key to some of my issues I've had in the past. You can read the article here. As always, keep on fishin'.