Friday, December 31, 2010

A Look Back on 2010

As I reflect upon my fly fishing adventures in the year 2010, I can't help but to think how far I have come since I first picked up a fly rod at the age of 7 or so. Those days as a kid were spent trying to cast and fish bushy hoppers and salmon flies with my cousin Jacob on the Yellowstone River in our backyard. Although I had no concept of fly fishing and the world it entailed, seeing an eager trout rise to the fly at such an early age is a memory I will cherish forever. Little did I know, this would be a memory that would be buried in the depths of my psyche until nearly 20 years later; where it would be resurrected by experiencing the nostalgic episode time and time again as a mature fly fisherman; where it would spark a passion that would burn inside of me the rest of my time on this earth.

It disappoints me to not know and not understand why I decided to put away that fly rod for so many years of my life. I dabbled with that old rod a few times throughout my adolescence, but not enough to gain much understanding of the sport. The distractions of growing up as teen such as girls, sports, and girls would be my only guess as to why I never gave fly fishing a shot during that time in my life. If only I could go back in time and gain the experience of what I know now at a younger age.

The year began slowly as high water levels on Belt Creek reduced to normal flows in early August, nearly 2 months later than the previous year. Most of my fishing was spent on the Missouri, until Holter dam managers released 1000's of CFS from it's grips causing wade fishing to become a very dangerous environment. Reaching nearly 20,000 CFS for 1-2 weeks, banks and boat ramps became flooded. Not my cup of tea.

A highlight of my year included fishing the North Fork of the Teton River near Cave Mountain on the Rocky Mountain Front. My cousin Donnie accompianied me with his bait rod, and hooked himself a nice cutt or two. Beautiful, full-bellied cutts and brookies eagerly took hopper patterns from the swift shallow riffles, and pockets behind large mid-stream boulders on my fly rod. Of the baker's dozen of fish caught, a 15 inch lavender-chrome toned brookie caught with a Joe's hopper was the "trophy" of the trip. Even the 18 inch cut-throat couldn't beat the beauty the brook trout possessed.

I'm dissappointed for not making a trip to the Bozeman area to fish with my cousin Jacob, who is lucky to have the Madison, Gallation, East Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers, all within a hop, skip, and a jump away to fly fish at his disposal. I'd say a trip this spring before the run-off is in order.

I also fished the Middle Fork of the Dearborn once again at Scott's cabin near Lincoln, MT over the 4th of July weekend. Compared to the 30-some fish I caught in the previous year, a mere handful is all I could muster to the fly this go around. It's a beautiful area and look forward to making another trip in 2011.

I also made a couple trips out with my girlfriend Missy to the Sun River and Belt Creek. Although she didn't fly fish, she was content taking photos, relaxing with music from her ipod, as well as studying the stream-side insects. I intend to buy an 8 foot 4 weight for the smaller creeks I intend to fish, and for the new ones I intend to explore in the new year. Montana has hundreds and I see no reason why I shouldn't be fishing them. Who knows, I just may find a new gem with some beautiful fish to catch, and this way, I'll have an extra fly rod for Missy to take along and learn with.

Other highlights of the year include catching what is the largest trout I have ever caught on the fly rod. It happened on Memorial Day, the day my nephew, Ethan Elliot Baker was born. I was out fishing on my own on the Missouri River near the Mid-Canon fishing access. I hooked into the heavy fish in the heavy riffle water, just a along the seam. The fish fought hard, as it took off down the river I frantically chased it in the same fashion as Paulie had in "A River Runs Through It." This fish went aerial more than once during the fight, thinking it was a rainbow. I knew this was a special fish as my heart raced and finally landed him 50 yards downstream. I was surprised to see a light chrome brown trout in the net as I laid the fish to rest near the bank. I was lucky to have gotten a pic with my not so good camera on my phone. The fish taped out near 23 inches and in my best guesstimation, it had to be about 4 lbs. Truly a pinnacle in my life of fly fishing.

Just recently, on Christmas Day to be exact, I nearly trumped that 23 inch brown with another monster. This fish, another brown, measured in at just over 22 inches. Not nearly as fat, but another trophy fish. Besides that brown, I also caught some fat 19-21 inch rainbows, and a nice whitey. Overall, I could not have asked for any better gifts on Christmas Day.

In other exciting news, I took a spey casting class in October on the Missouri River. Organized by Big R Fly Shop, Bruce Berry of Beulah Fly Rods came to Great Falls, from Oregon to teach a class of about 10 a few of the many different spey casts. I learned the switch, spey, double spey, and snap "C" or snap "T" casts. I can't say I am a "pro" yet at casting, but it has definitely opened my eyes to brand new possibilities to explore, even on the Mo'. Recently I purchased a Loop Evotec reel for the 11' 6WT Imperial Switch rod I've had since February. I have a Skagit and a Scandi head for fishing dries, nymphs, and streamers. As soon as the weather warms up this spring, I will be actually applying the casts I have learned and use them to put me into some fish in some runs I would never have been able to cast to before. It's amazing to know that I have learned the foundations to be able to easily cast 80 feet in any direction, 360 degrees around me, no matter my position in the river. I'm super stoked!

Once again, my sweet girlfriend decided to surprise me with an extreme gift (switch rod on Valentine's Day) this time with a 9' single man pontoon boat. I am so fortunate to have a girlfriend who fully supports my passion, and provides me with the tools to continue pursuing it. I am forever grateful to her. I CANNOT wait to put this thing together and float down the Missouri on a hot summer day, soaking in the sun and catching trout in fishy lies in which I would have never been able to reach without this boat! I also intend to search out some small mountain lakes and spend time camping and fishing. It's great how many new possibilities have opened up just by having access to a kick boat.
A new year arrives with new frontiers. My passion for this sport grows with every new adventure. I find myself constantly daydreaming about going to far off exotic places. If only money were not an issue or my career, I'd be on the next flight to fish the backcountry, gin clear rivers for large brown trout on the North and South Islands of New Zealand, or to the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in search of sea run browns, maybe to the Dean River in British Columbia for world class steelhead, salmon, and rainbows, or maybe even to the Florida Keys, Ascension Bay in Mexico, or the saltwater flats of Belize to achieve the Grand Slam of fly fishing, catching a Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit all in the same day. For now, these mere dreams will have to wait to become a reality, and while I wait, the many of Montana's beautiful streams and rivers will have to suffice, with which I have no qualms with whatsoever.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guided on the Mo'

Last week, I was fortunate enough to have been able to take a mid week break from work and have friend and fishing guide, Kris Keller, take me out for a float on the Missouri River. We made plans to meet in Craig Wednesday morning around 10 a.m. I rolled into Trout Town a bit early, got my gear ready and went into headhunters to get the daily buzz. After chatting with owner John Arnold for a few minutes, Kris and his friend Alisha came in to meet me. We shuttled my vehicle to the Mid-Canon access and then made our way back to Craig where we would start the float. We got our rods ready, put our gear on the boats, hopped into the boat and we were off! At last, the river was calling my name! The forecast called for cloudy skies with mostly rain all afternoon. Part of me was hoping for partly cloudy skies for a chance of a baetis hatch, and the other part of me wanted relaxing beautiful blue skies and a sunny afternoon. The first part of the morning remained a bit cloudy, no bugs were coming off, so we just nymphed. It wasn't 20 minutes into our float and a nice little 15 inch rainbow took the pattern Kris ties himself called Keller's Good Night.

"Kris Keller's Good Night is a BWO nymph/emerger he designed to be a cross between the lighting bug and more traditional style BWO patterns. The dun colored CDC wing gives the nymph a pre-emergent look and the flashy color makes this a great nymph when baetis are hatching, even in off color water." - Big R Fly Shop.

Learn how to tie it here.
This little fly turned out to be a killer pattern on bottom feeding rainbow trout throughout the day. As the day wore on, before I knew it, the clouds had dissipated, showing off the beautiful big sky Montana is known for. I was expecting an afternoon of rainclouds and showers, instead Montana showed off her glory, which made the float that much more relaxing. As we neared a nice little run near Jackson's Rock, I had a tangle in my line which made perfect way for Alisha, whose first time fly fishing, to cast to a hungry trout in the swift riffle water. In a flash, Alisha had a feisty rainbow trout slam her bead head nymph. Kris anchored the boat, angling the boat in the best position for her to retrieve the fish. He instructed her well and as the fish neared the net, the line went limp. It's one of those things that happens in fishing sometimes you just can't control. Alisha kept her composure and was happy with her semi-victory! For her first time ever fly fishing, I was very impressed by how quickly she was able to learn.

Just around the bend, off the tail out of an island, a popular seam that is great holding water for trout, my line went tight as a nice rainbow struggled to free himself from the fly. The hook was set perfectly into his upper lip as I brought him into the boat. Another one down, and still lots of good water to float.

We came to a quick riffle at the corner of an outside bend. I immediately positioned my fly along the seam between the slower and faster current, guaranteed to hook a fish. As I had predicted, a nice rainbow took the fly and circled the boat quickly, entangling my line with Alisha's. In a matter of a few seconds, the fish was gone, but we were still only near the head of the riffle. I knew I had another chance at the seam. Again, with one quick flick of the wrist, my line was in perfect position for another take. BAM! My indicator dipped below the surface as if I had hooked into a large rock. Instantly after setting the hook hard, a bright football sized slab of rainbow burst out of the water and this time completely cleared Alisha's fly line which was in the riffle from the rear end of the boat. The fish then took a sweeping Nascar like right turn out 180 to the starboard side of the drift boat. Again, the thick rainbow blasted through the water plane and danced about a foot above the water's surface. It was a beautiful sight indeed! With the fish under control, Kris decided to anchor the boat and not to follow the fish. As soon as we came to a halt, the trout position himself in the riffle column, gaining courage to make a run for it. My reel sang as he bolted for open waters, SNAP, I had lost him! The disappointment was short lived as I knew more trout had to be holding in the riffle we had just anchored near. We took a nice little break there, ate some sandwiches, and it turned out to be a good chance for Kris to get a line wet.

He ended up hooking into 4 more fish out of that run, only 1 of which he was able to land. The three that got away were just "long distance releases" and Kris liked to call them. I was not so fortunate, only having a few weeds to show for my efforts. Kris also brought along his 8 month old black lab, Fergie. After chasing our indicators all day with her eyes, she was happy to have Kris throw around her fetching toy for a while. Though she wasn't too sure about the gang of cows that had congregated, she seemed quite content.

Alas, we were off and running down the river. We were in no hurry, the day was gorgeous. Not a care in the world, it felt great to be out on the water in good company. As the day wore on more fish were caught and a few were lost. I landed a lengthy rainbow in a slow moving section of water, possibly one of the hardest fighting fish I've ever caught on the Missouri. Even with Kris chasing this fish with the boat, my arms and wrists felt like they had just come out of an arm wrestling match.

As we neared the Dearborn tributary, the water coming into the Missouri was dark as chocolate milk and was flowing heavily. Thinking we were screwed, Kris encouraged me to put on a girdle bug with a San Juan dropper and drift them out and along the line between the muddy and clear waters. On my second cast, a rainbow slammed the San Juan worm.

I was impressed by the fly selections Kris had told me to use. I let Kris give it a try with my rod, and a half dozen casts later, he hooked himself a nice Rainbow on the Girdle bug pattern.

We worked the area another 20 minutes. I hooked another nice rainbow before we closed up shop and headed towards our take out.

Over all, double digit numbers of trout were caught, with a few being lost. I had a blast and it turned out to be my single most successful day ever on the Missouri River. If the early season has started out this way, I can only imagine what the summer and fall months will have in store. The caddis should be out in huge numbers soon. If I can't hitch a ride on a drift, you can bet your ass you'll find me roaming the banks of the Missouri in search of rising pods and trouty lies, chasing that elusive trout of a lifetime.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Breaking News... Belt Creek Robbed! The River Bank Robber Strikes Again!

The headline says it all. Belt Creek starts off with a bang in 2010! Fishing this gem of a creek in a dose of days from high noon till sundown has yielded this rodslinger a mighty 3 dozen + trout of all sorts! Rainbows, Browns, Cutthroat, Cut-bows and Mountain Whitefish. The River Bank Robber has gotten away with murder! These trout ranging from 8 to 16 inches were all slayed and released by the hands of a legend! The man behind the buff must be stopped! A glimpse of this clumsy killer has been caught on film. To the one who apprehends this fly flicker alive will be rewarded with the location of this trout massacre! Who knows which poor trout will be next!
Click the video below to view The River Bank Robber in action!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Foolin' Fish on April Fools

"Now that I felt confident with my choice of fly, I flicked it back out into the current seam, only to have a slick 19 inch brown gobble up the synthetic treat".

I was lucky enough to have the afternoon off from work and with the weather being absolutely gorgeous out, the Missouri River was once again beckoning my return. I hit the frontage road off the Hardy Creek exit and made my way to Rhoda Island area. Only one other vehicle was parked off the road, I was excited for a bit of solitude. Upon exiting my car, I immediately spotted risers off the bank in nice little run. After world record speed of getting my waders on, my rod lined up and fly tied on, I slid into the river ever so quietly. After casting along the seam of the run a couple dozen times, I made a fly change from a Griffiths Gnat to a Parachute Adams. A few casts later and a nice rainbow took the fly. A strong fight and the rainbow in my net.

Now that I felt confident with my choice of fly, I flicked it back out into the current seam, only to have a slick 19 inch brown gobble up the synthetic treat. He fought hard, but quickly tired and was in my reach in no time. One of the skinnier browns I have seen, but I was very pleased with my catch.

I decided to move across the river and over to the area I had caught some nice fish a few weeks before. As I crept up to my familiar spot, I heard a guy telling me to take it slow as there were risers all along the tail out of the run. As I got closer, I recognized the voice as a buddy of mine, Jeremiah Watt. It's funny because I seem to run into this guy on the Mo' most randomly. Usually I see him floating by in his raft with his girlfriend Brooke on the oars. I was excited to actually get the chance to spend some time fishing with him. He gave me a fly of his choice to use and we began to hit the area hard. By this time, I finally became fully aware that fish were rising in every direction. Literally 360 degrees around me. I felt like a kid a candy store, picking and choosing the spots to cast to rising fish. I worked a run for a good 15 minutes, only to have the small, finicky trout tease me with their look and turns at my fly. I decided to work up the river to the tail out of my favorite run. Jeremiah had now hooked into a couple of nice looking trout.

A few moments later I had small rainbow on the end of my line. It was good to finally have one on after about an hour of casting dries to hundreds of risers. Here's where the foolin' part comes in. Now one might think that with hundreds of fish rising around me, which I have never witnessed on the Missouri River before, catching a handful or two of fish would be an easy task. Not the case. I tried about 4 or 5 different flies in hopes of fooling at least one more of these fish. These fish are so selective and key in only on the naturals and if your fly is not the right size and color... forget it! I came ill prepared. The fly that Jere' had given me would not work for the life of me, the Adams was the flavor of over an hour ago, the big and ugly were, well just too big and too ugly! I figured I needed a tiny ass size 22 midge pattern of sorts and I had nothing. The closest thing I had was a spent trico pattern which after a dozen casts yielded only frustrating rises inches to the left, right, front, and side of it. What's happening here?! Well, that's the world famous Missouri River laughing in my face is what that is! Of all days to get fooled by a bunch of picky trout, it just so happened to be on April Fools Day. Although the day wasn't a complete bust, I still feel I was taken for a fool. Maybe these fish here are a little more cunning than I give them credit for. Who knew Missouri River trout have a secret calender with a big red circle on April 1st that reads "Fool All Foolish Anglers".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Missouri Gives Up Some Nice Trout

Montana offered another beautiful day in late winter, and once again, I was not going to pass up a wonderful day of fly fishing the Missouri River. This time, a co-worker Dave and I would team up and hit the Missouri hard. We ended up in Craig at Headhunters Fly Shop around 11 am. After getting some great tips in the Headhunter blog earlier that week, I knew the exact flies I was going to pick out for my arsenal that day. I asked where a good place to go for some dry fly action, and was directed towards the Rhoda Island area. This area is full of small braided side channels and islands, and has the structure and feel of smaller creek fishing which I hold near and dear as my preference of fly fishing water. With a guarantee to catch 4 0r 5 fish from the dudes in Headhunters around that area, Dave and I made our purchases, including my renewed fishing license, and hit the frontage road with visions of rising brutes.

As we rigged our lines, Dave noticed a surface feeding fish just at the tail out of a nice run near the bank. The setup I decided to use was a size 20 Midge Modger hung about 8 inches from a size 10 Wilcox JC Special dry fly.
Funny as it is, the JC Special is an attractor dry of sorts and resembles no insect of any sort, especially for the chilly winter months. Apparently it has been a hit the past week on the Missouri so I thought what the heck! Large attractor dry fly fishing in early March, hell yes, count me in! I was the first to get my rod ready with the tandem flies, Dave followed suit. Like a predator creeping upon its prey, I slowly made my way to the edge of the bank in position to cast to the progressive rising fish in the tail out. I false cast out enough line to place the flies about 10 feet above the fish so they would drift directly over the unsuspecting trouts head. Dave and I watched patiently as the flies approached, they drew closer, nearer, right on top of him now... BAM! The little rainbow had made a pass at the top water dry, but a last second change of mind put the Midge pattern directly into his lip! It's been a long time since my first cast of the day yielded a catch. I stripped my line in, netted the 12 inch rainbow, and gave a little whoop! Dave was impressed with the reward of the trout from a single cast, and applauded my victory as I released the little guy back to his home. With the adrenaline rushing through my veins, it was a great start to the day indeed.

Just out and across from the bank where I had just landed the rainbow was a nice riffle created by the end of an island. Dave decided to attack it from river right as I waded across to mid river to work it from river left. Eager to get on the water, Dave had just realized that he had his sink tip line on and not his floating line. Not an ideal setup for a dry fly dropper rig. As he changed spools and re-tied his flies to the leader, I drifted, and re-drifted the riffle seam hoping to bump into another unsuspecting trout. As soon as Dave was ready to fish again, I gave him the run and told him I was going to explore the other bank and side channel for risers.

I made my way down a shallow side channel searching the banks for rising and porpoising trout. The water was quite low and figured I'd have to find some deeper water that would be perfect for fish to hold in. I came to a V shape point at the end of an island where another side channel met the one I was scouring, and immediately stumbled upon a deep, slow hole and began counting the surface breaks. 1, 2, 3, 4.... "Bingo!", I thought. I crouched and crept closer, ensuring a prime position for make my back cast. With a few flicks of the wrist, I made my presentation about 3 feet above the center of the 4 rises I had seen only moments ago. The flies moved into position. The suspense was killing me, seconds seemed like hours as I waited for any notion a fish would take the phony meal presented to him in a delicate fashion. The endless wait my anxious mind had ensued was abruptly interrupted by the heavy tug at the end my fly line. She had taken the midge dropper. I began stripping in my line as if it were a lifeline and my life depended on not letting go of it. As the mystery at the end of my line drew near, it immediately made a bolt for it and danced across the small pool with grace. A gorgeous brown had been duped by my fly and was now victim to the battle that was now to commence! I let her run a bit, but not too far. She was mine, and I was not going to lose her! I put her on the reel after her first run, wrangled her in closer and again, she ran, and again. Finally, after what seemed like the Hundred Years War, I had the large brown in my net and then into my grips. A stunning brown, the likes of which countless other anglers before me on the Missouri have accomplished, I felt like I had toppled Troy at that moment! All the hard work, countless fish less days on the Missouri and I had staked my claim, a 19 inch golden nugget of a fish in my hands, worth more to me than its weight in gold! To some, and most who fish the Missouri, this fish would just be another catch, an average size for this river. But for me, the biggest trout on the Mighty Mo' and it came righteously deserved after a solid year of fishing it. I was victorious!

After studying the beauty for a minute, I gently released her back to the water. I regained my composure and cast right back out to the same deep, slow moving water to the fish rising madly to the midge hatch. A cast or two later and another fish had rapidly inhaled the midge again. This was another heavy fish and he was ready to fight. He rose to the surface ferociously and danced wildly with passion across the surface. Rainbow I thought, but as I tugged him up to the bank, it was a plump whitefish, and a brute he was! A solid 18 inches and a chubby pot belly on him. I was blown away at the size of these fish!

The whole setup I was fishing with was actually working just as I had hoped. A simple yet ingenious and powerful solution. Attract 'em to the surface, and hook 'em on the emerger pattern below. I released the rocky mountain bone, and another half dozen or casts later and I finally had a brown snatch the dry fly! He was about 15 inches, but a tough little guy. I was ecstatic he had taken the large fly on the surface. It's a great feeling to accomplish in winter!

The hatch was beginning to die down as the rise forms on the surface began to dissipate and become very few and far between. About 40 minutes had passed during all this and Dave had just reached the area I was in. As I was explaining to him what had just happened, I felt another tug at the end of my drifting flies. Another medium sized brown was the culprit as I brought him to the net just in time to show Dave. I quickly released him and moved aside in order for Dave to have a shot a the end of the frenzy. It was bad luck, and just plain ole' bad timing on Dave's part as not a single rise or bite occurred since the moment of his arrival. The "window" had completely closed. Matter of fact, it had slammed shut! We fished most of the area for another couple of hours without seeing a single rise or hatch. It's funny how fishing can turn on and off at the flick of a switch.

We headed back to the truck, ate some lunch and decided to head over to the Jackson Rock area. We noticed 2 or 3 drift boats anchored in the area, hoping it was a sign that the fishing was good. To change it up, we decided to chuck some streamers against the banks, and through the deep runs. I chose to use a bright white and red sculpzilla pattern and Dave went with an olive wooly bugger. Another good hour passed of chucking and ducking, stripping and swinging with no hits, it was time to pack it up and head out.

The day was very exciting early on and I caught the most fish I ever have on the Missouri River. I felt like I was on Belt Creek on a nice Spring/Summer day casting to risers with attractors! It was a blast! I had hoped Dave would have hooked into a few, but for him, he was just happy to have gotten out on such a beautiful day.

The Missouri River, for me, is a tough fishery, and I'm sure I will spend most of my life trying to figure out how to catch fish from it. For a moment in time that day, she opened herself to me, giving me the satisfaction I yearn for and the fuel to keep me coming back over and over again. As it usually goes, I'll fall into a fish-less slump for awhile, but this experience has only fired me up to work harder to catch more and more fish, and ultimately has given me hope to land the fish made of dreams!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

River Rodents and New Ventures!

It was another gorgeous Saturday this past weekend to get out and fish the Missouri River. I stopped in Headhunters fly shop in Craig to get the latest news about the river, and to get any ideas of where to head out. This time, I was able to meet fly fishing guide John Arnold, the other half of ownership to Headhunters. John was kind enough to point me in a direction I have never fished from shore on the river before. Though I am sure this location is no secret to the locals, I will respectfully decline to expose it's whereabouts. To me, this area has some very special things going on within the braided system of islands and side channels. The entire structure of some of these channels take on the appearance of small creek or stream water appeal. Classic riffles, seams, back eddies, and slight undercut banks make this water very appealing to any fly fishing enthusiast!

I hadn't even been on the water for 10 minutes head hunting the banks when I came across a serious midge hatch on a bank side log. It was caked with the tiny mosquito like insects, ranging from 22 to 26 in size.

I scanned the bank carefully up ahead hoping to see some sipping brutes just feet from the bank. Not this time. The river was stunning as the sun's rays sparkled upon the surface. I wouldn't place any bets I'd see any risers with the sunny conditions, so I decided to fish with a pink firebead sowbug in some nice medium paced water at the convergence of an island seam created by the main river and a smaller side channel. I was bound to get a fish! I worked the seam, stepping slowly upriver, covering as much water as possible. 15 minutes passed, 30 minutes, 45, an hour. Nothing, not even a bump of any sort. My feet were getting a bit chilly so I decided to take my boots and waders off to warm them back up in the sun. As I laid on the bank, a pesky river rat of sorts, otter or muskrat, decided to play a little joke on me. I heard a few splashes thinking it was a big brown sipping some top-water morsels, yet I was only disappointed to see the over-sized rodent duck his head below the surface. I let him do his thing, not thinking much of it. After 15-20 minutes, I slid on my waders, tightened on my wading boots and was ready to fish the afternoon away. As I reeled in the 15 feet of fly line I had left dangling just off the bank, I noticed it was now split in two. HUGE MISTAKE! That damn pesky varmint had straight up chewed right through my fly line, and taken a good 4-5 feet of it down into his bank-side dwelling! I was furious! Only the river heard the obscenities that flew out of my mouth like bats outta hell! And if that river could talk, I'm sure it would ban me from ever returning! My temper got the best of me as I caught myself relentlessly kicking in the pests front door. "That'll teach you a @#$ damn lesson!" is all I remember muttering. I apologized to God for cursing his name, learned a valuable lesson about fly lines and river rodents, and decided to head back to Craig to get my hands on a new line.

I brought my reel and line into the fly shop to explain my misfortune, and the response was that of disbelief. Apparently I have been the first fly fisher to have been duped by a cunning river rat! After a few laughs, John was able to match my rod and reel with the exact line, only used. It looked liked it has been used once or twice, no more older looking that brand new fly line. He was more than happy to lend a fellow fly fisherman a hand and gave it to me at no charge. We then talked about fly rods, switch and spey in particular and the lines and reels that accompany them. We then began talking about my profession as a graphic designer and the help he would need with the Headhunters logo, t-shirts and signs. He offered to help me out with some spey casting lessons and I offered to work on the various projects he would need help with. An hour or so passed and I decided to call it a day as it was nearing 4:30. Even though I hadn't been so successful on the river that day, I was able to come out the whole situation with a feeling a victory! I appreciate the fly line and the opportunity John had presented me with. If it hadn't been for that muskrat, I'm almost certain that I wouldn't have made back into the fly shop to talk "business" with John. So I will end this post with a new found respect for river rodents, raise my glass and say cheers to the wonderful world of fly fishing!Look closely and you will see the perpetrator leisurely swimming in the current.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New 2010 Rod!

So my absolutely wonderful, amazing girlfriend who fully supports my fly fishing addiction decided to be the biggest sweetheart ever and surprise me on Valentine's Day with a brand new fly rod! With the help of Big R Fly Shop, she narrowed her purchase down to the new 2010 St. Croix 11 foot 6 weight Imperial Switch rod. I am ecstatic! I've been wanting to experiment with a switch rod for awhile now, to learn the different types of switch and spey casting techniques. I've been told that this type of rod and along with these casting styles is a match made in heaven for the Missouri River. Not only is this rod a great application for nymph, dry fly, and streamer fishing, this setup can also be used for swinging for steelhead and smaller salmon; a venue of fishing I have always wanted to get into. With this rod, I just might become the next Jedi Master! Well maybe not, but I do salivate at the possibility of what this rod and style of fly fishing has to offer. I've yet to find a line and reel for the rod, not even sure where to begin my search for a great combo, so if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to let me in on some info. I'm hoping to have the setup ready to fish before spring fully hits. My current 9 foot 5 weight Imperial rod has served me well over the past year as it will continue to do so for years to come. I am excited, to say the least, that I will be able to experience the same type of buttery, fast action appeal the Imperial line offers. These rods really are in a class all there own with price tag that doesn't make you feel guilty for owning one. Thank you St. Croix..., and to my girlfriend!
Read about the Imperial Fly Rod line here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Go Johnny Go!

Great video from a piece of history! I can't believe this guys casting skills over a half-century ago. I'm not even sure what type of fiberglass that rod is made out of, but he sure as hell can double-haul. Not too sure about the 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock position on the regular single-haul casting, but I guess it worked somehow back then. Go Johnny go!


Mid February Mo River Fishing

February in North central Montana has been a mixture and mild and pretentious weather for this winter season. It has been unpredictable, yet it always appears to show some beautiful days when least expected. This was the case Valentine's weekend. Saturday began a day thinking of heading to the ski hill, but when the plan fell through, I decided it would probably be a nice day to fish the Missouri. I hit the open road all alone, as I do all so often, leaving my cares and woes to the city life in Great Falls to bear. The soothing call of the river was all that focused my attention as I made my off exit ramp 234 from I-15 South, and into the town of Craig. For the first time since my last visit in early fall, I decided to stop in and take a look at the newly remodeled Headhunters Fly Shop, and to get some knowledgeable advice about where to head out on the river that day. After looking at some trout candy in the neatly organized bins, I was greeted by Co-Owner and fly fishing guide Mark Raisler. He pointed out some hot flies for me to use, and like a student attentively taking notes, I picked out the flies in a heartbeat, knowing they would pass the test. At the register, Mark and I exchanged our acquaintances, along with his knowledge of my fly fishing blog. I was humbled that he had mentioned he was a fan of my blog and had read every single one of my entries. I promptly replied back that I was an avid reader of the Headhunter blog he writes for the company website, and that it is what partly inspired me to begin one of my own. The friendly conversation grew into whereabouts and hot spots upon which to fish on the Missouri that day. More than obliged to, Mark scribbled out some marks and lines on a Missouri River map,directing me into some great runs and "secret" channels on the river. I expressed sincere gratitude and the pleasure of meeting him, and was off for an afternoon of solitude on the river.

I pulled off to a spot where Mark had told me to hit, eager to get on the water. As I was rigging up, an ephemeral hard sleet like, slushy snow began to pound down on me. Undeterred, I waded out across and side channel out to an island and began nymphing a nice deep run. It was a little faster than I wanted it to be, as I was told slower and a little shallower would be better holding areas for these wintry trout. A good two dozen drifts along the length of the island bank and tail out produced no results. I heard a commotion a hundred yards or so up river as I witnessed a fella wrangle in nice trout from my point of view. 10 minutes later, after he had left, I worked my way nymphing his same slow stretch with no luck. I decided to get into the car and work my way downriver to an area that has always intrigued me, Rhoda Island and Mid-Canon from the river right frontage road. Due to angling pressure on most other days, I had never waded across the small side channel out to the tail outs of the interweaving channels and islands that reside there. I explored the channels for quite some time, nymphing the banks, mid-currents and current seams also with no luck. I had been using a size 14 pink Amex fly the whole afternoon, call me lazy, but I was determined to catch something on that fly. After fishing a nice seam for 6 or 7 drifts, I finally had a hit. The fish tugged hard as I stripped the line in and put him on the reel. He went airborne 2-3 times and saw that he was a nice fish. Rainbow I thought, but as my line came in and the fish drew near, it was a healthy 18 inch whitefish, or as I like to refer to them as, Rocky Mountain Bonefish. I was happy to have the fish, his flank was pearly pinkish white, unlike any whitefish I had ever seen. I gazed at his beauty in the net for a moment and released him back to the river. I always say "one fish a day makes it all worth it". The adage being true and the wind bitterly picking up, I decided to call it a day.

Earlier, I stopped at another pullout that Mark had directed me to, I believe it to be his favorite on the Missouri, the Jackson's Rock area. I scoured the river structure, looking over the stacked rock piles along the outside bank and the inter-twined channels and islands, knowing this would prove to be a hard hit wading area for me as soon as the spring and summer seasons arrive. Bank to bank good water, I have an intuition this area will produce many fish in my 2010 future. This year is being considered a low water year that will make the months of April May and June particularly great wading conditions. Read about what to expect on the Missouri River here. Until then, dreams of large Missouri River trout will have to suffice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Missouri River in Winter

The weather in Montana for the past couple of weeks has reached temps in the 40-50s, which is excellent conditions to get out on my favorite tail water, the Missouri River. I have made two trips to the Missouri the past two weekends, to press my luck in hopes of hooking into some nice trout. The first outing was pretty uneventful, only hooking into a single fish that got near enough for me to see, and then losing him just as quick as I had hooked into him. The wind was brisk, and deterred me from hanging around for too long.

This past Saturday, I made my way out once again, with a cloudy forecast, 4-5 mph winds and a solid mid 40 degree temperature. I was able to get on the river below Holter Dam by 1:00 and had a good 4-5 hour day ahead of me. I had just purchased a new fly box, lined it with trout candy, and was ready to put in a solid days effort.

The walk from the pullout on Recreation Road takes about 10 minutes to get right below the dam. The ice is still visible on the wall of the dam itself, but has slowly been melting off as the days have been warmer than usual. I decided to get as close to the dam as I could, and work a good stretch back down river. I began the day with a rainbow Czech nymph, drifting it deliberately, taking a few steps and repeating the process. As I was doing so, I caught a glimpse of big fish hanging just feet from the bank behind me. I got a decent look at him as he was close enough for me to net him if I wanted to, and quickly realized it was about a 22-24 inch Whitefish. He languidly held near the bank, not making many movements, and then slowly disappeared below the surface and swept himself away with the current. I made a few more drifts and then again noticed he was back, and this time I had a good angle to drop a morsel on top of him. 3-4 good drifts right on his nose yielded no results with the scud pattern. Once again, he moved on and was lost to the river. The next hour or so was slow as I repeated the tedious nymphing process. I was now in a section of the river, still near the dam where the previous weekend I hooked into the rainbow. By now, I had tied on a red zebra midge off the end of the scud, in hopes of increasing the odds of what the fish might be particular to this day. A few drifts in and I had a tug on my line. I wasn't ready for it as I had a little too much slack line out and was unable to properly set my hook, a few seconds of struggle and the line went limp. I decided to drift through the run again without stepping downstream, hoping another unsuspecting trout would sink his lip into one of the tasty treats at the end of my line. As expected, a dozen or so casts later, my line once again went taught. I immediately had a good hook set and the fish was on! I felt the immense power and struggle of this fish, two to three massive head shakes and he was running like a bat out of hell! I let him take line, he wasn't slowing down. I'm now halfway to my backing, and realize I need to put the brakes on this fish, I take a hold of the spool handle to try and reel him in, but he still isn't stopping. In a flash, I'm down to my backing and have yet to take control of this fish. Once again I grab hold of the spool handle put the pressure on and SNAP! Dead line. The fish got the best of me. I reeled in the 100 feet of empty, lifeless fly line, defeated. The scud pattern was still at the end of my leader, but the zebra midge I had tied only days before was gone. Sometimes I wonder if the result of losing a fish is due to a badly tied knot, bad tippet, or just plain ole' poor judgement. The funny thing is that the sun, which had yet to make an appearance all day, until that moment, at the precise moment of hooking the fish, peeked out from behind the clouds brightly, as if the heavens had opened up for a split second. As soon as I lost him and reeled in my line, the gateway of light closed and never once did it make another appearance that day. It's as if the fishing Gods were making a mockery of me for letting that fish run all over me. I can only imagine the moment I had just lost.

I took a break on the river bank for a little while, enough time for my feet to warm up, gathered my thoughts and made my way back down river. I made a few more drifts along the bank as I crept along, slowly drifting the same setup. It was near sunset when I got back to the parking area, I decided to take a moment and just watch the river. It never seems to fail me how the quiet passing of the water in the river can soothe me, and lick the salt from the daily wounds. It was about this time I noticed something special begin to happen. Fish were sporadically rising in my near vicinity. I did see some tiny midges near the banks earlier in the day, but could not make out any hatch on the water. I tied on a size 22 dark midge pattern, and decided to cast in the direction of any rising fish. The river had come alive as I eventually witnessed a few dozen surface breaks over the next half hour. I casted to, above and below every rise form I saw with no interest from the fish to my offering. Dry fly fishing will always boggle my mind in some way, and I don't think I will ever fully understand or master it. It's a game of cat and mouse, and more times than none, the mouse eventually always gets away! Overall, I was pleased with the day, but sometimes you win some and you lose some, and this day was only fuel for the fire to get back out and get em another day.