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.