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.