Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bighorn River Report

Since so many readers of this blog knew I was playing hookey yesterday to float Montana's Bighorn River, I thought I'd give a quick report:

Well, I had a GREAT day which started off cool, cloudy and a bit ominous. For the first time in weeks, I wore more than a light cotton shirt adding a fleece pullover to my fashionable ensemble. I accessorized with a buff and the added warmth was welcome until the sun eventually returned Montana to the dog days of summer. Then the buff fulfilled its usual purpose of protecting my face from lethal doses of solar radiation. 

I was in my kayak for the day and I didn't make it far from my put-in at the 3-mile access before I saw enthusiastic rises dimpling the tailouts of the riffles in the first set of braids. I was soon out of my boat and it was two hours before I checked the time. A size 18 parachute Adams had done the trick and my day was now officially a resounding success. But I soon realized, I had almost ten miles of river to float so I reluctantly left my rising midgets and paddled off downstream. 

I again, didn't make it far. At the Duck Blind Channel, I caught a couple nice browns on a Morrish hopper then saw some mayflies pop up. The hatch was light, but the fish were totally zeroed in on these blue winged olives (about a size 18-20). I started with a blue dun, but with only sporadic success, I switched to a blue quill as the quill's brown body better represented the body color of the bugs that were coming off. I fished this hatch at a couple other of my favorite dry fly spots, but by 2:00 PM, I had made it exactly 2.5 miles down stream.

So I made a rule that at each of my next few "favorite" spots, I could only catch one fish, then I needed to move on. Thank God the hatch soon petered out or I still might be locked onto some big nose on the upper river. For the rest of the day, I fished a hopper in the shallow riffles. (Man, I love the take of a big brown on a hopper in fast water... they just attack it!). In each riffle, I caught one or two nice fish on the hopper then somewhat reluctantly added a bead-head pheasant tail nymph as a dropper and usually picked up a couple more big fish.

The anglers fishing conventional Bighorn nymph rigs were also killing them. I chatted with a few of my guide friends and they were using mostly sow bugs or worms for their up-fly followed by a BWO or midge nymph as a dropper. Root beer and a tungsten zebra midges were the midge nymph of choice.

Due to the unseasonably cold water temps, the long awaited PMD and yellow Sallie hatch has not as yet, arrived. Any day now and when it does, I'm playing hookey once again! 

I made it off the river in time to drive the legendary Good Luck Road on my way home before dark. Why do that call it the Good Luck Road?... that's my next post!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gus, the Pointer, Goes Fly Fishing.

The qualities that make a good bird dog don't always make that animal the best companion on a fishing trip. Tenacity, curiosity, boundless energy and a desire to always be in the middle of all the action are essential in the field. These traits don't always work so well especially when fishing on a small stream.

I knew this when I took my Weimaraner, Gus, with me to a small stream in the Bighorns this weekend. Every hooked fish was pointed and stealth was not a priority. My patience was tested often, but I was prepared for it and took a deep breath when I got too serious. Gus by the way, had a GREAT time! The collar was being worn by Gus so he didn't decide to mix it up with any moose! See my previous post on this subject here.

We did well eh boss?

On point!
gus decided to go for a quick grab... that fish went back in the river pronto.

Another hard point!

Gus thought this was really fun, if not a bit weird.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Hell of A Day... Wyoming-Style!

Tonight, I'm really tired and my writing juices have coagulated making a gooey mess somewhere between my elbow and my left wrist. So, as with an any other mediocre writer with delusions of grandeur, allow me to resort to the old good news/ bad news cliche'. Like I said, I'm beat and not feeling too creative, but this was one hell of a day!
Back to my cliche':
The good news is everything worked. I fished at approximately 8000' for native cutthroat trout. Everything worked... I mean everything:

Sipping midges in the eddies.

Indian Paintbrush and Cutthroat trout... that's Wyoming!

Grabbing caddis from the shadows

Size 20 parachute Adams took 18" sippers from the foam lines, #12 red-leg hoppers killed cutties from the riffles, beetles were simply unfair, a hooper/dropper seemed like cheating ( I actually had two, three and four 16" cutties chasing the dropper as it rose on the swing), the list goes on and on... I must have caught 30-40 fish over 16 inches and started pulling the fly away from any fish under 16 inches. It was truly absurd... and it was dead calm with blue skies! Prefect right?
OK, so here is the bad news:
As I was working on an 18" fat boy that had a great lie under a congested undercut willow bank, I heard a mewing sound. It sounded like a depressed cow calf. Since the fate of the Western world hinged on my catching this cutthroat, I ignored the sound until I heard a larger splashing sound from around the bend upstream. This completed some cognitive synapse in my fish-addled brain so I sought out the source of the mewing sound downstream. 

She looks up...
Then I get "the look"! I hate that look.
She ponders her options....

...and decides to come across the river!

Finally cooler heads prevail!

What I saw was an adorable month-old, cinnamon moose calf mewing for its mom who was now obviously upstream making splashing sounds in an effort to test the relative intelligence of one fairly stupid homo sapien. Just then, the mother rounded the bend, saw me and more importantly, just beyond me, her calf looking all cute and adorable. Moms, being moms, hate it when anything with a pulse gets between their progeny and their motherly need to protect such progeny.

I backed up saying,"no problem mom, your baby is so cute, I am no threat, she is adorable and you are so FRICKING big". These by the way, were my exact words although the pitch of my words were a bit higher than you might imagine!

Mother moose, found no solace in my generous compliments and bluff charged me. I hid behind the biggest willow bush I could find. Mom stopped and turned back towards her baby, I resumed breathing... all was good. Soon, the calf found her mom and he immediately tried to nurse by ramming his comical moose snout in her mom's belly. While junior could only think about food, Mom still had issues with me. So, and here is the really bad news, she really charged me this time. 

I, at 150 lbs., was giving away conservatively 650 lbs. so I backed up again...VERY FAST! I clambered up the bank, stumbled in the mud, fell and instead of elegantly breaking my fall my with my arm, my arm kept going and plunged down a beaver hole. My arm twisted and I yelled "shit"... very loudly. Apparently, the cow moose figured she had now gotten her pound of flesh. She waded back across the river, nursed her calf and I took photos knowing my arm would be hurting tonight either way. I might as well have a few photos to show my wife!

After the adrenaline began to wear off, my elbow really began to hurt. I decided it was time to turn around, head for the car and hope nothing was broken.

Hoppers tight to the bank!

Tonight my elbow is swollen and it hurts. I have eaten three Advil, iced my elbow and wrapped it in an ace bandage.
By the way, even with one arm, the fishing on the way back the car was absurdly good! I think I'll go back again tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Breakfast Fly

If you read the story about the huge bonefish caught at Water Cay Lodge, you read that Curt Killar was fishing with a long time friend, Tony "Breakfast Fly" Vadella. Many anglers who read the story asked me "What the hell is a "breakfast fly"? 
Well, here is the story. I love these fishing back stories. They (along with a 15lb. bonefish) are what make our sport so great! Here is the story from Curt:

I have been fishing with the same "crew" for the last fifteen years. Good friends and fishing buddies you have known for that long tend to not let you get away with any missteps and are always good for a few snide comments to accompany that misstep. The prep for our recent trip to Water Cay was the same as usual. I pester Scott Heywood about the details, watch the weather report a month out and start tying hundreds of flies months before we depart. With my limited skill, I dress the hooks like little pieces of artwork.

On our first fishing morning, I, as always, was awake 2 hours early. I started pacing around the lodge until I remembered the tying bench in the dining room. Knowing the Water Cay environment and looking at the materials available, I came up with a gotcha variant that I felt sure would do the trick.

That evening, while sitting around the dinner table, the fishing stories started to fly (no pun intended). After describing our great day of fishing, TL asked what fly had worked so well. 

Proudly, I answered my "Breakfast Fly".

TL not missing a beat, fired back squelching my prideful feeling,"you tie 100's of flies before our trips and you end up always using the one you tie before breakfast." 

I hate to admit it, but he was right. The intricate Merkin crabby, leggy, clawed flies had stayed in the box while my Breakfast Fly was knocking them dead. 

Now Tony is the most dedicated fisherman in our group. He will cast until his arm is about to fall off. The next morning, Tony and I were scheduled to fish together. He too wakes up early. The anticipation of great bonefishing is just too much for sleep. He asked me to tie him some of my  Breakfast Fly pattern. He watched me wrap thread and add the eyes. He watched the whole process.

I said to him "why don't you try to tie your own breakfast fly".

Tony has never tied a fly before. No wonder!... his knots are questionable (Sorry I couldn't resist!). But he took the challenge under the condition that I watch and help. After a wrap or two, my A.D.D. kicked in and I "remembered" that I needed to rig my 10 weight for sharks and left Tony on his own. When I returned Tony did have "something" in the vise. With the bead chain eyes upside on the wrong side of the hook, Tony had added some rabbit fur with the pelt, and five yards of pink thread. I apologized for not returning earlier and made some encouraging comment that had nothing to do with my true feelings about his chances of success with that fly. Hey, Tony tried to tie a fly. It was a start!

Once out on the water, Ezra poled us up into the back of this beautiful cove. The tide was falling on this, our first stop of the day. Tony was on the bow and I ask him what fly he was going to throw. 

"My Breakfast Fly" he responded with pride.

Sorry, but my first thought was, "It will be a long time until I see the bow... even if we see a lot of fish".
But to be encouraging, I said to Tony, "Give it a try". 

Just then our guide Ezra said, "Bonefish sixty feet out... comin' towards us".

Tony optimistically propelled the fly towards the oncoming fish. (My thoughts regarding his chances of success were in the 1% area). The fly landed not perfectly, but sort of close. 

I thought, "It's too long and besides the hook is riding the wrong way due to his bead chain eyes being tied on the wrong side of the hook shank."

I knew it would get hung up. Of course, that fish deviated way off course, dug the fly out of its perch and voilla' "Fish On!" OK, just luck! But five fish later, I couldn't blame luck anymore. Congrats were due! From Tony's first cast with his first fly to the numerous fish after that, it must be the power of his "Breakfast Fly". Now, Tony wants a vise so he can tie a hundred flies before our next trip.

Water Cay is a special place! Go and tie a "Breakfast Fly"!

Written by Curt Killar

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bonefish of a Lifetime Caught at WATER CAY LODGE!!


Here is the story of how this monstrous fish was boated in Curt's own words:

Benchmarks or goals can be great motivation or a curse. If you golf, you will completely understand my analogy. As my golf game improved, I became more obsessed with breaking 100 then 90 and then 80. I worried more about my score than improving the aspects of the game that make you a better player. After telling my golf pro friend that I had a double bogie on the last two holes to shoot 81 and missed my goal of breaking into the 70's he said to me, "Just let it happen". I was so concerned with my score that I didn't concentrate on the moment of playing those last two holes. Now with a single digit handicap, that advise is carried in my game.

I caught my first bonefish on Grand Cayman Island in 1990. For years, I had been obsessed with catching the elusive 10 pounder. I have caught some "nice" bones over the years but not the "fish". The more I worried about the big one, the less likely it seemed it would happen. In the last couple of years, I have become much more interested in the experience of the perfect bonefish scenario than the number or size of the fish. Great light, perfect tide, single tail, a long, precise cast, and adjusting the presentation to entice him to eat are what is important to me now.

But now it was June 20, 2013. I was fishing out of Water Cay Lodge with guide Sidney Thomas. I was fishing with my fishing partner Tony "Breakfast Fly" Vadella. We had had a great morning of fishing. Sidney was locked in and the tide was good for the fish. It was now afternoon with a little more than a moderate breeze coming in from the east. As with all great guides you fish with, they just factor in all the conditions and have an idea were they want to fish. Why he decided to pole to that area will always be a mystery to me. He poled into the wind for a quarter mile without seeing a fish. I would have turned around, but Sidney must have know that little depression was there in front of that creek. Thank goodness he pushed us that far.

The cloudiness of the water was a great indication that "they" were around.

"Bonefish eleven o'clock" Sid called out.  

I could see the group of fish with some VERY large fish on the feed. Now I would love to tell you I picked him out of his friends, but the fly was on target and soon, a fish was off and running. 

"Guys, I think this is a big one", I said. 

But since there were more fish in the area, Tony took to the casting position and Sidney was focused on getting him hooked up. Neither of them paid to much attention to the fight I was enjoying. After several minutes, Sidney did see my fish and his demeanor completely changed. 

"That's a big fish!", he said.
I could tell it was large as the boat was drifting in the direction of the fish so we were gaining on him.

 "I don't jump off the poling platform for any fish." Sidney explained. "I do not want you to try to land this one or touch the leader. I will cradle him." 

Just then I got my first real look at him because of the angle of the sun. What struck me most was the distance between the dorsal fin and the tail fin. Now, I GOT nervous!

It seemed like it took forever for Sidney to put his hands on that fish. He gently lifted the fish up for us to measure and take a few pictures. The fish measured 32 1/2" nose to inside fork with a 21" girth. A true "Fish of a Lifetime". To know I was part of Sidney Thomas' best ever bonefish on a fly is the most rewarding part of the whole thing. The fish was easily revived and released. And as for catching a 10 pound bonefish, "it just happened".
-Curt Killar
...and thanks to Angling Destinations and Sidney Thomas at Water Cay Lodge!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Kayaking, Fly Fishing and the Importance of Old Friends

Scott swallows hard before"dropping in"!
3rd descent in 1989 of the Clarks Fork Canyon

I first met Paul Denison when he was barely post-pubescent. That was over 35 years ago. Over the ensuing decades, Paul and I became very good friends. We whitewater kayaked all over the western United States spending virtually every summer weekend driving to or kayaking on a clear, cold wild river. We boated the Snake, Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, Shoshone, Cache de la Poudre, Blackfoot and countless other classic western rivers. After exhausting ourselves on Saturday and Sunday, we would roll back into town in the wee hours of Monday morning sleep deprived, muscle sore and sated.
Shoshone River's Famous Grandma Cody Rapid
A critical waterfall jump on Wyoming's Clarks Fork Canyon

I would go to work in the morning sometimes barely able to get around my outdoor store in Sheridan, Wyoming called Big Horn Mountain Sports. Many of you long time clients remember this store! Driving all night, countless portages, and long athletic days on these rivers took their toll, but we always seemed ready for a new adventure the next weekend. Paul and I loved to fly fish too and along with his Dad, Paul Sr., we fished often. We even made it to Alaska with a few guys that worked for the outdoor company Patagonia and are now execs with the company. We always knew fly fishing would be something we could do when our bodies could no longer maintain the training schedule needed to do upper echelon white water kayaking.

Paul negotiates a complex boulder garden.
 Over the past few years, it has become more difficult for Paul and I to get some time to fish together in the summer. Paul has two teenagers and a full life, but last Sunday we both abandoned familial obligations and drove up into the Big Horn Mountains to fish.

We started at mid-day under absolutely clear skies with enough bugs popping out of the river to give us the promise of great things to come. By 6:00 PM, it was 50 degrees, dark clouds scudded in on an ominous breeze and thunder peeled to the west. It was time to get the hell off the river. Soon, all hell let loose with hail and high winds! 

The last fish before the storm
In between the clear skies and the storms cauldron, two old friends, caught a few more than a bajillion 12-18 inch cutthroats, caught up on each others lives and managed at least one afternoon of pure Wyoming fun. The great thing about old friends is no one cares who catches fish. Hell, no one cares who is even fishing. We talked, goofed around, tried different flies and rigs, sat on the bank and caught up on our lives.

The fishing was very engaging with each big fish presenting a puzzle. Not only did we have to decipher the lies and get a fly to these big cutthroats, but some of the biggest sippers were on midges, some were eating emergers and others were downright tricky. I had one 18" male that appeared to be grazing on size 18 tan caddis that were laying eggs in the eddie he was patrolling. But I could not get him to eat! Eventually, I realized he was not eating the caddis at all, but the tiny duns of some dark mayfly. Upon realizing my mistake, I smacked my forehead with the palm of my casting hand, then immediately switched to a #18 blue dun. On the first cast, he inhaled my little fly.

Soon enough we were back in town, promising to get together soon to fish maybe the Big Horn or the Wind River near Thermopolis. We'll see how the summer plays out, but Paul, thanks for a great day and at least we got one day to reconnect!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Letters to the Editor on the Fly Fishing in Salt Waters story on Water Cay Lodge.

The Fly Fishing in Salt Waters story on Water Cay Lodge entitled OLD SCHOOL received some very nice letters to the editor in the latest issue of the magazine. One is from an old time client of head guide Sidney Thomas and the other is from a long time friend of Angling Destinations, Will Rice. Thanks for the comments guys!

If you would like a pdf of the article OLD SCHOOL send me an e-mail at scott@anglingdestinations.com or call 800-211-8530!

For more info on Water Cay Lodge click here!
Also here are some photos of the lodge from this blog!
The letter to the editor page is below:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July Celebration

Nothing better on the 4th of July than family, dogs, bluegills on Mepps spinners and worms, mountain brook trout and fireworks.