Tuesday, July 29, 2014

We've been friends for over 30 years!

Great day on Saturday! I went up to the North Fork of the Tongue with my old friend Paul Denison. We've been friends for over 30 years! Fishing was slow at first as the stream is still high and fast. Then a masking caddis hatch concealed a sparse blue wing olive hatch that eventually the biggest cutts keyed on in the eddies. I worked on one 18 inch guy for over an hour while Paul reclined on the shore. We chatted on a variety of topics while I tried different strategies. I finally hooked the big guy just before Paul and I needed to head home. Wonderful day. Thanks Paul!

The Math of Hopper Season




Hot Day/Hot Fishing: FISH #5

FISH #5 was not exceptional for what he did or did not do. He was not unusually cunning, nor was he was a pushover. He did not offer a unique experience or a crazy moment. What he did offer was what I have experienced a hundred times before and what I hope to experience many more times in the future. This fish offered that moment that defines why we trout fish…

I spotted this trout at the tailout of a riffle. All I could see was a subtle form in two feet of water shaded by a high bank. Here, the water was moving quickly, but no current could be seen. No waves, riffles or boils disturbed the mirror-like surface of this tailout. All I saw was something forming, disappearing, then reforming again against the almost black bottom.

After quietly wading into position, I threw my hopper ten feet above the spot where I saw the ephemeral form. I watched judging the big fly's drift coaxing it into the proper lane. As the hopper approached, a large form rose and elegantly took shape. As it climbed slowly and confidently towards the surface, I could see the form was a big brown trout. He closed on my fly nonchalantly having accurately gaged its drift and his speed. I watched, now only a passenger on this ride. I took in every agonizingly slow moment of his journey. As his nose broke the surface, his mouth opened and showed white. He then effortlessly sucked in my hopper. This moment was so perfect, I wanted to bottle it and take a slug next February. If I could have a taste of this moment then, I might contend with another Wyoming winter just a little bit better.

After his mouth shut firm on my hopper, his head dropped casually below the slick's surface. It was then that I struck. A split second later, my line came deliciously tight. This was the important moment, the rest seemed anticlimactic.

Yes, he fought well and yes, it was very cool. But what was lasting was how perfect was his take. Soon, I took photos, measured him at 22 inches and thanked my lucky stars for the last three hours. This is why I trout fish and why I live in Wyoming. When you live here, it's all out the back door, yet it is all so fleeting… that makes it even more perfect.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hot Day/Hot Fishing: Fish #4

As "eager" as FISH #3 was, FISH #4 was the exact opposite. If #3 was struggling to get his GED in catch avoidance, FISH #4 guy was working on his post-Doc. Shy, suspicious, perhaps even clever, this big brown tested my patience and resolve. It took me almost an hour from the time I sighted him finning next to a dark cutback, to the time I landed him and took a few photos.

On my first cast my fly drifted oh so enticingly along the long grassy cutback. Mid-drift, #4 rose slowly, then suspended under my hopper. He watched it from six inches away vertically drifting under my fly for 6-7 feet before turning away. After this amazing inspection, I again sat dow, switched flies and stood up to try again.

This time, the big brown rose, then slowly pushed up to delicately balance my fly on his nose. I did not strike. I have seen this before, but only from brown trout and only from big brown trout. It has taken me dozens of years to discipline myself not to strike when a brown trout performs this type of extreme examination. 

After this last display, I again put myself in "time out" and changed my fly yet again. I eventually drifted another big hopper down his feeding lane. This time, the trout surrounded my fly with his mouth, but he did not close it. He floated this way for a few feet before turning away. He never ate and I never striked. We were now involved in a classic game of cat and mouse and he was testing me. I knew if I struck, I would never see this fish again. So after this drift, it was back to "time out".

I waited a good 15 minutes before trying again. On my next cast, the big trout again suspended under my fly keeping a good 8 inches between my fly and his mouth. After a few seconds, I traced a small circle with the tip of my rod which moved the hopper a few inches. This was too much for my guy. He immediately powered up, opened his mouth and confidently ate my fly. I struck when the white of his mouth disappeared. He was on and he was very pissed! He raced upstream, jumped, then powered downstream pronging on the water's surface repeatedly. After this extended display of pure frustration and anger, he soon became docile and in his exhausted state, was easily landed. I suspect he will never take a fly again. This fish was just too bright. 
I congratulated him on his talents and wished him well as I released him. I suspect, I will never see him again. He will learn from this and I'm sure will never eat a fly again.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hot Day/Hot Fishing: Fish #3

Contestant #3 was accommodating!
At the point where two channels met, a small eddy had collected a tangle of limbs adorned with moss and river flotsam. A small Russian olive tree leaned precariously out over the eddy. This thorny, pale green tree shaded the eddy and provided protection from any aerial predators for any trout smart enough to choose this spot as his abode. It was the perfect lie from which a big fish could dash out into with channel to dine upon whatever morsels floated by, then slide back into the safety of the limb bundle. 

I spotted Contestant #3 when he chased off a small interloper, then quickly dashed back into his safe cubbyhole. In his attack on the smaller fish, he boiled the soft water of the eddy. This motion attracted my attention. Now it was game on.

I cast my beetle under the olive tree and tight to the tangle of limbs. The resident bully immediately charged my fly. He somehow missed it! He popped my fly three inches off the water's surface. My shoulders slumped. I raised my rod to cast again, then thought better. I lowered my rod, turned around and walked away.

I took the advice I have offered others for many years. I've trained myself to not cast again when a fish strikes and misses. I've actually grabbed the rod of clients when they've tried to cast again after a big fish missed their fly. Why? It rarely works. Prey species just don't magically reappear and fish know this. They smell a rat and act accordingly. The best tactic is to cool it...

So… I sat down on the bank, took a big slug of Gatorade and relaxed for a moment. I changed my fly to an over-engineered, purple foam hopper. I took a very deep breath. While exhaling, I stood up, dusted myself off and waded quietly back to the spot. When settled, I lifted another cast.

The fish attacked my fly the moment it hit the water. The hooked pulled tight, then skipped free. SHIT! Game fricking over! I quickly threw my fly back to the same spot knowing not only that nothing would happen, but that I was also not taking my own advice. But, the fish, after being speared seconds before, ate my fly. Let me repeat myself, after being tagged seconds before, this big brown ate my fly again! Yeah, yeah, I landed the fish... and he was very big, I was happy, but I DID NOT deserve this fish. I'll get over it. 

I took exceptional care handling this fish. I kept him in the water for all the photos except for one quick moment when I snapped the photos above. I wanted to keep his fishermen-friendly DNA in the gene pool. We need these eager-to-eat trout around.. as I said this was one very accommodating big brown trout!

Friday, July 25, 2014

95 Degrees: The Fishing was Hot Too!

Sorry for the lack of posts recently… It's been a very busy summer! We've had relatives visiting, we went to Seattle for the 4th and I just returned from Ohio where my family celebrated my Mom's 93rd BD!

Yesterday was the first chance I've had to fish in quite a few weeks. I decided to fish a stream that I thought would finally be in shape. Three weeks ago, I drove past this river and the water was still high and off-color.

But yesterday, it was in perfect shape. The stream was not too high, but temperature certainly was. It was 95 degrees and very windy. I thought I might pass out and be pickled in my waders before I could hike across the large alfalfa field that bordered the stream. But eventually, light-headed and bathed in sweat, I made it to the river's edge.

During the following few hours, I fished both a foam hopper and a black beetle. At times, I droppered a nymph a couple feet off the back. If I had to make a precise cast to a eddy or a soft seam where the nymph might find the tall grass that reached out over the bank, I fished these terrestrials solo. Initially when I did this, I left the dropper's tippet trailing so I could just tie on the nymph if needed without re-rigging. The fish didn't seem to mind, but eventually I clipped off the dropper tippet and stuck with the terrestrials.

I had a pretty spectacular day! I caught five fish in three hours. I know that may not seem red hot, but four of the fish were over 20 inches. I caught one beautiful 17 inch rainbow on the nymph, the others were all browns all caught on the terrestrials. Each of the browns presented a different experience and each was memorable. All were seen either via a tail breaking the surface or just the slightest hint of nervous water.

I spent a lot of time staring at the river, but it was not easy to see on this day. The wind scuffed the water's surface and beat rhythmically at the grasses. Dust swirled off the newly cut alfalfa fields. If that wan't enough, the sun's hot glare hit the riffles and bounced back to me in thousands of mind numbing facets.

But I was determined to find a big fish today so I held off the impulse to cast. I held steady hiding in shade if I could find it… just watching. I've found if you want to catch the pigs, you must find out where they are first. If you wade peppering the water with blind casts, the big boys are soon gone. All that remains are the smaller, less experienced fish. 

So allow me to go through my day fish by fish. Remember, it's very hot, the strong hot wind is making it tough to cast accurately and I'm sneaking around trying to spot a big fish…

FISH #1:

I saw this 21" brown's tail barely break the water's surface. He was ensconced far under the widely waving grasses that overhung a deeply cut bank. When I saw the big tail's tip, I clipped off my nymph and took a deep breath. In the wind, I knew this would be a tough cast. In order to reach the fish, my only chance was to make a sidearm curve cast upstream. A sidearm cast would deliver the fly under the grass without getting hung up… a curve cast would arch my line. I could then reach his lie in the soft water next to the bank without me having to move out into the stream where the fish could see me. It had to go right, but my first cast was short. I hadn't overpowered the cast enough to curve the line sufficiently.

I took another deep breath while I let the fly drift back to me. I needed to be more bold on my second attempt or I wouldn't reach the brown's protected lie. I concentrated and made a good cast. The fly arced to the left and shot underneath the grass. The big black beetle bobbed along a few inches until the brown engulfed the fly. A couple jumps confirmed her size. I reefed hard knowing my 3X would hold and soon I was taking photographs and admiring the beauty of this July brown.

This first fish was a thick, very healthy brown

After I caught this big brown, I reattached my blue prince nymph to the trailing tippet. I wanted to probe the run before I left. I thought any large fish would be long gone after all the commotion I thought something might be hugging the bottom that I could dredge up from the depths. It was the last time I was to tie on a nymph for the rest of the day. After a couple drifts in the riffle you see in the photo above, I was rewarded with this beautiful rainbow for FISH #2! 

Next, Fish #3...