I arrived in Bozeman, Montana yesterday afternoon just in time for the kick off of Simms Ice Out. The uniting of guides, outfitters, fly shops and those who wished to be there began at the Rivers Edge Fly Shop. After catching up with old friends over beers and some terrific barbeque we all wandered downtown to catch a speech by the one and only, Coach Bobby Knight. As a speaker myself, and one that’s always trying to improve, a chance to see a real pro was something I wasn’t missing.
I spent the night at long time friend Jon Yousko’s (JY) house. JY is the Simms Representative for Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. JY and I became friends over the years when I ran the fly shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Also crashing at JY’s was one of my Victor buddies, Mike Dawes. Dawes is a partner and guide for WorldCast Anglers in Victor, Idaho (and a permit angler you should know about!).
Despite a late night, JY, Dawes and I were out the door by 7:30 AM headed to float the very lower Madison River, a section of water that baffles many a good angler on a regular basis. Our choice, one of three given by the host JY, was presented as a risky endeavor. One because it’s been unseasonably warm and the water has been rising fast making river conditions a bit iffy, and the other, because the fish in this area flat out don’t eat some days. With all that said, JY also informed us that when you catch fish, they are often huge.
Today’s weather forecast was for continued warmth with temperatures in the 70ºs. Accompanying the heat would be strong winds up to 40 mph. That kind of wind gets the attention of all fly fishers. Even so, we were floating down river by 9.
River conditions were less than perfect and fishing started slow. JY rowed while Dawes and I chucked streamers. The river was up to the edges of its banks and mudding up as we drifted. At starting point visibility was about two feet but as the temperatures rose so did the river and the clarity went away inch by inch. The biggest bummer was that despite the mud, an incredible March Brown hatch occurred but not one fish rose because they probably didn’t know they were floating above.
The three of us have dealt with such conditions before and the first thing we knew to do was use streamers fish could see. While many anglers jump to streamers with bright colors, realistically that’s not the best choice. White or yellow for instance does not show up as well as you would think in murky water. Believe it or not, dark colors stand out better and black is usually best. Also good are flies with some flashy material in them. Flash throws light around and can be an excellent fish attractor in poor river conditions. I went with two flies, a black streamer and a flashy little kreelex fly. I put the black fly on the bottom (the point) and the flashy fly three to five feet up my straight Fluorocarbon leader as my dropper. My strategic thinking is that my flash fly travels the zone first and wakes up and attracts fish hunting in the mud. Even if the kreelex is too weird looking for a fish to eat it, the black fly comes into the zone and resembles a leech or dark colored sculpin. And wham! Even in chocolate milk colored water I’ve managed to dredge a fish or two when most anglers felt fishing was useless. And by the way, I’m talking more than just trout – this can be very effective on a brown colored smallmouth river in the Midwest.
The report tonight from most of today’s anglers was of lousy fishing. Most were beaten by the high dirty water and the wind that managed to gust at over 50 mph throughout the region. Many drifters bounced down the banks like broken loose floating cottonwood trees. Wade anglers had it easy; they reeled it in and headed home when it was difficult to keep a fly line on the water. Nonetheless, JY, Dawes and I had decent day. Even though our shoulders feel the pain from rowing against the gale, we landed more than a dozen blue hallowed Madison browns from 15 to 19 inches. We were fortunate.
Simms Ice Out provided yet another very special presentation tonight. “Ask a Legend” featured a short talk and then questions and answers from well known anglers John Simms, Dave Whitlock and John Gierach. I’ve had the great fortune of spending much time with these fly fishing legends over the years. These guys are true mentors for me and to see how they handled the big crowd was once again a great learning experience.
No fishing tomorrow. It’s my turn to present. I’ll be talking about how I managed to fly fish the world without much money. This is a new one and the title is “Evolution of a World Traveling Trout Bum”.
Today ends this four day speaking tour/fishing trip. Originally Erick Moncada and I planned to chase some carp around the lower Snake River near Mountain Home, Idaho; however, we received an invite to be part of the maiden voyage of my friend Andy Anderson’s new jet boat. Andy is a superb photographer and he and I worked together on various fly fishing photo projects back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. (Photo – one of many magazine cover photos we shot together.) It didn’t take him long to realize there were much bigger sports and subjects to photograph than fly fishing and he moved on to become a top advertising photographer for big time companies.
Andy’s success would explain why his boat is the nicest jet boat I’ve ever fished out of. This is a boat most hard core angler’s dream of owning. Erik and I met Andy at around 10 this morning on C. J. Strike Reservoir a few miles from Bruneau, Idaho. C. J. is a well known smallmouth bass and black crappie fishery, yet it’s about three weeks too early. Instead, for us today was mostly a boat ride and when we did fish, it was all about struggling with the wind. Not so much the fly casting, but rather handling a big boat to keep us where the fish might be.
C. J. Strike Reservoir is a gorgeous expansion of the Snake River. Fishing today however wasn’t so hot. I began the day hooking a huge rainbow that fought stronger than the norm. I forgot we had an anchor holding us and the feisty bow rapped me up in the anchor rope and busted me off. I had two other hook ups, and landed one small pale stocky trout.
I walked into my house late tonight exhausted as I can remember. 2012 has been a full one for me so far. Tomorrow I’ll unpack and start packing again. Thursday it’s back up to Bozeman, Montana. This time for the Simms Ice Out Guide Event where I’ll be speaking about fly fishing the world at 10:30 on Saturday. This is my last show of the season. As long as I get caught up and rested this week, Ice Out should be a fun get together with many old friends.
Then I’m going to enjoy doing a bunch of art at home and mix it with a heck of a lot of fishing from now till fall!
April 13, 2012
There’s nothing like hitting private lakes full of huge rainbows with a couple of great friends and (in my opinion) two of the best lake fly fishermen in the world. I’m talking about Phil Rowley of Canada and Pete Erickson of Boise, Idaho. Both anglers fish lakes as much as they do rivers and have proven tactics that catch not only lots of fish but also huge ones. Phil has written several books on fly fishing lakes and designed many deadly fly patterns. Pete has represented Team USA in the World Championships of Fly Fishing and always manages to land at least a fish on the most difficult lake fishing venues. You could say I’m a good lake fly fisher but that’s because I paid attention to these guys over the years.
Today’s lakes were located on the Idaho side of the Owyhee Mountains and simply go by the name of, “The Ranch”. Fishing on these lakes would not be possible without yesterdays fishing partner, Erik Moncada, who has the access and the ability to bring us as his guests. Erik had us up and running early because we had a two hour drive to get to get to the stillwaters and once again, we had to be back for an event. Today’s event was me speaking at the Riverside Hotel Bar at 7 PM.
We got to the lakes at about 10 AM to light wind and mostly cloudy skies with temps in the 50’s. It was very comfortable and ideal conditions for an excellent chironomid hatch. Sure enough as we wadered up and blew up the float tubes, huge midges were buzzing everywhere. None of us could wait to hit the water and soon I found myself hand-twisting three different chironomids on a 20ft level 2X Fluorocarbon leader, a technique I learned in England many years back. On this rig I have my three flies approximately six feet apart. I fish one red chronomid, a green and a black. If I catch three fish on one color over the others, eventually I fish all three the hot color. When you really nail it, you often catch two fish at a time!
One could say we didn’t exactly nail it today. Naturally, ten minutes after we all launched our float tubes the wind kicked up. And I mean bad. We had whitecaps and temps got cold as hell. In one major kicking event we all worked our way straight against the wind to a bay sheltered by willows. We all trolled our flies the entire way and no one got a bump. Once there the water was covered with chironomids and we knew fish had to be below munching them as they hatched.
We kept trying. I stuck with the three chironomids while Pete and Erik rambled through many different flies. I kept crawling my chironomids with the hand-twist while Phil slowed his down completely and stuck them under an indicator and stared at it like a bobber – and nothing. Then finally, as I raised my rod tip doing what we call the “hang”, where you make your flies look like they are about to swim up and hatch, I got jolted. Three minutes later I landed our first fish of the day, a respectable 18 inch rainbow that nailed my red chironomid.
That nice rainbow got me out of skunk row but it didn’t lead to many more fish afterwards. We fished another two hours without a bump. And there were more than four of us now. A few guys from the Boise Valley Fly Fishing Club arrived and they too were stifled by the fish. At 3 I’d caught the only fish and most of us headed in to go on a different lake. Pete took his time, fishing hard the whole way and the effort paid off as he landed a fish. Then he got another and another. Pete switched to a fast sinking line and was dredging his flies right along the bottom. Something not easy to do without picking up a bunch of weeds, but his line was perfect.
I was tempted to head back out around Pete with a faster sink Streamer Express line but instead we all opted to have a look at the other lake. Rather than launch the tubes again we stood up on the lake dam and fished from shore. A few fish were rising amongst the choppy waves and I stuck a midge out on a floating line and grabbed a seat and watched it. Just like earlier, we had no luck, not just for my dry fly but also for whatever subsurface techniques Phil and Pete were using. Then just as we were about to give up, Phil nailed a nice rainbow on a red chironomid.
Once again we were late returning from fishing. I planned to clean up at Pete’s before my talk tonight but there was no time. We pulled in his house, grabbed my computer and headed to the Riverside Hotel Bar. I delivered a unique topic tonight. Rather than teach like I usually to, tonight was strictly entertainment. Through a PowerPoint Presentation I delivered the full version of my tiger story, “Fly Fishing in the Presence of a Man Eater”. It went great and we had a fantastic time. Tomorrow Erik and I are fishing for carp on the Snake River near Bruneau, Idaho.
April 12, 2012
I awoke to the song of the meadowlark at 6:20 AM in an incredibly beautiful place. I was crashed out in the back of my Explorer on the banks of the lower Snake River in Glenns Ferry, Idaho. The reason I was here was because last night I spoke to the Snake River Cutthroat Fly Fishing Club in Idaho Falls and tomorrow night I speak in Boise. It seemed logical to continue heading west after my show and get some fishing in today around the Boise area, a place I rarely get to fish.
Once to Boise I met up with friend Erik Moncada. Erik works for the Anglers fly shop in Boise and he is also the president of Boise Valley Fly Fishers Club. Erik’s knowledge of the local fishing is unbeatable and when he found out I’d never fished the famous Oregon section of the Owyhee River he said we’re going. Unfortunately the Owyhee River is a two hour drive from Boise. By the time I hooked up with Erik it was noon and he had a meeting at 7. Furthermore, the Owyhee isn’t even fishing well due to spring runoff. But none of this mattered. The Owyhee is one of Erik’s favorites and I’ve heard too much about this desert river not to take advantage of this opportunity to cast in it.
The drive was very relaxing. We weaved through farmland, rolling hills and pheasants before finally crossing into Oregon where the terrain turned to high desert. I bought a day license at a run down gas station and soon I got first glimpse of the Owyhee. It’s a pretty little river. Even though it’s up from its best conditions, the flow is only around 200 CFS. Its strange pea-green color is the norm. And most of the willows and trees have just popped their leaves. With the red desert cliffs above it was spectacular.
As I always do, I kicked back for starters and watched Erik’s plan of attack on a river he knows so well. He tied on a cicada looking dry fly but quickly switched to a smaller pattern. After he hit a few good looking spots without action I opted to tie on a streamer. It wasn’t more than five casts into my prowl that I hooked onto a decent brown trout. He shook my fly quick and I continued on. I thought the streamer was going to be the ticket but an hour later neither Erik nor I had seen another fish.
We drove up to another place towards the dam where Erik frequently sees risers even in tough conditions. Sure enough, on the far bank, two fish rose above a rock. Erik gave me a look like “go get em”, but I told him not a chance. Erik worked his way in place and I could see the battle of top angler vs smart brown trout was going to be good one. Meanwhile I spotted a bank feeder of my own and got myself in position for him.
I sat motionless for twenty minutes waiting for my target to rise again but nothing. I was worried I’d either spooked him or that I snuck up to the wrong spot. Just as I was about to toss a blind cast where I thought he was, he rose to a March Brown mayfly. Fishing the Owyhee was not something I was prepared for and I in fact had my lake fishing vest on. The only decent imitation of a March Brown I had was a size 14 parachute Adams. Even worse, the lightest form of tippet on me was 3X Fluorocarbon. I’m old fashion. I don’t use Fluoro for dry fly fishing and I’d have been more comfy fishing 4X standard tippet. But, you do the best with what you have and I went for it.
I made about a dozen decent casts with nothing. I was sure I scared the trout away. I changed flies a few times to totally weird lake flies and made a few more good casts. Still nothing. By now Erik had caught and released the trout he was after. He caught him on a tiny RS2. I have a few lake midges in my vest but after the struggle to affix one I went back to the Para Adams.
I never saw my fish rise again and before I knew it Erik was hinting we should leave so he could get back to his meeting on time. No problem I thought, just one more cast. For some stupid reason I had no faith in that last cast and I turned my head and started reeling in. Bad move, the trout I’d been after for an hour ate my fly. I only knew because I was looking at Erik while he was looking at my drifting Adams. When the fish ate, Erik’s eyes got huge. I knew why and turned only to see the brown trout spitting out my fly because I gave him time to chew on it and taste the metal.
That should have been the end but Erik and I kept making – “one more cast”. As you suspect, Erik was late to his meeting. Luckily it was the BVFF chapter meeting and as you should expect again, it was excusable.
The Owyhee was a little tough today but it was great to get on this remote little gem after all the years hearing of it. Even though I proved to be out of practice, Erik was able to avoid the skunk and land one fish for the team. Tomorrow Erik will be hosting a day of fishing again and along with us will be Phil Rowley and Pete Erikson. Erik says the best way to describe tomorrow is small lakes with big rainbows – gotta like that!
Painting fish and giving a presentation for the Rivers Edge Fly Shop in Bozeman, Montana Thursday night was a blast. The drive home through a winter storm however was a major grunt. Even though it was 10 PM after festivities I began my four hour drive home. Leaving so late may sound stupid but the forecast was for the start of a snowstorm after midnight. If I waited till morning I could be stuck in Bozeman. The snow started at midnight as predicted and visibility got so bad I pulled over at the Reynolds Pass Bridge on the Madison River at 1 AM and slept in the back of the Explorer. When I woke up shivering at about 6 there was 4 inches of snow and the roads were glazed ice all the way home. Once home, the remainder of the day was all about watching baseball, catching up on art and getting some rest.
The weather improved greatly for the weekend and Saturday morning Granny and I decided to go check on a couple sneaky good rivers that we like to fish before runoff. We packed up the Explorer to be ready for fishing, camping and if the fishing stunk, hiking. After a long gorgeous drive we reached the river only to find it mostly frozen over and off color – a combo we definitely did not expect. We could have broke out some nymphs and straggled out a few fish but instead we opted to hike and try to find some arrowheads.
Just about every friend I have has at least stumbled into a cool artifact at one time. Granny and I on the other hand have never found anything other than some chips that might have been from when some Indian was carving an arrowhead. I felt like Saturday was the day and we set off into the hills of the high desert.
Let’s just say it was a terrific hike. But we definitely need some lessons on where to look and what to look for when it comes to arrowheads. I know for a fact that the area we were in is rich in artifacts but all we found was this cool rock. Or is it just a rock? Could it be a hammer? A cave mans comb? Not sure what it is but its now at rest in our flower garden and it looks sweet!
This week is back on the road but it will include some fishing. On Wednesday night I speak to the Snake River Cutthroats Club of Idaho Falls about Yellowstone. Right after my show I’ll drive towards Boise, Idaho and on Thursday I’ll meet up with Erik Moncada, Pete Erickson and Phil Rowley for some sort of fishing they have planned. It will continue for half of Friday then Friday night I’m the guest speaker to kick off a fun event called “Fish Fest”. I’ll be giving a presentation about a way too close encounter with a Bengal tiger in India back in 2008 while fishing for Mahseer. The show is called “Fly Fishing in the Presence of a Man Eater”. If you live anywhere near Boise, you don’t want to miss this show.
Then it’s after the carp on Saturday on the way home. Stay tuned.
It’s been nice to be home a couple days. The weather here in Idaho is spectacular as we are having an early spring. I thought I’d share a photo. This is my college buddy Dave Kittaka with a 43” muskie he caught today in his walleye nets. Dave holds more big fish than anyone I know – he works for the Indiana DNR!
I’m back on the road tomorrow for a one night gig in Bozeman, Montana. I’ll be at the Rivers Edge Fly Shop painting fish, drawing on Cliff Fly Boxes and the Grand Finale; I’ll be giving my presentation “Four Seasons of the Yellowstone Trout Bum”.
Stay busy my friends!
March 27, 2012
Sammy and I weren’t all that enthusiastic about going out for marlin today, our last day. It seemed like a waste of time. In fact, last night Sammy went as far as to suggest not going out at all. The snorkeling is great inshore and he considered enjoying that again instead. But we are both fisherman. We know one day to another can be completely different. So this morning we found ourselves on the long ride back to Bank 88.
Braden felt like those eight or so marlin that we saw yesterday that weren’t feeding might be feeding today. He’s always optimistic. And, Sammy was back on marlin duty so we hoped him holding the heavy weight fly rod would change our luck. Me, being way behind on my blog report, I opted to bring along my computer for the long ride. Yes, a computer on a boat is a little risky, but hey, it’s been running a bit slow so a little saltwater might kill those viruses.
Sure enough, Braden’s hunch was right and Sammy’s luck was better than mine. Ten minutes into our teaser dragging we had not one, but two striped marlin in a frenzy. As Braden whizzed out his Spanish instructions to mates Ronnie and Philippe, the aggressive marlin followed the teasers towards the boat. Then one of them came very close and Braden cut the engines and in English hollered, “Sammy cast!”
Sammy’s cast was perfect. The teaser left the water 25 feet from behind the boat and crashed onto our deck and almost simultaneously Sammy’s large pink and white bird size fly landed where the teaser left. I had a perfect view of the scenario unfolding from up on the bridge. Sammy popped his fly twice and the striped marlin turned turquoise blue, swung around behind his fly and came up and ate it. But Sammy got excited and lifted the rod to set the hook. A method of hook setting common for trout but doesn’t jab hard enough to sink a large hook into the hard mouth of most saltwater fish. The marlin spit the fly and was gone.
It’s just about impossible to remember the best technique to hook a billfish on the fly when the actual event is taking place. Unless you get to do it all the time, seeing a 7 foot long fish swirling behind the fly causes the brain to go whacko. But for what it’s worth, here’s what has worked for me in the past:
When any billfish eats your fly don’t set the hook until he turns away. In my experience with sailfish I like to give them a little line. Once they start to swim away all happy with my fly in between their jaws I strip set with vengeance then jab the rod to the opposite side of the way the huge fish turns. This angle pulls the hook to the corner of the mouth rather than out of the mouth. With a little luck you’ll drive the razor sharp hook into the rubbery lips. If all goes well to this point get ready for the moment of terror as the billfish explodes line and backing off the reel at over 50 MPH.
For doing fly rod battle with a marlin you better have a big rod (14 or 15-weight), a reel with a solid smooth drag and ¼ mile of line and backing. And you must have the stamina and skill to tire and land the grizzly bear sized fish. Depending on the species of marlin, be prepared to battle for some time. White marlin and striped marlin are the easiest, but if you’re new to this sport be ready for a 45 minute battle or more. If your marlin dives deep the fight may take hours. But if you have experience and confidence in your knots and leader strength, you can put the heat on them and land these species of marlin in 20 minutes. If you hook up to a blue marlin or a black, get ready for a much longer and more difficult battle. And don’t expect to land him, just hope for a miracle. I’ve never cast to a blue or a black myself but I’ve been on board to witness a Pacific blue marlin eat a fly in Costa Rica and an Atlantic blue marlin eat a fly in Venezuela. All I can say is neither time was pretty. Ask me for the stories in a bar some time and put your seatbelt on. You won’t believe how nuts these monsters can be.
Sammy spent the next hour concentrating on what to do on his next opportunity. He knows you don’t raise the rod to set the hook. His mind simply went blank like it does for most Rocky Mountain anglers when a monster eats your fly. But it wasn’t going to happen again. He made a few practice casts behind the boat and enacted his next hook set. He was ready.
Everyone was confident more opportunities would arise. I expected Sammy to hook and land his next fish and visualized myself getting another crack at the marlin before this day was over. Sure enough, we teased several more marlin up to the teasers, but unfortunately none of these teased close enough for a cast.
Before we knew it we were back in the marlin fishing doldrums. Once noon hour hit there were no more marlin to be found. Sammy’s missed marlin started to drive him crazy. To take his mind off it he mixed napping with reading – hoping to wake up to the excitement of a marlin in the teasers.
I continued to sit up on the bridge with Braden and take in my surroundings. This was a long awaited trip and in a few hours it was over. I felt like I didn’t want to miss a second of anything exciting that might happen. I enjoyed watching some dolphins, sea lions, and plenty of the famous blue footed boobies. Then as I worked my way up on the bow I found an unfortunate mishap, a flying fish that must of flew up on deck and died – bummer but pretty neat to check him out.
We’ve been heading in at 3:30 each day. However today being the last and with a little action in the morning, Braden kept on dragging the teasers. The anticipation after 3:30 was killing me. I just knew in an instant Braden was going to tell Ronnie and Philippe to reel in the teasers. At one minute before 4 we were still dragging the teasers. I was certain he’d made a decision to pack it up at 4. Then with thirty seconds to spare all hell broke lose. We had a striped marlin in the teasers!
Sammy was like me. He too knew we were fishing on bonus time and that the trip could end at any minute. But here we were, 4 PM and one last marlin in the teasers. Ronnie and Philippe worked the teasers like the pros they are and that hot marlin was in range before you knew it. Braden cut the engine and shouted cast. Once again Sammy laid out a perfect one. What took place next was one of the most memorable eats of a fly in history. That marlin of about 175lbs came half way out of the water with his mouth wide open and landed so that Sammy’s fly went right into his mouth. He was going away with velocity and Sammy was hooked up and hooked up good!
I was ready for photography but after only two snaps of the shutter Braden and Ronnie yelled at me to get the other fly rod from in the cabin. Another marlin was swimming around the boat. I dropped my camera and ripped line off the other big rod and reel so fast I have line burns. Once ready I quickly learned there was no where to launch a cast from. There were obstacles in the way everywhere you looked. Sammy was in the middle of the back of the boat doing all he could not to get yanked overboard as his backing crackled off the reel. Teaser rigs were flopped in the air in every direction. And Ronnie and Philippe were in there too. There was truly no where to put a fly line and 10 inch long fly through the air. Then in desperation, I flipped the fly like I was flipping a jig to a bass. The fly went a mere 12-feet if I was lucky. I popped it. Amazingly, the marlin ripped out from under the boat beneath where I was standing and went right up to my fly like he was going to eat it. But something was wrong. Perhaps it was the blue and white color or in this case I may have popped it too hard. My marlin was gone.
Meanwhile, Sammy was getting worked. His marlin took off like no fish I’d ever seen and jumped madly far behind the boat. Then on his last jump he spun like a figure skater and I saw Sammy’s leader wrap up in the marlins bill. I had a gut feeling this fight would end quickly and unfortunately it did. On the next run Sammy’s leader broke in the 20lb class tippet above the shock.
Our trip was over, but not without a bang. If only Sammy could have landed his fish. Imagine if I hooked mine. Imagine if we doubled up and both landed them. Oh man, I’m dreaming. But it could have happened and our brutally slow week would have been completely forgotten. Interesting how fishing works.
Our Galapagos marlin trip will go down as one of the most difficult of all trips I’ve been on. Two of us, and we got less than five casts and we didn’t land what we flew 8,000 miles to catch. But that’s fishing and that’s life. Marlin are wild animals and to think we can predict them perfectly is a joke. If I look back on 30 years of traveling and fishing, and if I look at five trips in a row, you get a poor one (Galapagos), three average ones (Baja, Norway, Madagascar) and a magnificent one (Tanzania). That’s the way it goes so you keep on going. For Sammy and I our next trip together is Baja. . . and we are due!