September 25, 2011
Every year Scott Sanchez (Chez) and I donate a day called “Fishing with Jeff and Scott” to the Jackson Hole One Fly. They auction us off and the money is used towards some sort of river rehabilitation project. This year a good friend and owner of Gros Ventre River Ranch, Tina Weber, purchased the trip and Scott and I put together a very special day of fishing.
I left Victor at 5 AM and met up with Tina and Chez in Jackson, Wyoming at 6. Then we drove to the launch and pushed off in a temperature of 37º. 37º sounds brutally cold, but for Wyoming in late September, temps above freezing at sunrise are considered warm. In fact, the forecast was for an amazing 80º, clears skies and little to no wind. No matter how chilly 37º felt, we knew it would get hot fast.
To begin the day, I took the oars and rowed us downstream. I know this river like the back of my hand. Today was a long float and I wanted to blow through some dead water so we could concentrate on the better water. Keep in mind, days are a heck of a lot shorter now and it gets dark around 7:30 – making the best of our time was essential. The row was nice for me because I warmed up quick and nice for Tina and Chez because they have never been here and got to take in some of the scenery, something you don’t do much once you start working those flies. And the scenery was spectacular to put it bluntly. All the leaves of the cottonwood trees, aspen trees and varieties of scrub bushes are about 3/4th changed to their fall colors. Reds, oranges and yellows gleaming amongst the remaining green leaves is a sight to behold. Then throw in the mountains and the rich blue sky – what a morning.
Before we got to where I wanted to begin, I had Tina and Chez start fishing. I know Sanchez can fish, but I’ve never fished with Tina. I know she fishes a lot but as the rower it really helps to do some observing. What I learned was that she can put not only one, but two winged Chernobyl’s exactly where they need to be.
Within minutes Chez attached himself into a fantastic brown that fell for his famous double bunny pattern. The size of this brown caught us all by surprise. He was truly huge and quickly pointed out a weak point in our equipment, our net was a “junk show”. Scott, who provided the boat along with the normal boat utensils, owns a net that gives the fish a true bonus opportunity to get away and leaves you helplessly tangled in its net bag. After my first swipe at Chez’s brown I found myself dreaming of my New Zealand weigh net in my boat back in my garage in Victor, Idaho. On my second scoop with the net I got the fish half way in then the net frame collapsed and ejected the enormous brown back to the river. By now my biggest concern wasn’t Scotts brown but rather will this go on all day and will it cost Tina the brown of her life at some point. On the third attempt I put the browns head in the net then tailed him with my left hand and handed the muscular thrashing trout to Chez to deal with. It was a true wrestling match and in order not to hurt the fish we released the trout quickly and I missed the photo opportunity.
Tina caught the next few big fish on her dry flies. On each one I rowed to the shallows, often beaching the boat so we could land the fish and without the net. She landed a nice brown of her own and several cutthroats. All the cuttys were hefty Snake River Fine Spotted Cutthroats. I threw in the “fine spotted” part of their name because not only is this part of the full name of the species, but these particular ones have the finest spots you will ever see. To top it off, their gold coloring and orange fins are electric. They are truly unbelievable looking.
Her last cutty to this point was impressive. I was pushing us through a sandy structureless flat when I had to put the brakes on. As I was looking downstream, always scanning for fish even in the worst looking of water, I noticed the tip of a quality trout’s nose break the surface. I saw just enough to know there was a beast attached. I had Tina feed her flies down to the fish and in the most delicate sip you’ve ever seen a trout make, her size 8 Chernobyl vanished. She raised the rod and the cutthroat of dreams started to wind up.
Cutthroats get accused of being poor fighters and many of the subspecies are. But Snake River Cutthroats are a different breed. They usually put up a good fight and some, like Tina’s, will take you to the cleaners! It was all she could do to maneuver and land this trout. Once she did he was well behaved and we were able to snap a few shots.
After we released Tina’s big cutthroat I was thinking to myself that this was going to be the best fishing day of the season. Why not? We were only two hours into the day and less than a quarter of the way through our float. But the fishing went steadily downhill until dark. It literally went from fish crushing the fly till they were hooked, to nipping at it, swirling below it and then hours of absolutely no action at all. Luckily the forecast lived up to its prediction. We saw only a few tiny clouds. We had a breeze for only an hour. And the temperature went past 80º. In fact it went so far above; I went for a rare late September swim to cool off. Of course all this nice weather is probably what turned off our fishing.
As the sun set, the fishing improved slightly. It wasn’t nearly as good as it gets, but we managed to find some action. We nailed a bunch of little guys and I got one thick brown about 18 inches. Chez was playing around by swinging a couple soft hackles and caught two little browns at the same time. This is the second double I’ve seen this week! While our fishing improved the moose woke up and we watched five make their way from the willows to the river to begin a night of feeding on the last of the season’s greenery.
Despite the mediocre fishing, today was just one of those memorable days. I don’t think I’ve experienced a prettier one in years. And we squeaked out a few incredible trout and I got to fish with two friends, one whom I hardly ever get out with anymore because we are both so busy these days and one whom we’ve been trying to fish together forever.
I’m not sure what’s next on my fishing agenda. On Wednesday my folks come out to visit then my schedule in October gets insane. I’m not saying I won’t be fishing in October, that’s far from the truth. In fact I’ll be supplying some very exciting stories with a few days down in Arizona for grass carp and a week in Wisconsin for musky. But the next ten days is uncertain.
One thing I do know for sure is that on October 7th I’ll be in Bozeman, Montana for the premiere showing of the Confluence Film, “Connect”. This is the movie where I was the lucky guy to do the segment filmed in Tanzania for giant tigerfish. If you didn’t see my photos and blog for this trip last November go there now. You absolutely will not believe the fish we caught and the stories that went with it. And the movie! I did voiceovers in July and got a glimpse of the near final product on a small laptop screen – this is a fly fishing movie you don’t want to miss!