July 18-19, 2017
I relish all my travels to some of the greatest fishing destinations on the planet but what I love the most is my annual 35 mile two day float on the Nunya on hot summer days with Granny. The Yeti is full of delicious food and cold beer. The wildlife is abundant and the sight of another drift boat is a rarity.
There’s a reason for few other anglers. The Nunya has less than a quarter the fish count per mile as any nearby rivers. Boat ramps are ridiculously far apart – in general 12 hour floats are mandatory. Shuttle arrangements are hell. Furthermore, the mosquitos and horseflies rival some of the worst bug problems I’ve seen in Sweden. But for us, solitude is worth fewer fish, logistical hassles and a few years off our life from Deet.
We drove four hours northward Monday night after Granny got off work. We made it to the Nunya host town in time for a burger and beer before climbing in the back of the Explorer for short nights rest. At about 5 AM the first bird chirped and I began the process of loading down our funny blue boat for the 48 hour tour.
We pushed off at 7:30 AM sharp. The Nunya is running high. The beautiful river was two feet over its banks and rushing the most I can recall on this annual float. Back rowing required some grit in order to keep the boat at a slow enough pace for Granny to fish the banks effectively. Water clarity wasn’t horrible but not great at approximately three feet.
Granny likes to fish two Chernobyl Ants on a float trip whether it’s on the Nunya, South Fork or the Snake. It doesn’t matter to her that the conditions may stink. I thought with the fast flow and only fair clarity that her dries might not prevail. We drifted through a few spots that I know hold fish and nothing flinched. But then to my delight, she hooked up.
Granny yanked a nice 16” brown trout. She doesn’t dead drift her big flies. We saw a golden stone fly by so she made her Chernobyl look like one. She twitched it and dragged it more like teasing a bass than a trout. It’s a deadly technique and despite tough conditions we were on the board.
Granny nailed a few fish on the big dry while I dug hard on the oars. Again, we passed a few good lies and troughs though where we normally raise a fish but couldn’t. But in general dry fly fishing was good. I took over the rod for a few turns and landed a nice brown and one of the most colorful cutthroats I’ve seen in a while.
There’s no sign of things drying out on the Nunya. Over the last few years by mid-July the river has been low and the grass already brown. This year the grasses, willows and cottonwood trees are so green and healthy looking it’s fantastic. The air smells fresh and invigorating. And no doubt the river residents are happy. The grass was so tall here that this lazy mule deer didn’t run off. She didn’t think we saw her.
By late morning our fishing slowed. The sun was scorching hot and we had hardly an ounce of wind. It was time to break out a streamer rod. My rig of choice hasn’t changed in ten years. I pulled my 6-weight Boron III X with the Scientific Anglers Stillwater Line. This is an intermediate sink WF6I. Most think this is only a lake line but in my opinion it is “THE” line for fishing streamers from the boat. If you need to get deep just lengthen your leader (my leader is straight OX flouro) and let it sink. When you don’t need to get deep shorten it and strip the second the fly hits the water.
Granny used to complain when I asked her to chuck streamers. These days she loves it. I put my standard size 4 Olive Kiwi Muddler on the point (bottom fly) and five feet up the dropper fly was a Kreelex. When water clarity is off, the big point fly with the shiny dropper striped through the water together attract attention. Let’s just say it worked and Granny put a few more fish in the boat.
If you ever get a chance to catch my PowerPoint Show “Streamer Tricks for More and Larger Trout”, I promise you will take your streamer fishing to the next level!
Eventually we couldn’t buy a fish on any method. There wasn’t an insect on the water and it must have been 90°. It’s been ten years since we saw it this hot on the Nunya River. So instead of fishing, I pulled in the oars and we drifted down the river and drank ice cold beer. It was quiet and enjoyable. It doesn’t matter if the fishing is lousy when you and your wife have an entire river to yourself.
Before we knew it was 5 PM and we were further along into our two day float than we wanted to be. That goes to show you how high and fast our rivers still are. We had an answer to our problem. Pull over and set up camp early. We found a shady spot under some cottonwoods with a beach and flat area to build a kitchen for the evening. Once we got the tent set Granny went to work in that kitchen.
What Granny can make in her camp kitchens will never cease to amaze me. She kept it simple this weekend but it was one of my all-time favorites. We had fillets, mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini. And of course a few more beers with dinner then a bottle of wine after.
We enjoyed the sound of birds (including a few great horned owls) and coyotes. Then at dark it got quiet. That’s when I broke out my XM radio and listened to the Cubs game. I’m not much into the modern things we have access to but to listen to radio baseball like old times while in the backcountry on a hot summer night is just as enjoyable as releasing that permit a week ago!
When we went to bed last night there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We could see westward for 200 miles. But we’ve learned – when camping in the backcountry anywhere in the Yellowstone Country, pack up everything tight and put the rainfly on the tent. Thank goodness we did because after midnight and right up until we got up it drizzled on and off all night. All made for a no less than spectacular dawn.
We had everything packed and in the boat by 5:45 AM then it took me about 8 minutes to boil water for my French press. While streamer fishing would probably been off the hook excellent when we pushed off at 5:55 AM (a record for us on this trip), once again, I tucked the oars under my knees and we drifted downstream silently. We easily saw 10 mule deer, 2 pronghorn antelope and several moose. A lot of great stuff goes on before sunrise.
When the coffee was gone Granny pulled out the streamer rod and went to work. As expected the cool morning had the brown trout in feeding mode. They weren’t against the deep banks but rather the shallow tailouts going into each pool. Granny had to cast long and strip fast but she put on a clinic landing about six between 14” and 17”. By 9 AM we’d already had an incredible day.
By 10 AM the clouds burnt off and the summer sun and temperatures were back. They were welcome to us by now. We peeled off our layers and got comfortable – comfortable for a Cubs game that started at 10:10 AM. I set my XM radio up in the back seat and once again, we didn’t exactly fish hard. We kicked back and drifted downstream and took in the amazing scenery. The Cubs won their sixth straight only pushing this day further into one of the tops of 2017!
We caught more fish. We grilled hot dogs on the bank. We had a few more cold ones as we drifted. I knew the water conditions and purposely added ten more miles to this year’s Nunya float and I’m glad I did. We passed our usual take out at noon. That would’ve been too early to quit.
We had one more fish worth mentioning. It wasn’t so much the fish as it was landing him. Granny casts like a machine with streamers and her palm often gradually loosens the reel from the rod. Usually she stays on top of it and tightens it back up on occasion. Today she forgot and when she hooked this nice brown trout my Bauer Reel went over the side into the drink.
She gave me that “now what” puzzled look with panic in the eyes. I’ve seen it before so many times especially in saltwater. This was easy. I grabbed the line and pulled the reel back in then added some slack and set it in the bottom of the boat and told her not to let the trout take anymore line than was available and strip him in. This is a time when straight 0X is a dream. She landed this pretty fish with ease and some day when she has an issue while fighting a real fish – she just might be victorious.
At 4 PM we reached the end. By the time we pack up the boat and got in the Explorer for long drive south for home it hits us – the trip went by too quick. So. . . . We’ll do it again before winter comes. My schedule is insane ahead so the awesome float may need to wait until late September. But that will be fine!