September 12, 2010
Day 2 in the Jackson Hole One Fly is where you need to make things happen. With our team in 2nd place we wanted to make the move forward and win the One Fly. Realistically, all each of us needed to do was have a slightly above average day. This sounds easy, but isn’t. Out of four anglers one could simply lose their fly, pick the wrong fly or just plain and simple, have an off day. I had pressure on me to perform. I drew the South Fork and it typically produces higher scores. While average on the Snake River is about 250 points, average on the South Fork is about 350 points. I really needed to make sure and break 400.
Deciding what fly to use was difficult again. Originally I planned to fish a streamer, but streamers are risky. Indeed the streamer paid off yesterday, but risk wasn’t such a factor as our team wasn’t in 2nd place yesterday. You can easily snag a streamer on unseen sunken tree branches or a rock and your fly is gone. The other thing about streamers is that when the fish aren’t on them, you could get skunked. Either way, if I didn’t come back today with a full card I’d hurt the team.
I arrived at the South Fork Lodge for breakfast at 6:15 am. This is where our guides and boat mates meet up for the South Fork. I had breakfast with good friend Mike Lawson. Mike too was in the One Fly and was also spinning about what fly to use. He also scored well on the Snake River yesterday and knew a good South Fork score would help his team and perhaps move him into high individual standings. Taking the pressure off us, we both decided we’d leave our fly choice up to our guide.
When my fly fishing guide Mike Bean arrived at the breakfast table he didn’t exactly tell me what fly to use. He too was torn. He’s seen me hammer fish on streamers and would do anything to see it today, but today the weather was crisp and clear and temperatures were expected to reach 77º. Streamer fishing on the South Fork can be slow I such conditions. With a small Pale Morning Dun dry fly he was sure I could fill my measured fish card. That is if I could keep the fly all day without losing it and hope that it didn’t fall apart. Both are major concerns with a small fly. Then we met my boat mate Scott. Scott was set on fishing a small dry fly. That was it; I too would go with a size 18 Pale Moring Dun Parachute Cripple.
Mike Bean is one of the best South Fork River guides and he had a plan. He pushed us away from the Spring Creek Boat Ramp at 8:15 and rowed like a mad man so that we would be in a good dry fly spot at exactly 8:30. Like yesterday, it was cold as heck and thick frost blanketed everything. When we got to Mike’s spot it was too cold. Not a fish stirred and even blind casting to where we knew fish lived did not entice a rise.
Fortunately, as the sun rose so did the thermometers. Today was going to be another September day of dreams. Scott and I simply had to be patient with our small flies. If the trout weren’t awake yet there was no sense in casting them to the banks and risk loss and add unnecessary wear and tear. With the exception of a few riffles we relaxed, held our flies and waited for the first insects to hatch.
It took longer then we expected. At 10:30 neither of us had one point on our score cards. There were no bugs and no rising fish. It was plenty warm enough by now. I was in shorts and a t-shirt and I was hot. Where were the fish? Mike remained cool and rowed us to his next spot. Sure enough there was our first rising fish of the day. Scott and I were rotating the front of the boat each hour and it happened to be my turn. I studied the fish’s rises for a minute then delicately landed my cast. My presentation was poor compared to a normal day. The reason being that I was attempting to fish my tiny dry fly on 2X Rio Powerflex Tippet. On any normal day of fishing I’d have a size 18 dry fly attached to 4X or perhaps even 5X. But this was the One Fly Contest; I wasn’t going to risk fishing with a light tippet this early in the day. I flipped a couple mends in my fly line to help my stiff looking fly along and to my delight up came a gorgeous Yellowstone Cutthroat to consume it. I set the hook and like a normal day in paradise the fish was on and I brought the 16” trout to the net. Yes, I had my first fish of the day.
I was set to measure the trout. He was easily 16 inches and would score me 60 points, but Mike had bigger fish in mind. Somehow he talked me out of measuring the fish and accepting him as a mere 2 pointer. Wow! I was hesitant, but I picked the fish from the net and released him without measuring him. Then I plucked my fly up from the net and was just about to drop it and roll cast it out again to start fishing when I saw my PMD was not attached to my leader. My tippet had broken in the net! My heart dropped and a feeling of near disaster overtook me. When I told Mike what happened he nearly went into shock too.
I had work to do. Somehow I damaged my tippet earlier in the morning and didn’t know it. I cut the entire piece off and carefully tied on another with a triple surgeons knot. It took much longer than normal as my hands were shaking. Then I leaned back in my chair with my fly tightly clenched in my left hand and took a breather while Scott made some casts to some more rising fish. That was a close call.
Ten minutes went by and Scott wasn’t getting it done. Several fish rose to his fly but he missed each one. Mike asked me if I was finally ready. I was still rattled, but I made my cast and quickly hooked up. I landed another gorgeous 16” cutty. And once again, Mike talked me into taking him as a mere 2 point fish. I was a little uneasy letting these 16 inchers go without measuring them for bonus points. I knew all I needed was 400 points to help my team. What if now after I let these guys go I didn’t fill my card, or worse, lost my fly?
I missed the next three quality fish that ate my fly. It seemed my luck was taking a turn for the worst. It was after 11 when finally I hooked up again. Although I was relieved, this wasn’t a gentle fighting cutthroat but rather a scrappy rainbow. The bow leaped twice and then took off for the middle of the river and dove for bottom. I had little control. I knew he was down deep looking for trees to snag me on and rocks to grind my tippet against. It was really gut wrenching. At last, the fish gave in and Mike netted the rainbow. Enough is enough I said to Mike, measure that fish. I was just too uncomfortable without a bonus point fish on the board. He measured the rainbow and sure enough he was 16 inches on the nose.
I continued to miss fish but managed to pick up two more bonus point trout so that by 1:00 I had two 16 inchers and a 17 incher on the measure card along with several two point fish. I had three more hours to reach 400 points. Unfortunately Scott still sported a zero. He just wasn’t connecting at all. When Scott returned to the front of the boat Mike worked hard by coaching him while he fished to a pod of risers. It went on for fifteen minutes or so while I patiently watched from the back of the boat. It just wasn’t happening for Scott. Then in one swift move Mike spun the boat and said Jeff take a shot. I whirled a false cast straight up in the air as not to hook anything in the boat and as I went forward I felt my fly burry into something high above us. It was a cedar tree branch dangling a good 30-feet above the river. Disaster had struck.
As the three of us tracked my fly line and leader up to the cedar branch there was dead silence. It was worse than initially thought. The branch was a snarled mess of twigs and needles high above the boat. You could follow my leader with your eyes but the fly was buried out of sight. By now Mike had the anchor dropped and was heading up the bank as if to just climb the tree and undo the mess. But it wasn’t so easy. This was a big tree extending off a cliff like bank and the first branch to grab for climbing was 10-feet up.
I handed my rod to Scott and headed up to the base of the tree where a bewildered Mike Bean stood with a very sad look on his face. I simply asked him for ten fingers and up I went to where I could grab that first branch. Using complete adrenaline, I swung my legs up and started to wiggle my way through closely knit branches high into the tree. Once I thought I was at the branch my fly was on, I asked Scott to pull tight to my fly. Soon I was scaling my way out over the river on this branch. But there was no way. I was out as far as I dared. The branch dipped down and swayed side to side as if it were about to snap. If the branch broke from under me I’d fall 30-feet onto jagged river rock. All I could see was my 2X Rio Tippet tightly wound and snagged deep in a cluster of branches about 8-feet from my reach. I was absolutely screwed.
Our first move was to try to reach it with the net. Mike threw it up to me and even it got tangled in the branches. This was not the tree to mess with. At last I got it and pushed it towards the end of the branch where my fly was. It was a useless operation. As I sat there uncomfortably and discouraged as you could be, I gazed at the anchor rope in the boat below me. That was it. If it was long enough I could tie it to this branch and from the ground we could pull on it until it snapped. It was a long shot, but the only shot.
Mike and Scott had to be shaking their heads by now, but Mike went through the trouble to disconnect his anchor. I hung like a monkey from my knees and Mike threw me the rope. I wrapped it around the branch so we had two ends of the rope to pull on and our last hope was underway. I climbed down and stood in the boat with my rod while Mike, a good sized man, pulled the rope. At first the branch was like a rubber band, it just wouldn’t break. Mike was actually getting tired of bouncing on that rope. Then without any hint at all the entire 300lb branch came crashing down on Mike and I. Once we realized no one was hurt we cheered and laughed. We had made a historic fly rescue.
My fly still wasn’t easy to find. It was tangled in there so bad that we never could have retrieved it by pulling my tippet. I was drained. I was scratched up, stressed out and plopped in the back of the boat and drank a beer. Now I had less than two hours to catch at least three more measurable fish. And poor Scott still hadn’t caught a single fish. Worst of all the trickle of a hatch we had earlier was all but gone. Things were ugly.
I felt terrible that I put my boat mates through such drama. I drank another beer and just sat and watched as Scott drifted his PMD along the bank while Mike back rowed. I wanted to fish but Scott needed to catch one first. There were absolutely no randomly rising trout. About then Scott buried his fly in the back of my neck. I let out a yelp. I don’t care what you say; even a small fly in the neck hurts. The One Fly is a barbless tournament so I reached up and carefully grabbed it and attempted to jerk it out. Unfortunately the flattened barb wasn’t flattened all the way and the skin on my neck stretched out an inch and snapped back putting the fly deeper into my neck. It was in there good. Scott felt terrible. I told him no big deal and Mike pulled over and with his forceps made a nice clean rip and the fly was out. Mike said it was time to check on his pets so while I soaked up a little blood with my t-shirt off we went to the cliffs of the South Fork Canyon.
There’s always a few cooperative fish at the cliffs. Scott tucked a cast into the first cave and wham, he had his first fish of the day and it was 15”. I was glad to see Scott on the board. As they measured I snuck my own cast back in the cave and I landed a 17” cutthroat. Things were looking up again. I only needed two more fish of 16 inches to rally for 400 points.
Let’s just say the last hour was a grind. Scott all but gave up on the day. It was hot. There was no hatch. Most of Mike’s pets were hiding. Things were bleak. I felt I didn’t deserve it, but Scott gave me the front of the boat again. For the last 45 minutes or so I made risky cast after risky cast. Sometimes I tossed my tiny PMD against the willows in fast water while other times I side armed so far back under trees that if I got hung we’d never find the fly. And it paid off. I went on to fill my card and my measurables included three 16” and three 17” trout. I also had sixteen two pointers and by miracle, kept my fly for another 25 point bonus. It was one of the toughest competition days I can remember but I grinded out 460 crucial points.
My poor boat mate landed only one fish. He wasn’t alone. Although there were a few fantastic scores on some fancy ant, many on the stretch did not fill their cards. This included Mike Lawson who hooked and lost a nice fish in the last minutes of the contest. When I arrived in Jackson after my near two hour drive from the South Fork Canyon, the scores were in. The Good Times Team had dropped to fourth place. Gary lost his fly before catching a fish today and our other anglers had a tough day. There was some good news though. Gary’s big 23 ½” brown from Day 1 earned him the big fish trophy and my grind of both days earned me third place individual. All our practice earned us something. It was a great One Fly and next year perhaps we can take the next step and the Good Times Team can win it all.