Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Montana - Finished Strong

On Thursday, after 4 straight days of crazy weather, the forecast called for heavy snow overnight and on Friday.  Steve had already left on that morning to go tree hunting in the mountains east of Livingston.   Steve's other passion is collecting bonsai trees; he's got a serious collection of many dozen trees, some worth more than most folks cars.  He goes up into the mountains where the tree line ends in search of 200-300 year old wind and weather stunted evergreen trees, most less than a foot tall.  Anyway, Thursday's weather was cold breezy and although we caught fish on the Madison that day, we decided to pack up and head to Bozeman after dinner rather than take a chance on the forecasted storm..

Friday morning Paul left for the airport to head home around 4:00AM. We got up much later and after a great breakfast at the Western Cafe and a stop at Montana Troutfitters Fly Shop, Chris and I headed into the mountains south of Bozeman to fish Hyalite Creek.  Having fished this little gem in the past, we knew it was full of wild rainbows and some brook trout, and we also were confident that the cloud cover and light showers would bring a good hatch of blue-winged olives.  Hyalite creek is small by western standards. Its crystal clear water flows through a beautiful, heavily forested deep canyon around rocks and boulders and over a gravel bottom.  We also hoped the canyon walls would keep the wind to a minimum.  


Sure enough when we got to the first spot fish were rising to blue-winged olives in the tail out of the pool and in the broken water at the head of the pool.  The olives were coming off in decent numbers and were about a size #20, so I tied an olive sparkle sparkle emerger to end of a new, 2-foot long piece of 6X tippet and cast to a rising fish just off the near bank above me.  The fly drifted a foot or so before it was taken by what turned out to be a 6 inch brook trout.  As the day turned to mid afternoon, the hatch increased and with it fish rose throughout the river for a couple of hours before the hatch subsided as quickly as it ramped up.  We caught mostly rainbows that averaged 6-8 inches long, but also landed a few that went 12 inches or so.  These fish are beautiful and fight hard for their size, especially on the 3-weight I was using that day.      


On Saturday, we decided to head up to the lower Madison River and fish it just below the lower end of Bear Trap Canyon.  It was cloudy with a light breeze and the temperature was in the low 40's. The river here is very different than the 50 mile riffle between Ennis and Quake Lake - it has a more consistent, flatter flow more like that of a tail water river.  The river bottom is covered with rocks and boulders that break up the flows and provide cover for the trout, but there is very little pocket water and riffles, which is is a challenge when reading the water.  There are plenty of trout in the river though.

When I first stepped into the river there were a few olives on the surface and as I watched the water surface a single trout rose just below a submerged rock.  I focused on the spot and the trout rose again. I had expected to fish nymphs when I rigged up at the car, so I quickly changed over to a couple of feet of 6X tippet and tied on a #20 blue-winged olive cloud emerger.  I then made a couple of test casts above me and when everything looked right on the water, I shifted my position and dropped the fly above the rising fish.  A nose poked through the water surface a few inches from my fly and took a natural.  I cast again, and after a short drift the fish sipped in my offering and after a short battle I landed a nice brown.


After that more olives began hatching bringing more trout to the surface to feed on them.  Over next few hours fish rose constantly all around me as the water was covered with olives hatching.  I took rainbows and browns that averaged 13-14 inches with some larger and others smaller.  It was the kind of fishing we dream about.  I switched flies between the cloud emerger and the olive sparkle emerger, only doing so when the fly I was fishing got so water-logged no amount of desiccant powder would restore it.  Here's a video of the trout rising all around me that afternoon.  The rises were subtle as you can see here and many belied the size of the trout that created them.


Eventually the hatch subsided as the sun descended to the west and the rising fish followed suit.  As I prepared to called it quits I heard the rich, high-pitched sound of an eagle far up on the mountain across the river for me.  There above a tight stand of pine trees along the highest ridge, a golden eagle circled, powered by the cool, steady breeze that rose up from the valley below.  I took that as a signal to be grateful for the week we spent in its home territory and I called it a day.  I can still see that eagle in my minds eye silhouetted against the diminishing sun light as it soared with a purpose only known to itself.

Sharpen your hooks!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tying the Peacock Caddis

Here's a great pattern that I used for years, as have many of my friends, as tied here by Tim Flagler.  The peacock caddis has many of the elements of other effective multi-purpose dry flies - peacock herl body, a deer body hair down wing and grizzly hackle.   It works during caddis hatches, as a searching pattern, and in smaller sizes it is an effective flying ant imitation.  Another variation of the pattern is the use of two hackles - a grizzly and a brown.  Either way, the pattern works well anywhere caddis are found.
 

Sharpen your hooks!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Montana - Winter in September

We had early winter weather in September that Monday through Thursday of our trip.  When we woke on Monday, it was sunny but quite cold.   We went and got breakfast and planed our day.We decided that we would head over the Continental Divide at Raynold's Pass and fish the Henry's Fork in Idaho.  The Henry's Fork Angler in Island Park said it was cold over there, but the wind was calm and under cloudy skies.  They reported that blue-winged olives had been hatching the last few days along with mahogany duns "paraleps".   Of course, by the time we got there it was spitting and a steady breeze moved upriver, but olives were coming off and a few fish rose to take them in broken water.   Steve took a nice rainbow early on, but after that it was slim pickings - we did hook a couple before breaking them off in the thick weeds that cover the bottom of the river this time of the year.  Here's Paul in zeroing in on a riser.


By mid afternoon the mist had turned to wet snow and the wind was became steady, enough to screw up your cast and push your tippet and fly off target.  We left to go back to the Madison, while Paul and Steve stuck it out.  This was the first day of a weather pattern that stuck around all week.  A low pressure system sat over the Northwest and an outer band picked up moisture and drove it in a Northeasterly direction dropping snow and/or rain (depending on the hour) right over the Henry's Fork and Madison Valley just north of there.


Tuesday we woke to heavy clouds, snow and freezing temperatures.  Here's the view from my room.


Again, we headed over to the Henry's Fork, where it was colder with a good breeze and thunder snow.  We put up with that for a while before the snow really came down then we blew out of there and went into West Yellowstone to visit the fly shops and grab some lunch.  When we got back to the Madison, it was still snowing but not too windy, and we caught a few before dark on olive sparkle duns.  The hatch was sparse, but the fish seemed to want to eat every one that floated over their space below.


And then there was Wednesday.  Not much to be said about hump day; we fished the Madison in bright sun and gale force winds.  It was tough, lots of shot on the leader, which more often than not, did no good.  My line, leader and flies spent more time flying like a flag off my rod tip than in the water.  Again, we caught a few fish, had fun despite the conditions and I even finished up the day taking a nice rainbow on a dry.


Thursday the wind was down some, but the rain and snow was back.  We caught some fish, but again we had to work for every one.  It was a tough few days, but we dressed right and made the most of it.  Evenings were always fun as once we ate, we sat around the table for hours tying flies, talking about the day, having a few beers, and busting each others chops relentlessly.  

Sharpen your hooks.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Montana - You Never Know What You Will Get

A week ago today we returned from an 9 day trip to southwest Montana.  We arrived on Saturday the 16th, and after leaving the Bozeman airport and stocking up on food for the week, we hit the highway out to the slide section of the Madison River.  As soon as we got to the mountains, the temperature dropped and the landscape turned white from snow fall earlier that day.  The Madison valley was beautiful and very winter like for September.  After a two hour drive, we reached the cabin far above Raynold's Pass bridge overlooking the Madison River at the base of the mountain where a massive rock slide occurred during the Hebgen Lake/Yellowstone Earthquake of August 1959.  


After unpacking and getting sort of settled in, a couple of the guys got geared up and headed down to the river below the cabin.  Chris and I drove down to fish a favorite section of fast water above Kelly Galloup's Slide Inn that is roughly across the river from the cabin.   At the end of what was a short time on the water, we all had caught a couple of fish.  We ate, then settled down to tie flies and talk about plans for the following day.  

The next day we woke to bright sun and mostly clear skies, and a pretty steady breeze.  We made a quick trip to get breakfast between the lakes, and then after couple of stops to photograph the Madison between the lakes and the snow covered slide, we headed back to the cabin.     

The Madison River between Hebgen Lake and Quake Lake.

Quake Lake and a snow covered slide mountain in the background -  the snow covered area is where the mountain slid away.

That morning all of us fished the fast water, pockets, and long slicks that line the edges of the river,  below the cabin.  A couple of guys went with streamers, and I fished a dark brown #16 serendipity on a short line and did quite well.  All the fish were rainbows that fought hard before being released to fight another day.    


Later that afternoon, we decided to hit the water around Raynold's Pass bridge where the water, while still fast, flattens out enough behind many of the big boulders that we could nymph or fish dries in the event olives hatched.   About mid afternoon, high thin clouds moved over the sun and sure enough blue-winged olives began hatching in numbers, drawing the trout to the surface to feed.  The olives were varied in size, some as large as #18 and others as small as #26.  I chose a #20 improved sparkle dun, which I fished on the end of a 12 foot long leader tipped off with 5X tippet.  The rises were subtle and quick, barely breaking the surface of the fast moving water.  

It took a good, accurate cast, with a drag-free drift to get a look or take. I made many casts onto the fast moving water that didn't hit the spot for every one that did.  With all the currents and slicks between myself and the fish I was constantly moving a little this way, a little that way, until I could find what I thought was the best drift for each fish.  It took lots of line mending and leader tweaking, which was great fun and exactly the kind challenge that takes me to another place and soothes the soul like few other things in life do.  I took as many fish that afternoon/evening as I did in the morning on nymphs, only this time I saw each and every one of my targets.

It was a great start to what turned out to be a tough week of fishing thanks to the fickle weather of Montana.  More to come, stay tuned.

And sharpen your hooks!   

Friday, September 15, 2017

Eagle River, Colorado

Last week we spent a few days in Colorado in the shadows of high mountains laced with ski lifts.  Our friends had lots of stuff planned in the afternoons and evenings, but the mornings were open for fishing and we took advantage of that.  As luck would have it, the Eagle River flowed through the narrow valley at the base of the mountains below the village.  The first day we went to Vail Valley Anglers and got the lay of the land, licenses, some new stuff, and a bunch of the local favorite flies.   The three of us got to the river around mid morning under blue skies and a bright sun.  The water temperature was 48 degrees F, and the air was in the 60's.  We were wet wading, and the water was cold at first, but once you got used to it and the air warmed into the 70's, it was perfect.


All three days of fishing went the same.  Early on we had bright sun and no rising fish, so we fished dry/dropper rigs.  I use a hopper with a size #20 zebra midge off that and that worked well.  By mid morning, the air warmed and the breezes started, which in turn pushed the haze from nearby forest fires into the valley.  The haze was fairly thick and had the same effect on the insects cloud cover does; shortly after the haze moved in, blue-winged olives started hatching and with that the trout would begin to feed on top.   


Once the fish started rising, I switched to a #20 blue-winged olive sparkle dun and began taking fish on top. This lasted for a few hours into early afternoon, and a good cast with a drag-free drift over a working fish often drew a good take.  We took dozens of chunky rainbows and browns along with an occasional cutthroat trout.  Each day we fished a different section of river, each with its own character, and did well.  I used one fly for almost all of the fish I took on top - I had to switch to another once in a while as the fly would get totally water logged.  Once it dried though, it went back on the end of my 6X tippet.  It took a beating all three days, but it stood the test as you can see here.  It's now retired.


I know it sounds like it was easy fishing, and for the most part it was, but it wasn't like every cast got a strike.  We got plenty of refusals, and even more drifts that were not even getting a look.  These fish wanted a perfect drift!  The other thing is that the wading was not easy.  The bottom is strewn with round, slippery rocks of all sizes that make it much more difficult than it looks in the photos.  Also, the water is very clear and as you can see below it looks fairly shallow, it is not.  Right in front of where I took that photo the water was a good 2 feet deep, and across the way on the other side of that big rock, it's 4 feet or so - we know, we tried to cross there. 


We had a blast and I hope to get back there sometime soon.  I do want to thank the guys at Vail Valley Anglers as they were very generous with information and all around nice guys.  If you are ever in Vail or Beaver Creek Colorado, be sure to go see them. 

LINK: Vail Valley Anglers

I'm off to Montana tomorrow morning - I'll report back when I return.

Sharpen your hooks!      

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

An August Afternoon on the River

After getting a few things done around the house Sunday morning, I had some lunch before the call of the river had me heading to the South Branch to wet a line.  The last few nights had been very cool, and that day we had high thin clouds filtering the high sun and perfect temperatures for October in August.  After getting set up, I took the water temperature and it was a comfy 65 degrees F.  This is one of my favorite times of the year to fish - water and air temperatures are such that you can literally immerse yourself in the river by wet wading.     

      
I started well above the Ken Lockwood Gorge section of the river intending to work my way down into the gorge and then back up.  I really had no goals in mind except to take a long walk/wade in the river on a beautiful day and take in the sights and sounds of the woods; and if a trout should take my fly that would be icing on the cake.  Initially, I had an iris caddis on the end of my tippet, which I fished wet.  I took a couple of rainbows in the first few runs and as I was moving down to fish the next run, a fish rose on the far bank under a clump of multiflora rose bushes overhanging a soft spot in the current.

I quickly cut off the iris caddis, changed tippets to a long 6x, and tied on a #20 Matt's Gnat.  This is my go-to fly when I don't see anything on the water and conditions are such that subtlety is required - slow, clear water flowing like it is thicker than it really is.  I cast the fly well up above where I saw the rise to get a read on how it looked and floated on the water, before lifting and making a couple of quick false casts and then dropping the fly above the fish.  The fly floated along unmolested, so I picked it up and in one motion dropped it a little further above the first spot.  It drifted less than a foot before it was grabbed by a wild brown that after a brief battle measured about 8 inches long.

From that point on decided I would only fish the dry for the rest of the outing.  Over the next 4 hours I waded and walked (around other anglers) my way to the bottom of the gorge before turning and heading back up river.  I fished only the shallower riffles, runs and pockets that most anglers pass on and took quite a few rainbows and wild browns, nothing over 10 inches. As I moved along, I dropped the fly in every foam line that flowed below rocks over the darker river bottom made up of small cobble and stone.  I rarely saw the trout, as they blended in well with the bottom.  It was all about making a solid first cast along with the knowledge/confidence that many of these runs held at least one fish.  I fished this one fly the whole time, retying it on to the tippet after every few fish, and I don't think I made a cast over 20 feet.         

It was one of those days that is very satisfying, not only because of the weather, but especially because my low expectations were met with good results.

Sharpen your hooks.