Thursday, June 9, 2016

Go Fish

My favorite time to fly fish Lake Lowell is when all the cottonwoods foresting the south end of the lake are flooded in high water, providing a refuge for bass to lurk amongst the trees. Poor Gracy has been plagued with having to hear about the lake ever since the watermark hit flood stage for the trees. One evening, once Mason was all fed and happy, Gracy ordered me to go fish Lake Lowell.  Now I'm not sure if she recognized my need to fish, or just wanted to get me out of the house... either way, she didn't have to tell me twice.

The flooded trees was a welcomed sight. I geared up quickly and tied a popper at the end of my line. The weather was a bit unsteady, and as soon as I stepped into the water large droplets fell from the sky.  It didn't matter, because I was under the shelter of the flooded forest which also blocked the wind. The water was very still while wading the trees, which is the reason why I could hear the echoes of song birds in every direction. One call in particular caught me off guard, but not in a bad way. Could it be... a hermit thrush? The distinct call was unmistakable, and it pierced through its companion's. The sound of the hermit thrush made me smile, but I was a bit baffled as to why it was here. The bird is mostly found in the alpines. Perhaps it is migrating and happened to seek shelter in the trees to avoid the rain on its way north. I guess I will have to look up the migration of the hermit thrush, I thought as I flicked my popper in between some trees.

My popper was not bringing any bass to the surface, but I did get a few follows. I switched my fly out with a small crawdad pattern in hopes it would do the trick. I flung my fly where I had seen a bass following my popper, and let is sink before making a strip. A flash about a foot under suggested a take, so I quickly set the hook and felt the fight of a bass. The little guy came in quickly and I held it under water for a cool picture. 

The little bass bolted when I let it go, and when I flicked the water from my fingers I hear the hermit thrush again. I would like to think the little song bird was happy to see that I let the bass go.

I went back to fishing the crawdad with the same kind of retrieve, and again did not feel a take, but saw the flash of a fish just under the surface. I set the hook, and felt a much bigger bass this time. 
"Whoa, here we go!" I said out loud as the bass started to put up a good fight. I didn't have the range of leverage while cramped in between the trees, so I did my best to keep the bass from running and breaking me off around a sunken log or bush. The bass was not jumping, it was running deep just like I had feared. I tried to lift my rod tip higher, but was stopped by some low hanging branches. I was now more conscious of where my rod was going, and tilted it off to the side to get the leverage I needed and tire the bass quickly. I could now see it, and in a matter of second I had its head out of the water and lipped it before it could take off. 

This is a nice bass, I thought as I held it at bay just under the water. I'm sure there are bigger bass in this lake, but this was the biggest one I had ever caught here, so I admired it for a second longer before releasing my grip. The bass did not bolt away like the first one had. Instead it slowly swam away, allowing me to watch as it faded through the trees. 

I could have stayed and fished that spot a bit more, but I had promised myself that I would check out different access spots on the lake for future fishing; and find some I did.  I explored until the sun started to set, which provided me with the opportunity to practice my photography. 

Now the next time I have an opportunity to fish out at Lake Lowell, I have a new spot to explore. I left the lake hoping I would return before the water gets too low, and who knows, maybe there will be another hermit thrush there happily singing its song.

Monday, May 23, 2016

No Fishing Washington During Opening Season

To build revenue, Washington started planting large fish with prize tags to get the locals excited about fishing the low elevations lakes during opening season. To keep out-of-staters, like myself, from coming in and only taking advantage of this open season fish prize hunt, Washington has restricted out-of-staters from fishing low elevation lakes for the first few weeks of opening season. Furthermore, if I did want to fish the low land lakes, I would need to purchase an out-of-state license, but for me it would not be worth the extra expense for one day of fishing. 
Dusty Lake was the lake I had chosen to fish before I was told I could not... The thing is, I really wanted to catch a tiger trout. I have yet to catch one, and they do not stock them in Idaho; so this spring visit home was my best shot. Sure I was annoyed, but it wasn't illegal to fish Crab Creek or Rocky Ford Creek; at least I could still fish, right? 
Sort of... 
The wonderful distributors of Washington fishing licenses in Moses Lake would not even sell an out-of-state day license, even after their law was explained to them. Lucky for me I had a printer nearby, and was able to purchase my one day fishing license on the Washington Fish and Game website. 

After everything was squared away, my dad and I found ourselves on I-90 headed towards Crab Creek, but not before stopping to grab my dad some coffee. My dad is a regular coffee snob. He can tell if the coffee was made fresh or ten minutes ago, which in his mind is not fresh at all. I can always tell when they got his coffee right by his non-stop slurping. Normally that sound comes from a shop-vac cleaning up a spill in the house, and the only difference is that after a long slurp, my dad ends his with a smack of the lips and a long "aaaaaaaah" of approval. 

My dad’s coffee was nearly finished by the time we reached Crab Creek, and after gearing up I headed down to the creek to see if a dry fly would bring up a fish during runoff.  After no such luck I switched to a euro-nymphing rig, and my dad and I walked upstream.

On the way upstream we stopped and fished the deeper holes to see if there were any fish holding, but no one seemed be home. Up and up we went in search of holding water, but we kept turning up empty.

“Well if the fish are not here, then I don’t know where they would be.” I said, as we looked over the deepest spot in the creek yet. My dad tried his luck with a small streamer, but nothing took. The last ditch effort was my nymphs, which I plinked down and led downstream, ready for my slinky to indicate a strike. Nothing happened. The drift was over, so I prepared to cast again. In that moment my nymphs rose in the water column, which caused a small figure to dart out from the undercut bank. The small fish ate my rising nymph, and I felt the small tugs of a fighting fish.

“Oh, cool. You got one.” My dad said, coming over to look at the little shaker. It was nice to finally see a fish, but just as quick as I got it into my net I got it back into the water. The little fish darted back into its home, and we continued our search for more. 

My dad found some promising looking water to throw his fly, but he still came up empty. As I walked along the edge of the creek, I held my rod tip out so that my flies were in the water as I moved downstream. I brought my flies out of the water and noticed something attached.  At first I thought it was a small piece of foliage, until I saw it moving. After a closer look I recognized that it was a little red sided shiner that took the record of the smallest fish I have caught this year.

Where there is a tiny fish, then perhaps there are bigger ones. Right where I had brought out the little shiner, I flicked my flies in the water and got a take.

Another little rainbow was in the net in no time. I looked up to see if my dad was in ear shot, but couldn’t see him anywhere.

With my dad nowhere in sight, I continued fishing to bring out a few more little trout before we met back up and decided to check out another part of Crab Creek. However, on the ten mile drive to the other location, we ran into a closed road that was the only way for us to reach the creek. Washington was really sticking it to me this trip.

Both my dad and I took a break in the day, and after a few hours of visiting family we found ourselves headed to Rocky Ford Creek to finish off the day.

My brother had just fished Rocky Ford the day before, and with the opening fishing season he said the place was packed. I was looking to avoid the crowds this time around, but with the limitations on where I could fish, Rocky Ford was my only other option.

There was easily ten people stuffed into a small corner of the creek, and I hated to imagine how many more there were earlier. The funny thing about the creek is that there is no season on it. It is open year round. Yet people came by the truck loads to fish it during opening season, when in reality they could have fished the day before opening season and been one of the only people on the creek. 

Sadly, my dad and I were stuck in the middle of the combat zone. I had three fish hit my suspended midge, but I wasn’t able to capitalize on the take.  

Both my dad and I fished until we couldn’t see anymore, and then fished a little longer. By the time we decided it was time to go, we were the last one on the creek. I was surprised my dad lasted as long as he did without a single complaint of how cold it had gotten, but he did... perhaps he is starting to get the hang of fly fishing after all. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

2016 Orvis Rendezvous Honors Reese Ferguson

On top of the guide competitions, live band, and free beer and wine provided, Orvis also hosts a fly fishing film event where Travis (Hank Patterson) would give a quick presentation before they kicked off the fly fishing videos for the evening. Travis always delivers a great performance, but this time would be a little different. He would also mention the passing of his life long friend, Reese Ferguson, that all of us had gotten to know through the Hank Patterson videos. Despite his rehearsals, there was no clear path he would take when talking about Reese at the live performance... It would be interesting to hear what he had to say. 

While the rest of the festivities took place outside, Travis left early to go over his presentation. Both Jason Jacopian and I listened in and offered feedback if needed, but by now Travis had his presentation locked in and ready for the crowd.

The reaction from the audience is always spectacular, and Travis gave one of the best performances I had seen yet. His 2017 Hank Patterson for president campaign went well, but the best joke was when he mentioned the man-buns. If you have never seen a live performance by Hank Patterson, it's worth the admission. 

The crowd cheered as Travis ended his presentation, and as soon as the cheering slowed down, he turned back around to talk about Reese...
"Many of you know my buddy Reese has been battling cancer, and just the other day he passed..." Travis's voice broke.
"I can't do this..." Travis said, before he turned his back to the crowd and fell silent.  

Travis Swartz does not fall silent, EVER! The recent passing of his friend was well known through the fly fishing community, and there was a large mention of condolences from just about every fly fishing company on social media.  

Everyone in the crowd that has experienced the loss of a loved one understood, in that moment, what had just happened. No one in the crowd made a sound, except for a few sighs of the people that were unaware of Reese's passing. Travis stood with his back to the crowd, and I wondered if he was going to be able to talk about Reese at all... Then, in a matter of seconds, he was back. 

Like nothing had happened, Travis spoke to the crowd about his friend. It was the perfect story to tell that covered the significance of the Orvis Rendezvous and Missoula. You would have had to have been there to fully appreciate the subtle jokes Travis made about his friend that made you wish you knew him better. In the end, Travis thanked the crowd, and in response, over 800 fellow anglers stood in honor of Reese Ferguson.

It was the perfect ending to a fantastic weekend vacation. A number of Hank Patterson fans stopped to talk with Travis and to pay their respects to Reese. The rest of us trickled out of the theater and headed to the Tamarack Restaurant for dinner.

Travis joined us after a while, and we all had a laugh about the events that happened during our weekend: Travis's perfect presentation, my drink of choice, Joel's first turkey, Jason actually catching a fish, Deb's awesome cookies, and the moment when Joel lost his new iPhone in the Bitterroot River. Yes, it was a good time indeed, and I am already looking forward to the Orvis Rendezvous in 2017.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Joel's Early Morning Turkey Hunt

After a long day of fly fishing and a late night out, I thought waking up at 5:30 a.m. would have been difficult, but it wasn't. In fact I was awake long before 5:30, laying in bed hoping to get a little more sleep before 5:30 came, but no such luck. I crept up the stairs with only the shimmer from my phone to light the way, and saw that Joel was up as well. He took his dogs out to go potty and came back in to fix up some coffee while I had tea. With the dogs good for the morning, he fastened three arrows in the holder of his compound bow. I grabbed the slate turkey caller, and followed Joel down and into the blind.

Turkeys were gobbling in every direction, but I think I could make out the calls of five different birds. It was time for me to make some enticing hen calls with the slate... SCRATCH, SQUEAK, SUQEAK! The sound I produced made me cringe, but I was quick to try again. SCRATCH! I immediately stopped. 
"What the hell?" I whispered. "I was making the calls so well yesterday? I am sucking at this right now... and when it matters most!" Although I was whispering, Joel could tell I was frustrated.
"Yes, you are sucking at this right now." Joel whispered back... "Just in case you were looking for validation."
I smiled and shrugged, disbelieving my two terrible attempts.
"Let me see that." Joel said, and took the turkey call to try his luck. ERP, ERP, ERP... The sounds that he made were perfect, and he did it once more before handed the call back to me. 
We sat in silence for a little while, wondering why we hadn't heard a gobble. I was about to make another hen call when Joel asked, "What is that?"  
His voice was barely a whisper, but I could hear what he was talking about. It sounded like a furnace was being lit, almost a deep, folf-ing noise of igniting a fire. It happened again, and then it dawned on us... It was a strutting turkey.  No sooner had we figured it out than a turkey came walking about ten feet from the blind.

We both froze, and with the turkey so close, Joel didn't risk knocking his bow. We both heard the low, base-like sound come from the turkey as it strutted in front of our blind.

I was watching the turkey, but could clearly make out the sound of an arrow being knocked. Joel pulled back and held on to the arrow for a long while. 
"Shoot it..." I whispered with intensity.
Joel's arrow rocketed towards the turkey, but it was a miss. A few turkey feathers floated to the ground indicating how close of a shot it was.
"Damn, how did I miss that?" Joel whispered in disbelief. 
The turkey started to run, giving off a few warning clucks but stopped as soon as I made another hen call. 

My turkey calling had faltered earlier, but it was superb now. Immediately following the hen call, I was able to produce a purr that not only stopped the original spooked turkey, but brought in two more.  

"Get ready, get ready!" I said quietly, but Joel didn't need to be told twice. Another arrow was knocked as two more turkeys came into view.
"The second one is bigger." I whispered, and Joel took aim. He held his arrow pulled back, and did his best to calm himself. The second, bigger turkey was just out of my sight and a little further out, and that's the one Joel was aiming for. Joel took a deep breath, then let his arrow fly.

"It's a hit!" Joel said, a little louder now that he didn't need to be quiet anymore. The turkey flew off with the arrow stick in it, and we watched the direction it flew before getting out of the blind to look for it. 
"I was so fired up when I took my first shot at that turkey, and after I missed I realized I hadn't even aimed through my sights." Joel explained, as he looked for his bird. 
"I know the feeling." I said back, and pointed out the bright colors of an arrow under the shelter of a pine tree.

There we waited until we were sure the bird had taken his last breath. When it was all over, Joel grabbed his bird from under the tree and brought it back to the blind. 
"Well, we better get a few pictures of your first turkey!" I said happily, as Joel posed ever so proudly behind his kill.

Joel and I replayed our successful morning, remembering fine details about every second of the hunt. For us, it was a nice way to honor the bird that gave its life. After a while we made it back to the house where the rest of the household came out to see Joel's trophie. It was a good morning, but now we had the Orvis Rendezvous to get to.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rock Creek and the Orvis Rendezvous

Warm temperatures cause snow to melt off of the mountain, and when that happens the runoff muddies up the water. This makes for tough fly fishing, but that was not going to stop us. Also, we could only fish for half the day if we were going to make it to the Orvis Rendezvous for cocktail hour. 
Joel drove Travis, Jason, and I to one if his favorite stretches of the creek, and we geared up knowing the deck was stacked against us. To my surprise, Travis was ready to fish at the same time I was, so together we walked to the river to see what we were in for.

The flows were definitely high and the water was too murky for dry fly fishing, so I tied on some of my favorite euro-nymps to get deep where the fish might be. The best looking water was across the creek, so I carefully made my way over. Sadly, I was only there for a short amount of time before Joel called me back to drive further upstream. Getting across the river in the first place took me a while, and now I had Travis watching me as I inched my way back. It wasn't like he was there to help me if I fell; he was there to just witness the fall, if it were to happen. He had even found a large wading stick that he held at his side while I shuffled my way over. 

A few close calls but, to Travis's disappointment, I did not fall in. We all made it back to the truck where Joel drove us upstream to some calmer water. The water was still off color, and sadly there would be no escaping that today. I still had my euro-nymphing leader on, thinking that would be the best-bet outfit to hook a fish. Travis hit the water first, armed with a skwalla. He was fishing the rocks I wanted to nymph, but if there was a chance he could get on on a dry fly, he deserved the first shot.

Nothing had so much as looked at Travis's fly, so I started to move into position to nymph around the large rock.

I was slapping my flies down hard to give them extra velocity to get deep fast, and that was exactly what needed to happen. On my first cast right behind the rock, my slinky sprang to life. I set the hook quick, and the weight of a fighting fish was unmistakable. It performed a few acrobatic tricks by leaping out of the water a few times before I netted it, and on a day like today, I was happy to even see a fish.

I spent a lot of time nymphing behind that first large rock after I let my fish go, only to come up empty handed. I made my way right behind the large rock to nymph the rocks directly upstream and, once again, I slapped my flies down hard to get them deep fast.

I was leading my flies downstream when my slinky jolted straight, and I set the hook. 
"There's another one!" I yelled upstream to Joel who was throwing a streamer. He gave me a thumbs up and continued to pitch his streamer as I netted my fish. 

I dipped the little rainbow back into the water,and watched it bolt away in the murky water. I hooked my net onto my back, and gathered my flies to make another cast when I saw Joel was hooked into a fish. His electric blue fly rod shimmered in the light as the weight of a fish doubled it over.

Joel brought the fish in fast, and didn't bother with a net. He simply scooped up his fish with his hands when it was tired.

Joel hooked into another fish as I continued to nymph the rocks, but two each was all we could bring up. Travis had said he had hooked into a fish, but after further questioning it turned out he had back-casted a small trout... and who knows where the poor thing ended up.

With the water getting more and more murky, we decided it was time to head back into town for the cocktail hour at the Orvis Rendezvous. After having a baby, it would be nice to kick back and have a drink or two with friends in the fly fishing industry.

"I'm going to get a Sex on the Beach!" I told the gang, as we entered the Rendezvous. 
"You are not going to ask for a Sex on the Beach." Travis stated with confidence, as we walked into the festivities.   
"Like hell I'm not!" I said, and got right in line to order my drink. 
"I think I'm going to have to see this for myself." Jason said, as I got closer to ordering. I was soon the next one to place my order, and with Orvis taking care of the bill I was feeling chipper.
"What would you like, dear?" The bartender asked as I stepped up to the counter. 
"I'll take a Sex on the Beach, please..." I said, looking over to see Deb, Joel, Jason, and Travis watching with unbelievably large smiles. 
"You know what... make that a double!" I said smiling, which got Jason's eyes to widen. The bartender quickly made my drink, and Jason drew his camera from his pocket and snapped a picture just as she was handing it to me.

Travis, Jason, Joel and Deb all got beers from the cooler next to the bar, and we kicked around saying hi to fellow fish bums for a few hours before heading to the Tamarack Restaurant for dinner. The Tamarack is one of our favorite places to eat while in Missoula, and after a few drinks at the Orvis Rendezvous it was the best way to end the evening. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Montana Troutaholic Bitterroot River

It was like a Hank Patterson fly fishing film reunion as everyone stepped out of their trucks to launch their boats on the Bitterroot river. Joel Thompson, whose house was invaded by Hank and his crew in the movie "Hank Patterson's Reel Montana Adventure", had set up three boats with shuttles through his outfitting business, Montana Troutaholic, for a day of fishing with the crew. The crew included: Ami Trina, who played the yoga girl in the 2nd film, Jason Jacopian, who was the president of the Hank Patterson Fan Club; and, of course, Travis Swartz, Hank Patterson himself.  

Deb Thompson, Joel's wife and fellow tea drinker, was also there to join the fun along with fly fishing guides Gabe Miller and Brock Long. After fun introductions we were all set up with healthy looking skwallas tied on to each of our lines, ready to kick off the day.

I was in the back seat of Brock's Adipose boat, with Ami at the front, as we kicked off to fish.

Brock's rowing was top notch as he got us into perfect position to slam our skwallas near the edge of the river bank, and slam them down we did. Ami and I were doing our jobs by not leaving a single portion of the bank unfished, but nothing was interested.

Further downstream we drifted and a fish not so much as a glanced at our skwallas. Still we kept with the dry flies, especially after we saw that Jason had hooked into a nice cutthroat with his skwalla. 

We switched over to the Chubby Skwalla pattern that Jason had been using, and almost immediately afterwards Ami's fly got a hit.
"Damn!" She yelled, after setting the hook and nothing was attached. It was the only action we had seen in our boat the entire morning, so we all stopped to talk strategy before pushing on. Deb had made cookies for our float, and Travis had his hand out and ready for one before Joel had the container open.

The old-me would have sat back enjoying my cookie until we pushed off to fish again, but I do not have the luxury of fishing whenever I want anymore; therefore I easily talked myself into setting up a full nymphing rig.  I awkwardly held my cookie in my mouth as I fiddled with my leader and selected flies that would hopefully do the job. With the increasing flows on the river, I figured it would be the best way to catch fish. 

No one suggested a full nymphing rig during our strategy discussion, probably because nobody wanted to be "that guy" who brought it up... But here I am... being "that guy". The best part about it, is that no one noticed that I had rigged up to fish with a nymph; that was until...
"There's one!" I said, setting the hook after my indicator went under. 
"Oh good." Brock said, "What did you get it on?"
"A nymph." 
"Are you fishing a full nymph setup?" He asked, as he grabbed his net and scooped up my fish.
"Yep. I switched over when no one was looking." I said with a laugh.

I dipped my fish back into the water, and it shot away fast. 
"I had to get the skunk off the boat, even if that meant throwing dirty." I said, gathering my line to continue fishing. 
"Hey, with how today is going, that's okay with me." Brock said.


It was a good decision for me to switch to nymphing. I was getting way to aggressive with my dry fly fishing, and too often I was encroaching into Ami's water getting our lines tangled in the process. With nymphing I could easily stay behind the oars when fishing, and it had paid off again. This time it was a brown trout that took the rainbow warrior I had as a dropper. Brock was there with the net, and was also willing to snap a picture of me with my fish before I let it go.

I had to hand it to Ami. Despite my immediate success, she stuck it out with her dry fly. She did add the same dropper as I had on, and tried her luck with that as I continued to nymph deep. 
"Get that seam, there!" Brock said, and he added a few extra back strokes to give us more time to deliver a good presentation. 
Ami hit it first with her dry dropper, and I with my nymphs. My orange indicator shot under right in the seam Brock had pointed out, and I set the hook fast. 
"Got it!" I said, and Brock went for his net. 
"It's a nice one!" I said happily, noticing the fish was fighting harder than the last two. My hands were lifted over my head to bring up the fish over Brock's net, and with one healthy scoop the fish was landed.

"That's why I love the Bitterroot; it provides nice cutties like this." Brock said, as I let the fish slip from my fingers. We continued downstream until we caught up with the rest of the crew who was already parked and out of the boat. Joel was cooking up some Brats on his portable grill while the rest of us determined who was the next to row.

In the mean time, Joel had poured everyone a shot of Kentucky Bourbon to toast the passing of Reese Ferguson. Parked on the side of the Bitterroot river seemed like the right place to honor a man who we got to know through fly fishing, and it was a nice gesture by Joel to include Reese in our day.

Just as Joel was packing up his gear to continue our float, Brock pulled out his fly rod and walked up the slow stagnate braid in the river that looked uninhabited. Armed with a skwalla, Brock took careful steps to get into position to make the perfect cast into the deeper part of the side channel. His skwalla landed with a splat right on the outside of a small stump in the water, and the next thing we heard was the thrashing of a nice sized brown trout. We all watched in disbelief as Brock landed his fish, and I didn't waste any time running down to get a picture.

The excitement of Brock's fish had us all determined that a dry fly skwalla was the way to go for the rest of the day. I was now behind the sticks and doing my best to get Gabe into some fish. We would often stop and fish some promising runs that looked fishy, but would turn up empty before pushing on.

After a while of rowing, Gabe took the oars so that I could have a shot at the front of the boat.  With nothing hitting Gabe's dry fly, I switched back to a full nymphing rig.

The success rate had gone up after that, only I kept losing every fish I was hooking into. One fish in particular ripped line from my reel before it became unbuttoned. The thought of losing that fish haunted me, but it was short lived because the take out was just up ahead. 

"How was the rest of the day?" I asked Deb who came to the edge of the river to see us in.
"It's a little tough when the guy in the front of the boat is flogging the water." She said, glancing towards Travis. I quickly looked over to see if Travis had heard Deb's comment. 
"Darn, he didn't hear." I said, smiling. 
"It was okay. I did get a fish on a dry fly." She said, after Joel and Gabe got the boat on the trailer.
"That's good." I said, as we all gathered our gear and said our goodbyes. 
Tomorrow we would fish Rock Creek, and with any luck the flows will remain neutral, providing us clear waters for good fly fishing. I can hardly wait.