Tuesday, February 2, 2016

First Stick of the Year

“Oh my God, look at that guy!” Phil said with amazement looking out the window of my car as we headed out to fish. I glanced out the passenger window and saw what Phil was talking about. There was a guy with his shirt off, carrying a 45 lb circle-weight down Simplot Hill for exercise. 
“Doesn’t he know he can just roll that weight down the hill?” Phil chuckled.
“This is the North End, Phil...” I said, while Phil kept watching the guy’s face straining as he mechanically walked downhill with the weight. “... People that live in this part of Boise think that is fun.”  
“Geez...” Phil mumbled.
“What do you say we get the hell out of this part of town?” I said, and Phil concurred. We stopped to grab a fishing license before gunning it to the nearest section of river to start fishing.  

Phil and I were rigging our fly rods for euro nymphing when his phone chimed with a text message.
“I won’t be able to fish with you guys today. Can you get some shots of the Shadow II for me please?” Phil said, reading his text message from Pete Erickson. 
“Do you have a Shadow II on you?” Phil asked. 
“No... I’m fishing with my ten-foot-five Helios.”   
“Neither Erik or I have our Shadow II fly rods.” Phil said, reading the text message as he wrote it back to Pete. 
Phil's phone chimed gain, and Phil let me know that Pete was not happy we were not going to get any picture of his Shadow II for him. 
“Hold on, Phil.” I said, as we started our walk to the river. I took out my camera and took a picture of both of our shadows.
“There! Send that picture to Pete.” I said, smiling over at Phil, who loved the solution.  

Even though it was a beautiful 44 degrees outside, I was still wishing I had worn my gloves. The slight breeze was biting at my little fingers, but there was no time to run back to the car.

Phil was just upstream from me, and we were both fishing the water hard. Finally, my slinky sprang out to indicating a strike. I set the hook fast, and a two foot stick shot back in my direction. 
“Whoa, Phil!  This one’s a jumper!” I yelled, getting Phil’s attention.
“Nice! You caught the first stick of the year!” He yelled, then went back to fishing.

Yes, catching sticks is one of the drawbacks to European nymphing: the nymphs we use are heavier than normal, and go straight to the bottom of the river; therefore, something like a stick that is stuck in-between a rock will catch onto the hook and trigger the slinky as if a fish had hit your fly. It’s really no big deal, except... for a split second... there is a little give to the stick, and with the water pushing it downstream, it can react like a fish pulling on your line. It’s the disappointment a second after you recognize you don’t have a fish, and having to deal with a yucky stick that tricked you.

It was a few sticks later when Phil and I decided to try a different spot in the river. I already had five sticks under my belt for the evening, while Phil had none... But who keeps track of these sorts of things? 

The new spot looked promising, and Phil started fishing the nice diamond-water producing a shallow riffle that I have had great luck with in the past. Phil was doing everything right: his flies were flicked right above the drop-off in the run, his rod was held at a perfect 45 degree angle, and his lead on the flies was a touch faster than the current to ensure an immediate hook set if needed. 
“There it is!” I yelled, after Phil set the hook and his fly rod bobbed with a fish. 
“Oh, no!” Phil laughed, after lifting his rod higher to reveal he had a rather large stick. 
“Man, that felt good too.” Phil said, unhooking his stick and releasing it back into the water.    
“It looked like you had a fish on.” I said.
“Well...You know what our problem is?” Phil asked. “We should have been targeting sticks if we wanted to catch trout.” He laughed, as he made his last cast of the day.   

“Well, it’s still worth getting out.” Phil said, as he packed his gear in the back of my car. 
“Yes it was...” I concurred. 
“It really felt nice to get that stick in.” He laughed. 
“Well, not that I was keeping score, but I did pull in a few more than you today.” I said.
“True, but I did get the big stick of the day.” Phil said, seriously. We got in the car and I put it in gear to drive off.
“Wait!” Phil yelled... “Is there a reel sitting on the back of your car?” He asked. 
I got out, and sure enough, Phil’s reel was sitting, cold and alone, on the back of the car. The poor thing was cold to the touch, and still wet from fishing. I got back into the car and handed Phil his reel... “The poor thing probably feels neglected.”
“Shut up and hand it here.” Phil laughed, as we pulled away... An expert in fly fishing, Phil Rowley started the first fly fishing day of 2016...SKUNKED!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Getting Much Better

“We always come out here when it’s raining.” Feef said, looking out the window. I turned off the car, and it didn’t take long for the view to become distorted by heavy raindrops after the wipers stopped.
“It’s the best when it’s raining, Brother!” I said, and hopped out to gear up. Feef quickly followed, and we were both walking upstream when he said, “I think I know how to dry fly fish now.”

Feef was looking forward when he was walking, so it took him a moment before he realized I was starring at him uncertainly.
“What?” He said, “I do!”
“Well…” I said, with heavy doubt, “I guess we will see.”

The rain really started coming down as we made our way across the river in search of rising fish. I already had an olive RS2 tied on my line, and for good reason. Despite the rain, it was easy to make out the disturbed water where fish were rising. It was now time for Feef to prove his dry fly fishing skills.

“Do you see them, brother?” I asked.
“Yep.” He said back, his eyes fixed on a fish that was rising nearby.
“That’s your fish. I will go over here to get out of your way.” I said, and left Feef with the steadily rising fish.

I watched Feef for just a second, and to my surprise he didn’t start casting right away. From the look of it, he was timing his fish before making his first cast: a good sign he may have just known what he was doing…
A fish rose in my casting region, which grabbed my attention, and with all the confidence in the world I presented my RS2.  I was trying out a new leader I had rigged up with the tapper measurement from my French friend, Eric Bacon. My ten-foot-five-weight Helios fly rod turned over the leader easy, but as it extended my fly fell out of view.
There it is, I said to myself after catching a glimpse of the wing. I watched fish rising out of my peripheral vision but none were taking in my fly, so I went to cast again.

“What the heck?” I said, as I lifted my fly rod and had a fish on. I was obviously watching the wrong fly drift downstream and had missed the fish rise to my fly. But that’s ok; I’ll still take the fish!  

The first healthy specimen of the day kicked away with no trouble at all, and with others beginning to rise more and more I dried off my fly to get back to fishing.

Feef was making a few well-timed casts to the fish he was working, but the fish didn’t seem interested.  As far as I could see he was doing everything right, but sometimes there is that one stubborn fish that won't take a damn thing. With that in mind we switched spots in hopes that he could cast to a fish that would eat his fly, and I watched as the fish Feef was after kept rising. 

“Oh no, Brother!” I said laughing. “No, no, no!”
“God damn it!” Feef said, heavy hearted, as he looked over to see that I had hooked into the very fish he had struggled with just moments ago.

“I don’t know what happened, it just ate it.” I said, obviously suppressing my excitement.
Ohhh, it just ate it.”  Feef said, sassing my words.
I just looked back at him with the kind of smug-smile I knew he would want to punch off my face.
“God!” Feef yelled out again, “I hope it breaks off!”
“Now, Brother… Don’t hate the player.” I said, as my fish took off for another run.

“Look at how red the stripe is on this one.” I said, after I netted my fish.

Feef came over to look before I unhooked my fly and dipped the fish back into the water.

The red stripe from the fish was still very visible under the water, and we kept our eyes on it as it disappeared into the river.

“Alright, Brother, what the hell are you doing wrong?” I said, as I reconnected my net to my back. 
“I don’t know. I’m timing them, and my fly is going right over their heads.”
“6X tippet?” I asked.
“BWO RS2 size 20?” I asked again.
“No, I changed my fly.”
“To what?!”
“To a black elk-haired caddis.” He said. 
“WHAT?! What happened to the RS2 I gave you!?” 
“I got it snagged behind me, and broke it off…”
“Why didn’t you ask me for another one?”
“You were too far away.” 
“I WAS TOO FAR AWAY!!!? Brother, I was standing no more than twenty feet from you!”
“And look!” I yelled, while pointing to the stagnate water at our knees.

“Do you see those?” I yelled, pointing to a few hundred bugs on the surface of the water. “Those are baetis, and we mimic baetis with a BWO.”
“I know!” Feef yelled back.
“So then why the hell are you fishing with a black elk-haired caddis?”
Feef didn’t answer back…
“How long have you been fishing with that fly?” I asked, after I took a breath.
“Well… I lost the RS2 on my second cast, then switched.”

“So you have been fishing with the caddis the whole time…” I asked rhetorically.

“I just want to catch a fish with the help of my brother…” Feef said, looking so pathetic it made me laugh.
“Give me your fly.” I said, but grabbed it before he had a chance to hand it over.
“Get that fish.” I said, handing him a fresh BWO RS2.
Feef didn’t hesitate. He got into a good casting position, and timed the fish before he presented his fly.
“There!” He yelled, shooting his fly rod to the sky.

“There it is!” I yelled happily, after seeing my brother’s frown turn upside down.

“God, it feels so good to have a fish!” Feef yelled out as his fly rod jolted like a seismograph detecting an earthquake. The fish was putting on a show by leaping out of the water a few times before it was close enough to net.

"Come on, come on!" Feef said under his breath, as he followed the fish around with the net like a dog chasing its tail.

“Get it, Brother, get it!” I said to cheer him on.  
Feef was still chasing the fish around with his net, but made one step closer and landed his fish.
“Yeaaaaa!” He yelled, holding the fish in the net.

“Don’t forget to give it a drink of water now.” I said, reminding Feef to keep his fish in the water. 
“Yeah.” He said, keeping the fish in the water as he unhooked his fly.
“This is a nice fish, huh Brother?” Feef asked. 
“It is. Do you want a picture?”
“Hell yeah!” Feef yelled, and held up a nice looking rainbow trout.  

“Well...” I said, after Feef let his fish go, “... will lightning strike twice?”  
“It better!” Feef said happily, drying off his fly to take a shot at another fish. And another fish came indeed. Feef targeted a nearby rising fish, and had it timed quickly. A few casts had him hooked into another fish. 

Instead of chasing his fish around, he brought in his leader a little more so that landing the fish wasn’t as much of a challenge.

After we had admired his fish, I figured it was okay for me to go back to fishing. 

Feef was holding his own, hooking into another fish downstream from me, just as I was landing a fish of my own. 

“You have to look at the spots on this one.” I said, happily. 
“Oh now that’s a nice fish there, Brother.” Feef said, taking a quick glance, still fighting his fish.
“Yes it is... just look at those SPOTS!” I yelled.  

“Look here!” Feef yelled out as his fish drew near. 
“Your tearing it up, Brother! Go get 'em!”  
“Okaaaay!” He hollered back. 

“Are you still getting them on the RS2?” I asked.
“Yeah, but I haven’t caught as many lately.”
“I switched to the Magic Fly, and it seems to be doing the job.”
“Can you give me one?” Feef asked.
“Yeah.” I said, and handed over the fly, then went back to fishing.
“There’s one!” I yelled. 
“This is definitely the fly to have!” I said, after landing my fish and taking a quick shot before letting it go.

With the both of us hooking into fish after fish the day flew by quickly, and before we knew it, it was getting hard to see. 

“Well, Brother. I think it’s time to get going.” I said, letting my last fish of the day back into the water. 
“Yep. It’s getting cold, too.” Feef conceded, and we made our way back to the car. 
“Great day!” Feef said, as he broke down his fly rod. 
“We caught a lot of fish today, Brother.”
“Yes! And it’s about time I got into some good dry fly action.” He said. 
“Now you know...” I took a deep breath, “ ..what it’s like to be me.”
“Oh, shut up! He thinks he’s all cool!” Feef said with a smug sound in his voice. 
“But you were right, Brother. You have gotten way better at dry fly fishing.” I said, starting the car.
“Yep, and of course... I can’t come back next week because I have to leave town for work.” He complained.
“The fish will be waiting for you.” I said, and drove away from the river, knowing Feef would return on his own next time, and forget all about the RS2.   

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Monster In The Mountains

The wind cut through the trees like an icy dagger, piercing us right to the bone, as Bert Williams and I put together our fly rods to fish the banks of the alpine lake.

 “I may actually need my jacket today.” I said, as I dug for the fleece jacket in my backpack.

“It did get cooler after we stopped hiking.” Bert observed, as he lengthened the sleeves on his shirt.
“What fly are you tying on?” He asked.
“Little green beetle.”

“I think I have one of those.” Bert said, and after tying one on he found a rock to cast from.

There were no fish in sight, which is not a good sign when the water is as clear as it was that day; however, I have been fooled by this before. The best thing to do in these situations is to cast your fly out to the darker shaded water, because that indicates there is some kind of drop-off where a fish could feel better protected by its camouflage.

As soon as my beetle smacked down, a small shadow sprang to life. The dark oblong shape raced up to my fly and snatched it from the surface.

“Blam!” I yelled, setting the hook. Small flickers of chrome reflected in my eyes as the little fish struggled to free itself, which also caught the eye of something much more surprising. Another shadow bolted from the depths, only this one was gunning for my struggling fish, and happened to be the size of a large Hickory Farms summer sausage. The speed of the large fish took me by surprise, and it only stuck around for a second before it disappeared. I quickly brought in my little fish and unhooked it, with little goodbye, before I stood to cast back out for a chance at the bigger fish.

Small fish were smacking my fly, and I resisted setting the hook on them in hopes they would shake free and the bigger fish would steal my fly from them. That technique was only working half way: the smaller fish were shaking free from my hook, but the bigger fish were not taking the opportunity to steal the fly. After several attempts to entice the bigger fish, I decided it was time to move on. I lifted my fly rod, causing my fly to wake across the surface of the water, which got the attention of the big fish.
“Oh no, no, no!” I yelled as my fly came off of the water before the fish could take it.

I stood there far too long trying to bring that fish back up again, with no luck. I saw that Bert had moved further around the lake and thought that I better do the same.

Together, Bert and I leapfrogged each other from spot to spot in search of fish. One of the major reasons to get to the other side of the lake was to have the wind at our backs. As soon as we hit the other side, the wind switched directions and remained blowing in our faces. That’s typical, I thought as I went to cast my fly.
“There we go!” Bert yelled, and I looked over to see his rod bent with a fish.

“This is a big fish!” Bert yelled, “A very big fish!”
“Big enough for a picture?” I asked.
“Yes… And there are two more following it!” Bert’s voice cut through the wind as he kept yelling with excitement, “Get over here and cast to one of these other fish!”
I was already ahead of Bert. I had my line in and fly connected as soon as I heard there were some big followers, and was in full sprint through the thicket, headed his way. I arrived too late to see the other two fish, which was ok, but I was more surprised that my fly rod didn’t snag in a tree limb as I scrambled over. There was no need to get close to the bank to see Bert's fish; as I approached I could see the mass of it as it thrashed in the shallow water.
“Bert! It’s a monster!”

Nether Bert nor I had a net to reign the large fish, so we made sure the fish was finished fighting before Bert held it up for the camera.

“Just look at that fish, Bert!  Stop everything and just look.” I said jokingly, yet being serious. There was no need to say that to Bert, because he was right next to me looking at his fish.
“It’s a nice fish.” Bert said, as we both stood over the fish that was back in the water and rejuvenating.

“You don’t even know…” I said, trying to recall a time when I had seen a bigger fish in an alpine lake, let alone caught one.

“There it goes.”
“Yep.” Bert said, as we both watched his fish slowly swim away. The clear water allowed us to fully appreciate the release, as the fish swam deeper and deeper until its shadowy form was the only thing we could make out… And then it was gone.

I hit Bert on the shoulder and smiled after we stood up from watching the fish. My gesture was taken as a compliment, as Bert smiled back. I could tell he was purely happy about his fish, and he stuck around that spot a while longer while I continued around the lake.  

I always make a point to hike all the way around every lake I come to, and as I made my way across the northern shadow of the mountain I started to regret that decision. It was clear that this part of the shoreline didn't get much sunlight, if any at all. The ground was extremely wet and muddy, so there was no walking on it unless I wanted to sink ankle deep. Furthermore, the logs I was walking on were wet and slick from being splashed by the waves that were blowing straight at me. I could only hope that Bert was not experiencing the same as he retraced his steps to head back the way we had came. After I was through the most dangerous part of the path, I did hook into one more fish. It was nowhere near the size of Bert’s monster, so I let it go without a photo.

Bert and I managed to find our way back to the car, which is tough when the Forest Service does not maintain the path.
“That is a hell of a way to end the high mountain lake season.” I said to Bert, showing him a picture of his fish on my camera.
“You will have to get me out again next year.” Bert said, as he sat in the driver’s seat of his car.
 “On the contrary, my friend. It will be you that needs to get me out next year.” I said.
“That’s right! You’re going to be a dad by next season!”
“When is Gracy due?”
“February 20th”
“Well… It’s fun. Your life will definitely change, but it’s fun. I’ll be sure to get you back up in the mountains.” Bert said, as he kicked his car into gear.

“Here’s to that!” I said, raising my water bottle up to accept his gesture, and to solute our last alpine lake of the season.