Monday, October 13, 2014

Louie Lake Club Outing

The Boise Valley Fly Fisher's (BVFF) organization  hosts a fly fishing event every month, and this month's extravaganza was hosted by yours truly.  I have always wanted to go on an alpine lake hike with the club, because it is the best way to meet new people in the fly fishing community. A quick phone call to ask McCall's alpine lake aficionado, Mike McLean, if he could help out on the outing would seal the deal.  Mike agreed to help and lead everyone up the trail on the day of the event.

There were fourteen of us all together, with some never having walked up to an alpine lake before. Tom, a member of BVFF, was no rookie when it came to alpine lakes. His light-weight float tube fit nicely on his back, which ended up working out to his benefit on the water.  

The first obstacle on the path was a small bridge made of tied-up deadfall.  I stood aside with my camera ready just in case someone fell in... sadly, no one did. 

The fall is a great time to walk up to an alpine lake.  The leaves are turning colors and there are little to no biting bugs this time of year.  

The Louie Lake hike is considered a moderate hike, due to the distance and the steep hills on the way. I, however, had lied and told members that his would be an easy hike, no longer than a mile and a half.  I figured if I told the truth, less people would show up.  One gentleman I came across called me out after a mile uphill, stating, "Erik, we need to have a talk about what you would call easy." Despite the slight miscommunication, the view of the lake, paired with the smell of fresh water and evergreens, made the hike worth it.

While everyone headed left on the bank of Louie Lake, I headed right to selfishly fish my favorite section of the lake... alone.  Laughter echoed across the lake as members of the club put their gear together. A part of me wished I was over there to enjoy the conversation, then a fish rose. Like a cat watching a laser beam, I watched the fish as it swam the shore.  My fly of choice was a pico ant, which I sent flying out to the fish.  Without delay, the fish came up and ate it!

Judging by the bronze flashes as the fish fought, I had a cutthroat trout on.  I brought in the fish and as it got within arms length it spit the hook.  The fish sat leisurely as I scrambled to grab my camera.  I was able to get a shot of it as it casually swam back into the lake.

The pico ant seemed to be the fly to have.  Another choosy fish was coming up to eat on the surface, and it took me a while to figure out its feeding pattern.  Once I felt confident enough to predict where it was going to surface next, I laid out my fly. 
"Come on, fish." I whispered to myself, and a moment later it smacked my pico ant!
"HA!" I yelled, setting the hook and bringing in a nice, shiny cutthroat.

My fish hadn't even bolted away before I found my next target. The new fish's gulping pattern was moving further and further away from me out into the lake.  It was too far to cast by the time I had got into a good casting position and, as if the fish knew, it stopped rising as soon as I was ready to cast.  With nothing to aim for, I decided to try my luck, and cast out my fly.  The pico ant sat on the water for a long time, untouched. I gave it a few twitches, and a fish came up and nailed it.  Whether or not it was the same fish I had casted to a moment ago didn't matter; after all, it was still a fish.

The fish darted away, and I couldn't help but chuckle as I looked up: there were three float tubes on the water, and a bank full of club members rock hopping along the bank and casting to fish.  I couldn't help feel a little bad for the other anglers that made the hike up to avoid people.  The thought of spotting the fourteen of us walking over the ridge, into sight, made me chuckle. 

Half the day was over, and I could see others who had the same idea as me: to walk the entire lake.  The fish at my section of the lake were starting to wizen up and refuse my fly at the last second.  However, if I continued to fish for them, they would eventually take.

Two other members of VBFF, Tom and Erin Labrecque, were within ear shot of me now, and my wife Gracy was not far behind. I walked over to meet them and found that Kiwi was the most excited to see me.

Both Tom and Erin were fishing as they walked over.
"I got one!" Tom yelled, as his rod bent with every tug of the fish. He called for his wife, Erin, to come and take a picture, but Erin was fishing and didn't want to stop.  Tom had brought in his fish, and in the time he was fighting it, I had bolted over to get a picture.

"It's about time you made it over here." I said, "But you are too late, I have already caught all the fish."  Both Tom and Erin smiled, then Tom said, "Oh, Erik... you are still as modest as I remember." Erin had yet to hook into a fish, so I grabbed her leader and tied on a Pico ant. 
"There you go, no excuses now." I said.
"There, do you see it?" I said quickly, pointing out a fish.
"Yeah!" Erin said back, and I quickly got out of the way so she could cast. The fish refused her fly the first time, but then came back and ate it. 
"Fish on!" Erin yelled. I was quickly there with the camera.
"Look at that stance!" I said, and took a picture of Erin bringing in her fish.

She brought a cutthroat trout into the net, but before we could get a hero shot the fish flopped out and back into the water. 
"Well, at least you can say you got a fish today." I said, before we continued to walk the banks of the lake.  I met up with my wife, and as we sat a fish rose.  She had her fishing license, but was not interested in fishing for the rising trout.  I did offer it to her first before I got up to make a cast.
"Sit here, Woman, and watch year man catch a fish." I said, in my best hillbilly voice. She shot me an dissatisfied look, as I smiled back at her, then caught a fish. 

I thought I had spotted long time BVFF member and good friend, Larry Donahue, from across the lake.  I quickly made my way over, where he was perched on a large rock, to fish with him. 

I don't get to fish with Larry very often, so I was sure to make the effort to find him.  I discovered that this was Larry's first time to Louie Lake, which made me happy I committed to hosting the outing. 
It was getting late, and we all had to get going if we wanted to get back to Boise at a decent hour.  I did catch one more fish as I quickly walked back to meet with the rest of the members. 

Our group of 14 whittled down to 7 as the day went on, and together Gracy got a shot of the members who stuck it out to the bitter end.   

I was asked if I was going to host another alpine lake trip for next year by some members who couldn't make this trip.  With Mike McLean as our leader, I believe another trip will be in our future, I assured.  Until next year... 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Next Day at Rocky Ford Creek

A looming time restriction is the worst thing to bring with you when fly fishing, but without it I would not have been able to fish this day. 

As I walked the bank, looking for an opening in the cattails, a rising fish caught my eye.  The fish was an arm's length away from the shore, so when I saw it rise, I froze.  A few side steps ensured I was not visible to the fish, then I slowly walked downstream so that I could approach the fish from behind.  The fish rose again and again, reassuring that it hadn't spotted me.  Tricos were fluttering all around, and when the fish didn't even care to take a closer look at any of my patterns I had presented, I stopped and watched to see if I could determine what the fish was eating.

Tying on a pico ant had crossed my mind, but I would be a fool not to be a little more patient before I changed my fly. The patience paid off: after a few more seconds, a small grey bug came floating down and the fish swam about two feet over to eat it.  Callibaetis, I though, and dug out my mayfly box to select and tie one on.
My callibaetis hit the water like a feather and was floating right near the fish.  A slow movement from the fish was all it needed as it came up to my fly.  I held my breath as the fish moved in slow motion: 10 inches, 5 inches, and now 1 inch from my fly... and then I received the most visual refusal I have ever seen. The fish's head turned away from my fly so quickly, a small undertow brought my fly subsurface.
"Why you little..." I muffled behind clenched teeth, as I casted the water out of my fly and presented it again. Another refusal made me lose confidence in my fly, so I picked it up and laid it down fast. As soon as my fly hit the water it started sinking.  It was nowhere near the feeding lane of the fish, and my fly was now three inches underwater, and sinking. Slack line was everywhere, and I had stood up straight to stretch when the fish bolted over and took my fly!
"Whoa!" Was all I could muster up as I scrambled to regain control of the mess that was my fly line, and set the hook.
A strong connection was made, and my fish was pissed! The fierce splashes it made echoed across the silent creek as I pulled it closer.  Other fish in the area were spooked from the violent shaking.  When there was no hope of escape, the fish came in close enough for me to snap an underwater picture.

The fish kicked off fast as soon as the hook was free.  With a smile, I watched as my fish darted away.  I had spent a significant amount of time on this one fish, and it was worth it.

Time was against me once again on Rocky Ford Creek.  In the spirit of hooking into a few more fish, I started sight nymphing. As I brought in my fourth fish with a nymph, my alarm went off to remind me it was time to go.  I quickly brought in my last fish, and let it go before clipping the fly from my line.  One last look at the creek made me think of the friends I wanted to bring. Ryan Spillers would love the streamer fishing. Steve Adkins loves fishing the Rocky Ford so much, that when he's in town and grabbing coffee in the morning, he will pick up the tab for the person in the car behind him... just because. The thought of it makes me smile... "Until next time Rocky Ford!" I said, then turned and walked away without looking back.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Back Home for a Wedding

Needless to say, I found myself at Rocky Ford Creek for a day of fishing before heading off to my buddy, Tom Los's wedding.  

I arrived early and geared up fast, and although there is no wading at Rocky Ford, the sight of stinging nettles inspired me to wader up anyway.  I started with a dali llama streamer, which got me into my first fish in no time. 

Two younger guys saw me fighting my fish and came over to talk. They were from Spokane, WA, and new to fly fishing.  Naturally our conversation revolved around the basic fundamentals of fly fishing Rocky Ford Creek, and the idea of fishing a spring creek in general.

“Sight nymphing is the most effective way of fishing the creek.” I explained, as they listened.  Standing on the bridge, I pointed to a fish slightly downstream from us. 
“I bet you can catch that fish right now with a nymph.” I said, leaving them with the confidence to catch the fish. 
After thoroughly fishing a small area with my dali llama, with only a few bumps to speak of, I walked back to the bridge where I had left the two guys from Spokane. 
“Anything yet?” I asked. 
“No.” He said. 
“Let me see your fly.” I asked, as he pulled it up. I noticed there was no weight to his fly. I had forgot to mention how deceptively shallow Rocky Ford can look due to gin-clear water.  
“Do you have a nymph with some weight?” I asked. 
“Yeah, I think so...” He said, reaching for his box and pulling out a small, brassy nymph. 
“Perfect!” I said, and rigged up his line, adding some smaller tippet. He plopped the nymph down, but was a little off on his presentation. I did my best to explain where to place the nymph, but one look from him suggested he didn’t quite understand.  He handed over his rod for me to demonstrate. 
“Okay, the fish is about six feet deep, therefore I need to place my nymph a ways in front of the fish so that it has time to sink down to the fish.” 
“Ok.” he said watching. I plopped the nymph into the water, and we both watched as it sank to the level of the fish. As the nymph neared the fish, the fish leisurely moved over to it. 
“Ok, there it comes!” I said excitedly, as the fish ate the small nymph. 
“And there’s your fish!” I said, setting the hook and handing the rod over for him to fight the fish.  He took the rod, and walked over to an easy spot to land the fish.  I took out my camera to snap a picture, and right when I did, the fly came unbuttoned from the fish’s mouth, ending the fight. 

“That’s ok; these fish are still hungry and there is another one right here for you to catch.” I said, before walking up to the parking lot to greet my dad, who had finally made it down to fish with me. I rigged up his rod as he geared up, and soon we were fishing. 

I watched as fish rose off in the distance and thought, what a great opportunity for me to introduce another gem in my fly box I call the PICO ANT!  With its small profile and wide-gaped low-viz black barbless hook, it was sure to fool even the most snobby of trout.  Well... this is it, I thought as I launched the pico ant out to the rising fish.  The small white wing on the back made it easily visible at 70 feet, and I breathed a sigh of relief as a fish ate it with no hesitation!  The thrashing fish got my dad's attention, and he came over as I landed the fish and snapped a picture. 
“What did it take?” Asked my dad, after the fish bolted off. 
“A pico ant.” I said, with a smile.
“You got another one?” He asked, smiling back. 
“Yep, something we cooked up in the fly shop.” I said, before I turned back to watch the rising fish.  I could see another rising fish, and judging by its mouth, it looked bigger than the fish I had just caught. 
“Do you think you can get that one?” My dad asked. 
“Let's see.” I said.  
This fish was further away than the last fish, so I peeled off line, and shot it out a little ways in front of the rising fish.  My dad and I watched as the small white wing of the pico ant coasted closer to where we had seen the fish.  A large disturbance near my ant suggested a refusal. 
“It refused me...” I said, disappointed; but then, as if rethinking its decision, the fish turned back and slammed my fly!
I handed my camera back to my dad and brought in a nice slab of a fish!
The Pico ant was working great!  I brought in another 20-inch fish, but for Rocky Ford Creek that’s no big deal, so no need for a picture...

We decided to fish a different section of the creek, and as we walked back, I went see how my Spokane buddies were doing.  They had yet to get into a fish since the one I had hooked for them previously, and were still after the fish I had pointed out. 
“Will that fish not take?” I asked, looking into the water. 
“No, it won't seem to eat the fly.” One said, as the other continued to look at the fish. 
“May I give it a shot?” I asked, and he handed over his fly rod.  I explained, in detail, what I was doing as my nymph plopped into the water.  Just like before, the fish reacted to the nymph, and ate it! 
“Here you go.” I said, handing the rod back with a fish attached. The fish leaped out of the water, and came unbuttoned quick. 
“Man, you caught that quick!” The other friend said, as he watched  the fish swim away. 
“It doesn’t always happen that way.” I said, before my dad and I took off to find another spot. 

The aquatic vegetation was thick at our new spot, which made streamer fishing tough.  We found a fish near the bank, and after seeing how successful I had been teaching the Spokane boys how to sight nymph, my dad decided to throw on a nymph to try his luck.  Sure enough, after a few casts, he was hooked into his first fish of the day!

I didn’t offer up any advice as my dad fought the fish; I just watched and was ready with the net. 

The fish made a run for it, and my dad kept his rod tip up.  The fight was lasting way too long, and the fish was moving further away. 
“Okay, Dad, you better bring it in.” I suggested. 
“I can't; it keeps pulling.” He said, keeping his eyes on the fish. 
“You are going to lose it if you don’t apply some pressure.” I added as the fish swam deeper into the vegetation, but it was already too late.  The fish had tangled the leader and tippet around the vegetation and shook free, leaving my dad fish-less. 

We moved to a new spot and I immediately found a fish willing to take a streamer.  Though the fish got away before I could bring it in, the hit and fight felt good.
"I got one!" I heard my dad yell.  I looked over and saw that he was indeed fighting a fish.

I reeled in quickly, ran to my dad's side, and could see that his fish was putting up a good fight.

"You need to get its head up over that moss, and bring him in." I said, but that wasn't going to be easy.  The caught fish was tiring, and just as my dad brought the fish up to pull over the weeds, it exploded into another run.
"Holy cow!" My dad said under his breath as the fish tore away. That, thankfully, was the fish's last run. With a big heave the fish was brought over the weeds and into my net.
"Oh my God!" My dad said, lowering his rod tip, finally able to relax his arms. He reached for his fish and brought it up for the camera, but the fish had different plans. It flipped in his hands, fumbling all about, as he tried to maintain control. The fish settled down, and after seeing how he had it held, my dad lifted his head and smiled for the camera.

We quickly got the fish back into the water, and it kicked off with force.  I only had time to pull off my line and was about to cast when I heard my dad.
"I got another one!" He yelled, so I reeled up all my line and headed over to help.

"My arms are getting tired." My dad said, as the fish fought to stay away.  This was a much bigger fish than his last one, and it was taking twice as long to bring in.  My dad's arms were fatiguing fast with every tug of the fish.
"Bring it in fast." I suggested.
"I can't!" He said back.
"Yes you can, the fish is tired; bring it in!" I said, watching the fish.
"You do it then!" He yelled, and handed over his rod.  I felt the weight of the fish, and it was definitely ready to come in.  I lifted its head out of the water, and with the rod doubled over, brought it in quick. My dad looked at me smugly, after I accomplished the maneuver in less that ten seconds.
"Did you think I wasn't going to be able to do it?" I asked, as he picked up the fish for a picture.

"Is this the big fish of the day?" My dad asked, holding his fish.
"The one I fought with the Pico ant was bigger." I said, leaving my dad frowning. I went to snap another picture and the fish flopped right as I took the shot!

I quickly picked the fish up and held it in the water.  At Rocky Ford Creek if you let the fish go too soon, it will turn belly up.  Though it will start to swim away, you need to hold the fish until it kicks hard.  I held my dad's fish in the water, and the sheer force of the kick this fish gave startled me; there was no holding on after that. 

We finished the day off by each catching another fish.  My dad had become quite the fly fisherman: today he proved that by hooking into five fish with very little help.  It was only a year ago when catching a fish for him was merely just a thought, and now I am almost certain he will get into one.  Though we had plenty of daylight left, we had to get going... There was a wedding to attend after all.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hebgen Lake

The term gulper fishing came from the infamous Hebgen Lake, and my dream of fishing it was finally here.  Even though the forecast threatened rain and electric storms by 1:00 p.m., Terry Kowillas and I were up early to start the day off right.  

I had been texting Phil Rowley like a teenager to gather up as much information about the lake as possible. Phil didn’t disappoint, providing me with Arcanum knowledge only a local would know. 

Terry oared to where we could see a few rising fish off in the distance, and the closer we got, the less they rose. We found this to be typical as we engaged the gulping fish.  Out of the corner of my eye I made out a disturbance on the surface of the water. 
“There, Terry!” I pointed, and with one good stroke of the oars I was within casting distance.  I blasted a cast out to where I had seen the disturbance... and nothing.  My fly sat motionless on the surface of the glassy water for longer than I would like to admit. Perhaps the fish will turn back around and eat my fly, I thought, but it wasn’t happening.  

Terry sat back behind the oars to move the boat to a different location, and I started reeling in my fly.  The small wake from my CDC caddis was barely noticeable, but it was exactly what a cruising fish was looking for.  WHAM! 
“Whoa!” I yelled, setting the hook.
“Did that fish take your fly while you were reeling it in?” Terry asked. 
“Yeah!” I said happily, and went to hand Terry my camera.  Terry did not take the camera from me, but instead scrambled like a madman for the net. 
“Did you see the fish that took your fly?” Terry asked, as he readied the net. 
“No.  It doesn’t feel that big.” I said.  I stood up to get a better view of the fish, but it was not needed.  
“It’s bigger than anything you caught on Quake Lake!” Terry said excitedly.  Just then the fish sprang out of the water, and I saw the full girth of it.  
“Whoa, crap!” I yelled. 
“Yeah!” Terry confirmed. The fish was seriously fighting now, pulling and tugging with all of its weight.  With quick maneuvers by Terry, and my ability to get the fish’s head up, Terry netted it quickly and got a stunning shot of me and my brown trout. 

I quickly got it back in the water and held it for just a second before it kicked off. 
“Got one!” Terry said. 
“Seriously?” I asked, still flicking the water off of my hands after releasing my fish. “What did it take?” 
“A caddis.” Terry said, “I just started twitching it and caught a fish!  Kind of how you caught your fish.”  

Terry’s fish was putting up a great fight.  His Hardy reel was screaming as the fish made run after run. With a good heave, Terry brought the fish in and I scooped it up with the net.  He got a handle on his fish and held it up for one of Terry’s photogenic fish pictures. 

“You could smile.” I said, as Terry released his fish, and his response was, “Naaaaaaaa.”  
To our surprise the weather was holding up better than expected, with only slight drizzles here and there. As soon as there was a little cloud cover and calm water, it was easy to make out gulping fish.  
“There’s one.” I said to myself, as Terry started to take a nap.  I stood alone on the boat, and watched as a fish gulped and was swilling over to its next meal, which happened to be my fly.  Its little mouth was open and inched from my fly.  I hope it doesn’t refuse my caddis, I thought, but less than a second later, my fly had been taken.  I quickly set the hook, and the fish bolted!  I didn’t realize that I was standing on my fly line as the fish ran, and SNAP... the fish was gone. 

“Crap!” I yelled, recognizing my malfunction.  I quickly tied on another CDC caddis, and was back to searching for a gulping fish. Another fish presented itself, and after it took a natural, I noticed the direction it was swimming and launched a fly in its path.  My fly sat untouched, and I thought I hadn't placed my fly down fast enough.  The fish had changed its approach; it came shooting up from under the fly and exploded on it!  The sudden eruption from the fish startled me, but not enough to forget what I was doing.  I set the hook and brought in the rambunctious fish. 

I watched as my fish swam out of the net, then looked up to see Terry, ready to fish. I oared over to him, and he jumped in the front seat. 
“How was the nap?” I asked. 
“Great! I feel much better now”. He said, as he readied his rod. 
I stayed behind the sticks and crept closer to some gulping fish.  Terry was completely in control as he made a nice cast to a gulper. 
“Got 'em!” Terry yelled, lifting his rod tip. His fish was jumping like Van Halen, and Terry applied the torque to bring it in.  He held it up for the camera and before I took a picture I said, “Smile!” 

Right as I clicked to take a another picture, Terry’s fish flopped in his hands.  Terry lost control of the slick fish, but before it could slip out of his hand too far, Terry swooped it towards the water in mid air.  The fish flung out into the lake like a helicopter and splashed into the water. 
“Well...” Terry said, watching his fish swim away, “... Beats falling in the boat.”  
I looked into the picture archives of my camera, to check out what kind of picture I took of his fish flop. 
“Oh, Terry... You need to see this picture!”  I said, holding out the camera. 

The rain had started back up again, only this time it wasn’t letting up.  I wasn’t worried about the rain today, because Lois was kind enough to lend me one of the rain jackets she had at her cabin.  The sprinkles were turning into bigger drops, but not yet big enough to disturb the water too much.  I caught a glimpse of a rising fish, and flicked out my fly.  Like clock work, the fish took and I was all smiles.

The fish put up a good fight, and Terry was kind enough to snap a picture before I let it go.   

The rain settled back down, but the cloud cover was still looming overhead.  Gulpers were everywhere, and we were doing our best to get our flies in the fishes' path.  I got into another fish, and brought it in quickly.  Terry was busy casting to gulping fish, so I took a quick picture of the fish in the net. 

The gulping activity was starting to slow down. 
“There are some over there.” Terry said, pointing to a small pocket of water. I oared us over, and Terry made the first cast. It was not surprising that when we got there, the fish stopped rising.  Looking out from the back of the boat I saw a rise, so I quickly casted out. Less than a second later, a line came from over my head and a fly also landed near where my fly was. 
“Are you poaching water?” I asked. 
“I’m getting desperate!” Terry said, smiling. 
“And, we're friends.” He finished saying, while our flies laid a foot or so apart.  It wasn’t long after that when the fish decided to take my fly, and I didn’t have the heart to ask Terry to stop and take another picture. 

Another light sprinkle turned into a heavy rain which, morphed into marble sized hail.  

Heavy thwacking sounds came from the back of my hood as we got dumped on.  The electrical storm that was due to rear its ugly face was here, and a close thunder clap encouraged us to row to shore.

The rolling thunder passed us by, and the sun broke through the clouds.  We could still hear the thunder, but it was obviously at quite a distance. 
“A rainbow...” I told Terry, pointing off in the distance. Thunder echoed from a distance, and Terry started heading towards the boat. 
“A rainbow?  Hell, that's a God thing. Let's get back to fishing.” Terry said, and we both got back into the boat.  

Catching for the day was over, but that didn’t stop us from trying. We soon got the hint and headed back to the truck.  Once we were there I turned my phone on and had a text message from my grandfather: “Hurry home; we have lobster bisque waiting for you.” 
I told Terry what was waiting for us back at Lois’s cabin, and we both scrambled to get the gear put away as fast as possible.  The day ended cold on Hebgen Lake, but after some hot lobster bisque, we ended the day with fun, hot-headed political conversation lead by my grandfather.