Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Excuses, Excuses

The lower Snake River can hold some serious gems, and by gems I mean big bass. This is no secret for your average spin fisher, but to a fly angler it seems to be the place to discover. I have only fished this part of the Snake River a handful of times, and each time it has fished like a different river; sometimes it's good, and sometimes it is bad. When Chris Preston started up his boat engine on the first try, we knew it was going to be a good day of fishing. We were wrong.

I sat up at the front of the boat to check for bigger rocks as we headed to our location. The reason for this was because Chris has a prop engine, and we didn't want it smacking on a rock when he had his fifteen horsepower engine cranked on high. A sudden stop at that speed would send us flying out of the boat, so I kept a careful watch.
"Chris, this water is way off color." I yelled, scanning for rocks.
"I saw that. I hope it won't affect fishing." He yelled back over the buzz of the engine. 
"I don't think it will." I yelled back, trying to stay optimistic.

I was wrong...oh, so very wrong. Chris and I pounded the water as we drifted by all kinds of good looking bass habitat, with nothing to show for it. Well, that's not true. I had already lost five flies, one of which was my Bruce Lee popper. We both were changing out flies every few minutes to see if the bass were favoring a particular color over another, but nothing was working. Well, that again was not true. I did end up catching a small bass on a black bugger, but with it being the only one caught in hours, it seemed more like a pity-take than anything more.

The wind started to pick up, along with the excuses we hurled at one another, like a pleasant game of catch, as to why we were not catching any fish.

"I'm not trying to make excuses for our failed day, but this water clarity is killing us." Chris said, making another cast. 
"And this weather." I said. "If we had a touch of cloud cover it would be way better than this blue-bird day."  
"Well I can tell you one thing... It's not us!" Chris said, with certainty.
"You know, we have been fishing where we think the fish should be. What if we fished over there where they normally would not be?" I said, pointing to the other side of the river. 
Chris pointed the boat that direction, and I started to cast, but stopped when I looked up.
"Well, would you look at that..." I said, drifting by.
"There's our answer! All those damn osprey are taking our fish!" Chris yelled, adding another excuse to our list.

It wasn't until we had drifted a lot further downstream when I finally lucked into a decent bass. It was a shock to both Chris and I, but maybe it meant fishing was about to get good.

It's good to be optimistic when fishing, and a fish to the boat is a good sign. Christ started fishing more intently after that, because he was long over due for a fish. He had worked just as hard as me in his search, and in the end it had finally paid off. 
"There!" Chris yelled, and I looked over to see that he was fighting a fish.

"It was very nice of you to let me catch the first few fish of the day, Chris." I said, as he fought his fish. 
"Well that's what makes me such a good host." He replied back with his fish now at arm's length. He scooped it up and took out his hook quickly before unceremoniously dropping his fish back into the water. 

"The only thing that could make this day better is if I got my line caught in the trolling motor." Chris joked, as he retied his fly line for another cast. The fish gods must not have found humor in Chris's joke, because as we neared the end of our day, Chris's brand new 250 grain sink tip Depth Charge fly line got chewed up in the small prop. The mishap with the fly line added insult to injury to our day, and we got off the water soon after. Nothing will beat you down like a hot windy day in the sun not catching any fish. Tired and fried from the heat, we stopped at the nearest Starbucks for a cold drink. As soon as the barista finished topping Chris's drink with a mound of whipped cream, he started to slurp down his drink, slowly forgetting about his mangled fly line.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Galloway Dam

In the past I was able to fish the Weiser River near my Mother-in-law's house just outside of town for small mouth bass, but now-a-days the access to that portion of water has been cut off due to new property owners.  I usually don't have time to do much exploring for new water when I visit Weiser, so I went to the only place I knew I could easily get access too. 

Galloway Dam is where I headed accompanied by my dad who was in the small town of Weiser, along with my mom, to check out the National Oldtime Fiddler's Contest. We arrived at the dam, and the water flow was much lower that what I had expected. Most of the water was diverted into a canal for irrigation, leaving only a trickle flowing over the dam.

My dad and I walked down to the water, and I didn't expect much from the water conditions, so I simply tied on a popper and left the rest of my gear in the car.

My dad walked around taking pictures as I made a cast with my popper. I brought it back to me with little jolts, making sure my rod tip was close to the water to maximize the disturbance of every pop. Surely there is a bass here, I thought to myself, and I was right. Off in the distance I saw a disturbance that look very bass-like; the only problem was that I couldn't get any closer to make a decent cast.

I wasn't planning on staying long, so I only had my flip flops on, which offered little traction on the rocks that could get me closer. I better not risk it, I thought: peeling off line to make a longer cast. My first cast was a nice one, but it still was not far enough out. I peeled off even more line, and started to double-haul hard. I shot my line forward and it zipped out the rod tip. Then my line suddenly jolted to a stop. I looked down expecting to see a knot in the line, and it was, only the knot was attached to my backing.

I had just cast my entire fly line with a popper attached, and that was something I didn't even know I could do. My casting accomplishment was short lived, because as soon as I caught a glimpse of my popper, a bass slammed it. 
"You got one?" My dad asked.
"Yep!" I said, as I started stripping my line in fast.  
The fish was small, so it was an easy fight. If there was a reason it took as long as it did to bring in my fish, it was due to the amount of fly line I had out of my reel. Never-the-less, I lipped the bass and held it up to show my dad.  

The little fish bolted as soon as hit the water, and I went back to fishing. There was nothing more happening where I was fishing, so I decided to check out the river further downstream.

I felt like Luke Skywalker seeking out Yoda on Degoba while walking downstream with only my flipflops on. I did my best to step over or around the muck, but sometimes it was unavoidable. I could feel the slime in my toes and under my feet, which made my feet slide on the top of my flipflops now. Some carp were milling around but I was not prepared to fish for them, so my dad and I decided it was time to get going. 

On our way back home I glanced over at a familiar house along the way. It was Spot, the zebra's house, and he was outside. 
"Want to stop and see the zebra?" I asked my dad.
"A zebra!?" He said back, and by the excitement in his voice I knew the answer was yes. 

Spot came right up to us when we stopped, and my dad got out to take a closer look. 
"Be careful. I know he is okay with people, but he will still bite." I said. 
"Yeah, I don't want to get bit." He said, and when Spot dipped his head to eat my dad reached out and touched him.

"That was cool." My dad said smiling as we drove away. 
"Yeah, we are lucky he was out." I said back. 
"Are there any other cool animals here?" He asked.
"I know there are some camels in Weiser, but I don't know where they are." 
"Well maybe next time..." He said, and we drove back to Gracy's mom's house to do some yard work.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ruby Marsh

For Father's Day my wife, Gracy, surprised me with a trip to Elko, Nevada to fish Ruby Marsh. The greatly anticipated Ruby Marsh has been on my radar for a few years now, and mainly because it holds tiger trout. The tiger trout has become one of my unicorn fish, because every time I get the opportunity to fish for them, it somehow gets taken away. 

Finding information on where to fish at the marsh took some digging, and even when I had arrived I didn't realize there were so many scenic roads to take. I picked one and drove around the touring road that cut through the marsh looking for some decent water to fish, but all I drove by was murky looking water that looked too hot to inhabit a trout.

For some reason I had pictured Ruby Marsh to be many interlocking springs connected by large culvert pipes with gin-clear water, and large snobby fish looking for a well presented fly. Instead, it was an actual marsh...
I guess if it were interlocking springs then this place would be called Ruby Springs, I thought to myself shaking my head in disgust of my own ignorant optimism. I was in serious trouble, because I didn't even know where to start fishing. Lucky for me, I came across three fly anglers that were nice enough to point out a few spots for me to try. The first spot was right near a culvert pipe where one of them had hooked into two fish just that morning.

Fish were stacked in the deeper hole behind the pipe, and not just fish, but big fish. I can't say that any one of them was a tiger trout, but I didn't care. I had a location to fish, and that was a start. 
I presented a nymph to the fish, but they showed absolutely no interest in my fly. I walked away from the fish after some time had passed, frustrated to say the least. Something caught my eye as I walked back to my car: it was a net, obviously left behind by the three anglers, almost covered in the tall grass next to the water. 

"Dude, you are the man!" said Nick Johnson, the angler who first spoke with me about where to fish, immediately recognizing his net as I walked over to them.
"Found it in the grass." I said, placing it near Nick's brother, Chris, who was casting to some fish.
"Did you do any good near that pipe?" Nick asked. 
"Nothing." I said.
"Well we aren't catching anything here either."  Doug said, the third angler in their trio.
"Where are you headed next?" asked Nick.
"I'm not sure." I said. 
"Well, you are welcome to fish with us." Nick said, and so I did for a while. No one was catching anything, but we stuck around because we could see fish cruising in the milky water. These fish, just like the last, wanted nothing to do with my flies. I was beginning to doubt my quest to Ruby Marsh.

Nick had mentioned another spot to try as we fished together, so I figured I better go check it out.
"Thanks for letting me fish with you guys. I'm going to check out that other spot you suggested." I said before taking off.
"Ok, good luck. And maybe we will join you after awhile." Nick added.
"Sure thing. Hope to see you there." I said, and drove off to the new spot.

As I walked closer to the water I could see it was gin-clear, and then I saw something magnificent. 
"Oh my goodness..." I said, holding back excitement. Cruising fish were clearly visible with the water's condition, and they were RISING
I wasted no time tying on one of my favorite dry flies for such a vapid hatch situation, and timed a fish's path before I made my cast. I watched the fish eat from the surface of the water, and then it saw my fly. With a twenty foot leader there was no hesitation when it took my fly, and as soon it had closed its mouth it erupted out of the water. It knew it had messed up, and the fish had set the hook on itself before I even had a chance to react. 

Fly line torched my fingers as it was ripped from my reel, and I kept my rod-tip high as the fish made its first run. I knew right as it leaped that it was not a tiger trout, but I didn't care. This was an extremely healthy rainbow trout, and it wasn't about to give itself up easy. The fish slowed down and I was quick with the pressure to bring it in, but it bulldogged me hard. I had to feed the fish line in order to keep it from breaking off as it turned for another run at freedom. 
"Geez..." I said to myself, as the fish nearly yanked my fly rod parallel to the water. I made a quick adjustment to regain control as we continued to battle. I knew I couldn't keep this up for long, or it would end up breaking me off. The fish was digging its nose in the weeds and shaking its head rapidly to throw my hook, and there was no stopping it. Over and over again it tried, but lucky for me it was unsuccessful. Every time it dug its head I feared the worst, but I could tell he was getting tired. I arched my rod tip high and then behind me to net the fish, but as soon as I placed the net under water the fish bolted again. 
"Damn, fish." I said, having to drop my net in order to regain line control. It was a sad attempt at another run, and I knew now that I had it beat. The fish made a few more halfhearted attempts to run, but finally it had no more fight left. I easily slipped my net under the fish and scooped it up, completely filling my net. 

"Wow, you are a nice fish." I said to it, as I kept it under the water and took out the hook. I knew the fish was going to need some rest before I let it go, so I pulled out my camera to get some under water shots. 
"You put up quite a fight." I said, and by now I could feel it was regaining strength. 
"You are a good, strong fish, and you are for my son, Mason." I said, and released the fish to watch it swim away.

"Are you talking to yourself?" A familiar voice asked. I turned and saw it was Nick, and started laughing. 
"If you were here just ten seconds earlier, you could have taken a great hero shot of me and my fish." I said, getting up. 
"Did you just get one?" Nick asked.
"Yes, and it was huge." 
"And you didn't get any pictures?"
"Oh I got pictures, but I could have gotten a hero shot." I said, as Nick's brother Chris joined us.
"He just caught a nice rainbow on a dry fly." Nick said to his brother.
"What did you use?" Chris asked.
"It's an attractor midge, size 20." I said, showing him the fly.
"I can't even see that thing." He said. 
"Well, I'll give you one if you want.  And feel free to fish with me." I said, drying off my fly to return to fishing.

"Just as I suspected..." I said to Nick, after his brother had left to find new water. 
"What?" Nick asked.
"The fly I caught that last fish on is not working now. It's like the fish communicated to the other fish to not eat this fly. I have had three fish refuse it now, and it's starting to piss me off." 
"I know exactly what you mean." Nick said with a laugh.

I clipped off my fly, and placed it back into its spot in my box. I pulled out another box to select a fly that seemed to always work for international fly angler, Jeff Currier. Last time I fished with Jeff I saw him putting his fly rod together with a mahogany still attached to his line... "It always works for me, so I just keep it on there..." I remember Jeff saying as he slapped his rod together.  
I plucked a size eighteen out of the box, the same a Jeff, and tied it on. 
"That's all you." Nick said, seeing the same rise as I did. I sent my fly into position, and shielded the glare of the sun from my eyes so that I could keep focused. 
"Got it!" I said, setting the hook on another rainbow trout. 
"I was about to ask you why you were throwing your line out so far, but now I see why." Chris said, walking up behind us.  
"It's not putting up as much of a fight as the first one, but it's jumping a lot more." I said, as the fish flew out of the water for a third time. The fish tired itself out by jumping a few more times, which is far more than your average jumping trout, and I netted it quickly.

My fish shot off quickly, and it was time for both Nick and Chris to get going. I was sure to keep in contact with Nick, especially after seeing the picture of the tiger he had caught last season at Ruby Marsh. I followed them back to the cars where they met up with their buddy, Doug, before taking off. I had followed them back because it was hot and I needed some water before heading back out to fish.

The evening fell quickly on the east side of the Ruby Valley, and soon the moon became visible.

I had hooked into two more fish before the sun set, but lost them both in the fight. I stuck around until the fish stopped rising, and then a bit longer. The temperature dropped to a nice 70 degrees under the shade of the mountains, and I knew it was time to get going.

I left Ruby Marsh feeling good about my two fish, but the thought of the missed opportunity of catching a tiger trout loomed like a thick fog as I drove away. Next time that unicorn fish will not be so lucky. Next time...

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.