Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jump Creek Canyon

“You are not bringing your damn fly fishing stuff!” My friend, Stephanie, AKA Lame-Spice, said to me the day before we went on the hike.  
“Why not?” I asked.  
“That wasn’t meant to be a question, you’re just not!” Lame-Spice snapped. 
“Do you always have to bring your fly fishing stuff everywhere you go?” My buddy Nick, AKA Nagger, chimed in.  Both Nagger and Jason were visiting from Salt Lake City, and like new hikes to venture out on. 
“I don’t care if he brings his fly rod.” Jason said.
“Thanks, Jason.” I said, but was quickly cut off.
“No fishing stuff!” Lame-Spice yelled. 
“Okay.” I said, sounding defeated and thereby ending the conversation.  

The next morning when we threw our packs in the trunk of the car, you better believe I had all my fly gear packed along for the ride!  

We pulled into the parking lot of the Jump Creek Canyon trailhead, and I pulled out my pack. 
“What is that?” Lame-Spice asked. 
“It’s his stupid fly fishing stuff.” Nagger said, before I could answer the question. The two fly rods were in their cases and held on either side of my pack.
“That’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.” Stephanie said, before we started our hike. 


Jump Creek lined the path, and I kept my eye out for pockets of water that could hold fish.  In no time at all, we had arrived at the waterfall where I took a picture of Stephanie and Nagger.  


I quickly made my way to the far end of the pool below the falls, rigged up a fly rod, and made a cast.
“We’re going to be here forever.” Stephanie said, but just as she finished, I had a fish on!
“There’s my fish!” I said, bringing in the little shaker fast. 
“You're kidding me?” Stephanie said, and got closer to look at the fish and snap a picture.  

Another cast brought in another fish. 
“What kind of fish are these?” Nagger asked. 
“They are redband rainbow trout, and are native to Idaho.” I said. “The only place you can find them are in these small creeks.”  

“Do they get any bigger?” Jason asked. 
“They can get much bigger than these ones,” I said, “but in this creek, a ten-inch fish would be king!”  
Just as I said that, I hooked into another fish. 
“This is a big one!” I said, which brought Nagger, Jason, and Stephanie closer to take a look.  Of course a big one means it’s over four inches long, but what this little redband lacked in size it made up for in heart. The little fish shook with all its might, but came in easy for a picture.


My friends and other hikers around were excited to see the next fish caught.  Everyone walking by was just as excited as me to discover there were fish in this river, and they all wanted to see a fish up close.  A few kids in particular hung out for a little while in hopes of seeing a fish, and I didn’t disappoint. 


A small fish was caught in no time, and I pointed out all the features of a redband rainbow trout. 
“The eyes are the coolest...” I said, “the parr marks go up along the body past the eyes”.  I stopped and pointed at the side of the fish up to its eyes. “See the pupil?” I asked.  “Now look at the dots on either side of the pupil...” I pointed them out, “Cool, huh?”  The boys nodded, and their mom came to have a closer look before I placed the fish back in the water.


By now I had quite the crowd of people watching. The pico ant I had tied on was working its charm.  As soon as the ant hit the water, the little fish would charge at it with such ferocity, causing them to shoot out of the water and completely miss the fly. The little splashes and leaping fish put on quite a show. 


Both Nagger and Stephanie found a trail to continue their hike, while Jason stayed to watch me catch fish. 


“Want to try catching one?” I asked Jason, who looked eager to throw the fly rod. 
“Yeah!” he said, without hesitation. I handed him the fly rod and described how to make a cast.  With a quick explanation, Jason caught on and pitched out a fly to some hungry fish. 


“Can you see your fly?” I asked. 
“Yep.” Jason replied, just as a fish came up and ate it.
“There!” I said, but Jason was already on it, and set the hook to bring in his first fish on a fly rod.


“I think that’s the big one of the day!” I said with a smile. 
“Oh yeah, it’s a monster!” Jason said, sarcastically.  He dipped his hand in the water, and let his fish go.  The little fish sat there for a while, then shot off like a torpedo.  


“We better go find Nick and Stephanie.” Jason suggested, after I hooked and released another fish. 
“I agree... otherwise they will get back to the car and take off without us.” I said. 
“I wish you were kidding.” Jason said, and we both went and found Nick and Stephanie at the summit of the hike, ending a great day of fishing.  

This would be a great place to take my cousin Sam, because he has yet to catch a fish on a fly, I thought as we drove home from the hike. As soon as I got service, I sent a few texts to Sam. It was confirmed, Sam could go and my Uncle Jim was coming too... Looks like I’ll be here tomorrow!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Steelheading Day 2: The Last Cast

“We have to go if we want to get that spot!” Ryan said, as he woke me from my slumber and fashioned the rods in the rod holders. Roger was up too, so I sprang out of bed to gear up.  
“Okay, Erik, slow down. The spot we want is at the corner coming up.” Ryan said as we drove. I lightly applied the brakes, looking for a corner and the turn out, but only saw blackness.  
 
“We are passing it!” Ryan said. 
“I can’t see anything!” I protested. Ryan pointed, and I took my eyes off the road for a second to see what he was talking about. 
“Crap!  I’ll turn around!” I said, but I had to wait for the car that was approaching.  The headlight passed me, and I started to turn.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!?” Roger said, sounding horror struck.
“They are taking that spot, huh?” Ryan asked, rhetorically.  I had the car turned around by now, and saw it for myself: the car’s brake lights were on and parked at the very pullout I had missed. 
“Damn! Sorry guys.” I said, “I couldn’t see." 
“Welcome to the South Fork of the Clearwater, Erik!” Roger said, not surprised at all over what had just happened.
“Missed our spot by five seconds.” Ryan said, “it’s your typical South Fork moment; but I have another spot in mind”. Lucky for us, Ryan’s next spot was empty, and we were out of the car fast to secure it.

Ryan explained the depth and holding spot of the fish in full detail before we started to fish.  


Roger was in prime location before he shot his flies out into position. The sound of thrashing water broke Ryan’s and my attention from our own lines to look downstream. 
“There’s one!” Roger yelled, and both Ryan and I sprang to life.  Ryan grabbed the net and ran down to help, while I grabbed the Go-Pro.  I was in full spring, headed towards Roger, and got there just in time to see his hook pop out of his steelhead’s mouth. 
 
 
No one likes a lost steelhead, but Roger went back to casting as if it didn’t phase him at all. We only had until 12pm before we had to get off the water, so we moved to a new location we wanted to check out.  We knew it would most likely be available, because it required some wading to get there.  I hooked into a steelhead but lost it in the fight; it was a good omen that we were in the right spot. 

I ended up crossing the river to work the other side of the hole. When I arrived, I saw someone was holding a fish.  Could it be Roger?, I asked myself as I ran down, just across the stream from the guys. I looked over at them to see, surprise surprise, Ryan holding a fish. 

After Ryan placed his fish back into the water, I stripped out some line to make a cast.  The amount of slack-water was making it hard to get a good drift without disturbing my indicator, and every time the indicator would become disturbed, it would screw up my flies underwater.  Despite the challenge, I kept fishing and hoping my indicator would dart under. And it did!


I sharply lifted the fly rod as it doubled over. 
“Is that what we hope it is?” Roger asked from across the river.  
“It’s a fish!” I yelled back, and the fight began.  The fish swam deep, and I jumped in the water to keep my line from getting tangled around the large rock just subsurface.  The force of every head shake was like trying to stop a train, but I did my best. 


I brought the fish in, but there was no way I could land it without beaching it.  That’s when I saw Ryan running with the net. He had crossed the stream in record time to help me land my fish.  Without hesitation, Ryan extended the handle of the net and scooped up my fish, as if he had been doing this all his life. 


“I can’t believe it!” I said with a smile, as I looked at the size of the B-run steelhead.  
“This is the big one of the trip, Erik.” Ryan said, before I picked up the fish for a picture.


“I’m done for the day.” I said, after my fish slipped away. "This way I can say I landed a steelhead on my last cast on the Clearwater”. 
By now Roger had crossed the river and was the last one to remain fishing while Ryan and I broke down our fly rods.  


“This trip would have been much better if you would have brought in that fish, Roger.” Ryan said, as we headed home. 
“Don’t let my not catching a fish ruin your idea of a good trip. This was a good trip, and I knew what I was getting myself into. This is steelheading; sometimes you catch a fish and sometimes you stand in a river casting all day. Sure, I would prefer to catch fish, but you have to put in your time. I’m happy you guys caught fish, and to be honest, this is a typical trip for me on the South Fork of the Clearwater. I fish while other people catch.” Roger said, before he finished, “And I would do it all over again if I had the chance.”  
 
This is what I like about Roger. His philosophy on any experience in the outdoors is reflected as simply an experience that is never a bad time. It says a lot about a person who can walk away from a few days of fishing with no fish caught and still recognize a good time.  These are the kinds of people I like to fish with, because this is the kind of angler I would like to be.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Steelheading day one: The Hero Shot

The heater was at full-blast as we drove to one of Ryan’s favorite spots on the river.  I must admit, I wouldn’t have given this spot a second thought, but that is why we had Ryan with us: there was definitely a lot of learning that needed to take place today.  With our two-handed fly rods, we carefully made our way down the steep rocky embankment to stake out our spot.


The cold, crispy morning slightly faded when the sun started to rise; not because it got warmer, but because we had something else to think about other than how cold it was: it was time to start steelheading! 

Ryan set Roger Philips and me up in a spot to fish, and together the three of us started working the water. 


The two handed rods we were using offered up easy casting with no back cast needed.  Being able to flick out your flies with ease allows you to work the water very efficiently, hopefully increasing your chances of hooking into a large B-run steelhead.  
“There’s one!” Ryan yelled, lifting the eleven foot switch rod high to set the hook.

After an hour or two of casting, someone hooking into a steelhead offers a nice distraction, even if it isn’t me. Roger grabbed the net, while I grabbed the camera and leapt over the rocks to get a shot of Ryan fighting his fish! 


“It’s doing the steelhead-shake!” Roger yelled, watching the fish thrash underwater to spit the hook. Ryan kept the line tight, but the steelhead turned 180 degrees in a flash, causing the hook to pop out of the steelhead's mouth. 
The loll of losing the steelhead quickly faded once I hooked up. It is not uncommon for your indicator to go down due to a rock or stick on the river bed, which is what I thought had happened when I set the hook.  My rod bent over, but as I started pulling back on the line, it was coming in sluggishly as if I had hooked a stick. 
“Guys, something’s weird here!” I said, stripping in my line before the full weight of a B-run steelhead became present.
“Your rod is bending like that because you hooked a fish, Erik!” Roger yelled over to me sarcastically, as if speaking to someone who had never caught a fish. 
“Thanks, Roger!” I said back, with a smile.


The immense weight of the fish was incredible, as I did everything I could to keep the fish at bay.  Roger stood with the net ready as the fish came into view. My hero shot is only moments away, I thought, then the fish turned and started swimming away! 
“No, no!” I said, as I held the reel from spooling out any line and applied all the torque a thirteen-foot eight-weight spey rod had to offer. The steelhead would have none of it; the power of the fish was far more than I could manage, and I had to let it run back across the river where the hook popped out of its mouth.  

The feeling of your line going slack from losing a fish is the worst! At least I got to see it, I thought, before we went back to fishing.  Roger moved downstream while Ryan went up to try out some new water. 
“There’s another one!” Ryan said, and sure enough he was fighting a fish!

“This fish isn’t fighting too bad.” Ryan said, as he applied the pressure.  I had my Go-Pro in one hand while holding the net in the other to land the fish. The weight of the net was making it hard to maintain control while filming. 
“Erik, what are you doing?” Roger scolded, “It’s one or the other!” It was true; it was a bad idea to try to film and net the fish, but with one big heave, Ryan brought the steelhead up enough for me to slip the net under and scoop up his fish!


The first hero shot was out of the way, and that only fueled my determination to get my own. Though the sun was up, Ryan had us in a spot that did not get sun until after 11am.  The warmth of the sun was welcomed, and it wasn’t long after that when Ryan hooked  into another steelhead!


This steelhead was not cooperating like Ryan’s previous fish, as it continued to run further and further downstream.  Roger kept downstream from the steelhead, while Ryan rock-hopped on the bank to remain in control. There was finally a small opportunity to land the fish, and Roger didn’t pass up on it: he jabbed the net underwater fast, bringing it up around Ryan’s steelhead. 


“Nice job, Ryan!” I yelled over, as he and Roger got the fish ready for a picture. 
“I want, Roger in this one with me.” Ryan said, recognizing that without Roger’s help, this fish would not have been landed. 


The steelhead was not happy, and definitely did not want its picture taken.  As soon as Ryan dipped the steelhead underwater, it kicked hard, forcing Ryan to let go!


After spending the first portion of the day fishing one spot, we decided it was time to move on. We found a section on the river that looked good and, surprisingly, no one was there.  That moment alone didn’t last long.  A guy holding a spinning outfit came down the hill right next to me, and started fishing the same spot I was fishing.  At first I was a little taken back by it, and wanted to say something, but he seemed like a nice guy and he was yielding to my cast. It wasn’t long before he was joined by his daughter that had to have been less that eight years old. He began to instruct her how to fish near a fly angler, and she was doing well. I decided I was better off letting the kid have the spot. After all, getting youth into any kind of fishing is good with me! 
“Why don’t you and your daughter fish this spot.” I said to the man. 
“Seriously?” He asked.  
“Yeah, I'm not terribly comfortable casting this spey rod with your kid near by anyway.” I said, adding, “And it’s better that she fish in a spot she is comfortable.” 
Little did I know that the man was a local angler, and knew this river like the back of his hand.  He was so grateful to me, he began to share locations on the river that only a local seasoned angler would know, including information that was new to Ryan. After a quick talk with Ryan and Roger, we moved to the new hole, and Ryan was hooked into a steelhead in just a short amount of time!


“Erik!” Ryan yelled from the distance, and I came running with the net. Another beast of a steelhead was netted for a hero shot!


“It’s your turn, Erik! You need a hero shot.” Ryan said, as he dipped his steelhead into the water, and it kicked hard to return home.  

Ryan offered me the spot he had hooked his steelhead, and I immediately started to fish.  A large circle C cast, and I put my flies where they needed to be.  My indicator sank under and I wrenched back on the spey rod to set the hook! 


Nothing was happening; my rod stayed doubled over for a few seconds until I felt the unmistakable jolt of a steelhead! 
“RYAN, I GOT ONE!” I screamed.
“Eriiiiik!” Ryan yelled, in full sprint. The steelhead was putting up a great fight, but I was not giving the fish an inch. The fish turned to dive, but if you thought I had the torque on the fish before, it was nothing compared to what I was doing now.  The thirteen-foot rod was completely arched over like it was a full flex fly rod, and the fly line was so tight you could pluck a crisp A note! 


The eight-minute fight with a B-run steelhead felt like twenty minutes. My forearm was burning from exhaustion, and the looming fear of losing the fish was ever so present.  


I backed out of the water and got behind Ryan, who was ready with the net. The head of the fish was up, and Ryan made a dash for the fish! The fight was over, I had successfully landed my very first B-run steelhead.


The size and girth of the fish was unreal, and one could easily get lost in the shades of olive that paint the fish. Tons of spots cover its back, but not one touches another. The scarlet stripe running from cheek to tail is unmistakable, and its wild hazel eyes that stare right back into yours command respect.  
The sudden force of the fish kicking to leave your hands is something you need to experience for yourself, and in the end Ryan extended his hand of a job well done; what an awesome accomplishment! 


“This is a typical day on the Clearwater for me, watching other people catch fish.” Roger said, as we finished for the day.  Roger slipped back into this tent, while Ryan zipped himself back in his.  I, on the other hand, fashioned myself a bed in the back of the Rav, where it was comfortably warm.  No longer envious of my dog, I was out before my head hit the pillow, ready for whatever tomorrow would bring.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Steelheading

For years I have wanted to fish the South Fork of the Clearwater during prime steelhead season, but have never been motivated enough until Ryan return from his trip last weekend. The size of the B-run steelhead he was holding fired me up, and after some quick arrangements, phone calls, and clearance from the wife, my Rav 4 was packed tight with gear for a weekend steelheading adventure!


Ryan and I headed over to pick up Roger Philips, who was also joining us on this last-minute excursion. Between the three of us exchanging stories that wrapped us in great conversations, the five hour drive flew by fast. We arrived at our destination late and discovered just how cold it really was outside. The temperature had dipped below freezing, which was definitely noticeable while we set up camp. 

Roger had zipped himself securely in his one-man tent while Ryan and I shared a tent.  I zipped myself up in my sleeping bag, hoping it would warm me after setting up camp.  I wasn’t getting warm... I felt like I was getting colder and colder as I layed there motionless, trying everything I could to keep heat from escaping my sleeping bag.  I even synched the hood of my hoodie so tight that the only thing sticking out was my nose, which was also freezing. This was going to be a long, long night!


I reached out of my sleeping bag to grab my phone after hours of shifting around, looking for the warmth that did not exist. 3:00 a.m. was the time, which meant I only had two more hours of laying here until the alarm went off. 
While freezing I thought of many things... First thing was that I needed to invest in a better sleeping bag, as this one was obviously crap. As a matter of fact, that was also the second, third, and fourth thing I thought about. Then I thought about my bed at home... I bet my wife was sound asleep with our little dog, Kiwi.


KIWI!!! Even my dog was sleeping better than me! I imagined her sleeping, most likely on my side of the bed, taking up more room than her little body needed.  After Kiwi gets a bath, I will throw a blanket in the dryer for a few minutes, then wrap Kiwi in it so she can quickly warm up.


A warm blanket fresh out of the dryer would have been ever so welcome that night.  Instead I lay freezing, envious of a dog before I heard the glorious sound of my 5:00 a.m. wakeup call!  

It’s time to go steelheading! 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Newb

"So, why do we wear a belt?" Shawn asked after wading up on the bank of the South Fork of the Boise River. This is the second time Shawn has been fly fishing, so everything is still new to him. 
“The belt will stop water from filling up your waders if you fall in.” I explained, as I flung on my vest and added some specific fly boxes before I looked over to see how Shawn was coming along. 
“What the heck are you doing?” I said, “that is not where a belt goes!” 

“Dude, if I fall in I want the water to stop right here!” Shawn said, pointing at his chest where his wading belt was secured. 
"Oh my God, you are kidding me!" I said, recognizing another huge flaw.
“What did I do now?” Shawn asked. 
“Look at how you have your belt secured!” I said, pointing.  Shawn looked down at his belt. 
“Oh.” He said. 
“Geez, you are such a newb.” I said with a sigh. 


Some quick adjustments to his belt and Shawn was ready to hit the water.  We made our way into position where he started nymphing. I stood back, giving bits of direction when needed. 


“Okay, keep an eye on your indicator, and if it goes down set the hook." I said, after Shawn delivered a nice cast over a promising seam.  Sure enough his indicator shot under, and Shawn set the hook! 
“I got one!” Shawn said, with a smile.  The rod tip danced with a fish, as Shawn started to strip in his line.  
“Yeah, you got it!” I encouraged him along.  I unhooked my net to scoop up Shawn’s fish, and though it wasn’t a monster, it was Shawn’s first fish on a fly rod!


He dipped the little head of the fish back into the water, and watched as it slipped from his fingers. A smile that could be seen from the moon spread across his face.  After a few more casts, it was time to move on.


“See that rock over there?” I asked, pointing. 
“Yeah.” Shawn replied.
“There will mostly likely be fish around that rock.  I want you to aim your fly at that rock, okay?” I said. 
“Got it!” Shawn said.  
Shawn had been having trouble getting his indicator where it needed to be, but this time he nailed the target... a little too well.  


“Out of all the times I asked you to cast to a specific spot, this is the one time you actually hit the target?” I asked, sarcastically as he tugged on his line to free the snag. 
“Can I watch you nymph this spot?” Shawn asked, “it helps me to learn when I see a master like you at work.” 
“Flattery will get you nowhere in fly fishing...  Just kidding.” I said, and took his fly rod.  
I presented my nymphs just above the rock, while adding a quick flick to mend the line before it hit the water.  I did my best to explain how and why I worked the fly line the way I did, so that Shawn could understand.  As I was watching my indicator, I saw a large flash directly under it, and I set the hook!  My fly rod doubled over with a fish, and I looked back at Shawn with a smile. 
“What? Your indicator didn’t go down. How did you know you had a fish?” He asked. 
“I saw the flash of the fish feeding under water.  Sometimes they take in your fly and spit it out so fast that your indicator doesn't have time to go down.” I explained while fighting my fish. 
“So, I probably wouldn’t have caught that fish?” Shawn asked. 
“Probably not.” I admitted, “but you can help me land this fish; it’s a big sucker fish.” I said, handing the rod to Shawn while I grabbed my net and scooped up the fish. 


“That is one ugly fish!” Shawn said, laughing. 
“Oh, come on, Shawn, I want to be your friend!” I said in a dopy voice, pointing the fish at Shawn. 


“Dude, get that thing away from me!” Shawn said, but I did just the opposite. In a sudden lunge, I brought the fish right up to his face.  Shawn's face scrunched up while flailing his hands like he was shoeing away a swarm of mosquitoes. The whole thing was so theatrical that I couldn’t stop laughing, even after I let the fish go.


“I hate you.” Shawn said, before we got off the water and geared down to head home. 


Shawn’s SUV started, which was a nice sound considering it didn’t start last time, stranding us out there for a few extra hours. We geared down and started to drive out of the canyon. 
“Well, good job on your fish today. Here’s to many more!” I said. 
“Heck yeah, Dawg!” Shawn said, and we ended the day on a fist-bump.