Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Small Case of Bass Thumb

Crane Falls was our destination to do some popper fishing for bass. On such a warm day, the poppers should be working great.  My buddy, Andrew, and I pumped up our float tubes quickly to hit the water.

The two of us kicked around for a while with no bass willing to take our poppers.  It was a bit discouraging, as I really wanted Andrew to get the full popper experience. Reluctantly, I snipped off my popper and switched out my floating line with a fast sinking line and hooked into a bass in no time.  The little bass was fired up as I brought it in.  I took out my camera to get a quick shot, but it made one last effort to free itself and jumped right as I snapped the picture.  The effort paid off, because in mid-jump the fly flew out of its mouth before I could bring it all the way in.

I casted back out, and hooked up right away.  This time I brought the bass all the way in, and nabbed a picture of it underwater.  

I started kicking my way over to Andrew, who was still fishing with a popper. I was a bit disappointed that the popper fishing was not on, but I wanted Andrew to catch a fish regardless. I knew he didn’t have a sinking line on him, so I started to kick my way his direction. On my way I hooked into a few more bass, a rainbow trout, and a nice bluegill that I was able to get an underwater shot of.

“This is a perfect day, Andrew.  The popper fishing should be on.” I said, confused that it wasn’t happening for us. 
“Well I see you are catching fish...” Andrew said, then I showed him that I had switched my line out and handed him my rod to try. 
“Cast out and count to 15, or something, then start retreating.” I said, as I kicked away.  I now had Andrew’s 7wt. fly rod, and was excited to bomb some casts out.

I took Andrew’s 7 wt and pealed off some line to make a long cast. With all kinds of confidence, I ripped the line off the water for a powerful back cast.  The line shot far behind me, then I punched it forward.  A large heap of line fell all over me like I had the worst timing in the world, and the popper just missed my head as it slowly whizzed by.
“Andrew!” I yelled over to him, “What kind of line do you have on this rod?” 
“I don’t know.” Andrew replied. 
“Is it a 7wt. line?” I asked. 
“It’s the line I use for my 5 wt.” Andrew said. 
“Didn’t you notice that it’s hard to cast?” I asked.
“Well yeah, but I thought it was just because I sucked.” He said.
“Well don’t let me take that away from you, but your line is all wrong.” I said, and explained the importance of pairing the correct line with your fly rod.  Andrew's attention was quickly diverted when he had hooked into his first bass of the day. 

Andrew brought in his bass quickly, and after getting a hold of the squirmy fish, I kicked over to snap a picture. 

“Hold it out now so that it looks bigger than what it actually is.” I advised, and he did before I took a shot. 

Andrew was all kinds of happy, but knew his rod was not geared up to par.  He asked for it back, but I let him use my rod for a bit longer.  Instead of trying to cast the 7 wt, I rigged it up for chironomid fishing.  This way, casting didn’t matter; I could just lob the line out with an indicator to let me know if I had on a fish.  It wasn't long before I saw the indicator shoot under, and I set the hook.  Missed it, I thought, as I brought my line in to recast. But wait...there was something attached.  The smallest bluegill was putting up the fight of its life, and despite its effort, I couldn't feel a thing on the 7wt. 
"You are worth a picture." I said to the fish, and held it up for the camera.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw some disturbances on the water right near the shore. The day had significantly warmed up, and the thought of popper fishing crossed my mind. I kicked my way closer to the tall weeds near the shore, watching the fish splashing around. I tied on a popper, and sent it splashing down as close as I dared near the weeds.

I made one pop, and a wake darted towards my popper. BLAM! A bass took with such speed, that if it was any faster the government would need to get involved. It flew out of the water again and again which brought a smile to my face. Now this is popper fishing! 

I called Andrew over and handed him his rod back. 
“Get that popper super close to the weeds. That’s where the bass are.” I said, and Andrew didn’t waste any time. His popper hit the tall weeds...and got stuck. He was off to a slow start, but quickly pulled it free, and played it back down. Boom, his popper was hit. Andrew’s bass jumped at every opportunity, and he was loving every minute of it. With his bass lipped, he held it up for a picture before going back to fishing. 

We stayed close to the bank, hammering fish after fish on poppers.
“This is awesome!” Andrew said happily. 
“I’m just happy it turned on for us.” I said back.
Andrew found a nice cove that was filled with large bluegill.  The bluegill would attack his popper, then come unbuttoned almost immediately. Finally one stuck, and the bluegill fought just as hard as the bass. Andrew brought in his stubby bluegill, which had some size to it.

I also wanted a bluegill, so I shot my line into Andrew’s spot and hooked up immediately.  The bluegill fought like a pro, and when I brought it in, I could see it was in full spawning colors. 

The day was flying by, and things had started to slow down. We started to head back to the car when I felt the need for one more fish.
“We each have to get one more fish, Andrew.” I said to him, before we headed back.  Catching one last fish can be a dangerous game; it often leave you out on the water much later than expected, and empty-handed. 
Andrew and I went back to his bluegill cove and worked it hard with our poppers.  My popper got hit, and I ripped in my last fish of the day.

Andrew stayed stealthy as he inched closer to the weeds.  He plopped his popper right where it needed to be, and WHAM! 

Each of us caught a fish on our last casts. Before I could think of another reason to stick around, I clipped off my popper and reeled in my line. 
“This was a good day!” I said to Andrew as we made it back to the car. 
“Yeah, thanks for bringing me out.” He said, “even though I didn’t catch as many fish as you did, it was still fun.” 
“Don’t worry about it. The only reason you didn’t catch as many fish as I was because I gave you a defective popper.” I said with a smile. 
“What?” Andrew asked, looking at his popper. 
“I’m kidding, but at least you don’t have bass thumb.” I said, showing him my thumbs. The little teeth on a bass are like rough sand paper, and when you lip enough of them them it can leave your thumb a little tore up.  
“Be careful, bass thumb is very contagious and, before you know it, you will be back trying to catch it.” I said as we packed up the float tubes. 
“I can’t wait to get back out there.” Andrew said, as we pulled away. 
“Careful, Andrew, that’s the bass thumb talking.” I said, and we took off, knowing this was only the beginning of popper season.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Rock Creek and the Moose

“Aw, hell...” Travis said as his eyes were pulled from the road to look for his missing Montana fishing license. 
“Maybe you should pull over.” Jason suggested, as Travis continued to keep his eyes everywhere except on the road. I was surprised we had actually made it over a mile away from home, before we had to stop or turn around. 
“I think it’s in my vest.” Travis said, as he hopped out of the car to look in the trunk. 

“I got it!” Travis yelled from the trunk, and we were off to meet up with our other buddy, Travis Steven-Jones.  Travis Steven-Jones, whom we will call Trav, was nice enough to take us to a section of Rock Creek that we would most likely have to ourselves.  I hopped in Trav’s truck, and waited until Travis and Jason got their coffee. 

The drive to the creek was fantastic.  The lush Montana hills that lined the road were all kinds of green, and when we reached the summit it was snowing just enough to dust the hills. Though it would have been a great day to fish in the snow, as soon as we tipped over the summit the snow turned to rain, which enhanced the colors even more.

Before Trav’s truck came to a complete stop, I had jumped out to gear up. Both Jason and I were putting on our waders when we heard Travis hemming and hawing about something. 
“Oh great...” Travis said from the side of the car, “...oh dear.” 
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked, as I listened in. 
“I need to change my pants.” Travis said. 
“So change them.” Jason said. 
“Okay, but I must warn you, I need to completely change over.” Travis said pausing for a second. “I'm talking about full-on wiener here, guys!” He said. 
“I’ll be exposed.” Travis said again, completely getting his word across. 
“We got that.” I said, “we’ll keep our distance.” 
Some quick rustling of clothing came from Travis’s end of the car. 
“Okay, really don’t come over here now!” Travis announced, as the rustling of clothing continued.  In a snap, Travis had not only “completely changed over” he had also put on another shirt, hat, and his shoes. A long sigh indicated he was back to being clothed and comfortable before he stepped away from the car, ready for the day. 

Together the four of us stood looking into the creek, as Trav pointed out spots where he had previously seen big fish. We all wanted to pitch out dry flies before we resulted to nymphing.  The water flows had spiked today, which was not favorable, but what are you going to do?

A healthy skwalla landed on Travis’s hand, and Jason snapped a picture of it before it flew away.  It didn’t take much more convincing that we needed to tie on skwallas before hitting the river.  

“Do I need my bear spray?” I asked Trav before locking the car. 
“Nope.” He replied quickly, “no bears to worry about except brown bears, and if they see you they will run off.” 
“How about moose?” I asked. 
“Yes, watch for moose, especially if there is a calf nearby.”  Trav said, as we walked down to the creek.

The creek was everything you would expect a Montana creek to be: undercut banks that could hold large trout, perfect tail-outs, soft pockets of water behind bushes, and rock waiting for a dry fly. 

We all walked upstream, suffering the affects of a recent increases in flows. Despite pounding every section of water with our skwallas, no fish had been caught.  If that wasn’t bad enough, I almost stepped in my first sighting of moose on the river.

With everyone on river-left, I decided to cross over to river-right and have the entire bank to myself.  I slapped my fly in a promising back-eddie, and a fish flew out of the water at it.  I set the hook fast, but nothing was attached.  I spent more time than what I would like to admit on that back-eddie, hoping the fish would decide to take my fly again, but it didn’t. I quickly fished my way up to Trav, who had already hooked into two cutthroat and one brown trout. 

“Keep your flies six inches from the bank as you walk up; that’s how I am getting them.” Trav yelled over.  
“That’s what I’m doing... maybe my side of the river is broken.” I yelled back.  I continued upstream to a nice looking section of water just around some large bushes.  In order to fish that section, I had to hang up my fly and walk through a small opening in the large wall of shrubbery. 

I walked through the opening, and something caught my eye. A huge moose was just ahead behind some thick brush, and it hadn’t seen me.  I stood very still, realizing just how tiny I was in comparison. I started stepping back slowly, and that’s when it spotted me.  The moose turned its head and started coming my way. I have heard horror stories about moose from friends, guides, and my brother-in-law, and as soon as that moose started towards me, I had the sudden urge to fight or flight... I chose flight.

I didn’t dare look back, I just ran harder and harder.  There was no tree stump or bush that could slow me down, especially after I heard the tromps of the moose behind me.  Another surge of adrenaline powered the leap down an embankment, and it was a small relief to see both Trav and Travis as I ran in their direction. I had to warn them about the approaching moose, but with the river between us, how could they hear me?  I did the only thing I could think of to let them know what to expect, and that was holding my thumbs to my temples while extending my fingers above my head to signify a moose.  I hid behind a large bush in the river bank where I could communicate with Trav and Travis.

“A moose!” I yelled when they were within ear shot, but neither of them looked scared, nor concerned. 
“Is it after you?” Travis asked, looking in the direction I ran from. 
“Was there a calf?” Trav asked, also looking for the moose. 
“I didn’t see a calf.” I told them in between breaths. I then looked back, expecting to see a moose, but nothing was coming. 
“Was it after you?” Travis asked again, as I was catching my breath.
“Well, I saw it move its head.” I answered back.  Both Travis and Trav started laughing as I stood there still catching my breath. That’s when I realized that the moose was not coming. The tromps of hooves I thought were behind me was actually my own clumsy boots as I was running.  Suddenly the thought of me sprinting, full charge, with my waders, boots, fly vest, and fly rod, jumping over stumps and down embankments with my hands, and creating antlers on my head seemed a little crazy.    

“The moose shouldn’t bother you unless there’s a calf.” Trav said, after he stopped laughing. He started walking upstream, from the other side of the river to look for the moose. I also walked upstream, but with far more caution than Trav; after all, the moose was on my side of the river. 

Sure enough, there was the moose.  It turned out that the moose was not interested in me at all. When I first saw it, the moose did look over at me, but what I took for an aggressive charge was simply the moose walking to another shrub in search of food. 

I waded across the creek and saw that Travis had hooked into a fish.  Trav was there too, as I made my way over to Travis with my camera ready. 
“Oh, geez, Erik, it’s you!” Travis said, as I approached, “I thought it was a moose!” 
“Here we go.” I said, as Trav started laughing.  Travis brought in a nice cutthroat trout, and I snapped a picture of him before heading upstream.

Travis let his fish go, then said, “Hey, Erik. I’m going over here to fish.” 
“Okay.” I said. 
“Well I wanted to let you know so you didn’t think I was a moose.” He said, smiling. 
“I deserve it!” I said back, and started to fish the nearest riffle.  Sure enough, right in the diamond-water, a fish head came up to take in my skwalla.  I set the hook fast, and Trav came over to take a picture of my cutthroat trout. 

The fish kicked away fast and I was back to fishing.  I went ahead and stayed on the safe side of the river, while Trav took the side where we had seen the moose. 

I kept an eye out for the moose as Trav fished his way upstream, looking unconcerned.  Sure, it was eating at the time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still get mad.  With no care about spooking a moose, Trav kept an eye on his fly hooking into another fish. 

“Did you see where the moose went?” I asked Trav as we fished. 
“It must have walked off into the brush.  It won’t bother us.” He reassured again, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I kept an eye on my fly and in the brush, just in case. 

I continued upstream as Trav stayed back to continued fishing a good seam.  There was some nice looking pocket water just around a tree, and I approached it slowly with my fly ready, when I saw the moose.  I froze once again, realizing that the moose could easily cross this portion of the river in one good leap.  Trav said it wouldn’t bother me, so I calmed myself down and snapped a picture of the resting moose.

That’s when I remembered Trav was on that side of the river, and with the moose laying down behind a bush and next to the river, he could spook it.  I backed off quickly and walked downstream to warn Trav, but he wasn’t there. He must have started walking upstream.  
“Trav!” I yelled to get his attention, “The moose is laying down just upstream!” I stayed quiet to see if Trav was going to reply, then I saw him. Just across the way he was standing still as two moose got dangerously close.  Trav seemed in control, as he took out his camera to snap a few pictures.  

The moose walked by carelessly, and didn’t seem to be bothered by Trav. We met up downstream and I crossed the river to talk to him. 
“You got close!” I said. 
“Yeah, I usually don’t like to get that close, but right when you called my name to warn me about the moose that was lying down, I was already in front of it.” He said. 
“Well now that I know they won’t attack, can we sneak up on them so I can get a picture?” I asked. 
“Sure.” Trav said, but our attempt was futile.  The moose walked into some thicket and I was unable to get a good picture, but Trav did, and I had him send me the picture to put in on the blog.

It was time to start fishing our way back to the car, and with the dismal dry fly activity, I switched to euro nymphing.  We started walking back down when Trav yelled to some other anglers that were walking upstream. 
“Careful, gentleman, there are some moose up there.” Trav yelled. 
“What was that?” A very familiar voice called back. 
“Is that Tom Rosenbauer?!” I yelled. 
“Who is that?” Tom asked, still too far to see us clearly. 
“It’s Erik.” I yelled. 
“Erik!  How are you doing?” Tom asked happily, as he approached.
“Good.” I said, pulling out my camera, “But I have to get a picture of you for my blog.” I said, holding up my camera. 
“Oh, geeeez...” Tom said, as he dropped both hands to his side for an excellent pose.    

After quick introductions, Tom was off to fish, but not before we warned him about the moose. 
“Oh, I don’t worry about moose...” Tom said “... I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me.” 
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I said, sounding like I deal with moose all the time. 
“Of course, now that I say that, one of them is going to stomp me.” Tom said, laughing, “But at least you will know what happened to me if I don’t show up at the Rendezvous!” Tom said before returning to the river.  

 I was sure to wish Tom a happy birthday before Trav and I fished our way downstream.  Switching to a euro nymphing set up made all the difference.  One tail-out in particular was holding five fish that I caught out of it, and Trav was listening as I explained what I was doing.

The results of euro nymphing was not disappointing.  So far I had caught and landed more fish in the last 10 minutes than in the previous few hours on the water.  

Every nook and cranny had a fish willing to eat a euro nymph, and I only wished I had more time to keep fishing. 

One cutthroat in particular had a gorgeous tail that I was sure to snap a picture of; there are just so many dots on it. 

As I approached the bridge to get off the water, another fish caught my eye.  The fish was facing downstream in a back-edie. Okay, just one more fish, I thought as I flicked out my flies and it took.  It ended up being the big fish of the day for me, and I admired the colors of it before I let it go.

Back at the car I could see Travis waving for me to hurry up, as he was already geared down.  I hurried off the water, but not before I took one last shot of Rock Creek. 

I geared down quick, and in the process we talked about the fish we each caught. It was a great day on Rock Creek, and I already can’t wait to return, but we needed to head over to the Orvis Rendezvous. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Headed to Missoula

When Travis Swartz invites you on a road trip, you do whatever it takes to go... even if it means quitting your job.  Lucky for me my boss, John, was nice enough to give me the time off.  Also along for the ride was Travis’s buddy, Jason.  Jason played Hank Patterson’s number one fan in the "Hank Patterson's Reel Montana Adventure" movie, and with the two of them this was going to be a fun trip.

Travis had been hired by Orvis to speak at the 2015 Orvis Rendezvous in Missoula, MT.  This meant we had a seven hour drive ahead of us, but just as I had suspected, time was flying by and we were in Stanley, Idaho, in no time. 

However, it was right after leaving Stanley when we ran into our first obstacle: road signs warning about hour-long delays just ahead, and there was no getting around it.  Travis parked the car in a pull-out on the road that luckily had a trail leading down to the Salmon River.   

With 45 minutes to kill, the three of us took turns skipping rocks across the surface of the river. 
“Twenty thousand years is what it took for this rock to find the bank.” Travis said, before he took the rock and flicked it out into the water. The rock skipped many times, which was impressive, but not as impressive as Travis’s rock-throwing form. 

The lane opened shortly after, and we were off to Missoula with a quick stop right across the border to pick up a fishing license. The Bitteroot River was on the way, and we were all itching to hit a river. Travis called our buddy, Travis, from Missoula, who suggested we fish high on the river because of the recent increase on flows.  I agreed with him, but Travis had his own plans.
“I have the perfect spot in mind, guys. Don’t you worry.” Travis said, as we passed opportunity after opportunity to pull over and fish. We promptly pulled into a spot where the water was too high to fish. 
“Humm...” Travis said, after seeing his spot. I remained silent in the back seat. 
“I know what you are going to say, so just stop!” Travis said, raising his voice. Even though he was not looking at me, I knew he was talking to me.
“I wasn’t...” 
“Stop! Geez, didn’t I say stop?” Travis said, cutting me off, “I have another spot... so just... easy!”  
We arrived at the other spot, which was also a little high, but fishable. We geared up and headed downstream to fish.

Little Skwallas could be seen fluttering from trees, so we all had them tied at the end of our line.  This was a good sign: perhaps, despite the increase in flows, dry fly fishing would still be good... it wasn’t. 

We tossed out our skwallas with no luck. Jason remained upstream to fish while Travis found a nice riffle. A small fish hit right when Travis readjusted his stance, and although he set the hook fast, he missed the sneaky fish. 

Travis continued downstream, but I remained at the spot where the fish had taken his fly.  I was getting nothing on a dry fly, so I switched to nymphing. In only a few casts I had hooked into a small Bitterroot River rainbow trout. 

I let my fish go quickly, and went back to fishing.  With such quick success I was sure to get into the fish now, but I was wrong.  The next time my indicater went under I had snagged a sunken log that took my flies. No big deal, I thought as I rigged up another nymphing outfit and quickly lost those flies as well. It was my fifth lost rig that finally got me to stop nymphing and catch up with Travis and Jason.

“Anything?” I asked the guys when I approached. 
“Nope, unless you count a tree.” Jason said. “You?”  
“I got a little one.” I said.
“On a dry fly?” Travis asked quickly.
“No, I switched to a nymph.” I said back.
“Ooooooooh, a nymph huh?” Travis said, sounding disgusted  “I don’t think I could bring myself to nymph... but whatever.” He said, as we walked back to the car.

Finally reaching our destination after the long drive was nice, and eating at the local pizza place was even better. I did not expect to eat gourmet pizza for dinner in Missoula, because I was expecting a small town.  This was my first time there, and I was happy to see buildings over three stories high.  The weather was tipping into spring which made the town, and everything around it, look very lush and brilliant. I could live here, I thought to myself. 

Travis's friends, Joel and Deb, were kind enough to let us stay at their house, which was located up in the hills with a spectacular view.

Sleeping was going to be comfortable here, but the excitement of fishing new waters tomorrow kept me up late.  To fill the void, I organized all my fishing clothes for the next morning; this way, as soon as I get up I can be ready in a flash.  Now for all that pesky waiting.