Sunday, May 28, 2017

Breakfast Before Fly Fishing

"Do you sell Oatmeal?" Travis Swartz asked the barista working at the Starbucks located inside the local Missoula grocery store.
"Yes we do." She replied with a smile, so the three of us ordered blueberry oatmeal for breakfast before heading out to fish. I say three because we were joined by Travis Steven-Jones (Trav), an outfitter gentleman we met as a buddy through Reel Recovery. Trav has fished with us before. In fact, it was both Travis and Trav who were there when I thought a moose was chasing me; a story they both love to tell.
Travis stepped away from the Starbucks kiosk to pick up a few things from the store, and while he was looking around I got the attention of the young barista on the other side of the counter.
"Can you do me a favor?" I asked. Her eyes locked onto me which was an obvious yes.
"Our buddy over there..." I pointed to Travis who was carrying about ten items in his hands headed towards the checkout counter, "He is a fly fishing YouTube sensation. If you are into fly fishing, there is a good chance you know who he is." I said metaphorically.
"Could you pretend to have seen him before, and ask him questions like, 'do I know you?', 'how do I know you?', and no matter what he says, say 'no that's not it'?"
"Do it!" A second enthusiastic barista said from behind the counter.
"Okay, I'll do it!" She said with a smile, and casually went back to fixing our oatmeal.

"Here he comes..." Trav said, watching Travis approach.
As the barista handed us our oatmeal she paused on Travis.
"You know, I was thinking... do I know you from somewhere? You look familiar..."
Her tone of voice could have fooled Scorsese.
"I don't know?!" Travis said, taking the bait..."Do you fly fish?"
"Noooo... Are you in a movie or something?" She replied, sounding like she would have taken him home if she had the chance.
"Yeah, a few." Travis happily answered.
 I looked over to Trav, and he was fighting a smile, and so was I.
"Most people recognize me from the fly fishing videos I do." Travis said, eating up the conversation.
"Just go to Hankpatterson.com and you will say, 'oh that's that idiot I met at work.'" Travis said, making everyone laugh.
"Hmm. Maybe I will have to do that later today." She said.
"Yeah!" Travis said back, but it was time to get going.
"Thank you." Travis said along with Trav as we turned to walk out of the store.
Now this type of thing happens a lot with Travis, as you can expect, so I can't really say that I tricked him. Still, being recognized by a young barista at Starbucks is a nice way to start off your day. "Thank you." I said, and slipped a few bucks in the tip jar before following the guys out to the car.

Although the extra time spent at the Starbucks was precious fishing time, it was worth giving up. Now that we had our fun, we wasted no time getting to the water.
 

A small fingerling of the Bitterroot River was the spot of choice, suggested by Trav, who had lived in Missoula in the past. His recommendation was spot on. The water was slightly risen due to runoff, but this stretch of water was easily wadeable.  


Both Trav and I were into fish almost immediately when we started fishing, but Travis had to fish a dry fly.


Although a little early in the year to be searching with a dry fly, in my book, the guy willing to throw a dry gets first crack at any decent looking water we come to. Although I was catching fish on my nymph rig, I would have loved to see some top water action.


The three of us walked upstream a ways, with Trav and Travis walking up river-right, and me on river-left. I was slightly ahead of them, walking up a long deeper stretch of water when SPLASH! It was unmistakable, a fish had just rose right next to me. I immediately backed off from the riverbank and got the attention of Travis from the other side of the river.


“Do you still have your dry fly on? I just saw a fish rise.”
“Seriously?” Travis asked, now paying closer attention to the water.
“Yeah, it was just in that slack-water twenty feet out from that broken branch.” I said, pointing with my fly rod.
Travis didn’t waste any time. He unfastened his dry fly from his rod and started fishing the water I had suggested. His first cast landed his fly ever so delicately on the surface of the water; such form and precision.
"Well who the hell are you?" I said with bewilderment to Travis. "Look at that cast! Perfect form, stopped the fly rod at the right angle to allow his fly to land softly, and plenty of slack line for mending. I would just say a few more feet out is where I saw it rise."
Sadly, nothing was coming up. I started walking downstream to a safer place to cross to join Trav and Travis on the other side.
"There he is! There he is!" I heard as I was on my way to join them. I looked up to see that Travis was hooked into a fish.


"No way! It came up?" I asked.
"Yeah, man. Travis just kept throwing it where you pointed, and it finally came up." Said Trav.
"Your damn right it came up!" Yelled Travis as he fought his fish.
Everything I said to Travis against dry fly fishing that morning came back out ten fold.
"It's too early for a dry fly... If I were you I'd start off with a nymph... You're probably not going to catch anything this early in the year with that gray drake on..." Travis said in a deep, dumb voice.
"Whatever, I don't even sound like that!" Was all I could think to say back.


Although Trav and I were easily ten fish in for the day, that one fish Travis caught on his dry fly kept him a purist for the rest of the day.  We walked upstream for a ways longer, occasionally seeing a gray drake fluttering around, but nothing we would call a hatch... until we started on our way back downstream.

 






The once calm stretch of water turned into a small riffle of feeding fish, and I had built out my leader for a dry fly in seconds.  Trav was downstream and out of sight as Travis was keyed into a rising fish just upstream from me. I was searching through my fly boxes frantically in the hope that I had a gray drake. The gray drake is a bug that doesn't hatch near Boise, that I have discovered, and therefore I had none.


I watched as the fish refused every kind of green and brown drake I had to offer, with Travis upstream having just as much luck as I.
"What the hell are these fish taking?!" Travis yelled, obviously not happy.
"This is the part of fly fishing that those videos don't capture. The part where you want a fish so bad, and they are taking nothing. It just pisses you off!" He yelled.
"I understand..." I said, listing off all the flies I had tried with no success.  The drake hatch was starting to peter-off and we had no fish to our nets. 


"It looks like this fish is eating emergers, and is performing a complex rise. That means I will need a long undisturbed drift starting from up there.” I said pointing...“That's if we can find right fly.”
“I have actually been throwing gray drakes and they are not taking those either.” Travis said.
"Well damn!” I said, and opened my box to look for anything that resembled an emerging gray drake.
"My caddis box!" It was my only hope. I started looking over the CDC winged caddis I had there and smirked when I glanced over a particular one... “I wonder...?” 
I plucked out a fly and tied it on. I targeted a fish that had been refusing my flies for a long while now, and thought how sweet would it be to finally hook it? My fly drifted down to where the fish was feeding and with a small blop sound, it was gone.
“THANK YOU SILVIA!” I said setting the hook, and the fish erupted out of the water. 

 

“What did it take?” Travis asked immediately.
“A special fly given to me by my Canadian friend, Silvia. It’s a sparsely tied size ten CDC caddis. You would almost think it was supposed to be a mayfly, but Silvia schooled me with it while fishing a few year back...”
“Yeah, yeah, I didn’t ask for a story.  Do you have another one?” Travis interrupted.
“It's always all about you... Yes, I have two more left.” I said, still fighting the trout. “I’ll give you one as soon as I get in this trout.”
The trout flew out of the water again and again... “Look at this fish, it’s hot! It’s a hot fish! IT'S A HOT JUMPING FISH, TRAVIS!” I yelled with a laugh. Travis was right there with his net ready to scoop up the fish as soon as I could get it near him.
“Get ready, Travis... Get ready.” I said, as I added torque to the fly rod, bringing the fish right at Travis. Travis plunged his net into the water and under the fish lifting it out of the water, but the fish would have none of it. It darted out of Travis’s net so that when he went to lift it up, it was teetering on the rim of his net. Travis brought up the net fast, flinging the fish up and practically flinging it back into the water.
“TRAVIS WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I screamed, as he tried to regain control of his net.
“THERE IT IS, THERE IT IS!” I yelled.
"Yes I see it!” Travis replied and stabbed his net into the water right in front of the fish. This sudden aggressive move by Travis caused him to be off balance, and his right foot slipped slightly out from under him. Travis quickly regained his balance, but the fish had evaded his second attempt to be netted. The fish slipped by the net and darted downstream right in-between Travis’s legs.
“JESUS CHRIST, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I screamed, as my line was now getting tangled in Travis's foot.
“I slipped.. Oh and I’M FINE BY THE WAY!" He yelled back. Despite his laughter, Travis lifted his foot and my line slipped under his leg and was free again.
“Okay, this time try NOT netting the fish!” I said, but by now we were both laughing so hard that it didn’t matter if we got the fish or not. If the fish was going to come unbuttoned, it would have happened a long time ago; and with attempt number three Travis got into position and scooped up the fish.

 

“It feels good to finally get this fish!” I said. We both watched as it slipped away, then started laughing at what a fiasco it was to net the thing.
“Now, give me one of those flies.” Travis said, getting up. I handed him one of the three flies I had left in my box, then started to gather my equipment back together.

 

By the time I was ready to fish again I saw that Travis was downstream with Trav. Trav was laying on some grass and had pointed out a fish to Travis.
“It won’t eat anything I throw at it.” Trav said, watching Travis peeling off line to make a cast.
“Well, I may have found the fly we need.” I said, as Travis made a cast.  There was a fish rising in front of him, and it was only a matter of time before...WAM!

 

“There it is!” I yelled, as Travis started to fight his fish.
“Oh hell, don’t go that way.” Travis said to his fish, who had made a hard run directly downstream and into some faster current.
“Want help netting the fish?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll probably need it since it's in the fast current.” Travis said, as the fish took more line from his reel.
“You better hurry up and get down there...” Travis said to me as line started flying out of his reel.  I got a net from Trav, and waded downstream from Travis’s hooked fish.
“Oh no, what have I done? I let him go too far down into that crap!” Travis said, as he started to wade downstream into the current to keep up with his fish.


Just upstream from me I could see Travis’s fish darting around underwater. I had the net ready, but this fish still had plenty of fight left in it. With the current on the side of the fish all Travis could do was keep heavy tension to keep it from moving too far downstream.
"I'm going to spook it back your way!" I yelled up to Travis, half jokingly, but just being downstream kept the fish from going further.
"Net it!" Travis yelled, but there was no way. I had a large net and the speed of the current kept me from making a swift scoop.
"Can you bring the head up?" I asked, but Travis already had tension on the fish to the point of snapping the line.
"Are you kidding?" Travis asked.
"It's too deep to net."
"Well try anyway!" Travis yelled, so I did. I jammed the net underwater to capture the fish, but my movements were nearly in slow-motion due to the current. I scooped left and right, both movements were easily parried by the fish, and that just seemed to upset the fish further.
"What the HELL are you doing?!" Travis yelled at me, as the fish ran to the other side of the river.
"The fish is too hot to net!" I yelled back, but the fish made a mistake. It swam away hard to the opposite bank, but the current was much slower there and now Travis was in control.
"Oh I got 'em now!" He yelled, as the fish finally flopped around at the surface. It was net-able now; I just had to get to it. I sloshed my way over as fast as I could, which I'm sure looked like a Jesus Christ lizard only much less graceful. Travis was holding the fly rod up so high you would think he was summoning lightning from the sky, but it was what needed to happen in order to bring in his fish. I was out of breath when I reached the fish, but this time the fish did not evade me.
"There it is BABY!" I yelled lifting the fish into the net.
"Woo hooo!" Trav called, as he watched from the bank.
"Oh My God!" Travis said with a sigh, as he lowered his fly rod and massaged his right forearm.


"This is a nice fish." I said with a smile, while snapping a picture.
"Hell yeah it's a nice fish." Travis reiterated, while dipping his fish underwater to let it go. The fish darted away, and Travis stood to watch it, still nursing his forearm.
"Come on, the fish are still rising." I said, and grabbed my fly rod that was ready with a dry fly.


Together the three of us headed back downstream, and took turns catching fish along the way. The fish were so willing to hit a dry fly at this point that, sometimes only one cast was needed.


"What a great way to end the day." I said, after catching my last fish.
"I know, and look..." Travis pointed, "They are still rising." Both Trav and Travis were already geared down and waiting for me at the car. On my way back I had found one last rising fish that I HAD to catch.
 

"You better hurry up, because we are taking off." Travis said, as I approached the car.
"Jut a sec..." I said, and I wasn't kidding. I am typically the last one off the river all the time, which means I can gear-down faster than anyone I know.
"Ok!" I said, shutting the door.
"Where is all your stuff?" Trav asked.
"It's in the back of the car, all put away."
"Seriously?" He said.
"Yep."
"Well it better be, because we are out of here." Travis said, and stepped on the gas to pull out of the parking spot; then immediately slowed down.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Well now I have to be sure I didn't leave anything." He said with a laugh, and after a long glance we bolted off to the Orvis Rendezvous, and arrived on time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Early Float

The forecast called for cool temperatures, heavy rain, and strong gusts of wind, but that wasn't going to stop Mark Grajcar and I from getting an early season float on the South Fork of the Boise River. It is a rare treat to float the river this early in the season. We typically don't get to until Memorial Day weekend, but with the heavy runoff this spring the flows got bumped up early. 
 



The plan was to start off our float further downstream where the water may be a degree or two warmer. With this in mind we had one rod rigged up with a skwalla pattern I had tied up early that morning, hoping it would catch the attention of a hungry fish. We also had a rod rigged up for nymphing.




"Mark, would you like to fish first?" I asked, just as we were about to start our float. 
"No, Erik. Why don't you fish first to show me how it's done." Mark said, getting behind the sticks.
"Okay, but normally I charge for this..." I said with a sigh, as I took the front of the boat. 

I relentlessly force-fed the fish a skwalla that they were clearly not interested in, but there is something inside of me that had to try the dry fly first to completely rule it out for the rest of the day. 
"Okay, Mark it's your turn." I said, after a while at the front.
"Are you sure? You haven't caught a fish yet." 
"Actually, I just wanted to show you how to cast before I let you up here."
"Well you certainly did that." Mark said with a laugh before switching spots. 




"Oh right there, c-mon BOOM!" Mark said, giving himself credit for laying out a perfect cast just behind the branches of a protruding bush. The "boom" is a way of letting a fish know that the cast just accomplished was good enough for a fish to take the fly. The actual "boom" itself is hypothetically a fish taking his fly, but nothing took. 

"I caught a nice fish right up here." Mark pointed out with his rod tip before making a cast. Mark's indicator floated through the spot with not so much as a twitch. 
"Geez, where are the fish?" 
"There are no fish in this river, Mark... Not since the fire..." I said. Sure the "fire joke" is a few years old by now, considering the fire happened in 2014, but it still got Mark to laugh so it was worth saying.
"I was here with, Jim [Kazakoff] during an amazing caddis hatch, and caught fish all along this bank here." Mark said, making another cast.
"Oh c-mon right there fish, boom!" Mark pleaded, but still no fish took. 
We were nearly past the half way point of our float with not a single fish to the boat. 



A large bush stuck out into the river creating a nice pocket of water behind it, and just as his indicator slipped around the bush it jetted under water.
"YEAH BABY!" Mark yelled, feeling the fight of the fish rather than the sticks we had hooked into earlier. 
"Maaaaaaaaark!" I yelled in delight, after seeing the fish splash at the surface. At a quick glance the fish had to be about twelve inches long. 
"Whoa look at that one!" Mark yelled, laughing.
"What was it Mark, 20 inches?!" I yelled to him, which was completely unnecessary as he stood two feet away. 
"Oh, easy 20!" Mark replied laughing. 
The fish dove deep, but it was hardly anything Mark couldn't handle.
"Careful, Mark!  Don't let him break you off!" I yelled in desperation.
"Mark! MARK!  HERE'S THE NET!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, while holding out the net. Mark took it laughing. We had been on the water for a few hours now and this could very well be the only fish we caught for the day, so I continued with the fanatics.
"Do you know how to net a fish of this size, Mark?! Do you need me to get out and net it for you?!" Mark was laughing still as he was seconds away from netting his fish. 
"HOLD ON, MARK, I'M GOING TO TAKE US TO THAT BACK-EDIE!" I yelled as saliva flew from my mouth. I grunted loudly with every row to the back-edie, and dropped the anchor. Mark had already netted the fish before I even started rowing.




"Well, it may not be 20 inches, but it's a fish!" Mark said laughing. 
"That's true!" I said, as Mark went to release the fish.  
"Hold on, Mark, I want to get a shot of the fish leaving the net." I said, reaching for my underwater camera. 
"Okay." Mark said, as I undid the strap securing my camera to the frame. I flicked my camera on, and turned towards the net that no-longer held a fish.
"What the hell?!" I said in disbelief.  
"Oh, what?!" Mark said looking down at the empty net, then both left and right as if the fish was going to be there just under the surface waiting for him.  
"Oh shoot. I guess it jumped out of the net." Mark said, innocently. 
"Really, Mark? Is that what it did? I thought it sprouted wings and flew out!" I said, clicking my camera off. 
"Well I wanted to keep it wet so I dipped it back into the water, and I must have dipped it too far..."   
There was a twinge of guilt in Mark's voice and the situation was more funny than anything, so fastened my camera back to the frame and took the front of the boat: it was my turn to fish.




I pounded the banks and break waters in search of a fish, but nothing was interested. At one point my indicator shot under, but it was just a stick. 
"I caught a fish in this stretch ahead." Mark said, as we neared a long stagnate stretch of the river. 
"It was on a dry fly." Mark remembered, "they were rising all over in here." 
"What a nice memory. Thank you for sharing." I said, sarcastically. Mark just laughed, as we slowly drifted downstream. 
"But...if there were going to be any rising fish, this is where they would be." Mark said, and he was right. Just ahead I saw a mouth come up and sip a mayfly off the surface. 
"Anchor!" I shouted, "rising fish!" 
Mark unhooked the rope and the anchor stopped our float. Then the fish rose again. 
"Oh, there it is!" Mark said, as I rigged up a leader with a small dry fly.


Both Mark and I stared at the water, waiting for the fish to rise again.
"Figures. As soon as I get all rigged up with an RS2, the damn thing stops rising." I said, not taking my eyes from the river. 
"There it is." Mark said. 
"I see it."
"It looks to be a dink."
"I don't care, Mark. It's rising, and if it's rising it's mine!" I said with confidence.  I made a few casts but a seam in the water was pulling my fly away from the rising fish. 
"Do me a favor and pull on the right oar..." I asked Mark.  He did so, and with the anchor in place the boat swiveled closer to the rising fish, allowing me to get on the inside of the faster current. 
"Oh right there, boom." Mark said, as my fly hit the lane of the feeding fish.
Sip!
"Gotcha!" 
"Yeah baby!" Mark yelled, as I brought in my fish.




"Now, Mark! Would it be too much trouble to ask you to keep the fish in the net?" I asked, causing Mark to start laughing...
"I got it." Mark said. 
"Sometimes, if I can get close enough, I can get a nice shot of these fish if my camera is on the right setting.." I said, reaching just behind the fish as Mark dipped the net. The fish didn't take off right away, which made for a great shot of it underwater.




"Thanks Mark." I said, as the fish slipped away. 
We quickly switched places and continued our float.





Earlier the day had threatened to rain, but it was no longer a threat. The clouds dumped rain on us as Mark pounded the banks with his nymph. Luckily we had no wind so a quick adjustment of unfolding a hood and we were set to continue.  
As I fiddled with getting my hood on while oaring the boat, Mark had hooked into a fish.





"Holey cow, Mark. That actually looks like a decent fish." I said, getting the boat back in control. 
"It's making a run for it!" 
"Do you need the net?" I asked, but after I had said it I knew it was too soon to net this fish. Mark didn't reply. The fish had revealed itself at the surface to give us a good idea of its size. 
"Geez, Mark! That fish is easily eighteen inches." I said, and this time it was no joke. Mark continued to work the fish, and with the net now by his side he could land it if it would come close enough. Although the fish was clearly tired it kept its distance from us, making it hard to net. 
"Okay, Mark. Get the net ready. I'm going to push us forward, and when I do, net the fish."
"Okay!" 
Mark had the line tight, and when I pushed forwards with the oars, Mark slipped the net under the fish and pulled it up with a cheer!




"Wow! Look at the colors of that fish, MARK! THE COLORS!!!" I screamed with excitement. 
"Yeah, it's beautiful. I bet it's getting ready to spawn."
"I bet you're right. Hold on, let me get my camera."  I said, and as Mark dipped his net into the water I snapped a couple of shots as it escaped.



"Well, not the most productive day on the water, but fun!" I said, as we docked the boat at the takeout point. 
"That makes three fish to the boat today?" Mark said. 
"Yes, but one fish on a dry easily equals two with a nymph." I said, laying heavily on the word nymph.  Mark just started laughing as we pulled out the boat.
"Still, it was nice to get an early float." I said.
"Yeah. I can't remember the last time they upped the flows this early." 
"It was before my time as an angler... but you probably remember it." 
"Oh ouch!" Mark said, grasping his heart. 
"Well, until next season... Goodbye South Fork."
"Yeah..." Mark said, and we toasted the river with a ginger cookie from the Flying M. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River

Jason Sackman drove into the parking lot right off of I-90 where my brother-in-law, Jeff, and I were waiting for him. An impromptu business trip brought us up to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and when Gracy gave me the okay to fly fish, Jason was the first person I called. After some quick goodbyes to our wives, Jeff and I loaded our gear into Jason's truck and off we drove.




"Dude, this is one of my favorite rivers." Jason said as we geared up. "The fall colors, jin-clear water, beautiful cutthroat trout... that are not leader-shy!" He continued adding emphasis on that last fact.
"My kind of place." I added with a smile, as the three of us scampered down the rocks and into the river.  
I had taken the time to rig-up my leader to do some Spanish nymphing, but as I approached a nice run I saw a rising fish. One little rising fish was all it took for me to change my Spanish nymphing outfit to a dry fly rig. That is one of the benefits of using a longer fly rod: you can get the best of both worlds and be ready for anything. The purple haze was Jason's favorite fly for this river, so it was the first one I tied on. 
Isn't it always the case? It did take me a few minutes to switch up, and now when I was ready, purple haze in hand, the fish stopped rising. 
"Damn, it!" I said under my breath, while scanning the foam-line like a hungry hawk. Nothing was breaking the surface, so I just decided to start searching that same foam-line with my purple haze. 
The little white indicator was clearly visible as it floated down the mirrored surface of the water where I had seen that fish rise, but the fly never made it down there. A small mouth broke the surface and the little white fluff of fuzz disappeared inside it.
"There you are..." I said, lifting the rod to set the hook.




There was no whooping or hollering necessary, because the little fish was thrashing the still water to the point where the sound easily projected down to Jason. Jason looked my way after hearing the splashing, and gave me a thumbs up as I brought in my fish.




The little fish darted from my hands, and because the water was so clear I got to watch it swim away for a long distance before it disappeared. 
That is my favorite part. Watching the fish swim home. I smiled as I stood there watching the fish, but the enjoyment was short lived; another fish rose in that same soft foam-line that the previous fish came from, and I snapped out of my daze and made another cast. 
"There's another one!" I yelled, getting Jason's attention, but as I did so the fish threw my hook, leaving me with this picture of it flipping me the fin.




"You should come up here!" I yelled downstream to Jason, who was fishing just within earshot.
"There's a fish rising right here!" He said back. His voice was almost incomprehensible, but I was sure I heard "rising" and "here" so my mind filled in the rest. 
Suit yourself, I thought as I looked over and saw three fish rising happily in my section of water. I didn't hold back. I picked off each fish starting with the fish furthest downstream, and just as I was releasing the third fish I heard a disturbance from downstream. It was, Jason. He had reeled in his line as was moving towards me... "Okay.  I'm coming!" He yelled upstream to me, after I had caught the three fish I would have saved for him.




"What the hell took you so long?" I asked, after having let my fish go. 
"Dude. There was this fish rising..." Jason paused, and sighed, "...and it just wouldn't take my fly. But you seem to be doing just fine." 
"Well it could just be my water column." I said, and Jason looked at me, ready to hear my theory. So I began.
"Look at the water I am fishing versus the water you were fishing. I am fishing water that is choppy with a definite current, while down where you were fishing the water had time to become smooth and calm. Smooth and calm water, especially this clear, can easily equate to snobby fish. And it's not that the fish are smarter, it's that the elements are on the side of the fish. The water is just as clear here, but I have a definite current along with a chop that offers less visibility to the fish and less time to be selective."
"Huh..." Jason said, taking in my thoughts.
"So it's not that I'm a better angler, its just that I'm fishing easier water." I said, modestly. 
"That makes sense, because we both have the same fly on." Jason added, before I pointed out two fish rising just upstream from us. 
"All yours." I said to Jason, as he made his approach.




Jason made his approach by walking back toward the bank, away from the fish, walked upstream from them, and got into position by walking downstream towards the fish. 
After a bit of casting, I waded over to Jason after noticing the fish had stopped rising during his approach. 
"Do you mind me asking why you approached the fish that way?" I asked Jason, in case he knew something I didn't. 
"What do you mean?" He asked.
"Those fish that were rising there..." I said pointing to the spot, "...that is where they live. The current in this section of water would suggest that the fish are facing upstream. You walked away and above where the fish were feeding, and approached them face-on." 
I saw the light clicking on over Jason's head, but I kept explaining. 
"Fish do two things very well, spook and feed, and they will spook before feeding. With water this clear, regardless of the current-speed and surface-chop, I would recommend approaching these fish from the rear. That would give you the best opportunity to catch them, because, above anything, we want to be invisible to the fish."  
Jason stood there looking at me before saying, "Dude, that makes so much sense." 
Jason stopped and looked at the path he took to approach the fish, and laughed at himself. 
"The funny thing is that I knew the fish would be facing forward... what was I thinking?!" Jason asked...but I believe he was talking to himself. 
"There's the fish that I was going for earlier." Jason said, as we walked back downstream to drive to a new spot. 
"Go for it!" I said. "Just adjust your cast so that your drift to the fish is three times longer than necessary." 
Jason got into a good downstream casting position, and let his fly land way ahead of the fish.
"Perfect!" I said, "Now just let it float down." 
Jason didn't respond, but I knew he was on it. He was so locked onto the placement of his fly that he reminded me of a lynx about to strike. His patience payed off. The fish that had snubbed him before took his fly this time around, and Jason wasn't about to let it get away.


"Man, I hope you don't think I'm being too authoritative by telling you what to do." I said, having realized that I'd been lecturing Jason all morning. 
"Dude, NO!" Jason said quickly. "I want you to tell me all this stuff. I learned so much from you when we fished the South Fork together. I wouldn't have even considered fishing the slicks, I would be only fishing the riffles."
"Okay, cool. I just wanted to make sure." I said, as Jason rounded up his fish.
"Mind if I take a picture?" I asked. 
"Sure!" Jason said, trying to keep his fish from wiggling around too much for me to get a shot.





"How did you do further downstream?" I asked Jeff, as Jason and I approached him heading to the truck. 
"Nothing down here. How was up there?" He asked.
"We got into a few upstream, but it's time for a new spot." I said. 
We drove down the road until we caught glimpses of rising fish. The bad thing was that we had to walk in on them from upstream, because the water got too deep further down.




Jason started fishing for some of the fish further down, while Jeff went after the ones upstream from me. And maybe it was our upstream approach, but these fish were awfully picky. We spent a fair amount of time on these fish, and only Jeff was able to fool one into taking his fly. Either way we were now getting short on time. We were told to meet back up with our wives at 5:00pm, which meant we would have to be off the water at 3:45pm to get back in time.



Although I was granted the time to fish today, a four hour day on the water is short to me, but if I wanted these small opportunities to fish during business trips then I had better not push it. 
We ended the day on a beautiful stretch of river that looked promising, but was producing no fish. It was 3:30pm and Jason had long since headed to the truck to gear down, along with Jeff. Thinking that I better head back too, I started on my way back to the truck, but then something caught my eye. Was that a rise, I thought to myself, and stopped to look more contently. 
Just up the bank from where I was standing was Jeff and Jason. Jason was already out of his waders and had fired up a small grill he had brought with him to cook up some Brawts. 
"Hey, Erik! It's about time for us to get going!" Jason yelled down to me, but I didn't reply. Maybe if I kept silent he would think that I couldn't hear him, and would go away... 
After a minute of looking, I had confirmed it was a rising fish and started to walk towards it.
"HEY! Don't act like you can't hear me!" Jason scowled from the bank. I was so focused on the rising fish that only now did I recognize Jason was standing on the soft shoulder of the road looking directly at me. 
"Oh, hey..." I said, nonchalantly. 
"Dude it's time to get going." Jason said, holding a pair of tongs.
"I still have fifteen minutes. Just yell at me when its time, and I'll come in." I lied. 
"Okay." Jason said, and walked back to the truck.




With my purple haze secure to my line I made a cast to the fish. It was steadily feeding, so my confidence was high. 
Isn't it always the case? When you feel the most confident on the river is when the river Gods decide to play. I quickly burnt up those fifteen minutes switching out flies to entice this damn fish that was still constantly feeding. I knew any second I was going to hear Jason's voice echoing up the stream to summon me back, but not before I caught this fish... But what did it want? All the little stuff didn't seem to be getting its attention, so perhaps something a little bigger? 
"HEY!" I heard from where I was standing, and knew it was Jason.
Maybe the water is too rough where I am standing, and I can't hear him... I convinced myself. I opened the little pocket on my vest where all my barb-less flies go to dry, and like a little shimmer of hope propped on top of a pile of feathers and fur glittered my pico spider. 
I snatched it out of the pocket, and threaded the eye in my first attempt.
"Eriiiiiiiiik!" I heard Jason yelling at me. His voice loomed over me like the chime of twelve midnight at Cinderella's ball, but I had my tippet twisted around itself five times. All I needed to do was push the tag in through the open loop to secure the knot, and I could cast. I pulled to secure the knot, and the tag end of the tippet slipped through the bulk of the failing knot like a kid sipping up spaghetti.
"God damn it!" I yelled, looking at the tippet that was kinked up like a slinky that was stretched too far by a toddler.
"Erik, I see you, and I know you can hear me!" Jason yelled with confidence, getting my attention.
"The grill is still too hot to store in the back of your truck!" I yelled back... it had to be.
My second knot didn't fail me. I cast out the pico spider so fast and accurately you would think I was on fly fishing Team USA. I held my breath as the pico drifted right in the feeding lane of the hungry cutthroat.
Gulp!
"YEAH!" I yelled, lifting the rod tip to set the hook on this troublesome trout.




It was a fun fight, but after I had it near me, I unhooked the pico to let it go. I definitely needed to get going now, but as I watched the fish swim away my jaw dropped.  Near the edges, in the riffle, and in the center of the river, heads were coming up everywhere. At that moment it dawned on me... I wasn't meant to leave right now...
I slowly stood being careful not to spook the fish that was right in front of me. Where did it come from? The reason we didn't hit this stretch of water first was because there were anglers here, and they had just taken off no more than fifteen minutes ago. I watched them leave before I walked over to target that first fish. I didn't dwell on this fact for too long before making another cast with the pico spider. Just like it's buddy, it didn't let the pico pass by without a taste. 


Two fish in the net and so many more still feeding. Another mouth broke the surface of the water, and it was easily within casting range. I stood there for a moment timing its feeding rhythm before making a cast. Jason and Jeff came to mind, and not because I was worried they would call. This, right now, was the most opportune moment for them to catch a fish, and on large flies no less. Yes, I did think about them, even if it was for a millisecond. Jeff setting the hook after seeing a cutthroat inhale his fly, Jason's smiling face fighting a fish... But they were not here, and there were fish to catch... And catch I did.





I heard the echo of Jason shutting the tailgate of his truck, and new the grill was now put away.  The grill was the last card I had in my hand, and I had already laid it on the table. Still, it had bought me enough time to hook into three more fish before the end of the day. I reeled in my line, hooked the pico spider on the built in hook latch, and started to wade back to the truck. Any angler knows that if you perform this task of "putting away" your fly by attaching it to the hook holder, it clearly means you are not done fishing. As I waded back I kept my eyes on the far side of the river, and saw exactly what I was looking for. The circular ripple of a rise had not even begun to dissipate before I had ripped enough line out of my rod tip to perform a cast. Of course, the last fish had to give me trouble, but after making a casting adjustment that included a longer drift the fish finally ate. 




This time I clipped off my fly, and stored it back into the very pocket I had pulled it from earlier to ensure I made it back to the truck. 
"Dude... it's 4:45..." Jason said, as I walked up to the truck still dripping. 
"Seriously?! Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, knowing full well we were not going to make an hour drive in fifteen minutes..
"No! You are not going to put this on me. We are late because of you." He laughed. 
"And let's face it..." Jason continued, "... I could have told you it was 6:00 and you wouldn't have come in."
"That's... not... true..." I lied with a straight face, while kicking off my boots.
"Whatever dude, your wife is going to be pissed, and I have no problem pitching you right under the bus." Jason said. 
"It's going to be okay, my wife is a bad-ass. I won't be in trouble, right, Jeff?!" I said looking at Jeff, who looked back at me with the kind of smile that would suggest otherwise. 
"Well, since we are late you could fire up the grill and warm up my Brawts?" I said, stuffing my waders away. 
"Dude, no!" Jason said, in a tone of voice that would suggest he couldn't believe that I had just asked that. 
"But I did stuff two of them into some foil for you." He finished, seeing that I was laughing. 
To my delight, the Brawts were still hot. Jason, being a gracious host, fished me up some buns to put them in. 
They were the best Brawts I had ever had, and it made the drive go by quickly. It was nice to have something to talk about, other than how much trouble I was going to be in when we got back; but as we pulled in to where we were to meet up with our wives, they were nowhere to be found.  After a quick call I discovered that they had a late lunch that kept them in town longer than expected, and after I hung up the phone I looked at both Jeff and Jason...
"Gentleman... There's a God in heaven!"

Thursday, December 15, 2016

L'Home De La France

"ERIC BACON! Bonjour!" I said with about the widest grin I could muster up at 5:00 a.m.
"Bonjour my friend. It is so good to see you!" Eric happily replied, and then gestured to the man standing to his left.
"This is John Paul." 
"Yes, John Paul!" I said, recognizing him from pictures Eric had sent me of them fly fishing in France. I shook his hand like he was a long lost friend before we made our way to the SUV. After my gear was loaded I headed for the back seat.
"No no." John Paul said quickly stopping me, "You go..." He said, and pointed to the front seat. 
I was about to protest before John Paul spoke again. 
"Eric's driving..." 
John Paul had the same shocked look of a cat that was being held over water, and he quickly turned to Eric to explain in French. I picked up a few words in their conversation, but not enough to know the full context. 
"He said..." Eric began to say, but I stopped his translation by raising my palm at him.
"All he had to say was Eric's driving, and I understood." I said. Both Eric and John Paul started to laugh, but it was right at the Mountain Home exit when I was reminded why John Paul chose the back seat. 
We came to a stop behind a train of ten to fifteen cars off the single lane exit into Mountain Home. This exit is just like every other exit: you either turn right, left, or go straight back on the freeway when it's your turn at the intersection. I sank bank into my seat, figuring we would have to wait a while before turning like everyone else, but Eric had other ideas. Bobbing his head around like a caged emu looking for food, Eric cranked the wheel left and stepped on the gas. I snapped up to attention, not anticipating his move ,as Eric proceeded to cut ahead of every car.
"Uhhhh." Was all that came out of me as a car ahead of us breaked just before we clipped his driver-side fender. Eric kept going despite my attempt to slam down on the imaginary break at my feet. I looked over to see the driver flailing his arms while signalling hand gestures one could only learn outside of the classroom.  
"That guy's pissed." I said, as we rolled by.
"Ah yes." Eric said, about as casual as warm socks, "Next time I come I should put a sticker on the car that says 'Sorry, I am French'."  Eric smiled as I looked back to John Paul who patted the backseat with a warm smile, casually leaning back and feeling safe.




"Ahhhh! It is so nice to be back here!" Eric said, after we had gone a few miles back on the dirt road heading to the South Fork.  Eric slowed the SUV to a stop and opened the door.
"I have to take a picture." He said, and hopped out.
As he did I felt the SUV slipping forward as if we were heading down a slight incline.
"Oh my God!" I said to John Paul, and pointed to the driveshaft... "He left the car in drive!"




Eric got back in and took in a deep breath before closing the door. "It smells so good out here." He said, and stepped on the gas, fully aware he had left the SUV in drive.





As soon as we caught glimpses of the river all the worry of Eric's driving washed away. I smiled at the river like I hadn't seen it in over a year, because the absolute joy it brought to Eric's face was as contagious as a case of the chickenpox.





Once on the water, Eric was keen to show me the new style of nymphing he had learned. He rigged his rod up for a quick demonstration, and had hooked into three fish before I couldn't take it anymore: I had to fish. 




I walked a little further downstream, leaving Eric and John Paul to their run of choice, and by the looks of it it was a good spot. Eric was already on his fifth fish before my fly had even touched the water, and it looked like John Paul wasn't doing too bad either. I started a French nymphing technique when I heard a familiar voice shout at me from the trees. 
"Uh, excuse me. Something I should know about?" 
A smile crept on my face, recognizing the voice and the line from Top Gun. 
"Brooooootherrrrr!!!" I yelled in response and turned to see him wading towards me, also brandishing a smile.




"That guy has caught three or four fish since I have seen him." Feef said, gesturing upstream. 
"That's Eric Bacon, Brother." 
"It is?!"
"Yep, and he is one of the most strategic anglers I have ever met." 
"How?"
"Everything he does: casting, line management, fly, length of tippet... It all has a purpose." I said in earnest, adding, "He doesn't just slap on a nine foot 6-X leader and call it good."  
"Eeeeee..." Feef said through gritted teeth... 
"What?" I asked.
"I have a nine foot 6-X leader on and said screw it, that's good enough."
"Eeeeeeee..." I said back with a laugh, but was quickly distracted when a fish rose.
"Get it brother!" I said, knowing he was ready with his dry fly. Feef didn't disappoint. In the small amount of time it took me to switch my leader to a dry fly outfit, he had hooked and landed his first fish of the day.



Together we worked our way upstream, picking off fish as we ascended. Both Eric and John Paul had also started moving upstream, and by the looks of it they were doing just fine.





By the time we caught up with Eric and John Paul the pink mayflies were hatching, and my brother and I had just the pattern they were looking for.





Both Eric and John Paul had a pink pattern that was tied by one of the best, if not thee best, fly tyer in France, Christian Guimonnet. In all my involvements in fly fishing/tying, I have not seen a more appetizing fly than one Christian could produce. So it was no surprise that both Eric and John Paul were doubled-up onto some fish when Feef and I caught up.





Feef had never met Eric or John Paul, so a quick introduction across the river was all they got before Feef had to get going. He was able to hit the best part of the pink hatch before taking off, which is what he had hoped for. As we headed out, Eric had seen a fish rise while John Paul and I fixed up a sandwich. 





We watched as Eric caught a second glimpse of the rising fish, and made a cast so that his fly landed like a feather on the surface of the water. 
"Look at that!" I said to John Paul, whom was standing right beside me, also watching. I pointed down to the fly, but it wasn't the fly I was looking at. A shadow rose from the depth until it clearly became the outline of a trout, and it was pointed at Eric's fly. 
Boom! The fish took, and Eric set the hook!
"These fish love French food!" Eric yelled up to us, as he fought his fish. I patted John Paul on the back as I ran off, shimming my way down the embankment in time to see Eric land his fish.




"That is a beautiful fish." Eric said, as he slipped it back into the water. 
"Still, the dry fly fishing has really slowed down. Would you like to find a good spot to learn how to Spanish Nymph?" Eric asked me, as he stood back up from releasing the fish. 
"Absolutely!" I said back, so we drove until we found a nice spot to practice. Eric explained the specific techniques used with Spanish Nymphing, from how to cast flies with a forty foot leader, to the specifics on how to properly allow your flies to hit first on the water, and finally how to keep constant tension on those flies. 




"Wow, you catch on very quick." Eric said to me, after I had released a few fish. 
"Go ahead and take my rod, if you want, and nymph with it." He suggested. 
"Yes, if that's ok?" I said. 
"Of course.  I will watch you and let you know if you do something wrong." He said, quickly adding, "If that's ok?" 
"Yes, of course." I replied, and took his fly rod to fish on my own. 
There are so many subtle techniques to Spanish Nymphing, so I was a little worried I would completely screw it up without Eric's immediate council. Still, I walked along practicing the cast, and could really feel when I had performed the cast correctly. A correct presentation and technique allows your flies to drift through the water with you feeling every bump of a rock or, hopefully, tug of a fish. After a while of nymphing with not so much as a bump, I was starting to wonder if I was doing something wrong. Just then, in the middle of a drift, something jolted my fly to a stop. I quickly set the hook and looked back to see if Eric was looking as a fish flew out of the water again and again. 
"Yes!" Eric yelled. He had been watching after all... 




"You look French." Eric said with a smile, and with a Frenchman having just won first place during the world's fly fishing competition with Spanish Nymphing, I accepted the compliment. 
"Thanks for teaching me. I have a lot of practicing to do." I admitted, recognizing some of the mistakes I had made. 
"It's okay, you will only get better." Eric encouraged. 
"It's getting late, do you want to look for some flatter water for the evening hatch?" I asked. 
"Yes!" Eric replied, so we all piled into the SUV to find our final spot for the remainder of the day.




Being that is was passed 5:00 p.m., about 75% of the anglers had gone home for the day, leaving many of the well know flats on the river vacant. 
"This spot!" I blurted out as we came to the turning point into a campsite. I had seen that it was uninhabited at the last second, but Eric had slammed on the breaks and practically drifted into the spot, so there was no need to safely slowdown and turn around. 
"There is one!" Eric said, pointing out into the river where he had just seen a fish rise. 
"There." John Paul chimed in, also pointing, seeing another fish rise. 
"Looks like we have our spot." I said, queuing us all to turn away from the river and grab our gear. 
The three of us stepped into the river together and watched for a rising fish we could each chase down.




A ways downstream I saw a fish rising ever so delicately, and wondered if it was worth wading all the way over to it. I had seen a fish rising in half the distance, and waited a while to see if it would rise again. When it hadn't I decided it was worth chasing down the further fish, so I started towards it. I froze mid-step, as the fish that was closer had risen again, only now it was so close I could have touched it with my rod tip.  I could see the red stripe of it as it fed on the surface like it was starving, picking off small flies. I quickly readied my fly and thought about how to cast my fly to this fish. The leader I had my fly attached to was twenty feet in length, so I held the fly in my hand to perform a bow-and-arrow cast. I launched my fly out while simultaneously lifting my fly rod to make sure I didn't overshoot my fly. The fly hit the water a little more aggressively than I would have liked, but that didn't matter. The fish was mindlessly feeding, and lucky for me, it didn't let my fly pass by unnoticed. 




After I had released the fish, I looked out to see if the further fish was still rising... it was. Of course, this fish not only pulled me much further away than I wanted to wade, but it was feeding in the middle of two seams that were making it very difficult to get a drift to this fish; and when I did get a nice drift, the fish would blatantly refused my fly. I easily worked this fish for an hour, changing flies over and over and over again. I was at a complete loss as to which fly to choose next, and then it dawned on me... I reached inside my vest to pull out a little, special, fly box I keep tucked away in the secret pocket of my vest. To any angler this little fly box would be quite the irrational panoply of flies, but each fly has over twenty years of technical fish-catching history passed down to only a select fraternity of French anglers. Amongst the fellowship, this fly is called the Jasques Dauty, named after the man who created and discovered its value over decades of fishing the USA. But to the people outside of the French brotherhood, this fly is simply known as the magic fly
"Okay, Jasques. I know you are with me on this one." I whispered holding the fly in my fingers, and waiting for the right moment to present the fly. 
Now! 
The fly whirled overhead as I calculated the landing and let it fall to the water. The fly approached the fish with no flaw in the presentation, and passed over its head like it wasn't there. 
"What the hell?" I said, and was about to pull up my line for a second cast when the fish did a 180 turn, and ate the magic fly! 
"For, Jasques Dauty!" I yelled upstream to Eric and John Paul, as the fish bolted downstream. When the fish finally tired, I could see that the magic fly was safely secure in the fish's upper lip.



"You were going for that fish for a long time." Eric said to me after I had regrouped with him and John Paul. 
"Yep, but I got it with the magic fly!" I said with a smile.
"Yes! That's why you said it was for Jasques?"
"Yep." I replied, and shot over a smile. 
"The fish are starting to rise." John Paul said, looking at the water. 
"Oh!" Was all Eric said, before darting away at the nearest rising fish. John Paul made a cast to a nearby fish when his line jolted to a stop. He looked back to see his fly stuck in a tree and said something in French, that I am sure meant, darn...




"It's just out of reach." Said John Paul as he strained to grab his fly. 
"Is it one of Christian's flies?" I asked, as I stepped over to help.
"Yes." He said, and we both worked together to get his fly out of the tree.
"Grab that..." I said, after reaching with the butt section of John Paul's fly rod so that it hooked over the branch the fly was connected to. The long branch bent down as I pulled on it, and John Paul was able to pinch and hold a small twig that was connected to the main branch. I let go of his fly rod to get a better hold on the branch, because his fly was almost in reach. John Paul held onto his fly rod that was still hooked over the branch, as I went to grab a bigger part a few steps away when the small twig John Paul was holding snapped
The branch sprang up launching his fly into obscurity, leaving me shielding my face and John Paul holding the tip of his fly rod; the rest of his fly rod had come apart and was hooked on the original branch above our heads.
Both John Paul and I looked at each other after the sudden commotion stilled, only to realize we were worse off than when we started. A yell off to our left grabbed our attention. It was Eric, and he has hooked into a fish.  John Paul untangled the rest of his fly rod out of the shrubbery before we waded over to assist Eric.



"Oh my goodness, this is a nice fish." Eric said, palming his reel as the fish made for a run. I placed my fly rod on the bank and waded downstream to help land his fish. I waited for the right time to approach his fish, because right now it was just too fired up.  A premature landing may cause the fish to bolt and snap the line, and we definitely didn't want that. As suspected, the fish started to tire, and I could see the head coming out of the water. I took a few long steps out and slipped my net under the fish to land it. 




Eric didn't spend too much time admiring his fish, because there were now rising fish in every direction we looked.  In fact, as Eric was fighting that last fish, John Paul had hooked and landed a fish on his own. We were definitely in the right spot because soon after I was in a fish too.




"Me too, me too!" Eric yelled back at me, after I had made my hooked fish known. Both of our fish were all kinds of fired up, and were making us wade downstream almost side by side. Eric's fish came in first, and because he was just downstream from me, he landed my fish in the same net as his.
"I think my fish is the bigger one." He said with a smile as he approached me. 
"I bet you do." I said back, as we slipped both of our fish back into the water.



"I think I better stop with that fish." Eric said, as he gathered his fly line back together. 
"Are you kidding? There are still so many fish rising out there." 
"But I cannot see." Eric said. 
"One more fish!" I chanted about three times before Eric stood back up, smiled, and said... "Okay, one more!" 
"Yeaaaaaah!" I said, standing along side Eric and wading out into the darkness. 
"THERE!" Eric yelled.
"Geez, already?" I said, as it had to have been his first cast to a fish. Either way, he was done for the night, and stopped to make his last cast at the South Fork one with a fish attached to it.  




Eric took a quick picture of Christian's fly in the fish's mouth before letting it go.




"Come on, Erik, you have to stay out here until you catch a fish!" Eric yelled at me from the bank. 
I was beginning to regret my decision to go for one more as I waded deeper and deeper out in the river. If before we could hardly see, now it was impossible. I stood with my fly in my hand listening for a rise. 
Blop!
The sound of a rising fish is subtle, but the slight disturbance in a riffle makes it unmistakable. Blind to its exact location, I cast slightly upstream from where I hear the noise and didn't hear it again. After a few casts I was starting to lose hope, but in the middle of a drift I heard it.... Blop!
"BLAM!  I GOT YOU!" I yelled, as I felt the weight of a fish.
"YES!" Eric yelled from the bank, as I slowly started wading backwards towards him. Splashes and the thrashing of water was the only indication I had hooked a fish. It was too dark to see the fish in action, as it fought to get away. Eric didn't wait to be asked for help. As I brought in the fish I saw his silhouette out in the water, and he was already in position to land the fish. He stood there not moving a muscle, and therefore the fish had no idea he was there. I angled my fly rod around to bring the fish right at Eric, who scooped up the fish as soon as it was in reach.
"Last cast!" I said smiling, and held the fish up for a picture.




"It is always good to fish with you." Eric said to me, as we put our gear together. 
"It is never long enough." I said back, and meant it. 
"You were right, one more fish." He said smiling. 
"It took me a little longer to get my fish." I said.
"I was starting to worry, but then I remembered... I am fishing with Erik Moncada. Of course he will catch a fish." Eric said, matter-of-factly.
"Now you're making me blush." I said back with a smug smile.




"Very good fishing with you." John Paul said, and shook my hand to authenticate his words. 
"Yes, and very nice to meet you."
"Now you know three people in France, so you have to come and visit!" Eric said. 
"I will do my best to get over there." I said, as we drove away from the South Fork.




Wingers was our final stop of the night, and we all ordered their gourmet salads which passed the taste test of both Eric and John Paul. We ate as they shared memories from fishing their home waters in France. The time flew by as we spoke about French rivers and how they differ from the US, French flies, and the Spanish nymphing technique... Indeed, the night lasted hours, but with three trout bums reminiscing around the table...we never noticed.