Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hebgen Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Quake Lake

Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was far too excited to sleep the night before fishing Quake Lake.  My buddy, Jeff Currier, suggested fishing Quake this year, or I would regret it. His words haunted me for a good month, leaving me with a monster inside that couldn’t be tamed. So when fellow fly fishing enthusiast, Terry Kowallis, invited me to eastern Idaho with him, I immediately suggested we go a bit further to West Yellowstone and fish Quake and Hebgen lake. 

The only indication I had slept at all the night before fishing Quake was a dream that I was late getting to the lake.  I woke with a jolt and reached for my phone in the pitch black.  My eyes quickly adjusted to the brightness so I could see the time... 3:58 a.m.  Despite my efforts to go back to sleep, the thrill of finally getting the chance to fish Quake Lake was too overwhelming, and for the first time in my life 6:00 a.m. did not come soon enough. 

A bluebird weekend was in the forecast, but one look outside shot that prediction to hell.  Rain was pouring down and there was no sign of it letting up; but it would take more than a heavy downpour to stop Terry Kowallis and I from fishing.  We had seven rods rigged up and had packed our rain gear. Between the two of us, we were ready for whatever Quake had to offer.  

To our delight the rain subdued to a light sprinkle that was barely noticeable on the glass-like surface of Quake Lake.  I watched as the once-placid lake was disturbed by a fish rocketing out of the water. 

A smile from ear to ear streaked across my face as I turned and ran back to the boat where Terry was putting together the final touches.

As soon as the boat was in the water, I jumped behind the oars!
“Are you rowing first?” Terry asked, as he stepped in the boat. 
“Yep!” I said. 
“Well then I’ll start fishin’.” Terry said, and trolled a black woolly bugger as I started to oar.  
“There’s one!” Terry yelled, as he set the hook! 
“Are you serious?!” I said with a large smile... “It’s going to be a good day!"  

Terry’s rod danced with a fish as I grabbed the net.  With a good heave, Terry brought the fish in and I scooped it up in the net.  We were happy to get a fish in so soon, and after a second glance at the picture of the fish, it seemed just as happy to see us.  

After releasing our happy fish it didn’t take long before we were in the most scenic part of Quake Lake.  “A Night of Terror” is what they call the event that took place on Earthquake Lake back in the 50s.  The land slide from the mountain that created the lake is obvious when you pass by, and around 30 campers' remains are buried in the catastrophe.  The stunning scenery of the skeletal remains of evergreens is an eery reminder of Quake's horrific past.  

Even in the thick of the pine tree graveyard, where the ghosts of the past haunt the lake, I was overwhelmed by the magnificent scenery. No looming spirits could have any affect on me today, because I was so happy to be there...

That was, until the rain started. 

A slight drizzle turned into a torrential downpour in no time at all, and the hope for a bluebird day had dissipated. To make things even more fun, my rain jacket didn’t even pretend to be a rain jacket. Water seeped through my jacket like a sieve and into my fleece liner underneath, which started draining into my waders. There was no escaping the cold, and in no time at all I was shivering.  A loud thunder clap yanked our attention from the cold, and we hurried for the bank. Once there, Terry took the opportunity to bail some of the rain water out of the boat.

“We might as well get back out there.” Terry suggested, as the thunder passed us by, “This rain isn’t letting up, and we are getting just as soaked.”  
Together we slowly got back into the boat, and I oared out, thinking that it may help me warm up a bit.  With every pull of the oars, cold water drained from my sleeves; I kept the rain hood over my hat simply as formality.  I tossed my line out after we stopped and held the rod tip in the water, which is standard practice for stillwater fishing, but today it was tough keeping the tip steady. I was shivering so violently that the rod tip was wobbling out of control, and when I felt pressure, it took a second to realize a fish had taken.  
“There we go!” I said, as my rod was doubled over with a fish.  I netted it fast, and Terry was ready with the camera.  I reached in to grab the fish and felt something I have never experienced before:I knew I was cold, but when I grabbed the fish it was warm to the touch.

“Hell... Keep that up and we may just stay out a bit longer.” Terry said, after snapping a picture.  I reached down and placed the fish back in the water. 
“Oh, that feels nice.” I said to Terry, “The water feels warm too.” 
“I was just about to say I was getting cold...” Terry said, “but after looking at you, I don’t think I have room to talk.” 
My fish swam off, so I pitched my line back out and was into another fish faster than expected.  I brought it in quickly and took a picture while the fish was still in the net. 

“What are you using?” Terry asked.  I flipped the net over, and let my fish go.  “It’s a Phil Rowley technique.” I said, and showed Terry the 15-foot leader with a few tags that had flies. 
“I don't think I’m advanced enough for that.” Terry said, “I bet I would have that tangled up in no time.” 
"There is another way Phil rigs up..." I said, and re-rigged his leader.  After a few cast, he was in a fish!

Terry brought his fish in fast, and let it go before I could take a picture.  However, in the process, as if the fishing gods decided to smile down on us, the rain stopped and a bit of sunshine was peaking through the clouds.  To make thing better, the callibaetis were starting to emerge. 

The fish that key onto the callibaetis mayfly will swim around looking for the floating bug, and eat them as they swim by.  The fish will continue cruising around in search for callibaetis to eat in its path. This is a very exciting time to fish lakes, especially if you enjoy dry fly fishing.  The fish that eat this way on stillwater are called gulpers. 

“I’m seein’ gulpers!” Terry said happily, as the day warmed up fast. I took off my drenched jackets and got in the front of the boat. Still shivering, I casted out my parachute adams to a gulping fish, and it took! The fish fought like crazy before it shook me off. 

“This makes waiting through all the rain worth it!” I said happily, as both Terry and I started catching fish after fish.  There was no time to take any pictures; we both had to be on our game as the gulpers started.  A quick rise here... there... then quickly throw your fly in its path and WHAM! 

“I need at least one picture of a fish, Terry.” I said, netting another fish.  Terry pulled himself away from the gulping fish to snap a picture of me, then immediately went back to fishing. 

The fish were moving much faster that I would have thought gulping fish would move.  Double-hauling to get your fly in front of the fish was what worked best for me, and watching a fish come up from the depths with its mouth open to eat your fly was intoxicating.

Some time during the excitement I had stopped shivering, and my quick dry casting shirt was now dry.  With every fish that took our fly we were reminded it was worth the wait.

Caddis started hatching along with the callibaetis, which stirred up an even bigger gulping frenzy.  I switched my fly to a CDC caddis, and after a few refusals it ended up being the right move. I had simply flicked my fly out no more than a few feet from the boat, and as I stripped out line from my reel it got slammed!  

After a few more fish I handed Terry a CDC caddis, and he was experiencing the same amount of success I was. 

Time flew by as the hatch took place, and when the frenzy started to slow down I sat down to hydrate with a V8 Fusion.  I could see a few fish gulping in front of Terry, and he was right there with a nice cast.  I turned away and notice a few fish rising towards me, and with a V8 Fusion in one hand, I flicked out my fly near the gulping fish.  My fly sat there for a second as I took another drink, and when I did, a fish nailed my fly. 
“Mmmmmm!” Was all I could muster with a mouth full of juice before I set the hook. 
“Now that just isn’t fair.” Terry said, as I quickly set down my drink to bring in the fish. 

Clouds started rolling back in, and the hatch was now over.  The gulping activity was few and far between as the temperature started to drop.  We had already started heading back when we heard another loud thunder clap. We pulled out the boat just in time to hear another bolt of lightning boom overhead.  The sound of the bolt was so loud we ducked for cover. 
“Want to come back here tomorrow?” Terry asked as we pulled out onto the main road. 
“I would not be able to sleep at night if we skipped out on Hebgen Lake, and Phil Rowley gave me some pointers on where to fish.” I said. 
“Then Hebgen tomorrow it is!” Terry said.  We drove home in torrential rain, thankful for the few hours of sunlight that made fishing on Quake Lake a day to remember. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Boise River and My Brother

My brother is now living in Omaha, Nebraska, and every so often he gets the chance to come and visit. When he does get back, there is always a plan to go fishing! He had to catch a flight at 5pm the day we planned to fish, so the Boise River in town was our only option.  

“I’m going to throw on this brown Dali Lama!” Feef said, happily tying on his fly. 
“Look what I’m going to use!” I said, holding up a large Kelly Galloup Barely Legal streamer that was so big, it could pass for a muppet on a hook.
“Seriously?” He asked. 
“Heck yeah! Go hard or go home, Brother!” I said before we quickly made our way into the water.

Side by side we walked the river, chucking our streamers in every nook and cranny of the river’s edge. 
“I just saw a fish go after your streamer!” Feef yelled, pointing. 
“No, Brother... That was just my streamer.” I said, lifting it out of the water.  
“That thing is huge; do you really think a fish is going to hit it?” He asked. 
“In theory... Yes.” I said as I shot it into another nice section of water.  Two quick strips back, and a chrome flash bolted from the depths and nailed my streamer. 
“See, there it is!” I yelled, as my fly rod sprang to life.  The fish pulled with all of its might, and was putting up quite a fight.  I was surprised I wasn’t able to bring it in faster with my 7 weight fly rod. After all, the 7 weight is made for power.  After a great fight, I netted the first fish of the day. 

Feef immediately went back to fishing, and I could tell he was hungry for a fish.  He rocketed his streamer to a stagnate part of the river, and a fish darted out and hit his Dali Llama.  A quick jolt was all he felt before the fish quickly disappeared.  
“Let’s keep moving. It’s gone.” I suggested, as Feef tried and tried again for that same fish.  

We came to a nice riffle in the river, and I rigged my 10 foot 5 weight fly rod for euro nymphing.  After a quick lesson, Feef picked up the technique, but with no results at first.  In a quick attempt to show him how to lead his fly into a pocket, I hooked into a little brown trout that put up a fun fight.

“I got one!” Feef yelled, as he brought his rod tip up.  The fish didn’t look big, but it was a fish.  
“What is it?” I asked. 
“It’s a damn white fish.” Feef said sadly, not wanting to count his white fish as a catch. 
“It’s still a fish!” I said encouragingly, but before I could pull out my camera, he had flipped his net over and the white fish plopped back into the river. 

Time was running out for my brother, and we were now a ways from his truck. 
“We better start heading back.” I suggested, as Feef continued fishing his streamer.  He had found a brown trout that would whack at his streamer every so often, and he didn’t want to leave it. My alarm went off, indicating it was time to head back.  I snoozed it to give us a little more time.  While he focused on the fish he was after, I started euro nymphing a small channel just downstream.  My euro flies sank quickly, and right as they fell into the deeper section of the channel, my slinky stretched out.  I set the hook fast!
“I got another one!” I yelled out as I fought the fish. 
“Seriously?” Feef sighed, his face full of envy. 
“Yep... And let me tell you, it feels good to be fighting a fish.” I said, as I grabbed my net and landed the fish. 
“That’s messed up, Brother.” Feef said. 

My alarm went off again, and this time we couldn’t ignore it.  We both got out of the water and clipped our flies off so we wouldn’t be tempted to make another cast.  
“That damn fish wouldn’t take my fly.” Feef said, bitterly. “No fish for me today...” 
“What are you talking about; you got that white fish!” I said, trying to lighten his mood.  Feef shot me a disgusted look of disapproval, knowing full well that I knew his white fish, to him, wasn’t a catch. 
“Well look on the bright side, Brother. We know where that fish lives and you can come back and get it next time.” 
“Yeah...” Feef said, still not satisfied but looking forward to some payback. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Be Well Fish On

“It is an absolute privilege that these guys have asked me to invite you into one of their discussions.” said Bob Macias, the facilitator for the Reel Recovery closed-door discussions, just after breakfast on the last morning of the week-long retreat.  The boisterous conversation we, the buddies, were having fell quiet.  
“This is the first time, in 8 years of doing this, we have ever allowed the buddies in during the conversations.  All the gentleman in the room insisted you all partake in the experiences they have had this week...  I can’t express how neat this is for you guys; this never happens. ” Bob finished, gesturing towards the door inside.  I, along with the rest of the buddies, found a place to sit and observe while their conversation started. 

The inner circle of participants were listening, along with us, as Bob started the conversation.  
“Did you guys think about your cancer while you were fishing?” This was the first discussion topic Bob had for the inner circle. Almost in unison, the men started shaking their heads no and murmuring it out loud.  One guy in particular spoke up above the rest ,“Hell! I didn’t even think about women!”  
The entire room erupted in laughter as the men took turns answering the question.

Many laughs were had by all, as these men shared their experiences.  
“Thank God for bushes, or I wouldn’t have caught anything all weekend!” Another gentleman shared, keeping up with the entertainment thus far.  Not every comment was spoken in jest, as one gentleman said, “I can’t thank you guys enough for helping us out on the water.  I had two buddies, one on each arm, helping me wade the river, which is something I could not have done by myself right now.” He stopped for a second and waved thanks to the two buddies who helped him. “To see you guys, so young and willing to go out with us old guys and help us as much as you did...” He stopped to take a breath... “...That just gives me hope.” 

Bob thanked the men for sharing before he offered up the next discussion topic.  “What about yourself are you going to leave behind up here?” He said, and turned to the gentleman on his left.

A silence fell over the room so quiet, it was as if time was slowing down.  The first question was simply an ice-breaker; however, this question was inviting them to open up and share something more intimate.   

Genuine conversation, thick with realization and honesty came from each participant as they shared personal aspects of their lives, situations, and personal struggles. The air was so rich with honesty that, when it was over, I knew it was a conversation that would never leave that room. 

Surrounded by mountains and standing on a river that is crystal clear is something you have to experience for yourself.  In the end, it wasn’t about getting a participant into a fish; it was about being a buddy to a man that didn’t know he needed one.  Every participant thanked us profusely for helping out, but in the end, we were thanking them for their honesty and precept; they are the real heros.