Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Upper Blackfoot River


"Well, here we are!" Travis said as we got out of the cars and looked down the embankment at a river begging to be fished. 
"That looks nice." I said, and turned away from the river to gear up. Although I can appreciate a nice scenic view, I would much rather be smack-dab in the thick of it all rather than watching from the sidelines. 

Today Travis's nephew, Dean Broadhead, was accompanying us after having to missed out on the previous day's adventures on the Missouri River. Dean is a PE teacher and also teaches fly fishing at a local high school. He had his fly rod put together and had a fanny-pack fly fishing case strapped to his waist, in true PE teacher style. All geared up, we headed to the river.


"Good Lord!" Travis yelped.
"Oh man, that's cold." Dean concurred after his first step into the ice cold water.
The first step into icy water is always the worst, but the second and third steps were not any better. I felt like the T-1000 as it stepped through liquid nitrogen, and I was waiting for the moment when my feet would shatter into icy shards as I crossed the stream.


"I hate to say it, but the next time we cross the river it will be waist deep." Dean said, as I looked down to make sure my feet hadn't shattered. 
"Oh, I forgot about that." Travis said, following Dean.
They both kept walking down to the deep spot to cross, and all I could think was, am I the only one of us that didn't want to go waist deep in this cold-ass water
"Why don't we go upstream?" I asked in a desperate attempt avoid what was about to come. 
"The spot we are headed to is literately the best spot we have found on this river." Dean said.
"And it has produced the biggest fish we have caught here." Travis added. 
"That's right!" Dean remembered, shattering my hope to avoid a waist deep crossing like a gun shot aimed at the frozen T-1000.

No way, could it be?!
Two other anglers were already fishing the very spot Travis and Dean were charging for. I had never been so happy to see someone else in our "great spot".  The warmth of this sight melted my frozen, shattered heart, and it slowly converged and rose my spirits just like that same T-1000.


We headed upstream and found a great spot to fish. The spruce moth was the local recommendation, so with one tied at the end of my line, I presented it better than a Terminator II reference. The rocks came alive, and a fish quickly came into view as it was headed straight at my fly. I could see the white of its mouth as it opened wide, and I set the hook after it had closed its little mouth around my fly. 
"Come on, guys! What's taking you so long?!" I yelled to Dean and Travis with my fly rod held high, displaying the first fish of the day.


"Damn it! Not Erik. Anyone but Erik!" Travis yelled with displeasure.
After I had let my fish go I saw that Dean was fighting a fish, so I ran over to see if he needed help landing it Dean, on the other hand, needed no help at all. He scooped up his fish and removed the hook promptly to quickly get the fish back into the water. If I hadn't had my camera out and ready, I would have missed the one-time shot he allowed before lowering his fish into the water.


"Has everyone caught a fish yet?" I asked loudly, knowing full well Travis had yet to hook up.
Travis looked over my way and gave a most distasteful glance. 
"Oh..." I said, as if I hadn't known the answer, "...how embarrassing."


Travis started working some great looking water, but nothing was coming up for his fly. Although Dean and I had caught our first fish on a dry fly, it seemed that the fish had turned off to them. Our flies knocked on every door that looked to have a resident fish, but no one seemed to be home.


That's it, I thought to myself, and clipped my fly off to replace it with a large jig-style hare's hear. One cast with the heavy nymph proved it was the right choice to make, because in the same water I had just fished with my dry fly, a fish willing took my nymph.


"Ohhh! THAT'S how your fishing now?!" Travis said accusingly after I had let my fish go.
"The dry fly activity just isn't happening..." I said, just as a fish came up and nailed Travis's fly. 


"What's that Erik? What's not happening?" Travis yelled fighting his fish. I just stood there watching him fight his fish, and for a second considered switching back to a dry fly. 
"What, Erik? Nothing to say? I mean, you are THE EXPERT!" 
"I hope you lose that God damn fish!" I spat. 
Travis was bringing in his fish, but it was putting up a great fight. It was a sizable fish for this river, and if Travis kept fighting it like he was he had a chance of losing it.
"Well are you just going to stand here watching, or are you going to help net this fish!" Travis snapped.
"You can't handle that little fish?" I said, and walked over, unhooking my net.  
"Whatever, you wish you could catch a fish this size."


Travis had played the fish enough for me to scoop it up with my net, and there was a cheer when his fish was securely landed.
"That is a nice fish." I admitted, and went to pull his dry fly out of the fish's mouth?
"What the hell is this?!" I inquired, holding up a size four black streamer.
"Oh yeah..." Travis laughed. 
"Well they were not hitting dries, so I figured I would throw a streamer." He said, as if he had not just testified his distaste for my switching to a wet fly.
"So you just forgot you were stripping in your fly instead of letting it drift?" I asked.
"Could we focus on this fish in your net, ERIK! I'm sure you're stressing it." Travis said, in an obvious ploy to distract me from his choice of fly.
"It's been underwater the entire time." I said, and tipped the net up, allowing the fish to escape. We then stood and walked up to
Dean. who was fishing a beautiful drop off.


You have got to hand it to Dean; while Travis and I went to the dark side, Dean was still pitching a dry fly. 
"Anything on the dry?"
"Nothing..."
"Mind if I fish downstream from you?"
"Go for it." Dean said. 
I felt like a slimy worm as I hooked into a few fish in front of Dean. I wished as much as the next guy that the fish were nailing dries, but they just weren't.


I continued to rake in the fish, but I did allow Dean to hit the spot first with his dry fly, and Travis with his streamer, before I went lastly and caught the fish.


"Why won't I switch to a nymph?! I know damn-well that I would catch fish, but I just won't do it." Travis yelled, after I had released yet another fish. 
"It's because your stupid." I said quickly.


Near the end of the day, Dean had to head back home, leaving Travis and I to fish by ourselves. We drove further downstream and found a public access spot. We fished it hard for a few hours with no success, and then Travis saw a fish rise. Standing a good 40 feet downstream, he made a long beautiful cast up to the rising fish with a dry fly.

"Yeah, Dawg!" Travis yelled, as he set the hook on a trout the size of a key-chain. The little fish hopped out of the water in a hopeless attempt to escape that was almost cute. The fight was over before it had started, and Travis unhooked the fish unceremoniously and it darted away. 
"Well so much for the spruce moth hatch." Travis said as we walked back to the car.
"We did see two of them." I reminded him.
"Two is not a hatch."
"Very true, but it was still a good day for... some of us..."  I said, glancing at Travis as we got into the car.
Travis went on to explain how catching less fish with his choice of flies made him a better angler, or something. I wasn't paying attention, as his explanation took up the entire two hour drive back to where we were staying.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Missouri River With CrossCurrents Fly Shop

In order to make this spur-of-the-moment Montana trip work, a lot of things had to fall into place. First off, it was obvious I was second or third, probably fourth, on the list of people to be invited by Travis Swartz on this trip. So naturally I acquired the knowledge just a few days before the actual trip was to take place, probably when the previously invited friends that came before me fell through. Still, being low on the totem pole of Travis's friends still has its perks. For instance, this trip included a fully guided fly fishing day on the Missouri River with CrossCurrent's Fly Shop. Needless to say it was worth the stress of being asked last minute; asking my wonderful wife to take a day and a half off work to stay home with the kid, getting a Saturday off at Anglers, and getting back to Travis in time to let him know that I could actually go before he finds a lesser friend to invite. Once I was there in Montana I did my best to breathe in every ounce of morning Montana air, and once my lungs were full I exhaled that air along with all the troubles it took to get there.


Trout Unlimited in Craig, Montana, auctioned off "A day of fishing with Hank Patterson" for a fund raiser, and someone actually bought it. A gentleman and his son, Arleigh, were the lucky winners of the day, and Travis didn't disappoint. One step out of the car and Travis no longer existed; he had morphed into his alter ego, Hank Patterson. 
"I can't begin to tell you how absolutely thrilled I am that you get to fish with ME today!" Hank Patterson said, shaking hands with the winners of the trip. We quickly gathered our gear and the boats were launched into the Missouri River.



Tricos clouded the banks of the Missouri like billows of smoke from a chimney, and pods of fish were rising like a boiling hot spring in Yellowstone. 
"Oh my God." I said, in awe of this feeding fiasco. 
"Yeah, dude. This is why people love the Trico hatch." Dorn Brown, my guide for the day, said as he oared us into a casting position. I was fishing with Arleigh's father while Travis was on the other boat with Arleigh and Chris as their guide. 
"Just like that! That's how it's done...you're welcome!" Hank Patterson's voice echoed across the river as Arleigh fought his first fish of the day.


There was no singling out one fish in this pod because every fish had its mouth open. They were like hungry baby birds taking in as much as they possible could, and our best approach was just to let our flies drift through the pod. 
I set the hook fast without sound because I was so heavily concentrated on my size twenty-two fly that was barely visible on the surface of the river. As soon as it felt the pressure of the hook, the fish thrashed at the surface of the water like a gator ripping off meat from a delicious, bloated hippo carcass. 
"Erik, you got one!" Dorn yelled, and he drew out his net faster than a dueling Jedi. 
"Careful up there!" Dorn yelled to Arleigh's dad, who had to duck out of the way of my fly line as the fish ran to the other side of the boat. Dorn twirled the net to the other side of the boat as if he were trained by Jackie Chan, and netted the fish with one hand while keeping the boat steady with the other. I tell ya, if netting fish were an Olympic sport, Dorn would have taken home the gold.


We had a few hooked fish, but this one was the first to the boat. Dorn slipped it out of the net and the fish shot away. 
"That is the best part." I said, as the three of us watched it disappear.
"Yep, but now it's your turn." Dorn said to Arleigh's dad, and we went back to fishing.
The pods of fish were not slowing down by any means, and if we got too close to a pod they would simply move away together and start feeding at a safe distance. Well, they thought they were safe. I had hooked into a few more before Arleigh's father had one take. 
"You got it!" Dorn yelled at Arleigh's dad, whom was focused on landing his fish. Dorn was ready with the net, but this fish was not. I could hear his reel screaming as the fish broke the sound barrier in its attempt to escape. Dorn had to forsake the net and get back behind the sticks in order to follow the fish. It was the right call, because soon the net was back in Dorn's hands and jabbed into the water. A well deserved pat on the back was given to Arleigh's dad before Dorn angled the net downward for the fish to slip away.


In the other boat Hank had hooked into a few fish, and Arleigh had a fish take him into his backing. It was a great morning, but our guides insisted that we push on further downstream.


We saw no more pods of fish feeding downstream, so we had to resort to nymphing. The bright sunny day was not working in our favor. Theory has it that on a bright sunny day with no cloud cover the fish become more selective and cautious. Their visibility enhances due to the well-lit water, and they will stay hunkered down to avoid predators.


It was a long while before Arleigh's father's indicator shot under, and he wrenched up a nice trout. It was nice to have the day broken up by hooked fish, but they were few and far between today. 


"How are you guys doing over there?" Dorn asked the other boat. 
"We hooked into only one fish after the trico hatch." Chris answered back. 
"Us too..."
"Did Erik catch the fish?" Hank asked.
"Nope." I answered.
"Gooooood! I am okay with not catching fish as long as Erik doesn't catch a fish." Hank said fortunately.


I did hook into one more trout before we came to the take out, and one perch... 
"I was not expecting to hook into a perch on the Missouri River." I said, unhooking it.
"There are also walleye in here. My girlfriend hook into one in this very spot." Dorn said, as we continued to the take out point.


The trico hatch that morning was what made the trip. At the end of the day we all stood around and spoke of the success the early morning brought us while sipping on a cool beverage of choice.


Travis and I got back into his car to head back to Dane's, Travis's nephew's, house where we were staying. Tomorrow we were fishing with Dane, and he had a nice section of the Blackfoot River to take us on. I have never fished the Blackfoot, so this was going to be great. I would have to try and get over the excitement of fishing new water the next day in order to get some sleep... But sleep eventually found me.
 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Small Creek Near Lewiston

I have been looking forward to fly fishing with my sister-in-law, Anne, for quite some time. Both her and her husband, Jeff, are serious whitewater rafters, so much that they seek out the most treacherous white water the Northwest has to offer. Whitewater is their number one hobby leaving fly fishing as a second or third thought while on the river. Their adventures leave little time to meet up for fly fishing, so when I found myself in Lewiston with Anne having a day off, we had to take advantage of it.





Anne and I found the small creek that Jeff pointed out before he went off to work. The creek was not flowing very fast, but I saw a small fish rise, boosting my enthusiasm to get to the water.




“Okay, I haven’t fly fished in over ten years.” Anne confessed before unhooking her fly to make a cast. 
“It’s okay. Fly fishing is easy.” I said with a smile, but Anne looked at me uncertainly. I gave her a quick explanation, and she was casting almost immediately.





Anne’s fly plopped down in a swift little current that pushed it downstream fast, but it was not too fast for the little trout hiding in the shadows. The little fish bolted up and ate her fly in a flash, and Anne instinctively set the hook. 
"What do I do?!" Anne asked while keeping her eyes on the fish. I quickly looked to see if she was controlling her line with her left hand, and she was. As long as she kept the pressure on the fish it should stay on the hook.

"Just keep your rod tip up." I said calmly, because the little fish didn't have the power to rip out line. Anne did just that, and the fish was within reach.




"I would rather not touch it if it's better for the fish." Anne said, after seeing her fish twisting underwater. 
"No problem, I will unhook it with my forceps." I said, and the fish bolted as soon as I did. 





Anne went back to casting, and I started to fish downstream. My fly landed on the surface of the water, and I could see as it bounced up on the skin of the water tiny fish were trying to fit it in their mouths. I could see a small swarm of them biting at the fibers of my fly, unable to eat it.
"Erik, come look at this." Anne said, looking down into the water. I didn't see her catch a fish, so I wondered what she was looking at. 
"These little fish are mouthing my toes." She said with a smile, after I got close to her.
"There's some fish therapy for ya." I said with a smile.





Although the little fish nipping at Anne's toes were cool, they were a mixture of red-sided shiners and pike minnow. I was hoping to see this many trout, but they seemed to be few and far between. We had walked a ways upstream before we got into the second trout of the day. The trout seemed to be the only fish large enough to eat our flies, so it was nice when one took. 





Anne was no longer shying away from casting her fly where a trout could be hiding. She would typically hold off and insist I cast to the spot, but her confidence in her casting was getting better so I held back to offer up the prime water.





Anne shot her fly out right where it needed to be, but there was no trout. Instead, right as she was pulling up her line to make a cast, a small red-sided shiner took her fly, and she hooked it on her back-cast.


"I didn't even see that fish take my fly." She said, as I unhooked it. 
"Sometimes that happens." I said, trying to get my forceps in the small mouth of the fish. 
"I don't even know how this fish got the fly in its mouth." I said, and then got the fly out and released the fish.





"Will that fish be ok?" Anne asked, as she hooked her fly to her rod to get going.
"Yeah, it bolted off fast.  If it were to go upside-down on me, and get sluggish, I would have had to revive it a little more." I said, flicking the water off my hands. 
"That's good." Anne said, and we headed back to the car to go back home.
"I'm glad we finally got to fish together." I said, breaking down the gear. 
"Yeah. Sorry this creek didn't fish better." She added.
"It's better to come out here and discover it to know for sure. And I bet it would fish better if the water was a little higher." I said, as we drove off. 
"Want to stop and get some ice cream on the way back... I know a good place!" Anne suggested.
"You know just what to say to me, Anne." I said with a smile, and, of course, we stopped for ice cream before we went home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fly Fishing Dworshak

Home to Idaho's record small mouth bass, Dworshak Reservoir hints to the opportunity for every angler to possibly get into the big one. With that in mind I had an arsenal of fly fishing gear on board, along with a variety of bass flies, so sparkly and neatly placed you would think they hadn't had the opportunity to tease a bass into submission; but you would be wrong. 



"Looks like a good spot, huh Mase?" I said with promise in my voice, looking right at him. Mason was clutching his Sophie the Giraffe toy, and was mouthing it before I had interrupted. He produced a series of "ba ba bas" after I had gotten his attention, but they were not the cute baby noises everyone was expecting. Instead the small sounds that came from Mason were more raspy and gurgly sounding.
"Oh my God, he sounds like a zombie." My sister-in-law, Anne, said with a laugh. 
"Yeah, it's his new sound. We call it his baby zombie noise." Gracy said, looking at him as he sat on his grandpa's lap. 
At that moment Mason realized all eyes were on him, and stopped making the noise. His little head looked at the faces surrounding him, with his head movements magnified by the little hat he wore. Finally his gaze rested on me...
"You better not scare the fish with your baby zombie noises." I said sternly. Mason just looked at me, seeming more considered about everyone looking away so that he could get back to mouthing his toy. I gave him a quick kiss on the head, and grabbed a fly rod to start fishing.



I had a few fly rods ready for action, while my father-in-law, Dan, sat up front manning the trolling motor. My brother-in-law, Jeff, had a spinning rod rigged up like Dan had, but quickly disregarded it when he saw that I had two fly rods rigged.





My wife, Gracy, along with Anne and Mason, remained under the canopy of the boat to relax as the three of us pounded the banks.





I had tied on rather large flies to our lines with the intention of finding big bass, but the bass that were attacking could not get the fly in their mouths. For a long while we continued with the large flies with the idea that we were looking for the bigger ones, but over time we switched to smaller flies because catching was more important.


"Get the hell away from me!" I yelled at the pesky black and white hornet that buzzed my face, while waving it away. 
"Don't swat at it!" Jeff said quickly. "That is a bald-faced hornet, and they are very aggressive." 
"Well it's pissing me off!" I said, and it was. With over a thousand acres of water and forest surrounding us it chooses to zigzag directly in my face?
"Those things will not only sting you if they are mad, but could possibly attack us as well." Jeff explained, as he fished. I looked over at little Mason playing with another toy of choice, and surely did not want him to be stung. So I gritted my teeth as the bald-faced hornet choreographed synchronized fly-bys inches from my face, as I cast my line. Lucky for me, although small, there was plenty of bass to catch that quickly eased my annoyance with the hornet.





Up at the front of the boat, Dan was doing a fair amount of catching as well. 
"Get off there, get off." He said, allowing slack in his line in hopes that the small bass he had hooked would pop off. 
"Looks like another Dworshak monster." I said, as Dan brought it up to take the little shaker off his line. 
"That may very well be the smallest fish of the day." I said lightheartedly, as he held the fish.



The fish was way too small to lip, so Dan held the fish in his hands. He pressed down on the hook to take it out of the lip of the fish's mouth, then erupted... 
"Yeow! God damn little..." He stopped himself from saying too much as he took the fish, that was now free from the hook, and flung it back into the water. 
"Did it get you?!" I asked, watching him look at his hand. 
"Those back fins are sharp!" He yelled, but went back to fishing after shaking off the pain.




Both Riley and Kiwi got comfortable in the boat as we fished. Even when we celebrated catching a fish over seven inches, the loud noise would merely cause them to open their eyes for a second, then closing them again.




I was fishing barefoot and noticed how hot the back deck was getting. Every time I placed my foot on a new spot it burned, and the lack of conversation, over time, suggested that everyone was getting hot. I looked down at Mason, who was playing with another toy, and he seemed to be fine. He was being kept under the canopy of the boat, so he was out of direct sunlight. Still, it was getting too warm, so we decided it was time to cool off on a boat ride.





 Jeff fired up the boat, and we took off. The sudden rush of air being blown through the boat cooled it off significantly. 




We had suited Mason up with his life jacket before taking off, and since I had been fly fishing most of the day it was my turn to hold him.


"Hey Mason, would you like to pee of the back of the boat?" Gracy asked, after we had found a new cove to fish. She shed his cloths and held him off the back naked, and pointed away from herself. 
"Oh there he goes!" Gracy yelled with excitement, after a small stream flew from Mason and into the reservoir. 
"Yeah!" His Aunt Anne yelled excitedly.
"Good job, Mase" I said, looking down at him as he sat on his mom.
His grandpa was still at the front of the boat, and didn't know what was going on. It wasn't until Dan started yelling at something, when our attention broke away from Mason.




"Oh geez! Oh man! Oh my God!" He yelled hysterically from the front of the boat. We could hear fumbling as he kicked off the trolling motor like he was performing the infamous karate kid crane kick, and then grabbed his fishing pole with two hands. 
"Holy cow!" Jeff yelled, and ran to the front of the boat while grabbing the net in the process. 
Over the hood of the canopy I could see Dan's pole at a serious bend, and the little reel was screaming as fishing line was being ripped from it.
"This is my crappy pole! It only has four pound line on it!" Dan yelled in a panic as he managed to fight a monster fish. Finally the fish showed itself in a sudden flash below the surface of the water, then the water erupted as the fish surfaced. 
"Whoa, look at that!" I yelled in amazement.
"Look at that!" Dan yelled triumphantly after Jeff had scooped up the incredible small-mouth bass in the net.
"Don't let it go yet, I want to get a picture of it." I said, as Dan removed the hook.
"Well I would think so, look at it!" He replied, still shocked at the size of his fish. After the hook was removed, he lifted the bass from the water and held it up for the camera.




"Got it." I said, referring to the picture. With that information, Dan placed the fish back into the water, and it bolted to the deep like a large boulder.
"Well, anything to say?" I asked, after the fish was out of sight.
Dan look over at me, and without hesitation said, "try to follow suite." 


Jeff and I went back to fishing while still getting buzzed by the bald-faced hornets. I was amazed how close they got to Jeff, and how he didn't seem to mind at all. The fish were not biting as often, but we were still bringing some in.



My feet were burning on the back deck, so I took a step while casting. 
ZAP! 
"What the hell?!" I yelled in shock, after feeling something stabbing into my foot. I lifted my foot up, and to my horror, saw a bald-faced hornet fly out from under it. 
"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" I yelled, startling everyone in the boat.
"I'M GOING TO KILL YOU! I'M GOING TO KILL YOUR BALD STUPID FACE!" I yelled, cursing the hornet with every combination of colorful English dialect I could think of while hopping on one foot. 
"YOU!" I yelled, whirling towards Jeff who was watching my outburst. My finger was pointed straight at him, and then I started to yell.
"YOU SAID IF I LEFT THEM ALONE I WOULDN'T GET STUNG! WELL LOOK AT ME NOW!" I sat down and look under my foot, that felt like it was on fire.
"Did you get stung?" Jeff asked, stupidly. 
"No, JEFF! It gave me the world's smallest foot massage!" I said scowling. 
"It burns, it BURRRRRRNS!" I howled. Although I was in agony and solely focused on my foot, I was still able to catch Jeff trying to hide as he laughed at my pain. I hobbled over to the back of the boat, and slipped my foot into the water. The cool touch helped, but only for a second. Mason started to cry. 
"Mason is scared for you." Gracy said, holding him. 
"Don't worry, Mason..." I said, turning and crawling towards him as if my leg had been blown off by a land mine. "... I won't let it get you like it got me." I brushed his face ever so gingerly with the front and back of my hand, as if it was the last thing I would ever do.



"You really are milking this bee sting." Gracy said, with a haphazard look on her face. 
"It was a hornet sting." I sternly corrected. 
 She rolled her eyes and continued talking with Anne as we headed back to camp. From the swelling I was forced to walk on the ridge of my foot, which made walking on the uneven ground tough. Although I got insensitive looks from the family, I really couldn't help the hobbling. I sat down with my father-in-law, and he also looked at me like I was being a little over-dramatic. 
"You know, you never came to see if I was okay." I said, looking at him.  
"Hell..." He said, without thinking twice, "... I thought you had just lost a big fish." 
We both started to laugh as Anne brought me some Benadryl to help with the swelling, which was also putting me to sleep. As I laid down for the night I thought of the bald-faced horned. It was still out there and that troubled me, but soon the pill kicked in and helped ease my mind to sleep.