Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Father's Day

Fly fishing new rivers always pumps me up, and this time was no different. Tyler Steffens, a good friend and fly fishing enthusiast in Washington, is one of my only buddies from back home who is as much of a nut about fly fishing as I am. And therefore has taken the time to discover new waters that most people would overlook. He had me so fired up about this river he was taking me to that we both agreed we would hit the road at 6am. However, as I pulled up in front of his house at 6am ready for a day of fly fishing, there was no Tyler to be found...
After a few text messages with no response it was time to make a call.
"Yeah..." Tyler said, answering the phone. His tone of voice was that of a person who had just been woken buy the ringing of his phone, yet desperately trying to make it not seem like he had just been woken by the ringing of his phone.
"Dude, I am right outside your house ready to go." I said.
"YOU'RE HERE?!" Tyler said, almost with a screech.
"Yeah, man, and ready to go."
"Oh no! Oh, man... I just woke up..."
"You don't say."
"Oh, sorry man... Tell you what..." Tyler said, as I heard the sounds of shuffling through the receiver.
"You go get yourself some breakfast, coffee, or whatever, and I'll be ready when you get back!"
"Alright...and no rush we have all day." I said before hanging up the phone.

A Venti Cool Lime Refresher is my drink of choice, and on my way back to Tyler's he called to say he was now ready to go.
"Dude, I am so sorry." Tyler said, as he threw his stuff in the truck.
"It's okay, man. Though it would have been nice to sleep in!" I said.
"Yeah..." Tyler said, then looked over at me more seriously...
"You better leave this part out of your blog!" He said.
"I will, bro... don't worry." I lied.

We were soon out of the highland-desert and into the rich, thick forest that makes Washington the evergreen state. The smell of pine filled the air, and the clarity of the water had Tyler and I racing to gear up. Once ready we stood on the shoreline looking at the pristine water, and Tyler turned to me, holding up his hand.
"Happy Father's Day, man!"
"Happy Father's Day to you too!" And with a high five we started our day.

"This looks like a nice stretch for dry fly fishing." I said, walking up to a flat stretch of water.
"Let's hit it!" Tyler said, and unlatched his fly to make a cast.

Tyler was armed with a Redington Butter Stick, which has the delicate soft action to perform some of the most soft presentations if in the right hands. Tyler gave the rod a flick and his line soared in a perfect arch to its destination. The fly landed with a delicate touch that was most worthy of a fish, but nothing came up. 

Although Tyler was getting no love, I couldn't pass up water that looked this good. It took us a while to tear ourselves away from the long flat stretch of water to continue upstream.
"Hey, what is an E-Burg Blue stone?" I asked Tyler as we walked up.
"It's a blue stone only found in this region of the world, why?" He said.
"My buddy, Pat Britinstine, mentioned we could find then up here."
"Oh Pat! Yeah he's a good guy."
"Well, I'm also looking for one." I said, which made Tyler laugh.
"Dude, you are probably not going to find one here. I think we are outside of the range where that rock exists."
"Well, Pat seemed to think they were up on this stretch of water."
"Good luck, man. Keep your eyes open."
"I will. And I also told Pat we would catch him a fish. Let's dedicate the smallest fish to Pat." I said, walking up to a deep hole next to the bank.
"Sounds good to me." Tyler said with a laugh.
Tyler held back to give me the first crack at the new piece of water, and on a wayward cast I sent my fly up into a low hanging branch.
"What the hell was that?" Tyler yelled over to me.
I looked over to see he had been watching me.
"Damn, I was hoping you didn't see that." I said, tugging on the fly.
"Are you going to break it off?"
"Well, I already fished the hell out of this spot with no love. So screw it!" I said, and walked into the deeper stretch to blow out the hole and save my flies.

"This is the farthest I have ever walked up on this river." Tyler said, looking around.
"We haven't caught one fish yet, so I'm thinking we should head to the lower stretch." He continued.
"I'm good with that." I said, as we started back downstream.

"What are you throwing?!" Tyler asked, after watching my fly hit the water like a wet bat.
"It's a Dalai Lama by brother gave me."
"That thing is huge."
"Well, I figured they were not coming up for dries or hitting nymphs below... So if there is a fish here maybe they will come out for some meat!"
"Sounds good, brotha!" Tyler said, as we continued downstream.
I hucked my streamer at every undercut with nothing to show for my efforts.  Some of the undercuts on the river had to have reached back three to five feet under the bank. They were the deepest undercuts I had ever seen, and they were guarded by thick roots that acted like a thick fence, keeping my fly out of a trout's radar. I still gunned for those undercuts with my fly slapping down so close to the bank it had to attract something.
A flash caught my eye under the water, and all the weight of a strike was present.
"TYLER!" I yelled, as my fly rod danced with a fish.
"YEAAAAAAAH BUDDY!" Tyler yelled back, running up to me to assist.
"He's a fighter, Tyler! He's a fighter!" I said, grinning like a hungry cat.
The fish darted around, but I had it hooked good. After it was tired I held the line and snapped a few underwater shots of the fish with the hopes one would turn out.

"I think you got enough pictures of the fish." Tyler said.
"You would be surprised. I bet out of those hundred or so shots, only four or five turn out."
"Yep! The damn things don't like to stay still, so I get a lot of blurry shots. Still..." I said, reaching for my forceps. "I get my shots all while keeping the fish under water, and..." I said, using my forceps to take the barb-less hook out of the fish's mouth, "...I never have to touch the fish".
The once hooked trout took off with a flash back to its home, and Tyler and I continued downstream.

Fishing on the way back to the truck turned up nothing, so we hopped out of the river to drive out of the high country and into the highland-desert.

Grasshoppers hopped away from us, with some flying away as we walked to the river. This got us excited for some top water action, and the river didn't disappoint. Tyler was into a fish within a few casts and was able to bring it to the net.
"Is it a nice fish?" I asked from a-far.
"Dude, I think we can call this one Pat's fish." Tyler said with a laugh.
"Well in that case we better take a picture." I said, pulling out my camera to snap a shot.

I too was successful with a dry fly, but sadly the only fish willing to rise were the size of Pat's fish. Tyler started to nymph and hooked into a something big.
"Erik! I may need some help!" I heard Tyler yell upstream to me. His voice was almost drowned out by the river, but it was enough to get my attention. 
"You better not lose it when I get there!" I yelled back, and started to wade downstream to Tyler.

Tyler's Butter Stick looked to be on the edge of snapping in half as he kept pressure on the fish. Just as I got near him, his rod shot straight, lifeless.
"NOOOOOOOO!!!!" Tyler yelled, and ripped the hat from his head and threw it at the ground.
"Damn it, Tyler!" I said, now standing a few feet away.
"Dude, it was such a big fish. It would have been the fish of the day..." He said, still looking at the ground, holding his fly rod that was once full of life.
"I knew you were going to screw it up, and just as I was close enough to help." I said, as Tyler held out his hand with a gesture suggesting I could shut up any time...

The sting of losing a fish is all too familiar, but the untouched riffle upstream helped Tyler get over it. He was back at it, nymphing with his full flex Butter Stick, which was quite the sight to see. In order for him to make a decent cast with nymphs and an indicator, Tyler had to move his entire body to get the full flex rod to perform the cast needed for a decent drift. Despite the awkward movement, it was paying off. Tyler's indicator shot under, and he wrenched back to hook into another sizeable fish. This time the fish made its size visible by rocketing out of the water several times, as I stood ready with the net. The fish was now in plain sight and less than an arms-length away when the fly sprang from its mouth just before it was netted. 

Tyler didn't say a word, he just dropped his arms to his side, not believing he had lost another great fish.
"Well, way to lose another one." I said with a sigh.
"Dude? If you were a little bit faster with the net..."
"Whatever, that fish was way too hot to net. It had to have jumped over five times."
"I know! It put up quite the fight!" Tyler said, his mood lightening with the memory.
I hooked my net to my back and started to continue my hike upstream when Tyler stopped me.
"What time is it? My phone is dead." He said.
I pulled my phone out and said, "It's a quarter to five."
"OH NO! We have to go, I told my wife I would be back by six!" He said, worried. And on that note, we turned and headed back to the truck. We had easily walked a mile upstream, and there was no way we were going to get back to Moses Lake by 6 pm.
"Didn't my wife say something to you about 7pm?" Tyler asked.
"Actually, she said 7:30..." I said with a raised eyebrow.
"Well then there's time to hit that hole really quick." Tyler said, and started to fish.

Tyler had hooked his last fish of the day, and this time was able to bring it to the net. After that is was definitely time to head back to the truck, so we clipped our flies from our line to keep us from doing more fishing.
With our gear all packed away, we started on our way home. We had burned up a little more time fishing on our "rush" back to the truck. Still, we were going to make it hone before 7:15pm, which was pretty good in my book.
"How much do I owe you for gas?" Tyler asked, pulling out his wallet.
"You know what, my dad took care of gas for us today for Father's Day."
"Seriously?! Your dad is awesome!" Tyler said, happily.
"Yeah, he really is..." I said, and we drove back home from a great Father's Day adventure.

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.
"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.
"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.
"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."
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.
"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!"