Monday, July 29, 2013

Thank You Trash Fish

I took off early in the morning to fly fish the Little Payette Lake outside of McCall, ID, with friend, Mike McLlean.  I have never fished there before, but I have heard and seen pictures of others who have and the pictures are great.  Big bass lurk amongst the fallen timber that covers the shores of the lake and, even more exciting, there are big tiger musky that also inhabit the lake.  They sit ever so still in the shadows created by big rocks, fallen timber, or sunken trees, waiting for an unsuspecting fish or fly to cross their path.  Catching big bass or better yet, a tiger musky would certainly be worth getting up for the early drive to McCall.  


Mike was set up with some awesome gear.  He had two Hobie Mirage Kayaks for us to use, and let me tell you, they are awesome!  With the maneuverability, stability, and the speed you could go, there was not a safe fish in the lake.  



We kicked over to the opposite side of the lake, which was about one and a half miles, in no time at all.  We were headed toward the structure sticking out of the water; perhaps that is where the tiger musky are!  With all of the sunken stumps visible under water, and the dead trees that protruded from the lake, this gave the lake almost an eery feeling.  Curious, I kicked up to a tall stick that was once a tree, and the closer I got the more decayed it looked.  I looked down to see the trunk of the tree disappear into nothing. Though the trunk has probably been standing since before I was born, I couldn’t help but think that it was going to fall on me any second.  I switched the rudder to turn around, and kicked off faster than necessary. 

Both Mike and I fished and fished, and fished.  Nothing! We threw poppers and all kinds of streamers in search of a fish.  We even had sinking lines to get deep, and still nothing. After a few hours I was wondering if this would be my first no-fish blog.  



It was quiet on the water, so when I heard the loud snap of a twig in the foliage on land, I immediately looked up.  It was a deer, and it seemed to be calmly eating and stepping lightly around the trees.  I watched as it walked on, eating and looking around before it faded into the forest.  The calm behavior of the deer brought a smile to my face, and it also gave me new hope of catching a fish. 



Both Mike and I kicked around the bend where the driftwood jumbled the water.  I had my sink tip on with an olive bugger attached when the tip of my fly rod lurched to life.  A wick of water shot up as I promptly set the hook.  “Mike!” I yelled with a smile on my face.  “There you go!” He said back with enthusiasm. I fought the fish and could feel that it definitely was not a bass, or a tiger musky.  Stripping in the line quickly the fish became visible. “It’s a pike minnow.” I said to mike, “It’s basically a trash fish.” Mike started casting where I had caught the fish saying “It’s still a fish!”  

The once quiet water lit up with excitement as Mike’s popper was being destroyed by a school of pike minnows.  He was laughing up a storm as the splashing fish fought over his popper.  Together we caught countless pike minnows, until we decided to move on.



After lunch and a few more hours of fishing, we decided to head back in.  There was still plenty of day left, so Mike took me to fish the North Fork of the Payette River that was only a few minutes from his house.  We got into a evening mayfly hatch that brought every fish to the surface.  The little buggers were being selective; I had to drop down to a size 22 fly to actively get takes, and takes we got! 

We fished into the evening, catching small trout, white fish, and pike minnows.  We laughed out loud as we continuously hooked into little fish, after little fish.  It was a fun way to end the day fishing with Mike in McCall.  



Monday, July 22, 2013

When It’s On It’s On

Once more I find myself in Terry Kowallas’s boat fishing the salmon fly hatch, and it is a-booming.  Back in the fly shop we have been hearing about how the South Fork has been a tough fishery lately.  After personally experiencing constant false takes and blatant refusals by the fish, we determined that it could actually be the fly’s fault.  I know, I know, a bad carpenter blames his tools and we tied the flies; I get it.  The thing is, the flies we tied earlier did in fact work, but don’t work so well anymore.  John, the owner of Anglers fly shop, has a theory that the fish are being skittish towards the flies with the big white tops because they catch them so often.  This would explain why I had so many refusals when I was trying to catch that fish last week; when the fish finally took, it inhaled the fly with a dark wing.  So, armed with two styles of dark winged salmon flies, fishing was glorious!


We started at the Village ramp early in the morning, and it wasn’t long at all before Terry brought in his first fish.


We switched spots in the boat, and it was my turn to fish; once more, a fish took the salmon fly with no hesitation.


John was also there, rowing his son Nick down the river. 


Nick was also armed with a dark winged salmon fly, but not the exact one I was using; he had the other version we came up with. As we watched them drift by, Nick placed his fly near the bank and WHAM!  Nick’s fly rod shot up and the tip of his rod danced with a fish!  Terry and I yelled with excitement to celebrate Nick’s fantastic catch.  He looked over at us with a smile that could brighten a room for days as John anchored, jumped out of the boat, and netted the fish.


I took the oars while Terry fished.  He switched to the fly Nick was using, and in the shadows of a large bush emerged a fish.  It was a true salmon fly take, and with an aggressive splash Terry set the hook. 
“I got em!” The fish exploded into action as Terry held on.  I maneuvered the boat into a better position for him to net the fish.  Lately we have been taking pictures of the fish so I can place them on my blog, but normally after netting a fish, we quickly remove the hook and quickly let it go.  Terry did just that, and it was my turn.


Further down the river we caught back up with John and his son Nick.  Nick was a champ, fishing ever so closely to the bank in hopes a fish would take, and one did.  
“Alright, Nick!” John yelled as Terry and I look over to see Nick fighting another fish.  Smiling, I turned around and shot my fly in a tight, shaded pocket, and WHAM! 
“A Double!” I yelled as my rod doubled over.  
“Nick!  We could be twins.” I yelled over to him.  Not only were we both hooked into a fish, we also were wearing the same hat.  


It is always nice to see friends on the river. Wendy, Bill, and Wes Atkinson were in their drift boat.  Bill had a custom wrap of a Derek DeYoung painting put on his boat, and in the water it looked awesome. 

Further down the river the fish were no longer keying into salmon flies.  Instead we switched to a pink albert fly, and Terry nailed yet another fish.  Though the pink hatch was starting, I couldn’t help but throw a pico spider.  Throwing the pico from a drift boat can be difficult after all, as the fly is already hard to see.  So I tied on a more visible fly, and off the back of that fly’s hook, I tied on the pico spider; boy was that a good call!  One, two, three fish took the pico spider down the last stretch of the float.  Even I was amazed on how keyed into them they were; my fly just doesn’t disappoint.



Another fantastic day on the South Fork for Terry and I, and I already want to head back.  And, as if the day couldn’t get any better, Terry bought me an ice cream shake for the drive home. 




Thursday, July 18, 2013

Another One Bites the Dust


Something about throwing big bugs to willing fish gets me every time.  A good buddy of mine, Terry Kowallas invited me back to the south fork again, only this time his wife, Marcy came to fish as well.  Marcy let us know that she was not a fan of the Salmon Flies.  Sure, fishing them was just fine, but the anxiety of one possible landing near her on the boat, on us, or heaven forbid on her, was not ok.  Well before Terry had even parked the truck, a four-inch salmon fly was crawling up her leg.  With her quick-dry pants on she could not feel it, so I said “Marcy, I’m not trying to get fresh with you, ok?”  Before she could really respond, I quickly snatched the salmon fly off her and lobbed it in a bush. 
“Thank you for not telling me it was on me,” she said.  I knew better than to make that silly mistake.


Marcy was at the front of the boat ready to cast, as, Terry took the oars and kicked off.  I was in the back of the boat, and the person in the back of the boat has a lot of responsibility.  The guy in the back can see everything, therefore must yield to the person in front, which includes casting and keeping your fly behind the oars; if you don’t, it can be considered stealing water.  Around the first bend I had already screwed up.  As Marcy was in mid-cast, I had lifted my line off the water, which had drifted passed the oars relatively quickly, catching her line and simultaneously pulling her fly and mine straight into my face.  Both flies stuck there, and I yelled, “STOP!” As the once soaring line fell, I reached up and plucked the flies from my face; only one had slightly stung the top of my nose.  
“Well that’s why we de-barb the hooks” Terry said.  As we chuckled we didn’t realize that Marcy had already reeled in her line and hung up her fly. 
“I’m not going to fish because I don’t want to hook you with my fly.” She said.  I smiled, “Trust me, that was my own fault.”  Now it’s true, I would say that even if it wasn’t my fault, but it definitely was, and for good reason.

The fish were rising everywhere, and both Marcy and myself had missed over ten fish.  Terry couldn’t take it anymore and we switched places.  And wouldn’t you know it, the first fish that rose to his salmon fly he nailed.


After another fish brought in by Terry, we again switched places. Marcy wanted to take a break so I took the front of the boat.  I switched my salmon fly to one with a darker wing, because it seemed the fish were a bit skeptical of the white tops.  Sure enough, after a few casts, fish on!  


Now, Marcy was back in the game ready for her fish.  She made excellent cast after cast, and every time she looked away a fish would take.  
“The fish know when you are not looking.” Terry said after the third strike with no hookup.  We finished the first float; both Terry and I brought in a few more fish, and Marcy was still left with skunk on her rod.  It was her brand new five weight Helios, and she was determined to get a fish.  
“Next float, I know I’ll get a fish.  I can feel it.” she said.  We put in again and I took the oars; Marcy was perched up front ready for her fish.  Every cast I was watching her fly like a hawk, then it happened; a willing fish casually inhaled her entire fly.  
“Marcy, a fish took your fly, set the hook!” Is what I was trying to say, what came out was “Fish haaaa!” 
Marcy set the hook and her rod bent indicating a fish was indeed on, so I dropped the anchor.  She fought the fish as best as she could, but it was a fighter; it jumped and ran down stream, pulling so hard that the tip of Marcy’s rod was almost touching the water.  She pulled her tip up, and Terry was there right beside her, net in hand.  It was taking too long I thought, we don’t want to loose this fish.  The fish kicked hard and was running down stream.  
“Terry, be ready with the net, I’m pulling up the anchor!” The boat drifted down as Marcy lifted her rod tip bringing the head of the fish above water.  Terry scooped up the fish and we all shouted in celebration.  With the skunk off her rod, and afraid to drop the fish, Marcy lifted her prize for a photo!



Further down the river the fish were keyed into pinks, and I loves me a good pink hatch!  We dropped anchor and extended our leaders down to 5.5X tippet.  I tied a pink on and presented it to the fish; it took.  A flash of excitement surged through my body but I didn’t set the hook.  If there is one thing I have learned over my years of exclusive dry fly fishing, it is recognizing a false take as it is more or less a last second refusal.  The fish came up, broke the water, but didn’t open its mouth.  If I would have set the hook, I could have possibly spooked the fish; I casted again with the same result; time to switch flies.  I switched to an RS2 Pink, and on the first cast BOOM, fish on!  Marcy grabbed the net, and I did my best to bring in the fish.  It was a little bigger than I thought, but I still horsed it in.  Perhaps I horsed it a little to much, because as I pulled it to the net I heard an unmistakable crack! 


“Your rod broke” Terry pointed out.  
“Oh no!” Marcy yelled.  
“It’s ok, I can still bring it in!”  One last heave and Marcy netted my fish.

Not many people get away with breaking a rod on a fish, and are still able to land it.  Though I am happy to break a rod on a fish rather than a slammed door, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my ten foot five weight.  Sure it is under warranty, and they will probably replace it with a new one; hopefully they will only replace the tip so that I can keep the earned residue over years of fishing stained in the cork.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Back Again


Nice guy, Terry Kowallis invited the entire fly shop to float the river with him; he was camping up there and suggested we each take a day off to join him on the water.  With the salmon flies hatching in full force, it took little persuasion for us all to be onboard.

Before we had kicked off, a gentleman near the boat ramp asked if we could help him with something. We looked over to see that the back of his boat was nearly submerged, because he forgot to secure in the plugs.  This kind of thing happens to the best of us, though that did not stop us from rousing him about the situation.


Because of our good deed of the day, great karma filled the boat; we hadn’t even left sight of the boat ramp when Terry had hooked his first fish!

We quickly got out of the current and switched places.  Armed with the same bug, I began to cast.  Inches from the bank my salmon fly drifted as a shadow emerged from the depths.  Ever so leisurely, a rainbow sipped my salmon fly, and instantaneously I set the hook!  Boom, Boom, GONE! It was over before it started. “Did you see that?!” I yelled. Shaking my head with a smile on my face, as I continued fishing.  Not long at all, another glorious take.  My rod tip bent forward as I set the hook, then slack.  
“O man… Terry, did you see that?” 
“Yeah, I saw it.” he said, “Why aren’t you hooking them?” Laughter filled the boat as I casted yet again.  Another take!  What felt like forever waiting to set the hook, I fell back to an old saying, 'God bless America'.  Saying this after a fish eats your fly gives time for the fish to securely take the fly in its mouth.  I set the hook, and the fight was on! I got one good strip of the line in before my fly came hurling towards me. Without missing a second Terry chimed in, “strike three your out!”


Though I had missed three strikes in a row, the confidence in the boat was still strong; after all, the fish were definitely keying into our flies, and the splashy rises meant the opportunities were still there.  Soon after Terry took the front of the boat he was on his second strike.  We both saw a splashy rise further away from the bank.  Terry dropped his fly down the path of the boat as I back rowed.  A fish came up to take his fly and, in a sudden rush if excitement, Terry yanked the fly back before the fish had a chance to take it.  
“Is that strike three?” I asked. 
“Nope, that was a refusal… I refused to let him eat it.  Trust me, that fish was just as disappointed as me.” Once more laughter filled the boat, and I was still behind the oars. 

We rounded a corner that looked like a great place to catch a fish. I rowed, Terry into position, and with a plop of the fly a fish exploded into action.  With one of the most aggressive takes we had seen all day, Terry set the hook and brought in his fish.


After my three missed, I was ready to redeem myself.  I jumped up to the front of the boat, and Terry kicked off.  I hadn’t been fishing for a minute when a fish slammed my fly.  I set the hook, and fish on!  It literally flew into a rage, thrashing and jumping as I fought to bring it in. My wrist was starting to fatigue as Terry netted the fish. 

There is nothing like a good refusal!  Terry was up, and though I was on the oars I couldn’t stop watching his fly as it drifted over some fishy looking water.  As the fly floated ever so gingerly on the water, a rapid chrome flash shot up at the fly. In less than a second the wary fish looked at his fly three times and never once disturbed the water above.  Without notification, I jolted the oars bringing the boat to a 90 degree turn, rowed back, and dropped anchor in a back eddy.  Why do I take it so personal when a fish refuses a fly? 

Terry kicked back in the boat as I jumped out and felt the unmistakably cold shock of the water.  It will take a little more than cold water to stop me from looking for a challenge.  I grabbed my ten foot five weight Helios and got into position to cast.  The unmistakable power of that rod gave me confidence with every cast.  Plop went my fly, and clear as day the fish refused it.  Again I casted, and again got refused.  Why is it not taking?!  I ran back to the boat to switch my fly, and yet again I got refused.  I stood glaring at the water.  I wanted some how to let the fish know I was not happy with it.  I switched my fly three more time, and received three more refusals.  
“I keep getting refused, Terry!” 
Terry was kicked back in the boat and replied, ”It’s kind of like being married, isn’t it?” 


Laughing, I walked back to the boat, and out of the corner of my eye shined a glimmer of hope: a special salmon fly tied by, none other than fly tying extraordinaire and friend, Ryan Spillers.  I secured the fly to the end of my leader, and sent it accurately to its target.  WHAM! 
“YEAAA!  Terry! Terry, I got it!” Deep throated laughter boomed the river as the fish leapt again and again; a predatory smile covered my face as Terry netted the fish.  After almost an hour of intense fishing, I was ready for my hero shot with the fish.  The battle was over, and I had won!  Or so I thought.  Terry was ready with the camera as I picked up the fish, just then the fish kicked hard causing me to loose grip, and leaving me with this less than desirable picture.


The fish hit the water swimming.  
“OH NO! NO!  The water was very shallow, and the fish swam to shore almost beaching itself! My hands went around the fish to grab it, “Ahh, Help! NO!” The fish would have none of it as it slipped away impossibly fast, leaving behind blank river bottom with a single streak of mud where it had escaped. 

I stood there hunched over, mouth a gape, with my arms out.  With my face dripping with water I slowly stood, regaining my fly fishers composure.  After a deep breath I thought about the last hour and realized that there was no winner or loser in this particular situation.  Simply man verses fish, and in the end, equals.

We finished off the float, and Terry ended up with another fish, and as if to mock me, his fish smiled for the camera. 


Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Day to be a Salmon Fly


During work hours John asked me if I would like to fish the South Fork of the Boise with his buddy, Todd Packer.  As if he had to ask.  Well before you could say antidisestablishmentarianism, I had run home, grabbed all my gear, and was off to the South Fork with little goodbye to John. 


Todd Packer is a long-time friend of John’s and a Boise South Fork aficionado.  You don’t pass up an opportunity to fish with Todd, despite what everyone says about him.  The man is very serious about his fishing, and regardless of how good you think you are, he has no problem calling out your flaws that could lessen your chances of catching a fish.  Todd would call that "tough love".


The cicadas were buzzing in the trees like 5.1 surround, and the salmon flies were everywhere. We were off, and I was first at bat.  The first back-eddy looked great as my fly landed perfectly in place.  With my fly floating I quickly noticed how many natural salmon flies were on the water; there were tons of them!  This could either be good or bad… it was bad.  We could not buy a fish. Even when Todd took the front of the boat there was not a fish in sight for hours.  The salmon flies were the safest bug on the water. Time was running out and the sun was setting, which made it very difficult to see.


Todd took the oars as we rounded into the rock garden, signifying that the end was near.  Before we kicked off I had switched my tailing fly to a caddis, and made a quick cast upstream behind a rock.  It all happened so fast, the unmistakable disturbance of a fish rising against the current in a riffle.  My rod shot up before I even knew what had happened and I felt the all too familiar tug of a glorious fish. 

I couldn’t stop laughing as I brought in my fish.  Though it wasn’t a monster, I was very thankful to get the skunk off the boat.  Todd kicked off into the rock garden and I shot my fly in the smallest pocket, WAM!  Another fish, this time on the salmon fly! The fish was off in five seconds but there was no time to sulk. Immediately I got my head back in the game, and shot at every pocket I could find, WAM! Another fish!  Bouncing down the river I managed to bring it in, but no time for a picture. 

Todd got us through the rocks with not even a bump on the boat, and was quick to take the front. With smiles and newfound confidence, it was his turn for a fish.  
“C-Mon, show me some love.” Todd said as he placed his flies inches from the bank.  I could see the take out, and, Todd had yet to land a fish.  I turned to point my back towards the ramp to jet over there when a fish took his fly. BOOM! FISH ON!


We were both happy as we took out the boat.  Todd checked the time and asked if I would be up for another quick float.  Yes I was. 

We put in again not far from the take out and, Todd was first to fish.  Almost immediately he had hooked into a fish and brought it in. 

Dull and quiet quickly turned into complimenting and laughing as I was also in a fish in no time at all.


“This is how it should be!” I yelled out loud as Todd took my place at the front of the boat.  Just like I had done previously, Todd made a cast upstream and had hooked a fish before I had even kick off.  
"YEAH!!!” I yelled, “There it is! There it is! There it is!” 


I was the last to fish as we rounded the boat ramp.  My fly was drifting nicely as another fish slurped it in.  In surge of excitement I wrenched back the rod pulling the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. 
“Noooo!” I yelled as the line slack shot back at me.  My last cast was no better.  Greedy for another fish, I shot my fly in a extremely tight pocket where a branch grabbed it an kept it for itself.  

In the end we made it back to the boat ramp very happy people, and drove home with very happy faces thankful for this very happy ending.