Saturday, November 22, 2014

An Idaho Experience

After a few years of planning, my buddy, Shawn Pitman, and I were finally able to schedule a time to go fishing.  He had a couple friends coming into town that were looking for an "Idaho experience". Though his buddies, Wes Howard from Iowa and Kelly Mort from Southern California, didn't know how to fly fish, they were both up for the opportunity. Getting away from cell phone reception and hopefully catching a fish with a fly rod would be a cool experience, but what they ended up getting was a REAL Idaho experience.    

The bite from the 19 degree weather inspired us to gear up quickly, but it was going to take a little more than cold to damper our day. Shawn had spared no expense on all kinds of good food and drinks that would satisfy any palate, and after a few drinks, there was no worry of being cold.  A bald eagle soaring in the distance offered up a picturesque scene before we walked into the water. 

The feeling of water passing by their legs was enough to get them addicted to the sport, and before long, Wes was hooked into a nice rainbow trout!

The fish took his comparadun BWO pattern, and was not happy to be hooked.  Though Wes is a seasoned gear fisherman for bass, he admitted to loving the fight with a fly rod. Wes's years of experience translated nicely to fighting the fish with a fly rod.  With some quick maneuvers we were able to land his fish and, despite the cold, he took off his gloves and held up the fish for the camera.

Once Wes let the fish go, there were more fish rising all around us.  After a failed attempt to call Shawn and Kelly over to us, we went back to fishing.

The day was flying by and the sun started fading behind the canyon walls, which created a noticeable drop in the temperature. Shawn and I had walked upstream to fish a different run.  He mentioned that Kelly had caught a white fish, leaving Shawn as the only one who hadn't caught a fish.  I had some luck in the new run, but the fish seemed uninterested in Shawn's fly.  I took another shot at the fish and was unsuccessful. The cold was making the fly changing process take a lot longer than normal, so together we decided it was time to go, and fished our way back to the vehicle.

Upon our arrival, we discovered that Kelly had turned on the radio to listen to some music as he and Wes took off their gear.
"This isn't good." I said to Shawn, as we approached. Earlier that day, we had a small scare with the battery: it had enough juice to start Shawn's SUV, but just barely. We had left the engine running for a while to charge up the battery, and I thought it was clear that we were not to leave the doors open, let-alone run the radio, for fear the car wouldn't start the next time we tried it. 
"Please tell me you started the car so you didn't kill the battery?" Shawn asked, as we approved the SUV that had doors wide open, with all interior light on, and a blaring radio. 
"I turned it on for ten minutes." Kelly said.
"I told him not to turn on the radio." Wes chimed in, but whatever damage there was, was done.  Shawn shot me a look, as if asking, please tell me this thing will start, and my look back was not encouraging. 

Shawn quickly made his way to the driver seat, and turned the key... At 19 degrees and dropping, the worst sound in the world is the click click, of an engine failing to start due to a dead battery.  
Oh S#!t, I thought, as we sat there in silence after another failed attempt. As the outdoorsmen of the group, it would do us no good if I started to worry, and after a little game of Pass the Blame, I interrupted with the plan.
"Ok, guys.  If I walk upstream about a mile or so, I can get some service and call my wife." Though no one was happy about walking in this cold, we were out of options. 
Shawn and Wes joined me on the journey upstream, and as night fell, the dropping temperature started to bite at our faces.  When we reached a spot where I received service, I called my wife, Gracy, and after she confirmed AAA was on their way, we snapped a picture of the moment. 

If we thought it was cold before, it was nothing compared to our walk back. Our faces were covered and our heads were down to keep the artic breeze from piercing.
"Okay, guys..." Shawn said, breaking the silence. "Let's tell Kelly that we couldn't find service, and we had to turn back because we heard wolves."
"I'm game!" Wes said with no hesitation. 
"Me too." I said, not believing Kelly would go for it... and boy was I wrong! 
Upon our arrival, we all got back in the SUV before Shawn told Kelly the "bad news".
"Dude, Kelly. We have a problem. We had to turn back before we found service, because we heard wolves." Shawn said convincingly, even with the smile he hid behind the front of his jacket.

"Seriously?" Kelly asked, his eyes wide... "What are we going to do?"  He asked, as he started to rub his hands together.
"We may need to stay out here for the night." Wes said.
"We can't!" Kelly said, raising his voice, "I already can't get warm!"  He continued to rub his hands together, this time more aggressively.
"I can't feel them..." Kelly, said looking at his hands... then the shivering started.
"It's... soo... cold !" Kelly said behind violent shivers.  He curled himself in a ball, and was making va va va va va, sounds as he shivered.  We all started laughing at this point, but Kelly was too far gone to pick up on the sarcasm.
"Ok, seriously guys!" Shawn said, over our laughter, "What are we going to do?"
"YOU SERIOUSLY DON'T HAVE A PLAN?!" Kelly shrieked. He began gripping at his arms and rubbing his hands against his legs for warmth, murmuring "my hands, my hands."
"Kelly, stop freaking out." Shawn said. "Here!" Shawn added, reached back to Kelly. "put on these extra gloves."
I was now laughing so hard I was crying.  This is so mean, I thought to myself, then brought out my camera for a picture.
"We are going to make it through this." I said, "Now let's get a picture of you guys so that you can remember this moment."
"Come on, Bro!" Wes said, tapping Kelly to break him from the fetal position, "Let's take a picture." As soon as I saw that they were both looking my way, I snapped a shot that most certainly captured Kelly's state.

"What's our plan, Erik?" Shawn asked, regaining his composer.
"The closest town is about 20 miles from us... We could walk, and get service along the way." I said to him.
"20 miles?  No way!  It would be better if we stayed here for the night." Shawn said.
"I agree." I replied.
"We can't stay here..." Kelly said, through violent shivers, "We have to try..." Kelly took a long shivering breath. "...and send a message!"  
"None of us gets any service, Kelly." Wes said.
"Hold on, Kelly." Shawn said, and reached up to the windshield. The perspiration was frozen on the inside of the cab, and Shawn was writing something.
"There Kelly.  You think anyone will see this?" Shawn asked, as he shined a light on the windshield.
The three of us started laughing once again as Kelly slumped back into his seat, unhappy.
"Maybe we can send a message through prayer?" I suggested, after my laughter subdued.
"That's a good idea." Shawn said, "It will work better if we all hold hands." Shawn added reaching for Kelly's hand.  
"Come on, Kelly. Help us pray." Shawn said, as he took Kelly's hand. Playing along, Wes and I locked hands with Kelly and Shawn, but before Shawn could say anything, the three of us started laughing again.
"I don't see what's so funny." Kelly said, angry. "We are going to freeze if we stay out here! Wes, give me your phone." Kelly demanded. 
"There's no service." Wes said, as he handed over his phone.  Kelly snatched it from Wes's hand, and pointed it at the rear passenger side window.  When he got nothing, he held it to his window, then the moon roof.
"Come on, please." Kelly pleaded, then held the phone up so that it touched the roof of the SUV
"I GOT THREE BARS!" Kelly yelled.  We all looked in amazement as Kelly dialed his wife... the phone rang on speaker-phone.
"Hello," the voice said. Shawn looked over at me with eyes the size of quarters, just as shocked as I was that he actually got through.
"I need you to listen to me..." Kelly said, trying not to sound panicked.
"We are stranded out here, in the middle of nowhere." Kelly said, very clearly.
"What?" The voice replied.
"We are stranded and we need you to call Triple-A, to come and help us." Kelly said.
"Isn't Triple-A on the way?" The voice of Kelly's wife asked.
"No!  You need to call them for us!" Kelly spoke every syllable slowly, as he continued to speak. "Because.. We're running out of options, and it's freezing." The three of us started laughing again, but hushed up as Kelly's wife spoke again.
"But... I just got a message from Shawn saying that Triple-A was on their way."  The three of us began to laugh harder, and the light finally went on in Kelly's head.
"Oh... I hate you guys, I hate all you guys!" Kelly said, with a smile. 
Before Kelly hung up, Shawn confirmed that AAA was on the way, and that they had nothing to worry about. I brought out my camera to take a picture of Kelly's now-smiling face.

"I got punked!" Kelly said, as he joined us in laughter. "I can't believe you guys." He chuckled.
"I was freaking out!" He added, amongst our laughter.
"And look at you know!" I said, "You are not even shivering anymore!" That fact got us going even longer, as Kelly looked at his hands to see them not shaking.

It was about 30 more minutes before AAA showed up, and at the sight of the truck lights coming down the road we all cheered with excitement.  In a matter of five minutes, Shawn's SUV was started with the heater on full blast!
"Hey, Kelly!" I said, "How are you feeling now?"
"REALLY GOOD!" He said, with a smile so warm, it could melt the heart of the Wicked Witch!

We did not have the patience to wait for the frozen perspiration to thaw, so we used credit cards as ice scrapers so we could get going. 
"It's snowing." I told Shawn, as I scraped away.
"How much more do you need to scrape?" Shawn asked.
"I just want to make sure you can see." I replied.
"No.  You just want to make your side look better than mine!" He retorted, and held out his hand so that I could give him back his credit card. I handed it over, and as soon as Shawn had it in his hand, he said, "Sucker!" And reached up to continue scraping his side until it looked better than mine.

The bite of the cold quickly faded as we drove out of the canyon, and we continued to laugh as we relived Kelly's meltdown.
"I was just scared for my wife and kids." Kelly said, defensively.
"Oh, don't give me that!" Wes said back. "But do you know what the best part about this whole experience is?" Wes asked. I looked back to hear what Wes had to say.
"It was just this morning when Kelly was telling Shawn and I how cool it would be to be on one of those Amazing Race reality shows." 
"That's right!" Shawn said, remembering the conversation. "He wanted to know how we thought he would do!"  
"Well, if you want my opinion." I said, looking back to Kelly, "You wouldn't make it past the first episode." At this, everyone, including Kelly, started laughing.
"You are moving to Boise, right?" I asked Kelly, after we settled down. 
"Yes." He said.
"Well..." I said, after reflecting on the torment we just put Kelly through.
"Welcome to Idaho!" I said, and we all enjoyed a nice warm comfortable drive home after a rather interesting Idaho Experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

7th Grade Fly Fishing Class

"Don't you wish you had the opportunity to take a fly fishing class when you were in seventh grade?" John Wolter, the owner of Anglers Fly Shop and my boss, asked me while we were tying flies in the shop.
"Heck yeah!" I said without hesitation.
"Well Nick's [John's son] school asked if I would be involved in a fly fishing class!" John said, enthusiastically.  He stood there looking at me with a simple smile on his face, waiting for my response. 
"Sounds fun." I said back to him.
"Yep..." He said, with the same happy smile. "And you know what else...?"
"I get to help?" I said... then quickly changed my tune. "I mean...  I GET TO HELP!!!"
"All riiiiiight!  I knew you would be thrilled!" John said, and before we knew it, twelve seventh graders were gearing up to try their luck on the Boise River.

Parents and a few ladies from the Woman Fly Fishers of Idaho club were there to help, and as soon as John recognized that all kids were present, he called out to the class.
"Okay guys, follow me." Every volunteer and student made their way across the water for a quick instruction.

In a short amount of time, John covered water loading and line control for nymphing, then released us in small groups to fish. 

Naomi, Kai, and Preston were the students in my group. Connie, from the woman's club, and Naomi's father were also there to help. We split the students up so that they were close by, yet far enough away from each other to avoid any entanglements.

The two boys looked like they had fly fished before, so I focused my attention on Naomi. As soon as she understood how to bend her line properly, her indicator darted under the water and zigzagged with a fish! 
"Set it!" I said quickly, but it was too late: the indicator popped back up, lifeless. 
"You need to set the hook when your indicator goes down, sweetie." Her dad said. 
"I don't know what that means." Naomi protested. 
"It means you need to pull back on your fly rod," I said. "That way you hook the fish. What if I said 'pull back'; would that help?" I asked. 
"Yes." Naomi said. 
"Then get your fly back out there. That fish is still hungry." I said to Naomi, but she was way ahead of me. Naomi made a few more casts before her indicator shot under again.
"Pull back!" I said, but it was not needed. Naomi's little arms shot skyward, and the tip of her rod danced with a fish!
"A fish! A fish!" She yelled ecstatically. Her trout shimmered with every tug as I unhooked my net and scooped it up to land the fish. Naomi's father beamed with pride after seeing his daughter's face light up. After all, this was the very first fish she had ever caught, and it was on a fly rod.

Naomi gently placed the fish back into the water, and it slipped from her fingers to return home. 
"Nice job!" I said to her, as her fish disappeared into the river. From there, Naomi and her father went back to fishing while I walked up to help Kai.  

After I quickly adjusted his casting, I heard a scream from downstream. 
"I got another one!" The little voice hollered. I looked down and saw that Naomi had on another fish.  Her father was right by her side while I rushed to net her fish.  
"It's a white fish!" I said, with a smile. 
"Is that good?" Naomi asked. 
"It's a new species for you!" I said back. Getting a new species on a fly rod is a big deal, especially for Naomi, whose excitement was captured on camera!

Naomi once again placed her fish back into the water, and watched as it swam away and out of sight.  Further downstream I heard Connie yell out that Preston had a fish on.  I quickly made my way down to him and netted his fish. 
"It's not exactly the biggest fish in the world..." I said, but was cut off.
"That's a nice fish. You be quiet, Erik!" Connie snapped, as I netted Preston's fish. Thankfully, his fish was big enough to stay in my net, but hey, a fish is a fish, and Preston was happy!

In the blink of an eye, Preston's fish was gone, and I made my way back up to Kai. 
"You know..." I said to Kai, quietly. "You are the only one who hasn't caught a fish yet." Kai just looked up at me and shook his head. I stood near him, offering up advice as he fished. His indicator went under, and Kai didn't react fast enough. 
"Ohhhh, that was a fish, Kai." I said, and Kai had seen it too: his indicator had not only shot under, but jerked upstream before coming back to the surface. I could tell that he was getting frustrated at not having caught a fish yet, so we moved a little downstream.  Another cast, and Kai's indicator shot down! THWACK!!! Was the sound that protruded from the indicator after Kai set the hook faster than Bruce Lee!  An orange indicator with a hook attached was the last thing I saw hurling towards my face before I turned away.
"Sorry." Kai said, gathering his fly line.
"It's okay, you did what I would have done." I said back. "The fish is still there. Get it!" I encouraged.  Kai pitched out his line, and his indicator shot down.  This time when he set the hook, there was a fish attached.

Kai was all smiles for his picture.  He had just caught a respectable rainbow trout, and the other students around watched as his fish returned home.

Only a moment before Kai had caught his fish, John sent Brennan, another student, up to me from downstream.  It was already quite the task getting the three of my assigned student into a fish, but I welcomed the added challenge. Brennan had yet to catch a fish, and today was hopefully his day.  The only problem was... my alarm went off, indicating that we only had five minutes before it was time to go. 
"Five minutes everyone!" I called out to the group, then looked at Brennan. "Let's get a fish!"  Brennan didn't waste any time, and we got to a spot on the water that hadn't been fished yet.  As we waded out Brennan fished, and as we waded further out, he went to cast and had a fish on.  But with the sudden surprise of a fish, there was little time to react.  The trout that was hooked flew out of the water, spitting the hook in the process.
"Oh no!" Brennan yelled, knowing he lost his opportunity to bring in a fish.
"Come on, come on... we only have a few minutes." I said, regaining Brennan's focus from the lost fish.  The frustration of losing a fish was still on Brennan's face as he casted and casted with no sign of another. My alarm went off again, and I quickly silenced it.  The group of kids and helpers were now waiting and watching from the bank as we remained out in the river, trying our hardest to catch a fish. Then it happened: Brennan made a beautiful cast, sending his indictor and fly right where it needed to be.
"Positive fish vibes!" I said, raising my hand towards the indicator as it floated downstream. Whether it was his good cast, or the positive fish vibes, Brennan's indicator shot under and he set the hook!
"YOU GOT ONE!" I yelled.  Brennan's face lit up like it was Christmas morning as his rainbow trout flew out of the water! One, two, three jumps from the fish, and all I could think was that it was going to spit the hook.  I quickly brought out my net and Brennan lifted the head of the trout so that I could net it. Cheers erupted from the group as we headed to the bank to take a picture of the biggest trout of the day!

"There it goes, back home to its family" Connie said, before we got out of the river and walked back to meet up with the rest of the class.  Each student in our group was happy to share their fish story with the rest of the class, and every experience was told in full detail as other envious students came close to hear the stories. 
"So, you got them all into a fish." John said, smiling at me over a few students.
"You know what this means, right?" John asked, as he approached. "This means they will expect you to get them all into a fish next week!" John said, while patting me on the shoulder. 
"Well, I would hate to disappoint." I said, smiling back, ending a fun day with the Anser Charter School's seventh grade fly fishing class.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

600 CFS

As luck would have it, the South Fork of the Boise was flowing at 600 CFS when my brother Kris, aka Feef, came to town. At those flows, the river can offer up some of its best dry fly fishing opportunities. 

"Oh, this is going to be a gooood day, Brother!" Feef said, charged at the first sight of the river. "I'm going to catch all my fish on a streamer today!" He announced, as we scoped out the river. We both geared up quickly, and I took the lead walking through the brush. 
"Hold on!" Feef called out, as he turned back to get his line untangled from a low branch. I let out a very loud and heavy sigh as Feef continued to fight with the branch. 
"Get! Off! There!" Feef yelled at the fly line, giving a tug with every syllable. 
"I'm just going to leave you here..." I said, snob-ishly.  Feef started laughing as he fought harder to free his fly line. I brought out my camera to snap a picture, but right then his line came free and he quickly turned and posed. 

Feef started with his streamer and I found some nice pocket water for a dry fly.  600 CFS has always paid off for me, but today was testing that winning streak. For hours I walked upstream, casting a dry fly with no success. Feef was blasting his streamer in every nook that looked liked the home of a fish, but he was also coming up empty handed. 

"What are you doing?" Feef asked, as I snipped my dry fly leader down to six feet.
"I'm setting up a Euro-nymphing leader." I said back, while holding line in my mouth. I brought out my slinky and attached it to my leader, then built the rest of the leader with 3X and 4X tippet. 
"I know there is a fish right here," I said, tying on a stonefly nymph. "And I'm going to get it!"
I flicked my flies upstream, aggressively, and kept my slinky taught as I led my flies downstream.  The orange slinky stretched, indicating a fish, and I reacted just as quick!
"Nice, Brother!" Feef said, as I fought my fish into my net. 

"Want me to rig you up?" I asked, but Feef shook his head no: he was hell-bent on streamer fishing.  I flicked my flies back into the water, and got another take.  The hook set alone sent this little fish flying out of the water.

"What are you doing eating a fly this big?" I asked the fish before I unhooked it. 
"Okay, that's your lesson for today." I said, before I dipped the little fish back into the water and it shot away. 

It was no more that two or three casts later before I was into another fish. 
"Already?" Feef yelled, begrudgingly. 
"How long would you like it to take?" I asked, bringing in the fish.  I quickly let it go, and could see that Feef was interested in trying something other than streamer fishing. 

With no fish on his streamer thus-far, Feef handed over his fly rod for it to be rigged up Euro-style.  Feef took the lead as we worked the water upstream. 

"I'm just cleaning up your mess here!" I said, after I set the hook on a fish. Feef took one glance at me, then went back to fishing.  I quickly let the fish go and followed him upstream. The very next rock (that Feef had just fished), I stuck another fish... 
"Seriously?! Seriously?!" Feef yelled, angry at the river. 
"Sorry, Brother." I said, as I netted my fish.

"How are you getting them?" Feef asked.   
"The trout are close to the bank; just look for a deeper channel or behind a rock." I said.  Feef didn't waste any time getting closer. He flung his flies closer and closer into some pocket water, but on his third attempt, he misjudged his cast, sending his flies and slinky into some low hanging branches.  
"I don't think the fish are that close, Brother." I said with a smile. 

There was no saving his rig; Feef had managed to get both flies so tangled that we had to cut everything free. 
"Screw this!" Feef yelled, shoving his slinky into his vest pocket, "I'm going back to streamer fishing." 
We both continued upstream, and with every fish I caught, Feef became more and more frustrated. 
"I just want a FISH!" Feef yelled, screaming at the river. 
"Well that's nice, Brother... but first, can you take a picture of me and my fish?" 
"Give me your stupid camera." Feef said, stomping over to me.  I handed my camera to him saying, "Make it a good one, Brother."

I dipped my fish back into the water, and as it swam away, my alarm went off. 
"No, no, no..." My brother exclaimed. I too was a bit surprised. It did not feel like we had spent so much time on the water, but after looking at the time we had to get going.
I made my way to the bank and when I looked back, Feef was still in the river. 
"We better get going." I said to him, but Feef hardly acknowledged me.
"Just a few more casts." He said, hungry for a fish.  His white streamer went flying into a pocket above a large rock, and with one big strip, a fish took! 
"OH!" Was all Feef could manage, as his rod bent with the weight of a fish!  Laughter filled the river as Feef's fish splashed around.   
"Brother, don't lose it!" I yelled, adding to the pressure. The intensity on Feef's face as he brought his fish in was unmistakable: he was NOT going to lose this fish. A quick scoop with his net, and the fight was over.  I had my camera ready as Feef pulled his fish out of the net and held up his prize!

"Alright, now a good picture." I said, as Feef put his fish back in his net and underwater before taking it back out again for a better picture. 

Feef slowly put the fish back into the water, and it darted away, happy to be alive.  Feef let out a happy Aaaaahhh as he stood back up. He then looked over at me, smiling. 
"Okay, I'm ready now." He said, and we started our walk back to the car. Feef relived his fight with the fish, telling me every detail of the strike and fight. 
"Well, you were right about one thing." I said to him as we shut our gear in the back of the car. 
"What?" He asked. 
"You caught all your fish on a streamer today." I said with a smile.  Feef looked over at me, his initial smile faded... "That's messed up, Brother."