Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Joel's Early Morning Turkey Hunt

After a long day of fly fishing and a late night out, I thought waking up at 5:30 a.m. would have been difficult, but it wasn't. In fact I was awake long before 5:30, laying in bed hoping to get a little more sleep before 5:30 came, but no such luck. I crept up the stairs with only the shimmer from my phone to light the way, and saw that Joel was up as well. He took his dogs out to go potty and came back in to fix up some coffee while I had tea. With the dogs good for the morning, he fastened three arrows in the holder of his compound bow. I grabbed the slate turkey caller, and followed Joel down and into the blind.

Turkeys were gobbling in every direction, but I think I could make out the calls of five different birds. It was time for me to make some enticing hen calls with the slate... SCRATCH, SQUEAK, SUQEAK! The sound I produced made me cringe, but I was quick to try again. SCRATCH! I immediately stopped. 
"What the hell?" I whispered. "I was making the calls so well yesterday? I am sucking at this right now... and when it matters most!" Although I was whispering, Joel could tell I was frustrated.
"Yes, you are sucking at this right now." Joel whispered back... "Just in case you were looking for validation."
I smiled and shrugged, disbelieving my two terrible attempts.
"Let me see that." Joel said, and took the turkey call to try his luck. ERP, ERP, ERP... The sounds that he made were perfect, and he did it once more before handed the call back to me. 
We sat in silence for a little while, wondering why we hadn't heard a gobble. I was about to make another hen call when Joel asked, "What is that?"  
His voice was barely a whisper, but I could hear what he was talking about. It sounded like a furnace was being lit, almost a deep, folf-ing noise of igniting a fire. It happened again, and then it dawned on us... It was a strutting turkey.  No sooner had we figured it out than a turkey came walking about ten feet from the blind.

We both froze, and with the turkey so close, Joel didn't risk knocking his bow. We both heard the low, base-like sound come from the turkey as it strutted in front of our blind.

I was watching the turkey, but could clearly make out the sound of an arrow being knocked. Joel pulled back and held on to the arrow for a long while. 
"Shoot it..." I whispered with intensity.
Joel's arrow rocketed towards the turkey, but it was a miss. A few turkey feathers floated to the ground indicating how close of a shot it was.
"Damn, how did I miss that?" Joel whispered in disbelief. 
The turkey started to run, giving off a few warning clucks but stopped as soon as I made another hen call. 

My turkey calling had faltered earlier, but it was superb now. Immediately following the hen call, I was able to produce a purr that not only stopped the original spooked turkey, but brought in two more.  

"Get ready, get ready!" I said quietly, but Joel didn't need to be told twice. Another arrow was knocked as two more turkeys came into view.
"The second one is bigger." I whispered, and Joel took aim. He held his arrow pulled back, and did his best to calm himself. The second, bigger turkey was just out of my sight and a little further out, and that's the one Joel was aiming for. Joel took a deep breath, then let his arrow fly.

"It's a hit!" Joel said, a little louder now that he didn't need to be quiet anymore. The turkey flew off with the arrow stick in it, and we watched the direction it flew before getting out of the blind to look for it. 
"I was so fired up when I took my first shot at that turkey, and after I missed I realized I hadn't even aimed through my sights." Joel explained, as he looked for his bird. 
"I know the feeling." I said back, and pointed out the bright colors of an arrow under the shelter of a pine tree.

There we waited until we were sure the bird had taken his last breath. When it was all over, Joel grabbed his bird from under the tree and brought it back to the blind. 
"Well, we better get a few pictures of your first turkey!" I said happily, as Joel posed ever so proudly behind his kill.

Joel and I replayed our successful morning, remembering fine details about every second of the hunt. For us, it was a nice way to honor the bird that gave its life. After a while we made it back to the house where the rest of the household came out to see Joel's trophie. It was a good morning, but now we had the Orvis Rendezvous to get to.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rock Creek and the Orvis Rendezvous

Warm temperatures cause snow to melt off of the mountain, and when that happens the runoff muddies up the water. This makes for tough fly fishing, but that was not going to stop us. Also, we could only fish for half the day if we were going to make it to the Orvis Rendezvous for cocktail hour. 
Joel drove Travis, Jason, and I to one if his favorite stretches of the creek, and we geared up knowing the deck was stacked against us. To my surprise, Travis was ready to fish at the same time I was, so together we walked to the river to see what we were in for.

The flows were definitely high and the water was too murky for dry fly fishing, so I tied on some of my favorite euro-nymps to get deep where the fish might be. The best looking water was across the creek, so I carefully made my way over. Sadly, I was only there for a short amount of time before Joel called me back to drive further upstream. Getting across the river in the first place took me a while, and now I had Travis watching me as I inched my way back. It wasn't like he was there to help me if I fell; he was there to just witness the fall, if it were to happen. He had even found a large wading stick that he held at his side while I shuffled my way over. 

A few close calls but, to Travis's disappointment, I did not fall in. We all made it back to the truck where Joel drove us upstream to some calmer water. The water was still off color, and sadly there would be no escaping that today. I still had my euro-nymphing leader on, thinking that would be the best-bet outfit to hook a fish. Travis hit the water first, armed with a skwalla. He was fishing the rocks I wanted to nymph, but if there was a chance he could get on on a dry fly, he deserved the first shot.

Nothing had so much as looked at Travis's fly, so I started to move into position to nymph around the large rock.

I was slapping my flies down hard to give them extra velocity to get deep fast, and that was exactly what needed to happen. On my first cast right behind the rock, my slinky sprang to life. I set the hook quick, and the weight of a fighting fish was unmistakable. It performed a few acrobatic tricks by leaping out of the water a few times before I netted it, and on a day like today, I was happy to even see a fish.

I spent a lot of time nymphing behind that first large rock after I let my fish go, only to come up empty handed. I made my way right behind the large rock to nymph the rocks directly upstream and, once again, I slapped my flies down hard to get them deep fast.

I was leading my flies downstream when my slinky jolted straight, and I set the hook. 
"There's another one!" I yelled upstream to Joel who was throwing a streamer. He gave me a thumbs up and continued to pitch his streamer as I netted my fish. 

I dipped the little rainbow back into the water,and watched it bolt away in the murky water. I hooked my net onto my back, and gathered my flies to make another cast when I saw Joel was hooked into a fish. His electric blue fly rod shimmered in the light as the weight of a fish doubled it over.

Joel brought the fish in fast, and didn't bother with a net. He simply scooped up his fish with his hands when it was tired.

Joel hooked into another fish as I continued to nymph the rocks, but two each was all we could bring up. Travis had said he had hooked into a fish, but after further questioning it turned out he had back-casted a small trout... and who knows where the poor thing ended up.

With the water getting more and more murky, we decided it was time to head back into town for the cocktail hour at the Orvis Rendezvous. After having a baby, it would be nice to kick back and have a drink or two with friends in the fly fishing industry.

"I'm going to get a Sex on the Beach!" I told the gang, as we entered the Rendezvous. 
"You are not going to ask for a Sex on the Beach." Travis stated with confidence, as we walked into the festivities.   
"Like hell I'm not!" I said, and got right in line to order my drink. 
"I think I'm going to have to see this for myself." Jason said, as I got closer to ordering. I was soon the next one to place my order, and with Orvis taking care of the bill I was feeling chipper.
"What would you like, dear?" The bartender asked as I stepped up to the counter. 
"I'll take a Sex on the Beach, please..." I said, looking over to see Deb, Joel, Jason, and Travis watching with unbelievably large smiles. 
"You know what... make that a double!" I said smiling, which got Jason's eyes to widen. The bartender quickly made my drink, and Jason drew his camera from his pocket and snapped a picture just as she was handing it to me.

Travis, Jason, Joel and Deb all got beers from the cooler next to the bar, and we kicked around saying hi to fellow fish bums for a few hours before heading to the Tamarack Restaurant for dinner. The Tamarack is one of our favorite places to eat while in Missoula, and after a few drinks at the Orvis Rendezvous it was the best way to end the evening. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Montana Troutaholic Bitterroot River

It was like a Hank Patterson fly fishing film reunion as everyone stepped out of their trucks to launch their boats on the Bitterroot river. Joel Thompson, whose house was invaded by Hank and his crew in the movie "Hank Patterson's Reel Montana Adventure", had set up three boats with shuttles through his outfitting business, Montana Troutaholic, for a day of fishing with the crew. The crew included: Ami Trina, who played the yoga girl in the 2nd film, Jason Jacopian, who was the president of the Hank Patterson Fan Club; and, of course, Travis Swartz, Hank Patterson himself.  

Deb Thompson, Joel's wife and fellow tea drinker, was also there to join the fun along with fly fishing guides Gabe Miller and Brock Long. After fun introductions we were all set up with healthy looking skwallas tied on to each of our lines, ready to kick off the day.

I was in the back seat of Brock's Adipose boat, with Ami at the front, as we kicked off to fish.

Brock's rowing was top notch as he got us into perfect position to slam our skwallas near the edge of the river bank, and slam them down we did. Ami and I were doing our jobs by not leaving a single portion of the bank unfished, but nothing was interested.

Further downstream we drifted and a fish not so much as a glanced at our skwallas. Still we kept with the dry flies, especially after we saw that Jason had hooked into a nice cutthroat with his skwalla. 

We switched over to the Chubby Skwalla pattern that Jason had been using, and almost immediately afterwards Ami's fly got a hit.
"Damn!" She yelled, after setting the hook and nothing was attached. It was the only action we had seen in our boat the entire morning, so we all stopped to talk strategy before pushing on. Deb had made cookies for our float, and Travis had his hand out and ready for one before Joel had the container open.

The old-me would have sat back enjoying my cookie until we pushed off to fish again, but I do not have the luxury of fishing whenever I want anymore; therefore I easily talked myself into setting up a full nymphing rig.  I awkwardly held my cookie in my mouth as I fiddled with my leader and selected flies that would hopefully do the job. With the increasing flows on the river, I figured it would be the best way to catch fish. 

No one suggested a full nymphing rig during our strategy discussion, probably because nobody wanted to be "that guy" who brought it up... But here I am... being "that guy". The best part about it, is that no one noticed that I had rigged up to fish with a nymph; that was until...
"There's one!" I said, setting the hook after my indicator went under. 
"Oh good." Brock said, "What did you get it on?"
"A nymph." 
"Are you fishing a full nymph setup?" He asked, as he grabbed his net and scooped up my fish.
"Yep. I switched over when no one was looking." I said with a laugh.

I dipped my fish back into the water, and it shot away fast. 
"I had to get the skunk off the boat, even if that meant throwing dirty." I said, gathering my line to continue fishing. 
"Hey, with how today is going, that's okay with me." Brock said.


It was a good decision for me to switch to nymphing. I was getting way to aggressive with my dry fly fishing, and too often I was encroaching into Ami's water getting our lines tangled in the process. With nymphing I could easily stay behind the oars when fishing, and it had paid off again. This time it was a brown trout that took the rainbow warrior I had as a dropper. Brock was there with the net, and was also willing to snap a picture of me with my fish before I let it go.

I had to hand it to Ami. Despite my immediate success, she stuck it out with her dry fly. She did add the same dropper as I had on, and tried her luck with that as I continued to nymph deep. 
"Get that seam, there!" Brock said, and he added a few extra back strokes to give us more time to deliver a good presentation. 
Ami hit it first with her dry dropper, and I with my nymphs. My orange indicator shot under right in the seam Brock had pointed out, and I set the hook fast. 
"Got it!" I said, and Brock went for his net. 
"It's a nice one!" I said happily, noticing the fish was fighting harder than the last two. My hands were lifted over my head to bring up the fish over Brock's net, and with one healthy scoop the fish was landed.

"That's why I love the Bitterroot; it provides nice cutties like this." Brock said, as I let the fish slip from my fingers. We continued downstream until we caught up with the rest of the crew who was already parked and out of the boat. Joel was cooking up some Brats on his portable grill while the rest of us determined who was the next to row.

In the mean time, Joel had poured everyone a shot of Kentucky Bourbon to toast the passing of Reese Ferguson. Parked on the side of the Bitterroot river seemed like the right place to honor a man who we got to know through fly fishing, and it was a nice gesture by Joel to include Reese in our day.

Just as Joel was packing up his gear to continue our float, Brock pulled out his fly rod and walked up the slow stagnate braid in the river that looked uninhabited. Armed with a skwalla, Brock took careful steps to get into position to make the perfect cast into the deeper part of the side channel. His skwalla landed with a splat right on the outside of a small stump in the water, and the next thing we heard was the thrashing of a nice sized brown trout. We all watched in disbelief as Brock landed his fish, and I didn't waste any time running down to get a picture.

The excitement of Brock's fish had us all determined that a dry fly skwalla was the way to go for the rest of the day. I was now behind the sticks and doing my best to get Gabe into some fish. We would often stop and fish some promising runs that looked fishy, but would turn up empty before pushing on.

After a while of rowing, Gabe took the oars so that I could have a shot at the front of the boat.  With nothing hitting Gabe's dry fly, I switched back to a full nymphing rig.

The success rate had gone up after that, only I kept losing every fish I was hooking into. One fish in particular ripped line from my reel before it became unbuttoned. The thought of losing that fish haunted me, but it was short lived because the take out was just up ahead. 

"How was the rest of the day?" I asked Deb who came to the edge of the river to see us in.
"It's a little tough when the guy in the front of the boat is flogging the water." She said, glancing towards Travis. I quickly looked over to see if Travis had heard Deb's comment. 
"Darn, he didn't hear." I said, smiling. 
"It was okay. I did get a fish on a dry fly." She said, after Joel and Gabe got the boat on the trailer.
"That's good." I said, as we all gathered our gear and said our goodbyes. 
Tomorrow we would fish Rock Creek, and with any luck the flows will remain neutral, providing us clear waters for good fly fishing. I can hardly wait.