Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Upper Blackfoot River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have got to hand it to Dean; while Travis and I went to the dark side, Dean was still pitching a dry fly. 
"Anything on the dry?"
"Mind if I fish downstream from you?"
"Go for it." Dean said. 
I felt like a slimy worm as I hooked into a few fish in front of Dean. I wished as much as the next guy that the fish were nailing dries, but they just weren't.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Missouri River With CrossCurrents Fly Shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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