Sunday, October 27, 2013

Game Day

Back in college I went to many BSU football games, but my all-time favorite was to fish near the stadium during a game.  The roar of the crowd after a cannon fire was besieging, not to mention the infamous “BOISE!", called by one side of the stadium while the other quickly replied, “STATE!" The sounds of game day that blasted the river was quite the experience, so when my Dad came to town I had to take him. 

My dad, still wanting to represent Boise State on the river, had on his BSU jersey for the occasion.  We approached the water and he asked me what fly he should use, so I looked around and said, “Looks like there is a blue-winged olive hatch.” I didn’t see any rising fish, but figured that would be our best bet, after all, I am too stubborn to nymph.  “This is the fly I want to use.” He said, holding out an orange and blue humpy I had tied for him almost a year ago.  “Sure Dad, use it...” I have learned from fishing with my dad that no matter what I say he will not listen, so I just go with with whatever he wants. 

My dad started casting up stream from me as I held my fly in my hand, waiting for a rise.  He whacked the water with every cast as he tromped upstream.  I looked back at the water in front of me, waiting for a rise, when I heard my dad, “Hey, I got one!”  “You’ve got to be kidding me...” I mumbled to myself under a chuckle as I watched his fly rod dance with a fish.  He looked at me smiling.  “Alright! Do you need help?” I asked as I started to walk up to my dad. “No, I want to get him by myself!”  I stood back laughing as his fish fought with all of its might.  He did everything right.  His rod tip swooped back over his head as he scooped up the fish with his net.  

“See, Daddy know what he’s doing,” he said smiling to me in a matter-of-fact way.  I laughed as he let it go, “Well, good job, Dad!”  We went back to flogging the water as I yet again waited for a rising fish.   

The roar of the crowd was getting louder as we got closer to the stadium.  My dad casted out his BSU humpy, and sure enough, another fish slammed it.  “OH!” He yelled as he brought both of his hands over his head, as if sticking a land in olympic gymnastics, to set his hook.  “Damn!” He said, as the fish came unbuttoned.  “That’s okay, they are still hungry.” I said encouragingly.  

The cannon boomed, and the crowd roared.  My dad looked over at me with a smile.  The chanting of BOISE... STATE soon followed.  “That sounds cool from here.” He said, and I agreed; "that is why I like fishing on game day.  I think it's better than going to the game.” He looked at me as if it could be a toss up, then went back to fishing.  Another fish nailed his orange and blue humpy, and he brought it in for this picture. 

"That makes three fish for me.” He said, “How many have you caught?”  I smiled back at him, “I brought in one so far.”  “Well I didn’t see it.” He said quickly.  “Eeeeeeeee!” Was the only thing I could think of saying.  “The one you caught, was it in a blue-winged olive?” He asked as he continued fishing.  It wasn’t, I didn’t have a BSU fly, but I did have an orange stimulator; I thought, that should be close enough.  It was loud on the water, so to avoid telling him that I had switched my fly because he was catching all the fish, I walked away pretending I didn’t hear the question.  

My dad ended up hooking eight fish and bringing five to the net, and I only brought in three.  Stupid Boise River fish don’t even know what’s good for them, I thought as we got off the river.  We met up with my mom and the first thing she asked, as always, was, “How was fishing?” My dad didn’t miss a beat, “I brought in more that Erik!” Rightfully shocked at the news, she looked at me for confirmation, “What?!” she said followed by a laugh.  “Yep, 
dad brought in five fish.” “Well all right!” She said still laughing.  

It was a great day on the water, not only because my dad caught fish, but also because this was his first time catching fish all on his own.  Now, knowing my dad, he will think his BSU fly will work everywhere just as good as on game day... I guess we will see the next time he comes to town to fish.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Student Outing

It’s that time of the year again, when I have the opportunity to help with John's College of Idaho fly fishing class outing.  The last class didn’t go so well because I neglected my student to selfishly catch monster bass.  This year was much better; I had mentally prepared myself to help a student or two catch a fish.  

Lucas was the lucky contestant that got stuck fishing with me on this outing.  At first he spoke confidently of his casting abilities and I was happy to hear them; that all changed when we, ever so delicately, stepped into the water.  “Did you see that?” I said pointing to the slightest disturbance, indicating a rising fish.  “Yeah.” Lucas said.  The water was almost stagnate, so I explained. “With the water moving this slow it’s important not to slap your line down.  You are a good caster right?”  Lucas did not look very confident anymore. 

He did nail one cast, but the fish had moved.  With these low flows, the water is almost still.  The fish start swimming in pattern, gulping flies in their way.  This often calls for careful timing and soft accurate casting, but there is another way!  I grabbed Lucas’s fly and changed it to a green chubby with a split-wing PMD as the dropper.  Lucas presenting it perfectly, learning very quickly in these conditions; a fish neither of us had seen came up and ate his dropper.  The green chubby darted back under water, “There it is!” I yelled at Lucas, who had completely missed the take.  Startled by my reaction, he raised his rod tip, and brought in his first Owyhee brown.  The fish weighed in at 4 pounds and was 22 inches long. What a great first fish! 

Though Lucas was picking up on things quickly, he still needed more mentoring to get into some fish.  We had picked a new location, and while Lucas casted to some fish I headed up stream to scope out more rising fish.     

Sure enough, there were about five fish sipping emergers.  I called Lucas to me to show him the rising fish, and he was excited to start casting.  His fly landed just in the feeding lane of the fish and his stimulater bolted upstream.  “Lucas!” I yelled, and he set the hook!  

The fish thrashed, fighting Lucas!  Its head turned hard which brought Lucas’s fly rod down, almost straight, pointing at the fish. I was there to coach, “Let it run if it wants to, and keep your rod tip up.”   The fish tired fast, and Lucas lifted his rod handle over his head as I scooped his fish in for another great shot.

After two fish it was my turn, and Lucas stoood by to watch me cast.  On the bank there was another person watching me cast as well, a lady named Helga Jaques.  Helga, a painter, needed a picture of a fly fisher casting for her next painting.  Well I can do that, I thought as I started casting slowly for a nice shot.  Helga got what she wanted and thanked us before she took off.  I was feeling awfully proud of myself, and it didn’t help that I caught a fish soon after.  Lucas was kind enough to take this picture of me with my fish.

Though the fish were rising all around, I remembered what I was there for and helped Lucas when I could.  He ended up catching four fish for the day, and the last two were all by himself.  I felt that I was a good teacher for Lucas that day, and I’m sure the next time he heads out to the Owyhee, he will know exactly what to do. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

California Plates

Stereotypically, California plates in Idaho is one of the most dreaded things, and to see them on the river is even worse. Idahoans fear that the Californians will move here and bring their big city ways to beautiful rural Idaho.  Ironically, Jim Cox, from Portland, OR and I, a Boise resident, headed out to fish the Owyhee in a rented car with California plates. 

Well the plates loomed over us like a dark storm cloud as we drove through the first small town on the way.  “You better stick exactly to the speed limit through these towns, Jim.” I warned, but Jim was way ahead of me, “Oh you bet I will, I am sure we're targets with these plates.” Despite our odds, we made it to the Owyhee unharmed, and parked when we saw fish rising.  

Jim works for Western Rivers Conservation in Portland, and was in town to speak at the Boise Valley Fly Fishers meeting; so I was a good host and made sure he had the first crack at the rising fish. 

With the flows at 23 CFS, the trout were cautious and would spook at a badly placed line.  The water was almost stagnate as Jim approached some feeding fish.  The small dimples made by the fish were almost invisible, but the hushed sound of a tap on the water would easily give up their location to any experienced dry fly fisherman.  Delicately presenting a suspended midge, Jim set the hook on his first Owyhee brown!  

The fish thrashed as Jim brought it in to start the day off right. We had to wait a few minutes before the other fish would begin rising, and when they did Jim was ready.  

Jim had brought in a few fish before I headed upstream to catch a few fish for myself.  I located some unsuspecting trout feeding like crazy, and casted upstream to them.  It was difficult to see my fly on the water because I had switched to an RS2 mahogany dun.  Over the years of dry fly fishing and practicing my cast, I have become confident in knowing where my fly should land.  A head came up where I suspected my fly to be, so I quickly but softly set my hook and felt the pressure of the fish.  Immediately I tilted my rod off to the side, bringing my rod tip level with the water while keeping the tension on the fish.  This technique can prevent the fish from thrashing around and spooking the other fish. 

After a few fish, I saw there were still more rising so I called Jim up to have a shot for a few more, and he didn’t disappoint. 

We had moved upstream and found more rising fish, but these fish were keyed onto something we didn’t have tied on.  Both Jim and I were struggling to get a fish interested in either of our flies.  Finally one took my fly!  The fish leapt and leapt out of the water, and to no surprise it was a rainbow. 

Jim was struggling, and asked, “Would you suggest a terrestrial, like an ant?” “Absolutely!” I said.  Jim tied on a parachute ant; “There is a big one here that won’t take my fly, and it keeps rising.” Jim presented the ant, and the fish exploded on it! It was a slab of a fish!  It tail-walked and jumped like mad, and when he landed it, it was a fantastic rainbow trout. 

The rest of the evening was very difficult.  Fish were rising right in front of us, and no matter what we put on, they were not interested. Jim had switched to a small black para midge and had a fish take.  It was getting dark, and the fish were still rising.  It is always very hard for me to leave rising fish, so I switched back to a suspended midge for one final go.  The fish must have changed it’s mind because it ate my fly, and to my surprise the fish was only about seven inches.  I quickly got it to the net and held it there for a long time.  “I can’t just let it go.” I told Jim.  I stared at the puny fish that snubbed me time and time again as it struggled in my net.  To be humbled by such a small fish makes you think: the fish don’t care who you are, how rich, poor, or successful you are. Materialistic things mean nothing to this little fish.  I smiled and dipped my entire net in the water, and watched the little fish dart off; how much more pure does it get?  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Even a Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut

It has been far too long since I have fished with my brother, Kris, AKA Feef, AKA Deef Wan, AKA The Mo.  I just call him Mo in person, because apparently Kris is far too much work.  He was gone all summer for an internship, so it has been a while since we've been on the river together.  Feef knows just enough about fly fishing to where he feels he doesn't need to listen to me, but no matter where we go fishing we always have a good time!  

I arrived at the Boise River first, and had begun to gear up when I saw his truck coming from the distance.  Seeing my car there first, he felt the need to make an entrance.  He turned into the dirt parking section without slowing down, and practically ramped the small bumps along the way before his truck came to a screeching stop. 

We quickly geared up and headed to the river.  
"I was here the other night and saw fish rising everywhere." Feef said, making his arms move like fish, with his fingers and thumb opening and closing, mimicking the mouth of a feeding fish.  
"I think they were taking BWOs!" 

We arrived at the spot and Feef began to look through his box of flies. 
"What do you see?" He asked.  
I looked around and said, "I see mahogany duns.”  
"What's a mahogany dun?” 
"It's like a BWO, only it is more brownish red."  

Feef thumbed through his box, "Is this one?" He asked holding out a fly.  
"No, that is a suspended midge.” 
"Oh yeah!" he said quickly putting his fly away and holding up a new fly, "Is this it?” 
I looked at the fly, "Brother?! Thats the same fly you just showed me!” 
"O yeah, a suspended midge." He quickly put the fly away and grabbed another, "This one here is a mahogany.” 
I looked down at his fly with disgust, and with a deep sigh said, "A trico spinner, Brother?!" He looked up at me with a sad face.  I looked back at him and said, "this is going to be a long night." We both started laughing. 

Just as he saw earlier, the fish started to rise.  I set my hook, ripping out two fish about the size of a keychain.  
"Wow, these are some good sized fish you brought me to, Mo!” Not even looking over to me he said confidently, "I know I saw bigger ones out there, Brother." 

It was getting dark, too dark to see my fly anymore. 
“It’s time to get going.” I said.  
"I want to try this fly," Feef said, tying one on as fast as he could in the night.  I started to walk back when I heard a splash!  
"I got one!" Feef yelled.  
I immediately ran back to him, and heard his reel screaming! Splash after splash, the fish was flying out of the water; his rod was doubled over fighting the fish.  
"You better bring this one in, Brother, if your going to save the night!" I said, adding to the pressure.  Sure enough, he brought in this nice, shiny rainbow, followed by some whooping and hollering of approval. 

I had just about gone through every mahogany pattern I had, and had a few takes, but only with small fish, so I asked,  “What fly did you use?” 
“A hopper!” 
“A hopper?” Once again I am reminded why sometimes, despite the obvious choice, my brother just does what he wants; every once in a long while it pays off.  And sure enough, at the end of his fly line was a sized-14 yellow crystal stimulator.  

After he released the fish we headed back in the dark.  Wading in the dark offers up its own difficulties; small river rocks are hard to see, and it is east to stumble over them.  My brother found that out as he stepped awkwardly on a rock that was large enough to make him slip.  He whirled around regaining his balance, and in the process lost the very fly that saved the night.  
“My fly!” He cried, looking down in the water.  And sure enough it was gone.  

In all the years we have fly fished together, we have always come off the water with people asking how we did.  My brother usually replies “I did okay, but my brother really nailed them!”  Well this night Feef nailed the fish, and I was the one walking off the river empty handed.  It was a nice reminder of how much more I need to learn about the Boise River in town, and no matter what excuse I make for not catching a fish; it all boils down to: he got one and I didn’t.  Good job, Brother! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Off The Beaten Path

It snowed in McCall, which means alpine lake fishing has just about come to an end.  I spoke with my hiking buddy, Mike McLean, about the effects snow can have on hikers, and he suggested we hit a shorter hike up to a lake that was a bit lower in elevation.  My wife, Gracy, and I met up with both Kerri and Mike and headed to the trailhead.

You may have figured by now I had learned that when Mike says shorter and lower in elevation, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy hike.  I fell for it again and was corrected almost immediately as we hiked up a large steep, awkward staircase created by big boulders only moments after we started. 

The trail was wet in places, and it didn’t take us long to figure out why.  “Snow!” I was very happy to see it lightly dusted on the trees.  It got thicker as we headed further up, and as soon as there was enough I grabbed a handful and flung it at my wife, nailing her arm.  She didn’t find it as amusing as I did. 

Before we knew it we were trekking through seven inches of snow.  Mike led the way as the rest of us followed.  Kerri had been up this hike before and told us to keep an eye out for a cairn that was somewhere along the trail; the only problem was that the cairn was under all of the snow, so Kerri had to rely on her memory to find it.  

“It has got to be here.” Kerri said as we came to a leveled opening on the path.  She started poking through the snow with her walking sticks in search of the cairn.  We all joined in, kicking at every bump along the path.  “I found it!” Kerri said.  She pointed up at the saddle in the mountain, “We need to get up there, and when we do we should be level with the lake.” We all stopped before we took our first steps on our off-path-journey.  All we could see was fallen timber, rock, and thick snow everywhere...with no path in sight. 

"I think we should head this way around the saddle." Mike said pointing another way.  Kerri confidently replied, "No, this is the way.  We need to get to the saddle and the lake will be there."  Gracy and I stood back as the experts discussed the right way up the mountain.  The decision was made to skirt up the mountain to the saddle. 

Up and up we went teetering the side of the mountain.  I put on my gloves to help with the cold snow as I crawled over boulders following Mike's path.  Did you know that fallen wooden stumps are slicker than ice, and under the snow they make for a nice slick surprise?  My foot hit one under the snow, and SWOOSH!  It's a good thing my other foot was nice and secure to counterbalance the slippage. 

We would take breaks on the steep terrain as Mike stopped to calculate the best way up.  

Almost to the top Kerri said to me, "I hope Mike was not right when he said we should go the other way." We both looked up as Mike and Gracy had reached the summit of the saddle.  "Do you see the lake?" Kerri yelled.  Gracy looked back at us, and shook her head no. 

We all stopped and took a break.  Gracy brought out her phone and it had service.  Keying into our location, Gracy brought up the map and we saw the lake was not as far off as we thought.  Mike pointed to the tall peak to our right and said “we need to go around that.”

The last thing anyone wanted to do was climb higher, but together we packed up and headed uphill.  I went to put on my gloves and discovered that I had left them sunning on a rock back at the saddle. 

I hurried to catch up with the rest, and little did Gracy and I know, we were about to become mountain climbers.  As we ascended up the peak the awkwardly slanted path like before had turned into steep cracks around a granite wall.  This was the hairiest part of the hike, that I didn’t want to revisit.  

"I would be pissed if someone took me on a hike like this and didn't tell me about it.” Kerri assured us, "So if you guys want to be mad at us, it okay.”  We definitely were not mad, but I’m not sure we would have chosen the path shifting around ice covered rocks.  "You guys did great!” Mike added, as we rounded the peak.  And on the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mounnnntaiiiiiin... was our alpine lake! 

Even from this height we saw the ring of a feeding fish.  "Did you see that, Mike?!" He looked at me and said, "If your are talking about the rise, then yes!"  At our new location the only way to the lake was down the granite quarry. 

We slid down as quickly as we could, and the lake was almost within casting distance. 

The water was crystal clear and we could see nice fish cruising the banks, looking for something to fall in.  Mike and I rigged up quickly as the ladies sat on a big rock to sun their wet socks, shoes, and feet. 

I walked to another small rock and casted a pico spider to a cruising fish.  The pico hit the water and the fish changed course to take it.  I set the hook, tearing the pico out of the fish's mouth, and the fish started swimming away.  My hook set sent my pico flying behind me, and in mid-air I recalculated my cast, sending the pico back out to the same fish.  The fish turned around at the sound of my fly slamming the water, and ate it!  

The fish was a nice size, and the colors were brilliant.  It swam off quickly and I noticed my line was caught in a small bush.  I roll casted my fly out to get some of the line out of my way, and quickly started to untangle my line.  Splash! Without looking up I set the hook on another nice fish, and I was able to get this cool shot of it before it swam off. 

I brought in a few more fish after that one.  I had yelled over to the ladies to see if one of them could come get a picture of me with a fish.  They still had their hiking shoes and socks off, and were not at all willing to put them back on, or walk barefoot through the snow.  I casted out a little further, and in a flash a fish took my fly!  "Whoa!" I yelled out loud as the fish started taking line from my reel.  Splashing and darting from left to right, the fish fought with all of its might.  I brought it in and was amazed by its size!  I looked up to see my wife still had her shoes off; you would think that after a three mile hike another twenty feet would be no big deal...  I set the fish back in the water and was able to take this shot that doesn't do it any justice. 

We only got to fish for 45 minutes or so before we decided it was time to get going.  It took us longer than expected to reach the lake, and we still were not one hundred percent sure how we were getting out.  We packed up, and Mike found a blaze on a tree marking the way out.  Thank goodness it wasn’t the same way we had come in! 

With snow everywhere we all relied on Mike's intuition to lead the way out.  We each stepped in his footsteps leading back through the snow. 

We had made it back to the saddle, and it turned out that both Kerri and Mike were right about the path to the lake; we all had a laugh about it as we skirted back down the mountain to the main path. 

We all made it back safe and sound with another alpine lake notched in our belts.  I have to give Sadie, Mike and Kerri's German Shepard, recognition.  Despite the slick and steep conditions, she would run up and down to each of us making sure we were all accounted for the whole time.  As soon as we got back Sadie jumped in the back seat, and fell asleep on the way back to the house.  She earned it.