Friday, August 22, 2014

Be Well Fish On

“It is an absolute privilege that these guys have asked me to invite you into one of their discussions.” said Bob Macias, the facilitator for the Reel Recovery closed-door discussions, just after breakfast on the last morning of the week-long retreat.  The boisterous conversation we, the buddies, were having fell quiet.  
“This is the first time, in 8 years of doing this, we have ever allowed the buddies in during the conversations.  All the gentleman in the room insisted you all partake in the experiences they have had this week...  I can’t express how neat this is for you guys; this never happens. ” Bob finished, gesturing towards the door inside.  I, along with the rest of the buddies, found a place to sit and observe while their conversation started. 

The inner circle of participants were listening, along with us, as Bob started the conversation.  
“Did you guys think about your cancer while you were fishing?” This was the first discussion topic Bob had for the inner circle. Almost in unison, the men started shaking their heads no and murmuring it out loud.  One guy in particular spoke up above the rest ,“Hell! I didn’t even think about women!”  
The entire room erupted in laughter as the men took turns answering the question.

Many laughs were had by all, as these men shared their experiences.  
“Thank God for bushes, or I wouldn’t have caught anything all weekend!” Another gentleman shared, keeping up with the entertainment thus far.  Not every comment was spoken in jest, as one gentleman said, “I can’t thank you guys enough for helping us out on the water.  I had two buddies, one on each arm, helping me wade the river, which is something I could not have done by myself right now.” He stopped for a second and waved thanks to the two buddies who helped him. “To see you guys, so young and willing to go out with us old guys and help us as much as you did...” He stopped to take a breath... “...That just gives me hope.” 

Bob thanked the men for sharing before he offered up the next discussion topic.  “What about yourself are you going to leave behind up here?” He said, and turned to the gentleman on his left.

A silence fell over the room so quiet, it was as if time was slowing down.  The first question was simply an ice-breaker; however, this question was inviting them to open up and share something more intimate.   

Genuine conversation, thick with realization and honesty came from each participant as they shared personal aspects of their lives, situations, and personal struggles. The air was so rich with honesty that, when it was over, I knew it was a conversation that would never leave that room. 

Surrounded by mountains and standing on a river that is crystal clear is something you have to experience for yourself.  In the end, it wasn’t about getting a participant into a fish; it was about being a buddy to a man that didn’t know he needed one.  Every participant thanked us profusely for helping out, but in the end, we were thanking them for their honesty and precept; they are the real heros. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Jingle all the Way

Half an hour was all I said it would take to drive to the stream off the main highway on the way home. But when 45 minutes went by with no sign of the stream, the guys were second guessing my time management ability. 
“I don’t think Erik was being truthful about the drive time to this small stream.” Jim said to Mark, who was also wondering how much longer it would take. 
“Look! The ‘Be Bear Aware’ sign.  We're almost there!” I said happily.

“There’s bears now?!” Jim said, laughing. “I’m beginning to think you are trying to get rid of us.”  
We finally reached our stopping point, and Jim brought out his bear spray to hook to his belt.  I brought out mine as well, and secured it so that it was an easy reach... if I needed it.  

“Hey guys...” Mark said, “I don’t have bear spray.” 
Jim looked over at me and said, “Well, Erik, I guess we know who we're leaving behind if we see a bear.” 
We both smiled, as Jim clipped another item onto his belt to avoid bears: a single jingle bell. 

Jim’s bell jingled with every step as we made our way to the stream. 
“It’s gorgeous out here.” Mark said.  The stream was gin clear, and the surrounding mountains provided a nice backdrop as we walked further away from the truck. 

“That's a nice spot.” I said, and Jim gave me the go-ahead to fish the spot first.  I slid down the steep embankment and got into position to cast.  My fly hit the water, and a small fish came up and whacked at it.  The small gray bullet was too fast to react to, and it had released my fly before I had a chance to set the hook.  I switched my fly to something smaller, and made another cast.  

The fish that I knew was hiding in the undercut bank was being snobby.  Only the perfect cast with the right amount of drag would coax it to come up and look, but it wasn’t taking my fly.  I knew I was spending too much time on this fish, but it had refused me a number of times, and my stubbornness was getting the better of me.  I tied on a CDC caddis and, on the first presentation, the little gray bullet shot up and took my fly.  This time I was ready; I set the hook in a flash and yelled, “Gotcha!” 
“What is it?” Jim asked. He was working a hole just downstream from me and looked up to see my fish. 
“It’s a grayling!” I said happily.

It was rumored there were grayling in this little stream, and now it was confirmed! The little guy swam off as I headed upstream to the next spot.  

Large shrubs created nice shadowy hiding spots for unsuspecting grayling just upstream.  I casted my fly out, and it got a hit almost immediately.  Once more, the fish that hit was so fast that by the time I had set the hook, it had already recognized my fly as a foreign object and spit it out.  I casted again, and my fly hit softly.  The same little grayling shot out from the shadows, but this time it wasn’t going to get away.  I lifted my fly rod to set the hook before the grayling had taken my fly.  It had to be done this way, because the grayling moved so fast.  In the split second it took to lift my rod and tighten my line enough to set the hook, the grayling had bit down on my fly.  The perfect timing and speed of the hook set ripped the grayling out of the water.  It fought as best as it could to get away, but with some quick adjustments, I brought it in fast.  

A subtle jingle signified Jim was approaching, and when I looked up I saw that Mark was with him. 

“We better get going.” Jim suggested. After all, he was only expecting a 30-minute drive in that took about an hour. 
“How did you guys do?” I asked, trying to stall. 
“Mark caught a nice grayling just downstream from where we started.” Jim said, “I haven’t caught anything.” 
“Why don’t you try this spot right upstream from me?” I asked, “it looks promising.”  Jim looked at his watch, then decided to have one last go for the grayling. 

We spotted a nice-sized grayling in the deeper part of the hole, but it didn’t want anything to do with any of our flies.  After 15 minutes of casting, Jim insisted we get going.  Both he and Mark started walking away as I stayed put, casting for the fish.  The large fin of the grayling swayed in the water like sparkling blue ribbon. It was one of the hardest things to walk away from.  As I caught up with Mark and jingling-Jim, we saw a few guys just upstream from us fishing. 
“I bet those guys already caught that grayling we saw back at that spot; that explains why it was pissed off and didn’t take our flies.” I said. It was a good excuse as to why I didn’t catch it anyways.

“I’ll have to remember this spot.  It's nice out here” Mark said, as we started driving back through the tall trees and mountainous scenery.  
This was certainly a fantastic trip.  The only bad thing was, because there is so much to fish around West Yellowstone, I know I will be depressed for a few weeks thinking of all the places I didn’t have time to fish. I already wanted to go back as we drove further away.  So much to fish and so little time... I know you all feel soooo bad for me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Annual Lake Clave

I always hear fishers say they are upset when missing a fly fishing event because they didn’t know about it.  Here is Phil Rowley’s and Kelly Galloup’s 1st ANNUAL LAKE CLAVE!!!  


Phil Rowley is one of the most innovative, well-rounded lake anglers in the business.  His ability to explain advanced methods of fly fishing on lakes can make any angler feel like God’s gift to fly fishing. Paired with Kelly Galloup’s humor and eccentric methods of fly fishing, together Phil and Kelly’s event will be one you will not want to miss!  

An Early Morning Ends with a Great Night

Waking up at 5 a.m. is like ripping off a bandaid: you don’t think about it, you don’t contemplate it, you just do it!   I had to do it, after all I was everyone else's wakeup call.  I quickly woke Jim and Mark and rushed back upstairs to brew some coffee.  I’m not a coffee or caffeine person so when I get myself up, I am up. And by the time Jim and Mark came out to get some coffee, I had already packed the truck with our gear and set out two coffee mugs for them. 

"Be at the three-dollar bridge at the butt-crack of dawn for the best fishing", is what was suggested to us the day before, and believe it or not, we made it. 

I practically did a tuck-and-roll getting out of the truck, and was geared up just as fast.  
“Go ahead and get down there!” Jim said, as I rushed down to the river with little goodbye to either of them.  The mist rising from the water made the river feel haunted as I stepped in.  Armed with a silk kitty streamer, I began casting like mad, hitting every pocket of water I came across. 

Finally after a good 20 minutes of casting, I got a hit, but only a hit. There was nothing to show for it, so I kept casting.  Before the first person drove up to the bridge, I had already covered half a mile of riverbank with only three hits and no fish.  A little frustrated, I walked back up to the truck where I spoke with a local man and his son. They both enlightened me that this section, at dawn, was phenomenal dry fly fishing, not really known for streamer fishing. 

I was so disappointed with myself.  Not only did I have the opportunity to throw dry flies, I had already walked and blown out the best parts of the river with a streamer the size of a small cat.  

The sun was over the mountain now, and the hope for catching a morning fish was long gone. But the morning wasn’t a total loss; downstream, about a half a mile, Jim was able to pick off four trout, all on a PMD dry fly.  The prime time was over, so together we headed to a small restaurant for breakfast. 

A siesta after waking up so early was welcomed by the three of us, but once it was over we headed to the Gallatin River for the rest of the day. 

Mark walked downstream, while Jim and I headed up.  Hopper dropper was my set up, and I got into a nice brown trout in no time at all. 

Just down from me was Jim, who was working a spot under a fallen tree.  He casted to a different section of the river, and in a flash had a fish! 

His two-weight rod bent into a question mark as he fought a nice-sized fish. 
“He doesn’t want to come in.” Jim said after an attempt of netting his fish. I maneuvered downstream to help, but ended up in the way.

I tried to scoop up the fish, but it bolted upstream from Jim, then immediately back downstream.  The swift maneuver by the fish was faster than we could adjust for; Jim’s leader wrapped around his legs then broke as the fish darted away!
“Damn!” Jim yelled, as his rod sprang back to lifelessness. 

We soon found Mark and drove upstream to find another spot that was a bit rocky.  We fished it for a little while before heading up to the last spot of the day.  

Fish were rising like crazy as I approached the water carefully. Caddis were everywhere, so I tied one on and pitched it out.  The splashy rise of a fish came after my fly had gone over it a number of times.  This is not what they want, I thought as I took another look at the bugs that were hatching. A darker mayfly, I decided to identified as a march brown, was hatching, so I switched to a Mahogany RS2. I presented my fly in the feeding lane of the previous fish, and it took on the first cast. 

The little fish came in fast and darted away just as quickly. I soon casted my fly out again, and was refused every time. 
“What the hell, fish?!” I asked.  I had just figured them out, or so I thought.  Adult march browns were floating by, untouched, as fish continued to rise.  They must be hitting emergers, I thought, and switched my fly to a suspended midge.  Sure enough, a fish that once snubbed my fly nailed the suspended midge with force!

I had figured it out, and better sooner than later.  The sun was quickly fading behind the mountain range, so our time on the water was becoming very limited.  After another fish, I quickly ran downstream to Jim and handed him a few suspended midges.  

“There’s one!” Jim yelled, setting the hook and bring in his fish fast.  He quickly released it and went back to fishing. If I thought the fish were rising like crazy before, it was nothing like what I was seeing now.  Jim and I were bring in fish like there was no tomorrow, and the hatch was only getting better.

I had to pull my buff over my nose to breath, because the hatch was so intense.  In the thick of it all, I thought about Mark and wondered if he was having as good of a time as Jim and I were. The suspended midge is not something the average fly fisher has stuffed in their box, so I made my way downstream to find him.  
“How are you doing?” I asked Mark, as he walked over to greet me. 
“Man... these fish are rising everywhere, and they want nothing to do with my flies.” Mark said, holding up his flies.  A size 10 Goddard caddis and a size 14 elk-hair caddis was what Mark was throwing, but it was far from what the fish were taking.  
“Let me see this...” I said, clipping off his flies, and tying on a suspended midge. As luck would have it, in the amount of time it took me to walk down to Mark and tie on his fly, the fish had switched what they were keying in on.  
“Wow, this fly is amazing!” Mark said sarcastically, after being refused over and over again. 
“It was working just a second ago!” I protested. But he was right, it wasn’t working. 
“Look, there's a PMD!” Mark yelled. 
“It’s a march brown.” I said back, “Tie on a mahogany emerger of some kind.” 
“I’ll try this Quigley's cripple in a mahogany.” Mark said, and flicked it out to the first rising fish.  WHAM! His fly got nailed, and he quickly brought in his fish for a picture. 

After switching my fly out several times, I was getting a little frustrated from getting refusals left and right.  Mark on the other hand, was bringing in fish left and right, and everyone in earshot knew. 
“OH BABY!” Mark yelled bringing in another fish.
“Let me see that fly!” I said, and Mark walked over to show it to me. 
“You have got to be kidding me?!” I said, dumbfounded.  Mark’s fly looked like it had been tied by a drunk, blind guy who had no clue about mayfly proportions. And in all reality, to me, was a fly that would have not made the cut
“It’s not my best fly...” Mark said, “But it’s working.”  
“I have lost all respect for these fish.” I said laughing. “Do you have another one?” 
Mark plucked out another one of his flies from his box and handed it to me.  As I tried to tie it on in the dark, Mark continued to pull fish out of the water. 
“You're right, Erik, this is a terrible fly!” Mark said laughing, fighting another fish. 
I was too busy trying to get my tippet in the eye of the hook to reply to Mark, and then I discovered the problem: the fly I was handed was also tied by Mark, therefore the eye of the hook was completely cemented shut with glue.  I pulled out my snips to use the needle and pierce through the glue, but when I applied the pressure, the eye of the hook broke clean off. 
After a little pity party, and Mark’s fifth fish, I grabbed my last fly of the night out of my box: a PMD looped-wing emerger.  With perfect proportions, and an eye that was clearly open, I tied my fly on quickly and presented it to the rising fish. 
“It’s about time!” I yelled, feeling the weight of a fish on my line. Mark came over as I netted my fish, and was nice enough to take a picture. 

A few more fish were caught by us both before Jim came down to find us, and we all walked back to the truck together.  
“Now that was fishing!” Jim said happily, as we all sat in the truck to warm up.  We definitely deserved a good day on the water, especially after that morning.  The next day we were to head home, but not before one last stop on the way back. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Anchors Away on the Madison River

Fresh coffee and a homemade breakfast made for a late start fishing the Madison.  I had suggested that we get up at 5 a.m., but that idea was voted down, especially after getting in late the previous night from fishing Box Canyon.  With our gear packed, we headed over to the Slide Inn fly shop to visit with Kelly Galloup and pick up some of his infamous streamers. 

With the jolt of a Jim Kazkoff signature stop, we pulled into the turn to the boat launch.  With the boat in the water, Jim went and parked the truck. As we waited for Jim to return, Mark used the time to get in a few yoga stretches before we fished.  

One of the guys working at the Slide Inn suggested that I start fishing with an olive cone-head T&A because it was a sunny day. I tied one on, and Jim took the oars first while Mark let me start at the front of the boat. 

“I got a hit!” I yelled, as a fish darted from the shade and nailed my fly.  A bump was all I felt, and I saw the whole thing happen.  I threw my streamer as close to the bank as I dared, and I saw another fish dart for my fly! Once more, a slight bump was the only thing I felt. 
“They are just bumping my fly.” I said, as Mark continued to cast from the back of the boat. 
“I’m not seeing them.” Mark said, keeping an eye on his streamer.  The fish were definitely active, but no real takes.  Flashes at my streamer was the only indication fish were nearby, and as we drifted further downstream there was little to no action at all.

I soon got behind the sticks as Jim took the front of the boat with his dry flies, and Mark kept in the back with his streamer.  The Madison River itself is a relatively shallow river with rocks everywhere.  Casting to pockets of water near the bank and dropping a nymph in the buckets, as Kelly Galloup would call it, was not producing anything for us that afternoon.  
Jim had a purple chubby on and was casting it exactly where it needed to be in hopes of catching a fish, but nothing was interested.  
“Come on fish!” I yelled out to the water, but they were not listening.  Jim plopped his purple chubby right near a seam that would sweep behind a shrub, creating a nice pocket of water.  The chubby glided over the water perfectly, acting like a helpless terrestrial, and a fish noticed. A mouth poked up out of the water, taking in the chubby. 
“Ohg!” Was what came out of Jim’s mouth as he set the hook, pulling the chubby out of the fish's mouth before it had a chance to close around it. 
“CRAP!” Jim yelled, as his fly line came hurling towards him with no fish attached.  We were all a bit disappointed with the results of the day thus far.  We stopped for lunch behind a nice back eddie, and I noticed the one lone cloud in the sky. 
“Look, that cloud looks like an S.” I said, as Jim and Mark looked up.
“It does.” Both Mark and Jim said. 
“Yeah... It stands for SKUNKED!” 

A little further downstream we stopped the boat to do a little walking and wading.  Mark waded downstream as I went up; Jim stayed in the boat to tie on a nymphing set up.  A small seam near the bank was where I presented my terrestrial.  In a flash, a fish came up and ate it. 
“A fish!” I yelled, as I stripped in line.  The weight of the fish was almost nonexistent with my 10 foot 5 wt. Helios, but with how the day was going so far, a fish was a fish! 
“What did it take?” Jim asked, as I netted the fish. 
“Like you have to ask...” I said, pulling out my camera for a quick picture. 
“Well, there was bound to be one suicidal fish willing to take a Pico Spider in this river.” Jim said with a smile. 

When floating and streamer fishing, Kelly suggests that if you have no hits after ten minutes, change the color of your fly.  By now we had tried olive, black, white, yellow, brown, orange, chartreuse, and combinations of all the above.  While still wading, I switched rigs and was back to throwing a streamer.  I chose a fly that our very own Ryan Spillers created in the shop one day, and immediately caught a fish.  It was a nice rainbow trout, and I had it hooked for just about 15 seconds before it came off.  
“That was a nice fish you had on.” Mark said, as we all gathered back into the boat. 
“Yeah, in fact I better get a picture of this fly before I lose it.” I said, pulling out my camera. 

A few flashes of interested fish was all the attention I was getting with my setup.  Small braided sections of the river looked good,  so we parked the boat again to do some walking and wading.
The fish weren't interested in anything we had to offer at this stretch.  As I walked up, I saw that Jim was nymphing behind some large rocks.  He didn’t get a fish, but it made for a good picture. 

We continued drifting without a fish in sight. It had been a long time since I had caught that first fish, so I rigged up a European style nymph setup. 

"Oh my God!” Mark yelled, “Erik’s nymphing... It must be a bad day!” 
“Well it hasn’t been a great day.” Jim chimed in as he rowed us into position. I dropped the nymph in the water and kept a steady lead on the fly as we drifted.  Nymphing is my lease favorite method of fly fishing, but sometimes you got to do what you got to do.  I slapped my fly down in front of a rock and as we drifted by, a sudden jolt caused me to set the hook. 
“It’s about damn time!” I said, as my rod tip danced with a fish.  The weight of the fight signified I didn’t have on a dink.  Mark reeled in quickly and handed me the net, and with one quick scoop the boat had its first real fish!

“I caught that on a nymph just to prove to you guys that there are fish in this river.” I said, feeling cocky after I let my fish go.  
“Thank you so much, Erik. You are wise beyond your years.” Mark said sarcastically.  
I quickly switched back to my 7 wt. rod to chuck streamers. I moved back to the front of the boat while Jim took the back and Mark took the sticks. 
“Oh, great shot!” Mark yelled out as I slapped my fly into some nice pocket water. “Come on fish... Boom!  That should have been a fish!” 
I kept my eyes downstream, and shot my stream into another small pocket of water.  WHAM!  A trout hit my fly as soon as it hit the water! 
“There it is! There it is!” Mark yelled happily, as he back-oared to steady the boat.  Jim quickly handed me the net, and I lifted the rod to hoist my fish in. 
“Yeah baby!” Mark yelled, before snapping this picture of me and my prize. 

My fish slipped away, and we continued downstream.  I kept casting into every pocket I could find, while Jim nymphed off the back of the boat.  
“My fly is snagged!” I yelled at Mark, hoping he would slow down.  We were in a portion of the river where it would be easy to stop, but Mark gave no sign of stopping. 
“Are you going to stop?” I asked, “This is my good fly.” 
“You are in your backing!” Jim pointed out, as Mark dropped the anchor.  The anchor was not catching so I jumped out and grabbed the rope, stopping the boat; that was when I realized that the anchor was no longer attached...
“Jim, your anchor is gone!” I yelled. 
“Really?!” Jim yelled back, and looked at Mark. 
Mark quickly hopped out and parked the boat.  I retrieved my fly, and together we swept the river looking for the lost anchor. 

“I should paint this damn thing orange.” Jim said, as we waded around looking for his anchor.  Mark felt really bad about losing it in the first place, and stayed in the deeper section of the water with his eyes open.  After about 15 minutes, the hope of finding the anchor was gone. 
“Well, let's head back to the boat.” Jim said sadly, but Mark and I stayed in the water to look a bit longer. 
“There it is!” Jim yelled.  
“Seriously?” I asked, but I didn’t need an answer, Jim was already up to his elbows in the water.   

Everyone was all smiles as Mark waded over to help carry the anchor back to the boat. 

Happiness from the current blunder filled the boat.  We poked a little fun at Mark for losing the anchor, but now that it was back all was good.  In the distance there was a nice portion of stagnate water I had to get my fly to.  
“I can get you a little closer.” Mark said.
"Don’t worry, I can hit that.” I said, pealing off line from the 7wt., double-hauling fast, and blasting my fly to the stagnate water.  The arch of the fly line turned over beautifully, presenting my fly right where I wanted it. I dropped my rod-tip and made one strip. BANG! 
“Yeah!” I yelled.
“Oh, baby! Get em!” Mark yelled, as Jim found the net and handed it to me.  I stripped the fish in fast and with a heave, netted the fish.  I handed my camera to Mark so he could take a quick picture of me.  It was clear downstream, so he could take his hands off the oars for a few seconds.  

Turns out, multitasking is not one of Mark’s strong suits in a drift boat.  In the process of snapping a picture of me, he had his foot on the anchor foot-release, and the rope holding the anchor zipped out completely.    
“Oh no! Damn it!” Mark yelled, “I lost the anchor.” 
“No you didn’t.” Jim replied, thinking it was a joke. I looked down at Mark’s feet, and saw that there was no more anchor rope. 
“He’s not kidding...” I said, dismally. As soon as I said it, a cloud of melancholy loomed in the boat.  Jim sat down, and Mark felt terrible.  It got quiet in the boat as we drifted downstream.

“I hate to be that guy...” I said, carefully, “But do you think you could paddle me a little closer to the bank so I can hit those pockets?” The anchor was gone for good now, no sense passing up good water, I thought. 
“Yeah.” Mark said, and paddled over.  
No more fish were caught the rest of the way.  Jim hooked into a nice one, but it got away. In that same instance, the excess fly line he had by his feet had slipped overboard and caught onto something in the river.  In a flash, line was being pulled backwards through his fly rod, which Jim tried to stop.  He grabbed the line, which seared through his hand, bring Jim's big streamer to the rod tip, breaking off the fly and the rod tip simultaneously.  Needless to say, the takeout point was a welcomed sight.

We pulled into the Bear Tooth Fly Shop on the way back.  Lucky for Jim, they had an anchor, which he was happy to purchase. However, that did not stop us from razzing Mark a bit more about his blunder.  The jokes sounded a little something like: "Hey Mark, you’re looking good... did you drop 25 pounds or something?" 

After a long day on the water, it was nice to meet up with my grandfather and his lovely lady-friend, Lois, in West Yellowstone for dinner.   

Together we had a fantastic dinner paired with even better company. We were staying in Lois’s house just outside of West Yellowstone; a perfect place for any dedicated angler.  
“I think fishermen are great!” Lois said with a smile. “They are the only people who will travel miles and miles... ALL FOR A FISH!” 
Her charm made us all smile. 
“Well tomorrow we are waking up at 5 a.m., all for fish!” I said back with a smile. 
“Well then we better get back so you guys can get to bed!” Lois suggested.  And we did, ending an interesting day of fly fishing.