Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Headed to Missoula

When Travis Swartz invites you on a road trip, you do whatever it takes to go... even if it means quitting your job.  Lucky for me my boss, John, was nice enough to give me the time off.  Also along for the ride was Travis’s buddy, Jason.  Jason played Hank Patterson’s number one fan in the "Hank Patterson's Reel Montana Adventure" movie, and with the two of them this was going to be a fun trip.

Travis had been hired by Orvis to speak at the 2015 Orvis Rendezvous in Missoula, MT.  This meant we had a seven hour drive ahead of us, but just as I had suspected, time was flying by and we were in Stanley, Idaho, in no time. 

However, it was right after leaving Stanley when we ran into our first obstacle: road signs warning about hour-long delays just ahead, and there was no getting around it.  Travis parked the car in a pull-out on the road that luckily had a trail leading down to the Salmon River.   

With 45 minutes to kill, the three of us took turns skipping rocks across the surface of the river. 
“Twenty thousand years is what it took for this rock to find the bank.” Travis said, before he took the rock and flicked it out into the water. The rock skipped many times, which was impressive, but not as impressive as Travis’s rock-throwing form. 

The lane opened shortly after, and we were off to Missoula with a quick stop right across the border to pick up a fishing license. The Bitteroot River was on the way, and we were all itching to hit a river. Travis called our buddy, Travis, from Missoula, who suggested we fish high on the river because of the recent increase on flows.  I agreed with him, but Travis had his own plans.
“I have the perfect spot in mind, guys. Don’t you worry.” Travis said, as we passed opportunity after opportunity to pull over and fish. We promptly pulled into a spot where the water was too high to fish. 
“Humm...” Travis said, after seeing his spot. I remained silent in the back seat. 
“I know what you are going to say, so just stop!” Travis said, raising his voice. Even though he was not looking at me, I knew he was talking to me.
“I wasn’t...” 
“Stop! Geez, didn’t I say stop?” Travis said, cutting me off, “I have another spot... so just... easy!”  
We arrived at the other spot, which was also a little high, but fishable. We geared up and headed downstream to fish.

Little Skwallas could be seen fluttering from trees, so we all had them tied at the end of our line.  This was a good sign: perhaps, despite the increase in flows, dry fly fishing would still be good... it wasn’t. 

We tossed out our skwallas with no luck. Jason remained upstream to fish while Travis found a nice riffle. A small fish hit right when Travis readjusted his stance, and although he set the hook fast, he missed the sneaky fish. 

Travis continued downstream, but I remained at the spot where the fish had taken his fly.  I was getting nothing on a dry fly, so I switched to nymphing. In only a few casts I had hooked into a small Bitterroot River rainbow trout. 

I let my fish go quickly, and went back to fishing.  With such quick success I was sure to get into the fish now, but I was wrong.  The next time my indicater went under I had snagged a sunken log that took my flies. No big deal, I thought as I rigged up another nymphing outfit and quickly lost those flies as well. It was my fifth lost rig that finally got me to stop nymphing and catch up with Travis and Jason.

“Anything?” I asked the guys when I approached. 
“Nope, unless you count a tree.” Jason said. “You?”  
“I got a little one.” I said.
“On a dry fly?” Travis asked quickly.
“No, I switched to a nymph.” I said back.
“Ooooooooh, a nymph huh?” Travis said, sounding disgusted  “I don’t think I could bring myself to nymph... but whatever.” He said, as we walked back to the car.

Finally reaching our destination after the long drive was nice, and eating at the local pizza place was even better. I did not expect to eat gourmet pizza for dinner in Missoula, because I was expecting a small town.  This was my first time there, and I was happy to see buildings over three stories high.  The weather was tipping into spring which made the town, and everything around it, look very lush and brilliant. I could live here, I thought to myself. 

Travis's friends, Joel and Deb, were kind enough to let us stay at their house, which was located up in the hills with a spectacular view.

Sleeping was going to be comfortable here, but the excitement of fishing new waters tomorrow kept me up late.  To fill the void, I organized all my fishing clothes for the next morning; this way, as soon as I get up I can be ready in a flash.  Now for all that pesky waiting. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Yakima River

Fishing Rocky Ford Creek was a fun way to start my day, but now it was time to fish the Yakima River with my buddy, Tyler Steffens.  Tyler is a guide at Red's Fly Shop near Ellensburg, WA, and I was lucky he was able to float the river at the drop of a hat. 

Springtime offers its own challenges on the Yakima River, and we were hoping for the best as we geared up and launched the boat. Tyler was very optimistic about throwing salmon flies, and if the fish were eating them, it would be an excellent day.

Another reason to be excited for the float today was Gracy had agreed to come along. Gracy loved to go fishing when she was a kid, but not necessarily because she loved the sport; it was more for the junk food that was consumed only while fishing and camping. I was sure to stop at a gas station to pick up a few treats for her before we hit the water.

Tyler got Gracy all set up with a salmon fly, and was giving her advice on how to cast.  This was great, because if I were doing this it would end in an argument.  Tyler explained it well, and Gracy was flicking out the salmon fly in no-time-flat. 

I did offer Gracy the front of the boat and when she refused, I took it willingly.  Tyler kept us a nice distance from the bank allowing us to pitch out nice presentations to some fish.  

“A rising fish!” Tyler yelled, while stomping on the anchor release to bring the boat to a stop. The three of us took turns pitching out our flies to the rising fish, hoping it would eat, but the fish was only interested in tiny may flies. As I tied on a small blue-winged olive may fly, Tyler had a take on the pheasant tail, but the fish popped off almost immediately.  I offered my fly rod to Gracy with the correct fly before taking my own shot at the fish. She only wanted to throw her fly, so I offered up my fly to the fish, and it ate it.  
“There we go!” I yelled, as the fish jumped out of the water to put on a show.  The little fish was netted fast, and I took a quick picture before letting it go. 

The warm spring day kept us comfortable, and every once in a while the sun would poke through the clouds to beam down on us. Even though the float had just begun, I could see that Gracy was eyeballing her snacks.

Around a bend Tyler suggested that we stop the boat over a gravel bar that provided a nice spot to wade fish.  

The three of us hopped out and proceeded to fish the riffles.  After I had searched with my dry flies with no luck, I switched to a nymphing rig. 
“Already going dirty, huh?” Gracy said as she got back into the boat. 
“Well listen to you!” I said, “Been fishing for an hour and think you're all-that.” 
Gracy just smiled back at me, and grabbed the bag of popcorn to snack on before we pushed on.

Further into our float we came across a nice free field with miles of green grass that stretched down to the river, but the smell that came with it was far from pleasing. 
“Man, Erik is there a hole in your waders?” Tyler asked as a thick waft of manure stench engulfed our boat. 
“Wow, that is strong.” Gracy said, covering her nose. 
“Hopefully it goes away.  Is it coming from this field?” I asked.  
“It’s Lmuma!” Tyler said, “It always smells like this.”    

We figured the farmers had just fertilized the field, but whatever it was, it was not going away.  The smell was so thick you could cut it with a knife, and if you tried to breath through your mouth you could almost taste the manure.  Despite the stench, Tyler played out a nice cast near some good looking water.

“There’s one!” Tyler yelled, fighting a fish.
“It’s about time!” I said back, because it had been over an hour since any of us had hooked a fish. Just as Tyler had the fish near the boat, it shook off the line.  A heavy sigh came from Tyler, as he stood looking into the water for a long second before going back to casting.  

The fishing trip ended up being a nice float down the Yakima River.  A few fish hit the pico spider, but I lost both of them before bringing them to the boat.  Tyler had a few fish take his orange salmon fly with the same results.  Gracy, on the other hand, was perfectly content just enjoying the ride from the back of the boat; her bag of popcorn long gone, she now started on the peanut M&Ms.

The sun had fallen behind the canyon wall which cooled things down a bit.  With no popcorn or peanut M&Ms left to munch on, Gracy sat in the back adding layers to keep warm.  We had made it to the take-out, and it was a welcomed sight for Gracy.  She stood up to jump out of the boat before it had even come to a complete stop.

Tyler got the boat secured as we longingly discussed a better time to come and fish the Yakima River. Though it had not been productive catching-wise, Tyler was able to teach me a few tricks on how to keep a drift boat steady on the water.  Those little techniques can make at the difference, and I was glad Tyler was willing to share. 

After we said our goodbyes, Gracy kicked on the heater, full blast, for the drive back to Moses Lake. 

It was a fun day spent fly fishing, but the next day was the real reason why we came: to pay tribute to a very kind aunt who had passed away from cancer.  My tia MaryLou, shortly before she passed away, told the people close to her not to cry, but to be strong and enjoy the time we spent living.  
Like I said before, I came home to attend a funeral, but was able to get here a day early to fly fish. As something she knew I loved doing, I’m sure Tia MaryLou would have wanted me to take that time for myself... I love you Tia. Travel well.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Few Hours at Rocky Ford

A funeral for my Tia MaryLou brought me back to Moses Lake for a few days.  I remain very close to her family, and it was important for me to do my best to make it up to her funeral.  The funeral was Tuesday, and Monday was the viewing... So that meant if I took off Saturday after work to arrive late in Moses Lake, I could dedicate Sunday entirely to fly fishing: it’s what Tia MaryLou would have wanted...

I arrived at Rocky Ford Creek early Sunday morning, and geared up in record time. With only a few hours to fish, I ran to the creek, geared up for heavy streamer fishing, then stopped in my tracks when I saw rising fish everywhere.  I looked at my 0X leader and realized it would be faster if I just went back to the car and rerigged to a 9 foot 6X leader for dry fly fishing.  I quickly tied on a suspended midge and hooked into the smallest fish I have ever caught at Rocky Ford. 

Rising fish were everywhere, but this time I selected a larger fish to cast to.  My fly hit the water like a feather, and I watched as it floated right over the fish.  A large disturbance around my fly told me that the large fish looked, then refused it.  “Oh, come on fish”, I whispered to myself, as my fly drifted past another fish. Another obvious refusal got me fired up, and after a third, I ripped my fly away from the water.  The only thing I could think of was that the first little fish I caught told the other fish not to eat my fly... I re-dressed my suspended midge and casted it back out there.  This time as soon as it hit the water, a fish nailed it. 
“There we go!” I said, and brought in a nice fish.  I unhooked it and brought my camera down for a picture, but the fish bucked my hand off its tail leaving me with a splashy release shot. 

An hour had passed, leaving me with two fish to the net and a few more lost while bringing them in. I really wanted to get some streamer fishing in, and with the fish not rising anymore I changed my outfit for streamer fishing. 

I launched my streamer out as far as I could manage, and it was hit immediately. The sudden jolt of the fish tore line away from my hands and was peeling line from my reel as it made a run for it. I got its head turned, but the fish didn’t give up that easy. The fish went for another run, shedding line from my reel again before it tuckered out and came in. 

The fish kicked away quickly, and I was up and casting again without hesitation. A flash of chrome and a bump let me know the fish were still interested in my dalai lama.  I casted in every direction, searching for the fish that had just swiped at my fly, but I couldn’t find it. I took a few steps downstream and got into position to launch my fly out again.  I stripped in my fly, and saw the unmistakable wake of a large fish charging at my fly. This tends to be to the typical approach from fish at Rocky Ford Creek, and it never gets old.  The fish slammed my fly like it was mad at the world, and put up a nice fight before I netted yet another nice fish.  

I went back to working the water with a streamer after letting my fish go, but found none.  I decided to make my way downstream to try out different spots on the creek.  

The wind had picked up significantly, as I casted over my left shoulder to avoid a gust blowing my fly into the back of my head. I searched and searched the different openings to the creek with no luck.  An hour of searching brought me nothing, so I headed back to where I had hooked into my last fish. 

I had twenty minutes left to fish before I needed to head back, and all I wanted was one more fish. Nothing had taken my streamer for quite some time, so I resorted to the old Rocky Ford standby: sight nymphing. Standing on top of the small walking bridge, I saw a nice fish that would definitely make a great last catch.

I tapered my leader down to 5X tipped and tied on a size 20 crystal baetis nymph. The water is so clear, that even a size 20 nymph can be seen as it sinks to the depth of the fish. I watched as the fish caught sight of my nymph, turned towards it, and ate it! 

The bigger fish at Rocky Ford like to come to the surface and roll over and over, trying to spit your hook. This fish was no different; the thrashing of the fish meant I could lose it, but its attempt to free itself failed. I applied pressure, but the fish would have none of it. Again it came up to thrash and roll, and again the thought of losing the fish pierced my mind. That last attempt to get away tired the fish for just a second, and that was all the time I needed to hoist the fish into my net.

I personally enjoy being able to say I caught a fish on my last cast on any river, especially a place I only get to fish once or twice a year. My fish shook away hard, forcing me to release it. I was happy with my last fish, and was now ready to go home, ten minutes early no less.  It’s true, I do have all day to fish today, but it will not all be at Rocky Ford Creek.  I had to get going because by buddy, Tyler Steffens, was able to clear a day to take Gracy and I out for a few hours to float the Yakima River.  
“There were a few fish taking salmon flies, Erik! It will be like throwing baby birds!” Tyler told me the previous night, with enthusiasm.  That bit of information made it easy to leave Rocky Ford Creek and make the drive up to Ellensburg to fish the Yakima River. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Duped Again

I couldn’t stop thinking about this new place to fish, and rightfully so, because the guy telling me about it made it sound like God’s gift to fly fisherman. He said it was a secret and I wouldn’t see anyone out there. Finally the opportunity to go presented itself, so I invited Chris Preston as the lucky guy to catch tons of fish with me at this new spot! The two-hour drive flew by, with Chris telling stories about catching dorado, bonito, rooster fish, and albacore on a fly.  His stories were told with such enthusiasm that each one was fun to listen to, and I wanted to hear more but our exit was just ahead. 

Once again, I found myself on a road in Idaho I had never traveled before, in search of another good fishing spot unknown to me. 
“So is this a secret spot?” Chris asked, as we drove further into nowhere. 
“I’m not sure how secret it is, but the guy told me that we would not see another person out here.” I said back, with enthusiasm. 
“Yeah, this definitely looks like a secret spot to me...” Chris said, as we turned into the reservoir and saw an RV parked with a few other shore anglers already perched and fishing. 
“Well, maybe it’s because it fishes good!” I said, keeping the optimism up. 

Chris and I pumped up our float tubes and rigged up our rods to quickly start fishing. The water was in the high 40's, not quite the perfect 52 degrees I was looking for, but still good enough to fish. 

Chris shimmied into his float tube, and kicked over to the other side of the reservoir to avoid the anglers on the bank. 
“I don’t know, Erik.  I’ve made three casts with no fish caught. This place is not living up to my expectations.” Chris yelled over to me with a smile, just as I kicked away from the bank. 

I tied on a bugger with a small leech for a dropper, and I was getting no love.  Chris had on an olive and orange bugger, and also was not catching anything. An hour or so had passed, meaning we were due for a fish.     
“So, this guy who told you about this spot...” Chris said, “Did you do something to piss him off?” he asked, chuckling. 
“I must have, because this place sucks.” I said, as I changed my fly. 
“What are you changing to?” Chris asked. 
“A black bugger with a chartreuse leech.” I said, as I saw he was changing his flies too.

“Boy, changing flies sure made the difference.” Chris said, after another long stretch of nothing. 
“I’m going to kick my way up to the inlet where the small stream fills the reservoir.” I said. 
“Sounds good to me.” Chris said back, and together we fished our way up to the furthest point away from our starting point.

The closer we got to the inlet, the shallower and clearer the reservoir got... but no fish. 
“Boy!” Chris said, sounding excited, “It was sure worth the extra effort kicking over to the inlet.” I looked over to see Chris smiling at me, “And having friends who know everything about fly fishing really helps!”  
“It’s a long walk back home, Chris.” I said laughing, before we started kicking back to the car. 

Despite not catching fish, spirits were up due to Chris’s humor. 
“We are certainly showing the benefit of having float tubes verses the people standing on the bank today.” Chris said, as he kicked near a couple fishing off the shore. When you are sitting in a float tube on a nice calm day, you can easily hear conversations from quite a distance. 
“How are you guys doing?” Chris asked the couple fishing from the shore.
“Pretty good. We had a few smaller ones hit, but threw them back.” The gentleman said, adding, “how about you?”. 
“I wish I could say the same.” Chris said.  
“Well, all we are using is worms and corn.” The man offered, trying to help.
“Thank you.” Chris said, as he kick away and turned to see me. 
“Erik!” Chris yelled loud enough for everyone on the bank to hear, “We need worms and corn!”.  
After I had stopped laughing, I replied, “Damn, I... I forgot mine!” I yelled back.  
“Well, it’s hard to find good help these days.” Chris said, as he continued to fish his way back to the car.

“There’s one!” Chris yelled, sounding as shocked as I was to hear he actually had a fish on.  Sure enough, Chris was fighting a fish, but he was too far away from me to get any kind of picture. I saw the flashes of chrome as Chris netted and released his fish, then got to the car where we packed up for the day. 

“Well, at leased you saved the day.” I said, as we drove back to Boise. 
“I had a friend who would exaggerate the truth every time we went fishing. Even to the point where, if he told the story, it would take me a second to realize he was talking about our last trip out.” Chris said. 
“Like what?” I asked. 
“Well, last time we fished he got skunked, and I caught one.  When we got home, and his wife asked how many he caught, he said eight.” 
“Seriously?” I asked. 
“Yeah, so when his wife asked me how many fish I caught, I said 32. My buddy looked at me funny, so I said, if you caught 8, then I caught 32”. Chris said, laughing.   
We pulled up to Chris’s house, and his neighbor was out front. 
“Hey, how was fishing?” The neighbor asked, as Chris carried his float tube into his yard. 
“Well,” Chris said, looking at me, “Erik over there caught 8”. 
“Oh, how about you?” He asked Chris.  
“I caught 32.” Chris said without hesitation. 
“WOW!” Chris’s neighbor said with wide eyes.  
“Yeah.” Chris said back, looking at me with the type of smile only found in toothpaste ads.