April2010

A Tale of Turkeys, Titans and Twenty-inch Trout

Most fish outings aren’t filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance – they’re just a prearranged event, often with very little lead-time, initiated by a simple phone call or an email. But that’s not always the case, as I recently  partook of a fish outing that had rather complex origins.

It all started innocently enough some months ago at the request of my buddy Large Albacore. He’d seen a photo of a turkey I’d harvested a few years ago, and mentioned to me when (if) I shoot another one, he’d like some feathers for fly tying. Not one to take casual requests lightly, when Spring turkey season opened on April 15th this year I made sure I was on the road the day before. Another of my buddies, Jimmy, owns a vast spread of property in Eastern Washington that has a fair number of turkeys running around on it. I’ve hunted with Jimmy for several years, and three years ago I bagged a nice gobbler (the one in the photo seen by Albacore).

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The following year we were dealt a skunking, and last year I didn’t get out for turkey season, which was OK because it wasn’t much of one. But this year things worked in our favor: the weather was mild, the birds were social, and we filled our tags in the first hour of opening day. If you’ve ever turkey hunted, you know it doesn’t always, and rarely does, happen so easily. It’s a lot like fishing in that regard, and I’ve come home empty-handed enough times to consider myself an unaccomplished turkey hunter. But as I drove the 4 hours home this year I called Albacore to gloat let him know I had feathers. It would have been too easy expensive to just mail the feathers to him, so we opted instead to schedule a fish outing so I could deliver them in person. We set a date for a trip down the Yakima River and planned to float in our inflatables; he in his pontoon boat and myself in my Watermaster.

The week before our planned trip, a series of Spring storms dumped rain in the mountains, signaling the official start of the Spring runoff. The Teanaway River,  a tributary of the Yakima, is a notorious spewer of filthy, chalky water, and it lived up to it’s Native American name, which I believe translates to “Notorious spewer of filthy, chalky water”. The runoff, combined with the unfortunate coincidence of water being released from reservoirs to push the Chinook salmon smolts downstream, had caused the Yakima to rise threefold in volume, and she officially became blown-out. High water and inflatables aren’t the optimal combination: what we needed was a drift boat. Enter Marck. As you know, he is the captain of The Hornet.

Prior to this float Marck and Albacore had not met. I was eager to introduce them, knowing they would enjoy each other’s company (I have good taste in friends, although they probably cannot return the compliment). I was also eager to pose for a photo of the three of us, as the combined height of the Two Titans is 13 feet, maybe a hair more (pun intended).  And as Marck quickly added, “and you make it 14.”  Touchet, mon ami.

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We met at the South Cle Elum “launch” (loose interpretation), lowered The Hornet down the steep embankment, and assumed positions for our float.  Contrary to standard operating procedures, I was perched in the bow of the boat this time, forced to give up my coveted stern position to Albacore (something to do with keeping the bow of the boat from floating too low in the water). The day was a dandy as far as the weather was concerned, with broken clouds, plenty of sunshine to warm the air comfortably, and not a stitch of wind (nice for a change).  Water temp was 44 degrees at 11 AM as we pointed the bow of The Hornet into the current and made our way downstream. Each of us had 2 rods rigged and at the ready: one for dries and one for catching fish (although Albacore opted instead to rig a streamer rod in lieu of a dry fly). But it was our nymphing rigs that were employed from the get-go and for most of the day. Not surprisingly it was a busy day on the river, and we played hop-scotch with several boats throughout the afternoon, including a certain Clackacraft containing celebrities such as Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services and Leland Miyawaki of the Bellevue Orvis Shop. Famed local guide Johnny Boitano had his clients on fish every time we saw them. He’s good at getting his clients on fish, and in fact put me on my best Yakima trout several years earlier (apparently I should fish with him more often). By the way, Johnny and Ted Truglio are now operating their own guide business (Troutwater Guide Services).

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Surprisingly for the rest of us fishing was not red hot, and it was a while before Albacore hooked the first of 3 whitefish. He scowled with each catch, but to his credit the third was a pretty nice specimen, and I noted as much. My kudos, however, fell on deaf ears. A couple of hours into the day we pulled The Hornet onto a gravel bar so we could work the water with some diligence.  Marck fished downstream and then crossed to the opposite side. From there he was able to get his fly into some dark, slow water flanked by some daunting structure. I would have followed except for the fact that I’d have never made it across the current without being swept off my size 8 feet (I actually wear a size 9 wading boot). Albacore fished the head of the run, and I moved farther below Marck.  My fishless solitude was interrupted by  the sound of Marck’s voice above the roar of the river: “Hey!” he nodded toward the sharply bent rod in his hands, “This is a nice fish!”  Apparently so, and Albacore and I met on the gravel bar adjacent to Marck’s location to watch the drama unfold. It did appear to be a decent fish, but the current was strong and likely made the fish appear bigger and stronger than it really was. From his current locale Marck could not very well play the fish because it was too close to a logjam, so he began inching his way across the river toward us. The water was deeper and the current stronger here than where he’d crossed earlier, and each step was a precarious balancing act: it would take a lot to dislodge Marck’s footing, but the river here was up to the task of trying.  Luckily, Marck escaped disaster and was able to make it across with his dignity still in tact and the fish still bending his rod.  “I think this is going to require the net,”  he announced. Tuna and I agreed: this was a strong fish that didn’t appear to tire even after several minutes of playing tug-o-war with Marck’s 6 weight. Albacore made no move to fetch the net, which I took as a signal that it was my duty privilege. I glanced upstream to where The Hornet was secured.  It was farther than I remembered. In fact it was probably 70 yards farther than I remembered, and urgency dictated that there would be no time to stretch or trade out my wading boots for running shoes. I took off at a full sprint, trying to maintain my running form – but bouncing over large and small river rocks in my boots and waders certainly did away with that, coupled with the fact that I have no running form to begin with.

Now I’ve run high speed errands for Marck before, but this one was performed in record time. I reached The Hornet, grabbed the net and managed to return to the scene of the crime still in progress, but not before pulling a hamstring and nearly recycling the maple bar and PBR that had seemed like such a good idea a short while earlier. As I waded into the shallows with the net carefully extended toward the fish, the vein in my forehead was engorged to twice its normal size and my lungs screamed for more air than was readily available to them. I thumped my chest with one fist to reset my heart, then somehow steadied my grip on the handle of the net. The fish came close enough for us to all agree that it was a dandy: big, strong and beautiful.  It was one of those rainbows that probably should have opted for a life of anadromosity and become a steelhead, but for whatever reason decided to remain a lifelong river dweller. And apparently it was not tired, as the sight of the net caused the fish to dash instantly back to deeper water, taking line from Marck’s reel at will.  Eventually he turned the fish one final time and the net was deployed with impressive accuracy and swiftness.  The gorgeous rainbow was a lifetime fish for the Yakima, and taped out at an honest 20 inches. If anything it was a tad over 20, but certainly no less.  After the fished was digitally documented and released, fist bumps were exchanged all around. We celebrated Marck’s epic fish and I quietly celebrated the fact that I’d avoided cardiac arrest.

Marck’s declaration that “I better quit while I’m ahead”, meant he would row for the remainder of the day so Albacore and I could have an opportunity to try to catch a trout even half the size Marck’s behemoth.  And that’s about what happened: Albacore ended up catching a couple rainbows and I managed one. And they were each about half the size of Marck’s twenty incher.  To cap off the day, Marck also caught a 15 inch cutthroat.

When you’re fishing with good friends, every fish outing is a good one. But this was one of those special days on the water that would never have materialized had it not been for a photo of a turkey I shot a few years earlier. Thanks to that photo I got my turkey this year, Albacore got his feathers, and we were all tickled to witness an epic Yakima trout. Mission accomplished.

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Takin’ the newly-overhauled blog for a test drive

I was recently informed by The Outdooress herself, a fellow blogger of all things fly fishing, that there were some things about The Unaccomplished Angler that were bothering her.

“Oh? Do tell…” I replied, standing with arms crossed and brow furrowed.

She went on to tell me that my blog was in need of some help.

Being insecure, naturally I lashed out in defense of my writing:

“Oh yeah?  Well I’ve been told I write pretty good, and anyway – you’re stupider!”

After discovering that what she meant was not a frontal assault on my writing, but rather an observation from a technical standpoint that my blog had some shortcomings, I apologized for my abrupt retort.  She accepted my apology and went on to calmly tell me about outdated versions of this and that and unavailable plugins and blocked permissions and broken RSS feeds and a whole laundry list of stuff that made me glaze over. As she rambled on in a manner that attested to the passion she has for tinkering under the hoods of websites, I began to go numb: I felt like a high school senior during their last week of Greek Mythology class. Admittedly I don’t have, or desire to learn about, the technical intricacies of tweaking and fine tuning the behind-the-scenes stuff that make blogs more effective in reaching their intended audience. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and all that goes into captitalizing on a blog’s performance therein is all Greek to me.  In my case, ignorance may have been bliss or a while, until one day when neglect eventually caught up to me and my blog imploded, leaving me with no recourse other than to walk away from the smoldering pile, never to look back on a brief career as a blogger.

Thankfully Rebecca not only pointed out the problems brewing, but more importantly she provided solutions. After a couple of days of troubleshooting and turning wrenches, which was likely more than she bargained for, The Unaccomplished Angler is now a finely tuned, souped-up, muscle car of a blog, ready to deliver mind-bending 1/4 mile performance, and optimal efficiency.

Think of it like a ’71 Plymouth 440 Hemi Cuda…

…with the mpg’s of a Toyota Prius.

At least under the hood.  On the outside, it still looks like ’76 AMC Gremlin.

So, what does this mean for you, the loyal follower of The Unaccomplished Angler?  Absolutely nothing. And that’s the way it should be.  But for good measure, buckle up and hold on – I’m not sure myself what to expect.

Many thanks to The Outdooress – blogger, fly angler, and blog technician extraordinaire.  I recommend that if you’re at all like me insomuch as you started a blog because you like to write and don’t know or care about what’s under the hood, give Rebecca a shout-out. She’s like your blog mechanic who can improve your air intake system, install headers and a free-flow exhaust and a performance chip so you get optimal performance out of your site. Heck, your blog may only need a new set of wiper blades and a quart of oil – so why risk poor visibility and a potential meltdown when The Blog Mechanic is only a click away?

Fly fishing and golf: Kindred spirits?

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Most of us have heard it said that golf and fly fishing have many similarities. And for whatever reason, many folks who pursue one, also partake of the other. Like doctors and attorneys, among others.

I should mention that while I’m not much of a fly angler, I am much, much less of a golfer. Over the years I’ve golfed several times, and there was a fleeting lapse in judgment a few years ago when I thought I might want to do more of it. I even went so far as to purchase some golf shoes and a second-hand set of beginner’s clubs, but neither ended up seeing much use. And even though I may not be a golfer, I’m certainly no stranger to the game. My brother-in-law likes to spend time drinking beer in the clubhouse of his hometown course hit the little white ball around, and my two nephews are accomplished golfers: one of them works at a golf course in Arizona and the other plays golf on his college team. Despite bad golf genetics, both of my kids enjoy the game and they both work at a local golf course. So while I myself have not embraced the game, golf is all around me. To that end I feel qualified to draw comparisons and contrasts between golf and fly fishing.

Let’s quickly review the similarities:

• Golf and fly fishing are said to have originated in Scotland. For a good account of the history of golf, go here.

• Both activities involve a steep learning curve and can be frustrating for beginners.

• Equipment for either activity is not inexpensive. Certainly one can acquire entry-level tools for either endeavor, but the prices quickly go way up from there. If you pursue either activity, eventually you are going to melt a few credit cards in the process of acquiring gear.

• Golf requires that you have a nice, relaxed stroke. Fly casting requires that you have a nice, relaxed casting stroke. Trying to add a great deal of power in either endeavor will surely have dire consequencess that may result in a stroke.

• Keep your wrists straight when swinging a golf club. Do the same when casting a fly rod.

• Swinging a golf club requires the use of both hands (however, it is common to use only one arm to throw one’s club into a pond). Casting a Spey rod requires the use of both hands (however, the more common style of fly fishing uses only one arm to cast into a lake, river, or pond).

• Golfers “drive” the ball, hopefully a good long ways.  Fly anglers will “drive” a long ways hoping to find good fishing.

• Golf requires a set of clubs that includes several different clubs for different situations, although one could theoretically golf with just a 3 iron. Fly fishing requires a quiver of rods that includes several different rods for different situations, although one could theoretically fish with just a 3 weight rod. But this should be avoided. If you golf, get a full set of clubs. If you fly fish, get a whole bunch of rods.

• The longer the club, the longer the distance one can theoretically hit the ball. The longer the rod, the longer the distance one can theoretically cast the fly.

• A “hybrid” golf club combines the qualities of both a wood and an iron. A “hybrid” fish is the result of cross-breeding, such as a “cuttbow” which combines the appearances of both cutthroat and rainbow trout.

• Golf has Tiger Woods. Fly fishing has a Tiger Trout.

• 2010 Masters Champion Phil Mickelson sports a “mullet”. A species of sport fish is a “mullet”.

• There are pink golf balls, just as there are pink fishing flies.

• One plays golf.  One plays a fish.

• In golf you can hire a caddy to carry your clubs. In fly fishing you can purchase a caddy to hold your floatant.

• When golfing you want to sink a put. When streamer fishing and nymphing you want your fly to sink.

• In golf, a birdie is a good thing.  When fishing, birdies are a good thing – they often signify a hatch.

• Golf and fly fishing seem to attract a lot of doctors and attorneys.

• There have been epic movies made about both golf and fly fishing: Caddyshack and A River Runs Through It.

• With golf, one can walk the course or ride from hole to hole in a cart. Similarly with fly fishing, one can wade the river bank or ride from hole to hole in a drift boat.

• A “creeper” in golf refers to the odd stranger that you inadvertently get paired with for 18 holes. This person makes you feel uneasy, and you want to crawl under a rock to hide. In fly fishing, a “creeper” refers to  the larval stage of the stonefly, easily found crawling under stones where they hide.

• In golf, one is attempting to propel a small object using a long-shafted tool over a great distance into a small hole. In fly fishing, one is attempting to propel a small object using a long-shafted tool over a relatively long distance into a fishes mouth, which is like a small hole.

• One bad shot on the golf course and you can lose your ball. One bad cast while fishing and you can lose your fly.

• It’s not uncommon to hear a golfer use the term, “Ahh, bugger!”  It’s not uncommon for fly anglers to use a woolly bugger.

• Both golf and fly fishing have verbal warnings intended to protect others. “Fore!” is often yelled during golf to let another golfer know that they’re about to get hit in the head by your ball. “Duck!” or “Shit, look out!” is often yelled during fly fishing to let another angler know they are about to be struck in the head by your bead head streamer.

• The term, “hook” is employed by both golfers and fly anglers.

• “Impact” is another commonly used term in both activities. In golf, “impact” refers to the moment at which one’s club face strikes the ball. Fly anglers refer to “impact” as the moment at which one’s drift boat strikes a rock.

• A “Lie” is also a common term in both past times. In golf it refers to the position of one’s ball following a shot. In fly fishing it is an inaccurate reference to the length of one’s fish.

• “Shank” refers to a bad golf shot in which the ball shoots right (if right handed) at a severely sharp angle, rather than going straight (it is much worse than a slice or a hook). With regard to fly fishing, the shank is the straight part of the hook.

• Both golf and fly fishing have a “leader”, and both are out in front.

• The “nearest point of relief” during a round of golf is the reference point used for taking relief without a penalty from interference by an immovable obstruction, abnormal ground condition or a wrong putting green. As pertaining to fly fishing, the term refers to the next available place along the river where a drift boat can pull in so that an angler may relieve themselves without interference.

• An “open face” is when a golf club is aligned to the right or left side or another of the target, depending on whether the golfer is right or left handed. In fly fishing an open face refers to a sandwich made in haste with only one slice of bread, and it is usually held in either the right or left hand, depending on whether the angler is right or left handed.

OK, now let’s review the many differences:

• Golf is a four-letter word.  Fly-fishing has ten letters, and sometimes even a hyphen.

• When you’re golfing, a body of water is a hazard to be avoided.  When you’re fishing, I would hazard to say that a body of water is to be sought out.

• If your golf shoes are covered in sand, that’s a bad thing. The same thing can not be said about your wading boots.

• I’m dangerous with a golf club in my hands. I’ve hurt people I love, albeit unintentionally, when swinging a golf club, and I’ve come dangerously close to hurting others on two other occasions.  I’ve never hurt anyone else with a fly rod, although I’ve bounced a few flies off the back of my own head. Luckily, I’ve not flossed my ears or the ears of anyone else. Yet.

• If your golf score stinks as badly as a skunk, there is no way you can look back on that day with anything but contempt for the game. Even if you get skunked while out fishing you can still enjoy a day on the water.

• Golf requires ridiculous clothes: collared shirts and “nice” pants. Come on, really?  Why dress up to spend the day out playing on a large grassy field? T-shirts and jeans are what I think of when it comes to play clothes. Waders, on the other hand, are a functional tool. And they’re cool looking.

• Depending on the rules, you may be allowed to take one Mulligan in a round of golf. In fly fishing there is no limit on the number of do-overs one can take.

• Golf involves penalties should you make a bad shot or lose a ball. There are no penalties for making a bad cast or losing a fish before landing it, other than to have your buddy laugh at you and question your manhood.

• There is no loud talking during golf. There is much hootin’ and hollerin’ while fly fishing.

• I sold my golf clubs in a garage sale. I keep my fishing gear in the garage and it is not for sale.

• In golf there is such a thing as a “Net Score”. In fly fishing there is no such thing.  Fly anglers are not the least bit competitive, nor do they keep track of how many fish they, or others with whom they are angling, have caught.

• Golfers are notorious liars. They’ll cheat on their score if given the opportunity to do so without getting caught. Anglers are an honest lot and are never known to exaggerate the size of a fish or the total number of fish caught.

• Many golfers travel to desert areas to pursue their game. I don’t know many fly anglers who seek out fishing destinations in the middle of the desert.

• It is not considered manly to golf with a pink ball. It is perfectly acceptable for a man to fish with a pink fly.

• In golf, shooting par for the course is a good thing. In fly fishing, getting skunked is often par for the course and is not a good thing.

• Certain well-known golfers have been known to chase strippers, while some fly anglers are known to chase stripers.

• I consider it a chore and I go out of my way to avoid golfing. I will avoid chores and drive out of my way to go fishing.

• A bent golf club is bad.  A bent fly rod is good.

• Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler will watch golf on television occasionally (as was the case recently when the Masters tournament was underway). If I happen to be watching a fly fishing show on television, Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler will leave the room every time.

In conclusion, I will admit that there are more similarities between golf and fly fishing than I initially thought possible. In fact, I was quite shocked to find that there are actually more similarities between golf and fly fishing than there are differences. However, there is one more notable difference: I’ve heard fly anglers proudly proclaim that they gave up golf. I’ve never heard a golfer say that they gave up fly fishing.

I will continue to fly fish, and not golf, forever.

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PS- At the request of a fly fishing Facebook friend who threatened to “unfriend” me if I didn’t mention that “golf is about as stupid as stand-up paddle boarding”, I have to do so. However, in the defense of stand-up paddle boarding, it could be employed as means of accessing some decent fishing water. (sorry, Mike)

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New pants and an old friend: The Foam Line

Several years ago when I fished the Yakima River for the first time, she gave up a 15 inch rainbow trout in a manner that seemed almost too easy. I naively assumed this was the norm rather than the exception, but have since become painfully aware that catching a Yakima River trout is rarely so effortless. Back in those days I was a wade fisherman: a shore hugging bank walker. My best friends hadn’t yet acquired the drift boats they currently own, nor were they at that time my best friends (though that would change when said boats were purchased). It was March, I believe, when Jimmy and I paid that initial visit to the lower Yakima Canyon.  We didn’t really know what we were doing other than driving up and down the canyon looking for water that might hold a trout or two. Honestly I have no recollection of the day beyond a few magical moments that will forever remain etched in my mind…

Jimmy and I pulled into the parking lot of the Umtanum Creek recreation site. This wasn’t a completely foreign place to us, as we’d been here once before many years prior. We carried shotguns instead of fly rods, and chased chukars on the steep ridges above the river rather than trout in the river. That day was one for the memory books as we encountered more wildlife in an afternoon than one might encounter in a lifetime. The winter had been particularly harsh, and on any south-facing slope where the snow had melted, the mule deer and Big Horn sheep were grouped into large herds. We saw several dozen sheep and three times as many deer that day, as well as a bobcat and yes – even some chukar. The number of wild critters was an awesome sight to behold, and the fact that nobody in our group had a camera is something that will haunt me forever. But enough reminiscing about that day, let’s jump ahead to reminisce about the day when Jimmy and I grabbed our fly rods and set out across the suspension foot bridge…

We dropped in below the bridge and spied some fishy looking water.  Dave, er Jimmy, started upstream where Umtanum Creek dumps into the river, while I walked a few yards in the opposite direction. I set up on a point of grass-lined bank and tossed my Skwala dry fly into the current. It was fairly deep right off the bank, and the current moves at a good clip, though the surface is mostly flat. Directly below my grassy perch the river fanned out into a calm, shallow side channel. Where the current met this slack water there was a foam line. When my fly hit the foam line, a healthy 15 inch rainbow rose aggressively and hammered my artificial offering. I think Jimmy heard my hootin’ and hollerin because just like a Les Schwab tire jockey, he came runnin’. After landing and releasing the fish, and proclaiming the Yakima River to be an awesome fishery, I suggested to Jimmy that he put his fly right into the foam line. He did just that, and instantly hooked and landed another beautiful 15 inch rainbow. It all seemed too easy, but rather than acknowledge the truth we concluded that we were actually anglers of considerable accomplishment. Again, there was not a camera between us. For some reason, back in those pre-digital days a camera was much less of a fishing staple.

Jump ahead many years to the present: since that fateful day at the foam line, countless float trips in drift boats and my Watermaster Kodiak have proven the Yakima to be anything but a river brimming with easily-fooled trout.  If you’ve been following the adventures of the Unaccomplished Angler, you know of my love/hate relationship with the Yak, and the fact that I keep going back for more punishment.  And so it was on the Saturday before Easter of this year that I went back.  Way back, in a figurative sense.  You see, Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler hails from the town of Yakima and that morning we had driven to her parents’ home for the Easter weekend.  It should be noted that a few days earlier I had been forced to purchase a new pair of dress pants to replace the pair that has been hanging in my closet since 1999 (and here I thought that pleated corduroy was still all the rage). Like any good son-in-law, after we arrived I graciously accepted a sandwich before dashing out the door, leaving my brother-in-law to tend to the list of chores.  If I was going to wear my newly-acquired dress pants and sit through a long Easter Mass the next day, I needed to fish for a few hours. It was better this way, for all concerned.

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And so it was that I found myself on the road to the Yakima Canyon seeking therapy – just the sight of the river had a calming affect and I knew I’d made the right decision. I stopped at one point above the Lmuma launch and worked a piece of water that looked promising.  The wind was blowing, but not to the point that it negatively affected my casting for the most part.  Swallows buzzed the surface of the water along the opposite bank, and I took that as an indication that something was hatching over there. But it was too far to reach with even a Herculean cast (which is not in my arsenal anyway).  After 45 minutes I concluded that I was wasting my time here, and since I was on foot I wouldn’t be able to cover a lot of water so I moved on up the road a few miles.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the Umtanum Creek recreation site I grew immediately disheartened – the lot was full. What should I have expected on a busy Saturday before Easter?  I parked in an undesignated spot, grabbed my rod and set out across the suspension foot bridge.  P4030470I assumed I would have to walk a mile upstream in order to find unoccupied water, but to my surprise and delight not an angler could be seen in any direction.  Apparently  the dozens of cars in the parking lot belonged to people out for an afternoon hike atop the ridge.  This pleased me greatly, and I dropped in below the bridge on took up position on a familiar grassy point and listened to the river. There was no great hurry – it was 2:15, and I didn’t have to be back to my in-laws’ until 5. As I stood there quietly, a few Swallows swooped in and began picking bugs off the surface of the water.  They were soon joined by more birds and I watched intently as the flock moved up and down the river right in front of me, working the water like group of fat kids gettin’ after a buffet line.  It quickly became apparent that the birds were feasting on small brown mayflies so I reached into my fly box and extracted a March Brown dry, which I tied to the end of my 5X.

Before I could make my first cast, I heard slurping and splashing in all directions as the fish began rising enthusiastically to the hatching bugs.  As I laid out my first cast the hair on the back of my neck stood up – it doesn’t take much to get me all worked up into a trout tizzy, but I hadn’t been this excited in a long time. My first drift yielded no hits so I recast the fly and gave it a couple of good mends. The fly drifted drag free right over the top of a greedy trout – BAM!  Fish on, baby!  There was nobody to share the moment with, so I remained uncharacteristically calm as I played the fish to the bank. It was only  10-11 inches, but it felt much bigger in the current, even on my 6 weight rod.  A quick release sent the fish on it’s way as the feeding frenzy by both birds and fish increased in intensity. I had many missed takes as well as several hookups that resulted in Long Distance Releases (LDRs).  Suddenly the wind whipped up something fierce and the sky darkened as a squall blew in, bringing with it a combination of snow and hail.  It seemed the March Brown lost its appeal so I swapped it out for a Blue Winged Olive (parachute variety for better visibility). That immediately P4030471drew some interest from the fish but I missed several hook sets because the tiny fly with the upright white tuft became all but invisible on the surface of the hail-pummeled water, what with hail being white an all. Typical of Spring weather, the squall didn’t last long and as soon as the sky cleared the March Browns began emerging once again.

I observed some seriously large fish jumping below me, but they were too far out – in water unaccessible to a lonely shore hugger like myself – so I concentrated on water I could reach. Eyeing the foam line directly downstream, I put my fly on the water and then gave several feet of slack so the fly could drift slowly into the seam where the foam accumulated.  Slowly…slowly…right…THERE!  A fish slammed my fly and the hook was set instinctively in a manner uncharacteristic of my true angling skills.  The fish immediately ran toward the fast current and would have taken as much line as I would have given it.  I hoped my clinch knot had been properly seated as I steered the fish back toward the bank.  The heavy current worked to the fish’s advantage and put a serious bend in the Sage XP.  Silver flashed in the clear water as I established visual contact with the fish. It looked much bigger than it would prove to be, but as they say, it’s not the size of the fish in the fight, it’s how giddy the angler gets. This fish had plenty of gumption, and I was plenty giddy.  I carefully played the 13” rainbow to shore where I admired how healthy and well fed it was.  After releasing the fish and apologizing for having made it late for another go at the buffet line, I high-fived myself. I may have also muttered an audible, “You da man!” but with nobody around to hear me I can’t be sure of that. I glanced at my watch:  4:20 PM. I’d been at this for 2 hours and there hadn’t been a break in the action – time’s fun when you’re fish’ flies.

Fish were still rising to bugs as I reeled up and looked across the river. I pondered the ramifications of staying just a little longer but figured I better quit while I was ahead: I dared not press my luck here on the river, nor at my in-laws’ home. As I skipped across the bridge it dawned on me that had I been fishing from a boat on this day, save for perhaps a couple casts I’d have likely drifted right past the old foam line and missed out on all this fun. It seemed as though I would be able to tolerate new dress pants and a long Mass in the morning – happy Easter to me.

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A Grand Slam, almost. (Wrestling the Narcoleptic Goose, Part II)

(One may have gathered from the title that this is the second in a two-part series. In order to fully enjoy Part II, one must first read Part I. That being said, even then one may not enjoy Part II)

Over the course of two days the Firehole produced for us in typical fashion:  solid numbers of willing browns and rainbows, most in the 10” – 12” range, but a couple slightly larger. At one point I saw Marck headed upstream from where we’d just come and asked where he was going. He’d apparently seen but not landed a big brown in a nice hole the previous year, and was going back to see about sealing the deal. Right, whatever. An hour or so later he returned, smiling.  When he announced that he had caught the brown and it was BIG, I called Bison shit. He maintains that he caught the fish. I suggest the altitude was getting to him. Nearly all the fish were enticed by dead drifting a magical nymph pattern that I would tell you about, except for the fact that I would not be invited again on this trip if I did. I will tell you that this secret weapon can be found at either Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop or Blue Ribbon Flies or Arricks’s Fly Shop or Jacklin’s Fly Shop or West Yellowstone Fly Shop or Madison River Outfitters in West Yellowstone, but only at one of them.  99% of the fishing was subsurface without an indicator, which makes it a little easier to tolerate nymphing. We encountered one impressive BWO hatch during which only a couple fish were caught. Too much of a good thing proved to be the case, and with literally a gazillion real bugs hatching, our imitations were largely overlooked (mighta been due to less-than-perfect presentation, too). Still, it was amazing to see browns rising every few feet in a stretch of water that had hardly yielded a fish just a few hours earlier in the day. But considering the Firehole was running higher than average for this time of year, I had nothing to complain about, other than a couple of nearly sleepless nights as Stan’s roommate. Mother Nature threw everything at us, from driving snow to sunbreaks and everything in between. It’s always unpredictable fishing at 8000 feet in the Rockies during late Spring.

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Ready for the next leg of our journey, which hopefully would involve some bigger fish, we departed the comforts of the Ho Hum motel in West Yellowstone at 5:30 AM in order to be at the Rock Creek Mercantile by 10 o’clock – the time designated for meeting up with our guides for the day. Two full days of wade fishing and perhaps 4 total hours of sound sleep had left me a bit loopy, but it was nothing that a cup of Joe and the promise of fishing the infamous Rock Creek wouldn’t cure. A stop at the golden arches in West Yellowstone for a quick hit of caffeine turned into a skunk, as the coffee machine was broken. This was not the way to begin a day that required a 4 hour drive, and the lack of java did little to lift the spirits and puffy eyelids on board the Soccer Mom Express. I volunteered to take the wheel for this first leg, knowing that at this early hour of the morning there would be few cars on the road and I could drive in a relative state of shame-free anonymity. Aside from a bull moose galloping alongside the road, I don’t recall seeing another living creature until we pulled into Big Sky for coffee. That’s not to say that there weren’t other vehicles on the road, but the lack of caffeine insured that the senses remained dull and I don’t recall seeing anything other than the moose, who glanced sideways at us in a manner that bespoke his thoughts:  “Nice mini van.”

Properly revived by the ample supply of coffee acquired in Big Sky, we made excellent time heading westbound on I-90. We pulled into the Rock Creek Mercantile with 15 minutes to spare and were greeted by proprietor Doug Perisco, who was hard at work in his chair on the porch with a good cigar. The first order of business was to check into the cabins that we’d be staying in that night. In our excitement to arrive at Rock Creek, we had failed to draw the straws which would assign sleeping arrangements for that night. I watched as Stan carried his duffel bag toward the entrance to The Small Cabin. I quickly grabbed my stuff and sprinted toward The Big Cabin. After having bunked with Stan for the previous two nights I was looking forward to getting at least one night of decent sleep while on this trip. Survival of the fleetest of foot – my decisive action would have made Darwin proud. Marck was right on my heels, and as soon as we’d secured our lodging or the night, we shared a moment of silence in honor of our friend Nash, who would be bunking with The Goosemaster.

We geared up quickly and drove with our guides some 15+ miles up Rock Creek. The river was running high, as we knew it would be, and nobody to speak of had really been fishing the Creek recently. Everyone else was waiting for the salmonfly hatch to start, which could happen at any time (though it would not happen for another few days). Still, our guides assured us the fish were ready to eat, and we strung up our rods with white and yellow bead-headed variations of the woolly bugger. We boarded two rafts that would carry us downstream at a very quick pace and began pounding the banks with our flies.

The Goosemaster

The Goosemaster

I was sharing the raft with Stan (he doesn’t snore while fishing), and we got into fish shortly after the put-in. As soon as the heavily weighted flies hit the bank, we were instructed to give a quick tug and a good mend to allow them to settle into the water. We were drifting fast, which didn’t allow the fish more than a split second to see the flies and make a decision to strike. It took a few attempts and a couple of lost flies before I got the hang of this “Runnin & Gunnin” style of fishing. To describe the day as a combination of whitewater rafting and fishing would be inaccurate only because the water was less white and more the same color as the coffee with creme I’d enjoyed so much a few hours earlier. But it was a thrill to bounce through large waves while chucking flies. Soon we were hooking up at a regular rate with 12-15 inch browns , and an occasional rainbow. Stan hooked a small bull trout, and shortly thereafter I caught a bigger one – not very big by most standards, but being my first bull trout I was thrilled. And yes, I’m sure it was a bull trout.

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It was halfway through our float when our guide proclaimed that a Rock Creek grand slam wasn’t out of the relm of possibilities. The grand slam of trout fishing is when an accomplished angler has a banner day on the water, and successfully catches, in a 24 hour period, each of the trout species known to reside in those particular waters. In this case that entails rainbow, cutthroat, brown, bull and brook trout (even though a bull and Brookie are, as we all know, technically chars). Rock Creek is one of the better rivers that afford the chance of hitting a grand slam, and while I never even pondered such a milestone, I was just happy to have caught a few fish. Even though we had yet to catch a cutthroat, we knew the river had a good supply of them. The likelihood of catching a Brookie seemed unlikely until Stan caught a Brookie.  Now the reality of the Grand Slam seemed well within our reaches. I knew I wasn’t going to be honored with the achievement, but simply witnessing the act was good enough for me. Stan was standing at bat with the bases loaded, and all he needed was to connect with the right pitch. I became a Stan fan, and cheered him on with every cast. For a while I even kept my line off the water so as to give him room to work his magic. The problem was that by now we were in the lower stretches of the river, and the cutthroat tended to be higher up.  Still, each cast carried with it tremendous hope, and you could feel the tension in the air. We were still having fun, mind you, but the mood aboard our raft had taken on an intense focus. Fish continued to hit Stan’s fly, but the fish were not the coveted cutthroats we sought.  I managed to land a cuttbow, but that didn’t count (and besides, it was not I who was in the running for the grand slam). The catching slowed significantly during the last hour of the day, and unfortunately as we reached our take-out, the game winning cutthroat trout evaded us. There would be no Grand Slam for Stan the Man, but we raised a beer and toasted a great day on a great river that provided us with great angling excitement. Between the two of us we had probably landed 30 fish, and we’d each hooked up with a couple species which we had not previously caught. Our day on Rock Creek topped off another great Montana fishing adventure.

The report from Nash and Marck’s raft was that they had brought over 50 trout to the net: Browns, rainbows and a whole bunch of cutthroat which they’d caught in the first 2 hours of the day.

And in case you’re wondering, yes – I did enjoy my last night by sleeping peacefully.  At dawn I awoke to the sound of a large bird, and immediately assumed it was just geese in the cabin next door.  Poking my head out the door I realized that what I’d heard was not a gaggle, but rather a gobble. I’d already filled my turkey tag back in Washington that year, so I went back to bed for another hour.

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