Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Things I Have Learned at Railroad Ranch

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising
If you've ever heard Rene Harrop or Mike Lawson describe the Henry's Fork river in eastern Idaho, you immediately sense the great reverence and respect these men have for the place.  It is a river like no other I have ever observed.  Having lived in Idaho for almost four years now, I am fortunate to have become a student of the Henry's Fork.

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising
Upper Mesa Falls on the Henry's Fork

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising
The Railroad Ranch section within Harriman State Park completely humbles me every time I fish it; not just because it is one of the most challenging dry fly streams in the country (it kicks my ass on a regular basis), but because its serenity, abundance of life and sheer beauty are almost indescribable.  An afternoon at the ranch is like having a front row seat in nature's amphitheater; where trout, insects, swallows, foxes and the occasional moose steal the show.  

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising
A Henry's Fork Rainbow
While there are other sections of the river where you can consistently land back-to-back large trout, fishing the ranch is not a numbers game; it requires a different strategy altogether.  You may spend 20 minutes sitting on the bank observing rise forms, then another five to ten minutes slowly working your way through gin clear water to get within casting range.  Long leaders and light tippet are a must. 

There are a lot of things that may go wrong, but when things go right, it's pretty amazing.  I am beginning to understand why people come here from all over the world to fly fish. The rainbow trout in the Henry's Fork are some of the wiliest, feistiest fish around.  

A lot of people obsess about matching the hatch here, but I think a good drag-free presentation is much more important than a perfect match.  In fact, even when the mayfly and caddis hatches are in full swing, ant or beetle patterns have worked for me when other patterns didn't.

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising
This Railroad Ranch Rainbow Rose to a Rusty Spinner
The overall health of the river is apparently on the upswing.  In addition to an abundance of water in recent years, the ranch has benefited from a relatively strict management philosophy ("catch and release only / barbless hooks / no bait") and Idaho Fish and Game has done a good job with enforcement locally.  Couple that with some fantastic grassroots conservation and community outreach programs via the Henry's Fork Foundation and you have a recipe for success.

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising
A Long-Billed Curlew
(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising

The ranch is open to fishing from June 15th to November 30th each year.  During this time frame, hatches include caddis, PMDs, green drakes, brown drakes, flavs, yellow sallies, tricos, baetis and mahogany duns.

(c) Brent Wilson / Uprising

It's hard to explain the effect this place has on your head and your psyche. It's got its own unique rhythm and it's a great place to hone your skills.  This is as challenging as trout fishing gets.

I haven't yet landed a true hog at Railroad Ranch, but there are plenty of them in there...and I'll be back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The "Golden Bones" Misnomer

I love stalking the flats for both bonefish and carp and, while there are some similarities between the two species, it is time to stop treating carp like an ugly freshwater stepchild.  Carp are great quarry, period.   

Here's why we should put an end to the 'golden bones' and 'poor man's bonefish' analogy:

Tails from the Dark Side
All Fish Within a Species Are Not the Same:  A bonefish in Los Roques behaves very differently from a bonefish in Ascension Bay. One will slam a gummy minnow while the other will delicately slurp a Gotcha.

The same can be said for carp.  I've heard Lake Michigan carp will chase down, inhale and annihilate a large goby streamer pattern, while carp in other parts of the country barely move an inch to pursue their prey.  I had the pleasure of fishing with John Montana and Mr. P last week and they told me carp on the Columbia River eat a lot of clams.  Perhaps their local carp are not used to chasing their prey, as they rarely move towards flies.  Apparently the takes are incredibly subtle as well.

Here in east Idaho, the carp feed on a smorgasbord of forage and take flies extremely aggressively.  Yesterday I had two different carp jump out of the water and cartwheel when they felt the hook set. I've never seen a bonefish do that.

Our local carp are a lot more like redfish than any other species.

A Local Carp Reacts to the Hook Set
They inhabit very similar weedy, shallow water; they will usually chase down a fly and reward a decent presentation; if you miss a take the first time, they will frequently strike again; when you hook one carp, one or two others will frequently follow the hooked fish and your fly.  

Hell, our local mirrors even look like redfish when they are swimming.

The Runs:  Some of our smaller local carp will make your reel sing, peeling off 90-100 feet of fly line and 50 yards of backing in the first run.  In that respect, they are quite similar to bonefish, although the overall velocity is not the same.  Larger local carp, however, tend to simply power forward with a deliberate brute force, like a boss redfish.

Rocky Mountain Redfish
Our local carp generally travel in small groups to mud up a flat, frequently with their bronze tails waving in the air.  Some days it looks as much like the Louisiana bayou here as it does a reservoir in Idaho.

Fly fishing for carp will make you a better bonefish angler - you get used to stealthy shallow flat wading, casting to cruising/tailing fish and, most importantly, avoiding the dreaded 'trout set' on fish that like to 'hoover' their food. 

However, I think the similarities between the species end beyond that.

At the end of the day, it's carp fishing - period.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Carp vs. Work

Every spring, Blackfoot Reservoir lies dormant like a sleeping giant.  It offers up a morsel or two here or there, but it never really shows its true potential until we get a good streak of warm weather to bring the flats to life.  We finally got a good solid warm spell this week and now we are 'all systems go' for the summer.

I can't even begin to tell you what a remarkable fishery this is.  There are flats that will produce dozens of back-to-back cookie cutter 6 to 7-pound carp if you just want to keep a tight line all day and have a blast.  There are other areas, like where I fished today, where you can sight cast to very large carp in barely enough water to cover their backs.

Have a great weekend.