Monday, October 29, 2012

Out There

 Have you seen Idylwilde Flies' new slogan "Fish More, Pose Less?"   

They nailed it.

Don't talk about it; do it.


It was a very good week here in east Idaho.  The Henry's Fork produced some great fishing.

There's nothing better than a dark, stormy sky blanketing the river in the fall. 

The browns are getting ready to spawn, so it is high time to shift gears.

Thus, I hit the river in search of bows and located three or four solid fish from the get-go.

Nothing to write home about, but some good, solid fish.  

Then a school bus slammed my sex dungeon.

A few minutes later, this fat hen came to hand.

Thank You, Piglet

 You know what's cool?  Some of the year's best fishing is yet to come.

You know what is not cool?  Hooking another pig and losing it because the sink tip on my SA Streamer Express line broke in two.  The tippet held, my knots held, but the line busted at a crack in the head.

I lunged into the river to try and grab the line as the hog swam away but, alas, that fish was fast on its way to another zip code. 


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bucket List Browns in the Backcountry

The alarm clock said it was 3:40 a.m.  Normally, getting up at this hour would be a tough proposition, but not today.  Today was the day I'd reserved to fish Bucket List Destination #39...a place where large migrating brown trout and shallow-water lake trout are known to slam streamers.  A place where the fish are described in pounds, not inches.  A place deep in the heart of wolf and grizzly country where one of your primary goals is simply making it out alive.

I met up with Shane and Chris at 4:30 a.m. We packed our gear, bear bells, pepper spray and food in the truck and hit the road. Today's forecast? A nice mix of rain/sun/sleet/snow/hail and winds in excess of 30 m.p.h. Hey, at least we could expect some cloud cover, right?

We hiked roughly 14 miles total over rolling terrain in rough weather.  Was BLD39 worth all the effort?  You bet.  See below...

Photo (c) Brent Wilson - All rights reserved
Chris Cutler Releasing a Migrating Brown Trout

Chris Cutler photo
After the initial five mile hike in, we arrived at the outlet of a large lake where we started swinging streamers.  There were multiple pods of lakers congregated in the shallows above the outlet and Shane and Chris laid into them instantly.  These were not the lakers of legend I've read about in local folklore, but they were feisty, strong fish nonetheless.

Shane After a Big Mack Attack (Chris Cutler photo)

Shane Thomas photo

After a few minutes, the wind began to howl and whitecaps formed on the lake. In the distance, fierce gusts snapped 100' tall trees in half like toothpicks. 

Man, it was cold. 'Two wet layers under your jacket and shivering down to your toes' cold. I was starting to lose muscle memory.  Tying knots or casting with any measure of proficiency had become a challenge. I needed to move and, after we got into a few more macks, we headed downriver.

Movement was good.  It got the blood flowing and raised the core temperature.

Venturing into the river, we quickly encountered the fish we'd read about in the scrolls of local legend. 

This is why we were here.  Complete solitude, desolate wilderness, and large German browns.

Shane Thomas photo
The fish were moving upriver in pods of 4 or 5.  You could distinguish the rust-colored males fairly easily, while the females resembled subtle gray torpedoes. 

The recipe for success involved swinging a streamer in or around the pod - causing your fly to crash their little party and provoke a fight.

One of Chris's Many Nice Browns (Chris Cutler photo)

Chris Cutler photo

Shane with a Nice Brown on the Way Back Out (Chris Cutler photo)
These fish were busy migrating from their usual lake haunts to their spawning grounds a few miles upstream. We were quite fortunate to spend some quality time with them along the way.

We began the trek back to the trailhead at 5:30 p.m. Distant peaks that were dry on the way in were now blanketed with snow. By 7:30 p.m., we were hiking in a state of near darkness, 15 hours after the journey began.

We'd maintained a very good pace until something dark, large and brown ahead of us on the trail caught our attention. We stopped dead in our tracks.

"Wait...what the heck is that?"
"Looks like a bear to me."
"Me too."
"HEY BEAR!!!!!!"

I pulled the safety clip off my canister of  pepper spray.

"I think it's moving toward us."
"Me too."
"HEY BEAR!!!!"

We started walking backwards slowly while repeating our mantra in the darkness.   I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

Thirty seconds later, no movement.  A hasty headlamp retrieval from one of our packs finally revealed the truth - it was a large tree trunk that had fallen across the trail.

Funny how your mind and eyes can play tricks on you in the dark.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Road Trippin': Craig, Montana and the Mighty Mo

A Missouri River Rainbow vs. a Skiddish Smolt Pattern

It's a bummer when work gets in the way of fishing, but I don't mind so much when my work takes me to Helena; a wee hop south of the fly fishing mecca of Craig, Montana.

Three days of work in Helena this week resulted in three evenings of fishing on the Mo.

As each work day came to close, I zipped up the road to take advantage of the last remaining hours of daylight - fishing between Holter Dam and the town boat ramp.  There were very few people on the water mid-week and the hoots and howls of owls and coyotes dominated the soundscape. 

Other than a brief cloudy window on Wednesday evening, bluebird skies and heavy winds were the dominant weather pattern.  This kept the bugs off the water for the most part and, although this stretch of the river is famous for head hunting with dry flies, the majority of the action on this trip was subsurface.

I was a little disappointed I wasn't able to experience the river's legendary dry fly action, but it's the bugs and fish who determine what is on the menu, right?  Nonetheless, the subsurface action was outstanding.


The river below the dam feels like a very large spring creek, with gin clear water, thick vegetation and lots of aquatic invertebrates.  I noticed a lot of large rainbows coming up into the shallows as dusk approached, apparently to feed on the hordes of crayfish I observed along the banks.

The blue ribbon stretch of river below the Holter Dam holds over 4,000 fish per mile with a "rainbows to browns" ratio of roughly 5:1.  The rainbows in this stretch are without a doubt the feistiest trout I have ever landed.  

Missouri River trout are well-fed, large-shouldered linebackers.

You know what else is cool about Craig?  Cheap motels and diners.  Lots of good local fly shops.  Minimal development.  Nice people.

Heck yeah, it was a darn good time and I can't wait to get back up there again.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Night Creatures

It was just after 1:00 a.m. and the dashboard indicated the temperature was 36 degrees. We'd just spent the past five hours in a state of sensory deprivation - swinging large flies in a dark, brooding river.

Shane, Chris and I were fortunate to share the river with a resident moose, a beaver and a few owls. 

This is a different ballgame at night.  Your ears and fingertips become acutely aware of every twitch in the darkness.  And, for the first time in many months, we could feel winter's cold approaching. 

On this night, however, our efforts were rewarded by the river's night watchmen.


Question:  How large does a trout need to be to break a size 4 hook on a deer hair mouse in two?  

Guess I'll never know.

Thanks again Chris and Shane for the trip and the above photos.