Sunday, January 27, 2013


For those keeping score, my fishing schedule this month has been sacked by back-to-back bouts with: 1) respiratory infection, 2) the stomach flu and 3) frostbite. Fortunately, this week included much-improved digits, a rare warm spell (with temps into the '40's) and a few good trout.

Photo by Shane "Bowcephus" Thomas

This week's lessons:

"It's Better to be Good Than Lucky, but Aim for Both":  I hooked the above-referenced brown trout while swinging a small streamer through a run. About a minute into our tug-of-war, the fish spit the hook, then immediately re-hooked itself.  I landed the fish and we took some photos before releasing it.  Luck for the win (with a technical DQ).

"When Fish Get Too Smart, Throw a Little 'Dumb' at Them": Yesterday Shane, Kyle and I fished some local water that receives an intense amount of pressure. I've done well here in the past by focusing on appropriate small baetis and midge life cycle patterns. However, it became apparent yesterday these fish have grown too wise for this approach. Shane, on the other hand, tied on a San Juan Worm and started slaying them instantly. Many of his worm-gulpers were good fish, too.

Shane with One of His Many Yarn Chompers

Being the stubborn fool that I am, I continued fishing midges and blue wing imitations. It was, after all, "blue wing weather" and there were a few bugs in the surface film. After another hour or so of watching Shane and Kyle slay large trout with a piece of red chenille while my patterns were ignored, I finally asked Shane for one of his flies and got a bend in the rod.  

Lesson learned - time to start tying up some redneck worms.  Now, if I can just find a good online tying tutorial...

"Excuse Me While I Whip This Out"
"Wade Softly and Carry a Big Net":  It's time for me to get a good wide net with a long handle.  Trying to haul a good fish over a ledge, around some boulders and into a net shouldn't be a two man job.  In some instances, there are safety issues with shelf ice, balance and footing.

I may just break down and purchase one of those sweet (but pricey) Nomad mid-length jobbers.

"The Grass Frequently is Greener":  Rivers are complex.  Even if Spot A is not fishing well, it doesn't mean Spot B downstream can't be white hot.  Such was the case yesterday.  Unfortunately, we had only a few minutes in the day left to fish when we ventured to Spot B.  Nonetheless, it paid dividends - another good brown.

Things are starting to look pretty rosy around here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

January Jones

This time of year, I often find myself wondering why I choose to endure the rigors of winter in east Idaho.  It's a pretty abrupt change from what I grew up with in Miami and significantly colder than the nine winters I spent in Colorado.

Most years, I've got a February trip to the tropics to look forward to, but not this year.  The recession has taken a toll on my business and an early spring salt trip may not be feasible.

Sometimes - in the deep, dark chill of mid-winter - it helps to pull up pictures from the summer in east Idaho.  It's a great reminder that our summers here make our winters well worth the effort.  

Here are a few of my personal favorite reminders...

South Fork of the Snake - Swan Valley, ID

Railroad Ranch - Henry's Fork River - Last Chance, ID

High Mountain Creek Cutty - Undisclosed Location

Dinner on the Patio at Trouthunter - Last Chance, ID

Epic July Rainstorm - South Fork of the Snake - Swan Valley, ID

PMD FTW - South Fork of the Snake River - Heise, ID

Carpin' in Shorts and Sneakers - Blackfoot Reservoir

Teton River Tributary - Driggs, ID

Late Afternoon Flavs...   

...and the Fish Who Feed on Them.

Heck yeah, the winters are worth it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Thought I'd check in with some initial photos of the fingers post-frostbite.  The swelling has gone down significantly but the blisters are still out in full force.  Feeling and color have come back to most areas in both hands, but my left ring finger, left middle fingertip and right pinky are still discolored and inflated.  These are the areas to watch out for over the coming days.

Initial Stages of Frostbite in My Left Hand

The good news is that it looks like I am going to be okay, despite my foolish behavior last week. 

It takes some time for that "textbook frostbite look" to set in.  Apparently this is an example of what I have to look forward to in about 10 days.


I spent the afternoon at the vice while listening to Calexico's latest album "Algiers."  I've been listening to the Tuscon-based band for about 10 years now and they keep getting better with age.  While their earlier works have been heavily influenced by mariachi/Tejano music,  "Algiers" features a lot of underlying country, folk and rock themes.  They've certainly evolved as artists over the years.  Not to worry, though - "No Te Vayas" offers up some old fashioned Mexican melody just like the good old days.

It amazes me the same nation that produced the McRib sandwich, multiple formulaic teen pop stars and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" can also produce something as nuanced, rich and wonderful as Calexico.  There is hope for us after all.

Listening to "Algiers" is like sitting on a porch in a rocking chair on a summer evening while smoking a fine cigar.  You just take it all in and let it resonate - and it is beautiful.  

I still think "Aerocalexico" is their strongest work, but this one is remarkable nonetheless.  I highly recommend you check them out if you haven't already done so.  

Here are a couple of my favorites from "Algiers":

Saturday, January 19, 2013


I can't feel my fingertips and some of my fingers are noticeably discolored, swollen and blistered. For the first time in my life, I've got frostbite. 

How did I get myself into this mess? Let's start at the beginning. 

It's Friday, January 18th and, surprisingly, the local weather forecast calls for temperatures in the high 20's. "How can that be?" I asked myself. "A high 20's day sandwiched between nothing but single digits?" I decided to check the Weather Channel to verify. Sure enough, the Weather Channel had the same forecast. 

"Awesome," I thought. "I can end the work week with a day on the river." 

When I left the house at 8:35 a.m. it was 6 degrees below zero outside. This surprised me, but I figured the sun would work its magic in short order and the temperature would rise dramatically.

By the time I got to the river, the temperature had risen a few degrees, but it was still too cold to fish.  I sat in my truck and waited, listening to NPR while hammering out a few work e-mails.

After about an hour, I decided to go ahead and get on the water.  Since I was expecting much higher temperatures, I'd packed my half-fingered gloves in the truck and, being the stubborn ass that I am, I proceeded to fish with them.

I got into three decent trout right away but, given the cold, I chose not to expose them to the frigid air for photos.  It was a windy, bluebird sky day - typical during one of our winter high pressure systems - and the fishing was pretty tough.  When the wind and cold caused my reel to seize, I decided to call it a day.

Happier Days, Pre-Ice Planet Hoth. Feels Like an Eternity Ago.
I hiked back to the truck and reached into my wader pocket to grab the keys.  That's when I realized I couldn't feel my fingers.  When I pulled my hand out of my wader pocket, I noticed my fingertips were off-color white in some areas and purple in others.  It was an image I had never seen before and my stomach sank.

I got back in the truck and fired up the heat.  Even during the peak heat of the afternoon, the dashboard thermometer indicated it was only 9 degrees outside.  My fingers started to tingle like pins and needles.

24 hours later, they are still numb and blistered.  I went over to see my sister-in-law, who is a doctor and mountaineer with a background in wilderness rescue medicine.  She confirmed it was frostbite.  While it typically takes days (sometimes weeks) to observe the amount of damage caused by the crystallization of skin and muscle tissue, the good news for me is that it appears so far to be a mild case of frostbite.  The blisters have not filled with blood, which is a good sign. I should be OK in a few weeks.

Two days earlier I'd uploaded a blog post on safe winter fishing tips.  Trust me, the irony of this fact is not lost on me.  Honestly, I feel like an idiot.

Be safe out there.  Respect the severity of the elements.  The fish will still be there when the weather turns.

No fishing for me for a little while, so I will focus on fly tying,

My Attempt at Matt Drahos' "House Special"
and getting the band back together.... we can cover Japandroids songs...

BTW, Japandroids' drummer gets extra points for wearing a Hot Snakes t-shirt in this video.

Take care of yourselves.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What We Want is Free

Brown Trout on a Cold December Day
A few years ago, one of the climbing magazines published an article about the climber's perpetual dilemma - "work vs. climbing."  The author compiled data indicating the average 5.14 climber earns between $8-10,000 per year, while the average 5.9 climber earns about $60,000 per year.  I found this very interesting.
While the concept isn't discussed as frequently within fly fishing circles, I will go on record to say this is, unequivocally, the fly fisherman's dilemma as well. I want to fish at a 5.14 level, but I have a family to support and that mandates a 5.11 lifestyle. Fortunately I've got a good wife who "gets" my addiction and a business that affords a tremendous amount of flexibility. 

I will, however, save my personal social theories regarding the leisure class and conspicuous consumption for future posts, because today's topic is winter fly fishing.  Specifically, how to raise slabs without risking life and limb.

A few people have asked me for some advice on winter fly fishing.  Let me start by saying I am no expert on the topic.  No, an "expert" is someone with a proper website and recurring visitors.  I do, however, spend a heck of a lot of time fishing in below-freezing temperatures and I've acquired a few nuggets of wisdom over the years:

Slow and Low, That is the Tempo - Everything slows down in winter, especially trout and their forage.  Slow down your retrieve and fish deep.  If you are chucking streamers, add a pause between every 2-3 strips.  Work the runs thoroughly with multiple casts - many times you will need to place your fly right in front of their nose to trigger an eat.

Find a Ledge - Winter trout love a drop-off where water flows form a bottleneck.  This allows them to catch prey as it spills over into the deep without expending a lot of energy.  Find a ledge, shelf or some safe shelf ice and work the edges.  Fish a small nymph rig or sink-tip streamer line beyond the ledge or along the ice edges and hold on.

Spike the Boots - I can't emphasize this enough.  You absolutely should not be on the water without spikes on your wading boots.  You can either purchase fancy sole spikes or simply drill sheet metal screws into your soles, but some type of cleat is a "must have" item for winter fly fishing.

Get a Longer Landing Net - Nothing is sketchier than having to put yourself out on the edge of an ice shelf to land a fish.  Get a mid-length or guide-length net for landing fish along shelf ice ASAP.

Layer It Up, Layer It Down - The coldest I have ever been on the water was after a long hike where I neglected to remove my jacket.  Sure, it was a nice warm hike, but all that trapped heat produced moisture - which froze once I stopped hiking and started fishing. I was on the verge of hypothermia and shivered uncontrollably.  Trust me, it sucked and I learned my lesson. 

There are other more obvious winter tips (the buddy system, gloves, storing warm haggis in your waders), but these are some of the "not so obvious" tips I've found helpful over the years.  

Yes, winter fly fishing is well worth all the discomfort and trouble - so get out there.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Blizzard in the Box

I love a good snowstorm.  I love standing in the middle of a river while snowflakes land on your wading jacket and hood.  I love that feeling of impending chaos that gets trout all riled up.

Weather forecasts are great at creating a sense of "holy crap, it's about to get really cold for a long period of time and if I don't take today off work I won't have another chance to fish for well over a week."

Shane and I decided it was in our best interests to put the real world on hold and hit the river.  We snowshoed through the woods through stands of Christmas trees to a place I haven't fished in about a year.  It was fun.

We even got into some fish...

Shane with a Streamer Eater
Despite the slow fishing, extreme cold and persistent ice in our rod guides, it was really good to get out - especially since it may be a while before it happens again given the forecast.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Some Days You Eat The Bear

East Idaho's been hovering around or below zero degrees for two weeks now and I've been trapped inside the house, fending off a nasty respiratory infection.  Cough medicine and antibiotics have staved off the infection, but not the cabin fever. 

My head has been in a bad place since Christmas.  I really needed some time on the water today and it felt great to get out. 
I'll admit I get pretty superstitious about the first fish I catch each year - as if it is an indication of what's to follow thereafter.  I dread the idea of foul-hooking a sucker on my first outing of the year.  Fortunately, the first fish this year was the above-referenced cuttbow.  He was a fine specimen and, as a hybrid, was strong as a bull.  Seriously, it took me about 15 minutes to get him to the net.

Even with a short window of fishing time, it was a good day to get out - with temps in the high 20's. 

I am still jonesing for a trip somewhere warm, however.

They say a leisure class exists at both ends of the American economic spectrum.  Somehow, despite my best efforts, I've found myself stuck in the middle - with neither enough cash nor enough time to explore even a fraction of the places I've set aside for next year.

I need to feel warm water under a bright sun.  I need to explore some new territory.

Still, today's outing did wonders for my spirits.

Today, I ate the bear.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Greatest Swedish Export Since the Large Arbor Reel

So Long, 2012

Life here in east Idaho is like a Norman Rockwell painting.  It is snowing lightly and the neighbor's sheep are proudly displaying their winter coats - like Texans in Vail. 

Still, this glorious winter weather is not conducive to fishing and I am thinking about some "must do" goals for 2013:

1) Get Back Down to the Yucatan.  It's been two years since I fished Boca Paila Lagoon and Ascension Bay and I am jonesing to get back down there.  This time, however, I want to incorporate a jaunt up to Isla Holbox and Campeche for some baby tarpon.
Campeche Tarpon Photo
2) Explore More Remote High Mountain Creeks.  I've been here four years and there are still dozens of high mountain creeks I've yet to explore.

3) More Night Fishing.  I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the night fishing potential around here in 2012, but I am intrigued to say the least.  I've been tying some skating/waking patterns that should be very productive and look forward to a lot more night fishing in 2013.  The beasts really do come out at night.

2012 was a banner year nationally for the fly fishing for carp trend - and I believe 2013 will be a breakout year for night fishing.

4) Explore the Park. It is going to take a lifetime to get my arms around all of the fishing opportunities within Yellowstone National Park.  

It has been a blast so far.

5) Get the Ranch Dialed.  There are more than a few rainbows pushing 30" at Railroad Ranch that will rise to a well-placed dry fly.  

I haven't landed one yet, but I'll be back on opening day - wadered up and ready for the challenge.

Call In The Swedes.  It's new year's day and I've been sacked with the flu for over two weeks.  Too sick to fish, in fact.  And I am no better today than I was two weeks ago. 

On days like this, when I am feeling really bummed out, I bust out some old tunes from Sweden.  No, I am not talking about The Haunted, Entombed or In Flames.  I am referring to the greatest Swedish export since the large arbor reel - ABBA.

Let's be clear - I don't like ABBA in an "ironic, retro-hipster" fashion.  I eat hipsters for breakfast. This is a genuine, sincere appreciation.

When I feel all hope is lost, I listen to "S.O.S."

I hope your new year is off to a great start.