Monday, December 8, 2014

The Social Fly Fisherman?: Part 1

Star catcher?
I spend ninety percent of my time fly fishing alone. I like to imagine this is because of my schedule (night shift) and not because I am terrible at making friends or have offensive body odor. Whatever the cause, fly fishing makes a fine companion for hermits like myself and any loneliness easily gives way to serenity and the joy of fishing at ones own pace. Early this year however, I made a bold, contrary move and looked into joining a local fly fishing club in Boise. My reasons were selfish which comes easily to hermit types. Five years of fishing solo had left me feeling somewhat unsupervised and unpolished. No fishing buddies meant no one around to critique my casting technique and so no way to know if I was doing it all wrong.  My time alone also left me wondering whether social, gregarious fly fishermen actually existed or if did the sport cater to mostly reclusive types.

The plan: First, find a club. Second, meet a few like-minded fly fishing enthusiasts to blabber with and spare my wife from another two hour monologue about how great fly fishing is, was and always will be. Third, buddy up some cool old club guy who would take me under his wing and show me all of his secret fishing spots, best fly patterns and pubs that had the coldest beer, served by the cutest waitresses. An ill-conceived plan is often worse than no plan at all I soon found out.

After Facebook stalking all potential candidates in the valley, I decided to sit in on a few club meetings. Before making any social commitments. I needed to feel out the vibe and glare at people from under the bill of my hat, which was part of the hermit's code. Each club offered fly tying, guest speakers and a promise of inclusion, but it was the club that offered free beer along with unlimited support for trout that caught my attention. Free beer delighted me for two reasons, first I am cheap and you can't beat free and second I have mild social anxiety and beer always makes a crowded room seem less hostile.
Rock on!
On the night of my first meeting I kissed the wife goodbye and dashed off excited that I was about to become part of something larger. I arrived early and sat down against an outside wall which offered a better vantage point for watching members toddle in. The meeting began and ended in much the same way, with the clearing of throats and little else.  The guest speaker however was amazing and the free beer kept my nervous hands company.  Unfortunately the clubs greeting party was absent and my reception cold.  As I recall not  a single member made an introduction, gave a smile or even a tossed me a glance. I was a fly on the wall among fly fishermen. I left feeling deflated.

On the drive home I thought to myself "should I really be surprised by the cold reception?" Maybe not. Maybe fly fishermen are all loners. What can one really expect from a gathering of hermits, who are not generally know for their hospitality. As far as I know there is no name for a gathering of hermits but if there ever has been one, the hermits soon realized what a mistake it was and quickly scattered.

Not wanting to admit defeat just yet, I attended another meeting the following month. The second wasn't much better and the meeting left me feeling like a hobbit that had stumbled into a fly fishing "Entmoot." To clarify, Ents are the ancient tree creatures in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and an "Entmoot" is a gathering of these creatures (maybe the closest thing to a gathering of hermits). Basically the meeting was attended by a bunch of old, groaning, grumpy, slow moving curmudgeons. For the record, I love old people. My career is working with them and I even have a specialty in geriatrics because I like that population so much. So why am I being ignored? I have unruly nose hair and am nearly bald, doesn't that make me an honorary member?  I skulked home again and whined to my wife about their obliviousness to other humans and their general lack of enthusiasm. She tried to help in the way girls like to help and recommended I introduce myself.  I chose to stomp around like an idiot, figuring they should be courting me not the other way around.

The third meeting I opted for a more radical strategy, knowing now that I had nothing to lose, I turned to fly fishing for inspiration. My plan was so deviously cleaver that it had to work. Mimicking is a survival strategy common among insects and this fly on the wall was about go Darwin on this club. What if these old codgers were no different than any wise old rainbow buck that scanned the waters surface and easily picked out and ignored the fake and hastily made flies. Maybe I was a player in a strange initiation process or test.  And then I realized what I had to do. I must become invisible to be seen. Like a perfectly tied fly, I would try to blend in and only then would I catch their attention.  And so it was that with each meeting my metamorphosis progressed. Board shorts were replaced with khaki pants, flip-flops exchanged for loafers. At the fifth meeting I even stuck a Smokey The Bear 50 year anniversary commemoration pin in my hat. I paid my dues and set my face into the grimace I saw all around me. And so it was for several months. I was a social fisherman alone in a crowded room.

The sixth meeting was held on a rainy day that made the stuffy meeting hall smell like feet. That night from among the clatter of coughs, grumbles and snapping knee joints that I heard my name called out by the club president at the lectern. As I walked up on stage to claim my hat, won in a raffle, I saw two dozen pairs of eyes look at me. It was in that moment that they finally noticed me. Their eyes puzzled over my existence, like someone who finds cat shit on the carpet but knows they don't have a cat. I wished I was invisible again as I shuffled back to my seat prize in hand. The hat incident concluded any desire to continue my membership with the club. It was clear that I didn't fit in with this crowd despite my best efforts. Time to move on.

In the end I didn't land an old fly fishing mentor or hear of any secret fishing holes but I didn't learn a few lessons from all this. First, be skeptical of anyone giving out free beer. Second, hermits don't shake hands, smile or chat about the weather, embrace them for who they are. Finally, if you find yourself in a deep pool full of cranky old bulltrout, don't expect even a eyes wink unless those eyes are looking to eat you. My next post will be part two. It will continue to chronicle my progress finding a fly fishing club to call home.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Highs and Lows of Fly Fishing in Valley County, Idaho.

Little Payette Lake driftwood.

Every year we take at least two trips to McCall, which means two times a year I get a free pass to go find fish under the guise of a family vacation. In a previous post, I rattle on about how difficult it is to find decent fishing and access onto the Payette river between McCall and Cascade. I stand by that, unless you find sickly, stocked rainbows and trespassing a thrill. I can't be all doom and gloom though as I recently heard whispers that the river improves as it nears Cascade reservoir. These same whisperers also told me that there can be great fly fishing opportunities in early spring, if you can find access and timing. For now I have given up flying fishing on both Payette lake and it's tail water, focusing instead on the breweries around McCall which are a great reason to visit even if the fishing isn't. I found the nicest people and the tastiest beer to at Broken Horn Brewing Company near the airport in McCall.

If I were me and I am, I'd stick to fishing the high mountain lakes in the surrounding area, they are a plenty and access ranges from parking onsite to two day hikes in. There are fishing guide books in town that can save you some walking and trial and error or (trail and error),  unless that's your forte.  I also fished some but by no means all of the larger lakes and reservoirs in Valley County and found them beautiful, uncrowded and well stocked. Goose Lake, Brundage and Big Hazard lakes are easy to access and if you check with the IDFG fish stocking reports you can plan accordingly for higher catch odds. Horsethief is stocked with browns and Little Payette lake is rumored to have decent smallmouth bass. That said,
Cruikshank Boulders
I added Little Payette lake to my dud list this year. It slapped me in the face with disappointment and was nearly high and dry by October. I was dying to fish it this fall after finding a little known access point onto the far side of the lake. Days of planning, satellite image searching, and county map reading lead me to an awesome pile of driftwood and mud. Turns out the "far side" of Little Payette is also the shallow side.

Note to self, "check a lakes water level before convincing your wife and in-laws that you have found the perfect fishing spot and its only 30 minutes down a sketchy, narrow, muddy jeep trail." Hey, we all made it out alive and I have a decorative driftwood sign post for my garden to show for it.

Cruikshank Reservoir, also ended up in my dud list and turned out to be just as dry but went for the masculine boulder look instead of driftwood chic.  Maybe learning how to fish is as much about learning where not to.

Oh but I love a happy ending! The North Fork of the Payette River did finally give me a present
for all my hard work and doggedness. On the last day, in the last twilight hours of my family vacation, after mud holes, scratched paint jobs, and jeers from the family, I hooked into my new 5 weight fly fishing record rainbow.  She was tucked into a quiet pool made by a log jam and the beginnings of a beaver dam that jutted out from the bank.  The strike wasn't hard, just a big fish casually gulping down another bait fish that swam too close. I set the hook lightly knowing that at least something was on and then watched my rod arc downward as the fish dropped to the river bed and shook it's head. I've fly fished long enough to know what a big fish feels like when it shakes its head. It's like, "oh no you didn't!" all slow and cobra-like.

"It's gonna be a big one," I yelled to my father-in-law, my heart now starting the quickstep. And there the moment hung for a time, linked by line and rod and muscle. The line hummed through the rod and into my hands. "I am gonna lose this fish," I thought. Then she drug my line toward the log jam on my right and sat again, hum. I waited for my 5x line to pop. It didn't and our tug-of-war continued as she crossed the pool toward the beaver dam on my left, never bolting, just deep and steady. I tried to turn her but my line was pulled into the mangle of sharp green sticks. Again, no thrashing just a steady pull and then I felt my line go slack and saw an arm sized branch float up from the deep pool clutching my line well above the leader. I should have lost the fish here but like I said, this trout was a gift. The rainbow turned again, I glimpsed, as my slack line half encircled the muddy branch then popped off with a weightless whoosh. She was gone or maybe with luck she was swimming toward me. I stripped my line in ready to cry out in disappointment and felt her weight rounding the dam and heading down stream behind me. All of this took three minutes, maybe but I was fully freaking out now, knowing my line had lost all nine of it's lives. And then we danced the delicate drag and reel dance I had done so many times with smaller prizes. In the end, I nearly lost the fish trying to net it but by then my father-in-law had waded over to make sure I wasn't having a heart attack and netted the beautiful fish. Thank you for that!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fly Fishing New Meadows and the Little Salmon

This June I took the wife and baby girl to Riggins, ID to catch the end of the salmon fishing season on the Little Salmon river. We decided to get there by going through Mcall and then New Meadows but first stopped off in Cascade to see the Payette Whitewater Games and let my baby stretch her legs. The talent there was amazing and so were the bikinis which are sure to bring me back next year.  The next stop was Payette Lake in McCall for a dip in the clear water. I don't recommend Payette lake for fly fishing as surface feeding trout are far and few between.

The drive through the mountains and meadows was perfect and before we knew it we were heading downhill to the town of Riggins. I had heard rumors that fishing the Little Salmon was going to be busy but I was not prepared for the chaos we encountered. The roadside around the Rapid River confluence was a complete fluster cluck. Trucks, cars, trailer, tents, barbecues and sunburned humans cluster at the roads edge nearly as tightly as they did along the banks of the river below. "It's asses to elbows down here" I said to my father-in-law as we drove into town to the Salmon Rapids Lodge. The lodge is my favorite place to stay in Riggins, as it is perched atop a high bluff overlooking the confluence of the Main and the Little Salmon Rivers; plus they make fresh chocolate chip cookies every night at 8 pm. Here's the link to the hotel for those interested.  

With all the shenanigans in Riggins, I spent my energy convincing my father-in-law to go fly fishing with me instead and wait out the weekend hullabaloo. As always he was happy to oblige and we headed out Sunday afternoon to explore the headwaters of the Little Salmon just outside of the town of New Meadows. It's hard to find a more pastoral, picture perfect, meandering little river then the Little Salmon and its tributaries that come together in the green pastures and meadows surrounding the town of New Meadows. The river there is nothing like the rumbling white water that can be seen from highway 95 as it leaves the meadows and drops into the tight canyon on the way to Riggins, ID. In the meadows the Little Salmon bubbles along adding a tributary every mile or so, so that even the creeks have names like "Three Mile Creek, Four Mile Creek and Six Mile Creek." I admit, I have only fished a small portion of the river there but what I witnessed was tranquil, clear water, lush green grassy banks and the sound of buzzing insects. 

I don't know the area well yet but I can give any reader some advice. Access is limited due to private property; a story becoming all to familiar across the West now. There are access points however and enough of them to keep me busy for a few more seasons while I explore the area.
 Leaving the town of New Meadows, heading north or downstream, five easy access points exist off US 95. The first good access is where Goose Creek join the river, look for a small pond on the left which has a pull out and respect private property. The confluence is nearby. A few hundred yards and the next access is from a bridge on 45th Parallel Dr., look for signs to Meadow Creek public resort of US 95. A third bridge access can be found several miles farther along 95 on Zims road which is easily marked with a sign to Zim's hot springs. About 5 miles down 95 is another access at Round Valley road, this is were I jumped in to fish. The final access place is at the bridge to Smokey Bolder road, again right off US 95. The water is deep and slow here and the banks drop off sharply so wading access might be tricky there. 

I caught some nice fat rainbows in the 12-15 inch range and lost a nice brook trout as I was fumbling to get my camera out. I found most fish were holding right under the grassy banks or overhanging vegetation. Bouncing my flies off the grass and into the water was a fun and challenging way to fish. The river is easily waded after the April runoff and can be fished from the middle as flows decrease. I primarily used stimulator patterns with rubber legs with good results. The trout fishing window for this river is relatively short I have found. By July the river is a modest trickle and probably too warm for trout. Throughout the summer months I have found only squawfish. I am going to continue to work this river in the spring as it still keeps its secrets from me.   
A few locals at the golf course told me that 20 inch rainbows are still pulled out from below the bridge on occasion but not like in the good old days.I have a hunch some nice trout are hiding in this little river and I am coming back next year to explore.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Big Jacks Creek, CJ Strike and Lips Only a Mother Could Love

My most recent adventure took me to Big Jacks Creek, a tiny tributary of the Snake River with north flowing head waters originating from the Owyhee Mountain range. I have been scoping out this small creek for some time now and decided to fish it before any major spring snow melt.  I chose to visit the confluence of the Jacks creek and CJ Strike, hoping the shallow waters there might hold carp or trout cruising for food. I had heard rumors that carp congregate at the mouth of Jacks Creek in late spring and summer and I hoped to visit the place then return later in the year. It was early in the year for carp fishing and I knew it but curiosity often wins out when it comes to me and fly fishing.   I arrived at 0650 AM greeted by the rolling yelps of coyote and their pups frolicking in the sage brush and Russian olive groves. A quick peeked at the Google satellite image of the area directed me toward my destination about one half mile away. I tromped along a game trail rimmed by last summers cattails, cracking dry and clustered in frost. Nearing the reservoir, coots raced away, half running, half flying across the shallow bay to my right.  The water at CJ was glass, reflecting the blue light of dawn, only my wading disturbed the surface.
Not A Carp But Just As Pretty 

Clean Lines and A Powerful Body

I waded out about 50 feet into the reservoir then turned back toward the bank, casting my line onto still waters. It was hard to make a gentle cast under the circumstances and I imaged any nearby carp would get spooked. I repeated my casts walking slowly, parallel to the bank, landing my carp fly about 5-10 feet from the bank. During a slow retrieve a few casts later I felt my fly drag over a log and snag, that was until the log began to move. The fish looked like a torpedo as it sprinted for deeper water as I held on with steady pressure; my heart jumped at the weight and my reel sang as line peeled off. Seconds later a plunk and my fly slipped off, I suspect it was only snagged of one of the massive carps scales. I repeated my technique and two more carp repeated their escape protocol. I swear they were speaking carpanese to each other, passing on how to get off a hook.    Jacks Creek was a bust for trout and carp but the opportunity to get out and watch the morning break was well worth the effort.

I have mentioned fly fishing (rather unsuccessfully) for carp in a blog one year ago.  My goal of landing a carp on a fly rod still stands unfulfilled. I have hooked a few carp (most accidentally), snagged a couple more and scared away the rest with my clumsy presentation. A cleaver friend of mine recommends we use the name "Carpon" instead of carp as a nice blend of carp and tarpon and a fitting tribute to this hard fighting, clever fish that can reach 60 lbs in some Idaho waters. It has sure been more than a match for me!

I have yet to land a carp on my fly rod. However, my efforts to catch carp using large googly legged flies has resulted in catching a lot of  Idaho's other less savory, bottom feeding fish. "Trash fish" we call them here in Idaho.  I am referring of course to suckers, squaw fish, chubs and white fish; the later at least has seen a mild bump in popularity fostered by the fly fishing community. In fact, if it weren't for these wrong-side-of-the-track fish, I would have a lot more zero-fish-caught outings. Fly fishing has fostered a new respect for all fish. The sucker pictured above was a stout, clean, powerful fish even if it didn't jump like an acrobat out of the water during our fight.

As a side note I met John Wolter, owner of Anglers in Boise, We had a nice chat near CJ Strike and shared our passion for fly fishing. I think I had verbal diarrhea and did most of the talking to be honest.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tiptoeing Along the Owyhee River at 23 cfs

"You need to call my dad, he wants to know what you're doing today," that was all my wife had to say last Friday before I felt a kernel of a fishing trip being planted. She had plans with a girlfriend and was taking my baby too...could it happen so easily, so effortlessly? No sooner had her red Toyota left the driveway than I was on the phone with my Father-in-law. He apparently had a hankering to hit the Owyhee and I am always up for fishing especially with him because he usually buys me lunch and has heated seats for the return trip. In no time we were on the road headed to the Owyhee's lima bean green waters.  We arrived at 3PM determined to fish until sunset but not fully committed to do so if the weather proved terrible.

As a side note, I have been bypassing trips to the Owyhee river for the last year, having felt quite sorry for the little river with it's low flows, hordes of fisherman and scrawny underfed fish. While the river continues to hold surprising numbers of trout per mile, I haven't been impressed with their fight or their overall health. Some local fly shops have also preached taking it easy on the browns lately, so I deemed a little hiatus was the responsible thing to do. However spring on the Owyhee is not to be missed in my opinion and who was I to turn down an invitation. I am happy to report, despite my concerns and observations, that the Owyhee river, version 20.14, has proved all my worrying unwarranted. The fish are still there in great numbers and some are big and healthy.

Dave and I had trouble finding the fish at first. We tried every manner of nymph, small and large. We tried nymphing a few deeper sections but at 23 cfs the holes turned into mini stagnant lakes, even the runs were kind of pathetic and very shallow. Frustrated, I started trudging carelessly along the banks and shallows  in search of greener pastures. I eventually came to a beaver lodge with thousands of chomped up willows submerged just under the surface. I observed from a distance and noticed schools of small fish darting frantically and boiling at the surface. I had seen large minnows do this "boiling" at lake Powell when running from stripped bass. I cast my zugbug and zebra nymph to the fringes of the sunken willows and within seconds my indicators jumped beneath the surface.  

A Northern Pike minnow or Squaw-fish slammed my midge but then rolled over and came quickly to my net. I caught six more of his brethren surrounding the fry and willows. I took a photo to commemorate my first Squawfish ever caught on the Owyhee. I hope desperately that the fry the Squawfish were eating weren't juvenile browns. A least my hands now smelled like fish and the curse was lifted. I fished on, the sun high and water clear, even for the Owyhee. No fish were feeding on the surface so I worked a nice trough section hard with my nymphs and caught one small rainbow and a brown, giving me a trifecta of fish, which made for a small accomplishment.  

The sun was nearing the edge of the high canyon walls as I waded along in knee deep, flat water and noticed puffs of silt kicked up here and there by fleeing fish. I have noted Owyhee browns hugging the shallows and banks in the past, sipping midges but that was with 120 cfs or more and a place to bolt to for cover. Could they be holding in this foot of barely moving water with nothing but similar aquascape to flee to? Turns out yep!

 As shadows fell on the water and obscured both my shadow and some visibility on the water, I switched over to a large black and olive streamer and waded into the middle of the river.  From this position I tiptoed slowly upstream, taking small quiet steps and cast to each bank. Dave was using a similar strategy casting from the middle but with a San Juan Worm. The results were immediate as we began catching fish. A large brown erupted from its rest as I plopped my streamer nears its head. Like a submarine it breached the water, a small wake forming as it charged my fly. WHAM! 

I yelled to Dave "It's a big one." My 4 weight played the fish well in the low water but netting it took some time. I grabbed my camera but the GoPro battery was dead, a terrible design flaw that plagues this otherwise kick ass camera. It was a beautiful, thick 21 inch brown, maybe not the longest fish but by far the heaviest and healthiest looking I've caught on the Owyhee. Five more fish followed within 30 minutes, all were stout and strong and above 18 inches. 

What worked for us:

1. We had our greatest success from the middle of the river at the end of runs and in the flats. Fished spooked easily until lower light concealed our presence. 
2. Most browns were in less than 2 feet of water and approx 5-15 feet off the bank. Many of the trout were basking in the shallow flats nearly motionless until the fly was presented.
3. We fished the evening hours before and after the sun set behind the canyon walls, therefore I don't know what brought morning success.

4. I started with a bead head zebra midge which always brings some success on the Owyhee in the winter and spring. 
5. Dave used a San Juan Worm with great success later in the evening. The San Juan comes beaded or without and in a multitude of colors. 
6. I used a standard green on black, bead head Woolly bugger, trailed by a Zugbug.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Fly Fisherman Hatch

Sizing up the competition

  I have been a good little caterpillar for the last two weeks, holed up in my house, watching the weather, checking the USGS water flow charts and scouring local blogs and fly-shop fishing reports. I have patiently devoured this information day by day and have now grown fat with anticipation for tomorrow. Tomorrow is "my day" and "the day" for stirring things to stir, hatching things to hatch and feeding things to start feeding. The weather will be perfect, the flow at 98 cfs will be perfect. It is a fishing day, I can feel it.
The Dude
  I can also feel Spring, like a faint pulse. Maybe its the air that smells slightly sweeter now or the migrating birds crisscrossing the sky but I think old man winter is ready to retire for the year. I pull my blanket up around my neck and wiggle my toes with excitement before dozing off to images of feeding trout. Today ends.
I am up early, before the sun and with a sore throat! Maybe I accidentally convinced myself, unbeknownst to myself, that I was sick with all the air sniffing and pulse feeling the night before. The Ricola dude blows his horn and that just makes my head ache more so I bag my early morning fishing departure and decide to dope up on cold medicine and wait for the afternoon.  Afternoon arrives slowly and my cold medication has tamped down my sore throat, only to replace it with a dry mouth and eyes, good enough.

Mr. West
  The sun feels warm on my neck and shoulders as I pack up my gear for another fishing adventure. Our cat named Tuna is laid sprawled out on the driveway soaking up the sun rays, her ears flicking at the sound of dry leaves sent sliding across sandy concrete by little puffs of wind. I am on the road at 1220 PM and have downed two Dayquil and one liter of water before leaving Boise. I pass the drive as I usually do listening to talk radio, complaining to myself about money or day dreaming about fly fishing. Before I know it my driver door swings closed with a satisfying clunk signaling that I have my waders on, pole in hand and everything else stowed or locked away in my truck.
Tree Slayer :)
Then I shoot off to the river like that old lady at the mall that blows by everyone else, pants pulled high, butt cheeks tight, heel toe, heel toe, not running but not exactly walking either.
  It is the perfect day to be out on the river, my research and patience has payed off with what is sure to be an amazing evening of fly fishing. I tromp past an old cottonwood and through some brambles to my normal starting point on a nice little run that slides into a right sided bank hole. That's when I see them, wrapped in khaki Gortex, rods flicking like antenna, and polarized sunglasses starring back at me with reflecting bug eyes.  Seven people! I had, by all appearances stumbled onto a human hatch, only instead of emerging from, they were converging on, the water. It feels like a home invasion only it's on "my" river.
The Blogger
   I want to scare them away. I want to tell them the water is contaminated with mercury or that there are toothy beaver traps everywhere or not to bother fishing at all because there is only carp and suckers in this river. I assume they are thinking the same terrible things about me for a moment. Pretty childish I know but treasure is hard to share, that's why it's usually locked up or guarded by something terrible and huge whose breath smells like whoever it just ate right before trying to eat you. 
  I am not an ogre and truth be told I am quick to make friends. My wife says a friend to me is only someone I haven't met yet. Before I know it I am shaking hands, laughing and snapping photos of my new river comrades. I also realized we all share a respect for this area and its wildlife.  

The Big Fish of the day...

  While I enjoy a nice solo fishing trip, it is nice to have company on a river to swap stories or river lore with. People add depth and history to a place and make it more pithy. Thanks to all I met for your friendly nature and fishing advice. My memory betrays me as I don't remember everyone's name but I did meet a Bill and a John and Mr. and Jr. West. I fished alongside a dude from Emmett with a fine fishing hat and 30 years of fly fishing experience who expanded my knowledge of crane flies. I even met a man who might cherish this river more than I do, if it weren't so much fun to hunt ducks. Thank you all for sharing "my" fishing day.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fly Fishing On A Cloud

    Wouldn't it be great if we could fly fish for birds while standing on a cloud. Your line would shoot downward into the mist as you yelled, "bird on!," then bolt in a 180 degree arc over your head before plummeting into the swirling mist at your feet with a puff.
    "I think it's an seagull," your bird fishing buddy would yell, as your line swooped and dove. 
    "It might be but it's fighting like an albatross," you'd holler back.    

Bill fishing for Cormorants

   What would you fish for, hawks, pigeons or a beautiful rainbow mallard? What would you use, popcorn, bread or a perfectly tied house sparrow? Maybe when I am old and nearing the end of fly fishing days I will get my wish and fly fish from a cloud.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fish Don't Always Bite but Boys Will Be Boys

 This blog post is not so much about how to catch fish and more about a nice day I had because I was not catching fish. I am often asked by people at work if I caught anything while fly fishing on my days off. Sometimes I say, "Nope" with a big smile on my face and this usually leads to a puzzled look from my coworkers, like I just told them I had grasshoppers for lunch.  I have also been asked this basic question, "Doesn't it get boring not catching fish and just sort of standing around?" Hell yes, when you put it like that, fly fishing could get boring but standing around waiting to get bored is even more boring and I try to avoid it. Fly fishing is the A.D.H.D cousin to the more common and sedentary technique of fishing with a lawn chair and a beer, although that has some merit too.    Let's move on.
African Fish Sticks Anyone?

Last March I was on the verge of having one of those boring fly fishing days. The water I was fishing had recently turned silty with spring runoff and not a creature was stirring above or below it. Fly fishing seemed hopeless after a time, so I did what almost any boy does when there's nothing to do, I started chucking rocks, kicking dirt clods and generally poking my nose where it shouldn't be.  The day was in shambles and acting like a child was cheering me up. Soon I felt the impish boy of my youth urging me to walk just a little farther up stream, daring me to jump that fence, enticing my curiosity with "what's that noise, and where's that terrible smell coming from?" Boys will be boys and once I gave into that idea I had a grand old time.

First, because I was truly worried that boredom might find me I changed course and started walking in no particular direction. I find that random acts of misdirection tend to keep boredom at bay but can land you in trouble. It didn't take long before boredom and a good mile were far behind me.  I marched merrily along a game trail and soon stumbled across a nice warm springs hidden among cattails with hundreds of tiny yellow, darting fish. "What weird looking perch," I thought as I snagged my trusty GOPRO3 camera and dunked it in to take this nice photo. During my youth I kept many types of aquarium fish and I swear this is an African Cichlid. I played in the spring for a while, crawling on my hands and knees and eventually stuffing one hand into the sand where the warm water bubbled out from the earth. My skin didn't burn and sluff off so I moved on.

Sagebrush and thorns scratched at my arms as I crunched along in my waders but the pain felt good now. A sagging barbed wire fence let me know I was entering or leaving someones property but I stayed near the bank and impishly assumed no one would care. A few steps over the barbed wire and a very low, "Oont, oont" greeted my ears. I realized too late that the fence was meant to keep something in, more than keep me out.

First came snapping branches, then dust and stickers and finally a hulking black shape lumbered into the clearing in front of me. The massive bull was all slobber and snot and muscle and pissed or worse... horny. I channeled and presented my best impromptu interpretation of a log. Time passed slowly as I pondered if running or standing still would keep me from getting trampled.  Either my log pose worked or I wasn't the bulls type and after a few snorts he let me back away into the bushes and then across the river with my life. I moved quickly on.  

Spring Break! Let's party as soon as I warm up.
As mid-day approached I came across a sandy bluff and watched a family of barn owls take flight from large holes that speckled the bluffs face. They flew off and landed in nearby cottonwood trees and didn't return for their photo shoot.  I am headed back there this spring and hope to catch them roosting. I also met this snake who was so cold he could hardly move, which was great because I wanted a photo. I checked for a rattle then gave him a little pat on the back before I moved on. Snakes are 50% back so that was easy.

Merrily entrenched in exploration, I soon lost track of time and suddenly found that I was very far from my truck and with fading day light. It was like I was 8 years old all over again, running to get home, sure that my mom was calling out for me and possibly getting worried.  I am a lot taller now than I was then and I made great time back to the truck and even had time to poke this dead thing with a stick. You haven't had a truly good day of roaming around until you have poked a dead critter with a stick. I jabbed at it twice for good measure and took a photo to capture the childish moment. I think it was a badger that dug his home too close to the bank and the decision cost him his life. I made it back to the truck but drove home in the dark and it was my wife who was worried this time. I applied another boyhood trick and apologized feverishly and promised to never return so late again. That night I showered to get the chill out of my bones and felt the hot water burn my chapped lips and the tiny scratches covering my arms. It was a great day of fishing if I could even call it that. Maybe it was more of a muck-about or a wanderlust but a great day nonetheless.

Poke, Poke
For all my fellow fisherman who come home empty handed but happy, I applaud you, for the thrill of fishing is not just in the catching but in the going.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Rainbow at Dusk in Downtown Boise

I can take you!
 The good old days of me picking a river drainage on the map and, "headin out" are all but stymied. A new baby girl  (Sawyer), an underappreciated  (kickass) wife and a demanding night job at St. Lukes have eliminated any free- spirited, spur-of-the- moment weekly fly fishing trips. It does not mean that I haven't found the time to flick out some fly line though. Now that my, "me time" is more precious and scarce, I have learned to be more practical in choosing my fly fishing destinations. A general rule (laid down by the wife) is that I can go as far as I want, as long as I am home before dark or just after dark if I apologize and bring home food. 
 In response to my crazy life, I have gained a new appreciation for the greenbelt hemmed river that flows blessedly through the middle of my city of trees. Not exactly known as a world class fishery, the Boise river in town makes up in close proximity what it lacks in fantastic fishing and hatches. Hit the local fly fishing venders in town they'll all usually say something like, "the fishing in town is ok, mostly hatchery fish, there's really not much of a sustained hatch through town." The Boise river through town is a fickle beast and hours of marching up and down the banks from Barber Park to Glenwood Bridge have taught me one thing; It's better than sitting on the couch. I remember learning to fly fish on the Boise and recall not catching a single fish for about three months in the fall. If my father-in-law had not taken me to the, "O" I might have pawned my stuff off and tried basket weaving.
What the guides and shop owners don't outright tell you is that there are some truly beautiful and healthy fish hiding in the Boise river, if you know where to look or if you earn (or pay for) their respect enough to pick up a secret or two.   5 years, 5 waders, 1 lost fly box (that still stings) and 3 broken fly rods later and I now feel pretty confident that I can catch a fish on the downtown section of the Boise on just about any day of the year. 

For anyone looking at fishing in town here's what I recommend.
  1. Don't limit yourself to dry flies, fishing nymphs through town is a must. I like prince and zebra nymphs as well as zugbugs with or without a bead head---->.
  2. Fish in early spring, late fall and warm winter days (above 40F). Lower water flows make the whole river more accessible and condense fish into nice runs and holes. Summer is best reserved for the bikini hatch, which I also recommend should not to be missed.
  3. Fish streamers at dusk to lure out, "the big one." I like the olive and black Matuka with the red gill flare.
  4.  Speed fish the river because it's so accessible, don't stand in one spot for hours. I like breaking the river into chunks and try to fish a whole section. For example, I break it up as follows, the Barber section, the golf course, the campus and the garden city section. I've hooked a nice browns right in front of the Ram Restaurant just up stream from the Broadway bridge. I know there are nice fish in there but they can be rather spaced out.
  5. If you just want to catch fish, follow the stocking report on the Idaho Fish and Game website and fish a few days after they stock the river.  I spoke with a IDFG biologist who told me that only 10% of the stocked hatchery trout survive the first month Apparently most of the fish die of starvation due to never learning to rest in back eddies and simply swim themselves to death. 
  6. If you can think of a place that's harder to get to or off the beaten path, get there and fish there. The Boise river gets hammered by fisherman especially on nice weather days, any strategy that limits the number of fisherman per mile will help you catch fish.
  The fierce looking rainbow above was caught last February on a black Matuka streamer a few runs below Barber bridge. I hooked this beautiful 21 inch fish at dusk and it was dark before I played her into the net. This rainbow had the most girth of any fish I have caught on the downtown section of the Boise river and it was a thrill to catch it and set it free.

A great video of browns feeding on damsels.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fly Fishing for January Trout...

If you know where to drive and more importantly where to stop, you might get lucky and find yourself on a desert stream standing in a sunbeam with a hatch popping and no wind blowing and hungry trout all about. I got lucky but that's probably just because yesterday was my birthday and mother earth felt like celebrating right along with me.

I left Boise today tired of the fog-smog and headed out and up a bit and over some too, to my favorite little river in sage brush country where I guessed the sun might be shining. Spring always springs early there it seems and today was no exception. Shoulder-warming temperatures in the mid 40's, bright sun and only a whisper of a breeze quickly faded any memories of dreary Boise sacked by inversion.
A tasty flat bread breakfast sandwich digested as I drove east into the sun, past cattle ranches and dairies, under train tracks, over canals, down dirt roads and through a gate or two. A short walk to the waters edge brought a cheeky smile to my face as I quickly saw that here and there trout were feeding at the surface especially in tails and riffles. "Hot damn" I hooted to myself. No wonder my casting arm was itchy and achy when I woke up this morning.  Much like a divining rode seeks water, my arm it seems seeks fish. The hatch was on! Little gray midges by the thousands drifted by, struggling to free themselves from their underwater exoskeleton bathing suits. I snapped a few photos and a video but they do no justice to the frenzy of molting insects struggling to get free and join their friends in the whirling cloud around my head.
I quickly tied on some 5X tippet and began attaching size 18 and 20 midge and emerger patterns. The fish were in a steady feeding rhythm and lined up like cows in a feed lot, several fish wide and deep in the best troughs. I was so busy enjoying the whole entomological event that I hadn't even made a cast. I stopped my camera work chuckled to myself about how funny I must look with my fly rod pinned between my knees, camera in hand, head down and about a foot off the water.  Whether it was from poor selection or the sheer number of other food choices, I could not entice a fish up for the life of me. So I changed tactics and tied on a pheasant tail and trailed it with a silver bead headed zebra, which drifted down nicely in the 3 feet of slowing tail water I was targeting.
"Happy Birthday me!" I chirped as my indicator was dunked on the second drift and began zipping up stream. I'd made a pretty easy move in the chess game of fisherman versus fish; stick the nymph right in the trout's nose just like it was floating off the bottom, helpless and ready to eat.  If something works, repeat it. I did and one chunky rainbow after another tugged my line down and over and across some to.

After a while I got adventurous and tied on a small crayfish pattern that I had picked up at the BVFF expo. It looked like a winner the moment I spied it and the biggest trout of the day, about 17 inches, made a go at it and ended up in my net. "Smile for the camera!" I will try to find out what this crayfish pattern is called but in general it is slightly smaller than most, with a sturdy foam-like body and less flamboyant colors.