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.