Journal Entry 5/11/12

Water: FT Creek

Location: Bridge crossing near town

Conditions: 50′s, sunny, calm.  Water extremely low and relatively warm.

I had to get out and fish a while this afternoon and I’m glad I did.  The fly fishing was a real stress reliever, as it tends to be.  I’d been a little frustrated with lack of success on the river over the past few days, so I really wanted to get back into a rhythm of sorts.  I walked downstream from the bridge to an area I hadn’t fished before, but didn’t go far.  It was pretty obvious that with the angle of the sun and extreme low water, the fish were going to be too spooky to catch fishing downstream.  Headed back up to the bridge and caught an 8 inch rainbow on an elk hair caddis in a fast pool.

Back above the bridge, I was in familiar territory and the fishing was great.  That is, it was great when I practically crawled up to a pool or run and cast no shadow.  Otherwise, all the fish busted out and it was on to the next pool.  I fished the 14 elk hair caddis and a pheasant tail or copper john on a dropper.  Most fish hit the nymph but had a few others on the dry.  Aside from the one rainbow, I hooked about a dozen browns.  Two were exceptional for this creek, between 13.5-14 inches, fat and super active.  Both ate the fly viciously and gave me a heck of a fight.  One finally got under a root in an undercut bank and broke me off.  In doing so, though, he hooked the dropper up on the root with the dry still in his mouth.  The brown was stuck there to the root with about a foot of line to move around with!  Never done that before.  I approached to turn him lose but he managed to get it done himself.

Had about a dozen or so vehicles driving by and some folks watching me from up on the hill during the couple of hours, which made the experience a bit less enjoyable, but overall it was good.

No camera today.  Of course.


Time off to Fish

We’d had the trip planned for a few months, and the date was fast approaching.  When we’d booked it, we were expecting low, clear water and incredible hatches of March Browns and/or Mother’s Day caddis flies.  If it was anything like 2010, the fishing would be incredible.

I picked Nick up at the Billings airport in the wake of a coming rain storm that would last for four days straight and dump more rain than this part of the state had seen for years.  Not to mention that this was a cold rain – the temp topped out at about 44 degrees during the entire rain storm, and dumped a crazy amount of snow above 8,000 feet.  So much for the weather.  But he’d come to fish and I’d taken the time off, so there was nothing to do but fish.  We picked up some extra rainwear and other gear from Cabela’s on the way out of town.  That turned out to be a good decision.

Saturday started off good.  It was sunny and mid 50′s, and there were bugs hatching on the river.  Five different kinds of bugs.  Funny thing was that the fish weren’t taking them.  It was the first and only day of the year (thus far) that I would see the elusive Mother’s Day caddis.  They didn’t last.  I set Nick up with a nymph rig.  He stood on the boat ramp at the fishing access site that nobody seems to fish, and started laying into them.  I tried dries, but couldn’t get anybody to bite.  Had to switch to nymphs.  We each had double nymph rigs going, but the fish keyed in on just one bug, and it worked like magic.  I think Nick landed about 8 fish (whitefish, brown, rainbow) within casting distance of the concrete boat ramp.  Not bad for his first bit of fishing since last summer.

We were about to leave when I threw one last cast from the ramp and nailed a huge brown at the very tail end of my drift.  Icing on the cake.

We headed upstream, but found that we should have just stayed where we were.  Every single turnoff had a vehicle parked at it.  It was Saturday, remember, and fishing weather hadn’t exactly been spectacular the past couple of weekends.  We finally found a spot to fish and got out on the river just in time to get hit hard by a huge downpour.  The rain that wouldn’t leave for four days had set in.  I caught a couple of fish and then it started raining really hard, time to pack it up.

The next day we woke up to a steady rain.  I think Nick brought all that eastern rain out here with him.

It turned out the rain from the previous night had started to muddy everything in the lower river and numerous tributaries.  We spent a lot of time running around from one spot to the next, and ended up cleaning crap off of our flies more than anything else.  We only caught a couple of fish and stayed out in the rain all day.  Luckily we’re good natured.

The next day, we had to find a place to fish that wasn’t blown out.  The steady rain kept on coming and filled the banks of most streams with muddy, unfishable water.  After fishing in muddy water for a short time, we decided on a high elevation stretch of a local creek that usually stays clear this time of year.  It worked out.  We found some fishable pools and hammered a few nice fish in the pouring rain.  It was fun.  I hadn’t fished here before, so we probably spent too much time walking up the stream looking for the next great hole that never appeared, but we caught fish nonetheless, on a day where nobody else in the county was fishing.

Rainbow in the rain

Action shot!

Nice brown for a small stream

Tuesday we woke up to the all too familiar steady rain that made me feel like I was in another world.  It just doesn’t happen like that here.  A pond had formed on my front lawn that gave us a good guage on how hard the rain was coming down by monitoring how the raindrops hit the water surface.  We spent some time deliberating.  What to do?  We’d toughed out the rain for a couple of days and had fun, but this was getting to be downright miserable.

The idea of floating the river came up.  If we floated up high, the water should still be pretty clear.  We could take the two man pontoon and spend the day out in the pouring rain.  We talked about it for a while and were kind of on the fence for some time.  We finally decided to heck with it, we might as well go.  Better than sitting in the house all day.

A pig.

That turned out to be one of the best fishing decisions I’ve ever made.

Nice brown

After getting a shuttle from my neighbor and launching the little boat, we floated to the first big hole and parked it.  The water was high and just a tad off color.  I probably needn’t mention it again, but the rain was coming down steady, as it had been for a couple of days now.  We tied on San Juan worms, figuring the high water would have fish feeding on dislodged earthworms.  Money.

What's she been eating?

We started fishing that hole and never wanted to stop.  It was one fish after another, and they were all HUGE, for this river.  Browns and rainbows everywhere.  They were stacked up and feeding like crazy and we’d hit them at the right time with the right bug.

Same thing as this one.

There were plenty of photo-ops and high fives at that spot, and after a couple of hours there we’d finally caught most of the fish that were going to be caught.  We floated to the next hole.

It was just like the previous hole, fish stacked up and feeding heavy.  I’d catch a couple, think I had them pinpointed in one part of the pool, and turn around and catch one in another spot.  It was some of the most fun fishing I’ve ever had.  The best part was in the entire day of fishing, and probably 25-30 fish or more, we never caught a fish under about 14″.  Not sure where else or when else you can experience something like that, but I won’t soon forget it.

It seemed like everything was coming together when sometime late in the afternoon the rain stopped.  You heard right, it stopped raining!  The clouds even started to lift and we could begin to see the bases of the mountains that would be blanketed with fresh snow.

Heron peck

We headed home for a nice dinner and to prepare for a float on the famous Bighorn River the following day.


After the rain

Up at 6:00 and into the truck we went, heading away from the beautiful snow-covered mountains and over to the Bighorn.  I’d heard so much about this world famous river, but despite living within driving distance for several years, I’d never gone and tried it.  I’ve got perfectly good fishing where I’m at, and much fewer anglers to contend with. But today the Bighorn was pretty much the only game in town, with most other streams blown out from the rain.  This tailwater would stay clear for over 10 miles below the dam despite the rain.  Plus, it would be a good time to say that we’d experienced the Bighorn.

Other boats in the good spots

We got into Fort Smith mid morning and arranged a shuttle.  That’s when we got the wakeup call.  The kid at the fly shop told us that it was a relatively quiet day, compared to a weekend, and we’d only see about 75-100 boats on the river.  75-100 boats!!!  I was shocked.  I’ve fished the Henry’s Fork in July before, and I thought that was disgusting!

Fishing the 'Horn, first timer!

Anyway, we battled the crowds, which was too bad, because there was a lot of good water that would have been nice to fish had there not been a driftboat or raft parked in it, with a couple dudes posted up in the holes.  We did find some okay spots to fish, and caught a few nice ones, but nothing like home waters the day before. At least the weather was good.

This is why people fish here.

Nick landed a pretty brown trout that we taped at 18″.  It was really a beautiful fish and a fierce fighter.  He did a heck of a job getting it to the landing net, and it turned out to be the highlight of the day.  I caught a couple of fish on dries, which was a nice change of pace.  Overall, it was a good experience and I’m glad we fished it, but I won’t be going back soon.

The final day brought us back to home waters.  The fishing wasn’t as dynamite as it had been two days before, but the weather was nice for a change, and we caught fish.  It was a good way to finish the trip.

Last day rainbow

I brought Nick back to the airport with mixed feelings.  The weather had sucked, but we had some really incredible fishing.  We hadn’t had the amazing dry fly hatches I had hoped (and tied) for, but we found out just how much fish can key in on the right nymph.  All in all, it was a good trip.  I took a few days to catch up on other chores, and we got pounded with rain again.  Now everything’s flooded.  But I know that if I tough out the weather, there’s some dynamite fishing that can be had in a few places.  Just have to make it happen.

New Gear

I finally gave in.  An opportunity came my way to get my first quality rod and reel combo ever.  Prior to this, I’d been using the same $50 cheapo for over 5 years (see here).  It worked fine and I caught plenty of fish, but the quality of the experience wasn’t what it could be.  I learned that when I casted friends’ rods and was blown away at how effortless they made the whole process.

I got a sweet deal on a really nice Lamson Guru reel.  It’s my first reel with a drag!  And boy is it nice.  I’m actually finding myself playing fish with the reel now, whereas with my old crappy reel I used to pull in the line by hand and get left with a mess.  The drag is super smooth, nice and quiet, and easily adjustable.  The thing looks amazing…..these reels truly are pieces of artwork.  And it balances out the rod great.

Did I mention the rod?  Yeah.  It was a toss-up between Echo and Temple Fork.  The guy I bought from dealt with Echo, TFO and St. Croix.  He dropped St. Croix after a bad experience with a rod warranty.  I did some research and talked to some other fishermen.  It was close, but I ended up going with the Echo.

Echo rods are made by Rajeff Sports, which is a relatively new company.  Tim Rajeff designed rods for G. Loomis prior to starting his own company.  He now designs Echo rods and Airflo fly lines.  The rods are really high quality at a relatively low price.

I went with the Echo Edge, 9 foot, 5 weight.  It’s a really nice looking rod and casts amazing.  Feels like a $700+ rod.  We’ll just have to see how it and the Lamson hold up under some serious use.  Echo rods come with an unconditional lifetime warranty, which is pretty standard for most decent rodmakers these days.  After all of the great things I’d heard about this company, I think I made the right choice.

Oh, and I also upgraded to a nice Rio Avid Series WF5F line.

Expect to see lots of pictures with my new gear in the future!

April 2011 Fishing Entries

I’m way behind on my fly fishing journal entries, so I’ll try to catch up by lumping together a group of trips from late March.

It’s been a really crazy spring.  I mean, spring always brings a healthy dose of rain, wind and snow to this part of the country, but this year has been insane.  Aside from a few short warmups, things were unseasonably cold all spring.  We were 2-3 weeks behind on stream temperatures and bug hatches, and then we got the rain of rains.  More on that later.

So rather than a nice progression from nymph fishing to midge hatches to baetis mayflies, to March brown mayflies, to an explosive caddis fly hatch, we’ve been stuck with midges all spring.  Even in the short spurts of mayfly and caddis fly hatches, fish still seemed to prefer midges.

I had one incredible afternoon of fishing with both dry midges (size 18-20) and midge larvae in a snowstorm.  The next day I got fish on midges again, and had my only afternoon of the spring with a steady baetis hatch that had the fish cooperating.  It was nice….while it lasted.

I saw fish rising to March browns on the river one day while I was working, and couldn’t find a reliable hatch though I tried for the entire next week.

I threw in a few more days of fishing here and there where the only thing the fish were interested in was nymphs.  The cold, wet spring only had me more excited for the week of vacation I had planned with my friend who was coming in from Maine.  Boy would I be surprised with what the weather had in store for that week!

Spring in Montana……what are you gonna do?

What Happened to the Bugs?

While oftentimes predictable, insect hatches on our favorite streams can sometimes come and go without warning.  Whether it be due to the odd swings in the weather, streamflow changes, water quality problems, or factors unknown, some years hatches can just plain disappear.

That’s what seems to have happened on the UK’s River Test, which hasn’t seen its historically prolific mayfly hatches in some time.  It’s proclaimed by some to be the most famous chalk stream in the world, but is being pressured by strange weather patterns and urban development.

Read more here.

Fishing the Creek 3-12-11

The warm weather made it way too nice not to get out fishing for at least a couple of hours.  I went over to one of the creeks by the house.  Snowmelt had the water here pretty dirty, but I managed to get a couple of fish.  I took a ride over to the river, thinking I might try it there for a while.  Turns out I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the weather.  There were vehicles in all four of the places I was considering fishing.  I think I’ll try sticking to fishing during the middle of the week as much as I can.

The Itinerant Angler

I like podcasts.  They’re convenient to download and listen to, and can be really entertaining.  In my search for fly fishing podcasts, I stumbled upon a podcast entitled “The Itinerant Angler”.  After downloading and listening to a few episodes, I was really impressed.

Zach Matthews runs “The Itinerant Angler” website and podcast.  Zach is a well established outdoor writer and photographer, and runs a really great operation.  The site, and podcast, are dedicated to fly fishing.

The website includes a fly fishing discussion board, a photo gallery containing Zach and his wife Lauren’s photos, fly tying instructional videos, and much more.

The podcast is really cool, and something I’ll follow regularly.  It currently contains over 80 episodes, most of which are interviews with experts from the fly fishing industry.  I’ve already learned lots of interesting things about the industry in the first few podcast episodes.

You can check out the site at, or search for the podcast on iTunes.

Fly Fishing Photo Contest – Big Prizes!

Fellow northern Maine-bred fly fisherman Ben Rioux over at Up North Maine Fly Castings has put together another one of his always anticipated contests……this time for photos.  That’s right, all you have to do is submit the best fly fishing related photo and you could win huge!  Prizes include a brand new L.L. Bean Streamlight Ultra 14 ft. 9 wt. spey rod, and lots of other cool stuff.

Now I just happen to be perhaps the least photographically skilled person in the fly fishing blog world, but you can bet I’ll be finding something to submit.  The prize is too great not to!

Find more info on the photo contest here.