Thursday, April 25, 2013

Montana 2013

Those who read this blog regularly (all 5 of you) or those who know me personally know this is an annual trip and sort of a big deal for me and my fishing acquaintances. At some point each year we head to this river in Montana called the Bighorn river, which is an extremely productive tailwater. We do this to catch a ton of fish, drink a little beer, a bunch of whisk(e)y, and just hang out. It seems to me that it's slowly devolving into a bit more of a hang out and less of a fish-hard-outing, but I think that's the general idea in most hobbies and in the aging process. I'm OK with it. I guess.

A couple years back I did a pre-trip post to introduce my beloved readers to the contestants. This year I was not on top of things, partly because the line-up wasn't totally finalized until the night we arrived, and partly because I am getting lazier in my old age. So I am going to introduce you, post-facto, to the contestants. What are they contesting in? A number of things. Some of which they knew about, others they were oblivious to. But all those things aside for now, here are the contestants.

Tyler (dry-fly only purist who has been fishing for 1 year)
Bueno (Bighorn virgin)
Gavin (Bighorn virgin)
Cousin John
Mitch (Bighorn virgin)
Big Jon

Of the contests we all knew about, which were biggest rainbow, biggest brown, and biggest whitefish, we have winners. What did they win? Well, the biggest trout each received a bottle of Roughstock Montana whisk(e)y and a cigar (which was left in the rental car and I now have!). The biggest whitefish won the jackpot that consisted of $5 for each whitefish caught on the trip.

Mike sort of ruined the fun and won both largest trout prizes. Congrats Mike, and thanks for spoiling the fun for everyone else.

Jonathan won the largest whitefish, which was 17" and he claims to have caught twice. Unfortunately for him, I don't think anyone actually paid. Sorry. I owe you $5 and so do a few other people.

Of the contests that people didn't know about, here we go. 

Biggest partier disappointment, it's a 3-way tie between cousin John, Gavin, and Bueno. We were stunned when they were the first to head back to their cabin and turn in every night. I can only assume they were either pounding the whisky hard on the river or did so after they left us every night. Congrats either way fellas!

Most improved fisherman. This one is really hard to give out since I really only fished with the people in my boat, but I remember hearing reports of Mitch catching quite a few fish from the boat. Being as it's his first time here and how he hasn't done a ton of fly fishing in general, that makes him worthy and deserving.

Most dedicated fisherman. This one was going to go to big John because he didn't know how or when to take a break. However...and you knew there was a however coming...he took a half day off with a bunch of others to go see some silly historical sight, and that's not what a dedicated fisherman does. Instead I'm awarding this to Jonathan. We always have trouble getting him to fully commit to long trips like this and when he does it seems like he always has to come up late or leave early. He did neither this year, fished his heart out, hooked a million and even caught a few, so congrats Jonathan!

Best cook. Gavin for preparing something I certainly can't spell, and don't even recall what it was, to add to our fish tacos one night. He wins despite the neoprene waders.

Worst dressed. I place this here because it goes to Gavin, pictured above. I just can't get passed the neoprene. Of course the real blame goes to someone else in the group for donating these stylish waders.

Best boat rower.  I give this one to myself because I'm the only one who didn't row the boat over prime fishing territory while I was fishing.

Most dedicated to something other than fishing. This doesn't necessarily mean not dedicated to fishing, but Tyler win's hands down since he put in a number of 10+ mile runs in the mornings before we headed out. Then fished hard all day and walked up and down the banks nonstop searching for rising pods.

MVP. This one is sort of a no-brainer. It goes to Brady for doing all the logistics, delegating the shopping, making all reservations, sending out all emails, and basically sorting out everything so all the rest of us have to do is show up. The only hangup that made me consider re-routing this award was that the historical sight outing was his idea. Regardless, I seriously hope you got paid back in full plus a little, but it sounds like we shorted you this year. Maybe I'll help out a little next year. Then again maybe not.

Until he matches this catch, I am obligated to overuse this picture. I have no choice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Apocalypse Later

The weathermen keep predicting an end to the nuclear-winter apocalyptic skies we enjoy in the PacNW every winter. And said weathermen keep being proved incompetent. I understand that predicting the weather can be a bit difficult, and I don't hold it against the professionals when they get something wrong when predicted five days in advance. But when you can't even get the weather right on the day of, I think you should be either hung in effigy or publicly flogged. Or maybe both.

Such was my experience on Sunday. I watched the weather all week to determine what the optimal efforts would be that weekend. And I was assured all week that Saturday was going to be partly cloudy/sunny but relatively nice, and that Sunday was going to be gangbusters nice. That prediction was revised down on Saturday to show cloudy/rainy on Saturday and partly cloudy on Sunday. The revision didn't change my plans, which were to head out carping on Sunday.

I woke up on Sunday to cloudy skies so I checked the weather hoping the clouds were to burn off soon leaving sunny skies in the late morning and afternoon. The forecast did not let me down and showed sunny skies as of 10am through 3pm with some clouds and rain coming in the evening. That will do. So I packed up my gear and headed to one of the few good spots that I have discovered in the area. The whole way there I was watching the western skies with a darkness growing in my soul. I am not generally an angry person but we all have our limits.

I arrived at a good place to park around 9:30 and started putting my gear on. It was pretty obvious to me that the sun wasn't coming out anytime soon; the cloud cover was still fairly heavy and even looked like it could spit on me a little. Sort of how I wanted to rain spittle down on the weathermen just then. But grumbling under my breath while donning my waders and boots I headed out in search of big lipped fish.

In the end the weathermen had it completely and totally wrong. The sun never even came close to poking through all day and a bit of drizzle even came down a few times that morning. On the flip side I found some mud flats that were totally chock full of carp. I'm not sure if it was a good thing in the end, but the visibility of the water was about 2 inches. That made it impossible to spot the fish, but it also shielded me from view to some extent, and with the cloudy skies keeping me from seeing into the water anyways maybe it was for the better. Fortunately for my prospects tails were poking up everywhere, and in a lot of places where tails weren't poking up I could see burbly water.

Zero visibility made it impossible to cast directly to a carp's mouth, but there were so many of them even when I guessed wrong I found myself hooking up with other fish that were apparently in the vicinity. At one point I even found myself casting to to a baitball of at least 6 feeding carp all compressed in a five foot diameter area. It looked a lot like this.

My poor skills resulted in around ten hookups (some of them snagged fish), one actual catch, and another one that took off like his tail was on fire and dragged my flyline to within a few wraps of the backing before popping off. By the time noon came around all the feeding seemed to shut down. A few fish were cruising around, but with zero visibility it was nearly impossible to make anything happen. I fished uneventfully for another hour or two before going exploring for a while. Finally I headed home around two once I became fully convinced the weathermen are total boobs and the sun wasn't going to show itself.

It was a fun outing even though the weather disappointed.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bobbers and Poles

You have no idea what I have to deal with every year in MT. I take this trip with friends and family annually, and in 6 years it has grown from 2 people to as many as 16. The typical attendees vary in skill from avid and experienced fly anglers to the "never-tried-it", drink more than we fish type, and it's really a bi-modal distribution of those two extremes. You wouldn't be surprised to hear what I have to put up with. Below is a representative sampling.

"Hey Tim, what kind of lure should I use?"

"Could you grab my pole from the car?"

"My reel doesn't seem right."
"Yeah, you put it on backwards."

"The fish are biting here, why don't you try this spot."(me)
 (20min later)
"The fish seem to have followed you down there. Wanna switch again?" (them)

"There's something wrong with this pole, it can't seem to cast any farther than 15 feet."

"What are you doing up there on the bank?"
"I got my leader all tangled up. You want to help?"

"Crap, I missed the boat ramp."
"That's ok, just hit the next one."
"Crap, I missed that one too!"

"I'm not catching anything and I've been casting in this great looking pool for an hour!"
"Do you still have your flies?"
"Hold on....   Oh, no I don't.  I must have lost them when I hooked the river-bottom on my second cast"

"How much weight should I have on here?"
"How much do you have on?"
"What size?"
"Two split shots."
"What size of split shot?"
"Split shot."

"How long should my leader be?"
"Usually around nine feet. How long is it?"
"Looks like it's down to about three feet."
"How did you even thread that through the fly? Nevermind; you probably want to add a bunch of tippet."
"How do I do that?"

"Do you have any beer in your boat?"

"Fish on!"
"That's a nice fish. Get him over hear and I'll net him."
"Looks like a rainbow, right?"
"Yeah, sure."
(net the fish)
"Oh, it's a whitefish. You owe the pot $10! Sucker."

"Man, I've hooked at least 10 fish here and lost every single one of them!"
"Did you check your hooks?"
"Check my hooks? Why?"
"Sure sounds like something's messed up."
(reels gear in)
"God damn cheap ebay flies. Hook's broken."

"I need a new bobber, I cast mine off"

And of course:

Monday, April 8, 2013

To Huck or not to Huck

I have long been against hucking streamers while fly fishing. Why, you might ask? It's not a very good reason, but it's simply that I have always felt like I should just be using a spinner rod if I'm going to do that. It's basically the same thing, right?  For those of you who don't know, streamers are large bass-like "flies" that are cast out and reeled back bass fishing.

Well, after being heavily engrossed in the fly fishing world for about 10 years now I finally found myself hucking and chucking and loving it. With that enjoyment, though, came a bit of shame and embarassment. Not for throwing streamers, but for not having done so before!

But I should back up a bit and give you some context. This revelation was part of my recent fishing trip to the Bighorn river in Montana, which has been an annual trip for 6 years now. The Bighorn is a great tailwater chock full of fish, gets fished 24/7/365 and yet still is a pretty easy destination to catch fish even for newbies. During every visit here we have floated and fished the first 13 miles of the river, but every time we we fish the first 8 or 9 miles pretty hard and end up just floating or rowing out the last 4 miles, maybe half-heartedly fishing it. This is what I became a bit ashamed of this year. Apparently this lower section is fairly good streamer-land with deep runs and lots of cut banks with overhanging brush--great territory for meat-eating cannibalistic monster pigs. We've seen people tossing streamers here but never did so ourselves.

That all changed this year and I now find myself asking myself "why not before??" Apparently chucking streamers is a blast! Not because you catch tons of fish because you don't. But because when you do get a bite it's full of the excitement of bass fishing where a fish nails your streamer, often near the surface with ferocity beyond the fish's size. Beyond the obvious excitement of harsh bites out of nowhere streamer fishing adds in the art/skill of fly casting. It's a ton of fun to try and toss streamers to targets just a foot in diameter, sometimes with overhanging trees, grass, and bushes (not to mention not hooking yourself or your fishing partners who are all confined to the small space of a drift boat). Sure a few bugs get lost in said trees, grass, and bushes, but who cares? And when you're fishing with people who don't row boats all the time, like those in our group, you also get the chance to test your distance casting when the boat ends up 60 feet from that amazing spot on the bank you HAVE to fish.

To prove how much fun it is, this is how the trip went: first half of trip, mainly bobber nymph fish with occasional dry fly fishing when rising pods encountered. Second half of trip, no more bobber nymph fishing, only dry fly fishing, Czech nymphing, and streamer fishing a lot of the places we had tried bobber nymph fishing before as well as streamer fishing the last 4 miles every day.

And I now consider myself a pro at double hauling a 1/4oz bug on the end of a 7wt pretty much the entire length of the fly line and hitting that hole at the bank within a couple inches. It only took a handful of lost bugs too!