Thursday, August 28, 2014

Photography is Hard

I managed a morning out on the water this past weekend and had a moderately successful time. The fish were all over one of my favorite Columbia river carping locations and the water level is just about perfect right now. There's just enough weeds to attract the fish, but not so many that the fishing becomes impossible.

It has been a few weeks since I've been out in the water, so I found myself, not surprisingly, moving around a little too quickly and excitedly and spooked a good number of fish right off the bat. Fortunately there were plenty of targets. Before long I started running into dust clouds and tails dancing in the water column. After a couple missed fish that caught on to me after a couple of casts, I finally hooked into one from about 15 feet away. It was feeding and I dropped my flies near the dinner plate. When they got close to the bottom, I gave them a quick twitch. The fish picked up his head, flared his gills, and I assumed he'd eaten my flies so I set the hook.

To my surprise he was stuck solidly onto the end of my line and shot off directly out into open water. What seemed like 5-10 minutes later, and was probably about 3 minutes later, he was tired and I got him in close. I took a couple quick photos hoping one was good, and here was the best one.

It's not that great, but it's hard to take a picture of a fish when you're surrounded by weeds, in 2 feet of water, and don't have a net. A quick pull of the fly out of his mouth and he was gone and I was off for the next target. Along the way I stumbled into a couple monsters. Two of them lumbered directly at me and I didn't see them until they were within 20 feet and closing. With the first one I was able to drop my flies from my hand and quickly flick my rod up, which I was trailing behind me. The flies landed a short ways in front of the fish but they sunk too slowly to get to him before he spotted me. 

This is my constant dilemma. I don't like to use heavy flies because they splash too much and spook a lot of fish. On the downside it's much more difficult to correctly time slowly sinking flies, and if you don't have much time to get them to a fish you're totally out of luck. I get stuck in this predicament often. It seems to be a bit of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sort of thing.

Anyways, I got one shot at a brute. In fact I got about four or five casts at him actively eating, but I just couldn't manage to get it just right. I had to sadly watch him swim away after my many chances when he caught on to me and ambled away.

I managed one more fish on a bit later, but he shot directly into the weeds, then turned into more weeds, and then turned into even more weeds. As I watched him get to at least fifty feet away, all of it through weeds I knew it was over. I held some pressure on the rod, but not a lot in hopes the weeds would slow him down and he wouldn't break off.  It wasn't meant to be though, because he did break off.

By this time the sun was directly overhead and it seemed that the fish were becoming more scarce so I ambled off to another section of the cove I hadn't hit yet. On my way over there I got close to a heavy weed bed and decided I was best off shooting up onto shore and skipping it. I walked about twenty feet before at least thirty fish spooked from under the weeds. It gave me a bit of a chuckle; at least I'd found the fish. I continued on and twenty steps later the same thing happened with another pod of thirty-plus fish. I fished for another hour or two and had a couple of slightly positive targets, but no hookups. Mostly the fish I saw and ran into were cruising around pretty quickly and not feeding.

On the way out I tried to walk back through the weed bed and spook the fish a third time and get it on film. On my way into the weeds I spooked a couple individual fish but nothing big. Once I was fifteen feet or so in I stopped and tried stamping on the ground underwater to spook the fish, but it surprisingly didn't work. Then I tried slapping the water, still no. So I gave up on filming, put the camera away, and took three steps toward shore and fifty fish spooked.  Figures.

All in all it was a good morning out and I'm looking forward to doing it again, hopefully tomorrow. Have a great long weekend!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Long Overdue

Wow, have I been absent and delinquent on my duties here or what? My readership, all five of you, have probably forgotten I exist and gone off to more religiously posted blogs. I offer my sincerest apologies with no excuse to explain my absence.

With that said, let me remind you of the epic annual trip I went on what seems like ages ago, and sort of was ages ago. That would be the annual Bighorn river trip in lovely Montana. In the days preceding the trip, way back in July, the river levels were rising precipitously and were causing some minor anxiety amongst the travelers. High and rising waters would not make the fish uncatchable, but could move them around, spread them out, and kill the dry fly fishing.

In the end, the expectations were about right. We'd never been up there this late in the year so the bug life was a little different and the fish were in new places. It took a few days to figure out, and I really didn't feel like I understood the nymph fishing until the last day unfortunately. But on the flip side, the streamer fishing was a ton of fun and pretty productive, and the dry fly fishing was pretty good in the evenings. In fact toward the end of the week it turned pretty epic with more bugs on the water than I think I've ever seen before.

The first four days involved 14 people spread out in 4 boats probing the waters having a modicum of success throughout the day. In the evenings it was back to the cabins or the campfire to cook up some tasty morsels, drink some (more) beers, and chat about what did and didn't work throughout the day. As usual, this was probably just as much fun as being out on the water all day. It was also a welcome respite from one thing we hadn't considered: how long days are this time of year! Fishing from 8 or 9am until 6, 7, or 8pm is one hell of a long day!

There weren't too many notables from the first half of the trip as long as you ignore the multiple boatside surgeries that were required. And if you ignore that Mike got his wish to have someone "push it through" by hooking himself deeply. Perhaps the most notable was rowing by another one of our boats full of people clamoring to get to the shore and with an angler in the front of the boat with a huge tuft of white streamer action sticking out from the tip of his nose. Fortunately that one didn't require surgery since it didn't get to the barb, but of course Clif, the offender, did not hear the end of it. That's sort of what happens when you hook someone in the front of the boat from the rear of the boat!

For the second half of the week only two of us remained, Mike and myself. The most serious and addicted of the lot of course. Starting the day around 8 or 9am, again in a boat streamer fishing and nymphing. We continued to struggle to find fish with nymphs until the last day. On that day we were fishing an old spot that had been great to us in years past but this year had only yielded a couple fish. After getting frustrated Mike and I sat in the boat and watched a guide with a client docked on a sandbar in the middle of the river pulling out a fish every 10 minutes. As soon as they pushed off we looked at each other, and pulled anchor and shot for that spot. It felt a little dirty, but 2 hrs and about 20 fish apiece later we no longer cared. We had found the one spot in the river where all the 16-18" chunky rainbows were hanging out, and we made the most of it.

As you may expect, we expanded the already long hours, fishing until sundown at 9pm...and then continuing to fish. It's the only real possibility when fish are rising all around you, bugs are swarming everywhere, and you are a hopeless addict. So we fished, and fished, and fished. We fished until we couldn't even see our size 18 black caddis dry flies on the water any longer. Then we fished them a little longer by instinct, just hoping we "knew" where the fly was and setting the hook if there was a rise anywhere in the vicinity and miraculously picked up countless more fish doing so.

After 30 minutes or so of blind fishing you might think we'd call it a day. And you would be wrong. That was the point where I decided to take off my dries and tie on a streamer. Why not? I couldn't see anything so I figured I might as well swing a huge feathery hook through the air, then drag it through a pod of feeding fish. In all honesty, I didn't expect this to work but I couldn't see anything any more and Mike wouldn't let me leave. But on the first cast, fish on! Then on the second on! And on it went. In all, I think the two of us caught at least eight total fish on streamers while casting in and around rising fish. It sort of seems like that should be a sin, but who cares?

The next couple days were more of the same, with the addition of a couple of bears within 40yrds of us, and a new fish species:

That would be a "mooneye." We stumbled upon a pod of these guys on the last night. They will eat anything and have very sharp teeth. Plenty sharp enough to sheer your tippet right off just about every time. On the positive side the clean cut made it easy to thread on the next fly. After loosing four or five rigs we moved down river a little to get away from them despite the novelty of a new weird looking fish, and caught a bunch of rising trout.

We begrudgingly worked our way downriver and put out right at 9pm. We were only off the water this "early" because we had gotten some sour looks from the fly shop the morning after a late takeout. They made sure to tell us that the guy was out 'till 11pm (supposedly) cleaning the boat. Sorry. We have fun with this stuff. Even when some of us are questionable enough to enjoy catching sucker fish.

In all it was yet another awesome trip. The fishing was different than normal and took a few days to get going for us to figure it out. But once we figured it out, I think it was better than I've ever had it, and for this river that is saying something. I just wish I had had more than 8 days to fish. Nothing is ever enough...