Being flexible

Shortly after Nate and I froze our…fingers off steelhead fishing in November I watched an episode of Trout TV that featured per-runoff trout fishing on the Main Stem of the Flathead River.  I floated the main stem  from the Hungry Horse bridge to Columbia Falls a couple years ago when Darryl and I were camping in that part of Montana.


I started formulating a plan to try a pre-runoff trip to the area.  You would never consider this if you lived far away which would require expensive travel arrangement because the weather and river conditions cannot be counted on.  However, now that I live a day’s drive from Western Montana it might be worth risking snow or high water.

So during a conversation over a beer after work I tried the idea out on my friend, Corey O’Donnell.  Turned out that he was trying to arrange a fishing trip with his father, Jeff.  So the trip would be the Corey, Jeff, Nate and I.  Over the next several months the plans came together; dates picked, guides booked, etc.  As we got within two weeks and hotel reservations were being made the guides started warning us that they were having some of the same unseasonably warm weather in Whitefish, like we had been enjoying.  They started preparing us for the possibility that the Flathead could be blown out with snow melt, but they had alternatives.  While the fishing reports the weekend before sounded great the weather forecast was for unseasonably warm and sunny weather for our trip.

Well, sure enough the Flathead blew out the day before we got there, so an alternative needed to be agreed upon between heading over to the Missouri River or fishing a local lake.  It really was a fairly simple choice; moving the weekend over to the Missouri River would be great for the fishing but cost considerably more, so lake fishing it would be.

Rogers Lake is a small lake on National Forest Service land at the end of the dusty uphill drive.  Jerrell, the guide for Nate and I, told us that the cottagers owned the buildings but leased the land from the NFS and the lease payments recently went up ~10X, so there were a number of For Sale signs along the dirt road.  I don’t have a picture of the layout of the launch site but it was hairy.



The weather was spectacular, so it was hard to feel too concerned that it shouldn’t be as warm as it was.  After just a bit of searching along the outside edge of last year’s reeds we found what had to be a school of 100 grayling.  It was so bizarre because Nate and I had never caught grayling and this day we caught about 50 or more between us.  The coloring on these fish is amazing especially the iridescent blue of their oversized dorsal fin in the clear lake water.  Their sides look almost metallic.  For about every 10 grayling a fat cutthroat trout would take our flies.




The pod of fish we found were in a “bowl” along the reeds about 20 feet across with our boat on one side and Corey, Jeff, and their guide, Rob, on the other.  Can you say fishing in a barrel.  We were catching fish on almost every cast all afternoon until things turned off around 5:00.

Day 2 – We were back at the lake to have a go on our own.  I had my pontoon while Nate, Corey, and Jeff used float tubes.  The good news was we had the lake pretty much to ourselves all day.  The bad news was this solitude was probably due to the stiff wind.  The wind made for hard travel and fishing for the guys in the float tubes.  Corey and Jeff really never got started due to problems with their tubes.  They ended up traveling to Glacier National Park for the day.  Nate gave it a herculean effort fighting the wind for hours; his legs finally gave up late in the afternoon.

It took me a couple of hours to find them but I did manage to get into the grayling.  Not as fast and furious as the day before but good enough to be grilled by other fishermen at the launch ramp when we were leaving.  The topper for day two was a beautiful 18-inch cutthroat.


So it pays to be flexible in your plans when forces beyond your control put you in unfamiliar territory.  Sometimes those alternatives end up exceeding your expectations.





Slow realization…

The following post, like so many, has languished as I became distracted and busy with something else.  I can’t remember the date of this fishing trip, but it had to be early November (2015) because I mention salmon season had just ended on this stretch of the Columbia River.  Anyway, decided to add the picture of Nate rigging up on that cold day and post it. Enjoy…

Nate and I spent the better part of this Friday bank fishing for steelhead on the Columbia River at the Ringold Access.  It was cold overnight so I didn’t pick Nate up in Pasco before 10:00.  We pulled my truck up at the river’s edge around 10:30.  Nate chose to focus his approach to fishing “gear” (spinning outfit w/ bobber and jig) and I stubbornly insisted on fly fishing.  I chose my 10-foot 7 weight thinking that this was the right match for the size of steelhead likely to be caught.  However, I started nymph fishing under a strike indicator (i.e., bobber) with a two nymph rig and split shot.  This outfit was a casting nightmare and immediately started aggravating the arthritis creeping into my right thumb.

Winter steelhead w_Nate Nate gearing up and yes, it was as cold as it looks…

The salmon season on the Columbia is now closed but there are still a lot of chinook still in the river.  The closure of the salmon season has reduced the boat traffic considerably.  As I mentioned above, I started fishing a two fly rig with an egg pattern above a Pat’s stonefly nymph.  This set up included a couple of split shot which made it less than a dream to cast – maybe a better leader construction would help.  I don’t remember how many casts I had made but it was less than 10, I lifted the rod when the indicator went down and all hell broke loose.  Whatever it was immediately headed downriver at a speed that was concerning.  First I needed to make sure the slack line cleared smoothly – no problem – and then in less than 5 seconds all my fly line was down river and I was looking at my backing disappear at an alarming rate.  I was actually concerned about putting my bare palm on the spool to slow it down for fear of causing a burn.  I was just about to clamp down on the reel to attempt avoiding being “spooled” when everything went slack.  By this time Nate was jogging down river to me, having heard my 30-year-old reel screaming as the fish dashed off.

Turns out my improved clinch knot was faulty on the Pat’s stonefly nymph.  Pretty sure I had hooked a chinook (king) salmon.  He either grabbed that fly or was foul hooked.  Either way, this few seconds connected to such a fish was a wake-up call that maybe I need to upgrade my equipment.  There was no way I was going to control that fish with the gear I had.

But what that fish did was start a slow burn in my brain that I want to do this some more.  So now I’m perusing more appropriate salmon gear.  This has also opened my eyes…