Moby Trout

Visited the river I usually fish in summer on the east slope of Washington’s Cascade Mountains yesterday with my good friend Corey O’Donnell and his dog Henry.  The flows are down as you would expect for mid-August but the water temps are still trout friendly at 63 degrees at ~8:00 AM.  As usual our hopes were high for great fishing, but tempered by a general lack of success over the past couple of seasons.  Of course, last season we were in a serious drought and I curtailed my fishing early in the season when water temps were around 70 in early June.  I’m starting to wonder if the apparent difficulty in finding feeding fish this season might be related to last summer’s drought.

The point to this story is the similar circumstance of low flows.  The last time I fished the river last year I was able to wade out far enough in a particular spot to reach a large eddy that I knew would hold nice fish, but have never been able to reach it.  There is a high bank to my back and fast and deep water in between.  But with the low flows last June I could wade out close enough to gain some backcast room and handle the faster current between me and the seam I wanted to fish.  I was pretty excited at the prospect of finally reaching this water, so went at it with a “hopper/dropper” rig.  On top a purple Chubby Chernobyl and below a small beadhead nymph.  Can’t remember the latter for reasons that will become obvious.

I don’t recall whether it was my first cast, second, or third but it was right off the bat that I hit that current seam just like I wanted.  Time slowed to a crawl as I saw a large dark form shoot up from the bottom and nail that dry fly.  I was able to wait for the fly to disappear and raised my rod to feel the weight of a heavy trout.  Unfortunately, that feeling only lasted a few seconds as a poor clinch knot at the fly parted at the start of the first run.  As I stood there, totally crushed, that damn fish jumped; I swear to give me a good look at its size.  That fish has haunted my dreams since and I wondered when I might have access to it again.

Fast forward to yesterday and the low flows of mid-August.  To say the fishing was slow would be an understatement and reflective of the season, so far.  Corey and I have been exploring some different water and have found some amazing looking runs and pools but few fish.  Yesterday we tried the new water until lunch.  It was hot so after a quick lunch at the car we decided to go down river to our old haunt to find shade we knew would cover the car in the afternoon.  I was also motivated to see if the flows were low enough for me to approach the cross-river eddy.

After the hairy scramble down the steep basalt bank it looked possible to reach the seam.  The river level would allow wading to mid-river yet the current along the seam was very strong.  Fishing a double nymph rig under a strike indicator I started working a deeper slot between me and the honeyhole.  The point fly was a funky wire body stonefly nymph that has proven to be more of a fisherman attractor than fish a attractor.  Below that a San Juan worm.  Don’t know why I selected those flies because neither has been very successful for me.   Eventually I started working the seam at the edge of the strong current and after many casts and working it over well I was about to move down the run.  Then as the indicator was passing over a large rock it jumped and I reflexively lifted my little 4-weight coming tight to a solid fish.  Wasn’t sure how solid because it started running down river using that strong current.  As it started peeling off line its weight became evident and I started looking for slower water to move it into – there really wasn’t any.  At the same time it seemed the drag on my reel was tightening itself, then instantly it stopped mid-run.  Simultaneously I saw the problem and there was a gut-wrenching pop as the leader parted from the flies.  The last few wraps of fly line on my reel over-lapped the line coming off.  This parting of the ways was more crushing after so few hookups lately; I had to sit on a stream side boulder and collect myself.  But I did and rebuilt my leader and duplicated that rig.

So big deal, you say.  This confirmed my judgement of that seam holds big fish.  Could this have been the same fish – don’t know and didn’t really think about that possibility until 45 minutes later.  After working the pocket water upstream and then dropping down slightly below where we parted company I was looking across the tail end of the current seam from above when a large trout jumped clear of the water trailing a short piece of leader.  Damn that fish is still taunting me, but I will be back next week to get justice…and my flies back.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…