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…

It happens every time…

As I often do at work when managing data in a spreadsheet or some other activity that doesn’t require serious concentration, today I pulled the Ipod from my brief case and selected Joe Bonamassa on shuffle play.  The songs are from two of his CDs, Live from No Where in Particular, and Dust Bowl.  There is a song in this mix that always makes me stop what I’m doing – “Asking Around for You”.  Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age, but I always think of my late friend Ray Alexander – first, because I miss him and second, because I know he would love the scales Joe plays in his solos on this song.  I never had a chance to share my thoughts on Joe Bonamassa’s work and would have loved to ask him if I was nuts to think this guy is the best blue/rock guitarist right now.

As these things occur to me I start thinking about others I’d like to look for in heaven, if I get there.  Enjoy!

Eastern Washington Fall

My son-in-law has been teaching me about salmon and steelhead fishing in and around the Tri-Cities.  Friday we spent the day bank fishing at Ringold Creek in the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River.  The target was steelhead which have recently returned to the hatchery.  We fished the seam below the confluence of the creek and river with various steelhead flies.  I started rigged with egg flies below a indicator like we fished the Lake Ontario tribs.  There were salmon rolling and jumping everywhere and the boat fisherman seemed to be have a great day hooking up with these dark Chinook.  I switched to swinging streamers and bright steelhead flies while Nate pulled out his spinning rod and large spinners with which he has been successful this season landing several salmon.  As the picture below proves the spinners work on steelies, as well.

Nate Boggs with Columbia River (hatchery) steelhead.

Nate Boggs with Columbia River (hatchery) steelhead.

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You have to love sunny fall days in the Columbia Basin.

Senior Discount

I had no fear of turning 50 and applying for that first AARP card. I was ready for the discounts to come rolling in.  Then I realized that I was going to have to wait 10-15 years for any real discounts, but I could wait.  The first was senior pass to National Parks – what a deal for a lifetime pass at only $10.  Of course, there are discounts at most restaurants, movie theaters, and so forth, but I’ve come to discover the minimal savings really don’t compensate for less attractive aspects of aging.

I just returned from a visit “home” to Western New York State.

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West Branch of Keuka Lake looking at Branchport, NY.

My 88 years-old mother still lives in our family home in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region and where my wife and I were born and raised.  We also have many dear friends there and around Rochester, where we raised our family and I worked for Eastman Kodak Company for 32 years.  The trip was a nostalgic drive down memory lane that reassured me that my old home town and Rochester are still thriving in spite of dramatically changing economies.  However, I soon realized that my friends that have, previously, been frozen in time in their 40s and 50s have now, also, reached eligibility for senior discounts.

Well, of course, time doesn’t standstill just because I haven’t seen them.  Everyone looked fine but I soon realized that our conversations frequently revolved around, well – er – breakdowns in body parts and functions.  Topics that just 10 years ago would only be shared in hushed tones with close family members are now fair game to be discussed around the table in a restaurant providing legitimate queasiness among attending grown children and their significant others.  Unfortunately, I don’t see a change in this practice compulsion.  Seniors don’t seem to have a filter to prevent these questionably appropriate discussions.  We are allies with a common enemy – our bodies – and an erosion of our modesty.  We don’t give a shit.

So senior discounts be damned and pass the Metamucil.

 

Wonder fly

As promised I want to give adequate praise to a trout fly.  For my none fly fishing friends, a trout fly is a hook generally wrapped with fur, feathers, and thread in such a way as to fool trout into thinking it is food so they will eat it, thus being caught by the fly fisherman.  I probably own several hundred flies of my own creation.  In my manic trout bum days I tied a lot and still have boxes of flies that have never seen water in 20 years.  As I get older, seem to have less time, and definitely do not have a decent space to work, I don’t tie flies very often.  As a result I have (sit down for this) started buying flies.  Often it is by way of ‘paying’ for free advice when visiting fly shops.  Well I have a story about such a time when I thought I was doing a favor for a helpful young man at Red’s Fly Shop in the Yakima Canyon.  What resulted was being turned on to THE FLY for taking rainbows in the Yakima River during the fall more consistently than any other fly I’ve used.

I know the suspense is killing you (well it would be if you were a fly fisherman that fishes the Yak in the fall) so I won’t hold out on you.  The fly is made by Idylwilde Flies and is an imitation of Baetis mayfly nymph.  I imagine every trout stream in America has Baetis mayflies, also referred to as Blue-Winged Olives or BWO, for short.  This one includes a bead head which is pretty much mandatory these days.  Here is the little beauty:

Idyl's Baetis Nymph Bead

I would describe the construction of this little gem but I’m guessing most who might read this won’t know what I’m talking about and those that do can pretty much tell by the picture.  What I will say about its construction is that this fly is more delicate than I like and tends to fall apart way too soon.  However, its fish attracting trait seriously out weights any other shortfall.

So this is how I came to ‘discover’ this rainbow magnet.  It was September 2011 and I was at Red’s waiting to arrange a shuttle for my float when an energetic young lad asked if he could help.  I don’t recall my response but since I was perusing the fly selections he pulled out a couple of these nymphs and said these are working quite well lately.  I was so impressed with his eagerness to help and his sincerity I bought a couple.  After arranging for my shuttle and leaving the spare key at the shop I headed to the launch ramp with much anticipation.

I was on the third day of a week long fishing trip and had floated the same stretch of river the day before with friends, Larry and Sue, and guided by Steve Joyce.  Steve had put us on some really nice fish and one in particular had me returning to where we met and parted company.  I was in the back of Steve’s drift boat and as we were cruising by a cute little eddy river right at the head of a riffle Steve said over his shoulder; “Throw one in there.”  I had been considering doing just that but was worried we would run by too fast and the flies wouldn’t hang in their long enough to be effective.  Well, my two nymph rig hadn’t hit the spot for more than two seconds when a large rainbow shot straight up trailing my leader from the corner of his mouth.  As he hit the water again he shot directly at us with blinding speed.  Needless to say there was no way I could recover line fast enough as he disappeared under the boat.  When I finally got the line tight he was gone.  I had that familiar heart dropping to the pit of my stomach, but I thought to my self, “I know where you live and I’ve got the rest of the week to work this spot.”  So as I launched my pontoon the next day and I knew that fish lived a mile down stream.

My 5 weight was rigged with what has become my “go to” nymphing setup that Steve showed us the day before (3′ of heavy butt mono, 3′ of 3X fluorocarbon, 3′ of 4x fluoro to the first fly and ~18″ to the second fly).  This day the first fly was a heavy Pat’s Stonefly nymph (word heavy is probably unnecessary) and on the point a size 16 “wonder fly”.  Once launched I headed for the home of that big rainbow drifting past the eddy a bit and anchoring up well below.  Wading back up and getting into position I made a cast to the head of the eddy right on the current seam; nothing.  Second cast resulted in the a hard take that yanked the Thingamabobber under and set the hook into a strong fish that raced out into the current; this had to be the same fish.   It seemed like an eternity before I was able to determine that this big ‘bow was on the tiny fly and 5X tippet.  Anxiety increased even more when the first attempt to net this fish with my ridiculously undersized net was unsuccessful.  The second attempt was successful with his head in the bottom of the net bag and tail sticking above the net frame.  When the fight was over I was now standing downstream in front of my pontoon, so while keeping the fish’s head in the water I took my camera out of my waders, set it on the seat and got this picture.

Fall Yakima bow  I didn’t take the time to measure the fish preferring to get it back in the river, but it sure looks 18-20″ to me.  That would be a perfect ending by itself, but on the very next cast to the same water I hooked and ultimately lost an identical rainbow.  And this was just the start of a very nice fall day in the Yakima River canyon.

Tying one on…

Nate Boggs and I came up with the same idea simultaneously around the time of our last fishing trip; now that winter is setting in we should get together and do some tying for next season.  This would also get me out of the house for a rest from the whirlwind that is a 2-year old grandson.  I think I hold up pretty well playing with him for hours on weekends, but at 62 I am becoming well aware why young people have babies.  He is the love of our lives, of course.  How can you not love this face?

Ryan 112413  Anyway, after running around most of the day yesterday I grabbed my ‘travel box’ of tying gear and headed over to Nate’s place for our first session.  On the way I stopped at our neighborhood winery, Thomas O’Niel, for bottle of cabernet sauvignon.  They only had the top shelf cab available and though I didn’t want to spend that much it sure was good.

I got to Nate’s and he already had materials strewn about the place ready to produce.

Materials

As we discussed where to start I realized that I had left my go-to materials home in the tackle box I use to hold all my hooks, threads, beads and other necessities.  The only answer was to open the wine.

Tying and T Oniel Cab

Nate did manage tying a few nice looking beadheads that I’m sure will catch fish feeding on Baetis nymphs.  I also was able to show him the advantages of the one-hand whip finish.

Nate tying

All in all a great afternoon and very nice cab.