A Primitive Curiosity

A Primitive Curiosity

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fly Fishing the Missouri River

I have been travelling a lot for work, and when I found out that I would be visiting the Lewis and Clark NF and the Helena NF I know what was right in between those two cities. The Missouri River.

Checking the river level about a month before I left it looked looked high, somewhere in the area of 10,000 CFS. Way too high for any chance of wading. But, with the June came a dramatic change. From June 1 to June 7, the river went from 11000 CFS to 4800 CFS. Perfect for wading. I packed light on dress shirts for work and made room in my bag for my waders, boots and chest pack.

My co-worker was kind enough to drop me off on the river on the way from Great Falls to Helena on Saturday with the promise to pick me up at 5:00. On the way to the river, we stopped at The Trout Shop in Craig, MT. They gave me a couple of patterns for the day, and also clued me into a location to access some great wading just a couple miles from town.

After getting geared up, I hiked about a half mile down a well worn path in the ballast beside a set of railroad tracks. Obviously many people had come this way before. I was worried about crowds, as this is the second weekend in June and people might be on vacation. My hope was that the forecast of mostly cloudy and a 60% chance of rain and thunder storms would scare people off. Apparently it did, because as I got to the side channel I was going to wade, there were only a couple other people wading. Over the course of the day, I would see a half dozen drift boats but everyone was courteous and polite.

The patterns that the shop recommended were the Rainbow Czech nymph in size 14 and 16, and a very small size 20 mayfly nymph in a metallic yellow. I set up a size 16 Rainbow Czech 18" under a foam indicator and went to work. Nymphing is not my favorite way to fish. I prefer to take fish on the dry. I'm not very confident in my nymphing abilities, and my technique isn't very good. However, recently I have been trying to educate myself and practice fishing with a nymph, if nothing else to be a better rounded fly fisherman. It paid off.

It took about an hour to figure out what I was doing, but as soon as I did I got a tug that felt more like a small steelhead than a trout. Turns out, this rainbow was about the size of my first little hatchery steelhead. About 20" with thick shoulders and beautiful red stripe down the side. Nymphing was working! Over the course of the day I caught about a dozen nice rainbows, none smaller than 18". A couple of fish that acted very differently from the rainbows grabbed my fly and just took off. Both broke me off almost right away after a short and powerful run.

Near the end of the end of the day I was working my way downstream back to the point where I would get back to the tracks and hike out. I wanted to catch one last fish, and was secretly hoping that i could hook into one of those hot fish that had broken me off. I was fishing the small yellow mayfly pattern and had noticed there was a nice depression at the downstream end of the island that I was fishing next to.

I set up my drift, and my fly got absolutely nailed. This fish was hot, and I let it take a nice long run and waited until it wanted to slow down before I started to increase the pressure and turn the fish. I did my best to protect my 5x tippet and after a nice fight I landed a huge brown, my first ever.

It's really interesting how much of a different character different species of trout have. The rainbows I landed were acrobatic and didn't take long runs. The brown was different. They got hooked, and immediately took off the other direction.

Did I mention it was raining? Because it was pouring almost all day. I stayed warm by keeping moving and keeping my food intake pretty constant, but once I hiked back to wait for my ride it started raining even harder, and I got a lot colder. I saw a small cave about ten yards uphill from where I was waiting and scrambled up to get out of the rain. It was sheltered from the wind and rain, and ended up being a great place to hang out.

It was probably the best day of trout fishing in my life. I landed a bunch or really nice fish, and made great progress on my nymphing technique.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Oregon Troutback: A Different Sort of Adventure

I didn't do the Oregon Outback because I'm out of shape and lazy. Actually, its really more about not having a couple of like minded people to train, prep, and ride with to make the commitment to register and ride the route. 

So I didn't ride the Outback, but was feeling some serious envy for the riders posting gear lists and getting ready for the ride. So when Russ from The Path Less Pedaled asked if I wanted to take trip up the Deschutes River to camp and fish the stonefly hatch over Memorial Day weekend I jumped at the chance. 

Because of all the other folks riding the Outback the same weekend, and the fact that we were using the trailhead at the Deschutes State Rec Area (the end point of the Outback) it just made sense to call this trip the Oregon Troutback.

In preparation of a long weekend of fishing, I tied up a bunch of stonefly patterns, both wets and dries. I used a foam dry pattern with rubber legs and a deer body wing. I tied these with both black and tan foam in size 6 with 3x long hooks. For nymphs, I used a size 6 nymph hook and tied black and golden colors both with and without beads. I also tied up some golden stone dries using the Kevin's Twisted Stonefly Adult pattern. I also brought a collection of traditional dries, like parachute adams, BWO, elk hair caddis, and whatever else was in my small dry box. I decided to take my 9' 5wt rod.

The bike needed a little love before it was ready to hit the trail. My main concern was the wheels, this is the original wheelset on this bike and my confidence in it is waning quickly. However, I haven't had the time or money to build a couple of new wheels. So, I hoped with a quick true and check I could get away with it for the weekend. Immediately this happened:

Things got weird fast. So, it was off to 21st Ave Cycles for a handful of new spokes and nipples, and a bit deeper into wheel repair than I wanted to get. 

 But, after it was all done the bike looked ready to get rad. 

I'll follow up on some more prep and the actual ride in another post. 

Utah Trip

May was an incredibly busy month. Between moving to a new apartment and travelling for work I managed to still have a bit of fun.

In the middle of the month, I got to take a trip to the Manti La-Sal and Fishlake National Forests for work. These trips are always a bit whirlwind, but I had a day off and got to see some really neat stuff.

I went to the prehistoric museum in Price, UT on Saturday morning and saw some really cool fossils and Fremont culture artifacts.

After lunch I took the drive out to Ninemile Canyon to see the petroglyphs, including The Great Hunt, which is a significant piece of rock art that details a very specific set of environmental circumstances. In the depiction there are male, female and yearling sheep along with hunters and blinds. This is really interesting because this art is not conceptual, or abstract, but represents a specific point in space and time. That's a rad thing to ponder if you are trying to get inside the head of a long dead Fremont hunter. 

While I was walking around on a ledge trying to catch my breath after a steep hill (apparently I have gotten soft living at 200ft above sea leavel) I saw a chert flake on the ground and was stoked to see that it was a secondary reduction flake that was a beautiful semi-transparent red-brown. 

It seems like it is always worth it to spend the extra effort to get out and about when I'm travelling for work. Sometimes it's the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day or week, but I have never regretted it.