Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fly Tying v2.0

Tonight officially signals the second phase of the dude as a fly tier.  Admittedly the first version was not only short lived (and many moons ago) but it was nothing to write about either.  I have to give thanks to my son for sparking the interest again.  I got Marshall a basic setup for Christmas with the intention of letting him get practiced up and then maybe easing back into it myself (after Marshall had become proficient enough to supply me with at least a half-season's worth of flies).  After the cacophony of Christmas with 3 grandchildren began to lower to a manageable level, my excitement about starting to tie flies again mounted much quicker than I had anticipated.  Marshall too was chomping at the bit to start in, in the few days since Christmas there have been numerous calls back and forth between us....
"What should we tie first?  Skwalas?  Steelhead flies?"
"I don't know, maybe pike flies... no wait streamers!  Wait Muddlers!"
"When do you want to get together to start tying?  Tomorrow?"
"Can't, gotta work tomorrow.  How about Friday?"
"Friday's too late, how about Thursday night?"
"I don't even have a vise of my own yet"
"Oh yeah, damnit.  We can take turns"
There may have even been whispers between the wives about the two of us sounding like twelve year old girls the night before the first day of eighth grade.  What did we care?  Hell, we couldn't even tell for sure, we were too busy giggling.
So this morning I went to the office, tied up some loose ends for the week and slipped out by lunch time in order to make the hour drive into Missoula to pick up a vise and some more supplies.
Well as luck would have it, I barely  made it home and was whipping up a sandwich with the last of the Chirstmas prime rib when my buddy D-dawg calls.

"Hey Craig, you still all worked up to start tying flies again?"
As it turns out, Dennis and his wife (mostly his guy) used to tie flies, and as things turned out, hadn't been at the vise in quite awhile, so rather than let their stuff continue to collect dust it was offered to me in return for a couple of trips down the river next summer and a few flies thrown in for good measure.... suckers (on both conditions)
So after picking up the goods (What?  Not just a vise?  A sweet little tying table?  Quite a bit of tying material too, and all the tools?  NICE!)  I was on the phone with Marshall and plans were quickly made for him to stop down tonight for an initial tying session.
Not that I ever got very good at it, but it sure seemed like it was not that difficult.  I felt like I had a few thumbs and maybe a pinkie toe on each hand.  All kidding aside, by the end of the evening it was already feeling much better.  Although not many flies were produced tonight (and none of them would win beauty contests) I'm confident even the flies from this initial session will catch fish.
So begins Fly Tying v2.0, I hope this version lasts.  It already has done wonders for me.  It was pretty neat sitting across the table from my son, tying flies together.  Not only that but my two oldest grandsons (3 and 5 years old, respectively) on more than one occasion stood in awe watching or crawled on one of our laps, each time with a bunch of questions of course.  Landon (the 5 year old) even asked when he was going to get a fly rod and his own stuff to tie flies (how sweet is that?)
Instances such as these only cement my belief that fly fishing is one of the greatest ways to become (and stay) close to children and grandchildren...
Marshall, deep in thought... or did he drop a #18?

My first fly of v2.0

Both of our first attempts v2.0 (well for me at least)

 With that begins another aspect of my flyfishing journey.  Funny, I never really noticed that void until tonight........

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Home Water

So a recent post on Washington Fly Fishing got me thinking about my home water.  I wrote about my home water in a previous post, however it was more about the inevitable discovery of my home water by more and more people.
I was born, raised and still live 15 miles from my river.  It's a small river by any standard, doesn't have much for prolific hatches, doesn't hold a lot of fish compared to even lesser known Montana rivers, let alone the flagship waters of the mecca that is Montana.  Although it holds enough fish that top 20" to constantly keep your hopes up, the average size fish is probably barely into the double digits.
Despite all of this, I have developed the bond that one only has with home water.
It is interesting in that it harbors 6 different species of trout; brook, bull, brown, westslope cutthroat, rainbow and the occasional errant lake trout.  It has given up 24" rainbows to a size 20 sparkle dun, 25" browns to a #2 JJ's special and 4" cutthroat to size 4 muddler minnows.
More common are fish like these, which I am happy to catch every day of my life.

 The biggest fish I've taken from my river took a JJ's streamer late on a hot, bright July afternoon.  I know, not the typical conditions that come to mind for chucking streamers.  After the majority of the day on the river goes by without seeing a single fish rise, every option in the fly box has been exhausted without so much as a passing glance and the thought of dredging nymphs is unbearable, the logical choice becomes a size 2 conehead streamer.  Not only does this fly become the logical (read only) choice, but apparently the method is to throw it downstream and strip/twitch it like hell.  That way when the 25" rainbow that weighs in the 6-7 lb. neighborhood smashes the fly just below the surface it, for all intents and purposes, took a dry.
Of course I didn't have my camera, so the image of the behemoth that is burned into my cerebrum is the only documentation.  That and the other image of my boss, staring in utter disbelief with his lower jaw somewhere near his belly button.  The final image permanently etched into my mind is his mouth agape and jaw dropped even further when I began gently rocking the fish back into the rhythm of the river and watched it slowly fin away back into the comfort of my river.
In recent years my river has become the beneficiary of a number of habitat restoration projects.  With this comes promise.  Promise of more fish to catch, along with a larger average size (at least in my experience).

 My home river has understandably taught me a lot of what I know about fly fishing.  Some of it unique, but the majority of which transfers to flyfishing in general..
As I mentioned before, my home river is not big (it's actually very small), doesn't hold alot of fish, doesn't hold many big fish and doesn't have prolific hatches.  It is however home, and even though I am fiercely protective of it, if you're ever in western Montana, I would gladly take you to my home water.........

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Steelface (more on that to follow).  My buddy Brooks Jessen and I were able to sneak out for a couple of days this week for (what is probably my last for this calendar year) some steelhead fishing on the Clearwater river in Idaho.  Although living in Montana is pretty much heaven for those of us who flick feathers, a steelhead obsession necessitates trips to states (or provinces, more on that later also.  Wait, probably more on that in a future blog, sorry) bordering the ocean (or at least Idaho).  That being said Brooks and I set a date for "sometime the week after Thanksgiving".  The sunday after Thanksgiving Brooks called me and wanted to know if I wanted to meet with him to plan the trip.  The meeting place turned out to be at a poker table in a Missoula beverage/live entertainment establishment.  Over the course of the evening we met a stoner who could not miss and two hunters from Georgia, who after some discussion, informed us that the elk hunting was too tough and that Montana "done kicked our asses".  After much back and forth we decided to leave early Wednesday morning and fish the rest of Wednesday and all day Thursday before heading home.  Tuesday morning after a couple of hours at the office I get a call from Brooks that goes something like this "so the weather's pretty nice Idaho right now we should have left first thing this morning because it's supposed to snow a foot on Lolo pass Wednesday.  I tell Brooks that it's only 9:30 and that we still have time to pack, make the trip and still get some fishing in that afternoon, thereby missing the storm.
Fast forward to 1:30, we're still in Missoula and after a trip to two different fly shops, walmart and the grocery store, we are now gassing up the truck and ready to head west.  As with any road trip, music is an essential piece of the overall experience.  As we make the turn onto highway 12 and the transition from 4 lanes to 2, the discussion turns to music as the confines of 2 lanes somehow gives it that proper road trip feel.  We begin bouncing ideas off each other regarding selection.  The discussion went something like this....

Me:  "Country?  a la Zac Brown Band?"
Brooks  "nah, too trendy, I don't want to be THOSE guys."
Brooks  "Alt country?  a la Drive by Truckers?"
Me  "no to Zac Brown but Drive by Truckers?  Pretty cliche plus I think we'd still be THOSE guys"

Some metal was suggested (you know steelhead, metal.....i know it's a reach but I think there were hints of it possibly helping the karma.  You never know)

Finally Brooks exercises executive decision-making power (it was his truck) and we are treated to this.  (sorry for the poor picture, it was taken while bouncing around the corners of highway 12)

Brooks (and Brooks, if you read this I'm sorry, but it's true) informed me that he has been listening to hip hop a fair amount lately.  So hip hop it was (I admit my music tastes range far enough to include hip hop, but not on a road trip!)  With that our road rose over Lolo pass, much  like our hopes for steelhead madness.
With each passing mile we recalculated ETA and how much daylight it would leave us to fish.  What we did not factor into the equation was the friendly Idaho State trooper that stopped us to remind us that the speed limit on this particular stretch of highway 12 was 50 mph not the 64 he clocked us at, and reassured us that it had been ever since we entered Idaho at the top of Lolo pass.  As we bid the officer adieu we realized the chance of arriving at our destination during daylight hours were slim at best.
Not to worry, with some further disregard for the speed limit (what are the chances that there's two troopers out here in the middle of nowhere) we made it to our destination with the final rays of the day angling through the clouds, taunting us to wader up.  Who were we to argue, so we wadered up (my spell check is telling me that word is misspelled or does not exist, we all know wadered up is perfectly acceptable grammar) and cast our hopes along the lengthening shadows.  We should have known better, there were WAY too many signs throughout the day that the steelhead gods were not going to smile on us this time.
So after a strategic retreat we grabbed some dinner, hit the grocery store for some snacks and made our way to the hotel.  During the course of the evening we heard the rain start, a nice steady drizzle.  We hoped that at this elevation the precipitation would continue to fall as rain and not snow, all the while wondering how many feet of snow was piling up on Lolo pass.
We awoke the next morning with renewed hope, and the sound of rain, YES some steelhead fishing weather!  On the short drive to our first choice in fishing spots we chattered aimlessly like freshman girls on their first day of high school.  Do you think anybody will already be there?  I hope not, it's my favorite run.  What are you going to tie on?  What should I use?  Do you think there are many fish in the system yet?  Are they up this high this early?  As neared our chosen spot we were both giddy to see a complete lack of people, we couldn't believe, we had the place to ourselves.  As much as the steelhead gods had frowned on us yesterday, they were smiling on us today, and in a BIG way.  (although the thought always creeps into my mind anway.  Why is there nobody here?  Do they know something we don't?  Are there no fish here yet?  At the same time the last thing you want to see upon arriving at your favorite run is a bunch of douchebags fellow gentlemen fly fishers beating the water to a froth.  It's enough to drive me crazy)  We couldn't wader up quick enough knowing we were going to get first shot at this run.
An hour in and I was beginning to question our choice of runs.  Brooks informed that I had not nearly made a thousand casts, steelhead were the fish of a thousand casts after all.  Another hour with nary a tug and Brooks was beginning to question our choice also.  A half hour and a couple of false alarms later (damn suckers) Brooks let out a familiar whoop that one instantly recognizes as someone who has hooked up with a steelface.  Steelface.  Brooks claims he coined this term on a trip to Washington in hopes of pissing off his fishing buddies, I say I've heard it on a tv  program or dvd or somewhere, anyway I give up and now give Brooks full credit for the term steelface, you read it here first.  Congratulations Brooks!  After a some aerial acrobatics and numerous runs, we are able to bring the steelface to hand.........

After the obligatory high fives (technically I guess it was a fist bump)  I congratulated Brooks on low-holing me.
I guess some days we are not meant to catch steelfaces.  A half hour after his first fish, Brooks is hooked up again.  After a lengthy battle, Brooks was easing the fish towards the shallow water when I approached a little too close and too quickly with the net (maybe subconsciously I did it on purpose).  It didn't take long to realize that the big hen was nowhere near ready to succumb to the net and made a sizzling run, managing to break Brooks off.  After another round of fist bumps, I congratulate Brooks on high-holing me (is there such a thing?)  Brooks, feeling pretty good about himself after bringing in two steelfaces in the span of a half hour, offers to let me reel the next one in for him.  No thanks I said (asshole), and continued flailing like the inflatable tube man at a used car lot.  
Brooks was nice enough to offer to go buy us lunch and let me continue fishing (or did he see the increasing frustration with each of my casts and decide it would be funny to let me continue flailing unsuccessfully?  bastard)  Sure enough, Brooks leaves and not 10 minutes later I get a tug, even though i know Brooks is not around I let out my own whoop and begin giggling like crazy, there will be steelfaces for both of us after all.  My happiness is short lived as my dance partner has give me the slip.  I trudge to the bank and plop down, in total awe of the power this fish has displayed.  I bask in the moment but am brought back to reality by Brooks dropping a cheeseburger next to me and informing me that a phone call and some family matters will cut our trip short.  We ended up driving back after one full day of fishing.
All kidding aside Brooks was the man on this trip, plus he's one of the fishiest guys I know.  Thanks for a good trip Brooks, can't wait to take another one.
As I mentioned earlier this probably marks the last time I will head over Lolo pass in search of steelhead for 2011, stay tuned as we will probably start fishing for steelfaces again sometime in February 2012.

By the way, for the ride home we came to an agreement on music.  We decided the Pearl Jam channel would be perfect to drive home to.  Arguably the coolest band in the world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fish Porn

It has recently come to my attention that my blog lacks somewhat in the fish porn department.  I guess after viewing it myself objectively there may be some validity to that point.  Soooooo....  here's the fish that originally started that burning deep in my gut that would grow and become the consuming steelhead obsession that I'm now burdened with....

That same trip (which happened to be our very first steelhead trip) my son was able to land his first steelhead.

From now on I will dig through the old fish porn files, see what may be of interest and post some periodically.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Surface action

As much as I love fall and everything about it, the sun cresting over the mountains further and further south each day signals one thing that I do not look forward to; the unofficial end of the dry fly season.  Yesterday I was able to get out on the home waters with my son for a short afternoon trip.  My hopes were not high for surface action, the wind was blowing, the sun was bright let alone the fact that usually by November 9th dry fly opportunity is over on our little home river.
I decided to try a small canyon stretch, hoping the canyon walls would block some wind and keep direct sunlight off the water thereby increasing our odds.  We arrived in the early afternoon and promptly had a change of plans.  A cursory glance showed no bugs hatching and the wind had actually picked up.  After picking through the fly box and the usual "what are you going to tie on" conversation I decided to try a streamer while Marshall was going to go with a double nymph setup.  My hopes dashed and patience running thin, I left Marshall to his indicator and multiple double surgeons loops knot-fest.  I no sooner descended the small canyon to the water's edge and promptly saw a fish surface in the foam line six feet from the bank.  I decided to wait for Marshall to chase the riser so I halfheartedly ran my streamer through the next run downstream.  When Marshall made it down we decided to take turns throwing to what turned out to be 3 or 4 fish feeding somewhat rhythmically on the surface.  The fish were in a pool that was deep enough to preclude us from telling exactly what they were feeding on.  There were a smattering of sizable mahoganies (fairly late in the year I know, but then again everything was behind this year after the prolonged winter and spring)  some little caddis, and very few tiny mayflies.  I assumed they were blue-winged olives although the few we did see somewhat close didn't look much like bwo's.  Oh well, fish were feeding on top and I'm no entomologist so with a size 14 mahogany cripple I went to work.  Cast after agonizing cast I watched as my cripple drifted right through the foam without a look.  I decided next that a 6x and size 20 mahogany was necessary.  Different fly, same result.  Same result with a goddard caddis.  Finally Marshall spotted a ratty old parachute adams in my box and suggested I try it.  I silently questioned myself about how well I taught my son about flyfishing, surely he knows that fish this late in the fall requires matching the hatch with a fair amount of precision.  That being said with mounting frustration and daylight fading I thought "what could it hurt?"  After all a parachute adams is one of my go-to flies.  So I tied on the adams and cast my hope to catch one more fish on a dry this year.  After what seemed like an hour I finally got a decent drift in the swirling foam line and saw a snout break the surface and my fly disappear.  Far from a trophy, the average size cuttbow was exactly what I needed on this particular November afternoon.

After taking the picture and offering congratulations (without so much as a "I told you" or "aren't you glad you tied on that adams?") Marshall was eager to try for one last fish on the dry.  Marshall dried the fly off, laid out a decent cast and promptly stuck a fish!  After a picture and a high five (again not a word even though it took him exactly one cast and his fish was bigger)  and
without really any discussion we both knew it was time to call it a day.  We had asked a lot of our home river, a lot of the patron saint of dry fly fishing, and a lot of the fish gods period, better to not press our luck! 

As the sun sets on our dry fly season I now look forward to feeding my steelhead obsession next week!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Distractions, Part II

Thank you (both of you) for entertaining my rant about crowding on "my" river.  I would like to have brought you a report of another trip to the Clearwater river in Idaho, with news of multiple steelhead caught on the swing.  Distractions.  Not that all distractions are bad.  This past weekend's distraction was going to the Univ. of Montana's football game.
This also happened to be the first Griz game I was able to attend this year, and the first one for my two youngest grandsons...
Landon, the oldest is the ham, and has been to a few games, Talon is the middle one, the shy one
Braylon, the youngest, was a trooper.....
I also finally filled my freezer this year, although it was with a spike, and was not until October.  Sooo the streak of September bulls comes to an end.  Perhaps as one streak ends, another one will begin?  Maybe a steelhead on the surface every September?  I can only hope....
By the way, I was hunting with a buddy of mine so I'm not an indiscriminate killer, only the spike is mine. 

It has been too long since I've been on a river, even a home water (long being relative) I think almost 2 weeks, so even though I am in a wedding this weekend, which will preclude a steelhead trip, I plan on taking a day off of work this week to somewhat satiate my fishing appetite, it probably won't be until the weekend of the 18th that I will be able to truly feed my steelhead obsession..........

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Sooner or later I knew it was inevitable.  I cut my teeth on a small river near home (not that it's that great of fishing, however it will remain nameless for nostalgic purposes).  It was truly a rare day indeed to see another vehicle at any of my usual haunts, an even rarer occurrence to actually see someone else on the water.  My home water even weathered the storm that was "The Movie" (for those of you that are not aware I"m referring to A River Runs Through It) without so much as a slight bump in pressure.  Everyone wanted to come to Montana, luckily for me and my home waters, everyone wanted to fish the "Big Blackfoot" like the McLean's and live their own part of the movie (little did they know the movie wasn't even filmed on the Blackfoot).  And so my little slice of Montana flyfishing heaven has remained relatively unknown.  Until very recently the locals that did fish it knew each other's rigs and would gladly move on if they spotted someone else's rig at an access.  One day this summer I was to meet my buddy for an evening of fishing, when I arrived at the predetermined spot, I saw my buddy's subaru (that's another story entirely), what I didn't expect was to walk to the river's edge and see this...
Admittedly the closest guy in the water was my buddy, but to see three people in view on the same stretch of my home waters was enough to bring me to the brink of tears.
Fast forward to yesterday.  I took yesterday off of work, knowing although it may not be the best day for fall fishing (sunny and mild) I was planning on hitting the home waters in hopes of enjoying what was sure to be one of the last nice days this year and perhaps to catch a couple of more fish on dries.  As I arrived at my first choice, there was a pickup parked there, albeit with local plates.  No problem, I didn't recognize the truck but figured one of the locals had the same idea as I did.  My backup plan quickly fizzled as I drove by and could see two vehicles parked at the access.  Again no problem, I know a stretch nearly as good and not as well known as the first two choices.  As I drove over the bridge I got a knot in my gut.  In my third choice, standing out like a dick in a women's locker room, was a Porsche Cayenne.  No shit a Porsche Cayenne.  It just gets better, upon closer inspection the douche dude was still at the vehicle, stringing up a rod.  I couldn't help myself.  I pulled up next to his rig and asked him (knowing full well the answer, as his brand-new Orvis waders weren't wet) if he was just getting done or just heading out.  "Just getting ready to go" he said, in his best Western Montana accent (whatever that is).  At this point I see a rod all strung up and ready to go leaning against his rig, one put together but not strung up inside his crossover SUV or whatever the hell they're referred to as and he's is in the process of stringing a third rod up.  I'm completely befuddled at this point (I don't think i've ever had to cast more than 30' on this river) and ask the guy how many rods he plans on taking with him.  "Probably just two" he says, kind of like he would prefer all three but, whether he wanted to appear like he could get the job done with just two rods, or not wanting to look like a total , douche, noob, rookie, I honestly couldn't tell which.  He proceeds to tell me that he may want to throw a streamer or two (I didn't look, maybe the other rod was a two-hander!)  Perhaps the humor is lost on me but the thought of a guy carrying two and perhaps even three rods to fish this particular river (which is perhaps 30' at its widest) just really got to me.  I bid the guy good luck and decided to go deer hunting.
This brings me to my last thought.  George Carlin once said something to the effect of any driver who drives faster than you are is crazy, and anyone driving slower than you are is a fucking idiot.  I've noticed that this kind of parallels fly fishing.  Anybody with nicer stuff than you or someone with all the goodies (especially on smaller home waters) new Orvis waders, wading staff, lanyard, vest, fancy wooden net etc. (you get the hint) is obviously either a noob or a snob or both.  Conversely anybody in tennis shoes, cut-off jeans carrying an eagle claw rod from K-mart is either a redneck or a dumbass or both.  Perhaps those were just my feelings, although I have a sneaking suspicion that many more of you (and you five people reading this know who you are) have had he same type of feelings at one point in time.  I have recently decided (perhaps maturity had something to do with it?) that regardless we all share the same passion.
But I'm sorry, the douche in the Porsche Cayenne was too much........I'm just sorry I didn't have my camera

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Invariably things come along that detract from fishing.  Luckily one of them is hunting.  Even more lucky is that one of those distractions is elk hunting.  I'll admit to being somewhat spoiled in that for the last 7 years in a row I have been fortunate enough to harvest a bull, and even more fortunate in that I have been able to harvest the aforementioned bulls in September, during the rut, which is the hunting equivalent of taking a steelhead on the dry (or so I can only imagine!)  Well this year was strange here in Montana in that the lingering effects of la nina made for a much colder and wetter spring, which (when this la nina cycle came to an end) turned into a warmer and drier than average September.  This, coupled with a banner year of fishing (due in part to la nina) made for very few days in September in which I felt comfortable hunting elk.  I do not hunt elk when the forecast calls for highs above 70, and even when the forecast is for highs in the 60's I will only hunt early morning and late evening.  The last thing I want is for an elk to spoil because I cannot retrieve it in time.  Well of the 4 days we hunted in September, one morning everything came together....... for my son that is.  We were able to call this bull in very close, and when I say very close I mean 3 yards of close, 9 feet of close, I'm talking NINE FEET!  Take into account the 24" barrel and Marshall took his 2011 elk at 7 FEET.  It was definitely the closest I've ever been to an elk, and one of if not THE most exciting hunt I've ever been on.  So Marshall  has a full freezer and a hell of a story to tell my grandchildren!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

One step closer......

Three trips, 8 days, 2000 miles.  Many nights we spoil ourselves in a comfortable hotel.  The latest trip my son and I have but two days to ply the waters.  We decide (well our wallets decide for us) to spend one very uncomfortable night in the back of the 4runner.  Sometime during the night I awake to rain pelting the roof, in my slumber I realize our waders are on the top of the 4runner.  In a near panic I wake Marshall up, insisting we pile out immediately to save our waders.  Even after repeated assurances from my son that he indeed put the waders in the front seat, frantically digging through the front seat and seeing a pair of waders (that turn out to be mine) I reluctantly agree and am thus saved a cold jaunt outside in my boxers.  We settle into a fitful slumber, sleeping near the banks of the river we hear the very waters we will fish the next day.  We can almost feel the currents pulse through out veins.  Somewhere inside of us, we feel that tonight we are truly paying our dues, and will be rewarded with steel.  We rise well before daylight without an alarm, our sore backs and cramped legs prod us to start the day.  We decide to forego breakfast, hoping our hunger will somehow make us fish harder.  I let Marshall take the bucket and settle in below him.  The water is noticeably colder this morning compared to the last two trips.  Fall has settled into the air and is palpable on this crisp morning.  I settle into the rhythm all steelhead fishermen know, cast, swing, mend, strip, step.  A half hour in my initial anticipation begins to wane when out of the dark waters of the Clearwater in the half light of a foggy morning, one solitary fish solidifies my belief that one day I will catch a steelhead on the surface.  It also fuels my obsession that much more......

The fly has now been retired to the bill of my cap.