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.