Monday, February 27, 2012

March Madness

As we close in on March, the familiar rumbling in the pit of my gut tells me it's about that time again.  (Granted it may just be gas from the gut bomb burrito I just ate but the calendar assures me otherwise)  Time to load up the 4runner with my son Marshall and whatever two of my dirtbag fishing buddies decide they want to drop over the top of Lolo Pass with us.  Drop over the pass not only into Idaho, but into the (at times) whiskey-soaked shitstorm of steelface blood-fueled debauchery this now annual spring trip can usually devolves into.  Whether it's the last minute addition of Hungus automatically putting us into two rigs-twice the gas bill, and two motel rooms-twice the price.  After watching Hungus swill cup after cup of booze in a certain Kooskia dive (is there any other kind of bar there?)  Marshall and I are actually happy to pony up for our own room.  It was almost worth stumbling around the South Fork going 0-fer on even touching a steelhead to watch Hungus, all wadered up mind you, literally laying on the side of the road too fucking hungover to fish.  Yes you read that right too fucking hungover to fish!  He struck out with the floozehounds at the dive the night before so why not keep a perfect record huh?
It could also go the way of the last winter trip we made over, sitting in the same motel tying up egg "flies" while it drizzles some chill-you-to-the-taint concoction of rain/slow/slush that one is only lucky enough to witness a few days a year, and i'll be damned if it doesn't descend into the Clearwater valley almost the entire two days we were there.  Brooks actually brought one fish to hand that trip and had another one or two fish on briefly.  On the other hand I had but a single fish on momentarily.  This is also the trip that Brooks chose to get cute with me by offers such as this "Fish on!  Hey Craig do you want to reel this one in for me?  I just thought that maybe since you haven't caught one yet you might want to.  It's up to you"  "It's gonna be up something" I mumbled under my breath.  Well we all know that karma, especially steelhead karma is a filthy bitch, just ask Brooks how his next trip went.  How did that one work out for ya buddy?  No hard feelings though, I'm sure my next miserable shitbag of bad steelhead karma is boxed, labeled, barcoded and shipped express to (insert name of 1 star motel here) room 6 in Koosia, waiting for me to crest Lolo pass and drop into it's lap like a sweaty trucker at the local strip joint waits for a lap dance from the "twenty-something college girl dancer" that looks suspiciously like a pushing forty "therapist" from the parlor across town.  Yes Brooks, you don't even have to re-grief me in your next literary offering, I've officially beat you to the punch.
Oh sure there was the trip last spring, which was relatively mild in comparison.  Hell there were even some highlights.  My brah Bill did not leave the South Fork with his steelhead hymen intact I'm proud to say.  It was also a pair of firsts for his "real life bro" Neal.  He bought a fly rod (hallelujah, his first)  and went steelhead fishing (but with his gear, fuck) for the first time.  Didn't pop his cherry though.  Not to worry, who wants to be known as that big of a slut anyway?
The same trip we started with four of us in the 4runner, but we met up with Graybeard (don't worry Bill, soon) at Lolo wherein Bill jumped ship if for no other reason than to keep Graybeard company and whiff some secondhand.  Come to think of it, maybe too much secondhand.  Promptly upon arrival in Kooskia we exclaimed how crazy it was to see a cow elk laying literally on the shoulder of the road.  So close to the road that one had to swerve ever so slightly to the center line to miss her.  There she was, ears up, alert chawing some cud.  The response out of Bill and Graybeard...."Elk?  What elk?  Whatever.  You're bullshittin us".  whatever is right dude.
Several steelfaces came to hand that trip, and a couple of them were slaughtered for the grill.  In fact when Graybeard "snuck off" late one morning we all figured he wanted some "scoobie" snacks, but damn if he didn't bank and bonk a hatchery steelface, bust out the table, the grill and the potatoes and cook us up what admittedly turned out to be one of the best shore lunches in recent memory.  And this out of the guy who is accused (only somewhat jokingly) of showing up for a 5 day Smith River float with a bag of bagels and a green pepper.
Where it went downhill was packing all five of us into the super 8 in Grangeville (I know what you're thinking, pussy asses, but it was cold out damnit) and promptly turning it into a mancave replete with March Madness blaring on the tube, plenty of Kettlehouse Cold Smoke and Double Haul (I know, i know) but also enough PBR tallboys to cancel out that high class shit.  Unfortunately some of the boys were a little soft and out of true "man" shape because the poker game never quite made it off the ground let alone any drunken primal mangrappling you know the kind where it gets violent and both guys being out of shape it calms rather quickly and then just before it gets too slow and intimate enough to get weird both guys break apart and posture about how the other guy was lucky blah blah blah then they continue to shotgun beers until one or more puke and rally.  THAT   kind of man shape.  To add insult to injury even though we were in Idaho the bullshit ISP listed us as a Washington address, and this just after Washington was one of the first states to ban access to Full Tilt along with other online poker sites, what the fuck?  No pot limit omaha for the dude.  It just made me survey the scene of half-drunk half passed out sea of out-of-man-shape fishing buddies with nothing but disdain at the moment.  All was forgiven and washed away the next morning though, as was the sin and bad karma of looking upon my steelhead chasin' brethren the night before with anything other than unequivocal respect when upon my maiden ford of the South Fork that morning I made a tiny misstep and was promptly baptised in the morning chill and the 37 degree water, well fuuuuck me!  Little did Marshall know with his laughter at my baptism, the fire was lit under the cauldron and his own batch of bad steelhead juju began brewing.  With my spirits lifted and renewed hope I did bring two steelhead to hand that day.  It didn't take long for the timer to ring on Marshall's batch of shit karma as he hooked up, played to perfection and brought a hefty b-run in close.  I took an ill-adivsed early swipe with the net and promptly watched the monster take Marshall down the run and around the corner to a stretch of water impossible to wade.  Already well into his backing Marshall had no choice but to palm the reel, hold the line to the rod and hope against hope to turn the steelhead.  He shuffled back upstream, head down feeling the sting of being that close to tailing the giant b-run hatch mutant and not closing the deal.  My mojo began going south at that very moment and was worsened when I managed to bumblefuck yet another attempt to net a South Fork b-run slab for Marshall within 20 minutes of the first one, in the same run.  Do you see a pattern here of synergistic toilet-bowl spiraling bad steelhead karma the likes of which my son and I may not have yet completely fought our way out of?
By the way, William Patrick wants a nickname so we'll solicit here for any suggestions.  There may be a little bit of future flyfishdude swag for the lucky reader if we choose to bestow your monicker on our buddy Bill.  Get creative...Here is a picture to help your imagination.
Like I said it's getting to be that time again...........
I can hardly contain myself.

Bill, in the glow post-steelhead hymen pop

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cabin Fever

Last week we had been having some quasi-shitty weather, nothing new for Montana.  I had been on a couple of solo outings and decided that  my continuous trout road-trippin buddy needed to get his ass off the couch and go fishing.  I called him and told him that one day inparticular looked somewhat promising, no snow forecast and a high above freezing, what more could we ask for, right?
After some serious prodding and griefing Brooks reluctantly agreed to go.  I loaded up the mpg-friendly camry for the trip to Missoula to pick up Brooks and head down the Bitterroot.  The bright spot came early on this trip when we turned off the highway into an empty fishing access parking lot.  It would all go downhill from there, literally and figuratively.
After gearing up we weren't 5 minutes into the half hour hike to the river when Brooks slid down a steep embankment and promptly punched a hole in the boot of his bootfoot waders.
Once our shit was rigged (i should probably not just use parentheses here because this little diatribe may become somewhat lengthy but what the hell-here goes.  I chose to go with a streamer out of the gates and Brooks went directly for the bullshit go-to setup of a turd and a worm.  I chose a streamer not just because of some recent success on this trip but because I can be somewhat of a stubborn bastard.  On the way to pick up Brooks I stopped by an unnamed fly shop in Missoula.  Don't get me wrong, this is a first class operation with friendly and knowledgeable employees.  But for whatever reason on this day the combination of whiny voice and overall douchiness of the guy working the shop that day chafed my ass to the point that I was going to fish a streamer, hence my stubborness.)  Anyway like I was saying, once our shit was rigged we weren't in the river a minute when Brooks realized the extent of the damage to his waders.  The dialogue went roughly like this "holy shit Craig, water is pouring into my waders!" "just hike up the skirt and fish sally"  "I don't know how long I can last" "for fuck's sake nancy, nut up!"
This went on for roughly half an hour with Brooks in and out of the water a half a dozen times.  When I finally watched him pour the water out of his boots and with the weather taking a turn for the worse we decided to call it a day.  Cabin fever can get pretty bad around these parts this time of year.
Oh yeah, once back at the parking lot Brooks and a guest gave us this gem of a report...... Enjoy!

Untitled from Craig Pablo on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Well it didn't take long after attending this year's installment of the F3T to get out on a river.  Last Sunday, despite the day's best efforts to keep me from fishing, I made it out to our local "big" river.  I had been keeping an eye on the flows and when they began dropping I figured it was time for a change of scenery from the "home waters" of my favorite little river.  Our local big river is not near as well known for it's trout fishing as most of our state's flagship rivers, and (for the most part) justifiably so.  It doesn't harbor thousands of trout per mile or boast prolific hatches.  It is better known as a place to chase pike, and more recently as a very popular smallmouth bass fishery, and with good reason.  The number and size of smallmouths has exploded in the last few years.  Although it has always held a few sizeable trout it has more recently shown a marked increase in trout population and has become somewhat of an as-yet  mostly undiscovered decent trout fishery for a handful of fly fisherman.  It is a welcome relief from dodging a seemingly endless string of drift boats on the Madison, some asshole wading every bend in Rock Creek or (perhaps) the never-ending flotilla of drunken tubers on the Blackfoot (on second thought, maybe not the last one as there is usually bikinis involved!).  However I suppose I digress seeing as how it is only mid-February and none of the aforementioned scenarios would be playing out quite yet.
Anyway, back to the gist of this story which was a couple hours of fishing the big river when I was jonesin' bad for some time on the water.
I chose a spot just a few minute drive from home and decided to fish at the mouth of a tributary.  As with most days on this river I had the place to myself, it was a balmy 34 degrees and the sun seemed to burn a hole through the patchy overcast just often enough to keep me comfortable.  Although the streamer fishing has slowed considerably with the true onset of winter here in western Montana I couldn't help tying on an olive conehead and working the slow inside seam of the riffle where the tributary dumped into the main river.  As I worked my way down the seam, sunshine repleatedly bathed the river in a welcome glow, if only momentarily.  I noticed a couple of fish began to rise somewhat rhythmically to pick small swarms of midges from the surface.  A cursory glance in my sling pack showed nothing but wire worms, beadhead nymphs, double beadhead nymphs, and conehead streamers the likes of which seemed to get progressively larger and uglier with each compartment of my fly box.  So much for hoping to get some surface action.
Silently chastising myself for not bringing any dry flies (I might as well be known as the dry-flyfishdude for shit's sake, I love fishing dries) I reminded myself of how lucky I was to be a mere minutes from my house alone on an beautiful river with a few big fish and with nary a soul in sight.  As luck would have it I didn't make two more casts and heard a truck rambling down the hill, encroaching on my little tranquil slice of riverine nirvana.  Are you shitting me?  Sure enough the piss-poor excuse of an exhaust system pukes out one last backfire and the next thing I hear is doors slamming.
I squint against the slanted rays of the afternoon sun and I'm able to make out two forms weaving through the brush that quickly transform into two carhartt coveralled, lawn chair-totin' rednecks (don't get me wrong, I rock carhartts and lawn chairs, just not when fishing) and immediately assume the worst, that they're bait-dunkin', carhartt coveralled, lawn chair-totin' rednecks.  My assumption is proven correct soon enough but not before insult is added to injury as they also see the rising fish below me and promptly figure that low-holing me is the correct course of action in this particular instance!  Un-fuckin'-believable!
I scrounge up the remaining scraps of my nice-guy-ness and force a part friendly, part "get the fuck out of my run" nod of recognition.  I also decide to fish out as much of the run as possible, fully intending to stop only when the arc of my swing carries my streamer into their taut lines (they had managed to rig up rather quickly and promptly plunked some bait to the bottom and had already found two forked sticks, or maybe they brought their own).
Sometimes the universe takes time out of it's busy schedule and recognizes a particularly vile instance of someone "pulling a shitty" and decides to intervene to bring karmic forces back into balance, and sometimes these interventions happen to good flyfishpeople and this particular time that flyfishperson was the dude himself.  Not far above the bait-dunkin', carhartt-coveralled, lawn chair sittin' redneck's claim I laid out a beautiful cast down and across the seam, made a couple of mends, let it swing and dangle as long as I could stand.  I secretly wished I could will a fish to take my streamer in front of these hillbillies.  Sure enough on the second or third slow strip I felt a tug.  The tug promptly turned out to be a 21" rainbow that, despite an obvious weight problem, promptly made a sprint downstream, sizzling line off my reel into the backing, making three acrobatic aerial displays along the way.  Once i was able to lean on him enough to turn him and start making progress he made two more graceful leaps clear of the water.  By now I absolutely cannot help myself and I am making somewhat of a scene.  I may have even resorted to letting out a couple of whoops and a holler.  The mad plank of 'bow at the end of my line wasn't done as he decided to make another run that almost took me to my backing again.  After finally bringing the fish to hand I had regained my composure and quickly snapped a couple of pictures before only having to wag his tail once or twice before he finned back to the comfort of the depths.

Karma.  I'm glad the dude abides.  I'm also glad the hippie guy at the shop in Missoula reminded me.  As I left a shop the other day, he simply pointed to the jar on the counter with an unassuming "TIPS" written in sharpie on some recycled cardboard duct-taped to the front.  While pointing to the tip jar he simply said (and I'm not shitting you one bit here)  "Dude, karma"   Thanks brah........

Saturday, February 11, 2012


So the F3T ver. 2012 rolled into Missoula last night.  First of all I have to give HUGE props to Western Montana for coming out in FULL force!  Marshall and I along with my father in law strolled over to the Wilma a little before 6 to get a decent spot in line and to our surprise they opened the doors shortly after 6 for us diehards (thanks dudes).  Within moments they were having to turn people away that wanted to purchase tickets at the door, nope ain't gonna work in Missoula folks, you gotta get 'em early cuz we SOLD THE MUTHAF*CKA OUT!!!
Also a big thanks to The Hackle for some great pulled pork sammiches and free beverages, thanks guys, it was tasty!  The pre-festival crowd at the Hackle seemed a little more varied this year, more of the (my guess anyway) non-fishing set.  Don't get me wrong the usual suspects were there too.
This year's lineup is the strongest yet.  Some highlights for me (and in no particular order):

Sipping Dry - what can I say?  A flick about a MT river?  oh yeah and it's about dry fly fishing?

Doc of the Drakes - Clearly a crowd favorite, everyone was pulling for Doc!

Geofish - Every bit the adventure expected and then some!  The Motiv crew didn't disappoint..

The Kodiak Project - High on  my list as both an adventure and species targeted... STEEL!!

Riding High - A sleeper in my book, after the first few scenes it's clearly a must see for the dude!

The Arctic - Another great mix of adventure and fishing told through great film making!

I don't want to go into too much detail because hopefully you get a chance to attend a tour stop.
The swag keeps getting better and better too.  Some lady was VERY stoked to take home a SAGE ONE rod, she was running down the aisle Price is Right style, tightcool!  I just hope she realizes what she got her hands on for the price of admission, damn!  My grandson was styling in the new F3T trucker
Braylon rockin' the new cap and scoping the Stonefly

 Although I ran into a couple of guide friends some familiar faces were absent, notably this fuggin' guy (sorry buddy, at least I linked to your blather blog).  By the way we did miss you guys.
Although the usual guide-jabbing-guide prattle was overheard, it even seemed slightly subdued compared to years past.  To the dude in the beer line (and you know who you are) you should have read my previous post prior to attending, you single-handedly upheld my faith in my "guides like freshman girls at their first day of high school" theory, thaks brah!
This was the first time my daughter in law (and mother and father in law for that matter) attended the F3T.  They were duly impressed.
Marshall is stoked, Braylon havin' some beverage of a different type!

Sooooo if the F3T makes a stop anywhere near your 'burg I HIGHLY recommend it, you won't be disappointed, for that it gets the "Dude Approved" status (disclaimer, this is not an actual review, besides like the F3T wouldn't get Dude Approved?!?   Puh-leez!)

And lastly the dude was able to snap a quick pic on the way out with none other than Jay "Graphite Samurai" Johnson, RIGHTEOUS!!!  Although I didn't get his beardbraids in the picture, he rocks two braids down the front dude-style!  Thanks for the picture Jay, hope to see you on a river somewhere pre-zombie apocalypse!
Fuckin' A

Damn I wanna fish........

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The countdown begins

It is officially less than 48 hours until the F3T hits Missoula, the anticipation is palpable.  Even though we've had better than average fishing this winter, the F3T kind of kicks off the countdown to spring and the first hatches and dry fly fishing of the year (even if it is only for a few hours in the afternoon on the 'Root in 40 degree weather!)  The dude will of course be there and will have a rather large contingent, the wife, son, daughter in law, youngest grandson who is 6 months old (you can never start 'em too early right?) and the in-laws (I know what you're thinking but hey, more chances at snagging the swag right?!?)
One bonus to attending is watching the interaction between some of the local guides, it's akin to watching high school freshman girls in their first day of high school.  The scenario breaks down something like this

Guide #1 (replete with fresh F3T trucker swillin a kettlehouse double haul) to Guide #2:  Hey Jeff, how's it goin' man?!?

Guide #2 (replete with "retro" yellow F3T cap from 2010, swilling a PBR tallboy):  Oh hey Chad, doin' good brah, been killin' 'em on the Mo this winter!

Guide #1:  Sweet, I spent 3 weeks in the Keys chasing bones!

Guide #2:  Right on, well hey see ya on the river!  (under his breath to his buddy...He's such a douchebag!)

Guide #1:  For sure, I'm already booked like 120 days (under his breath to his buddy...That guy's a chump, he couldn't catch the clap in a whorehouse!)

Yep, should be a swell time at the Wilma.

by the way, if you're a guide, don't even tell me you didn't chuckle at the all too true previous dialogue!

All kidding aside I'm an absolutely looking forward to it and hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mixed Signals

All week I kept an eye on the forecast.  Monday the weather service called for snow starting Tuesday, then it called for moderate snow by mid-Tuesday.  Monday afternoon the snow was bumped back and was expected to hit late Tuesday evening but accumulations were expected to be significant in the mountains.  I tentatively prepared to hit the slopes Wednesday.  Tuesday morning's check of the weather service website showed snow by mid-day Wednesday.  By Tuesday guessed it, the snow wasn't expected until Wednesday evening but now there was a winter weather advisory in effect for the mountains of western Montana.  I put the call out to my local Big Mountain guy Urban T. to see if he was down to hit the slopes Thursday.  He must've been checking the weather service forecast as well because his enthusiasm for a Thursday boarding trip seemed cautiously guarded.  The trepidation proved justified as Wednesday turned into Wednesday evening and hourly checks of the radar showed only slight precipitation.  Urban texted me Wednesday evening and said he was on the way to his yurt outside Whitefish and promised to let me know if it was dumping when he arrived.  By this morning it was obvious we had not received the winter weather that was promised so I did what  comes natural, I went fishing.
By the time I was free to go early this afternoon, the temperature was a balmy 45 degrees.  My plan was to hit the lower river and maybe fish to the mouth if I had time.  As I made the turn into the parking area I saw a car.  I'm thinking "what in the hell is this place coming to?  Someone else here?  On a Thursday afternoon, in February?  Are you serious?".  It just gets better, as I was making my way back onto the highway, I see two guys crossing the bridge with SPINNING RODS!  Now I'm thinking "Gearchuckers?  on MY river, in MY spot, on a Thursday afternoon?".  I quickly decided that I couldn't blame them, it was 45 degrees after all and with that I bid them adieu in my mind as I forced a friendly return wave.  Besides it was only a couple of miles upriver to my next haunt so off I went.
Upon arrival I will admit I was relieved to see I was the only one there. 
I decided to wade upriver first and fish my way back down.  With the temperature hovering in the mid-40s and the occasional splashing of sunshine I spotted a few bugs flying around.  During the sparse bouts of extended sunshine if I squinted my eyes a little to blur out the mountains I could almost imagine it was September and would strain my eyes a little harder at each new bend of the river.  It almost seemed like if I squinted just the right amount and wished hard enough, I could will a fish to the surface to eat.  Just as I was passing into a lull and was sure I was going to see a fish slurp a bug on the surface, the sun would roll over a peak on the southern horizon and bring me back to the realization that we were still in the clutches of mid-winter. My jedi practice segued into rhythmic casting as it usually does when I'm fishing underneath with no risers in sight.  It's a rhythm that lends itself to steelheading as well, cast, mend, mend repeat.....
Finally the indicator disappeared and I was eager to feel a tug.  I immediately knew there was foul play on the river's part as the line went taut, "Oh well, it was probably time to try something different anyway".  Drawing in the slack, I held the line to the rod and walked away, to my surprise, just as the line seemed ready to break the river let go and I was saved from re-rigging.
So here's my first catch of February. 

Under the bridge - the GoPro perspective

A score is a score, usually it's from a tree along the bank but when the river surrenders booty I'll take it.  At least someone else was thinking along the same lines as I was, so I decided to stick with the black stonefly and follow this unfortunate soul's lead and add a dropper.  A quick perusal of my limited nymph box and I thought I might as well go with two classics, so a beadhead prince nymph it was.
I was almost back to my car and the sun had only a small cloud to duck behind before hitting the horizon.  I was in no particular hurry and it was still fairly warm so I decided to fish out the rest of the run.  A few casts in and my indicator darted underneath and upstream, there was no doubt this time it was fish on!  The scrappy brown made a modest run upstream and then put on a little display of aerials, not once, not twice but three times!  It was a pleasant surpirse and for a moment I slipped back into my visions of September.  Upon bringing the fish to hand and feeling the cold water I was quickly brought back to reality and the fact that it was early February.  After a couple of quick pictures I gave the fish's tail a couple of gentle shakes and he darted back to his place in the river.  As usual I was also back in my place, as was everything.  Catching a fish (even underneath) just naturally puts everything into place for me in that moment in time.

Satisfied, I waded down the rest of the run, almost as an afterthought I decided to cast to a small pool near my parking spot where a small side channel re-joined the river, I had called my son Marshall to see if he wanted to join me on today's excursion.  He didn't answer and a few minutes later he texted me that he was in a meeting (poor kid) and wished me luck and to "catch one for him".  My first cast into the small pool and one mend later I was into another fish.  It was also a brown and although he didn't perform any acrobatics he put up a decent fight.  As I watched my second fish of the day fin eagerly back into the depths of the pool I again felt I satisfied that I had "caught one for Marshall" as well.
On the drive home my thoughts drifted back up the mountains and as i crested Ravalli hill the sight of the Mission mountains brought me full circle back to the complete reality that we are still in the grips of winter, even though she is handling us with kid's gloves this year.  
Talk about your mixed signals........