Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Heart Lake Cutthroats - The Final Day

August 28, 2011

I nearly bounced out of my tent this morning. I had last day sadness and wanted to enjoy every hour left. I slammed a few cups of coffee then devoured three pieces of French toast without hardly tasting it along with sausages and soon found myself in my pontoon boat slowly stripping my lake trout flies down deep while scanning the mountains for bears.

Today began with a beautiful morning. The lake was so calm you could see the occasional rise from a mile away. Ducks left mile long wakes as they silently swam. And I could see my own wake all the way back to camp 20 minutes after I left. The temperature was warm and I was already down to a t-shirt. This day was absolutely magnificent. The only problem I had was that the fish were asleep. At least most of them. Other than a few bumps, the only fish I caught was a cutthroat that should have been a lake trout because I pulled him from 60 feet down with a giant lake trout streamer.

I fished for an hour or so then headed in to brake down my boat and pack up my gear. That took me about an hour and then it was about 9 AM, leaving me with about three hours to fish from shore before our hike out. I purposely left out my 5-weight RX rigged with my floater, a few dry flies and my floatant and off I went to the beach that we walked along the first day. You may remember, on that first day we saw rising fish that we could have easily reached from shore but we didn’t have our gear packed in yet. That rod-less situation haunted me the entire trip and I couldn’t wait to get back and catch those fish. Today was the day to do it.

Joe Burke came with me. That’s good because we had to walk a mile through an area posted to have a problematic grizzly. We made a heck of a lot of noise and carried the bear spray in hand rather than on the holster. Luckily we had no encounters and arrived at the beach safely. At first, little was happening. There was one fish gulping but he was out of reach. There were just a few callibaetis starting to hatch. I took the time to methodically check all my knots and made sure my rig was in perfect shape to tackle the first gulper. To my surprise, Joe didn’t even pack a rod. He put everything away and it was already getting loaded up on horses. That would be something he would wish he hadn’t done.

After a half hour of patiently waiting, a fish rose close to the bank but a few hundred yards away. Then he went again. He was so far away that Joe suggested I not bother. Fat chance. I ran down the beach like I was roosterfishing in Baja. When I got to him I was quick to realize he was moving and feeding going away from me. I don’t like to cast over a fishes back if I can avoid it, but he was so close to the beach I couldn’t just run past him to get ahead because I would spook him. Therefore I had to retreat up in the willows and lodge pole forest behind the beach and pop out ahead. Twice I tried that but there was so much downfall it slowed me down and I popped out right where the huge trout was. Also, running through bear infested woods is not a good idea. I just couldn’t keep up with him. So when I popped out the second time I just went for it with a long cast. That was a rookie mistake. Not only would I of had to cast over the fish because he was swimming away, but I made such a long back cast that my fly snapped off in a tree. My flies were in my pack all the way back with Joe. So I sprinted back.

Joe was laughing. I thought he was laughing at me and I’m sure that was part of it. But really, he was laughing because the cutthroat had turned and was feeding back our way. He was moving so rapidly that I had to retie on a new fly fast. Really fast, and I was having difficulty. At 45 my eyes are finally starting to give me trouble up close and I could not get the fly threaded. What made it extra difficult was that I could not find my clippers so I could trim my tippet at an angle, a trick that makes threading much easier. I was trying to feed a jagged tippet end through a size 16 flying ant.

By the time I got the fly on, the trout was right next to me. I didn’t even bite off the tag end of my tippet or add floatant. I just spun around and dropped my fly inches in front of the trout’s nose. He ate it and. . . . I MISSED HIM! Damn!

Although mad at first, I started laughing at myself. What is it about gulpers that make me so crazy? I brought my fly to hand while sitting on the beach and bit off the tag and added some floatant. That fish was gone. On the next fish I’d do a much better job. The one thing I did do right however was my choice of fly. The water was now covered with bugs, many of them flying ants.

I got my second chance at a fish within minutes. This one I nailed! Every cutthroat on this lake is huge! Heart Lake is truly the best cutty fishery I have ever experienced. And I was a lucky kid in that I fished Yellowstone Lake in its heyday. But Heart is even better. After I landed that trout there were cuttys gulping everywhere. With my one fish, I’d done what I set out to do and I handed my rod to Joe and told him to get one. Joe was psyched. I don’t think he was expecting me to hand over the rod but for me it’s just as fun to watch a good angler catch a fish as it is to catch one. Joe was fully dressed for the hike out and wasn’t going to get wet. Therefore his target had to be close to the beach. Sure enough, one started working towards us in range. Wisely, Joe crouched down like being on a spring creek and dropped my ant six inches in front of the oncoming cutthroat. And without hardly a dimple this trout ate the fly. Joe was hooked up.

Joe has been fishing Heart Lake for years. He’d never nailed a gulper on this lake. On his last trip he didn’t even bring a dry fly set up. Joe is in his mid sixties and he was giggling like a little kid at the candy store. And moments later he was getting soaked wrestling his gorgeous dry fly cutty to the beach. We were having way too much fun!

In less than three hours, Joe and I ended our pack trip by landing six of these fantastic cutthroats. What a way to end a great adventure. All I can say is that the fishing on Heart Lake is incredible. The lake has everything to offer from a beautiful back country setting in Yellowstone to great lake trout fishing and cutthroat fishing. Anyone can do this trip. You can hike in and shore fish or you can get packed in like us. To get packed in, contact Wilderness Trails of Jackson, Wyoming. That’s who we used and they did a terrific job. Our gear made it. They got all the permits for our camps. And they fed us like all hardcore dawn to dusk anglers need to be fed.

I didn’t know about this trip till ten days ago. I was not budgeted to take five days off from my artwork and etc. However was it ever worth it! The only bad news is that now I’m behind badly and fishing is great everywhere. Tomorrow I’ll try to get three days work done in one so I can take Granny to Quake Lake in Montana. Stay tuned. . . .

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nice Bears

August 27, 2011

I’d much rather wake up at sunrise and see bears around camp than wake up in the dark to bears in camp. As Peter headed for the can first thing this morning he made a point to laugh and call me over to where he was standing gazing at the foothill behind camp. Not far from us was a huge black bear crossing the grassy wild flower covered meadow. There was no threat to us from camp, but the bear was exactly where I intended to hike this morning for a high view of the lake. Soon the entire camp stood and watched. Then as the big black bear closed in on a ravine, out ran a mother and two cubs. My hiking plan was looking doubtful.

By the time breakfast was over I scanned the hill behind camp carefully where the bears were last seen. Then I panned out a route that seemed it would keep me far from the bears we saw. My only fear-were there more? As I packed up my camera gear and holstered my bear spray I decided to ask Ian, the 16 year old along helping with camp if he wanted to go for a hike. “Sure”, he said.

When in bear country it’s highly advised not to hike alone. Even hiking in a group doesn’t guarantee you won’t run into a bear. Always make lots of noise and its good to have the bear spray handy at all times. And you always want to avoid a mother with cubs, exactly what we saw an hour earlier. But I knew where the bears went. I knew they were deep in the ravine avoiding the heat of day so off we went.

The foothill we intended to summit looked to be about an hour hike. That’s all I wanted to take out of my fishing day. It was tall and steep and was sure to offer a great lake view. Ian and I eased our way up. We were careful not to slip on the loose rock and much more careful to watch the climb ahead for our friends. As expected it took only an hour. The view was fantastic and the bears remained out of sight.

Once we got back, I loaded up my pontoon and headed for the beach end of the lake on hot pursuit of some huge gulping cutthroats. The lake was glass and I could see the occasional rises scattered inconsistently all over. On my way to the beach a particular fish caught my attention. He was in the middle of the lake. A place where only an enormous cutthroat would dare swim because cuttys are a favorite food of the lake trout of Heart Lake. As I rowed my way closer his true size became apparent. When his head broke the surface to munch the callibaetis it appeared to be about three inches long! This fish was gargantuan!

He wasn’t stupid either. Every time I got within 100 feet or so he’d stop. Thinking I was stealthy, I would lift my feet from the water and remain still. I was ready to uncork my next cast hoping he’d rise about 20 feet away. Fat chance, he’d come up again but always another 200 feet away. Off I went again. The chase lasted more than an hour. I soon found myself so far from the beach and on the opposite side of the lake that I couldn’t believe it. Then the wind started and the lake went from calm to whitecaps in less than ten minutes. I was screwed!

Mr. Monster cutty won that battle and left me working my oars like a crazy man. I bet I looked like an eggbeater trying to cross that lake. To make a long story short, I rowed and kicked as hard as I could for more than two hours to get to the sheltered side of the lake where Joe, Jim, Peter, Stan and Jack were all fishing. Without even noticing my exhaustion Joe shouted to me when I was in ear range, “Jeff, this has been our best morning. I already caught 9 lakers. Where the heck were you?” Man, I was bummed. I loved my hike and all but I missed out on some great fishing on this end of the lake all because of one giant brilliant cutthroat trout.

I was so beat that I rowed up on the bank and popped a beer. I brought six good beers with me this trip for special occasions. This was one of them. Soon Joe came over smoked a cigar. This side of the lake was calm enough one could expect to see a rise at anytime. After my beer and his smoke, we rowed slowly along the shore looking for a riser. There were plenty of bugs on the water all we needed was fish. Then to my disbelief I spotted a nice fish rising in the shade only a foot from the bank. Joe and I nearly ran him over. We put on the brakes and I reached for my 5-weight RX Ross and stripped out some line.

By now it was evident this was a big fish. Better yet, he wasn’t wandering all over. He had a beat of about 50 feet. He’d reach the end of his beat and turn around and come back. After watching him a bit I simply waited for his return. And don’t you know it; I had a surprise waiting for him. He engulfed my fly and it was game on.

The cuttys of Heart Lake are not your normal cuttys, these fish take off. I mean they fight harder than any cutt I’ve ever met. And this big fellow was no slacker. Luckily I don’t feel that heavy tippet within reason scares the fish from eating a fly and my 3X Scientific Angler tippet allowed me to horse the nice fish in. Soon Joe was flicking some pics of my first fish of the day. Man, it was already 1 PM and this was my first!

Joe and I were pretty excited about that catch. I must say it will likely be my favorite catch of the trip just because of the way we found the gorgeous cutty and the beautiful rise he made to my fly. But despite finding him so fast on our search we never found another riser. That was okay because the laker fishing was on. Joe and I rowed out to some deeper water and broke out the big sticks to dredge down deep. Within minutes we each hooked up. We sat out in the deep for several hours through sun and rain and wind and calm and soon I too had ten fish to my day.

The lake calmed down to glass again by 5 PM. There were storms all around us and we just kept lucking out in that they all went around us. Occasionally we’d get a sprinkle but not enough to drive us in. Today was our last full day and I must say I’m tired. At 7 PM I reeled in and headed for camp. That was a good idea because we had some special foods waiting and plenty of good wine. The crew fed us a pork loin to die for followed by a cobbler pie that one of our cooks Rebecca made in camp – very impressive to say the least.

Tomorrow we pack out. We don’t need to start hiking till about noon so my plan is to dredge for lakers right at sunrise then pack up and walk to the infamous beach we arrived on four days ago. I’m bringing my 5-weight to the beach and dry flies only and I plan to nail some more of these beautiful cutthroats to end what has already been a fantastic trip!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Heart Lake Day 3 - Chillin with Joe Burke

August 26, 2011

If you wondered why in the world I said I’d sleep under the stars last night you had good reason. This is big time grizzly bear country and I could literally wake to one sniffing my face or chewing a leg off! But as one that sees incredible starry nights on a regular basis, at bed time last night the stars were as good as it gets. I had to sleep out. And it was more than worth it, I awoke to a spectacular session of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). They weren’t the common glimmering of streaky white light but rather bright shades of red. I guess I just had a feeling sleeping out was a good idea.

Today we switched camps. This didn’t really affect us as the camp crew made the move for us. We just had to pack up our stuff so they could shuttle it to the next camp. So once we did that and finished breakfast, just like yesterday we grabbed our bear spray and made our scary trip through the willows to the lake where our pontoon boats were waiting.

Skies were mostly clear today but the wind was already heating up. Joe was curious about my solo yesterday because it was to a part of the lake he’d never been so he and I announced we would be rowing full bore for at least an hour to the area. I caught more cuts than normal yesterday so Joe was anxious to see some of the water I got them from and because these cuttys are so spectacular, naturally he wanted to catch a few.

It took well over an hour to get out of the wind. However, once we did conditions couldn’t be better. It was so nice Joe and I both spun around our boats and rowed forward and enjoyed the views in every direction. Eventually we were at a spot that I caught two cuttys yesterday so we both started stripping leeches. And wouldn’t you know this was a classic example of “you should have been here yesterday”. Joe and I pumbled the water here and a few of my other producing spots of yesterday and for three hours we got no more than a tap from what felt like a small fish. There was absolutely nothing going on.

I took Joe to the beach where I weathered out yesterday’s storm. We figured on a beer and a cigar. I also envisioned another swim but we beached our boats and started casting from shore. In minutes we nailed a pair of lake trout and then Joe got a beautiful cutthroat. Likely what awoke the fish was the change in weather of another oncoming storm. Once again things were clouding up and the wind started to blow. Then it was time for the cigars and beers!

Just like the previous days, this storm was in and out in a flash. Then a great hatch of various mayflies started hatching. We rowed back to the main lake and I nailed a gulper with ease. I simply got lucky. Then we ran into Jim who was doing great on the lake trout in 50 feet of water. Jim was having an absolute ball so we too started after the lakers. Out came the big sticks with the fast sinking lines and down went the heavy streamers.

For me, the best colors for lakers have always been white, chartreuse or yellow. I also like a lot of flash as it helps these flies to be visible deep down to the lakers. Today all our favorite patterns worked well and our entire group probably landed 60 lake trout. Fishing was so good we didn’t stop until dark. Although we didn’t get the brute we are all dreaming of, we caught many respectable lakers like this one I’m holding.

Our new camp is at the mouth of Sheridan Creek. It’s right on the water so we can watch for risers while eating. I really like it. And we are close to the beach that we walked in on the first day that had all the risers. My morning plan will be to climb half way up Sheridan Mountain behind camp to get some neat photos of the lake then row to that beach to hunt cutthroats on dries.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Heart Lake Day 2 Solo in the Backcountry

August 25, 2011

I’m never surprised to wake up to rain when on a big fishing trip. I see wet weather all the time thus my nickname, Monsoon Currier. So when I awoke to the pitter patter of rain on the tent, a few blasts of thunder and bolts of lightening I just tossed on the rain jacket and poured myself a stiff cup of cowboy coffee from the fire. Soon after our entire group was up and huddled under a tarp gorging on a huge breakfast.

By the time breakfast was done the rain stopped and although most the sky was buried in cloud cover with threats of more, some amazing beams of sun peaked through. We all grabbed our bear spray and walked through the nerve-racking willows for the lake to start the day of fishing. When we got to the beach the lake was like glass and callibaetis were starting to hatch. I was first to push off and had gulpers on my mind so I tied on a callibaetis cripple and rowed towards a distant rising fish.

When I got to the fish my heart was pumping like mad. Risers on lakes are not easy to catch because they are always moving. They are much more challenging than river fish and to add to the excitement, this appeared to be another of those monster Heart Lake cutthroats I met last night. Sure enough by the time I had my line out and launched about a 60 foot cast, the cutty was a 100 feet away. I made few strokes with my oars then spun around and kicked. The fish was in range but this time when my fly landed in his vicinity he stopped rising. I waited and waited then he appeared, naturally about 200 feet away. Again I rowed his direction (You should understand the challenge I faced by now). On and on my pursuit of this huge cutty continued, and at last persistence paid off. I got a cast when he was in range and feeding aggressively. I hooked and landed the first monster cutty of the day.

When you include the time of the chase, that particular fish took me more than 45 minutes to subdue. Meanwhile, weather in Yellowstone changes by the minute and the clouds had cleared and now a sturdy wind was starting. It was plenty enough wind to stop the rising fish so it was time to row for the far side of the lake which was protected. By now the entire group was on the lake and we all headed off on a long row of at least two miles.

The wind and waves grew as we travelled. It wasn’t long before we faced full blown whitecaps. On every oar stroke water would explode over our pontoons often times completely dousing us. The only good news was that we all had our rain jackets on. The bad news was that slowly we separated as we each sought after what we hoped would be an easier route to safety. As I got closer to the wind protected bank my rowing eased. Soon I was coasting along with a smile. But when I looked back at the rest, they were clearly headed to the opposite corner of the lake, equally sheltered but far from me. I thought about heading towards the same place but there was no way, I was beat from my struggle that took more than an hour and there had to be fish where I was anyway.

On this side of the lake there was too much breeze for risers but perfect chop for stripping leeches. I secured my dry fly set up and grabbed my leech rod. Two hours later I’d landed four more huge cuttys and a spectacularly colored 23” lake trout.

Heart Lake truly is shaped like a heart and I’d kicked my way into the far side of it. I was easily three miles from any of the other guys. I couldn’t even see them because I was behind the peninsula that divides the heart shaped lake. I really wanted to fish with them but I’d waste at least two hours getting too them and heck, soon after I reached them I’d have to start a two mile row back to camp. There was no way; today was going to be a solo, something that often does the soul good anyhow.

I pulled up on a nice beach to take a break. The break turned into a nice swim and then catching two more cuttys. I was really enjoying being by myself in a true wilderness environment. Then as fast as the sun came out earlier, a major thunderstorm came in and brought substantial thunder, lightening, wind and rain, enough that I pulled my boat ten feet up the beach and retreated to the woods for cover.

My love for the solo day went down the tubes fast. I didn’t exactly feel too safe ducking the storm in the woods. I’d forgotten my bear spray at the launch beach and there were grizzly tracks and poop everywhere. With the clamoring of thunder and rain dripping off my hat I basically spun in circles watching carefully for any approaching movement. I got that feeling of being watched so badly I nearly launched my pontoon boat in the heat of the storm just to avoid the chance of being face to face with a hungry griz. I couldn’t wait for that storm to end!

Luckily the storm ended as fast as it began and the rest of the day was nice with little wind. I changed gears and started flippering my way back to camp with my 9-weight in hand. I put on a giant Brent Dawson Nile perch fly and sank it in deep water with my 300 grain Streamer Express fly line. Slowly I kicked along keeping my fly deep then every few minutes I’d strip it all the way back as fast as I could. At first not much happened but then I got into a school of lake trout and I landed more than fifteen of them up to 25 inches. Those are small by lake trout standards but plenty of fun on the fly.

Today was a great day. I loved my solo and am very impressed with the fishing on Heart Lake. As of now the skies have cleared. So much that I’m going to sleep under the stars because they are absolutely incredible tonight. Tomorrow I’ll stay with the guys and concentrate on getting some photos of everyone. I hope it doesn’t rain tonight!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heart Lake Yellowstone Park Day 1

I’m sitting in camp on the banks of Heart Lake in the backcountry of Yellowstone. Heart lake is a good size lake, in fact its one of the largest backcountry lakes in the lower 48 states. Not only is famous for being bear infested, it’s absolutely full of huge cutthroats and lake trout. Heart was once high on my “must fish” list but slowly slipped away as I discovered international adventures. Boy was that a mistake.

This is an organized pack trip through Wilderness Trails. I lucked into this because my friend Carter Andrews had to cancel at the last minute. He had to forfeit his payment so he offered me his spot for a deal I couldn’t refuse. The other five guys on this trip are friends I know well from back in my fly shop days. Joe Burke is a long time pal. I met Joe way back in 1987 when I moved to Jackson, Wyoming. Peter Moyer is also a friend. We haven’t hung out much but fished big browns on the Green once. Stan Chatham was a long time customer of mine and friend for many years. And Jim Fisher and Jack Larimer are friends that came through the shop on occasion and I see them around town a lot since I left the fly shop. All these guys are retired or nearly retired and are in their sixties with Jack leading the age group at seventy. They’re all in great shape and I can only hope my body holds up as well as I get up there.

It’s 7.4 mile trail from the car to
Heart Lake. Then it’s about another two miles around the north side of the lake to our campsite. Although this is an organized horse pack trip some of our group including me opted to walk in rather than ride. Nine miles sounds like a long way but I guess I’m in reasonable shape these days because the walk seemed easy. The beginning of the hike was relatively flat for four miles then the last part was mostly downhill into the lake basin. The scenery along the way was gorgeous. We weaved through lodge pole forest. Much of this forest is young as this area was nearly completely burned in the famous Yellowstone fires of 1988. Then as we descended upon the lake we walked the trail around numerous steaming thermal ponds.

Just shy of two hours is when you get your your first view of
Heart Lake. From this viewing point you think you’re only a half hour or so away but it took us another hour to reach it. The distant lake is just so big that it looks a lot closer than it is. When we finally arrived it was close to noon. We gobbled up some sandwiches then walked along the beach.

Our camp can be reached via the trail which is off the lake or you can walk the beach along the lake. Naturally we walked the beach and looked for fish the entire way. It didn’t take long for me to spot a nice cutty gulping up callibaetis off the top. It turns out the stillwater mayflies were hatching at an explosive level, so heavily that when you looked closely at the beach it was an inch thick with spent callibaetis from days before. This lake is rich with trout food. Mixed in with the callibaetis were pale morning duns, caddis, ants, hoppers, damsels and dragon flies. You can only imagine how many nymphs and minnows are swimming around below the surface. Regrettably, all our fly rods were well behind us getting packed in on the horses and all we could do was watch and weep.

We reached camp about two hours ahead of the horses. They started later than us because they had to load up the tons of gear we brought including pontoon boats. So we just relaxed. Peter and Jim took a nap while Joe and I smoked cigars and explored our fly boxes. We were so amped!

When the horses and gear showed up they dumped our boats and tackle on the beach. Rather than venture inland to camp (camp was a five minute walk in the woods) we immediately broke out our gear with hopes we could get a few hours of fishing in before dinner. By now it was 4 PM and so hot you couldn’t believe we were over 7000 feet in elevation in Yellowstone Park. I have little experience setting up pontoon boats so it took me about an hour. I made up for time lost setting my boat up with three rigs ready to go. All I needed was to add a fly. I had my 5-weight Ross ready for a dry fly and I tied on a callibeatis cripple. I had my 6-weight Ross rigged with a Scientific Anglers Stillwater line so I could drag some leeches or nymphs a few feet under. And last I had my lake trout rig. Although a little heavy, I brought my 9-weight Ross, mainly so I could cast my Scientific Anglers 300 grain Streamer Express. Lakers live deep, particularly in August, and that line will flat out drag my fly down 50 feet with a little patience.

Once rigged and ready, five of us kicked off towards a distant point. With the exception of Stan and me, the rest of the gang has been to Heart Lake before and know some good places. We all trolled leeches all the way to the point but no one hooked up. Once there we began casting away. While Joe, Jim and I slowly stripped leeches over weed beds in shallow, Peter was out deep dredging for lakers. Peter comes on this trip specifically to fly fish for lakers. Last October he landed a remarkable 41 incher!

I was the first one to the point. As I retrieved my leech rig I couldn’t help but take in the beauty of
Heart Lake. It was really sinking in how lucky I was to be on this trip. Shortly into my fishing I got jolted and I landed a cutthroat on a red sparkly leech. All I’m going to say is these cuttys are unreal. This fish was huge! I’m new to this pontoon boat thing so handling him and getting a good picture didn’t happen, but honestly, this cutty was 20 inches if not more and grotesquely fat!

The evening fishing overall wasn’t too good for us. I landed one more cutty and a couple of the guys got lakers. The good news however was that we are all rigged and ready to start fishing our butts off for the next four days.

Tonight our camp crew fed us a feast of tri tip steaks, potatoes and green beans. The feast was so good, I must confess, I feel bad that my friend Carter missed out on this trip. Of course now we are full and happy but we all know this is bear country. We just hope like heck that every grizzly within 25 miles isn’t headed for camp!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

IFTD New Orleans

It’s been awhile since I visited the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show. For years I attended the show as a fly shop manager and it was my duty to see and purchase new product for the shop. Since I left my fly shop position I’ve remained in the industry doing many things including working as a member of the Ross advisory staff. This job with Ross has been very rewarding and great fun not only promoting the product but influencing designs of new reels, rods and accessories as well as testing them all over the world for all kinds of fish.

Recently Ross was purchased by Scientific Anglers (SA). With my Ross contract ending soon, SA generously flew me down to the IFTD Show in New Orleans this week so I could meet the SA personnel and discuss the opportunity of continuing onward not only with Ross but with Scientific Anglers. Just incase your not familiar with SA, they are one of the leading fly line makers as well as producers of leaders and tippet, accessories, insect repellent and the list goes on forever. In other words, Scientific Anglers makes a lot of cool stuff particularly for fly fishing and I’m very lucky they want me to work with them.

The show was great and I enjoyed meeting and hanging out with my old Ross friends and new Scientific Angler friends. I helped in the SA booth and very much enjoyed working the manufacturer’s side of the show. I met numerous fly shop folks (once my competitors) and basically talked fishing and tackle for the last three days. And best of all it looks like I will be officially continuing on to work with Scientific Anglers and Ross for many years to come.

The only bad thing this week is that I didn’t sneak out redfishing. As many know, Louisiana has some of the best redfishing found but with this being a last minute trip, I scheduled no time to fish. Tyler Befus however, a fellow advisor, got out on Friday and caught nine reds. This isn’t the time of year for the big guys but he nailed many respectable redfish including this dandy.

Along with the days at the show we were able to take in some fun nights on the town. A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without a night on Bourbon Street and a night of great music in French Quarters. I managed a night of both and I guess that’s why I’m dozing off on my flight home as I write.

As for this week’s agenda, an incredible fishing opportunity fell in my lap. Friend Carter Andrews is booked for a five day horse pack trip into the backcountry of Yellowstone to Heart Lake. The trip includes all meals, nice tent camp and the horses are even carrying in the pontoon boats. Although fully paid, Carter can’t go and generously gave me his spot for next to nothing. I have way too much work to do to take this last minute fishing trip, however, I also wasn’t born yesterday and have decided my work will have to wait. The next blog posts will be from one of the biggest and most grizzly infested backcountry lakes in the lower 48!

Heart Lake is famous for abnormally huge Yellowstone Cutthroats as well as monster lake trout. I’ll be packing in my Ross artillery of 4 through 9-weight rods and reels and a variety of SA lines - especially sinkers so I can get down to those deep residing lakers.

The trip starts Wednesday and as you can expect, I won’t have access to the world. So as usual, I’ll post my day by day accounts of the fishing starting on Sunday night when I should arrive home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Old Pros Humbled on the Fork

Long time friend Derek Mitchell and I spent yesterday on the Harriman Ranch of the Henry’s Fork. Derek is the sales manager for Mountain Hardware and lives in the Bay area in California. The last time he and I fished was August 2010 on Quake and Hebgen Lake in Montana.

Derek and I go way back to 1988 when he joined our team in the fly shop. He went through the normal cycle of shop dude, to fly fishing instructor and then on to guide the Snake, South Fork and Green Rivers as well as Yellowstone Park for over ten years. We became great friends and fished together all the time and mostly on the Henry’s Fork. That’s why this reunion on the Fork was special.

I picked Derek up at the Jackson Hole Airport at 9:30 Tuesday night and we drove straight to the Henry’s Fork and camped in the gravel pits. Naturally we hadn’t caught up enough in the two hour drive so even though it was nearly midnight we tossed out the camp chairs and popped a couple beers under the stars and stayed up until 1.

You would think morning came too soon for us but really it wasn’t soon enough. The night was absolutely freezing. I’m still using my summer bag and climbed in bed in shorts and a t-shirt and all I can tell you is that by 3 AM I was shivering. I couldn’t wait to see the sunrise. And sure enough we awoke to the first frost of late summer!

After nice breakfast at TroutHunter we geared up in the Last Chance parking lot and began our walk into the Ranch. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and temps were rising so fast it was unreal. When we began our hike it was already 75° and in no time it was over 80. It’s an unbelievable time of year here in the Yellowstone area where the temperatures can fluctuate 50 degrees in a matter of hours.

There weren’t many people fishing. I think most were heading out later in the day because typically when we have a frost, particularly the first, hatches don’t start till afternoon. Regardless, Derek and I don’t get to fish together much and we were anxious to get on the water. You often sit and wait around on the Henry’s Fork anyhow so why not start sooner than later. Plus we had good beer in our backpacks and even better cigars.

Well, it’s a good thing we headed out early because to our delight, we found a few rising trout right away. We barely even cracked our first beers and before we counted five nice rainbows feeding on top. While many anglers would dump the beer and pounce on the opportunities, we opted to drink our beers and watch. Patience is of utmost important when fishing the Fork. The fish weren’t going anywhere and by observing for the time it takes to drink a beer we were able to see what they were eating.

When the beers were gone we each waded out to our happy feeding trout. Once there it only took me two casts to screw mine up. My first cast was a little too far right and the fish didn’t move for my size 16 thorax mahogany dun. My second cast was perfect and when the trout of perhaps 19 inches wrapped his lips around my fly, I set and missed him. Of course the trout knew exactly what happened and exploded out of the area like a bomb went off. Meanwhile Derek was already wading away from his fish. His didn’t eat his fly but rather stopped rising after his first presentation. Yikes!

Our luck didn’t get much (ANY) better all day. We each had one more quality opportunity. Once again I flossed a fish rather than hook him, and Derek’s opportunity was even more frustrating. He cast to a fish that was feeding voraciously on top. The large rainbow was eating everything in sight and literally rising every five seconds. Everything but Derek’s fly that is. After nearly an hour of changing flies and casting to this feeder without an eat, Derek’s rainbow was finally full and swam his little fat butt back to his undercut bank.

By 4 the wind kicked up and temps felt to be about a scorching 90 degrees, two ingredients to put a halt to all feeding trout. Derek and I settled into what I named “Headquarters” a quarter of a century ago. It’s basically the highest point in the Ranch and from there you can see the entire Henry’s Fork through the Ranch and 60 miles away the Tetons scraping the sky. It’s an awesome place; in fact I think it’s my favorite piece of earth. Derek and I consumed several beers and each smoked a fine cigar. Mine was one of the best cigars I’ve smoked all year!

The fishing never improved. We kept waiting for an evening hatch but this is the unpredictable Henry’s Fork and the bugs get active when they want, not when you want. They didn’t want to get active. At 9 PM we reeled in and walked back to my truck.

Derek and I are both experienced anglers. We weren’t bummed at being skunked. We were stoked. The fish won. They won again that is. They rarely do and when they do you must give them credit. Yesterday was awesome just being out there with a great friend.

After wings and burgers at the TroutHunter last night, we camped on the banks of the Fork again. Luckily last night wasn’t as cold. We got up early, scored some coffee and cruised back to my house. Fishing is over for me for a few days as tonight I am presently on my way to New Orleans for the Fly Tackle Dealer Show. Hmm, I wonder if I’ll be the only one in New Orleans tonight that woke up on the banks of the Henry’s Fork today.

Expect a post from the show!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Quade River

After a few errands early today, Granny and I slipped the boat in an old favorite, Quade Creek. Quade has been high all summer and mediocre fishing at best, but we know if we don’t get on it soon summer will be over. This morning was a cool 34ยบ telling us fall is around the corner.

The coldest night in months became a huge factor. We didn’t see a single fish move until about 2 PM. Normally we see PMD’s and fish rising everywhere the minute we put on whether its 8 AM or 10, but today was brutally slow. Another factor might have been the heavy float fishing traffic ahead of us. When I dropped our car off at the takeout and did the bike shuttle I counted eight empty trailers. This is a tiny river and I have never heard of eight boats on a single stretch. A boat or two is common and there’s plenty of good fishing for that amount, but eight! What a bummer!

To avoid the traffic and feel as if we had the river somewhat to ourselves we hung back big time. I’ll bet in three hours we didn’t even go a mile. Then the yellow sallies began to hatch and fish started to rise. The fish were by no means rising hot and heavy but there were fish. Granny tied on a sally as it is one of her favorites and during the next three hours we landed about three quality fish. One was a rainbow and the other two were cuttbows. We also caught several smaller fish, an even mix of cutties and rainbows.

Sorry for the short entry but it’s off to the airport to pick up my old friend Derek Mitchell and we then have a long and late drive to the Henry’s Fork. Tomorrow we are going to tear up the huge rainbows of the Ranch – I hope!