Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blackfoot Reservoir - Fly Fishing for a 20lb Carp

If you're not fly fishing for carp yet then you are absolutely out of your mind.  Almost every angler has carp within 100 miles from home (unless you’re from Alaska or Hawaii), and chances are there are carp down the street from you in a canal or local pond.  Carping is almost all sight fishing, it’s challenging to get a carp to eat a fly and once hooked their fight is amazing.  Carp provide all the components for the perfect fly rod fish.

Folks are surprised when I tell them I use a 5-weight for fly fishing for carp.  They’re surprised because an average size carp is about 6lbs.  That’s a big scrappy fish on the 5-weight.  If you chase carp enough you’ll hook a 10 or 15lb carp and then you’ll really have your hands full and you’ll consider a stouter rod for your next outing.  But don’t.  Carp are incredibly spooky, easily as spooky as a huge rising brown trout.  A 5-weight fly line lands on the water much softer than a 7 or an 8-weight.  Just gently enough to go unnoticed by wary carp.

I’m just back from two days on Blackfoot Reservoir in the boonies of eastern Idaho.  This lake, once famous for huge trout is fast becoming the best fly fishing for mirror carp on the planet.  I took my doctor, Dennis Butcher, and our long time friend Jay Buchner, both from Jackson, Wyoming and other long time friends Norm Thomas and his son Kiefer from Tennessee.  I met Norm 20 something years ago working in the fly shop and I’ve known Kiefer his whole life.  Kiefer works in a fly shop in Jackson now and has become an absolute fishing animal.

After seeing my first badger of the year on the drive in, the five of us staked out a camp 20 feet from waters edge at about 10 AM yesterday.  I scanned the flat in front of us and sure enough there were numerous puffs of mud.  These puffs mean on thing, feeding carp.  Within minutes we were all wading the flat.

Sometimes what appears easy isn’t.  Just because we were surrounded by feeding carp didn’t mean we were going to slay them.  For two hours the five of us dropped numerous different fly patterns into the muddy spots.  We twitched them stripped them and even left them motionless, but other than a couple accidental snaggings we couldn’t get a carp to actually eat any of our various imitations. 

As a rule, you shouldn’t leave fish to find fish but Dennis and I moved anyway.  I wanted some fresh carp.  About a three minute walk away there was a small bay.  The mud puffs were strong.  Dennis had on a nymph of some sort on an indicator and I had a chartreuse bonefish fly.  Mine was the same exact fly that killed it for me on the second day of the Blackfoot Tournament back in May.  Normally I watch to see which way the puffs are moving but we started slamming our flies right in them.  Such a presentation is another great way to frighten carp but there’s a theory behind it.  The fly ends up in their face so quick that their automatic reaction is to eat it then run.  It works for permit on ocean flats so why not here?  Within minutes Dennis was hooked into his first carp on the fly.

The fight shocked Dennis like it does everyone.  Sure, non carpers hear about the great battles of carp, but to have your own trout rod bent over is an experience to behold.  About eight minutes after hook up, Dennis posed with his first carp and a grin from ear to ear.

All of us fished till an hour after sunset.  There were numerous foul hookups.  These are fun because its action, but foul hook catches don’t count.  Our true catches included Dennis with two, Kiefer got one (the largest) and I got two.  Only five fish despite good conditions for carping.  Today’s fish were flat out tough!

The sunset deserves mention because it was more unique than the average.  Not too far west of Blackfoot there’s a big fire.  We watched smoke bellow all day like a huge thunderhead.  I’m not sure if it’s a real bad fire, prescribed fire or what.  What I know is that the smoke filled sky created some incredible lighting when it mixed with the last few rays of the sun. 

As always, we ate, drank and told stories around the campfire until early this morning.  Norm provided some unbelievable steaks and above average red wine.  It was a really good night.  Then we slept a few hours and got up and made coffee and breakfast.  There’s never a shortage of food and drink on any good camping trip.

We were on the water searching for carp by 8 AM.  Things started slow but by the end of the day we doubled our catches of yesterday.  Everyone caught at least a few. 

I caught a mirror for the archives.  I was walking along with Dennis, both of us catching some nice carp.  Fishing was really good.  Dennis has a bad ankle so he staked himself out on a point while I weaved my way along a twisting flat that took me far out in the lake.  I never would have imagined I could wade this far without it getting too deep.  Finally I met a drop off.  Although I couldn’t wade there, about 60 feet away it got shallow again.  I could see the top of another flat.  It was then I noticed a massive mirror carp.  The scales across the top ridge of his back were so big they were glistening from the sun.  Then he tailed like a redfish.  My heart jumped and I started to cast a big crayfish pattern I’d just tied on.  Then, I stopped myself.  There was time to concentrate and plan my attack. 

The carp wasn’t facing me.  Usually if you cast over the top of any fish to show him your fly they spook.  So I waited.  He slowly turned. When the carp was almost facing me my heart jumped again.  His head was eight inches across!  I took a deep breath then launched the cast I needed.  I wasn’t going to screw this up.  My fly landed about two feet to the left side of his nose.  As the imitation sank his fins erected with excitement and he pounced on the fly before it reached bottom.  I strip set and felt pressure.  I had him. 

Fat boy flared his gills and tried to shake and blow my fly loose.  There was no chance.  This huge crayfish was tied on a size 2 and although I usually crimp my barbs, not for carp.  This dude was mine unless he spooled me, which if he knew what he was doing; he probably could because all I had was my Ross Evolution LT 1.5 reel!

I knew this was a true beast because he didn’t immediately run.  Nothing ever messes with fish this large.  He wasn’t scared.  He perhaps thought he simply had a crayfish latched onto his lips. It’s probably happened to him before and he shook the mini lobster loose and ate it again.  So for the first five minutes the stubborn fish wouldn’t leave his island.  I tugged on him as hard as I dared with my 2X tippet and he wouldn’t budge.  Then I wrenched him with some side pressure and plucked my tight line like a guitar string.  Finally he took off. 

My 5-weight Ross Essence FC rod and my Evo reel endured a long battle.  There were a couple scary parts.  At one point the big guy had me deep in my backing.  If I had to guess I’d say there was about 20 feet of backing left.  Luckily, there was so much stretch that with tons of pressure and a bent rod I stopped him and turned him back in.  Then he led me on a wild goose chase down the shoreline.  Fortunately he stayed close to shore.  Fifteen minutes after he fell for my trickery and more than 250 yards from where I hooked him, I beached the jumbo mirror carp.  I wish I had a picture of Dennis’s face!

Another great fishing jaunt has passed.  This season will certainly go down as one memorable for large fish.  I’ve really had some awesome luck this year.  My bachelorhood comes to an end on Tuesday so tomorrow I better tidy up the house.  I’m afraid my dishes are stacked and there’s tackle in every room.  It’s been fantastic but it will be great to guide Granny somewhere fun on Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Harvey Cohen and the Fly Fishing Show Room

If you haven’t bumped into the yet then I guess its time, especially where many of you have been sipping coffee out of my colorful 15 Oz fish mugs every morning for years.  This new web store has added my fish to numerous great products.  You’ll find unique items anglers love from beer steins and travel mugs to beverage insulators and frosted mugs.  They also have things to suit the non angler too like Christmas ornaments and towels to cutting boards and trivets, every creation decorated with my fish art of your choice.  And if there’s a particular fish species you want and they don’t offer it, make that species a special order.  With a little time, I can paint any fish you request. 

The was recently started by my friend Harvey Cohen.  Harvey lives in Alpine, Wyoming and like many of us, his passion is fly fishing.  I met Harvey through his son Adam.  Adam worked for me in the fly shop.  Like many of my employees he started as a sales clerk, then became a fly fishing instructor and finally on to be one of my top fishing guides.  Best of all he became one of my best friends, however because Adam is about ten years younger than I, he was more like a younger brother.  I can say that because I took him fishing at places I don’t take some of my closest friends!

In 1996 Adam was guiding for a friend of mine in Argentina.  I spent a month in Patagonia that winter and made a week long visit with Adam.  Something was wrong.  This young full of life best friend of mine didn’t have the energy to walk three miles up the Malleo River.  It wasn’t just one outing; every day we fished he struggled.  Adam was falling in love with a fantastic Argentine gal at the time so I hoped that’s all it was.  It wasn’t, Adam was battling the onset of cancer. 

I watched Adam fight for his life over the next three years like you can’t imagine.  He was as courageous as ever.  And despite making an amazing recovery to where he guided for me again, the cancer returned and took his life at age 26. 

Many of us have been through similar situations with family or friends.  This was my first and the experience changed me forever.  Adam is the reason I live the way I do – like every day is my last.

I got to know Adams family well and we’ve kept close.  Harvey knows I’m even more of a fishing bum than I used to be because of Adam.  But when Harvey tried to get some of my coffee mugs and found out I had been out of them for months because I was too busy fishing, he was ticked,  “If you have a product that people want and it makes you money – you can’t be out!”, he barked over the phone at me last winter.  That was it.  A week later Harvey generously volunteered to help me out.  And in a matter of months he’s taken “Currier Art” to a whole new level with the

Today Harvey and I did some fishing together.  I’m trying to build up photo stock of rising trout so Harvey took me to private pond he has access too.  We assumed the huge trout would graciously accept my offerings of live grasshoppers, but they have been fished too so much with artificial grasshoppers that they wouldn’t even consider eating a real one.  These are some finicky trout!

After a few lousy photos, I floated Harvey on the South Fork of the Snake from Husky to the Spring Creek Bridge.  I know this stretch like the back of my hand but wouldn’t you know, today was the slowest day of fishing I’ve ever seen.  Harvey has fished enough to know that’s fishing.  We had a great time together and polished off some enormous burgers with cold beers on the banks of the river during sunset.  No complaints. 

Be sure to check in with Harvey and the  He’s just getting started and would love to connect with my friends.  I’ll guarantee there’s something there you can’t live without.  As for me it’s back to work.  I’ve been putting together my winter speaking schedule and I can tell you I’ll be busier than ever in 2013.  If you’re looking for a speaker for your club or fly fishing show than contact me quick because this angler will be working more than ever.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Early Float on the Snake River

I dropped Granny off at the Jackson Hole Airport at 6 AM this morning because she went to NYC to celebrate her moms 80th.  That makes me a bachelor for a week.  The airport is right near the Snake River so naturally I had to fish under the Tetons before returning to Victor.  Good friend Gary Eckman met me and we pushed off from the Moose boat ramp at 6:59 AM for an early day of fishing.  I was fishing before Granny’s plane even took off!

Gary and I were the first boat on the water for the day.  Most guides meet clients in Jackson at 8 AM and don’t even get to the river before 9.  It’s not only pleasant being the only boat on the water but fish start their day more aggressive than ever because they have yet to be molested by the numerous anglers.  We experienced some unusual weather.  It was cool, cloudy and even some drizzle.  You just knew the fish were ready to feed heavily.

On the first cast with my double Kiwi Muddler streamer rig I had a big fish flash.  It was game on.  I slammed the last bit of coffee in my mug and in the next fishy looking spot I nailed a stunning 16” Snake River Cutthroat.  The fishing never slowed down from 7 till noon!  Gary and I stuck with the streamers and probably landed more than 20 good quality Snake River Cuttys.

One fish of note was this large shouldered slab of a cuttbow.  The Snake is 99% Snake River Cutthroats and although there are some brown trout, brook trout and lake trout, rainbows are few and far between.  And a cuttbow is extremely unusual. Let alone a perfect specimen like this!

Another unusual find today was a drowned elk cow.  I watch elk, deer, antelope and moose swim the rivers all the time and take for granted that swimming is dangerous for them too.  The Moose to Wilson stretch of the Snake rages.  Currents slam into rocky banks and under sweepers like you can’t believe.  Floating this particular stretch takes a very skilled rower.  And there’s no reason to think that the best animal swimmers can’t drown just like we can.  It doesn’t matter what creature you are.  Get stuck under a snag and you’re dead meat.  This elk looked as healthy as ever yet there she was dead as can be creating new cutthroat trout holding water.

Gary and I finished up our day at 2 PM.  We still had some clouds but the heat was back.  And that’s likely the reason our fishing slowed dramatically from noon till 2.  Its great starting early and ending early.  I’ll spend the rest of the day on a watercolor I’ve been working on and get packed up for tomorrow.  Yup, you guessed it; I’m fishing a lot while Granny’s away.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Testing it all on the South Fork

Today my friend Gary Eckman and I floated the entire South Fork Canyon.  Gary has been on the blog many times the last couple years.  Gary is the founder of the “Good Times” One Fly Team and generously sponsors me to be on it.  Every July we start floating at least a day a week together to try out some new flies that we might use in the upcoming two day contest that takes place on the Snake River in Wyoming and the South Fork in Idaho.  We always get hooked on a couple new fun patterns but in the end, I usually fish a Pale Morning Dun on the South Fork and a streamer of some sort on the Snake.

The South Fork is running 13,500 cfs out of the Palisades Dam.  This is high yet very fishable.  Personally my favorite level on the South Fork is when it’s around 9,000 cfs.  Anglers often wonder why a river could be running high when it’s a low water year and the reason is that farmers downstream need water more desperately so the water gets sent to them in higher volume.

Gary and I pushed off from the Conant Boat Ramp at about 8 AM to begin our 26 mile float.  Normally this would be an astronomical amount of miles to take on in a day but at 13,500, as long as you don’t fish every inch of banks, it’s only slightly longer than a normal day.  Fishing started slow.  Gary stripped streamers for a half hour while I rowed then I twitched some oversized ant patterns.  Neither of us saw much more than one sturdy brown trout that took my fly as he was facing downstream.  I set but pulled the fly from him.  Next fly in line to try was a small dry so I put on an olive haze parachute.  Within five minutes I was pulling some nice cutthroats off grassy edges close to the bank.  It would turn out this would be our best fly today.

The day was hot and we both rowed and fished hard.  Even with the help of heavy moving water, two guys and the whole South Fork Canyon, it wears you out. The big fish of the day was a brown trout of about 21 inches that slipped out from under a grassy inside turn and ate the small dry.  It was a sight when he ate as his huge nose and jaw broke the surface and closed on my small dry in less than 8 inches deep water.  This is one of the bigger browns I’ve caught on the South Fork in a few years.  We pulled the boat from the Byington Boat Ramp at around 5 PM and I concluded that if tomorrow were the One Fly I’d fish a small PMD pattern while Gary would go with the streamer.  Gary is almost 72 so he has trouble seeing the small dries so in his case a streamer would be the best choice.      

Back to the office for a few days before a heavy fishing load starting Tuesday with lakes, private lakes, more South Fork and a weekend of carping.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ladies Day on the River

I remember all too well the grind of working retail through the summer in Jackson Hole Wyoming.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved helping folks catch fish, but by mid July my days off were worth more than gold.  That’s why lately I’ve been getting my girl into some good fishing AND some relaxation.  Granny will definitely need both to make it all the way through September. 

Today I floated her and her pal, Jessica Chitwood (who also works retail in Jackson), on a long enjoyable trip on the Sveum River.  Here the cutthroats, rainbows and brookies rise all day long to dry flies.  While you can fish big bushy attractors all day and catch fish, the steady risers can be more selective.  The ladies announced the selective fish didn’t fall into the “relaxing” department, so another Chernobyl day it was.

We met Jessica at 7 AM and after we used her car to do a shuttle we pushed off under a cloudless sky.  During the first hour fishing was surprisingly slow.  Other than a few little brookies, strikes on the big dries were few and far between.  The early part of the day turned into a lot of anchor down rests with refreshing cold beverages – doesn’t really get any better!

At noon temps hovered around 90º.  The heat under direct sun was really tough to handle.  The only thing that broke it up was disturbing a huge velvety bull moose.  He was so sneaky and motionless at first that Jesse nearly drifted her fly into his knee caps.  Then he spooked and tore down the middle of the river.  His water throwing sprint was an incredible sight.  After that bit of action both girls hit the wall and were soon sound asleep in the boat.  I beached the boat and went out wade fishing for about 45 minutes but only budged one good cutthroat.

By late afternoon the girls were back in the game.  They were rested up and like flicking a switch; the fish were finally, after eight hours, on the hunt for hoppers and stoneflies.  It was Chernobyl time and from 4 till 8 PM every good looking spot at least rolled a fish.  Granny, as usual nailed a few good ones.  Jessica on the other hand had some tough luck.  I watched one of the largest trout I’ve seen on the Sveum River in ten years come up and eat Jesse’s fly.  She lifted with a perfect hook set and her fly separated from her tippet so gracefully the fish didn’t even notice.  I know the cutty didn’t notice for a fact because after he stole Jesse’s fly he ate Granny’s!  Granny was fishing from the back and the same fish, only three seconds later, came up and ate Granny’s fly when he wasn’t even done chewing on Jesses!  It was unbelievable.  The difference however, Granny drove that hook deep and crossed this mighty cutthroats eyes and it was game on.

For several minutes Granny battled the heavily built cutty.  Big cutties here don’t jump and they rarely run far, but they know where every log is and will test your tippet and the backbone of your rod like no other trying to break you off.  Eventually Granny tired her prize.  I leapt from the boat with the net and just as I approached him he opened his mouth wide, aimed directly at Granny and shook his head – the absolute best thing a big fish can do to get a hook to pull out.  And her fly did.  I was literally three feet from scooping him up but the detached monster sank then shot off to freedom.  Talk about two bummed out fly fisherwomen!

Jesse fishes a lot.  I thought she had some bad tippet or something because this large hungry trout broke her off with little or no pressure at all.  I cut off her old and tied her on a piece of 0X and handed her a new fly to tie on herself.  Ten minutes later she lost a fly while false casting.  I knew something was up and when I looked at the end of her tippet there was the infamous pigtail.  Her knot for tying on the fly was failing miserably and now was the time to find out why.  I watched her do her next one and saw that she does an Improved Clinch Knot.  You would think “Improved” would mean something.  But I can tell you from my experience, as far as fly fishing goes, make life easier and simply use the Clinch Knot.  For some reason I too once had problems with the Improved Clinch Knot, especially with light tippets.  So screw the improved part.  Jesse tied on the next fly with a Clinch Knot and for the rest of the evening there were no more problems, but unfortunately for Jesse, no more big fish opportunities. 

Although a 12 hour float and I rowed the whole time, today was about as relaxing a summer day of fishing can be.  We saw an enormous moose at close range that tore down the middle of the river and the ladies racked up an amazing total of between 40 and 45 fish.  Most were indeed small but for them today was all about catching some fish and having a great time.  I think we more than accomplished that!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Secret Spot not so Top Secret Anymore

All genuine anglers have a few top secret fishing spots.  I must have a dozen.  I don’t take hardly anyone to these places.  I fish them alone or with Granny or in the past with my dad.  In rare instances I might take a best friend but as a rule I protect my sacred fisheries with every trick in the book – “watch out for poison ivy, the horseflies will eat you alive, there’s a bear at every corner” and the list goes on.  And although these may be exaggerations, they aren’t “flat out” lies.  Of course sometimes you must “flat out” lie to keep folks away from your hush-hush spot, and in my book, that’s acceptable. 

These days, despite how hard we hoodwink other anglers from our treasured places they occasionally find them.  Regardless of how hard they are to get to, no matter how far you have to hike, even if they’re difficult to catch fish at, today’s angler digs deeper then ever before to find new and remote places.  Fair enough.  But these places are clearly special even to the most lackadaisical angler.  You would think they would instantly appreciate and respect such a spot the same way you do.  Luckily most do, but when one angler doesn’t it’s your worst nightmare.

Today we fished Granny’s number one.  We’ve been sneaking into this remote river for over twenty years.  This gem is small and full of the neatest looking trout in the Yellowstone area.  The drainage is full of wildlife and its only downfall is that it’s grizzly bear ridden.  I’d call this river a fragile fishery.  It’s so tiny that once a pool is fished it takes hours for the fish to feed again.  It’s truly a stream you take turns at with your partner if you want to do well.

Granny and I were suspicious today from the minute we parked the truck.  There weren’t the bear tracks we’re used too, but rather a more dangerous critter, humans.  We only fish here once a season and last year we missed fishing here altogether.  2010 was the first time we ever saw other anglers.  There were two and they hadn’t ventured far from the trail.  They weren’t a threat.  I made a point to visit with them and make sure they kept the place under their lid.  They appreciated my care for the place and swore to secrecy.

Today Granny and I bushwhacked a good three miles deep up the river past the trailhead.  We arrived at a pool that always provides a fish on the first cast.  This pool might see a person other than us once every few years.  Granny had on her favorite, the Chernobyl ant, and she landed the stupid looking fish catching machine where feeding trout hang.  Sure enough up came a beautiful 13 incher.  Granny got ready to sting him and to our dismay, the trout refused the fly.  After many casts the heavily speckled trout never came up again.  A sure sign of fished over fish.  About twenty feet away there was a muddy area.  I walked over and needless to say, more human tracks.  Not only were there tracks, but some were old and some were new.

In an instant, Granny and I had one less “greatest place on earth”.  Yes, we know we’re spoiled.  Nonetheless, when you lose something this magnificent, even if you have eleven more such places, it’s a bummer. 

An hour into our difficult fishing day, Granny and I spotted not one, not two, but seven anglers in the distance hiking out of the canyon of our precious stream.  I’ll never know for sure, but it looked like a guide and six dudes.  What kind of guide would bring six anglers to a stream that can barely handle two anglers at a time?  Who knows, but it’s important to know these yahoos exist. 

It was about 4 PM and Granny and I were here.  Even if we were following other anglers, we were going to give the evening our best.  Realistically we both knew that the seven angler army spooked far more fish than they caught.  Surely the fish would be re-settled and hungry.  After an hour of relaxing Granny started working her way upstream.  Like the master she is, she worked every nook and cranny of every pool.  She knew the obvious places had been hit earlier so she concentrated on the places a “yahoo” wouldn’t know to fish.  During the next three hours Granny caught over twenty gorgeous trout. 

Times have changed since Granny and I arrived on the Yellowstone fly fishing scene in 1986.  There’s a lot more of us out there fishing.  The truth is it’s a good thing.  Many are anglers that have converted from taking their limits with worms to catch and release with flies.  More anglers are aware of the needs of trout (for all fish species for that matter) and there are more of us to help protect the fisheries.  Granny and I were a little upset for few hours today.  But we bounced back and added another great day of fishing to the season.  After the long day of hiking, tomorrow it’s in the boat on another great river.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lower than Low on the Lower Nunya

Some twenty-five years ago when fishing in a lightening storm on the Henry’s Fork (hatch wouldn’t stop) a shot of electricity crackled through my fly rod and jolted me up to the elbow before I threw the slender graphite stick and ran for my life.  The terrifying moment seemed like a close call and I swore never to fish through a thunderstorm again.  But being the fanatic that I am, since this one risk taking day, similar scenarios have happened three more times because storms are often closer than they seem.

Granny and I set off Monday night on our favorite weekend of the year, a float down the Lower Nunya (2010, July 2011 and August 2011).  This was our earliest trip down there in recent memory but with intense heat and almost no moisture in over a month our water levels are dropping at an alarming rate. 

Tuesday July 10, 2012

After a short night of sleeping in the back of the Explorer, I woke up Granny and we launched the boat just after sunrise.  Granny has a one track fly fishing mind from the boat.  She fishes two Red Wing Chernobyl’s spread 5 feet apart on 0X tippet.  Obviously she learned the rig from me but she is particularly deadly with it.  She twitches the flies so well swallows continuously swoop down and grab her fuzzy imitations from the water while at the same time robins wade out and peck at her fly as it drifts near the bank.  It’s unreal how alive she makes them look and as a rule the fish rarely have a chance.  But Tuesday something wasn’t clicking.

First off let me mention the mosquitoes weren’t bad.  In a normal July the Lower Nunya has the worst mosquitoes you could ever experience (yes I’ve fished Alaska, Canada, Sweden and other “mosie” miserable places).  And it’s a fact that the worse the mosquitoes are the better the fishing.  So, hardly any mosquitoes and naturally, hardly any fish.  Might I add the weather was a sunny 97º.  Honestly, the Nunya is a brown trout fishery and you don’t expect good brown trout fishing in such conditions. 

These things going against us and we still managed about twenty browns.  That includes little guys but more than a dozen were in that 12” to 13” mark with one about 18”.  Mixed in was a colorful Snake River Cutthroat of about 17” and two short but chunky rainbows.  This sounds good to most but on a normal day on the Nunya we often land a dozen 18” browns.

The camping more than made up for the mediocre fishing yesterday.  As always, we camped under amazing wildlife filled bluffs.  Granny drank champagne and glassed the rocks for bobcats (we’ve seen them here before) and I went from Sierra Nevada to red wine.  We didn’t see any cats but there was a moose and her calf, some mule deer and pronghorn antelope and a fantastic air show put on by a family of merlins.  All this while coyotes howled and a great horned owl announced he was ready for night.  We enjoyed all this without missing the usual cloud of mosquitoes around us.

Wednesday July 11, 2012

This morning couldn’t have been anymore spectacular.  I slept great – a rarity, but typical for me in a tent.  And though I’m an early riser, today I kept rolling over enjoying the birds until the sun was up enough to warm the air.  I French pressed us some coffee and we sat and glassed the bluffs for wildlife. 

We pushed off under a spattering of high clouds.  When the clouds blocked out the sun the temp dropped to a comfy 80º.  I knew the brown trout were enjoying the shade also.  Granny came out of the gates on a mission to land some bigger trout and she started sticking them like she was ticked off about yesterday.  It didn’t matter if they were 8” or 16” she set the hook and landed every one of them.  She took no prisoners.  Then in an inside turn, a place casual anglers don’t pay enough attention to, a large brown exploded on one of Granny’s skittering Chernobyl’s like a northern pike eating a muskrat.  We were in the absolute most difficult spot for me to slow down the boat; nonetheless Granny shouted one thing, “Back row!” 

When your wife says “back row” you back row.  I don’t care if you’re in whitewater, the boat better move “back” upstream.  I dug the oars with all my might.  I threw my back into it.  I planted my feet on the seat in front of me and rowed so hard I looked like an eggbeater.  Lucky for me, the boat stopped and moved slightly back upstream.  Just then Mr. Brown felt the current as well and spun around and took off downstream.  I gladly stopped fighting the current and pushed downstream in pursuit.  A few moments later I had Granny’s brown in the net.

Granny’s brown was bigger than it looks.  As they often don’t, this picture doesn’t do this amazing trout justice.  I wouldn’t give the red spotted brown a millimeter less than 20”.  Whatever he was, the gorgeous brown put a smile on our faces for the rest of the day.

At around 2 PM the western sky filled with black clouds.  Things had been calm for a day and a half and what felt like a comfortable breeze turned into a cold wind.  Then it started to rain.  The rain was coming in sideways blowing to us from a storm miles away.  Luckily there was no lightening, not even in the far distance.  Granny and I aren’t new to this and we have plenty of storm gear on board no matter what time of year.  We stopped and dressed for the elements.  If prepared bad weather can be fun and a welcome change to the same old bright sunny days on the river. 

Granny opted to row to stay warm while I picked up my 6-weight Ross rigged with two streamers and started nailing browns on almost every cast.  Fish were charging from the banks, riffles, inside turns and pretty much anywhere the flies landed.  The change in weather had them swarming in every direction.  It was incredible.  This was one of those times that even with all my time on the water I only experience once every couple of years.  And the harder it rained and the stronger the wind gusts the bigger the fish were. 

As expected the dreaded rumbles of thunder began.  Naturally, with the best fishing we’d had in two days, I convinced myself the storms were miles away and continued fishing.  Granny (she has much more common sense) wanted off the water.  “The storms not even close.  It’s no problem”, I said as I gazed at some serious lightening striking a distant mountain.  Well that proved it; I’m just as dumb as I was twenty-five years ago.  I kept casting and just as I was unhooking a beautiful brown it happened.  I heard the sickening hum and felt a tinge from the graphite buried deep in the cork of my rod – like the worst shock you’ve ever gotten in your house.  I was half a second from getting zapped.  Whether it was a minor zap or my last zap I didn’t want to find out.  I looked up and even though the eye of the storm looked miles away the sky overhead flashed.  Then I heard the crackle.  My fly rod was loaded with electricity not fly line.  Granny who has only heard my stories gave a horrified stare at my fly rod.  That was it.  I dropped the rod and Granny dug for shore only her oars didn’t look like egg beaters they looked like jet engines!

We got to shore in a nick of time.  A wind gust so strong hit us that the only reason our boat didn’t flip was because it was so heavy with gear.  We got literally blown up on the bank which was perfect because that’s where we wanted to be. I pulled out twenty feet of anchor rope and spun it around a few willows.  Then to put Granny’s mind at some sort of ease I grabbed two Budweiser’s, smiled and led the way up into the willows well away from the boat and the fly rods.  I really wasn’t smiling, I was worked up.  Once again I almost let the fish get the best of me.

It took over an hour for the storm to blow through.  Its never fun standing out in a bad electrical storm but when you immerse yourself in a wilderness setting you have no choice.  The one thing you can do however is stop fishing and possibly save your life.  “Use your head”, as my dad would say.  My guess is I’ll use my head for another few years then I’ll find myself in the similar predicament.   

An hour after the storm blew through the sun was out and it became a muggy 95º.  You couldn’t buy a fish if you wanted.  I spent an hour pounding the water with the very same streamers that were red hot during the storm.  Then Granny twitched her Chernobyl’s all the way to the boat ramp and caught only a mere couple dinks.  Except for a short part of today, the 2012 trip the Lower Nunya goes down as the slowest ever.  That’s fishing. 

Next, I’m taking some time off the water for a few days.  It’s time to catch up.  The art projects have built up and for those of you in the Teton area; I will be doing art at the Orvis Rendezvous Party in Jackson Hole on Saturday night.  Come on by and say hey!