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!