Wednesday, March 27, 2013

First Trout Fishing Day of the Year

I had the privilege of meeting and fishing with some future fishing guides over at South Fork Lodge the last two days.  South Fork Lodge is amidst their annual Five Day Guide School.  I was invited over Tuesday night to give my talk “The Evolution of a World Traveling Fly Fisherman” then today I helped with a couple classroom discussions before we all hit the river together. 

This five day course teaches the skills needed to be a fishing guide.  Everything from boat safety to people handling along with fish catching techniques and best ways to instruct fly fishing are taught from veteran fishing guides of the South Fork Lodge staff.  I came in after day three and I must say that the students already impressed me with not only what they’ve learned but also their eagerness to gain knowledge of more. 

Today after morning classroom discussions all students and instructors headed for a float on the South Fork.  A surprise snowstorm rocked Swan Valley all morning but by the time we hit the Slide Boat Ramp around 1 PM the squirrely weather turned pleasant.  Temps rose to jacket shedding comforts and our fly rod guides stayed clear of ice.  

We had five boats including nine students and five guides.  That left me a seat and I got to fish while at the same time critique and add input as to what I expect out of a guide.  It was really nice visiting with those I was able to.

The fishing started slow but ended excellent.  I’m not sure if my rusty three-fly-stroke with slinky kinked fly line from four months of no use caused me havoc or if the fish really weren’t hungry at first.  It certainly wasn’t my student guide Allen because he displayed instantly that he’s had some previous rowing and water reading experience. 

My first fishing partner was South Fork Lodge friend and manager Ian Malepeai.  Ian insisted I take the front of the boat, a spot I’m unfamiliar with as I like to keep an eye on things from the back.  Nonetheless I took the bow with a smile and our fishing went from the occasional small cutthroat to some rod jolting rainbows like this one pictured with Ian and Allen.

The big fish while fishing with Ian and Allen was this robust net stretching brown trout.  As you know from this blog, off season on the South Fork is one of my favorites.  I often post quality browns but this chunky trout was a lot fatter and larger than most.  

I ended the day riding with longtime friend Zach Peyton and student Brandon Stickley.  I’ve known Zach since before I even knew he was a top fly fisher and fishing guide – at least 15 years.  Zach really knows his stuff and I cherish the few times I’ve actually fished from his boat. 

Brandon is entirely new to this type of fishing and grabbed it by the horns.  He heads back to his home and office position helping with bookings for Natural Retreats in Virginia on Thursday.  Let’s just say I suspect it will be a long flight and a return to Idaho for Brandon is in the near future.  Brandon not only tossed nymphs like a true professional and landed several nice trout, but he also posed for me with his first quality mountain whitefish.  Whitefish are not desired by many pro fly fishers, but I can appreciate a true Pinocchio nosed whitey!

It was a great two days and an enjoyable opportunity to be a part of the South Fork Lodge 2013 Guide School.  I take pleasure in being a part of teaching and encouraging others to not only fly fish but enter the fly fishing business.  Many thanks to Ian and Jonathan Lancaster for inviting me to help with the school and of course get that first trout fishing day of the year under my belt.  For info on the next Guide School and upcoming Fly Fishing Schools for all levels feel free to contact me or Natural Retreats.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Work Now Fish Later

I’m first to notice the blog is lacking in the fishing reports.  I apologize deeply, but you can only imagine how things pile up after three months on the road.  My body also craved some hardcore exercise and with some March snowstorms the x-country skiing has been hard to resist.  It’s wonderful to be home.

Between the snow play it’s been catching up on art projects.  Lately I’ve been drawing swimming fish on Cliff Fly Boxes so this week took the movement to my watercolor paper.  I believe it’s the beginning of a new era to my art style.  And check out the logo I drew for the Upper Bear River Chapter of Trout Unlimited – another true challenge with the sharpies.

Tonight it’s off to the South Fork Lodge to help teach a guide school.  My work begins by giving my presentation “Evolution of World Traveling Fly Fisherman”, basically a show to encourage new guides and fly shop folks to take their new job opportunity to the fullest.  Then tomorrow I’ll help with several classes and hopefully wet a line myself on the South Fork.

Have I mentioned my return with the Himalayan Outback coming soon?  Stay tuned. . .

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winter at Last Chance on the Henry's Fork

When I turn 50 I hope to celebrate at K2 Base Camp in Pakistan.  For some reason it’s a place calling me - a demanding hike I want to conquer.  There’s a gorgeous looking river there that no one seems to know anything about.  Granny however, who hiked to the Base Camp of Mount Everest with me years ago, thinks I should just take it easy at my favorite place on earth, Last Chance on the Henry’s Fork.

My friend and long time Henry’s Forker Johnny Scott turned 50 this weekend.  Johnny chose to celebrate on the Henry’s Fork.  He wasn’t born during prime Henry’s Fork fishing season however one of our favorite watering holes, the Trout Hunter, where we can look out the windows and watch the flow of the Fork, was wide open and ready for us.

Despite not being prime season, most sections of the Henry’s Fork are open to fishing all year.  Although Granny and I couldn’t make it up in time for fishing before birthday celebrations, many of the guys did.  The fishing was surprisingly good.  

Midge hatches were excellent around Last Chance, but the cold winter has kept the fish from rising.  Just upstream the streamer fishing in Box Canyon proved excellent.  Although a grunt to get in there through the snow, once you’re to the river the low water conditions make for easy wading and access.  For those who prefer to float, areas on the Fork around Ashton and further downstream have been hot all winter long. 

After a celebratory evening at the Trout Hunter with birthday boy Johnny and friends, Granny and I climbed in the back of the Explorer for our first car-camping night of 2013.  A sizeable storm rolled in with high winds and dropped several inches of snow.  I’m sure it was awfully cold too – but we didn’t feel it.  Wouldn’t you know, the stormy havoc outside violently shaking our truck caused me to dream that I was in a collapsing tent at the base of K2 on my 50th birthday.  Maybe Granny’s right – I should turn 50 on the Henry’s too!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Mad River of Ohio

To say the incredibly straight-lined Mad River looked mad today would be an understatement.  Mike Schmidt and I left Baldwin, Michigan at 7 PM last night and drove 7 hours to his home in Dublin, Ohio.  We did this for two reasons; one because I was speaking to Central Ohio Fly Fishers in Columbus tonight and the other so I could make my first ever cast in Ohio on their top trout stream, the Mad River.  Let’s just say we put my first cast in Ohio off for another visit.

The warm weather and intense rain blew out every body of water within three hundred miles of Dublin, Ohio including Mike’s favorite smallmouth river.  This picture of the smallmouth river showcases one of the most blown out rivers I’ve ever seen! 

Despite the lack of fishing today the tour Mike gave me was cool.  Even on such a gray day this part of Ohio is quite beautiful and I never would have known.  Not only that, there’s a couple great pubs in the area that come in handy when fishing conditions are nonexistent.  Best of all, we had a huge turnout for my presentation tonight and I met a bunch of great folks.  A big thank you to Mike Schmidt and the folks of Central Ohio Fly Fishers for having me!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Steelhead Fishing on the Pere Marquette

March 11, 2013

After the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo ended yesterday, friend Mike Schmidt, owner of Anglers Choice Flies, and I drove four hours north to Baldwin, Michigan located on the banks of the Pere Marquette River.  We’re steelhead fishing tomorrow!  However, what started as an enjoyable drive ended difficult.  As we traveled north it not only got dark but thick fog from melting snow mixed with drizzle and rain made it nearly impossible to see the roads.  We arrived late at 10 PM.  Luckily the neighborhood pub was open for food and I devoured a delicious grilled walleye dinner.

Morning came early and it wasn’t one of those jump out of bed ones either.  This early daylight savings that returns pitch darkness in the morning along with a steady rain sucked away our excitement.  Nevertheless, we had Mike’s friends to meet so we headed out. 

At 8 AM we were at a nearby boat ramp and met Mike Schultz, owner of Schultz Outfitters and Tommy Lynch, owner of The Fish Whisperer Guide Service.  I met Schultzy at the Somerset, New Jersey Fly Fishing Show back in January.  This was the first time I met Tommy. 

Although it wasn’t cold, when we launched the boats it was damp and as foggy as you can imagine.  The dim lighting made it seem like dawn and it would stay this way all day.  It was one of those where you could never properly estimate the time.  Tommy called me to the front of his boat and as he rowed us down the narrow tight bended section of the Pere Marquette I got acquainted with my new friend.

Today was my first time on the Pere Marquette.  This famous Michigan River is known for its steelhead fishing and its hefty wild brown trout.  These browns are from the first stocking of browns in North America.  They were stocked in 1884 in the Baldwin Creek, a tributary of the Pere Marquette

As badly as I wanted to jump up and chuck some streamers, Tommy insisted I stay put.  He had a place he wanted to start.  The river is small and narrow and covered by a canopy of trees.  Of course in early March these trees are leafless and snow covered, nonetheless any hasty cast would tangle you up. 

Soon we anchored next to Schultzy and Mike.  Then I watched the boys build the weirdest nymphing rigs I’ve ever seen.  Strange as the rig is, it’s ideal for winter Great Lakes steelheading.  The leader is terribly long yet carefully weight balanced with not one but two clumps of split shot.  Attached about 18” apart are two different colored egg flies and the entire bundle gets suspended by an enormous bobber that resembles something I once used crappie fishing at night in Wisconsin thirty years ago. 

Next I had to learn to cast the ungodly set up.  You think you can cast anything until you cast this.  There’s no over the shoulder back cast involved, it’s a roll cast, but unlike any roll cast you’ve ever seen.  Thankfully the Clutch switch rod does the work for you and after about a half hour of screwing up - I got it.  

Unfortunately learning to apply the new technique didn’t do me much good.  Steelheading has been fantastic here lately but a dousing of rain (“Monsoon Currier” style) throughout the night along with unseasonably warm conditions changed everything.  The free flowing Pere Marquette rose over a foot during our float and its clarity diminished.  Fishing was tough to say the least. 

Half way through the day we were completely skunked.  Tommy was noticeably disappointed.  We stopped for lunch and beers in hopes our luck would change.  After our relaxing indulgence I switched into Schultzies boat and Mike to Tommy’s. 

I was over the steelhead nymphing and chucked a small streamer more like what I fish at home.  Sure enough, I moved a few lethargic browns and landed my first.  Although short, he was no less than gorgeous and now I’d landed the oldest strain of brown trout in North America. 

We came to one of Schultzies favorite banks.  Rather than fish the cumbersome nymphing rig I opted to watch Schultzy fish.  This was a wise choice.  Schultzy showed his experience and meticulously worked the twirling bank then down went his bobber.  For me, when the indicator went down earlier today it meant snag.  For Schultzy this was a fish and his line sizzled off his reel and headed downstream.  I turned just in time to see the strong winter steelhead airlift himself about three feet up.  I ran straight for my camera.

Schultzy landed the dark yet bright cheeked steelhead downstream.  Tommy and Mike were near and helped by providing a spacious net.  It was a fantastic fish to lighten up a tough fishing day that was now pelting us with heavy rain. 

After we released the oversized rainbow everyone was ready to put the streamers down and nymph hard.  I certainly was and did.  Schultzy coached me through several of his top spots as we drifted.  Two hours later we were steelhead-less, the rain was falling harder and the river was rising and losing its clarity fast.  I went back to the streamer and conjured up two more browns, one of decent size. 

I know when its time to surrender the rod and enjoy the day.  Mike and I hadn’t fished together yet so Schultz switched with him and I rowed Mike the last hours.  Mike made a horrible mistake today – he left his rain jacket in the truck.  He was drenched and needless to say shivering miserably.  He kept casting but it was tough to watch.  We’ve all been brutally cold a time or two and it's no fun.  I enjoyed my rowing however.  The Pere Marquette is small and twisty with an obstacle course of fallen trees.  Navigating it was just as fun as my cold beer and cigar were tasty.

It was a magnificent day of fishing on the Pere Marquette and my first since the Amazon.  As you know by now fish catching is only a tiny element to a great day on the river for me.  I’ve now fished the famous Pere Marquette, caught its browns, learned a new technique and saw a brilliant steelhead.  We pulled the boats at 6 PM then Mike and I drove 7 hours all the way to Dublin, Ohio.  Tomorrow night I speak in Columbus, Ohio to the Central Ohio Fly Fishers.  The presentation is “Fly Fishing Through Midlife Heaven”.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Great Times Working the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo

March 9 & 10, 2013

The Midwest Fly Fishing Expo in Michigan was fantastic.  It was incredibly special to be working along side with Bob Clouser, Ed Engle and A.K. Best.  These three guys have been mentors to me for more than 25 years.  And a special thanks to Dan Finstad and the rest of the Michigan Fly Fishing Club for bringing me to their great show.

Tonight it’s off to the Pere Marquette.  Tomorrow I’m steelhead fishing with my friend Mike Schmidt before heading to Columbus, Ohio Tuesday to give my presentation, “Fly Fishing Through Midlife Heaven".  More later.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Midwest Fly Fishing Show

A solid week at home got me some rest.  I was exhausted from two months of constant travel.  Not only rest, but the homestretch included some great back county skiing, college basketball and spring training baseball.  The only thing it didn’t include was fishing, but I’ll get a day of steelheading on the Pere Marquette in Michigan on Monday.  That’s because it’s off to the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo in Michigan early tomorrow morning. 

I have a busy schedule at the show.  Rather than list all my topics I’ll direct you to the Show Website.  I’ll be demonstrating casting and talking Warmwater Fly Fishing, Saltwater Fly Fishing and Fishing Photography.  If you’re anywhere nearby, this show would be a wise place to spend the weekend.  Other speakers include Bob Clouser, Ed Engle, A.K Best and Michael Mauri.

Last, I wanted to show off some artwork that I did during the Pleasanton Fly Fishing Show.  I drew this brown trout on a Yeti Cooler for Ken Cochrane.  It is completely done with sharpie pens.

Time to finish packing.