Sunday, September 29, 2013

On dead trees

Yes, I know you love my ramblings on the web, but print on dead/recycled trees pays better. 

Page 28, The Flyfish Journal

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fifty Friggin' Yards on the Lamar

The Lamar Valley is one of the prettiest spots on the planet. In the right dramatic light, with bison, elk, and proghorn swarming the valley floor, you'd swear you had been taken back centuries in time (Aside from Maude from Des Moines asking you for the third time if those fuzzy dots are bears).

The Lamar

At the floor of this valley winds the Lamar River and while it's less than a mile distant the walk is harder than it appears. Sea level lungs, bison mashed mud and dozen of rivelets conspire to dissuade one from continuing, but one does. Cause it's worth it, right?


I'll not be catching fish out past those aspens.

The walk of shame
Unless someone lures me with tales of superb angling, I'm never taking that walk again. It's a pain in the ass. And the fishing was lousy both times I took that walk. I saw one other guy while I was down there and saw him catch one fish. I saw a lovely drake hatch. I saw no fish. I touch no fish. I scour my gear-laden self for some talisman that will draw trout. I am foiled.

You would think some fish live here.

After two rain showers, incessant winds and no fish I marched back uphill to my vehicle for a rest and some coffee.

On the way out I met a guy walking in with a fly rod. 0X leader. Large, green wooley bugger. Shorts. sneakers. Not a piece of legit "gear" on him. Totally less prepared than I for any eventuality. We talk about eating Rainbows for dinner though I am fishless. I bet he caught fish.

There's a black speck in there somewhere that is my truck

Fifty Friggin' Yards
So I'm having my JetBoiled, french-press coffee (one mustn't compromise, no matter the locale) when I look downstream about a mile to where the Lamar enters a canyon and decide that's a place where fish might take a streamer.

At the pull-off there's a car with New York plates. Three guys are working the water below. The guy one pool up looks like he's rooted in spot slowly working his way through his fly box. Two guys downstream are a mystery. One is working up a pool and the other seems to be working down a run. They're clearly together. Below me is some questionable water but I had time to kill while these guys got a sense of direction, so I scrambled down with a 150gr sinking line rigged on my 5 weight.

Probably closer to 75 yards now that I look at this diagram.

After twenty minutes or so, the two anglers below start moving upstream, each taking one of the two runs below me. The lower one leapfrogs the upper and walks my way.

He was moving with purpose. The body language hollered "passive aggressive" though I couldn't figure out why.

Instead of just letting it pass though I gave him a hearty "How's the fishing?".

He muttered something incomprehensible though through the rambling I got the message: I had "high holed" him.

"Excuse me?", I said.

"You saw me coming this way and you hopped on water I was going to fish."

After a few days of fishing and soaking in the beauty of Yellowstone one would have thought I was at peace with man and beast. That perhaps, as a karmic offering, I would offer an apology for the misunderstanding.

I guess it takes more than two days to wring out the stress. Instead of ignoring the statement or muttering something and wishing later I had said something smarter, I said exactly what was on my mind.

"Are you f#&king kidding me?  High holing?! You were fifty f#*king yards downstream! You and your buddy weren't moving one way or the other. If I'd dropped in 10 yards from you, you'd have a beef, but fifty f&*king yards? Give me a break!"

He kept moving. Probably best for both of us. His buddy came by a few minutes later. Neither of us said a word.

I get that in this wide open country fifty yards is probably the equivalent of three feet in other places but his argument was a specious as the water we argued over. At best we were ignoring that fact that, by his definition, we were both low holing the guy upstream. We didn't discuss that finer point. Maybe he was just a jerk. Maybe I was too. But if I drop in fifty yards from you, and you call me on it, we may have words. Or maybe we won't.

I worked downstream through the water they fished. The runs were fishless but the slower sections, home to large boulders, produced fish reliably. I was glad I brought the sinking line. There's something about sinking lines that makes me feel like I'm going overboard; over-gunning when a simpler rig would do. But in this case I was able to get into the deep pockets and draw fish to my olive wooley bugger.

Most of the trout were in the 10-12" range but two were nice fat specimens. They were all Cuttbows, at least to my eye, though I secretly hoped that I was catching native fish. None lacked throat slashes so none came home for the pan.

While I hoped to fish the next morning, I had an appointment to get to two hundred miles to the south and the day was consumed on the road. No regrets. There was a stout beer and good friends at the end of that ride. And there are worse ways to end a fishing trip than a friggin' day on the Lamar.

Finally, a fish picture. A fine specked Cutthroat or a Hybrid? Probably a hybrid.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In the meadow

The Gibbon meadow of years past.
In the east one would be hard pressed to find big rivers winding through meadows. I suppose the geography doesn't allow it and if it did there would be McMansions lining the banks. Out west, were expansive valleys still lay homeless, rivers still go where they want though they're more likely to suffer assault from agriculture and ranching than bipeds intent on constructing massive dwellings.

The Gibbon in Yellowstone National Park is three rivers divided by falls. The middle section, above Gibbon Falls and below Virginia Cascade meanders, mostly through meadow, though you'll also find steaming geyser basins in the mix. The meadow sections are the most inviting. Long, lazy stretches of water tousled by variable winds

In early September, the meadow grasses along its banks are thick with grasshoppers. You don't really appreciate the bugmass until you wander through the tall grasses and see the ground move ahead of you busy with leaping and scurrying. And you don't really appreciate what this means to you, the angler, until you stand at water edge and a sudden gust wells behind you and bugs fly helplessly in the gale.

I had tied on a hopper pattern at the car more out of awareness that this is the season for them than whether or not I'd actually find a "hatch". Standing at water's edge the wind shifted about and each time the velocity picked up a handful of grasshoppers would be deposited into the current. They'd struggle and swim heading back for shore and with enough frequency to keep it interesting (for me) they'd disappear in a swirl of trout mouth.

I wanted to be at the far shore casting to this bank so I found a spot where the bison cross and made the near bank far. The wind that delivered the hopping mana played tricks with my cast but such is the price to pay to cast large, buggy flies to trout you know are willing.

And they were. For several hours I was able to catch my fill of Brown Trout. Most were in the pan-sized range but there was one that would have been head and tail out of even a generous fryer. The catching seemed to come and go in waves as if aligned with some process that I could not discern. When it was on I did not complain and when it was off I felt like I was doing something wrong. Perhaps I was.

In the coming years the fishing on this stretch will change. Like the section I fished in the morning, this stream will be nuked in the coming years to make way for native trout restoration. For a few years, the fishing will be poor to non-existent as a series of piscicide treatments take out all the non-natives. But then the natives will be stocked into the stream.

If all goes according to plan, within a few years this portion of the river will be full of aggressive, modestly foolish Westslope Cutthroat and Grayling. This fishing will be good like it is today and perhaps a little more special knowing that native trout are back where they belong.

Gibbon Brown. Say goodbye.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Use the force, Luke

We all have that inner voice. For some, it warns of the Obamacare Death Rays; thank God for the tin foil hats. Others find moral and ethical guidance from their inner angels. My inner voice, with a gravely, older tone, mutters about knot strength and tippet status.

I recall a winter day a few years ago. I was fishing a midge hatch over in the Croton watershed. In a pool against a piece of ledge the dorsal fin of a fish I initially mistook for a subsurface log porpoised in the frigid water.

I hooked that fish. Not on the Griffiths, but on the #22 zebra midge dropper that hung below it. The fight was slow and heavy with a fish made lethargic by the cold. It felt like I was fighting a piece of sunken wood. With a swish of his paddle tail, the Brown turned towards the riffle below. My rod dipped sharply and then sprang back. The end of my tippet had the hallmark of a poorly tied knot, the pig tail.

That day the voice chastised me severely. Not fifteen minutes before he warned me that I should retie the knot on the dropper. My frigid hands had made poor work and it didn't look right. My hands told him to shut the hell up. We fished that bad knot and suffered for it.

Last night I heard the voice several times. He muttered about a dropper knot securing a #18 Olive WD40. A nice fish took that one leaving me the pig's tail. He voiced his concern again about a kink in dropper tippet. "Doesn't look strong", he said. He was right. I got back three inches of tippet for my trouble. Later, he commented about the foolishness of using 6x on the dropper. A nice fish abraded the hell out of it on a rock. I got back a piece of scraggly tippet sans fly and fish.

The knot curmudgeon in my brain can usually get through the clutter, but not last night. I was too eager to fish and a good hatch had brought the trout up for the first time since the spring. A mixed swarm of Isos, late Summer Sulphurs, and BWOs were keeping the fish busy.

Sometimes it pays to slow down and listen to that internal voice though I'm sure this is not the last time I'll ignore him. Especially when the fish are on on the surface on an early fall evening.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Grumpy Old (and young) Men

I know some fly shops get crap for their attitude. Folks with money to spend walk in, the fly shop owner gives them a half-hearted "hey" or worse/less and goes back to the web surfing/magazine reading that you interrupted. Other times you walk in and there's a BS session going on and you get ignored (Full disclosure: Sometimes I'm one of those folks in the BS session distracting the shopkeep from attending to your needs).

I know there's myriad reasons for why a shopkeep may not be as eager as you'd otherwise expect. Listed below are a few hypotheses:
  1. The last person in the shop had no interest in buying anything, they just wanted some free intel on river conditions.
  2. The last person they helped to select a rod thanked them saying "I can get it cheaper on the internet."
  3. The shopkeep is a guide doing indentured servitude behind the register cause he doesn't have a float today. He barely knows how to use the register much less how to sell you anything. He can tie a blood knot blindfolded.
  4. You're the forty-second person through the door today who can't spell Baetis much less understand how it's the best hatch to fish and only knuckle-dragging morons fish anything larger than a #22 dry.
  5. You're the forty-third person through the door today who clearly is not a local and will probably never return and actually buy anything. No extra attention for you.
  6. You're the 17th sun-dress wearing tourist to enter and ask if they have a public restroom.
  7. The shopkeep is a curmudgeon and should probably be in another line of business.
I'm sure there are others.

I walked into a West Yellowstone fly shop last week. It's one of the big name shops in town. Inside there were two shopkeeps. Behind the counter was a guide doing penance. Seated on a stool was a more senior member of the team, he looked managerial. I'm the only person in the shop. I'm dressed in full fly angling costume: requisite cap with fish on it, Simm's shirt, quick dry pants.

I had two interesting conversations in my short time in the shop.

Conversation 1: A fishing license.

Guy on Stool: Hey.
Me: Hi. I need a fishing license for Yellowstone. Can I get that here or do I have to buy it in the park?
GOS: You can get that here.
M: Great!

GOS: [This space intentionally left blank. Clearly my desire for a license does not seem certain or immediate. GOS is stoic]

Me: [Pause while standing in front of GOS looking hopeful, perhaps plaintive]

After a painful amount of time, perhaps only twenty seconds, I can take it no longer.

M: Can we do that now?
GOS: Sure. [GOS rises and a license is procured]

Conversation 2: Flies for the Lamar

I wander over to the fly bins and clearly seem bewildered.

Me: I'm going to fish the Lamar in the next few days. Would you recommend Hoppers?
GOS: That might work. Also, the Drakes are coming off. You might try a Green Drake.
Guide: Yeah, I fished Drakes there yesterday and they seemed to work.

Me: I have hoppers but I don't have one of those Drakes.
GOS: [Stoic yet again.]
G: [Silent]
Me: What fly would you recommend for a Drake pattern?
GOS: Over in the bin to your right on the bottom row you'll find some.

I continue to be bewildered.

Shortly GOS joins me to sort through an overwhelming selection.

GOS to G: Which ones were your fishing?
G: The ones with the shiny abdomen

I procure forty dollars worth of flies.

I felt in both conversations I had to ask for them to sell me something. I don't need someone following me around the shop like a puppy dog, but these experiences were unnecessarily painful. Worse, I was in this shop last year and got the same treatment. Clearly I'm a slow learner. I'll go somewhere else next time.

The flip side of all that

If you own a fly shop and you want to learn how they should: a) be organized, b) be staffed, and c) integrate customer relationship best practices (internet/mail marketing) visit Little River Outfitters in Townsend, TN. Those guys have their game on. Friendly. Courteous. Helpful. And they didn't let me leave without getting my email address.

When Mike and I visited they asked where we were fishing, recommended a few spots we should try and even pointed out some flies we should purchase. All without being asked. They made a quick sale and, more importantly, got me in the mood for buying. I picked up more flies than I would otherwise have done so and even bought supplies that I didn't need (though those extra leaders came in handy in Yellowstone).

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Favorite Small Stream*

If one were to sit down in a large sand box and design a perfect small stream -- plentiful cover, clear, cold waters, meandering bend pools, undercut runs -- it would probably end up looking a whole lot like the Gibbon River above Virginia Cascade.

This stream seems purpose made for trout though back in the late 1800s it was described as troutless. In fact, the only fish that had historically been present in this portion of the river was the mottled sculpin. Natural barriers like Virginia Cascade blocked the upstream migration of trout. Today it holds a vigorous population of Brook Trout that were stocked through the early part of the 20th century.

Over the coming years, the Yellowstone National Park Native Fish Conservation Plan indicates this water will be changed to a Westslope Cutthroat and Grayling fishery. This will require the elimination of non-native species via chemical poisoning and then the establishment of fish that are native to the area. While there is a vocal minority that opposes the establishment of more native fish in the park, I'm all for it.

For now, the Brookie fishing is excellent. It took me a while to dial in the secret fly: #14 Adams. Once that was sorted out, the fishing was close to easy.** Every likely spot and most of the unlikely spots held trout from 6-9 inches. I look forward to a time when this stream will be full of equally eager Cutthroat and Grayling.

* In Yellowstone. From last week's trip.
** I've probably cursed myself by saying so and will not catch a trout for the remainder of the year.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I'm back from a long weekend in Idaho/Wyoming. The week before was chock full of fire fighting at work to prep for departure and now I'm digging out the email bin.

In lieu of forthcoming trip reports, I submit the following.

Where the lake trout live. Bastards.

Gibbon Meadows Brown Trout. A gusty wind plus hoppers = Trout.

Brookie Rainbrown. Or maybe it's a Lamar Cuttbow. One or t'other.