Category Archives: Stories

Fly fishing the Colorado River at the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Park

It was 45 degrees with blue skies, white puffy clouds and a 25 mph wind blowing up the Colorado River near Parshall.  At noon it looked lovely out the windshield, but I immediately added a coat once outside. With no cars in the parking lot on the mid March day, I was ready to endure a little misery for the sake of fun. Moments later another car pulled up and the driver gave a “Hello” wave. We chatted briefly while booting up and rigging up our fly rods. Then I left the other fellow and headed to my favorite spot by the ranch bridge which has four deep holes divided on both sides of the bridge and river.  The south facing bank had a ribbon of exposed grass in the melting snow while the opposite side had ice and snow to the river’s edge.  Both provided an easy step into the water for wading.

I started below the bridge on the sunny side and used the wind to cast upstream. Comfortably numb, the first hour passed without a strike. Honking geese flew passed and a bald eagle sat on a tree limb just watching. I had rotated through the four holes and was standing on the icy edge in the shade when I saw the first subtle rise, another rise and then a more violent splash. An armada of adult midges quickly appeared floating and swirling on the surface. My brother-in-law a week earlier mentioned he liked to put the weighted nymph on the bottom of the leader and the upper fly on a loop. I figured why not and proceed to tie a bead head black zebra midge on the end of my 6x tippet and make a loop for the RS2. Gloves off, my cold fingers slowly completed the task while trout began to boil the surface. With the first cast a brown was hooked, leaped wildly in the air and disappeared with my nymph as a trophy. Damn, a bad knot.

Numb fingers picked out a replacement midge and fumbled through a new knot while watching the fish pummel the sub-surface. My frustration was followed by fear that I was going to miss this fishing opportunity. Finally I was ready to cast, landed a 14 inch rainbow immediately and promptly hooked my glove with the fly while releasing the fish. Does this happen to all anglers or just me? With gloves tucked neatly in the top of my chest waders, I caught and released a dozen fish in the next 45 minutes with wet fingers in the chilling wind. No longer comfortably numb, my feet and hands were just plain frozen.

P1010257Looking down river I noticed the other fellow had appeared and was catching a fish just below the bridge. With one more cast producing one more trout; I was done and walked across the bridge. Although fighting another fish, he shouted up, “You were really hammering them. Anything big?”

“No, all under 16 inches,” I replied.

“I don’t how much longer I can take this,” he said while releasing the rainbow.

I laughed and walked to my car. Misery loves company.

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Calico Bass: Reel Action Near Hollywood

Family Fishing OutingCALICO BASS – REEL STARS NEAR HOLLYWOOD

(Being the ultimate fly fishing tourist in southern California…)

One of my best fishing memories is from a family trip to southern California as a 13 year-old. In between Disneyland and Universal Studios, my dad took me on an overnight party boat to Catalina Island. I caught calico bass like crazy with my spincast rod. (Side note #1: I spent the remainder of the vacation unsuccessfully pestering my parents about sending me on a 3 day long range boat to Mexico.)

Calico bass are the size of freshwater smallmouths – about 14 pounds is the all-tackle world record. They love structure like rocks and kelp. I’ve never been able to get them out of brain; “fly fishing for calico bass” has been a popular Google search with me for quite awhile.

The weird thing is that calicos garner minimal web exposure. (Side note #2: Surf perch seem to have a fair bit of web notoriety.) Nevertheless, there are pockets of enthusiasts giving calico bass the attention they deserve. One such enthusiast is Captain Vaughn Podmore – a guide from Huntington Beach, California. So when my daughter and I started planning a trip to Los Angeles, I immediately booked a charter with Vaughn.

We actually stayed in Santa Monica, which has great beaches and teenager-friendly shops. Our calico bass adventure was sandwiched between a day of exploring Hollywood and day of surfing lessons. (Side note #3: Got pummeled by several waves during the latter.)

We were supposed to meet Vaughn in total darkness at 5:30 AM but a freeway snafu delayed us. What trip to Southern California doesn’t include at least one freeway snafu? Regardless, we pulled up to the desigated boat ramp south of LA around 6 AM.

Rocky BreakwaterIn short order, Vaughn had us along a rocky breakwater that ran for miles along the outer harbor. Directly in front of us, stands of kelp grew close to freezer-sized boulders. Beyond the breakwater was the open Pacific. Behind us, across the harbour’s expanse, we could make out massive cranes and container ships. But the kelp and the rocks held the most intrigue; they screamed the calico bass of my past.

Vaughn set my daughter up with a spinning rod and a plastic grub. I was using an 8 weight with a type 6 shooting head. To about 4 feet of fluorocarbon leader, Vaughn attached one of his custom flies. It looked incredibly fishy, with big lead eyes and a rabbit strip tail poking out from a collar of spun deer hair and Silli legs. It was predominantly orange and tan and my first thought was how good it would look in my largemouth box.

The fly’s real magic, however, lay in its twin weed guards of 40 pound Mason mono. “Throw it right up against the rocks,” said Vaughn. ” Give it a couple quick strips and then let it sink. The weed guards will take care of the kelp. If you can get it into the lanes between strands, that’s great… But don’t stress over it.”

Calico Fly SelectionThe fly worked exactly as advertised. But only after my daughter stung a couple quick fish. I felt fatherly pride with the first but a tinge of “daughter outfishing me” panic with the second. (Side note #4: As she gets older, I find the panic replacing the pride at an alarming rate…)

Being early March, the water was fairly cool and the calicos would often seductively nibble at the fly. But more often than not, it was a solid and decisive grab. Then the rod would double over…

And it stayed doubled over. There was no getting these fish on the reel. If they got 6 inches of line, they would be wrapped around a rock or some kelp. A typical fish was between 12 and 15 inches but they consistently pulled the rod tip down to the water. Calico bass are definitely tug-of-war champs.

The fishing was very steady and we made our way to the ocean side of the breakwater. Vaughn used an electric trolling motor to keep his 28′ center console in a rock-solid casting position. The Pacific swell was widely spaced and hardly noticeable. My daughter and I were slightly shocked to see the swell almost cresting over the breakwater. The bite continued and a whale even blew close-by…

Around 11 AM, the wind came up and Vaughn ran to the sheltered, “business” side of the harbor. On the way, we stopped for a look at some resident seals – plump and lazy and not concerned with us at all.

By this time, I had boated about 15 calicos. My daughter had actually quit after 7 or 8. She said she just wanted to enjoy the sun but maybe the idea was not to make me panic anymore?

Urban Fishing Results“Welcome to the Southern California back country,” announced Vaughn as we pulled up beside some concrete pilings. There was a parking lot just off our bow and a container ship about 400 yards off our stern. I like pristine wilderness, but – truth be told – urban fishing has its own charm. Maybe it’s the idea that I’m getting away with something that I shouldn’t be doing?

After several casts and a couple grabs inside this industrial fishing haven, it was time to head back to the ramp. By 1 PM, my daughter and I were on the freeway headed toward the next tourist item on our agenda – downtown LA.

Calico bass are definitely a low profile fish in a high profile place. But they are worthy targets. Vaughn also mentioned something about a top water bonito bite in the summer… Rats, the bucket list never seems to get shorter.

Maybe when I go back I’ll hop on a Mexican long range boat as well? And maybe I’ll get up close to the surf WITHOUT a surf board; I’ll bring a pair of waders and chase surf perch instead? For sure, I’ll chase after those bonito.

Lunch Stop

A Green Winter: Utah Winter Fly Fishing

I landed in Salt Lake City in late March. Although skiing was on my agenda, I pointed the rental car toward something even more enticing – the Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge dam. 12,000 trout per mile, with a reputation of feeding hard year ‘round, were calling my name.

It was dark when I got to my room at Trout Creek Flies in Dutch John.   Motel rooms – no matter how spartan – are so much more welcoming with a fly shop attached and a river nearby.  Before retiring, I did some visiting with the group beside me; they convinced me to book a guided drift boat trip for one of my two days on the river. At about 9 AM the next morning, I wandered over to the fly shop for the requisite fly recommendations.  I also booked my guide for the next day. Therein lies the beauty of winter fly fishing:  leisurely, late morning starts and no need for reservations.

By 10 AM I was on the river.  It was cloudy and about 38 degrees.  But with a fly rod in my hand and moving water beside me, it felt absolutely tropical. My 5 mm neoprene waders weren’t hurting, either.  The river looked completely gorgeous – perfectly clear water slicing through red rocks dusted by white snow.  I hiked along a well-trodden path and fished as I went. However, the 12,000 trout per mile remained remarkably well hidden.  Eventually, in a side eddy alongside a faster chute, I spotted some trout finning.  They had a penchant for zebra midges and orange scuds under an indicator – not a desperate hunger, mind you – but a definite penchant that kept me busy for a couple hours.

Near the end of those couple hours, the temperature dropped below freezing and the snow started.  Although the flakes were big and friendly, my hands felt like blocks of ice.  Fingerless neoprene gloves, it seems, have a threshold of effectiveness that I was trying to cross.  I started the hike back to the car. About 5 minutes from the car, I stumbled onto the weirdest, most beautiful winter scene imaginable.  (For me, anyway.)  Trout were poking their noses into the snowstorm.  Nothing de-ices fingers, or at least enables the mind to work with icy fingers, like rising trout.  Out came the 6 X tippet and a Griffith’s Gnat.  And then a tiny emerger.  And then another tiny emerger.  And then another…  After several numb-fingered fly changes, I gave up and headed back to the car.  I should have been frustrated but mostly I was stoked with just the idea of casting to rising fish in a snowstorm.

I slept well that night, looking forward to the guide’s drift boat the next day…

During the next morning’s leisurely start, as I shuffled off to the fly shop to meet the guide, the air had a biting cold.  Being from the Canadian prairies, it was not unfamiliar. The strong wind pushing fresh snow along the ground was something else my prairie brain immediately recognized.  Back home, it’s the kind of wind that makes you sprint from your house to your car and from your car to your final destination, minimizing time outdoors at all costs.  I was thinking that this is not fishing weather, my neoprenes won’t even keep me warm, and my trip is going to get cancelled.

Nevertheless, the guide was in the shop, ready to go and perfectly optimistic, even confident.  I bought a pair of Simms fishing mitts and officially relegated the fingerless neoprene gloves to back-up duty.  I made a quick stop to throw on all the clothes I brought, including ski pants underneath my waders.  Then we set off for the river.Once on the river, I quickly forgot about the cold.  The 12,000 trout per mile were definitely showing themselves.  Through the clear water, as we slid down runs, I spotted schools that were quite content to let the boat drift right over their heads.

The guide had me throwing a heavily weighted, green Woolly Bugger with an 8 weight floating line and a 10 foot leader.  The drill was to let it sink as deep as possible.  In the deeper, slower water it sometimes pulled the last few feet of line under.  The fish certainly liked it.The action wasn’t non-stop but it was certainly steady.  Every five minutes or so I dipped my rod in the water to melt the ice in the guides.  After every third or fourth dip, I seemed to have a fish on.

They didn’t seem to prefer any particular location.  Some were in deep eddies, some were along steep banks amongst boulders, some were at the base of riffles and rapids, and some were right in the riffles and rapids.As the day wore on, around 2:30 PM, the sun came out and the air lost its bite.  (Notice I didn’t say it got warm.) A long, shallow run in full sunlight had some regular risers.  We were almost at the take-out point but the guide rigged up a BWO dry on my 5 weight. It was time to exact some revenge on the picky risers from the day before…

On my third or fourth cast, a 12” brown slurped down the fly.  It was not a huge fish, but definitely special, considering I had woke that morning to the remnants of a winter storm.  I unhooked it with great care – maybe even reverence – just as the guide beached the boat. Later that evening, as I drove away from the river and toward the ski hill, I was already planning my next winter trip and thinking about replacing the skis with an extra fly rod…

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Morning On The Holston

A Question: A Reflection On Fly Fishing

Fall Fishing A question was asked of me today of which I thought I knew the answer, but upon further introspection, I suspect that perhaps I need to reset my footing.  A friend asked me today why exactly it was that I fly fish and why it was that I do not keep the very thing that I spend so much time and effort to get in my net?  I gave him what I suspect would be considered an answer gleaned from the liturgy of the angler, an answer that contained all the right keywords to at least insinuate that I knew what I was doing.  I am writing a book about it for goodness sake, so my answer came forth without any forethought.  Not because of any rehearsal, but because I have conversed enough, I have read enough, and perhaps on some levels I have written enough so that I have all the right words.  But a wise man once said to me, “If your words and your actions do not match, no one will believe a word you say”.

I used all the key phrases that would get the approving nod from my contemporaries.  Words like, challenge, nature, peace, wild places, clean water, skill, beauty, conservation.  All of these, or at least some of these will appear in literally every published volume on the sport, which would justify, in effect, that what I was saying was correct.  But just because you say the right things, you are not granted membership into those who “get it”.  Many are the folk who have all the accouterments of the sport-the right gear, the right look, the proper technique yet they seem somewhat empty.  I suppose it is the empty ones who do not last very long in the sport.  As a matter of fact, I have a couple of friends who dove into the deep end, bought all the gear, but when there was nothing left to buy, they found that it wasn’t the sport they were interested in at all.

So what makes me a true angler?  If I were to remove the nice gear and replace it with the worst possible equipment-would I still hold the passion?  If I were to be dropped into a situation where the only place I had to cast a fly were to bluegill in an algae laden farm pond-would I still hold the passion?  If I had never stepped out as a writer of fly fishing- would I still hold the passion.  If all the key words and catch phrases were removed from my rather limited vocabulary- would I still hold the passion?

In all honesty, after much introspection, the answer would be yes.  You see, as far as a great…or even good fly fisherman…I am at a loss.  More times than not my cast is not pretty and if I am in the water for more than three hours it is a certainty that I will manage to create a mess of my leader that would be in league with the Rubik’s Cube in difficulty to repair.  I am often quite clumsy as I wade, and the biggest fear I have in life is drowning.  My flies are not pristine, and my selection looks more mutant than even an attractor pattern might imply.  As a fly fisherman, I am just about as undone as you will find.

Therefore, without an abundance of skill and a limited perspective, I am faced with a burning question imposed upon me innocently enough by a curious companion.  Why exactly do I fly fish?  And to answer in as simple a way as I know how, the answer comes to me without having to dig very deep at all.

I cannot even try to imagine myself NOT being one.

This sport is as much a part of me as my next breath, much as a runner with his or her next stride.  The great race horse Secretariat was said to have a heart larger than is common for a horse.  Larger heart meant an incredible blood flow and an expanded capacity to do that which it was born to do.  I can see myself in no less of a term.

Great WaterIf you fish with me, it is a near certainty that you will outfish me.  I know this to be so because of the number of times it has actually occurred.  For me the epic day is nothing more than blind luck.  I can read the water well thanks in great part to Tom Rosenbauer.  I can understand the methodology of fly selection, casting, and most other things that encompass a day in the water.  But all the information in the world will not make you a great angler.  There comes a time when skill must take over…and in that department I am most lacking.

Yet I continue to frail about, stumble, make messes, and admire those of whom I spend time on the water.  I get so frustrated at times with myself that I curse under my breath at the bad luck or bad technique, yet the very next opportunity I have to fish, I will be there playing the role of jester in my own court again.  Not because I am a glutton for punishment and self degradation.  It is because I am a fly fisherman, and I cannot help but do that which I have found to be a very large part of me.  Tangles and all.Morning On The Holston

Fishwest - All Things Fly Fishing

Thoughts on 2014 from the Fishwest Staff

With the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions and here at Fishwest we have been thinking about how that relates to fly fishing. The staff here at the shop has compiled our respective fly fishing resolutions and would like to share them with you.

Jake WellsJake W. – Shop Manager

“One of the great things about the sport of fly fishing is that there’s always something new to learn.
But with that being said, there is so much to learn that anglers may find it necessary to solely focus on only one or two things over the course of a year in order to full perfect his or her skills and knowledge in that specific area of the sport. For 2014, I have decided to focus every magazine article that I read, every internet video that I watch, and much of my time on the water to the art of spey casting with a two handed fly rod and the world of steelhead.”

Scott “Scoot” – Web Team Manager / Shop Staff

“I just want to keep it simple and have my fishing year focus around friends, camping, and spending time with my dog. I think it will be a good year and hopefully I will get to be a part of the other goals on this list”

Morgan G. – Shop Staff

“My goals are simple for this year. I would like to buy some kind of boat. Do more pike fishing and finally I would like to learn to use a Spey rod and do some steelheading.”

Scott N – Web Team / Shop Staff

“Last year was a very good fishing year for me. Every time I went I was met with great success. The biggest problem was that I didn’t get out as often as I should have. In all I don’t think I was on the water even 20 times for the whole year. This must change, and so my resolution for the year is to get out a minimum of twice a month every month, once the days are longer(and warmer) increase to 4X with after work jaunts to the local spring creeks. Finally I am also resolved to fish on at least three new waters this year and expand my species list to include carp, pike, ect”

Will M – Customer Service Rep

“This year I resolve to help bring respect to the grossly underrated  and underappreciated whitefish.  From their blistering runs to their  willingness to readily eat a sow bug, these majestic native fish
have it all.  I resolve to not only fish for them and fish for them  hard, but tell anyone willing to listen about why these craft river dwellers are the bees knees.”

Richard L – Web Team / Shop Staff –

(A recent Maryland Transplant who just discovered how awesome Utah is) “Looking forward to 2014 I’ve only got a few goals, catch larger trout on dries, explore more of Utah and the west’s watersheds, and land new species on the fly, specifically pike, stripers, and carp.

Last but not least I would like to share my thoughts and “goals” for the upcoming year.  I would like to spend more time fishing with friends and having a good time no matter what water I find myself on that day. Hopefully I also can be a part of all of these other resolutions as well.  All I know is that the ole Subaru is going to be spending a lot of time on the road this upcoming year in search of new water and new adventures with old and new friends alike.

On an unrelated note I just wanted to express my gratitude to all of you who take time to read our blog here at Fishwest as well as those of you who read my articles as well. As long as you guys & girls keep reading we will keep writing and sharing our experiences. But on that note we would always love to hear your stories as well. So from all of us here at Fishwest I would like to wish you a happy 2014! Tight Lines!

Thanks,

JC

Web Team / Shop Staff

Greg Pearson

GreenDrakeOutdoors: Flats Of The High Desert

 

Local fly fishing industry professional and great friend of Fishwest Greg Pearson was kind enough to send us this awesome little video which has us all excited for spring and summer carp fishing. Here are Greg’s thoughts on the video itself. Simply put:  While carp are an invasive species and not for everyone, they are wary, large game fish that offer a challenge away from the crowded trout streams…..Enjoy!

Caribou Antler

I’ll Trade You This Lund for That ClackaCraft

(And a Canadian beer for one pike Deceiver and three grayling dries…)

My dad was an adventurer – not the adrenaline junkie type – but the type who yearned to see what was around the next bend of the river.  I think that might be a pretty common characteristic of fly fishermen.  Although Dad preferred his casting rod to a fly rod, he certainly had a bad case of “next bend” syndrome  - a condition that forces you out of your car and into your boat and even out of your boat onto your feet.

I don’t think it got worse as he got he got older, just more obvious.   When he maybe should have been out with the local mall-walking group, he was trekking through all kinds of wilderness, fishing rod in hand.

He didn’t care much if he caught a fish; he was mostly interested in seeing a new piece of the planet.  The beauty of it was that I could talk him into going to all kinds of places.  (Peer pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Caribou AntlerOne August, we flew into Munroe Lake Lodge, just a bit south of the tree line in northern Manitoba.  It was August and the pike were out of the shallow back bays and into the deeper cabbage beds.  If we found some cabbage, we found pike –  solid fish from 6 to 8 pounds. With enough bigger ones to ones to keep the anticipation levels high.

However, lakes at that latitude are not incredibly fertile.  Being unguided, we roamed all over Munroe Lake’s 12 mile length to find cabbage beds.   We saw a lot of beautiful things– sand eskers, shed caribou antlers, stunted black spruce, and cabbage beds, too!  The cabbage bed residents loved to slam our offerings.  But not always…  As pike are prone to do, they would often merely follow.  And then watch, and maybe even grin, as we figure-eighted and frothed the water.

Surprisingly, the most effective flies were on the smaller side.  Bunny leeches, tan Whistlers, and white Deceivers from 4 to 5 inches long were deadly.  An intermediate line seemed to get just the right amount of depth.

As a change of pace, we fished for grayling at the mouths of inlet streams.  None were bigger than 10 inches but they were great fun on dry flies and a 3 weight.

One evening, the lodge owner mentioned that trophy grayling could be found down the outlet at the far end of the lake.  “Just float down through the riffles until you get to the first good pool,” he said.  He had me convinced as soon as he mentioned trophy grayling.  And it didn’t take much to get my Dad on board.  (Remember what I said earlier about peer pressure.)

The next morning, after a long boat ride down the lake, we eased our 16 foot Lund and 20 horsepower motor into the current of Munroe Lake’s riffled outlet. That particular boat and motor combo is typical issue at northern lodges.  A lot of people use boats like that for chasing walleye in Minnesota.  They are not exactly drift boats.

Push!After about ten feet, the prop dug in.  So up went the motor.  After ten more feet, the boat’s hull was stuck on the bottom.  So out we jumped.

We had on chest waders and it was kind of fun – hanging on to the gunwhales, half-walking and half-riding the boat down the river.  We went about 100 yards and then I looked at my Dad, who was 71 years old at the time, and said, “We’re gonna have to DRAG the boat on the way back.  Are you sure we should do this?”

He muttered something about him riding and me dragging and off we went.  We probably covered a half mile of river before we found the spot the lodge owner was talking about.  It was a beautiful deep glide with large boulders on the bottom.  We fished it hard but only managed one sixteen inch grayling.

Our exit from the outlet didn’t involve the same exhilaration as our arrival.  It was hard, exhausting work.  Instead of riding on the gunwhale, I grabbed it and pulled.  Dad was at the back of the boat and, despite his earlier threats, pushing like crazy.

It took us over an hour to get back up the outlet and onto the lake.  We were panting and sweating and beat.  Our excursion had netted us only fish.  Was it worth it?

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Totally!!!

Walleye

Iowa Walleye On The Fly

As summer putters out with the occasional warm day, thoughts of fall fishing is almost constantly on my mind.  In Iowa’s driftless region, fall fishing is one of the best all-around times of the year to fly fish. Warm sun and cool temps give way to some of the most comfortable fishing all year. Cozy layers allow the angler to stay warm, yet adequately move. I relish a day on the stream with a nice cool breeze and warm sun on my back. Lying in the dried grasses near the stream, knowing that the snow that will soon cover the landscape is on the way, is a treat. Even the drive to the stream is a simple pleasure, looking upon the changing colors of the leaves, wildlife, and the farmers harvesting their crop.

Trout fishing can be phenomenal this time of year in the driftless. Baetis hatches are frequent, and nymphing becomes an effective tactic to land big browns as the season wears on and temperatures cool.

While I love to fish for trout in the fall weather, unfortunately my schedule doesn’t always afford me the ability to pick up and go. When pressed for time, I have found some of the best all-around fly fishing can be found within a mile of home. During the fall, Walleye begin their run up our local rivers, and smallmouth are still to be found. These heavy, hard-fighting fish can provide some of the best fight on a fly rod.  Walleye seem to begin to eat as the sun sets in the fall. The fish become aggressively predatory, and much like when a trout takes a fly, the feel of the fight is addictive.  Walleye fishing gives me the chance to cast my 8wt and does a great job getting that fly out there, but when I want to have a little fun, I’ll bring along my 6wt. There’s nothing like wrapping your rod over on a warmwater fish- and walleye can feel like hooking into a unhappy log. Do be careful fishing as the sun sets. Casting a weighted fly requires you take your surroundings into account (as well as yourself-ears, eyes, etc.) Find a spot that affords you and others some safety.

Depending on water conditions, a weighted or sinking leader might be useful to get that fly down into a feeding zone for the fish. You’ll want to try various water depths dependent upon temperature. The end of a pool or a run in the river seem to be practical places to find walleye.  As far as flies, clousers, buggers, and zonkers stripped in at varying speeds can produce some great fish. I’ve found baitfish patterns work best in the river I fish. These are patterns that readily available for purchase and/or are easy to tie.

I use a non-slip mono loop connection for my tippet or leader to fly connection. This simple knot gives the fly a lot of play in the water and is durable as well. You may have to experiment in your own water to determine what strategy works best to hook into your fish. I cast upstream, pause to allow the fly to sink, and then use short strips to give the fly movement as the current swings the fly downstream. I vary this of course, on river conditions and structure.

I feel one of the best aspects of fishing for walleye or smallmouth is the simplicity. For me, it’s a short drive that allows me to be casting in a matter of minutes, which I consider therapy. I can take along minimal gear- a puck of flies, my mitten scissors or nippers, some tippet, and I am fishing.

We all dream of fishing on these beautiful days in fall, though it’s is a very busy time for almost everyone. Next time the fly fishing fever hits this fall, take a quick trip to the river. A short outing can provide an exciting and inexpensive experience.

Terrain

Charring The Bucket List

(Arctic sushi, arctic trekking, arctic plane reservations, arctic wildlife deterrent, and arctic char…)

The outfitter told me there were lake trout, arctic grayling AND arctic char at one of his camps and that sealed the deal.  Most people don’t get the chance to fish for arctic char in their lifetime and the allure of the exotic was overpowering.  So a few months later my Dad and I landed in Rankin Inlet on the shore of Hudson Bay.

The plan was to be helicoptered from there to a plywood shack in polar bear country on the Nunavut tundra.  However, Hudson Bay is a large body of water and Rankin Inlet is very cool in the summer – this combination leads to a lot of fog.  We actually spent two days in Rankin Inlet waiting for the fog to lift.

The outfitter put us up in his own house. For two days, we walked around town, taking pictures of sled dogs in their kennels and watching the locals bomb along the streets on quads.  We also sampled the local cheeseburgers, which were tasty but worth about $12 each due to the fact that all the ingredients arrived by plane.  And we joined in a family dinner where the appetizer was a traditional Inuit food – raw beluga whale. It had a mild taste and a chewy texture.  Being the rookies in the crowd, Dad and I were given plenty of teriyaki sauce and hot sauce as condiments.

Eventually the fog lifted and a15 minute helicopter ride took us to an area known as Corbett’s Inlet.  Up there, the lake trout stay shallow all summer and they like the rivers as much as any lake.  If you can navigate to the base of some rapids, you are pretty much guaranteed lake trout. (For a closer look at this type of fishing look at my  ”Tundra Trout” article elsewhere in this blog.)

The outfitter had pointed out a particularly delectable set of rapids on our map. Being about ten miles from the ocean, these rapids held both lake trout and the sea-run holy grail of this trip – arctic char.  We immediately hopped in the boat and set off.

To get to the rapids, the map said we had to pass through a narrowing of the river; however, this narrowing turned out to be a boiling cauldron of whitewater.  Being self-guided in the middle of nowhere, we turned around and the Arctic char remained unattainable .

That night, by lantern, in the comfort of our plywood shack, we checked the map and noted the rapids were about ten miles away by boat. But they were only 2 miles away by land. In most wilderness on this continent, overland travel means crashing through dense bush with about the same penetrability as a brick wall.

However, we were on the tundra. There would be no bush, only rocks and spongy moss. I think the light bulb went off in Dad’s head first.  ”We can walk it,” he said.  Brilliant!

So the next day we set off. In consideration of my Dad’s seventy years, I carried the tackle, the lunch, and the polar bear repellant – a rifle and three shells supplied by the outfitter.

Sidebar #1: Three shells are not a lot of ammunition but, according to our outfitter, if you are about to fire your fourth round, you are likely polar bear hors d’oeuvres anyway.

Sidebar #2: I later find out the rifle was a .308.  I know next to nothing about guns and hunting, but is that enough artillery for large Arctic predators? I still haven’t brought myself to Google it.

The hike to the rapids was just like the map said – we aimed between the two ponds visible from camp and just kept going. It took about an hour and we did not see any polar bears.

I’d like to say that hyper-aggressive char were stacked below the rapids. We fished hard all day and landed two.  They had beautiful, big white spots and were amazingly chunky.  Their heads, in fact, were tiny compared to the rest of their body – a likely testament to the feeding they did in the ocean. They fought strong and deep. We left the rapids satisfied with our catch.

The rest of the trip was typical tundra fishing for lake trout and arctic grayling. The day we were ready to leave, we piled up our gear and waited for the helicopter. And waited. And waited. And then we remembered that the outfitter had given us a satellite phone.  A quick call told us that our helicopter was down for repair and would pick us tomorrow. Another phone call and we had our outbound flights from Rankin Inlet rearranged. That far north, even the largest airlines become quite flexible and accommodating.  We had previously lost a couple days fishing to the fog and just gained one back!  Instead of sitting around waiting for the helicopter, we hopped in the boat and headed for a grayling hotspot.  Thank God for satellite phones…

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The next day, comfortably on board a commercial jet, flying out of Rankin Inlet, all I could think about was our tundra trek to the arctic char.  I kept replaying that day over and over in my mind. And I kept hatching schemes to somehow catch a few more.  I haven’t yet…  But I will….  :)

There Are A Few Things That Really Rattle Me

There are few things that really rattle me.  I have found myself in a standoff against a Yellowstone Black Bear, been bumped by a shark, went headfirst into a sweeper on a raging river.  Part and parcel of the sport I suppose.  All those things happened so fast that I really had no time to be afraid…I just reacted.  While all of those events made for interesting adventures, panic filled memories, and a good story or two, nothing…and I do mean nothing, creeped me out more than an occurrence in The Great Smoky Mountains a couple of weeks ago.

I am standing on the bank, little more than the toes of my boots in the water, roll casting flies into a seam that had trout stacked up in an amazing feeding line.  They moved very little and I could see the yawn of their mouths, food was plentiful and it appeared that they were not being very particular as to what they would eat which was good for me.

I rolled out a tandem rig. Neversink Caddis and below it I had on a Green Weenie.  Without a doubt, these two flies are the top producers for me.  Tons of trout, flies you trust, no one in sight…yep, I was in the zone.  The cast rolled out much better than usual and landed upstream from the aquatic congregation, just far enough for the GW to sink down into the feeding land.  It was a slow motion display in front of me as I watched the fly twirl in the current; the slightest of movement from a willing rainbow, the take…fish on.

He wasn’t particularly large by most standards, maybe ten inches, which is a pretty good size for a mountain bow.  I pulled him away quickly from his friends so that they would miss the fact that one of their kindred had been attacked by a bug puppet and was losing.  I had him maybe ten feet from where I stood, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move from underneath a rock just to the right of where I stood.  Most of the rock was under water so I quickly determined that it was perhaps a brown trout that I had spooked away from its lie.  Then the line went crazy.  The trout began to struggle in a way that just didn’t seem right…then all I felt was the weight of the fish.

Confused, I reeled in the line, my rod tip dipping with each turn as it pulled against the weight of the fish.  Finally the head of the trout came into view.  Its eyes were stark white; the color you would associate with a wild rainbow had grown ashen.  And, just above its tail, holding for all its worth was a snake; the one common creature in God’s vast zoo that absolutely freaks me out.

The snake was maybe three feet in length with a dark cream colored body with deep rust colored bands which is the coloration of our local low country viper…the copperhead.   This snake had sunk its teeth deep into this trout and would not let go.  The trouble was…I couldn’t let go either…until I cut the leader, which I did with a swiftness that would have impressed Zorro as I pulled my knife from its sheath and with one pass cut through the mono.  It should also be noted that I did not cut until I was absolutely certain that the distance of my hand from the snake was safe.

Having rescued what remained of my leader, I expected to see my Neversink moving across the water to some remote location for this vile serpent to devour its/my catch.  However, in a manner reserved for only slapstick anglers such as myself, I saw that my lovely Neversink was floating inches from my right foot…and two feet beyond that lay the snake and the trout.  Perhaps in a moment of mutual clarity, both the snake and I decided that being exposed on the riverbank was not the best of ideas.  I left for higher ground and he took his lunch elsewhere.

Before swiftly extricating myself from the scene, I managed two photos.  Sadly these pictures turned out much like those of a Bigfoot sighting or perhaps the Zapruder film.  Shaky and dark.  I will leave it to the folks at Fishwest to determine if the evidence captured in a digital format are worthy of print.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later as I relayed the story to a friend that I learned the truth about the snake.  A copperhead it was not.  The fish met its demise at the mouth of a Northern Water Snake, which was no more comforting than being shot with hollow points instead of buckshot.  A snake is a snake and though I was twice his size and outweighed him by a multitude of pounds, he was the clear winner in this one.