The 20 foot Maverick was immense. If I were a track and field official, I would have demanded a urine sample. Hanging off its back was a 200 horsepower Yamaha framed by twin trolling motors. “They do the work,” said my guide earlier. “The push pole is just for course corrections.”
Nevertheless, I had signed up for what H2O Bonefishing calls its “No Boundaries” program. And at that particular instant in time, it was really well named. We had left Grand Bahama Island about 15 minutes ago and there was nothing but ocean all around us – no cays, no flats, no rocks – just ocean. Apparently, we were headed to some isolated cays. Luckily, it was flat calm.
Another 5 minutes passed, and the cays showed up as a couple specks on the horizon. In another half hour, we were hunting tarpon in a shallow bay.
Nothing but a couple of big nurse sharks showed themselves as they lumbered along… We drifted outside the bay to a small point… Tarpon! 40 to 50 pounders rolling luck crazy! I think I got bit on my third cast. Nevertheless, as tarpon are prone to do, it jumped off. And the remaining tarpon, as tarpon are prone to do, got lockjaw.
So off we went in search of bonefish… The rest of the day is a bit of a blur – but a good blur. We fished mostly deeper flats from the boat. We saw huge schools of bonefish, small groups of permit, groups of bones with permit mixed in, singles, doubles, barracuda, sharks… You get the picture. The bonefish weren’t pushovers, but they were pretty grabby. And the 8 or 9 that visited the boat averaged a solid 4 pounds. The permit … Let’s just say they were permit.
It was hard focusing on just bonefish and permit; there were too many other distractions. Like blacktip sharks and barracuda. Don’t let anybody tell you that sharks and barracuda are reckless predators; they knew exactly what I was up to…
I remember one brash 4 foot blacktip and an equally ballsy bonefish. I was winding the bonefish close to the boat when the blackip charged – not the bonefish, but the boat! At high speed! The guide gave it a solid crack between the eyes with the push pole and the shark settled, skulking about 30 feet off our stern. At this point in time, the bonefish ran directly toward the shark. As far as I could tell, the bonefish gave the shark a solid head butt in the flank. The shark, obviously disturbed by the sheer madness of the situation, finally moved off.
Needless to say, that bonefish got unhooked with extra respect.
As we wandered from cay to cay, a lot of fine looking rocks and coral were worked over with a sinking line. The odd jack or snapper was happy to play. Occasionally, a thunderstorm would pop up in the distance, but we’d adjust our course and skip around it.
It was a long day on the water. I left my hotel at 6:30 AM and came back 13 hours later. But those kinds of long hours I can get used to.
* * * * * * * *
The “No Boundaries” program runs during the summer months. It actually consists of 2 days fishing the plentiful flats close to Grand Bahama and 2 more days plying the offshore cays. The quiet summer winds (and the big boat!) help make the offshore forays possible. The offshore cays offered amazing fishing in terms of size, variety, and numbers. (If you’re a gear head, bring lots of stuff!!!) The closer in waters offered excellent bonefishing, although the fish were a smaller and the variety less. The accommodations were in Freeport and boat got trailered to launch sites around the island.
The mend. A correction of the fly line as it is impacted by different currents in the stream. I am not the greatest at this, yet it is vital to obtaining the perfect drift…and the reason for my blog name. Underneath the surface of any given trout stream is a flurry of activity. Trout and other aquatic creatures move and dance with a current that is constant yet ever changing.
The need for the mend in your drift is to keep the fly line from presenting the fly in a way that does not look natural. For success in most cases, the drift is the single most important and often overlooked portion of a cast. Get it right and success is at hand, botch it and your fly either skitters across the surface like a water skier or jumps over every fish in the stream.
Each stream in any particular area has multiple hydrological issues that the fly line is moved, bellied, bowed, or in some cases, sank completely. It is the Zen of the angler to detect these things and move in accordance to what the water dictates. This is a part of our craft that never changes. We are always in hot pursuit of the perfect drift.
Life is much like this. As our life moves downstream, we are often impacted by currents that are not under our control. Frustration comes easily when we do not read the current of our days leading to an unsuccessful attempt or missing the mark. Often we dream of victory that seems to be right under the surface, but we go dancing unnaturally across the surface leaving these amazing life events behind.
I am often very opinionated, most likely a habitual offender of faithless living, and assuredly a man who allows his pride to block obvious blessing. All of these occur because I have lost the drift. I have not allowed myself to relax, see the flow, and make adjustments as needed. But thankfully I now recognize the correlation and have reached the point where the light bulb is flickering.
John Buchan is quoted as saying, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” Much like the rest of our lives isn’t it? The big hurdle comes when we are faced with actually making life application out of our sport.
You may not agree…and I am fine with that, but I firmly believe that every area of our lives is intertwined to the point that one part will teach us something about another. That there actually are life lessons that can be learned in everything from a person we work with, watching a football game, or standing in a river waving a stick. It is all about how we choose to perceive small snippets of our lives.
So, in light of what I know to be my own shortcomings, and the desire to reach that unattainable thing we call perfection, I will try to learn from the river; that babbling cacophony of change and potential. I will seek to apply elsewhere that which I have gleaned from time spent watching a floating line being moved by a current that was moving before I was born, and which will be moving long after I have gone. Maybe, just maybe, I will have learned enough to get a few other things right. I can’t ask for much more than that.
After some skiing at Red Lodge, Montana over the holidays, we stopped in at the Bighorn River, which is not too far south of Billings. A couple years ago, we heard rumors of great Christmas fishing and wanted to check it out. It was January 2, the sun was shining, and the air temperature was about 39 degrees – almost tropical! I was bundled up but it really did feel like a warm spring day. (Perhaps because I’m from Manitoba?)
The Bighorn River is a “bottom-draw” tailwater that never freezes up. We walked and waded and drifted tiny nymphs and split shot through a lot of promising water. Although we didn’t get anything, it just felt great to be fishing. Around 4 PM the light was getting low. I noticed some good-sized wakes moving up through a very skinny riffle in a side channel. I switched to an unweighted egg pattern, about a foot below a small indicator, and cast just upstream of the riffle. The water was maybe 8 inches deep… Fish on!
Hello, brown trout! As darkness fell and the temperature dropped, I was on my knees, about 25 feet from the wakes pushing through the riffle. After every second cast, I dipped my rod in the water to unthaw the guides. A bad case of “rising fish” jitters made sure that my line got tangled way too often. Nevertheless, two more browns honored me. The last fish had to be stripped in ’cause my reel was completely frozen. But I was feeling completely toasty.
The next day, before leaving, we could see the redds in the gravel above the riffle. The fish were spawning but aggressive. The Bighorn is about 1200 km away from my home. Cost of gas: $250. Sight-fishing in open water on Jan. 2: priceless….
(The Bighorn Fly and Tackle Shop, located right by the river and also in Billings, was a great source of info.)
Just a quick note to say congratulations to Marc Payne. He just secured his first book contract. It will be a comprehensive look at fishing in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The book is slated for release in 2014.
Marc credits Fishwest as his first “writing gig” and we couldn’t be happier for him and his achievement.
Congrats again to Marc and we are looking forward to seeing the new book!
I recently returned from my second saltwater trip and let me start off by saying my second saltwater experience greatly outweighed my first. The folks at Deneki Andros South made this trip amazing in every aspect. Honestly it would be tough to accurately describe how great the fishing is, especially in words. It is something that everyone should experience for themselves. The guides at Andros South were awesome in every way. They are true masters of their craft and will put you in prime locations for countless shots at fish. However the biggest factor in my success came down to one simple piece of equipment. That piece of equipment is not the latest fly rod or fly reel or anything remotely close to that. A flats skiff outfitted with a lean bar made all the difference for me.
The premise of the lean bar is quite simple and self explanatory. A Lean bar is affixed to the front of the flats boat on the casting platform and it gives anglers added support and stability. For me, an angler who has cerebral palsy where balance is an issue anyway, the lean bar setup is the perfect amount of support and it enables me to fish effectively without the hindrance of being able to balance.
The lean bar is not only designed to help people like me that have balance issues but also for anglers who may be a little older and their balance may not be as good as it once was. Also I could imagine that it would be perfect for anyone who needs a little bit of extra help balancing on the front of the boat. Lastly I think everyone should use one on days where the conditions are not the greatest. It would provide the angler an edge to the windy and choppy water conditions.
This lean bar setup is amazing however it is not without its faults. I found two situations while fishing that the bar was a hindrance to getting a good hookup. The first thing I found is that the lean bar can be detrimental if I had a lot of outgoing line at a quick rate because periodically the line would get caught around the bar and the shot would be blown or even worse the fish would be lost. Also the strip set became a knuckle buster of sorts at times because I found that I would sometimes bang my hands into the bar on the set. This was more annoying than anything but the fish made it all worth it.
In conclusion if you are considering doing a saltwater trip and feel like the lean bar is something that you might want to consider don’t hesitate to ask your potential guide if they have a setup like this one. It truly does make all the difference in my book.
A recent trick to winter flyfishing depends simply upon the weather. For instance, last winter there was hardly any snow—so little, in fact, that I’ve never seen a winter that dry in the central Rockies in my lifetime. I’d call it a drought. This year’s winter started with parallel results, but finally it began to snow, albeit a couple months later than usual. But once it got going, it snowed every few days—through December & January. By the middle of January, it seemed like the foremost trick to winter flyfishing was simply finding some open, un-frozen water to fish. We did have a dry spell at the end of January through mid-February, but the idea still amounted to finding fishable water.
Does fly selection make a difference? Maybe…research in recent years points out that black, blue, and fluorescents are the most visible colors in deep water; many winter anglers will testify to the effectiveness of patterns in these colors. Biologists do not exactly understand what trout see, but what I find truly interesting is that trout not only see color—they can identify some colors that are beyond human visualization. In particular, trout can sense shades of red and ultra violet that we cannot, and in lower light conditions. I used to think that blue was a nonsensical fly color, since I have not seen blue insects on the streams I fish, other than adult dragonflies/damselflies. However, scientists report that the fish’s capability to distinguish minute pigmentation differences is greatest within the blues.
A lot of experts say that trout seek deep water and become less active in the winter, which may explain (at least in part) why highly visible flies are effective. However, Levi, a buddy of mine who has been ice fishing for years says trout can actually feed aggressively; you just have to hit it at the right time. He also says Pam cooking spray helps de-ice rod guides, and advises to prepare for extreme weather. Cold winter weather might seem like common sense, but as I said—he’s been doing it for years, and hypothermia is a very real danger.
Winter flyfishing can be a great way to discover secrets about your favorite trout stream, and offers a change of pace from the tying bench. Flies tied in outlandish, unnatural colors might be the ticket to get strikes, and may shift your thinking about the appearance of your favorite patterns. Who knows, maybe someday research will show that fishing blue flies will reduce cabin fever!
I think I’ve read every reason that has been written to explain why someone fly fishes. Many are cliché: to get away from it all, to enjoy the solitude, to spend time with friends and family, the serenity, or perhaps the spiritual experience of connecting to nature. Everyone comes to fly fishing for different reasons and under different circumstances. Those who have fallen under its spell know that it becomes more than a hobby or a sport. It’s a passion, a livelihood. It’s something that transports you from the mundane routine of everyday life to a world of excitement, appreciation of nature, and a challenge to your skill. We envy those who get to fish often, and look forward to the next cast. As a former avid golfer-turned fly fisherman, I liken the feeling in your hands of a good golf shot to the feeling of making a physical connection with the handle of your fly rod when you hook up with a fish. The feeling never leaves your hands and draws you back time and again.
I am a restless person. Since I was a kid, I have had a hard time sitting still. I was constantly rearranging my room, building “forts” in the backyard, or inventing something. My grandpa taught me to be a fisherman. Trips to the river, ponds and lakes, and Minnesota taught me the first skills I need to hook a sucker, a bullhead, and later a crappie, bluegill, walleye, or bass. Before the day of the Internet I read books published in the 50s from the public library to learn more about species of fish I only dreamed about catching. I loved to learn about something I was interested in and still do. When I was 12, my grandpa gave me a fIy rod he had no use for. Fly rods in the flat farmland of Iowa are few and far between. I loved the idea of fly fishing, but had no idea what I was doing. I read all I could, but without someone to show me, I did my best to mimic the actions I had seen. Despite catching a few bluegills in a local pond, casting in the backyard was about as far as I got with my fly rod, which was soon “benched” for a more practical spin reel. I loved fishing, but as I grew up, time on the water took a backseat to sports, cars, girls, and college.
I returned to fly fishing through two individuals at just the right time in my life by means of a high school friend and a former athlete-turned-best-friend. In my early twenties I went on a summer camping trip with some friends from high school. One morning, my buddy and his wife left to try trout fishing a nearby stream, and on a whim, I decided to join them. On light tackle and a spin rod, I landed my first trout in years. The excitement of the possibility of catching such an intelligent creature and fishing a dark, cold, unknown stream drew me in. The next 3 months turned into the “summer of trout fishing,” a 2-3 times/week affair that afforded me the best distraction from the reality of my life and the purpose of the initial trip: getting away with some friends after a sudden divorce had turned my world on end. My life as I knew it had been ripped apart, but trout fishing gave me a new definition and a new identity.
Spin fishing was productive, but the restless side of me wanted a challenge. I turned to an athlete of mine, a runner who loved fly fishing and who was the only person I knew that could help me get a handle on what I needed to invest in, knots, set-up, etc. He patiently taught me everything I needed to know, and my enthusiasm filled the gaps with reading and research in books, magazines, and the Internet. He helped to fix my mistakes, took me along on trips to our spring creeks, showed me places to fish, showed me how to get a good drift, set the hook, tie flies, and how to be a more efficient fly fisherman. The friendship lasted well past his high school days, through his guide school in Montana, and into his first guide job in Maine, then Montana. Our friendship has afforded me the opportunity to fish for landlocked salmon on Grand Lake Stream, steelhead on the Brule, big browns and bows on the Madison, Box Canyon, and the tricky Henry’s Fork. Though I’ll never be the technician that he is, our mutual passion feeds off one another. He’ll be incredibly successful either on his own or to a business in the industry and I envy the courage it took him to seek out a career that is unheard of in our school system and the passion that keeps him always dreaming and moving forward.
Amanda and I got married in June a few years ago. Our first date we spent at a large, ponded, natural spring, watching a BWO hatch, tiny trout feeding at a free buffet. She was eager to learn to fly fish, and turned out to be a natural. When I proposed, I surprised her at that spring during a fishing trip this time, in waders, with a ring. Her and I have spent many days on the water. I savor every moment. She is a quick learner, and fishing has been competitive whether it be on our annual steelhead trip, on vacation in Montana or Colorado, or home on our spring creeks. Her and I and now our guide friend are practically family, spending winters tying, and warm summers on the stream or river. In our small town, I feel like the three of us have an exclusive fly fishing club. Walking into our downtown coffee shop, I wonder if anyone thinks twice about what my Simms hats mean. Then again, it’s probably as cryptic as the snowmobilers’ jackets are to me.
I somehow feel “richer” as a fly fisherman. I have never made an income from it, but it has enriched my life. I often think about what fly fishing has given to me and how I can begin to give back, or “pay forward” what I have been given. As a teacher, I have had that chance. Each year, I take students to a spring creek north of our town during an activity day. Prior to the trip, we talk about what trout eat, their habits, and the importance of catch and release. They always have fun and learn how tricky catching a trout can be. For some, it’s their first, maybe only, experience fishing. I like sharing that. Last year, with a partnership with my local TU chapter, we started Trout in the Classroom, a TU program where students learn about watersheds, raise and care for trout eggs in the classroom, and release them in the spring. The kids loved it, were sad when a few died, and got to experience nature first hand. We’re set to begin our second year of TIC this January. With the help of my friend, we started a fly fishing club at my school. A devoted group of 5 students came each Friday morning to learn about set-up, casting, tied flies, and put their skills to the test with some casting contests. This year, we’ve earned a grant for fly tying materials and a fishing trip for the club. It’s given some of the kids involved an identity and an activity to be involved in that they may not have had otherwise. I love to teach, to help people discover something new. It’s the reason I became a teacher in the first place. Combining that and a personal passion has been a lot of fun for me. Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at guiding.
A person has no idea what life has in store for them. That’s the adventure. All the experiences- good and bad- help to shape a person. We’ve all made choices we’d take back, but that’s not part of the deal. Becoming a fly fisherman has been one of the best choices of my entire life. It gives me peace of mind, an outlet to creativity, an escape, friendships, happiness, and humbling experiences that keep me coming back. I look forward to someday sharing my passion (the good with the bad) with my own children.
The passage of time is a peculiar thing. It seems that if we are involved in something we don’t particularly like, the seconds pass thick and slow with now rhythm or pace, everything is laborious and clunky. Then there are days when we are so full of what we enjoy and what we love that it is as if time were racing away at warp speed. It was with this thought in mind that I found myself looking square into the last two days of the tour. I had completely abandoned any concept of time to the point that most days it could have been Tuesday or perhaps Sunday and it would have made no difference. Light and dark, awake and asleep…that pretty much summed up existence in Yellowstone, and by the time I had realized what was happening, I was looking into the face of the one thing I hadn’t taken into account. The trip was coming to an end.
After leaving Slough Creek, we drove across the amazing chaos that is Yellowstone and up into Montana. One thing that never ceased to amaze me about this National Park was the quick change of the geographic, geologic, and topographic nature of the landscape. Drive a few miles in one type of terrain, cross a hill, and it is as if someone has plucked you out of one place on the planet and deposited you in another location thousands of miles away. Surreal would be an easily overused word here in this majestic location.
So with the disorientation of time and the sensory overload of the terrain, Bruce Smithhammer and I drove west…our destination was to be the last stop on the trip. We would be spending the next two days in Big Sky Montana and fishing the Gallatin River. Basing my expectations of Big Sky upon what had transpired throughout the week was not wise. Every second of rustic living, every moment of wild and unpredictable environments, every old building and historic structure were in another world altogether upon our arrival in this small Montana locale. We were staying for two days in a two story penthouse of Big Sky Lodge, a place in which the President had stayed a few months earlier. I don’t know the exact square footage of our sky high lodging, but I feel very safe in guessing that we had at least three thousand square feet of living space to enjoy. But, just so we didn’t think we were completely removed from the wild, a big bear was wandering around the parking lot as we were unloading our things. It is moments like these that will enamor you with this part of the world.
After gawking at our dwelling for a while, I hit the rack and fell into the kind of sleep that can only come when the perfect bed meets unreal fatigue. It seemed that I had only closed my eyes and it was morning, and with the rise of the sun we headed out to fish the Gallatin.
The Gallatin is a meandering river, much smaller than I pictured it, but an excellent fishery…with one problem…the fish were nowhere to be found. Six anglers, all accomplished in their craft, were pretty well skunked. My only fish on this day was a complete accident. I was fishing a hopper up against the far bank without luck. I misjudged my distance; hit the bank, pulled it free, and bam…a ten inch rainbow smacked it as soon as it hit the water. My only fish.
Back to the lodge. We were all beyond tired. The week that was had begun to catch up with us. Gathered around the television that evening, we watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, laughed, and told stories until late into the night. We had started the week as strangers, just names, people who for the most part only knew of each other from what we had read. I looked around the room and was amazed at who I was with. Kirk Deeter, Chris Hunt, Bruce Smithhammer, Rebecca Garlock…Field and Stream, Trout Unlimited, The Drake, Outdoor Blogger Network. Wow. But the cool thing about it is that the accolades and accomplishments of these people were secondary to the fact that Steve Zakur and I were hanging out with friends.
Often on trips like this, when the people don’t know each other, the potential of a train wreck of interpersonal issues is always a potentiality. However, on this particular trip, we just hit it off…everything meshed. It was as if we had done this trip together for years. To say that lifelong friendships were formed would be a gross understatement.
The last day of the tour started with a trip to a local fly shop and an event that will forever define the attitude of Big Sky Country in my memory. After a night of libations and more than one David Allan Coe song being sung loud and out of key, I was parched. Just as you walk in the door of this particular fly shop, there is a soft drink machine. So I stopped there and started digging in my pocket for a buck to feed. I drop in my money, select my favorite citrus laden beverage…and out came a Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was then that the guy behind the counter told me that he could not remember the last time that machine had soft drinks in it. I looked at him and smiled, then I spotted some fly shop hats…one had a PBR style logo with the fly shops name on it. Sold. I still wear it with pride.
Another tough outing on the Gallatin as storms moved in from the west with a ferocity that put every fish in the river down for the day. So we spent the remainder of the morning just hanging out by the truck and talking. Perhaps that was the best way for things to end. In conversation with people who had become friends and may see years pass before their paths would cross again.
This trip and the amazing events that I experienced have forever changed me. It did not make me a better angler, but it did change the way that I go about the craft. The skillset remains, but in some ways the philosophy behind it has been forever altered by this great bunch of people.
Roughly five months have passed, and I am still in consistent contact with these folks. Sometimes it is business, and sometimes it is just to say hi. In the early part of the fall, Steve found himself in my neck of the woods and I took him to the South Holston. I told him where the trout would be, and what they were likely to be keyed on, then I stepped back, cast into water that has never yielded fish, and watched as he pulled multiple fish from the water. It made me happy to play guide for my friend, and in a way it was my gift to him. As we left that afternoon to once again go our separate ways, we said goodbye as if we would be together the following week…because we both knew that eventually we would meet again on a river somewhere.
A cruise ship is an excellent way to get teenagers into the outdoors and also fly fishing!
This past summer, my 15 year old daughter and I boarded the Norwegian Sky for a 3 day/4 night Bahamas cruise. We swam with dolphins in Nassau, kayaked through mangroves on Grand Bahama Island, and snorkeled with reef fish near Great Stirrup Cay. And I distinctly remember parasailing as well…
Between these ports-of-call, our time on the boat flew by. Immense buffets – and the gym equipment to work it off – kept me occupied. I also spent a fair bit of time scanning the open ocean, hoping to witness some tuna or mahi-mahi churning the surface to a froth. (I actually did see one feeding frenzy. Even though the species was unidentifiable, it kept me and another guy– also an angler – absolutely glued to our binoculars for a good twenty minutes.)
My daughter, Kerri, loved the boat’s supervised teen club. Hanging around with kids from all over the continent was a great experience for her. To be honest, once we were on the boat, I didn’t see too much of her at all.
But how does fly fishing fit into all this?????
Miami was our home base for a couple days before the cruise departed. We did some shopping, some South Beach sightseeing, and some fly fishing.
Hamilton Fly Fishing Charters (www.flyfishingextremes.com) out of Palm Beach took care of the fly fishing. The idea was to go just outside the reef and chum a bunch of false albacore up to the surface. However, the wave action was a bit rough and the albies stayed deep, so we headed back “inside” to the Intracoastal Waterway. As it turned out, this was a real blast! It was very visual – the guide tossing out bait and all kinds of jacks crashing it.
I was using a streamer and an intermediate line. My daughter was armed with a spinning rod. Both her and I thoroughly enjoyed it – Kerri was actually landing fish out on the boat’s deck in pelting rain. Unfortunately, some nasty wind and thunderstorms cut our day short.
The accompanying video shows the whole adventure. It isn’t in chronological order – South Beach and the cruise ship activities come first and then the fly fishing. (And then the nasty wind and thunderstorms.) I also have to admit that Kerri did all the video editing… Enjoy!!!
Over the first part of the tour, all discussion of great fishing wound up turning to Slough Creek. So we left what was a very relaxing morning on Soda Butte and headed back into the Lamar Valley which meant that I would be rubbernecking for at least the next hour.
I rode with Bruce Smithhammer and what a pleasurable drive it was. His music selection guaranteed that the miles in between would be a treat. When you can be on a fishing trip with people you really haven’t known for more than a couple of days, and the conversation is structured around the amazing technique of Dwight Yoakam’s former guitarist Pete Anderson it is readily apparent that you are in good company.
We pulled onto a winding gravel road with rolling hills all around. From the topography, it was obvious that a river was out there just beyond view…and then we reached the parking lot and I saw what all my friends were so pumped about. This is an active body of water that just begs to be fished.
We all piled out of our vehicles and Chris began getting the lunch stuff out of his ride. As the wonderful spread was laid out for our pleasure, you could see each of us being drawn away from the conversation and the food. We all spent our lunch break taking a bite of food between hard gazes into the creek. Anglers are funny that way. We can be the most focused and in tune of people, but put us in front of fishy water and we instantly become restless. The mind of a fly angler is always reading the water. We are always determining in our minds where the lies are in the stream, where the holding spots might be. A bug can hover round the stream for fifteen seconds and we have already done our own identification which is then followed by a mental selection of fly and size. It is a sickness, but I have yet to meet an angler who feels the need for a twelve step program…about the flies at least.
And so, with full a full belly, we strung up the sticks and hit the trail.
Slough creek is recognized by its meadows. First, second, and third. It is also common knowledge that the further up you go on the creek, the better the fishing. This seemed so odd to me. If the fishing is better upstream, then why not bypass the other spots and move up to the areas beyond the parking lot? Oh how foolish I was. When we set out into the timber it was easy going, then slightly easy, then a bit of a haul. All the while, you are walking beside this amazing creek and staring at water that is just about as perfect as you will find anywhere. It was then that I learned that it was not the distance to third meadow that was the impediment, it was the water itself. Eventually, the water is going to win. The unending enticement becomes too great and most folks will succumb before they ever get to the super fish.
We traveled beyond the first and second meadow. I am looking at this water, and I am getting tired of walking. Then we reach the canyon. A high walled mass of pocket water that is beginning in conjunction with a more extreme hike. We stopped. I looked at Steve. We were both so fired up to fish that we elected to forgo the journey to the third meadow. This would be where we took our stand. So, Steve and I, along with Rebecca and Rich, stepped off the trail and into a massive boulder strewn run of pocket water that would make Gierach drool.
Below the pocket water where we began was a large open area. Looked pretty deep, and though I saw no risers, in my gut I just knew that there would be fish in there. The three of us headed down with Rebecca and Steve moving below me to where this open deep water tailed out into a tighter stream. I moved over to the hard riffles right at the head of this massive pool and began casting just far enough that the fly would engage the turbulent current and drift into the slow water. It was my thought that fish would stack up and be ripe for the picking.
Two or three casts into it, I set the hook on a small cuttie. No more than nine inches, it hit the nymph with authority and in short order I brought it to hand. I didn’t even lift the little guy out of the water, and he swam away in a rush to settle into just about the exact spot where he was holding when I arrived.
Downstream Rebecca was on to fish and landed one that put her in quite a quandary. She had caught a rainbow, which in most cases you would simply admire for a moment and then place back in the drink. However, we had been instructed by our hosts to kill any rainbows we caught which would assist in the full fledged dominance of the cutties. A little unsure as to how to dispatch the fish, she finally just elected to squeeze it until it died then gave it a proper burial into the river where it once called home.
As Rebecca was wrestling with the moral dilemma of the dead rainbow, I had switched to a neversink caddis and using basically the same methodology, I cast up into the rough water and let the fly fall naturally into the slick water. After negotiating the riffles, the fly slowed down with the current and I watched a large fish rise into the same aquatic path as my fly. The big boy hung around and as the fly crossed over it, the tell tale sign of a pending take began to take shape. Then, as if he remembered that he had left something burning on the stove, one splashy flick of the tail and he was gone. I cannot say exactly why he turned away. I had placed that fly in perfect position, it had drawn attention to itself, and then total refusal.
I tried a couple of more casts without any luck so I waded my way around to the area that Rebecca was fishing. Steve began moving his way round to the spot I just left.
Rebecca and I stood together working the water for a while when we heard screaming downstream.
In the Smokies where I live, someone yells bear and unless they have cubs with them, they honestly are not much of a threat. I have seen dogs that are bigger than the vast majority of bear I have encountered in the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountains National Park), but this was not Tennessee and the bears out here will mess you up.
The very nanosecond that my ears sent a survival message to the brain, I turned and looked at Rebecca. Nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who was filled with adrenaline. It wasn’t really that we were scared other than the fact that we did not know where this bear was located. Then I spotted her, standing on her hind legs and scratching her back against a tree. Big.
It is funny how sometimes our thoughts become reality. Those short ideas that pass through your mind so quick that you barely identify it as a thought at all. I looked at this rotund black mass rubbing its back against the tree and thought to myself, “Glad that sucker is on the other side of the river.” It was at that exact moment when said bear stopped rubbing, looked across stream, and immediately trotted down into the water. While this was going on, Rebecca had yelled upstream to Steve that we had a bear. Steve was probably sixty yards away, and had managed to hook the large trout I had turned earlier.
Steve heard Rebecca, but sometimes there is a wide chasm between hearing and understanding what has been said…such was the case now. So Steve thinks that she is congratulating him on the deep bend in his rod and gets this big smile that protrudes from behind his cigar. She yells again. This time he hears, so instead of a long moment of admiration for the lovely cutbow he has just landed, he snaps a picture and comes to the rescue. See….Steve was the only one of us with bear spray. He was by default the first line of defense and was the last one in line to be mauled. And so, in a manner likened unto Mighty Mouse…here he came to save the day.
By the time our faithful friend and hero had made it over to us, so had the bear. With eyes focused on the lumbering beast, Steve took the forefront, bear spray close to the hip and ready to fire. Steve used to be a cop so I felt relatively confident as to his ability to strike quick aim with the spray. However I was a little uneasy about wind direction and could just see myself catching the downwind drift of this pepper concoction just before I was disemboweled by an angry member of the Yellowstone community.
The bear got as close as maybe ten yards or less. Could have been fifty yards, but when you are looking at a big beast that is on a collision course with you, distance looses all logistical relevance.
Then we began talking to the bear. “Hey bear!” which is actually angler speak for “Dear Lord please get this beast away from us in a hurry because we have at least one other river to fish and I don’t want to miss it.”
Eventually, the bear turned and headed into the woods. While still within our line of sight, it stopped, briefly looked back at us, and proceeded to do that which has always been said that bears do in the woods. The thought occurred to me then that this was just his way of letting us know just what he thought of us, our taunting, and Steve’s bear spray.
We didn’t catch anymore fish, but we sure had one great story to tell when we converged on the parking area.
It has been said more times than you could count that often the best part of a fishing trip is not the fishing. That statement was very true in this case. Oh, to be certain we were happy that Steve hooked a nice one, and we did admire his picture. But on this day, on Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park, a darn nice trout was trumped by a big black bear. But man what a story we had to tell.