Category Archives: Stories

A Clouser and Jacks

Fly Fishing, Teenagers, and Cruise Ships

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!!!

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 5 of 6

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.

“BEAR!”

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.

Greenback Habitat

The Green Fish

I passionately enjoy catching genuine, pure-bred cutthroat trout.  Regarding the Greenback, there are places where this is possible, albeit catch & release–which suits me just fine.

Oh, wait—the Denver Post said a study of cutthroat genetics revealed that “pure greenbacks” only exist within a four mile section of Bear Creek, near Colorado Springs.  Which means…all other greenback populations are…lowly hybrids! Additionally, greenback cutts are native to the South Platte, but Bear Creek is a tributary of the Arkansas.  This fact alone calls into question whether or not they really are “pure greenbacks.”  The Center for Biological Diversity circulated a press release that says “some scientists believe [this population] to be a long-lost subspecies known as yellowfin cutthroat.”  Well, after more than two decades of recovery work and millions of dollars expended to save what turned out to be hybrids, we apparently know only one thing for certain—Greenbacks: the name fits!

 

So now, the Forest Service, Division of Wildlife, the City of Colorado Springs, Trout Unlimited, and a host of other interested parties are trying to figure out what to do next.  Motorcycles, mountainbikers, and trailriders can still use the trails, but fishing Bear Creek apparently is illegal.

Apparently, previous rescue efforts used cutthroat populations that were thought to be greenbacks, but were actually western slope hybrids.  My question is what happens now with these fish…we’ve already spent so much time, effort, and money on them.  Bill Edrington of Royal Gorge Anglers in Canon City, Colorado, says that the forest service now refers to these hybrid trout as “The Green Fish.”  This may be a wordplay referring not only to their color, but to cutthroat that were reared in the 1990’s in a tailwater creek of Fort Carson’s Townsend Reservoir.  When I served in the military, my unit camped near this reservoir during a training exercise.  I remember a senior officer told me that greenbacks had been stocked in the creek, but then a drought wiped out the population—all that greenback recovery time & money, erased.

As I recall, pretty much everyone was excited about the earlier greenback recovery efforts.  The general public seemed to think of this as a means to “give back” to the environment, to the cadence of the “go green” motto.  But Adrian Stanley relays in the Colorado Springs Independent that U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Leith Edgar “…says the findings go to show that the moment we think we have nature figured out, science proves otherwise.”  It’s true; we must be good stewards of our fish & game, but what do we do now with “The Green Fish” hybrids?  After all, they may be small fish that rarely exceed 12 inches, but at least they’re pretty!

Taking a Break

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 4 of 6

In July of 2012, I was selected to join Chris Hunt and Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, Rebecca Garlock, Bruce Smithhammer, Steve Zakur, and several representatives of Simms, The National Park Service, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation in a tour of Yellowstone.  We were directly involved in removal of the invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, stream study on Soda Butte Creek, and stream recovery on Specimen Creek. This is the fourth of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

Roughly twenty years ago, I watched a special on the Lamar Valley.  Rivoted to the screen I saw this valley of high peaks and rolling hills and thought to myself, “I have got to see this face to face”.

Sometimes the culmination of dreams takes time.

Twenty years of watching specials, reading articles, surfing the net, wearing my wife out with comments, and daydreams too many to number, I finally found myself in the Lamar.

Our band of merry anglers, still giddy from the mornings adventure on Yellowstone Lake headed north and I felt a level of anticipation that almost matched the vast beauty of this place, this amazing place.

At every turn, every rise, every drop in the road, I kept looking for this storied location until finally the expanse of the Lamar Valley opened up before me.

Honestly, it was almost like driving into a John Wayne western.  The rolling hills just begged to be flecked at their crests with bands of Native American warriors.  I chuckle now when I think of this because out of the myriad of sights I would feast on from that point forward on the tour, I kept thinking that there should be a circle of teepees and dark haired natives riding along on white and brown horses.  It just goes to show how much we are influenced by both our childhood and our addiction to media.

I am not going to be able to do justice to the beauty of this place with words.  It is one of those places that you simply must see to fully grasp.

We pulled to the side of the road and off in the distance to our right was the Lamar River.  As I looked it seemed so small, little more than a tiny creek.  That perception couldn’t be farther from the truth.  It was here that I learned the deceptiveness of distance.  In the land in and around The Great Smoky Mountains National Park that I call home, the hills roll, are full of foliage, and the mountains are softer, being as old as they are I suppose that is to be expected.  But here in the land that I call home, distance is just easier to judge.  The point of reference is so close that feet, yards, and miles are pretty easy to judge.

So….after gearing up, we began walking down to the river.  And we walked….and walked…and walked…and then when we were done walking, we walked some more.  When I stopped long enough to look behind me, I was amazed.  Our vehicles were barely visible.  There again, it bears restating that you just can’t imagine how big Yellowstone is until you have been there. And if you have not been there…you really owe it to yourself to go.

The Lamar River is a truly beautiful place, and as we stepped into the water, Steve calmly waded in very close to a bison that was picking grass near the far bank.  Between he and I was Rebecca.  Farther downstream the rest of the party were barely visible as they sized up the water.

I stood for a long time and just gawked at the place.  It was almost like a kid who has wanted a certain gift for Christmas, and once the prized package was in his hands, he is to shocked to open it and play.

With no obvious risers, I tied on a hopper dropper with a prince nymph and set to work.  Each time I cast, I thought to myself, “I am here”.  The effect of my presence in this place was not the feeling of going home, but it was close.  Sometimes your heart will long to the point that the unknown dwells as close as the familiar, and I looked around me as the big clumsy hopper pitched along downstream, in absolute awe.

I realize that I was in a place where fly fishing was king and fish are bright, vibrant, and wild, but I honestly didn’t care if I caught anything or not.  I was present, and sometimes just being aware of that is enough.  This thought would prove on more than one cast to be prophetic because I was so immersed in the place that I missed multiple strikes as the hopper briefly vanished under the weight of a fish as it engaged the prince.

Upstream from me I see Rebecca raise her arm and that familiar flush of the water as a trout realizes that it has just made a critical mistake.  Beyond her, a billow of cigar smoke drifts above Steve.  We are new friends, but the peace and familiarity we share unifies us as if we had been together since birth.

Rebecca slips the trout back in the water, and begins again as if what happened had never taken place.  She is in her zone, and, as she would later recount to me, she has never been skunked on this river.

Chris, Bruce, and Kirk had very little luck and had traveled back to the cars long before our group had it fill.  In a park like Yellowstone, you can expect traffic jams from time to time, and these guys decided to break the monotony of waiting by creating a traffic jam of their own.  They would wait until a car approached, then they would point and spy out into the vast expanse of the valley, of course nothing was there.  Cars would stop, set up cameras, pull out binoculars, gazing out at nothing.  Its the little things in life that bring the biggest laughs, and later that night we would spend a good portion of time chuckling about it.  Honestly, if I were driving up and saw a bunch of people pointing out to the river, I would stop too.

Madison River Wildflowers

The Madness of Fly Fishing

“Sometimes I caught fish – sometimes I didn’t. …….I lived merrily, mindlessly, uncomfortably on the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” – Nick Lyons, The Intense Fly Fisherman

There was a time in my youth when I chased fish with all the passion I had within me – with all the force and vigor and excitement I could muster. I would get up two hours before dawn and drive four hours just to reach the first available trout water. I’d fish all day, stopping only to eat a quick lunch or move to another spot on the river. When darkness fell, I continued to fish – pushing the limit of effective fishing and the legal limit of fishing regulations. A four hour drive back home would end with me dragging myself into the house, leaving all my gear in the truck to be cleaned out the next day, or the day after that perhaps. I was “on fire” for fly fishing and I ate it – drank it – obsessed over it – loved it – was consumed by it. 

 

This went on for some time. Years passed, then decades and then one day I experienced a great tragedy in my life when my father passed away suddenly. At the same time, I lost my job. I was devastated. I stopped fishing almost completely. I think I may have spent time fishing, just a few hours each time, only twice that year. In my salad days fishing happened every other weekend for years and years. I fished only twice in that most terrible year and thought several times that I might give it up altogether. Over the next few years, there were times when I felt like flinging my rod and reel into the lake or river. No, I’m not kidding. I just couldn’t get that passion back, even though when I wasn’t fishing it was still there and as strong as ever.

 

I still consumed fishing articles, photos and chat like they were going out of style. I loved to talk about bass on poppers and trout flies that sit just so, right in the film. I’m still a sucker for hearing  another angler talk about a river that’s new to me. Last year I even took my very first trip out west to fish in Montana and Wyoming. I’m fishing more now – probably twice a month or so when I can get away and I’d fish more often if I had the time and money. So, I had to ask myself – what happened? How did I come back from the brink of leaving the sport behind me for good?

I think what it all came down to, was that I had to realize two things: that I didn’t have that 24-hour-7-days-a-week passion that I had in my youth, and that not having that passion was OK. Once I stopped worrying about the fact that I didn’t go fishing as much (and frankly didn’t catch as much either) I was able to begin to enjoy my time outdoors again. These days it’s not so much about the fishing. It’s more about being outside and enjoying time spent around the water. It’s the feel of the river on my legs and the fleeting glimpse of a deer on the drive home. Now that I’ve had a couple of years of this relaxed fishing life, I think I rather prefer it to living on, as Nick Lyons so accurately put it …the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” Maybe someday you’ll be there, too. Maybe you already are?

The author taking business into his own hands.

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 3 of 6

In July of 2012, I was selected to join Chris Hunt and Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, Rebecca Garlock, Bruce Smithhammer, Steve Zakur, and several representatives of Simms, The National Park Service, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation in a tour of Yellowstone.  We were directly involved in removal of the invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, stream study on Soda Butte Creek, and stream recovery on Specimen Creek. This is the third of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

In part two, we saw how involved and messy gill netting for the small lakers can be.  But what about the big boys?  What about the mature adult that is actively reproducing?  Obviously the whole gill netting thing will not work on a fish that size. So instead of the spider web analogy, lets switch over to the corn maze.  Easy to get into one…not so easy to get out.

What happens is this.  A huge live trap net is set in the lake.  This massive enclosure has a series of extensions on it that are like long hallways.  Hallways that are hundreds of feet long.  Big guys swim in, hang out, can’t find the exit.  And then the men on the boat go to work.

This is where the action really picks up.  We left the gill net boat feeling pretty satisfied with what we had just participated in, but we literally had no idea as to the massive undertaking necessary to get rid of the Lakers.  Yellowstone Lake is big and very deep which is perfect for Lake Trout.  They are literally in Laker Valhalla in this majestic body of water, and they do get big.

The crew starts out by retrieving the net.  I never quite figured out if the net was stationary and we were moving or vise versa, but either way, we were in for the surprise of our lives when the catch started revealing itself.

There are some fish that get caught in the net, but most are still alive when the crew started hoisting it aboard.  But the big show was the huge net enclosure that held numbers of biblical proportions.  The sheer number of big fish was astounding.  To compare what we were seeing to the 167,000 plus that had been retrieved up to that point just blows your mind.  I caught myself looking out at the lake an just trying to grasp just how many leviathans were swimming in those waters.

In the picture below you see a tub full of dead Lake Trout.  To get an idea of how large these fish were, the box they are in was about two and a half feet by twenty inches by two feet.  Just about every fish we brought to the boat would be grip and grin status.

 There were several tubs stationed at the rear of the boat.  By the time our work was done.  Every tub would be full.  It bears mentioning again that this operation is taking place, every day for at least ten hours per day.

Tracking devices are placed in some of the Lakers.  The use of these trackers is to identify movement of the fish throughout the lake.  Listening stations placed in various locations in the lake will monitor movement of the fish as they go about their day.  The hope is to positively identify spawning locations so that they can begin the arduous task of killing eggs.  There is still an ongoing discussion as to how they could best accomplish this.  Everything from UV rays to a vacuum system has been brought to the table.  The Park Service, Trout Unlimited, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation are actively pursuing their options with a hope to tackle this next battlefield soon.  The telemetry study was started in August of last year.  141 tags and 40 receivers were implemented.  As of this writing, there are 221 tags and 55 recievers on and in Yellowstone Lake.  This is not a cheap undertaking either.  Trout Unlimited purchased 153 tags at a cost of 85,000 dollars and the National Park Service purchased 68 tags at a cost of 25,000 dollars.

And yes, some of the Cutthroat are caught.  Here is the statistics as best as I can recall.  In a day when we caught probably close to 1,000 trout.  I only saw two Cutthroat dead at the gill net boat, and I think there were maybe five live Cutties on the live net boat.

The large holding net is brought to the side of the boat and there are literally hundreds of fish swimming around.  A long net is used, and you simply lean over and scoop up a net full of fish.  It is really quite amazing.  And keep in mind that you are scooping netfulls of 20″-30″ fish.  Exhilarating to say the least.  There were a couple that were to big to fit into the net.  You would scoop through the holding net, get the bruisers head in it, and that would be all that would fit.  That is when the crew stepped in and gilled them to the boat.

After the fish are caught.  They are cut, identified as male of female, and the air bladder is ruptured.  A lot were full of eggs.  Thousands of eggs.  This is the point when it all started coming together for me.  We caught and killed a multitude of these fish, but if you also take into consideration how many eggs we removed form the life cycle of the species in this lake, the numbers were staggering.  I really felt like I had done something that was good, worthwhile, and important.  Important to more than just the Cutthroat.  It was important to the total ecosystem of the park.  And that is a very good thing.

Though Lake Trout are a very good food source, and plentiful, these fish are not put into the food market.  My thought was that they could be used to feed the homeless, needy, mobile meals, but the logistics and cost of doing this are just not feasible at this time.  So much would be involved in trying to get this idea off the ground, and the amount of money it would require prohibit it.

So we left that afternoon feeling very good about what we had done.  The conversation among us was like that of a team after winning the big game.  We recounted the events, smiled, shook our heads in disbelief, and made our way north to the Lamar Valley.

 *Photos by Rebecca Garlock, Chris Hunt, Steve Zakur, and Marc Payne

Lake Trout Processing

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 2 of 6

In July of 2012, I was selected to join Chris Hunt and Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, Rebecca Garlock, Bruce Smithhammer, Steve Zakur, and several representatives of Simms, The National Park Service, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation in a tour of Yellowstone.  We were directly involved in removal of the invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, stream study on Soda Butte Creek, and stream recovery on Specimen Creek. This is the second of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

Okay, how many mornings have you awoke, and over breakfast said to yourself…”yep, today I think I am gonna kill a thousand trout.  That is the goal.  Not gonna eat em, not gonna sell em, just gonna kill em, cut em, and dump em in the deep water.  Then maybe call it a day.”

Lets just settle on agreeing that lake trout aren’t baby seals.  Soft fluffy white fur and big watery eyes will trump a cold slimy fish any day of the week, but still…the wholesale slaughter of a trout seems antithetical to the mantra that we catch and release types chant each time we head to the river.  We will pass someone who is leaving with a stringer full of trout and we assess them as if they are pariah; an unclean blight on the angling world.

I speak somewhat in jest, but it is honestly a very strange feeling to know that your goal is a mix of trout and death.  It just doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily…until you actually do it.

Here is the situation. At some point lake trout arrived in Yellowstone Lake.  I say “at some point” because no one is really 100% certain when it happened.  Yellowstone Lake is a Cutthroat lake, end of story.  The population of this amazing body of water has changed dramatically in recent years, and it has become quite frightening on more than a fishing level.  This issue literally effects every creature in the massive Yellowstone that has Cutts as a food source.

Try wrapping your mind around this statistic. In or around 1978, 70,000 Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout were recorded in Clear Creek.  In 2008, the number had dwindled to less than 500.  You read that right…500.  Keep in mind that we are just talking about one creek, God only knows how many feed into Yellowstone Lake.  You start running the numbers and it doesn’t take a lot of thought to determine that Yellowstone is in trouble.

Lake Trout live and spawn in Yellowstone Lake, they access no tributaries, they live in deep water, and they eat a bunch of Cutthroat which do access the tributaries to spawn.  This leaves only one viable solution.  You must get on Yellowstone Lake and kill a bunch of Lakers.  Each female Lake Trout is capable of laying thousands of eggs, and with each passing season, these hungry invasives feast on the Cutts.

HOW IT IS DONE

We were blessed with the opportunity to travel out onto Yellowstone Lake and take part in the removal of the Lakers. After a coffee and a danish at the boat dock, we gathered round and Todd Koel gave us the rundown thus far.

When you can tally up 167,703 lake trout caught thus far in 2012, and your work is no where near done…you have got a huge task in front of you.

There are two primary methods that are being used in the eradication process.  Gill netting and trap nets, and our merry band of anglers, bloggers, and industry folk embarked on what would become one whale of an adventure.

Gill netting is not pretty.  It is a messy, smelly, methodical task that takes a strong constitution and a certain degree of speed to do the job well.  So, imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the gill netting boat, and a young blonde coed climbed out and welcomed us aboard.  I envisioned a crew of bearded and somewhat scruffy fishermen using foul language, smoking filterless cigarettes and drinking coffee from an old rusty percolator.  This boat had two gentlemen who were very polite and soft spoken and a crew of nothing but girls.

With my personal stereotypes completely shattered we put our hands to work.  Gill netting was the focus of this boat, and though it wasn’t Deadliest Catch it was pretty intense at first.  The best way to describe gill netting would be to envision a massive underwater spiders web.  These nets are dropped or “soaked” for several hours and basically the fish entrap themselves within the holes of the net, struggle, tangle, and die.  Then comes the dirty work.  The net is retrieved and it is the task of the deck hands to extricate the fish from the nets.  I knew this was gonna be messy when the captain of the boat handed out blue rubber gloves.  Sometimes this involved actually pushing the internal organs of the lakers from one part of their bodies to the other just so they would go through the holes in the nets.  This procedure can also cause what the girls on the boat called “poppers”, I won’t go into details, but imagine a balloon that is squeezed just a tad to much.  Only this balloon wasn’t full of air….

For ten hours a day, six days a week these co-eds place nets, pull up nets, removed dead fish and repeat, and they actually seemed to be having fun doing it.

So where are all the big lake trout?  This particular process is used to remove the smaller fish.  On the next post we will take a look at how the big boys meet their maker.

Tetons

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 1 of 6

In July of 2012, I was selected to join Chris Hunt and Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, Rebecca Garlock, Bruce Smithhammer, Steve Zakur, and several representatives of Simms, The National Park Service, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation in a tour of Yellowstone.  We were directly involved in removal of the invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, stream study on Soda Butte Creek, and stream recovery on Specimen Creek. This is the first of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

 There is always a slight risk involved in dreams.  So often we paint pictures in our minds about these enchanted desires, thoughts that grow, doubling each time they wander across our mind.  Then we are somehow placed in a situation in which we can actually see this dream come to pass and it feels empty, shallow, and unfulfilled.

 Thankfully, this was not the case in my dream of Yellowstone.

 My friend Steve Zakur didn’t touch down in Jackson until late in the afternoon/ early evening which gave me time to soak in the Tetons in their glory.  When his plane landed and we shook hands, the dream which I carried for so long gained life.  Go time had arrived.

 Steve has visited the park several times.  He knew what to expect.  So that evening over drinks we made a plan that in retrospect was quite ambitious.  We were going to start at the south entrance and head northeast before meandering our way around and back to the south entrance.  I had no idea just what I was in for.

The next morning Steve and I took off from Jackson on a grand tour de force of the park.  It was a complete mind blower.  Crazy as it may sound, you literally cannot look in any direction without a photo op.  This place is a photographers Valhalla.

We had not even entered Yellowstone yet, and all I kept saying was “wow”.

Steve, being a seasoned vet of the park, graciously played tour guide for me and just let me gawk at the shear majesty of the place.  It just overwhelms everything about you.  I had thought of this place for so long and had focused so much on getting ready for this trip that it just left me numb.

In the center of the park there is a road that basically is a loop.  That was to be the focus of our day as we worked around toward our final destination which was Flagg Ranch (more about them later), and our rendezvous with the other folks that would be on tour with us for the week.

But of course, Steve and I being anglers, there came a point in which we could wait no longer and fishing became the focus.  Saying fishing became the focus in Yellowstone is almost a misnomer.  There are so many places to ply the angle as they say that you literally are overwhelmed in trying to find a spot.  We settled on the Gibbon which is a smaller river that joins the Firehole to become the Madison.

It was a warm afternoon, the water was perfect for wet wading, and the little browns that call this particular body of water home were willing to at least give Steve and me a taste of just how good it could be.  We ended the afternoon with three small browns each.  Nothing worthy of the grip and grin that is almost a mandatory validation of success (to which I strongly disagree), but we felt the drug that is the tug, and that was quite enough to settle the spirit.

We finally made our way back to Headwaters Lodge at Flagg Ranch and met those who were to be our companions for the rest of the week. (More on that next time.)

What it's all about!

Yucatan Baby Tarpon

Baby tarpon react to a hook like their oversized parents; they try to put as much air as possible between themselves and the water.  However, they are far more accommodating.  When fishing for adults, a great day is 5 fish jumped and 1 landed.  With babies, jumping 15 and landing 5 is definitely not out of the question.  And the babies aren’t exactly puny – 5 to 10 pounds is a common size.

I am by no means a seasoned tarpon hunter, but over the last few years I’ve managed to visit some of the Yucatan’s premier baby tarpon fisheries.  Although not definitive, my impressions might be helpful if a trip is germinating in your brain.

It should be noted that all my trips took place in July or August.  Visiting the Yucatan in the heat of summer sounds a bit twisted but it’s actually prime time for baby tarpon.

The gear for baby tarpon is simple – an 8 or 9 weight rod, a floating line, and a reel with a smooth drag.  Most baby tarpon will not take you into your backing.   Some veteran baby tarpon fishermen recommend stripping them in without putting them on the reel.  A decent fly selection would include baitfish patterns, poppers, and Seaducers – all on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks.  A very functional leader looks like this:  5 feet of 50 lb mono for a butt section, 2 feet of 25 lb mono for the tippet, and 2 feet of 40 lb fluorocarbon as a shock tippet.

Now, here’s a look at some baby tarpon destinations…

Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe (Rio Lagartos)   www.yucatanflyfishing.com

San Felipe, about 100 miles west of Cancun, is a sleepy, pleasant village where walking around gives your camera a taste of real Mexico.

The baby tarpon fishing starts after a 5 minute boat ride.  It’s mostly blind casting the mangroves off points or in the rios, which are saltwater creeks.  Oftentimes, rolling fish provide targets.

Once you’ve shaken the jitters when fishing to babies, San Felipe can give you the opportunity to come unglued in front of much larger fish.  A boat ride of an hour or so will take you to a spot offshore where migratory adults up to 100 pounds hang out.  This is sight casting to rolling fish over deep water.

Isla del Sabalo at Isla Arena    www.yucatanflyfishing.com

If San Felipe is sleepy, then Isla Arena is comatose – in a good way.  Even though you are only 100 km north of Campeche, it’s like the edge of the world.

The fishing is very similar to San Felipe with the addition of sight fishing on the flats in front of the mangroves.  (N.B.  Tarpon are much easier to see than a bonefish.)  Some of the guides like to go WAY up the tiniest of creeks.  Bring a mosquito repellant and don’t forget to duck under that mangrove branch!  I found a Sage bass rod a great tool for such close quarters.

You will likely fly into Merida, which is an incredible colonial city.  It’s like being in Europe, but the tarpon are much closer.

Paradise Lodge on the Costa Maya Coast   www.tarponparadise.net

Between Chetumal Bay and Espiritu Santos Bay, Paradise Lodge has a breathtaking variety of fishing opportunity.

Baby tarpon are the backbone of this fishery; they hang out in cenote lakes, which are land-locked lagoons connected to the ocean via underground channels.  Each day starts out with a truck ride as your boat is trailered to one of these lakes.  Bring your casting arm – you’ll blind cast the mangroves like crazy.  Nevertheless, you’ll probably see enough tarpon to keep your motivation in high gear.  One of the lakes has a good population of both snook and barracuda.

During your stay at Paradise, you’ll probably drive south to sprawling Chetumal Bay to chase bonefish and permit.  I caught my only permit in Chetumal Bay.  I’d like to say I made  a 70 foot cast to a tailing fish but I actually flipped a crab pattern about 30 feet into a HUGE mud.  The permit that popped out was VERY small.  At dinner that night, I downplayed my catch and was promptly chastised by the lodge owner.  “A permit is a permit!” he insisted.

If baby tarpon are the backbone of the Paradise Lodge fishery, then Espiritu Santos Bay is the jewel.  It’s a long, pre-dawn drive to the north.  Punta Huerrero, an obscenely picturesque fishing village, guards the bay’s entrance.   Once your skiff ventures into Espiritu Santos Bay, you’re not on the edge of the world, you’ve actually gone over it!

Very few people fish Espiritu Santos. Its flats are beautiful, wild and abundant, just like its bonefish.  Chances are you’ll see permit, too.  My guide even pointed out a few wily snook underneath the mangroves.  I didn’t believe they were there until he chased them out with his push pole.

Isla Blanca by Cancun  www.yucatanflyfishing.com

Cancun, as you probably know, is fueled by thousands of beach and bar-seeking tourists.

However, 30 minutes north of the sunscreen-slathered hordes lies Isla Blanca and its tremendous variety of fishing environments – hidden lagoons, picturesque bays, mangrove tunnels, small flats, large flats.  Is your boat careening towards a solid wall of mangroves?   Relax, the guide knows exactly where the opening to the other side is. Baby tarpon, a few bonefish, and smallish permit roam all over these waters.  The permit, although small, are numerous.

If you want a break from fishing, and perhaps Cancun’s frantic pace, there are loads of guided excursions to Mayan ruins, traditional villages, and cenotes.

Isla Holbox   www.holboxtarponclub.com

Isla Holbox is comfortably touristed but in a golf-carts-on-funky-sand-streets sort of way.   It is about 60 miles northwest of Cancun; the last part of the journey is onboard a ferry.

Although Holbox is noted for big, migratory tarpon in the open ocean, the backcountry flats and channels in the lagoon behind it have excellent populations of babies.  Tired of slinging 500 grain heads on a 12 weight?  The babies chase poppers and streamers and put on a great show when connected to an 8 weight.  I found sight-fishing for the babies to be excellent.

Another attraction at Holbox is the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks.

Nichupte Lagoon (Cancun) and Campeche

These are a couple places I have yet to visit.  The former is the lagoon directly behind the Cancun hotel strip.  The latter is a colonial city.

Dragon Fly

The One that Got Away

What would fishing be without “the one that got away?” Much better! I hear you – but there’s something good about losing a nice fish, too. Actually, there are a few good things about losing the big one, right?

For starters, we know he’s still in there. Somewhere in that big bend or deep cove, that fish still swims – or at least one or two like him. We know we had him on the line, and now he’s a little smarter than before maybe, but he’s still out there. If we fish long and hard enough, we may run into him again.

Secondly, the next time we see him, he might be even larger. Not everything in fly fishing is about bigger, faster, stronger – but you can’t deny that most of us would rather catch big fish than little ones, right? If you do run into that lunker from your past again, maybe he’s put on a couple of inches or a few pounds. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Hang on a minute! Is this just going to be a list of reasons we should be happy about losing a nice fish?

Why no. This is going to be a story about losing a nice fish and why, ever since the day I lost him, I try to look on the bright side of things when it comes to “the one that got away.

I was 16 years old and sitting in a borrowed boat with my very pretty new girlfriend. We were having a wonderful day fishing and I’d already landed several small bass and a few bluegills. She was getting the hang of it, but was enjoying the sun and water more than the fishing.

I cast a #6 black wooly bugger alongside a floating dock that had some brush sticking up just off to one side. Something struck! I struck back! The fish headed for open water and I got all cocky and said “I’ve got a big one this time, baby!” The fish zigged and I zagged, he went deep and I held on. He pulled my drag – I palmed the spool. (This was before the days of affordable, quality drags in freshwater fly reels)

Then, Mr. Bigmouth jumped into the air. All roughly 9 pounds of him! Airborne. Thrashing. Shaking. Mouth as big as a basketball. I yelled out “Nooooooooo!” but it was too late.

The wooly bugger landed two feet in front of the boat with a pitiful ker-splat and it was at that moment that I heard crying. I’d let the big one get away. There was despair, anger and an immediate depression over the loss. It was the biggest bass that either of us had ever had on the fly. There was some whimpering and some kind of guttural sobbing sound. This wasn’t just the one that got away, it was a monster that got away. The whimpering continued and… I suddenly realized that it was ME! You can only begin to imagine the ridicule I faced back at school. Crying over a bass. The very idea. How stupid.

So, if you can…don’t let the one that got away worry you too much. There will be others – or maybe even that same fish, if you put in the effort to try and find him again. Try to remember that fishing isn’t always about the catching and that there’s no crying in fly fishing or bass fishing …there’s just no crying in fishing at all, OK?

At least, not when you’re bigmouth girlfriend is in the boat.