Spring-time in the Montana high country means no tourists, no bugs, and eager fish. This beautiful mountain lake cutthroat was caught using a damsel pattern and was released to swim another day.
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…
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.
“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”
“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”
“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!
Web Team / Shop Staff
We drove the truck onto the beach of Pyramid Lake while it was still dark. Several campers were already parked on the beach, but there were no signs of movement from the dark interior of the trailers. The four of us quietly exited the truck with our waders and Goretex jackets swishing as we gathered our gear. We donned headlamps and secured stripping baskets, gloves, and our fly rods before we finally pulled our ladders out of the back of the truck. Pyramid Lake is a lake in western Nevada known for big Lahontan cutthroats where fishermen perch on top of a ladder and fish the lake’s large drop off.
With headlamps bobbing in the darkness, we waddled our ladder out into the dark lake, feeling the water rise from our boots, past our knees and then to our mid section. Knowing the lake floor makes a sudden drop, we positioned our ladders and waited patiently for the earth to spin a bit more so that the sun could fight off the darkness of night. Waiting with fly rods in hand, other headlights started to appear on the beach, and within moments, more fishermen were walking ladders into the dark water.
The dark sky turned gray and fly rods were put to use, heaving heavy shooting heads and flies into the choppy water. Within moments the first of our group raised a bent fly rod high into the air. We all admired the pulsing line and the eruption on the water’s surface as a heavy Lahontan cutthroat thrashed its way into the net.
In truth we are all there looking for a big fish, and although we never laid a hand on any of the big 10 pounders, we each held very respectable fish. But as much as Pyramid Lake is about the lake, there is also something socially binding about the ladder line. We stand like soldiers in a formation. Your comrades to the right and left hold the line and continue to throw flies in to the biting wind and all pray for the tug of a fish and the glory that comes with it. Fishing at Pyramid Lake is truly an experience, not only for the shot at a big fish, but for the friendships built on the ladders