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.
This video provides a little insight into Gore-Tex technologies and Simms Gear. Simms Gear is a favorite of most of the shop staff here at Fishwest and it is easy to see why. Please check out the new 2014 Simms Fishing Products line by clicking HERE.
The Winston BIIIx was the most recent addition to my quiver this summer in a 590.4 . This rod is simply amazing for throwing dries. I cant wait to fish this thing more and really put it through it’s paces. Once I do I will most definitely have share my thoughts on that beautiful piece of Winston Perfection. Till then check out this video that explains the intricacies and benefits of Boron infused blank construction that make these rods so special to cast & fish.
Check out all Winston products by clicking HERE
When I first started fly fishing I really didn’t have much use for a guide. Given my age at the time, my macaroni and cheese, top ramen budget would not have allowed me to hire a guide anyway. I learned how to fly fish using the scientific method; effectively identifying almost every way NOT to catch fish. My lack of stealth coupled with a tendency to always find myself standing in the place to which I should be casting, and using tippet heavy enough to reel in a Land Cruiser, often times left me wondering why on earth I had given up the night crawlers and Balls of Fire that were so successful in my youth. I looked upon guides as unreachable gurus who sold the experience that I so desperately pursued. On occasion, I would come upon a guide carefully instructing a client, and sit on the bank just within earshot hoping to poach a word of wisdom or two. While this made me uncomfortable, a feeling likely shared by the guide and his client, I was fascinated by a person who could verbally instruct someone from snapping flies off into the bushes all the way to the point of actually landing a trout. Typically, it only took one sharp gaze from the guide for me to get the message and move on. A couple of years later, a brother-in-law who was always gifted at catching a lot of fish became a guide.
Suddenly, I knew “one” which seemed to make them more human. He and a couple of other guys took me on trips to places like the Madison and the Green, etching indelible memories on my very being. Several years later I moved to Idaho and met a coworker who quickly became a friend. It turned out he was married to a guide who also became a friend. Fishing with him in his drift boat was akin to fly fishing graduate school. I learned how to read currents while floating on them, spot and identify raptors overhead, use the wind instead of fight it, how to row, the ever important skill of making a sandwich fit for a drift boat, and the value of a good straw hat. Slowly I began to realize that guides are not riparian leprechauns fleecing the dollars from the wallets of unsuspecting, yet all too willing Sports. These people are Sages of hard earned knowledge; passionate protectors of the very waters from which they have been taught so many valuable lessons. I recognized that they have forged a connection with the river that only dog owners can approach in understanding.
Most start guiding for a variety of reasons; the mystique, to get girls, chasing dreams, trying to find themselves, etc. Most only last a few seasons before they either accomplish their goals, find that there are not many girls to be gotten (re: MANtana), or just get sick of what ultimately is a lot of very hard work. Others find themselves watching the years blow by like exit signs on a kamikaze cross country road trip. I guess that is the point, they find themselves. They become part of an elite group of our species that “just get it”. No longer encumbered by the hollow or vain pursuits which infect and distract so many of the rest of us. They take great joy in helping their clients to feel the joys of angling; appreciate the precious resource that make the art of fly-fishing possible, and form a personal connection with those who will allow themselves to drop the firewall for a few hours.
At the end of a day with a good guide, you feel like you have made a friend; having shared something that is truly special. Good guides seem to have achieved something that is truly God-like; the ability to enjoy the very passion that drives them, vicariously. To laugh, cry, cuss, and rejoice with a client as if they were the ones holding the rod is something that I am only beginning to understand as I guide my family in their angling experiences while seated on the sticks of my own drift boat.
To Mark, Ed, Leslie, Brian, Monty, Mike, Jimmy, Pete, Shawn, Marc, Steve, Dustin, Dave, Brian, and Craig; I thank you for your guidance both on the river and off. My angling journey continues to be a source of strength, humor, and inspiration as I navigate the turbulent waters of life.
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.)
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.
My teenage daughter, Kerri, likes to fish. Once a year, we catch a few crappie on spinning gear and she’s happy. Especially if I bring along her favorite junk food. However, she LOVES big, scary roller coasters. Or anything that sends her equilibrium for a loop – quite literally.
Last summer, I suggested a trip to Yellowstone Park. My exact words: “Geysers, waterfalls, white-water rafting, zip-lining – that’s what we’ll be doing.” She was excited. I also asked her if she’d like to try fly-fishing. From a boat… Drifting down at river… With rapids… She said sure.
I booked a float trip with guide Hank Bechard and asked him if he thought Kerri would be better off with a spinning rod. He replied, “When in Rome…” He was confident the fly rod would work.
We spent a day white-water rafting down the Gallatin River. And another day zip-lining over it. One afternoon we waded a gentle run and I taught Kerri how to roll cast, mend line, and control slack. She wasn’t Lefty Kreh, but she could flip an indicator rig 20 feet upstream and let it drift back down.
After a day sight-seeing in Yellowstone, I phoned the guide to check arrangements for the float trip. Hank told me our original destination, the upper Yellowstone, was still clearing up; we would be fishing the Boulder River instead. He promised whitewater rafting with fly rods. Kerri was pumped! (And so was I!)
The next day, we were in his raft, heading down the Boulder River. Big, ugly rubber-legged nymphs were hanging underneath big, ugly foam indicator flies. I have to admit that I thought I made a mistake for about the first ten minutes. I’d been in drift boats before but I wasn’t used to my rear end hanging WAY out over the back of the raft. The targets were zipping past as we bounced down the river; I had a mess of line in my lap and not much in the river. I had NO idea how Kerri was doing at the front of the boat.
Finally, I shortened up my line and starting dropping the fly where it was supposed to go. Hank stopped the boat in a calm spot and gave Kerri a few quick casting lessons. In no time, he had her picking the fly up and slapping it back down about 20 feet away. (Forget about roll casts!)
The rest of the day was tremendous! The raft rocked and rolled through riffles and rapids. The casts were short and the fish were eager. Kerri caught her first fly rod fish – a 15” ‘bow – and at least 6 or 7 more.
Crappie fishing will never be the same…