Sunday, March 21, 2010

2010 Catch Up

I hate to admit it but I have been too busy to blog! Between work and coaching basketball and fishing on the weekends I have been swamped. So I am going to keep this simple, just lots of pics and captions to briefly chronicle the 2010 year so far. It is mid March and its starting to heat up. It looks to be a good year.

As usual I have been on the East Gallatin at least once a week.

I've had some good days on the Yellowstone, including a 7 hour float with good friend Zach Jerla.

Just recently my buddy Alex and I headed into Yankee Jim Canyon in search of big fish on big flies but instead found a enormous school of cutthroats and rainbows in a midge eating feeding frenzy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tying Flies (Crayfish)

It is winter. I keep hoping that it was a bluff, but I am pretty sure its here to stay. I did a 6 hour cold weather day on the East Gallatin the other day. It was nice to get out and pursue my quarry, but freezing your ass off all day for 2 average sized fish isn't doing it for me like it did last year. Don't get me wrong, I'll still do it, but I don't obsess about getting on the water at all costs like I did last winter. I am a bit more selective about when and were I go.

The classic flyfisherman off season activity is obviously fly tying. I am essentially a rookie, but over the past 9 months have put together some of the basics. I am mostly a big fly guy at this point. I tie a lot of streamers and larger nymphs. I copy patterns that I really like but my favorite thing is to take styles and techniques that I have learned and to create my own patterns.

Recently I have been brainstorming an easy yet realistic crayfish pattern. There are some pretty real looking patterns out there but many look very difficult to tie. I have heard that many people do well on just a plain brown wolly bugger fished as a crayfish. So I came up with a cray fish pattern that is basically a wooly bugger with a few modifications. Crayfish swim tail first so if you are going to strip them they need to be tied head towards the hook end, tail toward the hook eye.

So here is a step by step for my original crayfish pattern. Now, I am not claiming that this has never been tied before, but I came up with this on my own without knowingly copying anything else, so it is my original design.


Hook: Mustad 9672 Size 4 Streamer Hook
Thread: Big Fly (Black)
Body: Chenille (Dark, Brown Rust)
Eyes: Large Lead Eyes (1/20 oz)
Tail: Marabou (Burnt Orange)
Hackle: Strung Saddle (Natural Furnace)
Legs: Sili Legs (Fire Tip, Pumpkin Orange)

Place the hook in the vice and start thread. Make a good thread base and work thread to the bend of the hook.

Tie in marabou. Length should be about the same as hook length.

Separate the fibers with a few thread wraps to create the appearance of separate claws.

Tie in dumbell eyes on the top-side of the hook. (This should make the fly swim hook up) Tie eyes in about 1/3 the way from the hook bend to the hook eye. Tie in with tight figure 8 wraps. Fix in place with small drop of glue.

Move thread foward and tie in rubber legs.

Move thread back to the bend of the hook and tie in chenille and strung saddle hackle. Then move the thread back to the front of the hook. Be sure not to bind down the rubber legs.

Wrap the chenille foward over the lead eyes and carefully around the rubber legs. Tie off.

Wrap hackle foward and tie off. Extend extra feather foward past eye of the hook.

Color Lead Eyes black with a Sharpie

Finish the head. Apply glue or head cement and...there's your crayfish!

This fly should fish hook up. This will allow for deep presentations into weedbeds and other trout cover and should result in fewer snag ups. I hope this will fish well deadrifted or slowly stripped across the bottom. I am thinking big browns, Lower Madison...I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I have been out here and there the past few weeks. No real fish stories to tell but I have taken in some awesome scenery. I love the fall and the spring seasons. There may be nothing better than being on a river in the fall, the leaves ablaze with colors, your breath visible in the morning air, the spray of your line as you double haul to the far bank. Big fish or small fish, lots of fish or no fish, this is what makes fly fishing so spectacular.

Late October, East Gallatin River

Whitetails beneath the Bridgers

Sunset north of Bozeman

Shields River sunrise

Crazy Mountains from the Shields

Friday, October 16, 2009

Redemtion Canyon

There is a place that has fascinated me and teased my imagination since childhood. As a young boy I stored every rumor and story I ever heard about the stunning canyon only 3 miles downriver from my house. This canyon has always filled me with wonder, obsession and even fear.

The legendary Yellowstone River rumbles out of Yellowstone National Park and rages through the town section of Gardiner. About 15 miles north the river in its entirety is squeezed to a fraction of its width and grows exponentially in depth. As one stands at the mouth of this epic canyon, the river seems angry and intimidating as it roars back at you, daring you to enter.

It falls over devastating boulder fields and swirls into submerged caves and in one particular section squeezes into a narrow crevice where the entire river is constricted to a mere 40 feet while its waters swirl almost dead still! It is this piece of water, locally known as the "box car hole" which harasses my imagination and even haunts my dreams.

No true data exists on this water. I have searched high and low for any documentation on its true depth, but none exist. Some Gardiner locals claim it to be over 100 ft. Others speak of divers reaching depths of over 60 ft only to have to resurface due to the unstoppable hydraulics and upcurrents accompanied by opposing undertows which sucked them into caves in the canyon wall deep beneath the surface.

The divers were searching for the remains of drowned boaters. The canyon seems to take at least one life a year. This is usually the result of poor judgment and lack of respect for it power. You won't find any locals out in the canyons waters, they respect the killing power of the forces unseen. It is the tourist who are drawn to the impressive whitewater. These brave (but naive) souls often kayak or pack raft through the canyon. Most make it through safely, but those who do not are often never found, sent to a watery grave deep in the rivers mysterious grasps.

Yankee Jim Canyon was named after James George. George came to Montana looking for gold, but instead established a gold mine of different sorts. In 1873 he came into land inside the canyon. He build and maintained a road through the narrow corridor which became the only road to Yellowstone Park. He set up a tollbooth and charged all park visitors to cross his land and gain access to the park. This went on for about 15 years and James George became fondly known as Yankee Jim and was notorious for his personality and knack for telling tall tales.

Rupyard Kipling was one of Jim's visitor on his way to Yellowstone in (1890). He flyfished in the canyon which was of course then only filled with native Yellowstone Cutthroat. He writes this about his time there.

“…the fish bit the brown hook as though never a fat trout-fly had fallen on the water….At the fortieth trout I gave up counting, and I had reached the fortieth in less than two hours….They fought like small tigers, and I lost three flies before I could understand their method of escape. Ye gads! That was fishing….”

The railroad came and ended Jim's lucrative business. Despite his protests they built the railroad right through his land. Jim turned cold and bitter and legend tells that on more the one occasion he let his shotgun do the talking. He was eventually driven out and as an old man, left his canyon for good.

Maybe Jim had something to do with the derailment of the boxcar in 1903. As the train pushed through the canyon a car derailed and tumbled down the steep canyon walls and came to rest in the depths of what is now known as the box car hole. It is possibly the deepest water of the entire Yellowstone River. The box car still rests today, deep within the unknown.

The water is really not heavily fished. Very few fishing boats dare the canyon waters and those that do don't mess around in there, making as many quick casts as they can as they fly through the raging whitewater. The canyon waters can be accessed from the highway on its east side. There are no good trails and the bank is steep and dangerous. The west side of the river can be reached by crossing Corwin Spring or Carbella bridges. A dirt road now runs over the old railroad bed. The west side provides some better access but none of it is easy. The local flyfishing community deems the canyon as "not worth the risk" and some even venture to claim that despite its obvious looking holding water that "in their experience" the rumors of very large fish are untrue. Speaking of rumors...

Remember the divers searching for bodies in the boxcar hole? These same divers claim to have seen trout of unbelievable size deep in the dark waters. So large were these beasts that one diver reported a fear of being in the water with them. Other rumors claim that FWP shocked a brown of unimaginable size from the boxcar.

The local bait fishermen believe the hype. Some 8-10 lb. browns have been taking by live sculpins, nightcrawlers and even whitefish meat. Many of these brutes were taken at night.

Needless to say, I have chosen to believe all of these stories and since childhood have been on a quest to catch "The One." Every fall I travel to the canyon and search its waters, but this fall I decided to something that possibly no fly fisherman has done (even Kipling).

I set out to fly fish the canyons entire west bank. I began across from the Joe Brown Access (the last chance for boaters to get out to avoid the canyon's waters) and over the course of two days fished the 3.5 miles of bank down to where the rivers exits the canyon walls near Carbella Bridge. The fishing was streaky, and long slow spells were rewarded by sudden bursts of action. I had decided to fish only streamers and had constructed a set-up particularly for the deep waters. I fished a Reddington 8 wt matched with a large arbor reel which was loaded with a fast sinking line. I fished a short leader built of 25 lb. mono followed by 15 lb. fluorocarbon. This setup worked remarkably well and I was able to fish large sculpin patterns deeper than I ever had before.

As the light was waning on the 1st day I encountered a sheer cliff that marked the entrance of the box car hole. I was forced to climb up out of the canyon and back down a ridiculously steep slope. There are no fisherman trails into the heart of the box car and to be honest I wondered if I could even get down there in 10 years!

The box car is scary. It is so intense. You are standing literally feet away from a virtually bottomless pit. The waters churn in an eery silence and you are almost intimidated to fish it. I tied on a self tied sculpin pattern. I began experimenting with different casts, trying to get the fly as deep as possible. It was amazing how the streamer would one minute be forced to the surface by powerful upcurrents and then suddenly sucked into the darkness by opposing undertows. As the fly would sink out of site, the imagination starts to work overtime. If only I could see what that sculpin fly sees.

On one particularly good swing, (I estimated my fly was over 20 ft down) My boyhood suspicious were all but conformed. Deep beneath the surface my rod went heavy and I set into something thick. There was no thrashing or rod throbbing, just a dead weight. I had to wait a second to confirm it was even a fish. Then I felt the steady pull of a living creature at the end of the line. I began to to wench the large arbor reel and to my shock the monster brown came to the surface with very little fight. I got my net and for an instant thought I had her. I got a good long look at the beauty. She was huge and thick, buttery yellow with vibrant red spots. I started toward the water and began to reach out with my net when suddenly the brute realized what was going on and made a huge run. It is strange when fish take 20 feet of line straight down! She didn't head down river, she just dove straight down. Then came the vicious head shakes. One, two three and....the line went limp. I did my tantrum thing, cursed the gods and sat down for a bit. I was so close to landing a giant box car brown. It would have been by far the largest trout of my life. I have to say she was over 25 inches and at least 6-7 lbs.

The next day I continued my quest to fish the entire length of the canyon. I landed many modest cuts and a few respectable browns. I again lost a few fish that got me thinking. I finished my mission late Sunday evening. I caught a lot of fish but left feeling I had been bested.

I returned to the canyon the following Sunday. This time a brought a buddy. Alex is also from Gardiner and shares a common interest in fly fishing the the Canyon of Yankee Jim.

It was cold as hell! 15 degrees with a stiff north wind. The ground was covered in a slippery skiff of snow and quite frankly we froze our asses off. We literally slid down into the box car hole. The fishing was pure misery. Frozen hands, feet and flyline. We had to clear guides every 5 casts. We pushed through and swung streamers through the depths for over an hour with only a 14 inch cutthroat between us. We decided to move to the tail end of the hole but to do so required us to climb up the steep wall and then back down on the other side of a cliff. How we got out of there I don't know. Thanks to some sage brush to grab a hold of, we made it out and then headed down to the tail end of the box car.

The tail out section is a little easier to get to and there is a faint path. I often find empty cartons of worms and beer cans, so the bait guys have definitely been down there. The water broadens a bit but is still very deep and the currents just as powerful.

I positioned myself on a flat boulder and made my first cast into the freezing air. I nice brown attacked my sex dungeon and then shook free. I was talking to Alex about it and was preparing to make another cast. I lazily threw 15 feet of line down stream in preparation for a longer cast when something crushed my streamer near a rock by the bank. Now I am going to try not to exaggerate but whatever was on the end of my line was like nothing I have ever experienced.

My 8 wt was bent double and I had to use both hands to keep my rod up. The mysterious beast struggled in the depths for a bit and then began a steady run down river. It was not a blazing into your backing run, just a slow and steady departure as if to say "I'm outta here and there is nothing you can do to stop me!" There was nothing I could do. It was the first time a truly felt powerless on my end of the rod. The fish just kept going and Alex and I (half frozen mind you) futilely tried to chase it. Then, like deja vu the fish was gone. My line had broke at the knot. Defeated again!

I don't know what fuels my obsession more, the landing of a trophy fish or the loss of one. Needless to say I made a last minute Thursday decision and called Alex and headed back for another rodeo in the canyon.

This time the weather was great but the fishing was not. I landed a 17 inch cuttbow across from Joe Brown, but the fishing was slow to say the least. I needed to be on the road by 3 so we decided to go all or nothing and headed back into the box car. More of the same. No fish interested in our streamers. I had worked down river with no luck and when I returned Alex's crazy ass had somehow traversed a cliff and was fishing from a ledge 10 feet above the river. I was suddenly excited because he was able to fish a huge submerged rock in the center of the river that I had never been able to get to before. I made my way up and over cliffs and then tiptoed the narrow submerged ledge to get out to him. We both stood on this ledge 10 ft above the river. We had zero room to backcast so we would take turns. I would duck so he could cast backhand and then he would duck so I could make a bit of a roll cast. The fish were starting to move on our streamers and I said outlaid "What the hell are we going to do if we catch one?"

I was standing watching Alex make his retrieve. My olive sex dungeon was dangling 10 feet below me, pulsing in the current when out of the corner of my eye I watched a large fish take my streamer off the surface like a dry fly! I set the hook and knew I had a dandy. Alex readied for action as I played the heavy fish. I would kill for a photo from the highway side of the river. Both of us standing on a ledge 10 feet above the box car hole, rod bent was awesome.

The bad new was I had left the net on the other side of the cliff. Alex immediately set out for it and I did have the courtesy to tell him not to die for the fish...he seemed willing to. He climbed down the 10 foot boulder, tiptoed the submerged ledge, scaled the cliff overhang, retrieved the net and returned just in time to net my fish who had been kind enough to swing within his grasp. I climbed down and met him in the water. We high fived and took some photos. What a awesome fish! The female brown measures 20.5 inches and was girthy. She had distinct baby blue halos around her red spots that almost gave her the appearance of a brook trout. We then revived her and watched her swim off healthy, back to the mystery below.

It was almost 3 so I reeled in and called it a day. It is such a great feeling to make your last cast the one that catches such a great fish, much like a walkoff home run or a buzzer beating three-pointer. You just can't end it much better than that.

I finally felt a sense of redemption. Although this fish was no where near the fish I had lost before or the ones that haunt the depths untouched, I still felt a sense of perseverance and victory.

I am not done exploring this canyon. There is still so much to be found. I still know that a fish larger than can even be imagined lurks in the depths, probably the ghost of Yankee Jim himself, still guarding his canyon, collecting his toll.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What a boy!

I can't even put into words how proud I am of my little boy. We fished tonight for a couple hours, and didn't catch much. Despite this, I was in awe of my 7 year old fishing a woolly bugger the whole time, completely independent...what a kid!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good Times With Good Times

So my cousin and fellow fly fishing obsessive compulsive came down to visit my family and I over Labor Day Weekend. Johnny is great to be around and also somehow manages to bring fun with him wherever he ends up. Therefore he has been dubbed by some as "Johnny Good Times".

So Johnny called me during the week to suggest coming down to visit and do a little fishing. So I approached my lovely wife about it (she loves when Johnny is around) and I told her we would "probably" do a "little" fishing. Well she knows me to well and what started out as one evening outing turned into a full on binge!

Good times arrived in time to watch my youngest kids and the neighbor boy (see last post) catch a few bass and a sucker. Him and I played around with a few top water poppers but didn't get into any bass.

The following evening I took him to "lunker alley" in hopes that one of us could match or beat the 21 inch brown I had caught 2 weeks prior. Streamers were once again the ticket and we both landed a few respectable rainbows and I lost a fish that may have been pretty big.

It was a great night and we fished long into the evening. We then headed for down town Bozeman and sampled the nightlife.

The following evening we threw Noah in the car with us and fished the Yellowstone near Pine Creek. Unfortunately the "Stone" was in one of her moods and either of us touched a fish all night. The wind was also up which was a little discouraging. Noah out did us both by catching a 6 inch brown and a 10 inch rainbow on a little panther martin. Despite the lack of action the Paradise Valley was beautiful as always.

We then drug our tired bodies out of bed the next morning and hit my favorite stretch of the East Gallatin. The early morning was ridiculously slow. I was begining to wonder if Johnny thought I was trying to keep him away from "my fish." I lost a decent fish early on a copper john but we fished for the first 2.5 hours with basically zero action.

Finally we located a pod of risers and Johnny pulled some small fish out of the crowd with a small blue winged olive. I grabbed a snap shot of the trophy rainbow as Johnny sheepishly held up the "lunker". I snapped the pic just as he broke out laughing.

I apparently thought I was fishing for paddle fish becasue I didn't hook a single fish in the mouth. I was nymphing in a nice run when my indicator paused. I set the hook and thought I had hooked into a new state record. I dramatically worked the fish and screamed for Johnny to bring the net. I was a little embarassed when he netted my 14 inch rainbow hooked in the fin.

As we were working back to the truck and started pitching a black muddler to the banks. I watched as a fish bolted from the bank to grab my streamer. Once again I over dramatized the situation and judging from my rod bend the way the fish wouldn't move I thought I had another above average fish on. Once again Johnny scooped my 13 inch brown from the river to find that I once again foul hooked the poor thing.

Johnny left later that day and hit the Missouri for a few hours on his way home. I will have to let him tell that story though. Check out his blog.

It was a great weekend and as far as good times go, Johnny never fails to deliver.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Take a Kid Fishing

Just a quick note.  As one digs deeper and deeper into the obsession of flyfishing, sometimes it is refreshing to take your self back to the roots of the craft.  

I took my my two youngest kids Noah and Gracee and our neighbor boy to a local pond the other night.  Gracee and Noah have both caught fish before but the neighbor boy had never even been fishing.  This was exciting to me and it was neat to see Noah step back and unselfishly "guide" his new friend into his first fish.

It was a refreshing experience to watch the innocence of young children fishing.  The neighbor boy landed his first fish, a sucker.  It was awesome to see the excitement over what most of us consider a blight to the fishing world.  The boy kept the fish and took it home to ask his folks about mounting the "beauty."  

This is what it is all about, finding joy in the most basic components of this sport.  If your feel you are ever losing touch with this just take a kid fishing.