Monday, April 27, 2009

Big Water, Big Fish

Well, there are some sure signs it's spring in Montana.  It must be Mother Nature is moody as hell lately.  Earlier last week the temperatures topped 80 degrees.  As you can imagine this really got the snow melting which in turned stained all of our rivers brown.  It is not impossible to catch fish under these conditions but why try when we are blessed with great spring still-water fishing.  Spring is a great time to fish lakes.  The ice is off and the fish are prowling the shallows where a fly caster can present them with deceivingly tasty morsels.  When you throw rainbow trout into this equation you complicate things.  Although they should be hungary from a long winter, but they have spawning on the brain and some take some convincing to eat.  I guess I understand this...would you be thinking about a cheeseburger if a pretty lady wanted to spawn with you?

So Noah and I mounted up in the old Dodge Ram and headed out of Bozeman toward Canyon Ferry.  Part of Noah's love for these little trips is the special diet he gets when fishing.  I generally throw out all the rules and let him have stuff that is otherwise contraband.  He grabbed a root beer and some powdered sugar donuts for the 1 hour drive to the lake.

When we pulled up to the lake shore I was surprised to see no other fisherman in sight.  Canyon Ferry is one of the hardest fished waterbodys in Montana so this was amazing.  Then I realized why.  It was about 35 degrees and the wind was howling.  The lake was covered in white caps and some waves reached 3 feet.  It was going to be a tough day, but as I told Noah, "We are tough men!"  

I bundled Noah in full on ski gear, snow pants, boots, hat, gloves the works.  I brought two rods for Noah.  One rigged for throwing lures and the other for bobber fishing with night crawlers. (I know, but you have to catch the boy some fish if its that darned cold!)

I rigged the fly rod with a red blood work tied to a 9 foot leader.  From the lead fly I trailed a egg pattern about 12 inches behind.  I placed a strike indicator about 5 feet above the first fly and prepared to do battle with the gale.

Things started pretty slow.  On a calm day a person could sight fish for these rainbows, but with the rough seas, this was impossible.  Its hard not to get discouraged.  Canyon Ferry is immense in size and it seems like scratching a lottery ticket.  Its daunting to think that somehow a fish is going to find your tiny little fly in that amount of water.  But they did.  

We found a small bay protected from the wind somewhat.  I was able to cast 30 to 40 feet of line.  Then it was simply a game of patience and concentration.  I would strip in a few feet at a time and then just let the indicator bob in the surf.  I was moving slowly down the shore line, kind of trolling my fly 20 feet off shore when the first fish hit.  What I sensation!  These were heavy fish.  No they did not take off screaming to the middle of the lake, but the sheer power of these things was great.  The fish had taken the red blood worm, which in my opinion imitates a chronomid.  Noah was jacked, and immediately asked me to fish in my spot.  The fish was beautiful.  A classic colored rainbow with a disproportionate sized tail.  I did not have a tape with me but she had to have been close to 20 inches.  But it was not the length of these fish that made them big, it was there linebacker like physiques.  They were so thick!  That first fish must have weighed 4 to 5 pounds.

Unfortunately (and surprisingly) The old bait and lure thing never paid off for Noah.  He had a short period of jealousy and frustration, but I reminded him that we were a team and when either of us caught fish it was a victory.  His spirits eventually lifted and he finally stopped fishing and began watching me and waiting for the next highlight.  

In the grand scheme of things the fishing was not exactly red hot.  We only caught 3 fish in 5 hours but it was more than worth it.  This fish took the fly hard and were a thrill to catch.  As I set the hook on the final fish and it thrashed the surface near shore, Noah shouted, "Dad! You are awesome!"  That is the best part of children...their naive minds.  I am certainly not an awesome fly fisherman, but to Noah I am, and thats all that matters.

Happy Easter Noah

After we got home from the trip to the ranch, we loaded the rest of the family up and turned around and headed south to Gardiner to spend easter with Brenda's family.  After being away and fishing for the past two days I left the rods at home. (What?!!)
We spent a nice easter morning being with family, hunting for easter eggs and eating.  As evening approached, I began to get the itch.  Noah did to apparently because he began to working on his Grandpa to go fishing that evening.  It turned into a guys night out.  Noah and I, my brother and laws Jason and Kenneth and Grandpa Gary took a short drive 5 miles north and got on the Yellowstone to do some spin fishing.  Remember, we left the fly rods at home.   I remember thinking to myself, "I guess its ok if I cheat just once and fish with shiny metal and treble hooks.  I anticipated hot and fast action and honestly was kind of excited after making about 500 casts to catch 2 fish earlier that week in central Montana.  I deserved it.
After fishing for a good 45 minute only one of us even had a fish on.  Ken has hooked a small fish that got off near the shore.  Noah was going to work.  He was not happy to stand in one spot and cast.  He was working the water, making bomb like cast over half way across the river.  I was about 100 yards from him when I heard the splash.  A large fish was thrashing the surface near the center of the river.  Attached to this fish was a fishing line, followed by a pole which was held by a 6 year old boys intensely working his reel.  He maneuvered his rod to keep the tension on the fish.  The whole time he hadn't said a word.  The fish was on the bank by the time I got to him.  He turned and looked at me with a smile on his face and said rather calmly "biggest fish of my life."  It certainly was.  He had landed a beautiful brown trout.  I pulled a tape measure on it and it measured just over 17 inches.  The fish was in great shape, thick and heathy with beautiful red speckling against his chrome flanks.  
Grandpa caught a small cutthroat later that evening and I managed land a 6 incher.  Noah was the king and he was very proud.  The fish of his young lifetime.  When we got back he showed everyone the picture, told everyone the story and asked me to make a few phone calls to tell some other people of his epic accomplishment.  I could not imagine a better easter present for a boy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Central Montana

  With a 4 day weekend at hand, I decided to go visit my dads ranch in central Montana.  Gracee actually hitched a ride up on Wednesday and Noah and I followed her Thursday after school.  We spent some time at the ranch and helped with a few ranch chores.  One great bonus to this trip was the somewhat unknown brown trout fishery only minutes from my dads front door.

This steam is technically a river but is very small in size.  It is much like the East Gallatin near Bozeman.  It is a winding water, characterized by riffles, run and undercut banks.  At first glance one would never guess that lurking in these waters are big brown trout.  The standard FWP info claims that fish average 10 inches in this river.  But an inside source who had fished the river last spring said that it was more like 16-18 inches.  Others report fish in the 5 pound range being caught frequently.  When fish are getting this big it is not unlikely that there are some 30 inch fish in this thing!

Noah and I set out with much excitement and anticipation.  We first arrived on the river at mid day.  Noah was casting lures and I began swinging streamers.  4 hours later, Noah and I trudged home...fishless.

The water was fairly muddy, and the day was very warm and bright.  These were also brown trout and they are not known for feeding out in the open on a bright sunny day.  Noah was pretty much over it.  The stream was hard for him to fish.  It was narrow and brushy and he snagged up quite often.  He did give it a valiant  try and I am always impressed with the diligence that he displays for being so young.

He was tired so I drove him back to the house.  It was now almost 6 p.m and I did not want to end it that way.  I figured the evening would be better anyway.  I drove back down to the river and began working the banks with big streamers.  A lot of casts went by before finally a got  a hook up.  The fish fought hard and it was defiantly larger than any of the fish I had caught so far this year.  I landed the fish and pulled a quick tape on it.  It was just a touch over 15 inches.  Not a big fish by any means but after so many fish-less hours I was feeling like a just caught a steelhead.  This fish did create one milestone for me.  It was the first fish I have caught on a fly that I tied myself, a black and green woolly bugger.  I released the fish a fished on with a little more adrenaline in my veins.

It took another 2 hours to strike pay dirt again.  By now the excitement of the last fish had worn off and I was beginning to tire.  The sun was beginning to sink low in the sky.  I had no more luck on the self tied wooly bugger so I went bigger and brighter.  I tied on a natural and yellow double bunny and went to work with it.  I spotted a deep undercut bank and casted across and slightly upstream.  I mended once to let the fly sink and then let it swing into the deep water adjacent to the opposite bank.  I suddenly felt a jolt unlike anything I had felt in a long time.  This fish had my rod bent double and made a quick run that took about 30 feet of line.   I actually had to strain to keep the rod tip up.  I finally landed the fish.  It was by far the biggest fish I had caught on my fly rod in a number of years.  I taped it at 19 inches.  Once again, not a trophy trout, but under the difficult circumstances I was thrilled.  I released the fish and being a little caught up in the moment, looked toward the beautiful evening sky and spoke out loud..."Thank you."