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Bringing you up-to-date information for fishing around Bozeman Montana. Feel free to Email me anytime at Norbaracer13@gmail.com!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Bliss: A Perfect Day With Mykiss, Salmo Trutta and Williamsoni


             On a perfect spring, summer, or fall day, one would usually not hesitate to jump in the car and head towards crystal clear waters full of hungry fish. I cannot imagine sporting a t-shirt or light fleece and trudging through refreshingly cool water in the pursuit of my obsession. To sit down next to a near perfect fishing hole with the pleasant feeling of the sun hitting my back and neck sounded heavenly. It's the sinuous, warm breeze often providing a harmonious rhythm along side the undulating tone of water. The creatures that hide themselves while I make haste begin to reveal themselves as I sit motionless near the bank. Mule deer, whitetails, moose, and otters are a few critters that I share these waters with. Even birds and waterfowl, as meager as they seem, will cause me to stop what I'm doing and stare with appreciation. It's days like these that "fishing" may not be why I am out here at all. I might as well leave the pole in the car, but catching a fish would be a nice bonus on such a perfect day.

         This winter feels especially cold, much colder than last year. Cabin fever has set in. I know that fishing follows the same aspects during the winter as my activity outdoors declines. The fish slow down and the fishing isn't worth writing home about if the temperature is below thirty-two degrees. At the first glimpse of a thirty-eight to forty degree day, you can bet that I will be heading towards my escape.

          This particular mid-winter outing was a blessing for not only my sanity but for my overall quality of life. To some, fishing is as I explained previously, a good reason to enjoy the outdoors. But for others, fishing satisfies the soul. Setting out to accomplish the task of reeling in a beautiful specimen from a beautiful, untainted body of water is something we've tried to express in articles for decades. No longer are we fishing for the survival of our families but for sport. A half day jaunt into their world only to succeed in what we set out to do is a very good feeling. Walking in and out of mother nature's world only to catch, photograph, and release trout; leaving no sign or trace except for the digital files I take is a win in my book. On this mild day in January, I found all of this remains true to me and a very blissful experience followed.

         The middle of winter submitted to a wonderful fifty degree day. I was lucky enough to be off of work on this day and I knew just what I was going to do. I arrived at the river around noon. It was nice to leave the jeep without gloves, a mask, or a hat. I didnt care how the fishing was, the day was too perfect to be indoors. I remember having the feeling that I was the only person fishing or perhaps the first person to fish this river since fall of last year. The woods and stream had a remarkable vibe that day. The instant that I stepped into this world something engulfed me, I started to get that feeling deep inside. This wasn't the picture perfect day like I had been dreaming about but it was its own unique blend of pristine serenity and beauty. I had miles of shimmering river that was mine to fish alone, which I generally enjoy. Not to say I dont enjoy fishing with friends, but fishing alone is what I enjoy most. While I made my way to my honey hole, which is about a mile walk around tight bends and through several crossings, I had spooked several mule deer which in return spooked me. Eagles gazed down at me as I passed under their perches. I thought I could toss them a trout and make some friends out here. On this day I was happy to be outside and with all I've seen I could have left happy. Then I started thinking about why I was here. I had the urge to catch fish.

       As simple as the phrase "catch fish" sounds, its really quiet deep. This was no task of simply putting on a lure and casting for fish. I was in predator mode, trout slayer mode. It was such a perfect day, however I had yet to please my urges. If I had brought a partner with me it would've been hard to hide my excitement. Like a bass angler sizing up his competition during a tournament, I too was sizing up my opponent; the river. Many say when it comes to trout fishing, that slower is better. Its taken me two years to focus on this idea. Fishing slow for trout can mean fifty different things. Today, me being slow means walking and moving slow while near water that holds fish. I also vowed to myself to fish each hole with more patience, allowing nearly four times the length of time I would usually fish one spot. My bad habits include making ten casts and moving on to the next hole or run. My theory today was conjured with the idea of catching the most fish possible (have to catch as many as I can). The ideology behind the fishing slow is good for a few reasons; mostly because the trout were still cold and a bit lethargic. Fishing slow gives the trout more time to see and consume my flies. It paid off very well.

          I fished my honey hole harder than I would have during warmer seasons. This spot was like a control in an experiment. If I couldn't take my time and catch fish here, I wasn't going to have much luck anywhere on this river. Normally I will fish with general flies that I know work; san juan worm, girdle bug, leech, eggy, blue midge etc. but this day I managed to retie a few times until I found something that worked. I managed to slow down, be patient, cast, cast, retie, cast, retie, repeat, repeat repeat and it paid off! I landed six trout once I  had figured out what they were eating. The fly of choice by hungry trout happened to be a number twenty-two olive midge nymph. They were going nuts for it! I finally dialed into exactly what they were feeding on.

        During my walk back to the jeep, a small riffle of water quietly flows into a 15x10x3ft pool and catches my eye. A stealthy approach gets me within viewing distance and I see nothing but cold dark water seemingly void of all life through my polarized glasses. Should I keep moving or gamble wasting time on such a small pool? Maybe they were holding tight against the sides. I plan my assault, observing everything about this deep little pocket of water such as how I imagine the bottom to be, possible depth, current, obstructions, fish flashes. First cast into what seemed like a hopeless, lifeless body of water and I get snagged. The snag suddenly turned into the shape of a golden silver torpedo as he started to fight, reflecting light off his sleek body. I was just stoked! I was amazed at how many trout and whitefish were in this small pool or water. Life was literally thriving everywhere. From there on, every hole I stopped at held many, many fish. They were stacked up in these holes which I had fished so hard on my way to the honey hole. The right fly was the game changer it seemed. I took my time and landed a dozen fish and hooked twice as many on my way back.

       While my trail merged with another, I spoke with a fly fisherman who was just getting back from fishing upstream. We exchanged info. In that I learned he hadn't had the great day that I did. The empty hole in my soul was now stuffed with satisfaction of a day well fished. We walked back to our cars together talking about what a great day we had. I showed him what I had used to catch my trout and he was happy to be informed. We had a lot in common I realized in just those few minutes we chatted. We were the few who yearn for such days, and the only ones taking advantage of this particular day. I knew that despite this older gentlemen being skunked, he had just as great of a day as I did. I took a moment to reflect these thoughts. More often than not we're out there alone. It's either a guide with a client or a couple when I see pairs. I love this place because of fly fishing, if not for fly fishing I wouldn't fully experience it. I feel fortunate to have discovered the world of fly fishing and trout in big sky country. Fly fishing has mended with my spirit just like the connection of a mighty trout through a fly rod.          Tight lines all!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Very 101 Dry Fly Discussion, Part 1

Heavy caddis hatch on the Madison River
           Throughout my trout fishing adventure I've learned many things. Like anyone stepping into a new hobby, I wasn't sure how I would respond to the learning process. I was worried I would invest a good amount of time and money into something I would later end up not enjoying. I had the idea that I could always resort to my spinning reel if all else failed. The first few months into my fly fishing odyssey I had a lot of doubt. I was ever so frustrated and I didnt have the patience it seemed to require. Many aspects brought me down such as not catching as many fish, spending more time retying tangled leaders and learning to cast with so many variables. All of these barriers must be experienced before moving onto the next steps . I've got my casting down, I know the basic flies to use and I can read the water to find the fish. I succeeded in the basics without giving up. The days that the few flies I had would not work, would give me a feeling of loss, all the while I was making two hundred casts each day. Even though I may not have been catching the high numbers of fish I had anticipated, I was still getting a lot of important casting practice. It doesn't matter which fly you use if you cant put your line where you want it.

              Now that I have the hardest part behind me I can look forward to the great world that fly fishing is.  I spent so many hours focusing on the basics in that first year that I hadn't had time to remember all the vast possibilities that are out there; dry fly fishing is one of them. I was re-introduced to dry flies by a friend during the summer of '13, and this particular day we had a grand time. We stood in the East Gallatin around five o'clock pm.. The two of us had rigged the usual double nymph style set up and were ready to fish. We noticed a lot of bugs flying around and the fish were rising every so often. My trout stalking accomplice suggested its time to put on a dry fly, and with his many more years experience, I happily obliged. My first cast landed a twelve inch brownie. I positioned my elk hair caddis just along the inside of a small eddie. Within only five feet and in the blink of an eye the trout took my fly. My fishing partner tied on a #16 yellow stimulator and was catching them every third cast. The fish were turned on as a thunderstorm was off in the distance, swirling towards us. A few hours later my company left. I was having such a good time I stayed a couple hours more. I walked back down river and fished the whole section all over again and had great success. I can thank my friend and a tiny little fly called the elk hair caddis for the excellent fishing that day.
Caddisfly clinging near the Gallatin River

        The next few days I reminisced about the top water action I enjoyed so much. It felt like I had a child pulling at my pant leg each day, always on my mind. I was yearning for the dry fly bite again. I hooked into some good fish one evening and did again the next day on the same stretch. I had set myself up for some serious trial and error, learning along the way. I was avidly keeping mental notes on what and where would and wouldn't produce fish. I had probably caught anywhere between fifteen and twenty fish each day and lost twice as many. It seemed the fish were growing ever so aware of what I was throwing and I had to switch through half a dozen or so colors and patterns. The third day my fly of choice was a # 18 olive adams dry fly. I remember seeing a few mayflies on the surface being taken by trout. The caddis out numbered the mayflies 20:1 but fish were eagerly coming to the surface for my adams.

            You may have heard the phrase "matching the hatch" before. Well how important is it to match the hatch? Since this is a 101 article, I am going to keep it simple for now. When it comes to using dry flies, you need to know what insect it represents. Some flies imitate a broad range of flying bugs while others hone in on one specific insect. So besides the shape of the fly, the right color and the right size are also very important. There are a handful of dry fly patterns that will work well on any given day. Chances are, If you happen to have a few of these flies in your box, and the trout are rising, you wont be displeased.

                  Elk Hair Caddis #'s 20-14 dark/tan
                  Parachute Adams #'s 20-14 dark colors, olive, tan
                  Stimulator #20-16 orange
                  Blue Winged Olive #'s 22-18
                  Royal Wulff #'s 22-14
                  Griffiths Gnat #'s 22-14 dry fly/emerger

Adams dry fly, East Gallatin Cutbow
Elk hair caddis, East Gallatin

          As a beginner, like myself, its difficult to look at an insect and know exactly what species it is. There are so many species of flies that hatch and emerge at certain times of the day, it can be very important to understand what the trout are eating during that hour. Its not completely necessary to know, but this ability will give you more options when you're out on the water or the trout are being picky. My general knowledge of dry flies has taught me a few things. The five major insects groups that trout eat are midges, mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and salmonflies. Each one has many different species which vary in size and color. It wouldnt hurt for a beginner fly fisherman to do some research on these five groups and be able to identify them while out in the water. This could mean the difference between putting on an elk hair caddis or a parachute adams. Once the you've found out whats flying around, you can start to look for a pattern that imitates not only the shape, but also the right size and color of whats on the menu. The reward will be worth it!

        The more pressure I put on the fish, the harder they were to catch later. They would no longer come up to eat my peacock elk hair caddis like the first day. Many more days I returned for the hot action and it seemed that the fish had simply seen too many elk hair caddis flies. The general shape of the elk hair caddis is good for imitating all sorts of caddis species. The trout were smart and realized this was no longer meeting their requirements. They were more hesitant to take their time looking at the fly before wolfing it down. Not to say this stretch of heavily hit river will be void of all elk hair caddis action, but the older fish become more finicky and more specific patterns need to be presented. I will add that my friend and I were probably the first to heavily fish this section of river since early winter the previous year. The fish, like I said, were becoming more specific in their needs; This occurs day to day throughout the year. What worked one day wouldn't catch any fish the next, etc. The more flies a person can keep in their vest or bag will increase the odds if that person knows how to use them.