places


Places. Special places. We all have them. They resonant with us for personal reasons. Many of mine are places with water, clear water, and fish. Places like the Salmon river in Malone, New York; a stream below an old covered bridge in Powerscourt, Quebec; a particular side channel on the Missouri river in Montana; coastal La Ribera, Baja; a Snook beach along the gulf coast, Florida; the Crowsnest River, Alberta. Some of the best brief, and not so brief, moments in my life have been standing, toes wet, in the middle of these places. Another such place is a river in New Zealand (NZ) that I wrote about it in my blog two years ago: https://troutondries.com/2017/11/18/high-plateau/.

In the High Plateau post I said there are rivers in NZ where I have caught bigger fish and rivers where I have seen more fish but in my mind the high plateau is still the most special. It’s the austere beauty of the place; it’s the wide open, wind swept, rolling grassland terrain the color of wheat, yellow ochre, and my golden retriever; it’s the long slow flat pools and bends; it’s the fact that I have to use all of my angling skills and sometimes fish to almost perfection in order to make a connection there; it’s the extreme wariness of the trout in the wide open land where an angler has no place to hide; it’s the challenge of the place…

This year I was fishing six hours away from the high plateau at the opposite end of the South Island.  Due to flooding and road closures I was unable to visit it the first week. However, every day I checked its flows. I checked and re-checked morning and night. They were always high; less than ideal. The river would drop. My optimism would rise. Then the flow would spike and all hope would be dashed. The route up to the high plateau is also a scary, switchback dirt road with no guard rails. With the heavy rain the region had been experiencing I knew it would be muddy and slick. I’ve driven it before in wet weather. I wondered whether I could make it up there. All year I had planned to return. I even rented a more expensive AWD vehicle to make the journey. I hoped to fish the sections I’ve been on in the past and then cover a few spots that I have never tried. Man plans, God laughs…

On my second week of the NZ trip I decided to venture south to the high plateau knowing that my chances due to conditions (continued rain) of catching a good one on a dry fly would be slim to none. And that proved true. I made the long drive crossing one raging river after another on the way down. The large glacier fed lakes I circumvented were white-capped, ocean like looking in temperament, and threatening to flood the roads and tourist towns on their edge. The wind blew, the clouds were low, and I drove through storm after storm. I got a tiny cabin rental at a holiday park for the night and then early the next morning I tackled the muddy, slippery switchback road up to the plateau. What normally takes me thirty minutes took one hour. But I got there. I brought along extra food, water, warm cloths, and my sleeping bag in case I got stuck and had to wait for things to dry out. My first day there it rained. It was cold for summertime. Snow collected on the hills that fringed the river valley. Surprisingly, water clarity wasn’t too bad but it was much higher and faster than when I fished it in other years. Many pools I had fished in the past weren’t really pools due to the higher flow. I knew of one exceptionally big and long pool, with a back eddy, where I thought I might find some slow, flat water and possibly a rising or cycling fish if  insects showed.

On the east side of the pool there is high ground. I’ve sat up there and watched the whole pool when conditions were ideal: blue skies and sun. No such luck my first day. I still went up. I could see into the water on my side of the river so I sat there and watched. Wild Hare grazed above and below me, most not noticing my presence. Eventually I spotted movement in the eddy: a large yellow toned trout feeding mainly below but occasionally rising. It was in the curl back of the eddy facing downstream. Sometimes, however, it would turn around and face and feed upstream. Its behavior suggested there was food but not enough for it to stay in just one tight feeding position. Due to its unpredictable movement approaching and fishing to it would be tricky. However, it was feeding and therefore I had a chance. And a chance is what it is all about.

cold on the plateau

 

When I dropped down from my perch I lost sight of the trout because of the grey skies and reflection. I had to wait for a rise. I chose an upstream position as most of the time the trout was looking downstream. I stayed real low, hugged the ground and waited for the a rise and then placed a small ant pattern nearby. I watched my impression and studied the mercurial surface for floating insects. There were some dark mayflies. Slightly larger than a Blue Winged Olive (BWO). I spotted a few even larger mayflies. Some but not a lot.

There was no response to my ant pattern so I let it drift back, gently picked it up and put on a size 14 BWO, tied parachute style with a black post for visibility. I waited for the fish to rise again and then tossed my second offering. I did this two or three times and then the rises stopped. I waited awhile then went back up to my perch to see if I could spot the fish again. After some time I located it. It was still in the eddy but down deep. I waited and watched but it never surfaced again. Eventually it disappeared. I had my chance. Day one.

I drove the slick winding descent home to my cabin and that night dried all of my gear with the little electric heater provided. Next morning it was sunny and I waited awhile for the road to hopefully dry-out. By mid-morning I made the journey back up to the plateau. This time it was a mix of sun and cloud. The wind was howling when I got up to the river. Flows were even higher due the previous day’s heavy rain. There was a car at the bridge so I drove on. As I passed through a large sheep station another car caught up to me. When I stopped to open a station gate the occupants of the car, anglers, asked me where I planned to fish. I told them. They said they’d fish the beat below me. I drove to the same location as the day before, however, there was a shiny pick-up truck with two long rod holders on its roof at the parking area. I arrived too late. In past seasons I’ve rarely seen another angler on the river. I usually have the water to myself. It’s one of the attractions of the place. Not so today. I would have to fish the top beat, which meant fast pocket water and rapids. With all the rain and high water it wasn’t a good sight-fishing option. I spent a fruitless morning on it and then drove the road back downstream at noon to see if the other anglers were still around. Their cars were gone so I jumped on one of the lower beats but saw nothing the rest of the day. That was day two.

On the way back to my car I spotted a rabbit that obviously had been crushed by an ATV. The nearby large sheep station appears to have been promoting tourism: a high end farm-stay type of business. I noticed they had half a dozen high performance looking ATV’s parked in a straight row outside of the guest accommodations. I had observed many tire tracks along the river something I had not seen in past seasons. Why they’d allow their guests to drive riverside, I don’t know. There are endless opportunities in the nearby hills. Tire tracks and ruts along a river are always disappointing to see. I’ve seen this scenario before at home. Mud ruts form, get deeper and grow, and fill with standing water. Subsequent riders follow the same path. The gouges don’t heal. They become permanent. The place starts looking used, abused and just plain ugly.


The third day I got up early and got to the big pool at 7:30-8:00 am. I had the place to myself. No cars anywhere. I had seen spinners hovering along the river the first rainy day I fished it and wondered if there was a morning or mid morning spinner fall. No such luck. The clouds were back but thankfully no rain. I watched the pool all morning. The same bugs hatched in the early afternoon but the fish never made an appearance. The flow was still high. I hung in until late afternoon, watched and when cold walked and checked the other nearby pools above and below but saw nothing. I thought maybe the great trout had been caught the day before and was down deep recovering; maybe it had been harassed and moved briefly elsewhere; I don’t know? I simply couldn’t find it again…

If you fly fish a lot you know that many days are like this, unlike what is generally reported in angling social media, videos, etc. People display their successes (I’m no different), rarely the times when they get ‘blanked”. When sight-fishing sometimes you simply just don’t see much; you don’t have a lot of opportunity; and you don’t catch. Sometimes you simply walk a lot; much more than you want to. Sometimes you get cold, wet, your nose runs and your fingers freeze, or you get blown off the water by extreme wind. It’s all part of it. I could have thrown streamers or chucked weighted nymphs and possibly improved my chances up on the High Plateau. Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not why I traveled to the plateau.

If you’ve fished for a long time you probably have a fairly rigid set of parameters which you operate by. You try catching in a certain way, pick water that matches your angling style, often fish certain specific/select flies that you like. Your way or choices are no better than any other way people fly fish or fish in general. It is just the place that you’ve come to. It is where you are after a long refinement process. It’s what you seek. It’s what you look for when you head out for a day on the water.

spinners in the sky

Periods of heavy rain were predicted for the next day and the day after. The flow on the river I had fished my first week, six hours north, was dropping and so I decided to make the drive back there late that afternoon. I was, however, satisfied with my return to the high plateau. I got back. I got back and in spite of all the weather adversity I had one good opportunity with one of the river’s large wild brown trout. One opportunity was enough.

The high plateau! Still the ultimate challenge. Still the best place I ever fished. I hope to return some day.

It’s good to have places…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

small flies

It’s September and it’s still all about small flies on the tailwater rivers I’ve been fishing all summer long. The occasional trout will grab a big fly like a grasshopper or dragonfly but most of the surface feeding is on the small stuff: PMD’s mainly, some size 18 and 20’s. This hatch is waning.

It has been mostly blue skies lately. No complaints as warm weather is always welcomed. Fishing is better on days with a mixed sky. Trout feed more actively when clouds block the sun and then vanish when the full light returns. Lately I spend as much time watching the sky as I do the river. Here’s a few trout spotted in early September.

size 18 Pmd’s

low light browns

“I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity”–Oprah

roman, brown trout on small dry fly, best of the weekend

Early August. Sunny, dry and hot. Summer finally arrived. A browning lawn, line-ups at the local ice cream shop…With the heat the top water fly fishing slowed down. Then this past weekend a prediction of a cool low front and rain moving in, and best of all, not much wind. Opportunity!? With the changing weather a visiting friend and I walked the well warn path along a favorite river, searched and found some rising fish. In the low light conditions we even located some great brown trout. As always, weather can either be an angler’s friend or foe. This past weekend it was our ally. We were present. We were observant. We were persistent. And we had a bit of luck…our small dry flies held on some great trout. Some photos…

photo by roman

 

successful dry fly during weekend, size 18 pmd, parachute

 

 

brown on size 18 pmd dry

 

brown trout caught by roman, photo by roman

 

brown on size 18 pmd dry, photo by roman

 

abby, drying off

 

deceased riverside pike…tail

 

roman, another great brown on dry fly

July- Rock Hopping

Summer took forever to get here. And what has arrived feels like an impostor; an anemic fake. No real consistent heat. Warm one day, cool the next. Wet wading in shorts one day then layers of fleece and a wool hat the next. And from time to time, some real heavy rain to make things muddy. It’s hard to get in sync with local streams given the dramatic variability of the weather. And with that, hatches have been inconsistent; they’ve been all over the place.

July weather

The good news is Crowsnest river fish are big this year. Other rivers that I have put time on have also produced, not many, but some memorable trout which required a chase and a lot of rock hopping. Quality over quantity. I’ll take that exchange any day of the week.

tailwater rainbow on size 14 pmd dry

The other day I found myself in the middle of an unexpected golden stone-fly hatch. The tailwater river I was on is not known for this large insect. If some do make an appearance it is usually in early summer, not late July. Then again everything is late. July is like June. Maybe August will be like July. Maybe August will be like September. Maybe…

I had no stone-fly impressions. I fished the same water the day before (in the cold and heavy rain) and tossed mainly miniscule size 18 BWO and PMD emergers to bulging trout. With the giant stones skittering the surface the trout wouldn’t look at anything but the big bug. Why would you eat a single Bon Bon when you can have a whole Snickers bar?!

I lucked upon a fellow and his friend fishing a soft spot on the river. He was kind enough to give me a yellow stimulator (golden stone impression) from his fly box. Shortly after I hooked a fine brown trout that took me way downstream. I chased, once again rock hopping a long way.

Many thanks to Scott Smith I believe from Edmonton. Here’s the brown I wouldn’t have caught without his generosity.

brown trout on dry fly

Also, photos of other trout taken sight-fishing with dry flies and some SW Alberta scenery from the past 3 weeks…

tailwater rainbow on size 16 ant
beautiful crowsnest river
crowsnest river brown trout on pmd dry by Joe F.
thick crowsnest bow on size 16 pmd dry
crowsnest river
tailwater cutthroat on size 18 bwo
crowsnest river
tailwater rainbow, Joe F.
crowsnest river
tailwater rainbow, same fish as 2nd one on post
Joe F. with another Crowsnest river brown on dry/emerger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

summer, june 30th

Summer. Warm. Long days. Great light for trout spotting. Trout are looking up. Main hatches on the tailwater river I’ve been on: little yellow stoneflies; pmd’s; some larger caddis. Here are a few trout taken sight fishing with dries this long weekend…

rainbow on caddis dry fly, size 12
caddis amber
brown trout on dry fly size 16 yellow stone
brown trout on dry fly

some

SOMEone flipped the switch at the end of August. September has been real cold so far. SOME mornings snow at elevation. SOME mornings right around zero. SOME mornings even colder. On Saturday it was 3C pretty much all day and foggy. SOME good Baetis hatches. SOME good fish have been looking up. SOME selective. SOME very, very selective. SOME frustration getting them to commit. SOME failure. SOME success. SOME brown trout. SOME photos from past two weekends. All trout, not SOME, taken on size 18 BWO’s.

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flies

size 18 BWO’s

 

bwnet

 

brwnleg

taken on hacklestacker BWO, size 18

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focused river guide

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broad tailwater and wind

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low challenging clear water on crowsnest river, fish landed below

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classic crowsnest river rainbow

 

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same brown below

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brown trout on size 18 parachute BWO

 

DIY Fly Fishing New Zealand: High Plateau

For three days in a row I drove the dirt switchback road all the way up to the high  plateau. That’s where the river was. I’d get up early. My campground breakfast: peanut butter on crackers, a banana and a lot of water. I’d always wake up parched. I never hydrate enough when I fish. Sometimes I even forget to eat.

z4

The car thermometer registered 2 or 3C in the mornings. Once in town I’d grab a large coffee, or two, for the drive. Then it was the slow climb up the switchback leaving the fruit trees and vineyards of the valley behind.

yes

In the morning there was always some fog or cloud at elevation and the temperature would drop. Prehistoric looking rock monoliths would appear and startle me as I made my way through the mist. I imagined Sherlock Holmes on the Moors in The Hound of Baskervilles, and a huge dog with glowing eyes on the hunt. I also imagined William Wallace and his clan on foot in the Highlands disappearing into the fog, eluding the English who were also on the hunt.

z1

After the summit it was a short steep drop with hairpin curves descending to the river. I kept my hands clutched to the wheel. It was low gear, foot riding the brake pedal all the way down…coffee sloshing and spilling. By the time I got to the crossing and pulled-over it was around 8:30 or 9:00 am and sub-zero, usually around  -4C. Cold. When I exited the car I immediately regretted not bringing waders on my trip.” Stupid is as stupid does”.

By then the top of the hills far to the west were just starting to catch the morning light. I’d watch the glow with envy. I’d have to wait some time before it travelled all the way to me and brought warmth. I was early. Too early. I’m always too early when I go fishing.

z6

I wrestled my wading boots on over heavy wool socks. They were still wet from fishing the previous day and stiff with the cold. On my first few steps I walked like Herman Munster. It was like I had cinder blocks on my feet. As I moved back and forth they loosened up a bit. I got the rest of my gear together. Fingerless fleece gloves made the task bearable in the cold. I checked and double checked to make sure I had everything. I didn’t want to have to come back to the car because of a forgotten item. I wanted a full day on the river. I wanted as much time as the light would offer. I’d be covering a lot of water and wanted to go in only one direction until late afternoon. Until the waning light would remind me it was time to turn around and boogaloo back.

Morning frost turned my boot tops icy white as I crossed a field on the way to the water. Grass hoppers, cicadas and other terrestrial bugs were sluggish, some seemingly in a deep sleep. I knew that would change. The sun would bring some of them back to life and trout would be on the look out for them.

z5

Briskly walking the river banks warmed me and then river crossings would make me cold again. Upstream I went, feet frozen, reading and memorizing the water as I travelled.

Then the sunlight finally reached the river. I embraced its warmth. It was like nourishment. With the sun’s energy I knew things would come alive. With the light flooding the river I was now able to sight-fish. I could begin my search in earnest. My search for Brown trout.

z2

Not much had been written about this river on the high plateau, or at least I couldn’t find much. Several years ago I did come across one good story which caught my attention and stayed with me. It was written by a fly fishing guide. He described the region as wide open, barren, inhospitable and prone to hostile weather, and said the river was moderate in size. For an angler walk-wading, mid-sized water is always welcomed as it is easy to negotiate and locate fish in. The author reported the river did not hold many trout but had some good ones, even a few trophies, and said it fished best at the beginning of the season. Here I was standing on its banks near the END of the season. Wrong time? I didn’t know. I felt there had to be some trout around. And they had to eat!?

z7

I could tell the river had been fished over all summer long. The path alongside it was well warned by wading boots and sheep hooves. With a six month fishing season and a lot of angling pressure, I knew the trout here would be on high alert. With the wide open (no place to hide) terrain I’d have to take my time and be stealthy. I didn’t want to scare the few trout that I might come across. Things were going to be challenging…

By the afternoon the temperature had climbed and I was comfortable. I walked and watched. When I could, I climbed riverside hills and searched from elevation. I continued to make my way upstream. Then it happened. I spotted one.

z

For three days I fished different sections of the river. Eventually I hit a gorge and it was time for me to stop. I never saw any one. The place was silent. Silent except for the comforting sound of the natural world. Every full day I’d get 2 maybe 3 chances at great trout. I think I averaged 1 or 2 to the net per day, all on dry flies. Although I caught some larger fish in a river further north and saw more of them in a famous river south, the trout in this river were the hottest, most spirited of my trip. I brought my energy and determination to the river every sub-zero morning and these Brown trout more than matched/equalled it. I frequently saw the backing on my fishing reel. Many months later I still keep thinking about two very memorable trout that out-dueled me.

zzz

In a region described as inhospitable, I felt at home. In a region described as barren, I found a great river and some amazing trout. The high plateau…best place I’ve ever fished.

zz

 

zzzzz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

brutal

I had the week off and decided to get out-of-town. It’s something I haven’t done since March. It was a quick trip down to Sun Valley, Idaho. A 12 hour drive for a family vacation along with some fishing on Silver Creek. I’ve waded this beautiful spring creek before and connected with some of its challenging trout.

The air was thick with smoke all the way to south central Idaho. Several towns we passed through on HWY 93 were on evacuation alert. It was burning in BC when we left. It was burning in Montana as we raced through. It was also burning in parts of Idaho when we arrived. Did I forgot to mention that things were burning?! Sun Valley was Smoke Valley for most of the week.

smoke

 

reel

no visible life

I fished downstream of the famous Silver Creek Preserve section as understandably  “no pets” are allowed on the hallowed water. There were few bugs on the lower section; few rises; inconsistent rises…one here, and then one there 10 minutes later. Brutal.

abbyw

excellent wading, no wake

 

abbysit

One morning a brief Trico hatch occurred (once the smoke cleared) which I appreciated but very few good fish broke the surface. Just a lot of little guys. Guppies. Brutal.

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the oxbow in smoke

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oxbow, clearing sky

I searched the banks for signs of life: water displacement, any indication of a good one prowling or sipping, or gulping a terrestrial bug or anything. I watched and watched while baking my brain in the intense heat. In desperation I even fished blind, covering water with grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, damsel flies…brutal.

irrig

cloud

Eventually I just had to accept the situation: that the fishing was poor and probably wouldn’t change during my brief visit. Things got easier after that (but not the fishing). At the end of the trip Smoke Valley cleared and beautiful Sun Valley returned. Our lungs breathed easier. My retriever stopped sneezing. I spent more time exploring the quaint town of Hailey, where we were staying, and a little less on the creek. I must say that if I had to pick one western town/region to drop into for three months every summer, and that was close to great fishing, this would be the spot.

rays

I caught several fish on the creek but managed only one good one in 4 days fishing. It was a brown trout, which was occasionally rising. It was one of the few good fish that I spotted. It took a small beetle. It was the prize of the week, and even more significant than it normally would have been, given how few opportunities there were to cast to large rising fish.

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We took a different route on the way home, driving interstate highways at a good clip after spraying our vehicle down with flame retardant (just kidding). Several areas we passed through were very smoky. Once we hit the Canadian border the smoke intensified. There was a fire racing through Waterton National Park. At home ashes were raining from the sky. Brutal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

man-eater brown trout

“Trashy novels always out sell the classics…tabloids out sell the Times”

bbrown

brown trout on size 16 dry fly

 

In the past three or four years I’ve written 100 plus posts on this blog. One post, above all, received significantly more attention (hits) than any other. It simply blew all the others away…10X more attention. Was the quality of the writing that much better?…”No”. Were the photographs super special or intriguing?…”No”. Were the trout huge?…”No”. Was I giving away cash?…”No”. It was simply the title. It contained the words, “French Assassins”. The post had nothing to do with espionage, mystery or murder. I was simply quoting a phrase/term used by an author in a slow-paced, gentle fly fishing book called, Chalkstream Chronicle, by Neil Patterson. It’s a great book. One of my all time favorites.

 

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faraway

rainbow on dry-fly, size 18 pmd

In one chapter Patterson describes how some French anglers in economically depressed war-time France, or just post war, survived by designing highly effective flies (killer patterns) for flat water creek fishing (difficult water) that allowed them to fool very discerning trout; I believe they were brown trout. If I remember the story correctly they either kept their families alive with the protein they caught from the streams or they sold the trout to restaurants in order to earn money when there was no employment opportunities in their ravaged homeland. Basically, they fished to survive and because of this they became very skilled and specialized at catching trout on their local water. Thus the term, “French Assassins”. The common feature of all of these flat water flies is that they were tied in a very sparse (airy/light) style.

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Abby, trout spotting from bluff

 

loopbwn

brown trout

best abby

 

I wonder how today’s tabloid title, “Man-eater Brown trout” will fare? More hits? I’ll see…

abbywind

scenery

handhead

rainbow, fly, size 18 pmd

Above and below are some brown and rainbow trout I caught and released over the last couple of weekends sight-fishing late July and early August. The angling was quite challenging. All trout were fooled on Pale Morning Duns (dry-fly/emerger patterns) size 18 and 16. I got lucky as some of the small fly hook-ups held. I also missed quite a few.

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rainbow

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simple dangling patterns, size 18, black wing for grey glare

 

upclose

close in rainbow

The Sock

“Keep calm and wear odd socks”

-David Spires

blurhead

rainbow caught on PMD by author

My fishing sock returned! I’ve missed it. We’ve been separated for 6 months. I accidentally left it in New Zealand in a rental car at Christchurch airport. My friend, Roman, found it when he thoroughly checked the hatchback of the rental before his return flight to Canada.

The sock travelled a great distance. It went from Crowsnest pass to South Island NZ, was worn daily on many great rivers, then travelled back to Canada with Roman to Ontario. There it stayed for several months, dry but very eager to wade and fish again.

The sock finally returned to its home, the Crowsnest Pass, when Roman came out for an angling trip, with his two boys, Christian and Daniel.

It’s a well-travelled neoprene Simms sock. Now ready for duty on my local streams. It has been reunited with the other one. A sort of balance has been resorted and all seems right with the world!

Here’s a photo of the international jet-setting sock looking happy to be home again…

sock

This past week I had the opportunity to fish with some friends: Joe, Roman, Rick, Christian, Daniel and our four-legged tag along, Abby. All good angling mates. Fishing at times was tough but at the end of the week we all caught some fish….and a few great ones I must say. All were taken on dries, mostly sight-fishing. The weather was good…summertime in SW Alberta.

Some memories from one week in July:

-Joe’s favorite line, “Hey Bobby, I’ve got another one on”. One of his browns and a rainbow were the prizes of the week.

bigbow

rainbow on a PMD dry fly

 

bigbr

brown on PMD dry

-The boys, Christian and Daniel, double hauling into the wind. Both great casters. They picked up some nice ones and ended their trip with a multiple fish day on a cutthroat stream. Their favorite lines: “Hey Bob can you pull my fly line through the rod tip” and “My fly is stuck in a bush, can you un-hook it for me”.  Some of their fish…

cbtrout

brown on dry

 

danielbow

electric cuttbow on beetle

 

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cutthroat on drake dry

Other memorable events: Rick casting from a seated position on the river; and the boys repeatedly asking their father, ” Can you untangle this”…

rivcross

river crossing

 

bull trout

Roman and Christian chasing a bull trout

 

groupshot

the group working a pool

 

abbywire

abby

 

hardday

long day

 

bobbrw

brown on beetle

bobbow

rainbow on dry fly

I hope to have the chance to fish with them again next summer…in the meantime I’m going to put on that happy sock and wade a local river.