Catch That Sound

pivot

With the cloudy, drizzly and calm weather predicted for the weekend I drove to the Missouri (M0) river anticipating a hatch of BWO’s. And presto, just like that, the little May Fly appeared. In spite of their teeming numbers a lot of the flat water sections I frequent year after year were void of rising trout. It was hard to believe the fish weren’t sipping on the tiny flies collecting in the more gentle/quiet areas of the river. They should have been on them like kids on candy!

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blue winged olives and perfect raindrop circles

I watched and waited but little happened. So eventually I went for a walk and hunted, and found some good fish in the Mo’s broad riffles, or more specifically, at the tail end of these sections where the riffles started to flatten out/expire.

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brown trout caught on dry fly

Most trout in these spots were focusing on emergers. This is usually the case. I saw many anglers wading right through these sections, never noticing the sometimes quite intense feeding and multiple fish. I’ve done the same in the past. It’s very easy to miss these fish with the grey glare that exists on such a wide river. Riffles also camouflage/mask any sort of surface disturbance made by trout. It can make spotting more challenging. Experience has taught me that if I just stand still and watch (when bugs are around) often I’ll see signs of feeding trout: bulging water or boils, or other subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, surface disturbances. Listening carefully can also save the day as some trout will break the surface and the odd one will occasionally eat on top. I often hear them before I see them. Once you catch that sound, you can then intensify your visual search.

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Although most fish were caught in the riffles and some tail-out spots on large pools, early in the day and then late I picked up a few good fish eating duns on the more enjoyable classic flat water sections. Most trout were caught on a Klinkhammer (body dangling below surface) style fly: dry/emerger. The best brown refused all my surface offerings and was hooked sight nymphing. The nice thing about this time of year is that if you see a fish moving water there is a chance it might be a brown trout as many of the river’s rainbows are still spawning in feeder creeks, and thus are absent. I catch some of my nicest browns in the Spring. Some rainbows were around as the photos show.

The Mo is an incredible sight fishing river. I hope to return in May or June… and Catch that Sound!

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I stayed overnight at Wolf Creek Angler, in Wolf Creek (great name for a town). Basic lodging and manageable price. They also have an excellent little fly shop.

last bwn

brown trout caught sight fishing with nymph

 

wca

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craig bar

Joe’s bar

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rainbow on dry fly

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Brown Trout on Dries

By perseverance the snail reached the Ark.

Charles Spurgeon

I spent the last two weekends fly fishing the Missouri river. The place was buzzing with anglers. The first weekend was cloudy and cool. The second one sunny. Not surprising the dry-fly angling was better when it was overcast. Trout are more likely to rise in low light. The main hatch: Blue Winged Olives; secondary hatch March Browns.

jet

anotherbrwn

brown trout

A lot of people nymph the river. Many also throw streamers to the banks while drift boating it. The river has such phenomenal insect life that I can’t imagine fishing it any other way than with a dry-fly when the conditions are favorable and the bugs are out. I find that walking the river in search of a few good rising fish is just about as exciting as trying to trick them with a fly. It’s the hunt! Any garage sale or flea market aficionado would understand.

longshot

flat side

dry fly side channel

 

pyrm

Missouri river

On this trip(s) I was trying to spot Brown trout. I eventually located a few good ones feeding in the shallows. I spent most of my time focused on one particular trout as it proved to be a challenging fish, at least for me. I spent more time than I care to say trying to fool it. I spooked it several times and then had to sit for long periods waiting for it to settle down and then reappear. Waiting was easier when my retriever, Brooke, was with me. She’d sit by my side often leaning against me while we watched the water and I’d occupy myself and let time pass by picking hundreds of burrs out of her thick golden coat. Her presence made me a better angler.

first week brw

brown trout

 

brown2 (1)

brown trout

I had hooked that particular trout a week ago but it tugged me around and eventually broke off. This weekend I pulled a fly out of its mouth, and then later “nicked it”. I did eventually land it on a size 18 olive…more perseverance than skill. Late afternoon shadow on the water pulled it out of its lair and it started feeding with more of a rhythm. A fish eating this way is easier to trick.

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olive hatch

 

goose eggs

perfection

 

bunny

riverside bush bunny

When I tried taking a picture of the trout my camera batteries failed. I did, however, manage to fiddle around and get a few shots. I would have liked to get more. I had spare double AA’s  in my pack but decided to release the fish as it took a fairly long time to land it.

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late april light snow

 

brown2 (2)

brown trout

 

ist week brw2

brown trout

Here are some trout (brown and a few rainbows) and western landscape pictures. It was nice to spend some long Spring days outside by the river and witness all of the life along it, and be part of it. All trout were caught sight fishing with small dry flies, size 18 olives, in shallow water.

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rainbow trout

 

match

trying to match the hatch

 

crawfish

crawfish

 

river trial

cold afternoon on favorite trail

 

sunrays

warm morning

art bow

rainbow trout

 

Betting on the Missouri!

I didn’t know how many days of fly fishing I’d get before the Polar Vortex caught up to me. Maybe one or two? I was heading south and it was on my tail. The weather report said it was big and ominous. From all the TV and Radio chatter it sounded like the thing had teeth and was chomping its way south. I was glad to be ahead of it. I crossed the border at Sunburst with the Sweet Grass Hills to the east. Then it was two hours of mostly flat, featureless terrain with absolutely no trees. The only sign of life and movement was the constant 80km wind blasting the prairie grass, Oil Jacks pumping away in the distance, and some Pronghorn Antelope on the run. Apparently they had also heard about the incoming vortex.

drkwind

A short while later I knew I was nearing Oilmont. I could smell the gas. It always smells of gas there even when the wind is at gale force. Your lungs tell you that what you’re breathing isn’t good for you. From sweet grass to sour gas all in thirty minutes. I speed up, hold my breath and wonder about the health of the locals. That’s if anyone is alive out there. I always think that if I did meet someone from Oilmont he’d look something like Daniel Day Lewis in the movie: There Will be Blood; and he’d be clenching a bowling pin.

glow reel

rainbow trout

 

Past Oilmont I saw more Pronghorn. They are amazing creatures. It seems they can live where nothing else can. They range from Baja and Sonora Mexico where they wear sombreros all the way into southern Alberta and Saskatchewan where they look smart in their white cowboy hats. They really look like they belong in Africa, somewhere out on the Serengeti. I’ve read they can take intense heat and cold, and can survive where there is almost no water. They are the second fastest land animal. Only the Cheetah stands higher on the podium in a sprint. Stretch out the race a bit and the Pronghorn takes gold…speed plus endurance.

storm sky

After a couple of hours crossing the flats it always feels good to arrive in the town of Great Falls. Seeing trees and buildings after the “big void” is always comforting. I’m always flabbergasted by the number of gambling establishments in this town. It seems every corner on the main commercial strip has a couple of VLT joints. They are attached to gas stations, convenience stores and motels. They have names like Cart Wheel casino, casino Emerald City, Lucky Lil’s and Diamond Lil’s. All of the windows in these establishments, if they have windows, are darkly tinted and have neon signs. The whole scene kind of looks secretive and seedy. And it always seems there are a dozen pick-up trucks parked outside at all times of the day; people hunched over the glowing machines from morning until night. You just know a lot of kids in the region are going to school without lunch money.

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grass trout

missouri river rainbow trout

 

On the south side of Great Falls I always stop at a Barnes and Noble (book store). It has big comfortable couches and is a great place to grab a coffee (in-house Starbucks) and a magazine after four and one half hours on the road. I purchased The Drake fly fishing magazine which sold as advertised for “5 bucks (no tax), $10.00 for bait fisherman”. After a quick break it’s just a 30 minute drive to the town of Craig, my angling destination.

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Missouri river rainbow

 

On this trip, Craig was a ghost town. Everyone had cleared out. Obviously they had heard a polar vortex was coming. Either that or they had migrated west to fish for Steelhead. The local restaurant was closed. Papa’s Burritos was boarded up. There were a couple of anglers walking around and one stray dog but that’s about it. Two of the three fly shops were open, but empty…no customers, well, except me. It’s a gamble fishing here this late in the season. Everything is weather dependent and November can be a dicey month.

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missouri river rainbow

 

The high wind made dry-fly angling real challenging. There were tumble weeds rolling in the streets and some even rotating in the river. I managed most of my fish on dries and a few on streamers when the wind completely took over. Someone once told me that, “The wind around here has issues”. How true.

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tumble weed

 

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tumble weed

 

There were some midges in the morning and tiny olives in the afternoon. There were no large olives this year. I spent most of my time hunting for calm water. I generally had to focus on a 2 or 3 foot wide section of placid water that often existed next to the shoreline/bank. That’s where fish could be spotted rising when there was a bit of a hatch. The rest of the river was often just too choppy. Every once in a while things would calm down and the river briefly became mirror-like and some fish would rise further out. These moments, however, were rare and fleeting. Angling time was also fleeting. Not much daylight at this time of year.

grasshalf

I fooled my best fish, a brown trout, and the only one of the trip, on a beetle. Success on a terrestrial pattern in the second week of November! Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the brown. As I was getting set up to “click, click” he bolted to deep water. He was a good one: fall colors and a hooked jaw. The fish of the trip. I did manage some nice rainbows, many of them sippers. If there are some bugs around and you make a commitment to patiently watch the water in the right spots, you’ll find trout rising on the Missouri. Unlike Lil’s it’s a sure bet.

snowdeck

cold front arrived

 

I got two days in before the polar vortex (cold air) hit. The morning after it was calm and I fished for a few hours and managed to catch a trout in sub-zero (C) weather on a midge dry. Then it was time to head home on the icy roads.

snow calm (1)

side channel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midges, Baetis and Burritos June 14,15,16,17-2014

“I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me”.

– Ray Bradbury

34 bwn

brown trout

flat water side

side channel: slow and low

I’m on a side channel of the Missouri river and I hear this fellow talking to someone. It sounds like he’s giving advice and directives, possibly to a kid. I can’t see them due to the willows but it is clear they are heading my way. Then they appear. It’s an angler in his early 40’s and a very young Golden Retriever. Now I get it. He is teaching his dog stream etiquette. I say hello and squat. The golden approaches me and I pet him. I followed it up with a big hug. He’s a real beauty, almost Irish Setter red, and only several months old. Welcoming the attention he leans against me. I press my face next to his and receive a lick on the cheek. Tears come to my eyes. The angler doesn’t notice as I’m wearing sun glasses and a long-billed cap. My retriever passed away in late February at age 16+.

rising fish

rising trout

big bow angle

rainbow trout

The angler is from Helena, Montana. We talk and realise we fish many of the same intimate locations on the big river. Eventually he asks me my favorite dry fly location. I hesitate, look at him and then tell the truth. He says the spot I identified is also his most revered. He then tells me he wrote the name of his last golden retriever, who lived to age 13, on the side of the bridge there. We talk for about ten minutes. We are like “kindred spirits”. The next day I walk to the bridge and find a very faded name: Kinnickinn. I hope I have spelled it right.

my tent

my tent next to 45ft RV

papas

papa’s burgers and burritos

It’s early. I’m at the angler parking area in the town of Craig, Montana. I’ve been camping for three days and last night it was cold and poured for several hours straight. It’s finally cleared and I’m absorbing the morning sun while eating a tasty breakfast burrito from Papa’s Burgers and Burritos, and enjoying a strong coffee. I’m also gearing up for the day ahead: pulling on my waders; sorting flies; tying up a new leader; etc. Trailered drift boats are passing every thirty seconds. It’s like a parade. The place is buzzing with activity. There is this guy sitting on a rock nearby eating a snack and drinking from a pop can. He eventually says to me with a smile, “I guess you are going fishing like everyone else”. I reply, “No, I’m getting ready to go shopping in downtown Helena”. We both laugh. I find out he’s on a canoe trip. Get this, he’s paddling from Twin Bridges Montana to Dallas. Yes, Texas! He’s taking the Missouri to the Mississippi, then eventually to the Red River where he’ll paddle the last leg upstream to Dallas where he lives. It’s a long way and multiply it by seven as all three rivers meander immensely. He’s originally from Boston. I tell him I spent most of my life in Montreal. We talk about the hockey rivalry between the two towns and about Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur. His vessel is Canadian made: Clipper Canoes from British Columbia. I’m going to follow his incredible river journey. Here’s his web site: canoevoyage.com.

midge dog

local wanting a taste of my breakfast burrito

subsurf bwn

brown trout

sun bwn

brown trout

I just spent three and one half days on the Missouri river. I fished midges and tiny olives (baetis), size 20. Only a couple of fish required a dropper. The last morning there I managed some nice trout in full sun on a small terrestrial pattern. On this trip I tried to focus on brown trout. On the Missouri they are significantly out-numbered by rainbows. It is surprising how challenging it is to differentiate between the two species even in shallow water, especially on those days when light conditions are less than ideal. I did manage more browns than usual as I committed to searching for them, often passing by some large rainbows along the way. Sight fishing with dries in shallow water is always exciting, challenging and intense. It’s all about watching the water and being sneaky. A lot of time was spent staying low, hunched or angling on my knees. And I missed more than I caught. Seeing trout up close react to an imitation is just simply the best. It’s what gets me up at 6 am, no alarm clock required.

thumb bwn (2)

brown trout

cows (1)

Missouri river valley

arc bow

rainbow

busy shop2

busy fly shop

 

 

 

 

The Rattler and the Ditch

Confidence is a fickle thing. Here one day, gone tomorrow. One day a baseball pitcher is “nibbling the corners” and striking everyone out, and the next outing he can’t find home plate. He wonders: “What happened…where did it all go?” Angling confidence can also be fleeting. One day you’re finding fish, casting accurately and landing everything, and the next outing you can’t even spot a minnow in your favorite pool, or as they say in some places out west, a “minner”. This past Friday I was on the Missouri river. The Blue Winged Olives were everywhere. It was a perfect Baetis day, overcast and occasional drizzle, and yet I couldn’t find a riser. The bugs were piling up in “tried and true” locations but the trout were illusive. The only explanation in my mind was the high flow rate. It was double what it was last year. May is generally an outstanding dry fly month on the Missouri.

goose eggs

With the high water I was also cut-off from much of the river. For the angler on foot the options were limited. I was prepared for the tough conditions. The Internet reports said the nymphing was good, the streamer fishing improving and the dry fly angling slow. When interpreting a fishing report “slow” means “poor”. I was prepared for “poor” and high flows and therefore had a back up plan. The next day I got up real early and drove further south to fish a spring creek I had heard about with the strange name, Darlington Ditch! I had read it was small water and very shallow. Shallow seemed a perfect alternative to the big flow I had been on. Maybe I could sight fish!

butterf (1) The Ditch runs parallel to the Madison river. From what I understand a dike or levee was built between the river and the creek to protect the ranching/farming valley from flooding when the Madison (big water) is in full run-off. When the dike was built the creek probably got altered a fair amount and straightened-out. And it stayed that way for many years. I found the Ditch. It was small, clear and looked promising. The morning was still, warm and sunny. I was in the beautiful Madison river valley and decided to walk the creek and sight fish.

mobw (2)

the ditch

At the anglers parking area the Ditch looked like it had recently been renovated: a stream restoration project. I figured I’d walk beyond where the work had been done to where it was more natural looking and untouched. After walking a mile or so I climbed the dike and from my elevated point looked further upstream. To my surprise the restoration work went on and on, and on. It looked like the whole creek had been re-shaped. I had spotted some trout so I decided to fish the creek.

butterf (2)

ditch brown

Before casting I took out a new can of spray sunscreen. I had difficulty twisting the top to the On position. It wouldn’t rotate and during my struggle spray shot out with the force and volume of a garden hose set on Jet. It blasted my left eye. I quickly dunked my face in the creek and open my eyes to flush them and continued doing this all morning. Eventually the burning subsided and I became more confident I wasn’t going to go blind.  I managed several trout on dry flies: browns and rainbows. I caught nothing big but the trout were healthy looking and colorful. I have read that the creek can hold some fairly large fish.

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the ditch

I wondered how the recent project had affected the trout as clearly a large excavator had done much of the work. The Pools had either been created or dredged and rocks had been placed on outer bends to provide structure. The renovation architects had shaped the creek in ongoing repetitive symmetrical S-curves. I knew some work had been done when I viewed the creek on Google Maps but I didn’t expect it had just happened, probably in the past year. The project had to have been quite intrusive and probably also affected the insect population.

bow2

missouri bow

mobw (1)

missouri brown

I have been on a number of rivers that have had sections restored or mitigated: the lower Crowsnest river in southwest Alberta; I was on Nelson spring creek in Paradise Valley the season after it was altered. Restoration companies understand the science of stream improvement and can make a fishery more productive but in my mind they often miss the mark on the aesthetic or artistic part of stream design. Sometimes their creations seem strikingly artificial (obvious) and repetitive. I would think subtle or small alterations could improve trout habitat just as effectively but they often seem to “Go big”. Maybe they need to consider having an artist on board during the early stages of stream re-design to create something more aesthetic and in tune with the landscape. I’m ok with S-curves as most spring creeks meander. What I have some difficulty with is carbon copy S-curve after S-curve going off into infinity. It seems a bit much. That said, I appreciate the work they did on the Ditch and that they felt there was value in doing it. In a couple of seasons I think the Ditch, once nature takes over and it matures, will be a great place to fish for those who love small stream angling. It will also, in its own way, be beautiful. I’ll definitely go back.

bow1

missouri bow

After a morning on the Ditch I decided to walk the top of the dike back to my car. While strolling along and taking in the surroundings I heard a terrifying sound that went right through me. It was a fusion of hissing, screeching, buzzing and a rattle. Think of the sound the Raptors made in Jurassic Park. I stopped and turned.  There was a five foot rattlesnake staring at me and coiled. I had just walked by it. A foot more to my right and it would have probably struck me. I’ve seen other rattlesnakes in Montana usually while walking train tracks. This was the closest I had come to one.

snake

rattlesnake

I wondered what I would have done if I got bit. Prairie rattlers generally are not lethal unless you are one of the unfortunate ones who react badly to the venom. I’ve survived two scorpion bites in Baja but that is another story. I guess if I was John Wayne I simply would have sucked the venom out of my leg (not advisable), shot the snake and cooked it over an open fire.

Given I was in the middle of nowhere and I’m not John Wayne, I probably would have panicked and driven a break neck speed to the nearest hospital in either Butte or Bozeman… probably Bozeman…better coffee shops. If I made it to the emergency room my skinny body would probably have been transformed into something resembling the Michelin Tire Man with a runny red left eye or one of those characters from the Eddie Murphy movie: the Clumps. Of course, by that time I’d also probably be delirious and singing something like, “Home on the Range”.

The next morning I returned to the Missouri and spent a full day on it. In the afternoon I spotted four good fish rising and connected with them using an emerger pattern. They were selective.

Somehow I got home intact from my adventure. And even though fishing was “slow” I managed some nice trout on dries… “Not a discouraging word was heard…”

side channel

missouri side channel