Cumulus Nebulous

My Oh My! October was a tough month. The most challenging one I can remember. Usually it is an outstanding time to be on the river. Some of the best fishing of the year. No such luck this Autumn. There were few BIG blue winged olives around. It was mainly just the small guys: size 20, 22, and smaller…the size of mosquitoes…no, miniature mosquitoes.

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Finding rising fish was also a challenge. I searched and searched. I drove from favorite river to river. My local water simply didn’t produce. It was hard to find a target.

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abby on home water

sidechan

calm morning on side channel

So I headed to the Missouri river (the Mo). I usually fish it in late October early November. Often it serves up a sensational BIG olive hatch around the time the World Series is on. However, like my local water, the Mo was tough going. Just the mini olives were out and not that many of them. Finding surface feeders was like trying to get a rally going in the World Series. Hits were few and far between. It was a low score game. I kind of suspected it was going to be a challenge as the fishing reports from the banks of the Mo weren’t clear. They were cloudy. They were nebulous…they were cumulus nebulous!

handfin

So, I walked around a lot, took some photos and persevered. I lowered my expectations. With the fast ball pitcher on the mound throwing at 100 mph I didn’t try to hit it out of the park. I shortened my swing and just tried to make contact. I eventually caught a few good rainbows on tiny dries; a simple little hackle pattern, clipped on the bottom to ride low…a half hackle. A photo of it turned out blurry. As I said October has been a tough month.

Looks like the season is done. Someone’s dimming the lights but I’m not ready to go home. I’m going to have to book a winter angling trip somewhere…

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beautiful anglers path

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longshot

cattle

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track

railway path along the Missouri

slimback

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early morning craig, montana

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riverside deer prints

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another side channel

Coulee Landscape

Some of my favorite sight fishing trout rivers run down in coulees out on the high dry plains. Here are some landscape photos from my last outing.

Coulee definition: Kind of a valley or drainage zone. The word comes from the French Canadian coulee, from the French word couler meaning “to flow”.

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searching for trout, looking into the flow

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looking up

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still looking up

 

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gull skull

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natural fin

beautiful trout dorsal fin

Bonefishing for Trout

There’s this river I go Bonefishing on. I don’t really catch Bones there, I catch trout. But it’s just like Bonefishing. The angling is all visual.

benchland

Around mid to late morning when the sun gets high in the sky I look for some shallow water areas that have a fairly light and uniform bottom; or as uniform as a trout stream bottom can get. The presence of trout and their movement is harder to detect when I’m walking so when I get to a promising location I sit or stand still and watch.

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The trout in this bonefishing river often move out of the deeper water into these shallows and prowl for food. They tend to cycle in and out of these spots. If I see one exiting such a location for deeper water I wait as it will probably be back. If you watch cycling trout for a while you soon realise they often repeat the same route or path over and over. If a trout disappears I plan for its return and strategize my approach and get ready to cast. It all sounds easy but with wary fish in clear shallow water on a bright sunny day, a lot can go wrong. Trout are always hypervigilant, especially for any kind of movement from above.

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clear sky and success

To spot these fish I look for movement. A blue sky with few or no clouds to create reflection is ideal. Clouds and sun can turn the river surface milky white blinding your vision. Light colored riverside cliffs are just like clouds, they reflect light and create glare when it is sunny. Dark cliffs with vegetation are good but unfortunately my favorite sight fishing river has little of this. I prefer river terrain that is flat and open on a sunny day so there is little around to reflect light. The neat thing about this angling style is that you can often sight fish even when there is no hatch occurring, and on my Bonefishing river there has been an unusual absence of bugs lately. This makes the game even more challenging.

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in bright sun cliffs like this cause blinding glare; river in distance

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I do best with this type of fishing when the river drops and I can wade across it in many areas. This allows me to take advantage of the changing light as the sun arcs throughout the day. A good spot late morning is probably not going to be as good mid-afternoon. Cross the river and you can sight fish again. The key is to use the light to your advantage so you have maximum vision and can spot movement. This type of angling is all about seeing. I move around until I can see real well and look for a section of river bottom where a fish will stand out.

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Once I spot a cycling fish I stay low and still. I often creep up on fish and cast from my knees. Drab clothing helps me blend in. A white shirt or hat in full sun is like waving a flag and causes trout to bolt. Forget about those shiney silver or gold fly reels. I also tuck away anything that glitters or shines on my vest or pack. I try to blend in, stay still, cast side arm and if I have to move for a better position I do so when the fish turns away from me or re-enters deep water. It is best to approach a fish from behind but often that’s not possible. I catch many from the side or feeding them the fly from above (downstream presentation). In these situations staying low, still and at some distance is even more important.

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eagle

My Bonefishing river harbours some great trout but not a lot of them and therefore on any given day you only get so many shots at a good fish. If you throw in a bit of cloud, some wind, intense summer heat and an absence of bugs, and some snooty/selective fish into the equation, then a hook up becomes even more special. I often come home from such an outing knees sore from crawling on hot river rocks and eyes tired. On my last outing I hooked several but only landed one.

 

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clouds rolling in, game over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sight fishing Easter Weekend

After a winter of fishing blind with a two handed rod it was a real pleasure to sight fish with a light 4wt rod and dry flies this past weekend. I spent two days walking and wading the Missouri river in Montana. I tossed midges all weekend and on a couple of occasions a small beetle. Most fish were on emergers (bulging the surface). A few could be found eating dries, especially when the wind died down in the flat water sections of the river. Some bulging fish could even be enticed to eat on top; however, many would not. A lot of the midges were clustering in the mid afternoon so cluster fly patterns worked fairly well. A few Blue Winged Olives were out but not many. This hatch should be developing soon which will make the dry fly angling easier. All of the fish below were caught on dries. I spent my time fishing flat, shallow sections; slow wading ankle deep water. Some great fish landed; many more missed. Some humbling moments. Trout fishing doesn’t get much more challenging or better. If you love dry fly fishing you owe it to yourself to one day visit this river.

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misty late day leaving the river

bbrown angle

brown trout on dry fly, beetle

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beetle fly, chewed

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craig, scene

 

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rainbow trout on dry fly

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craig fly shop

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shallow side channel

bbowfat

rainbow on dry fly

goose eggs

easter eggs on river island (goose eggs)

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rainbow trout on dry fly

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craig, montana

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caught on dry fly

horsehoes

horse shoe pit at local fly shop

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side channel

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another pic of brown trout

 

“Go And Catch a Trout”

“At one stage I fished the Yellow Breeches Creek, along which I lived, almost eight evenings a week.”

Charles K. Fox – This Wonderful World of Trout

beetle thumb

photo r dewey

GETTING GOOD PHOTOS OF TROUT IS ALWAYS CHALLENGING especially when you fish alone, which is what I do most of the time. Fish aren’t cooperative. After you land one you have to do a number of things in order to get a picture. All seem easy but aren’t, especially when you’re kneeling in moving water, and often in imperfect weather conditions. You have to gently control the fish; keep it in the water and unhook it; dig your camera out of a deep pocket; turn it on without dropping it into the river; focus the shot; ensure there is no water on the lens (I still have trouble with that one); check where the sun is in order to avoid shadow; etc. And you want to do all of this fast so that you can safely release the trout. I have had many great fish bolt on me before I got all of the aforementioned tasks done, and therefore missed a wanted image.

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photo r dewey

I was lucky this past August to have a photographer with me for part of an afternoon. I felt no pressure when I was directed to, “Go and catch a trout…I’m all set up to shoot”.

back shot

photo r dewey

 

running

photo r dewey

Although SW Alberta has great rivers, quite a few people fish here (angling pressure) and the trout are wild, wary and usually not easy. The river that I was sight fishing is especially challenging. It is a quality not quantity fishery. It runs through wide open terrain where it is often sunny and there are few places for an angler to hide. The trout are spooky; some even seem clairvoyant. In order to have a “crack” at a great fish you generally have to do things well. In mid summer when the water is low and clear the resident rainbows simply don’t tolerate mistakes and catching one on a dry-fly in my mind is always an accomplishment. Usually each good fish takes some time.

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photo r dewey

Well, shortly after being directed to, “Go and catch a trout”, I caught one! If you fish a lot you know that it doesn’t usually work out this way. I was lucky, things just came together. Having a photographer nearby made getting some nice shots so much easier. It simplified things. I just had to focus on safely handling the trout.

fish me

photo r dewey

What I like best about some of the images taken is that they show the girth of the trout. That’s something I have trouble capturing when I’m taking pictures by myself. The rainbow is quite representative of the ones I catch there. I have caught more large trout on small dries there than on any other river along the continental divide, either side of the Medicine Line. The place is an ace.

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photo r dewey

 

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phoro r dewey

 

 

 

 

 

Stillness, Prairie Scenes and Trout

“How we spend or days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

Annie Dillard

 

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river shelter

 

“Jeez, it looks like I’m not going to have a lot of time to fish this October. I better make the most of the weekends this month: September. The first week is already almost done. It’s done, done, done….done like dinner. The month is going fast. So I better get out there. The forecast is calling for good weather tomorrow and Sunday. Nothing but blue skies! How rare. Not much luck in that department all through the latter part of August. It will be perfect for sight fishing. Perfect for spotting trout, especially when the sun climbs high. Their dark backs will show up in the shallows. If it’s a little breezy I might spot a few good ones moving around. They’ll be looking for what the wind has delivered. They are always easier to see when they prowl. Motion gives them away. You just have to be patient and watch. You use the sun to your advantage and wait and watch. Forget casting. When you feel like tossing something out there just to do something, or because you feel you won’t catch unless your fly is on the water, just say “No”. You have to fish with your eyes, not your arm. Stillness is your best weapon. Forget about all the equipment and technology: the breathable waders, the fast action graphite rod, WF fly line, a long leader and all the rest. That’s all fine and good but stillness is where it’s at. You can’t worry about getting skunked. Worry about that and you start casting everywhere. Then you spook fish. You spook the real good ones. You cast right over fish you should have seen. You even wade right on top of them and see them bolt. I’ve been there. I still go there sometimes when I get impatient. When I’m in a hurry. When it’s not happening for me. It’s not a good place. Stillness is better. I better get out there this weekend. It has already snowed once. Winter is coming. It think it’s coming early this year. It’s knocking at my door. I kind of feel it’s stalking me. Once it hits it will be a long wait until next season. No, I better get out there. I’ll go and spend a day”.

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walk to river

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rainbow on dry fly

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river in distance

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rainbow on dry fly

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harvest time on prairies: convoy

rainbow trout on dry

rainbow trout on dry fly

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it’s windy on the eastern slopes, photo r. dewey

 

 

Browns on Dries

Some scenery and trout caught on dry flies on a windy Sunday afternoon. The river dropped a bit, it was clearer and some brown trout decided to rise.

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smooth hills riverside

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side chan

high water side channel

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windshield shot

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blur brown

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trout spotting cliffs

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

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Missouri river valley

arc bow

rainbow

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busy fly shop

 

 

 

 

“Don’t Look Back”

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My dog Brooke, a Golden Retriever, ran up to greet a group of Native men who had their backs to us. They were pitching big round river stones into the back of a pickup truck. Their work was noisy, rock thundering against metal, and they didn’t hear us coming. When she reached the first man he was bent over and preparing to lift a stone. She surprised him and he leaped in fear. Not knowing how he’d react, I called out that she was friendly and harmless. He later laughed and said that for a split second he thought my dog was a cougar… same color, similar size and we were in big cat country.

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The man said they were collecting the river stones for an upcoming Sweat Lodge (purification) ceremony at a Sun-dance or Pow Wow on the nearby reserve. He had a white bandana on his head and his face looked like he had lived a hundred lives. The other men stopped working and gathered around.

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They were from the Blood tribe, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, a proud plains people who were originally nomadic and followed the buffalo until everything changed. All had jet black hair. In their facial structure there was a trace of ancient Asia and I imagined they had just walked across the Bering straights.

They made a fuss over my dog, kneeling down and playing with her, and remarking about her friendly disposition. We talked about the upcoming Sweat for a while. They spoke about the ritual and said the stones they were collecting would be heated and water poured over them to create steam in an enclosed space. They spoke about people having visions in the intense heat and about other mysterious experiences.

They asked me questions about the river and its secrets saying they were hunters, not fishermen. I departed wishing them a successful ceremony and they said “good luck’ on the river.

As my dog and I headed upstream she kept looking back towards them. Every ten yards or so she’d pause and look back. Then I heard one of the men holler, “Don’t look back”! We both stopped and turned around. Then he said it again, “Don’t look back”. It was the white bandana man. He saw my puzzled expression and explained, “I name your dog, Don’t Look Back!” I nodded and waved goodbye.

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That was several years ago. The river I was on is a solid one hour drive south of my home and I always fish it from late summer through to the fall usually with grasshopper imitations until the first frost occurs. If you take your time on a sunny day and use the stream side bluffs and high banks to your advantage, you can sight fish. It is a challenging place as trout spotting is not always easy. You have to be observant. Over the years Don’t Look Back and I have spent some memorable days angling there. Although the region is predominated by rainbows and cutthroats, this river has some nice brown trout. Browns and the Blackfoot…that makes it special.

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