Journal notes from quality destinations across the country...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hoping Winter Won't Be Long

I suppose I first recognized that my winter was upon me when I tucked my boat into storage a couple weeks ago. Then came the rains of November and cooler temperatures in the 40's. And last weekend found me at the tying bench, replenishing supplies of Sealbuggers, Clouser Minnows, and Stimulators...

That pretty much confirms it.

And then tonight, just for fun, I threw together a few photo's and put them to music as a way of remembering this past year. It was a fun season even if it went too fast.

Here's to the passing of a couple months and an excuse to get back out there. Maybe my favorite lakes will thaw earlier this year...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The End of the Year is Approaching

As we head into mid-November and think of holidays instead of fish (at least some of us do), there is one bright spot in my fishing season yet to occur. That is the completion of my annual journal which I use as way to document and remember my trips. It's also intended to be a way for my boys to remember our times together on the water. Last year I published my journal as a small book. This year I am using a magazine format.

I'm looking forward to sharing this with friends and family as a Christmas gift. The 68 pages of photo's will cover trips to Amber Lake, Omak Lake, Puget Sound, and several Idaho rivers with brief mention of other destinations along the way. I've also thrown in some opinion, news, and pictorials.

This should be a fun edition and marks the 15th year for the Fly Fishing Journal. Tommy and Terry, my teenage sons, have contributed a lot of photographs to this year's edition and I was grateful for their company as well as the company of the many friends who joined us along the way.

Here's to another great year in 2010...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kalama River Steelhead

My sixteen year-old son was sitting on a large rock yesterday at the top of a deep run. A few casts later the line went tight in the current and he felt a bump. Recasting, he felt it again and then eventually set the hook on what had to be a nice fish. It pulled hard and flashed in the hole before giving the fly back. But sometimes providence is on your side and another cast resulted in another take and this time he had the fish hooked good.

After a long fight he eventually held up a thirty-inch, bright and fresh Steelhead. It had to be 10+ pounds. A real beauty.

Some guys fish a long time for a moment like this (me being one of them). Terry caught his two hours into the day. He doesn't know how good he has it.

Or maybe he does.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Idaho in the Fall

Well, a week on the road in September can take a lot out of you but there's no doubt that it was worth it. My oldest, Tommy, came along and we fished four rivers in five days throughout a large part of north-central Idaho. 1,400 miles on the Tahoe proved we'd gone a long way...

Monday started on the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Tuesday was the Lochsa River. Wednesday saw us hiking on the Selway River. Thursday and Friday were spent up the north fork on Moose Creek. These rivers are all part of the Clearwater drainage which covers 9,600 square miles of beautiful countryside. Seventy percent of the area is forested and most is undeveloped. Much of it sits as it would have looked when Louis and Clark came through this area 200 years ago.

Of course, our target was the beautiful Westslope Cutthroat, which I consider just about the prettiest fish on the planet. The last afternoon of our last day offers a good example of what our trip was like.

Tommy had just come back from a hike up Osier Creek and we were packing up camp in preparation for heading homeward later. First, we would hit a couple more holes on Moose Creek.

Parking on the shoulder of the one-lane, dirt road, we grabbed our gear and went down the hillside toward the creek. We made our way through tall scrub brush that was already beginning to show signs of fall coloring. Coming out on a gravel bar next to the creek, it was only fifteen feet across to a steep rock wall that made up the opposite shoreline and created a deep green hole. The riffle at the top of the hole looked perfect but obvious signs of risers in the deeper water got Tommy's attention right away.

I sat down on a rock and leaned my rod against a bush while Tommy shook out some line. He made a modified steeple cast to clear the brush behind him and put a small Caddis pattern at the top of the deep slick. The fly drifted along and then quickly showed drag. Tom lifted up and recast, throwing in a mend to extend the drift. His fly went down to the lower end of the hole and a fish rose up after it was well past and took something else just beneath the surface. It was apparent that the fly wasn't tempting anyone.

"Wanna try something else?" I asked.

"Like what?"

"Swap rods with me. I have a beetle tied on."

Tom stepped over and traded his 3-weight for my 4-weight. He cast to the top of the run, into the middle of that inviting riffle. The fly showed drag again and he recast. Throwing in a downstream mend, the fly went about a foot before Tommy quickly lifted the rod to the sky and set the hook on a fiesty trout. He played him for a minute and then beached him. I took pictures while Tom worked to get the fly back and release the fish.

"That is a good one." I said. "How big?"

"Thirteen and a half." He replied, obviously quite happy.

Fish on these mountain creeks don't tend to get any bigger than about 16 inches so this was one of the good ones.

Releasing the fish and standing back up, he blew water from the beetle.

"Ready to try one more hole before we go?..."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Summer Is Over - Shouldn't We Be Sad?

September in the Seattle area means shorter days and darkness by 8pm... The nights are cooler now and it leaves one with the feeling that fall will soon be here. This is usually when a lot of people become melancholy and regret how fast the summer has passed.

But not us fly fishers! The onset of fall means the fishing is about to amp up and we can't wait. For myself, I've already got a late September trip to Idaho planned that should include wonderful fall colors and hungry Cutthroat trout beefing up before winter arrives. Those are the components that make for a great trip and we are excited to go.

Some lakes here in the home state will also see fat trout going on a feeding spree and I hope to take full advantage. I am also dreaming of a way to again fit in Steelhead this fall.

The possibilities are almost endless and I'll post the successes and the failures...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

August was a very Pink Month

When all was said and done, my first attempt to target the Pinks in Puget Sound was quite successful. I went out six times on trips that ranged from no success to great success. My first trip was all of 90 minutes. The first week of August, Tommy and I had a short window of opportunity and we were determined to scout out Commencement Bay so we would be ready and able when the run peaked. We found our way over to the beaches between Dash Point and Browns point and got the lay of the land but the little bit of fishing we did resulted in zero bites.

My second trip followed a couple days later and was almost as brief but there in the boat was my very first Pink Salmon. As I described in my prior post, it was about 3 pounds and I was grinning from ear to ear. After all, I own a saltwater bay boat. Catching fish in the salt was the very thing I hoped to accomplish and here I'd finally done it. I was quite happy. I was even using a pink and white Clouser pattern that I'd tied myself.

Two weeks later on my third trip, I was out with Tommy and Terry for most of the morning and we boated eight fish between us.

Then the next day we hit the peak. Terry and I had 7 doubles that day and we lost a lot of fish but still boated 16 Pinks in total.

Then it tapered off with my last trip taking me back down to zero during the first week of September. I tried for several hours that day but got not even a nibble.

So I called it and decided I was done. Done until 2011, anyways...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gray Skies, Pink Fish

One morning on the water resulted in my first Pink Salmon in Puget Sound. My oldest son, Tommy, and I launched the boat at 7am and headed across Commencement Bay near Tacoma. Just down from Dash Point, we saw periodic fish boiling as they moved south along the shoreline, headed for the Puyallup River where they will eventually spawn.

We kept the boat in 10 feet of water and, on an outgoing tide, cast toward shore. We stripped pink and white Clouser and Shrimp patterns back to the boat with a medium-to-slow retrieve. At one point, I felt my line hang up and then I saw three fish boil at about the spot where I knew my fly was. I'd obviously got in front of a small pod and surprised them all when the hook set.

I stripped quickly and got the fiesty three-pounder on the reel. Tommy netted him as I grinned from ear to ear and he snapped a few photos. I've never targeted Salmon in Puget Sound and this was a victory for me. Across the bay were guys catching 30 pound Kings on down-riggers but this fish, taken on the fly, was all I needed and I couldn't have been happier.

As the run continues to grow we will come back and try again. 5 Million Pinks are supposed to make their way through Puget Sound so our odds should improve in the next week or so. Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

One Man's Swamp is Another's Adventure

Recently, three teenagers and one middle-aged dad decided on some late evening exploration. My boys, Tommy and Terry, had their cousin over for a week and they wanted to take him bass fishing on the old pond in the woods where I took them several times during their gradeschool and junior high years.

This was no average pond. First, it was a pond I fished when I was in high school so there's some tradition involved. Second, this pond sits in the middle of a real life swamp. One of those places that most people just never go. When I was young the woods around it was logged and there was an old logging road that ran down to the edge of the swamp. From there, logs and old tires made a path through the mucky water out to where the pond sat in the middle of the small valley.

Of course, the years went by and the woods grew back up. When I took my boys back several years ago the old logging road was overgrown but we still found it and made our way down to the pond.

This time, however, the old signs were completely gone. Let's just say that you know you're getting old when you can remember a place being logged twice. We showed up at the usual spot and found all the trees gone, logged clear down the hill to within 50 yards of the swamp. The old logging road that we used to look for had been wiped clean and we knew it was going to be difficult to find that one access point that would get us out through the swamp and over to the pond. The boys began to immediately argue about where they thought the old trail used to be. I thought I knew, too, but I decided to stay quiet and told them they could figure it out. Such exploration and searching is a young man's game and there are far too few of our youth who know it. I would rather follow my boys in circles through the trees and brambles than let them grow up without knowing how to find their way, cut a trail, and read the woods and landscape. I would follow them.

Tommy took us down the edge of the clear cut and headed into the small strip of woods along the edge of the swamp. It was immediately apparent why we'd always headed for that one trail. The brush, trees, and briars grew thick in the swamp and at the first point where we came to it's edge we saw that it would take hours to hack our way through the vegetation, not to mention wading in filthy water that would have mud holes and other surprises waiting for us.

We conferred for a bit about what to do. From experience, I told the boys that it was 7:30 and the Black Bass in the pond would stop biting around 8:30, thirty minutes before it would get dark. That meant we weren't likely to find the trail and get out to the pond in time to catch some fish before they stopped biting. They agreed it didn't matter - they wanted to at least see it.

They asked me where I thought the trail was and I said my old compass was telling me that we were about 300 yards too far down water's edge. I suggested we just head in the general direction I was thinking and see if we cut across anything that might look like the old logging road. Everyone agreed and my youngest led off, taking an obvious deer path along the edge of the treeline.

After a while, Terry called out.

"This looks like an old road!"

I caught up with him and saw the low ground cover, sword ferns, and vines that were obviously covering an old road. Vine Maple hung over it from both sides. We looked at each other excitedly and took a ninety degree turn toward the water. Thirty yards later we were standing on the water's edge, looking at an obvious path through the thick growth.

"Looks like we came about 300 yards." Tommy said to no one in particular.

That was all the acknowledgement the old man was going to get for getting it right. Of course, I shouldn't think too highly of myself. If I'd only taken a look at the satellite photos on Google before we left, this wouldn't have been a problem. But then solving these issues the old-fashioned way by using our minds and our sense of direction was a lot more satisfying...

About then we realized we had another issue. This had been a hard, wet winter. The swamp was two feet higher than I was used to seeing it. That meant all the old logs and tires were submerged and we were going to get wet, not to mention muddy, navigating this path. I asked the boys what they wanted to do and everyone agreed we had come too far to let a little water hold us back so into the black water we stepped...

The boys had been trying to scare their cousin with stories of the pitfalls to be found in this swamp. The first unique characteristic of the pond is that the shoreline is made up of tightly woven grass, moss, and bushes. The entire shoreline around the small lake floats on top of the water. As you follow the trail out, you walk across muddy, submerged ground until you get near the pond and you step up onto that blanket of vegetation. When you walk out to the edge to make a cast, you see that your weight is causing the grass beneath you to begin slowly sinking into the pond. It holds your weight but it will continue to sink and soon you are standing in a foot of water.

Second, this floating shoreline is peppered with sink holes. When the boys were junior high age, we were walking the last few yards of the trail and had stepped up on to the vegetation. I stepped in a muddy spot in the trail and instantly sunk into the mud and into the lake beneath. fortunately, only one leg went into the hole so I fell forward and caught myself but in that heartbeat that entire leg had sunk clear up to my waist. The boys were young and already freaked out a little by this creepy place. That brief episode merely cemented their opinion that this place was dangerous. Of course, dangerous like a scary movie. You don't like it but you like the challenge and the creepy feeling you get being there. They would go on later to complain about how much it scared it them and beg me to take them back...

We carefully waded our way along and it only took a minute for the lead boy to bump a foot into the first log. We were then able to step up out of two feet of murky water and feel our way along the logs that were a mere foot under the water. We held onto the brush that grew tightly along the edge of the path so that we wouldn't slip off the logs and into an unseen sink hole. Of course, mud, water, and old logs make for slippery going and the boys would periodically slip off a log. Everyone would look to see if the unlucky guy was going to catch his footing in two feet of water or disappear up to his waist in a mudhole.

We were almost through the swamp and up to the edge of the lake when the boys pointed out the very sink hole that I'd gone into all those years before. Their cousin looked at it as we walked around it. He stepped a little close, on a spot where he thought it looked dry enough to step, and, slurp, he was in up to his waist. Everyone called out and he leaned forward and pulled himself out. Tommy couldn't believe it.

"Didn't we just say 'look out for that spot?!'"

Hey, what's a little adventure without a little peril?

After all the searching and the slog through the wet swamp, it was already 8:30. The mosquitoes were out and we made jokes about being carried off by some of the bigger ones. We rigged up a dry line and a fat popper and took a few casts but we knew we were too late. The bass had gone to bed. After 20 minutes of trying at three different spots along the lake we broke down the rod and made our way out.

We didn't mind missing out on the fish. After all, we had just successfully accomplished a great suburban adventure and had actually found the old pond.

It should be noted that, once again, the fish were just the reason for going...

Below: one fish taken the first year I brought the boys to see this place (2003).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Small Pleasures

Of course, by "small" I mean Smallmouth. And they are a pleasure... After all, one of the prettiest settings in central Washington also offers some great fishing for mid-sized Bass. On one evening recently, I couldn't keep the fish off my line. I arrived late in the day and only had two and a half hours to fish before dark. I would be heading off for some big trout early the next morning so this brief time slot would have to satisfy me. Let's just say the results were surprising and prove why I keep coming back to Banks Lake: 18 fish in 2 1/2 hours - three of them pushing three pounds and all on various minnow and leach patterns in shallow water. Man, I love Smallies on the fly...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Goodbye to May - We Never Knew You...

The month of May is over and it was almost like we never experienced it. Oftentimes, it offered more of a late-winter feel than spring and all the fishing cycles and activity were late by many weeks. This weekend, however, that delay turned out to be a good thing. I went on a four-day road trip and met up with my eldest, Tommy, and our friend, David Dietrich. We did some fishing in the middle of the state and David talked us into spending a day on Omak Lake. The fish there were still in Spring mode and we found them cruising in relatively shallow water all day long. The water will soon warm into the mid and upper 60's and the fish will begin moving into deeper water but our late spring kept the window of opportunity open even as the month of May ended.

Big Lahontan Cutthroat prowl all over this lake and chow on the abundant bait fish. They can grow to very large sizes but average around 18-20 inches. We used minnow and leach patterns in two to ten feet of water and had steady action. Our biggest went 24 inches and maybe five pounds (photo below). Most that we caught were around 20 inches and three pounds, as seen in the photo of Tommy above. Nice fish...

It was 90+ degrees while we were on the water but the wind blew a bit to keep us cool and we almost had the place to ourselves. Definitely worth the effort and definitely a place we'll find an excuse to get back to...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spring has Sprung

Well, I've been out four times in the last four weeks. Three times on lakes and once on a river, all in my home state. Three weeks ago things were slow and lethargic and the local fly shops have been saying that the fishing cycle is about 4-6 weeks behind. Fishing in early May was sometimes like fishing in March. But I just got back from a lake last night where Spring seemed like it was finally in gear. There were sporadic sightings of Callibaetis Mayflies, Damsel nymphs (and adults), and bomber-sized midges. Exactly what the doctor ordered in a year which, so far, has been all about high water levels, cold temperatures, and lethargic trout.

I took a friend, Gary, out on a two-man pontoon boat and rowed him through some favorite places on the lake. He'd never fly fished before in his life and he was fed up with learning to cast in the front yard. He said he wanted to finally feel the weight of a fish on the end of his line and I was only too happy to oblige him. His casts were simple but improved as the day went on and he had the skills to get the job done, as proven by the fact that he landed several nice fish - the largest, pictured above, was eighteen inches and quite fat.

At one point in the afternoon, I had us within 30 feet of a grassy shoreline and was digging through a gear bag while my partner made a short cast toward shore with a wet fly on an intermediate sink line. I looked up and, just off the end of one oar, saw a plump Rainbow Trout arcing almost four feet in the air. It hadn't made a sound and it didn't seem real until I watched and heard it hit the water with a splash as it continued pulling against the line. I shouted excitedly, "Did you see that?!"

My buddy grinned and looked back at me momentarily as he continued to fight his fish.

"Yah," he replied, sarcastically. "I saw that."

Soon, in the net was another 17-incher. What a great way to welcome in the Spring. A beautiful and warm sunny day on the water with frisky fish feeding aggressively.

Spring couldn't be more welcome.

Monday, April 13, 2009

High Desert Lake in Washington

Last Friday was one of those "I've only got one day off" trips that starts at 5am and ends at 11pm with maybe six hours of fishing in the middle of it... David Dietrich, a friend, and my son, Terry, were in the Tahoe with me cruising east over the Cascade Mountains, headed for dry desert on the east side of the state. We were pulling my utility trailer with David's new 14-foot, 3-man pontoon boat strapped on. We planned to catch some Spring trout and be back in our beds almost before anyone had noticed we were gone.

We paused on the dry side to catch breakfast just after sunrise at a little cafe in Cle Elum but otherwise didn't stop until we got to our destination. The weatherman had predicted periodic rain showers but the sky was clear and the wind wasn't blowing as hard as we expected. We rigged up our rods and got the boat situated with sunshine on our faces and maybe a half-dozen other pontoon boats on the lake.

The water was cold and we knew, with the winter we'd had, that we were early for the good fishing but since the ice had been off the lake for two weeks now, we couldn't wait any longer. We went directly for the north end and found the back cove empty. We had the water all to ourselves the entire day and had a great time - one of the best opening days I've had in terms of satisfaction. I caught several nice fish in the 15-18 inch range and so did my companions. I spent most of the day on the oars and put the guys on hole after hole where I knew the fish would be. Of course, early on it was tough going. The water was cold and the fish were lethargic but we caught a few here and there. Enough to keep us interested.

Then came the late afternoon. The sun had been on the water for a good six hours and I had the lobster burn on the top of my head to prove it. I guided the boat into the back of the north cove where we could see the lily pads growing up within a foot or so of the surface - another week or two and they would have their leaves floating on top. I had my son try a black Sealbugger right over the top of the lily pads and up against the grass in shallow water maybe three feet deep.

Terry's fish hit him as hard as any had to that point in the day and we knew the afternoon bite was on. Within the next hour, David and Terry would hook up on seven or eight fish in the cove, landing six. It was like we'd been killing time all day waiting for the bite that we knew would come. What was surprising was that it lasted a little longer than normal. We caught fish fairly steadily for almost two hours.

David took over the oars about 5:00 pm to take us back to the boat launch. He offered to stop at one grassy point I am fond of and I was glad to get to make a couple casts toward shore. The wet winter had the level of the lake as high as I've ever seen it so the rocks on the point were all submerged but I cast right over the top of where I knew they'd be. I let my black Sealbugger sink for about a five count to give it time to get down above the rocks and then I began slowly stripping it back toward me. I brought it back a little and then paused to let it sink deeper as I drug the fly out into deeper water. I did this retrieve/pause technique about three times and then I felt my line hang up and start vibrating.

Fish on!

I stripped several times to get tension on the hook and then reeled up the slack so I could fight him on the reel. He ran for deeper water and I followed with the rod. After a few minutes he was in the net. All 17-inches of him and fat like a football.

I let the fish go and made a cast to the other side of the point. Several strips later I had another one, a twin to the first.

I love Spring trout...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's Getting on to Time

Sitting at the tying bench the last two nights, I notice that it's staying light until 8:00 now. You know what that means...

I've already booked two trips for this month with friends who are as anxious as I am to get out and do some Spring fishing. Triploid Rainbow Trout are calling my name and the almost 200 midge, scud, chironomid, and boatman patterns in my lake box confirm that I've done more than enough tying.

Five days from today and I will be on my first outing of 2009. I can't wait. I've got a couple new reels and a new rod to try out and they are ready to go. If you are luckier than I am then you've already started your new season. The winter here is staying a little later than usual this year so I haven't been in a hurry to get out. In fact, the lake we're headed to next week was frozen over ten days ago. So our timing is just about right. See you out there...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fly Fishing Film Tour

For me, this was my second year in attendance at the Fly Fishing Film Tour's stop in Seattle - this time around at the King Cat Theater on March 8th. Admitting openly now that I am part of an older generation of fly fishers, it is still fun to see the younger set gather to celebrate what I consider my sport. It's a bit like going to the zoo - I see strange creatures that aren't like me... I bring my boys and point and say things like, "look at those guys. They are dressed poorly but wear Costa Del Mar sunglasses and drink microbrews..."
At the end of the day, the spirit of Warren Miller is alive in a new sport niche and I couldn't be happier about it. I can't think of a better way to pass a cold winter day than to sit in a small theater with a few hundred guys who love the sport of fly fishing like I thought only I did. For two hours we were treated to highlights and clips from perhaps a dozen fly fishing films. This allowed the audience to travel from New Zealand to Canada, to Alaska, to Florida, to Turneffe Flats. You name it, they showed it. They even did a segment on the ever-growing popularity of Bass on a fly. Lots of fun.
The night was full of hooting and hollering. A loud "Yes!" would erupt from the crowd when the close-up showed a fat trout sipping a dry fly and a low "Ohhhh" would follow when a fish refused. Only here could you go to a theater and shout at the film and everyone expected it instead of frowning on it.
There are plenty more stops for the Tour yet to come around the country so check out the website for the calendar and catch it if you get a chance.
I am still slobbering from having seen the segment by Team Fly Boys on fat Steelhead sipping dry flies on a river in British Columbia. If Steelies were ever going to develop this habit it would have to be in pursuit of the big Green Drake hatch that we saw in the film (huge Mayflies) but it still boggles the mind to think someone found it and got into it. They must have caught ten of those big monsters in an hour and they did it all on dries. Wow...
Really, there is something for everyone at this event. Don't miss it...