Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blizzards, Bighorn and Baetis!


The 2008 guide season is off to a furious pace and has left me with little time to sit and publish any journal entries for the past two weeks. It all got underway with a trip to the Bighorn where we had some very good fishing. The first two days of the trip were spent managing crowds and finding hot spots to fish on the ten mile float from 3 to B. I was paired with two great guys, one who had lots of experience and another who was pretty much a neophyte. Frank was a very nice guy who loved the sport of fly fishing and we turned his Buddie into a fly addict as well. At the time of this writing many of the clients are turning into one so I am having a senior moment, which shouldn't be happening to a man of 36, and I can't remember his name. Either way great progress was made on the casting front and the ability to detect a strike on an indicator. The fish were still very keyed in on midges and they were starting to respond to baetis nymphs fished on the bottom. Sow bugs and scuds were a major disappointment as the fish were not interested in them whatsoever, and that is strange on the Bighorn. Lots of fish were brought to net and the first two days were very successful. Day three brought a delima of trying to figure out where all the people were going to be. The Montana State board of Trout Unlimited had 27 guys on the river and there was also another internet message board of 10 guys on the river as well. You can also add in a group of 10 current and retired Vail Associates ski patrol, lift maintenance and higher ups that were on their annual Bighorn festival outing as well. These three groups in and of themselves made for a good number of boats on the water. I picked up Frank and his buddy and I made the decision to fish the upper three, in hopes of the crowds either floating the whole 13 miles or just fishing the lower 10. My plan came together great and we had a fun day fishing a different section of the river. The highlight of the last day was setting up in the Drum hole and seeing the first solid baetis hatch of the year on the Bighorn. The fish were on the adults strong and we managed to hook and land a decent number of fish on dries, which was a wonderful change from staring at a strike indicator for the first two days.


Upon arriving home I we were greeted with a nice winter storm that left us cold and wet. A couple days of getting gear back in shape and cleaning up from the Bighorn left me ready to set out on the next round of trips. The Orvis Rendezvous came to town and after collecting my free swag for sitting through a morning presentation about the Orvis company and their new Helios rod I set out with the boys from Breckenridge outfitters to float the Lower Madison. The river was dirty when we arrived and the skies were cold and over cast. We managed to turn up a half dozen nice fish on a black bugger trailed with a pink worm and as we hit the boat ramp to take out the snow flakes began to fly. It was only the start of three more days of cold wet weather on the rivers.


On Thursday the I awoke to horrible weather with temps in the mid 20's and 4 inches of new snow in the boat. I made the harrowing drive over the Bozeman Pass to meet my sports for the next two days. They were both new to the art of fly fishing and there was no way in hell that I was going to put them in a drift boat in 30 degree weather and a blizzard. After introductions and a quick discussion on the day ahead we called up Depuy's and got two rods so that we could use the warming huts to stay out of the weather. Rookies on the spring creeks is quite a challenge but it was much better than the alternative of sitting in the boat. Marty was fire fighter from a suburb of Chicago and his father in law Dick was a business man in the same area. They both wanted to give fly fishing a try and we spent most of the day working out the kinks of casting and how to control the line. They both made good strides and we had a great time trying to catch rising fish in Depuy's, which is rather difficult when 20 feet is a good cast. We did manage to land some fish and they both really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about how to use a fly rod.

Day Two brought more weather in and the day started with a trip to the car wash to spray out the left over snow and make room for more snow later in the day. We headed up the Yellowstone to the Grey Owl put in and the weather was similar to the day before, we had silver dollar size snow flakes falling but the air temp was a bit warmer and the wind was calm. The day started out with Rubberlegs and PT nymphs trailed under indicators. We fished the middle of the river and had a great time hooking whitefish and getting used to fighting fish. The sun broke out briefly as we hit the Paradise campground so we took a break and ate some lunch. We did managed to land a couple of trout before lunch along with a couple dozen whitefish. After lunch the baetis starting to pop and I tied on dry flies with small bead droppers. We pushed off from shore and we caught a few nice fish as we floated down the river. Dick broke off his flies at the irrigation pump and I dropped anchor to retie some more bugs on his rod. The fish were rising fast a furious in the small slot but the anchor had slipped and we were out of either of their casting ranges. I picked up the rod and gave them a lesson on how to make a reach cast. It took a good 40 foot cast to get to the fish and it took two cast to bring a small rainbow to the boat. I'm not big on bragging about my skills but both of their jaws were wide open and they were amazed with how easy I made it look. I gave the rod back to Dick and left them in astonishment over the skills of their guide. We pulled anchor and headed for the deep run above the YVR and the fish were going completely ape over baetis adults. The wind was howling as it pushed in a new front and casting was a bit difficult to say the least. After spending a half hour watching them struggle I decided to head down river to the hole across from the YVR where the wind would be more of a help than a hindrance. As I pushed through the fast water to the spot I knew they would be rising in the skies opened up with some of the largest snow flakes I have ever seen, and they were full of water. We hit the spot and the fish were going nuts. Dick had knee replacement surgery earlier in the year so I positioned the boat so he did not need to get out. Marty headed up stream of the boat and immediately started hooking one fish after another. Dick's first cast landed a nice cutthroat and they were both really excited to see a native fish from the river. The snow continued to fall for a half hour and the fish never let up until the sun popped out and melted the newly fallen snow. It was a glorious half hour and one I will not forget for a long time. We finished up the day with picking off a few more fish that were feeding on left over baetis and it was a very memorable trip for them both.

Saturday brought another set of clients from Southern California. I had set them up with my good friend Jamie for a float on Friday and they had floated the lower part of the Yellowstone and caught some nice fish on nymphs. They also got the privilege of freezing their tails off in the snow storm and when I arrived at the Murray to pick them up they still looked cold from the previous days float trip. They had a good time with Jamie and an even better story to tell me about the trip with him. Bill takes a bit of convincing to feel comfortable with some aspects of fishing and he was a bit skeptical of the guides he was setup for his trip to Montana. They were sitting in the Murray Bar on the night they had arrived in town and they met a woman at the bar. They were telling her that they were scheduled to go on a trip with some guides they did not know and that they were uncertain of the trip. The woman at the bar told them her husband was a guide and that if things didn't work out for them that her husband would do a great job for them. She ask them who they were supposed to fish with and they told her that the guides name was Jamie Benedickt. She got a big grin on her face and told them that this was her husband and the card she was pulling from her pocket book was his. They had a lot to talk about since Tina is a local wine rep for one of the distributors in town and Bill and Ramsay are both in the wine industry back in California. She also gave them some insider information to razz Jamie about and when they got in the boat with him they played with him for a few hours before letting him know they had drinks with his wife in the bar. Jamie was glad he did not make an ass out of himself and there day was fun despite the weather.


I picked them up at the Murray and we were off to Depuy's. Bill and Ramsay have both fished in a lot of places and they were very excited to get to challenge their skills on the famous waters of Depuy's Spring Creek. We started out at the lower hut and both of them hooked fish on nymphs right out of the gate. I knew they wanted to try their hand at some dry fly fishing and there were a good number of fish feeding on midges early on. We reeled up and headed for the pod of rising fish that had been above the pond a few days ago and when we got there the fish were feeding veraciously on the surface. We spent the next couple of hours fishing to rising fish and watching them sniff the fly and refuse it. Both of them were astonished by the selective fish and how tough they could be to catch. We pretty much worked them over for a few hours and it was time to head for the hut for a quick bite to eat. I pulled out the grill and quickly cooked up a nice flank steak that I had marinated in a special seasoning blend. They fished for a few minutes while I prepared the meal that fit nicely with a fine bottle of Etude Pinot. Since they were both wine experts I decided to dazzle them with a nice lunch and bottle of wine. It payed off when they both mentioned never having this good of a meal on a fishing trip. We finished up the feast and headed for the upper end of the creek in search of more rising fish. Not much was going on with the bright sunshine so I headed them to the slough where fish actively cruise and sip left over meals. It is a fun spot to fish since you can watch the fish move and try and position a cast in front of their path. Ramsay missed a nice rainbow and we watched a rather large brown trout makes his path around the slough. I told Ramsay that that was the fish I wanted to see him catch and low a behold ten minutes later he placed a perfect cast in front of the monster and the fish swam lazily towards the fly. I was pretty certain the fish was going to turn off the fly but he headed straight for it and Ramsay and I got to witness one of the most amazing rises I have seen in a long time. The fish was coming straight at us and he poked his head up out of the water and the whites of his mouth looked like a great white shark as he sipped in our midge offering. Ramsay made a nice calm hook set and the fish took off like a bat out of hell in the shallow water. The run was a bit much for the 6X tippet and the fly came back at us almost as quickly as the fish has eaten it. Even though we did not land the fish it was an amazing fish and I am sure Ramsay had a hard time falling asleep to the image of the fish's mouth open wide and sucking in his dry fly. I know I did. We finished off the day and I received a very nice email from Bill thanking me for a wonderful trip. I hope our July trip is just as successful and I look forward to sharing more of Montana with Bill and his guest.


Sunday left me a day to spend with family and a chance to relax from the week that was behind me. Reece and I hit the Hot Springs for a swim and spent the afternoon napping in front of the Television. It was a very relaxing day before setting back out on the water on Monday.


Monday was going to be an easy day with just one angler and a couple of dogs in the boat. Brian works for a company that supplies my wife's company with product and he wanted to get out and do a float. The weather forecast was promising warm weather, with temps in the low 70's and light winds. I picked him up at the Holiday Inn and we headed for the Yellowstone. When we got to Livingston the winds were not so light and I held my breath hoping it was just the gap wind that Livingston is famous for. I called in my shuttle to Toots and we headed for Pine Creek. When we arrived at Pine creek the wind was calm and the sun was warm and high in the sky. I was hoping the clouds would roll in for some baetis activity but it was not looking promising. There were only two other vehicles with trailers in the lot so I knew we would have much of the float to ourselves. Dave Mckee was already in the water ahead of us and the other group was in a raft. As I got the rods ready another vehicle pulled up and Dave and James Warren jumped out the vehicle. We chatted for a moment and I put the boat in the water. We started out nymphing with a Rubberleg and Blue Copper John. The fish were eating the copper john well and by 11 I made a stop to let the dogs out and to wade fish a small side channel. I looked closely at the rip rap on the other bank and noticed the first caddis of the season. It got my juices flowing knowing that we were on the verge of the annual mothers day caddis hatch in the days to come.


We caught several nice fish from the side channel and headed back for the boat. We were doing well with the copper john so I decided to leave the flies as is for the time being. As we floated along the next bank I started to see a few more caddis and we even had a few land in the boat. I pulled in at the next shelf and dropped anchor for Brian to make a few drifts through the deep drop. After missing one fish I decided to take a gamble and try fishing a caddis pupae just to see if the fish were looking for caddis at all yet. I switched out the rubber legs for a olive zonker and tied on a tan sparkle pupae. We pulled up anchor and stuck two fish back to back on the caddis pupae across from Charlie's old house that fell into the river during the 96 floods. I guess that my question had been answered and the fish were looking for the pupae and larvae already. The caddis continued to bounce around in small numbers and I started to have thoughts of grandeur about the hatch getting started. We fished down to the area where the river broke into the spring creeks and we had lunch in the deep slot above the fancy rip rap bank. There were few fish breaking the surface and it looked like they were eating emerging caddis. After lunch I rigged up my five weight with a royal stimulator and a tan pupae off the back. Brian managed to land a nice bow on the pupae and I told him we were going to dry fly or die for a little bit. The pupae took a few more fish but it was not really hot and heavy so I decided to switch to a larvae imitation instead. Bingo the fish responded right away and we spent the rest of the day picking off fish from heavy rip rap banks and deep shelves the rest of the float. The wind picked up about the time we hit Carters and there were few caddis still out and about. My thoughts of maybe catching the hatch right as it starts was dashed for the day but the fish were all over a mangy caddis and a king prince. We caught fish all the way to the 9th street take out and the day was finished up with a moose cow and her calf on the bank just above the take out, right in the middle of town. It was a wonderful day and we will have to see what happens with the hatch. Today may be a great day but I need to get ready for tomorrow's trip and take care of some errands and bill paying before I hit the river again.


The forecast is calling for cold weather to move back in tonight so we may have delay in the hatch until it warms up again. I did not expect to see much of a hatch this year on the Yellowstone with all the low elevation snow but the cool weather may give us a break and let us fish a day or two before the river gets dirty and blows the hatch out. Only time will tell.

2 comments:

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