Sunday, March 29, 2020

Eccentric Times

   My alarm goes off at 5am. I roll out of bed and fire up the coffee. Groggy eyed I turn on the news to see what damage COVID-19 has caused in the past 24 hours. Everyone lives through historical moments throughout their lifetime, but this will most likely go down as the biggest moment any of us will live through. I crack open a few eggs and long for the news cycle that consisted of Democrats yelling at Republicans or vice versa.

   I take a sip of the strong brew and contemplate a plan for the day. I have a 6 hour window to chase trout, and right now with everything going on in the world that's exactly what my brain needs to settle down.

   For the past few months I've been content on just chasing trout. When I have some time I pick up the rod from the garage and drive to the local waters around Bozeman and have at it. It's fun, mindless and stress free. Halfway through my cup of Joe I settle on chasing big fish for the day. I've gone away from "The Chase" in the past few years because of the commitment it takes to consistently catch 20+ inch fish. It's a completely different game. You have to set goals, make plans, scour maps and invest more time then just fishing for numbers. You also have to be willing to find streams that aren't so good and battle through the mental pain of wasting a valuable fishing day. Luckily my first few years out here I spent countless hours finding good solid streams that can produce good numbers of big when time permits I can venture to those locations and get to work without much questioning of my decision.

   There's nothing like arriving at your spot and knowing there are big wild brown trout lurking in the waters. My Tacoma came to a halt and I quickly gathered my gear.  I glanced down at my big ole Rubber Legs and smile, this guy has brought more 2 footers to the net then any fly pattern I've ever fished. I walk swiftly through the matted down grass which just recently got rid of it's winter snow pack. I hear the riffles in the distance knowing my destination is soon approaching. The magpies are chirping and a perched Hawk scans the fields for a quick easy meal. I crest the hill and look down at the meandering flow of water, my escape for the next 4 hours.

   The stretch of water I need to cover to get back to the truck would take most people 5-6 hours to fish. I know 4 hours isn't enough to lollygag around  and swap flies until I figure out what the fish are eating. I made my mind up over coffee and eggs......hit the prime lies and move on. I peel of the mono rig from my reel and start casting upstream on the inside bends. To me, this is the most likely lie for a big trout. It's that spot of calm water adjacent to the main riffle close to the bank your fishing on. Through the years I've settled on the belief that the big fish hang in this water because they can quickly sense the presence of clumsy wade fisherman. They can also quickly retreat to deeper water when birds of prey come hunting for lunch.

   My #4 RL covers the first  two runs thoroughly with no action. I feel confident I'm making the right drifts and getting to the kill zone. Questions immediately start creeping into my mind. Is it too cold? Are they keying in on the midges I see scurrying on the water surface? I think back to the plan at breakfast and just decide to cover the prime lies with my big fish pattern. Two more productive runs and riffles yield no results. I'm not here for numbers though. I'm here for one 20+ inch brown trout. I've played this game before when it comes to these fish and sometimes if you stick with it long enough you get rewarded with a fish of a lifetime.

The next bend comes into view and I take a deep breathe. This one is hard to approach. You have lots of slow clear water at the tail end of the pool and countless times I've sent wary trout into the prime lie that notified all the other trout something was up. I took my time and slowly covered the tail out. No action but no fish least that I could see. At the top of the run there's a nice deep inside bend with little to no current. I suspect the fish are hanging in there doing their lazy early spring thing.

I watched my sighter slowly tighten and moved the rod tip accordingly to keep good contact with my nymphs. Tick, Tick, Tick. I felt good and could feel my nymphs riding the bottom of the inside bend. I am aware that usually this bend has some debris at the bottom and snags occur. This never effects my hook sets though, that's a lazy mans way of fishing. Toward the end of my drift the sighter hesitated ever so slightly. I set hard and thought I hooked some debris. But....then the debris started taking off upstream. The tell tale sign of a big brown is a massive head shake then it tends to bulldog you by riding close to the bottom of the stream. This is exaclty what happened and I knew I had a good fish on. I quickly started walking to the bank, seeking shallow water to aid in landing this fish. A few good runs up and down the hole and I finally got to visual see the big kyped brown. I knew he was namer I had to seal the deal. I kept side pressure heavy on him, hoping my 4x tippet would hold out long enough to land him. I got him close enough to take a swipe with my net
and to my surprise scooped him on the first try! This usually doesn't happen when battling with a big fish but hell.....I'll take the luck. With the heart racing and a relieved feeling I sat down and admired the beast for a few minutes before taking a pic and releasing him back into the depths.

I was halfway to the truck when I landed the fish I came for. So the rest of the morning I had less focus, but was at ease. I manged to wrangle a few more big fish, and sometimes that's just the way it goes. Today wasn't about was all about the Big Fish Chase. I was rewarded with a NAMER....a Troutbitten tradition ( ) Folks meet Mr. Yokozuna. Tight lines all.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Caddis Larva

Consistent Fishing All Winter Long

The mild weather continues in the Bozone as of late. I've been busy with work but have kept fishing when I can, mostly on local waters. Lower sections of some freestoners are ice free which is abnormal for this time of year. One day while struggling to get into fish I managed to pick up up and pumped it's stomach to see what it had been eating. Tons of green and tan caddis around the #16-#12 size came out. This has changed my action over the past few weeks to absolute madness. The catching has been crazy and I've enjoyed every minute of it! I haven't tossed a midge or RL in 3 weeks. JCN has been one of my go to patterns with a tag rotation of Bubble Yums and Walts Worms. Hopefully this warmer then normal temp keeps up....if it lasts a few more weeks I think the deep freeze that usually consumes Montana will be less likely.

Trout Are Eating Well This Winter
Winter Paradise 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Winter So Far

To be honest, it doesn't really feel like winter here in Southwestern Montana. Our coldest stretch of weather hit us that last week of October when my brother Andy was out here chasing trout for the week. Since then....above average temperatures and dry conditions persist in the valley floors. The mountain snowpack hasn't faired too bad....we are slightly below average for the year and we still have plenty of time to add to the depth.

With the warm weather comes plenty of opportunities for the fair weather guys to get out and about. The Gallatin looked like a July day as I drove home from Big Sky today. I'm glad folks are getting out but I'd be happy to see high 20's as highs for a few weeks.

As for my own fishing outings things have been pretty solid. I fished the Madison yesterday and hooked into plenty of fish on a big stonefly pattern. The midges were pouring off but I couldn't dial in my dropper.....not sure what the deal was. I did see some pockets of risers (typical for this time of year) but elected to stay underneath because the targets weren't that great in number. The forecast is looking warm for the next 10 days so I am sure people will be getting out. Fly selection is usually fairly simple this time of year, just make sure you are pouncing on the bottom. Have fun out there.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Dawn Patrol

   The sun pokes up behind the Madison Range as I barrel toward Ennis. It's 5:30am on a Saturday in July, I'll be damned if I let tourists and their guides beat me to the river. As I slide into the town stop sign I glance left at Fan Mountain and the fisherman statue then right towards a less traveled road that leads to the Ruby. Sometimes I struggle on which way to I veer left and opt out of shitty gas station coffee and keep swigging my home brew.....the only brew..... Dunkin Donuts Medium Roast.

   The town is silent. Not a person in site. The Gravel Bar must of done a number on these out of towners. I see guides down side streets rigging up their boats for another day on the river. Another day tossing hoppers and chubbies towards the banks. I smile crossing over the Madison, knowing I'm about to poach lots of good fish before they rig up for the day.

   First light on the Madison is a must during tourist season. After 10am the river turns into a complete circus of drift boats floating the most famous river in the lower 48. I'm first to the fishing access site and get out of my truck already wadered up. A groggy eyed tourist staggers out of their tent staring at me with a puzzled look on their face. I pay no attention, connect my 4 piece together and bolt to the river. The jagged tips of the Spanish Peaks hold the sunlight from hitting the water. I'm on a mission and start tight-lining all my likely buckets above the parking lot. Action is intense from the get-go. Fish are after a #10 tan caddis larva on the tag. Some hefty browns, a few plump bows and a foul hooked white fish had me wondering if a namer was on the agenda for today.

   That wasn't going to be the case today, honestly it rarely is. I sometimes chuckle when I hear stories of regular 24 inch trout getting caught on this river. It's not true, but what is true is that all fisherman are liars.

   I make it .5 miles upstream catching fish in each likely holding spot. I don't spend much time hammering the holes, I'm after those willing to eat, 10 drifts and move on. Cover water, catch fish, repeat. By the time 10:30am hits I start seeing the tourist flotilla. I've already bagged enough fish to make any fisherman happy, but I opt for the skinny side that boats can't reach. The depth is only deep towards the bank so that's where I focus my attention. Every 5 feet gives up a fish, some surprisingly big. The side channel connects back to the main river where I catch a glimpse of 5 more boats coming toward me. I've wreaked havoc on this stretch and don't want to compete with all these people for the fish. 

I walk back to my truck happy to know I had one hell of a morning. As I'm unrigging in the parking lot 10 more boats are getting ready to float. The talk is focused on new rules being proposed on the Madison to maintain the healthy fishery that it is. Change never sits well with anyone, especially those trying to make $$ of these trout all summer long. Whatever ends up happening I hope it's the best decision for the TROUT, and if greed get's in the way well I guess I'll have to start leaving Bozeman at 4am on Saturday's instead of 5:30.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Winter Arrives Early

It's been awhile since my last post. A lot has changed in regards to the weather since my mid-summer report. It felt like the fall fishing lasted 10 days then we went straight to winter. Big Sky received its 3rd biggest dose of snow on record during the 31 days of October with a whopping 51 inches. I think this through the bite off quite a bit this fall.

Andy made his yearly pilgrimage out our way and the fishing was tough. We dealt with below freezing temps that really caused us some pain and suffering. Even with the bad weather, we still managed to get into some quality fish.

At the time of writing it seems like the fish in tailwaters are really engaged in spawning, and the freestoners are more of a post-spawn funk with the browns. The rainbows are still active at the right time of day and if you hit a warmer day the Olives really blow up hard and get fish to the surface.

Soon enough fish will pod up in the slower holes for the long Montana winter, usually by January the fish settle in to the change of weather and my favorite time of fishing begins. Until then.....Tight Lines to all!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mid Summer Update

Well it's been awhile since my last report. Summer tends to fly by quicker then a Salmon Fly Hatch. Works busy and the weather is so good you have to maximize your time outside before the snow starts to fly! I've been out on the water a bunch since my last post. This year I chased the Salmon Fly on the Madison with my brothers for 4 straight days. The hatch had a late start this year but we managed to time things right and get action every night on the Big Bug. The last evening was pretty epic. A big thunderstorm blew in and knocked a pile of bugs into the water, the fish went crazy and the action was lights out. The big bug was STILL present on the upper river a few days ago, I'm guessing it's still around the lake section right now. Most people are saying this is the latest they've scene the bug hatch on the Madison River.

Runoff is officially over for the season. It was a long one this year but now is the time to visit all those mountain streams you've been waiting to fish all year. I have spent a good bit of time exploring the past few weeks and it's paid off. Chubby dropper is the meal ticket right now on these waters. Nothing beats tossing a big dry in the middle of the day for feisty fish. As we approach August the famous rivers will start to peter out due to all the pressure, so head to the hills if you want some solitude and good fishing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Hatch

I grew up in the history rich may fly mecca of Pennsylvania. I spent many years chasing hatches with my brothers and dad, usually heading up to the limestone spring creek of central PA. I have countless memories of us gathered on the banks waiting for the various species to return to the water for their mating ritual. Our heads would wonder into the sky hoping to see the first round of bugs around 7:30pm, and when they did it would typically start a feeding frenzy and result in many fish caught, and many more lost throughout the night. Only fly-fisherman understand why boys and men can get so excited to see the bugs life cycle play out in front of their eyes.

I picked up the whole Euro Nymphing thing shortly after I graduated college and my obsession with it drove me to fishing first light and missing out on these magnificent hatches. It wasn't until I fished my first Salmon Fly hatch on the Madison River in Montana when I got that big urge to just throw dry flies again. This BIG BUG hatch is something we didn't get to experience in PA, so I was taken back by the size of these bugs and their alien look. After a few incredible outings I have made it a point to fish the Salmon Fly Madness whenever I get the chance, never thinking twice about the nymph rod in my closet.

A few buddies of mine planned to head south for the Memorial Day Weekend trying to time the Big Bug right, which can be a challenging thing to do. The recent cold snap in Montana delivered incredible flows for this time of year and the start of The Hatch coincided with our arrival. Our crew rigged up and did a little bull shitting in the parking lot before we ventured down in the river chucking our #4 Dry Flies at first light. The action wasn't lights out for the first 2 miles and we didn't see the Salmon Fly in high numbers to get us excited. That all changed as we approached the 2 mile mark of the float. The bugs started showing their faces and the fish started to eat our offerings. These takes are not delicate, they are not a may fly sipping take. They are ferocious eats that leave a lasting memory in your head when it happens. Sloop John B was a virgin Salmon Fly Fisherman on this trip and it only took 1 take to get him hooked for years to come.

We spent the next 4 days and 3 nights floating down the river every hour of daylight. Mornings were spent eating shitty gas station burritos and nights we stopped at the same gas station and devoured shitty bratwursts. The weather was cold and rainy and we went to bed exhausted from casting all day. All the ingredients of a perfect fishing trip that was reminiscent of ones I took in PA with my family growing up.

The fishing for big fish was downright silly. If anyone has any doubts that the biggest fish in the river will eat a dry fly, the pictures below will assure you they do. The Salmon Fly brings out the biggest, baddest trout in the river. If you spend the time, and are willing to cast your arm off.....eventually you should get rewarded with a fish you can brag to your buddies about.

As you can see by these pictures.....THE HATCH delivered and now has consumed 3 fly fisherman for a lifetime. My dry fly addiction is renewed and in a few short weeks my brothers and I will be chasing these bugs on the Madison River, dad will be in our thoughts and we will be boys again reliving memories of years spent waiting on the banks of Penn's Creek for the bugs to fall, and creating new ones in the backdrop of the Madison Range.

Eccentric Times

   My alarm goes off at 5am. I roll out of bed and fire up the coffee. Groggy eyed I turn on the news to see what damage COVID-19 has caused...