Monday, January 6, 2014

Mid Winter Roundup

Wes Bolton getting some sick air in the Meadows, Montana Snowbowl.
Happy New Year, everyone!  It's winter and we've been at it, as usual.  While it hasn't been coming in feet, the Northern Rockies are receiving consistent small snow storms and conditions have been pretty good.  About average for this time of year.  This week looks to be no different, with several small weather disturbances due to drop a few more inches in the mountains.  The valley is another story.  Not a good year for those of us that also enjoy XC and skating.  Up on the hill is where you need to be.

This time of year, I often feel thankful for my Mom teaching me to ski when I was only 5 years old.  It's given me a lifetime of enjoyment.  I wonder if there's been a study on skiers and the lack of seasonal depression.  If not, someone could have a pretty fun grad project!.  It's winter time and skiing is such a great way to enjoy yourself outside, stay fit, and hang with friends.  Rob got a GoPro for Christmas from his dad, so we've been having a lot of fun playing with it.  I've also been shooting video, in addition to the stills.  Hopefully we'll have enough good footage for a sweet end-of-season ski flick.

If you're venturing into the backcountry, make sure to take plenty of precautions.  Avalanche conditions have been a little freaky this year.  December's cold weather created a lot of faceted snow deep within the snowpack.  Please use caution on steeper wind-loaded slopes above 7,000 feet and dig before you drop!  The beacon parks at Lolo and Montana Snowbowl are great places to practice for the worst.  Until your next day in the mountains, here are a few teasers from me and Roberto.  Happy skiing and riding!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Is Back

Sorry for the long hiatus, everybody.  Sometimes I just don't feel like writing much, I guess.  That's probably why I'm not a full time writer!  The guide season has come to a close, steelhead swinging came and went, and now we're back to winter recreation.  I had a great year on the Salmon this year, landing 8 fish, which was pretty remarkable, considering I still don't know what I'm doing!  Many thanks to all those in Bobcat Gulch who've helped me become a better Spey angler.

I'll be posting a lot more this winter, as I'm more pumped than ever to get out into the snow.  Remember, our Facebook page and this site are excellent sources of information for winter safety.  Make sure you dig a pit if you'll be skiing in the backcountry.  Our recent intense cold likely created some sleeping dragons that will soon be buried in our snowpack.  Here are a few shots from the early season for your viewing pleasure.

Jon Bentzel slashing November pow at Big Mountain in Whitefish

Rob Bell floating through Moose Creek Meadow, Lost Trail Pass

Bruce, bausin' it at the G-Spot, Lolo Pass

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quiet in the Heat

Photo: Chad Dubose
Sorry for the long silence everybody, but I've come to realize that these days I'm just too busy in June and July to write much.  It's been a crazy season, with a few Smith trips and plenty of day floats around Missoula.

The real news right now is the heat and the river closures.  FWP has Hoot Owl Restrictions on the entire Bitterroot and much of the Clark Fork.  No fishing between 2pm and Midnight.  Mandatory.  Afternoon water temps are really high right now.  It looks as though we might get back into the 80s in a few days.  This would do wonders for the fishing, especially if coupled with nights in the 50s.  It didn't get below 65 last night in Missoula and that just isn't going to cool the water down much.

In any case, please abide by the closures.  If you need a refresher on why hot water is bad for trout, read my article from last season,  Water Temps and Trout Safety In the Summer.  It's sad but this stuff is now becoming pretty much a yearly occurrence, unless we have way above average snowfall in the winter.  For me, this just hammers home the need for water sharing agreements on every trout stream in the West.  Let's hope the heat dials back soon.

Anyway, leave the fish alone in the heat and check some of these great shots from Chad, with developing by me from our night off on the Mo last week!  Team photography! Tight lines.

Photo: Chad Dubose

Photo: Chad Dubose

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Upper and Lower Clark Fork Reunited

Yesterday was a happy day.  For the first time in a long time, it was possible and legal to float from Turah through the Blackfoot-Clark Fork confluence into East Missoula.  It was a busy day for the stretch, with at least 20 groups showing up for the inaugural day.

Many people were less than impressed by the detail in the Missoulian article on the opening so I thought I would give you a report on the river hazards, fishing, and some photos in case you are also feeling adventurous.

Hazards first.  Shortly after you pass under the Turah bridge, the river splits in two.  If you go left, you have to deal with a minor log jam.  While the FWP guys said they lined it, I don't believe this is necessary.  We didn't run it (went right) but if you do, just make sure you stay right.  You can sneak around it, but you need to row over the first part of the log before you can pull right into the slot around it near the bank.  Be careful not to catch the stern and spin the boat.

Left channel log jam below Turah Bridge
If you choose to go right at the split, you will see that the river splits again into three channels.  The left most channel flows back to the main left braid and is tight but probably floatable.  I just wouldn't do it.  If you go far right in the right channel, you'll end up in a thicket.  Don't go far right.  The correct channel is the center one.  It is narrow but passable.  You'll notice a boat-width gap between two standing cottonwoods that you have to squeeze.  It's an adventure in the tight bushes, but nothing too dangerous.
Colby Webb running the confluence drop with Will and Jason.
 To sum up, if you go left, watch out for the log.  If you go right, stay in the middle and don't follow the majority of the water.  Below this channel split, we didn't take too many side channels.  Some of them are likely floatable, but if you go in, be prepared to portage, cut your way through, etc.  The main river is pretty easy from the main split to the confluence.  The confluence and the new channel have a lot of created rapids, but rafters should have no problems as long as you hit things square.  There are some hydraulics and waves that could cause you problems if you take the hard boat.

FWP and the cooperating agencies are asking people to stay off of the banks where they are trying to re-vegetate.  There are signs up to remind you.  Gravel bars are still open for walking, but if you see netting, fencing, and willows, please stay off to allow the plants some time to take hold.  Runoff will be hard enough on them without foot traffic. Below the confluence, it's pretty much business as usual on the big river.  Lots of big boulders on the bottom to hold the fish.

As far as the fishing goes, we caught a fair number of nice fish on streamers, with an amazing March Brown emergence in the afternoon.  Most bugs I've seen at one time this spring.  The fishing is a little slow in the 1/2 mile of reconstructed channel.  Despite abundant structure placement, we didn't turn many in this stretch.  However, above and below, fishing was pretty good.

There you have it.  If you make it out, have fun and be safe.  It's great to have even more water to fish close to town.  Please follow the rules and we'll see you on the river.

Marshall Creek fish ladder with some deco.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April Showers

Coach Dixon strikes again!
It's been a great month of angling here in the Bitterroot-Clark Fork valley, even with a week of high water.  After our last little push of low altitude snow melt, the weather has returned to the cool, spring conditions we need, with snow falling again in the mountains.  The bugs are still out, and dry fly opportunities remain, but the next two days look to be pretty chilly, with highs near 40.  The mountains picked up a foot of fluff over the weekend and water levels continue to drop.  Until our next real warm up, it should be smooth sailing as far as water levels go.

Until Wednesday, the dry fly activity will probably slow down a bit, although I wouldn't be surprised if BWOs are still out.  The fish just might not care as much.  The skwalas are still there, though, and it is possible to bring up the big boys in the bad weather.  Jason recently picked up the sweet 20"+ brown below, and I've had three encounters with monsters in the past week.  Unfortunately for me, those encounters ended in defeat, but hey, what can you do?  That's why they call it fishing.  Looks like things will start to warm back up Wednesday, so I'll be getting back on the horse.

If you get a chance, check out my story on the Clark Fork in this month's online issue of Montana Fly Fishing Magazine .  The river from Turah to Town opens on May 1st and I hope to be one of the first "legal" boats through.  Also, I'll be floating the Smith again this spring, so I'll have some more pictures and a story for you in a few weeks.  Cheers, y'all and go fishing if you can.

JB's Big Brownie
Supply ditch diversion.  A wise drag around at these flows, but if you want to run it, I would empty the boat first.

Matt Saliga with a nice cutty that smacked a streamer on a sunny morning.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring is Springing

Sorry for the long silence everybody.  I chose not to weigh in on skwala season this year, as there a ton of other people already doing it.  There's plenty of great info out there if you're planning a trip to the Bitterroot.  Remember, be creative with your float if you want any semblance of solitude.  I saw 5 boats just on my way to pick my truck up from Midas this morning.  If you're interested, check our back rolls for the keyword "skwala."  Overall, the fishing has been more consistent this year than last, in my opinion.   Anyway, here are a few shots from our recent trips.  Also, winter isn't quite over yet, so don't put those skis away.  We still might have a spring storm or two, which would really help our flows this summer.  Cheers!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mid-Winter Update: Don't Be Stupid Edition

 Happy 2013 to all you powder hounds and fish freaks in the Missoula area, and our readers beyond.  While my blogging brothers are still smacking the trout between the ice floes, I've got the snow fever.  We've had an up-and-down ski season thus far here in the Northwest, with times of absolute feast followed by times of absolute famine.  We are currently coming out of a snowless week, and yesterday brought a few fresh inches to the high country.  We still need more and the forecast looks reasonably good for the near future.

Backcountry conditions have been fairly stable so far this season, but after the last storm cycle, a few friends found themselves helpless participants in nature's scariest winter ride.  Luckily no one was killed or seriously injured.  The latest round of high pressure locked up many of the weak layers in the snowpack, but it also left some surface hoar behind, which just got buried yesterday.  We'll have to see how the sun crust and hoar reacts to another round of loading.

For the record, I still consider myself a complete novice in the backcountry, but I feel I need to say something about recent events out of bounds.  Once again this year there have been a lot of careless people leaving the ski areas, some neglecting even the most basic safety practices.  I'm the furthest thing from an expert, but I consider myself a serious student of doing it "the right way".  It's hard to tell other beginners what to do when you consider yourself a beginner, but I'm going to do it anyway.  Take a basic avalanche class or read a decent backcountry ski book and you will find the same common sense suggestions that follow below.

Always check snow stability before riding in steep terrain.
First of all, if you ride in avalanche terrain without a beacon, shovel, and probe and you don't check the snow stability before dropping in, you are making big mistakes that will eventually catch up to you.

If you are dropping into a steep backcountry bowl, with uncontrolled snow conditions, where the only way out is to climb, you better be prepared for the worst.  The worst could include being caught in an avalanche or having to rescue one of your friends who is buried.  That's really tough to do without avy gear, especially in less than 10 minutes.  With every second that passes after a person is buried, their chances of survival plummet.  I was fortunate enough to witness a skier-triggered slab avalanche on my first real trip into the backcountry, so I'm probably too paranoid, if there is such a thing.  There is no good reason to leave the ski area without this equipment.  I confess, I do ride a few sidecountry areas without a beacon, but they have a low risk of avalanche, are very close to a ski area and I can get back to the lift, even without my skis.   

Second, avalanches aren't the only thing you have to worry about when you leave the ski area.  Without skis or snowshoes, it is very tough to walk in waist deep snow for very far, especially if you need to climb up a 35 degree slope for 1,000 feet.  If your equipment breaks or malfunctions, or you twist your knee, you could end up in big trouble.  It's smart to not travel alone, or in a group larger than 5.  Large groups impede your decision making ability and are tough to keep on the same page.  Last Monday, a solo skier in the Snowbowl backcountry called 911 because he could not make it back to the area due to a skin malfunction.  That ain't cheap and it risks the lives of your rescuers.  If you have a buddy and some duct tape, you might be able to solve your own problem.  Of course, this person also did not have a beacon, shovel, or probe either, but that's besides the point.

Third, be prepared.  Be in at least reasonably good physical condition.  Make sure you have food and water, at least for the day.  I usually don't eat much while I'm skinnng and skiing, but I know if I get stuck somewhere, I will still have a dinner of sorts.  Carry a Leatherman or similar multitool and some duct tape in case you need to make a repair.  If you can find spare parts and screws, bring 'em along.  I also pack a headlamp, extra dry layers, socks, gloves, hats, and batteries, a lighter and/or matches, a safety whistle, and a multiday first aid kit.  That's probably a bare minimum.  Please feel free to add things I may have forgotten in the comments.

Finally, always remember that if you put yourself at increased risk, you put many people other than yourself at increased risk of injury or death.  It's not just about you and the sick line that you are about to ski.  The decisions you make affect the skiers in your party, the skiers in other parties, and those who may have to rescue you or others you may put in danger.

Unfortunately, I know I'm mostly preaching to choir here and those who really should read this won't.  I think I speak for most of my friends on these things, and definitely for our contributors.  I'm sure this will probably be an annual article about the same problems.  The best thing we can do is keep talking about it and try to reach more people.  With the increased traffic beyond the ropes, we all have a stake in keeping ourselves and others informed.

Rant over.  Enjoy the fluff!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Alone in Steelhead Camp

Composed on a scrap of paper after a few Doublehauls and half a pint of Maker's Mark.   
 11pm, Nov. 13, 2012, Bobcat Gulch Campground, near North Fork, ID.

The fire is growing faint, because you didn''t want to use too much of your precious wood. It had to last, but it's close to bedtime, so screw it.

What is it about steelhead fishing that gets stuck deep down in your soul? It must be karmic, habit from lifetimes and lifetimes of swinging flies without so much as a tug, or countless eons spent swimming back to your natal waters as a silvery torpedo.

You are afraid. You know that now.  Afraid to fish this alone.  Sometimes, it's hard to get someone to come along with you on these "missions". This mission was all about steelhead on the swing. You always hope to cajole one of your buddies into coming along, but it's late fall, the snow is flying, and feet turn to numb stumps within a few minutes, even in leak-free waders. When there's ice in your guides after five casts, camping is not for the faint of heart.  And so you are alone.  And thus, you are afraid.

Sitting around the fire, hour two, you're trying to stop talking to yourself. You've gone over the day's fishing at least 100 times.  Was that a bite, there on the dangle?  You thought you saw a swirl, or was that just your imagination, a mirage caused by your fly breaking free from some underwater obstruction.  After hours without a bite, it's hard to tell.  Were your flies getting into the strike zone?  The water temp is under 40°F, so they probably aren't real active, but maybe if you lengthen your cast, mend a little earlier, get the flies dangling sooner, slow it down. Maybe if you would have...aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhh!

It's easy to scream out loud when there's nobody around for miles.

You tried to get into your favorite run early today.  The boat ramp was empty and silent as you slipped downstream at dawn.  No public access other than by boat.  It's on the far side, too.  There's no other way in there.  Unless you know the property owner and have a pontoon boat, just like the guy who was swinging his way through, when you came around the corner.  He wasn't hooking any either, though, so that was comforting.  It's so frustrating knowing you could be doing everything absolutely right, and still not catch shit.

You want to stop this idle chatter, the inner monologue, but you can't.  You decide to write it down, so you don't go totally crazy.  Maybe you'll hook a fish tomorrow or maybe you'll get blanked again.  Maybe you'll be swept away in the current bound for the Pacific, trying to cross to hit that river left run that you know is holding fish.  Maybe you'll make it and hook into one of those sacred salmonids, now over 800 miles from the ocean.

No matter what happens, you'll be alone, and anything could happen.  That's steelheading, for you.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of 2012: Thanks for the Memories!

Mike C. deep in Far East.
Here we are at the end of another year, and it's been a great one for ZCA.  This was our first year providing winter snow info, to offset our relatively short fishing off season.  The weather did not disappoint and we got three feet of fluff over three days in January.  Our readership expanded, as did our followers on social media.  We hope to keep growing in 2013.

Josh and beautiful Salmon River hen
In February, Josh D and I made our first explorations in the Salmon River country for steelhead.  We also made our yearly jaunt over to the Clearwater for the B-Runs.  For the first time, I began to better understand where steelies like to hold.  Those journeys also cemented my resolve to return to the Salmon this fall to learn the art of the swing. 

Jay Dixon and Al Pils having a skwala moment.
March brought us the skwalas and the annual craziness that surrounds this now enigmatic hatch in the Bitterroot.  We had great days, bad days, and days in between.  We also saw the unfortunate results of green rowing with several flipped boats.  Let's hope this season is safer!  Late in the month, we made our first trip to Yurtski in the southern Swan Range, and had a blast hiking the ridge during the day and playing Scrabble by night.  There's a lot of amazing terrain that we can't wait to ski again, especially with a bunch of fresh powder on it!
Jon Bentzel testing a cornice.

April brought more skwala silliness and our soon-to-be-traditional Smith River excursion.  We caught some nice browns, enjoyed some beautiful weather, then got soaked and frozen for two days.  It was worth it, as always, and we're all about to put in for permits next month.  Jason will be guiding the Smith again this year and I'm hoping to hop on at least one trip myself.
Later in the spring, I got to learn the ways of the lower Missouri, with a lot of thanks to Jay Dixon and Phil Camera, who were both instrumental in the steep learning curve.  And I have to also thank Marc Betourney for selling me the sweetest used drift boat in Montana.

The heart of the guide season was great for both Jason and myself, as well as many of our fellow brothers in arms.  Probably the highlight for both of us was our trip with Ira, Sal, Alex, and Phillip on the South Fork.  Great clients, great fishing, great scenery, and lots of laughs.

Ahhh, the South Fork.

The fall brought us our annual round of mayfly fun on the Clark Fork and Bitterroot.  We also had some banner streamer fishing.  I've definitely come to love fishing with my buddy Zach Scott from FCFT.  When he's not showing me up.

 Then there's the magic of steelhead on the swing.  I can't say enough about my new found love for these amazing fish and the incredible journeys they make. I can't wait for next fall.  I'll be that much further along and hopefully we'll have a bigger run.
Finally, after a slow start, winter arrived again and now we're all sitting around waiting for the next big storm.  I have a lot of people to thank for some amazing times this year.  In no particular order:  Jay and Deb Dixon; Russell Parks and the Missoulian Angler staff; Will Fisher; Josh Duchateau; Marc Betourney; Lance Gleason and 406 Outfitters; Tom Jenni's Reel Montana; Joe Maretta, Little Bro, Doog, Robin, and company; John Gould and Double Up Outfitters; Zach Scott, Stan Spoharski, Anthony Von Ruden and False Casts and Flat Tires; Karl, Adam and all the boys at Yurtski; Chadwell Dubose and Conner Scott, Smith River Corps of Discovery; Wes"t Ridge" Bolton, Jon Bentzel, Rob Bell, Mike C, Jay, Jamie Bird and our whole ski gang; Montana Snowbowl and LRI, especially the lifties and bar staff; and all our awesome fishing clients and endorsing outfitters.

 If I forgot to mention anyone, all apologies.  Hope you all have a wonderful 2013!  Happy New Year!!!

Happy 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Early Season Ski Report

High Park - Early Morning

As usual, Missoulians have been slow to catch on that winter is here, especially above 5,500 feet.  That's fine with all of us, because the ski slopes have been a ghost town, and the snow has been awesome.  In the past week, we've had a few adventures both in and out of bounds, and conditions are improving every day.  All the rain we received in late November and early December fell as snow up high, and although the mid-elevations are still catching up, by next week things should be skiing pretty well from top to bottom at all the area hills.

We haven't been out of bounds up at the Bowl yet, but there's been a steady stream of folks on the skin track. In-bounds has been so good that we haven't been that motivated to hike.  The bowls opened yesterday and we raged it pretty hard.  Ten laps in about 4 and 1/2 hours, pow all the way.  The outrun is definitely challenging.  Coverage is excellent until you get down to about 5400 and the entire mountain is open except for Griz Chute and Longhorn.  Still a lot of obstacles so be on your toes. Having early season rubber legs in the Chicken Chute makes it extra interesting.  I'd advise not drinking and riding, but you probably will anyway;)  Also, when you get tired, take a break. It's not worth losing the rest of your season to get in one more run today.  There's a lot of snow yet to come.

Rob getting nasty in "Chinaman's"
 Just a reminder that avalanche danger can change daily so it's a good idea to check the report at Missoula Avalanche before you head into the backcountry.  Also make sure you have your beacon, shovel, and probe and know how to use them.  Lolo Pass is a great low-risk area where you can make sure your equipment is in order and practice before heading on a trip into more serious terrain.  More and more people have been venturing out of bounds lately, and many of us observed a lot of questionable behavior last year (groups descending all at the same time, skinning overtop of other groups, groups over 5 people, etc.).  Dudley says it's only a matter of time before we see an accident and I agree.  Please remember, if you aren't being safe, it isn't just your own life you are putting at risk.  Be respectful to other users.  Wear a beacon.  Know how to use it.  Don't be stupid. 

Looks like a good sized storm is on the way for early in the week.  The Bowl is open 7 days a week starting Thursday.  Let's hope they make it Tuesday!  See you on the slopes and remember, in the sidebar you can find all our favorite snow and weather links.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transitions, Trout, Steelhead and Snow

Here we are, the week after Thanksgiving, and we're still waiting for the snow.  Last year was ZCA's first foray into the world of frozen water, and we're anxiously awaiting powder days and apres ski nights.  In the meantime, the fishing is still decent.

Zach Scott of False Casts and Flat Tires has been streamer fishing quite a bit this late fall, in between hunting trips, and he's posted some really cool pics from his travels over there and on the MAngler Blog.  We fished the 'Root this week, and unfortunately, I brought my bad luck along.  Zach still managed to stick a sweet 18" bow, but he assured me, it's been fun times on the minnow patterns virtually every other trip he's taken.  Water temperature, like always, is something you want to pay a lot of attention to.  We didn't and it was a slow day, but the fish are still looking.

As for me, I've decided to dedicate this fall to learning how to catch steelhead on the swing.  Many of you know, I've nymphed up my share of metal the past few springs, but this fall, it's been all about the down-and-across.  I recently purchased a few two-handed rods l and I've set out to learn to cast in earnest.  Up to this point, I'd been stealing Entztrix's switch to practice with, but I'm finally making some progress now that I have a few of my own.  Thanks to Tim Rajeff and Echo Fly Rods and Airflo lines for making excellent quality equipment available on a fishing guide's budget!

I've primarily been going to the Salmon in the North Fork area.  Lots of good fly water, nice folks, and not too crowded, but it ain't easy.  My first real trip down, Will Fisher and I managed to hook three and land two in two days.  This gave me a false sense that I knew what I was doing.  I returned two weeks later only to get blanked four days in a row.  Gotta pay your dues in this game.

On my most recent trip, I hooked two and landed one in two days, so I'm improving.  If you haven't noticed, I recently added a Steelhead Links section to the blog, where you can find Idaho weather, stream flow data, and fishing reports for both the Clearwater and the Salmon.  If you're planning a trip this winter or spring, be sure to stop here first to see what you'll be getting into.

Looking forward, I've been chatting online recently with Washington steelhead guru, Dec Hogan, and I plan to review his excellent book A Passion for Steelhead here in the near future.  I'll also be writing some sort of "why I steelhead fish" piece about my adventures too.  Until then, pray for snow, tie some bugs, and hit the river on the warmer days.  Until it gets frothy, there are still some trout to be had out there.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

JT Van Zandt, the Blackfoot Rio, and Low & Clear

As Bill mentioned in an update, we screened the recently released documentary Low & Clear, featuring longtime friends John Townes (JT) Van Zandt and Alex "Xenie" Hall on a trip to British Columbia's steelhead water. The film also provides great shots of Xenie on his home waters of Colorado and JT stalking redfish on the coast of Texas. The release of the film on DVD in September coincides with the upcoming fall run in Idaho, for us folks living in the interior Rockies, as well as the fall/winter run of steelhead in the Pacific Northwest. The timing couldn't be better. At the same time, do not view this film with the expectation of getting your stoke on for the upcoming steelhead runs. No, this is an entirely different film and that is what is most refreshing.

I had the pleasure of guiding JT and some of his colleagues on the Blackfoot this past summer. For those that enjoy a bit of music, you may recognize the name. JT is the son of music legend, and my personal favorite songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. After letting JT know this fact, conversation quickly moved on to the film, life, world views, his first steps into fatherhood, and, of course, fishing. He requested an honest review of the film and was genuinely interested in hearing feedback on the finished project. We mutually agreed that the day felt nothing like a guided day on the water, but instead felt like a day fishing amongst friends. I want to thank JT for perspective, conversation, and the
cold beers. I look forward to heading down his way in the near future and catching some reds as well.

Low & Clear is a film about friendship, the different paths we take in life, fishing on one's own terms, no matter the circumstances, and the yin and yang between different personalities that come out on the water. As anglers, we've all been there, especially with the fellas we fish with the most. JT say it best in the film, when he mentions that personalities come out when fishing, and there is no way to hide it. I believe this is true and I'm sure all of us can attest to having some of our worst and best days on the water. I guess a large part of what brings us back is the opportunity for redemption, second chances, and continued humility, both with the fish and the friends who tolerate us, despite our flaws and brutally honest moments as people.

I believe the film depicts the ebb and flow of emotions and relationships perfectly. Low & Clear allows us to look into the lives of others and, in some ways, gain some perspective on our own lifestyle choices, our friendships, and the paths we continue to follow. All of this, with one of the things we love to do the most as the backdrop, fishing. The beauty of this film is that the fishing is secondary and what is most real in our lives takes center stage: the connections that are made through fishing accompanied by those times of frustration and success on the water.

If you are looking for a film that provides something different from the usual fish porn films that we are subjected to through various fishing media outlets, I would look no further. A group of us thoroughly enjoyed the first screening, with moments of laughter, some moments of silence, discussion, and moments of introspection. Low & Clear presents a lot of questions, some answers, and plenty of reasons to continue down the path of casting to the next rise or tug. The film carries a great variety of music, including some classics from Townes, as well as amazing filming and editing from Tyler Hughen and Kahlil Hudson. Pick it up and enjoy folks. See you on the water.

The link for Finback Films and the trailer for the film are posted below:

The trailer:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall Arrives Today

Zach Scott streamer fishing the lower 'Root.

Salmo trutta on a mayfly.
Yet another typical season change is in store for western Montana:  one day it's summer, the next day it's not.  A big cold front and pressure shift is underway that will bring the first real rain in months and snow to the high country.  This should be the ticket to kickstarting two of my favorite things: prespawn brown trout and prolonged autumn mayfly hatches.

The fishing has been pretty good lately, even with the abnormally hot weather.  October caddis, both the giant ones, and other species have been hatching regularly for a few weeks now and there have been enough mayflies out to keep fish interested on top all day long.  Tricos are still around in the late mornings and afternoons, with a smattering of blue-wings and mahoganies during the midday, and even the occasional pale evening dun still hanging around.  As the cool down rolls in, we should start seeing more Mahoganies and Baetis, and the hatches will be more spread out through the afternoons.

This is also the time of year when brown trout start to get particularly angry, especially towards members of the same species.  Streamer fishing near prime spawning habitat, such as perfect gravel bars, side channels, and springs can spell fun times.  My favorite fall fish imitations all look like small brown trout, with yellow, brown, red, and white.  Also, because the water is low and clear, you can get away with much more sparsely tied patterns, as opposed to the big water-movers you typically throw in the spring.  Retrieves can usually be quicker too.  Stick with the streamer and you usually will be rewarded with a mature Salmo trutta specimen.  Best of luck and enjoy this last month and a half!  Before you know it, we'll be back on the slopes!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Labor Day Preview

Well folks, the traditional last weekend of summer is upon us, although officially we have a few more weeks.  The temperatures on this side of the divide are finally starting to moderate, and we've avoided the fires, despite bouts of smoke from Idaho.  We drove through Livingston and Bozeman recently, and trust me, it's way better over here.  A pretty bad late fire season this year has me really worried about next season with El Nino.  Let's hope we get neutral conditions soon.

Fishing has been decent.  The hopper bite is on, but it's been a little bit inconsistent, probably due to the weather and the smoke effect.  Still, we've hooked and landed some really nice fish lately.  The Clark Fork is starting to show strong signs of recovery after years of low productivity due to the dam coming down.  There are lots more fish and some big ones too and the bugs have fish up and eating in many of their old haunts.  We've been seeing fish feeding in areas that were vacant for the past few years.  I think that we are definitely on the upswing, although you'd need real scientific data to prove it.  No denying that these fat 'bows are healthy!

Client Maraluiz with a fat hopper bow!


As for bugs other than hoppers, spruce moths appear to be waning.  We're still seeing lots of mayflies, including PMD/PED type stuff, Hecubas, Tricos and the beginnings of BWOs.  Still need some real cold to transition to the fall patterns.  Remember, with large bugs like Hecubas, they don't need to see too many before they key on them.  My homemade Hecuba comparadun has been rocking in the clouds.  Keep your eyes peeled for the October Caddis, too. Word is fish are already looking for them.

That's all I got for now.  Have a great weekend everybody.  Hope to see you on the stream!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Water Temps and Trout Safety in the Summer

The blitz of early summer hatches is finally slowing down.  Still a few caddis out in the evenings and some giant nocturnal goldens, but the main attraction that is post-runoff fishing in Montana is on its way out for another year.  It always seems longer than a few weeks when you think about it in January!  Now it's T&T time!  Tricos and terrestrials!

Hoppers are clicking around on the banks, spruce moths are taking their morning dip, and the trout are keying in, but action slows big time in the heat.  Now that the snow melt faucet has been turned to the off position, water temps are getting into the danger range in mid to late afternoon.  This is the time of year you want to get up early and get off the water early too.

Zach Scott from FCFT with an early morning reward on the Blackfoot.  We put in at 7am.  On our day off.  Hardcore!

In case you are curious, here's your water temperature and trout lesson for this year.  Trout are a cold blooded, cold water fish.  This means that their body temperature depends on the surrounding water temperature, unlike we mammals.  As you also might remember from freshman biology, all animals respire to stay alive.  This means they take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, and in the process they metabolize food for energy.  A trout's metabolism is in high gear when the water is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  As water warms, it holds less and less oxygen.  Once water temps get above 70 degrees, trout begin to have a tough time breathing even though their metabolism continues to increase.  Thus, two things occur.  First, trout have a hard time keeping up with high water temps metabolically.  They just can't eat enough to keep up.  Second, when a trout is caught, it can't process enough oxygen and it gets a lactic acid build up in its muscles very quickly, just like an athlete.  If the fish is fought too hard in warm water, and especially if it isn't well revived, it will likely die from the experience even if you let it go. 

That's the main gist, but their are some other things to consider, as well.  First, some trout become better conditioned to high water temps and low oxygen levels if they deal with them frequently.  For example, fish in the lower Clark Fork might respond to these conditions better than fish in the middle reach of the Blackfoot.  Second, riffles and rapids increase dissolved oxygen in the water, so fish are usually more active in the riffles and the pools below them when water warms up.  Third, some species are more tolerant of warmer water than others.  Generally, cutthroat, bull and brook trout need colder water than rainbow and brown trout.  Add all this up and you can have better fishing and be nicer to the trout by following a few simple rules.  Here are a few tips to make sure you and the trout stay happy until we get some cooler temperatures.

1) Get a stream thermometer and use it

Joe Humphreys, one of my east coast mentors, calls a stream thermometer a fly fisherman's geiger counter.  I take water temps all the time when I'm fishing.  Sometimes, I just tie a piece of heavy tippet to the thing and hang it right off the boat.  The other day on the Blackfoot, when the water hit 65 between 10am and 12pm, the fish went crazy.  Then it hit 67, and the fishing shut down hard.  By using your thermometer, you can not only predict the feeding period, you can find spring holes and other little refuges too.

2) Pay attention to cold tributaries, springs, and the riffles

These sources of colder or more oxygenated water will hold more active trout then the big, slow, pools when water warms.  You have to be sneaky to find some of these spots though.  Always good to pay attention to cold spots in the water when you are out tubing with your friends.  Also, in winter you can spot springs because they'll steam on cold days.

3) Fish early

In Montana, we get peak sun in late afternoon, instead of midday like other areas of the country.  This means that sometimes peak water temps don't arrive until late evening or even later.  By morning the water has cooled down and this is often the best time to fish.  By 3pm, the water is too warm.  Go swimming instead. 

4) Fight fish quickly and revive and release them properly

While it is trico season, please be respectful to trout and don't take 20 minutes to land a big fish on 7x.  You will likely kill it.  This time of year, you should try to land the fish as quickly as possible.   Use a rubber net to land the fish and make sure it stays in the water, not in the air where it can't breathe.  Keep pics and handling to a minimum.  Before you release the fish, hold them in the net, upright, facing into the current, so that water is flowing over their gills.  When they're ready, they will usually swim out of the net on their own power.  Never release a fish before it is revived.  It won't make it.

5) Hit the small streams

Not as many big fish, but the water usually stays cold all day, and every once in a while you get a nice hog seeking refuge from the warm river water in the main stem.

Hope these tips help!  I'm hitting the Bob for a week, then Michigan for 2 weeks.  Till I get back, be nice to the trouts!  I should have some great pics to come.