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.