Friday, August 21, 2015

A Pretty Good Plan B

My son wondering on his first trip to Montana, we came here in July for this?

Okay, okay.......I know I've been remiss at posting things for quite some time.  Truth of the matter, I haven't done anything very interesting lately.  But that changed the end of July with a trip back to Montana.

Original plans had us going to the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a 1.5 million acre wilderness area in northwest Montana to go in 20 something miles with an outfitter by horseback and being dropped off on the South Fork of the Flathead.  From there, we were going to spend a week camping and floating the South Fork down almost 40 miles to our pickup point for big Cutthroat and Bull Trout.  Alone.  On our own.  My friend Bob and his son and Bryce and I.  Grizzly Bear territory.

The sudden heat and dry spell that hit the area earlier in the summer along with the ensuing low water and fire hazard put those plans on hold for a year.  So with plane and rental car reservations already made Bryce and I decided to forge on and do a little exploring on our own and spend some time with some friends I have out there.  With a very loose itinerary we flew into Bozeman and headed south to Cameron Montana along the banks of the Madison River where we spent the first days of our trip.

All the heat decided to break just in time for our arrival.  The very next day, unseasonably cold weather and record rainfall made it's way into the area.  Clouds and fog hid the mountains, and the next morning we woke up we were treated to Christmas in July.  The snow decided to stick around for the next two days of us fishing the Madison with my friends at Beartooth Fly Fishing.  If you're in the area, make sure to stop in their store you'll be pleasantly surprised.  Or book a float with our guide Marty Authement through Beartooth Fly fishing and ask him about big Louisiana Redfish when he isn't spending time in Montana.

My son isn't as big into fly fishing as his father, but he sure did have a good time once he caught on to the nuances of fishing from a drift boat.  Immediately before this fish he had a real pig of a brown trout on which ended up breaking him off.

For a couple nights, this was where we slept!  Right on the banks of the Madison.....with alot of laughs and quality time.  It was actually pretty nice not having cell reception and just talking about things and hanging out during the down time.

Getting re-rigged on day one

The Madison is set in a beautiful valley, and you have to keep reminding yourself to look up and enjoy the scenery because it sure does live up to it's nickname of the "50-mile riffle" when it leaves Yellowstone Park down to the town of Ennis---you really move along.  It's a great float and loaded with trout.

Up next:  Some more Madison and then over the hill to the Ruby Valley

Thursday, August 6, 2015


“Snook!”  I said to myself albeit aloud as the last set of waves washed back the surf.  Frantically trying to locate the fish again, I’m waving line in the air, ready to drop the fly in its face.  Too much time has passed.  She’s gone.  “Aw crap” I mutter to myself, still staring into the crashing waves.  It’s been three days since I’ve seen a fish. “Damn wind. Waves. Grr.”  Insanity.  What’s the definition?  Something about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?  Yeah, that.  Well, at least it’s not musky fishing.

At this point, I’m talking to myself a lot, mostly profanities, or an occasional “there’s one!” and sometimes to shake out an awful 1980’s arena rock anthem like “Sister Christian” that I heard on the radio in my rental car.  “mmmmmMMMMM MOTORIN’”  Yeah, now you’re hooked too.

I’ve been walking a couple miles on the beach, looking like a cross between a storm trooper and some kind of terrorist covered head to toe in long sleeves, pants, gloves and face mask to hide from the sun.  The middle-aged beachgoers look at you funny and say things like “Are you cold?” “What are you fishing for?” or “Fly fishing? …. here?”  Occasionally, a local, out for their morning beach walk will stop and say “Oh, Snook?  Last week they were all over the place, the water was so calm.”  Not knowing how much proverbial salt they are pouring into your wounds.  It looks as if you are walking aimlessly with a fly rod to the casual observer, but you are quite fixated on what could happen at anytime now.  So far though, the days have been filled with looking at tides, planning where to be, monitoring the winds and praying for clear surf. 

But it’s all good.  It’s fishin.  I haven’t seen another fly fisherman since I’ve been here, it’s kinda like paradise, and it beats working for the man.   Despite other people on the beach, I’m alone.  Working out strategies and plans in my head by myself.   I’m good with it but it’s nice to have a buddy around to be miserable with.  Not to mention if you hook a good fish, it’s awfully hard to get a good picture. And the boys back home would call BS on anything without proof. 

Like a lot of these trips, nighttime is the right time for retying leaders, rigging a different fly, looking at google earth for other options and pining over weather reports.  Have a few drinks, go to bed.  Tomorrow comes fast, even though it doesn’t feel like it’s fast enough.  If you’re lucky, you’re tired and maybe a little drunk so you fall asleep quickly.

Somehow, I can’t get myself outta bed back home to go to work on time, but here, in paradise, I’m up as soon as daylight peeks through the blinds.  A quick glance at the clock says it 6am and I’m ready to make it happen.  Throw on yesterday’s shorts and a clean shirt to check off the first order of the day: Coffee. My morning ritual here ends up being a quick ride over to a coffee shop for two large dark roast whatever-is-on-tap-today, as long as it’s strong.  The second cup, for my wife will likely be cold by the time I return.  I stop by a promising inland pond that I scoped out on Google Earth last night-  finding Cichlids, Bass and gators.  Bugs are bad, so I leave for now.  Coffee is cold.

I make that walk to the beach only to get there and see 3’ crashing waves. “sonofabitch!!!!”  now what.  Three days of dirty surf is enough.  Options… what else is there?  The snook on the beach are the big draw, but they aren’t the only show.  Inland ponds? Tidal creeks? Canals?  It’s nice to have options.  For this reason, I brought a new tool in the kit; the inflatable SUP.  Flyfishing from a SUP is starting to be a thing, and it’s one more way to open up possibilities previously out of reach.   I’ve made the trip to Gulf beaches to chase Snook for several years, with only minimal secondary fishing options.  If the winds blow up the beach, you’re likely not fishing much.  This year, the inflatable SUP went with me, partly as an insurance policy, but partly as a tool to explore some of the other options in the area.    It’s been a game changer.  In many cases, the SUP gets you across mud flats that can’t be waded, non-motor zones and provides a perspective well above that in a kayak or canoe.  SUPs specifically designed for fly fishing are stable platforms, carry a huge capacity and travel compact under the 40# mark.

But I still haven’t touched a big snook yet.  After spending some time exploring new areas, finding micro snook, micro poons, cichlids and snapper, I need a real fish.  I needed to find new beaches.  Clear beaches.  Beaches cranking with bait-smashing  Snook.  

Snook fishing on the beach is a solitary all day affair with a fly rod.   Some will argue low tide is better than high, but the fish are there regardless.  You can do this all day.  Sight fishing at its best, with crushing eats and committed fish in inches of water.  Fish range from 40”+ to 20” in singles to groups upwards of 20 fish.  It sounds all too good to be true, and sometimes is.  Weather will stick it to you on some days, other days it will be glassy and the fish will crush a poorly presented fly ten feet away.  Those days when it all comes together with light waves, clear surf and a constant supply of fish will have you booking next year’s trip before you leave.

Every year between May and September, the Snook start to pour out of the mangrove rearing grounds of the Gulf of Mexico and make their way along the Gulf coast beaches to do their annual spawning thing.  Being broadcast spawners- they do not make a nest- they use the shallow beaches to distribute their eggs which eventually wash back up into tidal creeks and mangrove roots to grow into baby snook.  And there are millions of them doing this right now.    This is the time to be a flyfisher, staring at the beach, looking for groups of fish willing to smash a baitfish pattern.

Hunting for the big girls

Snook are a funny fish, born male, they pull a hermaphroditic switch somewhere between 1 and 7 years of age and become female.  A large majority of “big Snook” on the beach will be females, followed by the smaller males in wolf packs.   Unlike a lot of fish fixated on spawning, the “big girls” are also very willing to eat while cruising the beach.   On more than one occasion, I dropped a fly on a group of oversized Snook, had two fish competing to close the gap to inhale my fly.  On some occasions, once hooked these fish will also re-school giving you a potential shot at the other fish in the same group.  There is no secret strategy to these fish.  When they are there, you’ll see them. Get in front of them, cast the fly to the fish and pull it away from them fast.  If they are in an eating mood, they will eat.  I haven’t had much success at casting to snook that are spooked or casting to snook and stripping a fly towards them. They know what’s up.
The weather eventually turns around.  Just hopefully in enough time that you still get a few good days of sight fishing before boarding a plane home.  It’s a great feeling when you make that walk to the beach and finally see soft breaking waves on a rising tide.  “Oh crap” turns into “Ooooh baby.”  A little more sun overhead will make the fish spotting terribly easy.  And it does.  The snook are there.  Lots of them.  Big ones.  And they eat.  You still haven’t seen another fly fisherman.  All is right with the world.  Next year’s trip…booked.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Potter 2015

Our annual pilgrimage to northcentral PA has come and gone.  When I left you last it was with a turkey story, but the main reason we come here is for the fishing.   It's hard to believe it's been 22 years we've been doing this, and while some of the players have changed there's still that core group of originals who've been there for it all.  It used to be it was all about the fishing, but camp life is just as much fun and a huge part of the whole experience that keeps us coming back for more.

Another rainy arrival night does little to dampen our enthusiasm.  We adapt rather than forgo the pleasures of the campfire.

These trips are all about the wild, native brook trout that the region is known for.  Just about every blue line on the map with enough water in it will hold them, and I'm always amazed at how fish can vary not only from stream to stream, but sections of streams themselves.  What they lack in size they more than make up for in charisma.

We tend to eat very well on these trips.  Here's some of my mothers blintzes for breakfast.  Warmed on a griddle, some blueberry preserves on top and maybe a dollop of sour cream if you are so inclined.  Heaven. 

Crab Night.  A Hungry Hollow tradition.

Hors d'oeuvres for Happy Hour

Who says size matters?

Potter County Taxi Ride.  Fish up, hitch a ride back down.

It seems to take so long to get here, and in the blink of an eye it's over leaving you only the memories of time well spent with friends, a few well chewed flies, a leftover sandwich in your pack that you'll find a week later when you finally comb through things and and itch that got well scratched.
Here's to next year!