April 2007

April 12th,13th & 14th: Bighorn River

After spending a few days with Reece and my wife I was off for another three days on the Bighorn. I packed up the old trusty steed with all the gear I would need to survive three days in the small travel trailer named “Foxxy” at Cottonwood Camp. The bags were packed and I headed out of town on Wednesday at around 9 am. I made one quick stop at Dan Baileys to pick up a few CDC baetis emergers and another stop at Walmart, the home of cheap plastic shit, in Hill Billings Montuckey. I arrived in Ft. Fun at around 2 pm and headed for the trailer park to see who had the day off. I first pulled by Thors house to see if Paulson was around and his rig was a no show so I figured he must be on the water with some clients. I pulled up to Tres Trailers and found Reithmiller dealing with Wilcox’s hounds, which were fighting to get under the tender’s trailer for a quick escape and journey around the trailer park. Reithmiller had been tying up some bugs for the coming days and after a quick discussion about how the fishing had been we headed over to see how Palumbo was doing. He had just returned from his errands and we sat and discussed music and the fishing for a couple of hours. Kieser poked his head in and we partook in a few busch beers. Once I started to feel the affects of the Busch’s I decided I had better go get my camp setup at the “Foxxy” When I arrived at Cottonwood no one was around so I decided to go check out the river. As I pulled out of Cottonwood Alvin was on the ditch road concocting some old tractor parts to drag behind the truck to loosen the hard gravel road in the camp. He told me to go find Doug to see if he had setup the trailer for our stay. Doug was getting the water hooked up in the newer showers and he had not gotten the trailer ready for my stay when I found him. We headed down to Foxxy and with a quick plug in of an extension cord we at least had power to the trailer. I told him that water was not a big deal and that I could care less to blow my self up in the pre 70’s era trailer with the propane for the stove and fridge. He concluded with me that propane in the trailers was a scary proposition and that neither of us wanted our obituary to read that we were taken from this earth in a 14 foot travel trailer that blew up when the propane leak ignited. I had my grill, Coleman stove and a cooler full of block ice that would suffice just fine for the three nights and four days of my stay at Cottonwood. I began unpacking my bags and getting the gear setup in the trailer. First and foremost was setting up the fly tying station to pump out the necessary weapons for the next three days. I was running short on Big Uglies, Jess’s Pupae, Cripple Thors, Baetis Comparaduns and the four hours in the truck gave me a couple of ideas for a few new bugs that I would use on my clients rod for the next few days. Once all my gear was inside and the place was setup, Peter pulled up and we unpacked his gear and got the trailer ready for our stint at the Disneyland of the flyfishing world.

Day one brought introductions of the clients and guides and I was paired with Mike and Marshal. They were both fairly new to the art of the fly, Marshal had done a decent bit of back country fishing and Mike was very new to the sport. Mike did have some idea about the casting and Marshal was accomplished enough to make the cast he needed to. We put in at the after bay and were in for the long haul all the way to Bighorn. Our first stop was in the Meat hole where I showed them the rig and how it was setup. Then we headed out into the riffle to introducing them to the finer points of nymph fishing, primarily how to mend. Mike was into his first fish after several cast and I landed his small brown and headed up to put Marshal in the spot. Marshal caught several fish right off the bat and I went walking to the head of the hole to see if there were any fish rising. There was a huge bow on a redd at the top of the riffle and I watched the pair move off and on the redd for several minutes. I’m not some pervert, however I do enjoy watching fish complete the reproductive cycle and I figured it would be a great time to give a lesson on etiquette to the clients. I did check out the small side channel and there were about 75 fish rising in the scum and trickle of current coming in from the channel. I rigged up a dry dropper rig and had both Mike and Marshal come to the top to watch the spawners as well as fish to some rising fish. They both enjoyed seeing the spawners and then Marshal took a half hour casting to the rising fish in the scum eddy. He hooked and landed a couple of fish and we headed for the boat to make a journey downstream. We did very well in the meat hole and we could have just stayed there most of the day. Our next stop was not until we hit Carl’s and we only stayed there long enough for Marshal to land 4 or 5 fish and then we headed on down the river. We did a little boat fishing on the way and we had to row all the way to the vines for our next stop. The Baetis started pouring off around 1 pm and we could not find a good stop to make for fishing dries. Dave was in the Pipe and there were fish going crazy on the surface. We stopped for a quick bite with his clients and then we headed down to the Vines. I knew that when a good hatch comes off that you can do really well in the vines fishing a drowned dry pattern as they get washed under from the fast water in the Bighorn Rapids. I put Marshal out on the ledge at the bottom and he proceeded to hook and land 30 or more fish most of them were smaller fish but the numbers were very good for Marshal. Mike and I headed up on the shelf and the sun was just right so that you could see all the fish sitting on the rock just off the edge. Mike hooked several large brown trout before he was able to land the big fish of the day, a skinny 21 inch brown. The Fish moved right into the ledge and we could see about 20 of them jockeying for position. We were able to hook another 10 fish swinging a CDC spinner with two split shot under an indicator into the fish. Both of them were very happy with the fishing and we headed for the slot below the Bay of Pigs for one last stop before heading for the lodge. We took a couple of more fish and they were ready for cocktails and a good meal.

Day Two we put in at 3 mile and floated down to the pipe to camp out for the day. Dave had done well there on dries the day before and both Mike and Marshal wanted to give some dry flies a try. We nymphed most of the morning and I had mike try and new fly that came after several Beam and Soda’s and about 8 beers. During the course of the morning Mike and I were talking about how great of a day it was already and the only way it could get better would to see a boat full of short skirts and bikini tops go floating by. That is when the new fly was labeled as “Mike’s Short Skirt”. We stayed in the “Pipe” until around 3 pm waiting for the baetis to hatch but the sun was high all day and the bugs never really got going and the fish never looked up. So we headed on down river and made another stop at the Vines to see if we could hook Marshal up with a few of the large browns that Mike tied into the day before. Mike was on the ledge at the bottom and he hooked and landed plenty of fish to satisfy his day. Marshal and I headed for the upper end of the shelf and Marshal did finally hook and land a nice 17 inch brown that gave him a run for his money before coming to the net. Marshal managed to hook several more large fish and break them off before we decided to head for the lodge.

Day Three: Oh the dreaded Saturday crowds were on tap for the day and the key to fishing the Bighorn is getting lucky with managing the crowds. When I pulled up to the ramp there were already 14 trailers in the lot and another 8 kick boats getting ready to put in. I was a bit concerned and I told both Mike and Marshal that finding a spot could be a challenge. We pushed off from the 3 mile ramp and I had plans on stopping early and trying to fish for some fish sipping on risers either below the snag hole or on the flat below Crow Beach. As we launched two boats pulled over into the Gravel pit and it put a total of 12 boats ahead of us and possibly stationed in the good holes downriver. The kick boats pushed off about the same time and fortunately they were more interested in fishing from the Kick boats than getting to a hole to wade fish, thus they were out of the crowd management picture as well. I put the boat in full gear forward and we ran into two more boats in the first on the right, 10 boats ahead it’s looking better. As we spit out the bottom of the channel there were 5 more boats parked in various places around the snag hole. At this point I told the boys that we were going to take a gamble and head for the 3 rivers area of the river and setup camp in either Holly’s Hole or across from Mikes. We were in for an hour boat ride and if the other boats had the same plan we might have to row out and go float the upper three in the afternoon. As we hit the car bodies another boat was pulled over wade fishing the slick above the Beaver hut. I rounded the corner and two more boats were pulled in at the Duck Blind and I got very excited because there were only two more boats ahead of us and we would certainly get one of the holes at Three Rivers. When we got to the Club the old guys who had been there for the past two days were parked and fishing. That left one boat which was right in front of us and they pulled into the pipe. I gave Matt and wave and kept front rowing with a smirk on my face. We pulled into 3 rivers and we pulled in across from Mikes house and setup camp for the day. I got the boys rigged with flies set them in their spots where they immediately started catching fish. For the next hour I went back and forth between setting up the table, chairs and camp in between netting fish. We nymphed fished all morning and then we sat to eat some lunch. After lunch they headed back out and I took a scan of the upper end of the hole to look for risers. The fish were starting to eat midge clusters pretty strong and when Marshal needed a break to warm up I rigged a dry fly rod for them to fish to the rising fish. By the time Marshal warmed back up there were a solid 30 fish rising in the hole. We waded out and I put Marshal to work on catching fish that he could see holding just below the surface and lazily sticking their heads up to pluck the clusters off the surface. Mike was back at it hooking fish every 5 to 10 drifts on the nymphs below. Marshal hooked several fish on the cluster and then a few baetis started to trickle in with the midges. Several more fish had moved in as the baetis started to drift and soon we had too many targets to cast to. Each fish was picking off both baetis and midges so I switched up to a biot comparadun # 18 and trailed it with a red miracle midge off the back. The miracle midge did take the majority of the fish but the comparadun was easy to see and a quarter of the time the fish choose it instead of the midge. After Marshal landed several nice rainbows and a couple of browns it was Mike’s turn to take his shot at and become thoroughly addicted to fly fishing. Dry flies are the presuppose for why most anglers become addicts for using a fly rod, nymphs catch fish but to witness the event unfolding at this time is what causes the addiction. Mike took a few cast with the dry fly stick and it took him a few tangles and a bit of instruction in how to cast a slower shorter rod without the weight and strike indicator that he had on his stiff nymph rod. Once he worked out the kinks he started to see wherein the addiction lies. After catching several fish and missing a lot more his feet got cold and we sat back at our camp and watched as the parade of boats came floating down at the end of the day. We packed up the gear and they both finished the day off with a few more fish while I loaded up the boat and then we headed for the takeout and a wonderful day of turning rookies into fly addicts. It was a great trip and both of them made a ton of progress in the three days of being on the Bighorn.


Thursday April 5th.

As the snow fell last night I was wondering if I was going to have another early spring trip cancel due to the weather. I was confirmed for a full day wade/float trip through the Yellowstone Angler and I was sure that the Bozeman Pass would be a hair raising experience with the new snow on the ground. As it is in the spring the pass was slushy and trecherous due to semi drivers that drive to fast and act like assholes. The pass was slushy and one semi did pull a dipshit manuever passing several of us on slushy roads doing well over 75 mph in a full size semi. I stopped at the store and picked up the makings of the Hot Lunch that the clients would enjoy half way through their day. The clients were Jack and John and they were from Maine and Massachutes. Jack runs a non profit in Maine and John oversees a large bank in the Boston area. They were both experienced anglers who could handle themselves on the creeks just fine, but they enjoyed getting a guide once in a while to get a few pointers and pickup a few new tricks. We headed to Armstrongs with a selection of Baetis nymphs and dry patterns with hopes of having a good baetis hatch later in the day. When we arrived at the creek Peter was there with his two clients and they were heading into the diagonal riffle to give it a try. We suited up every piece of warm weather gear we had and headed for the holes upstream of Peter and his husband and wife team from New Mexico. The air temperature at 9 am on the creek was hovering around 28 degrees and the wind was blowing at a fairly consistent pace of 5 to 10 miles per hour, it was a little on the chilly side. Jack is 63 years old and he has had a few knee surgeries that require him to use a wading staff and a little patience in getting from spot to spot. I scurried John down the hill in the riffle above Peter and gave him his fly setup, which consisted of a Solitude Baetis nymph # 16 trailed with a # 18 Johnny Cash and a # 2 Split shot ahead of the two flies. Off he went to fish the deeper water and I headed Jack up to a spot where we could get down the bank. We got in the creek 50 yards above John and waded across to fish the Big Rock run. The stream work they did a month ago has helped concentrate the fish a bit since there is some deeper water that the fish can congregate in. There were about 9 fish in the lower end of the run and most of them appeared to be rainbows that were close to getting their game on. They were not sitting close to any reds but they most likely were either on the shallow water 25 yards below or heading to some above the long run. As I suspected Jack hooked into one on the third or fourth drift and it was a 14 inch bow that was turning black and getting ready for some romance. Jack had on a # 16 Sawyer trailed with a # 20 Red Heathen about 4 feet below a pinch on. The first fish took the heathen and put up a good fight. The next two fish that Jack hooked were close to the mouth but a little short of the corner of the mouth. Since I had Jack into a few fish I gave him some suggestions about how the proceed up the run and headed down to try and get John into a few fish to start off the day. He was fast to move up to the very head of the riffle and I arrived to him fishing in very shallow and fast water that the fish like in July. I moved him back down to the heart of the run and had him run some cast in the slower water. His fly setup was not producing from and area that I know has some fish in it. I changed up the Johnny cash for a # 18 pinkie and had him swing it down through the gut. On his second cast through the hole he hooked up to a smaller rainbow that we were able to land. After another ten minutes of going fishless we reeled up and headed for the run above Jack. I stopped by on the way to help Jack move up in the run a bit and sent John up the creek with my suggestions on where to stand. Jack hooked another fish and then I moved up to get John in the right postion. John made many good drifts through the deepest part of the hole and came up with one nice brown trout around 17 inches. He had changed up or lost the back fly and replaced it with a grey midge larvae. I showed him the inside of the seam, which he was not fishing and on his first cast he was onto another fish. After two more fish on the small fly he tied on the fly had been turned in little more than a hook with black thread. I changed him out to a # 20 Grey WD-50 and he took a fish on the first cast. I headed back down to Jack to change him up to a Grey Larvae and when I arrived at the head of the run there were some fish starting to sip something on the back side of the rock. We ran a couple of more nymphs through the hole and Jack hooked one nice rainbow that jumped and broke off. By then there were a couple of fish rising consistently enough to justify taking apart the nymph rig and putting on a dry. I put on a Black # 20 Cripple Thor and we decided to leave on the pinch on to help jack see the fly. His second or third cast had a take and he landed a nice rainbow on the dry. He was excited to get a fish on the surface and it helped to keep the cold wind and steam from making us ask ourselves what are we doing out here in the first place. It appeared the fish were eating midges but we were also getting close to the time that the baetis had been getting started on the creek for the past week. After several more misses and landing another fish the fish slowed to the offering of the Cripple Thor. I switched up to one of Zach’s CDC emergers and we had a couple of takes right off the bat. During this dry fly frenzy John was steadily pulling in fish from the run above. Jack landed another fish and we decided it was time for some hot lunch. It was 1:30 when we hit the shack for Lunch and Peter was in the clients vehicle eating lunch and trying to warm up from the balmy 31 degree temperature at 1 pm. I got the hot Ham and Cheese on Sourdough going along with the soup that would help warm some cold feet, faces and hands. We ate a quick bite and John and Jack retired to the car for some time with the heater. After I got cleaned up and the gear packed in the truck I headed up to see if anyone was fishing the very upper end of the creek. When I got to the colvert there was a guy fishing from the new island and I headed back to fish below the hut on the lower end of the creek. As we headed for the lower end the sun burst from behind the clouds. I put John in the first run and headed Jack for the deep corner by the house. When we arrived there was a nice brown feeding on the surface between the downed tree and the bush near the middle of the hole. Jack had a # 20 Harrop Sparkle dun on and I had him through it at the fish. The baetis were starting to trickle down the creek and the fish was steadfastly feeding on the surface. It was a difficult down and across presentation that required a very accurate cast into the gap between the dead branches on the fallen tree and the bush. The cast was made tougher by a gust breeze that ranged between 5 and 15 mph. As the baetis started to pop I head for John so that I could have him fish the lower end of the run. Jack shouted out as he hooked and had a quick schooling from the brown under the bush. I rerigged John with a Comparadun and set him in place just above the fast water in the run below. There were 5 different fish feeding on the surface and I worked with John on the finer points of making a Winston IM6 perform a better more accurate cast. He managed to get several eats but was not able to put the steel to any of the fish. The hatch lasted for about an hour and then as soon as they started they were done. I gave them both new nymph rigs and put on Balloons for their indicators. They both liked them but we quickly began making bubba bass comments in regards to the silliness of using a balloon for an indicator. Jack hooked into the fish of the day in the deep hole and it was a nice rainbow that bull dogged Jack in the bottom of the hole for several minutes. Finally the fish turned down out of the hole and headed for Depuy’s. I thought we were in business when the fish finally turned from the deep water but the fish went straight downstream and soon was far enough out that I was certain it was going to come unbuttoned. Sure enough it did and plenty of heckling came from John, especially when I was looking at Jack’s setup and John hooked a fish that he joked was the one that Jack lost. The sawyer PT was the fly of the hour in the deep water for the next 45 minutes and then we decided to try and fish the upper end of the creek to finish off the day. I put jack in the new hole that comes off the log on the island and waded John across at the bottom of the island to fish the top end. John landed a couple of fish from the top of the island and Jack got bored and moved into the slough and stripped a bugger. The bugger took 4 fish from the slough and Jack was pretty wiped out for the day. John and I waded out into the muck below the island to run a spring creek scud and a Midge through the new dug out that bends back toward the culvert. The wading is mucky but it paid off with the biggest fish of the day comming on the scud. A nice 19 inch brown took fast and we had a couple of other smaller rainbows come to hand before the sun started to get low and the air temps dropped fast. It was a great day on the creek even with the artic weather.

Wednesday April 4th. I had met Beth through a friend of ours who decorated the interior of her Mountain Home at Moonlight Basin. She had contacted me through Dana and we were scheduled to do two half day trips while she was out on a ski vacation with her kids. Our first day was supposed to be Monday the 2nd but we awoke to several inches of new snow and blizzard like conditions. I spoke with Beth in the morning and told her that there was no way that I was going to risk life and limb to get to Big Sky and go fishing. She was not excited about the prospect of standing in a river during a snow storm either so we made the call to put off the trip and give it another try on Wednesday. The weather was much nicer on Wednesday and I met her at the Hungry Moose Market at 10 am. When I left Bozeman the air temp was a whopping 27 degrees and I was concerned that it may be a short day with the cold weather. When I got to Big Sky the inversion was in place and it was a balmy 38 degrees with a bit of sunshine poking through the clouds. We stopped at Super Dave’s Mad Wolf sports and picked up a license for the day ahead.
The first stop was a quick walk into the hole at the bottom of the Porcupine Wildlife area and we hooked a few decent rainbows and one beautiful cutthroat. After a couple of hours of fishing the run we walked back to the truck and headed back down the river to find a new spot to fish for the rest of the day. Guiding on the Gallatin poses some interesting challenges as the Forest Circus owns much of the land and with evil people in charge such as Becky Heath the ability for any new blood to get commercial Forest permits has become impossible. Thus creativity and some understanding of Emminent Domain can gain you access to the river via highway easements. We got into the Hog Hole by using the Highway and as we got to the river I gave Beth the rundown about what we were fishing for and why they were there. Once we waded to the other side of the river Beth made her first few cast with a Idlywilde Bead Head stone # 10 trailed by the Fluery Ugly egg. I had to adjust the weight and she was fast into her first hog hole fish. It was a nice fat healthy rainbow with no color that went a solid 19 inches. I managed to get a hand on the fish but my tippet lanyard caught the point fly and the fish made a quick escape before we could capture it’s digital image. She hooked a couple of more fish and then she was fast to another Hog Hole Bow and we managed to get our hands on it and bring it to the hand for a quick photo before sending it back to the bottom of the Gallatin. The baetis started to come off around 2 pm and fish were really feeding on the opposite bank. We did try a few cast with a dry and we realized that we had better get back to her vehicle so she could be at the house when the kids got done skiing.
We had a wonderful time catching fish and we also shared some great conversation since we both have similiar views on what is going on in the world.

Sunday began far to early with a 4:30 am wake up from the alarm clock and a trip to the airport to drop off my wife and son. We arrived at the airport at 5:15 for their 6 am flight and it was a mix of rain and snow. I dropped them off and hit the Truck Stop for some early morning grub. The Ham and Cheese omelet hit the spot and greasy hash browns were as good as they get, even though I would pay the price later in the day with all the grease and butter sitting in my stomach on top of the rest of the contents of my digestive tract. After eating breakfast I headed home and hit the bed to catch up on some more sleep. I finally got out of bed around 9 am and hit the fly tying vise to tie up some # 18 Soft Hackle copper johns and a few # 20 tungsten soft hackles for a day of fishing on the Gallatin. I was scheduled to take a trip on the Gallatin on Monday and I wanted to get out and fish it a bit before guiding on it the next day. My dad and Peter Penefold arrived at the house around 10:30 and we jumped in my dads truck with all our gear and my faithful fishing companion Trico the Spring Spaniel. We drove up the Gallatin Canyon all the way to Big Sky to check out the conditions of the river and to see how much it still looked and felt like winter in the Big Sky area. I had not been up the canyon most of the winter and I was surprised to see that most of the snow was gone from the banks of the river. When we got to Moose Creek it started to snow and the big wet heavy flakes were coming down at a moderate pace. We drove up to the top of the porcupine wildlife management area and turned around. There was a guy in the ” Hog hole”, which I wanted to stop and give a try so we continued on down the road to Deer Creek to check on the pod of risers that typically inhabit this deep hole. When we got to Deer Creek there was a mother and her two sons there who were from New Zealands North Island. They were visiting the area and her sons were attending school in Breckenridge Colorado for snowboarding. The one son had his fly rod rigged and was trying to fish in a pair of skater tennis shoes and a pair of shorts, all while it was snowing out. He did manage to catch a fish at the run above the bridge and we rigged up a dry fly rod for peter to go after the large pod of rising fish on the highway side, just above the bridge. There was conservatively 50 fish actively feeding on the surface, most of which were under 10 inches long. There were a couple of larger fish at the head of the pool but even these fish were not much larger than 12 or 13 inches. Peter headed down to the water and placed his first cast into the spruce tree behind him. After retrieving his fly from the tree he managed to hook several of the small fish on my light colored pullover midge # 20. After the fish stopped rising we jumped back in the truck and headed for Squaw Creek to fish a run or two and show them both the back road that gives you good access to the Gallatin away from Hwy 191. We ended up fishing the River Runs Through It rock and Peter and I did the death wade to the other side. It started off a bit slow as I had on a Idlywilde Goldenstone # 10 with a # 20 Tungsten Soft hackle on the rear. I hooked three fish from below the rock on the Stonefly nymph and peter hooked one rainbow above the rock on # 18 Soft Hackle Red Copper John trailed 2 feet off the back of a # 12 Royal Parwulff. I put on the Parawulff because I saw a large March Brown adult on the surface as I was crossing over to the other bank. Unfortunately there were not enough March Browns out to bring the fish to the surface but it will be very soon that we can get them to come up to a Wulff pattern. My dad nymphed up the road side of the run and he managed to hook one rainbow from the pocket water above the main run. Peter also headed upstream and I stayed in the deep run knowing full well that there was a ball of fish somewhere in the deeper water and all that I had to do was unlock their exact location and find the right fly setup. I moved above the Rock and changed my setup to a Brown and Yellow Rubberleg trailed with one of Fluery’s half eggs that we did well on a month earlier on a trip at the Lodge. The Rubberleg was a # 10 and the Egg was a Mc Cheese Egg on a # 14 scud hook. I put on one # 4 split shot and bang the first cast I stuck a nice 12 inch bow on the rubberlegs. My second cast came tight to a 13 inch brown trout that ate the egg. I them proceeded to haul in a dozen fish in about 20 minutes with all most all of the fish falling to the egg pattern. Peter had returned from his jaunt upstream and I gave him my rod and the spot where he caught a couple of decent rainbows. We fished it for another 15 minutes and I think we sore mouthed most of the fish in the hole. We waded back across the river and jumped back into the truck. We made one last stop at the Kleinschmidt diversion dam where I stuck another dozen fish and called it a day. The bows on the Gallatin are starting to put on some color and they are definitely all over the eggs. One thing that I have come to the conclusion on is that a poorly tied fly generally works better than a archival quality one. The Fluery egg out fishes my perfectly round version much better and I have had to retie most of my egg patterns. The Fluery egg is your basic egg pattern that most tiers first tie up and it needs to come out looking like half an egg rather than a full round one. It is very quick and easy to tie, which is a huge plus when it comes to egg patterns. I sat down last night and whipped out 5 dozen of them in less than an hour and a half.
After scouting all day on Sunday I awoke to 4 inches of fresh snow and more flakes falling as I write. Beth did not want to venture out in the weather and I am pretty sure I do not want to drive to Big Sky in it either, so I guess I will spend the day tying up my commercial orders instead of guiding on the Gallatin. We will make it up on Wednesday and I can’t wait to get back out on the Gallatin.