May 2010

No child left inside!

The future of fly fishing rest in the hands of the kids who are on the playgrounds across the world today.  My son Reece is a highly active and out going boy who loves to try everything.  Right now he wants to become a major league catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, but that will change a few times before the weekend is over.  With the Memorial Day weekend getting an early start with no school today we are stuck inside as the rain continues to fall, along with the air temperatures.  Not being able to run around outside we hit the garage to create the latest and greatest fly patterns for the up coming summer of fishing.

As Reece locked the first hook of the morning into the jaws of the vise I mixed up some flex patch for my leaking waders.  I got him started on a # 4 bugger pattern so that he could get warmed up and not get frustrated with his first fly of the day.  The woolly bugger is a great pattern to start with because it uses some very good techniques that he uses on his own creations.  Before  the glue started to cure on my wader patch Reece was finishing up his bugger with a few half hitches.  I sat down at my vise and Reece was ready to start his mad scientist routine.  He routed around in several drawers of my fly tying materials and choose Purple Thread, some peacock herl and some flashy winging material.  At the ripe age of 7 he is pretty familiar with the bugs that hatch on the rivers in our area and he wanted to make a bug with wings.  He picked out a scud hook and locked the hook into the jaws of his vise.

Perhaps the next Rene Harrop?

I sat down at my vise to work on a new simple crayfish pattern that has been rattling around in my brain for the past few days while Reece attached his purple thread to the hook.  I was putting the finishing touches on my bug when Reece asked me for help in making a wing for his fly.  I peeked at his bug and he had attached two strands of peacock herl for the tail and covered the rest of the hook with the purple thread.  He must be secretively reading my fly tyer magazines and wants to be part of the trend of using purple bodied dry flies.  He is far more in tune with the latest styles and trends than his father has ever been.  Ironically I found an old wing burner in the seat cushion of the couch last night and I thought he would enjoy using the tool to make a wing out of the flash material he had selected from my drawer of winging material.  I showed him how to double over the material to create two wings at once and he thought that was pretty cool.  We cut out the wing and trimmed it up before attaching the wing to the hook.  He was mightly impressed with the method and was very proud of his mayfly that he invented.  He tied up a couple of them while I made a few of my crayfish patterns and as we finished up he told me he wanted to be a fly tyer when he grows up, I told you he would change his career path before the day was out.  I told him that it might be better to have a great career as a catcher in the majors and then when he retired he could become a professional fly tyer and fishing guide.  He thought that would be a great idea.

Reece's Summer Vacation! Watch out Zach you might actually get my son to submit some patterns before I do!

We headed into the house and he prepared his wheelies so that we could head over to the Gallatin Valley Mall and do some extreme skating on the hard floors in the mall.  I am sure he will choose two or three more careers before the day is out and It makes me smile each time he chooses to be something new.  Reece just don’t grow up to fast and enjoy being a kid.


As a guide and a fly tyer it is always hard to tie on a store bought fly pattern because you feel like you are  losing the advantage over the rest of the people on the river.  Some days life just doesn’t provide enough time to tie those few special bugs and other times it is due to not having the right material.  My tying bench is stuffed with bags of chenille, thread, fur and feathers but on occasion I run out of a material and forget to restock for the next round of bugs.  After yesterday’s hot bug coming from the visor of the truck I went on a search for the correct material for the fly.  In the back of my mind I was pretty sure that it was a color that none of the wholesale outlets stock  so I did a quick search on the web to see if any of the shops could even order the right color combo.   None of the wholesalers offered the right color combination, but I decided showing my face in some of the stores would at least be worth the trip to confirm that the web was correct.

It took a couple of hours to make the rounds and I am now sitting at the computer screen with a great debate on my hands.  Do I head to the shop and buy a couple of dozen of the bugs that were working so well or do I take the ridiculous route and purchase enough of the chenille to tie several thousand dozen of them instead.  Economically speaking just taking the short trip to the fly shop and  spending $30 would be the smart choice, but when it comes to my obsession with fly tying I usually don’t make educated decisions.  So know I am sitting here contemplating placing an order for the chenille which will require me to spend three times the amount of money and provide me with enough chenille to string a continuous line of it from Bozeman to Billings.

Fortunately for me I will have to wait till tomorrow to place an order for the chenille because the supplier is on the East Coast.  Hopefully I will sleep on it and use a bit of common sense rather than let my addiction to personally tied flies run rough shot over the whole process.  To those of you thinking about taking up fly tying as a hobby, I would highly recommend  that you continue to just purchase your flies from shops so that you don’t have to check yourself into a clinic for a psych evaluation.  I think it might be time for me to take a trip to Warm Springs and see how the other crazy folks are doing today!

Shook's Fish of the Day!

After a 4 day stint on the Bighorn, guiding and relaxing I have been relegated to the confines of the tying bench to stock up on bugs  for some upcoming Missouri River trips.   The weather over the past couple of days has been rainy and cold so sitting at the tying bench hasn’t been to overbearing.  The forecasters are calling for a couple of days of decent weather and then another cold front and possible snow showers could return just in time for Memorial Day Weekend.  As is usually the case we will probably see a brief moment of sunshine around 5 o’clock on Friday that will encourage everyone to hook up their campers and head for a camping spot for the three day weekend.  They will all wake up to 40 degree weather and socked in skies that should have produced a quarter to half of an inch of precipitation while they were asleep.  It will rain all day and night on Saturday, all day and night on Sunday and all day until around 5 pm on Monday.  The skies will clear on Monday evening around 5 pm so that everyone can dry out their camping gear and swear off ever camping again on Memorial Day Weekend.  I have been here long enough to know that staying home over both Memorial and Labor Day is usually the best plan because the weather almost always beats you up over the holiday breaks.

This morning I had planned to spend some more time at the vise but I knew that today was probably going to be the best weather day of the next week so I had tentative plans for a quick float on the lower to test out a few or my creations from the bench.  The wind was blowing pretty steady this morning and it was a cool breeze from the northeast, which typically indicates that the wind will be calm on the Lower Madison.  East winds signal a back door cold front sitting up in Canada and I am sure it is gearing up for the weekend.  So I called up my buddy Josh Shook and another good friend Jon Bresney and we headed out to the river for a few hours of floating and fishing.

The Warm Springs boat ramp has been closed for the past couple of weeks so that paving of the parking lot could be accomplished.  I don’t need to get started on the tangent of the whole paving of the parking lot but all I will say is that it was a very poor decision on the part of the BLM and FW&P, can anyone say pollutants.  So I had hoped the ramp might be open so that we could just do the basic 5 mile float and get back to town.  As we arrived at the access the gate was still locked even though all the pavement was laid, lines were drawn on the parking spaces and the parking barriers were in place.  There were two guys working behind the gate and they were raking some dirt for a few final landscaping needs.  The project looked 99% complete but it still was closed.  Fortunately the word from FW&P is that the ramp should be open on Friday, in time for the three day weekend.  So with the bad news of the ramp we headed for the “Death Slide” at the Canaday Bridge.  We put the boat in and headed out to run the shuttle to Greycliff.

My truck's only Resale Value!

We got back from running the shuttle and Shook pulled a streamer off the visor of my truck, he insisted that it would be the bug of the day.  Jon was out fishing while we were gone and he managed to land a small rainbow on a caddis larvae while we were gone.  I gave shook my boat rod and he rigged up two streamers with intentions of searching out a hog.  Jon stuck with his nymph rig and we shoved off from the ramp.  The first half mile was uneventful until we hit the fast water below the camp ground.  Shook threw the streamers into the edge of a shallow weed bed that fell off into the deeper water.  He got in half of a strip as the fish pictured above inhaled his offering.   The fish put up a few solid runs and we soon had him to the net.  As I lifted the fish in the net we both noticed that he ate the bug from the visor of the truck.

After a few quick snapshots and a high five I pulled up anchor and we continued on down the river.   Shook continued to have success with a slow strip and managed to hook several more fish before we hit Cherry Creek.  Jon had switched up to a dry dropper rig with a Royal PMX trailed with a King Prince.  There were a few caddis flying around and we saw a few fish feeding off the occasional adult that floated on top of the water.  Jon  also had 4 or 5 fish eat his orange Sindicator so we wanted to see if we could entice a fish to eat on top,  it was also a little R&D for a trip I have on Saturday.  A few smaller rainbows showed some interest in the dry and we landed a couple of mid size bows on the King Prince.  Knowing that the dry dropper was producing some fish Jon wanted in on the action shook had earlier in the day.   As we got down towards “Gagne’s Spin Box”  the fishing really picked up.  The “Visor Bug” was the star of the show but we also started to pick up fish on a caddis emerger that I tied up for the Mo trip later in June.

Both Josh and Jon had plenty of more nice fish eat the rest of the way and fishing the bugs either on a dead drift in the deeper slots of stripping the bugs through the shallower water produced fish.  We didn’t manage to hit anymore big fish like the first fish of the day but we caught several nice rainbows that took off like rockets and got the blood flowing when the fish were first hooked.  It was a great day and thank god Shook took the fly from the Visor, because I would never have thought to tie one on otherwise.  Hopefully it will work just as well on Saturday for the clients.

With another winter storm warning issued for today, it’s the 11th of May for christ sake, I didn’t have plans to head out and wet a line.  After getting caught up on a few dozen cripple PMD and egg laying caddis patterns for the dry fly extravaganza on the Mo later this summer I needed a rest for the old lower back.  Looking out the garage window from my fly tying perch I saw my friend John pull up.  I was sure he probably wanted to hit the water for a bit and I was ready for the break myself.  I did notice the wind gusting furiously out of the East but it only tickled the back of my mind.  Neither of us had much more than a few hours to play hooky from our responsibilities as fathers so we took a quick ride out to the Gallatin.

The scene of the crime!

The wind was shielded by the cottonwoods as we made our walk down to the river.  The good news about the weather was that the overcast skies could spur a nice hatch of bugs and bring the fish to the surface.  It is always a major dilemma in late April wether you want clouds or sunshine.  The cloudy days spur on intense hatches of March Browns, Midges and Baetis while the bright sunny days can produce the epic “Mother’s Day” blizzards of caddis flies.   It’s a great quandary to have, I know.  As we walked up to the convergence of a side channel and the main channel we both kept a vigilant eye out for any insect activity.  After a few minutes of staring at the waters surface we both decided we would pry the depths with a few nymphs so as to bend the rod during our short trip to the river.  I managed to hook and loose two fish within the first few minutes and then I caught a glimpse of a large object floating down the current.  Just as I spotted the familiar sail boat appearance on the surface a swallow swooped down and dive bombed the March Brown adult that was floating along so casually.  I made another heave of the heavily weighted fly line and managed to wrap the whole setup around the indicator.  I reeled in the line to untangle the fly and I saw the first splashy rise  of the day.  Since I had a mess on my hands I clipped back the leader and dug deep in the fly box for my favorite March Brown imitation, a # 10 Royal Parawulff.

Over the years I have been rewarded handsomely by the Spring emergence of the March Browns and they have turned into one of my favorite hatches of the year.  I have fallen in love with the March Browns for several good reasons.  First and most importantly is that the fish tend to commit Harry Carey when the large bugs hit the surface.  Secondly the adults are large and easy to imitate with an attractor that is very easy to keep and eye on.  We do dry fly fish for the visual pleasure it gives us and when the fly is a # 10 it makes it even that much more fun.  The only gripe that I have been able to muster about the hatch is the duration of the emergence, but that is more than  compensated by the reckless abandonment that the fish have for the insect.  Our typical emergence cycle of adults usually only last for 30 to 40 minutes with a prolonged hatch being an hour or so.  However if you are lucky enough to be ready and hit the hatch just right you can catch a weeks worth of fish in the short amount of time that you have adults on the water.  This day was not going to show any exception to that rule!

The first of many!

I applied floatant to the bushy dry and sent it sailing into the riffle at the head of the side channel, the fly made it about 4 feet and was engulfed in a swirl of whitewater as the first brown of the day took his leap of faith.  After a quick snapshot I sent him back to his laird and proceeded to hook or miss fish on every few cast.  My buddy John was a little slow on the draw to remove his indicator and nymph rig but after several fish on about a dozen cast he quickly reached for his nippers and a hurried search through his fly boxes.  I snatched a wulff out of my

March Brown Bow!

mess of flies and soon he was joining me in the melee of surface activity.   I only managed to land two fish as he quickly tied on his fly and sunk it into the floatant.  Since I had landed a half dozen fish since the hatch started I took a deep breath and gave John the run all to himself.  It took him a few cast and the smell of the skunk had left the building for John as well.  I laughed like my 2 year old daughter as John preceded to hook several fish on as many cast.  After he landed his fourth fish I had to get back in the game and we both finished out the hatch which lasted a whopping 35 minutes.  Just as quickly as it had started the bugs disappeared and the fish went to the bottom just as I do on Thanksgiving after the feast.   Our entire day consisted of about an hour of fishing but it was more than enough to satisfy the itch and stretch out my back so that I could head back to the size 18 Split Back PMD’s that needed my attention.

Well it’s the day after Mother’s Day and ole Mother Nature has been a little rough on us for the past couple of weeks.  With a mild winter and below average snowpack heading into mid April the skies opened up and gave us a dose of winter that we had all written off for the year.  After two and a half weeks of cold and snowy weather, with plenty of trip cancellations due to the frigid temps it looks like we may finally be in for some comfortable weather.  The good news from the cold and snowy weather is that our snowpacks have gained great ground and moved up around 20 percent from what they were a few weeks ago.  The Gallatin drainage is now sitting at 97 % with the Upper Missouri following close behind at 91%, the Upper Yellowstone drainage is sitting at 77 % and the Madison drainage at 81%.  These snowpacks should give us enough water to make it through the year and provide some great fishing for everyone.

The current fishing has been very good for those willing to venture out into the weather.  I have spent a lot of time on the Gallatin in the past 10 days and the fishing has been just short of spectacular.  Nymphing has been very good with a # 10 March Brown nymph trailed with a #12 Tan Sparkle Pupae.  The caddis are hatching in the afternoon and into the evening and I have had some success fishing on the surface with a # 12 tan caddis trailed by a # 12 Sparkle Pupae or # 14 King Prince.   As of today the river is running gin clear, this will change by the end of the week after this next storm front moves through and brings the temps back into the 60’s by the weekend.  I would expect the Spring Runoff to kick into gear sometime next week and we probably won’t be back on the Gallatin until late June or Early July.

I have also gotten out on the Boulder, Lower Madison and Yellowstone in the past ten days and they have all been fishing well.  The Boulder is low and clear and there were not much for bug hatches the day I was on the water.  Nymphing produced a few fish but the highlight of the day was the eagerness for the fish to chase down a streamer.  The deeper pools gave up many eager fish that were interested in moving after a quickly stripped bugger pattern.  Olive or a combination of Black and Olive did the trick and I will be keeping that in the back of my brain for next spring.   I wade fished the Yellowstone on two occassions and had great luck with a dry dropper combo.  Midges, Baetis and March Browns have been hatching very consistently and if you are on the river when the March Browns hatch you will be in for a treat.   The fish put on their stupid caps and eat everything in site when the short lived March Browns come off in the afternoons.   This weekend did spur on some good caddis activity and it should continue to fish well for the rest of this week and we will have to keep our fingers crossed that the water clarity will hold out through the weekend.  The Lower Madison was proabably the slowest fishing I have had in the past ten days but it was not bad, by any means.   The caddis are hatching in good numbers starting around 1 pm and the fish will hopefully start looking to the surface more than they were on Friday.   Nymphing did produce some nice fish with a crayfish trailed with a tan sparkle pupae producing my best fishing.  For those of you looking to float the Lower keep in mind that the BLM is paving the Warm Springs parking lot and the boat ramp is going to be closed for most of May, why it takes a month to pave I don’t know.  So floats are limited to the Canaday fishing access downstream.

Get out and enjoy the next week of fishing, Spring Runoff will be kicking into gear soon and we will all be searching out clear water and lakes for a month or so while the snow-pack comes down our rivers.