Sunday, July 31, 2011

Idaho Stillwater School with BS Flies

On Wednesday July 20th I headed south, boat in tow, for Island Park, Idaho.  I was looking forward to a stillwater school with Lynn Scott from BS Flies based out of Lakeside Lodge on the shores of Island Park Reservoir.  The drive was long, roughly 14 hours.  I took my time to enjoy the sights of this scenic drive down the eastern side of the continental divide.  The drive takes you across and along some of the most famous trout waters in the west such as the Missouri and Madison Rivers.

Lakeside Lodge, located on the shore of Island Park Reservoir
As the seminar didn’t start until the evening of July 21st I had time to fish a lake I have long wanted to fish, Henry’s Lake.  Henry’s Lake is steeped in history and known for producing large Yellowstone cutthroat, brook trout and hefty cutthroat/rainbow hybrids.  As we prepared the night before, Lynn informed me we would have to be on the water early.  Now I have been up early many times before but we were up and on our way by 4:15am heading to the boat launch at Henry’s Lake State Park.  The temperature gauge read a brisk 49F!  It was definitely cold and dark.

Henry's Lake at dawn

The boat launch area was deceivingly quiet.  I thought for a moment we might have Henry’s somewhat to ourselves.  I was mistaken.  Henry’s was starting to warm so the outflow at Targhee Creek was our first stopping point.  As we motored into position I could see were late as in the early morning light I could count over 20 boats had beat us to the punch.  The ‘boat hatch’ as Lynn referred to peaked at 32 boats!  Not to worry, we found a suitable spot, anchoring in roughly 8-10 feet of water.  I began with my Rio CamoLux line and a black Balanced Leech.  The new CamoLux is a fantastic line, I can’t believe how well this line has performed this season.  After letting the fly sink for roughly 10 seconds I began a steady 4-6 inch strip retrieve with prolonged pauses. About halfway through my retrieve I felt a snagging sensation and decided to set the hook.  My rod bounced to life and I soon landed my first Henry’s Lake trout, a two pound Yellowstone cutthroat.  A fish on my first cast, this could be the start of a great day or a dark omen.  I have taken fish on my first cast in the past only to struggle for the remainder of the day.  On this day it was to be the former as we all began to hook trout.  After a while I tried hanging a Balanced Leech under an indicator with limited success.  On this day the Henry’s Lake trout wanted motion to their flies.  Throat pump analysis revealed no active feeding at all.  We figured that the somewhat brisk retrieve appealed more to the trout’s aggressive predatory nature than a feeding impulse on this day.  We didn’t mind.

Henry's Lake cutthroat

We fished until just after noon.  I had over seven hours on the water catching predominantly cutthroat and few hybrids.  No one in the boat crossed path with any brookies.  After fishing Targhee for a couple of hours we moved once the sun was above the horizon.  Lynn toured me to some of Henry’s more famous spots including Pintail Point, Staley Springs and Duck Creek.

I took a good fish on a Cruncher at Pintail point as I ‘hung’ the flies at the surface prior to recasting.  The 20 plush inch hybrid rocketed from the depths as my Cruncher dangled just beneath the surface.  After every retrieve always get in the habit of hanging the flies prior to casting.  Any fish following pounce on the flies as they change both direction and speed as they angle up towards the boat.

In the afternoon we wanted to launch my boat on Sheridan and give it a bit of a pre fish as this would be the featured lake for our stillwater school.  Sheridan is a private lake located just west of Island Park noted for its trophy rainbows.

Adult damselfly
As we prepared the boats we were smothered in a swarm damselflies.  Nymphs were gathering in the shallows and clambering up the cattails and emerging all around us.  Needless to say we hastened our pace to get on the water.  We found the largest concentration of fish in the inlet bay taking advantage of the cool oxygenated water from a small feeder stream.  Lynn and his guide Chris were using clear intermediate lines.  As we were fishing in skinny water, at times only two feet, I opted for my Midge Tip line.  Callibaetis shucks and spinners also greeted us on the water so I opted for a #12 Gold Bead Pheasant Tail (GBPT) on the point and a light olive #12 PearlyDamsel on the dropper.  On this day the Pearly Damsel outperformed the GBPT by a considerable margin.  My best fish came in less than two feet of water and weighed an estimated nine pounds!

Damsels were emerging everywhere!

The stillwater school went well.  Students were provided over eight hours of classroom instruction and on the water instruction and assistance with both Lynn and I.  Everyone caught fish, in both good numbers and size.  Jim Fawcett caught and released a beautiful 6.5 pound fish while he was with me.  Clay Hash had a great couple of days using a clear intermediate line and Denny Rickards Callibaetis nymph.  For a student’s perspective on the seminar please visit Clay’s blog.  It also includes a step by step tying sequence for the Rickards Callibaetis Nymph Clay put to such good use.

Jim's 6.5 pound rainbow

Even though damsels were still present in good numbers Callibaetis nymphs was the preferred choice.  Throat analysis on some of the fish we caught revealed feeding on leeches, small chironomids, damsel nymphs, snails and Callibaetis nymphs, duns and spinners.  Of all the prey items I sampled Callibaetis nymphs were the least common but the trout seemed to want more!  I did well with a tan version of my Herl May from my Stillwater Solutions Recipes book.

One of our students Clay holds a good Sheridan Lake rainbow

Student feedback from the course was excellent and Lynn and I are already planning another event for 2012.  We hope to build on the success of this inaugural event perhaps including time on Island Park for focused chironomid fishing and Henry’s Lake in addition to the trophy opportunities on Sheridan.

Sherdian Lake rainbow returned for next season

 I delayed my return by a day for the opportunity to spend a day on the water with Rio’s Simon Gawesworth.  As one of Rio’s Advisory Team members I was looking forward to catching up with Simon to catch up and talk a little ‘shop’.  Simon and I had talked on a number of occasions about getting on the water together but we could never seem to pull it together until now.

Simon enjoying himself on Hebgen
 Simon and I had a wonderful day drifting Hebgen Lake ‘loch style’ working nymphs and teams of dries to fishing fish.  It was one of the most enjoyable days I have had on the water in recent memory.  Simon’s casting prowess was humbling.  He casts equally well either left or right handed.  If a fish rose within casting distance Simon switched hands in the blink of any to present his fly quickly and efficiently, often at a staggering distance.  

In the near shore shallows brown trout cruised and sipped Callibaetis spinners that blanketed the water.  In the calm clear conditions these trout proved both challenging and frustrating but we did manage to coax a few to our flies.  As the day wore on the breeze increased and we were able to get in some great drifts working our team of dries into the long slicks that formed.  Believe it or not Simon and I were hoping the wind would pick up.  Using a team of three flies our goal would be to place the point fly in the slick the middle dropper on the seam and the bob fly in the adjacent ripple.  Just about every slick held trout.  Once the fly landed I would retrieve the dry using a super slow hand-twist.  The small movement this produced turned trout consistently.
I began my journey home thoroughly satisfied with my experience, particularly my day on the water with Simon.   

I left the boat launch at Hebgen at 7pm and got as far as Great Falls, Montana.  I checked into a hotel just after 11pm and was up and on my way again by 6:30am.  I made it home just after 4pm on Monday the 25th.  Yes I was tired but I can’t wait to go again!

Be sure to check out my complete photo album from this trip on my Facebook page

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Getting Started

Do you remember the first time you picked up a fly rod?  Last Saturday my first memories of fly fishing were all brought back to me.

Michael Short from Lets Go Outdoors

I was asked to film with a new TV show called Let’s Go Outdoors produced by Michael Short.  Mike had asked me to spend a day filming on Muir Lake, a small shallow productive water roughly 30 minutes west of home.  Water levels were up but Muir Lake had a suspected partial kill over the winter due to the drought years we had experienced prior to this spring, one of the wettest on record.

Water levels were up at Muir

Muir Lake was a rehabiltation project for a number of local groups and organizations including Trout Unlimited Canada through the Northern Lights Fly Tyers Trout Unlimited Edmonton chapter just over 10 years ago.  This conservation effort would be a backdrop for the show as I introduced Elma, a young lady to the art and mystique of fly fishing.  We would be fishing out of pontoon boats.  I would be in my Pac 9000 and Elma in my  Discovery IR10.  It would be Elma’s first time in a pontoon boat as well.

Elma is ready to go and only slightly frustrated!

Elma proved to be a terrific student who displayed great patience and a positive approach as she mastered a new series of skills including rowing a boat for the first time and casting.

As we filmed I walked her through the basic equipment, lines, rods, reels, waders, wading boots and flies. We then ventured to the water where I explained the dynamics of casting and how a fly rod differs from a traditional spinning or bait casting rod.

On the water, waiting for the indicator to go down.

Conditions weren’t great, the water was beginning to warm and fish had been moody at best according to the research I did prior. Suspending leeches under Quick Release Indicators would be the order of the day.  Indicators are not originally designed with fly fishing in mind.  Considering this fact I taught Elma the basics of roll casting and within minutes she was able to ‘flop’ out a reasonable cast and fish. Elma tried a few successful overhead casts as well but stuck with the roll cast.  The best bet for a weighted leech and indicator. By the end of the day she could easily get out almost 30 feet of line, more than enough for our presentation method.  Short casts work best when fishing indicators so any subtle takes aren’t missed.

We targeted a number of my favourite spots throughout the day but things were slow as I expected.  Talking to other anglers on the water no one was catching fish.  We finally ventured to my fall back spot, a deep hole in the western basin where we worked into 14 feet of water.  I opted for a balanced maroon Soft Blend Leech from my Stillwater Selections book on point and a #12 black and red Ice Cream Cone roughly 18 inches above.  Lady Luck was with me, as I managed to hook four fish over the course of the afternoon, the largest just over 20 inches.  Two came to the leech and two the chironomid.  A throat sample of the large fish revealed one tiny water boatman, one small leech and one caddis larva-all dead, a sign that fish weren’t actively feeding.  The leech/chironomid cocktail I presented always seems to work in tough conditions as these are two food sources that typically always receive an instinctive response.

Elma seems to have enjoyed her day on the water

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and introducing someone to fly fishing.  Hopefully Elma enjoyed it too.  Her smile at the end of the day suggested she did.  Elma promised to return to the water soon to continue her journey.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fishing Local Water

Yesterday I managed to sneak out and fish a local lake with friend Brian Wiebe. With my travels so far this is only the second time I have been able to venture out locally. I was glad Brian motivated me to get onto the water.

Weather was overcast with a slight breeze from the north east. We were just experiencing the last of a low pressure system that has been bombarding us with rain and wind for the past few days. Thankfully the sunny weather is returning as I type.

I chose to fish out of my Outcast Pac 9000 as the launch was a bit dicey for my 14 foot jon boat. The PAC 9000 is a beautiful platform to fish from, very spacious and comfortable.

My Pac 9000 loaded and ready to go

We rowed down to the far end. As I got my exercise in for the day I asked myself, “Why is the fishing always the best at the far end of the lake?” About 10 minutes or so later I was in position ready to go, double anchored in 10 feet of water. 

During my paddle I noticed lots of small chironomid shucks on the water along with a few #14 Callibaetis duns. Taking my observations into account I began with #14 black and red Ice Cream Cone coupled with at #14 Gold Bead Pheasant Tail (GBPT) Flashback dropper roughly 24 inches above. 

Quick Release Indicator about to dissappear

I made my first cast settled into my seat and within seconds my Quick Release Indicator disappeared. One of the lakes smaller residents, barely 12 inches long had inhaled the Ice Cream Cone. Not a bad start I thought. From that point on the action was steady. The fish were small but scrappy and lots of fun on my 4 weight. A few fish later I managed to get one over 14 inches that I was able to obtain a throat sample. They were feeding heavily on #16 and smaller olive chironomid larva.  There were also half dozen #14 dark olive and black chironomid pupas contained within the sample, some of them inflated and silver. Despite the reasonable numbers of Callibaetis duns drifting there were no nymphs or duns in my samples. Chironomids were on the menu.

Fish were active and willing to play!

After a few more fish I took off the indicator as I was changing my dropper fly to a small Chromie. I took a fish on my first cast using the ‘naked’ technique and continued to take fish on a steady basis. I switched back to the Quick Release Indicator so I had something to stare at while I ate lunch. I never moved until it was time to go! It was nice not having to chase fish all over the place!

Brian has success working the shoreline shallows

Brian did equally well and diligently worked the shallow reaches near the shoreline bull rush.  He locked horns with a few larger fish and managed to land on of the larger residents the lake is beginning to produce. His larger fish took his suspended leech pattern but as with my smaller fish it too was stuffed with chironomid larva and pupa. Brian’s leech must have looked like the perfect desert!

Brian is pleased with his results

I fished until just after 5pm, all in all a rewarding day. I made a promise to myself to try and get out more often over the coming months. I am fortunate to have a number of great little ‘pot hole’ lakes within an hour or so from home. Often we travel great distances to experience what is lying in our backyard.