Sunday, September 26, 2010

Terrestrials and Gulpers in Big Sky Country

Just over a week ago I found myself in West Yellowstone Montana to film two episodes of The New Fly Fisher.  We based ourselves out of the luxurious Hibernation Station a unique complex of log homes nestled right in West Yellowstone.

A few of the Cabins at the Hibernation Station
For me it was a dream come true to have the asphalt of West Yellowstone beneath my feet.  Within an hour’s drive of this small town located on the western approaches to Yellowstone National park are countless rivers and a number of renowned stillwaters.  Rivers such as the Gallatin where a River Runs Through It was filmed, the Firehole, Madison, Slough Creek even the famed Henry’s Fork drew mention on the town’s fly shop report boards.

The West Yellowstone region offers spectacular scenery
We spent the first two days of our adventure filming with fly fishing icon Bob Jacklin.  Bob has been based out of Montana for over 40 years and few know the nearby rivers as well as he does.  Bob’s store, Jacklin's Fly Shop is one of seven fly shops located within this beautiful small town.  It was an honor to share the water with Bob, his casting prowess alone was something to behold.

It was an honor to share the water and swap stories with Bob
The weather was during our stay was, for the most part, spectacular, cool in the morning and close to 70F in the afternoon.  The focus of our filming during the first portion of our trip was on fall terrestrial fishing.  Grasshoppers were active and during our first day’s filming we saw countless numbers drifting downstream.  Many disappeared in large confident rises.  My first Montana trout proved a dream sequence of sorts.  Bob directed me to crawl on my knees upstream to a large bend.  Camouflaged in the grass I dropped my hopper into the main flow that cut diagonally across the run and pushed against the far bank.  My hopper drifted all of three feet when a large set of lips poked through enveloping my hopper and dragging it below.  Fifteen minutes later, after a spirited battle, the 20-inch brown lay in the net ready to pose for the camera.  We admired and released the fish my only regret was not getting a still shot.  We did how ever get the entire take on film so you and I will both have to wait until the show is aired to see it.  During the day we also took other fish including good numbers of lager Rocky Mountain whitefish.  Typically bottom feeders the whitefish rose freely to hoppers.  Due to their under slung mouths their rises were splashy and clumsy.  Not the refined sip synonymous of a brown or rainbow.  I did well hanging my small Stillwater Baetis nymph below my hopper taking a number of good sized whitefish.

Bob releases a hopper caught Rocky Mountain whitefish

The next day Bob took us to the Madison where it flowed between Hebgen and Quake Lakes.  This stretch was what I expected the Madison to look like, not the gentle meadow stream section Bob had us on the day before.  Fishing was not as good but we still did OK.  We managed to film a number of casting and instructional segments.  I also made a point of turning over a number of the larger rocks in the riffles.  The number and size of the large Pteronarcys nymphs I found was staggering along with Hydropsyche caddis.  Some of the Pteronarcys nymphs were as long as my index finger!  It was easy to see why trout in the Madison and many of the other blue ribbon waters in the area are conditioned to look up.  The region is a dry fly fisher’s paradise.

Pteronarcys nymphs from the Madison
The best fishing took place in the afternoon and into the evening so this gave my cameraman Jeremy and I lots of time in the morning to shoot scenic footage and visit some of the area attractions.  Ironically, because we didn’t have permits to film we did not visit Yellowstone National Park.  We did however visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.   As listed on their website the center’s mission, “Is to provide visitors to the Yellowstone area an opportunity to observe, learn and appreciate grizzly bears and gray wolves.”  We were able to film large grizzly bears and wolves in their large open area pens.  One of the center’s programs I found interesting was their bear proof container certification process. If a container can last 60-90 minutes in the bear enclosure it is considered certified.  During our visit we were shown a number beaten and battered containers that didn’t all pass muster.  Our visit was one of my personal highlights and I recommend anyone visiting West Yellowstone make time for a visit on their trip planner.  Both grizzly bears and wolves are likely to be seen during your stay and having an awareness of these impressive animals is highly recommended.  We saw a number of wolf and bear tracks along the river and one evening returning home we rounded the corner to see the large brown butt of a grizzly bear crashing through the woods to safety.

Grizzly bears abound in the West Yellowstone region
The second half of our stay saw us on Hebgen Lake targeting the gulping rainbow and brown trout this lake is famous for.  We based ourselves out of the Firehole Ranch for our two days filming.  Firehole Ranch managers Mark Parlett and his wife Kim were unbelievable hosts and Josh Duchateau our guide was a fellow stillwater addict like myself and just fun to be with.  Hebgen is known for its Callibaetis, chironomid, caddis and damsel emergences as are other lakes.  What makes Hebgen so special is the consistent dry fly fishing.  No where else I have fished have I seen fish up on top like on Hebgen.  If the wind wasn’t up pods of fish cruised the shallows ‘gulping’ Callibaetis spinners, duns, damsel adults and terrestrials.  As trout take your fly they make an audible gulp that is quite distinctive.  I did well using a simple winged foam ant casting both to the rise and in front of fish moving in a predictable rise pattern.  Josh took a number of quality fish using a damsel adult.  We didn’t hit Hebgen at its peak as the hatch was winding down and the wind always seemed to follow us.  August is apparently unreal and I am already making plans to return in 2011.  Perhaps even to do a stillwater seminar on Hebgen so if you are interested please let me know or stay tuned to my website and Facebook page.  Other world famous lakes in the region well worth a visit include Quake Lake and Island Park Reservoir and Henry’s Lake in nearby Idaho.

Our guide Josh with a 'gulper' brown from Hebgen Lake
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the West Yellowstone area, do it.  The only challenge would be not spending your entire time on one water or one section of that water.  I am looking at taking two weeks to explore the regions lakes and rivers and making sure I take the time to visit Yellowstone National Park.  Of course it wouldn’t be right not to wet a line in one of the park’s rivers and streams as well!

Yellowstone National Park is literally across the street from West Yellowstone
If you want to see additional images from my stay please visit my Montana album set up on both my personal Facebook page and The New Fly Fisher’s page.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Prowling the Parklands-Fall Report

This past Labor Day weekend found me once again prowling the productive stillwaters of the Parkland's region of southwest Manitoba.  As with the spring, I led a group of nine enthusiastic fly fishers, most of which had only heard about the stillwater riches this region has to offer. Bob and Karen Vanderwater worked with me once again helping coordinate this event.  Their help and support is invaluable and provides an element of polish to the whole trip.  

Twin Lake Tigers, just one of the Parkand's stillwater attractions

We based ourselves out of the Barn in the Bush located at the southern end of Lake of the Prairies.  Barn in the Bush, as its name would suggest, is a refurbished barn converted into squeaky clean comfortable living quarters.  All of the lakes we visited on this trip, Tokaryk, Patterson and Twin were roughly an hour away.  Owners Steve and Betty Morris provided wonderful accommodations and put up with our early morning convoys to the various lakes.  If you are looking for great accommodation complete with queen size beds, kitchenettes, individual washrooms and showers in each room then Barn in the Box is the place to be.  It was the perfect base for our group.

Barn in the Bush provides great accommodation

Day one began bright and early with a large bacon and egg breakfast.  Lunches were made and we were soon on our way to Tokaryk Lake near the town of Oakburn.  Those of us within our group who had fished Tokaryk in the spring were full of anticipation. Tokaryk had been spectacular in June, both in average fish size and quantity.  This time fishing was a bit tougher as the region was just recovering from a bout of unsettled weather.  We did not get into the numbers we had originally hoped for but the size and quality of the fight was as we remembered.  A variety of patterns produced fish for most of the group including leeches, dragon nymphs and flashback bead head Pheasant Tail nymphs.  Although it was early fall I took all of my fish on chironomid pupa patterns.  By the fall stillwater trout have typically seen so many chironomid pupa over the course of the season that they respond to a properly presented pattern in an almost Pavlovian fashion.

Tokaryk rainbows still like chironomids

The next day we visited Patterson Lake, a mere stone’s throw from Tokaryk.  Patterson is a large trophy lake containing browns and rainbows.  Typically this lake challenges the fly fisher but every time the line locks up or the indicator plunges beneath the surface chances are it is going to be a big fish.  Today was no exception.  The day was sunny and pleasant but the wind was blowing from the east, a precursor to changing weather.  I expected tough fishing.  One of the students, Mike joined me for the first two hours and was into fish almost immediately on a balanced leech.  This fish managed to wrap the line around both the bow anchor rope and electric motor.  However, with some creative ‘gymnastics’ and teamwork we were able to free the line and land a nice fish.   Two other students Rob and Gerald joined me later in the day catching some of the largest fish of their lives.

Gerald's first Patterson brown

Bob and Karen began at their usual spot near the beaver lodge on the southeast end of the island but soon moved through the narrows and into the bay on the island’s north side to get out of the persistent easterly wind.  Taking advantage of the wind lane that formed downwind of the ‘narrows’ they did well hanging flashback bead head Pheasant Tails beneath an indicator.  Soon the rest of the group gathered there and I experienced one of my best days on Patterson.  A flashback Pheasant Tail on the point and a small #14 boatman dropper produced consistently.  The waters were alive with immature fat head minnow fry and the flashback Pheasant Tail did a great job suggesting them.  Throat samples revealed minnow remnants and tiny water boatman.  As the day wore on a few browns trickled into the mix and both Karen and I managed to wrestle a few Patterson residents.

Patterson browns are big and fat

Two members of our group, Doug and Rick, supported by a desire to explore and a well charged battery explored the far end of Patterson and had a fantastic day.  Doug took the largest fish of the trip, a magnificent 28 inch rainbow.

Now that's a rainbow!

It was a great day, all of us were glowing from the bright sun and the numbers of fish we had caught and released, a true testimony to the quality of the Parkland's area lakes.

Twin Lakes tigers like foam boatman and back swimmer patterns

Our final day found us hunting for tiger trout on Twin Lakes located a short drive north of Roblin.  Twin is a catch and release fishery full of large aggressive tiger trout.  The day however started slowly.  A large low pressure system had swept up from Montana and blanketed Saskatchewan and south western Manitoba.  The normally cooperative tiger trout weren’t willing to play right away.  By midday most had yet to dance with a tiger.  I was fortunate to land one on an Ultimate Boatman cast tight to the shoreline tules.  In the early afternoon fortunes began to change.  Doug figured things out by casting tight to the tules with a variety of boatman patterns, managing to land over a dozen tigers.

Steve and Betty admire a Twin Lakes tiger

During the previous nights session I provided the group with an overview of Twin and made a point of mentioning a tiger trout’s willingness to come to the surface.  Doug soon switched from his boatman patterns to a large Chernobyl Ant and continued to take large tigers on the surface.
Twin Lakes tiger returns to its haunt

Foam based boatman and back swimmer patterns were the patterns of choice as their buoyant nature was perfect for the shallows when used in conjunction with a clear AquaLux line.  On many occasions I would make a cast and a tiger would roll aggressively where my fly landed.  From time to time I thought the tiger had rolled on a natural boatman and as I stripped to cast and cover the rise I soon found out that the rise was actually to my fly. The take had not had time to transmit down the fly line.  Casting into gaps and channels in the tules was the winning ticket as tigers cruised in water barely deep enough to cover their backs.  This is a common sight during the fall period as trout stocking up for the long winter ahead prowl the shallows eating just about anything they come across.

Mike enjoying his Parkland experience

Our Twin Lakes adventure was the perfect cap to another superb trip.  Everyone in the group was beaming from their experiences over the weekend.  We are already working on a larger scale trip in June of 2011.  The June trip will offer the choice of a four day trip straddled over a weekend and a longer Tuesday to Sunday excursion.  Amongst the trip curriculum I will once again be providing a series of stillwater lectures, daily de-briefs and focused one on one time with each student to ensure maximum learning and the most rewarding experience possible.  If this sounds like something you would like to experience please let me know.  I will be putting a course handout together shortly.  By preliminary interest we have already received these trips will sell-out in short order. 

For more information and images from our trip please drop by my Facebook page and read Bob and Karen’s report on the Central Alberta Fly Tyers Blog.