Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Fishing Report: Good Bye For Now

Tomorrow I hit the road for points East to see my new grandson, Liam David, born on May 27. So I had to take one more trip to the lake before I go.

Just to say good bye.

It's hot here: float tube weather. This was my second time in the tube, and I find it a refreshing change from the canoe. It also gives one more maneuverability on windy days--like today.
I put in at the same place Lidia and I did earlier this week, at the north end of the lake. If you know me, you know the first fly I tied on. Yep, the Cricket. But Mr. Brown wasn't home.
Toward evening, as the shadows began creeping up the mountain, it began to calm a little, midges began crawling along the brim of my hat, and some fish began to rise.
This was the scenario the first time I was here in the float tube. That was the day I broke out a Stimulator for the first time this season. I tied these small, though--#12 short shank hooks. I thought they were pretty and wanted to try them out.And, as you know if you've been following my blog, I have a theory about the Stimulator. I believe it can catch fish in every conceivable situation. I still try to match the hatch, but when that isn't working, or I don't have the patience for it, and sometimes just for the hell of it, I'll throw a Stimulator at them.

And I catch fish. Nice fish. Last summer a guy doing the Chironimid thing saw me netting a nice fish and called over to ask what I was using. "A Stimulator," I called back. Pause. "A Stimulator...?" Another pause. Then, "What kind of Stimulator?"

So, to my delight, the fish started hitting the white deer hair Stimulator. To my chagrin, the first hit was so enthusiastic, and surprised me so much, that I broke the fly off. I find it takes a little time to fine tune the dry fly hookset after a long time swinging big flies or stripping nymphs, or watching an indicator bob on the surface.

To my further chagrin, I failed to get a hookup on successive hits that day. And then they stopped rising.

Be that as it may, as soon as I saw some rises this evening I tied on the light Stimulator. I might have been the only person on that lake casting a Stimulator in the middle of a midge hatch. I hope so.

Just as I was beginning to doubt my own theory, a fish porpoised near the fly. Now, I find that finicky fish--making one rise and then waiting a long time before making another--aren't your best prospects with a Stimulator. But if you can find one actively cruising and feeding, with multiple, slashing rises, get it near him and hold on.

Rule of thumb: if you see the dorsal, get something meaty in front of him.

That's exactly what happened. One porpoising rise; another, closer...then he was on the Stimulator. So beautiful. So amazing.

I missed him. I pricked him, but I missed him.

So I threw it out again. And he came back and took it again. I'm pretty sure it was the same fish, because, no kidding, he spit it out before I could raise the rod.

So I threw it out again. And you may not believe this, but three times he came up and just hit the fly without taking it. I think he was mad.

But I kept putting it out there, and finally got a good take and a solid hookup. You may not believe this either, but I think this was a different fish. Really. The first one was much bigger, I'm sure.
But still, what a great fish, a true predator, taking the biggest prey he can find. This is what I wait all winter for.

The evening wore on, the water became glassy smooth, the moon and its reflection came out, some campers made a fire in a no camping area, the bats began to flit in and out of the deepening shadows, the midges stopped crawling along my hat brim and just sat there in my peripheral vision, silhouetted against the pale light in the west, and I fished on into the dark without another catch. But I was happy and grateful.

Thank you, lake. Good bye for now.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jeremiah!

Jeremiah's 11th birthday was on the 17th, but he didn't have a party until a week later.

It was water balloons...

And pizza.

Doesn't get any better than this. Happy Birthday, J.

Fishing Report: Take Two Fishing Trips...

I fished a few times while the computer was down. I stole some time out of a work day to check on the cutthroat lake. The first year I lived here, while I was still bank fishing, I found lots of diversion here during long lunch hours or a couple of hours at the end of the day: heavy Callibaetis hatches, heavy Damselfly populations, and lots of grasshoppers. All the representative flies produced admirable results, including a 22 incher.

On this day, I found wind. That, in one word, is the story of the Spring.
So I blew down the road to another nearby lake with a little more shelter at its north end.
I found some small Rainbows rising on the edge of a shallow flat. With the help of the wind this time I was able to cast out to the dropoff with a beadhead nymph and catch a handful of these.
That was diversion, but I needed therapy. So as soon as I could I took a couple of trips to what I call "my" lake. It's where I spend most of my fishing time, and, well, we have a relationship. It was over a weekend, a time I usually avoid because of the crowding. But sometimes you gotta go when you gotta go.
The campgrounds were full, so full that my usual put ins for the canoe were unavailable. So I went down to the south end where the put in is more public, not connected with a campsite.

This is a great section, and I have spent many summer hours here with the float tube and a selection of Stimulators. I have had great moments here, but this is also where I have been beat down and humbled. On one day, two trout--couldn't have been the same one messing with me, could it?-- almost spooled me with freight train runs before breaking off.
It was good to get on this section earlier than I might have otherwise. And the wind calmed both times as evening fell. Amazing.
And the fish were there. All the rises compelled me to go up top for awhile with a Griffith's Gnat and even a little Bluewinged Olive--I'm sure I saw one or two in the blizzard of midges, but I caught fish on the trusty beadhead.

For me, fishing is good medicine. The best therapy for my computer woes, as it so often is for a variety of ills, was a little time on the water out in the center of the universe. Take two fishing trips and call me in the morning.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Branding Day

You drive up out of the valley, past the lake and onto the rolling flats at the base of the foothills. That's where George has lived and ranched most of his 87 years. He's famous for his legendary champion Palominos, and for leading pack trips into the Pasayten Wilderness Area before it was the Pasayten Wilderness Area. And he still runs some cattle.

Every May when the weather has finally broken for good he calls together a few men of unique skills for branding.Down around his house past the garden and toward the branding shed is the corral. He still loves his Palominos, all of whom are descendants of his horses of long ago. They saddle up early, George leading the way, and ride out into those hills and coulees and draws and timber and brush to round up the herd. (I hope maybe he'll let me go along for the roundup next year; guess I better learn to ride.)
Here's George taking a break. He was concerned that I was taking a picture of him sitting down. Be assured, he still works the place essentially on his own, and prefers to do it on horseback.
But here's a picture of him on his feet, every inch the cowboy.
He was carrying this rattle in his shirt pocket. The day before, he had gone down to mow the area around the branding cage and had started to tip it by pushing on it. He just had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago, and he found it tough going. So he moved to the other side and pulled it over. There, right where he would have stepped, was a coiled rattler. Whether you agree with it or not, the old timers here will not let a rattlesnake off their land alive.
Here's Jerry, the brander. The stove is propane, more efficient than the wood fire of the old days. His father made it, and passed it and the craft on to Jerry. My guess is that his grandfather and great grandfather were also skilled with a branding iron.
That rectangular compartment on top was designed to hold a little oil so you could fry up a mess of Mountain Oysters while you worked. So far Jerry hasn't done that. I once knew a man who wouldn't touch fried chicken because it's all they would eat when he was a kid on the farm during the Depression years. Maybe Jerry feels that way about Mountain Oysters.
Here's the branding cage at work. It stands up and opens, the calf is driven in, it's closed and tipped on its side for the various operations to be performed.
There's the branding...

And there's an ear notch and an ear tag.
If you're a heifer, you're done. But if the cowboy at the hind end of the cage called out "Bull!" when you were driven in for your turn, you've got another ordeal to endure. This year Neal did the honors. Last year, and for many, many years, I'm sure, it was George.
The tools of the trade, and a genuine Mountain Oyster. Very fresh.
But when it's all over you can go back to your mama who has been bawling for you the whole time.
Meanwhile, nobody wants to be next.
All this may seem cruel, but it's a fact of life in many parts of western trout country. Twice, as I was busy with my camera, someone sidled over to me and asked if I was with PETA. Fortunately for me, they were smiling when they said it.
Well, I'm not with PETA. I don't think this is any more cruel than hooking a trout. And fishing with a hook and line, even if you kill your catch for food, is still a sport, not a necessity. Cattle ranching is a livelihood and a way of life. The ritual of branding that goes along with it is living history, and an essential part of a legitimate culture that deserves respect as much as any other culture.
I feel privileged to be welcomed in. I only regret that I wasn't able to stay this year for the big cowboy feed they put on when the work is over. The womenfolk stay in the house and cook while the men are working.
But maybe I better not go there.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday Fishing Report: Birthday Trout

Yesterday was my daughter Lidia's 16th birthday. She has been asking me to take her fishing--she likes to fish, but mainly she likes to get out of the house and away from her brothers--so yesterday afternoon we made it happen.

There were still plenty of Memorial Day campers, so we put the canoe in at the far northern end of the lake. This is far from the campgrounds, and holds nice fish. Before I had the canoe I fished from the bank here with great success, busting brush and stalking big bank risers. This is where I witnessed my first Hex hatches. I couldn't believe the size of the mayflies popping out of the glassy water, or the size of the trout sucking them in with soft "ploops."
But this was a different time. It was very windy--no surprise there; that's what this lake does--so we drifted and slow-retrieved nymphs. The lack of action allowed time for Lidia to take pictures with her phone. Fortunately the lake is far away from service areas or she would have been texting someone.
I hooked a lively little Rainbow right by the canoe, and he almost jumped into Lidia's lap in the process of throwing the hook. But that encouraged us. Lidia was remembering the 20 incher she caught in this lake two years ago, and I was looking through my bag of tricks.

I have had success with black Cricket and Muddler patterns here for some reason, especially, it seems, on windy days when the wind and current drag them through the waves. But I also remember pods of Rainbows slurping up midges jumping all over a Black Muddler dropped in their path.

So I tied on a Cricket, greased it up, and cast it out. For some hydrological reason I can't figure out the wind and the waves were blowing away from us, but the Cricket was floating back toward us.

When in doubt, strip. I started stripping.

Bang. A heavy take, a deep dive, a thrashing fight--had to be a Brown. And it was. I was glad to have Lidia there to record the moment.
Not only was he crazy enough to hit a Cricket on the surface under those conditions, he inhaled it. It required a bit of work with the hemos to remove the fly.
Here's something you won't see much on this blog: a hero shot. Most of the time I fish alone, and I'm more interested in portraits of the fish I catch. But I'm happy to have this shot. Thanks, Lid. I did get some fine portraits of the fish. This, after all, is what it's about.

I tied a Black Muddler onto Lidia's tippet, and we worked awhile, but with no more crazy Browns. So we paddled to shore for a break.
We did something I keep thinking I would like to do but have never stopped fishing long enough to do: we explored the shoreline. We hiked along a huge embankment that provided epic views of the lake.

Then it was back to the task at hand. The wind had begun to settle a bit, and by the time we paddled way over to the western side of the lake--Lidia liked the looks of a point there--it was almost calm.

We began to see some lazy rises, so I tied on a Caddis for Lidia. I didn't see any caddis hatching, but it's the same pattern she caught her 20 inch fish on, so she thought it would be lucky. She cast it out 10 or fifteen feet from the canoe and settled down to wait.

It wasn't long, though, before she asked for my camera, and she began messing with it, looking at the many pictures we had already taken, taking some more of herself.

Meanwhile I was casting a different Caddis pattern to likely looking spots on the opposite side of the canoe from Lidia's fly. I heard a soft "ploop." I turned and looked for her fly. It had disappeared, and her line was moving slowly away from the canoe.

I calmly advised her that she might have a fish on. She threw me the camera and went to work. The fish was still on and apparently firmly hooked. In fighting a fish, what Lidia lacks in skill and experience she makes up for with fierce determination. She willed that fish in to the canoe. And also practically levered it into the canoe with the heavy rod.

I wish she had. It was a beautiful Rainbow, at least as long as my Brown. I had the net ready and she tried to get it over to me, but it sideslipped and came up next to her. So she instinctively reached out, grabbed the leader and pulled the fish half way out of the water, turned to me and called for the net.

I had grave misgivings. I knew what would probably happen. But I also thought how cool it would be if she could net it herself. So I handed her the net.

No sooner was it in her hand than the trout gave one convulsive twist and was gone. Took the fly and tippet with him. But it still counts in my book.
By then we had the glassy water but fewer and fewer risers at work. We fished until dusk, ending with a long slow drift back to shore, trolling and listening to the evensong of frogs and Loons.
There were to be no more fish stories that day. But who could ask for better ones than what we already had? Happy Birthday, Lid.