Thursday, September 30, 2010

River Report: Reconnaissance

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I hit the river two evenings this week to see what was going on. Somehow another wade in a river was very appealing to me, especially now that I have that new pair of waders that I got for the Henry's Fork.
The river is up a bit, but flowing clear.
The salmon are here. I saw two come clear out of the water, and there are some big swirls out in the riffles. I didn't see any activity focused over the gravel; spawning may not have started in earnest.
I figure there are Steelhead here, too, and I focused on them the first time out. Got this beautiful wild trout instead. I'll take it.
The second time out I swung big flies hoping to interest a big Chinook. Tried to hit every level of the water column. I didn't move any salmon, but I moved a mess of these little Smallmouth.
My next trip will be to the lake, but I'll be keeping tabs on things at the river.

Football Report

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The boys have each had two games. I confess I missed their first games because of the Henry's Fork trip.
Isaiah and the Eighth Graders won their first game and lost last week's game.
Isaiah is off to a good start. He made several good runs and first downs last week in their losing effort.
Maybe it's the carbing up he does before the games.
Jeremiah's Seventh Graders have lost both games, but Jeremiah scored a touchdown in the first game. Wish I could have seen that.
Unfortunately, he then got whacked and got a concussion. Glad I didn't see that. He told us the ref asked him to count backward from ten by twos. He couldn't do it.
Later, when Kim was telling someone about that she suggested that it might be hard for anyone under stressful conditions. Jeremiah said, "Yeah, but I also didn't know who the president was or what day it was."
So during last week's game he had to sit out, but, as he said to me with pleasure, "I get to be waterboy!"
He took that in stride, but yesterday the doctor, following new and more stringent guidelines for concussions, told him he needed to sit out tonight's game, too. That made him mad. We were talking about it lastnight, and he yelled, "I don't care if I'm brain damaged!"
I leave in about an hour for the games. I'll let you know how they go.

Oregon Trip

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One of the reasons I needed to leave the Henry's Fork when I did was so I could make a trip to Oregon. I went for a retreat with professional colleagues, something that has always been a part of my work environment.
The great thing about living out here, though, is that you get to go to places like Oregon for the retreats.
We were a few miles north of Tillamook on Hwy 101, and stayed in this cozy retreat center right off the beach.
It was rainy when I came over the pass from Portland that first evening, and it stayed overcast most of the next day.
Then after supper the sun broke through the clouds and transformed the seascape.
I headed for home the next morning, and actually got to see Twin Rocks in sunlight. One of the best things about the trip, though, was that I discovered the Wilson River flowing through the Tillamook National Forest to the sea.
That's a good river, and if circumstances had been different I would have discovered it on Google Earth and made plans to fish it some while I was there.
But I know the way now.

Henry's Fork: Epilogue

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Hard to let go of a trip to the Henry's Fork. Just a few more random thoughts.

In years past we've camped primarily in the C Loop of Riverside Campground. It's set back away from the big RV's and their generators, and it's more, well, rustic than A and B loops. Key concept: no concrete.

But when you get there in September, C Loop is closed for the season. So we settled into a site on B Loop. Had our own patio. I suppose that was nice after the rain, but I missed the mud a little bit.

That late in the season, though, we were still pretty much on our own. And B10 got to be home pretty quick.

We did miss the lodgepole pines of C Loop. They're thick around our favorite campsite, and they stretch up to the sky. At night around the campfire it's a soul filling sight to look up past the orange glow of the fire as the long, straight trunks fade to black and become silhouetted against the swirling glitter of stars. Somehow those lodgepoles make the universe seem bigger, and your cozy place in the middle of it more secure.

One of the really fun things about this trip was pulling out some flies that I had tied years ago for the Fork. It might even have been that very first trip, because there were some attempts at a Pink Albert, the hot fly on the South Fork of the Boise then.

These are not well-tied flies, though they reflect my earnest efforts to improve at the craft in those days. Among other problems, they have poor quality, oversized hackle. I'm sure I used them then, but I don't remember having any measure of success with them.

I had actually retired them some time ago, as not worth using, but in organizing flies for this trip I found them and decided to throw them into the mix. Why not?

On our first day, which turned out to be one of the best days of the trip, when some PMD's began drifting by, I tied on one of these rejects.

It killed. Those fish that broke me off that afternoon all hit one of those flies. This fish, caught early in the evening, and others of its size, also found it to its liking.

Maybe it was the silhouette. I had taken the time when I tied them up to include upright and divided hackle tip wings, just as the book said. Some would say those wings are the trigger for a strike.

Whatever the trigger was, it was that very fly in the above photo, an old, rejected fly tied poorly by a beginner fly tier, that took one of the Fork's Finest, and one of the best fish I've taken on that river. It's what I was dreaming of as I tied it up on my little desk on the third floor of an apartment building in Chicago. It took years to happen, but it finally took a big fish.

Just goes to show you...something. Maybe the lesson is to keep all your flies. Probably the real lesson is this: the fly may not have improved over time, but I have. I now have enough experience and--dare I say it--skill, to present a fly in a way that will catch fish.

Mike Lawson says it over and over in his book Spring Creeks, which deals a lot with the Henry's Fork: the fly, if it's a reasonable imitation, isn't as important as presentation, presentation, presentation. I would have to say I'm a believer.

Speaking of flies, if you go to the Fork, make sure you have some cinnamon ants. The ones I used were also old ties, but proven effective. This very fly may have caught another beauty or two in years past.

Finally, on the morning I packed up and left for home, John got up early and went out for one more morning of fishing. He went back to Bonefish Flats. He called me when he got to Idaho Falls that evening, and I was already home. He reported a good morning's fishing, and said he caught several good fish including one that went a solid 19 inches.

I'm going to say that, as in years past, the Harrier caught the most fish. But the Redtail caught the biggest. Of course, John had the disadvantage of actually measuring his fish.

I close with this photo of that sweet run where I spent a lot of time and picked up my best fish. You can't see it, but I can: that big fish I didn't catch porpoising just to the right of center about ten feet off the bank. I know he's still there as I write this.

Don't go anywhere, fish. I'll be right back.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Henry's Fork: Final Day

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That word "final" sounds so final. But every fishing trip has its final day, and we had arrived at ours. The balance had tipped, and, even though I resisted it, I was already thinking about the packing and stowing of gear, the long drive home, and the responsibilities that awaited me there.

But even though it's final, it is a day, one more whole day to fish the river we love. We got out early and headed for our favorite stretch.

The river looked good, the wind was calm, and the Tricos, our insect indicator, were thick. We were optimistic that our last day could be our best day. It's a luxury to feel simply optimistic on a final day, and not desperate. It means you've already had a good measure of success, have had those moments when you think "I could go home now and be satisfied."

John headed out and began ranging here and there. I found myself drawn back to this sweet run. This is where I had caught the good fish the day before, and I knew there were others in there, or would be before long.

They were there, but I couldn't find one willing to stay up long enough to see my ant. There were plenty of smaller fish moving, and I cast to and hooked a few of them above and below the run while waiting for the big fish to come up again. They loved the ant.

I shifted tactics and tied on a Henry's Fork Hopper and worked the bank, thinking that big fish might be enticed to come up for a big meal. No takers. So I went back to the ant.

I stayed there all morning, and the good fish would come up just often enough to keep me there. Just before John came along and suggested a lunch break, one of those fish porpoised, coming up head, dorsal, and tail. Good fish.

Do they do that on purpose? Are they taunting? I cast a few times to that spot, but he didn't come up again. I resolved to come right back after lunch.

On the way out we were startled to find four or five fishers--men and women--working the river below us (a stretch we had found to be a waste of time,) and there were three or four cars and trucks in the parking area. Not typical, but it didn't spoil our lunch.

We headed back to the ford and noticed that the wind had come up a bit.

Those fishers were still there, and as we headed back up to our stretch I saw two things: the wind had come up strong, and there was another fisher standing right in the sweet spot of the run I had been fishing. He had come from that bank and just waded right in where the big fish had been hanging.

A common mistake, and a lesson for us all: check the bank carefully before splashing in and routing the best fish of the day. I would have been happy for him if he had managed to catch one of those fish, but it pissed me off that he ran them out and spoiled the run.

Oh well.

We moved up to check out the deep run in the "flats." More fishers, one or two in the water, and three or four sitting on a rocky point. We waded across to the other side and surveyed the river for some length. Fishers everywhere. Where the hell did they all come from? There must have been a convention in town.

That would have been OK in itself; it's a big river, plenty of room for everyone. But the big story was turning out to be the wind. It began to blow a gale.

In a wind like that the fish may still be working here and there, but you can't tell. Rises are invisible. We found comfortable rocks along the bank and sat down and waited, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the wind would quit at some point.

We knew it wouldn't.

The couple of fishers in the water on the other side came out and joined their friends on the rocky point. John, the Mainer, said it was beginning to look like a seal ledge.

We sat and waited...and waited. We talked, we dozed. John got up and went out and splashed water on his face, and it must have woke him up enough to get a good idea. He came back and tied on a little bead head hare's ear.

He went out and began swinging it and hooked a fish. I watched as the rod bent double and then began to jerk up and down as the fish began headshaking. I held my breath, but suddenly the rod sprang up as the fish broke off. John came back up and said, "I couldn't lift him!" That might have been the fish of the trip.

That got me off my behind, and I joined John in swinging nymphs and soft hackles. I got one take on a yellow soft hackle, but no hookup.

The wind was still howling, and the floating weeds were thick, requiring cleaning the fly after every cast, so I finally decided to go back downstream in hopes of finding some more sheltered water, and maybe some rising fish.

I found some calmer water, but precious few rises. Soon John came wading down. I think we both knew the day was over. John waded all the way down the river through our favorite stretch, I think as a way to say good bye until next time.

We headed back down the trail toward the car.

We made the familiar ford.

We headed back to camp and fixed up some supper

We sat around the campfire, that ceremonial campfire when you burn up all the wood you've got left, and felt that sweet melancholy you get after a good trip.

We knew again that the best thing you take away from the river is the knowledge that it will still be there in all its glory the next time you come.

Here's to the next time.

Henry's Fork: Third Day

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We got to the river early, and made the ford and the hike to our favorite stretch again.

One of the moments I love on a river is the arrival at the river bank in the early morning sun. It's a time to sit on the bank and observe, to see what the river is doing. In fly fishing, you take the river, and especially the trout, on their own terms, or you don't take them.

It was a calm morning, and the river flowed with promise.

The Tricos began swarming as we sat there, and flowed thick over our heads.

But I didn't tie on a Trico; I tied on an ant. Fish began rising and we waded out to see what we could do.

I moved up past the place where I had caught the big fish and into a small channel that flowed between the opposite bank and one of the many islands that dot the river. There were many smaller fish working up and down, but I had seen some rises close to the bank that looked intriguing.

When big fish are slurping rather than sipping, their rises have more depth than a smaller fish. The circle of the riseform moves out at the same speed and with the same expanding diameter, but the rings are heavier. That was what I was seeing.

These fish--I'm sure there were more than one--were playing it cagey, though. They'd come up once, twice, then go down for awhile. The good news was that they were coming up again in the same spot.

I was being cagey, too: I had them up against the bank; they couldn't drift away. There was still the chance, and, let's face it, it's always a very good chance, that they would drop down or swim up and out of reach, so I took my time.

John has made the observation that he is like the Harrier, or Marsh Hawk, when he fishes, constantly, restlessly moving; and I am like the Redtail Hawk, circling, circling. I went into Redtail mode.

As sometimes happens if you're patient--if you're the Redtail--one of the fish got more confident and more intent on feeding and began to rise steadily well within reach of my cast. It took me a couple of tries to get a good float with the ant, and even then it was slightly out of the feeding lane. The fish moved over and took it hungrily.

I raised the rod, and missed it. Don't know how. But I've seen Redtails come up empty after a stoop.

I thought that might be it, but one can find grace even in the middle of a river: the fish came up again as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I took a deep breath and laid the ant out again. I still missed the feeding lane, but the fish, really hungry for ants, apparently, moved over again and took it as though it wanted to make sure it didn't get away this time.

I raised the rod, and had her. She wasn't a runner. She was a thrasher and a head shaker, and she whipped the water into foam before I had her in the net.

Another thick, heavy fish. She was ready to go when I got her unhooked and out of the net, and I could barely hold her for this photo, so I didn't get a measurement. But I think she was longer than the other one.

That's all I'll say. But she certainly made up for my lack of fish the day before.

John continued to range up and down the river. I stayed where I was and circled those other rises.

By then it was early afternoon, and the wind came up.

It felt like a good day to finally hike back to the car for a lunch break. This is another one of those moments on the river that I love, and we have had some good times around the picnic table here comparing notes, relaxing, sometimes tying a few quick flies, and always anticipating the long, delicious afternoon and evening ahead.

We got back on the river and found the wind was still a factor. The front that had moved through the day before was also having its mysterious effects on the bugs: there were fewer on the water, and not the rich mix we had seen before.

As I was standing in the river a pair of Dragonflies, locked in their mating embrace, fell into the water near me. They buzzed around, lifted off, then fell back again. I watched them as they drifted downstream, still buzzing and writhing, making a big commotion.

Twenty yards away from me a big head rose up and deftly ate them both. One bite.

So, I took the ant off and tied on one of the muddlers that I use at the lake. I often think the trout there take it for a Dragonfly, and I hoped this one would. I swung it carefully and methodically, twitching it, trying to make as much commotion as the two Dragonflies had. But I didn't get that fish to come up again.

But that's a nice way to while away an afternoon.

We moved upstream to a big open stretch we refer to as "the flats" because it tends to be shallow for a long way out. But the reason for checking it out isn't the shallows but a deep run in the middle of the channel that almost always holds big fish.

It holds them, but they're hard to get to. Often you have to cast in a strong flow over your waist or up to your chest, and even then the good fish are tantalizingly out of reach. When the wind is frisking up, it's even more challenging. And, for good measure, it's almost always full of drifting gobbets of weeds, so you have to clear your fly frequently.

Still, it's good for the soul, and I'm sure--though it hasn't happened to me yet on that stretch--when you hook up on a monster it must be doubly sweet.

There were good fish out there that day. John even waded across and tried it from the other side, but neither of us caught anything of any size.

That stretch may be good for the soul, but it's also tiring, so as evening neared we moved back downstream.

It was a quiet evening, and the only fish I could find and catch were little ones. I kept hoping one of those little rises was a big fish like on the first evening, so I rolled the dice on one rise after another. But this time I crapped out.

We headed back downstream toward the car and found a few more rises to cast to, but the fish were wary and we were tired.

We got back to the camp site and considered our supper options. It occurred to us one of them was to go somewhere and get a big burger. So we drove up to Pond's Resort and got there ten minutes before the grill closed.

We went home happy.