Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wormology



Now, I'm not one to jump on the "worm band wagon" , so to speak, but , State wide we are looking at some record run-off. One of the few rivers that is even fish-able is the Missouri River below Holter Dam . Because of the unusually high water , we are seeing outfitters from across the entire State of Montana  descend on towns such as Cascade, Wolf Creek and Craig. Some days due to either rain , or even the warmer sunny days when the snow will melt off from the Rocky Mountain front, one of the Missouri Rivers tributaries the Dearborn River, will expand it's size and flow the color of chocolate milk. Thus entering the main stem and discoloring the river all the way to Great Falls. This puts most of the fishermen floating from Holter Dam to just above where the Dearborn river enters the Missouri, around 12-13 miles of river to fish. Doesn't see so bad, but wait, there is another tributary, Little Prickly Pear which enters the river just below the Wolf Creek bridge, it is 2.5 miles from Holter Dam. This little stream can also throw some real brown mud into the main stem, nothing like the Dearborn, but, the river can be quite discolored making most fly fishing situations difficult at best.
Now the good news, with all this flooding  comes erosion, and with the erosion comes Worms, lots of Worms. Earthworms, Aquatic worms, big worms , small worms, skinny worms , fat worms, long worms , short worms, just worms dude!( You thought I was going to River City..anyway...) The trout love worms, they are gorging on worms, even in the high water, high dirty water, trout will eat worms. Are people catching trout on the Missouri River, yes they are, and most people are catching the trout on worms of all kinds... Lets take a look at some of the Worm patterns that seem to produce;

Here are some different types of worms, all of these are tied on different #8 sized hooks, some weighted , some not, but if you notice , they all have tails, making this group # 2 worms. The #1 worms are tailess, thus making tying on another fly attached to the bend of the hook more practical, and the second fly does not spin around as much when being fished, less tangles etc...
These worms are #1 worms, generally pretty heavy, tail-less, bright colored for attraction, and good sized, these are tied on #6 's. With the very high water,and the water being off colored, these flies will produce.The red bead is a large Tungsten bead, very heavy, enabling the fly to get down to the proper levels even with the very high water. In addition to this weight, two additional split shots will be needed usually 4-6 inches from the # 1 worm. When tying on the second fly, I like to use around 12 inches of flourocarbon from the #1 to the #2 fly. The #2 fly can be anything from a zebra midge , Baetis nymph, to another lightly or un-weighted worm. The idea being that the split shots will be on the bottom, along with the #1 fly, the lighter #2 fly will float above in another zone, fishing two different levels can be very important when the water is off color.
Here are some worms that are producing for me, I'm sure other people have their favorites patterns;
Earthworm, #6, Tung bead
Wire worm # 6
The Fat-Tay #6
Hot Bead # 8
Purple Power worm #8
Slim Jim # 8
 Eyes got it #8
These are just a few, I'm sure the worms you are using work great. Please do not use hooks larger than #6, the very large hooks can kill the trout, plus most times the smaller worms are the better producers!
It looks like we may have another month of nymphing, so Worm On!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska (Part 7)


The plane landed in the Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, we taxied to the end of the runway that was closest to the river, I un-loaded my gear and started with the assembly of the boat and motor, fishing gear, gas cans etc…It was the first time in months that my inflatable boat had been rolled up and re assembled. I had brought the hand pump so it did not take long to be back in the water and heading up–stream ready for a new adventure. The Kenektok River is a medium sized river, larger than the Igushik, but smaller than most of the well know rivers in the area such as the Nushagak, or the Togiak. It  runs with a good flow of current that form nice runs, riffle’s, and seams along small back eddies, and has quite a few Islands with side Channels. The river in the lower and middle stretches is pretty good sized, and thus I preferred to fish in the side channels where the water was smaller and more personnel.
As I started up stream I noticed signs of fishermen, just up stream from the airport there were colorful camping tents mish–mashed on an Island, there was a sign that read “Gone Fishing”. I would find out later that these were new Outfitters just getting started, further upstream were the camps of their competition. The first camp I came upon was the very organized, Dave Duncan & Sons. It was an impressive vision, the camp itself was extremely clean, and had an almost military look to it. There was a row of tan colored Wall tents that were perfectly assembled and displayed, along with the jet boats parked in a perfect angle just in front .There was no question that this group was nothing but professional on all levels, it was what one would expect to find in a first Class fishing camp in Alaska. The camp my friends were working in was the Alaska West Fishing, a very solid Outfit that had a very nice camp with large white wall tents, in a little more relaxed setting, none of the military organization, but first class as well. There was another camp that also ran jet boats just further up stream, but it was small outfit that had a lodge in another area, this was a satellite camp for them.
I was impressed with just how many salmon were in this river, on my assent up stream I was moving huge schools of Kings, Red’s, and Chums. It did not take long to run into a Jet boat (Jon boat with a jet unit); it turned out to be one of my buddies from Montana, “Stew meat”. I’d written to my other buddy there “Clam” and told him I was going to be coming over to check out the fishing, so they knew I might show up. Stew pulled in to have a look at this new guy on the river running in a Boston Whaler inflatable. “Ha, Daly is that you?” “Clam said you might show up, when did you get here?” Stew said that they would be working until about 7:00 or 8:00, and to stop by and get a meal, he said the camp was just a mile or so upstream on the right and I couldn’t miss it.
I fished for salmon for a few hours and was surprised how good of quality the fishing was, hooking all three species and landing a few Char. The kings I landed were smaller, 15-18 lbs., one was bright, and the other was dark red. This was true for the Chums and sockeye as well, a mixed bag of bright and dark fish.
Later that evening I made my way to the camp, it was a nice camp, great food, good atmosphere, well located on the river. Clam, and Stew had just gotten through guiding for the day, so, they were both worn out. We ate some wonderful food, drank some beers and shared fishing stories, until the lights went out. The following day, Clam had a day off and we fished a channel that was well known for the rainbows to eat mice, and thus we fished with mouse patterns. It was a blast, just a down and across dragging a mouse fly, and the wakes would follow until, boom, hooked up. Some of the takes were just sips, but most of the rainbows would really whack the imitation. I had a great time, it was so different from the Igushik, there were so many more rainbows, and the action was pretty steady. I was surprised that fish of this size would eat a mouse, I thought the fish would be larger, most of the fish were between 17-23 inches, good trout, but, when you think of trout eating mice, at least I do, I think of larger sized trout.
Clam showed me places to try while Stew and he were working, for they had to work almost everyday, I was lucky that Clam got a day off while I was there.  The following day I was on my own once again, and was ready to explore. I entered a channel that looked excellent, deeper, slower water that ran along a cut bank, with native fish cleaning tables about half way down. This looked fishy; I was just getting into position, when one of the Duncan boats entered the channel, and I pulled up my anchor and floated down to meet him. They were friendly but were curious to who I was , we made quick introductions , and I told him to stay and fish with his clients, I was just out fishing and could go anywhere. Later I ran into the Duncan guide again, he was one of the sons, very nice guy, he had come to thank me, he gave me a black label beer, and we spoke a bit about the fishing, then, we parted ways.
That evening I decided to camp on a gravel bar that had less mosquitoes than places near the alders. I had brought just a two man Eureka tent, green, without the rainfly,  just a place to get out away from the bugs, and be able to sleep. It was really small, my feet and head both touched the walls, and there just wasn’t a lot of extra room. One of the things I always had with me while camping out was either a 12 gauge, or, this trip I brought the 45-70, a lever action rifle that also had 500 gr bullets. I preferred this rifle rather than the shotgun, the bullets are faster, more accurate,  just more deadly.
I was worn out from fishing, and after eating crawled into my little, green sleeping habitation. I remember sleeping really well, until this horrible smell woke me from the dead. It was such a powerful stench, that even trying to ignore it, I couldn’t, it was so powerful, and I thought maybe I’d been sprayed by a skunk. I was laying in my sleeping bag when I heard this heavy breathing, then something touched my top of my head, there was a sniffing sound, I was frozen for a second, I couldn’t move, it was a bear. It was sniffing my head, its breath was rotten salmon smell, and it was respiring just inches from my head, the only thing between this bear and my head was a very thin piece of nylon. I knew I’d better act fast, I quietly as possible reach over and took the safety off the 45-70, and placed the end of the barrel right up to where the bear was sniffing, I then cocked the hammer. The bear smelling the rifle, and hearing the hammer being cocked jumped back around five to six feet, but he did not leave, I could hear him outside pacing back and forth. I said “Bear, move on, or I’ll kill you, move on, get out, get out! I could hear him running away, so I unzipped the door and peeked outside. I would have thought it would have been a small bear, a young one coming around to investigate this green, nylon, rectangle on this rocky beach. But, the size of the tracks that were all around my tent in the sand told a different story, one of a full grown adult grizzly who was well fed from eating salmon, but, looking for easy human food. It surprised me to find a grizzly so close to a native village, on a river with jet boats running up and down making so much noise. But these bears will feed in the very small creeks, easy pickings for getting salmon, and humans cannot go with their boats.
Needless to say that I did not sleep the rest of the night, I didn’t want to be inside the tent, but the mosquitoes were so bad, I had no choice. My adrenaline was on overtime mode; I just laid in the undersized tent with the 45-70 by my side and waited for the sun to rise and adventures of another day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fly Fishing Alone In Alaska (Part 6)


It was now the end of July and a few folks from the Village were starting to return back home after spending the last two months at camp. Everyday a few more people seemed to trickle back; the village was about ¼ occupied. Stella and Leroy had both retuned for good, the post office was open everyday, along with the co-op store and gas. Most of the returning folks were elders, the younger crowd stayed in camp until just a few days before school started. Then, it was off to Anchorage or some just went to Dillingham to buy clothes for winter, and supplies for school.
The river was much lower in the upper part, I knew how to navigate to about the middle section without any difficulties, but there was no way I could make it back up to the Lake or even close without a jet unit on my Yamaha. By now the big Kings were pretty red in color, the red salmon (sockeye), were just that, very red in color with green heads, and there was another salmon that recently showed, the Chum. This was an excellent fighting fish when caught fresh, silver in color, but it did not take but a week or two before the Chum salmon started changing shape and color. Another name for the Chum is dog salmon, for it changes from bright silver to a calico color, and has large protruding teeth that resemble a dog when growling. The other salmon I did not mention before was the Pink salmon; this is a small salmon that on this year did not show in any great numbers. It is not a great fighter, and changes very fast once it enters fresh water, it becomes flat like a pancake. It is usually canned and sold in stores near the tuna; it is not common to be sold in restaurants for it is not of great quality to consume. Compared to the other salmon, it ranks on the bottom of the scale, the best eating salmon are the red salmon, (Sockeye), or the Kings. The kings have 17% or so that have white meat, restaurants advertise when they have the white colored meat as something special, I have eaten the white king meat on several occasions, and could not differentiate from pink or white meat of the kings, both tasted great to me. A close third would be the silvers, which also have a deep reddish color in their meat, but they usually don’t have the firm flesh as do the kings and sockeye.
I had some friends from Montana that were guiding in a fly fishing camp  just over a few Mountain ranges away on a well know river , the Kenektok. I decided to take my boat and motor and spend a few days fishing on a different river, visit with some friends, camp, and fish for the famous Leopard rainbow. The rainbows in this drainage were well know for eating mice, or red backed voles, which were found in great numbers all over the west coast of Alaska. Disney had a famous film I saw about Alaska which they showed hundred’s  of what they called lemmings jumping off a cliff, migrating to another area due to over population. Disney took liberties in making such claims, and the creatures in the film were actually voles, a cousin to the lemmings. Nobody has ever seen hundreds of neither voles nor lemmings jumping off of cliffs, but, these mice like mammals do move about when faced with over population, even swimming across rivers to get to new areas. Thus, rainbow trout eat the sometimes weary traveler’s when they do decide to cross the river, and try to find new areas to populate.
I met natives who did not like to eat the rainbow trout, because when they cleaned the trout they would have a mouse or two in their stomachs. With so many other types of fish to eat, some of them thought this was disgusting and would feed the trout to their dogs. I met a native man later in the year during a basketball tournament in the town of New Stuyahok which is located on the upper Nushagak river who told me that he’d caught a 12 pound rainbow that had three mice in it’s stomach when he was cleaning it. He said he would never eat a fish that eat mice, that he thought it was just for the dogs to eat such a fish. It seemed like this man was looking for a reaction from me , and I did not give him the pleasure. It may have been true that he did not like to eat the trout when they had mice in them, but, the dogs eat well, salmon, moose, trout what ever they had the most of at that time.
I had a pilot pick me up and fly me to the village of Quinhagak that is just north of the Village of Togiak. It was a short flight, and the pilot was a fisherman, so he showed me all the great fishing creeks and rivers on our flight, even flying up the Kenektok River to point out channels that fished well with mouse patterns.
It was a very different scene than what I was use to, remember, it was 1984, but here on this river there was a number of fishing camps , and they were run by whites from the lower 48, outsiders, running up and down the river in jet boats. This was my first exposure to this scene, all the other rivers I’d fished up until now were very quiet, no outfitters running back and forth in jet boats. Here I would not be Fly Fishing alone by any means, but rather trying not to get into the way of the outfitters taking their clients fishing who were paying big money to be there.

Welcome To Montana, or Cliff Jumper



                               
When I was attending the U OF M in Missoula Montana in the late 1970’s, I decided to go for a soak in Jerry Johnsons hot springs; it was in the middle of winter. In those days I drove an old powder blue Toyota Land Cruiser with a white soft top. The night before, it had snowed all night and left around two feet of heavy, wet snow on the pass at Lolo. That morning was spectacular, there was not a cloud in the sky, and it was a "Big Blue Sky" winter day, all the trees completely covered in their finest "whites".
From the top of Lolo pass , the view was endless on this crisp, sunny, cloudless January morning, looking down on the Lochsa River valley and into Idaho from the Montana side .The only creature's stirring were the long tailed black and white magpies, flying in small flocks scavenging for food. I was thinking how the road had not been a problem, and how just maybe, it would be in good condition all the way to the hot springs. The road had been plowed on the Montana section, but, I soon found out on my descent, that was not the case on the Idaho side. There were two tracks breaking through the fresh snow showing signs of other life. But, these turned off at the Forrest Service station , about two miles down the steep, "long and winding road", now I was the trail blazer , heading straight into the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.
I was tentatively meeting up with some friends at the hot springs, I thought, wow, great; we will have the hot springs to ourselves. And, in the back of my mind, I had the Calvary coming in case I got stuck, or something happened. I was moving through the snow, slowly, but, under control, and thought the road was not in that bad of condition, despite breaking through two feet of fresh wet, snow. From the top of Lolo pass to the hot springs, it is all down hill, the first part of the descent is quite steep, then in levels somewhat , and then,  there is a section where the road is very steep once again, and  curvy, until, there is just a gradual slope all the way down to the hot springs. By the time I reached the second steep part of the decline, I'd felt like I'd been through the worst, and it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way. About that time my Land Cruiser started sliding, I was of course going down hill, due to the curves in the road, the sun had not penetrated this section, and there was "black ice" below the two feet of fresh snow. I had not seen one other car since I'd entered Idaho, behind me, nor in the other lane going to Montana. So, I knew I had both lanes to slide, and try and slow to a point where I could gain control. It was steep; I was not slowing, but felt like I was gaining speed, countering every slide, I was literally "all over the road". It was a completely helpless feeling, my mind was reeling, and trying to figure a way to slow down and gain control, when I noticed this section had no "guard rails". Shit, I thought, stay on the right side at all cost, because on the left side of the road was a drop-off of at least 1000 ft. straight down to the Lochsa River. I tried to use the brakes, pumping them, not wanting to "lock them" and be completely out of control, this wasn't working, and it was pure black ice below the snow. If I could ram alongside something, that would slow me down I thought, but being out of control, it was hard to choose a tree, or hillside to ram alongside. Funny, when you’re going uphill, you can accelerate to straighten out, just taking your foot of the gas will slow you down; it is not the case when you’re going downhill on ice. I tried to spin the Land Cruiser around, accelerating, so I could face uphill and maybe drive up hill and gain control. The acceleration spun me in a 360*, and increased my speed, I was really helpless , thinking the worst case scenario, I was alone in the middle of nowhere, it was cold, January, I had not seen another person in the last 40 minutes, chances were that I was going to have to wreck the Land Cruiser to have some kind of a chance to survive, I did not want to go over that cliff on the left side of the road, that was death for sure, nobody could survive a 1000 ft. drop. I kept with the counter steering, pumping the brakes and thinking. I'd gone over a mile down hill sliding out of control, I had to do something, so, I decided to try and slide near the right side edge of the road, the snow was thicker there and maybe the friction would slow me. It worked, I was starting to slow down, aah  what a relief, now I had a chance, I thought, when I hit another patch of ice, I was sliding sideways on the edge of the highway right toward the drop off, another cliff. My decision was swift, I knew I did not want to "roll off" the cliff, death was imminent; I knew I'd have to steer the soft topped vehicle straight down the hill and hope for the best. It was not a cliff like on the left side of the road, but it was very steep and treed. I steered the 4-wheeler nose first down the cliff, the best I could and kept the Land Cruiser straight until I hit the extra large bumper, smashing against a Tamarack tree with around a 20 inch diameter. I can still remember sitting in my rig, thinking, I'm in one piece, alive, what a ride that was! My vehicle wasn't that bad, I'd torn holes through the top in three or four places, my windshield was cracked, but not all broken, it could have been much worst! And, I wasn't hurt, I felt OK, no blood, no broken bones, that was lucky!
 I got out, and looked up to see the path, it was around 200 feet to the road, and there were many smaller trees I'd driven over, some where not that small. In the path I'd driven over trees with diameters of two to four inches, not exactly twigs. I was walking uphill  toward the road when I heard a voice " Are you alright?", it was a Idaho State Trooper, he was bent over and had his hands around his mouth, " stay there, don't move" , "I'm coming down" he said. I'm fine, I said, really lucky! He was moving fast sliding in the snow until he reached me. The trooper was only a few years older than me, I'd guess 25 or so. He had a buzz cut, tall, lanky fellow that appeared nervous. I reassured him that I was OK, you sure? He asked again, yaw, I'm fine; I think I had to say this around ten more times before he believed me.  We then had to discuss what had happened; this all took place down where the Land Cruiser was pinned against the tree. He then asked, how would you like to get this rig out of here? I said, what do you think a tow truck? The trooper asked me if I did not mind paying $ 500 to get a tow truck. Shit, I said, that’s a lot of $. That is when the trooper suggested that I could drive it back up the cliff. I was shocked, drive it up the cliff? I don't think it will make it, it's pretty steep. The trooper said he had four sets of chains that would fit on my tires, "we can give it a try”, "I think it will go up this cliff with all tires chained up and in low gear" said the trooper. And so we did, Not only did I drive off a cliff that day, but, I drove up a cliff the same morning. After hours of cutting trees, and clearing rocks, some how the taggered Land Cruiser rumbled its way back to the top of the hill and back on the highway.
I was pretty shook up after all this, and knew I still had to drive back to Missoula, but, felt I was very lucky to be driving back. I couldn't thank the Trooper enough, Man; thank you so much for all your help, that was great, thank you, thank you, just then the young law man turned and said, "Your welcome, but this is for you". It was a ticket for reckless driving, I was shocked, what, a ticket? Are you kidding? I hit black ice, I skidded for over a mile down hill, I was only going 40 mph, and I kept from going over on the left side and dying! There are no guard rails! I could have died! Now you’re giving me a ticket? You have to be joking? The trooper said, "I'm just doing my job, write to the judge if you have a problem" .
I did indeed write to the Judge and explained the dangers of Idaho wilderness roads with the lack of "Guard Rails", and just what could happen. Today, you will see guard rails in this part of the road, and, the judge through out the case against my "ticket".
 I drove back to Missoula that afternoon very slow and cautious, I was never more glad to see the big blue sign on top of Lolo pass that says "WELCOME TO MONTANA".