Upper Kern River – Forks of the Kern Trailhead

August 25-28, 2016

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

I met Mike Gilroy at the June 2016 meeting of the San Diego Fly Fishers Group.  He was a new member of the group and it was his first meeting.  We immediately became friends.  He’s a lifelong hunter and fly fisherman.  His story was that he just retired and moved to the seemingly barren fly fishing opportunities of San Diego from the plentiful fly fishing opportunities of Seattle area.  My takeaway was that his wife wanted to retire to a warmer climate.  You can’t fault her for that.  I did my penance up in Redmond, WA for a year serving Microsoft.  The sun never came out that year (97/98); Never.  It is true.  There is an abundance of fly fishing opportunities up in the Seattle area year round.  I always carry a fly rod up there when I visit Microsoft.  Mike was a little bummed when he described having to move away from all the fly fishing opportunities in Washington.  That is when I told him about the Upper Kern River.

One of the many Kern River Rainbow's that MIke battled to hand

One of the many Kern River Rainbow’s that MIke battled to hand

I told Mike about battling the “badest”, biggest trout in the world.  That the Kern River Rainbow is its own species and we’d have a chance at Goldens and “Gold-bows” too.  And I told Mike how you have to earn it by backpacking in to them.  Well, Mike is like me.  He took that to heart and committed immediately.  Because of my travel schedule I set dates more than 2 months in the future.  But, I had always wanted to fish the upper Kern in August and never afforded the chance because it gets hot in August; really hot.  And I could never get anyone to go with me at that time of year.  And Mike did commit.  He started training immediately with hikes.  He trained the entire time.  I trained too, but at one point I was a bit worried about a 6’5” guy north of 65 kicking my ass on the trail.  So I trained pretty hard too and although I didn’t drop that 15 I need to, I did get in really good cardio shape.  As you’ll read later I needed it.

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

I had already been to the Upper Kern over the Forks of the Kern trail twice this summer so I knew we’d see really good river conditions (low).  And that meant the chance at good Huck-Hopper fishing.  I cannot tell you how many pictures I have taken over the years of a big Kern River Rainbow with a Huck Hopper hanging out of its face.

We did a lot of planning.  Mike came over to the house and I showed him all the stuff I was putting in my backpack and told him how I hoped to be under 45 pounds.  I should have emphasized it.  I told Mike that it usually takes me less than 45 minutes to lose the 1100 feet in 2 miles to get to the crossing of the Little Kern River.   Mike set expectations with me that he would take a lot longer than that; not a problem.

Mike and I were going to meet at the Lower Peppermint Campground which is just 15 minutes short of the trailhead.  I have painstakingly created detailed directions and guidance to the Forks of the Kern that I provide to anyone who emails me.  And they do quite a bit after internet searching and stumbling into this blog.  Mike was going to travel north to fish the Kings river a couple days early and camp out of his truck.  The plan was that he’d find and camp at the Lower Peppermint campground during the day Thursday and I’d drive Thursday night hoping to get there before 12AM.  But, I got the panicked call from Mike early Thursday, “They closed the road because of the Cedar Fire.”   I told him not to give up just yet.  Mike was trying to get to the campground from the western entrance which goes right though the fire.  I called the Kern River Ranger station and they told me the roads from the south were still open…”…for now.”.  So, Mike did the long detour all the way down to Bakersfield and back up through Kernville.  But, he called me again from Kernville.  “The fire is bad here.”  I had been tracking the fire all day on CalFire.org and the other governmental fire tracking sites.  It wasn’t really close, but it was pushing towards Kernville.  Mike was seeing the smoke.  I told Mike to go on in.  It’s another 1.5 hours to the campground/trailhead from Kernville in a Northern Direction.   Way North of the fire.   I knew he’d be fine.  The problem is there is no cell signal North of Kernville so I knew we wouldn’t be able to communicate.  What I didn’t realize was what I’d run into a good 12 hours later when I got to Kernville that night.

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

I left Carlsbad at 7pm as planned to avoid the traffic when plowing through LA.  As I drove up the Kern Canyon from Bakersfield I had to pull over numerous times for fire trucks to pass me.  “hmmm…” I said to myself.  I wasn’t as worried about them not letting me through as I was leaving Mike stranded in a place he never had been before with the thought of him backpacking by himself.  As I pulled into Kernville it was Armageddon.  I could see flames at least 30 feet high to the West.  I said to myself, “My God.”.  But, I was still more worried about the road closing and stranding Mike.  Thank God I made it through.  I learned later they closed the road behind me the following day.  But, only for 24 hours.  That was long enough to prevent my buddy Grant from making it through, though.  He never did join us.  We didn’t know then we practically had the Upper Kern River to ourselves.  I pulled in just after 12am and found Mike’s truck in my favorite site easily.  I was asleep within 15 minutes of turning off my ignition.

Friday morning Mike and I said hellos, described our journey and soon our trucks were headed for the trailhead.  At the trailhead I couldn’t smell any smoke, but there was a haze in the air.  Mike weighed his pack at the trailhead and it was over 50 pounds.  “Hmmm…”  I told him there had to be something he could offload.  He maintained there was not.  That ultimately turned out to be a mistake, but much of the most important things I have learned about backpacking were from my many mistakes.

The Little Kern River Crossing

The Little Kern River Crossing – with a rope tied across to help

We hit the trail together by 830AM and it was nice and cool.  It did take a while for us to get to the Little Kern crossing; longer than I had ever done it.  but, Mike’s a big guy and a stud at 65.  I kept telling myself (and Mike), “I hope I’m still doing this at 65.”   After the little Kern crossing Mike needed a rest.  This is where I made my first mistake.  I should have emphasized (instead of just giving him the option) of finding the closest primitive camp site right there.  But, Mike was hell bent on making it to the Huckaby site that day.  And that next 2.2 miles in the heat was very physical for Mike.  With ¾ mile to go I told Mike I was going to charge forward to make sure the Huckaby site was open and double back.  Thank God it was open.  Upon doubling back I offloaded a few things from Mike to make him lighter and we made it to the site after 4+ hour very physical journey for him.  Finally at the site he took his shirt off to cool off.  “What the hell is that sticking out of your chest?” I asked.  “My defibulator.” He joked.  “What?!”.  He had a pacemaker and had by-passes and heart surgeries in his past.  Now, I was feeling really badly for almost killing him on that hike!

Half of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern RiverHalf of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern River

Mike rested a bit and I partially set up camp.  But, I was dying to fish, so I rigged up a huck-hopper dropper, walked up 100 feet to the tail out that is at the top of the site and within 5 casts hooked up with a nice 14” Kern River Rainbow that battled me all the way down to Mike.  We kept that one and ate it for dinner.

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me.  To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me. To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

My battle sent the adrenaline through Mike, causing him to rig up.  He soon landed a really nice Kern River Rainbow right in front of the site.

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the "infamous" Huckaby primitive camp site

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the “infamous” Huckaby primitive camp site

Right after that is when Mike found the best treasure in the history of my hiking in there: Two Coors nestled nicely in the river.  Since Mike doesn’t drink I got them both!  How awesome is a cold Coors on a hot day on the Upper Kern?!

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

We continued fishing and setting up camp never wandering far from the site and we did well.  We turned in early; I mean really early both because of exhaustion and because the rangers invalidated my fire permit.  No fires in the golden trout wilderness on this trip.  Which is a total drag because having a campfire riverside is one of the best parts of this trip.  It’s a shame us responsible folks have to suffer for the ways of the ignorant.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

The next day (Saturday) we fished up river for the first half of the day.  We did well too.  It wasn’t crazy good; I was having trouble getting fish to rise to my hopper and there were no bugs of significance in the air.  But, we were catching fish regularly on nymphs.  And the best part was that the river was tame enough for me to cross in a few places.  That meant Mike and I could fish together, him on the “right handed side” of the river and me on the “left handed side” as we marched up river a mile and a half or so.

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

It was getting hot and we waded all the way up to rattlesnake creek before we determined it was too dangerous to go on.  That is also where I lost a really nice big rainbow on my hopper.  I hated having to turn back after that.  But, I Did.

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever.  and i have been going there a long time

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever. and i have been going there a long time

We made the mile and a half back to camp, ate and watered up a bit and fished downriver from the site for the balance of the day.  Mike found a great run and really killed in it.  That pleased me.  We ended the fishing day by dry flying at camp as the sun went down.  We kept one of Mike’s trout this time and ate it along with the backpacking food.  But, without a campfire and the sun down it was in bed early again.

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Sunday we did a really smart thing.  We broke camp in the morning and backpacked all the way back to the Little Kern, crossed it, then followed it downriver to a site at the confluence of the North Fork (main) of the Kern and the Little Kern River I had always wanted to camp at.  I knew the fishing was really good down there.  This cut in half the big hike out of the canyon the next morning.  But, I was still a bit worried about Mike’s hike out because it is very physical hiking out of that canyon; especially in the heat.  Without setting up my tent or unpacking in any way I hit the run in front of the new site at the confluence and did really well as I worked up stream.  I walked back to camp, gathered up Mike and we worked downstream and I had battle after battle with big fish.  So fun.

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Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

As the sun set and we ate our dehydrated back packing food I had accomplished something I had never successfully managed before: We had eaten all the food; we wouldn’t have to carry any out.  But, because of not being able to have a campfire I had to pack out all the trash.  Monday morning came way too soon and I have to admit I was worried about Mike and the hike out.  Without telling him the plan I had already decided I was going to plow out of that canyon as fast as I could unload my pack, and head back down empty to offload some of his stuff into my pack.  I let him get a 15 minute jump on me because he was ready as I scrambled to pack up all my toys.  I was very pleased when I didn’t catch him until he was about 1/3rd of the way up the mountain.  That is when I unveiled my plan to him.  He probably didn’t believe me.  I made it to the truck in 50 minutes, emptied my backpack and headed back down.

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was.  It fought like crazy and it's huge.  But, alas, it's just a lowly sucker

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was. It fought like crazy and it’s huge. But, alas, it’s just a lowly sucker

I reached him about 2/3rds up the mountain and we offloaded some of his stuff into mine.  He assured me he was fine.  So I told him I’d was going to plow back up, sun shower, then have a beer while waiting for him.  And that plan would have went great until as I was enjoying my beer I heard a gun shot.  Mike was carrying a gun.  “Damnit!” I said to myself.  So without a pack and a beer in my hand I headed back down again.  I didn’t have to go far before running into him, exhausted.  It wasn’t his gun.  He made it.  What a stud.  Again I hope I’m still doing it at his age.  Great trip; great friend.

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River

The Blue River

(a few miles North of Silverthorne, CO)

August 11-14, 2016

The Fish of a lifetime – 32” Rainbow

The Fish of a lifetime – 32” Rainbow

 

On Friday, August 12th, 2016 I caught and released the fish of a lifetime.  It was a 32” rainbow out of the Blue River.  I basically hit the fly fishing equivalent to a hole in one.  I have lost a handful of “fish of a lifetime” over the years.  That 8 foot tarpon I caught near Sarasota was a bucket-lister.  But, I caught him on conventional gear.  That monster brown I caught in New Zealand was a “fish of a lifetime”.  But, he was only 28”-30”.  In terms of a fly rod, even my first steelhead caught on the Hoh River on the Olympic Peninsula was smaller than this monster rainbow.  I lost that monster rooster fish in Costa Rica.  I lost the giant blue trevally at Mahaulepu on Kauai.  I lost that big rainbow on the wind river in WY.  I have lost many big corvina in our local surf; in fact, I still haven’t landed a big one.  I could go on.  This time the lord (and my fly fishing buddy Ken Bendix who passed from cancer a few years back) looked down on me, smiled, and decided it was time.  I’ll tell the story of how I caught that monster after some background.

Just another huge trout I landed on the Blue

Just another huge trout I landed on the Blue

 

What is it about this river?!  I made my annual trek out to the Blue River thanks to a value added friendship I have made over the years with master rod-maker, Tom Young.  Tom is a great guy, talented rod maker, good friend significantly younger than me.  But, really the best thing about Tom is how dramatically he “married up”.  Not only is his wife Serena awesome, but her parents own a large house right on a private section of the Blue River.  And it’s on two of those stretches that just have huge trout.  I thought there was no way I could top last year’s success on the Blue.  Well, I did.  Honestly I stopped counting the trout I caught and released over 20” inches.  They say it’s homeowners that feed the fish.  They say it’s the abundance of big mysis shrimp that the tout gorge on.  They say it’s the warmer water that spills over the top of the dam causing abundant bug hatches.  They say the wild natives feast on the smaller stocked trout in town.  Clearly it is because it’s private and does not see a lot of pressure.  All I know is I always seem to catch big fish here.

That’s me roll casting the sweet stretch right in front of the house

That’s me roll casting the sweet stretch right in front of the house

 

This trip was also special because my other buddy Jeff Winkler broke free to fish with us Saturday.  Jeff, Tom and I have been fishing Colorado together, once a year for years.  When I was a greenhorn fly fisherman Jeff went out of his way to teach me a lot about how to fly fish.  I wish I got to see these guys more often.  I know it was a huge sacrifice for “Wink-daddy” to drive the 2+ hour out to fish with us.  It was his anniversary weekend.  He had just moved and was still in the process of unpacking.  He’s driving his eldest off to college in just a few short days.  But, he just did it.  That is the type of guy he is.  He drove all the way out; fished all day with us; and drove all the way back. Wink-daddy also brought his brother in law, “Oly”; great guy and fireman just about ready to retire.  I only learned after he was gone that he was a first responder at Columbine.  Which I’m guessing he doesn’t talk about a lot.  What he saw must have been horrific.

Lastly it was special because my eldest, Camille, came up from Denver for a sleepover.  It was so fun to see her.  Friday night she tried to hang with me and Tommy in beers and cocktails.  Big mistake.

That is Camille, bored watching me and Tommy fish in front of the house, but, with a beer.

That is Camille, bored watching me and Tommy fish in front of the house, but, with a beer.

 

Another reason this trip was special is Serena came up with the kids on Saturday afternoon.  Those who know me well, can assume I had a blast with Kennedy, 6 and Dillon, 2. “Uncle Tim” is a mom’s worst nightmare when it gets close to bedtime.

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Trout-zilla

The “thing” about fly fisherman

There’s a thing about fly fisherman.  Well, in general terms, because there are exceptions.  We give each other flies.  We help each other with intel and how to fish a river.  We are courteous and friendly to each other and often give up our spots to beginners.  We help when there is a need to.  So, I was especially proud of this incident.  Tommy and I were fishing downstream, which we typically don’t do because it’s so good upstream.  But, I pretty much begged him to cover some water we had not yet.  And what always seems to be the case I did my 5 casts and impatiently moved on while Tommy meticulously picked apart a run by drifting each inch.  So, I got ahead of him 100 yards or so and was approached by one of the homeowners.  Even though we were legal in the private water Tommy and I weren’t wearing the badge that the homeowners provide to indicate we were legal.  I don’t know why Tommy didn’t have them, but he didn’t.  Anyways a homeowner came out to the river’s edge and I knew exactly what he wanted to talk about because I was in private water.  So, I stopped fishing to go talk to him to tell him I was with the “Reitan Group at 777”.  I came out of the river smiling and before I could get a word out he said, “You are with the Reitan group at 777, right?”  I laughed and said yes.  And we shook hands and started talking fishing.  I love to talk fly fishing.  And just from talking it was clear Jerry Middel is a very good fly fisherman and pretty much “owned” his river.  And his house… my god…. Awesome with a deck right on the edge of the river.  Jerry said he doesn’t even need to put his toes in the river anymore he knows the river so well.  He can just fish from the bank.  But, up front on our conversation was one of my proud moments in fly fishing…. Well, guiding first timer fly fishing kids is pretty fun and rewarding, but this is for sure up there.  Jerry said something like, “Wait, aren’t you Tim Huckaby?  The guy that netted that big fish up in the hole for me and took a picture of me with it?”  I laughed because I didn’t recognize him, but vividly remembered the incident and said, smiling, “Well, you had your hands full with that monster.  Yea, I’m Tim Huckaby”.  Then Jerry scoured his phone for the picture that I took of him years earlier.

Check out Tommy's perfect loop

Check out Tommy’s perfect loop

A few years back It went down like this:  As is typical I got ahead of Tommy again fishing up stream and when I turned the corner I saw a guy battling…and I could tell it was huge.  Of course I was doing my patented “Woo!” as I watched Jerry battle.  When Jerry tired the fish I asked him if I could help him by netting it.  I did…and it was no small feat because the fish was still hot and it was huge.  The guides in Montana taught me how to net the fish with a stab into the water so I got him on the first try…. thank God.  Talk about pressure…  I told him, “I have to take a picture of you with that fish.  I’ll email it to you”. and I did.  And Jerry remembered years later.  Awesome. karma does come back.  Especially fly fishing karma.

"I can't believe these dummies fooled me."

“I can’t believe these dummies fooled me.”

The Story of the Fish of a Lifetime

About a mile up stream in a totally private section of the river is a hole.  It’s at the end of the private section Tom is allowed to fish on.  It’s a bend in the stream that has been carved deep by springtime runoff.  It’s one of the few places in the river where a big fish could thrive year round.  We have done well there in the past.  That is where Jerry Caught his monster.  That is where we have lost a lot of big fish over the years.  This is where Wink-daddy snapped off a monster on 3x on Saturday.

And it was one of those “last cast” things.  I believe Tommy and I had each caught a big trout in there and the hole went down as is usual.  We’d been there 15 minutes or so and it got slow.

Teamwork – That is Tommy helping me land another monster

Teamwork – That is Tommy helping me land another monster

I was marveling at an absolutely huge fish I could see right in the head of the pool.  But, I seemingly bonked a bunch of flies off his head without success. I even tried to take some underwater pictures of him. There was a reason he was big and he wasn’t about to get fooled by a dumb-ass like me who could see him.  Well I walked to the tail out fully preparing to leave and walk back downriver to where we started.  But, Tommy was still fishing the pool.  So, I unstrung my rod, pulled out some line and threw it straight up stream into the tail-out in fairly shallow water.  My Huck-hopper went down, I set, and said to myself, “Damnit.  I’m hung on a rock.  I’m going to lose my rig and it was stupid of me to even cast right before we leave.”  Then the rock started moving…slowly.  At first, I thought to myself, “Cool, big fish” because it was moving slowly into the pool.  and I had a lot of pressure on him (actually only after I landed it, did I found out it was a “her”).  I believe I said to Tommy, “I’m on.”  Who probably thought to himself, “damnit, I’m fishing the good part of the pool and Huckaby hooks a fish there in the crappy part.”  It continued moving slowly towards deeper water.  And then the fish realized it was hooked and got pissed.  It jumped.  And we got to see it for the first time.  I screamed, “Oh my God!!!”  Tommy screamed back, “Get your act together! Calm down!”.  Because seeing it jump we could see how big the fish was.  When this trout landed in the water…I will never forget the sound.  It was like a 12-year-old doing a cannonball into a swimming pool.  I bowed the rod like you are supposed to and then tightened.  She was still on.  And then it dawned on me: It’s on my 4 weight that Tommy built me and it’s on 5x, and I have 5 knots from my Huck Hopper down to the size 20 zebra midge I tied that was in the fish’s face.  All fly fisherman know that is a 3-way bad combo for landing a big fish.  Then it jumped again and I panicked again.  and Tommy yelled at me again to get my sh@#t together.  That is when it ran downriver.  And I chased after it.  Even though I was running, line was peeling out of my reel way into the backing.  My reel was screaming. Tommy came running after me.  I was going as quickly as possible but, I was huffing and puffing thinking to myself, “I can’t go on.”  I’m in decent cardio shape, but I was dying.  It’s a rocky river too so it’s not like it’s easy to run in waders and wading boots over slippery rocks.  I looked over my shoulder and tommy went down, in the rapids.  There he was rolling down the river but he popped up quickly, totally soaked and continue the chase.

It seemed like forever…maybe 20 minutes; maybe longer, but ½ mile down the river Tommy attempted to net the fish for the first time – it was so huge it didn’t fit and its head hung a good foot out the net.  It was huge and it was tired.  Tom did manage to bend the fish into the net.  We had to work quickly if we were to release it unharmed.  That is why I didn’t even bother to hold the fish “trophy style” and take a bunch of pictures.  I had the fish by the tail.  I didn’t want to drop it.  It was sucking pretty badly.  We got a couple pictures and got it quickly back in the water.  It took me a good 5 minutes of holding in the current before it swam off all pissed off.  If you look closely in the picture, there is a good foot of tail hidden by my hand.  Its tail was like a fan 8” tall.

This is all my fly fishing buddie's favorite: Look at my face. I’m shocked at the size of the monster

This is all my fly fishing buddies’ favorite: Look at my face. I’m shocked at the size of the monster

Not only was this the largest trout I have ever caught.  It is the largest trout I have ever seen.  That statement in itself should be impressive since I have fly fished so many times, for so long, in so many places, with so many professionals.  I have seen pictures of fish like that; many caught by my fly fishing guide buddies in Montana.  But, I have never seen a fish like that in person.  Tommy even checked the Colorado state record it was so huge. I was not close; 41”.

There’s 3 important factors to landing that monster:

  1. I was fighting that fish on a really nice custom rod built by Tom Young. I was out-gunned with that 4 wt, but because it was a was such a nice rod I still could battle it.  Email Tommy and beg him to build you a rod.  You’ll thank me; worth every penny.
  2. You don’t need a nice reel unless you need to fight a big fish. Because of that nice rod I splurged and bought a Galvin Torque T4 from the Platte River Fly shop.   You just can’t palm a fish that runs 100 yards at 20 knots.  Especially while chasing it.  you need the reel to help fight the fish.
  3. You need a wingman who knows how to net a big fish. Thank God I was with Tommy.  I owe him.  A fish that big on 5x cannot be netted alone without losing it or dragging it on shore.

Just 360 more days before I get to go back and fish the Blue…

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The Deschutes River in Bend, OR

August 6th, 2016

When Kelly (my wife) said, “I want to visit my cousin Cindi in Bend.” I immediately said, “Done!”  and she said, “What? Is there a river or something there?”  I did two short morning sessions on the Deschutes River “in town” and did well.  Mostly dry fly fishing with the infamous size 12 bullet head skwalla.  And now I have checked off Red Band Rainbows off my bucket list.

The High Desert Redband Rainbow

The High Desert Redband Rainbow

 

Ted and Cindi built their dream house for retirement on a piece of land in the hills above Bend they purchased 20 years ago.  After staring at their address on the satellite images I could see the Deschutes was just ¾ of a mile away from their house.  What I could not figure out from a computer was how to get through the private property and how big the canyon was that I needed to hike into.  Oregon, like Colorado, is one of those states with tons of private property on the rivers and very little public river access.

But, I could see a trail from the satellite images that at the very least made it legal to get to the canyon.  It is called the Archie Briggs trail.  And you can catch that trail just yards from Ted and Cindi’s house.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that and even though I knew where the trail was, I discovered another marked public access trail right at the end of their street that seemed more direct and seemed to cut right through private property.  Big Mistake because it did not.  I should have stayed with my original plan.  Unfortunately, that was a 2-hour mistake on a day where I only had 3 hours for a fly fishing adventure.  When I finally did get to the canyon I was staring down a 500-foot cliff and scratching my head on how to get down.  So, discouraged, I continued walking up river on the Deschutes river trail on the top of the canyon hoping to find access.  And I finally did; right where I should have started….uggh.

The Deschutes River

The Deschutes River

But it was still quite a bushwhack without a formal trail to lose the 500 feet down into the canyon to the river.  And I was all alone.  When I got all the way down it was pretty intimidating.  Very deep pools with little or no casting or wading access.  The river seemed to have just enough water to make it impossible to cross too.  At least I was smart enough this time not to try to cross alone.  Well, I made a few casts in the area with no action so I bushwhacked my way a couple hundred feet up the river.  And that is when I started catching redbands.  I hooked 5; landed 2 of them in just a 20 minute stretch.  That is when my time allotment for the day was done.  My walk back to the house was only 30 minutes, all up hill.  Actually, I didn’t even make it back to the house.  Kelly, Cindi and her husband ted picked me up on the way for our day’s hiking adventure at Smith Rock State Park which is, ironically on the Crooked river.  I didn’t get the opportunity to fish there because I was with the 3 of them hiking, but, I sure wanted to.

Monkey Rock at Smith Rock State Park

Monkey Rock at Smith Rock State Park

 

The next morning my long time fly fishing buddy, “Big Will Garratt” met me on the trail on the way to the river.  Big Will just moved to Bend and he had not fished the Deschutes yet.  I gladly showed him the access point I had found.  We fished for an hour mostly together working our way about ½ mile up the river.  And we were both doing well fishing on top with our size 12 bullethead skwallas.  The Deschutes in the canyon is pretty rugged and accessing the river frequently requires backtracking up the cliffs to get around the overgrown trees and brush in the river.  In the process of doing just that I scared the hell out of a deer that was resting under the trees.  Actually he scared me more than I scared him.

Bill Will slaying Redbands on the Deschutes

Bill Will slaying Redbands on the Deschutes

 

But, alas my short time was up.  Interestingly enough I had cell signal down there and Kelly called.  She said, “I think I see you guys.  We are on the Deschutes trail and I can see a fly fisherman way down below and a half mile up.”  “Is that you?”, she said.  It was Big Will she saw.  She was ready to go on the next adventure of the day: brew pub hopping.  But, our dilemma was a 20-minute rock climb and bush whack back up to the entry point of the canyon.  I told Big Will we might as well get as much altitude we can before working our way back down stream to where we entered the canyon.  So we did.  Within 10 minutes we saw a number of deer trails.  And we made the decision to try to save 30 minutes by hiking straight up the canyon on the deer trails.  Crazy…because at points we were climbing with our hands.  When we did pop out up top it was only a 200 yard walk to where Ted, Cindy and Kelly were waiting for us on the trail.

Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Eastern Sierras

July 8-12, 2016

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Just a mile into the hike you get a good idea of the beauty you are hiking into

I backpacked to the Little Lakes Valley from the Mosquito Flats Trail-head for the first time.   In fact, my backpacking experience was limited to the upper Kern before I went with my buddy from SDFF, Warren Lew.  Warren is a recently retired doctor who is a total stud and north of me in years.  Warren taught me a ton about backpacking the high country of the John Muir Wilderness.  And specifically he taught me how to “do” the little lakes valley from the Mosquito Flats Trailhead.  He also taught me how to dry fly in Stillwater.  I was a newbie before this trip never really having success and always resorting to the streamer.  I cannot wait to get back to this place.  And I fear that won’t be until next spring because winter comes fast here.

Your heart stops when you see a big golden like this one rise

Your heart stops when you see a big golden like this one ris

The fishing is ridiculously good.  The fish are generally smaller than the kern because of the huge healthy population of brook trout, but the quantity you catch is 4x.   I promise that any fly fisherman would catch more than 10 a day regardless of skill.  My wife could catch 10 a day there.  if Warren and I really wanted to I bet we could have caught more than 50 a day.  And yes, the brookies actually are delicious (they are a char; not a trout).

I bet I caught and released more than 125 fish (rainbows, brooks, and a golden) over 8 lakes and a miles of streams that connect them.  And 99% were on a dry fly.

Yes those are rises in one of the Gem Lakes right next to our camp.  but look closely.  You can see two brook trout that have jumped completely out of the water to grab the midges

Yes those are rises in one of the Gem Lakes right next to our camp. but look closely. You can see two brook trout that have jumped completely out of the water to grab the midges

There are so many positives about doing this, and I will detail the highlights below, but, there are some negatives.

The drawbacks are:

  • Altitude – it’s over 11k feet.  lots of heavy breathing. Every hike seems harder.  Everything is more extreme.  Hiking over Morgan pass was a challenge. We spent 5 days above 11K feet and I grossly underestimated how much colder it is up there.  we also got caught in a night time wind storm where it had to be blowing over 60MPH….which means not a lot of sleep.
  • You have to camp 100 feet away from the water – this is a stupid rule I still cannot understand the reasons for.
  • Bear Canisters are required – another stupid rule; what bear hangs out above the tree line? and frankly what’s wrong with just hanging your food?
  • The permitting process requires a visit to the ranger station in bishop; I don’t understand why it can’t all be done on the internet.
That’s me on Treasure Lake Number 2.  We caught a lot of big brookies here

That’s me on Treasure Lake Number 2. We caught a lot of big brookies here

The positives are numerous:

  • When you camp next to a glacier, you have snow to pour your Bourbon over.
  • Beauty – the sheer beauty of the mountains, much of which was above the tree line.
  • Fly fishing – ridiculously fun and easy.
  • So many trails and so many lakes within a 4-mile diameter.
  • I proved Mike Hilygus’ theory once again that a bullet head Skwalla in sizes 10 and 12 works everywhere.
  • You can make the big cast – talk about a great place to practice your double haul. Since there are no trees in many of these lakes (or they are sparse) you can do the 50 foot cast.  I was throwing my custom made 4 wt by Tom Young built on TFO BVK blanks.  And when I stood on big rocks I could swear I was getting close to casting the entire length of the fly line (100 feet).  of course setting at that distance is a different story.
“I can’t believe Huckaby fooled me.  I’m so bummed.”

“I can’t believe Huckaby fooled me. I’m so bummed.”

There were a number of firsts on this trip:

  • Most number of nights backpacking: My record before this trip was 3. On this trip we did 4 nights in the wilderness.  And I still had food leftover.  Yea, I lost weight on this trip.
  • My first “real” golden trout – I have caught plenty of goldens in my time and they are a blast because they hit so hard and it’s always dries. But, I have never caught a golden over 6”.  On this trip I caught a 14” golden.  A female; but, I earned it.  I was working a pod of big goldens and hooked 5 and lost all of them before landing them.  I must have spent an hour at it before I finally got one.
Check out the big golden with my fly hanging out of his face.

Check out the big golden with my fly hanging out of his face.

  • A double dry – I have caught two fish at a time just a couple times before. Once in Crowley on two streamers in a float tube.  Once in the Contoocook River in New Hampshire a few weeks back on a dry/dropper.  But, this trumps them all.  I was throwing two dries just to figure out what size I needed to get the big brookies to rise.  The first fly was a size 12 bullethead skwalla.  I trailed that with a size 14 spruce moth.  I had to make the big cast (see above) so the set was on a big splash; I didn’t see what actually happened.  But, when I made the set I yelled to Warren: “Big Fish!”.  It was a battle on my 4wt (5x), but as I got the fish close I saw it wasn’t one fish; it was too big 13” brookies.
Treasure Lakes 1 and 2

Treasure Lakes 1 and 2

 

Contoocook River, Henniker, New Hampshire

June 18, 2016

The Contoocook River, Henniker, New Hampshire

The Contoocook River, Henniker, New Hampshire

I planned a business trip to Boston months in advance and that meant getting Kelly free flights on points because she had never been to Boston.  It also meant ending the business trip in a long weekend in New Hampshire at our friends, Pat and Sabine Hynd’s house who live in Derry, New Hampshire.

And I knew full well, there was outstanding fly fishing in New Hampshire.  I just had two obstacles:

  1. Kelly, who is never happy about me stranding her all day while I fly fish
  2. The research I needed to do to figure out the closest river to Pat’s house that held trout

I never did overcome the first obstacle.  But, I did overcome the 2nd one by doing something really smart: I went to the New Hampshire Trout Unlimited Website where the officer’s email addresses were listed.  Fly fisherman are almost always helpful to outsiders so I wrote a simple email to the president, Ron Sowa.  Well, almost immediately Ron Emailed me back suggesting I fish the Contoocook River in Henniker, New Hampshire.  Ron and I went back and forth in email a few times where he provided great info for me before I realized he was a guide!  And he was so generous with free info.  At that point I felt badly.  So badly I said to myself “Screw it; I’m going to hire him for a full day and if she’s pissed so be it.”  Then I chickened out because of the sheer agony I’d have to endure, and thought about a half day guided with Ron.  At that point, to my extreme pleasure, Pat showed interest in joining me for some fly fishing.  Pat had never fly fished before and like many of my friends in the software world I was really looking forward to us fly fishing together, guided.

Pat Hynds, Master Angler

Pat Hynds, Master Angler

Then the wives got wind of it and totally put the kibosh on the idea.  But, the wives were willing to give us a morning.  So, it was going to be me and Pat leaving early, driving 45 minutes, gearing up, my teaching and guiding & fishing for 1.5 hours, and drive 45 minutes back in time for lunch and a big hike with the wives.  I have a goal of fly fishing in every state in America and New Hampshire was on the list so I was still very excited to check it off the list.

Well, I owe Ron big-time and I will repay him if he ever gets to the sierras in California….  Or I’ll just figure out how to get to New Hampshire again and hire him to guide me and Pat.

Big Rainbow from the Contoocook

Big Rainbow from the Contoocook

We fished the Contoocook river.   At first it was a bit of a challenge because we went upriver on the college side when we got to Henniker and it was froggy, big and deep.  I said, “hmmm”…  Then we went back over the bridge and downriver.  Immediately, there was a huge dirt parking lot with a dam looking structure, but I could see pocket water in the distance. But, there was a big swamp in the way.  I said, “hmmmm…”  I’m a bushwhacker, but, Pat was a first timer; I didn’t want to drag Pat through that mess.  So, we continued another ½ mile down the road to the next pullout and I almost fainted from what I saw: Pocket water, riffles, multiple runs, tail-outs.  This had it all in a 200-yard stretch.   But, no one was there so I said to myself, “Hmmm”.  It just seemed too perfect.  “Why were no other fly fisherman here?  It’s a Friday.  If this place were good then there must be something wrong.”

Another big trout from the Contoocook River

Another big trout from the Contoocook River

We’ll I geared us up and we wadered up there on the side of the road.  We wandered into the water.  It was a coffee stained clear that in the shade provided zero visibility; even with my Smith Chromopop polarized lensed glasses.  But it was not a slippery river like I’m used to in the East.  So, it wasn’t difficult to wade at all; you just had to go slow because you couldn’t see.  I did my lecture to Pat on where trout hang out and rest / feed and pointed out a few places.  And as we did I noticed a number of different bugs in including large Caddis and Yellow Sallies.   I said to myself, “hmmmm”…  We staged ourselves 20 feet below two large boulders where I knew Pat could make an easy beginners cast.  Then I started on a casting lesson for Pat.  On my second “10-2” thing teaching Pat to cast, I caught a small brook trout not even trying.  I said to myself, “hmmmm”…  Then I saw a large fish rise on the other side of the river and I said to myself, “hmmmm”…  I said to Pat, “Hang on one second I want to catch that rising fish.”  And I did.  and I said to myself, “hmmmm”…

More Underwater Fish porn from the Contoocook

More Underwater Fish porn from the Contoocook – this time a big Brookie

And it was just one of those days; a day that you remember forever.  But, a day I haven’t had in a while.  In fact, I believe the last time I had a day like that was on Lake Crowley close almost 20 years ago.  And I only fished for an hour and a half on the Contoocook River.  I think if I had all day I would have caught and released more than 50 trout.

Highlights:

  • I had a Grand slam with multiple brooks, rainbows, browns, & smallmouth
  • Most of my fish we caught on dries.
  • I caught 2 brookies at the same time (one the dry and one on the dropper)
  • And this was a first in my fly fishing career: I hooked a fish…well he caught himself… that jumped out of the water from between my legs to get my dry…through my legs and up a foot out of the water like shamu while I was releasing a fish from the dropper he was hooked on!
This is one of Pat's Brookie's that he fooled

This is one of Pat’s Brookie’s that he fooled.  See that big ‘ol nymph hanging out of his face after Pat’s perfect set?

And we only got 1.5 hours to fish!  45 mins up and back.  In that 1.5 hours I caught ~20 and I was “guiding” a beginner!  I have never ever left a river when the fishing was so good.  Even Pat caught fish!  As a first timer!  To his credit I have never had a beginner wait like you are supposed to when loading the rod.  He was the quickest study I have ever guided.  He figured out how to fight fish without me even helping.

The fish I caught went 6” to 14”.  I’m sure there were larger fish in that river.  I caught one fat rainbow jumper that was worth taking a picture of under water.  And many of the fish I caught had to be wild because I got a lot of jumps.  And every fly fisherman knows how fun Brookies are…

A Contoocook rainbow too big for me to take a picture of while trying to land him.

A Contoocook rainbow too big for me to take a picture of while trying to land him.

How we fished

I put Pat on an indicator (New Zealand wool style indicator) dropped by a large, size 12 bead headed black midge.  Dropped from that was a bead headed birds nest I tied.

And here’s where it’s really interesting: I did dry/dropper.  My dry was a size 12 bullet head skwalla (Montana fly company’s version).  I don’t even think they have skwallas (a huge stone fly) in New Hampshire.  But, it killed.  Just like my buddy in montana, Mike Hillygus, said it would.  Mike swears bullet head skwallas work all over the world because of the size and profile.  And I most certainly proved that in Poland last week.  And I proved it in New Hampshire yesterday.  This weekend I’m going to prove it on the Upper Kern river in the sierras where I am really curious to see if it will work.

So, if you want to fly fish in New Hampshire I strongly suggest you hire Ron Sowa from Reel New Hampshire Fishing Guide Service to guide you.  That would help repay my debt to him.  He’s headquartered in Manchester, NH 603.493.3857.

Reel New Hampshire Fishing guide service

Bialka River, Poland – May 31st, 2016

I sure am glad that one of InterKnowlogy’s most brilliant engineers, Szymon Kobalczyk insisted we fly fish in his beautiful country of Poland, because it was a total blast; so much more fun than I thought it would be.

Tim & Szymon on the Bialka River, Poland

The Białka River is in the Tatras mountains and runs through southern Poland. It is a tributary of the Dunajec River, which is a European famous fly fishing river. The Białka is only about 25 miles long. The source of the river is in the High Tatras.  It is fed by the Jezioro Czorsztynski Reservior (I have no idea how to say that in English).  I have seen a lot of rivers in Europe.  I have fished a few.  And we American fly fisherman typically have a stereotype of Europe and how they have dammed, fished out and poached their lakes and rivers.  And that is certainly true in many parts of Europe, but not on the Bialka.  What I found on the Bialka River was an extremely healthy mountain river supplied by snow-melt; an abundance of runs, riffles and pocket water and everything that makes a great fly fishing river, including a huge population of brown trout.  The Bialke even has closed spawning sections and fly fishing only sections.

Looking upstream of the protected spawning area of the Bialka

Looking upstream of the protected spawning area of the Bialka

Technically it was a little 3 day long weekend vacation for Kelly and I at the end of a business trip to Europe.  Kelly has never been to Krakow and it’s one of my favorite cities in Europe.  It’s an awesome city; Great food and great people.  And if you are into history, well, it’s where the Schindler Factory is, which is now a WWII museum.  It’s also where Szymon lives with his family.

Catch and Release Sign on the Bialka River in Poland

Catch and Release Sign on the Bialka River in Poland

Szymon told me he had arranged a guide.  I traded emails with the outfitter (guide cc’d) scraping for info, but couldn’t get the guide to reply.  I wasn’t worried.  I just wanted to set expectations that I wanted the guide to spend all his time with Szymon because it was Szymon’s first time fly fishing.  All I really need these days it to be lead to the river.  If I’m told what to throw and I don’t have to figure that out, all the better.

Szymon and Shemek pointing out where we are on the map

Szymon and Shemek pointing out where we are on the map

Well, it was a long drive to the Tatras mountains of Poland that border Slovakia.  And when we pulled up on the guides house I was really excited.  The guides name was Przemysław Półtorak (nickname pronounced “Shemek”) and his outfitter is Sebastian Kalkowski from www.guidedfishing.pl.  I knew Sebastian spoke beautiful English from the many email responses I got from him from all my questions.  But, thank God I had Szymon with me because it was immediately obvious “Shemek” spoke very little English.  Of course it’s fly fishing so really how much talking do you really need to do?  Shemek is a 24 year old fly fishing nut.  I love that.  in broken English he told me he had been fly fishing the river since he was 8.

That's me trying my best to Czech nymph from my knees with an 8'6" 3 wt.

That’s me trying my best to Czech nymph from my knees with an 8’6″ 3 wt.

In Shemek’s back yard with wadered up and rigged up.  Shemek offered me a 12’ Czech nymping rod and my heart sunk a bit.  There is nothing wrong with Czech nymphing, which I call “raking the river”.  It just doesn’t suit my constant need to move and to cast.  In Czech nymphing you fling a heavily weighted nymph 45 degrees up stream about 10-15 feet in front of you and “high stick” it, bouncing the nymph along the bottom.  And to do it right you do it 2” at a time covering every inch of the river.  My personality can’t deal with that.  I love the big cast and I love the hike I get out of wading the river for miles.  Well, I politely told “Shemek” no thanks to the rod.  I had a my 8’6” TFO BVK 3 weight with me and since I was comfortable landing 20”+ montana brownies on that rod, I was sure it was enough for this river.  But, Shemek rigged my 3 wt for check nymping…sigh… I politely said thanks and we headed out to the river…well, what I thought was the river.  A raging 20 foot wide creek that looked more like an overflow channel was accessible from the back gate of Shemek’s yard.  At first I thought there is no way we can fish this thing.  it’s overgrown and absolutely raging.  Then as we walked downriver we reached a pool that was one of Shemek’s favorites.  Actually the water was perfect for Czech nymphing.  At the time I thought we were on the Bialke River.  But, we weren’t. we are on a diverted irrigation canal.  Well, I hooked a handful of small trout on the swing, but weren’t able to pull them back up river.  That was a good sign though.  because we moved to another part of the canal and quickly I had landed my first small Polish brown trout.  And I was still nymphing, Czech style, on an 8’6” 3 wt.  it was testing my nymphing skills, or more correctly stated, my lack of nymphing skills. I had moved about 100 feet away from Szymon and Shemek and it wasn’t long before Szymon ran to me holding a nice 14” brown trout in his hands.  That pleased me intensely.  I have fished with so many beginners that get skunked their first time out.  So, obviously “Shemek” was a good guide and knew where the fish were.  But, we were still fishing in the canal.  And then I saw it…through the trees.. the Bialka.  “So we were fishing an overflow canal.”, I said to myself.  And what I saw in the distance was a beautiful river.  I was really excited now.  It was also just after seeing the river for the first time that I saw it… a rise.

Another beautiful brown from the Bialka

Another beautiful brown from the Bialka

I pointed out the rise to “Shemek”.  He nodded in pride.  And that was my “in” to be polite about changing myself out to a dry fly.  I really wanted to test my buddy Mike Hillygus’s theory that a bullet head skwalla will work anywhere; any time.  Cutting to the chase, it wasn’t long before I texted Mike right from the Bialka River: “Guess what fly works in Poland? J” Of course I was 10 hours ahead of him so that txt woke him up at 3am.

That's me battling a nice brown i fooled on top with a bullet head skwalla on my TFO BVK 3 wt.

That’s me battling a nice brown i fooled on top with a bullet head skwalla on my TFO BVK 3 wt.

So, I ended up catching a bunch of fish.  And Szymon, a first timer caught fish too.  I dropped the Bullet head skwalla with a rainbow warrior I tied because the water clarity was pretty good.  And that fly killed.  Especially on the swing.  But, it was the fish I caught on dries that were so fun.  At one point I was hooting and hollering, “This is so fun!”  Shemek was proud.

Szymon battling a nice brown

Szymon battling a nice brown

The Bialka is a river that can be fished effectively by any above average fly fisherman.  The hard part is finding the access points.  If you are interested on how to pull this off, email me.

I would love to go back there and spend a couple full days fishing the main river up stream, skipping the flood channels and canals completely.  And some day, probably next spring, I will.

The Bialka River, so fun....

The Bialka River, so fun….

May, 2016 – The North Platte River: 546 Trout Caught and Released

The North Platte River - Grey Reef Section

The North Platte River – Grey Reef Section

For the last 5 years I have planned the annual “Get Locked!” fly fishing trip for a dozen of my buddies.  This year’s location was the N. Platte River near Casper, WY.  And my God did we have fun!  I believe everyone in the group agreed that of the 5 trips this was the best.  And it was the best because of where we stayed, the fishing, the outfitter and guides, The local fly shop, and the food.  We floated the Grey Reef section of the N. Platte.

The great thing about this trip is that the majority of the guys are beginner fly fisherman…. This trip is the only time they fly fish each year.  It’s a bunch of CEOs and such; a bunch of old married guys.  So how do a bunch of beginner fly fisherman catch 546 fish over 3 days?:  Answer: Guides; really good guides…  well, that and how effective for beginners, “the bobber” is…

Another 18" rainbow

Another 18″ rainbow

The Guides

So I might as well start the story here at the guides: Ryan Anderson and his wife Liz run WYOMING FLY FISHING GUIDE SERVICE – Gray Reef Outfitters on the North Platte River (307-277-6282).  And I highly recommend them if you are going to fish the N. Platte River in the Grey Reef section in the Casper area.  Ryan, (who is a big ‘ol bear of a guy about ½ my age, crying funny, and an awesome guide) enlisted 5 more of his guide crew (Mickey, Slade, Bean, Grant, & Keith) in a 6 boat armada to float us drunken old guys to catch and release 546 fish over 3 full days of fishing.  Sober and trying I think we would have caught 1000.  I will definitely fish with Ryan again.  I haven’t told my lovely bride of 27 years just yet, but I plan to make my way back to Casper in the fall with my son Mark to float with Ryan.

Bean sheepherding another double hookup with Tom and Doug

Bean sheepherding another double hookup with Tom and Doug

The Place

We stayed at Red Butte Lodge.  Really, it wasn’t really a choice.  It was the only place I could find in the Casper area that had 12 beds (short of a hotel).  But, we totally lucked out.  The Red Butte Lodge is awesome, quite reasonable in cost, and it has the high TripAdvisor ratings to validate it.  Ruth Romp owns and runs the place.  She is a kiwi (New Zealander) and is just a great gal.  Her lodge and cottage sit right on the river.  Although I barely fished in front of the Red Butte Ranch because the river was blown out there (downstream from Grey Reef), most of the year I bet you could just wade in right there and fish quite successfully the entire time.

The view at sunrise from The Red Butte Lodge.

The view at sunrise from The Red Butte Lodge.

The Fly Shop

I have written of the local fly shop in Casper (and it’s internet business) many times before in this blog.  It’s the Platte River Fly Shop located just outside of town on your way to the Grey Reef area of the N. Platte at 7400 State Hwy 220, Casper, WY 82604.  My buddy Mark Boname owns the shop and is a genuinely great guy.  I tell all my friends to buy their fly fishing stuff from Mark at: www.WyomingFlyFishing.com.  Mark and his staff, Gerri to name one of them, run an honest business and provide tons of guidance and help.  Plus, they have all the “good stuff” (Simms, Sage, Galvan, TFO, Patagonia, Winston, etc.)

The Pronghorn Antelope not affectionately called the "speed goat" is on it's way back to building numbers after being hunted to the brink for many years

The Pronghorn Antelope not affectionately called the “speed goat” is on it’s way back to building numbers in Wyoming after being hunted to the brink for many years

The Food

I had real trouble finding a caterer to do the breakfasts and dinners in Casper.  Then I stumbled on Caputa Catering.  Rob Caputa and I went round and round in planning in email and on the phone.  Great guy and I’m totally pleased.  Unique every day hot breakfasts with always fresh fruit.  The dinners ruined the diet, but exceptions must be made when the food is that good.  Rob, even purchased and delivered all the beer and alcohol.  He had his GM, Lashawn Wier helping him.  She was great.

Even if you don’t have the need to cater in Casper, you need to go to their restaurant, Prime Time.

Expert Angler Bill Scripps with just another of his many 16" - 20" rainbows

Expert Angler Bill Scripps with just another of his many 16″ – 20″ rainbows

The Fishing

On this trip each year I fly in 2,3 days early to set things up and to do some “real” fly fishing.  I prefer to wade.  I know it’s so much more effective in the drift boat, but there is a certain freedom and skill and hike involved when wading that I really enjoy.

I had some time on Sunday when I got to Casper, before sundown so I stopped at the North Platte River Fly Shop and my buddy Mark set me up with flies and steered me to the section of river between the dams because it was not blown out.  I did pretty well.  Great stretch of river.  I was really encouraged because I’d be fishing with Mark the next day.

On Monday, my first full day in town my buddy Mark Boname graciously offered to take me on a full day of wade fishing.  He took me to some of his spots on the N. Platte including the Fremont area of the river above the dams and downstream in the Grey Reef area and in the transition area between the dams.  We did pretty well in a rising river.  Mark dragged me all over that river and I didn’t find out until days later from him that he was totally sick…like puking sick.  He didn’t even mention it while we were fishing.  And we fished a full day.  That is the type of guy he is.

That night my buddy Tom O’Connell, CEO of Applied Information Sciences flew in and we hit the Silver Fox Restaurant in Casper hard.  This is the highest rated restaurant in Casper for a reason.  And its Casper; so the restaurant is very reasonably priced.  We sat in the bar and ate and Brian the bartender took care of us.  Brian later became of good me of me, tom and the entire gang.

This is a self Portait. i had to set the timer while the fish was in my net. i so rarely take trophy shots anymore. but, this fish from the Wind River was special.

This is a self Portrait. i had to set the timer while the fish was in my net. i so rarely take trophy shots anymore. but, this fish from the Wind River was special.

I Lost Another Fish of a Lifetime

The next day, Tuesday, Tom and I made the big trek to Thermopolis to fish the Wind River section of the Bighorn.  We hit the local fly shop in Thermopolis and got some great guidance, flies and the special permits to fish this stretch of river on the Indian reservation.  What we did not know is how big the river was.  Until we got there.  I have never seen that river so high.  Crossing was not even a consideration.  We couldn’t even wade.  Most of our fishing was done from the rocks on the steep banks.  I caught a really nice fish and Tommy hooked up a few times, which is impressive because it was really tough casting in those conditions and finding soft water for a good drift was really difficult.

The Wind River on the Indian Reservation just up stream from Thermapolis, WY. It takes a special permit to fish here.

The Wind River on the Indian Reservation just up stream from Thermapolis, WY. It takes a special permit to fish here.

But, what I will remember forever is hooking into another fish of a lifetime…and losing it.  I found 10 yards of soft water between two huge boulders in the river that I knew was holding fish.  Just like I was taught, I made a cast right on the seam, mended, got a good drift and my indicator went down with vengeance.  I set hard because it’s Wyoming; they use 3x at a minimum in Wyoming.  The fish reared and jumped right in front of me.  I gasped and then almost fainted because it was huge.  Honestly huge like a steelhead.  I bowed the rod just like you are supposed to do it.  The fish landed and sprinted downriver.  My reel was singing and I had the drag setting pretty tight.  But, now the horror set in.  The fish went into the main channel around the giant bolder.  I couldn’t chase her downstream because the line would have wrapped the boulder.  I tried in desperation to flip that line around the boulder, but it was like 10 feet tall and the fish kept running…for what seemed like an eternity.  I considered jumping in the river and swimming after the fish a number of times.  But the river was so high and raging.  It just was not safe.  And the fish kept running.  My backing was now scraping the rock.  I watched the backing deplete to about 20 feet from getting spooled.

I always hear and read about how great going into the backing is.  I’ve caught a lot of big trout in my time and I never seem to go into the backing.  I think if you fight them correctly you don’t need (or want) to go into the backing.  But now I’m not only into the backing, but I’m about to be spooled and lose the fish, the line and the backing.  I quickly considering pulling a “brad pitt from a river runs through it” by jumping in the river and swimming after it.  but, I’m wearing waders and the wind river is in an angry dangerous mood that day.  So I do what I have been dreading for minutes now: I tighten down.  I’m at a loss what to do now because I don’t want to hurt, most likely kill the fish, by reeling it backwards up a raging river.  I didn’t have to worry about it for long.  It only took a few turns of the reel before the fish got pissed, turned her head and snapped off the 3x.  sigh.

Question: Do you know how long it takes to reel in all the backing and the entire fly line?

Answer: An eternity after losing the fish of a lifetime.

I now have 3 fish that will haunt me for the rest of my life:

  • The Giant Blue Trevally off the cliffs in Mahaulepu, Kauai
  • The huge roosterfish in Guancaste, Costa Rica
  • The monster rainbow in the Wind River, Thermopolis, WY
Jay Hutton, aka "worst client ever" fumbling away another 18” rainbow

Jay Hutton, aka “worst client ever” fumbling away another 18” rainbow

Fishing Guided in drift boats with Grey Reef Outfitters on the North Platte River

The insanity started on Wednesday when everyone flew in to Casper.  We fished guided for 3 days; some of us 4.  Most of us drinking adult beverages in the drift boats the entire time.  And it was ridiculous good fishing.  Which is funny because the guides thought it was kind of slow.  I guess in Casper, 542 fish by 12 amateur anglers in 3 days is slow.  BTW, 95% of the fish caught and released were over 14”.  Silly.  Not matter what your skill level, if you want to catch a bunch of wild, hard fighting rainbows on a fly rod you need to call these guys.  Worth every penny

I cannot wait to get back to the N. Platte River.