Cascade River, Marblemount, WA

November 10th, 2016

Huck holding his first Coho

Huck holding his first Coho

The reality is that most of my experience is fly fishing for trout; just a lowly fly fisherman that mostly gets to fly fish for trout; catching them and releasing them.  And that is the point in this post: because of my business travel I get to do some “exotic” fly fishing every once and a while.  But, when I wander outside of trout I’m a beginner.  And for me, and I realize this doesn’t apply to all fly fisherman, I just love being the beginner again.  I love being the beginner yet having the wisdom of “figuring it out”.  In this mode, the successes are so much more joyful; the failures are insignificant.  And that is where this story starts…

My buddy Joe is a big time strategic exec at Microsoft.  I lean on him (and others at msft) to explain the technical strategy to me and I have done that for years.  But, Joe is not a “Dork”.  Joe is not a “Geek”.  I hate those terms to start with because in the board room the word Geek is still a negative.   My point: Joe is a guide level fisherman.  He’s a God of steelhead.  He “owns” the pacific northwest in terms of fly fishing.  So, when I get to fish with Joe I cherish the moments and what I learn from him.

Joe and I planned to “play hooky” and fish a Thursday while I was up in Redmond at Microsoft months in advance.  I sent Joe an email: “Hey, I’m going to be in town and am going to fish on Thursday, November 10th.  What do I throw and where?”  He said, “You are fishing with me.”  Totally pleased… and now excited.   But to make a long story short, Joe has young twins.  He’s 15 years my junior.  His life is crazy.  He was just back from a business trip and he mixed up the dates.  At 530am I got the txt from him with the sobering reality I was on my own.

Fine.  Easy.  It’s not about catching anyways, right?  I don’t mind getting skunked as long as I get a good hike in the wilderness, right?  Then joe’s txts of guidance started coming, fast and furious.  He gave me a detailed plan.  As I headed north from Redmond in my rental car on the 5, I was re-excited.  Because Joe gave me enough of the “where and what” to instill my confidence of success.  His guidance was: head for the Cascade River near Marblemount and fish the stretch from where it enters the Skagit up to the hatchery.  That was enough info for me to use the interweb to figure out how to get there.  The next piece of guidance was invaluable: “you are fishing for dollies.” (Dolly Vardon; it’s a char.  It’s big and mean and it fights like hell).  “You may see some coho.  Cast at them and around them.  You may be able to catch them and the dollies are hanging around the cohos to eat them and their eggs.”

Check out that big ass articulated streamer i tied in this Coho's face

Check out that big ass articulated streamer i tied in this Coho’s face

Fishing for spawning salmon has always been a challenge for me and frankly for everyone.  They travel hundreds of miles from the ocean to a two-inch radius of where they were born (still unexplained by science) to spawn and die.  They don’t eat on the way and don’t eat period.  Their job is to spawn and die.  As fisherman (not just fly guys) we try to piss them off to make a primal response by fishing for them.

It took me 20 minutes to figure out where to park because of all the private property.  When I finally did figure it out if was staring at a bait fisherman across the river…well, a conventional guy…hammering a pool under the bridge.  I have to admit I was bummed at the time.  I really thought I could have the river to myself.  But, on the other hand I said to myself, “if he conventional guys are fishing, maybe I am in luck”.   And the river was crystal clear and wadable.  That pleased me intensely.  So, I geared up.  And when I was ready to fish the conventional guy was gone.  That was great!  These guys tend to sit in the hole all day cast after cast.  That is not me.  That is not fly fishing.  We cast and move.  So I moved towards the river where he was fishing on the opposite side of the river.

See those dark shadows right off the bank?  those are Cohos

See those dark shadows right off the bank? those are Cohos

And that is the point in the story where my stereotype of a gear guy changes.  He was on top of the bridge looking where the coho salmon where staging so he could figure out where to cast to them.  I didn’t notice him until I got down to the river.  He saw me and immediately engaged.  The first words out of my mouth. “I’m sorry.  I thought you moved on.  It’s your hole I’ll move down river.”  His answer, “absolutely not.  Cast at these ones” as he pointed down from the bridge into the river.   Nicest guy in the world.  So, I did.  But they were deep and I couldn’t get a drift down to them.  I gave that 10 minutes and crossed the river over the bridge to talk to him.

He was a wealth of knowledge.  But, I was streamer fishing.  He was fishing conventional with a typical bobber and eggs set up.  I told him I was going to move down river and he said he’d join me in a bit.  Great.

Because I could see the cohos I picked a fly that I tied a couple of.  They took me 20 minute each to tie: a 3 inch, purple, nasty, articulated, 3 red beads in between fly solely designed to piss off salmon and steelhead.  Good choice by me.  It worked all day.

One of the few pictures i successfully took by myself.  these big fish are hard to hold with one had.

One of the few pictures i successfully took by myself. these big fish are hard to hold with one hand.

So, here is where the fun started; just about 20 minutes after starting to fish.  I bushwhacked down river past him to some flat skinny water. On the hike I could see a handful of cohos “in love”.  Staging themselves, fighting, moving.  I entered the water as quietly I could below them and worked my way up to where I could make the 40 foot cast.  I could see the salmon.  I was hunting.  I was not fishing blind.  That is a really fun way to fish.  My first casts were awful.  My 10 foot 8 wt helios 2 is still at Orvis getting fixed.  I was fishing an 8 wt sage fli.  It’s an older medium action rod given to me by a buddy.  If you can cast you know that medium action rods and heavy sink lines are hard to cast.  When you add a 3” weighted streamer you realize you are not as good at casting as you think you are.  Well, it was really clear that I need to put it on their nose; the perfect cast.  At the same time, I was spooking them and when I wasn’t they still were moving around.  So, there was a little luck still involved.  Me talking to myself, “good cast…moving in…right there…he’s eating…SET!  And I was on.  And it was a big fish.  But, these poor salmon are “cashing in the chips”.  As I was to learn during the day, most of them just don’t have a lot of fight left in them.  But, they are huge…up to 20 pounds… so it’s still a fight.  Well, it was my first fish of many that day and I fought him way too long.  And I was calling my new friend up stream because I was convinced he would want to keep this one.  Once landed…and I really didn’t land him… my net needed to be 3 times the size.  But, I did have my landing hand so I could grab the fish by the tail and still be able to hold on.  He ran down and showed me why that fish wasn’t fresh enough to keep; I really wanted to give it to him.  It looked great on top, but you could see the degradation on the bottom of this coho.  But, he did take a couple pictures of me with it.  Taking pictures of 10-20 pound fish all by myself was very challenging all day long.

And that is how it went all day long.  There were points where I was hooking a salmon on every cast (they are really hard to keep on to land them).  I probably hooked ~25 cohos.  I never saw the gear guys staring at the bobber catching anything.  They were fishing the deep pools.  I was fishing the cohos staged in shallow water.  I had action all day long.  I landed around a dozen coho salmon and nailed a huge dolly varden right at the end.  And yes, I let them all go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After working my way all the way down the river it followed the salmon to where the hatchery is.  I fished up the inlet to the hatchery and it got silly.  Thousands of salmon…just sitting there waiting for the hatchery door to open so they could do their thing.  It was silly because I was hooking up on every cast.  The problem was I was foul hooking some of them.  And that was a big turn off.  except for one foul hooked fresh salmon I got in the tail.  It ran 200 feet with my reel screaming.  It took me forever to land that fish.  But, once I learned what happened I was bummed so I stopped fishing there.  That is when I met another gear guy.  And older guy from the area with a cane.  Great guy; old man of the river.  We seemed to talk forever.  He gave me a ton of info.  Then told me he’d take to me his favorite hole on the river.  So, we walked by the hatchery and I got in his truck and we went.  I had about 30 minutes to fish because I had to make an event in Bellevue so he sat up on a 10 foot cliff in his favorite hole and I hiked down river.  But, I couldn’t find any fly fishable water.  It was all deep holes and fallen trees with a cliff above and no room to cast in back.  Clearly this was a gear guys place. So, I hiked back to my new friend and stared at the water around him.  I said, “I wonder if that soft stuff up stream hold fish.”  He wasn’t confident.  And it was a tricky wade.  There were fallen trees everywhere.  I had to walk through very deep silty water through the trees to get there.  I’m sure that intimidated most folks.  Anyways once I punched out there were a bunch of cohos to target so I told myself, “one more fish and I’ll call it a day and head south.”

So, I casted and swung, two steps, casted and swung, two steps.  I was putting them in the zone, but the salmon were darting around everywhere and it was just deep enough that I was only seeing their shadows.  I was getting toward the end of the run; it ended in a huge tree that fell perpendicular to the river.  Since I was targeting the salmon I totally forgot about the Dolly Varden.  And that is when I saw it race like a lightning, strike me and almost pull the rod out of my hand.  I set and it jumped 2 feet in the air!  At first I thought it was a steelhead.  But I could tell by the fight it was a big dolly varden.  It seemed to take me forever to land that thing.  It kept headed for the log and I kept pulling him hard away from it.  I finally landed it; curled in a ball it barely fit my net.  I quickly released it and it swam away fast and pissed off.  My friend yelled in congrats and I screamed, “Dolly!”.

I really wanted a good shot of this big Dolly Varden, but it was really hard by myself in 2 feet of water

I really wanted a good shot of this big Dolly Varden, but it was really hard by myself in 2 feet of water

As I navigated back through the trees to the shore, I silently thanked the lord and my fly fishing buddy ken.  I waved goodbye, hiked through the wilderness out to the road, un-wadered and broke down my rod at the rental car with a smile on my face and headed back south.

 

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….