Category Archives: Mike Hillygus

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….

I have now decided I’m moving to Missoula.  And someone needs to tell Kelly because I’m afraid to.  :)  What an awesome 3 days I had on the Clark Fork River.

The West Slope Cutthroat

The West Slope Cutthroat

The Clark Fork Outpost

Honestly the reason my 3 days were so awesome was because of Mike Hillygus.  I met Mike for the first time on this trip.  I had an incredible 3 days of fishing with Mike.  The funny thing was that the weather was just miserable.  Cold, Windy, Raining and Snowing.  Why is the fly fishing always so good when it’s snowing sideways?  We did get sun at points.  It is Montana, of course.  And in Montana the weather changes by the minute.

TimHuck

I stayed with Mike and his two dogs, Bell and Cru, at Mike’s lodge, the “Clark Fork Outpost”.  Mike’s lodge is right on the Clark Fork River.  It’s about 80 miles downriver (Northwest) from Missoula.  More specifically it’s in the stretch of the Clark Fork River that does not parallel I90.  The closest town is St. Regis, MT.

The Clark Fork Outpost

The Clark Fork Outpost

I flew in to Missoula late on Saturday night.  I offered to rent a car and drive it out to the Clark Fork Lodge, but Mike wouldn’t have anything to do with that: “You’ll just hit a deer and ruin the trip.”  That is how Montana people view Southern Californians, as cullers of big game with rental vehicles.  :)

Well, Mike and I hit it off right away.  Because he’s a genuinely great guy and like me, loves to tell stories.  And before I knew it, I had refilled my glass with Buffalo Trace and it was after 12AM.  And we had a big day in the morning.

I heard the dogs around 6am… and I was a bit crusty.  It was my first real day of fishing on the west side of the Rockies.  I have fished the “Bozeman side” of the rockies in Montana many times.  But, for some reason I never had the opportunity to fish the “Missoula Side” of Montana.  I can check that off my list now.  Now the real issue is that I cannot wait to get back in September.

St. Regis, MT

St. Regis, MT

The Food

So after a couple cups of coffee, I’m thinking of eating a power bar that I brought.  But, Mike had different intentions: a smoked salmon basil scramble with a thick cut ham steak.  Oh man….  A lot of guys maintain they are good cooks…and are not.  Really the only thing I am good at is grilling.  But, a buddy of mine told me Mike was a good cook and Mike said the food was going to be good.  I had no idea.  I didn’t come back from the trip skinnier like Kelly wanted me to.  That night was a salmon dinner.  I’m not a big salmon fan, but there was something he did to it that made it awesome.  I wish I knew.  The other breakfast featured a ham frittata and another gourmet scramble.  The 2nd dinner was a rib eye… but, not just any rib eye it was custom rolled from the outside “marbley” part.  Unbelievable.  I learned on the trip that Mike went to Culinary school and served as a chef before guiding and ultimately becoming an Outfitter.  I have been to a number of lodges that claim to have gourmet level food.  They do not as compared to Mike.  He’s in a class by himself.

Rolled Ribeye

Rolled Ribeye

The Dogs

Now, I’m not a dog guy…. Anyone who knows me knows that.  I loved our dog Dontee.  Not as much as Kelly, but she trained her so well you couldn’t help but like it.  And she was smart.  Dontee was Kelly’s dog.  Mike’s dogs are English Labs.  They are bird dogs.  But so calm and so loving.  I just couldn’t resist petting them.  And they are fishing dogs.  They road in the drift boat with us.  And not even a peep from them.  But, Belle sure does love sniffing and sometimes licking the trout when you catch them.

Huck with Belle and Cru

Huck with Belle and Cru

The Fishing

On Sunday the first day, we dropped into the river in Mike’s drift boat around 10:30AM….and didn’t come off the river until 7:30PM.  I landed 7 0r 8 and hooked and missed about double that.   But, it was the dry fly action that was so fun.  When we saw rises Mike had me throwing a Skwalla imitation called a Bullethead Skwalla – Tan Wing, Size  12 from Montana Fly Company.  A Skwalla is a big ass bug in the wild and throwing that big a dry made it easy to see in the water.  And I was throwing my new TFO BVK 3 wt again.  I’m in love with that rod.  I caught my first west slope cutthroat on this day.  What a treat that was.

Cutt-Bow

Cutt-Bow

The 2nd day we got out a little earlier and floated a little shorter stretch of the river.  The weather was just horrible.  I was so cold at points my hands were numb.  I had snow blowing in my face.  And the fishing was awesome.   I landed somewhere between a dozen and twenty and missed about 15.  I caught some quality fish.

Mike letting Belle have a sniff

Mike letting Belle have a sniff

My Favorite Moment #1

My favorite moment #1 was on this 2nd day.  Mike and I were hunting rises.  And doing really well.  It was crazy fun.  Is there anything more fun in fly fishing than casting at a rising fish with a dry?  Well, yea, it’s doing that at the West Slope Cutthroat.  I’m used to those vicious attacks by the browns and rainbows of the west where they scare the crap out of you as you set as quickly as you can.  But, there is something about the West Slope Cutthroat that makes it so slow.  It went down like this: Mike, “Did you see that?” as a fish rose 40 feet ahead and 45 degrees up downriver from me.  Tim, “On it.”  So, I casted…and it landed it well enough, just a few feet from the fish in slow glassy water.  The Skwalla pattern drifted right over him as the boat caught up.  Now we were staring directly to the port side of the boat just 15 feet out.  And like it was in slow motion up from the depths comes a big ass west slope cutty; just taking his time as he gulped my fly.  It was like it was in slow motion.  I set and boom!  The fight was on.  I was screaming, “Did you see that?!  That was awesome!  Woo!”

Another Big Cutt-Bow

Another Big Cutt-Bow

The last day I fished half day guided by one of Mike’s Guides named Sam.  I think Sam is a new guide for Mike.  I didn’t get details or even his last name, but I can’t wait to fish with him again.  We only floated 3-4 hours.  The weather was miserable.  At times it was even colder than the prior day.   I landed 5 or 6, but, they were mostly big fish, and only missed 2 or 3.

My Favorite Moment #2

Big Clark Fork Rainbow

Big Clark Fork Rainbow

Sam pulled us into an Eddy where I was drifting the eddy and into the current.  Nothing.  Then straight up river on the seam.  He guided me to drift every which way in that hole.  It was really deep there so I didn’t have a lot of confidence.  I casted and drifted about 20 times in there. Then Sam said, “Pull it in for a minute, Tim I want to lengthen your dropper by a foot.”  And I have to tell ya’ I was skeptical.  For a second I thought he was doing that just to impress Mike.  I had zero confidence but, after he lengthened the tippet to my girddlebug dropper Sam said something like, “Throw it in the same place.”  So I did.  And son of a bitch my indicator fly went down I set on a brick.  I battled that fish until my arm hurt.  “I want to lengthen your dropper by a foot.”  I’m still laughing about that.  Wanna’ know the difference between a great guide and a good one?  it’s knowing the river and its flows so well you lengthen the tippet to the dropper 12”.

Another big Clark Fork Rainbow

Another big Clark Fork Rainbow

I know this is now going to sound like a commercial but, I can’t help it because I was just so pleased by my visit to “CFO”.  So here is my guidance: if you want to fish the Clark Fork out of Missoula there is no need to stay at one of those high priced expensive lodges.  Contact Mike Hillygus at his web site.  Mike’s Clark Fork Outpost lodge sleeps 6 in beds (3 bedrooms; 5 total beds).  But, he can accommodate 14 more at his neighbor’s place.

Belle Ready for Fishing

Belle Ready for Fishing

Oh yea, Mike also owns the Stillwater River Outpost…  I cannot wait to visit that one in May.  On that trip my son Mark is joining me and I cannot wait!