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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

Stillwater River, Montana – May 3-7, 2016

The Stillwater Water

The Stillwater Water

I had been dying to fish the Stillwater River for one simple reason: the guides don’t typically go there.  And consequently, it’s a lightly fished river:

  • it’s just about equidistant between Bozeman and Billings; about 2 hours from each. So the guides don’t go there.
  • it’s a freestone, so it’s subject to getting blown out, high and low water conditions. So, when it fishes well; it fishes really well
  • it is a river full of rapids which also scares away all the guides except for the ones that are the best on the oars. People drown on this river.

I had this trip inked for almost 9 months.  And it was a chance to fish again with my buddy Mike Hillygus who owns the Stillwater Outpost and is quite the guide, outfitter, and fly fisherman himself.  And the really best part of it was that my 20-year-old son Mark was going to join me.

Mark and Me

Mark and Me

I flew to Bozeman and Mike picked me up.  We arrived at Stillwater Outpost with plenty of daylight to fish.   But, I wanted to check out the lodge first because I was told it was the perfect place for the annual “get locked” trip that I plan, organize and run for 12-14 of my buddies each year.  and it is…  a converted barn with a bar to do the gourmet meals and cocktails.  Plenty of decks with views.  Even a driving range.  And the best news is that it will do at least 14 in beds and has plenty of bathrooms to go with it.  Eve my wife Kelly would love this place.

The “barn” at Stillwater Lodge

The “barn” at Stillwater Lodge

 

Now back to fishing….  I was just going to wade in and fish for an hour, but Mike would have nothing of that.  He insisted on a short float with him on the oars from about a mile up river to the lodge.  I caught two really nice fish (a rainbow and a brown) on dries right in front of the lodge!

The next day we did a big float on the Stillwater downstream.  It was hot; that meant the snow was melting.  and it was obvious the river was rising.  Mike and I caught fish, but the river was getting close to blowing out; it was losing clarity and the dead didymo floating down the river was causing issues.

How can you not love a place that has a brown trout propane tank?

How can you not love a place that has a brown trout propane tank?

That night Mark blew in from Bozeman just in time for another gourmet meal and cocktails…well he had a beer or 4; I had cocktails.  Mike’s buddy Andy, one of the very few guides that does the Stillwater stopped by for a beer or two also; Great guy.  And what I was to learn the next day: great guide.  Andy and Mike drove up river the next morning to check a really hairy stretch to see if it had enough water for the drift boat to get through.  Remember the water was rising and the chance to fish the upper stretch is a somewhat rare and exciting thing.  And they decided we could do it with two boats: Mike’s drift boat with me and Mark in Andy’s raft.  I have never fished crazy water like that before in a drift boat.  I cannot imagine rowing in that water; I’d crash for sure.  Mike is very good on the oars.  I caught fish on dries, but after I switched from dries to a streamer I killed.  I caught a lot of fish.  Mark stayed with dry-dropper and did pretty well too.  It was a great day and we fished in shorts and t-shirts because it was hot.

Mark with Andy at the Oars

Mark with Andy at the Oars

On our last day Mike insisted we make the 2-hour drive to the bighorn.  I was excited because that is where I guided my buddy Mike O’Laughlin; the one and only time I manned the oars for an entire float; did not fish and he did really well.

Mark is first to prove out Mike’s Theory: Look closely for that big skwalla in that brown’s face.

Mark is first to prove out Mike’s Theory: Look closely for that big skwalla in that brown’s face.

 

When matching the hatch does not Matter

Montana Fl;y Company Bullet Head Skwalla

Montana Fl;y Company Bullet Head Skwalla

The coolest part for me and Mark was that we were going to be a subject of a test and a theory Mike had.   Mike has a goto bug; it imitates a Skwalla, which is a huge mayfly.  We all have flies we are confident in; we all have a go-to fly when things are slow. Mike’s theory was that a size 12, bullet nosed skwalla fly would do well on the Bighorn even though they don’t get Skwalla hatches at the Bighorn.  A traditional fly fisherman or a most guides would scoff at the notion.  But that particular pattern from Montana Fly company has the nice thin profile of many large mayflies, but at the same time can be mistaken and a number of small terrestrials like hoppers.  It sits really low in the water so the trout can see them well from below, yet it’s big enough and has a nice yellow foam post so you can see it well from distance in its drift.  And if you know the Bighorn, you know you have to make the cast at least 20 feet, sometimes 40 away from the boat because the drift boats spook the fish in that crystal clear water.

Another big brown on the bullet head skwalla for Mark.

Another big brown on the bullet head skwalla for Mark.

 

Well Mike was right.  And the best part (for a dad) was that I missed 3 takes on top. 0 for 3 while Mark landed two.

Question: What’s better than catching big browns on the dry?

Answer: Catching big browns on the dry that freak out when hooked and do 4-5 shamu-like jumps before you can wrestle them to the net.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brown-zilla, on the dry (size 12 bullet head skwalla), on my 3wt which was a battle, 4 huge shamu-like jumps.

The “big trip” is going to be at the Stillwater Outpost next June of 2017.  But, those of you who know me, know I can’t wait a full year and will figure out how to visit Mike there again before winter.  I strongly you suggest you visit Mike at the Stillwater Outpost too.

 

The Bighorn River – Sept 11-14, 2015

Driving from the Billings airport to the world famous Bighorn River near Fort Smith Montana is not a beautiful drive by any stretch.  In fact, in Montana terms it’s pretty much the ugliest…in Montana terms….which isn’t that ugly.  But, it is flat and “deserty”.  You pass Custers Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn on the way.  As my buddy Mike and I got close a seemingly giant bird swooped down and made a sudden u-turn right into the hood of my car with a thump.  I have learned through the years that you do not swerve for animals; it’s too dangerous.  As I looked out my rear view windows as I shouted to mike, “Was that a hawk?”  Mike said, “No, that was a pheasant.”  I could see an explosion of feathers as I pulled away and the carcass careening end over end as it rolled off the road.  I hoped that was not a bad omen of the fishing to come.

Blood on the Rental Car

Blood on the Rental Car

The splatter of blood from the Pheasant I hit with my rental car on the way to the Bighorn

Well, we settled in our stuff at Cottonwood campground, talked to Kyle in the fly shop and got the intel and some flies and headed for the 3 mile takeout which is just a ½ mile drive.  It was mid-day after all the hatches so we rigged up with the bobber.  Kyle recommended a trailer that was a midge emerger pattern in size 20 tied with CDC; a pattern I had not seen before.  But, kyle said we’d do well.

We started fishing.  Mike went downstream and I went upstream.  Within minutes we lost sight of each other and I was alone in the wilderness; standing in a river waving a stick.  Just like I like it.  I was wet wading and the river was not too cold and the sun was hot.  The bighorn in this stretch was weedy like hot creek and just about the same depth in a non-drought year.  Within minutes a drift boat pulled up.  I waved and the guide said “how ya doin?”  I said, “3rd cast; just got here from California.”  “California?” the guide said, “My boat is full of Californians.”   Then the angler in front squinted, looked at me and it went something like this: “Tim Huckaby?”  I shot back, “No way!”  And we all shook our heads smiling.  It was my buddy “Fred Gregory” from the San Diego Fly fisherman club.  A great fly fisherman, but more importantly a great guy.  Total coincidence that we were both on the same river at the same time.  I knew that would change the karma of killing that pheasant.  And it did.  Within minutes I hooked up with a good fish.  It ran towards the trees in the bank before I yanked it clear.  Then it ran mid river and ducked under the weeds where I had to coax it out.  At this point I yelled for Mike because I felt it was big enough that I needed help to land it.  But he was long gone.  I was all alone with a big fish and without a net.  Two anglers walked by laughing at me struggling.  It took me some time; probably too much time (5x).  but, I wrestled the 17” brown to a grassy patch on shore where I could take a quick picture and release.   “ahhh…” I said to myself.  “this is going to be a good trip.

Beached Brown near 3 Mile takeout

Beached Brown near 3 Mile takeout

And this was all before the fun began.  Before 3 days of fishing from a drift boat.  What I had to look forward to the next day was the world famous trico hatch on the Bighorn.

The rest of the gang arrived late that night: Mike dad, mike’s brother Mark who is a very good fly fisherman and his lifelong buddy Eric Schmidt, a professional photographer from Bozeman and whom I was later to find out is just a great guy.

We tried to get out as early as possible because the tricos start at sunrise and the spinners follow, but you know how it goes that first day: there’s lots to do and it takes time.  We did get to the river in time to see a number of noses.  What I noticed first was that the boat was scaring the pods of rising fish.  We’d row to a pod and anchor and the fish would immediately go down and rise somewhere else.  It was obvious to me, but I didn’t have the authority in that boat to be listened to. So I was targeting the fish >40 feet away with my size 18 trico imitations and having a blast.  I was getting strikes and from that distance you can imagine my hookup rate was a bit low.  I even broke one off.  Totally fun.

Mike O'Laughlin Fishing the Dries

Mike O’Laughlin Fishing the Dries

Mike fishing the risers with the dam at Fort Smith in the background

It was time for me at the oars and I was excited and a bit worried at the same time.  Excited because the oars are in my destiny.  Worried because it was only my 3rd time doing it and I didn’t know what was in front of me and didn’t want to crash.  And, of course, worried because that 78 year old decided he needed to take the back of the boat so he could “help” by yelling at me when I made rowing mistakes.  Well I thought I was doing pretty well.  I was spotting risers and keeping at least 30 feet away because I knew the boat was spooking the fish, but he likes to fish right on top of them to make the under 20 foot cast.  And he let me know it.  After yelling at me to use my right arm instead of my left and tapping me on my right arm, I could help but think, “This is my 3rd time doing this.  You are yelling at me and hitting me for the 2nd time.  And you are the one that boat crashed us last year almost killing us and me losing $2500 of fly rods, gear, a camera and my phone”.  But, it didn’t come out of my mouth.  And I’m glad.  It’s his boat and at 78 he has earned the right to be cranky.  He is who he is.  Ultimately he got frustrated with my rowing “skills” and demanded to row again himself.  Quietly I moved to the back and armed myself with my Winston 6wt again.  Guess who won that battle?  🙂

The Bighorn is beautiful in its own way: check out the weed lines

I caught some good fish that first full day; we all did.  We floated the entire 13 miles.  But, the next day was going to be really fun.  It was going to be just me and my buddy Mike.

We got out a bit earlier the next day and Mike and I were ready so he suggested we just take off.  I said, “Sure.”  We didn’t know it would be a point of contention leaving the three of them behind.  They forgot to tell us they wanted to stay together.  Mike and I alternated fishing and were doing pretty well.  We both caught a good amount of fish above 16”, mostly browns.  But, we finished the 3 mile stretch way ahead of the other 3 and waited.  I got the Chargers on the radio who made a miraculous comeback over Detroit so it was kind of fun waiting.  But, by the time the other guys finished they were done.  They fished an entire day slowly and methodically on the first 3 miles.  Well mike and I were rested up so we went for a 2nd session and drove the boat back to the dam at 5pm to put in.  On the way I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I wanted to take the oars for the majority of the float and guide Mike.  Mike is not so possessed by fly fishing like his dad, his brother mark and me.  So, many times he ends up fishing the least without the practice and instruction.  And I wanted the practice on the oars on an empty river where I wasn’t apt to screw up to badly.  I told my plan to Mike and he liked it.  There’s no evening hatch on the bighorn at this time of year so I knew we were going to fish the bobber.  And I noticed a ton of great runs on the opposite side of the river in prior runs that we were going to concentrate on.  I rigged Mike up and we took off.  I navigated through the fast water to the other side of the river and we started killing.  I swear Mike was hooking up every 2 minutes.

Mike Hooking up again

Mike Hooking up again

We got to a deep hole where a creek flows in that just looks fishy.  I told mike where to cast, he did and whack!  But, he lost them.  I don’t know what got into me at that point.  But, I suddenly had a new found confidence in rowing and I said, “We are doing that again!”  And I started to back row.  And it was working.  I back-rowed to the head of the run and we did it again.  This time I said something like, “throw it farther and drag it by that rock.”  He did.  Whack!  I screamed the infamous Huckaby “Woo!” louder than I had in years.  And the fight was on.  Then I realized I had to chase it.  The fish ran down river and Mike held on.  Well Mike finally tired the little monster enough that I could net it and we high fived and I “Woo!”d again.  It was at this point I thought to myself, “I have not been more excited about hooking, fighting and landing a fish like that in years.  And I didn’t even catch it!  And we pressed on.  And Mike continued to kill.

Bighorn Monster

Bighorn Monster

This was hands down my favorite part of the trip. Rowing that drift boat, guiding and not fishing and not catching fish was the absolute favorite part of this trip for me.

another bighorn monster

another bighorn monster

I was looking forward to day 3 too because I would get to float with Eric and Mark, lifelong buddies.  And I was confident behind the oars and insisted I take them to start the float.  I think they liked that.  They were trash talking each other pretty good and I dug that.  And we got out earlier.  But, the trico hatch just wasn’t prolific.  We fished the first couple hours just hunting rises and anchoring close enough to them.  Soon the spinners were blanketing the water and with so many on the water getting your fly to be chosen was a crap shoot.

When Eric told me to back-row the water coming out of the dam and I knew I didn’t have the skill nor the strength, but I tried…. I failed meagerly huffing and puffing, but at least I tried.  By the time it was my turn to fish I was doing the 40 foot casts and having a blast.  I caught really nice 19” rainbow.  In a river with mostly browns that was a special fish.  And he took that midge emerger dropped behind my trico that Kyle recommend.  And he took it in a sea of spinners.  When I got back to Cottonwood Ranch I tracked down Kyle, gave him a $20 and said, “I so owe you young man.”  I could tell he loved that.

I love the Bighorn.  It was my 3rd go at it.  Overall the river was a bit slow and at times it fished like the Henry’s fork. I’d say I averaged 10 quality fish a day.  The dry fly hunt was really fun.  But, I gotta’ tell ya’ the guiding from the oars was the best.  I will treasure that first 2 hours at the oars with Mike whacking them for long time.

Sun Setting on the Bighorn

Sun Setting on the Bighorn

Humbled by the Henry’s Fork

August 20th, 2015

Part of our deal with my son Mark was if he got good grades he could have a car his sophomore year in Bozeman at Montana State University.  As much as buying a car without sales tax in Montana is we just couldn’t afford to do that.  So, it was clear that an 1130 mile road trip from Carlsbad, CA to Bozeman, MT was in order to drive a car out, move him into his apartment, and then fly home.  I figured we’d take 3 days and fish 4 hours each day as we worked our way from pretty much as far south in the US as you can get to as far north.  Then I mapped the route on my computer and stared at possible fishing locations on the way.  “My God.” I said to myself.  “We are driving right by the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River!”  Arguably the most famous stretch of fly fishing in America and I have never been there.  It’s also just two hours short of Bozeman which makes it logistically complicated.  So, without telling him I made the call: we will drive all the way to Pocatello, ID in one day so we can fish a full day on the Henry’s fork.  It took us 11 hours to do that.  From Pocatello it was an easy 2 hour drive to the Henry’s Fork at Island Park, ID.

 

I did a ton of research on the Henry’s Fork before going.  And I talked to a lot of my fly fishing buddies and guides who have fished there.  Every single one said basically the same thing: “Prepare to be humbled.”  Then why so special?  I got the same answer from all of them: “It’s all dry fly casting to the rises of huge fish.” 

 

Much of the guidance I got was you have to stop in at the fly shop there in Island Park, ID (Trout Hunter) and get some guidance and buy some flies.  Now, I tie a lot of flies, but, I firmly believe that getting guidance from the fly shop should not be free.  so I always buy flies because of that.  And, this was special.  this was a bucket-lister.  So, I convinced myself I wouldn’t go cheap because they have genuine Rene Harrop flies there and those are not cheap.  $120 later and a ton of great advice Mark and I walked out of there with 8 sets of 4 flies.  Of course we had to buy two of the special floatant at $15 and Mark insisted he needed a few more things.  but, I bought $60 of flies and it’s so not like me to do that.  But, this was special.  It was fishing the Henry’s Fork with my son.

 

Technically I got skunked.  I never got a fish to my hand or to the net.  I hooked 8 fish in about 8 hours of fishing.  which matches up exactly to what I was told to expect.

Guidance

Here’s what I learned from the shop, my fishing buddies, and guides.  It may help you; it may not. Henry’s Fork is so different than anywhere else I have ever fly fished and it’s so interesting….at least to me it is:

The Trout of the Henry's Fork

  • It’s extremely technical dry fly fishing.  You don’t need to do a perfect cast and drift: you need to do hundreds of them.  I loved it. I could have fished there 14 hours a day for 7 straight days and still been happy to get skunked. But, Mark, no so much.  There’s just so much a 20 year old who thinks he’s an expert fly fisherman can handle.  His classic comment was something like, “Let’s bail this place; It’s 60 miles to the Madison. I just don’t understand why not catching fish is fun to you.” 🙂
Mark with a Bad Attitude.  The Trout Hunter in

Mark with a Bad Attitude. The Trout Hunter in the background

  • We just caught it on a slow day/week.  Mid august and a low river.  The first indicator was that there were only a handful of other fisherman in this 7 mile stretch of America’s most famous fly fishing river.  This place is supposedly shoulder to shoulder fishing…which I hate.  But, we had the river to ourselves which I Love.  
  • The Henry’s Fork is Known for crazy ass hatches of multiple bugs.  We just didn’t see any significant hatches.  We did see bugs, but not the blankets of them I read about.  And consequently we just didn’t see a lot of rising fish. Also, they say it’s only big fish there. We found the opposite to be true. I caught a 3 inch fish. The biggest fish I hooked was only 12″ and probably 14″. 
  • In a single day of fishing if you are upper intermediate or an advanced fly fisherman you can expect to hook up 3 times and lucky to land a single fish.
  • You stand in the river and wait.  you wait for a rise and move to casting range.  If there is a hatch and you can figure out what it’s eating you are golden.  if not you keep changing flies until you do.  casting at a single fish for an entire hour is common on the Henry’s Fork.
  • You never blind cast and it’s dry fly only.  You hunt and wait and casting at a rising fish…. never casting blind. So different. I thought I’d hate it because I’m such a 5 cast and move guy. But, I loved it!. I casted at a single rising fish for over an hour. I changed flies 8 times because I bought 8 different flies from the shop they recommended. And I still couldn’t fool him/her. I had to give up on him basically because mark was “done”.   I know if I had another hour I could have got him.  Smile
  • For Californians, in terms of look and feel, it’s like a giant hot creek. It’s a hot creek that is 100 yards wide. Crystal clear and weedy.  It’s different because you can wade it in every stretch of the river.  in August it’s an easy wade and crossable everywhere.  The gentleman’s rule of Hot Creek is you do not wade it.   The Henry’s Fork has that slow current just like Hot Creek and never more than stomach high (in august). No riffles, no pocket water, no tailouts… no real structure of any kind.  just one giant really good miles long run.

Because I didn’t land the huge Henry’s Fork rainbow I am now haunted by it.  I would love to go back and fish it for 3 straight days.  I have a son in Bozeman and it’s just 2 hours away.  hmmm….  

“It was the best $100 I ever spent.”

I say it all the time when I’m fly fishing, “It was the best $100 I ever spent.” What I’m talking about is the zipper on my Simms G4Z Waders. And I am frequently asked. The “Z” is for zipper. The zippered G4Zs are $100 more than the regular G4s. Without getting into gory details, many of us males over 40 have to go frequently. And if you fly fish you very well know what a pain it is to unbuckle to pull your waders down to pee. Guys in float tubes drown every year trying to pee when they flip over and get stuck…literally stuck with their pants down. If you add a jacket or sweatshirt to the mix it’s even more of a pain. Those you of you who steelhead know what a drenched ordeal it is to un-jacket, unbuckle, un-wader and pee while it’s raining or snowing sideways on you.

Is overcoming all that hassle and misery and risk worth it to you? I staved off the zipper for years. But, now that I have them I will never ever get another pair of waders without a zipper.

Simms G4Z

Many companies now have zippered models on their waders. Simms, HQ’d in Bozeman, MT is genuinely accepted as the best wader company in the world; certainly the best of the major manufacturers. But, Simms aren’t for everyone. And with an $800 price tag, the G4Zs aren’t for everyone by any stretch. I believe the G4Zs are the most expensive waders on the planet. But, if you aren’t a guide or a bushwhacker you really don’t need them.

You can buy new waders anywhere from $75 to $800. What’s right for you? Well, if you fish 1-3 times a year from a drift boat the $75 models are going to be great for you.

If you fish more than 60 days a year you are going to need something durable like the G4s. If you bushwhack you definitely need the G4s or one of the competitive products. I’ll do almost anything to get to good water: That includes climbing over fallen trees, sliding down a granite face or climbing a mountainside.

I’m the cheapest guy in the world and I internet shop the hell out of everything. Well, the G4Zs are just one of those products. You could search for months and never find a deal. So, if you are one of those old guy fly fisherman who are hard on the waders like me. Do yourself a favor and get the G4Zs.

You can buy them from the North Platte River Fly shop here. I like those guys. Great customer service.

Bucket-Lister: An 8 foot Tarpon

Tim Huckaby with Captain Chris Wiggins.  8 foot, 160 lbs

Tim Huckaby with Captain Chris Wiggins. Tarpon, 8 foot, 160 lbs

July 10th, 2015 – I should have known it was going to be a special day.  In the morning I was fly fishing and a manatee swam up to within 5 feet of me, stopped and stared at me for a few seconds.  My Bucket list is getting so full I may have to get a new bucket!  Because I caught a Tarpon that was just short of 8 feet long and over 160 pounds!

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The day went like this: I got up early after a late flight that didn’t get me to my hotel in Tampa until 12:30AM.  Early the following morning I drove an hour South near Bradenton Beach, FL to a lagoon that a local fly fisherman turned me on to a few years back.  It’s behind a beautiful beach and it takes quite the nasty and super creepy bushwhack through the mangrove trees to get to a shallow part of the lagoon suitable for fly fishing.  Once in the lagoon there is life everywhere.   It’s quite beautiful and although I have never done very well fly fishing in there it is the perfect place to practice my cast on my Orvis Helios II 10 foot 8 Wt. 

The Lagoon

 

 

I had about 3 hours to fish before I drove half the way back to meet all my Microsoft Partner advisory council buddies at a marina near St. Petersburg for a half day of guided conventional inshore fishing in Tampa Bay. 

 

I noticed a lot of movement in the water in places I just couldn’t reach.  and I probably fished an hour before getting struck.  The fish shot like lightning to my right and as quickly as it happened it was gone; bummer.  But, that was a good sign!  And it was just a few casts after that when I saw the big V wake about 100 feet away and closing.  When it got to around 60 feet I casted, perfectly, but nothing.  in my haste I tried to cast again when the thing took a hard left turn and closed in on me.  It wasn’t until it was about 20 feet away that I could see down into the water with my polarized lenses that it was a Manatee!  A huge one.  he/she stopped just 5 of so feet in front of me and we stared at each other for a few seconds.  Then the rest of the Manatee tribe closed in; at least five of them.  And they all swam away.  I immediately called Kelly and said, “You are not going to believe what just happened to me.”  The video I took doesn’t do it justice because my camera doesn’t have a polarized lense, but it’s still pretty awesome.

Here is the video i took:  Manatees

I just knew that was going to turn my luck and sure enough a few minutes later I caught and released a ray, But, since I don’t know their ocean I couldn’t tell if it was a sting ray or not.  So, I was very careful when I released it.  I fished some more and did okay and was all smiles as I hiked the beach back to my rental car.  That 3 hours was good enough to be a great day.  But, it just got better.

7 of us took off on two guided boats out of Oenida Marina just south of St. Petersburg.  on my boat was my buddy Tom O’Connell who has fished with me a few times before.  Tom is a CEO mentor for me and a great friend.  Also joining us was Scott Gosling from Brisbane, Australia who I met for the first time….and now we are lifelong friends.  We were being guided by Chris Wiggins of Salty Dog Charters.  I will fish with Chris again.  I highly recommend him if you are going to be in the Tampa Area. (727) 479-5455.  I knew it was going to be fun because I talked to Chris on the phone when arranging the fishing.  Chris is no stranger to fly fishing.  His dad has a place on a river in Montana.  He told me to bring my rod, but we probably would not run into a scenario where it made sense to fly fish.  I understood.  Not a problem.  I’m not weird about conventional fishing like so many of my fly fishing brethren are.  But Chris did tell me the fishing was slow, but picking up. 

Snapper

We pulled up to some boats that push the oil tankers in and it was slow.  Even though we had live bait we had only managed to catch a few fish in a couple hours.  We were catching snapper like the one above and catfish.   I think I only caught a couple fish, but was still pretty happy about it.  I could tell Chris was bothered by it.  So, he decided we were going to go hunt.  Mainly for redfish.  I have caught redfish before and they are really fun.  but, it was still pretty slow the next couple hours. 

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That is when Chris saw a tarpon roll off in the distance.  He said something like, “if it’s going to be slow we may as well try to catch a tarpon.”  So he drove the boat to the spot and anchored.  In my mind I said to myself “We are done.  I’m going to start drinking a lot of beer.”  Fisherman go their whole lives trying to catch a Tarpon and fail.  On my fly fishing TV shows they dedicate entire episodes to fishing for tarpon and many times fail.  I knew just how hard it is and how lucky you have to be and how much skill and physical strength it takes.  Tom and Scott did not…but, they would soon learn. 

First it was Chris that hooked up.  He’s a big guy and was getting man-handled by the prehistoric fish.  I was laughing the entire time.  I just couldn’t believe the luck of hooking up with a tarpon.  And when I saw that fish bringing his face to a strained, sweaty and concerned look I really doubted we’d land it.  But he did!  I was laughing and in shock and totally excited.  We were done as far as I was concerned.  It was the perfect day. 

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We started fishing again and sure enough Tom Hooked up and was battling a tarpon!  Now, I was really laughing.  I just couldn’t believe it.  2 tarpons hooked and it wasn’t even tarpon season!  You could tell the adrenaline was running hard in Chris too.  He was stoked and because he is a such a good guide he turned a slow day into a great one.  That’s what good fishing guides do.  Tom got his tarpon to the boat and I was “Woo!”ing and high fiving and laughing.

 

“Tim, we gotta’ get you one.”, Chris said.  I was skeptical.  But, sure enough I hooked up, the tarpon jumped high.  I bowed to him and the fight was on.  He jumped again and then  ran on me.  the drag was signing and I was close to spooled when the line snapped.  I snapped him off on 60 lb flouro.  Chris said the fish must have scraped me against one of the deep pilings.  The boys tried to console me, but I was totally stoked happy.  And I felt blessed.  Those who fly fish with me know that I enjoy my buddies catching fish much more than catching them myself. 

HuckBattling

 

It was getting late in the day and we were only supposed to fish 2 to 6, but the fishing was good so Chris asked us if we wanted to fish more.  The answer was obvious.  And I hooked up again!  This time I battled, but the fish never jumped.  I could tell it was huge because of the pull.  But, it never jumped and we never saw it because I snapped off 60 lb test again!  “Darn, the lord is just not going to make this the perfect day.” I said to myself.  Now the boys were really bummed.  I promise you I was not.  Chris said he had not had a fisherman snap off all season and I had snapped off twice. I felt blessed to have hooked to of them.  Well, since we never saw the second one and because it snapped off I really think it was one of those huge bull sharks they have.  I just think the shark teeth cut the line. 

 

It was now 7PM and time to leave.  We casted a couple times and Chris said to reel them up; the day was done.  I made two turns on the reel and whack!  I got struck like a freight train.  On the last cast!  This could not be more perfect!  The tarpon immediately jumped about 50 yards out.   I was shocked at the size and went into total concentration mode, but I believe Chris said something like, “That is a huge tarpon.  I have to call my wife because we are going to be late.”  The fight was on and I have to admit I was worried I’d have the strength or the stamina to fight that fish.  And a fight it was.  Once I started to really get my ass kicked, Chris untethered the anchored and chased the fish.  Thank god.  Because it would have spooled me.  I had barely anything left in the tank when I finally wrestled this huge prehistoric monster to the side of the boat so Chris could unhook it and release it to fight another day.  It was too huge to haul up on the boat so I was really pleased that Chris lifted out of the water far enough for a picture.  A picture that I will cherish forever.

Huck's Huge Tarpon

To me the battle seemed like over an hour.   Chris said it was more like 35 minutes.  My arms, legs and back were all cramping.  I was breathing heavy like I had just sprinted up a staircase.  I was dripping in sweat head to toe.  I have not done anything that physical for that long in years.  Chris said that tarpon was between 50 and 75 years old.

 

What a day!  We ended up hooking 7 tarpon and landed 3 of them.  I was ecstatic about it because people go their entire lives trying to catch a tarpon and never catch one; I was clearly lucky on this day.  We didn’t get back to the marina until after 8pm.   I drove away with both arms twitching and a huge smile on my face.  I thought I would sleep great that night and I didn’t because I was in so much pain; more pain than alleve can handle.  And that was just fine.   

Backpacking with two Moms

For a long father’s day weekend I planned a back packing trip to the Forks of the Kern months in advance. I invited a number of “value-adds” to the trip, but because of that particular weekend it ended up with just me, Kelly (my lovely bride of 26+ years who is happier in a Nordstrom’s than she is in the wilderness) and her / our friend Meredith. Mer loves to backpack and is turning into quite the wilderness gal. But, it was just me and two hot mom-babes which is just another reason for stressing while back-packing.

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I had to drive to the trailhead from the North, actually from Fresno where I was on a business trip. I pulled Huck-truck into the lower Peppermint campground about 10 miles short of the trailhead at 12am the night before and crashed in the back of the truck. The girls came from the south and met me the next morning, albeit a bit later than we wanted to start because of the heat.

So, I headed into the wilderness with two moms. Mer had a bear spray and I had one. And I had my Delorme InReach Satellite tracker. I was still a bit worried though because the hike in to the very same place with Kelly last year ended up with my buddy mark mcgeary carrying her pack…and his. She was a lot smarter about what she put in her pack this time. And she was a lot stronger. But, I was still a bit worried because “wierdos” do live in the sierras in the bush. As a fly fisherman I don’t worry about large animals like bears and moose and wolves; I worry about tiny things like ticks and the protozoans they carry and others like giardia. And I worry about wierdos; the kind that are vagrants living in the bush and the other kind that are illegal drug farmers. And I have run into plenty of both.

Kelly Fly Fishing

Once we got to the little Kern crossing (which I didn’t even bother taking my boots off for it was so low), I overcame my fears and hiked ahead to see if we could get our favorite primitive site on the river. Because going farther on the trail beyond that site is at least another hour of hiking over the mountain and I know there would be no way we’d be able to do that on that hot day. And alas, when I got there, it had tents on it. Darn. My first mistake was thinking the girls might want to share that site. (A day later I met the 4 guys in that site who were fly fisherman. But, not the types the girls would want to share a site with). So, I left my backpack in that site amidst the other guys stuff and I quickly hiked my way back on the trail hoping to quickly intersect the girls. I did not. They had slowed down because of the heat. It was every bit of a couple miles where I met up with them. I told them the options we had (share the site, go farther, or find a spot close and call it a day). And it was obvious it was getting hot and time to find a site near there and call it a day. So, we did. So then I had to hike that 2 miles back again to get my pack. Once I did I put my pack on and hiked the 2 miles back again to the girls. Six extra miles, but, I wasn’t fading by any stretch. It was a record fitbit day for sure. Between the hike and gathering fire wood and fishing my fitbit said it took 37,530 steps and covered 16.5 miles before I crashed for the night.

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Signs of the prolonged drought were everywhere: dead and dying trees, brown grass and a really low river. In fact, the upper Kern river was flowing under 200 CFS when it should have been at 2,500. The Kern is not going to be fishable in the fall I fear. And there could be a massive fish kill because of the warm water. Or, all the big fish could move up river to the forks where the kern is colder… that would be good….

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We set up camp and I handled the important stuff with the gals: collecting and making firewood and setting up a proper and safe fire ring.

The water was already mid-day warm and this was June. I’m so glad I didn’t bring waders; three was no need for them. I’m glad my son Mark talked me out of carrying them in. It would have just been dead weight. By the time we set up camp, made firewood and I built a fire ring the day was mostly gone. By the time I got into the river to fish it was late afternoon. I had a little pressure on me because the girls were counting on eating trout that night. Well, I missed about 10 fish in a row and started to get frustrated before I realized I was setting “up river” instead of downriver like you are supposed to (a trout faces up river and waits for food to go by so you want to pull the hook downriver so it catches their mouth properly). There is so much in fly fishing for me to get better at. And this is one of the areas I need to get better at: the set. I set too early, I set too late, I set to hard. And it this case I was setting the wrong direction. I was on the “right handed side” of the river and setting downriver with my left hand is not natural. I had to concentrate to do it. And once I started doing it I started hooking and landing fish. Before I knew it I had 3 quality fish that I kept and harvested for dinner that night. And that night was the last time I ate trout on the trip and could be the last time I do it ever. Even though I cooked it in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, white wine and spices it still tasted like trout. I’m not weird about harvesting the fish; I’m weird about how badly they taste. They eat bugs and they taste like bugs. But, the girls like it more than backpacking food so I gladly caught and cooked those two fish each night.

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This is a California Mountain King Snake. I had to lie to Mer and tell her it slithered off when really it went under a rock just ten feet from her tent. We saw lots of water snakes on the trip including one that just wouldn’t give up trying to steal our fish. I whacked it on the head and it still came back. The stringer I made prevented it from stealing them.

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I’m a fly fisherman who backpacks to the fishing. I’m not a backpacker. The difference in this backpacking trip was that we broke camp and moved every day. So we backpacked 4 straight days. It cut into prime morning fishing time, but I didn’t mind at all. We were having fun and it honed my set up / break camp backpacking skills. We hiked all the way up river past mosquito creek close to the Kern flats! And getting over that mountain was a bitch because the pine beetle has done its thing and numerous trees have collapsed on the trail. Getting around one of the collapsed trees involved a 50 foot straight up climb the side of the mountain with the packs on. I’m a “goat” but it was tricky and very physical for the girls…and dangerous.

The fishing was good; not great. I’d say I’d averaged 20 fish days each of the days. If I fished the entire morning and nights I probably could have turned it into 40 fish days. But, I have seen it and fished it a lot better… where every cast is a potential strike. There was not a lot of action on top, but enough to elicit some vicious strikes from smaller rainbows. But, all the decent size fish I caught were on the dropper or on a streamer.

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The two best fly fishing takeaway stories from the trip:

1. I caught a big fish on the last cast on the last night. And then I followed it up with a first cast fish the morning. Both were right in front of the camp site.

2. I taught both the gals how to reach cast and we even did a little roll casting. And both of them did great (realize how impossible it is to teach your wife anything). Well, on the last night they had seen refusals and strikes all trip long, but still had not landed a fish. I told them before the trip they’d catch fish, but they wouldn’t land them. They soon figured out what that meant. Anyways on the last night just as the sun was going down the caddis hatch went off. I noticed and looked at a river in front of the site alive with rises. I said, “Ladies, if you are ever going to catch a fish it’s going to be now.” They both motivated and grabbed their rods. Mer was downstream. I went with her first and since she was casting great I simply pointed out the rises and told her where to cast. First cast….Strike! She missed it… but, was now excited. I said, “Keep fishing and let me take care of Kelly.”

So, I put Kelly in another spot 100 feet upstream which had a lot more rises, but an impossible reach cast because of the trees. She’d have to roll cast it. As we practiced the role cast she mangled her rod in a tree and lost the flies, so I gave her my rod. She was getting struck every time and missing the sets. I was frustrated and yelling “Set!” And she was frustrated at me for being so into it and yelling. After about ten straight misses I pondered what to do and she let her line swing…. “I got a fish!” She screamed. I said to myself, “No way. On the swing.” I had not caught a fish on the swing all trip long. Kelly actually caught a fish! I shouted “Woo!”. Well she battled it to her feet where the barbless hook fell out. I call that a catch…. On the swing… and Meredith got struck on top numerous times on a caddis imitation.

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Both of the girls want to go back. That is awesome. Kelly was even talking to Mer about buying her own backpack. They are both pretty stoked on the trip as am I because even though it was a different trip, it was a ton of fun in the Sierras. Kelly was so much stronger this time. Of course she was smarter about what she put in her pack this time…but not totally smart….:) Both girls agreed for the next time: “Less food; more booze.” And who can argue with that?

I know the girls are very proud and rightfully they should be because they really enjoyed themselves and they did help a lot. Can’t wait to do it again… Next time with twice­ as much fly fishing.