As the calendar turns to Fall, and leaves begin to change, it is amazing to think about how fast the summer has flown by. 2020 has been unpredictable and crazy for everyone, but thankfully the fishing has been one predictable thing to help it feel like a normal summer. It has been an extremely rewarding year to help people escape to the rivers, to teach the sport of fly-fishing and to explore the beauty of Montana. Thanks to everyone who has helped to make it a great season & I look forward to welcoming more anglers to Montana as life returns to normal soon!
At this time I think we could all use a little mental vacation. It is just about a month since we flew back to the states, but with everything happening in the world it seems like a lifetime. There is no better way to be transported than by a talented writer, and in my opinion my wife has the amazing skill to paint a picture with her words that takes you to another place. This is a piece she wrote about half way through our trip and is a reflection on how we spent our weekends, me exploring the rivers and her and Jessie road tripping around the South Island:
A cloud of dust travels behind us on this early afternoon and I have a ceramic cup with tea on the seat console and a few perfectly ripe apricots, for a snack on the road. Jessie holds her own bottle now, but has learned to prop it up on a stuffed bird doll so she can recline, hands free to practice waving, while the gold hills and dark mountains with the rainy mist just breaking up, go by.
More than halfway through our time in New Zealand, this is how our weekends have been spent. Dropping John off with his fly-fishing gear for one, maybe two nights, in the backcountry then retrieving him two or three days later, sunburnt and full of stories of fish stalking. Jessie and I come back to the house we’ve been staying at if we are needing routine and quiet – a reliable napping schedule, good reading spots in the sun, and a kitchen sink view of Fiordland as cherries the size of small plums, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and kiwifruit are chopped up and brewed for baby food – or we day-trip around this region of the South Island to see friends, on farms with bleating, newly-weaned lambs or in the beach towns with the smell of kelp and coal fires on drizzly mornings.
For two weekends in a row, I’ve taken Jessie down to the beach where I used to run, where the sea is three shades of blue under a pretty consistently grey sky with lighthouse in the distance. She loves books now, and will alternately turn their pages and gnaw on the bindings. But at the pub where I used to get my mail, Jessie and I propped ourselves against bean bags with our books-of-the-moment: Emily Perkins’ The New Girl, for me, and God Made Friends and Peek-A-Boo for Jessie. I had a mug of the same cheap beer I drank there in my late 20s and battered blue cod. Jessie had her bottle and the carrot banana teething rusks that taste like cardboard. We waited for a friend there, the sound of the sea on the other side of the pub, enjoying the shade of the flax bush and cabbage tree above us, but there was the ghost of myself there too, when we all went for a walk down the street to the old crib I once lived in, which was now in the process of being torn down.
I feel like I’ve been taking Jessie on these backward journeys of nostalgia, while John is forging ahead through new and fresh adventures, learning something new every hour, it seems. When I’d see him at the end of a day of fly-fishing in Montana, I’d hear his stories, and care because it was what had happened to him during the day – and I love him and want to hear about his day. But really, fly-fishing for him in Montana got to be a little bit like hearing how someone went to a buffet. It is plentiful, there is usually enough for everyone to go around, and it’s just a question of what and how much.
Here, John comes back to us with epic, heroes’ journey kind of fly-fishing stories. There is struggle. There is heartbreak. Reserves of patience and resilience are called upon. Ninja-like skills are used when approaching a creek. Sometimes there is strange and fierce competition with other lone anglers. Sandflies. Soaring beauty. Storms. Flooded rivers. New fishing buddies.
When I pick him up, I have a few beers stuffed in the diaper bag, a plum or two, and a salty bag of chips. I’ve loved baking again, and sometimes I’ve had ginger crunch slices and lavender shortbread – the farm cooking that my aunt used to do for us – in a cookie tin that I’ll bring along. I set Jessie in the grass on a blanket while John unloads his pack and throws it in the back of the car, so she can wave her arms excitedly at him and roll around before the journey back to the house. Then we take off. John always sits back in the passenger seat, cooing at Jessie for a bit, before taking a bite of any treats I’ve brought him. I drive, letting him slowly start his story at his own pace. But I can’t wait to hear how it went. In the beginning of the summer, there were weekends like this that were a complete bust. As he’s grown to know these rivers and master a completely new way of fly-fishing – which is more similar to hunting – there is triumph and awe in these stories. He is in one of the wildest areas of a wild country and he is making it his own. His stories thrill me.
The South Island has always been a place in my own history. It is where I spent most of my 20s and 30s and maybe because of that, there is a lot of looking back in places that are weighty with memories, good and bad, on my own.
When I pick John up with Jessie, there is this freeing exhilaration of growing and learning in a place alongside them. It makes this land that I used to know like the back of my hand, fresh and new to me too.
This is what makes New Zealand so unique and special: the backcountry, and the chance of finding the fish of a lifetime in a small stream. After a 3 hour hike, covering 7.5 miles, I reached the wee headwaters of one of the local rivers. As I first started stalking the banks there was not much sign of life, but I remained optimistic. Eventually I found a juicy looking pool and as I approached I spotted an enormous shadow swinging back and forth in the heart of the pool. On my second drift with my cicada the fish turned, rose and began to inhale the fly; and with all my adrenaline I yanked the fly out of the monsters mouth. After regaining my composure, I tried a few more drifts with different patterns but the fish was spooked. I headed back to my camp, with that pool bookmarked for the next day.
The following morning I headed up stream. After walking a few miles without spotting a fish I had reached a turnaround point. At this final pool I made a blind cast into the riffle and was shocked to see a fish inspect my fly. Instead of recasting, I sat down, changed to a smaller tippet and fly and went back for another shot. On the first cast I lost the fly in the shadow, I noticed the tail of the fish move toward the surface, and set the hook. After chasing down the frisky rainbow 50-75 feet downstream, I eventually steered the 6-8 pound beauty into a slow enough spot to land the fish.
After breaking the ice, I headed back downstream to try and fool the fish that schooled me the day before. As I approached the spot, I noticed the enormous shadow was still there patrolling the pool. My first drift was with the fly that enticed the first fish, but no response. I switched to the cicada that he chased the day before, but was not interested. I then decided to give him a rest, ate a snack and figured it would be worth a shot with a nymph. After re-rigging, I ran the heavy pheasant tail down the center of the hole. At first I thought that my indicator had been sunk in the splash of the riffle, but my instincts told me to set the hook. The line came tight and I could feel the weight and power of the trout pulsing through the fly rod. Instead of running downstream, this fish was so powerful that he ran upstream about 50 feet into the next pool. Finally, I was able to corral the monster rainbow, barely able to grip him around the tail. Before I know it, the fish flexed its muscles again and I watched him swim away. The perfect rainbow had to be pushing double digits and is definitely a personal best for that species.
Satisfied, I headed back upstream towards my camp. As I walked past the next attractive pool, I figured it was worth “one last cast.” On the first drift I saw the sway of the fish and my indicator disappear. After a quick fight, I landed this beautiful 4-5 pound rainbow and it was cordial enough to cooperate for a few pictures. Regardless of pictures, I will have these great memories to take home in a few weeks.
Fly-fishing is hard. Fishing a new river for the first time can be very hard. Fly-fishing the South Island of New Zealand on my own is one of the most challenging tasks I have experienced in the sport.
We are based in Te Anau in the Southland Region. Within a 100 mile radius (kilometers to the Kiwis) there are literally hundreds of streams and thousands of miles of river banks to explore. On average, each of these streams hold anywhere between 50-500 fish per kilometer and a large number of those fish could be the fish of a lifetime. In a sense it could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack when first starting to explore all of this water.
While fishing over the last couple of weeks I have discovered that three scenarios are likely:
-After finding a random access point on the map you start blind fishing upstream from the car and within 200 yards of where you started, you hook and land one of the most stunning Rainbows that you have ever seen.
-While exploring a world famous stretch of river, you spot heaps of monsters Brown Trout, that you estimate could range from 6-10 pounds. Unfortunately, you spook more fish than you have the opportunity to cast to.
-You spend hours studying topo maps and Google Earth and discover stretches of river that are bound to be promising. After hiking 5-8 miles of river with some of the most picturesque and idyllic pools and riffles you end the day with sore legs, not spotting one trout.
Through the last month I have experienced each of these situations and anything in between. Funny enough, the first scenario happened on my first day fishing on the trip. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!
Besides the vastness of the area there are a few other factors that add to the challenge of fishing Southland. Given the trout populations, gin-clear waters and the behavior of Kiwi trout, sight fishing is the most effective technique to target these trophies. Sight fishing is a whole new ball game for me after fishing the Blue Ribbon Trout Streams of the west throughout my life. First, you have to approach the likely holding spots slowly, with stealth, so you don’t spook any fish that might be there. You have to find the best viewing spot to leverage the angle of the sun, eliminating glare, giving you the most visibility, all while not blowing your cover. You have to locate the fish, trying to identify any movement, every rock, any shadow or slight disruption in the pool. After verifying the trout – which could take seconds or minutes of observation – you have to overcome the excitement and nerves to make a good presentation. If you have no response to the pattern, Kiwis believe in changing the fly after 1 or 2 drifts, all while not spooking the fish with a sloppy cast or movement of your shadow.
At this point of the process the next challenge lies in casting long leaders (10 up to 15 feet) typically rigged with a heavy nymph on the end while carrying 30-50 feet of line at some points. After spending all summer and most of the fall holding a set of oars, instead of the rod, the learning curve with casting this rig has been steep. By following the advice that I give to most clients – slow down the cast and to have a long pause at the back stopping point – I have become more accurate and precise with presentations.
Aside from these challenges, there are numerous rewards fishing in New Zealand. Just like any fly-fishing outing there is much more to the experience than catching fish. There is the reward of the do-it-yourself adventure, the stunning beauty and scenery in the landscape, the motivation of what might be in the next pool or day dreaming about a pint and fish n’ chips to end the day. But for me the biggest motivation and reward are the big smiles of my wife and daughter that greet me after an overnight exploring the backcountry.
With about seven weeks remaining in our adventure I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of Southland fishing opportunities, but I have already learned so much. I keep telling myself that putting in the time will pay off. I must continue to build on these experiences, continue to explore new areas and keep cataloging bits of information learned through chatting with other anglers on the rivers or talking to friendly locals. All the while, keep reminding myself to drive on the left side of the road. Cheers, mate!
It is the most amazing experience watching the passage of time through the growth of my little girl. Every summer seems to fly by but this summer has gone faster than any other before.
It started in May, full of anticipation and uncertainty. During my first couple of guide days through the end of the month, half of Southwest Montana was on high alert just incase Gwyneth had to be rushed to the Hospital. I was expecting to be flagged down on the river and to be rowing like crazy to get to the boat ramp and driving like a mad man to Missoula, but thankfully our little girl cooperated and I didn’t have to cut any guide days short.
Then in June, Jessie Blythe made her grand entrance. An uneventful Friday night at home was interrupted by Jessie starting to make her big move into the world. After Gwyneth’s water breaking, we quickly found a dog sitter and made the hour and a half drive to Missoula. After a stressful 13 hours we finally met our beautiful little girl. The rest of the month was really kind of a blur. Gwyneth and I trading off night shifts to watch Jessie, each of us filled with a combination of sleeplessness, amazement and joy. Both sets of Grandparents visiting; bringing car loads of gifts and foods, giving a helping hand and admiring their new grand baby. Meanwhile, I was headed back to the river, catching the end of the Stone Fly hatch on Rock Creek and spending a few days on the Missouri.
By July guide season was in full swing. I was busy bouncing back and forth between the Big Hole, Bitterroot and Madison Rivers while Gwyneth and Jessie were figuring out a routine. These were also my first nights away from home and realizing how quickly Jessie would grow and change in just a few days. One of my favorite songs over the last couple of years took on a new meaning and truth, Sturgill Simpson: Welcome To Earth (Pollywog). While I was away Jessie went on her first big adventure with Mom, flying to California to visit her grandparents and to be introduced to more family and friends.
August brought the dog daze of summer along with Jessie continuing to experience her firsts. My grind continued by having memorable days on the Big Hole, Blackfoot, Rock Creek and Bitterroot Rivers. The highlight being a rainy day on the Big Hole while netting the first “grand slam” in my boat; a happy client catching a Grayling, Brook Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout all in one day. But the biggest highlight was introducing Jessie to the river for the first time. Although the outing to Rock Creek didn’t last long, she had a quick nap with the soothing sounds of the water and cool river breeze and saw her Dad casting and frustratingly missing fish on a hopper.
Through September summer quickly turned into fall and Jessie’s personality started to emerge. While having some clients based in Philipsburg I was always looking forward to coming home at night to see Jessie’s happy, smiling face; her eyes lighting up as I sing a silly song and her beginning to make up her own language and starting to babble back to Mom and Dad. In my days on the water the signs of Fall started to appear with some big, and colorful, Brown and Brooke Trout finding the net. Near the end of the month we took advantage of our last warm Sunday afternoon and took Jessie out on the boat for the first time, enjoying Georgetown Lake for a few hours.
Now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, it’s October. I have wrapped up the last couple guide days of the season and am starting to spend more time at home hanging out with Jessie. We have started to go on walks with the dog, sample solid foods, sing songs and dress up in Broncos gear while learning all about Football; enjoying every minute while hoping that time can start to slow down just a little bit.
Recently I have been reflecting on how the sport of fly-fishing changes as we evolve as anglers. In the beginning all I wanted to do was catch one fish on a fly rod. After getting a few trout to the net I was concerned with numbers; catching as many fish as possible using any technique and fly pattern. Next I started hunting for big fish. Joining crowds of anglers fishing areas known for migratory large trout. Since becoming a guide I have realized that scenery, setting and company are more important than size of trout or numbers. Which still holds true for any day on the water.
Over the last year I have concentrated on perfecting techniques and have dedicated more time to fishing streamers. After getting over the hardest step of committing to streamer fishing, I have started to learn the nuances of streamer presentation and the thrill of an aggressive take on a large fly.
Following this last winter, after dedicating more time to fly tying, I have taken pride in catching fish on my own patterns. Inventing, or fine tuning, a fly pattern helps pass time through a cold winter, but once you start catching fish on that fly it is extremely rewarding.
This evolution process is one of the big reasons that I am passionate about fly-fishing. It is an ongoing cycle and there is no final destination to the journey. This evolution can happen on any given day of fishing, just hoping for one fish to make the day; or it can happen when targeting new species, or discovering new locations.
As my wife and I are expecting our first child in the coming weeks I have been reflecting on this idea of evolution and change. In a way fly-fishing brought our family together. Pursuing the sport prompted my move to Montana where I eventually met my beautiful bride. On one of our first dates we went fishing on the Gallatin River in the dead of winter. Now, with fly-fishing as my career, we have started our little family. I can’t wait to watch my daughter grow and eventually introduce her to the sport that I love.
Why wait till spring to get back on the water? There are plenty of trout to be caught throughout the winter when conditions are right.
First, you need open water. You can fish tailwater rivers with flows, and ultimately temperatures, controlled by a dam; or fish streams that are fed by natural springs where temperatures are consistent through the year.
Plus, winter fishing is much more enjoyable when temperatures warm up above 20 or 25 degrees. You can still get out on colder days, but you then start dealing with chipping ice off of the guides on your fly rod and struggling with trying to keep your feet and hands warm.
Here are some reasons to give winter fly-fishing a try.
Winter is the best times of the year to have the river to yourself. This gives you the ability to explore more water and cast to fish that are not spooked. Last week I visited $3 Bridge, one of the most well used access sites on the Madison River, and I did not see another soul. I was able to move freely and fish every prime hole or run in solitude.
The best times for winter fly-fishing are usually between 11AM-4PM; once water temperatures have increased. This can be a nice change from the summer when the best fishing is typically either at the beginning or end of the day. You can take advantage of the extra time in the morning by sleeping in, making a hearty breakfast, or tying flies for the day.
Since there are few bugs hatching in winter it is much easier on the angler to answer the eternal fly-fishing question, “am I matching the hatch?”. The most commonly hatching insect through the winter months are midges. Outside of that, most trout are filling their diet by feeding on items that pack the most bang for the buck (i.e. Stone Fly nymphs, worms, eggs). Most of your standard nymph patterns will do the trick; Pat’s Rubber Legs, Prince Nymphs, Copper Johns, San Juan Worms, or Zebra Midges. Typically, I end up rigging a large Pat’s Rubber Leg followed by a small San Juan Worm or Zebra Midge.
Reading water can be one of the most difficult things to learn in fly-fishing. Trout will hold, and feed, in different types of water throughout a river depending on hatches, water temperatures, oxygen levels or time of day. During winter months trout will tend to hold in very specific types of water. They are looking for spots where they can feed without expending much energy and where the water is warmest. This will force trout into congregating, and schooling, in the deepest and slowest holes and runs, that in most rivers are easily identifiable.
Dry Flies in January
Nothing shakes a case of cabin fever like landing a fish on a dry fly in the dead of winter. As mentioned earlier, the main insect hatching at this time of year is a midge. Even though they are a small meal, size 18-24 flies, trout will still actively feed on them through a solid midge hatch. Get a nice dead drift with a midge emerger pattern, or midge cluster imitation, towards a group of rising fish and you will definitely find some action.
That dry fly eat could be just enough to hold you over until the prolific spring and summer hatches.
As the seasons change from Fall to Winter, I have recently had some days off and have spent these chilly afternoons watching new documentaries about a few famous 70’s rock bands: “The History of The Eagles” & “Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave here Tomorrow.” Since then I have been driving my wife crazy by constantly playing, and singing along to, both of these bands greatest hits. As I sit here now singing along to my current favorite song, “Gimme Me Back My Bullets,” I have started to reflect on what has been a great fishing season.
The lyrics of Ronnie Van Zant ring in my head; “I keep on working, like a working man do.” Thinking about my hours sitting in the rowers seat and my hands sore with calluses, but it also reminds me of the hard work put in by my clients through the summer. Similarly to the stories of these great bands, some days of fly fishing are marked by struggle, frustration and hard times. Fishing can be slow, conditions may be hard to deal with, and there are times where nothing seems to go right. Just like Skynyrd and The Eagles got their big breaks and hit records, the same can happen on the river. I have seen clients throughout the summer work through tough times, continue to practice casting techniques and presentation and finally get rewarded by the fishing gods.
Here are some of the “greatest hits” from this season. I hope to see you on the water in 2019!
I am often asked; “How hard is fly-fishing to learn?” Trying to display empathy I typically explain; “It’s not that hard. Once you learn the basics, it just takes practice.” I will also add: “It’s kind of like golf. You’ll never master the sport, but you will learn more every time you are on the water.” This explanation sounds pretty good, and holds fairly true to what I have seen in teaching beginners – but I haven’t truly experienced it myself until traveling to New Zealand.
From Montana, New Zealand is on the opposite end of the world. They enjoy summer during our winter, they drive on the left side of the road and Kiwis more often play on a Rugby paddock instead of a field or a diamond. Despite these huge differences they still use a fly rod to catch Rainbow and Brown Trout. I was thinking: “No way it can be that different than fishing in Montana.” I quickly realized that was not the case. Fly fishing in New Zealand requires a different approach and new skills. It’s completely different than fishing the blue ribbon streams of Montana.
“Bloody savage hook set, Mate!”
During the first week of the vacation we were fortunate to stay and fish with River Haven Lodge near Murchison on the South Island. On the night we arrived we were greeted by the news that another guest had landed an 11 pound brown that day. As we all toasted his trophy over glasses of champagne I started to have butterflies. Even though double-digit browns are not the norm, I was still flooded with excitement to go chasing a big brown of my own the next day. As much as I tried to manage my expectations I still had a hard time getting to sleep that night and sprung awake at the first sound of my alarm the next morning.
At breakfast that morning the owner of the lodge, Scott “the Trout” Murray, was on the phone touching base with other lodges in the area to see where guides had been fishing and what they planned for the day. I appreciated this extra effort in communication that Murray spearheaded years ago in his region. This quick phone call helps to protect the resource, prevents over-fishing of certain rivers, and overall, helps to create a better guest experience for everyone. Scott enjoyed a good laugh when I told him about the typical day at the Lyon’s Bridge boat ramp on the Madison River where 30-40 boats are launching each morning.
As I was heading to the river with Doug Corbett, my guide for the day, we began to chat about gear and what our game plan was. Through our conversation I was beginning to realize that this was going to be a new experience, and I began to share the feeling that a beginner must have when they first pick up a fly rod. Doug recommended I used his rods, a 5WT and a 6WT, both already rigged for the day. They were about the same as my rods until I began to look closer. The fly line on both rods was hand-dyed to achieve a drab, trout-camo, effect. Doug exclaimed that he has seen too many trout spooked by bright green floating fly lines. Tied to the fly line he ran a 14-15′ delicately tapered leader and a single hand-tied fly rigged on the end. I could appreciate Doug’s diligence in the set-up of his rods and in the organization of his fly boxes. I could see how he had been educated by chasing picky New Zealand browns over the last 20 years.
Sight fishing for big trout is why you go to New Zealand. The ability to spot fish is a skill that can take a lifetime to develop and for guides like Scott and Doug – it is almost like a sixth sense. The ideal conditions for spotting trout are clear blue skies, lots of sun, and little to no wind. That day with Doug on the Matakitaki River we had partly cloudy skies and a building headwind as the day progressed. Despite the conditions we still had opportunities to cast to a few big browns that morning. The first fish that Doug spotted, I was not able to put eyes on because of the glare of the water. I took his word for it and got into position as instructed. As Doug coached me on distance and placement of the cast I was truly fishing blind, not seeing the targeted fish and having a hard time tracking my small indicator with the low light and glare. I eventually got a drift through the desired location and Doug started yelling: “Go, go, go, set!” I excitedly yanked the rod, vaguely imitating a hook set, and I felt nothing. Doug hollered; “Bloody savage hook set, Mate!”
Just like that, I had missed the strike and the fish quickly spooked.
Before spotting the next fish, Doug had me take a few casts in a likely looking riffle, hoping we would fool a holding trout with our nymph. I began working upstream with the “little brown nymph” hanging about 8 inches below my tiny yarn indicator. Doug explained that Brown Trout will move up in the water column to feed and that the nymph ticking a rock could be enough to spook the fish. He assured me that if the indicator went down it had to be a strike. Sure enough, near the top of the run, the indicator dove underwater and I was hooked into a strong New Zealand brown. After a quick battle, the “chunky monkey,” as Doug described it, was in the net. It was a small fish by New Zealand standards, but my education was underway and the skunk was off.
As we moved upstream we eventually found a couple of pools that held the browns I had been dreaming about. Unfortunately, each of the situations played out the same, with both of the 6-8 pound browns getting the best of us. Even though I didn’t hook the fish it was amazing to watch them in their habitat and each situation provided huge learning experiences. One of the first lessons was the importance of a drag free drift. Both of these behemoth browns were sitting in spots with conflicting currents all around them. Land the fly in the wrong spot and instantly my nymph was dragging across the current and looking un-natural to the fish. When I would finally get the correct placement, and drift, the fish was more than likely wise to our presence. I also learned the lesson of changing presentation by switching flies, changing size and adjusting depths. We did not go more than two drifts without changing something in our rig. I would get a good drift down the feeding lane, but no response from the fish. Doug did not hesitate: “Change the fly.” When targeting each of these browns we made about a dozen changes before either spooking the fish or deciding to move onto the next hole. The excitement of getting the fish to look at the fly, or turn towards our bug, was more than enough to keep me engaged and determined.
Although I did not connect with either of these monsters I was able to walk away from the Matakitaki with a crash course education in hunting New Zealand Brown Trout.
“Stunner” of a Morning
Fast forward to one of my last days that I would be able to fish in New Zealand. We were now near the bottom of the South Island staying with a friend in Te Anau on the edge of Fiordland National Park. After leaving Murchison I endured a handful of frustrating fish-less days. I was definitely putting in my time and practicing the skills I learned with Doug on the Matakitaki. I had spooked more fish than I could count, did manage to trigger a few strikes but could not connect with the elusive NZ brown.
On this “stunner” of a morning I was heading out with Mark Wallace from Fiordland Outdoors Company who specializes in Jet Boat Fishing Trips on the Waiau River. Butterflies started to comeback as we got onto the water. Mark was talking about the healthy fish population in the river and he explained; “It’s a great river for beginners.” Fortunately it did not take long to loose the dark cloud that had been hovering over me on my last couple of days on the water. In the first hole we stopped in, Mark spotted a chunky rainbow cruising around feeding just below the surface. It only took a couple of drifts to fool this fish with our dry fly-dropper rig. After getting on the board, Mark decided we would head to a spot that was known to hold Brown Trout feeding in the shallows. We beached the boat at the bottom of a big run and started to stalk up the bank looking for fish. As predicted, there were about a dozen browns holding near the bank feeding, spaced about 20 feet apart. I quickly hooked the first one that we spotted. Without hesitation this healthy fish was ripping line off the reel, heading towards the other side of the river, and before I knew it, my line went slack and the fish snapped off my fly.
Mark headed up stream and spotted a bigger brown but it wanted nothing to do with either of our rigs. We both made a few good drifts and each presented a handful of different fly patterns to the fish. Before giving up, I sorted through my flies and spotted a hand-tied Hare’s Ear that Doug had given me after our day in Murchison. On the second drift my indicator dry fly disappeared and Mark hollered; “You got him!” After a quick fight I had finally landed the New Zealand Brown Trout that I had been thinking about for months.
Through this humbling experience in New Zealand I developed a new appreciation for some of the frustrations that all beginners go through. With the help of River Haven Lodge and Fiordland Outdoors I return to Montana as a better angler. To go back to the golf analogy, I now have a more refined chip shot and a few more clubs that I carry in my bag of tricks.
The Christmas tree has been cut down and decorated, stockings are hung with care and we have rung in the holidays with the annual Yule Night Celebration in downtown Philipsburg.I must admit that the Holidays, and Christmas, have always been one of my favorite times of the year. Just last weekend my wife compared my excitement levels to that of my 3 year old nephews, Gus and Odin.
This caused me to start thinking about why I love Christmas so much… Of course you have Christmas cookies and great food, you have quality time with family and friends, and not to mention, you can enjoy my all-time favorite Christmas song Run DMC- Christmas in Hollis. Now I have discovered that adventure is the thing that ties together all these great holiday and Christmas memories. Whether it was traveling to visit relatives, heading out to cut down Christmas trees and go sledding, spending my first Christmas away from home, or even some of the outings to Holiday company parties over the years; there is a sense of adventure in each of them. So far this Holiday season has been no different.
In Montana the opening of Hunting Season is the unofficial start of the Holidays. This year I spent most of the hunting season in Lima, MT while bartending at The Peat Saloon & Steakhouse. Not only was I able to help a friend in need, but I was able to make extra money before winter sets in and it gave me the opportunity to explore an amazing area for hunting. It was definitely an adventure to connect with the Lima locals and to get some experience in a fast-paced “beer bar” environment. Although I did not get an elk, I was still able to bring home a Mule Deer for the freezer.
As Christmas and New Years approach, Gwyneth and I are looking past the Holidays and towards our departure for New Zealand in mid-January. One of the downfalls of working in the service industry is that, in general, you have to work through a lot of the Holidays. We are both in the same boat, working at The Ranch at Rock Creek for Christmas and New Years. Fortunately, we have a five week vacation just around the corner.
A trip to New Zealand is near the top of every anglers bucket list, and I cannot wait for our adventure! I plan to fish around most of the South Island; focusing mainly on the west coast, the areas surrounding Te Anau and parts of the Southland region. I hope to return with some great fish stories and a few pictures for proof, to do research for future hosted trips into the Southern Hemisphere, and most importantly, I cannot wait to leave the middle of winter in Montana and into a Summer Wonderland.