Time Flies

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.

Evolving as an Angler

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.

Good Friends on a Beautiful River

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.

Streamer Eating Brown Trout

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.

The “McKinnie” Zonker

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.

My first Northern Pike on a fly from a recent trip

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.

Five Reasons to Experience Winter Fly-Fishing

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.

The Crowds

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.

Sleeping In

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.

Fly Selection

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

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.

Meaning of the Holidays

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.thumb_24955544_10155940435895879_7948368567099956282_o_1024I 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.

IMG_0408This 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.

24796577_10154938981756875_3977641103356592559_n
Photo courtesy of Maleleine Jayne

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.

Cheers to many adventures through the Holidays!

Summer Highlights

 

FINAL - MICKINNIE - LOGO - HORIZONTAL

Labor Day is just around the corner and the “dog days” of summer are in the rear view.  Hard to believe that the season has gone by so quickly, but there is still plenty of great fishing ahead through September and October.  This summer has been filled with long beautiful days, great clients and some cooperative big fish.

June included big water and big browns on the prowl.  Most rivers were swollen with run-off from our above average snowpack, but Rock Creek and the Big Hole River still produced through the big water.  There was solid action dead drifting streamers and worms; plus some fish looking up for Salmon Flies and Golden Stones.

July brought dropping flows on our rivers and some epic days of dry fly fishing.  The Big Hole saw fish looking up for hatches of Green Drakes, Yellow Sallies and PMD’s.  The Yellowstone River finally dropped to fishable levels as terrestrials began to crawl around the banks.  Meanwhile, the Madison River produced some quality fish on nymph rigs.

Throughout August the skies have been filled with smoke from forest fires from around the state.  Despite the warm temperatures, and lack of rain, fishing has remained consistent.  Terrestrial fishing with Moths, Ants and hoppers and some thick Trico hatches have kept our trout interested.  With a few extra days off through the month I have had the chance to enjoy the Montana summer for myself.  I played a tourist by visiting Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks with with my wife and friends; and did some fishing on my own, hiking into the North Fork of the Blackfoot River with my dog Gabe.

IMG_0599 2

Fall fishing should be great as our water temperatures drop, nights get a little longer and the big trout begin to stock up on calories preparing for winter.  I still have some availability in October; check out this special offer to come chase some big fish this fall.

Exploring the Big Hole Valley

FINAL - MICKINNIE - LOGO - HORIZONTAL

This spring has been all about exploring. Discovering new stretches of river, new side channels, new honey holes, new dirt roads and hiking new trails.

IMG_0291 2

I have spent most of my free time in the Big Hole Valley.  Floating and exploring new sections of the river and discovering new areas in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness area.    The Big Hole is a classic western river.  Flowing through a big scenic valley, fed by cold and clean snow melt, lots of bug life, full of beautiful wild trout and epic views.

IMG_1875

Scouting missions are always rewarding! Some days you figure out the super secret fly pattern, others you find the right line to navigate the rapids or other days you spend quality time with the dog.

Just Like Riding a Bike?

“It’s NOT just like riding a bike, John!”  My buddy Josh yelled from across the river as I lost another fish.  This type of banter is very common when on the water with good friends, but it also made me realize that practice is an important part of fly-fishing.

IMG_0113
Josh showing me how it is done

A brutally cold winter, working with a new puppy (not exactly a fishing dog yet) and my winter job forced me into a two month break from the river.  During the time away I was able to restock and organize my fly boxes, but my hook set was a little rusty.  Actually, everything felt a little clumsy; sloppy casts, poor line control, delayed reactions, etc.  In that first day back I hooked about 10 fish, but was only able to land two of them.  At the end of the day I realized that all the time spent on the river is valuable.  Each time out you are learning, improving and practicing.

IMG_0154
First float of 2017

Spring is the time to practice and start getting ready for the summer season.  Get your fishing gear out of the closet, or shed, and get organized.  Practice your cast in the back yard or the park.  Head to you local river or stream to knock off the rust.  Anytime spent practicing now pays off once you are in the midst of your favorite summer hatch.

Winter Tips: January 6, 2017

After enduring multiple days of sub zero temperatures in Montana, its hard to not dream about warm summer days and casting dry flies to rising trout.  Recently I have focused my attention on the tying vise and restocking on the essential patterns, but you can also spend some time surfing the internet and improving your skills.  Here is some of the good stuff I have found in the last couple of days.

Setting up a Two Fly Rig  With two flies you can imitate multiple insects, different stages of the hatch, or they can help to get the fishes attention.

IMG_1217

Learn to Tie Flies  Basics are easy to learn and once you know them you can improvise your own patterns.

Never to early to think about improving casting  Learning the double haul can make you a more versatile angler; opening up more areas of the river and different types of water.

IMG_0973

 

 

Guides Day Off

“Make hay while the sun shines!”

This is the old saying for farmers, ranchers and fly-fishing guides around the west.  During primetime guide season days off are few and far between.  Near the end of August I ended up with few unexpected free days in a row.  Instead of using the days to refuel and relax on the couch; I decided to take the opportunity to explore the backcountry and Glacier National Park.

First, I made the expedition to a beautiful alpine lake in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Area.

img_1478

After a long hike, approaching the base of Warren Peak, I found the lake with lots of big Cutthroat cruising, rising and searching for food.  I quickly got geared up and tied on a size 10, Olive Woolly Bugger.  On the first retrieve I watched a healthy 18 inch cutthroat follow my streamer all the way up to the bank.  With the crystal clear water, I watched the fish take my bugger about 2 feet away from my feet.

img_1485

After releasing that first fish I decided to tie on my favorite ant pattern to see if these beautiful cutties would eat a dry fly.  After landing a few more big fish the echo of my childish giggles rang throughout the basin.

Once I got back to the truck at the end of the day I was extremely exhausted.  Thankfully, I had my first trip to Glacier National Park upcoming the next day to keep me motivated.  Gwyneth and I had an amazing trip exploring Glacier, Polebridge and the surrounding areas.

img_1552

She is not only beautiful, but is a much better writer!  Checkout her full description of the journey:  One long drive for a bear claw.

Fish On!

I try not to go overboard with gratuitous grip n’ grin pictures, but I couldn’t help myself….

IMG_1361

Over the last couple of weeks fishing all around Montana has been excellent.  Being centrally based in Philipsburg, Montana I get the rare opportunity to explore & fish on a diverse selection of waters.  In the last month I have been lucky to guide on Rock Creek, Georgetown Lake, the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers.  Here are some of the highlights!

IMG_1372
Upper Madison Rainbow

IMG_1353
Big Browns Love Big Dry Flies

IMG_1347
Nothing Wrong with a Whitefish

IMG_1354
7 Year Old Fooling a Cuttie with a Dry Fly

IMG_1385
Brown Town on a Size #18 Dry Fly