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.

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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!

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Summer Highlights

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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!

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Upper Madison Rainbow
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Big Browns Love Big Dry Flies
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Nothing Wrong with a Whitefish
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7 Year Old Fooling a Cuttie with a Dry Fly
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Brown Town on a Size #18 Dry Fly

Salmonfly Frenzy

Set, set!  There it is!  Fish on!  Bam!  Oh yeah!  Fish off!  Son of a #&*$@!

These are the echoes that fill the air through the canyons of Rock Creek as the annual emergence of the famous Salmonflies cause both trout and anglers alike to go into a frenzy.

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The trout have endured the long winter and the spring run-off, and they are now feeding on the buffet of stoneflies that have just started to hatch.  Just imagine someone tempting you with a t-bone steak or large pizza after you have gone hungry for weeks.  It is really hard for trout to resist the well placed dry fly during this hatch.

For anglers, this mythical hatch is really the first time all season when you can fish big dry flies.  We have survived months of watching the bobber, or twitching the streamer, and the thought of drifting a fluffy foam bug raises the blood pressure and the adrenaline gets pumping.

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This combination of ferocious takes and excited anglers can make for some of the most memorable and thrilling fishing of the summer.  You can have the opportunity to land dozens of fish, but in my experience, you typically miss more than you get to the net.  I have the bad habit of seeing the fish coming for the fly, getting anxious, setting the hook early, and pulling the fly out of their mouth before they eat.  Sometimes the fish aren’t really eating your bug.  Either they are slapping at it, rolling over it, or just trying to stun the bug as it floats by.  Other fish you set the hook and connect with, but because of the timing of the hook set, it comes un-buttoned.  Regardless of getting the fish to the net or not, it is hard to beat being able to see hungry Brown and Cutthroat Trout chasing down a big dry fly.

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Even though this hatch can be epic, you still need to be aware of some other factors that can effect your success in a stonefly hatch.

High Water

Receding river flows and water temperatures increasing trigger these big bugs into hatching.  The water levels may be dropping, but the flows are still very high and fast.  The high water makes wade fishing very difficult and non-advisable in some areas.  Fish are typically held really close to the banks hanging out under bushes and trees and these spots can sometimes be impossible to fish by foot.  Even if you are floating, you still need to be cautious of the swift flows and downed trees that have accumulated through the run-off.  Either way, being safe on the river is more important than catching fish.

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Crowds

Rumors of salmonflies travel very quickly.  Especially, in this day of social media the word of stoneflies crawling around can attract anglers from hundreds of miles away.  For some, this can detract from the serenity and peace of the outdoors, but there is plenty of river for everyone to enjoy.  We are all out there to have fun and it can be enjoyable as long as we are all courteous.  Share the river, share the road, and share the boat ramps.

Finally, the window for this hatch can be very limited.  Depending on the season, the salmonfly hatch can last anywhere from a couple of days up to a week or two.  This is when the phrase “should have been here yesterday,” can definitely ring true.

This is the time, get to the creek now before the salmonfly frenzy is over!

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Cleaning Up the Clark Fork

As an avid outdoorsman, and Outfitter, I believe it is important to take care of the resources that we enjoy everyday.  Last week I was lucky to be a volunteer in the 2nd annual Clark Fork River Clean Up sponsored by The Ranch at Rock Creek, the Clark Fork Coalition and Trout Unlimited.

The participation and turnout was great to see.  There were over 10 boats and 25 volunteers that helped with the event.

 

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Shoreline lunch to help refuel from the hard work

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We floated, and cleaned, an 11 mile stretch of the upper Clark Fork downstream from Drummond.  The health of this section of water has steadily been on the rebound since the removal of the Milltown dam in 2008.  Even though the upper Clark Fork does not see as much recreation as the lower river through Missoula, it is still important habitat for fish and wildlife.

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Between stops to pick up trash and debris, I managed to find a little time to fish.  This beautiful brown trout served as a reminder of why we need to work to protect and clean our rivers.

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First Time Experiences with the Fly Rod

I was 12 years old and had been fly-fishing with my Dad for about a year.  Until that point I had hooked plenty of trees, bushes and rocks but had yet to hook my first fish on a fly.  I was beginning to get really frustrated with this new fishing technique and was on the verge of switching back to the reliables of worms, powerbait or the Panther Martin.  One afternoon my Dad and I  walked down to one of his favorite spots along the banks of the Colorado River.  Given my frustration, I was pretty much going through the motions thinking I was going to have another fish-less outing.  I will always remember the moment that day when my Dad hollered  “set the hook” and I actually felt a fish on the end of my line.  Being in complete shock, I am pretty sure I lost that first one, but just a few casts later I landed my first fish on a fly rod.  Over 20 years later I am still “hooked” on the sport that I almost abandoned.  To this day I am passionate about the sport because, regardless of your age or level of experience, fly-fishing is filled with those memorable “first time” experiences.  Whether it is your first time, first fish, first time on a new river, or first fish landed on a dry fly of the season, fly-fishing is full of new experiences.

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Banks of the Colorado River

Experiencing these first times also fulfills the urge to explore and discover new places.  We are very fortunate to have hundreds of miles of river, hundreds of lakes, and miles of backcountry to explore nearby.  It is nice to have the “honey hole” that can always be relied on for a fish or two, but I really enjoy pushing myself to try new spots, new waters, or simply float a different stretch of river.  These new experiences can be challenging but are typically extremely rewarding.  Exploring these new locations will sharpen your ability to read water and identify holding water for fish, can broaden your knowledge of entomology and bug life, challenge your rowing skills, and can provide the opportunity to catch new species of fish.

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Exploring the canyon of the Smith River

As I have had the chance to introduce others to the sport, I have enjoyed getting to experience those fly-fishing first times, second-hand.  Recently I have enjoyed teaching my fiancée how to fly-fish.  I have been there for her first catch, for the landing of her first BIG fish and watched her fool her first fish with a dry fly just a few weeks ago.  I think she has enjoyed these experiences since she keep going on outings with me, but my excitement on these days has been through the roof!  Two weeks ago on the Bitterroot I could not help but to holler and yell when a nice cutt-bow inhaled her skwala dry fly.  I am not sure if she was more surprised by the fish taking the fly from the surface, or by my childish reaction.  Either way, she is definitely prepared for my response to her next fly-fishing first; hopefully landing a Brown Trout that eclipses the 20 inch mark or catching her first colorful Brook Trout.

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First trout fooled by a dry fly

Now I find myself making lists of what my next new experience with a fly rod might be.  It could be landing my first Steelhead, could be casting to exotic species of fish on a saltwater flat, or traveling to far away countries with my fly rod.  Thanks to my Dad’s introduction to fly-fishing I will continue to pursue all of those first time memories.

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Dad’s bucket list fish