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.

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.

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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Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

Some days the fishing guides smile on you & some days they don’t cooperate.

About a week ago I spent 5 days floating the Smith River and due to water conditions I only landed 1 fish.

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Being slightly frustrated, my next outing brought me to the Roaring Fork River on a recent road trip to Colorado.  As I walked down the banks towards the river I noticed the water levels and visibility looked good, some clouds gathered and created some overcast, and I saw dozens of Mother’s Day caddis bouncing around the trees and bushes.  It turned into one of those memorable afternoons when everything seems to come together.  Bugs were dancing around the surface of the water and lots of healthy fish were feeding off the top.

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I headed back to the truck very satisfied that afternoon after getting redemption from the Smith and a renewed faith in the fishing gods!

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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

Research & Development

Wikipedia defines Research and Development, or R & D, as: “A general term for activities in connection with corporate or governmental innovation. R & D is a component of innovation and is situated at the front end of the innovation lifecycle.”

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I have termed this spring my Research & Development period for McKinnie Fly Fishing Outfitters.  This means learning new waters, floating new stretches of river, discovering new “honey holes” and figuring out the key to matching the hatch.

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Over the last couple of weeks I have spent time on the Madison River, Missouri River, Rock Creek, Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers.  Over the coming weeks I look forward to exploring the Smith River and Georgetown Lake…

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It is hard work, but someone has to do it!

Walleye on the Fly

Fish On!!

While floating the Missouri River you often hear this phrase echoing from boat to boat.  Most of the time the excited angler has hooked into one of the healthy Rainbow or Brown Trout that inhabit the river.

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Sometimes you can be lucky enough to hook one of the other, more rare, species that call the might Mo home.

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On this beautiful February day fellow guide, Josh Berry, hooked into this feisty Walleye while stripping a streamer off the bank.  This was a first for both us!  Josh’s first Walleye on the fly and the first fish of that species that either of us has seen come from his generous river.

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