Thursday, November 18, 2010

Last Few Outings

I haven't blogged much lately; the reason is excusable I hope--I've been doing too much fishing! I had a few frustrating days on the stream and some amazing ones. Chris and I got out to a local wild trout stream again, and a few days later the whole gang of Chris, Ronnie and me returned to it. Here are some photos from the outings....

Chris showed his amazing talents at fishing soft hackles and nymphs in the riffles, schooling me three-to-one on fish.

Chris, Ronnie and I fished until dark and waded back by the half-moon light. Thankfully, we had been here so often that we knew the stream-bed well enough to wade back with flashlights.

Dark, but easy wading. We were hoping for an evening hatch that never came, but it was still a worthwhile trip.

A day or so later, Chris and I headed to the Current River searching for Browns (that we didn't find!). Bill, this photo is for you--this is my normal rig: A Konic 1.5 with GPX 3DTF and a Sage ZXL 8'6" 3wt. I typically run a 6' furled leader and a few feet of 5x or 6x tippet.

While we didn't get any Browns, I caught some very interesting non-trout fish. I caught this hero of a little shiner in a riffle. Notice he has only one eye.

I wondered about the story behind the eye: was it an injury? Did he narrowly escape death from a bird or fisherman? Was he born like this? I returned him to the water feeling both sorry for and proud of him for surviving life.

No Browns, but we did catch a number of fine rainbows in the 10-15" range.

About mid-morning, we noticed a moderate hatch of PMDs and these day-saving caddis. We had been fishing nymphs when the first emergers appeared, and had success with those. Once the caddis hatch hit full-swing, we started really catching fish on EHCs.

Here's another interesting fish. I think its a chub of some sort, maybe a Creek Chub in spawning colors? I call them "Lipstick Chubs" for obvious reasons; they were really colorful in any case. The streams hold so many interesting, beautiful fish!

After being up 30+ hours because of work, I decided to go fishing instead of going home to bed. It was a good call (except for the brief moment that I fell asleep on the highway driving home...that was no good). I was fishing at a Conservation Area lake that had been stocked with trout and was rewarded with this fella'.

I caught him on my third cast, on a mohair leech. Leaving the car, I left my net thinking I wouldn't need it. Well, I did. I had tied on 5x tippet thinking that would be alright too; that is what I always use first and adjust from there either to 6x or 4x depending on conditions. So, 8 minutes of battling this fish on 5x had me tired and it had him tired enough to hand-land.

I was thinking after about 5 or 6 minutes that if I couldn't land him soon I should break him off to avoid exhausting him. Thankfully there was enough of a break in the action (and not my tippet) to scoop the beast from the water for some quick photography. I field-estimated him at 22" and by that length is somewhere between 4 and 5 pounds. His kyped jaw held some pretty gnarly teeth, one of which surprised me and connected with my thumb as I took the fly out. I wanted to keep him out for hours to look at him, to marvel at him--but I had to rush him back to the water. I am so thankful for the pictures I took, though.

The most tense and stressful part of the fight wasn't the actual fight, but the release. I'm always careful to revive fish that I fight hard, and this was no different. I cradled him in clean water near the top where the oxygen is highest and watched his mouth pump water over his gills. Minutes passed and he was still a little tipsy, so I kept holding him upright. I was getting worried about him after a few more minutes, and shifted him to new water a few inches over. When I did, he pulled away from my hand and confidently swam straight and true back to the deep water. Seeing that gave me more of a sense of success than when I first held him; it's almost impossible not to gain a load of respect for a fish like this, and I would have hated to have him die because of my forgetfulness of my net.

My initial intent for going to that lake that morning was to meet a guy to sell my TFO Finesse. Talking with him before I started fishing, I learned that this guy had been caught before, about a week earlier by the buyer's friend. I contacted him afterward and he sent some photos from that catch. This photo was one of those, and it shows the very recognizable lower jaw. He had fattened up considerably in the week between this catch and mine, which was fun to see. I'm a little sad to think about the day that this lake is no longer C&R in a few weeks--this guy deserves to be in the water dominating! He certainly has already brought a lot of joy to at least 2 fishermen; I was lucky enough to be one of them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wild Trout #3

Chris and I had a bum day together again and we returned to a favorite small stream that holds wild rainbows. The fish don't get very large, at most 12" or so (except that one...), but are so incredibly beautiful and healthy, we don't care a thing about the size. Every one we get to see is like finding a $50 bill on the sidewalk or finding out you have one more present under the tree.

The day would be cold, we knew that all week. We knew it'd probably be sub-freezing, and we were totally OK with it. We love this stream so much, fishing together so much, that we'd go no matter what. The cold made it better, I think. We earned our fish with a little bit of toughness that isn't needed on a nice Spring day. Ice formed on our guides immediately, occasionally freezing my casts mid-air. If I didn't stop every few casts to clear the guides, they would become encased in large hunks of ice instead of small ones. That became a little frustrating, but we laughed it off, broke off the ice and kept on fishing.

The little McCloud parr came early and remained catching through the day. Once the sun came out enough to skip its rays across the water, the fish really starting getting active. I fished only dries today and had countless fish, in their eagerness, swim up at my fly, miss it and end up somersaulting over it in the air. One fish did it three times in a row on one drift; I think he was just showing off. Not all the fish were this small, some were smaller. A few were larger and fewer still were a lot larger. Again, we enjoyed every fish we caught regardless of size simply because of how vibrant they were, both in color and vitality. To boot, they were all born in the wild. We sort of root each fish on that we catch, being quite proud of them for doing so well.

The stretch we were on was mostly new to us, and we were delighted to find that it was 100% fish-able, 100% wade-able, and 100% awesome. There was only one small section that consistently produced no fish. Every little pool, riffle and run had something to offer; some sections had 5 or 6 fish-able spots. We worked our way slowly upstream, leap-frogging each other and fishing as we went.

Chris used his 2wt TXL with a Sage Click III and was perfectly matched to the water. I played with it for a bit and immediately starting trying to figure out how I can get my hands on a TXL blank. That is one amazing rod and reel...and line. Chris fishes with a Ferrari, no doubt about it.

Quick photo and back to the water....

You know you're not 21 anymore when you see a log and flock to it for a sit-down. I said I just wanted to sit there and enjoy the scene for a moment (and I did), but I wore myself out! I'm not sure if it was the adrenaline, endorphins or the cold, but this trip really hit the exhaustion button for both of us. This ended up being a great place to take a break.

Back on the water (log in the background) we were right back into fish.

I fished my 3wt ZXL all day and am falling ever more in love with it. I love how progressive and consistent it is; it casts like a dream with SciAng GPX 3wt DT. I am getting VERY attached to this rod (but I still really want that Lamiglass 7'0" 3wt 'glass blank).

At the end of the day, we stood stream-side and admired the water and sunshine. It was a day that just went right, felt right. Anytime you get to hold a wild trout is a time worth enjoying and remembering. Today was one of those days, many many times over.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trip to Westover

A friend and I headed to Westover Farms on Wednesday for some trout action in a very scenic part of Missouri. We hoped to get into some big rainbows and the possible Steelhead stocker.

The fishing is skinny water and pretty tight quarters. A lot of roll casts and digging flies out of trees/bushes/grass were the order of the day. The fish being so close and tight in also required some stealth. The fish didn't spook too easily, but you did have to be careful: a shadow or careless rod-tip would definitely shut them down for a bit.

Hookups came pretty quick, which kept us going in the cold. We started about 7am and the temperature was hovering above freezing, I thought. Ice buildup on our lines and guides told us different; it really was cold that morning. Our hands were numb, but the fishing was good enough to keep our minds off the cold and ice.

Later, it warmed up and the fishing got better as the trout became more active. They didn't fight much in the morning, but came to life a bit more as the sun came out. Holding on to the fish for unhooking was hard enough since we landed them quickly and our hands were less than fully functional--we didn't bother with too many "Here's my fish" photos!

Matt had been here before and was my experienced guide for the day. He is one of those guys that is fanatical about fly fishing and really knows how to read the water and fish. I lost count of how many he brought to hand.

I had the pleasure of fishing my ZXL that returned repaired from WA a couple of weeks ago. It did a great job of handling the water and fish.

This was the first outing ever that I brought a net and it helped tremendously in landing fish quickly and safely. Definitely something I'll carry normally now, and since I don't wear a vest/chestpack it is wonderful that my wading jacket has a D-ring for a net release. My netting talents need work, though.

The fish were healthy, most of them very fat and all had better color than a normal stocker. Again, the net really helped limit landing-time and speed their return to the water. If you don't carry a net now, consider it. Mine cost a whopping $15 dollars (so I don't worry about banging it around).

I also had the fun of taking out my second self-built rod: a 6'0" 2/3wt on a Sevier blank and PacBay UL seat. For a $15 blank, I was VERY impressed. It was great for the tight spots and yet could really reach out without too much work. A good haul on the forecast sent line out as far as I ever needed it there. I fished that little stick for the majority of the day, caught the majority of my trout on it, and had a blast doing it. There really is something satisfying about catching and landing fish on a rod you built that has your own handwriting on it. Very happy moments were had on the water with that rod.

Matt and I fished until 6pm, so 11 hours total. Unfortunately I had to get home so was responsible for cutting our day shorter than either of us liked. Our fly boxes took a good hit from losing flies in trees, but a lot died good death of just being torn up by fish.

There also was a General Store that we were told has "hot food, beer and coffee" but what we found was anything but that description. It offered cold sandwiches and colder service. I still cannot believe that place or lady; I can't even start to describe it. Matt and I left jaws hanging open having no idea what just happened. Tips: When in Cuba/Steelville--carry cash, do not go looking for a bathroom on your own, and say NOTHING bad about Walmart.

Air temp: upper 20s to mid 60s
Water temp: ~54
Water level: low
Water clarity: Clear to very clear
Flies that worked: 20 Adams, 18 black ant, 12 brown hopper, 24 white midge adult, 20-18 Renegades, 24-22 Griffths Gnat, 22 Black-faced midge

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Water with an Old Rod, Old Water with a New Rod

Chris and I convinced each other to get out fishing last week; it didn't take too much for us to get on the water. We each have frequency requirements of our own, but we so enjoy fishing together that we have a whole other requirement for how often we fish together. It had been way too long and we were double cranky from not fishing.

We decided on some Smallie hunting and settled on fishing the Big River. There is something mystical surrounding the Big for us--we can never quite remember how to get to the access points every time we go and always end up somewhere other than we intended. It happened, as usual, again this time. We found ourselves at a previously rejected spot, but found that it was one of the prettiest and fishiest-looking stretches that we'd been on. Definitely photo worthy.

We didn't get any Smallies, which was disappointing but OK. We were so happy to be back out, and the 'gills and hybrids we were catching made it even better.

The scenery got better as we worked upstream, but the fishing didn't. Again, we weren't that disappointed.

This is the old (very old) broken mill at the access point for which it's named. Pretty interesting; was a little sad to see the place's namesake and history just laying around like trash.

The next day I was able to get the 8wt I had just finished out on some water. I decided to head to a lake I used to fish as a kid since it's known for (and I've caught) some very large LM Bass. Figured that might hopefully justify taking an 9'0" 8wt to Missouri water. It didn't, but I had a ball casting and fishing the rod.

I "blooded" the rod on a 6" Crappie, not what I was hoping for but at least the rod and I weren't skunked. I caught it on a Salt Shaker late-dusk in some rocky shallows. Needless to say, the fight was neither epic or long-lasting. Still, a fish is a fish.

On my way back, I saw a sadly ironic sight. This appeared to be a rod graveyard of pieces collected from a group of rods that met their end by either an angry knee or a lawnmower. Having my new rod out that I built made this a painful sight; someone built these too. I gave them a moment of silence and moved on.

I had fun going out to old water that I hadn't seriously fished since I was a kid. Memories definitely floated to the surface, and they were all good. It was a bit surreal to be out there again, on my own rod and fly fishing. I doubt I ever thought I'd be doing that when I was a kid.