About Me

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Saint Louis, Missouri, United States
I am an attorney in my early thirties with a serious fly fishing problem. I work at a large corporate law firm where things move pretty fast. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of corporate America, I try as often as possible to get away and enjoy a quiet stream. My blog attempts to detail the adventures I have both on and off the water in "My World on the Fly."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The West II: Guided Days

We ended up fishing the next four days on the South Fork of the Snake River just outside Victor, Idaho.  If you haven't fished the South Fork, I highly recommend it.  Prior to this trip, I had only fished the South Fork once--the Thursday prior to my wedding.  That year, we were slightly early in the season and didn't catch the really good dry fly fishing.  Salmon flies were just starting to show up but the fish were not dialed in on the dries just yet.  We did well on the huge salmon fly nymphs and managed to stab a few off the surface on the comparable dry fly pattern but it was nothing like what we experienced this year.  August was the perfect time for South Fork dry fly fishing.  It was some of the best dry fly fishing I have ever encountered. 

Days 1 and 2 we used guides from the South Fork Lodge.  Day 1 we fished with Chris Conant, a local STL angler, and Brett Novik, head guide at South Fork Lodge.  On day 2, Brett had to swap out and we fished with Cole Sutheimer.  All guides were excellent and I would highly recommend any of them if you're interested in taking a trip to the South Fork.

Day 1 we floated section 2 of the river.  We put in just above South Fork Lodge and pulled out at a private take out only accessible to South Fork Lodge guides.  The fishing was excellent.  We started by pounding the banks with hoppers, ants, and stimis.  This produced a few fish but was really just a way to pass the time until we hit the first riffle where the cuttys were dialed in on PMDs.  Once we got on the risers, I understood the why this river is famous for dry fly fishing.

As we approached the first good shoal, we floated through the deep section on the opposite side of the river that we were going to fish.  Hundreds of noses were breaking the surface on the far bank as we drifted by.  We slowly slid the drift boat into the eddy below the rising fish, rigged up the Winny 5wt with a PMD and PMD emerger, and went to work. 

Having not fished dries in a while, it took several strikes for me to get my timing back.  Once I was back in the zone, it was on:

Watching these fish work was truly magical.  I was amazed I couldn't spot these fish in the shallow, gin-clear water.  Johnny and Joe enjoyed similar success:

As the day progressed, our fish count rose tremendously.  It was really an amazing experience.  Just about every fish was a 15 to 17 inch cutthroat caught on a little tiny dry fly.  I was in heaven. 

Chris and I closed out Day 1 in search of a big brown on a streamer.  Mr. Conant had stuck a pig off the bank just above the take out a few days before and that's where my best fish of the day came.  Big 20+ inch brown on a black and yellow marabou jig.  Nice work Chris!!

Day 2 was almost a carbon copy of day one.  We started by slamming the banks, fished riffles all day for rising cutts and a few browns, and we closed with streamers at dusk.  Here are some shots from our second day:

Piggy brown on a #20 PMD. 

Great release video. Pay no attention to Davis' cold balls. 

Mr. Scott--nice brown out of the boat while seated (lazy ass). 

JD--nice looking hybrid (I think).

The highlight of day two for me was actually losing a fish.  Chris had some intel on a resident brown that had been spotted in a back water behind a series of islands.  With the main channel off to our left, Chris and I snuck behind this island where the water was spilling over a very shallow gravel bar into a deep hole with various root wads and overhanging trees.  The entire pool was about 60 feet long and about 20 feet wide.  It was strikingly similar to some challenging water on on the Current River back home, Chris and my home waters.  We approached from down stream through a two foot clearing in the overhanging trees.  Due to the very shallow gravel bar at the top of the hole, and the root wads on the opposite bank, we would have to try to guide any big fish out the two foot gap where we accessed the hole.  We discussed our plan.  The outlook wasn't brilliant. With very few options, our hope was to net the fish before it could leave the seclusion of the back water.  Chris and I sat and watched for a moment.  I threw a bow and arrow cast at a little cutty that was tucked under one of the sunken trees.  Nothing.  That was not why we came, however.  As I continued to mess with the cuttys, we both noticed a big roll just below the gravel bar in the riffle.  This was the big boy.

It only took one cast with a PMD and a little beadhead dropper.  The flies drifted off the gravel bar into the zone and I saw another roll.  With a slow hook set, it was on.  Before Chris or I could even think about netting this pig, it bolted downstream right through the slot in the trees where we wanted him to go.  I began the chase.  Chris managed the excess fly line sitting on the water as we passed through the narrow gauntlet so it wouldn't get caught on any branches.  Just as the fish cleared the pool, it darted right at a 90 degree angle toward the main channel passing under a submerged log.  Oh fuck!  I had no idea what to do now.  My line was going under this sunken tree and the fish was doing aerials on the opposite side.  Quickly, Chris hopped over the log and I managed to pass my rod to him under the submerged tree limb as the fish continued its acrobatics.  Chris swiftly handed the rod back to me and I regained control (if that's what you call it).  Chris then hopped back over the tree to untangle my excess fly line which was quickly wrapping itself around the submerged log.  After a few seconds, we cleared the log and had the fish tight on the line again.  How he didn't snap my tippet or throw the fly is beyond me.

At this point, the fish calmed a little and slid into a quiet eddy on the lower left side of the island.  I thought we had him.  We approached slowly and got a good look at this monster brown.  We estimated 25 or better.  This was the fish of a lifetime.  Chris and I inched forward.  The beast was almost taunting us by not moving and showing us his size.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the fish decided to bolt right at us passing just to Chris' right side.  Chris lunged with the net--no love.  The fish ran back under the tree where we had brilliantly maneuvered the rod underwater but this time the fish completed his mission of snapping my tippet.  He was gone.  But what a fight.

Days 3 and 4 to come....

The West: Part I: The Madison

Back in early August, Big John , Joe Scott, and I took a 5 day adventure out West.  The sole purpose of the trip was fishing and I'd say we accomplished our mission.  We fished hard every day, hitting the water by 11 or so and quitting around 10 pm.  We had one day of wade fishing on the Madision near Ennis, Montana, and four days fishing out of a drift boat on the South Fork (two guided days and two days where we rowed ourselves).  By the end of the trip, John and I were trying to figure out whether our fish count was higher than our Bud Light count.  I think the fish count won and that's really saying something.   

We left STL at 6 am on a Tuesday and the wheels were down in Jackson, WY by 9:45 am.  I love getting an early start.  We had plenty of time to drive to the Madison for our first day of wade fishing.  If you've ever flown in to Jackson Airport, you remember the view from the runway as you step off the plane.  It's truly amazing and we had a beautiful clear morning to soak in the Tetons.  It had been a year since I'd been in Jackson.  Last July Sara and I were married there.  The place was more beautiful than I remembered.

Dodging hoards of passengers snapping photographs on the runway, we moved swiftly toward the baggage claim.  JD and I took care of the luggage while Joe arranged for the truck.  Joe, a regular to the Jackson area and a former fishing guide for South Fork Lodge, keeps a bad-ass Ford Excursion in Jackson.  He also has a drift boat and tons of fishing gear in storage.  We made good use of everything.   

The baggage / car pick up could not have been smoother.  The bags were basically waiting for us by the time we got to the baggage claim (gotta love small airports!) and the truck started on the first try.  We had been a little concerned that the cold winter would have taken its toll on the battery but luckily she fired up immediately and we were off toward Montana.   

The drive was pretty cool because we followed world famous trout rivers the whole way. We first drove over the Snake River in Jackson.  Next, we headed over the pass into Victor, Idaho and paralleled the South Fork of the Snake for a few miles until merging slightly north along the the Henry's Fork.  Once we hit MT, we followed the Madison all the way to Ennis and to the channels where we would wade fish.

The view from the backside of the Tetons was not bad at all on the drive up.

Not counting our numerous stops for lunch, gas, beer, groceries, flies, and just about everything else you can imagine, we were stepping into the river right at prime hatch time.  We had caddis, rusty spinners, and all sorts of terrestrials.  Dry fly fishing for trophy Madison River browns was not a bad way to close out a Tuesday.  All three of us ripped a few lips but John and I connected with the two healthiest fish.

I saw the brown below rise in a long tail out where a riffle slowly tapered off into deeper water along a cut bank.  After watching some smaller fish rise, I saw this guy eat an emerger where he barely exposed his nose and tail.  The tail was big and I knew he was worth a cast or two.  The first cast proved successful and this brown ate an olive caddis emerger.  We estimated he was about 19.  Long and skinny.

JD's fish was much bigger but unfortunately, due to a netting error by yours truly, we do not have a photograph of his big rainbow which probably could have eaten the brown above.  It was getting dark and JD and I had teamed up on a similar tail out where fish were actively rising.  The only difference between JD's hole and the run where I stuck my brown was depth.  His hole was 3 times as deep as mine and I'm sure was home to a couple very large fish. 

JD and I studied the run, watching several fish rise prior to throwing the first cast.  We threw all sorts of different dries and stuck a couple little fish as the sun fell behind the mountains.  The final cast was with a #16 rusty spinner.  JD made a nice presentation and we watched a large nose rise and sip the fly.  Once Johnny set the hook, we knew it was big as the fish bolted through the deep channel for the faster water below the hole.  JD began the chase and  I dropped my rod and sprinted to get below the fish with the net.  I'm not terribly fast, especially in wading boots, and the fish was winning the race.  I kept running but this big bow was in the lead.  After 100 yards or so I knew we were running out of time.  The fish was sprinting and rolling through a fast riffle no deeper than a foot.  He was sure to throw the hook if we didn't act soon.  Figuring we were losing the battle, I took a hail mary shot with the net.  With the low light I couldn't really see the fish and simply aimed at where I thought he'd be based on the position of John's fly line.  I swiped and saw a 24+ inch flash of silver just beyond the reach of my net.  John's line curved around the net bucket and suddenly recoiled back toward him.  With no weight in the net, I knew he was gone.  Great story but unfortunately no picture.  Sorry JD.  This would have been one of the bigger fish of trip, if not the biggest.

I really felt bad that I missed the net job but I wouldn't exactly call it an error.  It would be similar to a third baseman missing a short-hop ground ball ripped down the third base line.  You shouldn't be penalized for it but it's certainly a makeable play and sometimes it separates AAA from the big show.  Looks like I'll be stuck in the minors for a while.  Karma is a bitch too because later on in the trip I would lose a hog of a brown on the South Fork that dodged the net as well.  Stay tuned.