Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Madison

We drove north from Island Park ID along the east side of Henry's Lake and up and over Raynolds Pass to the Madison.  We fished upstream from the bridge on the North side of the river.  The south bank is dotted with trophy homes, most with large picture windows looking out onto the river -- kind of makes you feel like you're the entertainment.  I've fished this place maybe a half a dozen times over the years.  Gerry had not been there since the houses were built.  There were other fishermen on the river but it was less crowded than the Fork.   The water was high and off-color and the wind was gusting pretty hard.  Not good conditions. We did not hook up working that north bank (I figured it had already been fished pretty hard that morning) so we decided too drive up along Quake lake to see if we could find where Gerry and his family had camped so often.  As best as we could tell, the old campsite which had been near the confluence of Beaver Creek and the Madison was now part of the lake.

After some lunch we stopped in Kelly Galloup's flyshop at Slide Inn.  I recall fishing at Slide Inn one spring many years ago -- before there was any shop there --  but the grade is still steep there and the river was roaring and it did not appeal.  A enthusiastic college kid was working the shop.  He was brimming over with a summer's worth of new found knowledge and he told us that we need to wait until dusk for the caddis hatch. Until the hatch he recommended fishing a small pheasant tail nymphs.  He liked our chances at $3 bridge.   We drove downstream and parked at the bridge, paying our fee in the metal box.  It was maybe 2PM, still far too early for the evening hatch at 8PM.  We rigged up and started fishing upstream. Almost immediately Gerry and I got separated.

Four golden pheasant-tail caddis larva.

As occasionally happens in flyfishing, I had an epiphany. I thought: "If there was to be an astounding caddis hatch at 8PM, wasn't the river filled caddis larva right now?"  I tied on a pattern representing a cased larva which tied with golden pheasant-tail (a pattern of my own design) and within two casts I had hooked up with a fiesty brown trout.  At one point he ran upstream through a deep opening between two large rocks and then ran back downstream on the far side.  My line was stuck, deeply wrapped around the base of a refrigerator sized boulder.  I was sure I'd lost the fish and was vaguely concerned about retrieving my line.  When I managed to free the line, the fight was back on.  I finally landed him fifty yards downstream from where I'd first hooked him. Based on the fight he'd put up I was surprised to find a buttery yellow brown trout about 15" in length attached to the other end of my line. 

Fiesty brown taken on a caddis larva pattern.

Although I was anxious to share my insight with Gerry, there was a promising unfished bit of run just above where I'd hooked the first fish.   After a few more casts I was firmly attached to another fish, this one was a rainbow and now I knew I had cracked the puzzle. 

I went downstream to find Gerry to share my  insight.  The last time I'd seen him he was below me. He'd apparently leapfrogged past me without me (or him) noticing. When I'd made the 1/2 mile walk back to the truck I realized what had happened.  I walked to the bridge and started fishing up the north bank.  Again, almost immediately, I hooked up with a feisty fish.  As I reached for my net to land another brown trout I heard something plunk into the fast current I was standing in.  I was sure it was my camera, and I frantically tried to move downstream with he current, peering down into the water to try to see what had fallen. Whatever it was, it was lost.  I turned my attention back to the fish still on my line.  I landed the fish found my camera just where I'd put it and took a photograph. It turned out that the half of the the magnetic net holder that was attached to my vest had dropped in the current.  Unable to reattach my landing net, I went back to the truck.

Gerry came walking in rather soon after that.  He had hooked one good fish that took off upstream like a steelhead, but it broke him off.  My nymph rig included a tiny tin shot (size 4) pinched on the line about 2 feet above two of my golden pheasant caddis larvae which were tied about a foot and a half apart on 5X tippet. Gerry was fishing deep with a heavier rig and did not get as many hookups.  It's surprising how seemingly small differences can have such an effect on outcomes.

Madison river brown.
It was a bit after 4PM. We were both tired and hungry so we decided to move on. We debated driving to Ennis and fishing the Madison again the next day.  I love Ennis. But at some point on every road trip, driving further away from home, even only 30 miles, seems too far.  After a brief discussion, we decided to head east and south on to our last destination, the North Platte River at Gray Reef, my home water.  Our path took us to West Yellowstone where we ate dinner.  With at most a couple of hours of light left in the day, we drove in through the West Entrance of Yellowstone. We drove through the park to the East Entrance and on to Cody WY where we spent the night.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Henry's Fork of the Snake

Gerry back on the Fork after a 45 year absence.

Gerry and I decided a real fishing road-trip would be a good idea in late July and, by dog, we did it.

Gerry flew into Denver and I picked him up and drove us up to Laramie. The next morning we drove from Laramie up to Jackson Hole where we ate dinner on the porch at Calico in Wilson.  The Snake in Jackson was high and muddy. We drove up and over Teton pass into Idaho spending the night in Driggs. 

We were on the Henry's Fork above Harriman State Park the next morning.   Gerry had spent his youth fishing the Yellowstone area rivers with his parents: the Henry's Fork, the Madison and the Firehole was their summer home.  For many years they camped for a month and more along the Madison where Quake lake now is.  The lake was formed by a massive earthquake on July 17, 1959.  After the devastating quake they continued to fish the Yellowstone area for a few years but eventually refocused their fishing efforts to trout in lakes in British Columbia.  Gerry had not been back since.

Even though the reputation of the Henry's Fork is not what it once was, it is still a major destination for an international crowd and even with regular reports of poor fishing it is still crowded.

Instructions for "proper release" in English, Japanese, French and Spanish.

The fishing on the Fork is tough and technical.  We arrived on the water a bit late after a leisurely drive up from Driggs and then spent too much time in Lawson's old shop obtaining Idaho Fishing Licenses and some flies.  There were a few PMD's coming off as we walked down river and it looked promising, there were a few Caddis too. But that action turned off shortly after we arrived and neither of us hooked up, nor did we see anyone else hook up.

For me, fishing is not a competitive sport, at least not the way I practice it.  But even so, when I'm not catching fish and no-one else seems to be either, it provides some evidence that it may not be that I am doing everything wrong -- it may be that the fishing is just tough.  

The author in full fishing regalia.

 The evening hatch was more exciting.  We spotted a very large trout methodically rising behind a rock on the far bank. We waded across the river to work the fish.  There were a few other fish feeding as well. We took turns casting to that large riser for more than an hour.  We did not put him down, but neither could we interest him in any of our offerings.  There were sporadic small flurries of BWO's and Flavs hatching through the evening.  At one point I left Gerry to work the large bank riser. I waded out to try a pod of smaller fish working the main current.  I drifted my fly downstream to them and, with most of a flyline out on the water, I hooked up. I lost what was optimistically a 14" rainbow when it jumped. For me, and for Gerry, this spot and stalk style of dry fly fishing is perhaps the most enjoyable of all  and even though we did not hook up we both had a great evening.  In the fly shop the next day we were told that our large fish was probably taking Flav emergers. We both stocked up on a few.

The next morning we fished a mostly non-existent morning hatch to no avail.   We tried float-tubing Henry's Lake -- Gerry's first time out in a tube -- but the wind came up and we caught nothing.  We tried fishing down river at the takeout above Mesa falls, but caught nothing.

On Henry's Lake before the wind came up.

We did work that same fish for a second evening, this time armed with the magic Flav emergers.  Unfortunately, two oblivious blokes walked down the path along the top of the bank just where we were working the fish and put it down!

 That pretty much did it for us on the Henry's Fork, we'd been skunked and we decided to cut our losses and head to the Madison the next day.