Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Sportsman's Working Battery

Guns and Gunning, Captain Paul A. Curtis. Penn Publishing Co. 1934.
The notion of a personal working battery for a sportsman is a favorite topic of  unending debate among gun cranks.  There is a lot of classic literature on both hunting rifles and on shotguns. On balance, the rifle literature tends to be American and much of the shotgun literature, though not all, is British.  Classics authors writing about hunting rifles include (in alphabetical order)  Carmichael, O'Connor, Keith, Taylor, and Whelen.  There is a largely separate literature on shotguns by Boothroyd, Brister, Burrard, O'Connor, Keith, and others.   Bodio's Good Guns Again straddles the classification by discussing both.

I first recall reading a specification for a personal battery in Curtis' book Guns and Gunning.  This book is a favorite of mine though it is not often mentioned today - prices for used copies do not indicate it holds much collector value.  Like reading Datus Proper's recommendation that a man should spend a months salary on his shotgun (I have not), Curtis's recommendations for an all-round battery gave me a kind of permission to think in a way I'd not have dared to before reading it.

Considering a battery (and not a collection) is a holistic view that remains surprisingly infrequently discussed in writing.  The question answered by the consideration of the battery is just this: "What collection of firearms does a modern hunter need to participate in the various forms of hunting throughout the season?" Obviously the answer depends on what you hunt, where you live, if you travel to hunt and of course on personal tastes.

For the North American game hunter not planning to travel to Alaska or Africa, Curtis recommends the following minimal battery:
  • Rifles:  a small game rifle [.22 LR],  .a varmint rifle [.22 Hornet], a general service rifle [.30-06]
  • Shotguns: an upland gun [20 GA double], for all round use [12 GA double], a duck gun [Magnum 12 bore or 10 bore]
  • Sidearms: A .22 revolver or automatic and a large frame revolver [.45 Colt or .44-40]

If you are also a target shooter, Curtis provides the following additional recommendations:
  • a heavy barreled .22 target rifle with telescopic sight
  • a Springfield National Match rifle [.30-06]
  • a trap gun [12 GA pump]
  • a target pistol [.22 single shot heavy frame with adjustable sights]
At the end of the chapter Curtis apologizes for the small size of the battery he's selected!
"Remember, I said in the beginning that my ideal battery must be limited to a few guns to meet satisfactorily many needs. When one's battery assumes the proportions of a collection, he perforce becomes a slave to its care and it ceases to be ideal."
*                                   *                                   *

There's an old saying: "Beware the man with one gun."  What is left unsaid is that he certainly knows how to shoot it well.  An alternate approach to the question of a personal battery is based on a minimalist philosophy: a shotgun a rifle and perhaps a sidearm.  After a lifetime of gun trading, Steve Bodio may have reached a kind of perfection in his (current) minimalist battery.

Steve with his small working battery.
Steve has settled on his choices and, thankfully, brought them with him on his recent visit to show off to friends here in Laramie and surrounding environs.

Steve has a British sidelock 12 GA shotgun, a Mannlicher Schoenauer 1903 rifle and a Smith and Wesson model 629 in .44 Magnum.  Not shown in the photos is a Smith and Wesson model 34 kit gun which is chambered for a .22LR.  He of course has other firearms, but these are the ones he brought, and they form a kind of elegant minimalist working battery.

F. C. Scott sidelock, 1903 Mannlicher Schoenauer and S&W .44 Mag. 

The Mannlicher is a model 1903 takedown chambered in 6.5x54 MS.  It has the most elegant factory pop-up peep sight I have ever seen.  The peep is articulated so that when the bolt is pulled back, it lowers into the tang of the stock and as the bolt is pushed back forward it pops back up.  In photos (and I am kicking myself for not taking more of them) the mechanism looks like it might be flimsy, in person it is not - it is astoundingly robust.  The rifle handles like a shotgun - notice the Prince of Wales grip.  I was disappointed we did not get a chance to shoot while he was here.

The 6.5x54 is a very interesting cartridge.  In fact, Curtis himself recommended the 6.5x54 specifically (with the Savage 250-3000 as an alternate) for the hunter who wanted to combine his varmint rifle with a rifle for medium sized game shooting.  The 6.5 shoots heavy for caliber bullets at lower velocity.  This translates to bullets with very high sectional density and thus exceptional penetration.  The 6.5 Mannlicher was famously used (with 160 gr solids) by W. D. M. Bell to kill elephants.  It is an outstanding deer and hog rifle and is not to be sneezed at for elk in the timber when shooting a 140 or 160 grain bullet.  It is interesting that both Jack O'Connor and Elmer Keith agreed that it is an exceptional cartridge. John Taylor was less complimentary.

Steve took the Mannlicher (and the Scott) to show to the rifle maker Nathan Heineke here in Laramie. The rifle has been previously drilled for a side mounted scope and Steve is planning to have Nate put a Griffin and Howe side mount on the rifle.  Nate worked as a gunsmith at Griffin & Howe in NJ for about 8 years and may well be the most qualified person in the country to do the work.  The great thing about a G&H side mount is that the scope is guaranteed to return to zero and, it does not mess up the engraving on the front ring of the action.  With a classic rifle I consider this to be an important feature.  If the rifle had not previously been drilled and tapped for a side-mount it would be a shame to add it but, since it has, adding a side-mount it is more akin to a restoration.

Steve's choice of a shotgun is an Birmingham made F. C. Scott sidelock in 12 GA with original  2 3/4" chambers. It was probably made in 1910.  For British made guns of the period, 2 1/2" chambers were standard.   Fredrick Scott was known for his pigeon guns and this may explain the non-standard chamber size. A description of the gun by Steve from an email:
He (Frederick, called "Frank") was in business from 1904 to 1918 (some say 19). I think he made fewer than a thousand guns. The wood is really nice which doesn't show well-- may eventually refinish. LOP 14 1/2 or a little less to checkered butt; barrels 70 cm (continental--??), chokes 1/4 & F. balance on hinge pin. Slightly more pitch up than BL and slightly shorter, and weighs 6 1/2 instead of 6 1/4 so it took a little practice to mount as well but I find if I hold it on the barrel ahead of the forearm it points very well. I will probably disable the ejectors (remove springs?) because they are no use to me. I think it was all tightened up when re-proofed (for pigeon level loads -- 1 1/4 oz-- which I will NOT shoot).  I think I will never get closer to a London gun. People who loved the AyA can see how superior it is even if they know nothing about guns (and it weighs exactly the same). 
The Scott is a perfect upland game gun (good for NM quail) and will serve for the occasional duck.

F. C. Scott ad from 1910.
For handguns, Steve's S&W revolver in .44 Mag has the lightest single action trigger I've ever pulled. A pound? Steve assured us that  it is a joy to shoot.  He's outfitted both the .44 and the S&W model 34 kit gun with Hogue grips so, disregarding the heft, they have a similar feel in the hand.

*                                   *                                   *

At this point my personal battery is closer to Curtis's recommended selection than to Bodio's.  I think I'd like to fix that, which of course means, more buying and selling which is half the fun.  

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Fall 2013 Deer & Elk Season

Four cow elk silhouetted on the skyline. [photo: copyright Mike Dunn 2006]

There's meat in the freezer, but there the 2013 season has been a bit of a bust for me. I was only able to spent a total of about four or five days hunting and really had no success.  I killed a grouse in thick cover on a great left to right crossing shot, it tumbled to the ground, feathers flying, but I never found the bird, only feathers.  I misidentified what turned out to be a very nice whitetail buck as a doe, until it was too late for a shot.  I never got a shot at an elk - though Brad cleanly killed one of the four I spotted driving out at dusk.

*                         *                         *

Elk populations are up and the seasons this year was more liberal than they've been since I moved to Wyoming fifteen years ago.  Mule deer are another matter.  The populations have been declining for years now and those declines are finally reflected in the hunting regulations.   The general season in local areas here were open less than a week with a bucks only rule, at least three points on one side.  I almost passed on even buying a license and in the end I was only able to get out for one afternoon and had no success.

*                         *                         *

Brad will be surprised by the image at the top because it is almost exactly the image we saw driving out after a long day hunting elk on foot. In Wyoming, you can shoot a 1/2 hour before and after sunset.  I spotted four cow elk and within a minute of the end of legal shooting time.  They stood there perfectly silhouetted against the skyline.  It was dark enough that the stars were clearly visible.  Brad got out of the truck with his .270 and I rolled  forward, keeping the engine running.  The elk calmly watched the truck, certainly believing they were safely cloaked in darkness. They were close, about 80 yards, but  it was a very steep 80 yards uphill. Brad made a perfect heart shot on the leftmost of the four and she went down within 10 yards of where the bullet hit her.  We were able to gralloch her on the spot and to roll her onto the orange plastic toboggan I use for hauling meat.  The hillside was steep enough that with some backbreaking pulling and lifting, we were able to lower her right down into the back of the pickup.  We were back at the house within an hour and a half of the shot.  We quartered her and the meat was hung for a week before we spent a day butchering. 


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Steve & Libby Bodio and Montana writer Malcolm Brooks

Steve, Jim and Malcolm.

... and Ataika and Erdos.

Penelope and Libby.

Libby, Steve, Malcolm and Penelope.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

A good day on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish

First Steelhead - caught on the swing.

Dolly Varden - a new species for me.

G with a nice Dolly.

Second steelhead on the swing - same day. Sparsely tied purple and black Intruder.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Eating Around / Little Bird Bistro (Petit Oiseau)

Caribou rack over the entrance to the kitchen at Little Bird Bistro.
Little Bird Bistro is the sister restaurant to Gabriel Rucker's Le Pigeon run by head Chef Eric Van Kley.  We had an enjoyable meal there last evening with family and friend.  The menu is French Bistro with a decidely Portland style.  Everything we had was very tasty - some dishes better than others.  The selection of bottled wines is lacking on the low end.

Daily chalk board specials.
Started with a bottle of Chablis (1er. Cru Mont de Milieu, Jean-Pierre Grossot, ‘05) which I thought was good though not exceptional.  I shared a dozen raw oysters; Kusshi's from British Colombia and Netarts harvested on the Oregon coast.  The Kusshi's are more delicate, firmer in texture, and carry a bit less oceany flavor than the Netarts.  Both were excellent.  Others in the party had the Goat Cheese Gnocchi, with roasted lamb neck, peppers, and mint - and they enjoyed it immensely.    Gnocchi is always a favorite.

For the second round of small plates I ordered the sweet breads and we also ordered the Marrow Bones with Chorizo, and Calamari, oregano, pickled chilies and black flat-bread.  Everyone enjoyed the marrow bones immensely.  The black flat bread was dyed black with squid ink! The sweet breads were described on the menu as follows: Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, carrot purée, roasted carrots, curried crème fraîche - they had a kind of peppery coleslaw on top that was a bit strong for the delicate sweet breads. The curried creme fraiche was something I never would have thought of myself - very good.  By then we'd switched to a red Rhone, Crozes Hermitage, Domaine des Martinelles, ‘09.  This one was, I thought, better than the Chablis.  Rich texture, deep berry flavors and peppery.

For an entree I ordered the Pan Roasted Duck Breast, deviled duck heart & egg salad, paprika toast, dijon vin.  When I kill a game bird or duck, the hearts and livers are always eaten the same day.  Thinking back, I do not recall getting the heart on my plate.  The duck was perfectly cooked, but the dish was rather plain and not terribly exciting.  Someone at our table ordered the Sherry-Glazed Pork Shoulder,roasted corn, fingerlings, manchego, padrón peppers which may have been the best entree we tasted.  Someone else had the Cassoulet of duck leg, pork belly, sausage & white beans which everybody liked.  C and P shared Fennel Sausage, fallen soufflé, parmesan, pepper jam which was good, but not really memorable.

G came directly from work and still had his flight uniform on.
If I had to compare to other meals I've eaten in the past few years in Portland, I think I go back to  Pigeon before I returned to Petit Oiseau.  I somehow prefer the atmosphere and space at Pigeon.   The Pigeon menu was just as interesting there and, in my memory, the food was perhaps better prepared.

Eating a meal like this is a luxury few can afford and we count ourselves very lucky indeed to be able to do so once in a while.  From a practical point of view, I do it for the chance to get a taste of foods I can not, or have not, tried to cook at home.  But really it's just plain fun to share a special meal with family and friends.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

North Platte, Wind River, Big Horn

Gerry fishing on the North Platte upstream from the raft.

Synopsis: Spent a week fishing with Gerry Cox.  We started with a day and a half on the North Platte river at Gray Reef. Wade fished the dam the first day and floated from the dam to Lusby the second.   We stayed at Sloan's cabins in Alcova.  From there we drove overland through the Rattlesnake Hills to the Wind River at Boysen State Park.  That was about 60 miles of dirt through some rather beautiful sage country.  We wade fished the Wind in Boysen State Park for the afternoon and into the evening catching many large rainbows (18" to 24") on size 18 caddis.  We probably should never have left Boysen. We drove north, spending the night at the Greybull Historic Hotel (which I can recommend should you happen to pass through Greybull WY.)  Continued north, over the Big Horns and up into Montana.  We did a quick tour of the Little Bighorn Battlefield and then to Fort Smith on the Big Horn below the Yellowtail damn.  Stayed in a small but very new and clean room at the Bighorn Angler. It was an unbearable 98°F and we waited until almost 5PM to wade fish at the three mile access - and it was still brutally hot with icy water at about 47°F.  On the fourth of July we floated the Big Horn from Afterbay below the dam to 13 mile takeout at Bighorn.  The final day we floated the three miles from the Afterbay to the three mile takeout.  The fishing on the Big Horn was difficult and the average fish is nowhere near the size they were fifteen years ago, and we were not the only ones saying so.  We left Fort Smith at 2PM and were at home, sitting on the couch sipping bourbon, a bit after 9PM.

Gerry with a nice North Platte rainbow.
Dates - 30 June 2013 to 5 July 2013
Miles Driven: 1042
Miles Floated: 24 - Grey Reef to Lusby (8), Afterbay to Bighorn (13), Afterbay to Three Mile (3)
Longest Overland: 42.5 of dirt (Dry Creek Rd. Alcova WY to Gas Hills Rd. Riverton WY)
Best Sleep: Greybull Historic Hotel, Greybull, WY
Best Meal:  Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw, Up in Smoke BBQ, Buffalo WY
Weirdest Meal: Subway, Garryowen MT
Biggest Fish: 25" Rainbow - Wind River, Boysen State Park, Shoshoni WY
Coldest Water: 47°F - Big Horn River, Fort Smith, MT
Warmest Water: 66°F - Wind River, Boysen State Park, Shononi WY
Hottest Air Temp: 98°F - July 3rd, Fort Smith, MT

Wind River cutthroat - over 18"

Sunday, 30 June 2013

On Sighting In

Gerry sighting-in for elk season 9/29/10
Here's a really nice account of the procedure for mounting a scope and sighting in a rifle from friend Gerry.
Ask 3 people what you need to mount a scope and you'll get at least 3 answers.  This is my take on it; others may disagree.
Dunk the scope in hot water and see if any bubbles come up.  If not, it's waterproof.  Sigh with relief.
If you buy a decent quality gun and decent quality mounts, they probably will be aligned, so you won't need a lapping rod.  Alignment rods are sort of fun, but align them both ways, point to point and butt to butt.  A torque wrench is nice (I bought a Weaver one on sale), but if you just turn the scope screws tight with no more than thumb and finger, you don't really need one.  If you do decide you can't live w/o one, do find out what torque the manufacturer of that mount recommends.
I don't own a collimator, as most of my rifles are bolt actions (and I'm cheap).  My procedure is to center the reticule (very imp if a used scope; new Leupolds are typically centered*).  If you cut V notches in a cardboard carton, place the rifle in them, and remove the bolt, you can boresight the target.  Adjust the elevation and windage until the crosshairs are on target.  Test fire.  Holding the rifle steady and aiming at the bullseye again, move crosshairs until they are on the bullet hole.  Test fire again.  You should be close to point of aim.  Tweak until you're happy.  This will work with a No. 1:  just be sure to have the rifle high enough that you can drop the lever to see through the bore.  I often start at 50 yards to get on paper, then move to 100.
*Centering:  Turn a knob all the way until it stops.  Now turn it back all the way, counting the number of clicks.  Take half that number and turn it back; it's centered.  Now do the same for the other knob.
As you're hunting, not trying for a benchrest record, there's no particular reason to try various brands of ammo.  Sight in the Federals and use them.  If you can get a 1.5" group at 100 yards, you should be fine. Start with a clean dry barrel.  Some barrels throw the first shot from a clean barrel, then group nicely; if you have one of those, hunt with a fouled barrel.  Keep a journal each time you test or shoot for practice:  temp., wind, ammo, group sizes, etc.
And remember, this is supposed to be fun.

Gerry and I are off to fish the N. Platte and the Bighorn for a week.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Sportsman's Library

Steve Bodio's newest book is out, and it's great.  It is an erudite, idiosyncratic, personal catalog of one hundred sporting titles. At 256 + xvi pages, each title gets, on average, an 2.56 page description.  And what descriptions they are, one chapter for each of the hundred books.  Each description contains information on the author, a gloss of the content of the book and and Steve's reasons for including the book among among the hundred. He knows many of the living authors and that comes through in personal anecdotes about them.
Steve manages to pull together so many cultural and literary threads it's hard to imagine how he keeps them all in his head.

I was lucky enough to have been sent a preprint back in November - but I just got my bound copy today.  Aside from the pleasure of having a properly bound copy to hold in my hand, what I had not seen, was Malcolm Brooks' blurb on the back which is truly excellent.
"Nobody who loves traditional blood sport wants it's long literary line totally obfuscated by faux-gonzo, Wang-dang Nugents and gear-hawking carny barkers of cartoonish hunting shows.   Steve Bodio brings his formidable powers as both reader and writer to the cause, gifting us with a guide to the greats as varied, as magical, and yes, as essential as the works he champions."     -- Malcolm Brooks, author of Painted Horses 
When a pre-print arrived in my inbox I printed a copy and could not put it down.  I quickly ordered a couple of the rarest titles that I did not already own, figuring prices for some of these out of print books are going to go sky high. In an unscientific survey I just checked to verify my theory and it seems to me that prices on some titles are definitely up. I claim it's because Steve's book is now out.  In a shrewd moment I thought of cornering the market on Plummer's Tales of a Rat Hunting Man, which wouldn't have been all that hard at the time - now it is impossible. One copy is now listed at $673.76.  Prices on a few of the titles in the hundred have been out of sight for a long time -- I'm thinking of Jack O'Connor's  Hunting in the Southwest which I looked for again after reading Steve's description.

Steve's book won't help the price situation, though it may actually get some classics back in print.  I notice that one of the hundred, Saxton Pope's 1923 book  Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, a longtime favorite of mine, is recently back in print. I traded my own copy, an early printing, to a fanatic bow hunter in Virginia for a hind quarter of a whitetail he killed with his bow.  That meat was the beginning of my own long relationship with game meat; killing, butchering, cooking and feasting. I cooked and shared a memorable meal with friends, one of whom popped the cork on a 1974 Chateau Latour for the occasion.  But I always regretted not having my copy of Pope's book which I bought for five dollars in a used book and magazine store in Norfolk Virginia.

In our broader culture, the trend to dumb everything down to the lowest common denominator, to reach the largest possible audience, seems inexorable.   Steve refuses to participate in that trend.  A selection of books like this reveals as much about the selector as it does about the books themselves.  Taken as a whole, it represents a lifetime of scholarship. This book, and the books he recommends, provide a view into the mind of perhaps the deepest thinker about blood sport we have today.  Thank you Steve.

Buy Steve's book now!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

A Day on the Green

Leopard spotted brown. 
After working every day but one for the past month, I managed to take a day to fish the Green River on my drive home from a conference in Utah.  The Green River below the Flaming Gorge dam in Utah is a world class fishery.  There are reportedly 20,000 fish per mile and I believe it. The "A section" extends seven miles downstream from the Flaming Gorge dam to Little Hole.I'd planned to fish downstream from the dam access but I abandoned that plan because of the crowd.  Instead I drove downstream to the Little Hole access.  The parking lot there was nearly empty when I arrived at 9:30 AM.  It's the takeout for boats floating from the dam and by afternoon it is filled with trucks towing trailers that have been shuttled down during the day.

It turned out to be a very good day. Saddly, I was a week late for the Blue Winged Olive hatch, though a few olives did come off during the day. Even so, the fish were still keyed in on BWO nymphs, and I caught as many fish as I care to in a day. I know because I lost count. If I had to guess I landed 15 and hooked about twice that many.  None of the fish I landed was under 15" and none were over 20".  All of them took my Black Back Wet Dream.

BBWD tied on a size 20 Dai-Riki #135 hook - black flashback.
I tie this version of the WD on size 18-22 Dai_Riki #135 hooks.

Black Back Wet Dream (BBWD)
Hook: size 18-22 scud/pupa hook
Body:  olive or  brown olive thread
Tail: a few fibers from a Wood Duck  flank feather
Thorax: tan/brown dubbing
Wing Case:  Black Holo-Tinsel

In the pictured fly I used 70 denier brown olive Ultra thread, the thorax is SLF Spikey Dubbing in natural fox color and the wing case is black Holo Tinsel.   It is a synthesis of Mark Engler's original WD (wet dream) pattern with a flashier version of Randy Smith's Tyvek Baetis.  Engler's pattern was renamed the WD-40 by  Umpqua when they commercialised it - so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. I do not share their compuction. Many folks assume the WD stands for "wood duck".  Good marketing at work I guess.  Smith's pattern uses a wing case tied from Tyvek that has been colored black.  Mine uses black holo-tinsel.   Feel free to tie as many as you like, it's proving to be an amazingly effective pattern, but also, consider this post a copyright on the pattern should you want to commercialize it.

An eighteen incher.
The Green is primarily a brown trout fishery although I did catch some nice rainbows too, fat fish. These fish are heavily pressured and can be selective feeders.  The water is extraordinarily clear and good sized fish hang on the banks. You see many many of them as you hike up the trail.  It can be a frustrating experience for the tyro to fish to one of these large trout, clearly on the feed, in shallow water.  There is nothing more satisfying than taking one of these fish.  Once again, I complain that the fly shops are pushing the big flies to novices because so many fisherman are reluctant to fish the small flies.  The green has a good hatch of cicadas and a big black foam fly is a common pattern there.  Later in the summer there is good hopper fishing as well.  The fly shops are starting to push those flies though I did not see one cicada nor did I see any hoppers.

I met a man on the trial who I took to be from Oregon since he talked about fishing to spawning rainbows on the Williamson River. These are fish that run up out of Klamath Lake. He seemed somewhat disappointed with the Green in comparison. He said he'd done well the day before but he complained that he'd had to fish size 20 flies.  When I first met him he was fishing a cicada and when I saw him later had a streamer tied on.  By that time he'd had one hook-up.  Somewhat hopefully, he told me how he'd met someone the day before who frequently fishes the Green and who prefers to tie on an Adams or a Royal Coachman. A size 20 Adams would actually be a decent imitation of a BWO and there is a kind of local beetle with red/orange colouring. So who knows, maybe an Adams or a Royal Coachman would be just the ticket.  I expressed my doubts which prompted him to walk on.

Looking down into Little Hole on my way out at about five-thirty.

The Green is a great river.  I caught it yesterday at an in between stage, after the BWO hatch but before the summer hatches.   I promise myself that next year I will catch the BWO hatch.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Wanted: A Blue Winged Olive Hatch

A wild brown that took a BWO imitation.

It's that time of year when the Blue Winged Olive hatch should be on.  I spent Sunday seeking the hatch but did not find it.  I drove around to Six Mile Gap on the Upper North Platte and discovered it was too muddy to fish.  Maybe not too muddy, but muddier that I wanted to deal with.  Lesson learned: check the N. Platte at the State Line Ranch bridge before driving another 12 miles north to six mile gap.  The  muddy run off was from a snow storm that had hit the N. Platte River Valley but did not leave us a drop of snow on the other side of the Snowy Range.  I drove back to fish the Laramie River not far from my home.  The ice is off but the water is clear and low. These are not the easiest conditions for fishing there.  The Laramie is a wild brown trout fishery and can offer fantastic fishing - but just as often, for me anyway, it can be a bust.  In fact, I can not think of another river that has fished as inconsistently for me as the Laramie.

The day was cool and intermittently overcast with fast scudding clouds which occasionally dropped a mixture of rain and sleet and sometimes a rush of snow which was gone in another minute. Textbook conditions for a Spring Baetis hatch.  The Blue Winged Olives are the first mayflies to hatch in the season.  They are magnificent little mayflies with bluish gray wings and olive/brown bodies.  Unfortunately, the hatch was not to be.

I did have a good afternoon.  I caught six (or seven?) beautiful wild brown trout in a bit more than three hours. The largest (shown above) was just under 18" but the fish were more commonly around 14".  All but two of the fish took a WD40 tied on a size 18 DaiRiki #135 hook.  I've been tying the WD40 with a wood duck tail and a body of 70 denier olive/brown UTC thread. Compared to the old standard Uni-thread the UTC thread colors are both nuanced and rich. The thorax is dubbed with SLF Spikey Dubbing in the Natural Fox color.  The wing case is black Holo Tinsel.  The distinctive thing about the WD40 is the oversize "globular" thorax.   Of the two fish that did not take the WD40, one fancied a skinny orange rock worm and another took a gold bead caddis.  I have to say that every time I brought one in on the WD40 I was surprised to see the fish had not taken the more colorful fly of the pair.  The BWO's may not have been hatching but the fish seem keyed into a good imitation of the BWO nymph/emerger.  That has me thinking the hatch is on, I just missed it.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

The flush is on at the Reef and the rainbows are in.

Biggest fish of the day.
BLM started the Spring flush below the Gray Reef dam on March 22nd.  At midnight they start increasing the flow to 5000 CFS and by 3 AM they start dropping it back down to 500 CFS. By 10AM, about the time we arrived yesterday, everything appears to be completely normal.  This release schedule ends today, March 31st. The flush is a great thing for the trout habitat - and this is why they do it - to flush out fine sediment that builds up in gravelly spawning beds.  If there is not free flow of water through the gravel the eggs do not survive. Before the dams were in place, runoff flowed free in June and performed a natural flush, clearing out accumulated slit. The management of dam flows strictly to satisfy downstream water users is a quick way to ruin a river.    This is how the once great fishery on the Henry's Fork of the Snake was destroyed - or nearly so if you read the Island Park flyshop pages.  On the Henry's Fork, flow from the dams was dictated by downstream irrigation needs. Winter/spring flushes to simulate the natural flush of runoff were perceived as a waste of good water.  This nearly killed the Henry's Fork.  Annual flushing flows were started on the North Platte in 1995 and since then, trout populations have grown from 400 to 3500 per mile.  Before the flush this year they drained the Gray Reef holding reservoir so they could inspect the gates on the dam.  That dumped a lot of sediment into the river, and along with it, a lot of aquatic worms and midge larvae.

Rock Worms - tied on a DaiRiki 135 #16 with Danville 70 denier red thread wrapped over two strands of  UTC micro orange stretch tubing, and coated with Sally Hansen Hard as Nails..
From a macro point of view, the flushing flows keep the river healthy from year to year and increases trout populations. From a micro point of view, fishing during the flush is a different game than it is at other times.  In mid-February, and throughout much of the regular fishing year, even when the flows are high, midges are hot.   A Mercury Midge (or some variant of it) is my goto fly.  The flush is churning up the rich sediment that was dumped into the river.  I started yesterday with a Rock Worm and a midge on the point and
I did not get one hit on a midge - neither did Jeff.  As I've never seen it before red was the fly color of the day.  If I was a better naturalist I would have thought to pump the stomach on one of the fish I caught to see what they were feeding on. I'd bet money they were stuffed with annelids - or were they stuffed with midge larvae?  Most of the fish, including my biggest fish of the day, took a smaller worm pattern  which was tied on a size 16 Dai Riki 135 hook.  By the way, the biggest fish I caught  22" and it was the largest one I've managed to catch for some time at Gray Reef.  The flush and the pending spawn are bringing bigger fish up to the dam.

I have often been resistant to fishing worm patterns, but yesterday, to match the hatch, a worm was de riguer.  It's pretty much the only thing I could get any fish to look at though I did hook two on a green leech. The red "rock worm" is a standard pattern at Gray Reef and it produces fish on a regular basis.  Some guys fish almost nothing else.  During the spawn, a worm is often teamed with an egg - this rig is commonly referred to "Bacon and Eggs."  The standard Gray Reef Rock Worm pattern is usually tied in a larger size than the ones shown above.  Yesterday, with the fish so keyed in on red, I eventually rigged up with with a larger rock worm above the smaller one on the point.

On the web you can find the Rock Worm pattern referred to as a San Juan Worm; this just shows an unfortunate ignorance (or indifference) to fly pattern history and nomenclature.  Unfortunately this usage seems to be taking hold - I talked to someone yesterday at the Reef who had a Rock Worm tied on and told me he was fishing a San Juan Worm.   For those who may not know, a San Juan Worm is a fly pattern developed on the San Juan river in NM.  It is a bit of ultra-chenille tied on a hook. It looks nothing like the N. Platte Rock Worm.  Personally, if I ordered half a dozen San Juan Worms and a package of Rock Worms showed up instead (or vice versa) I'd be miffed.  Not all worm patterns are San Juan Worms.

I've always been a bit puzzled as to why the Rock Worm is such a popular pattern at the Reef.  Sure it brings in some good fish throughout the year - but so will a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear nymph. I caught my largest trout ever (measured at 27") on a GRHE drifted deep on the south side of the Gray Reef dam. I suspect it was taken for a crane fly larva. A day like yesterday is not enough to convince me that a Rock Worm is always the way to go at the reef - but I could see how some people might get that idea.  It seems to be common knowledge that the flush is a good time to fish and so it was as crowded yesterday as I've seen it in a long time.  That means a lot of people got the rock worm message.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Fishing the Wind River Canyon

A nice rainbow caught in the Wind River canyon.
The Wind River starts up high near the summit of Togwotee pass, flows south and east through Doubois WY and then into Boysen Reservoir.  From Boysen reservoir it flows north into the Wind River canyon.  After exiting the canyon, at the "wedding of the waters" it becomes the Big Horn river which flows north through Thermopolis WY and into Montana eventually to flow into the Missouri.  

For about a mile (maybe less) after the Wind flows out of Boysen Reservoir and just before it drops into the  canyon proper, it flows through Boysen State Park.  In the state park a WY fishing license is all you need. Once past the park, the river flows on the Wind River reservation which is the home of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.  To fish or hike in the canyon (or anywhere on the reservation) you need a Tribal Fishing/Trespass license plus a $5 conservation stamp. For WY residents the license costs $20/day, $50/7days and $80/year - non-residents pay $25, $75 and $125.  I purchased a yearly permit at the Fast Lane in Shoshoni.  Last year I tried to buy a permit on a Sunday in Thermopolis - no can do.

Looking upstream - I am bringing in a nice fish.
Starting around noon I fished a deep run low in the canyon for a couple of hours in the sun, the air temperature was around 50F.  I hooked up pretty consistently on a size 12 bead-head pheasant tail.  In an hour and a half or so I managed to land five nice fish and hooked up with another five I did not bring to hand.    I fished further upstream later in the day - after the sun had disappeared in the clouds - and was frustrated to not hook up again.

A smaller rainbow in beautiful form.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Superbowl Sunday on the Reef.

The day was indeed warm for early February - the thermometer bumping 50F.  It was breezy all day with an occasional real gust, but never so bad that you felt like it was just crazy to be on the water.   I got there at 10:30 and fished until 4:30.   Six hours of fishing and five of driving.  My rule for a successful day trip (which does not always obtain)  is that there should be more fishing than driving.

The last two times I've fished the reef I've done well with a green leech pattern followed with a midge dropper.  Of course I started with that rig and before long I'd hooked up with a decent rainbow.  Somehow hooking and landing that first fish is always a relief, it's a kind of confirmation, and a day seems to flow more seamlessly after that.

The river is very low (500 cfs) and so, with a bit of boldness, I was able to wade our to a spot I've never made it to before.  From the far side of the dam I was able to follow a rocky edge out to a spot where I was almost directly downstream from the left edge of the dam.  The position was a bit precarious and the flow was a bit stronger and the water a bit deeper out there than I like it in such cold water - but I was able to reach a lot of fish from there. The 11 foot five weight switch rod is just about perfect for this fishing. I can cast it significantly farther than I can a 9' eight weight and certainly far further than I can cast a 9 foot 5 weight.  Once the fly is on the water, the long rod provides amazing line control.  I cast it single handed style all day.  After using an 11 footer, a 9 foot rod feels like a tiny wand.  And it does very nicely in the wind - somehow that extra length allows me to really punch a line into the wind.  It was Superbowl Sunday  and by 2 PM I was the only on the river besides one other fellow who showed up and fished for about twenty minutes before leaving. I spent as much time as I could fishing that spot before I was too cold and needed to warm up in the truck. More than once I'd noticed two larger fish sporadically but actively feeding in shallower water on either side of the main flow.

Although I've seen it many times, there is always something truly astounding about seeing the mottled back of a trout as it slowly emerges from the surface of the water, fin standing high, the fish slowly arcing up and then back down. Not apparently in a hurry at all.  The sun was just right to expose a brightly colored flank just before the fish slipped seamlessly back into the water - quietly disappearing as if it had never been there.

Around 1 PM I  recharged in the truck in full gear with heater running full blast to warm my icy feet. I downed a surprisingly good bacon and egg burrito from Sloane's.  With warm feet and a full stomach I waded back out to my precarious perch on the edge of the main current with the intention of catching those two larger fish.  They were still feeding.  They were undoubtedly smutting; exclusively feeding on midges. I knew that - but my recent successes with the leech pattern paired with conversation in local fly shops had me wanting to take them with anything but a midge.

The loneliness of manning a fly shop counter mid-winter has these guides anxious for conversation, but in those conversations I have often found them disdainful of (my) small fly tactics. In the coarser shop, the recommendation for the reef in winter is  "bacon and eggs" i.e. a San Juan worm with an egg pattern for a dropper.  I'd talked to Trent at the reef fly shop briefly the last time I was up and told him about my (surprising to me) success with a green leech pattern, his response was something to the effect that - "Yes, at this time of year they like something chunky to bite on."  In general, except perhaps on the San Juan, fly shops are generally loath to recommend small flies - or if they do, they are at the bottom of the recommendation list.  Most people don't want to fish a size 24 fly, and even less do they care to tie one on. And besides, most of the guides who man the counters  fish from drift boats where a larger fly might actually do better on average. Tiny flies are most successful when paired with a drag free drift and the occasional induced movement done just so - not always easily accomplished from a moving boat.  A bigger fly is certainly easier to tie on and a single large fly is far less prone to tangle in the wind. As a guide this is important.   At the reef they mostly push an inch long red "rock worm" and perhaps a squirrel strip streamer and an egg.  Of course these patterns catch fish, but not a trout selectively feeding on small midges.

Anyway, I tried almost everything before I tied on what I knew those bigger fish were taking. This was cold work - constantly re-rigging in thigh deep faster water.  Neither of those fish would be fooled by anything larger - at least not by me. I already knew the green mohair leech was of no interest.  Forget a black woolly bugger. I have a beautiful bead head caddis pupae pattern with a pale yellow translucent body.  It was of no interest.  Valadi's worm was unanimously rejected. A small bright red midge larva did not interest them at all, and neither did a scud pattern tied with CDC legs. I tried swinging a white marabou streamer through the water near them and got nothing.  This last failure surprised me because it has proved so effective in the past - even sometimes on smutting trout. 

It was a classic smutting trout situation - they were uninterested in anything but the midges they were keyed on and I knew it the whole time.  Those fish below the dam are hit very hard all year and with the water so low they are  very exposed.  Eventually, feet nearly frozen, I tied on what I knew they wanted. I managed to hook them both on a size 24  foam wing RS2.  (To be fair - I just now see this very fly is near the bottom of the list of recommended flies on the Reef fly shop pages.) In the water, that tiny white dot wing on the RS2 is astoundingly visible.  The larger of the two was feeding in a shallow spot closer to the middle of the river. It was a long cast and harder to get a good drift out there. I only managed to get him to take my fly once - had him on for a second and that put him down for the rest of my day.  I did not see him again. I did managed to the land the other fish after the subtlest take you could ever imagine.  That was very satisfying. It was a rainbow that I will generously say was 18" in length. 

The RS2 really turned out to be the fly of the day - fished upstream or across, dead drift with a occasional twitch to induce the take. This is a variant of the good old Leisenring lift - or something like it - on a fly fished a long way out under a thing-a-ma-bobber. I did not keep count but I believe I hooked and landed a dozen fish and most of those took the RS2.  Interestingly I had a small black bodied silver beadhead midge above the RS2 and it hooked only one fish - an 8" rainbow.  All but one of the fish I caught were rainbows and the one brown was snagged in the belly on a drift through a hole that was obviously holding him and others.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

He's everywhere.

Back covers of recent issues of The Drake, Fly Rod and Reel and Flyfish Journal..
Heroic nymphing master Yvon Chouinard graces the back covers of all the current fly fishing rags.  Seems a bit silly really.  I just traded in an SST jacket of the same vintage as the one Chouinard is wearing in the photo. I can pretty much guarantee that, like mine, the one in the photo is not waterproof anymore.  On the other hand, Patagonia gave me $240 for a 20 year old jacket towards a new one in the trade so I certainly can't complain.  These ads are selling the new Patagonia river crampons and rock grip wading boots. Having spent a lot of time walking around in the mountains wearing crampons (with points on them) I am sure that these new river crampons will work great - if only they weren't so pricey.  I do wonder what effect these new boots and crampons may eventually have on the river bottoms of heavily fished destinations like the North Platte, the Green, the San Juan and the Bighorn.  Hundreds of fishermen a month, thousands in a year, scuffling around in these things may tend to polish things up a bit. You can see the effects hobnail boots had if you climb a classic old route in the Alps. These are aluminum, not steel, but still a far cry from felt.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Cold day on the Platte

A nice rainbow that took the green leach pattern.
Spent a good day on the Platte yesterday with Jeff.  New license, patched waders, new wading jacket, first day out this new year.    For some reason, my feet were damn cold almost all day though the patched waders did not leak! Maybe I needed a warmer hat! Temps may have reached 40F but it felt cold to me all day. It was windy off and on with the occasional welcome calms but at other times there were serious gusts - strong enough that most non-Westerners anglers would sensibly call it a day. With a flow of 500 CFS the water was as low as I believe I have ever seen it. The Gray Reef holding reservoir is essentially empty. It was easy to cross the river below the dam at a number of spots going no deeper than mid-thigh.

A nice rainbow in Jeff took with the leech.
While the midges were actively hatching mid-afternoon a bead head midge pattern was a good bet.  Mid-morning when the fishing was slower I thought that perhaps something bigger than a size 22 midge might stir them to take.  I tied on a green leech pattern which Garrett had used so successfully on a similar day a few years ago.  As soon as I tied it on (with a midge dropper for good luck) I started hooking up regularly - with a slow drift though the deeper holes.  About 2/3 of the takes were on the leech though some fish still preferred the midge.   Sometimes it is hard to believe how the right patter at the right time can make such a difference.  I gave Jeff one and he did very well with it all day.

This was one that was working best.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Pheasant Rillettes

Found a couple of freezer burned pheasants in the bottom of the freezer when I cleared it to make some space for the elk this year.  I know - how could I let this happen.  I thawed them out and trimmed until I was left with a handful of good looking meat.  I mashed some thyme, salt and black pepper, rubbed it on the meat and confited it in duck fat.  Slow cooked them all day in the oven at 225F.  Put it in the fridge and left for Portland.  When I got back - I chopped it fine, put in a bit more salt - a lot more pepper - a sprinkle of cayenne - and a bit more thyme and put it in a jar in the fridge.  Had some last night - not bad at all for two year old pheasant.