Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rapala Roof Rescue

The kids were playing in the yard, waiting for me to unlock the truck so we could load up and head off to school.  A beloved stuffed animal, more or less a bean bag in the form of a cat, was being tossed up in the air to pass the time.  Just as I was shutting the front door and turning my key to lock it, I saw the cat - practically in slow motion - take a trajectory that was undoubtedly bound for the roof.

Two stories up, the bean bag thumped on metal.

If we didn't leave inside of ten minutes, we'd all be late.  Rain clouds hung low and heavy.  My daughter, to whom the animal belonged, was melting into a puddle of first grader dispair in the front yard. My son, who'd made the last toss, was apologizing profusely to her - whether he meant it sincerely or was hoping to avoid a beating, one can't be sure.  Maybe both.

I told them to hop in the truck, we'd have to get it later. We'd just moved into the house within the past few months and I knew I didn't own a ladder yet that was tall enough to let me climb on the roof.  It's on the list. I briefly considered driving around to the back of the house where the roof is lower and placing the ladder I do have into the bed of the truck.  That would work, but would eat more time than I had.  Getting this cat wasn't at all necessary, but if I could snap my fingers and get it down right then the day was sure to be sent down a better path than the one it was currently on.

Ideas were coming into my head and being dismissed just as quickly.  The clock was ticking. The truck was running. Tears were flowing.  Rain was just starting to fall. I hated to think of the plush toy soaking up there all day till I could get to it after work.

I did what any angler will do when he needs to solve life's problems -  I thought of my fishing gear. I stepped into my garage, selected a spinning rod off the wall rack, and dug into the pockets of one of the gear bags on the shelf above. I first considered a fly rod for the accuracy and swiftness of repeat casts, but decided trebles and a weightless line would be better.  I tied on a #11 Rapala.  It had already been customized to have only the two rear trebles and the barbs removed - I wanted a nice friendly 'catch-and-release.'

The kids slid out of the truck and gathered around me when they saw the rod.  My daughter was already smiling and laughing and proclaiming the cat as good as rescued.  I warned it might have to wait till evening if I didn't get it right away.

Missed the first shot.  Lined it with the second. Hooked it on the third. Hopped it over the gutter and dropped it into the yard. My son would have preferred I used 'the Force,' but I'd done the next best thing in my book.

For about two seconds I held somewhat of a superhero status, but then it quickly faded back to normal and we were off to school.  Kids under 8 or 9 just expect the supernatural from their dads. No biggie - another catastrophe averted, another threat to civilization squelched.  I blew the smoke from the muzzle of my fishing rod and holstered it into the passenger seat of the truck. Always travel with fishing gear and keep the skills sharp - you never know when you are going to need them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

At the end was a rainbow, or two.

After a day of field work I found myself within 10 miles of a nice little tailwater I like to hit on occasion. It's always well worth the stop. And if I have time I like to hike a distance below the dam. It's a river I find buffalo bones in sometimes, remnants of
bygone days melting away with time. Once I came across a nearly complete skull. The river is not known as a trout fishery, except maybe in the extreme headwaters. Before today I hadn't personally seen any there. It's hardly known as a fishery at all for that matter. Somewhat obscure, but not unknown.

There was only about an hour of daylight remaining when I parked near the water - and I had walleye on my mind. But I have taken pike here as well and thought I might find some this evening. Actually, with the temps in the upper twenties and barely any time before dark, I knew I'd be happy with anything. Heck, even just a chance to walk along icy waters under cobalt-blue Montana sky on a strangely windless winter evening was reward enough for the effort made to carve time from the day.

I headed straight to a spot I anticipated would produce some walleye action and worked the hole hard with light line and one of my long nine-and-half foot rods. I rotated through meaty jigs and various retrieves.


Resigned to slow action, I started working my way along, picking apart little pieces of structure.

Still nothing.

I crossed in a shallow riffle and hiked a ways downstream to a long, slow, deeper hole where I've caught northern pike in trips past. I worked it till the sun was very gone. I stowed my rod in my waist pack and started hiking back upstream.

When I got to the riffle where I had crossed I couldn't bring myself to leave. So I continued upstream in the twilight covering water I had casted to earlier, but now from the opposite bank where I could reach it better. In a swifter run, one I hadn't really casted to all that much before when thinking of walleye, I picked up my first hit.

The hookset was into SOLID fish. The slow, muscular, bulldogish thrashing without-really-going-anywhere gave me visions of a big walleye. The broad red sides were a complete surprise. Disappointment of it not being a walleye wore off very quickly as I slipped my thumb and finger around the tail of the mature buck rainbow - a tail square and stout enough to grip like a baseball bat. I was in awe of the huge trout that I'd never even suspected was there.

After a quick couple photos and sending it back on its way I started working that seam more intently with a new focus. Within only the next cast or two I hooked into a second. Spunkier and smaller, it was no surprise this go-round to see the pink cheeks of another mature rainbow, this time a chunky hen.  I would have been equally in awe of this one if it hadn't been dwarfed by the first.  An owl landed on a spindly limb overhead and watched with what seemed like keen interest. When the show was over and the fish was swimming away, he flew off.

I could not help but continue to work that run to the head of the hole. I pushed the feathery ice out of my guides and resumed casting to the water that was becoming nearly impossible to see. I really wasn't set up to fish in the dark, but with fish like those I had to see if there were more. But they were the only two to strike. I had been fortunate enough to stick them both and land each of them for pictures. My fingers had been frozen earlier, but now, despite sliding my gloves off to handle the fish and rinsing my hands in the frigid water, I was thoroughly warm. And completely satisfied.

Once again, making sure to Always Travel With Fishing Gear had paid off. The key was being there and simply trying, with confidence and persistence. An unexpected trophy had been waiting in lonely winter waters. And like always, I now know more about a river than I did before.