Saturday, May 2, 2015

Change of plans: a carp and the high water mark dance

Even the best of planned fishing trips can result in the need for spontaneity. A couple weekends ago my family took a trip visit some friends. Naturally we (er, I) stretched it as long as we (I) could and worked in some fishing (of course!). I towed the MiniFly down with the expectation spending a couple days floating the lower portion of the upper Yellowstone. I went so far as to spend half a day exploring put-ins and take-outs. But despite having been fishable for a string of several weeks, recent warm weather brought a surge of meltwater and sediment to the stream as low elevation snow faded from mountain flanks. Sampling a few spots on the bank while exploring resulted in only two or three hits.
Yellowstone backwater brown

One of those was a fine 19-inch brown that fell to a 3-inch plastic jig - the only fish I landed from the Yellowstone when originally I had planned to spend the entire weekend on that river. So after conferring with my fishing buds Mark and Travis for the following day, a 'plan B' was developed and we took the Stealthcraft out to the Bighorn.  The warming trend abruptly ended - bluebird sky, icy wind, and high pressure took over as we arrived. The fishing was probably about as slow as you'll see on the Bighorn.
There were three of us in the boat, and over the course of the day we each managed to land about five. There were a couple big fat rainbows just shy of 20 inches and several skinny little browns. One of the treats of the day was a hatch that took off in the afternoon which resulted in the first several dry fly catches of 2015. The surprise fish of the day was a carp that picked up a marabou Zig Jig where a beefy
Mark's dry fly monster
brown should have been. For about 20 seconds I thought we had beat the odds and connected with a trophy brown. The first glimpse I got flashed the right color, but something wasn't right proportionally. An awesome battle ensued and lots of grins were had. It was the gear-testing drag-peeling break in the non-action that we needed to help finish out the rest of the float. And with none of the urgency present that's always hanging in the air when a large trout is on board and ready for release, we took our time for some pictures, passed it around to guess the weight, put it on some scales, and then send it back to where it had come from. Poor fishing or not, what better way to spend the day than floating a famous Montana river with good friends.
Mark Johnson's photo of the Bighorn carp

As anticipated the Yellowstone was in no better shape the following day. If anything, it was probably worse.  This time, down to just two anglers, Travis and I left the boat in the driveway and headed toward a favorite stream of ours. A quick glance at a USGS hydrograph showed its flows stable and unchanged over the past few weeks. It is a river that does not receive much pressure, but could, and rightfully should, but for whatever reason remains largely undiscovered - or maybe just undesired. The scenery is fantastic Montana backdrop. In my opinion better than the Bighorn. The stream itself the kind of water that really appeals to me
sometimes. Typically deep and sluggish, the earthen banks often
tube sock brown as seen by my gorillapod tripod
vertical, the water somewhat silty. Baitfish are probably as common a forage as insects, and rarely do you ever see fish feeding on top. It certainly has its classic gravel stretches and rocky reaches, but for much of its course it doesn't fit the classic picture-definition of a freestone trout stream, although it is one in every sense of the word. It is not unknown by any means, and I've even seen it featured on a TV show. Like many Montana streams, access to it is hard due to surrounding private ownership. We planned the trip between public access points and spent the day doing the "Montana high water mark square dance" (keeping it between the lines and connecting the squares of public ownership).

"Hike your waders, cinch your belt. Come on now let's use your felt. 
Crossing here must be done, jump on in lets have some fun. 
To walk the bank would break the law, but gotta hit that hole I saw.  
Grab your partner and swing him round, quickly now he's going down.  
Cast on in and hook a trout, while he's a-workin' gettin' out."

Stream access law in Montana is a beautiful thing. So many other states have lost access to valuable natural resources which are our nation's waterways.

typical solid fish for the day
Weather conditions were on the mend from what we'd fished on the Bighorn but were not yet perfect. Being a smaller body of water, and therefore not as subject to the whims of weather, we hoped for more action than the previous day.  We hiked down a fishable tributary from a bridge through a patch of state land and dropped onto the main river. The hole where this tributary enters is one of the largest on this stretch of river. It has produced well on previous trips and was therefore the natural starting point. But on previous trips we had never had the time to explore all the way through to the next bridge crossing. So despite this being a favorite river to fish, we spent the bulk of the day fishing new water to both of us. The action could not be described as hot, but it was coming fast enough that you anticipated in every hole. I started the day off in that very first hole with a 19-and-a half-inch brown. Not to be out done that early in the day Travis proceeded to land a 20 inch brown from the opposite bank of the same hole. Those were the two biggest fish of the day. We only caught a few small ones, most were solid browns in the 15 to 18 inch range. Whatever Travis did with his presentation was appealing to whitefish. He landed half a dozen of those while I never hooked the first one. The browns picked up jigs and swiped at  Rapala countdowns. Two of them even came up and took a big number 11 floater off the surface like a summer time bass. That stream is begging to be moused....
Another fine brown

Two days of Montana fishing. Neither day was spent on water that had been planned originally. Fish came on nymphs, dry flies, jigs, and plugs. Four species of fish were brought to hand. Dirty water was avoided, clear water was found. Miles were logged across prairie and over mountain, by boat and on foot. What more could be asked?

Great fish to end on

No comments:

Post a Comment