Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fishing the Earthquake

I've always liked how fishing serves as a gateway to experiences. It's a reason to go somewhere. It's a reason to get out of the car. It's a reason to choose one hike over another. It's a reason to be outside in places and at times you may not otherwise have gone or been there. And when there, you often get to witness things you wouldn't have experienced or seen otherwise.
Sunset over the house a couple hours before the quake.

This week I had the pleasure of being one of the few -  if not the only - fishermen to be picking my way along the river's edge when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake jostled the region at 12:30am. I did not know how widely it had been felt in that moment, so I noted the time on my watch and planned to look it up later to learn the details. But as dawn glowed on the horizon and I found myself driving back into cell range, my phone began dinging with various alerts and updates about it - when it happened, how big it was, where the epicenter was, check my structures, report gas leaks, etc.  Social media was plastered with people's stories of surprise, shock, and general uneasiness. It had provided a good scare back in civilization.

This caught me off guard because I'd been pretty intrigued and felt fortunate, I'd even say lucky, to have gotten to experience it. Maybe it is the geological background I have, or just my built-in awe and curiosity of natural things, but I enjoyed myself. I wasn't ready for it to be over when it ended.

Before this, I'd felt only one other earthquake - and it was one of those where you had to talk yourself into believing you'd felt it. That was on a visit to California years ago. For this Montana quake I was perched on a kitchen table-sized rock slogging waterlogged mice to nocturnal browns. They whoosh through the air and splat on the surface of the water, the jet trail of spray sometimes dripping down on you. My mouse had just landed and was waiting to be brought to life. The moonlight was glinting off the curve of the rings as the ripples spread outward.

I heard the roar first.

The senses are heightened when fishing in the night. I may not have heard it as early as I did had it been daytime. I quit working my fly and just listened to the odd noise that had caught my attention and was sweeping my direction.  It was distinctly traveling toward me from the direction of where I would later learn the epicenter was, further west of my location in Lewis and Clark County near the town of Lincoln.

The sound was kind of reminiscent of serious wind in trees, or a distant waterfall - but the sound wasn't traveling on the breeze so to speak.  The noise was beyond the trees, deeper than the hillsides. It came from within the ground.   Kind of like when a passing train rattles the walls of a building and the bricks hum. Then my knees buzzed a little and I began to guess what it was.

The motion set in next. Nothing so intense that it messed with my balance, but it did make me look around for something to grab just in case. Small rocks cascaded off the cliffs above me here and there. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them bouncing down like a passing animal had set some loose rubble tumbling.

I glanced around  in the moonlight and judged I was in a good spot - not too close to any steep slopes or potential path of falling debris. I was on a slight rise with a bench above me which probably put me out of reach of anything but the largest rollers. I was free to stand there and soak the experience in. Not many people were outdoors, let alone standing in darkness with all senses on high alert. It was like the geology class field trip that could never be planned.

on the road to the water
The rollers didn't come. Nothing big jostled loose. The earth just moaned and throbbed as some crustal adjustment took place. A few aftershocks followed. I think I missed some while walking, but one was nearly as strong as the initial quake, only shorter lived. The shaking during the quake and the aftershocks created the sensation of floating, like I was hovering over the water's edge.

I can't say it improved the fishing. Things were slower than normal, but I was exploring a new spot and didn't really know what to expect. I missed three takes on the mouse and did battle with a beefy fourth for a little while before losing it. It had taken as I swam the mouse downstream behind a boulder - an easy-going but decisive slurp followed by an impressive eruption of foam and whitewater. After stripping some line from the reel it came off when it changed direction and came back my way. I'd hoped to land it and have a picture of a brown from the night of the quake. But either way, I can always say I was fishing during the earthquake.

I do wonder if it affected other wildlife though. I bumped into several deer near the water when normally I don't see any. And on the way out in my truck I saw a herd of elk congregated in a field in the dusky pre-dawn light. It was in an area I rarely see elk, and there were over a hundred of them in this clearing. I laughed to myself and thought how their fire drills at school had paid off - they all made it safely to the rendezvous point just like they'd practiced.
Makes me hope there's another earthquake this fall during hunting season....

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Time well wasted: a daddy-daughter day

One trip, two perspectives

My soon to be eight-year old daughter and I took a day trip over the continental divide and into new trout country to us.  We'd planned to do so when school ended for the summer. The premise was fishing. The idea was to explore new creeks and look for some dry fly action. It didn't really go all that well from my perspective, at least as viewed through the lens of my expectations. I'd planned to write about the trip and took mental notes in preparation. I had essentially scrapped the idea late in the day, thinking there really wasn't much to tell -  and then found that my daughter had already written about the trip. She'd captured the day's events in a little notebook in the back seat of the truck. Eight short pages of dedicated second-grade scrawl made over bumpy roads. Fresh insight into her day, and how she'd seen it through something other than my expectations.

We left the gas station with freshly washed windows, streaked in the places she couldn't reach very well.  She loves to wash the windows of my truck anytime I'm pumping gas.  Doesn't matter the weather.  She tore into the little treat we'd bought from the candy racks and shared a bite with me.

Beside me in the front seat our fly rods rattled and buzzed.  She had a new one that was all her own.  Ratty Montana road maps used to the point of falling apart lay under them. Leaving the house had been delayed when at first I couldn't find these maps. Our waist packs were on the floor boards with the fly gear for the day stuffed into them.  Her little purple bag contained a box full of "the pretty ones" she'd selected from my fly boxes earlier that morning.

When the pavement gave way to dirt and we found ourselves in the cloud of dust kicked up by the farm truck in front of us she announced from the back seat "Wasn't very useful to wash the windows!"

As the road began to wind more tightly and rose above the valley floor, she spotted an elk "before dad."  To celebrate I pulled over and got my binoculars out so she could glass it.  Eventually one became four.

Further down the road and back out onto some pavement we came to a halt behind some cowboys moving a herd.  It's pretty common to sit for a while as a road - even main roads - become the thoroughfare for a rancher to switch pastures.

The first creek we tried was so tiny by the time we hit Forest Service it wasn't worth it. We didn't break the rods out, but my daughter was immediately out the door of the truck and bombing off into the brush downstream. I'd yet to take the keys out of the ignition. We crossed to a tiny island. We analyzed some of last fall's buck rubs. Took note of a pile of moose droppings. And then she picked a sample of every wild flower represented in that little valley.

At the next stop on the other side of the mountain she added more flowers - and a handful of snails plucked from rocks in the stream - to the ever-growing bouquet.  To hold it all she filled a water bottle in the creek and stuffed them into it. The snails took to climbing the stems and sticking to the walls of the bottle.

We spent some time casting at this stop.  And really it was our best fishing of the day - room to cast, clear water, hatching bugs, etc. Saw a couple fish, but had no action. I moved us on because this water was relatively big, and I was convinced we could find a small creek loaded with eager fish.

But we didn't find it.
Mostly we found swollen streams full of snow melt. Or No Trespassing signs. Or streams choked so full of dogwoods and willows there wasn't any room for a beginner to enjoy themselves. Then, at our final stream, a powerful storm set in, and rained us back to the truck with soggy jackets. We were out of time. Even at that, we pulled over at another spot or two on the way home, but the rain was still more than convenient to venture out into.

Oh well, we'd had a good day. We had explored. We'd eaten our packed lunches. We'd seen wildlife. We'd laughed. We'd shared moments of me carrying her across streams, untangling her fly line, fetching it from trees, and soaking in rainstorms.

Still, I was bummed. I felt like we'd bounced from place to place, never finding the right fit. It wasn't what I'd envisioned. We never even had a hit, and had spent far less time fishing than I'd intended. The idea of writing up a blog post to showcase our long awaited day seemed distant and unlikely.

But then she read aloud the first several pages of what she'd written as we rolled down the highway with rain drumming on the roof. She's always writing stuff down. Making lists. On this trip she'd recorded every animal we'd seen or had noted sign of. She planned to "study" the trout. She drew a picture of me casting a fly - then later changed it to show me casting in a rainstorm. But her journal entry about the trip showed me that more had happened than a botched fishing trip. The outing still contained all the other elements we'd set out to find. The comradarie. The daddy daughter time. The outdoors.

Here is her story, in her words and creative spelling, without prompting or translation from me. It's not that much different from my own account, but it's freer, untainted by expectations or other measures of what define success. Emphasis doesn't differ from breakfast to flowers to fish or sightings of wildlife.  Fishing was just the instigator.  The trigger that caused the adventure to happen.

"Me and Dad desided to go on a flyfishing trip together.  We woke up, ate breakfast, and got dressed. Then we couldn't find the maps.  Finally we found them behind the seat in the car. Then we started going but, it was a very long long drive. On the way I spoted my first elk that I saw first.
I looked through banoculers to see what animal it was. I was glad it was on private land so it wouldn't get shot. I hope it stays. Also on the way we stoped in moose, deer, and elk country and I found lots of pretty flowers and I kept them. And on the way there back from visiting moose, elk, and deer country in the spot I saw my first elk there was four elk and a little farther there was three deer.

We're almost there over and over sang me.
We saw lots of animals. We tried blackfoot river and then dad said he had a close one so we started to go there then after a while we stopped.  Dad was trying to figure out where we were on the map. Then we kept going.

Ad - we found snail shells at blackfoot river.

When we got there we ate some snacks then went and fished but barely. Then it started to rain. First we thought it was fine but then harder so we put are rain jackets on then it rained harder so we started back. On the way we stopped and fished a little. When we got to the truck we were soaked. Then we got in the truck and ate snacks then we desided to go to another creek.  When we got there we didn't fish cause it was raining hard and there was thunder and lightning. So we planned to go home. So we started to go then dad spotted a elk. I didn't see but I spoted a whole herd of elk he didn't see.

Ad - Dad slowed for a deer in the road on the way home.

Then dad saw four elk and I saw them too. Then we kept going. Then I started to be really funny that we kept going. Dad had a phone call with Mommy and she was going on a Daddy daughter thing with Papa* so Dad would stay home with us. (Us means me and my brother Cooper). Then we kept going. Nothing was very exicting. We went home, had dinner, and the rest of what you do after dinner.

The End"

*my wife and her dad were going out to eat together that evening

Thursday, June 15, 2017

30 inches of mouse-eater: a morning of predators

When was the last time you saw a 30-inch brown and a mountain lion in the same day? 
For me it was as June's full moon faded into morning.

I chuckled to myself as I slid my net into my waist pack and looked up at the moonlit slopes.  Here I was in a fairly popular spot for recreational users without another person around.  I picked up my eight weight, slid my fingers down the heavy furled leader, along the 16lb tippet, tested the knot, and then stowed the mouse on the keeper.  This evening I had decided to try somewhere new.  I had scouted the place earlier in spring, so I had hiked it in the daylight, but this would be the first overnighter. The spot required more time investment than my usual places.  I planned to finish up about two miles from where I'd parked.  I had driven about an hour from home.  Given the added remoteness, I added my .44 to my belt.  Aside from the occasional coon who doesn't want to give way,  I haven't had any midnight encounters - but there wasn't any need to tempt one tonight by being unprepared.  Once last summer I had a bear mosey along the slopes well above me.  It moved along noisily and bellowed once as it faded away. I figured it was saying good bye.

I shut my tailgate and hit the trail.  The time was now 11:00pm.  Five solid hours of mousing lay ahead of me.  Memories of key pieces of rock structure mentally noted six weeks ago were on my brain. I'm learning to treat mousing for browns like tournament bass fishing - skip the 'so-so' water and hit the primary structure.  Then move on. No need to waste limited darkness picking the entire shoreline apart.

Full Moon June 2017
This was the night of June's full moon.  Last year on the full moon in June I'd caught another brown of a lifetime.  The literature seems divided on full moon vs. dark moon, although most folks tend to prefer total darkness.  I'm yet to form a strong opinion.  I enjoy the full moon because the experience of taking in the surroundings is heightened. And Montana sure is pretty by moonlight. 

I'm beginning to theorize about the a full moon as two independent components: 1) the event of the full moon, and 2) the light of the full moon. The "event" may induce activity on its own accord.  Full moons are responsible for other elevated animal activity by my observation - does it affect trout similarly too?  The light of the full moon, while useful to the fisherman, can be a pain.  Like direct sunlight, it seems to inhibit action.  Like high noon, full moonlight puts a damper on the fishing.  At least the mousing.  There are times that hatches seem to take off under it and trigger lots of surface activity, but I haven't yet tried to tap into any of these.

Unlike other folks around the country, I seem to do well on a full moon.  Maybe it's because I'm fishing within terrain and can pluck fish from the shadows, or wait till the direct light is behind a ridge.  Tonight would prove to be no different.  Throughout the course of the night I was hit by six fish, hooked three, and landed two.  What I assumed were rainbows slurped flies from mid river pools in the moonlight.  I ignored them and chucked my mouse into dark pockets and around the edges of boulders.  I crowded the bank and swam it through scum lines and where the bunched field grasses met the water line.  If there was no structure I moved on to the next piece I knew of and stopped at ones I hadn't remembered.  Hits all came tight to the bank and in shadow of terrain or cloud.  And with the exception of deep rock walls, the hits came from spots that would be void of fish in the daylight.  In fact, I peeked at the places I'd gotten hits when I walked back after the sun had risen.  Some of them will be dry land when the spring runoff subsides.  Others were just nondescript flat stretches with a single boulder marking an ambush point for a nighttime prowler.  Nothing was there now.  The single boulders were stained white where birds perch on them during the day.

The first brown of the night came fairly early on.  I was working the first stretch of shoreline I'd
First of the night
planned to target.  Instead of rocks, I was casting to clumps of upland grass presently submerged. It was a solid brown.  Nothing to complain about at all.  What it didn't have in length it made up for in girth. It had made a couple runs toward mid river before sliding into my net.  A couple pictures and it was back on it's way. 

The next four fish to hit were all misses.  Such is mousing.  They came over the following three hours.  Most of that time was spent fishing, but a significant chunk was also spent walking and carefully climbing around the steep and rocky terrain.  I was glad to have scouted it ahead of time.  One particular rock face had seemed like the end of the line during my daylight scouting trip.  It had been a while till I found a reasonable passage up and through a crag.  But tonight I wasted no time in getting up and over it.  Scouting that day was about to pay off big time. 

I worked my way along rock faces, behind islands, and through a slough.  They were all spots I'd drooled over for quite some time.  I had first viewed them in aerial photography, then later when floating by.  I'd checked them out in person during my spring scouting trip.  Now I was mousing them. I wasn't drawing hits from places I'd really hoped to, but there will be more chances.  I spooked a big fish in the still water of the slough by casting over it and laying the fly line across its back.  No doubt it was in there hunting the flats.  Bummer.  That is exactly the type of prowling fish I was looking for.

Night tools
Eventually I came to a large ridge of rock plunging from the mountain above and jutting out into the water, squeezing the river into a smaller space and creating a hole both in front of and behind it, separated by 100 yards of rock.  It was so large that to get around it I had to climb up above the river quite a ways, hike cross its width, and then work my way back down to the water again.  I could only reach portions of it.  To really fish it would require a boat.  But I could reach just enough.

The front side produced nothing and was really pretty hard to cast to.  I couldn't touch the vast majority of  it.  I made the climb up and over to fish the back side.  I couldn't remember noticing a route down during my scouting trip.  From the ridge top I could see a set of boulders a little further downstream that stretched along the shoreline for more than a hundred yards, glowing like pillows in the moonlight. They looked perfect.  I could hear the murmur of current sifting through them.  I began my descent towards the boulders, initially deciding that the cliffy drop to the back side of the ridge just shouldn't be done in the dark.  But as I got lower, I started to be able to make out the hole that occupied the corner where the ridge abruptly met the river.  It was a vertical wall with foam lapping up against it as the eddy swirled in a very calm and steady way.  The bits of white foam reflecting moonlight while floating on the surface defined the seams and made the story of the current discernable from above.  I could just make out a rocky chute that appeared to provide a way to the back of that eddy within casting distance of the wall.  There was ten times more wall than I would be able reach, but it looked promising enough for me to make the drop. 

By the time I was to the water's edge it was 3:00am.  Only about an hour remained before the sky would begin to brighten.  I figured I'd hit this eddy and then beeline it over to the stretch of boulders I'd seen.  That would probably wrap up this night.

About the third cast toward the wall, each one working a little further out along it, my mouse was smashed from the foam in a not-so-delicate take.  With the rod held parallel to the surface of the water I pivoted my body away from the wall, letting the twisting motion draw the line tight while still maintaining my arm and rod position for a hookset.  When tension was there I set back into the rod like I'd just connected with a largemouth on a Texas rig.  The fish responded with a run away from me along the wall, and then a thrashing that left the rock face dripping. 

It was a good fish.  And immediately it was obvious that it was the caliber of fish that brings a person out all night on the river.

It turned and swam directly at me.  I barely managed to maintain tension as I backed up and cranked on the reel at the same time.  I flipped on the red light as it made a pass along the bank near me.  I wanted to see it!  Might be my only glimpse should it manage to free itself in the pending battle.  The light confirmed what I'd hoped - a brown as long as my arm - and it just cruised methodically by as if to show off and let me take it all in.  I flipped the light back off and waited for the next surge. 

It took off downstream and reached the head of that stretch of boulders.  I was making my way along the bank to keep up as best I could, fighting the vegetation and the massive rocks concealed within it.  I wasn't in my backing.  Just before it reached the boulders it turned and burned out toward the main river and went airborne.  It flopped back into the water with a pleasing heaviness.  Next it ran back toward the wall where I'd hooked it, causing me to chase right back along the shoreline I'd just come down.  It jumped again at the wall and splashed a gaping hole in the foam covering the surface.  There were moments of headshakes, rolls, and throbbing surges.  In its next run I could feel stutters through the rod signaling the wraps of leader sliding off its body where it had rolled up in the line.  There were times it came close and then times it peeled away again.  I was forced to loosen my drag more than once.  It made a third jump near the center of the large eddy behind the big ridge of
30-inch mouse-eater

I was reminded of my days living in Washington State and my battles with steelhead.  I'd grown so much there in terms of fighting big fish.  They were all big - like what was on the end of my line now - and my composure was a result of that experience. I'd been schooled by steelhead, and I'd gotten to where I could school them.  Creativity in traversing a stream bank is essential.  Knowing when to gain line and when to just hang on for dear life; knowing when to run in pursuit and when to hold your ground.  It's all a balance of gamble, calculation, instinct, and luck.

After the third jump the fight began to sway in my favor.  I chose a rock and set my tripod on it.  It was tight quarters for a photo, but it had to work.  I stomped down the grass and unholstered my net.  I stepped in the hoop and extended the handle.  A few more surges and boils later I slid the net under the fish and watched in my head lamp beam as the body spanned the 17-inch frame by nearly double, then folded into the rubber basket. 
Done!  Relief waved over me.  Getting a picture would still be a feat, but I'd won. Picture or no picture.

I straddled the water's edge, bridged the net across my knees, and reached into the submerged net.  I raised the fish - my hands pretty far apart compared to a typical trout, even for normal larger nighttime predators - and started triggering pictures from the camera with voice commands.  Four or five flashes later I was stretching tape across the fish back in the net, trying my best to get a meaningful reading.  I wanted to be hurried and skip this step for the sake of the release, but I wanted to know. 

back to the wall
From blunt nose to broad tail was exactly 30 inches.  I did it again to be sure, and then slipped him out of the net.  I righted him in the current, moved him back and forth, and then he snapped away and glided back toward the wall where it had all started.

I immediately started to doubt.  Did I measure right?  Was the measurement real?  It was a skinny fish, definitely no girthy giant.  It didn't have the mass of the brown I'd caught on June 2016's full moon.  There were no witnesses.  Witnesses?  The camera!  I scrambled over to it as if I had to catch it before it ran off.  I laughed at my eagerness and then opened the gallery.  There were my shots.  A few blurry ones, a few where not all the fish was in the frame, and some weird faces on my part. But there were a couple that had turned out - closer to the lens than I'd prefer, but decent.  It was on film.  There was even an inadvertent shot of me tossing my gear bag aside with the fish in the net the moment I'd stood up from the water with it.  The picture is blurry with motion, but the fish in the net is plainly visible, arching in the basket from frame to frame. 

net full
Like I had on the night of the full moon one year earlier, I sat for a minute looking out across the river and up onto the moonlit hillsides.  Most people think I'm crazy.  Maybe I am.  But sleep seems a small sacrifice compared with this.  To make this hike, see these nocturnal sights, catch these fish - it's something so few people will ever experience.  In a world where there's nothing but deep oceans left to explore, it's neat to find something that this can be said of.

I fished more, but it was mostly a race against sunrise.  As the sky glowed I climbed back up on the big rock ridge I'd been on when I noticed the foamy pool by the vertical wall.  I found a grassy spot overlooking the river, leaned back on my gear bag, and watched as the sun rose. Purples and pinks were cast on the clouds and reflected in the river. I closed my eyes to catch some rest before traversing the two miles back.  I'd been up nearly 24 hours and would be back out again after dark that night.  I can generally leave the water as the sky begins to glow and be sleeping by 5:00am.  Today it would be after 8:00 before I'd be home.  Yet I wasn't tired - or at least couldn't sleep - and abandoned the nap idea when a cold  Rocky Mountain morning breeze whipped over my bare knoll.

The hike back to the truck was enjoyable and scenic.  Trout rose in the river below.  I've learned not to carry other types of flies on a night of mousing - otherwise I'm tempted to stay beyond my limits and fish into the day.

At the truck I unloaded my gear and switched out of my wet boots. The rosy and golden light illuminated the yellows and reds in the rocks above me.  The pines seemed intensely green.
Really, it was time to be stringing up and getting on the water.  But here I was breaking my gear down and packing up.  When it comes to fishing, I kind of revel in the abnormal.

The night of the full moon had one more surprise for me as I pulled my truck onto the rough forest service road and started the climb up out of the canyon. In a clearing ahead of me stood a cougar. In that same instant I saw it the cat was running for the tree line.  It would be gone in seconds and wasn't close enough for a good picture.  I didn't even bother trying to find my camera.  I just sat back and took it all in.  The long strides, the tan coat shining with sunrise glow, the tail curled slightly up at the end - I'd have missed it if I'd tried to get a picture that I knew wouldn't turn out anyway. 

It had been a morning of predators. My first 30-inch carnivore of a brown and now a mountain lion.  The first I'd seen in Montana, second lifetime.  I pulled over as it disappeared and probed the mountainside with binoculars.  I never got another glimpse, but I was glad that my sighting had been more than just a fleeting glance.  I'd watched it run.  I'd watched it slip away.  I think I've seen just as many 30-inch browns as I have mountain lions.  And I'd just seen one of each in the same day.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My run-in with 'beaver' trout

Sunset over the house - time to get ready to fish!
There's an image burned into my brain. A week ago on a partially moonlit night I was swimming a mouse along a vertical rock wall on a river clear enough to fish but swollen with snow melt. It's a wall that's been productive over the last few summers, accounting for more than one of my larger browns. So far this summer I haven't been touched along it. I mostly chalked this up to high water, figuring it may be a holding point during lower summer flows that are yet to come. Still, I stood for several minutes and many casts making sure to work the wall thoroughly. You can't reach it all from the bank. And you can't wade. It bulges out and then tucks back in out of view. So toward the end of the time I spend on it I start getting creative with long sweeping casts that I try to make wrap around the rock face beyond the line of sight. Basically just feeding line and hoping the fly rides up against the rock. I do this from a slightly elevated position, which aids in being able to cast, but also provides a fateful view of what's below.

Rainbow mouse-eater taken later in the night
It was after one of these creative casts as I brought the mouse back around the bulge and into view (well, I couldn't see it, but I knew where I thought it was) that I saw what I figured was a beaver or maybe a muskrat on the surface. It was right where I thought my fly should be. At first I was afraid I might snag it. I dropped my rod tip for slack so it could swim on by, but it exploded on the surface in response. I was confused as to why it spooked and still assumed it had been a beaver that had swirled and was diving away. Maybe it saw me lower the rod. Then I realized I was attached as my loosely-held rod pivoted toward the rock.

All of this has happened in a span of about 3 seconds. I wish my brain could have seen it for what it was and reacted sooner - but it wasted time with thoughts like "Great, I struggle to connect with fish that actually want my fly and now I'm going to lose a mouse to a snagged beaver I tried to avoid."

As I look back on various fish in my life I realize there is a common theme of missing hook-ups  - particularly with big fish - when the strike is visual.
Overzealous hooksets, buck fever, broken lines, poor timing, etc, etc.
Well, add "wrong animal" to the list.

My shadow as I leave the truck
What had happened was a very large and wide fish had followed that mouse around the wall, and had actually breached the surface behind it. It had all but decided to take or was in the act of doing so when I dropped the tension to avoid snagging the "beaver." As soon as the mouse went limp, the fish inhaled it and went back down. I stood there like a numb-skull thinking a beaver had just spooked my hole. The fish actually brought my rod tight before I realized my mouse was even gone from the surface. My brain still said 'beaver' but my instincts were catching up and I gave a half-hearted after-the-fact hookset that came up empty. Like swinging the bat after hearing the ball hit the catcher's mitt.

The image of that fish on the surface following the mouse is etched into my memory. In my mind's eye, it looked so much like a muskrat or a beaver. Or in different water, like a gator would swim. A few days later Trouts Fly Fishing posted an Instagram video (YouTube version below) of rainbows eating mouse flies on a pond during the daytime.  I noticed some rose to the fly in a similar way - basically breaking the surface behind the fly, then surging forward to take it.  It's subtle.  Nothing spectacular or unusual, but keep in mind that during the night your senses are heightened and your mind tries to fill in the gaps with the clues provided, helping you 'see' what you don't see. I saw the shape rising to eat the mouse as something else, and my brain couldn't get passed the first impression quickly enough.

Live and learn. Why can't these lessons be learned on little fish? It's always the big ones that make you look like a moron - even when you are alone in the dark with no witnesses. At least I didn't come back with a Sasquatch story inspired by my own shadow....

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mousing: June signals the opening of nocturnal big game season

May has given way to June.  With that shift begins a new summer of night fishing.
Mousing has picked up.  There was surface action the entire month of May, but it is
Best mousing brown in May 2017
Best mousing brown of May 2017
just getting better the deeper we get into June. The waxing moon in the first part of the month is making casting easier and the takes visual. The number of strikes received in a night is climbing as the water warms and shallow water forage becomes more prevalent. I'm seeing more  scampering mice both by headlamp along the river  and in my headlights while driving. Frogs will be out soon. I'm beginning to see crayfish venturing along the margin of water and dry land.  All in all, the reasons for a big trout to hunt the shallows in the dead of night are mounting up.  To me, this is some of the best opportunity of the year to tangle with a trophy trout.  And what better way to do it than on topwater baits during the adventure of nighttime on a river void of other anglers.

On the night of June 2nd and into the 3rd, I was accompanied by my friend Josh who has worked in the fly fishing industry but had never moused. The night was calm and partially moonlit. Once the sun was fully gone around 10:30 p.m. and darkness had set in, we dropped into the section of river I intended to fish and began some practice and instruction. Nothing major, just getting the general feel for what we'd be doing.
Night tools
Night tools

Mousing to me is kind of like swinging streamers at short range. It's everything you're not supposed to do when dry fly fishing. Downstream casts. Drag. Tight line. Wake. Splashes.
During our practice run Josh had two hits. He asked "Is this one of your special spots?"
"Nope, this is a 'nothing' spot. Just meant to practice." That boded well for the night. 

A short distance downstream we came to the first piece of serious structure I wanted to target.  We scrambled over some boulders and got into a decent casting position. Within a cast or two Josh fed his mouse to where the current wrapped around the point of a boulder just as I described. An audible slurp signaled a take and Josh set into solid fish. It didn't break top again in any of the usual ways. No rolling, splashing, or jumping. It just turned downstream and set Josh's reel to singing - and against a tight drag. He was through the fly line and into backing almost instantly. The fish blew through the next few points of structure I'd intended to focus on and went around a big jam - passing around the outside edge and then tucking in behind it downstream, still peeling line as it plowed into the next big pool.