Friday, April 28, 2017

Out of the ordinary

The prairie is an intriguing landscape - it can be exceedingly more rugged than you might expect, or be soft and endlessly rolling like swells on the ocean.  Sometimes forested island mountain ranges pop up out of the sea of grass.  Other times deep coulees or canyons filled with stands of piney timber,  and big enough to swallow entire cities, are abruptly carved from what first appeared to be flat land.  In the far east and north of Montana the prairie flattens and becomes wetter as the higher plains give way to the prairie pothole region.  Throughout each of these terrains flow streams.  Streams that wind through miles of empty space, draining vast pieces of America and southern Canada that most of the population never sees.

Across northern Montana, each of these make their way to the Missouri River on their eventual path to the Gulf of Mexico.  The waterways are not as plentiful as they are in the mountains.  The relaxed landscape contains watersheds spread over many more square miles than those squeezed into the small spaces between ridges and ranges.  Many of the tributaries only flow intermittently. Some perennial creeks flow muddy and are steep-banked.  Many flow surprisingly clear. Often I can find pike or walleye in them.  I've caught northerns in the tiniest trickles, in larger rivers, and in isolated ponds. None of these waters are places that many people purposely seek out.  The locals fish them of course, but no one travels to Montana with these streams in mind.  I enjoy the small opportunities I'm handed when travel takes me across them.  I make sure to be ready.  This time I was hoping for pike.
UPS truck on a rural prairie road

My vehicle was packed. Everything I needed for a few days of work was in there. And then there was everything else - a tote with various boxes of plugs and bags of plastics, several spinning reels, just as many fly reels, three different lumbar packs prepped for spinning or fly, waders and boots, a net, and multiple rod tubes. Surprisingly all this recreational equipment fits into nooks and crannies and was out of sight. Hopefully there'd be time when each day's work was done. I knew there would be. I have a way of always finding that time. Even if it is dark before I start.

I got three opportunities to walk along these waters.  Each was at the end of the day with little daylight left, and each water was very different from the other.  There wasn't time for research or poring over maps. I had to take what was nearest and in-route to my destination. Each place I fished was nearly 200 miles from the previous. Once I stopped in a local sports store, but the man behind the counter could only recommend places I wouldn't be passing (but I definitely noted for future) and he knew nothing of the little streams I mentioned by name.  I had to use my gut and choose a water I thought should hold pike based on previous experience and research.

The first evening was relatively unproductive. I was on a river I've fished before.  A favorite river of mine for both trout and pike, but the water was still too cold, with my thermometer showing readings still in the upper 30's. I caught only one rainbow.

The second evening was a quick stop along brand new water. I had my gps fired up and the land ownership maps loaded as I looked for a way to get to a particular stream.  It drained into the Milk River, and I've caught pike in the Milk before.  Perhaps there'd be fish up this tributary.  Some state ground offered the access I needed to check it out, but I found the stream chocolate and the banks steep and exceptionally muddy from recent rain.  It didn't seem that I'd be able to effectively work my way along it.  Time was at a premium, but I decided to move on. 

I found an array of ponds with public access.  It wasn't ideal, but I had less than hour of daylight.  As I was hurriedly prepping for the water, a man and his dog pulled up in a pickup to check minnow traps. A compound bow with a single arrow in the quiver rested on the passenger side.  Turkey maybe?  A fellow opportunist apparently.  He told me which of the ponds was best for pike. We tipped hats and parted ways. To save time I left my waders and stayed in regular boots. I strung up an 8-weight, tipped the beefy leader with a mouse, slid my big net down my back, and headed in the opposite direction than I'd originally intended to go.

I often catch myself rushing hastily into opportunistic fishing situations. 
I have to consciously slow
down, pretend I have all day, and pick the water apart with purpose and decisiveness.  Ten intentional casts are better than a hundred fanned out without thought.  As I slowed down I heard a turkey gobble off in the river bottom.

The shoreline grass extended out quite a ways and I wished I'd wadered up. But casting beyond the grass was simple enough.  It was a perfect example of a fly rod being the right tool for the job - I could work the weed line without having to retrieve through the grass between casts.

I brought the mouse to life while scanning for any movement in the shallows.  A chorus of frogs piped up and reminded me that spring was truly upon us. I swam the mouse all around a shallow bay and then began to move toward water that appeared deeper.  A coyote whined once the sun was fully out of sight.  The water seemed alive - even smelled alive - yet I hadn't seen anything move in it.

The slick surface erupted in that addictive way that can make a topwater junkie out of anyone after just one hit.  I hadn't known whether I could coax one to the top or not.  For that matter, I didn't really even know what was in this water, although I had no reason at all to doubt the minnow trapper. It'd been since late last summer that I'd had a topwater hit like that - since mousing for browns in the middle of the night before hunting season kicked in. Topwater hits add years to a person's life.  They awaken your senses, clear your sinuses, and make you weak in the knees. The bottom drops out of your stress level.  It wasn't even a big pike, but it was what I'd hoped for. 

My fingers mechanically took the line to the reel and I instinctively arched the rod around bushes and shoreline obstacles.  It was kind of like I'd stepped back and watched the fight in third person, then set the camera up for myself and came to my own net assist.

Before it was too dark to see I had two more hits.  The visibility on the last was nothing more than the flash of white foam in the darkness and then a skinny white belly in the air.  Both were smaller fish, and I brought one to hand.  Not bad for less than an hour on new water. It felt great to break the long winter spell of no topwater action. Thanks to the minnow trapper for pointing me in the right direction.

As I hit the road a great big red full moon rose above the horizon.
To think I could have already been
sitting in a hotel room some time ago and missed all this....

My third evening on the prairie finished up fairly remote.  Canadian radio stations were stronger than any American ones I could find.  It was the last day I'd have the time between the end of work and a hotel to fish. I had ideas about creeks I'd like to test - more than I'd be able get to.  I'd been on a few around there in the past, but there are so many others yet to try. It's not an area known for fishing.  A spot here and there, but nothing on anybody's bucket list. But that's the beauty of always being ready to fish - hitting obscure water and discovering hidden gems. Being somewhere different and having the excuse to get out and walk in it.

The wind was howling this day at a sustained 30 miles per hour with gusts to 50. The sort of weather you'd avoid if at home.  I was near a lake I knew held pike.  Maybe being on the leeward side of the big water would be manageable.  Pike ought to be up the creeks, and that's where I wanted to find them anyway.

gearing up to hit the Montana 'salt marsh'
I stopped where the road crossed over the main drainage in this stretch of prairie.  The lake is essentially a wide spot in the creek - a valley into which the creek flows in and out of under the same name.  Numerous other lakes dot the map here on the western fringe of the prairie pothole region. Standing on the side of the road and looking out across the wetlands interrupted by meandering creek and bordered by broad shallow lake made me think of salt marsh.  Even the high ground was crusted over with white alkaline deposits left behind by evaporation.  Walking the overly-windy meandering stream among flooded grasses took me back to my days of looking for tailing reds on Texas salt flats or flounder in coastal Carolina creeks.  Muskrats took the place of gators cruising the channels.  Waterfowl were everywhere.  Even gulls and pelicans were floating on those strong winds.

My only bite came at the confluence of two streams
where one poured into the other with noticeably
Pike on!
more force. Kind of like where a tidal creek empties into a main channel on the outgoing tide.  It seemed like I should be able to find more fish, but I had to remind myself conditions were nasty. Casting was more like flying a kite. The mouse was often lost in the chop. Streamers didn't get any looks either, and I worked some pretty heavily for quite a while.

But this one fish was satisfying enough.  Despite the roar of the wind, the sound of the topwater hit snapped me to attention and brought my rod tip up into a hookset as the line tightened.  The fish surged to the middle of the stream, made a few runs, and then came close again as northerns will do.  I stamped down a space in the grass big enough to take a picture, then landed the pike and returned it to the water.

I look forward to when I'll be there again. It's out of the ordinary.  It's out of the way. It's special, yet plain.  Fishing is a bridge that, for me anyway, connects a person with a place, a piece of ground, its water, and its wildlife.  It allows access and a means of experiencing.  It turns any road crossing over any nondescript piece of water into a potential portal to outdoor adventure. Which of course you would miss if you didn't always travel with fishing gear.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Fall in Montana: 2016

some trout, a rabbit, plenty of big game, 
endless scenery, and a healthy dose of camaraderie

[Montana Sunrise, Elkhorn Mountains]
[September brown]
Missouri River, MT
Hunting season has a way of interfering with fishing.  Or at least elbowing it's way to the front of the line. [Not that I'm complaining!] Priorities shift for a brief span of time each fall - and right when some amazing fishing is heating up. [Okay, maybe just a little.] I always hope to be successful early and then get back to fishing. But that really isn't ever going to happen - even when successful, there are more tags and more hunts to shift the focus to. I did however run a couple September float trips for folks during the archery season, both of which saw some good action. I even got to fish myself.

Although fishing happens year-round, and hunting only in a tiny window, preparation for hunting is year long. Licensing is purchased at the beginning of the year when all licenses have to be renewed.  I'm not going to spend one day of the year without a fishing license in hand.....   
[Client's beautiful September brown]
Missouri River, MT
Then by March the first round of big game drawings must be submitted. Earlier for turkey.  From then on you're either putting in for more drawings or looking at results of previous ones. Plans are always evolving as the summer continues and drawings are held. I fared well this year and drew several opportunities across the state for various species and picked up a few surplus tags as well.  I held multiple tags for each species I hunted and managed to take bull elk, antelope buck, and mule deer buck. I also had the privilege of being joined by a friend from out of state for a late season deer hunt on his first trip to Montana.



Chapter 1:  Missouri Breaks Elk


[Missouri Breaks sunset]
hiking out of the canyon after quartering my bull
The first big trip on the list was to try and put an archery elk permit to use in the Missouri Breaks.  I packed by bag, my bivvy gear, my bow, and wandered around in the remoteness with no action for a string of days to start the season off.  I was part of a group of four with the same permit.  We split into pairs, the four of us overlapping in the same camp only once the entire season.  My archery partner JJ and I have been elk
[Looking across the Breaks at the Little Rockies from a highway pull out]
hunting the past few seasons by bivvying where night finds us, leaving us totally free to follow elk with no fear of ever getting "too far from camp."  No more hiking  miles in the dark back to base camp just to get up early and hike all those miles back again before daylight.  But we've also learned to save time and resources when there's no action and pull out - either to jump to a new spot or take a break and return later.  After making a few day hunts from home following our initial trip (mostly because I had a cow tag for a local unit burning a hole in my pocket), we packed up to head back to the Breaks for another longer hunt.

[Final mouse-eater of 2016]
But before I could leave, I couldn't help but string up a fly rod and hit the water for a night of full moon mousing. While JJ was home readying his gear and sleeping like a sane person, I was scrambling over rocks in the moonlight and swinging mice along shoreline structure. I knew it'd probably be my last chance of the season.  Didn't find any big September browns, but I found a few rainbow mouse-eaters.  Landing those fish meant that I had hooked and netted at least one fish on every mousing adventure I had made during 2016, and that was pretty satisfying.  Since I would be leaving after sun-up for another four-hour drive back to the Missouri Breaks, I cut it off early and caught a few hours of sleep.

Twelve hours later we were on foot packing in for the second big push, hiking across dry drainages and up dusty ridgelines.  We were trying a new area - navigating across a wide creek bottom, cutting around some private land, and then drifting out into an expanse of BLM that we had been glassing into from miles away during the previous week.  Hopefully there'd be more elk here than where we'd started.

[7-point shed found during the first trip
A reminder of what is possible]
At about three or four miles from the truck we heard our first bugle.  That was already more than last week.  The bugles grew more intense as we made our way towards them.  Dusk was coming fast, but we spotted a few animals on the ridge opposite us, separated by probably a mile of hiking.  We could make out at least three individual bulls by the location of the bugles.  We set up our bivvy camp, being careful to dodge the cactus, and lay there all night listening to their music.  They never really went anywhere. The ridge they were on was mostly private land, but it was surrounded by plenty of public land and timber they'd likely head into during the following day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My [present] take on targeting big trout (always subject to change)


I have places I love to fish because I enjoy catching what's there, or because I like being where they live - experiential fishing rather than trophy hunting - like little Smoky Mountain specks, cutthroats across the Rocky Mountain West, or largemouth from a tannin-stained Southern cypress swamp. Same is true of my hunting and other outdoor pursuits - getting somewhere special. And I think it's important to point out that this type of fishing is probably the bulk of what we all do.  It's the heart of fishing and should not be brushed aside in favor of 'bigger is better.'  But with that said, bigger often is better, and that's deeply rooted in the heart of fishing too.



From the perspective of chasing trout and other cool water gamefish in moving water, and wishing I knew what I was doing...


Define "big."
25 inches of deep structure brown
We all know "big" is a relative term. Maybe "mature" is a better word.  In the right water, a 12-inch brookie is a monster to celebrate.  Somewhere else it might be an eight-pound brown or a 30-inch walleye. Figure out what a reasonable definition of "big" is for the where, what, and how of your fishing.  It varies by location.  It varies with species.  It varies within a species across different regions.  "Big" can even vary with chosen techniques - perhaps you're on a quest to beat your personal best using a fly rod, maybe even a specific type of fly.  And I've come to learn that my own definition varies with my own age and experience - what I saw as 'big' ten years ago and what I see as big now are quite different. At the same time, pictures of what I presently call big would probably not get pinned to the bulletin board in more than a few tackle shops.

Set your expectations and goals reasonably, but don't underestimate a stream's potential to produce. Think big. Whatever you do, don't look at another guy's photos and whine that his fish are bigger than yours. Drooling is fine..... but so is adding his water to your bucket list. Or his methods to your toolbox.


Beast of a brown from the creek where it lives
Fish where big fish live.
Such an obvious statement, but even with the knowledge of relativity, so many people just continue to hit what they are used to and hope for better results than last time (and with baits they are used to - more on that next).  They stay put in their rut of familiarity rather than spending time searching, researching, and ground-truthing.  If you want to chase something bigger, search out water with a reputation for size, or check out unsung water that you think has some potential.  Start generating some local or regional "go-to" spots.  I'm not necessarily talking about destination fishing. Admittedly I do live in Montana, but I've never been to New Zealand, Patagonia, or the Amazonian watershed.  I haven't even fished Alaska or the White River in Arkansas. I'd love to do all that.  Hopefully I will.  But I do know (to some extent) which waters within my reach are better than others for producing hogs.  And there's still more than I can ever possibly explore.  

mouse-eating rainbow
There are established places I go when I want to hunt big ones. And I'm always looking for clues about where to try next to expand my list.  I take note of reputable waters.   I look for trends of larger fish on brag boards, articles, fisheries research and surveys, etc.  This past year I noted a couple monster rainbows (as in well over ten pounds) caught by different anglers from the same Montana river, each listed on a different online brag board.  I haven't been there yet.... but now I'll make a point of it.  That river has demonstrated it can generate size.

I shamelessly glean info off landmarks and terrain in the background of people's photos (hey, if they don't blur it out or do a better job of discretely framing the shot, it's public domain).  I spend time analyzing aerial photography and picking "hot spots" ahead of the trip, sometimes marking them on a gps to be sure and hit them as I float or hike by.

Pre-float aerial photo scouting
Hit tailwaters.

Hit fertile waterways (hint, they aren't always the most picturesque - instead they might be murkier, slower, nutrient-rich cow pasture streams).

Fish above lakes and below dams - and both at the same time if  possible.

Fish the transition sections of rivers where they go from cooler to warmer (baitfish population and other meaty forage can increase, and carnivore size can go up, even if overall trout population decreases).

Side note:
25-inch "transition section" December brown
-lanky post-spawn-
Often my search for big trout translates into hunting browns.  Brown trout are a tantalizing fish to target, and when it comes to browns, bigger can't help but be better.  And a good thing about a stream that has browns - there's always a big one. 
Somewhere.
The typical fish in the system might be under a foot long, but there's generally a brute or two that makes their living eating those typical fish. If you think the streamer on your rod is too big for that water, or if a flat-brimmed guru with a suitcase of size 24's laughed at you as you walked by, then you are probably using the right one.
            

Use a food they prefer.
Using flies or lures that are truly representing preferred foods of larger fish (or at least a food that triggers a predatory or opportunistic response) might rule out "normal" fish. You are certainly going to greatly reduce the number of hookups you could have on a given day or night if you are willing to ignore a majority of the gamefish population.  Be willing to throw baits that are outside of convention - could be oversized, could be something intended for another species entirely.  Picking up decent fish on #11 Rapalas? Jump to a #13, or even an #18.  Cast big mouse imitations in the dark.  Swing streamers that are next to impossible to fly cast with your regular trout gear.  For me, unless I'm mousing (I love mousing!) or working crayfish imitations, this almost always means appealing to fish-eating side of
Of course a caddis imitation may draw
more strikes - but on the hunt for a big
one I want what is willing to eat the mouse.
trout.  I love big meaty minnows - streamers, jigs, plugs, and soft plastics.  More often than not I'm tossing some of these when hunting bigger-than-average trout in any given water.

    - Downsize?
But a "food they prefer" does not always translate to "big."  There are times when smaller is better. Even times when all this goes out the window and you just need to drift microscopic nymphs (maybe the flat-brimmer above was right) - the timing of which I can never seem to anticipate, so I'm no help to you there, but it happens often enough that it's worth mentioning, even if the practice of it doesn't appeal to me that much and I practically never do it.  Add to that the fact that the  "targeting" of big ones with tiny flies (without the luxury of sight-fishing them) is essentially lost.

Be willing to downsize if your [well-learned and wise] gut tells you should have seen a fish or two by a certain point but haven't - but don't fall back on this too soon!  Downsizing can be tempting - it leads to more action, more numbers, and takes you back to the familiar.  And remember, "familiarity" isn't necessarily your ticket to finding heftier fish.

Taken at night in a small river in a bend
that had proven itself as a holding spot
for larger browns on previous day trips
The hunt for big ones is a mental game of patience and persistence.  You have to be willing to fish all day or night for that one bite.  But it's also a game of observation and intuition, and after you've been at it long enough to recognize trends, you may be able to distinguish between when you truly feel it is necessary to downsize and when you just want some action.....

I downsize most frequently in  water that is ultra clear and water that is both clear and slow (or rather, nonturbulent) - such as dropping from a heavy four- or six-inch jig or streamer to a lightweight 2-inch that more closely matches the minnows or fry I'm seeing.  I think it often just comes down to visibility - a bait has more calling power in clear water than it does in off-color or turbulent water and the fish needs to come closer to a smaller offering before it determines to reject or not, by which time it's more apt to hit (my theory from observation anyway). Likewise, it can make the determination to reject a larger artificial from a greater distance.

I may also downsize in temperature extremes - cold winter days or hot midsummer days.  But when truly hunting bigger trout, I try to stay with larger baits the majority of the time.  Fish a big plug or an ugly streamer long enough and you're going to see that dinner plate-sized flash sooner or later.


Time your trips to coincide with their presence or activity and be repetitive.
It may seem obvious, but I think it's often not put into practice.  Be intentional about trying to intercept the seasonal movements of fish, especially the ones that coincide with elevated feeding activity - such as rainbows in the spring or browns in the fall.  This is when it's worth driving three hours one way for just a few hours of fishing instead of staying on the usual water and spending an entire day on fish you know won't be big.  Play the odds of hitting stretches of river where the population of big fish should increase as fish stage prior to or after a spawn (confluences, deeper water alongside gravel bars, etc), during a special hatch (salmon flies, summer hoppers, etc), or maybe during high or low flows.  And often it pays big dividends to 'always travel with fishing gear' because you just never know when the place and timing may simply fall into your lap - if you're prepared and looking for the opportunistic.

Taken on a mouse from a stretch of rocks I've targeted
repeatedly for 3 years after learning it held good fish. Finally paid 
off big. I hiked 2 miles in darkness to fish 100 yards of 2am shoreline.
But also be intentional about intercepting daily movements and activity levels along with the seasonal.  Make a point of being on the water for first light and last light. Take advantage of the movements of larger fish in the dead of night - as they move from their mysterious daytime haunts to feed in the shallows, sitting in water you wouldn't even look at during the day. Particularly in summer. This gets me really excited.  Some of my favorite trout fishing is pulling all-nighters and swinging mice through shoreline structure.

   I like topwater hits.
   I like big fish.
   I like solitude.
   Summertime mousing in the dark brings all that into one place.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fantastic Weekend of Montana Mousing

big browns and a new personal best


This was the first full moon weekend of summer.  The third weekend of June, 2016. Up until June the mouse bite had been slow.  It just hadn't turned on yet. But  after getting into some great mousing action during the darker moon a week prior [see Mousing: 'tis the season], I couldn't wait to get out with moonlight to see by and sling some more mice. The switch had flipped and it was time for the summer games to begin.

Sometimes all the effort pays off in a big way. Those are motivating moments.  They pull you forward as you anticipate when they might occur, and then they propel you into the future with renewed vigor after they've happened.  All those hours of exploring spots in daytime. Casting into the darkness of night. Hours logged.  Fish encounters - successful or not - filed in your mental database.  You hope it will happen, you know it CAN happen, but deep inside you wonder if it ever really will.  But it only takes one bite, and that bite came on my second consecutive solo all-nighter of the weekend when my mouse pattern was slurped off the surface at 2:30 in the morning.  

I was targeting a shoreline of big chunky rocks I've been hitting repeatedly for three years after discovering it holds solid browns.  More often than not it is persistence that catches fish more than any particular technique. I knew it had to hold big ones. Over the past few years I've taken browns measuring in the low to mid twenties (inches) off it. And I'd broken a bigger one off in a lousy rookie-like hookset - I'd seen the giant brown take my offering in broad daylight and it had made a fool of me [in the 2014 article Looking Back]. If I had to rank my current spots for potential to produce a trophy, this one little stretch of shoreline only a couple hundred yards long would be on top. And I hadn't even fished it at night before. So I opted to take night number two, pick my way for nearly two miles along the stony and essentially trail-less river edge to get there, and cast to this one spot. The result was likely my biggest trout to date, and certainly my biggest on a fly rod.

But before that, the first night was fantastic all on its own.  The hits were infrequent but solid - a typical story 
First big brown of the weekend
on a night of mousing. And browns outnumbered the rainbows. I lost two mature browns, one of which I saw clearly enough in my headlamp to have counted spots - it was very acrobatic and jumped constantly, ultimately coming off on a leap just as I finished setting up my tripod. I'd seen by flashlight that he had a pretty pronounced kype and I was wanting to get a picture of him while he was still wearing the mouse on it.

This was a shoreline with ample structure and slower current - an ideal setup for tossing mice. And it stretches for over a mile before transitioning into terraced cut banks and trading the rocky structure for clay bluffs.  I caught fish on three different mouse patterns that night.  All of the browns hit when the mouse was inches from or touching rock that extended out from the shore. They were waiting in ambush points like largemouth bass, but sitting in water you'd never find them in during the day.  I managed to net and photograph three browns at or over 20 inches, two of which were particularly impressive in overall size and coloration. Two stunning browns in one night!  It was such a good night. Seemingly so hard to beat.  It was exactly what you hope for when working a trout water with mice. I was satisfied enough that if I didn't make it out again this weekend I would still feel fully accomplished.

Beauty contest winner of the weekend
But then on Saturday night I chose to make that hike.  Friday had been too good.  It was possible to go.  I could fit it in.  Who needs sleep anyway?  Remember, persistence.  Make it happen, or it won't.  The spot was gnawing at me, and it was bothering me that I was yet to ever try it in the dark when I knew it would eventually produce. So I tossed civilized common sense out the window (i.e. that I should catch up on some sleep) and worked my way to it, sometimes just walking, sometimes stopping to cast to likely looking spots along an otherwise bland stretch of river.  Not that there wouldn't be fish, and I did catch a couple, but there wasn't any major structure for the browns to key in on.  I generally catch rainbows in open water and the browns tight to structure - just like the daytime, but perhaps even more so. And browns were the focus.  There was one vertical wall along my path, and I stopped to work it.  I had a great take and completely missed.  First hit of the night. Casting was more difficult than the night before.  A stiff wind was blowing up river, which messes with placing the mouse and drags the line, slowing the drift.  But there were calmer lulls.  I pulled a rainbow from a pocket behind a lone boulder.  I climbed on top of the big domed rock and drug the mouse around the perimeter, not casting at all.  Jigger-poling for trout.  The fish smashed the mouse and dove down alongside the boulder.  I was very surprised to see it was a rainbow.  But the ice was broken - one fish down.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mousing: 'tis the season


A friend of mine and I pulled an early June all-nighter. My kind of all-nighter. I never stayed up the entire night in college or graduate school. No test was ever worth that. I've never worked a graveyard shift. Video games bore me.  But for fish? No-brainer. I'd do two or three in a row if necessary.

We started fishing before dark and hiked out well after sunrise, after the first anglers of the day had already begun filtering in. Fought bloodshot eyes the remainder of the weekend.

Once it was too dark to see, out came the mouse flies. I couldn't see them land, but the soft 'splat' told me where they'd come to rest even though the wind robbed some sound and meddled with placement. The moon was only a thin crescent-shaped sliver and was gone over the ridge almost right away. But you can always see better than you think you can. At least enough to have a vague idea of where the structure is.

We dodged storms, twice hunkering down against rocks and logs encapsulated in waders and rain gear to wait out thunderstorms.  Lightning-flash danced on and illuminated the canyon walls. The white and gray crags sprung from the mountains in a crystal-clear three-dimensional form not seen in sunlight, only to be gone again a second later - the ashen image still burning vividly in your stunned vision.
One of Stormy's 'bows

No one else was around to witness the show.

The unsettled weather and passing storms brought rain and wind, along with periods of calm. But the bite was great throughout.

The first fish was a dink rainbow that ambitiously stuffed a big mouse into his face. But it WAS a fish and we were on the board with the first mouse hook-up of 2016.
The hits came steadily - not constant, but more predictably than a typical mousing night. And rainbows were killin' it. Mousing is the one time when fishing this water that I expect to see more browns than rainbows. But not tonight. It was easily 8:1 rainbows.
First fish on mouse 2016

The first storm passed and the cloudiness gave way to a clear Montana sky seemingly polished clean of grime and haze. We both stood in awe of the vividness of the Milky Way framed between canyon rims. The depth and vastness of outer space plainly visible in the absence of artificial light and moon glow. Staring upward it felt as though you may fall - only not down into the water, but weightlessly up into the stars. A sizzling shooting star interrupted the daze, the trail hanging in the atmosphere long after the meteorite had burned out.


The fly of the night was the Mr. Hankey.
The particular specimen I was tossing came from Big Y Fly Company in Oregon - known for speedy service, great prices, and a wide selection of flies and gear. Last summer a photo I submitted to them featuring a nighttime brown caught on their slim version of the Morrish Mouse was used as a 'photo of the month' [click here to see it].  Folks chosen for photo of the month get to pick out a selection of flies.  I stuck with the theme and requested mice - these very Mr. Hankey's that were getting the job done tonight in fact.  And one Mr. Hankey survived the entire night of action.