I woke this morning in a haze of confusion, unaware of where my head had fallen the night before. Something had just bumped into my legs and was hovering over me. My eyes opened up to see the shaggy face of a dog, now inches from my nose. Moments later Stella wet the side of my face and put her down on my chest. It was then I realized …. I was in West Yellowstone, at home. Shooing away Stella at 5 am, I rolled over for a couple more hours and enjoyed some much needed rest.
The 2014 Guide Season is officially over. All that remains is the boat load of paperwork sitting in my office. Most of that isn’t due for two months, which makes plenty of time for getting outside and enjoying what’s left of Fall. To all those who came out to fish with us this year, we would like to extend a huge THANK YOU! Without folks like you, Greg, Earl and myself would not be able call Montana home. We appreciate the business and are already looking forward to 2015 – which just so happens to be our 10th year of providing top shelf fly fishing trips in Montana. Ten years…..let’s hope the next ten takes longer than the last ten.
Today was a good day.
Snow, rain, some coffee, a bit of wind and enough sun to make one think that sunshine would be a good thing for a few minutes of the day if only to warm one up and keep one from thinking that rowing is a good idea. Manning the oars is something to be left to those who do it naturally, without thinking. When I row the boat and I have an angler who slips the fly in the spot just as I am thinking how sweet that spot is, everything clicks and the line slides tight. The fish is thrashing, running and jumping and ripping line. It might jump, it might not, but it’s hooked up and the pull is right.
Today was a good day.
The fire next to the kitchen table is keeping all of us, both hounds, a kitty and myself warm on this ultra wet chilly morning. Once again, we slept all night through the pouring rain and woke to the same soaking from above this AM. In a couple hours I will be packed up and ready for the four hour drive to Craig, the self proclaimed fly fishing capital of the world, (however we all know that West Yellowstone will forever hold this title) for my last push of guide trips of the 2014 season. The next month will find me living with Kuhnert and Courtney….tying flies at night, watching play off baseball mixed with some EPL and rowing a boat during the day. Twenty-two trips in total and I can only hope that cloudy weather and cool temps continue to be in the forecast through late October. Greg Falls has been working nearly everyday up north and providing me with weekly reports – they’ve had solid fishing and each day it get’s more Fall-like. The Missouri gives me a chill, it always has and it always will……
An old friend, exceptional fly tyier and fellow guide passed away a few days ago after a two year battle with cancer. Nick, you will be missed by us all….over ten years ago you showed me the $3 dip – that fly changed my outlook on flies and guiding. You were a ghost amongst the rest of us and I very rarely knew where you were fishing. When I did happen upon your rig, I always made a mental note but never went back there with clients. Thanks for being a friend to young guide trying to figure out the way down the river.
August and September were wet as wet as anyone can remember in recent history. The photo above was from early September and our first snow of the year on the level. That was a particularly windy day, out of the north, and I don’t think I ever made a back stroke on the oars all day long. The fish have stayed hungry through September, mostly eating nymphs and streamers, but there were several days of solid dry fly fishing. Small flies like $3 dip, Black Crystal Dip, the DOB, #12 Prince, Olive Serendipities, Pink SJW and #10 black rubber legs were my best flies down in the Madison valley over the past few weeks.
Big Trout are running up the Madison in YNP as I write this. The flows have been higher than normal and the daytime temps cooler as well. What that really translates to is more trout in the system for a longer period of time. October will provide some solid fishing opportunities around West Yellowstone and I look forward to seeing photos of big browns in the month to come. While I love guiding and fishing the Missouri River in October, I will miss swinging flies for the grab of a migratory brown who has been lurking in Hebgen Lake all summer long.
You will very rarely see me all tuxed out like this……my wife is stunning….me? Well, I just look good cause she is standing by my side.. See ya soon Molly! Can’t wait to fish with you on the Missouri.
The Fishing Life: An Angler’s Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors (2013) compiles Paul Schullery’s best stories fish, flies, water, and the people who love them all. Including articles originally published from the 1980s and later, he adds previously unpublished pieces. Schullery fishes his way from Pennsylvania to Mexico, Yellowstone to Alaska, with stops in the Adirondacks and Ohio. These essays explore conservation, favorite rivers, beloved and scorned varieties of fish, non-traditional fly patterns, and the passion behind fly-fishing.
Schullery is a soft-spoken legend, well-known for his reflections about the natural world. He authored nearly 40 books about bears, fly-fishing, Yellowstone, and two works of fiction. Raised in Pennsylvania, he began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1972. Much of his writing and research is devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, editing the quarterly journal Yellowstone Science from 1992-2009. He also served as executive director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing from 1977 to 1982. I met Mr. Schullery at Montana State University in 2003, when he taught “History of Yellowstone.” I can’t remember most of the lectures, and my old notebooks were trashed along with the futon and PBR cans. I would surely relish the chance to travel back and time and reabsorb every word. Since then, I’ve consulted many of his books for program research. Among his writings outside of fishing, I recommend Mountain Time (1984), Searching for Yellowstone (1997), and Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers (1995).
Through common goals of keeping fish plentiful and happy, wilderness advocates and fly fisherman usually find companionable ground. Protecting fish inevitably leads to preserving their natural ecosystems. Chapter 21, “How Can You Do That?” explores the wavy lines between catch and release and just…catching. Returning the trout alive to the stream is a conservation practice designed to prevent overharvest in the face of increasing pressure from anglers, environmental concerns, and habit degradation. All of the sport, yet unlike game hunters, none of the bloodshed. Ah, what a fine compromise fishermen made! However, naysayers of catch and release decry the intense pain fish feel from hooking, playing, and prying the hook from its jaws. Schullery relates his experiences amidst this debate. At a wilderness conference, he is approached by some of those in opposition of catch and release. Their claim is that anglers might as well kill the fish as instead of torturing it without ending its suffering. They kept asking, “How can you do that?!” He pauses to think it over, recalling days of glorious fish and wild water, and thinks, “Oh, but how can you not do that?!” Observant anglers are privy to various natural delights besides the pursuit of trout. Chapter Four, “Antlers Aweigh,” reminds us that fish, flies, and water are a small section of the outdoors. As Schullery is fishing Michigan’s Au Sable River, he encounters a deer swimming upstream. His mind immediately relates the doe to various flies crafted with deer hair, prized for its floatant nature. While pondering the creations possible from the deer’s body hair, he watches her make a 90-degree turn for the opposite shore. Startled, she is laboriously swimming away. Realizing he spooked her, he thinks maybe the value in that day on the river comes not from the fishing, but from the larger experience occurring in the ecosystem.
Fish are as important as those searching for them. Schullery introduces us to different fish, and helps define them according to a sort of anglers’ social class. Reigning supreme are the browns and rainbows of the Gardner, Gallatin, and Yellowstone. In “Home River” he describes the Gardner River as a magic stretch of water that can mark an angler’s soul forever. Catching his first trout on a fly rod there, Schullery discovers hatches, currents, and a whole world the tour busses whizzing past never see. I immediately understood this perspective, if not as an angler, but as a Yellowstone visitor looking for more than bears and geysers. A whole world exists underneath the surface, whether that of the fish in the water, the birds in the trees, or the thriving bacteria mats next to flashy erupting geysers. “So Long, Sucker,” acknowledges that not all fish are created equal. Suckers, for one. The name sucker comes from their tendency to live along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, vacuuming up plants and insects. If suckers were people, they would have weak chins, bug eyes, and wear Cheetos-stained sweatpants. Schullery notes they are often known as trashfish, forage fish, and amongst Vermont anglers, shitfish.
The Fishing Life is a fantastic book. It can sit with pride on any diehard anglers’ shelf next to Richard & Swisher’s Selective Trout. However, if you are interested in the broader aspects of the sport like myself, an evening spent with Selective Trout would find you not understanding much, or dying of boredom. The humor, honesty, and detail of this writing offers more than enough to keep fishermen of any breed well engaged. Bearing in mind this idea that not all anglers are alike, so it stands to reason most will find a good laugh or a moment of reflection. Schullery says,
Fishing-in my case fly fishing- is an opportunity to exercise our intellects and emotions in a realm of inexhaustible wonder. At any given moment we may think we’re in this for just one thing, say the challenge of a difficult fish or the companionships of a fishing trip. But I suspect that most of the time we’re in it for everything we can get, and we’re out there just to see what will develop.
I doubt I will ever wake up one fine July morning and say, “Let’s go float L to P and rip some lips. A dozen over 20” in the boat by noon!” But meandering along small streams in Yellowstone’s backcountry, or fishing for brookies in the pothole lakes of the Beartooths are activities I’ve enjoyed since childhood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to picking out colors for my new wine bar. Those of you who know Joe may have heard about our recent home remodel. He is busy installing my new Jacuzzi, and will hopefully make it to my custom cedar closet by tomorrow. Happy fall.
– Molly Moore
For other book reviews, click here.
Just recently, I’ve spent a little time on the river outside of guiding anglers. After all, it’s still summer for a few more weeks and one must take advantage of the time off. Yes it’s true, when not guiding anglers, tying flies or sorting through mail from the past six months, I enjoy fishing completely on my own. I don’t even really want to talk anyone else, except for that pretty blond at the West Gate of YNP checking passes or the nice lady at the gas station who has sold me beer and fuel for what seems like for ever.
It was chilly outside this morning as it had cleared up after last night’s deluge of a rainstorm. Sprinkles fell again late morning, then it cleared up with sunshine and fish spotting weather for a few hours only to pour cats and dogs this afternoon into the early evening. Around ten o’clock I found a familiar run to sit by and watch for awhile. Cars rolled by at forty-five miles per hour, hardly seeing what they were after, with only a few folks stopping to check out what Wonderland had to offer. While I keep telling myself that summer hasn’t left yet and that we have plenty of warm weather ahead, I realize that wearing waders and layering up felt darn good. With my boots laced up, both rods in hand and rigged with wet flies, I made way way across the river and into the lodge pole pine forest. The sun, supposedly behind me through a thick veil of clouds, was trying to poke out; it was hard to see them below the surface, lying on the bottom of the river, but they were there. A window appeared and a fish darted around another and then about a half dozen slid forward together and back again. One of em’ was big, much larger than the others and sitting a foot or so behind the rest. These trout weren’t rising, but they were eating nymphs in about waist deep water. Sunshine burned off the clouds, a few more rain drops hit the water, but it stayed clear enough to sight nymph. Sight nymphing is a tough game, and something I don’t get a chance to do all that often – I need more practice with this technique for certain. For the next hour or more I picked off a handful of nice fish with a #16 green price nymph, tungsten beaded. A few caddis began to pop and that helped my chances as fish were eating the green Prince on the lift.
That big fish, sitting behind the others was a large brown trout, that I didn’t land…..I saw it jump though.
Missouri River at Holter: 6090 cfs at 6pm…….three days ago it was 11,200 cfs.
Madison River below Hebgen: 1200 cfs…….five days ago it was 1850 cfs.
Madison River at Kirby: 1880 cfs…….fishing’s not too bad at all with nymphs in the wade stretch.
Madison River at Varney: 2980 cfs…….muddy, but you can catch a few if you try hard enough.
A week ago, most of us on the Missouri and Madison were preparing for a high water year. Then, things started to drop and flow managers, it seems, began to panic about filling the lakes and the flows were pared back to say the least. Some folks are saying that runoff has peaked……this being said, it’s only June 4th and there’s still boat loads of snow in the high country. I believe that round two of runoff is not far behind. More warm weather is in the forecast and I plan on taking a hike up into the high country next week to check a few spots and look at snow pack. With any luck, Hebgen will fill by the end of the month and we wont’ have a situation like last season with low flows and dried up spawning beds. Canyon Ferry is filling as this is being written, but there is concern that it too won’t fill to full capacity.
This water management concept seems to be hard to figure out……..snow falls and then it melts, at some point a lake or two needs to be filled. While there are lots of variables in the equation and after this many years of managing water, one would think that the water managers would have a easier time with filling the lakes.
If Hebgen isn’t filled by the end of month, it will be disappointing to say the least – this was a banner year for snow pack and filling the lakes should’ve have been an easy task. There is a flow meeting in West Yellowstone on June 12th held by PPL, should be an interesting time.
The Missouri has been, for the most part, pretty good fishing for the past month. From 1-3 fishing’s been a little weird. Some days the fish are grabby in some spots and other days they have moved out of the runs. We’re not getting em’ everywhere and are having to work a little bit. We’ve been mostly nymphing with sow bugs, worms, caddis pupa and bwo nymphs. As the river began to drop a few days ago, the dry fly fishing reared it’s head. A fish here and there were up eating spinners and we found a couple smallish pods that were easily put down after a fish was hooked and blew up jumping it’s way off the hook.
While there is NOT full blown dry fly fishing on the Missouri, we are getting closer each day. If these Missouri flows stabilize and stop jumping around, the caddis should begin and we can stop staring at the bobber all day long. PMD’s? They’ll come soon enough….and when they do the river will come alive.
At this point, my guess is that we’ll be fishing salmonflies on the Madison by the end June……..don’t hold me to this as my crystal ball broke about 38 years ago.