Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Late Summer Whities

10:00 PM
I was standing near the shore with my camera on a tripod watching the storm roll in, hoping to catch some lightning photos.  The water level was up and the wind was starting to blow.  The first time I heard it I thought a walnut or some tree fruit had broken off and hit the water.  The second and third splash made me think someone was throwing rocks.  It took awhile before my brain switched from photo mode to fishing mode.  I was home and back with a 6 weight in about 12 minutes.  The white bass were clobbering baitfish.
Two nights later I revisited the spot and helped a local spin fisherman fill his bucket.
My conservative estimate was 40 fish caught on what is now a very beat-up streamer. 

I put the call out to the boys and the next night we arrived ready to catch.

Between the 4 of us, JH got the only fish.

Shoulda been here yesterday.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


It was a 15 hour drive over two days with a stop in Des Moines on the way in and Omaha on the way out.  My wife, my two daughter's and the Dog of Thunder were all in on it. 

My wife and I decided over the past few years that the Great American Road Trip was worthwhile and something we wanted our kids to experience.  It is, of course, a different experience than I had back in the late 70's and early 80's as a kid.  Our kids never ask, "How much further is it?"  Mainly because they just access google maps on their phones between Youtube videos and snapchat exchanges and figure it out for themselves.  I had originally intended for them to be unplugged and watch the lands of our country roll by through the back windows but the techno-induced peace and quiet that is the status quo for our trips would amaze my parents.  Trade-offs.

The cabin in Estes Park was a real cabin.  Wood floors with dirt tracked in made for textured footfalls.  Sweeping loosened as much new grit as it collected.  It was perfect. 

Rocky Mountain National Park was a new place for me and it took a few days to get used to the topography.  There a lot of contour lines and in many places there are many very close together.  I'm not one for heights...or rather I'm not one to put myself in a position of an increased risk of death from falling.  My wife took a picture of me white knuckling the steering wheel on one of the many miles of roads in the park that should cause 100's of deaths annually.  She thinks it's hilarious.  I was just trying to keep us all safe, being attentive.

We hiked and climbed and rode horses and saw the sights.  We found some good places to eat (Scratch Deli and Bakery in Estes Park...look it up) and generally eased out.  Vacation as it should be.

Perhaps the highlight of my trip was my wife's interest in going fishing.  Most evenings after a day's worth of activities, we left the kids and the dog at the cabin to watch the Summer Olympics on TV.

(OK...a "real" cabin with a TV).

We would drive the 15 minutes into the park and string up the rods.  I'm not as fascinated with trout as I once was...which is to say I didn't enjoy fishing as much as I enjoyed watching my wife fish.  Actually it was perfect.   The trout were plentiful and the water was clear.  (Which is not the same thing as saying we caught a pile of fish.)  The rivers, at least the easily accessed portions of rivers, in RMNP are fished hard.  I'm not sure I've ever seen so many fly rods on a trout stream.  The bad news was that the fish were very wary.  The good news was that by the time we got to the water most of the other anglers were done for the day.

The last evening as I stood stream-side in the cooling mountain air, watching her cast, I was struck by this:  She seemed to exemplify the first part and defy the last part of one of my favorite quotes from Norman MacLean,

"...all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” 

It was certainly grace and art, but she made it look easy.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

When A Plan Comes Together

I was sitting next to Mr T, having a beer when he shot McSteel and me a text: "You guys open to fish Sat July 30?  [redacted] or [redacted] maybe?  Recon day."

A half a month of texts later and we all converged on Friday July 29th at a campground that had a little bar/restaurant and a spot for us to crash for the night.   I pulled in first with McSteel right behind me.  Stepping out of the truck, I commented on the sweet smell of the northern pine. 

We found our campsite and didn't even bother with the tents, instead, fishing out a beer and deposited ourselves on the (obligatorily) brown painted picnic table.

Mr T showed up next .  He pulled his rig, drift boat in tow, in front of the bar/restaurant and stepped out.  He made the same comment about the smell of the northern pine.  The same comment...like we had practiced a script in order to make a point and convince McSteel of something.  All it convinced me of was that Mr T and I needed to get north more often.

Through charm, good looks and pure charisma, the three of us talked the two ladies out smoking on the front step, the bar-keep and the cook, into keeping the grill open and making us some burgers.  We also got them to concede to Mr T keeping his rig parked right where it was, through the overnight hours.

The burgers were fat and juicy and the beer was cold.  The menu was almost like a throwback to the 80's.  "Northwoods Prices," is what McSteel called them.  The whole thing would've been perfect if some jokester hadn't dropped a quarter in the jukebox and selected Arlo Guthrie's, "Alice's Restaurant" which provide the background noise for nearly half our stay at the place.

Back at the dirt patch and picnic table, we set up camp and would have turned in right then if somebody hadn't passed me my Yeti cup overflowing with tonic but mostly gin.

The next sentence in this narrative should, after all of the goodness above, include me drifting off to sleep and waking refreshed to bluebirds singing.  That might have been the case if Mr T and McSteel didn't have a snore-off with the intensity and volume of the Steve Vai and Ralph Machio guitar duel in Crossroads.

The geese honk at 5:20 AM.

At least here they did.


Coffee, gas station breakfast, camp tear down, scout the takeout, run the shuttle, load the boat, shove off.

From here my recollection gets a little fuzzy....and I've had almost a week to think about it.

The sky was mostly sunny, the temp was hot but not melting, the wind wasn't a factor...at least with casting.  The bass started off a little pokey and we messed around with some topwater stuff and streamers.  (Between these two tactics we had two sizeable muskies follow.  Mr T, the muskiest guy of the three of us, picked up the 10 wt and tried to convert but the fish didn't reappear.)  Some decent fish were caught but we needed to work for them for the first couple of hours.  The scenery was seriously stunning.  No homes or other boats on the main float and the river rocks and healthy stands of trees make me rank this as one of my favorite smallmouth floats. 

As the we made our way down river the thing that makes fish eat, happened.  I don't know what that thing is....water temp, barometric pressure, time of day, all three, something else entirely?

But it happened.

Certainly there were a number of 12" bass caught but they came between 16" and 18" fish.  One fish grabbed the fly as we were braced for some white water and we had to find a back eddy to drop anchor so we could land it.  That fish was over 20".  Every pocket, softspot, rock and sweeper held an eating fish.  Casts, 99% of them were dead on.  It never rained and the beer stayed cold.  The mosquitoes must have all died and all that remained for pestilence were a few deer flies...and we killed most of them.

I'm pretty sure I'm not exaggerating.

With the river day behind us and the boat back on the trailer, we stopped for a celebratory beer.

To paraphrase, the conversation went something like this:

One of us: "That was $#&@ing unbelieveable..."
Another said: "It really was."
The last guy said: "Yep."

That is how you know when a plan comes together.