Articles, Essays & Opinion

Two-Handed Rods for Fall Fishing

John Juracek spey casting on the Madison

Two-Handed Rods for Fall Fishing

John Juracek

Thirty-some years ago, Mike Maxwell, the Canadian steelhead guide and fly-casting instructor, demonstrated the use of two-handed (spey) rods while visiting the Yellowstone area for a Federation of Flyfishermen conclave.  A few local anglers watching his demonstration were immediately struck by the utility of such rods for fishing the “swinging fly” during the fall run of fish out of Hebgen and Quake Lakes.  For those of us interested in pursuing this kind of fishing, there weren’t many options when it came to choosing a rod.  Orvis was the only American company building two-handed models; they made them principally for Atlantic salmon fishing.  Our choice for the Madison ended up being their 15’ 11-weight model—a beast of a rod by today’s standards. 

Fast forward to now and almost every rod company offers two-handed models, most in a wide range of lengths and line weights.  It’s become ever more common to see these rods in use by anglers plying the waters of the Madison in the fall, and why not?  They offer unparalleled advantages over single-handed rods—less tiring to use, easier distance when necessary, no need for stripping in line before making another cast, no need for false casting or for maintaining backcast space behind you, superb control of the fly swing, and an ability to fight fish more efficiently.  Not only that, but they’re just a heck of a lot of fun to fish with, too.

If you’re a fisherman that enjoys swinging flies for fall-run fish (or if you’re a steelhead or salmon angler) you owe it to yourself to try a two-handed rod, if you haven’t already done so.  Once you discover the pleasures and efficiency of fishing with two hands, I doubt you’ll ever revert to a single-handed rod.  I sure haven’t, and I don’t know anyone else that has either!

A Lesson in Semantics, and Casting

By John Juracek

While visiting the fly shop yesterday, I learned that one of my young co-workers, recently back from college, would today be teaching an even younger group of students how to cast a fly.  I've always found my friend's enthusiasm for our sport contagious, his willingness to help others admirable.  Since I'd worked with him in prior years on the principles of casting, I thought perhaps the moment was right for a brief refresher quiz.  I grabbed the shop's practice rod and made several casts—casts where the line extended out in a wide loop, with line tip and leader waffling down to collapse in a pile.  I asked my friend to analyze and solve this problem, such that my ensuing casts would straighten out.  (The inability to cast a straight line, on demand, is one of the most common problems in flycasting, afflicting not only beginners but often those of us with many years of experience.  Truth is, how to cast a straight line is one of the first things we should all be taught.)

After thinking it through, my friend concluded that my casting stroke was too long.  That I was taking the rod too far behind me on the backcast.  "What should I do?", I asked.  Boldly, he replied, "Stop your backcast at 12:00 o'clock".  So I did.  And my next cast finished by slamming hard into the floor, line tip and leader still piling up on themselves, albeit with authority now.  I repeated the cast.  Same result—my line drove hard into the floor without straightening out.  I looked at my friend.  Not expecting this, he seemed caught off-guard, unsure exactly how to proceed.

I stopped the exercise.  I told him that his analysis of the problem was correct—my stroke was too long, I was taking the rod too far back on the backcast.  But even as he had correctly diagnosed the problem, his proffered solution—"stop the rod at 12:00 o'clock"—condemned my casts to failure.  Here's why.  The length of the casting stroke is a direct function of the length of the line.  The relationship works like this:  Short line, short stroke.  Longer line, longer stroke.  So every time we change the length of our line we also have to change the length of our stroke.  Consequently, there can be no fixed backcast position.  The correct backcast position varies depending on the distance being cast.  Could be 11:00 o'clock, 3:00 o'clock, any time in between.  In my case with the practice rod, it turned out the right position was about 2:00 o'clock. So his proposed 12:00 o'clock solution wasn't going to work, ever.

My friend ultimately came to realize that he was offering up a stock, fixed answer to a problem with infinitely variable answers.  When faced with this same situation myself in teaching I said that I find it more productive to simply ask my students to not take the rod back so far.  By not verbally specifying a particular "time", but instead watching the line unroll in front and adjusting to its behavior—lengthening or shortening the stroke, as required—students find the correct backcast position by feel, ingraining that position in their muscles as well as their mind.  My friend knew that my backcast was too long, he knew how to physically fix it, but his suggested correction fell short merely by the words he chose to communicate with.

Good flycasting instruction requires concise, thoughtful communication.  Knowledge alone, while necessary, is never enough.  In time, my friend is going to make an excellent teacher.  I respectfully suggested to him that he continue to refine his delivery, learning how to say exactly what he means, and learning to recognize when he isn't.  That's not easy, but it's one of the things the best instructors always think about, one of the ways in which they stand apart.

Spring Road Trips are Coming!

Photo and text courtesy of Drew Mentzer

It's not too late to sign up for one of our favorite fishing trips of the whole season, our Spring Road Trips. These trips are not only customer favorites, but guide favorites as well. After a long cold winter, we love getting the drift boats out of the garage, packing up our fishing gear, and hitting the road to fish some of the best fisheries southwest Montana has to offer (and it's also nice to escape all that white stuff on the ground here in West Yellowstone!).

These trips are all inclusive, so all you have to do is book your plane ticket and decide which 5 weight you want to bring. Once you show up in Bozeman, we take care of the rest. One of our guides will pick you up at the airport, and then it's off to whichever rivers are fishing the best for four days and five nights. During one of these trips one might fish the Beaverhead, Ruby, Big Hole and Madison looking for Baetis hatches and top-notch nymph fishing. Or you may head over to Livingston to fish the Yellowstone in search of Mothers Day caddis, or to look for fish rising to Baetis and midges on one of the three world class spring creeks in Paradise valley. Sometimes we even drive a little further and fish either the Missouri River or Bighorn River, two of the finest tailwater fisheries in the country. Wherever you end up, you will not be disappointed!

Give us a call today and we can pair you up with one of our world class fishing guides and get you started on one the most fun and exciting fishing trips you can do in Montana.

For specifics about Spring Road Trips, give the shop a call at 406-646-7642.

Join Our Greybull River Pack Trip August 20-24, 2017!

Article and all photos by BRF fishing guide Patrick Daigle 

It is mid-February here at the shop; snow is piled up in every nook and cranny of town, with plow drivers scratching their heads calculating where they will put the next storm’s snowfall.  As we experience a brief warm spell to break the streak of storms, the warm sun has me thinking of the months ahead, filled with adventure into the greater Yellowstone region. 

Celestial events have always been fascinating to me, and because of that I have had my eye on 2017 for some time now. The idea of tying together a celestial event with a fly fishing trip has been a fantasy up until this past week, when we secured dates for this upcoming season's backcountry horse trip.  This coming August 20th through 24th, I would be honored to have you along on what is truly a trip of a lifetime: find yourself along the banks of the Greybull River in the Washakie Wilderness Area to experience four nights of camping, and five days of backcountry fly fishing for native cutthroat trout.  And as a bonus, on August 21st at around 11:40 am (barring any cloud cover), we will be treated to a solar eclipse of 99.62% totality at the campsite!!  Being only 14 miles from the shadow of totality, we will potentially (sans clouds) experience a total eclipse of the sun.  The last total solar eclipse of the sun within the contiguous 48 states was February 26th, 1979, with the next one arriving on April 8th, 2024.

This is a trip of a lifetime, gang.  I can already smell the cowboy coffee as I sit here in the hard winter months, reflecting back on pack trips of the past. The smokey August air, dust, and the bug spray even smell good.  On this trip, enjoy riverside camping with Wyoming Wilderness Outfitters as our host, 10 miles into the backcountry, of which we will ride in on mules maintained by the best cowboys around.  An impressive pack string will carry in our gear and food for our stay, being led by some of the best wranglers in the business.  As we ride in, trout can be spotted from atop the mules, only adding to the excitement as we ride past beautiful scenery up to camp.  Once we get to camp, top shelf breakfasts and dinners will be cooked over the fire each day, with a "to go" lunch being provided daily as well, so you will have no reason not to focus on getting after some quality fly fishing, with a possible nap here or there.  The Greybull River is one of the last remaining rivers in the lower 48 states to host genetically pure Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, making it a top trout river.

Fishing is pretty forgiving here. That being said, the Greybull provides a variety of fly fishing opportunities; from swift riffles where almost any fly works, to skinny side channels with spooky, sophisticated cutties taking only the right fly, the fly they want. This trip is for anglers of all abilities, but I will recommend having some fly fishing experience under your belt.  The option to hike miles and fish your way back to camp will offer some solitude for the energetic, and riverside access at camp can satisfy the more relaxed fly fisher's interests.  Opportunites for viewing wildlife and wildflowers abound, too. But perhaps the best thing about fly fishing is that all aspects of pristine native trout waters ultimately work together to take our minds away from the daily buzz of the real world. The last time I checked, the real world sure was buzzing… So join us this year on the 2017 Greybull Pack Trip to experience an amazing fly fishing adventure, with the very good chance to witness a total solar eclipse of the sun!!!  Bucket list material for sure...

Cost for this trip is $2650.00 per person. For more information or to book your spot, give us a call at 406-646-7642.

Seeing the Light

Photo by Aaron Freed

An Article by Bucky McCormick

Most fly fishers, myself included at one time, looked at rods below a four weight as impractical or too limiting. And to some degree this can be true, since they certainly would not qualify as most folks' every day rod, but you may find you would use them more than you anticipated. Over the last number of years, I've acquired both a two and a three weight rod, and it turns out I actually use them far more often than I thought I would.

My three weight is a great rod when I am dealing with wary trout on smooth water. Late season gulpers on Hebgen Lake can be difficult, and I find the three weight to make a difference when it comes to presentation. When the Callibaetis hatch begins to slow and there are not as many duns or spinners on the water, the fish can more easily be spooked by the weight of a fly line. One way to combat this is to lengthen the leader, but at times even this proves to be futile. The lightness of the three weight line coupled with a 12 or 14 foot leader has worked very well for me. With the absence of current on the lake, the rod plays the fish quickly and I have never felt I have over-played one. The rod is also very light in weight and is a joy to fish all day. It has also become my go-to rod on the Gallatin river. Picking apart the pockets on this river for its 10-12 inch trout is a great way to spend an evening and this rod the perfect tool for the job.

The two weight is certainly a more specialized rod, and not one I use on big water or where large trout are present. What this rod has done, however, is motivate me to seek out water where the rod is practical. These are most often out of the way places with no one else around, where the scenery is beautiful and so too are the trout. I can pack one small fly box and a spool or two of tippet and away I go. The rod plays trout up to 15 inches well in these smaller waters and makes the 8 inch trout feel like champs. And of course, living here in Yellowstone country, there is an endless supply of little blue lines on the map to explore. I also love this rod for late season on the Firehole, when the water is generally quite low and the trout can be exceptionally spooky. Casting size 22 or 24 Baetis delicately with such a light line typically yields great results.

Keep in mind, neither of these rods are meant to cast streamers or large hoppers. But what they do excel at is casting flies in the sizes we most often fish: size 14 and smaller.

For those interested in specific rods, both of my rods are Burkheimer DAL models, with the two weight measuring 8'3" and the three weight coming in at 8'9". There many other great rods out there, though, and the Echo Dry is one that comes to mind and is certainly in a very affordable price range. We're always happy to chat about all things fishing, so feel free to give us a call any time if you have more questions about these fun rods. So if you haven't ever used a lighter fly rod, give one a try a sometime. You may be surprised at how well it will fit into your rod collection.

For the Classics

Photo by John Juracek

An Article by John Juracek

For quite some years now, the classic books of fly fishing have been skating on thin ice.  Very thin ice.  Recently it appears—at least from where I stand—that the ice has finally given way.  With luck a couple of classic titles may flounder for awhile, but the bulk of them seem to be plunging unceremoniously to depths from which only the most intrepid of future anglers might dredge them.  Yes, the classics are pretty much gone.  I’m taking it hard.

Try finding a classic fly fishing book on the shelf of a fly shop or bookstore today.  It’s damn near impossible.  Explanations for their absence run to: “They don’t sell.”  “No one is interested.”  “No one has time to read anymore.”  “Old information.”  “It’s all on the Internet.”  Finding even a single fly shop employee or guide that has read a classic pretty much requires advanced detective skills.  If any of those employees and guides are younger than thirty-five, it’s all the more unlikely.  But it’s not only the folks that work in the fishing business.  Anglers of all ages and stripes have been eschewing the classics for some time.  

I can think of several reasons why we shouldn’t.  As in any genre of writing, the classics of fly fishing represent the best of what has been thought and said about the subject.  The ideas contained in them have proven value; they are good enough to believe in.  The essential truths contained in the classics are the very ones by which we profitably fish today—whether we know it or not.  It’s that simple.  No disrespect towards current authors, but those who penned the classics were more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, more articulate.  They showed us the way, and did it beautifully. 

Along with the technical insights the classics furnish us, they offer something else of at least equal value, at least to my way of thinking. They provide the philosophical foundations by which we define our engagement with the sport.  That is to say, in addition to showing us how to catch fish, they also present systems of values and beliefs by which we can fish.  Values and beliefs that have proven meaningful enough over the long term to serve as templates for entire angling careers (mine included).  

Here are three suggestions, with a brief excerpt from each:

Nymph Fishing for Chalkstream Trout, by G.E.M. Skues (1939). 

Here’s Skues, laying out the very concept of nymph fishing:   “In this work then nymph fishing must, please, be understood to mean the art of taking trout or grayling at or under the surface with an artificial pattern credibly representing in colour, dimensions and outline a natural nymph of a type being accepted by trout and grayling on the stream which is being fished, and designed to be taken by the fish as such, and presenting such patterns to the trout in conditions to deceive them into believing them to be natural nymphs brought to them by the current.”

A Modern Dry Fly Code, by Vincent Marinaro (1950).

Marinaro, on the theory of imitation:  “The fly-fisherman and flytier should remember above all that the artificial is nothing more than what is intended, an imitation.  It can never be anything more than that, and if the trout can perceive a viable distinction between artificial and natural, as he probably does, it is a gift of law to which he is entitled.  These reasons suggest that the proper approach to discover the requirements of the artificial should stem from considerations of practicality in dressing and in use, the appearance on the water from the trout’s point of view, and a careful review of the living insect itself, terrestrial and waterborne.”

Matching the Hatch, by Ernie Schwiebert (1955).

Schwiebert, touching on topics that resonate even today:

“Trout fishing at its best is a gentle art, both humbling and satisfying.  Many who pursue it never see the subtle side at all, but those who do are never without rich memories and the deep satisfaction that comes with anything well done.  …In these days of hard-fished waters, ethics and philosophy play an ever increasing role in our enjoyment, and to Father Walton’s measure of hope and patience let us add the spice called charity.”

In short, the classics taught generations of anglers how to fish and how to think about fishing.  Why shouldn’t they still?  After all, knowledge of fish and fishing tactics is timeless; what worked back in the day still works now, oftentimes better than contemporary practices.  In a world that seems to crave “authenticity” and “originality”, it makes little sense that we feed so eagerly today at the troughs of rehashed fishing thought.  So if you’ve never read a fly fishing classic, consider doing it now—while a few remain afloat.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Craig’s 2016 Year in Review

Photos by Craig Mathews

By Craig Mathews

It was already 32 degrees when Tim, my elk hunting partner, and I left my truck at 5am to begin our elk hunt. The forecast called for a record high temperature of 64 degrees. We knew we’d have to hunt early that early November day. The bulls would seek cool, shaded cover in black timber, their favored security area, to loaf away the day and chew their cud.

Tim worked southeast uphill to a saddle separating the two drainages we planned to hunt. I headed uphill to a meadow I knew bull elk would graze in during the early morning hours before finding their way to the black timber. I got to the meadow before daylight, stood next to a huge Douglas fir tree and hoped for a big bull to skirt the upper part of the meadow before going to its day bed.

Legal shooting time arrived, but no elk showed. I was confident I’d take an elk that day. I decided to hike slowly, at a snail’s pace, further up the mountain then enter the black timber to look for a bull. I’d gone a short distance then began to side hill to a small flat where I knew elk often bedded during the day, as I’d been this route a few times before.

I’d gone less than a hundred yards when I spotted a bull looking at me, or so I thought. I ducked behind small Lodgepole pines and risked a peek at the bull through my binoculars. He lay facing my way, head up, ruminating and fast asleep. He became my 38th bull elk in as many seasons, a nice six point. My luck ran that way in 2016, and I hope it continues in 2017!

In January, Cam, Aaron and I headed to Boise, Idaho for the Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo. I presented several Tenkara shows there, as well as in Idaho Falls, Idaho in March. In April, I headed to Pierre, South Dakota and Minneapolis, Minnesota, to present conservation, Tenkara, and Yellowstone fly-fishing and fly-tying programs.

The year began with strong winter midge fishing. January, February and March all fished well on the Madison and Henry’s Fork. We saw good snowpack last into April when temps warmed. It rained all of May, and then June temperatures soared into the 70s and 80s and we saw snowpack dwindle. This resulted in early mayfly and caddis emergences that brought strong dry fly fishing for us. But, most early season visiting anglers would not arrive until many of those reliable mayfly and caddis emergences had peaked and finished early for the year.

My log for April 1st indicates I had a fine evening on the river when midges emerged from 6:00 to 7:30pm. That day the temperature remained at 58 degrees with calm winds, and fish rose to emerging midges. Strong evening midge fishing continued all month.

On the 24th of April, spring Baetis began emerging afternoons on the river when overcast conditions occurred. Our #20 Improved Sparkle Dun was the only pattern needed to take big rising trout then.

We could only watch as PMDs and caddis emerged on the Firehole and Madison Rivers in the Park before the fishing season opened in late May. Fish rose freely while we watched, happy and undisturbed.

Aaron had already spent some time developing his new White Miller Razor Caddis, but we couldn’t test it until the season opened. Once it did, this new caddis proved deadly, and now all of us carry them to fish the Firehole and Madison River in the Park during the early and late seasons when White Millers are present. This fly is highly buoyant, due in part to the Razor Foam body, and is perfect for when fish are chasing skittering adults moving on the surface.

The month of May saw fine fishing on nearby Cliff and Wade lakes . Strong rises of trout sipping Callibaetis mayflies and midges were the rule and those of us who love fishing big trout on stillwaters schemed to get time off to fish. Aaron had soon heard enough complaining from those of us who fished Callibaetis spinners, as we had a hard time keeping track of our spinner flies in flat light, often the case on lakes, so he put together our simple new Hi-Vis Callibaetis Spinner to remedy the problem. The guides and all of us at the shop used it last summer and it took many great trout for all who fished it.

On June 5th, I found caddis emerging on the Madison near the West Fork. We spent several evenings fishing Iris, X and X2 caddis to early season trout rising to emerging caddis. Most evenings locals were the only anglers on the river, since these strong caddis emergences were three weeks early, and the arrival of visiting fly-fishers were weeks away.

On June 16th, Yvon Chouinard and I taught 13 Japanese anglers how to fish Tenkara. The entire day was captured on film by “Fly Fisherman of Japan” magazine. Make sure you stay connected through our weekly email newsletter for a full report and photos of this day due out in 2017.

Early season saw some solid dry fly fishing on the Henry’s Fork, but water conditions were fickle and made the hatches difficult to predict. PMDs and caddis came off and green drake emergences lasted only a few days on the Fork.  Air and water temperature quickly warmed and hatches came off early and in short duration in the early season.

Salmonflies showed up the same day green drakes began emerging on the Madison near the West Fork, June 24th. Green drakes on the Madison emerge in the late evening and it was a strong emergence this summer, lasting the next five evenings.

Epeorus mayflies (pink ladies) began June 27th. Their emergences and evening spinner falls helped save the Madison’s evening fishing opportunities when normally reliable evening caddis (Hydropsyche sp) waned in mid-July, weeks earlier than “normal” due to warm air and water temperatures. Three other aquatic insects kept the summer evening fishing great for anglers: tiny black caddis (Glossosoma sp), Oecetis sp (Longhorn) caddis and midges. My notes indicate midges and black caddis brought good evening rises from late June into August. When Longhorn caddis emerged and their egg-laying periods occurred on the Madison below Earthquake Lake our #16 Amber X2 Caddis worked best. My log indicates several late afternoons when Longhorns brought up good rises of fish. There are several Amber X2 Caddis pasted in my logbook with twisted hooks and fly bodies torn apart that scored big trout in July and August.

I found black caddis and midges on the river every evening I fished in July and August, and big trout rose to them whether at $3 Bridge, the West Fork area or Windy Point. I just counted 23 chewed #20 Black X Caddis and three dozen #20-24 Zelon Midges pasted in my log with the dates I fished and notes indicating how well they worked. Terry and I spent a few evenings on the river in mid-July, when the only fly we could get fish to take were #20 Black X Caddis until dark when the big head and tail rising trout would then switch to tiny midges and take #22-24 Zelon Midges.

Hebgen, Cliff, Wade, Trout, Ennis and Earthquake Lakes saw strong Callibaetis mayfly hatches in July and August. Our new Hi-Vis Callibaetis Spinner was the ticket for successfully fishing heavy spinner falls on these stillwaters and spinner falls on the Henry’s Fork’s Railroad Ranch section.

In late July, Yvon, Mark and I head to the Bighorn River for our “Tenkara for the Tribe” program. For three days we taught Crow Indian youngsters how to fish with Tenkara. It was a grand time. Every one of the kids caught several fish and learned Tenkara techniques. We’ll return in 2017.

Most August evenings I’d find myself alone on the river fishing Pink Lady (Epeorus sp) spinner falls, and tiny black caddis and midge emergences. On the 15th our guides reported huge swarms of ants along the river. For the next two weeks we had fine fishing on all area rivers, lakes and streams during afternoon ant periods. The Lamar, Yellowstone, Gallatin and Madison Rivers came alive with rising trout, as did Soda Butte and Slough Creeks in the Park.

Cam and I took John Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, and his crew fishing on the Yellowstone in the Park in August. After our guiding stint that day, on our way back to the shop, we thought we might as well fish since we were there anyway! What an awesome two hours we had taking big rising Yellowstone Cutthroat trout on drakes and Chubby Chernobyls.

In August, anglers were perplexed when arriving on stream and finding fish rising to several different insect species. One might locate a fish rising to ants, another to midges or black caddis and the next to Pink Lady or Margarita mayfly duns or spinners. To be successful I had to change flies many times. Even though it appeared fish were rising to ants and I’d take a trout on my first presentation with an ant, the next rising fish might not give my ant a look. I’d stop, sit on the bank and watch. I might see the trout tip up and take a Pink Lady spinner, tie one on and score that riser. I’d head to the next pool and find trout rising to midges or black caddis. I burned through lots of tippet material for three weeks changing flies in order to take those challenging and selective trout. I looked forward to a weather change and fall Baetis, I did not have to wait long.

On September 1st, John and I headed to the Ennis Fly Fishing Festival and put on our latest “Fishing the Evening Rise on the Madison River” presentation. By mid-September, Margarita spinner falls, ant swarms and black caddis finished their times on area waters. On September 4th, the weather patterns changed. That day my log indicates 48 degree temps with rain, and the beginning of Fall Baetis emergences on rivers like the Firehole, Madison and Henry’s Fork. One thing we all noted last fall: Fall Baetis were tiny, size #22-24s, and the fish were finicky. Pages in my journal are littered with pasted in #22-24 Baetis Sparkle Dun and #20 Improved Baetis Sparkle Duns. Same with midges last fall, we had to use #22-24 Zelon Midges for success when fish rose to them on many Yellowstone waters.

Bucky loves to fish both spring and fall Baetis hatches, and his new Almost There Baetis pattern has been killing. Tied on a short shank Daiichi 1140, hook this simple pattern worked its magic on rivers from the Henry’s Fork to the Yellowstone and spring creeks. Check with Bucky, he has some fine fishing stories on how he came up with this gem, and why!

Yellowstone country’s fall run of rainbows and browns began in mid-September, when big run up fish began to gather in rivers like the Park’s Gardiner, Yellowstone, Madison, and Gibbon and Firehole below their falls. Aaron, a fan of spey rods and big fall run flies, had been playing with a couple patterns for ticking off big fall run trout, both browns and rainbows. His new Prospector pattern makes fish mad, and they attack his new flies with a vengeance. The olive and white Prospector can be counted on to fire up big rainbows  and browns year-round, and the yellow and brown Prospector drives big fall run-ups crazy! Their colors and the way they move in the water makes fish want to attack the fly and gobble them up in a territorial frenzy to rid their area of the intruding Prospector. You’ll fish both, I guarantee, and the fish will be the final judges!

Late October fished well, until 29th when we had several inches of rain that put the rivers in spate for a few days. When they cleared, fall Baetis and midges continued to bring the fish to the surface through November. On November 28th, anglers saw the last fall BWO come off at $3 Bridge as we wrapped up an incredible run of 90 days of mayfly and midge fishing on rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone, Gallatin and Henry’s Fork.

It’s now early 2017.  We’re tying flies, working on tying materials and looking forward to winter midge fishing on our rivers. Make sure you stay tuned for the latest in flies, fly tying and fishing gear in our weekly email news and blog. We will keep you posted. We are here for you, so never hesitate to call or email for advice on when to come, where to stay and fish, and best flies to use, or questions on flies patterns, how to tie them and the best materials to use.

All of us at BRF fish, we are proud of that. We’re clued in on what’s going on with hatches, where and when to fish, the best flies and the latest and greatest products, because we use them ourselves on our local rivers, lakes and streams. I spent 149 days on the water in 2016. Our crew – Cam, Bucky, Aaron, Peter, Garrett , Michael, Emily, John and I, and our guides spend their time fishing and developing new, effective flies, techniques and fishing strategies. We wrote the books on fishing Yellowstone country, so never hesitate to call on us for advice.

I’ll be at the Snake River Cutthroat’s Fly-Fishing Club’s March 8th meeting in Idaho Falls, Idaho for a presentation on March 8th. On March 11th and 12th, I’ll be at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo at Macomb Community College Sports and Expo Center in Warren, Michigan for two days of Tenkara and Yellowstone fly-fishing and fly-tying presentations.  I will also be spending time in Patagonia’s booth greeting friends and customers, as well as promoting conservation programs we’re involved with.
Lastly, here’s an early heads up for February 28th, 2018, when Yvon Chouinard and I will be at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa headlining our 1% for the Planet initiative, sustainability programs and more. We’ll keep you posted!

We look forward to seeing you this year and thanks for your patronage and support! Let’s hear from you soon, and often.

A Lesson in Patience

Photo by Aaron Freed

An Article by Peter Scorzetti

Fishing is fickle. Our cherished on-water affairs can turn out differently than we’d dreamt them to, often to our displeasure. We prime ourselves through the winter by reading about fly hatches, fishing tactics, and fish behavior, then wait along the water in the spring with the hope that a bell will ding, and the emergence will roll out just when expected. But unlike the flies of our mind-fishing, real insects act on their own accord—at times, not even the most experienced entomologist can tell you why they behave the way they do.

Still, understanding hatches, studying new techniques, and learning about the character of a fishery are essential labors for preparing ourselves for a day’s fishing. But what to do when conditions line up perfectly, yet the fishing doesn’t develop? In my angling infancy, (which lasted my entire college career), I was considerably frustrated when the bugs didn’t pop up when expected, or the wind blew harder than expected, or the fish decided not to rise. But after spending time with a few wise Yellowstone anglers, I learned there’s usually a lot left in a fishing day that doesn’t start out exactly how I’d planned.

For years, Aaron Freed has been instrumental in my growth as an angler. He’s generous with his fishing knowledge, both to me and everyone that passes through Blue Ribbon Flies. A few seasons back, he and I were stoked to fish every alpine lake within our reach. Every week during the summer, we pried off the claws of deep sleep and hit the trailhead by sun up. The first leg of our campaign began at a crystal-clear backcountry lake.

After hiking a long stretch of the lake shore, we found exactly the type of water we were seeking: a shallow flat. It was a prime launch point for Callibaetis to hatch, since it was shallow enough that their ascent would be short and less perilous. The sandy bottom would also make it easier to see fish while they cruised by looking for insects. But for now, the lake was barren of rise forms or emerging Callibaetis, so we waited and watched through polarized lenses. There wasn’t a breath of wind, so the rustling of squirrels and birds rung crisply along the lake. Fluffy clouds passed over us, offering relieving moments of shade from the warm sun. The glassy lake was set for the idyllic morning we’d brewed about over many evening shifts in the shop.

But nothing developed. The flat was lifeless. No fish were passing through to investigate the status of their prey. No Callibaetis were on the water, except a handful of lonely spinners that had fallen with few comrades. “This isn’t happening right, let’s keep cruising,” Aaron said around noon. He knew of another lake nearby. As we trailed off, I saw the tree tops begin to sway slightly, and my hopes of a sight fishing experience began to sink.

A half hour later, we reached the second lake. The threat of wind had matured, as the breeze was now enduring, causing the tall Douglas Fir to sway freely and the grasses to bristle. I looked up to see new clouds coasting into the patch of sky above the little lake. They were dark and dense, and their volatility marked disaster for dry fly fishing. We watched from the shelter of a tree as the once calm and innocent lake turned dark and cold. My fishing dream settled on the bottom of the lake, and my thoughts became overly pessimistic. Our chances were shot. The wind would never lie down once it was up. I was not sad, but sour.

Fortunately, Aaron looked out at the water and did not see my bitter expression. “Well, there’s no use sitting around here, let’s move on again,” he said. To my surprise, he didn’t sound pessimistic or disappointed. A few more lakes were nearby, so we spent the next hour exploring them. But they too were blown out, so we looped back to the flat on the original lake. I was amazed to see blue sky when the tree tops cleared from view. My heart leapt from the depths when I saw the ring of a rise form on the flat. The shadow of the rainbow was easy to spot as it moved across the sandy bottom, away from the rise. Only a slight breeze pushed across the water, leaving the surface calm enough to see through. After scanning the water for more fish, I noticed that a big batch of gray mottled duns sat on the surface. The hatch had finally come, and fish were rising to the flies across the lake. We quickly knotted on dries to match and cast in front of fish as they moved in and out of the flat. Adrenaline pumped through our veins each time a fish came within range. We were glad for the fight each time we hooked a fish, but we truly relished the moment when a fish’s demeanor changed from leisurely, to fiercely predacious, once our fly caught its eye.

That prosperous day solidified our addiction. We were drunk on sight fishing from that moment forward, and we didn’t sober up until September nights cooled off the high-country for good. Had I been alone on that excursion, anxiety would have consumed me, and I would have bailed early and headed for a nearby river. Instead, Aaron’s patience and stable spirit led us to exceptional fishing, even though it didn’t come at the time we’d expected.

Patience and prudence are traits of the veteran angler. You sense such characteristics any time you’re with a seasoned guide or longtime fisherman on a day that doesn’t turn out how they thought it would. Time on the water has taught them that a dud hatch is cause to explore, observe, or try something new, but never cause to do nothing and settle into despair.

When Aaron and I finally made it back to the trailhead, there were only a few hours of light left. We were both drained, and I was ready to head back to West. But Aaron still had fishing to do. “I have to try the Henry’s Fork again,” he said. I thought him crazy after hiking so much country that day. He’d been fishing the Ranch every night with hopes of catching a proper hatch of Brown Drakes, but he hadn’t quite hit it on the nose. Those failed attempts had brought him little but a lack of sleep. An angler of less experience might have given up after the first few failed attempts. But his drive endured, and I was sure he’d been rewarded greatly when I received a text from him late that night which only read, “Got ‘em.”

Beyond Vague Rod Descriptions

Whether you’re a disciple of the dry fly code or a veteran guide, the romanticism of our sport is probably part of what drew you to it. Much of fly fishing, and the way we engage in it, has to do with romanticism. The daydreams of bountiful hatches, sunsets over the countryside, and smooth casts consume our thoughts far more often than the sport’s technical aspects. But the technicalities do exist, and there are many that pertain to fly rod performance. There are fly rods that excel at 30 feet, and there are rods that excel at 90 feet, but there are no fairytale rods that excel at 30 to 90 feet, even if rod company advertisements might want you to think so. The capabilities of a rod are fixed, there are no grey areas; physics simply doesn’t allow the rod to do everything well. Too often we hear that a rod is “the greatest, most ground breaking, strongest, lightest, most accurate rod ever made”. Such descriptions are vague and tell us nothing of value about the action of a rod. What we need to know is how much a rod is bending and where it is bending, because that is what dictates how a fly rod casts and feels.

John Juracek laid out a framework in Evaluating Fly Rods so that novices to experts can choose a rod fit for the type of fishing that they want to do. The article omits an approach to thoroughly reading a rod’s action, from tip to butt. I speculate he left this out because learning to read a rod is a daunting task, and what he did write is useful to a greater number of fisherman, because it teaches you to select a rod without an in-depth analysis.

But if you’re like me, you’ll want to dive in deep and try to learn every inch of a fly rod’s flex. Before working at Blue Ribbon Flies, I couldn’t read a fly rod’s action. I could feel that a slow rod was different than a fast rod, but I couldn’t tell you why. I was trying to give rods a vague label of slow, medium, or fast, but I didn’t know exactly what to feel so that I could classify them as such. I had a breakthrough when I tried reading the rod in three separate parts—tip, middle, and butt. Suddenly, I could feel where the rod was softer or stiffer as it loaded. If you’re a little lost like I was, and don’t know what you’re feeling when you’re casting, follow these steps and see if they help. Take a rod to the water or an empty field and lay out a healthy amount of line. Lift the line with a smooth back cast, and pay close attention to what your hand feels as the rod loads, from the tip to the butt. Hopefully, you will be able to feel the gradual changes in flex as the rod bends. Pause to allow your back cast to lay out completely straight in the air so that you can make your forward cast, and continue with false casts while trying to feel the flex. It’s crucial that we pause long enough in between casts. Otherwise, the line won’t have time to lay out straight, the rod won’t sufficiently load, and we won’t be able to feel it bend.

Feeling for the differences in flex during one cast can be overwhelming, so you might want to try to flex each section separately. Try bending only the top third of the rod while casting a short line. Then strip out a bit more line and try bending the middle of the rod. Lastly, strip out a long line and try bending the butt. Pay close attention and try to feel the differences between the three sections of the rod. If you have a second rod available, go through the same process and compare the two. The differences in the two rods should become vivid. The more you practice, the more easily you will feel differences in flex. You’ll know when a rod, or a section of a rod, is too soft because it will feel overloaded and your arm will have to work harder to accelerate the line. A stiff section will feel under-loaded, and your arm will have to work hard to make the rod flex. In a section that is flexing properly, you’ll feel the rod unload with force, and casting will be a pleasure rather than a burden.

Let’s consider two rods that would both be classified as slow. Rod A is soft in the tip, medium in the middle and stiff in the butt. Rod A will communicate very well at close range because of the sensitive tip. But once you start casting long or using a weighted fly, you will have to be careful not to overload the delicate tip and create a tailing loop. As we cast more line, the medium flexing middle section of the rod will start to bend and contribute to the cast. Most rods produced today are so stiff in the butt that they hardly bend. The butt of Rod A won’t contribute to the cast at all, because it doesn’t bend and can’t store energy.

In Rod B, the tip will still bend, but it is far stiffer than most tips, the middle will be medium flexing, and the butt section will be far softer than most butt sections. The stiff tip will be hard to shock or overload (thus helping to prevent tailing loops), but we sacrifice close-range sensitivity compared to the soft tip of Rod A. The medium action middle section will contribute nicely to the cast. The butt section will flex when we cast a relatively long line, and it will also contribute nicely to the cast. At whatever range Rod B is best—let’s say 60 feet—the rod will fully load and cast efficiently so that your arm does little work. The tradeoff is that if we don’t cast smoothly, we’ll shock the butt of the rod and create a tailing loop.

It’s not strange that two completely different rods may end up in the same general category of “slow”, but it is strange that the information telling us about how rods actually bend can so rarely be found. Rod companies and rod reviewers often forgo the most important information about a rod—how does it perform in fishing scenarios, and what is it about the action of the rod that makes it perform this way? Luckily, if we read Evaluating Fly Rods, as well as do our own investigation of a rod’s flex, we’ll find out everything we need to know.

Learning from a Veteran

I’m often reminded of fishing memories from seasons past. One such memory makes me think of where I stand as a fisherman in regard to knowledge, skill, and experience. I’m reminded of it frequently. This particular memory was made sometime in mid June of last year. Green drakes were hatching on the Henry’s Fork around Ashton. For many reasons, the fishing on this stretch of river is short lived, one of them being that the flows are increased heavily during the summer to provide irrigation water for spud farmers. I had the itch to get down there before the fun was over. The infamous Tylor Robinson had the same affliction, so we went fishing together. Tylor worked at Blue Ribbon Flies for several years, so I’m sure many of you know him. He lives in Big Sky now, but every once in a long while he decides to grace us with his presence.

For those of us living high in the Rockies, it’s refreshing to make the trip down to Idaho spud country. Rolling potato fields and farm houses make up most of the landscape, which is in stark contrast to the terrain of Yellowstone National Park. In spud country, if you have a clear view to the east, you’ll see the jutting peaks of the Tetons. It’s not the classic Ansel Adams view, with the Snake River running below, but the Idaho view is an underdog that’s easy to enjoy. The greatest pleasantry of June in spud country is the heat. It warms the soul after a cold spring.

When Tylor and I got to the river, we sat on boulders and waited for signs of a green drake emergence. Soon, the first duns came floating down and fish began to rise. I tied on a shaggy Green Drake Sparkle Dun, waded into the river and made casts to every consistently rising fish. They were carelessly feeding on these duns so I was able to catch a few with relative ease. A proper hatch of green drakes can make a fisherman feel like a king. Fish become generous when such a large and familiar meal is floating over them. Blinded by my excitement and success, I thought I was fishing at a very high level of skill.

My sparkle dun had been torn up by the sharp teeth of a brown trout, so I tied on a fresh one. Then I saw a fish rise down stream of me, so I cast to it and was able to hook it. It tore off down stream, giving up its identity as a rainbow. My old Hardy L.R.H. was screaming. It became apparent that I was not stopping this fish anytime soon, I was going to have to make my way downstream to get to it. The fish had gotten so far from me that I had to chase it down to the next fisherman. Luckily I was able to pull the fish towards the shallows so it wouldn’t disturb the fisherman’s water. When I got down to the fish I was glad to see that the unknown angler was Ken Takata. Ken is a West Yellowstone local, and friend to many in the Yellowstone fishing community. He held out his old-school wooden net so that I could measure the rainbow, after which I released it.

When we looked back out at the stream there were fish rising quite close to us. I declined Ken’s gracious offer to let me fish to them, especially considering that I effectively invaded his water just minutes prior. With reluctance he decided to make the first play on one of the risers. When he chose one he smoothly waded up stream of it, giving himself the best chance of reducing drag. The fish was rising close to him, no more than twenty feet away. When he started working out line to false cast I detected something in his fishing abilities that I had overlooked when fishing with others of high skill. He possessed the precision and discipline of a veteran. When he made drifts over the fish, every inch of his tippet, leader and fly line was placed in an intended spot. He was fishing with an amount of control that could only be possessed by someone with a wealth of experience. Each move he made, whether stripping out line or reach casting, was calculated, leaving little to chance. In general, his calm and measured fishing demeanor was something I hadn’t yet seen.

On his third or fourth cast the fish seemingly rose to his fly, but when he set the hook he felt nothing. I thought it best that he move onto another fish, since I believed he had missed this one. Ken thought the fish had rose to a natural that was floating right next to his fly and decided to wait for the fish to rise again. After a minute or two I gave up hope and went to find Tylor. I ran into Ken a few days later. He said the fish did come back up and he caught it. It seems he was right about whether it had been hooked or not. Though I have young fishing eyes, it is apparent that they have much to learn.

I’ve noticed when someone has a true wealth of experience in certain aspects of fishing, like when Cam Coffin commands a drift boat or when Bucky McCormick wraps a feather on a fly. But I was yet to notice it while in the act of fishing. It was sobering. That day made it evident that a pursuit of knowledge and skill is not enough to become a great angler. That pursuit also requires longevity.

- Peter

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