Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Match the Hatch? Try an Isonychia Instead

H: A lesson I learned this weekend is that sometimes you don't need to match the hatch. I was on the Farmington River this Saturday with friends who are new to fly fishing. Antoine was guiding them. It was surprisingly crowded at Greenwoods during the slow mid-afternoon shift. There was minimal activity in terms of bugs and sporadically feeding fish. I would have taken an afternoon nap, if my friends weren't eager to just be on the water and practice casting. I was having a tough day--bad mojo or something. I had missed about 10 strikes (perhaps they were refusals?) and had hooked a poor little rainbow in the tail earlier that morning.

Elsie, Antoine, and Margaret at Greenwoods.
Two anglers were leaving as we arrived. I overheard them talking about what they had used. One guy said he must have changed flies at least 7 times, going all the way down to a #32 blue wing olive on 10x (I didn't know they made 10x). The other guy mentioned something about trying tiny midges. Talk about a microscopic crapshoot! And they were leaving without having caught any fish.

I still had on a #22 caddis pupa from earlier that morning. I looked over at my friend Elsie who was fishing with Antoine. They had a big bug on. It turned out to be a #14 isonychia dun. Antoine was demonstrating a casting technique when he got a hit. He handed the rod to Elsie and coached her as she brought in her very first fish--a nice brown trout. Yeah! Elsie hooked a fish later that afternoon but lost it. She is no longer a fly fishing virgin ; )

A healthy brown trout from Greenwoods.
I looked in my fly box and all I had were small flies. I'd left the big ones back in the car. Antoine came over and proceeded to tie a large iso on my line. He put some gel on it, cast my line out to get the excess off, and sure enough he got a hit. Another nice brown. Later that evening, I finally hooked (hallelujah, praise the trout lord!) and landed a lovely rainbow using that same isonychia, even though there were none to be seen on the water.

I've used attractor patterns and terrestrials during those dead times when there's little if any activity. But I would never have thought to try a large, sporadically hatching mayfly. I asked Antoine why the large isos worked and he said, "the trout remember them." Considering that trout have brains the size of a pea, this was rather surprising. When it comes to food, I guess their instincts are top notch.

Well, I did some more research and I've learned that isonychias are a particular trout favorite--like candy to them. Because they hatch steadily albeit sporadically for several months throughout the summer and fall, the trout become familiar with them. Al Caucci in Fly Fisherman magazine says: "Trout, especially wild and holdover fish, seldom feed on the surface during sporadic hatches... Not so with the isonychia... My theory is that the trout key on them because they are around so long. This (late summer) is one of those rare times on the upper Delaware when you can blind-cast the water with a dry fly during hatchless days and still catch fish!" Well, that's good to know.

So, rather than matching the end-of-summer micro hatches, why not try an isonychia.

A Side Note to Some Gentlemen Anglers:
If you see 2 ladies in the morning, standing on the bank with coffees in hand, observing the water, please do NOT assume they are bringing coffee and breakfast to their fly fishing husbands. There are more and more of us flygirls out there : )

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mice Fishing the Farmington

H: August 12, 2011: We drove up to the Farmington river, excited to try our hand at fishing mice patterns with Antoine that evening. Josée even purchased a wading staff for the occasion. When we get there, Antoine has had a very long day--having fished early that morning on the Battenkill in Vermont followed by an afternoon guiding trip on the Farmington. The last thing he wanted to do was fish mice patterns late into the night with 2 inexperienced flygirls. But he generously agreed to take us.

A very realistic and tasty looking mouse pattern, compliments of Antoine.

It was a beautiful night on the Farmington as we watched an almost-full moon rise into a clear midnight sky (not ideal mice fishing conditions but perfect for a first try). Walking into the black still water at Greenwoods, with all senses heightened, was a surreal experience. It reminded me of the first time I went scuba diving at night. Listening for the sound of rises, splashes, and the possible territorial beaver smacking its tail in warning; Feeling your way through the water over invisible rocks and fallen logs; Hearing your line and the mouse fly through the air and trying to feel the weight of it extend behind you; It was rather intimidating at first and then surprisingly liberating. It makes you feel at one with the river, the night, and all the creatures around you.

Antoine demonstrated the technique we should use to activate the mouse--alternating strips and slack to imitate a struggling, swimming mouse. Josée was going to start first. As Antoine effortlessly false cast the mouse back and forth, shooting line, she stood like a shadow alongside him, mimicking his movements. I couldn't help chuckling. When it was her turn to try, she started sidearm casting like Antoine, which is completely different from her normal overhead style. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Imitation, in this case, was the sincerest form of flattery. But Antoine must have thought we were crazy!

I won't pretend it was easy casting that mouse in the dark, relying purely on feel and sound. Antoine standing right next to me, watching every bad cast, didn't help either. Josée was about 30 feet away, very slowly and cautiously making her way down river. I could hear the rap-tap-tap of her wading staff against the rocky bottom. Antoine periodically yelled at her, "keep walking." She would shout back, "I just got here!" She had a strike but was so startled she didn't have time to react. Antoine fished for a bit and also had a hit but missed the fish. He left to make sure Josée was ok. She was done and was talking to an angler who had joined us on the river.

While they were on the bank, I finally fell into a rhythm of casting, waiting, lifting, stripping, lowering... It felt magical, incredibly peaceful. Before I knew it, I too, had a strike. I saw and heard a large splash where I sensed my mouse was. I felt weight on my line but I lifted my rod too quickly. So much for the research I had done beforehand on fishing mice patterns: wait till the fish has completely taken the mouse into its mouth. It normally takes the tail first and brings it down (unless it's a huge monster trout).

It was close to 11 pm when we left Greenwoods. Too late for dinner, we headed back to the Hillside. I couldn't sleep that night. I was still wired from the night fishing. My senses, on overdrive, refused to shut down--plus my stomach would not stop growling. I can't remember the last time I went to sleep on an empty stomach... The last meal I had was lunch around 11:30 am, not counting half an heirloom tomato from the local farmer's market that afternoon. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Next time though, the moon won't be full, but our stomachs will be : ), and hopefully we will catch a nocturnal monster.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hyun, ever so ready to fish the Boulder River!

Flygirl Hyun Kounne on the Boulder river, MT
I give you fly fishing model, Hyun Kounne my friend!
J: As I am here relaxing at home on this Thursday night in my west village apt (cubicle) I realize how much I miss Montana. I even let my mind wonder how wonderful it would be to own a log cabin in/or around West Yellowstone. Even checked out a few real estate sites and found to my dreaming delight a beautiful log cabin, aaaahhh if only.....

Doesn't Hyun look just so at peace with a raging river -mind you- in the backdrop?

On this particular morning we: Eric, Hyun and I drove about an hour to the Boulder river. We were quite alone with the exception of a few campers and 2 other fellow anglers (women). What do ya know, there are more and more of us girlies out there!

We have never fished from a raft before. To Eric's horror my boots had studs. Needless to say that I was not allowed to partake in the adventurous waters experience unless I proceeded to remove my suicidal boots subito presto! In exchange for my compliance, Eric loaned me his size 11 men's river sandals. Now, I'm a size 5 womens! See the picture?? This alone brought the whole experience to a whole different and may I say challenging level. I would not call it extreme sports but not far off : ) Every single time we accosted the shore and had to walk 20 or 50 feet, that I did not break my neck was a bloody miracle!

Well, aside from looking like Bozo the clown from knees down I had the best time, really. I caught 9 fish that very day. I had never caught so many in one day before. Small and big and everything in between.

As for this weekend Hyun and I are going mouse pattern fishing... That will be a first for both of us. If I remember correctly I've only fished once during the night before. Well stay tuned as it has the potential to be a very event filled night.... or not.

Flygirl Hyun Kounne, Boulder river, MT


Sunday, August 7, 2011


H: After fishing 8 full days in Montana. I was fished out. Never thought I'd ever say that! As our plane made it's approach into Laguardia, I could see the steely NYC skyline in the distance. It's almost always a welcoming sight for me, a sense of homecoming. But as the plane began its final descent, I realized I still longed to see the snow-capped mountains and verdant valleys of Montana.

My view from the plane on approach to Bozeman, MT.
August 6, 2011
: Eleven days since returning from Montana and I needed to be on a river again. So, despite family obligations (sister and family in town) and a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms, I head back to the Farmington river. I'm almost there when I notice a text from Antoine: morning guiding trip canceled--come to ovation.

Talk about the dog days of summer: it was incredibly hot, muggy, and ovation pool had transformed into a kid's wading pool since I was last there July 2nd. Antoine is already fishing. "Any luck? What are you using?" I asked him. He said he had on a size 26 trico and asked if I had any 8x. 8x? Good grief! Having just returned from Montana, slinging size 8-12 dries on 3x-4x, I had to laugh.

Since I came straight to Ovation without stopping at the local flyshop, I'm ill prepared for the morning's fishing and rely on Antoine. He gives me some 8x and a tiny trico. It takes me a good 5 mins to tie a simple surgeon's knot with the 8x and attach the fly. Antoine is focused on a fish that took his fly. He's determined to get it back. There are a few sporadic rises. I target one, get a fish on, but lose it. I get another one on, and this time, I'm not losing him. I tire him out--a small brown. But I have a 12-ft leader and over 2 ft of 8x tippet on. My arms and net are not long enough to reach him. Every time I swooped the net close, he evaded it. Antoine finally says, I need to take a chance and pull my leader through the guides to land him. He's a small fish, it shouldn't be a problem. Success!

Beautiful ovation pool, Farmington River, CT. (Photo courtesy of E. Koh)
We fished for a few hours. It was slow. The bugs, the few there were, were clearly microscopic. I couldn't tell what they were feeding on. Meanwhile, I had been bugging Antoine about how I can become a better angler. In the parking lot, Antoine helped me with my cast and demonstrated the double haul before he left for an afternoon guiding trip.

After a quick stop at UpCountry, I head upriver. The fishing was tough. I caught another small brown on an ant in the Pipeline area. I took a long lunch, enjoying the scenery and quiet. Then tried another spot and caught several sardine-sized salmon. They were voracious and gulped down everything I put out there. I don't understand why they stock them on the Farmington. They never seem to survive and grow. I decided to head back to my favorite pool and await the evening action--hopefully there would be some.

Once again, there were very few bugs. I spot a few tiny bwos and put on a size 24. Nothing. Before evening arrived, I had changed flies at least 10 times, including 3 variations of bwos. In that time, I had only 2 hits and missed both. It was just one of those days. It started to drizzle. I decided to give the fish a break : ) and practice casting. I walked back to the parking lot, put on an old leader, and practiced the double haul. After a while, I decided to call it a day.

As I'm changing out of my waders, a man from an RV parked at the far side of the lot walked over. He said he had watched me practice and asked how long I've been fly fishing, etc. He said he had some beers in his RV, if I wanted any (Yeah, right! It looked like he already had a couple). Perhaps he was just being friendly but the way he kept looking at me and at the contents of my car (trying to figure out if I was alone?), gave me the heebie jeebies. He was a bear of a man but not very fit. I figured I could outrun him if necessary. I thought, that can of bear spray from Montana would come in pretty handy right now. There were 2 other anglers on the river but they were far out of sight and sound.

Now that I find myself fishing more on my own and sometimes in isolated places, it's probably a good idea to either get a dog (wish I could borrow one for fishing trips : ) or carry some pepper spray with me--man spray/weirdo spray. Back in Montana, Josée and I had worried about running into bears. Back on the east coast, there are different types of bears to watch out for. Wish I was back in Montana. (Sigh...) I'll get over it, eventually.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fishing Yellowstone National Park

Truly paradise! Driving through Paradise Valley.
The Gibbon
H: July 19, 2011: We took the short cut from West Yellowstone through the Park to Paradise Valley--a short cut assuming no bison, elk or moose jams... Our plan was to fish the Gibbon and Gardner rivers along the way. We went prepared, armed with a canister of bear spray that the folks at Blue Ribbon Flies convinced us to buy. Better safe, than sorry (or in this case, mauled). Yikes! Whether we'd be able to pull back the safety latch, aim with trembling hands and pounding hearts, and hit the feet of a charging grizzly 30 feet away--we hoped to never find out.

Our first stop was Elk Park where the Gibbon meanders through a lovely meadow before disappearing into thickets of trees beyond. There were no bugs or rises to be seen so we put on stimulators to see if we could coax some fish action. We soon had several hits and landed some small trout, in the sardine class. Josée and I decided we should embrace the Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in even the simplest, mundane, and in this case, smallest of things--appreciating the subtlety of each sardine (i mean trout ; ), as gifts from nature.

Josée was determined to catch a particular trout that was alluding her. I decided to move upstream in search of bigger prey. I caught more "gifts" along the way. It started to drizzle and as I looked around, I noticed I had walked far upstream into the trees and was no longer within sight of Josée. I also realized that Josée had the bear spray. Not a good idea to fish out of sight and sound of your buddy and completely alone in YNP without bear spray. I looked at my watch. It was about 3 pm. I hiked back to Josée. We decided to find a picturesque spot by a river and enjoy a beer before heading to our lodge in Paradise Valley.

View from our balcony. A river runs through it--our backyard, that is. 
July 21, 2011: the 2 flygirls took a break from fishing and went horseback riding. Josée was astride a horse, aptly named Frenchie. My gentle white horse was called Cloudy. I must have straddled him with a death grip. After 2.5 hours, my inner thighs were bruised, knees wobbly, and I needed to pop an Advil. But the views from the ridgeline were spectacular! And the smell of pine/fir resin, delicious! Wish I had taken some pics.

The Gardner 
View of the Gardner river from the High Bridge.
July 22, 2011: We decided to head back into the Park and fish the Gardner. Boy, it was such a painful 30 min. drive to the park (breathtaking mountain scenery to the left and right of us with the mighty Yellowstone river center stage : ). Eric had told us about a spot below the employee's village. The folks at Park's fly shop in Gardiner suggested fishing below the high bridge. And Rudy from Blue Ribbon Flies had recommended the 45th parallel. We ended up fishing all three.

At the first two spots, we were completely alone. Both of us kept looking around, on more than one occasion, for bears. Fishing was slow--just a couple landed. On the hike back up to the high bridge, we ran into 3 anglers on their way down. They each wore bells around their necks. I remembered what Dan said in response to my question about the effectiveness of bells in scaring away bears. He said "there's a reason why they find bells in bear scat..." Our last stop, the 45th parallel, was absolutely beautiful. No fish were caught but it was idyllic. We noticed ominous dark clouds heading our way and called it a day.

Fishing the 45th parallel. Storm's a coming!
Slough Creek
July 25, 2011: We saved legendary Slough Creek for last. Last year, we had made the trip into the Park to fish Slough, only to have it thunderstorm and hail when we arrived. The weather was perfect--high 80s and little wind. We ate our lunch and looked out towards the meadow below the parking lot. We spotted a few anglers along with 2 large golden brown shapes moving in the distance. Bears? They didn't look dark enough to be bison. Did the other anglers see them? We weren't sure what to do. A truck drove towards us (a park ranger) and Josée hailed him down. The ranger got out, looked through binoculars, and said, "They're just bison." Whew! We geared up to wet wade.

There were swarms of bugs--just not the kind we were hoping for--only black flies and mosquitos. Using our rigs from the previous day on the Boulder, we started nymphing. But it was slower than molasses in winter. I decided to walk downstream. As I passed a bend in the creek, I noticed several rises by the bank, so I stopped and put on a green drake dun. I saw Josée walking towards me. Also fed up with the lack of action, she said she was going to go further downstream. I told her there were plenty of fish right here. She put on a dry and on her first cast, got a hit. She landed several fish including a nice brown. It was lunchtime for the trout of Slough creek! Meanwhile, I was focusing all my attention on one large fish near the bank. She was behind a patch of submerged branches. It took numerous attempts but I finally drifted my fly, just right, into position. She rose to take it but I was too eager and ripped the fly out of her mouth. She never rose again. I decided to explore further downstream.

Slough Creek "beach".
I reached a wide sandy beach where only one other angler was fishing--a tall gentleman, easily over 6 ft. It was such a pleasure to wade into the cool water and escape the relentless black flies. I caught a couple of small rainbows. One fish came up within inches of my fly, took a look, decided it wasn't for her, and swam back down. I realized then, I was done, too. I was completely fished out--just going through the motions. I lowered my rod, relishing the feel of the water pushing against my legs, and watched the other anglers around me: the tall angler nearby was waist deep in pursuit of trout on the opposite bank; another was stealthily walking the far high bank, making short, crisp casts down below him; another was heading back to the parking lot. I eventually decided to follow suit and check on Josée.

Josée was in the process of changing flies, tying on a hopper. She told me she had just spoken with the angler I had seen heading back. He had been curious to find a single female angler. She proceeded to tell me his life story: he was a teacher from Michigan vacationing with his family in Yellowstone... He had seen a bear the evening before in exactly the spot we were fishing. I told her I was done but she should continue fishing if she wanted. She cast the hopper on the water, immediately got a strike, but missed it as we were busy talking. She said she was ready to go, too. We got back on the trail and caught up with the angler from Michigan. He was very friendly and we were so busy chatting we almost didn't notice the huge bison bull directly ahead of us, blocking the trail. Since it was mating season for the bison, we gave him a wide berth. God only knows what hormones might be clouding his judgment! We backed off the trail and trudged through some foul smelling swamps (bison dung, anyone?) before finally making it back to the car and saying farewell to our new friend. I hope to someday come back to this amazing place and fish every single one of it's meadows.