- A WELL MANNERED DAY
“Hey, kids!” I yelled out to Mason and Cruz, who were playing with their favorite monster trucks on the floor, “Want to go to the river today”?
“Yeaaaaaaaaaaaa!” They both screamed, throwing their trucks aside like a couple of dud lottery tickets. I knew I would get this reaction, and that’s why I already had the van packed with a few favorite outside toys, extra clothing, and snacks for the day. I always find it amazing how well these kids can behave when they both want to go somewhere fun and exciting. The typical clawing of “who gets in the van first” was replaced with Mason opening the door and allowing Cruz to scramble in as he waited ever so patiently. Once in and buckled up, Mason even went as far as to ask Cruz if he was comfortable…Cruz replied with a gleeful yes. This sporadic etiquette makes me laugh, and it’s always fun to see how long it will last.
A quick stop at the tank on the way was a must. The kids found it very exciting, despite this picture where Cruz appears a bit miserable. In actuality, the kids were more excited to get to the river because Uncle Bryan was already there in his van. For Bryan, living in a van is normal, but for us, when he is out there, it’s luxury. Bryan can play a movie for the kids and cook us up a fancy meal in a snap. When we arrived at the river the only thing that kept the kids out of Bryan’s van was a small patch of sand and the right toys for the occasion.
Cruz was doing his best to fill the dump truck with water while Mason excavated the nearby sand.
“A LIZARD!” Mason yelled, jumping over his toy and stopping fast near a large rock. His eyes inches from the small lizard that froze in place.
“There it is, it’s right there.” Mason whispered, extending his finger to touch the lizard that sprinted before Mason could get too close.
“Oh, there it goes.” I said, as we watched the little thing hop into the shadows in-between the large boulders.
While the kids played, Bryan had rigged up a fly rod to catch a fish for the boys.
“Here we go! Mason! Cruz!” Bryan yelled, and both kids watched as Bryan brought in the fish. Once in the net, Mason was ready to let it go.
“Okay, Mase You think you can get it?” I asked, as he was having some trouble getting his little hands around the slippery fish. Little grunts of frustration came from Mason as the white fish flipped and flopped, making it hard to grab.
“Get it back in the water.” I said, and Bryan took the net and dipped the fish under to get a breath.
“Okay, ready?” I asked Mason, who was right there, waiting to picked up the fish. Bryan brought the fish over to him, and Mason wasted no time getting after it. Cruz was right there too, touching the fish as Mason managed to get ahold of it.
“Okay man, throw it back.” I said, as Mason had it lifted as awkwardly as his little hands could manage.
“Quickly, Mason.” I said, as Mason continued to hold the fish. All it would take is one flop of that white fish for it to slip out of Mason’s hands and onto the rocks, which I did not want to happen.
“Mason!” I raised my voice; he did not want to let it go.
“Time to throw it back…MASON!” I went to grab the fish.
“No, I’ll do it!” Mason protested. He drew back the fish, then in a sudden burst, threw the fish into the water. The fish did about three flips before it splashed and bolted.
“Mason….” I said, distastefully. Bryan laughed, “Well you said THROW it back”.
With every lizard near by scared for its life, we decided to push on to a new spot to play.
Being there in the middle of the week made it easy to find a spot to play, and with little to no people around the kids had the luxury of throwing rocks in the water.
Lunch took place in Uncle Bryan’s van, and the kids ate everything we handed them without question.
Time was flying, and it was near the end of our day. The kids and I parted ways with Bryan as we headed out.
“Cruz! You have to wake up!” I said, but knew it was no use. He was about to fall asleep, and if that happened he would be up until 11pm, and that was NOT going to happen.
“Let’s stop here again. You guys want to play in the sand again?”
A unanimous “Yeaaaaaa!” came from the back, so I pulled over and we got out.
That is all it will take for Cruz to get over his tired spell: a little more play time.
As the kids played I couldn’t help but notice the hatch that was now coming off the water. A pink Cahill dapped the water, and trout were on them.
Blop! Blop! A trout was rising very consistently right in front of us.
“Hey guys… Want to catch a fish?”
“Yeaaaaaaaaa!!! We do!”
“Okay” I said, and we headed back to the van to set up the fly rod.
Mason held the end of the rod as I threaded the line through the guides, and I held out the fly box to Cruz.
“Think we should use this fly?” I asked Cruz, pointing directly at the one I hoped would be the fly of the day.
“Okay!” I said, and tied it on and we all got back down to the river.
Mason stuck right next to me while Cruz perched himself on a nearby rock to get a better glimpse.
There it was again, the rising fish right next to us. Other than a fly rod, I had no other wading gear with me. I really didn’t think I was going to fish today, but coming to the river without a rod on hand would have been just plum crazy.
“See the fly?” I asked, after a small flick of the rod.
“I see it.” Mason said excitedly.
“There’s the fish!” I said, setting the hook.
“A fish, you got a fish, Daddy!” Mason yelled.
“You got a fish!” Cruz repeated.
The fish did not disappoint, as it put on quite the show. Every jump was met with screaming children excited to watch the acrobatics of the fighting fish.
“Okay, you stand there, Mase, and hold the net in the water.” I said, manipulating the fish towards the net.
“Here it comes, Cruz!” Mason said, his feet scampering with excitement as I brought the fish into the net.
“We got it!” I yelled, and raced over to take control of the net.
“It’s a rainbow trout, Cruz!” Mason screamed with delight.
“It is!” Cruz yelled out.
I removed the hook from the fish’s mouth and set my rod aside. The fish was still in great shape, so I gave Mason a chance to release it.
His hands could not grasp this fish, no matter which way he tried to bend them. I then grabbed the fish, and held it up for him to grasp. This fish was a nice sized fish to begin with, but in Mason’s hand it looked like a monster.
“Nice and easy now, Mase.” I reminded him, as he went to release the fish. He, ever so gently, held the fish out towards the water, when WHIP! The fish kicked out of Mason’s hands and splashed into the water.
I picked up Cruz and the three of us watched as the trout swam away.
Gear, toys, and wet clothing were put away before heading out of the canyon. The kid were still behaving themselves like perfect gentleman as we drove back home, but before that we had one last stop.
“Do you guys want french fries?”
“Yeaaaaaaaa!” They both screamed.
So we stopped in at the Mountain Home McDonalds for a fun little treat.
The kids started the day off with great etiquette and ended the day just the same. For extra fun I connected the iPad to the van so the kids could watch to Frozen 2 in full surround while they munched on their fries. Normally that would have made the drive to Boise a little longer, but this was a great day, and why not end the day a little extra special for the kids?
- BRYAN’S LUCKY DAY
Bryan and I were all smiles as we caught our first glimpse of Rocky Ford Creek.
Expectations should never be high when approaching this creek. The clarity of the water and selectiveness of the fish places the elements on their side, and it’s easy to get stuck in one location after spotting several fish. On many occasions I have experienced fish refusing all of my flies, but when the fish are right there it’s hard to break away.
“They are here.” I said, spotting a few fish milling around near the bank. They were actively feeding on something invisible to my eye, but my expectations flourished when I saw the behavior.
“I think I see one here.” Bryan said, getting stationed on another section of water just a few yards away. We both had our favorite fly tied on and ready to go, but Rocky Ford was not going to give itself up that easily.
It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you have an actively feeding trout in front of you. Fly after fly was placed in perfect proximity for this feeding trout, and its reaction to each fly varied slightly: a quick glance/charge towards my fly then refusing it at the last second. Or a simple glance with no motivation to look anymore. At times my fly would sweep near the fish, and the fish would dodge out of the path of my dead-drifting fly, returning after it was gone. And then, of course, there was just complete disregard for my fly.
“I’m finding a new spot.” Bryan said, a bit frustrated.
“Okay, I will stick around here for a bit longer.” I said.
“Don’t get trapped here, Erik.”
“Too late!” I said, as Bryan started to walk away.
I buttoned up my fly and stepped away from the fish that had refused me like a date in high school, and stood where Bryan had just been. I quickly found the fish that he was after and showed it my fly. This fish was acting the same as the previous one, however this time I saw it eat something…something invisible to me. Then the fish spit out what it had just ate: something shiny, almost chrome. I have something like that…
As I tied on the new holographic fly, the sun came out to place a sunbeam directly where I was looking at this feeding fish, making it impossible to see. Still, I found the tail of the fish so I could guess where the head was. I dapped my fly in the path of the feeding fish, and lost everything in the sun. Reflections of the sun blotted my vision with every peak at my target, still I caught a glimpse of the fish’s tail which shifted completely horizontal…It just ate something!
I set the hook fast, and felt the weight of the fish as it bolted.
“Oh, here we go!” I yelled, looking off to my right for Bryan, who was no longer there.
“Of course!” I muttered, as the fish thrashed out in the middle of the creek.
“OH NO don’t go there…” I said as the fish zipped to the far side of a boulder that broke the surface of the waterline. It was digging its head in the submerged foliage, trying to spit the hook. I managed to regain some control and bring the fish back to my side of the rock, but there was now a glob of weeds wrapped around my leader as the fish fought.
“Stay on…” I prayed, keeping the pressure. This was taking too long. The fish would not give up. For hours I was hoping to catch a fish, but now that I had one on, I wanted to be sure to get it off as soon as I could. I only had it on for about 90 seconds by this time, but that felt like forever. There was a slight lull in the fight of the fish, so I buckled down on the line and pulled in with force, really testing the 6X tippet I had on.
“Come on… come on.” I whispered, not wanting the fish to fight. If It decided to kick now it would snap my line. The fish was now in range to be unhooked. I unlatched my forceps and aimed for the small fly, and with a quick twitch of my hand I had unhooked the fly from the fish’s upper lip. The rainbow did not move.
“Damn it!” I said. This was what I was afraid of. These fish at Rocky Ford Creek can put up a nice fight and are huge by average, but reviving them has to be done correctly otherwise the fish will not survive. I held the fish upright by its tail, head-on, into the current. This fish was easily pushing twenty inches, so my hold was good. I easily felt the fish wanting to swim away but I kept my hold on the fish. Anywhere else I would have let the fish go by now, but experience on this creek has taught me to wait…wait until it kicks hard. The strength of the fish was coming back, and it struggled against my grip to swim off.
“You are almost there…” I said, as the struggling became more fierce. SPLASH! The tail of the fish kicked hard, and a wave of water doused my face as I let go of the fish.
“There you go!” I said happily, as I stood and watched the fish disappear into the creek.
Over time the nostalgia of the catch faded away. Bryan was on the opposite side of the river and was having no luck either. I soon joined him on the other side, but got more refusals than a Jr. High sock-hop. Over six hours in the heat can take it out of you, and with only one fish to speak of we were ready to throw in the towel.
“Are you ready?” Bryan asked, having buttoned up his fly a while ago to watch me have a go at these selective fish.
“Yeah…” I said, having caught one fish, but still leaving with the feeling of defeat.
Back at the van we got a drink of water.
“I didn’t realize I was so thirsty.” I said.
“Are you ready to take off?” I asked.
“What are you thinking?” Bryan asked, not sounding too excited to stick around.
“I think we should take a look at the first bridge. Never know…”
“I don’t care.” Bryan said, and we drove the distance. I hopped out of the van and geared up.
“Are we just going to look, or are we fishing?” Bryan asked.
“Well, if there are fish I’m going try for them. Sometimes this can be the spot of the day.” I said.
“I have never done well here.” Bryan said, slipping on his gear.
“Never know. Today could be your lucky day.” I said with newly-found confidence, and together we walked to the bridge.
One glance over the bridge and I spotted several fish, all in the mid-column and feeding.
“See…” I said, selecting a fly, and dapping it in the feeding lane of the nearest fish. The gin-clear water made it easy to keep an eye on my fly as it sank towards the fish. The rainbow trout got sight of my fly and moved towards it. The fish drew near, then nearer, and without any hesitation whatsoever, it gulped my fly.
“BAM!” I said, setting the hook. A solid hook set sent the fish in a frenzy, and the fight was on!
“YES! YES! THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE!” I yelled with a laugh. Bryan smiled at my excitement as I lifted my fly rod over his head to walk down the other side of the bridge to bring in my fish.
“Get over here! GET OVER HERE, YOU SILLY!” I boomed happily as if projecting my voice for a live audience. Bryan was still laughing at my theatrics as I brought in my fish.
“Take it easy…” I said to the fish, getting out my forceps.
“Want a picture?” Bryan asked.
“Nah, it’s only a nineteen- or twenty-inch fish.”
“That’s a big fish, Erik.”
“Not for here.” I said, reaching my fly and unhooking the fish which bolted immediately.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I dramatically sighed, got back to my feet, then looked at Bryan.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked.
“They don’t want my fly.”
“Oh, here.” I said, walking back to him and showing him my fly.
“I think I have something like that.” He said, and I returned to my spot as Bryan tied on his new fly.
“You should go for this one over here.” Bryan said, pointing out a huge Rocky Ford beast-of-a-fish.
“There it is! Beastly!” I said with a smile.
“You go for it. I will try for this one over here first.” I said.
I plopped my fly back in the creek, with it drifting straight for the second fish I had seen near the one I just caught. This fish reacted the same as the first, darting towards my fly. It’s sleek body made a slithering motion to snatch my fly as it drifted by.
“TWO FOR TWO!” I said, setting the hook!
“WHAAAAAT!?” Bryan yelled, with a smile.
I walked towards him again, to pass my fly rod over his head to get down by the bank and land my fish, but before I did that I stopped right near him.
“Here.” I said, tucking my fly rod under my arm, and grabbing my box out to select the specific fly I was using.
“Tie this on.” I said. He took it and I slipped my box back in my vest, so that I could regain control of my fish.
“Want a picture?” Bryan asked, as I brought in the fish.
“But it’s a bigger fish.”
“Its okay.” I said, bringing the fish in fast, and letting it go just as quick.
“Two for two…” I said, standing up. Bryan was smiling.
“It’s your turn.” I said to him, walking back to the bridge. Beside him now I could see “old beastly” was easily in catchable range.
“You should get this big fish.” Bryan said, pulling his fly from the creek.
I reached to ready my fly for a presentation to the monster, but stood fast.
“No…that fish is yours. I have caught a huge fish here several times, and you need a fish today.”
“It won’t eat this fly…” Bryan said.
“Yes it will.” I said confidently. “Just keep at it. I’m going over there to take a look…” I said, pointing away, “… if you can’t get it, I will come and try. But that’s your fish.”
Bryan was alone on the bridge as I walked away towards a different stretch of water. There was not much going on, but sometimes huge fish can lurk here as well. Worth checking out.
I unhooked my fly, and let it drift near an undercut bank I knew held fish.
SPLASH! SLOSH! SPLOSH!
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I yelled, buckling up my fly and running towards Bryan.
“BRYAN!” I yelled, running towards him.
“BRYAN TELL ME!” WAP! SPLASH! I leapt on the path to the bridge. I could now fully see Bryan, his rod doubled over.
“What is this my eyes see? WHAT IS THIS MY EYES SEEEEEEEE?!?!?!” I boomed.
“Oh you got the BIG ONE!” I yelled, walking by him and getting down to the bank.
“Yep!” Bryan said, with a smile you could see from the moon.
The fish was a BEAST, and we HAD to get it in the net.
“Okay, let’s see if we can land this son-of-a-B!” I yelled up, now at the water’s edge.
“Oh, Bryan, that’s a BIG FISH!” I yelled excitedly. Bryan stayed as cool as he could be, but was still up near the bridge.
“We are going to get a picture with this one.” I said, as Bryan kept the fish taught on his line. I had my net out, and was ready to land his fish.
“You need to move behind me.” I said, but it was too late. With the pressure Bryan had on his fish he had pulled it right into the thick weeds that stuck out of the water. THIS is what these fish do, it’s how they fight…dirty. They know how to throw a hook better than any trout I’ve met, and this fish was now in prime location to do so.
“It’s thrashing, Bryan, it’s going to thrash off!” I yelled in desperation. All I could see was a commotion of water and green weeds combusting just out of reach. There is no wading allowed at Rocky Ford Creek, so all I could do was watch in horror. Bryan was moving quick. With a big sidestep he was right behind me. His fly rod was maxed out as he dragged the fish out of the weeds.
“Okay, okay, here it comes.” I said, ready with the net.
“Wow, this is a big fish…” I said again, seeing it now right in front of me.
“Turn it this way…”
Bryan was right there doing everything perfect, and I am willing to bet he didn’t need my commentary with every step.
“Okay, it’s here! I can’t get it in my net, I CAN’T GET IT IN MY NET!!!” I screamed! The fish was so huge, but with one big scoop I hoisted up the net with the massive fish’s tail still sticking out of the tip of the basket.
“BRYAN!!!!!!” I screamed. I looked back at him to see he was also in mid-celebration of his netted fish.
With the fish in the net there was no time to lose.
“Okay, let’s get a quick picture.” I said in rushed tones. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” Bryan said. I lifted the fish out of the water, but still in the net.
“How do I hold it, it’s huge!” Bryan asked, trying to get his hands around the slob.
“Quick, quick, quick…” I rushed him. Bryan finally got a hold of his fish, and held it up for the hero shot of the year.
“Okay, let’s get it back in the water.” I said, as Bryan slid the fish back in my net.
“Oh, Bryan it’s so heavy!” I noted, heaving the net back into the water.
“Okay, let’s revive this fish.”
I held the fish’s tail as it tried to tilt underwater. I explained to Bryan how to revive the bigger fish here at Rocky Ford, and after a while the fish kicked hard. With a wave of water splashed in my face, I stood next to Bryan and watched his fish swim deep into the water and surf the current, still visible due to the clarity of the water.
I looked over at Bryan who was still smiling over his victory, and rightfully so: that was the biggest fish he had ever caught.
“It’s not going to get better than that, we should go.” I said.
“Well, we just started catching fish.” Bryan pointed out, “We could try for a few more, and if nothing we can go”.
“Sounds good to me.” I agreed, but the fish near us were a bit spooked by now. We spotted two that Bryan went for, but they were not even eating. In fact, as soon as they saw the fly, they both swam off.
“They don’t want to have anything to do with us anymore.” I said, looking upstream.
“Oh, wait a minute…” I said, a feeding fish catching my eye.
“You see that one?” I asked.
“The one way up there?”
“That’s the one. It’s feeding. See how it’s moving?”
“Yeah, but that’s way up there, how could you get that one?” Bryan asked, and I just smiled back.
“Well, let’s see it then.” He challenged, and I started to cast. The fish was easily sixty feet away, and I had a feeding lane of a foot or two to hit. I saw the plop of my fly, a little ways off target, but I let it coast anyway, just in case. After it was behind the fish, I made another cast. This time right on target.
“Okay, here we go.” I said, not taking my eyes off the feeding fish. There was no seeing my sized-twenty nymph from here, so it was all about the reaction of the fish…and there it was! The fish turned, showing its white belly, an obvious eat.
“There!” I yelled, seeing the hook.
“Whaaaaaaat?!” Bryan asked in amazement, witnessing a solid hook-set and a thrashing fish at the end of my line.
“Well, now we have a problem.” I said, with my rod pointed upstream and the fish bolting down and under the bridge.
“I got this.” Bryan said with confidence, and took charge.
“You stand there, and give me the fly rod.” He called. I handed him the rod, and saw what he was about to do.
“Make sure the drag is nice an tight.” I added, and Bryan cranked it down. He pointed the rod-tip under the bridge, where I held the line out of the tip.
“Grab the tip of the rod…” He asserted, “…and I will let this end go.”
“Okay.” I said, and Bryan dropped his end of the fly rod. Bryan was over in a flash, grabbing the mid-section of the rod and pulling it up inch by inch until I could grab the handle.
“It’s still on!” I said, and was back to fighting the fish.
I walked over to land the fish, and at the water’s edge the fish turned. I brought it closer to me and the fly popped out of its mouth.
“What? After all of that?” Bryan asked, disappointed.
“It happens.” I said, not feeling the loss at all after our recent success. “It was a fun one though.”
“That was crazy how you hooked that fish.” Bryan said, as we geared down.
“Worked out nice.” I added.
“Leave it too Erik!” He emphasized, packing away the last of his gear.
Our ride home was short, but we still made a special call to our brother Kris to tell the story. Kris was over the no-hands stereo system in Bryan’s van, as we all laughed over Bryan’s success. I told the story best, emphasizing movements, screaming, boisterous celebration as the story unfolded for Kris to hear. We were soon home, and had to hang up with Kris. Bryan and I slipped out of the van and were greeted by my mom and dad who were playing outside with my kids.
“So, how’d it go?” My mom asked. I looked over to Bryan and met his grin with one of my own.
“What?!” My mom asked, also smiling.
“You like to tell the story.” Bryan said.
“Yes, yes I do…” I conceded, and launched into the animated story about Bryan’s lucky day.
- A THREE HOUR DRIVE
“I’m worried…” Bryan said, as he backed up his van to get going.
“About what?” I asked.
“That we won’t catch any fish.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. We are fishing new waters and sometimes that happens. It’s always worth it to discover new places to fish.”
“Okaaaay…” Bryan said, nervously, rolling his fingertips on the steering wheel.
The Ty River had been eating away at Bryan for a while now. Every time he has fished it, he only produced three- to five-inch fish. We had made the decision to skip a creek twenty five minutes from home that housed fish with an average length of 23 inches…to possibly catch keychain-sized fish roughly three hours away. This meant we had to get up early, but waking up at 5AM Pacific time is like my 6AM Mountain time, so an early morning in Washington wasn’t bad at all.
The small town of Leavenworth, Washington was always a favorite place to visit as a kid. The town is set up to look like a small village in the German Alps. This small town is a two hour drive from my home town, which meant we were making great time.
The deeper we drove into Washington the more lush the forest became. The smell of a lush forest can’t be replaced by oils or candles; you have to be in the thick of it to really get the full sense of it all. As we reached our destination, I opened the door and took in the rich, fragrant surrounding.
“God that smells good!” I said, putting on another jacket to stay warm.
“Yep!” Bryan replied, as we opened up the back of his van where all our gear was placed.
The Ty River was a fantastic sight. Granite boulders made up the entire river, and the water was gin clear.
“Let’s see what you can do.” Bryan said.
“What?” I asked.
“When we all go fishing, you are typically the only one catching fish. So I figured I would bring you here to see if this river is worth fishing. I heard there are bigger fish here. If anyone can find them it’s you.” Bryan said.
“Well, then I guess the pressure’s on…”
I perched myself on a large granite rock overlooking a portion of the river that was easily fifteen feet deep. The water was so clear that ‘deceptively deep’ was something to keep in mind. When fishing in clear water like this it’s easy to be fooled by refractions in the water. A good example of this is when someone is standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool: look at them at the right angle and their legs only look to be a foot long, when you know it’s three feet deep there. The same concept can apply here, only I didn’t have a person standing in the water for a reference…I was just looking at rocks. If I was going to get in this water for a better cast, I decided I’d better proceed with caution in case the water was deeper than I’d anticipated. However, judging by the deeper blue color of this stretch, it was easy enough to determine it was very deep. There had to be something living here.
I, of course, started with a dry fly, then moved to euro-nymphing, then a streamer to get deep. Often times I throw a streamer in a deep pool like this and watch the riverbed come to life with the fish I couldn’t see before enticing them to move. Here in the Ty River, there was just nothing there. Strange.
Massive boulders that paved the flow of the river almost looked fairytale, but these huge stones made it impossible to view Bryan, who had moved upstream. I switched my line back to my euro set up and headed upstream toward him.
I just couldn’t get over the aesthetics of this river. The water was like looking at the blue reflection of a diamond, and the desire to get in was just as strong. In order to get to Bryan and not crowd him I had to cross, and after a quick look around I found a spot that hopefully wasn’t too deep. Large, bulbous granite slabs were slightly distorted from the depth of the water, so I took a step.
My foot slid on the rock, taking my breath away. I kicked off with my secure foot completely off balance, luckily finding a rock with plenty of grip to keep myself from falling in.
“OOOOOH!! SO THAT’S HOW YOU WANT TO PLAY!” I yelled at the river, my adrenaline spiked. “WELL NOT ME, NOT TODAY! I yelled, finishing off the rant with a few Spanish curse words I had picked up as a kid. I quickly made my way across the river.
“HA!” I barked at the water after making it completely out and onto the other side. I made my way up to Bryan, who was just coming over a rock to find me.
“Anything?” He asked.
“Oh, I thought I heard something…I got one up here, but it was super tiny.”
“Well, it’s something.” I said.
“There’s a good spot over here…” He said, and I pointed my fly rod upstream suggesting he lead the way.
I was empty handed after fishing each spot I came to, and each spot looking better than the last. I slouched on a large boulder, looking upstream at the water and saw it: a rising fish. I snipped off my nymphs and re-rigged with a flowing line and a CDC caddis. Caddis were the only aquatic insect that I had seen out there, so that was my best bet. I was easily eclipsed behind a rock as I carefully got into a position to cast. The fish rose again, still unaware of me. I made a well-timed cast with a 18-foot leader. The fly landed perfectly in line with the feeding lane of the fish. Nothing happened… so I did it again, BLAM!
The sudden burst of acceleration this fish had proved it was not a keychain-sized fish. The fish bolted to the bottom of the pool, darting for safety. I applied the pressure to bring the fish around the large rock that had hid us from each other. SNAP!
“What the hell?!” I said, as my line went slack. I brought back my line to see that the fly was gone. I found my footing and peeked around the huge rock to find a deep hole, as suspected, however it was also a small log jam. Clear water provided a great view of the long branch still connected to the sunken log, and I shook my head. In my attempt to bring the fish to my side of the rock, I had pulled it straight into the snagging branches.
“Stupid…” I said to myself before pushing on.
Bryan was approaching another spectacular looking section of water when I caught up with him.
“This river…” I said, in awe.
“Yep, I told you it was nice.” Bryan added, then pointed his rod tip by a small current near an incredibly large boulder.
“I have seen them rising here before.” Bryan said, “But they all seem to be small… Shouldn’t there be bigger fish here? You would think right”?
“It may have something to do with the granite rock and lack of nutrients in the water. We have stretches of river like this in Idaho, where a river can be nutrient deficient and therefore suffer as a fishery. But you would have to talk with a fisheries biologist for get the full scoop. I just hear this stuff.”
“Makes sense…” Bryan said.
Coming up empty handed again pushed us out of this stretch of river to another spot Bryan had tucked up his sleeve.
“Okay, now this spot is a “for sure” spot! We will catch fish here, I always do.” Bryan said with confidence as we walked down to the river.
Bryan unhooked his fly from his rod and gave it a flick onto some pocket water. Pop! A small fish took a swipe, and Bryan reacted in an instant. However well-timed Bryan’s hook set was, the little mouth that hit clearly had eyes bigger than its stomach. Bryan looked over at me, as he got his fly ready for another toss. “They are here…” He said with a smile.
Bryan’s fly smacked the surface of the water, and again got hit. This happened several times before Bryan finally hooked one of the little shakers, but it had flicked itself off before it could reach his hands.
“You try!” He suggested, hooking his fly back onto his rod.
“Thought you would never ask!” I said, taking point. I had my euro set up ready to go, and sent my nymphs flying. The heavy flies sunk fast and there was an immediate tug on the line.
“Oh, a nice one!” Bryan said as I brought in a more sizable fish for this river.
The little fish flopped around and I went to unhook it…no net needed.
“I knew you would find the big ones.” Bryan boomed.
“This is it huh?” I said, releasing the little ten inch fish.
“This isn’t Idaho Erik…” Bryan said, “…That was a nice sized fish for a Washington river”.
Together Bryan and I brought up every fish in this pocket, and after it was over we decided to head back towards Moses Lake.
“You know, we may have time to fish Icicle Creek.” Bryan said, buckling up.
“Oh yeah!?” I said happily.
Icicle Creek has been on my hit list for years now. The small creek runs right near the small German-inspired town of Leavenworth… I know nothing of this creek, other than I remember it as a kid.
“It’s loaded with fish.” Bryan said, happily.
“Yeah, but they are the size of the small fish we just caught.” Bryan sounded a bit more deflated.
“Well let’s hit it anyways! Why the hell not!”
“Yep!” Bryan chimed.
“Um… Can we get down right here?” I asked as Bryan brought the van to a stop after our arrival to the creek.
“It’s a little steep, but we can do it.” He said dismissively, and jumped out of the van. Our gear was already set up so we grabbed it and walked to the edge of the steep bank.
“Mmmm…” I mumbled, as Bryan threw caution to the wind and scrambled down the rocky bluff like he does it every day after morning tea. I was a bit more calculated with my descent, muttering insults as I found my footing on rickety rocks that offered no promise of stability.
“What the hell am I doing?” I said, clinging to a rock.
“Risking life and limb over dinky ass fish.” My leg dangled to find a steady rock, and I let go of the stable rock I was holding onto. Thud.. Thankfully another solid rock.
“This is stupid…” I said, taking another leap of faith.
“Got one!” I heard Bryan call. I glanced over to see the tiniest fish squirming and twisting in the air after Bryan’s hook set sent it flying. The dink hit the water with a diminutive splat, spitting the hook during its forced takeoff.
“Ha!” Bryan cackled, flicking his fly right back out and getting another hit, sending another dink flying.
“It’s good fishing!” He yelled.
“Looks amazing.” I said, as I landed on a large rock which ended my oafish descent.
“They’re taking a pico ant.” Bryan said, as if giving up the secret. However these little opportunistic fish would snap at a poorly presented cigarette butt looking for a meal. Still I wanted to be nice to Bryan.
“These fish will eat anything!” I said.
“Well, let’s see it.” He challenged.
A sample flick of the fly rod sent my dry fly as far as it needed to be. SMACK!
“OH THERE IT IS! OH THIS FISH IS A NICE ONE!” I yelled loudly, bringing in a fish I was surprised to even hook after seeing its tiny mouth.
“See.. fun huh?” Bryan asked, smiling, hooking onto a fish himself.. “OOOOOHHHHHH!” He yelled.
That’s what it was like for over an hour on Icicle Creek, as both Bryan and I hollered out with every hooked dink as if we were fighting a thirty-six inch B-Run steelhead. A few pedestrians gave us funny looks as they walked on the path above us, stopping to see our catch, then continuing their walk after seeing virtually nothing in our hands. To Bryan and I this activity did not get old, for lack of a better explanation we were just having fun.
My cheeks were sore from laughing so much, and near the end it was safe to say we had, at least, hooked every fish willing to take a dry fly in that small section of river.
“Well, I can say I fished Icicle Creek now.” I said, making my last effort to climb out of the steep, jagged embankment getting to the van.
“Yep!” Bryan concurred.
We geared down and hopped back in the van heading home. On the way back we merge onto Highway 17, and as we drove by we both looked down the turn towards a favorite fishing hole.
“There it is… The way to Rocky Ford Creek.” I said.
“Yep!” Bryan said.
“Tomorrow Rocky Ford?!” I asked rhetorically.
“Tomorrow, Rocky Ford…” Bryan confirmed.
“We are going to get you a big fish tomorrow, Bryan.”
“I hope so.” He said, as we zoomed by the exit in anticipation for what tomorrow would bring.
- PROSPECTING FOR GRAYLING DAY 2
I woke up to Bryan and Mike having a conversation about getting out of bed quickly after waking up in the morning. Both came to the conclusion that they can’t just stay in bed; they have to get up and do something with their mornings. I, on the other hand, have no problem relaxing for an extra ten minutes before getting up. In fact, this morning I stayed in the sleeping bag, nice and comfortable, extra long while Mike and Bryan gathered water to boil. It didn’t take long for the Jet Boils to get the water up to temp, which was my cue to grab my mug and special Market Spice cinnamon orange tea I had brought to top off my morning.
The lake was once again placid, with no sign of life. We unanimously decided to not fish our current location and tp head out and up the steep climb with fresh legs.
“Whoa, where are you leading us, Bryan?” Mike asked, as we followed him on his trail out.
“Ummm, this way.” Bryan said, with a chuckle, as he turned away from what looked like a twenty foot drop off an enormous boulder.
“Geez, you are like a horse headed back to the barn. Head down, only one path.” Mike said with a laugh.
“Well, I could have made that…” Bryan said, finding a much better and safer way out.
We knew what we were in for on this climb out, and to be honest climbing up a steep terrain is much easier than hiking down one. Hiking sticks come in very handy on this kind of hike. You can easily burn out your legs when hiking any steep trail, but with the addition of arm power hoisting you up you can do it with much less leg effort.
A good safety tip on steep terrain is to take your wrists out of the straps on the walking sticks. The sticks are a big help when hiking up or down steep slopes, however if you slip you can cause serious damage to your arm if it gets caught in the strap while taking a fall. Just removing your hand from the strap makes having the stick a handy tool rather than a dangerous one.
Bryan was at the top of the mountain waiting for us as Mike and I got there. We had all worked up a sweat on that climb, but it was all downhill from there.
We passed a small frog pond on the way back to the trail that led us out.
Further down the hill Boulder Lake came into view, and with as early as it was we decided to stop and fish the lake for a few hours before heading back to the trailhead.
We pulled out our Wilderness Light float tubes, blew them up on the shoreline of Boulder Lake, rigged up our rods, and we were ready to fish in no time.
Both Bryan and I caught fish like we were in a competition.
We were certainly putting on a show for the spin fishers on shore. If they were fly fishers I could have offered help, however when it comes to spin fishing I am like…well, I’m like a fish out of water.
Time flies by when you are catching fish, and I had promised I would be home at a certain time, so Bryan and I got off the water and headed back on the trail. We met Mike on the way out. He was fishing off the shoreline and was ready to take off when we approached him. The two mile hike back seems to take forever, but it was nothing compared to the drive home to Boise. Coming home early after weekend traffic is hell. After saying goodbye to Bryan who stayed up in McCall to fish more lakes, and Mike who lives there, I was off on my two hours drive that took three and a half hours.
Horseshoe Bend is the bottleneck that kills the drive back to Boise from McCall. Once past the small town, it’s like the arteries of a clogged heart opens back up and the flow is steady again. I made it home late, but still in time to hangout with the family before bedtime. The kids wren excited to see the picture of the grayling I had caught, and the video of me releasing the fish. It’s this spark I hope turns into a passionate flame for the love of the outdoors I hope to instill in my kids… Whether on a hike or a fishing trip, present or not, I am always there with them.
- PROSPECTING FOR GRAYLING
Lakes with grayling have been on my radar for a few years now, but in order to visit some of these lakes I knew I had to be ready for an overnight trip. Lightweight hiking/backpacking gear is expensive, and with every art show being cancelled due to the pandemic, all photography sales have just been nil. Thankfully my mother-in-law has some of the best backpacking gear on the market, and she provided everything I needed to make the grayling trip a possibility for me this year.
Photographing fish is not easy, however it is definitely a passion of mine. On the list of “fish to photograph” grayling is near the top. If shooting a typical fish is difficult, wrapping my head around photographing a light sensitive, light reflecting, iridescent fish can only be discovered by trial and error. Grayling can reflect an array of colors in the right sunlight; however, if the light is tilted or reflected awkwardly, all the electric blue colors of the elongated fin fades to black and red.
My buddy, Mike McLean, was playing with a bit of underwater photography and captured this image of a grayling…
It has been my inspiration for what I would like to capture, and that required hiking to a specific lake that has many grayling for the opportunity to photograph as many as I can.
We picked a lake that had been stocked with grayling, and only grayling, for several years in a row. There is no path to this lake, and it’s tucked behind steep ravines, making it unpopular to visit. Still, with grayling on the mind, I knew I had to go.
Mike McLean is my most reliable friend to hike with, and is always ready for a weekend getaway in the backcountry.
Also joining us on this overnight stay was my youngest brother, Bryan. Bryan is no stranger to the outdoors, and has the best gear with him at all times, ready for adventures that come his way. He had been staying in his van up in McCall and hitting a new mountain lake every day, sometimes multiple in a day, in search of fun fishing.
The three of us met up at Mike’s place Friday night to get an early start on Saturday. We still spent Friday night reminiscing about older fishing trips and stayed up way too late. Saturday morning came fast.
Boom, boom, boom… A knock at my door woke me up. A small wave of panic washed over me.. I had set me alarm, why did it not go off?
“Okay.” The voice of Mike came from outside my door.
“What time is it?” I asked, wanting to be sure I was not too late. We had all agreed to wake up at 5:30am.
“It’s time to get up.” Mike said, his voice fading as he walked away.
Confused, I reached for my phone. 5:20 AM. That’s why I had not heard my alarm go off… I still had ten minutes to sleep. There was no going back to sleep now, so I got up and ready to head out.
Bags were packed the night before, which made heading out early an easy transition from sleep. The trail head is the same one to Boulder Lake, and starts at Boulder Lake Reservoir. Once there, we heaved our packed on our backs, and headed up the trail.
I didn’t dare weigh my pack before we took off; better to just not know before this four mile hike. We kept a steady pace as we neared the first lake, slowing down only to be surefooted around muggy spots on the trail. As we hiked there were under ripe huckleberry bushes all over the place, but every once in a while we would come across a few ripe berries. There was enough for the three of us to pick the hidden fruit as we hiked. The sweet taste seemed more brilliant a couple miles in.
We had done our homework for this hike…the first three miles were the easy part.
Landmarks were being checked off as we approached each correct site in the backcountry: a right peak, a marshy section, a frog pond; all of it was leading us to our final destination.
“Well, we all knew this was coming…” I said, as we made our way to an open valley where the lake rested. The steepest part of the hike was here.
“Yep, we just need to take it slow.” Mike said, looking for the safest route to start our decent.
“This isn’t that bad.” Bryan said, taking a quick glance, “In Washington it can be steeper than this, and I do it all the time”.
“Well GEEEEZ, Mike! Aren’t we so lucky to be around this kind of greatness?!” I said. Bryan, cocked his head with a slight smile, deflecting the sarcasm and accepting my words as some kind of endorsement.
“Look at him just smiling.” Mike said, with a laugh.
“Well, the way I see it we can take this ledge this way…” Bryan said, pointing out a route with his finger, “…then cut across those boulders there that way”.
“Yeah, I like that.” Mike said. I took a look at what Bryan said, and the terrain was so steep that there was no further route-finding from the boulder where Bryan pointed. Bryan and Mike both looked at me.
“Onward!” I said, and we all clung to boulders that made up the steep path leading to the lake.
We still found loose jagged granite as we progressed down the steep slope. I have been hiking this kind of terrain with Mike before; I know his pace is slow and sure. And if Mike is slow, then I’m sluggish. Every step I took was a sure step. There was no quick decent for me. I made damn sure I was safe, because where we were there would be no easy way to get out if any of us got hurt. Bryan, on the other hand, was like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I have no doubt he was being safe, but he was fluttering over these rocks like Li Mu Bai tiptoeing over a bamboo forest.
As fast as Bryan was going, he was sure to wait for us when a route seemed more complicated ahead. Once together we selected a reasonable trajectory, but it was time for a quick snack. My dad had picked up a bag full of goodies for our hike, and this time he nailed it with some chocolate covered peanuts he picked up at D&B Supply.
“Wow, these are good!” Bryan said, taking another handful.
“Those are good!” Mike said.
“I’ll have to remember theses things for next time.” I said, now holding an empty bag.
The lake was in sight which fired us up get going.
Going down such a hill takes much more effort than going up, and our packs were getting heavy. Once down from the steep part of the hike, it was cake from there. We passed by the huge boulder field that separated us from viewing lake.
Once over the small creek that drained the lake, there it was: our final destination.
“This is fantastic!” I said.
“Do you see any rising fish?” Bryan asked.
“No…” I hesitated to say. That was the LAST thing I wanted to see: a lake with no activity. The entire idea was to get to an isolated lake for the opportunity of fantastic fishing, however this was not looking good.
“Should we walk around looking for the best camp spot?” Mike asked. Our packs felt the most heavy they had been the entire trip; finding a spot to shed them sounded great.
“Yes!” I said, breaking away from the bad fishing thought.
It wasn’t long before Bryan spotted a great camping spot. From the looks of it, someone had been there before. I was hoping for this; it’s always nice to get to a spot that has a nice fire pit and some cleared out spots for a tent.
Thud, thud, thud…
“Ohhhh, that’s nice.” Mike said, as the three of us let our packs hit the ground.
“Oh wow, I feel super light.” I said, walking in circles. The weight removed from my shoulders made me feel like I was walking on the moon; each step felt effortless and fun. I knew this feeling would go away soon, so I made the best of it as Bryan started unpacking.
“I want to get my tent up before the bugs get too bad.” He said, and I followed suit. Mike didn’t bring a tent. He brought himself a bivy-sack with a nice sleeping pad for a bed. The three of us set up camp.
“It’s nice to be here!” I said.
“Yep!” Bryan agreed, with a smile.
“And what a great day for that hike.” Mike chimed in.
The three of us were all smiles. Bryan and I had our tents up. Bryan wasted no time setting up his sleeping pad and sleeping bag for the night.
“Aaaaaaaaah!” He sighed, tucking himself in to try out his new bed. It’s no overstatement to say we were all excited to be where we were, but none was more happy than Bryan. Despite the mosquitos that found us quickly, there was no taking away the smile that remained on Bryan’s face since we had arrived.
Bryan had also bought me a gift before this trip: a GeoPress water filtering bottle, which was our next task.
We walked over to the lake, scooped up some water, and applied pressure to filter the water before drinking it.
“It’s good!” I said, smiling.
“Yep!” Bryan said, out of breath from a long gulp. We looked at the water, still not seeing a rise, but we were not going to catch a fish just looking around. We had to test the waters. We walked back to camp and started blowing up our Wilderness Light float tubes.
Fly rods were put together, and the tubes were pumped… it was time to fish.
“What the hell are you guys doing?” Mike asked, as Bryan and I picked up our tubes and headed off to the water. A quick glance over and I had realized, in the time it took Bryan and I to set up camp and gear up, Mike had only set up his bed. He had unpacked his bag with gear everywhere, his Wilderness Light float tube laid flaccid over a granite rock.
“Uhhhh.. Going fishing…” I said.
“Uu-huh… I see how it is.” Mike started, playing the victim. “Now I would expect this kind of behavior from, Erik. Got to get ready first! Be in his float tube first! Catch the first fish! But I expected better from you, Bryan…”
Bryan’s smile shifted to a slight guilty smile, like he had just been caught misbehaving.
“Now I see you are no better than your brother.” Mike continued, “It’s all about you and the fish you catch. It has turned into the Moncada show”.
“I know I’d tune in!” I said, not missing a beat.
“I’ll be out there soon. I’m not as fast as you guys.” Mike said, laughing as Bryan and I continued to the lake.
Sitting back on one of these Wilderness Light float tubes is a cool feeling. I would never have expected this super lightweight float tube to be so comfortable. With it being so light, and with no more limitations on the mountain lakes due to shoreline or lack of backcasting, for the first time I feel flooded with confidence when on the water.
“There’s one!” Bryan’s voice echoed over the lake. The water sparkled with every kick of his fish.
“It’s a Grayling!” He yelled in triumph.
I was too far away to get any kind of good look at his fish, but even from afar, it looked like a nice grayling.
Something broke the surface of the water off to my right. I kicked my way over, and launched my fly.
I waited, twitching my fly to entice anything that lurked near by.
“Here we go, here we go!” I yelled, and brought in a tiny fish.
“Is it a grayling?” Bryan asked, yelling over to me.
“It’s a cutthroat trout?!” I said, confused. “Of course I would find the only cutthroat trout in this lake that had been only stocked with Grayling.” Bryan laughed, as I unhooked the little fish and went back to fishing.
Fishing was poor at best. There were long stretches in-between catching fish, and that got frustrating due to the effort we put in getting to this particular lake. Mike was now on the water, and he was kicking over to spots we hadn’t hit yet. The three of us pounded the water, and only Mike caught a fish at the other end of the lake.
Okay, I have to approach this lake a bit differently, I thought to myself. I knew the others were not as prepared as I was to switch up, but even with that in mind it was hard to commit to a huge change of tactics. Still, I made myself kick to the bank and got out to rigged my outfit with a sinking-tip line.
Casting with a sink-tip made things more difficult, but it was nothing I couldn’t manage with an Orvis 10’ 4 weight Recon, my current favorite fly rod for the versatility. My line hit the water hard, and I gave it a 15 second count and started to retrieve.
I had a fish on the first cast. This was it, I just had to get deeper. I had felt the nice sized fish before it spit the hook, but with all the confidence on the lake, I pitched my line back out there.
I held on to my confidence for way too long… nothing was taking my fly. I was trying all kinds of different retrieves and depths, nothing was key. When a grayling finally took I was convince it was due to dumb luck rather that any skill I brought to the lake. Still, it was nice to see a grayling at the end of my line, and I was quick to get some good underwater shots.
After hours of no fish, the three of us went back to camp to give our legs a break from fishing.
“Damn alpine mosquitos are the worst!” Bryan yelled with frustration, smacking his own face. It was at this point I realized how nice it was to have a tent up. We had geared down to take a breather, and no better place than in my tent and away from the mosquitos. Bryan had climbed in his tent too, while Mike sat on a rock defending himself from the bugs. Mike had just purchased a new Garmin GPS unit, and was fidgeting with it.
“It’s going to be good as soon as the light gets off the water.” Bryan said from his tent.
“You think so?” I said back.
“You know…” Mike said, “…According to this Garmin this isn’t a good day to fish. It says we are in a high pressure weather system and next week should be fantastic”.
“What about when the light gets off the water?” Bryan asked.
“Actually, yeah! It says at 6pm tonight it should be good for a few hours. At that time the light should be behind that granite wall.”
Bryan clapped his hands together as if he had all the validation he needed for his lights-out theory. I wasn’t too convinced the Garmin could pinpoint good and bad fishing by the hour, however being in a high-pressure condition does indeed have an affect on fishing; so it did have that right.
“Does the Garmin have any fly suggestions?” I asked sarcastically.
“Says to use a purple haze…” Mike answered.
“I think I have one!” Bryan said, a spring-sweetness to his voice.
“Shut up!” I said, laughing.
“It didn’t say that?” Bryan asked.
“No.” Mike said, with a chuckle.
Bryan took a little nap in his tent, while Mike continued to play with the Garmin GPS unit. I was laying in my tent and remember I had brought three salted chocolate chip cookies I had picked up from the Co-Op the day before to share. I grabbed my cookie and ate it up. The soft chewy cookie was perfectly intermingled with its sweet salty taste…the only problem was that it was gone too soon. Bryan and Mike didn’t even know I had these cookies for them, and what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Yeah, it was that easy to convince myself. Practiced hands snuck each cookie out of the plastic bag with not too much of a sound, and each bite was a glutinous pleasure of delight upholding the old saying that everything taste better at a mountain lake. Would Bryan and Mike really, truly, deeply appreciate these cookies as much as I? Poor Mike was out there smacking mosquitos off his face, and a cookie would have made his day. I was feeling guilty; perhaps that’s why I was being so quiet. I really hope the Garmin didn’t know about this.
The light was going to be off the water soon, we all headed back out to catch the evening bite. There was still no surface activity on the water, so I stuck with a subsurface fly, and it paid off immediately. My fly darted through the large boulders that made for good underwater habitat, and WAM! It was nice to see another grayling on my line. A little anxiety shot through me with the idea of it spitting the hook before I could take some shots, but it all worked out. The light was still good and I had my camera set to the fading sun for some underwater shots.
The sun faded fast behind the mountain side, and the lake was in shadow faster than expected.
The sound of rising fish caught my ear, and I spun around to see several fish taking something off the surface of the water. I switched my rig to top water, and focused on the rising fish.
I have seen this many times… something that LOOKS like decent fish rising. However after a closer look it was little dinks making the splashiest topwater commotion when trying to eat flies with their little mouths.
“I said it! They are rising everywhere!” Bryan yelled across the water, however “rising everywhere” was a bit overstated. Still, it was nice to see some surface activity. In the distance I saw Bryan make a cast, a fish ate his fly, then he set the hook aggressively sending the little fish cartwheeling towards him. The sight of it made me laugh.
The temperature was dropping fast, and with the way fishing has been today I made the decision to get off the water. No need to be super cold at night for no good reason. Bryan and Mike followed closely behind, with Mike catching a really nice cutthroat trout and Bryan another grayling on the way back.
Mike and Bryan got the Jet Boils fired up for our rehydrated dinners, which were not bad at all, to my surprise.
“Mike, what are you photographing over there?” I asked.
“My spoon.” Mike replied, holding up a stick. “I forgot my spoon…so I found this stick.” Mike sat down in front of his rehydrated beef stew, and tested his new spoon which seemed to work well.
The fire burned hot as the night grew cold, and even the mosquitos have had enough. Bryan celebrated no-more-mosquitos with a drink of choice, and we polished of the night with great stories of our pasts.
We had all gathered wood for the fire, and Bryan took it upon himself to keep it going.
After that long hike and fishing, I know I was feeling tired. We were all tired, and after the fire died down it was time for bed. I had planned to watch the stars for a while, but after laying down I fell asleep faster than I could remember, hoping the next day would bring better fishing.