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Bread Punch Roach on the Basingstoke Canal. Mostly small stuff.

November 5, 2013 at 3:56 pm

The Basingstoke Canal near Woking proved a worthwhile alternative to a flooded Thames this week, when a change of plan gave me a few hours in the afternoon to go fishing. The bread punch is the ideal bait and method for spontaneous outings, as I store liquidized bread and a few pieces of medium sliced in the freezer. A slice of frozen bread is cut in four, then placed in the microwave for 15 seconds, causing a rapid thaw, before being rolled out to a millimetre thick and wrapped in cling film. That’s it, bait prep over. 

The canal was a picture of peacefulness, a light wind ruffling the surface as set up my pole, while the autumn sun warmed the air, the only downside being the crystal clear water, testimony to the lack of boat traffic. I set up a small wire stemmed pole float with just four No. 10 shot down the line, to a fine wire long shank size 20 hook and plumbed the depth to find the near and far shelves of the canal. The boat road is under three feet at it’s deepest. I measured out a quarter of a pint of the now thawed liquidized bread, compressed a small ball and lobbed it onto the nearside drop-off, watching it slowly break up, forming a cloud on it’s way to the shelf. The water was very clear. I was hoping for some skimmer bream from this swim, but they usually show when there is a tinge of colour in the canal and this was not their day, as the first of many four inch roach made off with the pellet of bread.

The near shelf was still going strong, but not producing any bonus fish, when I switched lines to just past middle with two more joints on the pole, fishing over another small ball of fine crumb. More small roach. I went up on punch size to a 5mm and fished 6 inches over depth. This often sorts out a better roach, or a skimmer, but no, more tiny roach, some just hanging onto the pellet jammed in their mouths. The same on the far shelf.

With the sun getting low over the trees, another ball was dropped in over the near shelf for a session of tiddler bashing, the float bobbing and sliding away seconds after cocking. I was now swinging the fish to hand, lifting into the first movement of the float, any longer and the disgorger was needed to reach the barbless hook. I lost count of the number of fish, all roach, bar one three ounce skimmer, which had me reaching for the landing net at first, but swung it in anyway. It just seemed big compared to the rest.

Once the sun had gone, the temperature dropped like a stone and following my third “just one more” roach, I pulled my net in for a tally up. Despite throwing the the tiniest back, there were still at least fifty sprat sized silvers balled in my landing net ready to be released. Less than a quarter of a pint of white crumb had been used, while onto my second square of bread, over seventy punches had been made. A busy two hours.

Thames roach fishing at Home Park, Windsor

October 31, 2013 at 12:37 pm

In the shadow of Windsor Castle, Home Park, dedicated to the people of Windsor by Queen Victoria, offers some of the best roach fishing on the non-tidal Thames. With good car parking within a few hundred yards of the river and safe swims cut into the bank by Old Windsor Angling Club, who manage the half mile stretch on behalf of Windsor Council, this day ticket water has to be high on the list of any angler.

The upper section is a relatively narrow, but deep canalized stretch giving boats access to Romney Lock, opening out to a natural bank on the inside of a big bend, which allows safe wading on gravel to trot the stick float for dace, roach and chub. Armed with red maggots, it was my intention for an afternoon’s fishing on this lower section, but one look at the river changed my mind. Heavy rain over the weekend had raised the level a few inches, increased the pace and put more than a tinge of colour into the water. I needed a swim with a slack out of the mainstream, finding what I was looking for towards the end of the canal section.

 Having intended trotting the open lower end, I’d taken my pole out of my rod bag before I’d left home to save weight. This swim was ideal for the pole, but would have to compromise with my 14 foot float rod. Once tackled up, I plumbed the depth at ten feet, two rods out, just on the edge of the crease between fast and slow water. I then discovered something else was missing from my armory, a bait dropper; needed to place maggots hard on the bottom. Loose fed maggots would end up well past the lower tree before they got to the bottom, where the roach are. Another compromise. I knocked up a stiff groundbait  mix and folded in maggots, making a ball that was lobbed in upstream on the crease at the tree on my left. I’d set up with a 5BB bodied balsa stick float, bulked 30 inches above the size 14 barbless hook, with two No. 6 shot evenly between them. This would allow the maggots to swing up in the flow, while holding back to the bulk shot, irresistible to the  roach, I hoped.

An underarm swing of the rod dropped the float at the head of the swim, it settled then ran halfway down before I checked the float with tension from the rod top, released more line from the reel, then held back again. The float bobbed, then sank from view. A steady lift and the rod was bent into a fish, the regular beat from below indicating my first roach of the afternoon.

Not a big roach, but the first of many to come. The float continued to sink out of sight, sometimes halfway down the swim, but always before reaching the downstream bush. I began to get a rythme going, swinging them in, but then began pulling out of fish halfway to the surface. Any pressure and they were off the hook. This is where the pole comes into it’s own, the elastic keeping a constant pressure to the fish, while my rod was a bit too stiff for these roach, bouncing them off in my eagerness to get them in the net. I was catching so fast, that the maggots were not even damaged, taking three, or four roach before needing to change, a single maggot on a size 14 looking wrong, but doing the trick.

A ball of groundbait was going in every 30 minutes, plus the occasional loose fed reds and a different fight indicated a small skimmer bream, which dropped off as I swung it in. Back in again, the float sank away and this time, I netted it just to be safe. A skimmer of a few ounces. A shoal had moved in over the feed, but I struggled to get them in the net, most coming off in the first few feet. The slow thump of a decent skimmer got my full attention, it stayed down and when it came beneath my rod top, I began a gentle raise of the rod. Again the hook pulled free! Another of around 12 oz was sliding across the surface to the landing net and came off. I’d already changed my hook and was at a loss, being as easy on the pressure as I could. My conclusion was that maybe I’d overfed the swim and they were just playing with the bait. Non anglers ask why I still enjoy fishing after all these years, but it’s trying to solve problems like this one, that keep you going. No day is the same, there are so many variables.

A river cruiser charging upstream against the flow soon solved my problem, the wash causing a mini whirlpool in my swim that sucked away the feed along with the fish. When the river had settled down again, another ball of bait went in, but the feeding frenzy was over, the skimmers were gone, replaced by the occasional roach. The light was going, so I decided to call it a day and get home before rush hour clogged the roads. My three hours of  effort accounting for over forty red finned roach in the net. My next visit will be with with a pole and bait dropper.

Wild brown trout flyfishing season closes with a bang.

October 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say, but with a lack of rain still affecting my syndicate chalkstream, it was almost a call of duty, that drew me back for the last days of the trout season, deciding to visit the upper weir pool at the head of the fishery for the first time this year.

As I waded upstream from the tail of the weir, Daddy Longlegs were skittering across the surface, but there were no signs of any interest in them, the water and probably oxygen levels remaining low despite heavy showers in the week. A Daddy dry fly was cast up towards the weir, but it’s slow drift back was ignored. Twitching the fly did likewise. A Gold Head Hares Ear was the next choice. With the lack of flow, I worked the pool with various rates of figure of eight retrieve. It all looked right and every cast had that anticipation, which keeps us fishing. Last year one such cast saw a vicious take and an aggressive fight that took me round the pool, until I netted a fin perfect rainbow, an escapee from an upstream fishery.

With no sign of a fish this time, I decided to cut my losses. I made my way back downstream to the van, making a few half hearted casts to places, that had held good fish earlier in the year, to no response, keeping the rod set up and driving downstream to the one fast flowing bit of river, where I was confident of a take, or two.

Just standing in this run filled me with a spurt of enthusiasm, the short stretch offering a range of fish holding pockets. Tying a size 16 Pheasant Tail nymph onto the 4lb tippet and making short upstream casts, I prospected the river in front of me, the line jagging out, when  a small dace took the nymph, the silver coarse fish getting airborne for a moment, before coming off the hook and splashing into the water behind me. A small brown followed in much the same way, then another dace. At least this was fun and moving up to the bend it became dace alley, with fish bumping the nymph at every cast, some better ones fighting hard in the shallow water.

The pool above this run had provided some big trout earlier this season and keeping low, I made casts into the tail of the pool. A bulge as the line stopped, indicated a better fish and the frantic run upstream, followed by a leap, confirmed it as a wild brown, not big by this pool’s standards, but a rod bender no less.

As I slipped the trout back, there was a slow rise in the faster water to the outer edge of the pool fifteen yards up, the first I’d seen all afternoon. The late autumn sun had come out, sedges and crane flies were scudding about. Was it time to try the dry fly again?

I scanned the pool for more rises, but apart from dimples of minnows and fry, there were none. I moved a few yards upstream, then measuring my casts away from the edge, not wanting to disturb this precious fish, I cast above where I’d seen the rise and the nymph dropped gently to the surface, sinking slowly. I let the leader drift beyond where I’d seen the rise, lifted to recast and the line tightened as the nymph was seized. An accidental induced take. A flash of gold from the tumbling fish and I was playing a larger brownie, which kited across the shallows and down the run, bending my seven foot rod with the full force of the stream. I let the fish pull line from the reel, then wound it back against the flow and netted the well marked wild brown trout, the nymph dropping out in the net. A quick photo and it was swimming free.

Giving myself another ten minutes fishing time, I decided to try the deeper water at the top of the pool, making longer casts to cover more water and retrieving with a figure of eight to stay in contact. Several drifts later, the leader gave a pull back and I lifted into solid resistance and a large fish accelerating away upstream, round the bend. One of the big stockies at last I thought, as line stripped from the reel and I followed, rod raised, expecting to be broken in that first rush of power. The rod eased, the fish dropped back, plunging round the pool, then surged to the far side through the reeds. Keeping pressure on, it wallowed beneath the surface, another flash of gold and it was away again. A big brown? Then another wallow and I saw the large scales of a monster chub, my biggest ever. Soon it’s massive white mouth was open and being drawn across to my net to be scooped up and carried to safety.

Judging by this chub’s fins and scales, which were perfect, this was possibly the first time that it had been on the bank. At twenty inches from nose to fork of tail and four inches across it’s back, with no weighing scales, I estimated it to weigh 4lb, not my target trout, but a fish well worthy to close the season with.

CZ452 Varmint .17 HMR backs up Magtech 7022 .22 semi auto in 5 minute shoot out.

October 17, 2013 at 8:54 am

Several years ago I was recommended to a local farmer, who was struggling to fatten cattle on land being ruined by a growing tide of rabbits. He’d tried to reduce the numbers with a shot gun, but didn’t have the time , or the weaponry to do a proper job. Within a month I’d decimated the rabbit population and regular visits over the years had kept the numbers under control, allowing the grass to grow back, supporting a larger stock of beasts.

It was while visiting this land and cropping another five rabbits with my CZ 452 HMR, that I was introduced to another owner of a small farm suffering the same problems.

 Behind his house was an acre paddock, that he used for rearing Angus calves, but this year the rabbits had rendered it useless, claiming it as their own, digging up the grass roots and burrowing at will. I agreed to visit him the next evening with two of my rifles, the Magtech semi auto .22 with it’s red dot sight, which is ideal for close range, multiple targets and the CZ .17 HMR for the longer range considered shots. On arrival, I felt the adrenalin rise at the sight of over twenty rabbits, casually going about their destructive business in the paddock the other side of his garden fence, unfazed by the two humans peering over it.

 I decided to get straight to the job in hand, bringing both rifles back to the fence, along with two full ten bullet clips for the the .22 Magtech and two full five bullet clips for the HMR, the spares going in opposite pockets. With the Magtech rested on the fence, I placed the red cross in the sight on the nearest rabbit’s head behind the eye, eased the trigger and pop, it jumped up dead. The Magtech moderator is whisper quiet and the next rabbit toppled over seconds later, it’s near neighbours sitting up in alarm, perfect targets, another two, or three falling, before confusion set in and rabbits were going in all directions. Keeping my own excitement under control was difficult in the heat of the moment and I missed, or winged a few, needing extra shots and the other clip of .22 RWS subsonics. One rabbit, head shot, was running in decreasing circles, until it fell over of it’s own accord, despite my efforts to down it on the run.

The remaining rabbits had now either reached the safety of their burrows, or were scattered around the far edges of the paddock. Time to switch to the HMR. The heavier CZ 452 rested on the fence, gave a much more stable shooting platform, but my heart was beating hard, causing the cross hairs of the scope to move on the next target, looking back at me 60 yards away. A deep breath, followed by a slow exhale, steadied the rifle, and I squeezed the trigger, watching the rabbit leap skyward. Even with it’s moderator, the HMR bullet makes a loud crack when fired and the last rabbits were soon making for the exits, but not before a few more were added to the tally from the five minutes of carnage.

The land owner was most impressed, having watched from his verandah. I could have shot more, but head shots mean saleable rabbits and humane kills, so it pays to take that extra bit of care, when sighting on a target. I’ve been back a few times since, getting the odd one, or two, but they have made themselves scarce during daylight. I’ve now been recommended to the two other farms along the lane and have already added a couple more butchers shops to my list of customers.

Farmoor 2 Reservoir Fly Fishing. Two old men in a boat.

October 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I joined my childhood friend Peter for a day afloat at Thames Water’s Farmoor 2 Reservoir this week, my first visit for twenty years and his second in as many months. Having fished the 17,000 acre Strawberry Reservoir in Utah a month ago, I was keen to see how Farmoor’s 160 acre concrete bowl compared.

A friend of Peter’s, a Farmoor regular, had fished the previous week and put us on the method, HD lines fished deep with long tails and an Orange Blob fly on the point, while stationed off the northern tower. Using this technique Peter’s friend had over twenty rainbows, while recommending that Hoppers and Daddy Longlegs were killing them on the floating line. This pleased me, as I prefer to fish the floating line and was already armed with an assortment of Hoppers from my trip to the US.

Once tackled up and aboard the boat, we headed out towards the tower at the down wind end of the water, where it was already decidedly choppy and the skies leadened with threatening rain. I was reminded of days spent battling the waves at Datchet Reservoir, where three foot breakers were common. In tribute to those times, I decided to have a couple of drifts using my heavy trolling lead core, on my original French multiplier reel, with a Pennel rigged tandem Whiskey lure, the 3 inch long monstrosity accounting for many 3lb +  rainbows back in the days of my youth. Dropping this collection of antiques over the side, I was paying out the thirty yards of backing, when the rod bent double and line flew through my fingers, when the lure was taken on the drop. I lifted against the pull. I’m in! Then, it’s off!

This was always a problem with this ultra heavy line, despite an 8/9 weight rod, setting the hook was never guaranteed.  Encouraged by this on the first drop in, I continued the drift, getting a further two tap,tap bangs and misses. I suggested we put out the drogue to slow the boat, as it was flying along, driven by the wind. Peter was getting no offers with his No.4 HD, as I think it was fishing too far off the bottom. In the old days we would tie thirty yards of rope on to a buoy, drift down, cast the rig as far as we could, then pay out line, before pulling our selves back to the buoy. We would then begin a slow retrieve back to the boat on the reel.  Often a take would occur as soon as the lure began to move, the line going solid, or a series of knocks and taps would develope  into savage take, usually when the lure lifted off the bottom. This was a laborious form of fishing, certainly a long way off from purist fly fishing, but the fish, when they came, were big and angry. 

After a couple of drifts with no offers for Peter and more misses on the lead core for me, we decided to tie off to a buoy close to the shore and fish down wind. I swapped to the floating line with a Hopper on the point and a Daddy Longlegs on the dropper, casting down and across and letting the combo work through the wave, where a wind lane had formed. Peter stayed with the HD and Blob, fishing several depths. With no takes for twenty minutes, the motor was fired up again and we bashed through the waves back to the tower. Several more fruitless drifts and we headed back towards the boat jetty, where the wind was more kind, stopping above one of the empty holding pens and tied up to a buoy. First cast in, Peter’s rod bent double and he was into his first fish. At last something worked and the first bar of silver was in the boat.

Now it was my turn, when the rod pulled down with a fish and kept pulling, as a rainbow hugged the bottom, the Orange Blob holding on during a rod bending run, that took it from bottom to the surface and back again. My luck and the hook held and Peter was on hand to net a perfect 21 inch, 2 lb 12 oz rainbow. Battling the conditions earlier, we had both begun to doubt our ability to catch fish.

Peter now hooked another fish, a fine two pounder, while I bent into a fish on the lift off from the bottom, which came up like a submarine and I lost contact, when it surfaced. Another large rainbow, which zig-zagged around the boat, just under the surface at speed before heading off. Peter was now the one to curse, when he was taken on the drop in a lightning dive, a doubled rod, a ping and a lost Blob. Peter continued with a Yellow Blob, while I decided to give the floating line another go, as a few fish had begun to top close to the boat.

With the Hopper on the point and a Daddy six feet away on a dropper, I watched as a trout showed interest in the big green hopper, then swooped on the Daddy, a nose, then a tail, while the line slipped beneath the surface. I lifted and the line flew back. No contact. Preoccupied I continued like a desperate gambler, convinced that the next cast would result in a fish, trout after trout swirling at the flies, without me making contact. Almost unnoticed by me, Peter netted another good rainbow from the bottom. I should have tried another combination of flies, but five hours on a boat had dulled my brain and strained my body, we two old boys grunting and groaning from aching limbs, due to the cramped conditions.

Boats were returning to the jetty and we decided to call it a day and compare notes with our fellow anglers. Almost to a man, they had all fished small sedges in the surface film not far from the boat, often drifting slowly with the aid of a drogue. Their fish were not as big as ours, but they had more action, one having taken 16 fish. On a less windy day, our efforts out by the tower may have paid off, but rain and cold had driven us back to the comfort of the leeward shore. Ironically this had caused a premature ending to my day at Stawberry Reservoir. It’s not only in England that the weather can ruin a day’s fishing.

Strawberry Reservoir trout fishing, Wasatch, Utah

September 26, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Storm clouds were gathering as I reversed the boat trailer down the Soldier Creek boat ramp at Utah’s premier trout fishery, Strawberry Reservoir in early September. Friend Ray soon had his boat unhitched and we were heading out to his favourite bay a short distance from the ramp, where he was confident we would catch.

With over twenty days at over 100 degrees this summer, the upper layers of this 17,000 acre water were were still considered too warm to fish, although being at 7,600 feet it stays cold in it’s 150 foot depths, where land locked red kokanee salmon shoal. Depths between 25 and 30 feet had been giving good results and Ray’s bay was showing these figures on the depth finder, as we made our first casts, simple running leger rigs, baited with Powerbait on treble hooks dropping into the clear water yards from the boat. Ray was fishing his standard two foot tail, while I opted for longer at five feet, the buoyant Powerbait floating above the weed, well away from the greedy claws of the local crawdad population.

Minutes after our baits hit the water, my rod rattled from a positive bite, a strike and I was into my first fish. Immediately I was in trouble with the unfamiliar borrowed tackle, as the rod bent into a good fish. With the reel having no back wind and the drag set to maximum, I was unable to counter the runs and dives of this battling cutthroat trout, just managing to release the drag in time, as it approached the boat and made another deep dive. Ray was accurate with the net, scooping the 17 inch trout up, when it made another pass.

Strawberry fishery rules state that all cutthroat of breeding size between 15 and 22 inches, be returned immediately to the water, just one of the trebles holding in it’s jaw, being snipped off with pliers to avoid unnecessary damage. I cast again and before I could put the rod down, the line began moving across the surface. Another fish had taken the bait on the drop and a deep bend in the rod signaled a fast running trout, which turned towards the boat, gaining slack line and coming off the now double hook. Ray had his eye on the gathering clouds and a bolt of lightning, followed by a clap of thunder eased the decision to leave this obvious fish holding spot and head north towards brighter skies ten miles away down the reservoir, through the Narrows and out into the Basin.

As we neared the shore, we had to manoeuvre between a group of float fly fishermen, who had found a shoal of small rainbows feeding near the surface, the fish rising freely around the us. I’d brought my fly rod onto the boat and this was my chance to demonstrate to bait fisherman Ray, the excitement of taking trout on the floating line from a boat. At this point my enthusiasm collapsed, when I realized that the rod had been accidentally trodden on and crushed at the ferrule. With fish near the surface, Ray killed the main engine and ran his small trolling motor at tick-over, while I cast a small Mepps spoon out from the side of the boat, paying out line to allow the spoon to sink and swing back behind the boat in an arc. Several casts later, the rod bucked as a trout hit the lure and I found myself playing another hard fighting cuttroat, once again Ray was spot on with the net, scooping the fish from the surface.

This was another cutthroat that needed to be returned, but not before a quick photo for the album.

The spoon was firmly in the scissors of the jaw, the cutthroat biting down hard on two of the three hooks and the pliers were needed again before release.

Ray decided to head back towards Soldier Creek, but not before a stop at the Meadows and few drifts along the gently sloping shoreline with Powerbaited hooks. We had already passed through a heavy rain shower and a strong wind was beginning to sweep more clouds towards us.

I was still holding the camera for this shot of a dramatic sky, when the rod rattled and I struck into what I thought was the biggest fish of the day, as it ran rings round the boat, diving beneath it at will, until it gave up thrashing on the surface. This was in fact the smallest and last fish of the day, a plump 14 inch rainbow, which resided in the holding tank, until released at the end of our trip.

A few more missed bites later, the clouds closed in, the temperature dropped and torrential rain swept in across the Uinta National Forest lashing the surface. Under the canopy, we huddled round the cockpit in an effort to avoid a soaking, the boat making steady headway against the storm, emerging from the Narrows to Soldier Creek and sunshine.

We barely had time to get the boat back on the trailer, before another storm hit for a wet 80 mile drive back to Ray’s home in Bountiful north of Salt Lake City.

Snake River trout fishing, Wyoming

September 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm

A lunch stop on the Snake River, downstream from Jackson, Wyoming, gave me the opportunity to fish the upper, freestone reaches of this  river, before it slows to begin it’s 1,000 mile journey across Idaho to join the Columbia River.

I’d already fished the head waters of this mighty river within the bounds of Yellowstone Park, managing to lose, or be broken, while fishing a deep pool with hoppers, by brown and cutthroat trout, frustrating my attempts to get them in my net, before a thunderstorm stopped play and soaked my wife and I to the skin.

Access is difficult on the Snake, as it has carved it’self through a deep valley, but a boat launching site provided shady parking and shallow water to wade. At this point the river speeds over stones in a series of riffles and rapids and looks unfishable, but trout were rising in front of me within easy casting distance and I waded in to offer my hopper and gold head size  16 pheasant tail nymph. I began casting upstream to the rising fish and watched a cutthroat take a sideswipe at the big hopper, hooking, but losing the trout, when it dropped below me. In hindsight I should have tried an ant, or a klinkhammer, but the foam hopper stayed afloat in the roughest water and I could see it easily. A few casts later, another rise resulted in a fish on and a rod bending fight, as the fish took full advantage of the flow, belying it’s size when finally in the net.

Despite it’s size, the foam hopper could not be resisted by this small cutthroat and many of it’s friends, although setting the hook proved a random event. Having succeeded in putting all the trout down in front of me, I changed tactics and began drifting the hopper downstream, rising a few fish, then hitting into a hard fighting brown trout.

With a series of boats being launched, where I was fishing, it was time to enjoy lunch in the shade of a tree and ponder my next line of attack. The hopper had proved it’s worth against several smaller trout, but I wanted a bigger fish to round off my visit and dug out a Blue Flash Damsel from my box. This is a deadly lure on English lakes and with it’s bead head, it stood a chance of getting down to the larger fish further out.

On my second cast out and across, mending the line to keep the lure out in the stream, I drifted the Blue Flash Damsel downstream, while paying out line, the rod bending over, when a big fish hit the lure. All the slack line was taken in it’s first run and following a few head shaking sessions, the process of bringing it back began, countering each run with steady pressure, until the fish was only a few feet away, rolling in the current, a cutthroat of around 16 inches. My wife was poised with the camera and my net outstretched, as I reeled in the last few yards on this beaten trout, when pop, the hook lost it’s hold. We looked at each other stunned. If there was a fish more ready for the net, then I’ve not seen it.

With many more miles to travel that day returning to friends in Salt Lake City, this was my last chance to fish these big trout filled rivers, and I reluctantly put away my rod, hoping that a lottery win was waiting on my return to the UK.

Madison River trout fishing, Yellowstone Park

September 11, 2013 at 4:20 pm

At the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers in Madison, the Madison River is formed and meanders parallel to the road all the way to West Yellowstone on it’s way to Hebgen Lake.  I fished the upper few miles of this already powerful river, where it reminded me of the Hampshire Test, a steady flow and luxurious weed growth, allowing a more relaxed style of fly fishing among spectacular scenery.

I’d intended fishing the Gibbon, as advised by the flyshop owner in West Yellowstone, but a bison on the road had caused a traffic jam, so I turned back to the nearest parking spot and got my rod out. I still had the hopper, nymph combo from the Gallatin attached and walked down to a likely looking run, where a large rock was forcing the river out from the bank. First cast, as I watched the hopper drift along the glide, it slid sideways and disappeared. I lifted and was into my first Madison fish, which promptly zoomed off downstream. The angler downstream complained that he’d spent twenty minutes there before me without a touch. This put more pressure on not to lose this fish, which was making the most of the strong current.

This was a decent sized rainbow, that fought all the way to the net and was  aware that the size 16 gold head pheasant tail could slip out at the slightest turn, giving a sigh of relief, when it was finally in the net.

This rainbow was beautifully marked, with a massive tail, it’s solid round body testament to the healthy diet available to these trout. The nymph was safely in the scissors of it’s jaw, a speedy unhook and it was back in the river, darting away. At this moment calls from the roadside made me look up to see the errant bison strolling into our parking area, quiet oblivious of the curiosity and panic that it had invoked among it’s onlookers.

With the bison continuing on it’s way, to browse the meadow downstream, I got back to fishing, having been joined by another local flyfisherman, who like me, enjoyed fishing talk. Like his friend, he had not caught all morning and had come up to see what the Englishman was doing and to advise me of the many waters I could fish, if I had time. I was casting across and drifting the hopper downstream, while paying out line, covering more water each cast. He’d just complimented me on my line mending, when the hopper was engulfed in a swirl, the line tightened and I was into my second fish, only minutes after the first. This trout exploded on the surface, before boring deep, stripping line from my reel down to the backing, as it fought across the river. These trout are all muscle, due to the conditions that they survive in and it was a while before I saw the bronze sides of a good brown, when it topped mid stream. My new friend volunteered to net my fish and as I watched him struggle down the bank on his reconditioned knees, I realized that at age 77, he might not be the ideal candidate to do so. Once in the river, however, after a few heart stopping misses, it was mission accomplished and he got his net under the trout.

Another good fish, this one measuring in at 14 inches, had taken the hopper, turned and hooked it’self, then given a fight harder than any brown trout twice it’s weight, that I’d had on my home chalkstream, making several last minute dives for freedom, once it neared the net.

With the road now clear and the natives impressed, it was time to get back on the tourist trail again and head in the direction of Mammoth Springs and Tower Falls, followed by Yellowstone Canyon, a true sightseeing fest, before finding myself with fishing time to spare on the return journey, when my wife requested a stop to view an osprey nest on the other side of the Madison. We watched as an osprey dived into the river and arose with a large trout in it’s claws. The large flapping fish proved too strong and it fell back with a splash. The search continued, another victim was selected and a one pound fish was being lifted from the river, the osprey turning the trout head first to streamline it’s flight back to the nest, while it’s partner flew cartwheels of appreciation around it shrieking.

The Madison was dotted with rising fish and I watched a large grass hopper jump as I walked, the strong wind carrying the flying insect far out into the river, it’s struggles to escape the surface ending with a plop, when the jaws of a brown clamped shut, baring it down to the depths. Coping with the swirling upstream wind was a problem, an approaching thunderstorm creating it’s own weather system in the mountains and staying in contact with the fly was difficult. The hopper was drifting down, I was retrieving slack line from my cast, when the hopper dragged under as the nymph was seized. I lifted the rod more in hope than expectation. At the extreme of my lift, I felt the weight of a fish, a pull of line through the rings and the rod doubled over with the power of a running trout. My goodness, how these trout fight, another breathtaking battle and I slipped the net under a quality brown. Holding the fish for a photo was a  fight in itself and the brown trout was soon swimming free.

Two smaller brown trout followed among missed takes and lost fish, before the hopper was hit with a crash and a rainbow was cartwheeling across the surface, diving deep and running upstream, singing the reel in surges of acceleration. Giving line when needed and stripping back, when the rainbow began to lose ground, I was in control and waiting to bring it over to the edge of the shallows, when it gave one last lightning surge, pulling the rod down flat with a ping as the hopper’s 8lb link snapped like cotton, a twist of line, where the knot had been, being all that remained. The thunder had been getting closer with blobs of rain splatting down into the grass it was time to get back in the car and head back to West Yellowstone.

Gallatin River trout fishing, Yellowstone National Park

September 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm

25 miles north of West Yellowstone, the Gallatin River turns to accompany Highway 191, growing in width and strength as it rushes north. It’s character changes in places, where beaver dams divert the river into slow meanders, but in the main it speeds on it’s way over stones and riffles and is easily waded from bank to bank.

I kept within the boundaries of the Park, plenty of pull offs allowing easy access to the river, where wading was an easy option and I worked my way up river casting to likely fish holding areas. Fish were rising to small black flies in the tail of a pool on the first section I tried and set up with a floating ant and size 16 pheasant tail nymph as a dropper. About three feet deep with a strong flow, short casts were needed to stay in contact with the fly, the first fish taking the nymph aggressively, the rod bending into the fish on the take. The trout was invisible despite the gin clear water, staying deep, then running downstream, where a flash of pink told me it was a rainbow. Not a large trout, about 12 inches, I was soon guiding it tumbling on the shallows to my net, only for it to bounce against the rim and come off. Not a good start, but splashes indicated trout were still rising and after a few misses was into my next fish, this time on the ant, the smaller brown putting up a brief fight before I lifted it into the net.

More takes followed as I worked up the pool, some to the nymph and some to the ant, the trout weren’t fussy, they were small, but scrapped hard in the rapid waters, mostly spinning off the hook before I could lift them out. I covered about three hundred yards in an hour, searching out the deeper pools and runs hoping for better fish, but none came and returned to the car to continue the tourist trail down through Gallatin Canyon and a drive up to the Big Sky resort on Lone Mountain, where a beaver was building a dam at 10,000 feet.

 Later in the day, returning along 191, I pulled the car over just inside the park and made my way up river to fish the inside of a big bend, where deep water was pushing hard against the far bank, large rocks creating swirling eddies, that looked like they held fish, while the inside  held slack water. This time there were no rising fish and the ant, nymph combo resulted in one missed pull to the nymph, when worked upstream, the ant soon drowned in the rough water. With grass hoppers scattering at every footfall, it was time to reach into the fly box for one of the monster foam hoppers bought at the fly shop, at least it would act as an indicator to the nymph. I continued to work my way upstream, but had no offers, so turned and drifted the hopper downstream, feeding line as I went. A swirl in the choppy water caught me by surprise, as a trout rose to the hopper and I failed to make contact. The next one shook my rod with a bang. Another miss. I raised the rod and put a bow in the line. This was the answer, as I drifted the part submerged hopper across the slower inside bend, the line sprang taught and I was into a rod bender, that used the full force of the river to attempt an escape. When I finally brought the brown trout to the net, I thought someone had switched fish, as it was much smaller than it had first seemed.

This proved the winning method and I worked my way back downstream, casting across, drifting down and swinging across the flow into slower water, some fish missing the hopper, me missing reel singing takes, the size 14 barbless hook releasing more fish than it held, but I was fishing for sport, enjoying every moment of anticipation. The trout were all browns around 10 to 12 inches, I’d hoped for a few cutthroat and rainbows, but I was happy to be able to adapt to a new way of fishing and get results.

 

Yellowstone National Park trout fishing at Hopper Time.

September 6, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Long on my wish list, fishing for trout in Yellowstone National Park, became a reality, when on a whistle stop tour of the tourist hot spots and springs, through Montana and Wyoming last week. Based in the old pioneer town of West Yellowstone, a place that has more fly shops, than places to eat, I was able to sample a mix of mountain free stone streams like the upper Gallatin River, the Madison, through to the massive Snake River, tumbling between the green hills of Wyoming towards the wide plains of Idaho.

August is Hopper Time on these crystal clear waters and a walk through the riverside vegetation creates showers of escaping grass hoppers, some three inches long, that inevitably are borne by the strong winds onto the river surfaces. To an English fly fisherman like myself, the foam grass hopper imitations, with their striped rubber legs, were a curiosity, bought to be shown with a smile to my fly fishing friends back home, but coupled as a Hopper and Gold Head Pheasant Tail combo, they proved deadly on these powerful river trout.

As on any river, being able to read the water, goes a long way to aiding success on these wild torrents, a good strong flow indicating deeper water below seemingly unfishable rapids. Brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout are invisible, even when hooked, as they battle the current, the bright sunlight reflecting flashes of colour from the stone strewn riverbeds, while cloaking the identities of these battling torpedoes, until they are finally in the landing net.

 Without the restrictions that apply to my local Hampshire chalk stream, which is single fly, or nymph fished upstream only, it was interesting to sit and watch the “locals” fly fishing, many styles and ranges of tackle being used to to one end, catching trout. Wading and drifting a big buoyant fly downstream, with the option of a weighted dropper fly was common, as was the use of streamer flies fished below the surface. Spinning rods with bubble floats were also in use by a family strung out across the upper Snake River, who were having a great time, the kids in competition with mom and dad, catching several small browns and rainbows on grass hoppers and wooly buggers, drifted down among the rocks.

During a three day stay, I caught trout on all of the above, fished singly, or as combos, up and downstream, losing more fish than I netted due to the barbless hook rule, while complying with the Park’s catch and release policy. In the Lamar River range on the north eastern side of Yellowstone, anglers are asked to kill all rainbow and brook trout caught, to encourage the native cutthroat trout to re-establish, while non native lake trout have also become a problem, predating cutthroats over their spawning grounds, so once again must be killed in Yellowstone Lake, whatever their size.

A three day non resident fishing license cost $18 USD, allowing access to over a thousand miles of the best fishing you will find anywhere, in some of the most stunning landscapes ever. If you can get to a river, you can fish and if prepared to trek a few miles upstream away from other anglers, then it could turn into a red letter day. I was only able to fish within half a mile of the road, due to a wife, who has a good respect for bears, but still caught plenty of trout. The bears are there, a mother black bear and two cubs passed within a 100 yards, crossing the path we were on a few minutes before. Yellowstone Park is managed for the benefit of the animals and birds, a healthy fish population is looked on as a food provider for bears and ospreys, anglers being the people willing to pay for it. Herds of bison block the roads and osprey take trout back to their riverside nests, reminding urban visitors, that life carries on regardless in the Park, when we return to our air conditioned homes.

Hot springs and geysers are everywhere throughout Yellowstone, Old Faithful erupting every 92 minutes, while waterfalls and canyons remind the visitor, that they are in a special place.