Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold
Showing posts with label Mouse Fishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mouse Fishing. Show all posts

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Hunt For Bull Trout Day Three: More Disappointment and a Glimmer of Hope

By morning on the third day of my bull trout pursuit, I was becoming resigned to the distinct possibility of not finding one of these amazing fish. Or, more accurately, I was resigned to not finding one in the bottom of my net. The previous day had seriously deflated my hopes and expectations. While I still believed there were bull trout around, I was beginning to doubt I would find one. Still, I knew where at least one had been from my brief connection on day one. On this third day, I wasn't feeling like hiking 5 or 6 miles into the backcountry again, and we settled on another day of roadside fishing. My logic was fairly good. If there had been a bull trout near camp a couple of days prior, then there had to be some around on this day as well.

The morning started on a high note despite my creeping disappointment. On our hike out the previous day, we had harvested more huckleberries than we needed for another round of huckleberry pancakes. If you've read along on this trip with me, then you know how we started this up while in Glacier. Thankfully Idaho has plenty of huckleberries as well and we were determined to take full advantage. Due to the big harvest from the day before, these pancakes would be LOADED!!! See what I mean?



After making and consuming a large quantity of huckleberries with a little pancake, er, I mean huckleberry pancakes, we were ready for another day on the water. Driving slowly down the canyon from our camp, my bull trout pool was already occupied. Things were still not looking promising apparently.

A little farther down the canyon, we finally found a promising stretch of water. There was even a rise or two. At this point, while not entirely giving up on bull trout, I was ready to just catch a few fish. The beautiful westslope cutthroat trout that call this area home would be my main goal at least for a while. A big hopper with a nymph dropper seemed appropriate, and I set up rods for both me and my wife. I also carried the streamer rod. Some of these holes begged to be probed by a big juicy streamer. It didn't take very long to get things going. The cutthroat were willing although not complete pushovers. If you did everything just right, the fish would eat. I struck first before my wife even got a line wet. She politely took a picture for me then went to find some fish of her own. 


It didn't take very long before I glanced upstream and saw her rod bent as well. The fishing was excellent as we both caught fish after fish although nothing was too large. 


After thoroughly working this pool, we headed upstream through the riffle you can see in the above picture. Working our way across to the right bank, we were now on the inside bend of a large pool with some amazing water. My wife picked right up where she left off in the previous pool. Of course, she had to go and catch the daily big fish as well. This pool screamed big trout so I wasn't shocked when she landed this fine specimen. This is one of my favorite fish pictures from our trip.


We worked a little farther upstream. Of course, before doing so, I had to run my streamer through that beautiful pool. While several quality cutthroat trout slashed at the streamer, no bull trout made an appearance. Nymphing at the very top of the pool where the gravel shelf dropped into deeper water, my wife picked up another first for us on this trip. A mountain whitefish! While I know these are looked down on by many anglers who prefer catching trout, they are always an enjoyable unique experience to me on my trips out west. They are indicative of a healthy ecosystem with clean cold water, so from that perspective they are also good to see. 


Moving on upstream, I saw some nice pockets and decided to change tactics when it came to the bull trout. Maybe, just maybe, one might be laying along an undercut bank of in the shadow of a boulder. If they are as opportunistic as I've read, why not try a mouse? This seemed like a better idea than a streamer on this bright sunny day. The streamer had been fished hard through two large deep pools with no results. Out came my fly box, and I quickly changed to a floating line and mouse pattern. The very first spot was perfect with a large boulder and an undercut bank all creating some excellent habitat. I cast just upstream and started swimming the mouse back through the pocket when an explosion rocked my fly. I started yelling in excitement while my wife was trying to figure out what in the world was going on. My first clue should have been how quick I whipped this fish on the 1x tippet. It was in the net in mere seconds. Definitely not a bull trout. However, the take and fight were so violent, that until the fish hit the net I thought maybe, just maybe it was a smaller bull trout. No luck. This chunky cutthroat was pretty cool to land, however, especially on a mouse. 


This seemed like the time to transition to a new spot. We were working upstream into a long stretch without good road access. That is great for fishing, of course, but we were interested in seeing some new sections and also getting lunch together. This timing turned out to be important. 

As we were climbing back up to the road, these two guys that had pulled in near our car were coming down. They were in wetsuits and had snorkels and masks. My curiosity got the best of me, so I asked them what they were doing. As it turns out, they were from the Idaho Game and Fish and were doing visual fish surveys. Talk about a neat job! I briefly asked about bull trout in the area, then we headed on. Not more than a half mile down the road, I turned to my wife and said, "I'm an idiot! I should have asked them where to go for bull trout!!!" I had just inquired in general about them and left it at that. I don't know what I didn't ask for more info, but a golden opportunity appeared to have passed. Thankfully, our hunger would provide a second chance. 

At the next spot, we still hadn't had lunch. The plan was to drive back the quick 10 minutes to camp and eat. I wanted to hit one more hole though. This pool would provide me with my own whitefish, but otherwise didn't do much. Oh well, it was nice to get another species for the trip.


By this time, I was hungry and knew my wife was also. We turned our car back up the canyon towards camp. Rolling slowly along to take in the scenery, I noticed a vehicle approaching and eased over to give them as much room as possible. Suddenly, I recognized it as the truck for the game and fish biologists. I stopped and put my hand out to flag them down. I wasn't missing this opportunity again! I asked if they had found anything interesting, then quickly pivoted to more important topics like bull trout. One of the guys was fairly reticent and probably rightfully so. Bull trout are a very special fish and need all the protection they can get. The other guy started talking plenty so it worked out thankfully.

I told them about our experience so far and my hope to catch a bull trout. When I mentioned the upper roadless area, the guy said that yes, that was probably the place to find bull trout at this point in the summer. In fact, they seemed a little surprised that I had found one down in the canyon close to camp. As they were pulling away, my wife turned to me and said, "We probably should hike again tomorrow shouldn't we?" 

I didn't want to wear her out and sour her on fishing. "I wasn't going to say it, but if you are willing then I would definitely like to," was my reply. She was game, and even though we hadn't had lunch yet, we began planning the fourth day of our trip. The rest of day three was fairly benign. We explored all over, fished some different places, saw more wildflowers and amazing scenery, and otherwise enjoyed our time. 



While I enjoyed all of the exploring immensely, I was already getting excited about the possibilities of the next day. Would I find my bull trout? Or would I have to chalk this trip up to a learning experience and try again someday? 



Tuesday, January 09, 2018

2017 Year in Review

Every year has its special moments, and 2017 will always be one of my favorite years. There were some great moments both fishing and guiding, and of course I found an amazing girl who actually goes fishing with me. That last one is what makes this past year so special to me, but some other moments stood out as well.

A quality brown trout started 2017 off on the right note. I had traveled to the Smokies for the famous "Bigsur's New Year's Day Karma Tradition" to see friends and hopefully wet a line. After saying hello to everyone, I snuck off to the stream and was lucky to be first through a good hole right near the picnic area. Sure enough, a nice brown trout slammed the streamer I was working against the far bank and my year was off to a great start!

Fishing stayed hot through the winter months and into early spring. We never had any extremely cold weather so the fishing in the Smokies stayed feasible right on through the winter. The highlight for me of this winter season was catching another beautiful brown on a favorite sculpin pattern while streamer fishing.


This fish was not a monster by Smokies standards, but the colors were great. And did I mention it slammed a streamer?

The spring hatch season started in a big way and just got better from there. The Blue Quills came off starting around February 20 or thereabouts. Fish rose every day. The problem was finding the hatch and the rising trout. On any given day, I rarely found more than 2-3 pools that were worth fishing. The hatch progressed upriver in an orderly fashion. If you found the bugs, then you also found the fish.

Two early season highlights stand out for me. The first was the slightly overcast day in late February that I fished with my buddy Pat Tully. We found great numbers of Blue Quills in several pools as well as an occasional Quill Gordon or Blue-winged Olive. The sight casting possibilities were endless. Because of the overcast, the hatch lasted much longer than it normally does on sunny days. We fished dry flies for hours. When the hatch petered out, we prospected with streamers and found another fish or two. I can't think of a better day on the water.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully ©2017





The second early season highlight was an early March guide trip that produced a large Smoky Mountain brown trout on a dry fly. Spencer had booked a day to polish some of his mountain techniques. We worked hard on nymphing throughout the day, but wanted to get in some dry fly fishing. I had a pretty good idea on where there might be some bugs. When we arrived at the pool, we found a few risers but not as many as I had hoped. The bright day probably had fewer fish rising than if it had been cloudy. Thankfully, we got lucky with one big brown at the head of the pool that liked his Parachute Adams.


After the early season hatches, things went into high gear and I was too busy to fish much. However, each exception to that produced some memorable highlights. One of my favorites was when I fished with David Perry and Susan Thrasher. We had a day to remember as time spent with friends is always hard to beat. The highlight was when I doubled up with Susan on a nice rainbow and brown trout. David Perry graciously snapped a picture for us to remember the day by! Guides guiding guides was certainly one of the highlights of 2017!

Photo Courtesy of David Perry ©2017

Early season guiding on the Caney was mostly limited to high water streamer and shad floats. These trips consistently produced some huge trout as should happen again this year. The one low water float of the early spring produced the largest guide trip fish of the year. The story surrounding this big trout was particularly amazing as an old curse was defeated. Check out the link above for more on that.


One of my absolute favorite trips of 2017 was in June. I actually had a few favorites in June and July, but the trip to Roan Mountain State Park to see the rhododendron and azalea was certainly one of the best. The rhododendron was as amazing as advertised, but the real highlight of this trip was the moment I realized what a special catch I had made. Leah and I had been dating for close to a couple of months at this point, but we had yet to go fishing. Leah was a good sport and agreed to fish a little on this trip up to northeast Tennessee.

We hit the Doe River in Roan Mountain State Park and found a few fish before the afternoon thunderstorms drove us off the water. Right before the rain started in earnest, Leah took big fish honors by starting off her fly fishing career with a big brown trout considering the small stream we were fishing. I couldn't have been happier. I'm still not sure if she knows how big of a deal it was to catch this fish on her first ever fly fishing trip, but I'm pretty sure she has some idea based on how excited I was.



The heat of summer often produces some of the best fishing of the year if you know where to go. This past year was no different. Guide trips produced some big trout on the Caney Fork and gorgeous brook trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. Smallmouth fishing had hit a consistent stride and night time trout trips on the tailwaters were heating up.


My favorite fishing in June, July, and August is usually the beetle fishing in the Smokies and on the Caney Fork River. This year was no different. My most memorable Smokies fishing of the summer involved an afternoon off after a morning 1/2 day guide trip. After dropping off my clients, I headed back to the Park to get in a couple of hours of fishing. In that time, I caught three trout. Two of them were sight fished with the beetle while the third also ate the beetle as I blind fished it in likely places.


The pinnacle of the whole year in terms of my own fishing and catching happened in late July. My buddy and fly tier extraordinaire Brandon Bailes and I had discussed a nighttime mousing trip on the Caney Fork. We finally got our schedules together and set off for an evening of fun and hopefully large trout.

We launched with some daylight left and spent our time alternating between nymphs/midges, streamers, and some dry flies when we found late evening sippers in slack water. We were almost halfway through the float when it got dark enough to begin the main event. Heavy rods, stout leaders, and meaty rodent imitations were tied on and we kept floating into the growing darkness.

Throughout the next couple of hours, we had two big blowups but failed to connect. Each heart stopping moment served as motivation to keep slinging the meat. Finally, we were approaching the takeout ramp and it looked like the mousing portion of the evening would be just enough to wet our appetites and not much more.

I was throwing to the shallow side of the boat and had made up my mind that this was the last cast when it finally happened. Something slurped quietly out there in the dark and my line came tight. I just kept stripping into things came tight. Momentarily I thought maybe I had snagged a log. When the log started swimming upstream I knew that I was in trouble. This was one strong fish! Thankfully, everything went smoothly and Brandon made a great net job on this big fish. My new personal best Caney Fork brown trout and on a mouse no less. Much thanks to Brandon for both the picture and the winning mouse fly! Let's make sure we do it again this year and get your monster brown in the boat Brandon...

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes ©2017

There were lots more guide trip highlights throughout the second half of 2017. However, my fishing began to slow down somewhat. The exception to this also produced the last two highlights of the year for me. The first was in late August. I had been discussing a smallmouth bass excursion for a while with Daniel Drake of Little River Outfitters and Mark Brown of Chota. We finally nailed down a day that would work for all of us.

The day came and went much to fast, but I was left with some great memories of time spent on the water with friends. The interesting part of this fishing trip is that we didn't get any monster smallmouth. Most of the time, these Cumberland Plateau streams are good for at least one big smallie per day, but it was not meant to be on this particularly trip. Nevertheless, we found plenty of willing fish and had a great day of exploring with friends.


The last highlight of the year for me happened on a day of fishing with friends. I began the year with a nice brown trout in the Smokies, and I ended the year with a nice brown trout in the Smokies. Talk about the perfect way to begin and end the year!

Photo Courtesy of Leah Shulley ©2017

Now, while not fishing related, the best and most exciting highlight of the year happened on November 25, 2017. On that day, I asked my best friend to marry me and she said yes!!! Leah Shulley is an amazing young lady who loves the outdoors almost as much as I do. She is beautiful, smart, kind, thoughtful, loves adventure, and most importantly loves God. I'm super excited about sharing life with her!