Thursday, March 27, 2014

Steelhead bugs and monkeys

On good days, I feel honored and lucky to have hooked it. On bad ones, I'm haunted by the fact that it popped off about a switch rod's length from my feet. It was the only steelhead with whom I've interacted. For as much as I claim to have avoided the steelhead bug, that sticks with me.

Given a second chance, I was on board. It meant dusting off Dec Hogan's classic A Passion for Steelhead, and trading hours of trout fishing for time spent trying not to blow my anchor with my switch rod. But I owe my dues if I want the steelhead monkey off my back.

I was reminded by my local steelheader (who just spent a week and a half in Forks, Wash. - for one fish) that I can't expect to catch anything.

But I'll do my best to fish confidently.

I have two days.

We head to Portland next week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Because April

"I want to go
fishing", so we
will. Tie flies to
wait out the chill (though
we are fishing, still). April,
come she will. Steelhead   
over the hill. Secret creek    
for ol' orange gill.
Then fifty-nine miles    
of floating thrill.
In June:
Go fishing, we will.    

While I was busy snagging logs and
snapping rods, she kept catching fish.
As evidenced above, an angler might go a little nutty when spring fever strikes (close encounters of the fish kind? [I shaped my words into a trout, and have an inexplicable desire to go to trout]). April is descending, but before it arrives and I plan to try to learn to downhill ski, try to learn the spey cast (again) and how to swing, tie trout flies, buy a raft's worth of camping gear, and more, along with the normal business. And that's before things get busy. I'm cursed with the good fortune of great opportunities.
Because April.
Who's coming with me?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lions, lambs, koopas and trout

The February of our discontent seems over - that being just regular February. Ours was overcome with snow and cold, and I do believe I haven't fished in a month. I can almost feel my identity fade - who am I without a rod and reel? Just some guy, confused about why he chose to live in this snow-logged freezer.

So we  traveled back in time. Nintendo parties and keg beer after brunches helped us pass the time. Fun was had (at times, too much), but it's no substitute for fooling trout.

But this weekend, we shall ambush the lower Madison River (the Beaverhead being dirty with valley snow-melt and the Big Hole, ice), replete with winter flows and rainbow trout, full of pent-up drifts and hook-sets. I picture us crushing the speed limits to get to the access, then sprinting to the banks, angrily screaming and false casting all the while. This is when I know I have viking ancestry.

Chores need doing, words need writing, and plans need planning, but not this weekend. Listen for our battle cry.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Returning what's lost

Fly rods and reels to the angler are instruments to the musician, or hammers to the carpenter (except that anglers might get a little geekier about the nuance of their tools). Fishers like to note how the apparatuses feels in hand, their weights, how they cast (both smooth-wise and distance-wise), accuracy, drag, and how they handle fighting fish. And how they look, smell, taste, and sound.

I've lost a couple of my beloveds in my day - the same day, actually. One was my first nice rod - a Sage VT2 inscribed with my name - and the other was a Winston Passport on its maiden outing, both with Orvis reels. I was at Anderson Lane on the Beaverhead River and apparently just plumb forgot to put the rods/reels in the car. When I got home and noticed they were absent, I called around and an extremely nice fellow/employee at Frontier Anglers offered to drive out to check after work for me. He called back to report that nothing was there...

Note the inscription, "Joshua B Bergan".
If you see this rod,
know that it changed hands slightly unscrupulously. 
So I know that it's a huge drag to lose expensive and personal gear. So when Liz spied a rod and reel on the lower Madison last weekend, we knew how to handle it. I keep it, because the world owes me. But Liz wasn't having that, so I posted an ad on craigslist, called all the fly shops in Bozeman, and eventually called the reel manufacturer to see if the markings on the reel foot meant anything.

They did.

Kind of a bummer since it was a very nice reel I'd have been happy to smell and feel. But I guess it feels good to get it where it belongs, and we did score a cool t-shirt and a little story.

The owner (a local guide), turns out, wasn't even missing it. It had been sitting where we found it since November, and he had no idea it wasn't in his possession. Bahhhh.

Karma - if you're listening - I'd like a two-foot, big-eyed, kyped dry-fly eater (I realize Liz is probably more in line to recoup the karma, but please give it to me anyway). Though the satisfaction of doing the right thing is a good reward, too. But I'd prefer the two-footer.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The zine-ery

The e-zine has fully infiltrated the fly-fishing world. So many have come and gone already, it's kind of amazing (more have probably been born and died since you've started reading this). Some are online versions of print magazines, some are online only.  The barrier to entry is relatively low (lots of work, to be clear), and since there's so much to see and discuss about fly fishing, it's no wonder. I don't believe too much money is changing hands at any point of the production, but that doesn't mean they're low quality. Some are excellent, some are ├╝ber-hip, some lack a little something, and most are free to read. To illustrate the point, below is a list of all the fly-fishing ezines I could come up with (please comment with any I missed).

And the departed:
Will the boom slow down anytime soon? Has it already? Is there a market for them? Is this the future, or will print reign for the foreseeable future? We'll see...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Conservation can be boring, but bear with me. If we each do a tiny little bit to stand up for fish and fish habitat today, we'll likely be glad tomorrow.

Fish and their habitat are a finite resource, despite what it seems like some good-fishing days. Whether it's due to Pebble Mine (or other mines), global climate change (no matter its cause), access issues, runoff due to logging, over-fishing, hatchery fish imparting inferior genes, genetic modification, fish farms and their diseases, gill-netting of endangered species, limited habitat due to dams, or any other threat against fish and their habitat, we have to face the idea that today is the yesterday of tomorrow. And the fishing was always better yesterday.

Today's fishing.

Imagine yesterday's.

Let's keep it for tomorrow.
So, with that in mind, a tiny little bit you could do today is simply to watch the movie Rivers of a Lost Coast, available to stream for free. It's well done, informational, and a great reminder that the it's possible to lose what we have. The film profiles the monumental fishing and fish runs for which northern California got famous, and its decimation. Old-angler rivalries and octogenarian's tales tell the stories of these fisheries like only fishy old-timers can - this is not fish porn.

Let's try not to have a similar story to tell the next generation.

Good fishing is constantly fleeting...

Friday, January 31, 2014

Permutations of the Smith

Liz and I sat for a couple hours one evening trying to calculate our group's odds of getting our dates for a Smith River float permit. We kept coming back to that our odds were 120 percent, which are odd odds. We invoked some serious trigonometry and divided everything by everything, then multiplied it with itself - 120 percent (but that only applies if we understand how the drawing works). Last year, there were 30 applicants for the date we most want to get. There are four of us, so far. Nine of the 30 will get it. There are four of us...

Yes, please. (Not the Smith River...)
Integers, permutations and exponents later, ....
We eventually turned the iPad sideways and it said we have a 76 percent chance. For that one given day. And if we spread out our dates among the four of us to four dates that would work, we determined we'd have about a 95 percent of pulling a permit based on last year's numbers (we're looking at non-peak dates).
Then she wanted to put it into a spreadsheet that would show our odds for different combinations of application/dates. Then graph it...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fish long and brag

Small, seemingly inane comments can make an impact.

As an assignment from my 8th grade English teacher, I created a booklet about my fishing experiences (including catching a 27-inch, 8.2-pound pregnant walleye on Sloppy Joe's Bar of Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota, on Father's Day weekend 1993), called Lake Mille Lacs Days. Also included was a goofy anecdote to my dad about the first "big" fish I caught - a 3.25-pound northern pike on Lake Sakatah (the bullhead capitol of the world).

The assigning educator was an interim teacher - not even an English teacher, rather a long-term unspecialized substitute. Her simple, lukewarm praise propelled me to decide I'd like to be a fishing writer. Her feedback was something like, "That was different..." or "You have a unique writing style..." Mild as it was, it stuck with me.

The main story of the booklet:
I remember one day, a few back, at Kamp Dels. It was a dreary, drizzly Sunday morning (approximately 11:00). I was down on the dock fishing for anything that would bite when I felt a pretty good tug. By the time I reeled it in to the dock, I realized this wasn't no bullhead! [It was a northern pike.] There was a nice old fellow sitting next to me and I asked if he could hold it for me while I went to get you, mom and Ryan. When I got to Ryan, he said that you and mom went for a walk so I told Nancy and she told me to tell Gary while she went to see it (Gary was in the bathroom). I walked into the bathroom and saw that there was a guy in there, on the can. Being unsure of who it was, I waited, as did he, to build up enough courage to see if it was Gary. After about 10 minutes, I asked and it was Gary. I told him the scenario and he said he would be down in a second. By the time I got back down to the dock, I had to push my way back to the nice old fella' who was graciously holding my catch. Anyone who questioned my shoving was politely told, 'It's my fish!' and they got out of my way faster than a walleye chasing down a minnow. Then the nice old guy gave my fish back and I thanked him for his time and apologized for all the cuts on his hands. As I walked up to the barn to get it weighed, I ran into you and mom at the bottom of the hill and you guys walked with me to the barn. I remember one guy stopped his van next to us and told his son, 'Now that's a real fish!' Then we got up to the barn and we weighed it and it weighed 3 1/4 lbs. It was [also] a cloudy dreary day when I caught my walleye. The moral of the story is: fish on cloudy, drizzling, dreary Sunday mornings; it's when the big ones bite.*

*Smart kid, that Sunday thing is true.

It's my fish!
 My mother sent me the booklet after she found it clearing closets recently - I had no idea it still existed. If some memories are Bergan folklore, she discovered a runestone as far as I'm concerned.

Page 1:
My gift of writing is for you:
   May you fish long and brag.   
   Love, Joshua   

Although he wouldn't be able too see that well-wish through, his progeny has, for him. A fishy legacy.

Additional excerpts:
I used to     be afraid of leetches [sic] because I thought they'd suck me to death.  
But now     I know that you can pull them off fairly easily if they decide to suck.     

Who am I?
     I am your son, hopefully someday an avid walleye fisherman with a lakeside cabin on lake Mille Lacs.    

I haven't grown up to be John Gierach or even Al Linder, nor do I own that lakeside cabin, but I am elated to occupy my tiny nook in the collective fishing-writing catalog, and thrilled to have this piece of personal memorabilia.

So take a kid fishing, and encourage that kid.

Look at the size of that belly! The fish, jerk.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Familiar riffles

Raise a glass for fisheries nearby.

Particularly in winter, when it's a risk to drive an hour to find a slushy river, or a below-zero windchill, or snowed-in parking areas, or sketchy roads, or limited daylight or enough good-temperatured hours. Or if the winter blahs breed laziness, or if the 4:45 sunset limits options.

To ours in particular: If your insufficient accesses are occupied, the afternoon can be spent driving the gravel roads lost in thought, counting pheasants, watching whitetails and raptors, and racing ranch dogs (though I'd prefer to fish ya). And though sometimes cranky, mundane, or fickle, I still love ya.

To the pearl of your valley's oyster - cheers.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Standing on the shelf

Fishing on 18 feet of shelf ice presents unique challenges.

The shelf ice starts just below the tree-line on the right - the normal bank.
For those in warmer climes, shelf ice is the usually strong ice that extends from the bank into the river. It's only on the surface - cold river flows beneath you.

It's always a precarious shuffle to get as close to the water as you can (kids, I don't recommend this). Since you likely won't get all the way to the edge (unless your beads are bigger than mine, and your scale report is smaller), you have certain challenges to overcome.

Your line gets caught on the edge of the shelf. Mending is frustrating. Your knees and ankles twist as you flail out as far as you can. Your composure softens as you hear broken-off shelf ice bang on the underside. Your fishable channel is narrow and fast. The hole you actually wanted to fish in directly beneath you. Landing fish while standing 10 feet back from the edge leads to chagrin (the fish know to head under the ice). Then you have to pull the fish up over the edge while not hurting it or breaking it off -  netting is out of the question. Especially with a dog on your arm - trying to make sure the animal doesn't fall off the edge trying to chomp the fish, or thrash it once it's on the ice (most anglers' dogs won't be leashed, but my Tasmanian chupacabra is always). And if you want a photo of that fish, the opportunity's rare since the fish is caked in snow from being dragged up over the edge. You'd be risking life and warmth to sprawl out to the edge to dip your net.

The Winter Whitefish!
They say if it eats a nymph, Santa will be right on time. 
Not to mention all the standard winter hardships, like iced-up guides, the cold, lack of fishing partners, limited hours to fish, dodging the broken-off ice chunks, etc.

This past Sunday, all for two fish.

Worth every second.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Contentment without fishing

I'm concerned.

Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe it's that I'm celebrating Christmas a little heartier this year. But I suspect it's mostly that I have a nice alternative to standing in the water in winter - staying at home, snuggled up on the couch with my Christmas cookie. I'm struggling to find the motivation to fish this December.

As life changes, so do fishing habits. Over the past year, my life has beelined for the positive and I am able to find contentment within walls more often. That's a good thing, right?

Looks cold, right? 
While fishing still appeals to me almost daily, once I get to snuggling on the warm couch in front of the glowing cube and some Netflix, motivation goes the way of hot-chocolate steam. If I was ever hardcore, I'm not now.

Especially when it seems boring to go that known hole, drift a known fly down a known seam, and catch a known trout. I could commit to the streamer or Griffith's Gnat to make it interesting, or go try to find a new spot. But winter's not the best time for exploring, and it's so cozy inside...

Go to hell, iced-up guides.
I'm sure I'll still hike up Bear Trap Canyon a time or two, and there's plenty of hope for a trip to $3/Raynolds, LaDuke, Depuy, LOtG, and a few other winter hot spots. But maybe only if it hits 45 degrees instead of my normal threshold of about 20.

Or maybe I'm just overreacting to a couple weeks of contentment without fishing. Or maybe I just needed something about which to blog ;)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Montana celebrity sightings

Fly anglers hear it all the time: "I've always wanted to try fly fishing. It looks so rhythmic/peaceful/poetic... " So when some people get rich and have time, they make a run at it. I would too.

Tom Brokaw getting crocked at the Livingston Rodeo.
And sometimes, these celebrities come to Montana for a taste - and why wouldn't they? Here's a brief list that I've come across from Montana recently.
Tell me who I'm missing! Who've you seen fishing?

Monday, December 2, 2013

The water's fine

There is a rumor that access to Milesnick's spring creeks (Benhart and Thompson) are closing to public access beginning January 1 (which really means November 30 since they close with the Montana general season). The fishing pages on Milesnick's website are down, and the phone number to Milesnick Recreation Company has been disconnected.

C'mon in - the water's fine. 
The Milesnick's are a great family and our community is better off for having them around, no doubt. They have been great stewards of the land and fisheries, and are extremely warm and generous people.
But this is potentially good news for anglers, in my opinion. This does not mean that the creeks are inaccessible - quite the contrary. For whatever reason, when landowners put a rod fee and limit rods on their property, anglers are expected to respect their right to economic opportunity, and not "poach" that otherwise legally accessible water. But if they're discontinuing the rod fees, it de-taboos the idea of hiking to and up them, within the high-water marks. They won't be legally open again until late May.
If you do go, it's of the utmost importance to show the waters the same respect afforded by the Milesnick family. Absolutely stay within the high-water marks (as with anywhere else on private land), treat the fish well, and do your best to leave the resource better than you found it. It's the least we as anglers can do, when afforded such access.
See you there (but not if I see you first!).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Darkness descends on another Montana general fishing season. Most of the big valley-bottom mainstems have a winter whitefish or catch-and-release season, but most of the smaller waters are closed beginning December 1 to give them a break from angling pressure, since many will freeze up soon anyway, and to protect spawners. They reopen the third Saturday in May, 2014.
With this in mind, a friend and I set out to fish an old favorite, and to investigate a tributary that will be closed soon.
An early morning harbinger signaled a possible long day - Brady questioned why there was so much beer coverage in the new Drake. But he actually grabbed a copy of Draft magazine. It wasn't the last "uff da" moment that day.

And we fished. After a few hours of disappointing fishing, we cruised up to the smaller fishery. It was slightly more fruitful, offering decent-sized trout for the size of water. Mostly though, it was a day of old-fashioned investigative fishing like neither of us had done in a while, and catching up. It happens sporadically anymore.
The sun seems to set more often nowadays.
As the daylight dwindled that afternoon, we enjoyed a pale ale at Brady's vehicle before spending the rest of the evening watching slideshows from past trips. And as the sun sets on another general fishing season, this sort of inventory taking can be good for the soul.
It's appropriate that we collectively give thanks right around the end of every Montana fishing general season. Here's to more reasons for thanks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fading into winter

During the week, life takes its toll. But at the end, we fish places like the Firehole River and concerns fade as the circles of a trout rise fade into the geyser steam. We cast our flies at these circles among the peaks, cliffs, fields, pines, boulders, smells and sulphury mist within a couple hours of our home.
About a week ago, in fact, we fished the Firehole River for Yellowstone National Park's closer. Even in November and probably well into the high-country winter, the Firehole is reliable for mayflies and low angler density (it closes the first Sunday, to be sure). Muleshoe Bend is the only place to be this weekend.
Then we gorge on a giant calzone, drive north through the Gallatin Canyon, and the week starts again...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

6,000 and 40

I've had a account for years, and I've never had a photo hit 500 views - even the ones up since 2007. But in one day - yesterday, to be exact - one photo went over 6,000 views with 40 favorites. Any theories on how this happens? Maybe through the "Explore" feature?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Redington Sonic-Pro Ultra Packable Wader

It's not the easiest thing in the world to wear another brand of waders in Simms country. You have to be willing to take a bit of grief, so it better be worth it. This, I learned while wearing the Redington Sonic-Pro Ultra Packable Wader this past year. It was.

Photo: Ben Pierce Photography
These waders weigh about 1.5 pounds and roll up to about the size of half of a loaf of bread. They are easy to pack for camping or stuff in the backpack for a hike (most boots are still not as convenient, however), and are great space savers for big airborne fishing trips. They are quite comfortable due to their light, pliable material, and don't look particularly dweeby like some brands (although Liz tells me they're almost as flattering as another popular brand).

They use the Orvis sonic-seam technology which seems to work well, and are made of a four-layer breathable nylon apparently called High Density Mini Oxford Fabric.

Focus on the waders, not the fish...
Aside from their packability, they make a great shoulder-season option when it's a touch cold for wet-wading, but a touch warm for five-layer Gore-Tex. They include a detachable front pocket that is extremely convenient in certain situations, like when float fishing. You can take the pocket out of the equation when you're bobbing downriver, and put it back on when you need to hike over to the run opposite the island.
One draw-back, however, is the warranty. It's the limited that fly-fishing industry "service fee". It's only $30 with Redington, but it still gets to me a little. That said, all companies have this, so there's no disadvantage with these waders.

Ideal for hiking, too. 
Ultimately, these waders are fully recommendable. They're more affordable than other brands ($289.95), and they sprung exactly zero major leaks over a season of use (pinholes notwithstanding - they are inevitable and don't really leak, anyway). They're comfortable, packable, look fine, and most of all, functional. They might not be my go-to wader for January, but they might be for the rest of the year.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Like gypsies

Fly anglers move, if just for a weekend at a time. Water gets stale, and the pots need stirring. Doesn't matter if the fishing was bananas yesterday, we abandon it to let it remain fruitful. Said Sir Paul in Uncle Albert Admiral Halsey: "Live a little, be a gypsy, get around; Get your feet up off the ground, live a little get around..." I agree.
Low light and low fish tallies.
One aspect of this rambling that seems rarely employed is knocking on the doors of riparian-land owners, especially by grouches like me who rarely exude friendliness (or so I'm told...grumble...). Females and octogenarians are more likely than young or mid-aged males to be trusted to trespass. And frankly, and while rare, you risk a negative encounter that might preclude you from jumping on that river legally and hiking to the desired spot, due to distrustful and watchful bourgeois or plutocratic landowners (guess who was on this morning?).
We did such a thing this weekend, though it wasn't completely random. We accessed a pastoral small-water canyon that was a treat to fish, in spite of the slow fishing.

Fishy green, but weedy and shallow. 
Us: Knock, knock. Them: Who's there?
Us: Polite and stewardly anglers. Them: Make yourselves at home...
In my limited experience, most door-answerers are trusting, if only because the angler took the time to be respectful initially. Maybe we'll try more often in the future, especially if Liz is willing to bat her eyelashes ;)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The people we meet

"I've been thinking lately 'bout the people I meet..." - Fish and Whistle, John Prine

People to whom fly-fishing has introduced me, or with whom fishing has strengthened our bond.

Whether or not visitors fish, we share time on the water. Really, what better way to experience a slice of Montana or to share a memory than to convene at the waterside, the same places our ancestors first settled? As visitor season winds down, we have a chance to reflect on the relationships.

Blogger friends who I'd never met, fellow writers, Wilderness Adventures Press' authors, guides helping research articles, fishy friends of friends, brothers-in-laws of college friends, traveling photographers, friends and family... Cheers to you all. I hope to see you again streamside.

Jed from Sula Mountain Fly Fishing showing us how to fish skwalas.
Liz's brother Eric, privy to a once-in-a-lifetime
brown-drake hatch his first time fly fishing.
Ok, this was in Wyoming... but connecting with fish and
 friends along the upper Green was a treat.
Brady getting into some root-snag rainbows a day after
Yellowstone's Black Canyon.
Russ fishing dries (and why wouldn't he?)
while comparing industry notes.
Lindsey making use of a dropper while out-fishing the "fishers". 
Casting ants on the Missouri, "impressing" Liz's father.
Charlie, on a previous trip. Didn't get to fish with him this time,
but it was good to catch up.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Don't believe the kype

You lie, and no one's buyin' it. That's not true - some people are. But I'm calling your "30-incher" about 19. Unless you have been diagnosed with bozoenae digititus (common name: clown fingers), that fish isn't as big as you'd like us to believe.
What. It's true. 
But that's okay because ultimately, dishonesty as much a part of fishing as foul hooking and hero shots. Otherwise upstanding people lie like whitefish under a foam line. And that dishonesty can maintain fishing friendships well beyond truthfulness. Be it an agreed-upon "rounding up" of inches, misleading directions to the honey-hole for the uninitiated, or outright lies about where you've been, fishing lies can show your angling integrity.

Fib wisely.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Going deep

Anglers analogize. Consider Midcurrent's Fly Fishing Jazz column, or the ubiquitous golf comparison. Both are apt, but I prefer baseball.

In that game, if you're swinging for the fences, you also better be willing to strike out. Dingers and whiffs go together like Zonkers and strips.

Streamer fishing is similar. It takes commitment, confidence, and lust for the grandiose. It requires ignorance of the easily attainable; mayflies are meaningless on streamer days. It can be hard to resolve for one long ball when you're confident you can knock a few singles, though.

But sometimes merely advancing the runners doesn't help. Sometimes a base hit is as good as getting caught looking. And sometimes, a meatball sails waist high over the outer half of the plate...

A tape-measure creature, in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

See Boges fish

This guy, hard at work at the daily take your dog fishing day:

At the cutthroat lake...
and in the wilderness...
on the Yellowstone...
and at secret creek...
Researching an article...
and corralling grayling...
with Liz...
During skwalas...
Harassing the guide...
and fish...
"Do, you, want ..." 
" chase some ducks?"

For hoppers on the Missouri...
...or runoff on the upper Madison...
...or Christmas on the lower Madison...
Always "helping" me land.
Trudging through the hopper grass (see it?)...
...and when it's too cold to fish...
... and just barely warm enough.
Just a pup, taking to the locals....(that's him ^ ;))
Even just fly tyin'...
Before I knew how to fish ...
Spotting rises on Fairy Lake...
Hunting predators...
Sniffing out the neighborhood drakes...
Overlooking the Gibbon...
For mahogany duns....
Rain, sleet, or snow...

My dog is there.