Saturday, July 27, 2013

fishpond Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack

My mom, bless her heart, recently sewed me a little fishing pack, ala Recycled Waders, made out of my first pair of waders. It fits me, packs well for a hike-fishing, and is well built, especially for a homemade piece. She let me know it was plenty frustrating with the thick Gore material, but she made me a fine piece of unique fishing equipment. If you know a seamster or seamstress - you might politely check if they'd do the same for you in the interest of cost-savings and recycling. If not, there are other options.
Thanks mom! (photo courtesy Jason/Jen Burton)
For example the fishpond Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack, which I also recently acquired.

It has large enough pockets for most day-trippers; is well-built, looks cool, is waterproof (though not submersible save for a quick dip - don't ask how I know) and can be worn either fanny-pack style or over one shoulder and under the other arm (sling-pack style). It'll fit a couple fly boxes, bug spray, sunscreen, water bottle, camera and probably a little more. You can hang your forceps, tippet and nippers from any of the tabs, and your wallet and cell phone will be protected one of the zippered pockets. It also has a net slot that allows anglers to tote a landing net without the PIA magnets or retractors.

It comes in stylish Earthy tones (my fave), and is built with seemingly reliable construction. Waterproof zippers have proven to be a difficult feature to master for some fly-fishing companies, but fishpond seems to have a solid grip on it. They're easy to pull and haven't broken yet.
Liz likes it too.
The only issue I had was that it doesn't like to stay around your waist fanny-pack style unless you cinched it up too tight (maybe it's just certain body types). It works great to wear it slung over the shoulder (see above photo), but then the net slot/pocket became useless as the net falls out. It's a nice feature, but only fanny-pack style.

Liz had some thoughts, too:
- It fits everything (fly box, other fishing accessories, water bottle, camera, snack or lunch, rain coat or extra layer, bug spray, sunblock, Chapstick) without being bulky. You could also carry a rod tube or a coat with the straps under the pack.  
- It's prettier than anything other fly-fishing companies make.
- It's like a scarf - so many ways to wear it.
- Plenty of places to clip things, if you're one of those people that likes to clip things. Plenty of pockets to organize stuff too, and there is a little zippered pocket on the inside that is perfect for your fishing license and your keys.
- People will compliment your "sweet pack".
- There are elastics to keep all the various strap ends tucked away. Which is nice because there a LOT of straps.
- You'll catch more fish.

- If the upper compression straps are cinched all the way, they block one end of the zipper making it difficult to zip all the way and unzip.
- The waist strap is difficult to tighten while you are wearing it. Much more difficult than the waist strap of my backpacking bag, for example, where the buckle is designed more ergonomically so you can pull the strap ends straight out in front of you. 

Finding $140 in your budget for a fishing pack can be challenging but you only have to spend it once.

UPDATE: It's been a couple of years now, and this is still my go-to back for day-trips on the river. I like its size, durability and how it fits on me. I haven't abandon it for another piece because it's great. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to catch golden trout

Also featured in the Flyfisher's Guide to Southwest Montana's Mountain Lakes

How do you catch golden trout? The same way you catch any other trout, except that you usually have to try harder.
There is consensus that they are not dumb (internet forums, fishing friends, and the guys at the lake with us), and in my experience, they only like your fly once. Then the trout go away for awhile and comeback savvier, having convened with their brethren about what is actually food. This constant evolution is impressive, making this gorgeous quarry even more special.

The first challenge in catching golden trout is determining which lakes hold them. In Montana, that's not terribly difficult through the MFISH database. Some popular destinations are Lightning Lake, Cave Lake, the Hidden Lakes (Gallatin Range) and the Golden Trout Lakes. In Wyoming, however, they don't offer stocking records on their website. Particularly in the Wind River Range, lakes that hold goldens are often valuable hushed-up local secrets. A good Googling can help, but befriending a Wyomingite is most helpful. Elsewhere, I don't know.

We caught this guy at code-name Gazed Acids Lagoon. Traveling sedges were the dominant hatch and the trout were eating them.
The second challenge is getting there - it basically always requires a high-elevation uphill hike. Golden trout rarely live below 9,000 feet and there aren't many roads that high. Some hikes are harder than others - the trek to Lightning Lake (one of the most popular destinations for goldens) is notoriously ridiculous.
The final challenge is getting them to eat. You'd probably guess that they're easy-ish to catch since they get fished relatively sparsely, but that is not the case. Throw the box at them until you find something that works, then throw the box at them again until you find something else. I've heard of people catching them on Muddlers, scuds, midge larvae, and I've only ever caught them on dry flies -the Goddard Caddis and Bloom's Parachute Flying Ant.

As the heat continues, mountain lakes become inviting options. They're great for exercise and scenery, and rare fish like goldens, pure-strain cutthroat, and grayling. Catching a golden trout is something most fly anglers will never do, so it's always an honor to have one in the net. Go while you can!

Cruisin' on a Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pep talk

Fly fishing is hard. Take it from me - the most mediocre fly angler in the world. I'm rarely even the "best" angler in my party (best being subjective and irrelevant, but humor me...). But I love it.

I've had moments (months, in fact) when I've felt inadequate about my skills, because I write about fly fishing. I better be able to do it well if I'm going to be telling people about it. Mercifully, I got over that. I feel as though I know the sport and industry well enough to (hopefully) write insightfully, and take worthy, maybe even sometimes poignant, photos. That's my role in this universe, and even though I can't get every fish to eat (or any, sometimes), that doesn't mean I can't relate to others, or have nothing to say.

Fly fishing is frustrating. I've introduced enough people to the sport in the last few months that I've started emphasizing one thing in particular: You will get frustrated. Because catching a trout on a fly rod is the result of the confluence of about 10 different things, not all of which are under your control. But if you enjoy the experience enough, you'll go back. And back. And eventually you'll catch a fish, and you'll be the happiest person in the world. And you'll go back more often and eventually - you're bona fide. But if you can't trudge your way through those initial frustrations, you'll never get to the point where it starts becoming less frustrating and more fun.

Some common frustrations:
  • Rat's nests
  • Back cast gets caught in a tree
  • Cast won't go where you want
  • Cast collapses
  • Can't catch fish
  • Line gets snagged on everything it possibly could  - boots, clasps, sticks, rocks, tippet, etc.
  • Getting hung-up on the bottom
  • Losing flies (bull-whipping the back-cast, hanging up on the bottom, etc)
  • Turning ankles on river rocks
  • Slipping/ falling
  • Flies come untied
  • No idea what flies to use
  • General lack of confidence
  • Others catch fish while you're not (sometimes with the same rod/reel, fly set-up, indicator depth, drift, line, hole, mends, etc. Either some people are magic, or subtle nuance makes a difference. I think magic.)
  • Sore back/shoulder/arm/leg/ankle/brain
  • Everything else
I still get frustrated. That may never go away. Hell just yesterday I tried to fish the East Gallatin with my dog on a public stretch in Bozeman. I lasted about 15 cuss-filled minutes - my poor dog, mean-tempered as he can be, must be traumatized. 

To all those anglers feeling like giving it up, feeling like they suck, or everyone else is better at it, or just generally worn out of it; take solace and have patience with yourself. Try to focus on the good parts of your day - the beautiful place you otherwise wouldn't have been; the exercise you got; the sunshine and fresh air you absorbed; the progress you made or insight you learned. If those things are not enough, you indeed may not have what it takes to be a fly angler. 

All of us were there at some point, and all of us still have frustrations (some of us even admit it). Fly fishing is hard, and eventually, worth the trouble.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Float beer

Float beer, sometimes called yard beer, is what anglers call cheap, light brews that are well-suited for a summer float. Everyone has their favorite, but there are a few that seem particularly popular. Whether you're out with friends or fishing with a guide, a suitable beer goes hand-in-hand with fishing.

Some criteria for a float beer:
  • Light. Thick, dark beer does not suffice on sun-drenched, August afternoons. Or sun-drenched April mornings. You might want a darker beer for that annual January float, but you might just prefer toddy then. 
  • Low-alcohol. You're gonna drink many to keep you cool, and you don't want to be too besotted before you take out and drive home. Or you're a passenger, in which case disregard this one. I have knocked people out of the boat while rowing after high-fiving Jim Beam and I'm still taking shit. Avoid this. 
  • Inexpensive. You're not going to be savoring flavors anyhow, why spend the money?
  • Comes in cans.  Cans are easier to dispose of (and recycle around here), they stack nicely in the cooler and are crushable when it's over. 
  • Drinkable. Many beers that would otherwise qualify, taste bad. Avoid this. 
Some, reviewed:

Bud Light Lime (4.2% abv): This has apparently become a favorite of the anglers at Simms Fishing Products, and twas they who introduced me. It fits all the criteria, and doesn't taste as terrible as you might've heard. Actually, it's kinda good.

Deschutes Brewing River Ale (4% abv, 28 IBUs): This one got me excited initially, but it comes in bottles, is micro-brew priced, and the taste isn't good enough to overcome that. But if you want to be fancy, give it a shot.

PBR (4.73% abv): Most people's favorite, but I stand by my claim that most people drink PBR cuz it's hip (though I bought a couple sixers earlier this year, because of other factors). After acquiring the taste it flavors decent enough, is cheap, light-enough and comes in cans. Hard to go too wrong, but for my money there are better options.
PBR is common, though not my favorite.
Maddy Light (4% abv): (Almost) the least distributed beer on the list - you have to fill a growler at the Madison River Brewing Company's taproom to bring this in a boat. But it's darn tasty, light, crisp and satisfies the criteria as well as any. But drinking from a cup while bobbing downriver is far from ideal.
Not ideal, but doable. 
Great Falls Select (unknown abv, but sessionable): Also relatively undistributed, this beer works well. It's priced in between PBR and microbrew-pricing, is tasty, light, and generally satisfying. If you're local beer-outlet stocks it, I recommend it.
Though not widely available, GFS is a favorite of mine.
Two-Tenths Brewing Company Floating IPA (~3.54% abv; name subject to change): This is Liz-and-my first-ever homebrew. It's an IPA, but apparently got a bit diluted as the alcohol content will probably be low (it's still fermenting, but the initial gravity was low). The dilution should help it meet at least a couple criteria, and make it a suitable float beer, which was our intent ;) Extremely rare.

And here's another list of "cheap" beer that might give you some guidance.

My list is incomplete and regional  - tell me what I missed. When I float your rivers, what beer should I pack?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Nearly driftless

"Depending on conditions" is a popular caveat around here - conditions being anything from fishing pressure to flow rate, clarity, hatch activity, road conditions, accessibility, et cetera. Oh and weather.

If you fish outside, you're aware of the role of weather. Especially if you are planning a trip, and especially if that trip is to a location with extreme weather, you better load up As a matter in fact, Liz and I witnessed the impact of extreme weather on our recent trip to the Driftless.

We were able to find fishable water by the end of our week-long trip, about six days after 7 to 8 inches of rain fell around Decorah, Iowa, causing flooding and dark-chocolate water. Our plans for lots of exploring were thwarted, wading wasn't easy, the water wasn't see-through, and the wind wasn't absent.

Most of the streams here are small and overgrown, but the water isn't tricky to read. The trout we found were small, but there is some natural reproduction and a few brood stockers. Rolling hills, lush greenery, and thick humidity distinguish the Driftless from the West, but the trout fishing is reminiscent.

Decorah is worth visiting, and the nearby fisheries are not necessarily the bland, cookie-cutter-stocker-filled waters about which you just read. We consulted a couple of friends who spoke highly of the area, and while there, stopped at the Highland General Store where a small box of film prints revealed big trout (the shop also had a selection of well-tied flies, fly lines, leaders, tippet, et cetera). Ethan and Jason at Northeast Iowa Flyfishing Guide Service kept us apprised about access laws and conditions - they are fishy folks who undoubtedly know where the big ones lie.

Between the trout, we camped at free public streamside sites ablaze with fireflies, met and caught up with family, dined at some old favorites, sampled the local drafts and even witnessed a brief aurora in southern Minnesota. Despite conditions, it was a fantastic trip.

Upon our return to Montana, we appear to have entered the nothing-but-90s-and-sun period of our season. Hopefully we haven't missed the day or two of fishable post-runoff pre-hoot-owl fishing (if that occurs this year) on some favorite rivers. Depending on conditions, we'll find out soon.