Monday, March 20, 2006

T minus 22 days and counting until the Bighorn

Wow, I'm jacked up for the Bighorn trip this year. I can hardly work without the excitement making my mind wander every minute or so.

I can't believe some of these guys live with an hour of the river and get to fish it every weekend. I'm jealous. Basically the Bighorn is the same distance and time from Billings as Deckers/Cheesman is from my house. If I lived in the Montana/Billings area, I'd never get any work done. I'd definitely own a boat or pontoon, and I'd try and log as many hours as I could on the great river.

Last year the Bighorn trip was a blast. Chad and I basically crammed 16 hours of driving, 5 hours wade fishing, 24 hours of float fishing, 24 hours of sleeping, 6 hours of eating and 4 hours of tying into an 80 hour period - pretty hectic pace for a 4 day "trip".

This year we are going to spread it out some more - drive all night - get up early, get three days of fishing in and then head home. I can't wait.

The Horn is an amazing fishery - although I only have a couple days experience on it and it was my first float trip, I have to say that it is the perfect river. The river is never really that wide - it is crossable in sections, even with 2500 cfs flows. The river is long and there are large fish throughout. The river is a standard depth - I'm generalizing here - but when we were floating I didn't have to move my indicator all the much - most depths stayed in the 4 to 6 foot range. There were some deep pools and great shelves, and the bug population was amazing. Scuds are the key here - ever rock over turned showed thousands of them.

Flies ranged in the 18 to 20 range. And although the pink and orange scuds were highly recommended, I can't imagine a fish would eat something so bright. The Ray Charles is also another fly that didn't look like any bug I had ever seen - but it worked. It amazes me that the flies that work here on the SPlatte are the same flies that work up in MT and in the same sizes. Zebras, Killers, Mercury's, Black Beauties all work - but they have to be small.

Last year I was expecting a little more MT atmosphere out of the Ft Smith area. But Ft Smith is more Wyoming than MT. You can see mountains way off in the distance, but otherwise it is rolling prairie and fields. The river banks were actually mostly bare of scrub brush - with huge cottonwoods standing on the sandy or rock banks - with hardly any low lying scrub brush between the trees. Cows have the right away in Ft Smith and they can be heard all over the river mooing in the breeze. I also expected expensive lodges or private homes located right next to the river. There really wasn't any sign of luxury in Ft Smith. Yes, there was the occassional house close to the river - but nothing gaudy or extravigant. The town of Ft Smith is also quite simple - 3 float boats per permanent capita. You can see boats lining the streets, sitting out in front of houses, fly shops, grocery store, campgrounds. It's actually kind of amusing.

The town closes up at 8 pm. The 10 fly shops are all small, clean and well kept - of course they all sell basically the same thing. There is one restaurant, one convenience store, and that's it. Of course the restaurant and store have their own hours, so sometimes they are open - most of the time they aren't. I'm sure they have more steady hours in the summer months.

The Horn is an easy float - only one real section of tough water that is easier the second time you float it. It gets shallow in some spots and sometimes you need to make a judgement call on which side of the island you are going to float - but other than that it is smooth sailing.

I saw lot sof guides on the Horn - pointing their clients to the perfect drifts or holes. We floated past lots of guys with fish on - some holes with 4 guys with fish on, everyone seemed very happy. It seemed like the Horn was a place where fishing dreams come true. I'm having fishy dreams lately - so many that I can't sleep at night - and I'm still 22 days away!!!

This trip will be a chance to finally row a float boat, meet up with some great new friends, video and document the trip for a story I hope to write, test out the new camper for more than one overnight trip, and hang with some good friends. I have tied more in the last few weeks than I ever have. I have tied a couple dozen of my killers in silver, blue and red - a couple dozen Chad streamers, a couple dozen zebras in green and tan, and a dozen or so scuds. Problem is that as a fisherman I almost NEVER change flies unless I lose them - and on the Horn I never seemed to lose them.

Well - this should be a good trip - I can't wait.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Saturday, March 18, 2006 - South Platte River, Dec

Saturday, March 18, 2006 - South Platte River, Deckers
Beautiful morning, 45 degrees, windy and cooler as the afternoon went on, 146 cfs, clear water.

Fished with Tom today - nice day to get out. I haven’t been out with Tommy in over a year (Dream Stream I think last January). I think we were on the front end of a low pressure storm – the fishing seemed ok. The water was running at a decent clip – there are a lot more places that the fish hold when the water is flowing at over 125 cfs. Basically we just hit the Deckers areas between the bridges.

I jumped right in at the bend where the log is down and worked my way upstream. I didn’t have a whole lot of luck at first chucking a streamer with a nymph trailer. I worked my way up to the lightning burned stump and hit that run on the far side of the island. I could see a few fish, but couldn’t stir anything in the first run. I moved up to hole that sits under the tree. I fished it for a while and finally saw a fish sitting on the far bank in a deep hole. I moved up and tried to trail the streamer right in front of him. I hooked a 14 inch rainbow that slammed the streamer – my first fish of the day, it got me excited. I kept trying at the other deeper fish, with no luck.

I moved up the run to the bridge and fished the dump pool right under the highway/fly shop bridge. I’m still not sure how to fish the streamer in some of the normal pools and runs. Off color water seem to make the fish hit the streamer a lot more – of course today was gin clear. I moved down and fished the highway side of the island. I switched to an 18 and 20 midge and hooked a couple of very small fish. They were just sitting in the run (that normally wouldn’t be there with low water). I moved down again, to a spot I don’t really want to divulge. The spot is the same spot I hooked a 24 inch rainbow three weeks prior. The fish slammed my flies and thrashed it’s head and ripped the whole rig apart. Well, I started fishing the run, not for anything in particular until I saw a dark figure behind a rock move out to a sandy spot and then moved back to its holding position. I 1through a size 18 and 20 killer midge at this fish for about 20 mins, over a 100 casts – nothing. I switched the 20 killer midge to a 20 black beauty and with in 10 casts I had him on. It was a big fish and he thrashed his head again. I moved him carefully to a smoother run and beached him in 6 inches, scooped him with my net. Tommy saw me scoop him and gave me a thumbs up. The fish didn’t even fit in the net! His head was hanging out a good 8 inches! The fish was long and not as thick as usual – but still a beautiful fish. He was nicely colored and strong. The mouth was huge! I saw a small fly hanging out of his mouth – a size 20 rainbow snack – the exact fly I was fishing with 3 weeks prior! As I went to remove the fly the fish got heavy and popped out of the net. I thought I still had him on my flies so I didn’t panic. I tried to grab the net and the fish, but I didn’t want to rough him up so as he floated towards the current, I just let him go. What a beautiful fish.

What a great feeling! I went down and sat next to Tom as he changed flies. I was satisfied, but wanted to keep fishing. The weather started turning a bit – it got very cool and windy. Tom decided he was going to hit the lower bridge and on the other side – I said I’d fish my way towards him. I fished the bend again, right at the log. On my first cast on the far side of the log I hooked and landed a feisty 12 inch rainbow. I caught 3 or 4 more fish from the same spot – most a little smaller. I moved down towards the bridge hitting all the normal holes. Not much luck. With such fast water it is harder to fish such small nymphs. I moved to the other side of the bridge and met Tom. We headed back to the bridge and I climbed up on to the bridge and scouted about – Tom pointed out a fish ahead of him, actually just under the bridge in the shade. I thought it was a stick, but it was a huge fish – probably a brown, maybe about 22 inches. Tom fished to it, but he said he scared it off.

On the other side of the bridge was a huge rainbow that was sitting on a sandbar between two fast runs. I moved down and tried to throw at him, but lost sight of him. Tom appeared on the bridge and we decided to head out. It was a good day.