Thursday, April 28, 2016

Trout Trek Part V - The Undiscovered Canyon

April 17, 2016 -  Fishing Day 2

Sunday Adventure begins here
It was an act of negligence on my part to wait this long.  I should have taken notes at the end of the day, or early the next day.  Alas, many of the details of this day have faded.  Many key events are still vivid in my memory, but a good amount of the moment-by-moment images have been washed downstream.  I need to be quicker to record trip details, probably rely on technology a bit more.

I remember waking myself up early.  I had a mission before the day could begin:  get down to Headhunters Fly Shop and retrieve the Epic 686 unidirectional fiberglass rod that John Arnold had set  aside for me.  They opened at 7 and I was in the door at 7:12.  The rod was waiting and the staff helped me take care of the paperwork.  In hindsight, it was rude/unprofessional of me not to buy SOMETHING while I was in there.  I feel badly about that.  No, I feel stupid.  Apologies to John and Mark.

I was back at the lodge before Mrs. Fading Angler was out of bed.  Breakfast was excellent and served with Lindsay's usual flair and TLC.  As food settled, the tone got serious between Joe and his anxious clients, all two of us.  What ARE we going to do today?  The weather was expected to be nearly identical:  full sun, some breezes, slightly warmer.  We could run the same stretch from Craig to the Dearborn River ramp and expect about the same as yesterday.  I'd had my fun there, and was actually looking forward to something new and a little more challenging.  The decision was made to float the "lower canyon."  Joe said it would be a lot of trial an error, relearning how fish were feeding because of the flow, temperature, and weather changes.  There was hope for some rising fish in some of the shaded sections later on.  Finally, he was confident that we'd have a good time tucking into some deep eddies.  I was anxious to see some new water, as yet undiscovered by me.

View upriver from the Mountain Palance launch ramp
(click photos to enlarge)

Gear was loaded and a final cup of lodge coffee drained before we departed.  It was a moderate drive downriver to the Mountain Palace launch ramp.  Mrs. FA and I suited up while Joe launched and anchored the boat.  The ramp area was very busy, and I heard more mumbling about a weekend regatta.  Were we going to race, too?  No.  The plan was to prospect up here and let folks move along down river.  We circled in a big, lazy eddy for a while, seeing a few strikes (or probably just hooks catching bottom), but nothing hooked up.  The spot where Joe had hoped to anchor and wade for a while became occupied just before we got there by three anglers who didn't seem to want to leave each other any elbow room.  Weird.

We floated for a while, trying likely banks, runs, and walls.  Eventually, this happened:
Action Shot! Fish out of water! (Well, mostly...)
No more skunk smell
When we stopped for lunch, Mrs. Fading Angler found a new friend to play with, excited to try out her new underwater camera capabilities...

We also got a pretty good look at something I don't recall ever seeing in the wild before:
A pair of Big Horn Sheep, probably ewes
Then it was finally time for my first lesson with the Epic 686 FastGlass rod.  Joe anchored and Mrs. FA elected to take a break and watch.  We waded out on a gravel bar 30 to 50 yards from the boat.  I had my wading staff handy, but thought I'd be fine in the knee deep water with Joe nearby.  Once the water reached a certain depth and current, I asked Joe if he'd be okay with me leaning on his shoulder for support.  This kind of request is still mildly embarrassing, but I'm dealing with it.  Better humbled than waders full of water.  Joe cast the 686 a few times, then showed me his technique for working across a gravel bar, including the correct mending to set yourself up for a smooth drift.  We were tossing a big skwala pattern, just in case something big and brown was looking for an easy, concentrated source of calories.  It was another day of full sun and only the random rising fish, so we didn't have anything specific to target.  The rest of the details of this wading event were covered pretty well in Part III.

The Grasshopper listens intently to Master Mo' Joe
We all agreed in advance that this would be a day of instruction and learning.  Mrs. FA and I have caught rainbows, browns, and whitefish beyond count with Joe and his guides (and some nice cutthroat trout on the Blackfoot River.)  It was very cool to spend a day where he didn't feel pressured to get at least a couple fish per hour into the boat, so he could feel more relaxed about instruction.  Face it, you don't learn very much when the fishing is hot, unless it's how to land or lose fish.  Challenge begets art.  I still paint-by-numbers, but I can embellish things a bit more now.  Besides, we still had at least 5 double hook-ups before the afternoon was over.

Double-Up!  Her's was bigger than mine.

Not long after lunch, we tucked into an eddy that was rock wall on 3 sides.  After a few passes, Mrs. FA was into fish at the front of the boat and Joe instructed me exactly where to cast and mend off the starboard side.  We'd net a nice pair of trout, then relax in the partial shade for 10 or 15 minutes, letting the eddy rest and settle before repeating the feat a few more times.

Letting the fish rest, not having any fun... :)

Working another, more difficult eddy, at the south end of the Canyon

A great way to wrap the day as the sun starts to get low.
We landed, loaded, and scooted back to lodge.  We had a brutally-early flight back to Minnesota from Great Falls the following morning.  So, we would be staying in town rather than at the lodge that evening.  We packed as much as we could as quick as we could, boot and waders left separately to dry as they would.  We did stay for supper and met a couple of new folks.

Thank you, Lindsay, for the hospitality and humor.  Joe, thank you for two amazing days on the water.  I don't know if you can imagine what days like this mean to me as I watch the hourglass.

The drive north to Great Falls was quiet.  Contented.

This concludes Trout Trek 2016.  Our five-part mission is complete.  In case you just joined us on this mission, here's a map to previous installments:
I'm planning a feature article on The Missouri River Lodge, Joe & Lindsay, and Joe's "X-Stream Fly Fishing and Hunting" guide services.  I hope you'll give it a read when it's available.  Until then, if you ever plan to fish the Missouri River in central Montana, I cannot recommend these folks enough!


  1. By any definition of the word, it looks like you had awesome time that was enjoyed by me as well. Thanks Chris!

    1. There were definitely some moments that I hope will remain unforgettable. Glad you enjoyed the stories.

    2. Oh, thanks for fixing the link. I really messed it up this weekend!

  2. Chris
    All I can say is "THE TRIP OF A LIFETME" and what is so special is you made it with your wife. I felt like at times I was fishing along side you guys, such great stories!! Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks Bill. Very nice of you to say that you felt like you were there. "Trip of a lifetime" is what I'm trying for these days. ;)

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, sir. Mrs. Fading Angler gets most of the photo credits!