Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Trout Trek Part II - Slow Mo'-tion

April 16, 2016 - Fishing Day 1

The River giveth, and The River taketh away
(click photos to enlarge)
There was nothing hurried about this day, in sharp contrast to the same weekend one year prior.  My 2015 solo fishing trip to the Missouri River (aka 'The Might Mo' or just 'The Mo') felt frantic.  Even the fish were in a hurry.  Not so this trip.  It was kinda zen.  There was even a moment of perfection for me that I doubt will ever be matched.

If you read Part I then you know we arrived late on the 15th.  Before retiring, Mrs. Fading Angler negotiated a late start time, reasoning that the cold, snowy day and overnight freeze had pushed the fish into hibernation.  The truth is that she didn't want to sit in a drift boat in the cold.  And I cannot blame her at all.  We all laughed, retired, and slept late.  Breakfast was spot-on: thick, perfectly cooked french toast and fresh strawberries. I opted for the Montana huckleberry syrup.  (More about the Lodge and Lindsay's gourmet cooking in a future chapter.)   Then it was time for a plan.  If there's one thing I know in life, it's that Joe Bloomquist knows this river, and deserves the nickname "Mo' Joe."  He asked what section we wanted to fish, saying that everything from Holter Dam to the lower canyon had been fishing well earlier in the week.  I was feeling nostalgic and opted to float from Craig to the Dearborn Ramp (see map if interested.)  Joe agreed.  His plan: hit the hotspots and look for rising fish in between.  After the prior year's bug hatches, I was really looking forward to some spectacular dry fly opportunities.  Paraphrasing German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke: No plan survives contact with the enemy.

The enemy was (were?) not the trout, nor the river.  It was the weather.  Both Day 1 and Day 2 of fishing were full, intense sun.  If there were any clouds at all in the state of Montana during those two days, we maybe saw three on the western horizon. And then there was the effect of the snow storm on the river...
Water Temperature, F scale on the right

Water Flow Rate
The two graphs above show that the weather event on the 15th had a measurable impact on the river.  In addition to the fluctuations in flow and temp, which are known to change feeding patterns for trout, there was a noticeable stain in the water.  Not huge changes, but enough to "reset" the fishing conditions.  Clear and sunny days aren't a guide's favorite ones for work, either.  It made things challenging for our guide.  His frustration was evident at times, but he was up for the challenge.

Mrs. FA and I were amazed that Joe rowed us upriver quite a distance after we put in at Craig.  We reached a spot and fished for a while with no results.  Nymphs were changed, depths tweaked, and finally my fair lady got to dance.  Not even a couple of minutes before, she told Joe she couldn't remember if she'd ever caught a brown trout.  The river must have been listening.

We fished here a while longer, catching a couple more.  Then it happened.

Let's talk about "mending" for a moment.  If you're not a fly angler, you need to know that this kind of fishing involves much more that casting and reeling.  Water moves at different velocities all over the river.  This sometimes means that your line is dragging your flies around, rather than just drifting like all the stuff in or on the water.  You're more likely to catch a trout if your fly is drifting naturally, so you have to work your line to keep it from dragging the fly around.  This "working" is called mending, and it's a very delicate part of the art.  My approach to mending resembles a Micheal Bay "Transformers" movie more than Shakespeare.  It might be some kind of art, but it's brutal.

Joe rowed to the top of the run and I made my cast.  My floating line drifted, and then I watched perfection.  For the next fraction of eternity my line was mended left, right, in, out, without the slightest disturbance to the indicator or flies.  I don't know how long I watched, because it felt like a few seconds and also an hour.  I will continue to say that all I did was watch, because it wasn't me doing that.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being one with the rod, the line, and the water.  The moment didn't result in a fish.  Not a loss.  A strike would have changed the moment, altered the magic.  I settled back into myself when I heard Joe say, "You couldn't have done that any better."  The perfect drift.

Run, baby, run!
Midges hatched steadily throughout the day, and we headed down river once we started seeing a few Blue Winged Olive mayflies floating by.  Occasionally, a random fish would rise, but we didn't see any consistent surface feeding.  Dry flies were not on the menu.

At one spot, Mrs. FA was ready to throw me out of the boat.  We circled a familiar spot about 10 times.  I pulled out 5 in a row before she hooked one.  Joe was heard to tell her, "You might want to get in on this.  Chris is having a pretty good time back there!"  Some words came out of her mouth that I've never heard before.  Finally, on run number 6 or so, she hooked one after I'd hooked up at the top of the run.  Our first "Daily Double."  It turned into a photo op, but mine was camera shy and released itself earlier than planned (see first photo, above.)  There were at least four more double-ups before the day was over.  She usually got a brown and I'd have a rainbow, but we swapped once.

Hers was bigger
Except for the spot where Mrs. FA was using hand signals to communicate her feelings about my catch rate, nothing was easy or simple for our guide.  There were many spots we'd float through where Joe said other clients had hooked multiple fish just a few days before.  Sometimes, he'd row back up, anchor, change flies, and try again until one of us brought a fish in.  No complaints from us!  Even though things felt slow, we caught enough fish that we lost count.  That usually happens after number 5 or 6 for me.  My best estimate is that we had around 30 in the net before we landed at the Dearborn ramp.  We were definitely rewarded by Joe's experience on this river and his tenacity.

There were quite a few boats floating the Mo'.  It was Saturday, the weather was beautiful, and the hatches were on.  "Looks like a friggin' regatta..."  I personally only saw 3 other anglers fighting fish all day.  Well, four if you count the guy on the rock ledge behind me. Several times, we were fighting a fish and another boat would float through the same spot. Nothing. They'd row back up, float through again, nada.  Then Joe would run us right back through the same spot... Wham!  Sometimes, another Wham!  It was fun to shout "Fish on!" when the downstream boat was still within earshot.  A boat floated by later in the day when we were working a double-up.  Someone asked, "What's your secret?  I haven't had one all day..."  I answered, "Patience.  Really long drifts."  But our secret was the guy rowing the boat, with more than 25 years of experience fishing the Mo'.  Joe Knows.

Parkinson's Disease did not bother or frustrate me this day.  Last year's efforts to learn fly casting with my left arm paid big dividends.  I was even able to cast nymph rigs beyond 40 feet.  Never before has Joe had to tell me, "Too far.  Bring it in ten feet."  Mrs. FA's casting also got better, and she developed this beautiful little "twitch mend" that gives me envy.  I have some other observations about this day of fishing with Parkinson' Disease, which were written about separately in Part IV.
That peaceful, easy feeling
I didn't even want to yell, "Aww!  One more cast!" when we reached the ramp.  Back at the lodge, there was happy hour, a quick shower, then supper at Isaak's in Craig.  Not long after, we were asleep.

One final thought.  Mrs. FA insisted that she get a photo with this one...
She also claims to have had the biggest fish of the trip, so big that it broke the hook before we could see it.  Who am I to argue?

Stay tuned for Day Two...

 If you missed the harrowing details of our travel problems, you should check out Part I.  In Part III, i get to play with a new toy, while Part IV is a tale of how Day 1 of fishing affected Parkinson's symptoms.Not sure why you'd want to, but you could skip to then end and read Part V about Day 2 of fishing.


  1. Epic day Chris! And I hope you appreciate a wife that shares your love of fly fishing as much as you do. At least I know I do. I'd rather fish with her than just about anyone. Nice post.

    1. Indeed, I do appreciate that!!! She's not a nutcase like me, but it's incredibly rewarding to see her fishing with a fly rod, and having fun. We are pulling the Mobile Hotel® out of storage tomorrow, and our weekend trips to the Minnesota Driftless Area start in three weeks.

  2. Chris
    I'm sure you have already asked yourself this question, "does it get any better than this"? Gorgeous landed in a place most of us can dream about. I hope to make the Montana trip one day before I hang up the fly rod. Thanks for sharing
    P.S. You are one lucky guy to have a wife that loves the sport as much as you!!!

    1. Bill - There's only one way the trip could have been any better: if a monster brown had hit the big skwala I was tossing on day 2... But that would have been like hitting a powerball jackpot. As it was, I kept looking around and saying to myself, "This is why I work. Life is good."

      I'm lucky that my wife met Joe. He's also a hunting guide out there. My father-in-law had hunted for elk for 6 or 7 years out in Montana and my wife often hiked alongside him for 7 to 10 days. We finally booked him an outfitter trip in 2010 and she went along. Joe was one of their hunting guides. She found out he owns the Missouri River Lodge and takes people fly fishing. By birthday present a few months later was a 3 day fishing trip with Joe for the whole family that next summer. Joe taught my wife and 2 kids some basic fly angling and got them into HUGE trout (20" to 24") the first day. By the, end of the trip, Mrs. Fading Angler was asking for advice on which fly rod to buy.

      I hope you can make the trip. It's bucketlist-worthy. Don't hope for too long. Parkinson's has at least taught me one thing: "next year" is just a maybe. If you want it, plan it and do it.

  3. The smiles tell it all. Thank you for sharing your trip.

    1. Thanks, Ralph. My cheek muscles are still cramped!

  4. Chris You and Mrs. FA are great people, it is a pleasure fishing with you guys, and even more becoming like family! Guiding clients is a test every day, you never know what the river is going to throw at you and I never know what clients are going to give me! I can tell you this "you give me your best on every cast" which makes me try my best every spot to give you every opportunity to catch the next fish! I love a challenge and fishing with you is a pleasure! I hope we can do it again soon!