Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Trip Report: Casting Lessons on the Big Horn River

I spent my junior high and high school years less than three hours from Fort Smith, Montana, yet never fished the Big Horn River.  Heck, I’d never fished the Tongue River up on top of the northern end of the Big Horn Mountains until a few summers ago.  Since then, I’ve felt drawn back to the lands of my youth to explore some of these waters, now that I chase trout instead of girls.

A playground for chasing trout.  Trout won't kick your shins.

I contacted Gary Thompson at the Fly Shop of the Big Horns in Sheridan, WY.  He put me in touch with Rock Creek Anglers for their professional guide services.  After discussing my goals for the trip, Gary’s suggestion was to spend my Friday on a float trip down the Big Horn River from Fort Smith.  With any luck, there’d be a decent trico hatch and plenty of opportunities for tossing dry flies.  His suggestion for Saturday was to wade Piney Creek downstream of Lake DeSmet between Sheridan and Buffalo in Wyoming.  This would be “private water,” since it’s located on private property.  Unlike Montana, Wyoming does not have stream access laws that allow angler access to moving water on private property without landowner permission.

I hastily packed my gear Thursday afternoon following a full day of work.  Actually, the word I should be using instead of “hastily” is “recklessly.”  You’ll understand shortly.  My wife shuttled me the 90 minutes (each way) to the MSP airport.  I soon settled in for a pre-flight double bourbon and relaxed for the trip into Billings, Montana.  I arrived 17 seconds too late to grab a steak at the restaurant I targeted near my Billings hotel.  The young lady literally locked the door in my face as I reached for the handle.  Montana hospitality ain’t what it used to be…

I spent a free night at a budget hotel near I-90, courtesy of some hotel points I’d earned in my travels for work.  After a 5 hour nap, I started tossing the day’s gear from the hardsided suitcase into a duffel bag.  Boots, dry bag, buff, folded waders in a stuff sack…  wait.  What the %@# was that?  When I tossed the waders across the bed, something lavender-colored fell out of the stuff sack.  Hmm.  That looks like the pair of my daughter’s socks that my wife borrowed when she tried on and purchased her waders.  (Insert long, painful pause here.)

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooo…………  !

Friday, September 25, 2015

Opportunity Knocks Twice, Part III-and-a-Half: Pride and Parkinson's

I’ve never been proud of my fly angling skills.  In fact, I’ve always been rather embarrassed when someone who knows how to work a fly rod is forced to endure the unholy sight of my efforts to cast a flyline.  I dread having an expert see me laughingly “cast” a fly rod.  In a quantum nightmare, The Little Voices in my head start shouting all of the possible criticisms that might be going through said expert’s mind:  “This guy’s hopeless.”  “He’s actually caught fish?”  “That’s the worst use I’ve ever seen for a fly rod.”  “Reverend Maclean is rolling in his grave.”  “He’d be better off taking up knitting.”  And while I profess not to be “proud,” it’s pure pride that makes me want to hide my deficiencies.

So, let’s do a little non-mathematical calculating:
  1. Parkinson’s Disease: progressive, degenerative neurological condition that (among MANY other things) affects muscular control.  This is making me stiff & shaky, affecting my balance, and making it increasingly difficult to cast a flyline with my right hand
  2. I refuse to give up fly angling yet.  It’s part of my identity and good for me in many ways
  3. I’m embarrassed to have other people watch me cast a fly rod
  4. If my skills don’t improve at least as fast as my ability decays, I might not be fishing much longer.

Solution: Pride must be abandoned.  And not just for fishing.

I took a quick trip last weekend to the border regions of Montana and Wyoming near Sheridan, WY and Fort Smith, MT.  I had a singleminded goal for the trip:  improve my fly angling skills.  My highest priority was to improve my lefthanded casting abilities.  Next was paying attention to the details of two waters I’d never fished before:  the Big Horn River north of Fort Smith, and Piney Creek south of Sheridan.  I got connected with Clark Smyth of Rock Creek Anglers to float a few miles of the Big Horn River in his Adipose drift boat (technically, a skiff…)  When I first talked to Clark, I let him know that I have PD and that I’ve just switched over to casting with my left arm.  I described my “abilities” and told him my goal for the trip.  “I’m here to help,” is what he said, and he repeated it several times during the trip. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away?

After a weekend of fishing in southern Montana and northern Wyoming, I visited 2 of my brothers this morning...

Both were enthusiastic anglers, who moved on to other waters before their 33rd birthdays.  I chatted with them, asked favors, and made promises I intend to keep.

I noticed that someone left  Jeff a couple of birthday presents: a shot of Crown Royal and a smoke.  I had a double Crown in his honor tonight... only because I don't smoke.

See you down river, boys.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fly Angler: Headhunter or Head Case?

First Thing first: Definitions, for the reader without a background in flyfishing slang.  "Head Hunting" refers loosely to the practice of pursuing fish that are poking their heads out of the water in the act of eating something floating on the surface.  In the context of fishing, it has nothing to do with attempting to separate the brainless head of another human being who lacks the courtesy to avoid the water you've been fishing for nearly an hour as they shirtlessly float through in their rental raft with a Coors Light in each hand.  (I nearly mentioned something about these rafts being slightly less unwelcome when one or more passengers are bikini-clad, but that's not always true and might be offensive to some, so I avoided mentioning it.)  Or the other angler who's positive that the only fish in the river are in your immediate proximity.  There's a special DSM-V classification for these poor souls: accute rectocranial impaction.

Next Thing: Declarations.  I go through phases of obsessive and compulsive fascination with flyfishing, especially fly rods and fly lines.  Currently, I'm stuck in the gravitational vortex of a black hole with "moderate action" rods at its heart.  This trajectory was triggered by two things that recently coincided:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Opportunity Knocks Twice, Part III: I Am Not Lefthanded

Can you teach an old river new tricks?

Flathead River downstream of Columbia Falls, Montana

“Water follows the path of least resistance.”  If humans are mostly water, we should not be shocked to discover that our nature reflects our composition.  Our lives tend to run a fairly static course.  The course of each life’s riverbed wanders as we gush with early life, then settles into gorges, canyons, valleys, and channels that rarely deviate.  Only dramatic events tend to alter the flow. 

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake outside Yellowstone National Park dramatically changed part of the Madison River in 1959.  A landslide dam completely blocked the flow for a time.  Humans were left with a choice: leave the river, in the form a newborn lake, to it’s own devices or intervene.  Leaving nature to determine the future could have resulted in more drama downstream if the young dam breached and released a flood into the Madison River valley.  A spillway was built to allow the river to adapt to the new conditions, with less drama.

Something started tossing rocks into the waters of my life a few years ago.  Then boulders.  A thumb twitch was the first pebble that made noticeable riples in an otherwise calm stretch.  I’ll spare you the tedium of naming each rock in the pile of debris that’s harshed my mellow groove.  Suffice it to say that something dramatic continues to alter the course of my river.  One of the rocks is messing with my right side.  The Principle of Least Resistance dictates that I drift with it until it merges into something else.  I’ve stayed this course, and now I choose to dig a side channel instead.

The Largest Lawn Trout I Have Ever Seen

I recently discovered another kindred spirit in the blogosphere:


While skimming some of his writing, I saw several mentions of lawn trout.  I said to myself, "Lawn trout?  Inconceivable.  I don't believe they exist."

And then I remembered that I've seen them hunting in a pod, near the carousel in Missoula, Montana.  I managed to snap a quick photo of one before I bravely ran away...

I think I'll have to try my luck with some lawn casting this evening.  I'll have to let the cats out, too