Friday, July 11, 2014

Montana, day 8. My last day at Sweetgrass

My time at Sweetgrass was coming to an end. Glenn and I started a special order, tent poles. As he dialed in the milling machine, I though that this was sort of like Michelangelo painting some cheap advertisements in between some of his more famous works. But hey, the bills have to get paid too.

Glenn and I split, hollowed, glued and wrapped the poles amidst the usual distractions, Glenn told me the story of two mounts on the wall. One tattered old brown, a 33 inch fish he caught in Hat Creek the day before he joined the army. The other, hidded behind an overgrown bamboo plant, was the seventh permit ever caught on a bamboo rod. 

After we were done, he took me too meet Wayne Maca, a one-time Sweetgrass employee who used to make snowboards for olympians, and now experiments with revolutionary bamboo rods that are entirely hollow, and have graphite ferrules. I cast a 5 weight on the Beaverhead behind his shop and thought it was great. After I was done, Glenn cast a few beautiful loops into the ever-present Montana wind, and while he did so, I asked Wayne about the cryptic markings on both sections of the rod. He explained that he encodes his serial numbers, to throw off collectors and prevent any sort of elitism based on the date that the rod was made. After a good chat, Glenn drove us back to Sweetgrass and said goodbye. I hung around a bit longer, then said my goodbyes, bought a souvenir or two, and headed over to meet one of the Sweetgrass guys for one last evening on the Ruby before heading to Yellowstone and guide school. It was slow, and no one got a fish, but I did manage to trick one fish into taking a PMD, but he popped off. Them's the breaks!

All in all, a great week with a great bunch of artists, keeping an important craft alive and relevant in an age of high modulus graphite.

Montana, day 7. Sweetgrass, and skunked.

Today I had the honor and pleasure of working with Glenn all day. He was very patient as we milled, glued, and wrapped strips. People poked their heads into our working area on a regular basis, mostly just to shake the hand of THE Glenn Brackett, or tell a story or two about a Winston or Sweetgrass rod that had passed through Glenn's hands. He was gracious and genuinely enjoyed meeting these people, despite the interruptions. Earlier in the week I had mistaken one nondescript Sedan for another, and sat in a strangers car, trying to fit my key in the ignition until I noticed that the passenger seat was filled with completely different sorts of junk than the junk in my own passenger seat. Glenn enjoyed this story and relayed it to visitors, as well as my success with carp, which I had hoped to replicate this afternoon on a bamboo loaner rod. As the day went on, Glenn thanked me for "pulling my weight and then some" around the shop, and that meant quite a bit, I know it's a busy time of year and having a curious amateur fumble around the shop doesn't particularly help things run smoothly. 

It was 3pm before I knew it, and I had a busy afternoon planned. First, back to the Beaverhead with an 8 foot 5 weight rod from the shop and hopes of another carp. Alas, it was not be. I hooked a substantially larger carp than my last one, but he broke me off almost immediately. Likely for the best, I think I would have had a very hard time landing him. I hooked a sucker, but couldn't tempt abother carp, so I left and headed for Notch Bottom on the Big Hole. It was a long, beautiful drive, all for naught. The river was far too high and dangerous to wade. I tried some streamers along the bank, but the current, mosquitos, and lack of any fish action drove me off the river in short order. Back I drove, and decided to try streamers on the Ruby again, only this time with no luck. On my way back to Sheridan, I had a burger, fries, and two pints of Trout Slayer ale amidst dancing cowboys/girls and a playlist of alternating mournful and jingoistic country songs.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Montana, day 6. Splitting bamboo, and redemption on the Ruby

After a breakfast of fresh eggs and bear (or maybe caribou) sausage, I spent the day milling bamboo strips, and marking and splitting some culms. After that, I headed over to RL Winston to check out the museum along with the new guy at Sweetgrass. It was interesting to see equipment we'd just used that morning here under glass at the museum. Seeing photos of Glenn and Tom Morgan in their early days just drove home how lucky I am to be able spend a week here, and on a more somber note,a stark reminder that this was the end of an era.

In the evening I headed back to the Ruby with a wooly bugger. Even though I hadn't caught anything the night before, it's such a gorgeous, varied river that I had to go back. Plenty of fish were rising but I needed a confidence booster on this river, which is why I decided on a streamer. Swinging them through tailouts and around bends got plenty of interest, and at the end of the night as I made my way back through tall grass, hoping not to startle a moose, I'd caught 4 browns, the biggest being 15 inches, and missed at least twice that many strikes. A delicous dinner of venison stir fry and a few cold beers awaited me upon my return.

Montana, day 5. Sweetgrass and the Lower Ruby

Another day, up at 5AM. After a quick trip to the local gas station for a huge cup of coffee, a video chat with my wife and kids, I started preparing breakfast over my camp stove. The Beaverhead runs right by my campsite, and I watched a few trout rise while eating my bacon and slightly burnt egg sandwich. I cleaned up, grabbed the bamboo rod, and caught two browns on a beadhead pheasant tail under a wulff. I headed back over to Twin Bridges, and spent the day milling strips and sanding blanks.

In the evening, I made plans with one of the Sweetgrass guys to fish the Beaverhead. The river was disappointingly low, and the river warm enough to ensure that the cold beer we put in the river was warmer than when we put in. We changed plans, and headed to the Lower Ruby instead. We moved very quickly among the clouds of PMDs, casting to rising fish once or twice and moving on, because he wanted to show me the whole section so I could go myself the next day. We ended up with just one whitefish, and made our way back to the car in the dark, being careful not to bump into any of the moose that use this area to bed down in. The Ruby is gorgeous, but humbling!

I spent the night on the floor at the cabin of the Sweetgrass builder after a hearty dinner of elk burgers and beans. Tomorrow I'll check out of the KOA and move over here until Saturday, it saves me a hundred and twenty bucks and I'll get a little respite from the mosquitoes.

Montana, day 4. Sweetgrass and the Beaverhead

My idle days are behind me, and I'm looking forward to starting my week at Sweetgrass. I wasn't sure what time to show up, and seeing as how I'm still jet lagged enough to wake up every morning around 5AM, I pulled into the parking lot at Twin Bridges around 8:30AM, just in time to meet Dave, the first person on the job. We chatted for a bit, talked about mutual acquaintances, and I got started with sanding a blank. I met Glenn Brackett and the rest of the crew, and got to work on the first day with lots of rough miilling of bamboo strips and gluing of blanks. Dave handed me a loaner rod that I could use for the week I was there, and my day was over at 3pm, plenty of time to put it to use. I threw on an english-made Battenkill and was off.

I decided to enter the Beaverhead at a bridge between Dillon and Twin Bridges, but I found it difficult to wade. Just downstream from the bridge, I noticed multiple large carp cruising back and forth through the deep pool, and I figured now was a good time as any to try to catch one for the first time. I switched out the Sweetgrass 4/5 weight for my Epic 580 as I didn't want to damage the bamboo loaner rod. I tied on one of the Trouser Worms from McTage that I tied a few months ago. It took a while, but I finally dialed in the action and hooked a carp, which immediately broke off. Now I was determined. Next, I landed a foot long suckerfish. Twenty minutes or so later, I hooked into another one. He ran me around a log, got loose, and left me snagged. Now I was really determined. Another 15 minutes or so of trying, and I hooked another carp, firmly this time. He ran downriver to the backing almost immediately. I tried my best to keep him away from the brushy banks. I moved slowly upriver as far as I could, gaining line all the while. As soon as the leader came within a few feet, he took off on anoter strong run back downstream. It took way too long to land him, but it was a great feeling to finally land my first carp on the fly. I can see why people call them "The Poor Man's Bonefish". They're a selective and determined fish that doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Montana, day 3. The Madison

I stopped by some fly shops in the area, and there was word that the Salmonflies were hatching on the Madison near Three Dollar Bridge, so my next destination was clear. I was up at 5 and gone by 6 to make the two hour drive to the bridge, as everyone warned me there would be crowds. I'd rather be early and not catch anything than be late and not find a spot. On the way in I stopped at a little bakery just outside of Virginia City and had the most amazing pastry filled with cream cheese and honey, and a fresh biscuit with butter for breakfast, along with a coffee refill. The drive along the Madison was beautiful, and the time flew by, I pulled into the three dollar bridge parking lot alongside two other cars. After a bit of friendly chit-chat with the guys suiting up next to me and a three dollar donation into the box, I rigged my Helios 2 with a Wulff and a dropper again, leaving the salmonflies I purchased in the fly box until later, when I saw some more indications of the hatch. On my second cast into a riffle, the Wulff was hammered from below by a fat rainbow, which took to the air and threw the hook immediately. The second fish held on a little longer, but popped off quickly as well. Damn! 

Finally, I landed a nice brown, and started noticing more salmonflies in the air, in the bushes, and on the back of my neck. A short while later, with no further strikes on the Wulff, I figured now was the time. I tied on a big fluffy salmonfly, and started working the water. In no time, a nice 15 inch brown viciously attacked the fly and was on. Like every fish I've caught here so far, it was stronger than it's size would suggest, and I struggled to follow it downstream. When they say that the Madison is a tricky river to wade, they weren't kidding. After a few stumbles and curses the  less-than-graceful chase was over and the brown was in the net. A quick photo and he was back where he belongs. I took a break hoping to find someplace to eat lunch, had no luck finding anyplace open nearby, and ended up eating a half a bag of tortilla chips and a clif bar. I really need to put a little more effort into proper nutrition this trip. I fished another section with less luck, and headed home to get some sleep, because on Monday I begin my week-long mini-internship at Sweetgrass rods.

Montana, day 2. The Upper Ruby

One of the places I was most looking forward to fishing while in Montana was the Ruby River. I decided on fishing the part of the Ruby that was within state owned lands because it seemed that the complicated and controversial river access in Montana was basically centered around a single Ruby River landowner, and I didn't feel like running into trouble. Plus I liked the idea of a relatively small stream with lots of small eager fish. 

I drove the hour and a half or so from Dillon, a good bit of it via dirt roads, but hey, I had a rental car so I didn't let that slow me down. On the way to the Cottonwood campground, I passed a sign warning visitors about bears, and an ever increasing part of me wished I hadn't decided against buying bear spray at a hefty 34.95 a can. In short order I found a turnout, rigged up my Superfine Glass 3 weight with Royal Wulff and started casting to rising fish mere feet from the car. I missed a few strikes, then hooked a fiesty little cutthroat, my first ever. I wet-waded my upriver through beautiful scenery, wide gravel bars, and undercut banks. I passed numerous bones of large animals, reminding me to whistle loudly as I moved through the brush to bypass more difficult sections of river. I hooked and landed a powerful rainbow of around 12 inches, followed by my first mountain whitefish. A few feet further upstream, a deep and relatively calm pool was regularly disturbed by rising fish, but they displayed no interest in my Wulff and Pheasant Tail dropper. I switched to something a little smaller to match the tiny mayflies they were feeding on and landed a nice grayling on the first cast. Visibly different than the European grayling, the North American grayling seems to have a smaller dorsal fin in addition to the spots along the body. I saw down, enjoyed an energy bar and some water for lunch, and fished my way back the car, still nursing a sore back. Back at the campground, I treated myself to a luxurious dinner of a ham sandwich, a shower, and some sleep.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Montana, day 1. There's dumb trout here, too

Sunrise over Colorado

I finally arrived in Bozeman yesterday morning. After 22 hours of flying and waiting in airports and a 2 day layover in Texas that turned into a 3 day layover thanks to a missed flight. After I landed, I picked up my rental car, and went to go grocery shopping at the Bozeman Co-op, and picked up some camping supplies, a cooler, and a Montana fishing license.
The essentials

Then it was off to Dillon. I stopped at a fly shop in Twin Bridges to grab a few flies and find out if the Upper Ruby was fishable (it is, apparently) and managed to get a few hours of fishing in at Poindexter Slough. The first thing I noticed about fishing in Montana is holy shit, is it windy. And as soon as the wind dies down it's buggy. I'd never fished in wind like this before, but fortunately there were lulla, and afer a while it died down a bit. I was pretty impressed with my Helios 2 5 weight and its ability to cut through the wind, but at 9 feet it was probably a little too long for this river. Annoyingly, I didn't have any floatant, and kept forgetting to buy some, so I went with a chernobyl ant. Second cast in and I missed a strike. I made my way slowly upriver, scaring a few deer and pissing off a muskrat until I ended up at a nice tailout where the action stayed pretty constant. I'd end up missing quite a few more strikes, but I landed two browns, the biggest of which was 13 inches or so. It was nice to get the skunk off the trip so early, and I made my way back to the car with an aching back, scratched up legs, muddy feet, an assortment of insect bites, and a big stupid grin on my face because I just caught my first trout in Montana.

Back at the campground I treated myself to a luxurious dinner of elbow macaroni, canned sauce, and tuna. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow despite the 4th of July fireworks lighting up my tent every so often. Tomorrow, I'm heading to the Upper Ruby.