Category Archives: Fly Fishing

It’s Okay to Be Average

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve not yet “arrived” as a fly caster. Although I can execute a pretty mean double haul and fling out a roll cast to a respectable distance, I still struggle tying a nail knot. And I’ve been known to slap down a size 22 dry with enough force to start a tsunami. I guess this pretty much makes me an average fly caster. 

The truth of is, whether in fly casting or life in general, most of us are a C or at best, B-average. There are a few Einsteins at one end of the spectrum and those with the intelligence of a floor lamp at the other end, but most of us are in the middle. Most of us are average. So is this messed up?

I vote no. It’s okay. Why do I say this? Because God chose mostly average people to populate His kingdom. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:26  “. . . consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;” (NASU). Therefore I maintain that if average is good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.

Still, I dream . . . I dream of catching trout that average five pounds each on every cast, dropping a monster bull elk every season, nailing a 10-pound walleye, or bagging a gobbler with a 10” beard. But I usually settle for foot-long trout, 16” walleyes, and just about any old turkey. Why? Because I’m average, and it is in these things that average people find contentment.

And I have a great time being average. If I ever caught two five-pound trout in a row, I’d have to change my pants. If I managed to harvest a monster bull, I’d have to try for a bigger one next season. Same with a 10-pound walleye, or a crafty old gobbler. But because I’m average, I don’t have to worry about such things. Because I’m average, I’m off the hook. I’m not a slave to the pressure of extreme achievement. 

Of course, I want to be the best average person I can be, so I’ll work on my knot tying. And I’ll practice my fly presentation until I can float that 22 dry down to barely kiss the water’s surface.

My question is, if most of us are average, why do we pretend we’re not? In the fly fishing world it’s okay to idolize greats such as Steve Rajeff or Lefty Kreh. If we’re bow hunters, it’s okay to droll over the success of Fred Bear or Eva Shockey. If big ‘eyes put us in a trance, we might look up to a champion professional walleye fisherman like Tommy Skarlis. But such folks aren’t average, poor souls. And so I wonder if they ever reach contentment. There are plenty of stories of high achievers who committed suicide when their arrival at success really didn’t satisfy and they asked themselves, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

My point: Most of us are average, and that’s just the way it is. So next time you blow a cast, tag a jake instead of a granddaddy tom, or settle for meat in the freezer instead of a wall ornament, remember that it’s okay to be average.

So what do you think? Is it okay to be average? What other advantages do average people have? Leave a comment and let us know!

Sometimes You Win, and Sometimes You Lose

“Whitetail Buck Walking Tail Up” by ForestWander (http://www.forestwander.com/), licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 United States

Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’m carrying a rifle or a fly rod. Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’m hunting a well-used deer trail or sneaking up on a fishy bit of water. It’s the same feeling every time.

It’s the feeling of anticipation. Will I meet up with the deer that left those tracks? Or is there a hungry fish beneath the surface of that water?

I was immersed in anticipation on a whitetail hunt last season as I cut across a patch of mature forest and intersected my favorite deer trail, a funnel along the edge of a thick tangle of replant that followed a logging operation of about 20 years ago. The deer trail roughly skirts a line between the mature forest and the regrowth. Visibility is sometimes limited to 20 feet. Consequently, hunting this trail is done more by sound than sight due to the thickness of the terrain. Although it’s tough hunting, over the years I’ve taken a number of nice bucks here.

So I was anticipating great things as I cut the deer trail and began sneaking along its length. I’d gone maybe 75 yards when I heard the pounding of running hooves on the trail just ahead of me. At this point the trail bends around an exceptionally brushy patch about 20’ away. I readied my rifle. Around the brush came a beautiful rutting buck running full bore just a foot or so behind a hot doe. The pair were on the trail and running straight toward me as I stood on the trail. I had maybe a second to shoot. As doe hunting is off the table in this area, I was forced to find a clear shot at the buck without hitting the doe. A head shot was out of the question, as his head was lowered and his nose was buried you-know-where. The result? I picked a shot and missed, then jumped off the trail before I got run over by a testosterone-fueled buck. Oh well, I thought, I’ve got another week of hunting ahead of me, so I’ve got plenty of time left to fill my tag.

Wrong: I came down with a bad bug the next day and spent the rest of the season sick, sick, sick. The result was I put no venison in my freezer last season.

But I refused to be discouraged. Life happens: Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. We never know what a day will bring, let alone the next hour. No sense wasting time wondering whether or not the thing that just happened to us was good or bad. Doesn’t matter. We don’t have time for that. We might have to accept defeat sometimes, but we don’t have to live at that address.

Your thoughts? I’d welcome your comment. Just tap/click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this blog.

I AM

Mission Mountains above Flathead Lake, Western Montana. Copyright Mike L. Raether

I’m enthusiastic about many outdoor pursuits, but my first passion is fly fishing. For some reason I feel closer to God while working out a fly line and floating down a bit of fluff and feather to kiss the surface of sparkling waters. Of course, I realize that just because I feel closer to God at those special times doesn’t mean He isn’t just as close at other times.

When God sent Moses to Egypt to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery thousands of years ago, Moses asked God, “Who shall I say is sending me?” God replied, “Tell them I AM WHO I AM has sent you.” This prompted me to do a little Bible study —

I found that “I AM WHO I AM” translates a word in the original text, actually a name, which basically means “I am He who exists, is, and will be.”

In my words God told Moses, “Tell them the eternal, self existent One has sent you.”

If you know the story of Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus, you remember that Moses went to Egypt and led his people out of slavery, but he certainly didn’t have a very easy time of it.

I got to thinking about that phrase, “I AM.” I remembered that God is not just present in the outdoors, but in all the experiences in life.

  • I AM.
  • I am present.
  • I am present in your sickness, and I am present in your health.
  • I am present in your weakness, and I am present in your strength.
  • I am present in your grief, and I am present in your joy.
  • I am present in your groaning, and I am present in your salvation.
  • I am present in your poverty, and I am present in your prosperity.
  • I am present in your defeats, and I am present in your victories.
  • I am present in your tears, and I am present in your laughter.
  • I am present in your fears, and I am present in your faith.
  • I am present in your doubts, and I am present in your confidence.
  • I am present in your play, and I am present in your work.
  • I am present when you sleep, and I am present when you awake.
  • I am present in your past, I am present in your present, and I am present in your future.
  • I am present.
  • I AM.

Care to share your thoughts? If you like, you can leave your views by clicking the “Leave a Comment” button under the title of this blog.

Just Launch It

It’s called a boat launch, which might give you an idea of what it’s there for. But rather than talk about what it is, it might be better to talk about what it isn’t.

First off, it’s not a place to park your boat while you rig up your rod. Second, it’s not a place to park your boat while eating a sandwich. Third, it’s not a place to park while you scratch your backside. In short, the launch isn’t your personal parking spot. It’s called a “boat launch” because it’s supposed to be used to launch your boat, not rig your rod, eat your lunch, or scratch your butt.

To avoid the ire of the guy behind you who’s waiting his turn to launch (that cranky guy who just invited you to have a drink of water even though you’re not thirsty), check these tips to get you out of the way of crabby dudes –  

  1. Remove your tie downs, but do have a safety bow line attached.
  2. Have your fenders in place if using.
  3. If your boat uses them, place your oars in their locks.
  4. Have your ice chests, boat bags, rods, anchors, electronics and such on board and already situated on your boat.
  5. Oh, yeah, did you put the plug in?

Now that you know all this (or in case you already knew), you’ve earned the right to pass along this valuable knowledge to the guy in front of you who’s hogging the ramp. Unless, of course, he’s the cranky type who might invite you to have a drink of water even if you’re not thirsty. In which case, just get ready to launch. 

Okay, so I’m a crabby curmudgeon. Got anything to add? Just click “Leave a Comment” under the title of this blog article.

Montana’s Boulder Lake Yields Fat Cutts

Great fishing prospects sometimes overshadow great fishing prospects. For example, to experience the exceptional fishing for westslope cutthroat trout in northwest Montana’s Upper Boulder Lake (aka Boulder Lake #1), you first have to ignore the Kootenai River’s tempting rainbows as you drive north from Libby, then refrain from rubbernecking the many enticing bays and inlets of Lake Koocanusa. But your rewards for staying the course are Boulder Lake’s high-mountains solitude and cooperative cutthroat that come at the modest price of an easy 2-mile backcountry hike.

Jeff Talbert nets a good one from Boulder Lake #1

I backpacked into Boulder Lake last September with my friend Jeff Talbert, right after a hard frost had made flying trout food scarce. After launching my backpack boat, I hooked, netted, and released fish after fish up to 16 inches long, using a size 12 Royal Wulff, my mountain lake dry fly of choice unless I catch a hatch. Talbert, new to the sport, had packed his new fly rod, and the fast fishing provided the perfect opportunity to get him hooked on fly fishing. I encouraged him to take a turn in the boat and fling a dry fly. He soon found himself attached to trout after trout. Another convert to fly fishing. For variety, we also tried subsurface fishing and enjoyed excellent results using Bigg’s Sheep Creek Specials and brown Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymphs, both in size 12.

I encouraged Talbert to fish to his heart’s content. But I actually started feeling a little guilty about all the trout I’d caught, even though I’d released them. How many fish does a guy need to catch? With a mortality rate of close to 5 percent for trout caught and released, I figured I’d killed two trout. I once met a fly fisher at a mountain lake and asked him about the fishing. He said it was pretty good and smiled as he told me how many trout he’d caught. I asked if he’d kept any to eat. “No,” he said. “I made my peace with trout a long time ago.” So have I, I thought. I’m at peace with eating a couple from a lake so richly populated, and they are a treat, especially cooked over a campground grill.

Given the ease of the hike into Boulder Lake, I expected company. However, only one other fisher made the trek, and he didn’t stay long. It’s a good thing I didn’t run into him later, though, or he might have gotten a snootful of bear spray. Accidentally, of course. While poking along the shoreline, I saw where he’d cleaned his catch and left the guts lying on a fallen log. There are few better ways to attract bears to your camp than leaving fish guts lying around. Northwest Montana is grizzly country, so Talbert and I bagged our food and hung it at night. Maybe I’m just cranky, but I’d rather not have a furry midnight visitor in my camp.

Fly fishing from shore is challenging at Boulder Lake. The shoreline is brushy, which makes anything but a roll cast difficult. In addition, the lake is mesotrophic, which translates to a soft bottom and substantial weed growth far out into the lake. A two-handed 5-weight rod would be an asset here. A better option is to pack in some type of floating device. Once out on the lake in my backpack boat, I found my 3-weight to be ideal.

To reach Boulder Lake #1, follow State Route 37 north from Libby. Continue 54 miles, and cross the bridge spanning Lake Koocanusa. After crossing the bridge, turn north onto Yaak Valley–Libby Dam Road (named Forest Service Road 228 on the USDA Rexford and Fortine Ranger District map) and continue about 3 miles. Turn south on Forest Service Road 337 and drive about 11 miles, then continue about a mile on Forest Service Road 7183 to the trailhead on the right. Forest Service Road 7229 is gated at the trailhead, and is actually part of the trail.

Now: Go do it with a fly!

(This article appeared in the May/June, 2018 issue of Northwest Fly Fishing magazine. If you’re interested in learning more about mountain lake fishing in Montana, you might consider my new book, Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes. The book is also available from Wilderness Adventures Press, Amazon, and Google Play)

Do the Clark

The Big Hole. The Madison. The Gallatin. The Jefferson. The lower Clark Fork. Their names fall from a trout fisherman’s lips with awe and reverence. But wait – the lower Clark Fork? What’s THAT name doing in the company of this short list of the exalted “blue ribbon” trout streams of Montana? I’m glad you asked me that question!

Oh, yeah!

At first glance, the section of the lower Clark Fork from the about the town of Superior to the Ferry Landing boat launch about 12 miles downstream from St. Regis on MT 135 can be intimidating. The river is big and broad, draining as it does most of Western Montana. But when you take a closer look, you’ll notice the typical back eddies, seams, riffles, and pocket water that make trout fishermen drool. Combine these with trout that will stretch a tape from 12- to 18-inches on the average, and you have the stuff that legendary trout rivers are made of. 

But the trout here aren’t pushovers. A seam that looks promising may not host any fish, but the next seam might be alive with rises. This is what makes this section of the Clark Fork not only challenging, but downright fun. It’s more like hunting than fishing, as the fish tend to hang out in pods rather than swim more or less evenly distributed throughout the river. 

This portion of the Lower Clark Fork is a drift-boater’s dream, as there are no rapids to speak of. A little faster water, but no rapids. Shore access is good from about Mile Post 3 on Montana’s scenic Highway 135 most of the way to the Ferry Landing boat launch and even beyond. 

Best of all (I think) the lower Clark Fork is a river where flies out-fish hardware and bait many times over (see my post Do it on the Fly). Recommendation dries start with March Browns early in the season, Green Drakes, Blue Wing Olives, caddis, Adams, then hoppers (!), and finishing off the season with Mahogany Duns. If nothing’s happening on top, hang on an indicator and go below with nymphs such as the Prince and Pheasent Tail.

If you decide to give the lower Clark Fork a chance, you might want to stop by Joe Cantrell Outfitting for the latest fishing info or to schedule a guided float trip or shuttle. From the town of Superior on down, boat launches with concrete ramps include Big Eddy, Dry Creek, St. Regis, and Ferry Landing. For detailed info regarding these launches, log onto Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. If you’d rather try the area’s mountain lakes, you might be interested in my book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes.

Now go do the fly thing.

Flyfisher’s Guide to NW Montana’s Mountain Lakes

How about taking your fly rod on a hike into Montana’s  backcountry and catching wild mountain trout? Or maybe you’d prefer  reading about it while relaxing in your recliner? Maybe you want to both read up and plan that self-guided fly fishing trip into the remote mountainous areas of the Last, Best Place?

If you find yourself in one of the above groups, (or somewhere between) you might enjoy my new book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes soon to be released in print by Wilderness Adventures Press. The first 40 or so pages contain valuable information for fly fishers from beginners to experts, including tackle info, backcountry navigation, guidance on how to rig up for backpacking, tips for camping in bear country, information about using goats as pack stock, and much more. The remainder of the book is dedicated to individual reports on some of the best mountain lakes of Northwest Montana, including driving directions, trail info, GPS coordinates, and best-in-class maps by Wilderness Adventures Press. You can sample it as an e-book online  at Amazon and Google Play, and purchase it there if you like. Or you can buy a signed print copy here.

The online samples will give you a peek at the first 40 or so pages, but I thought you also might want to see a sample lake report from the book. So with permission from the publisher, here ya go –

Trail Lake

GPS:  

Trailhead: 47.00634, -115.01147

Lake: 47.00603, -115.04137

Summary: Probably the best eastern brook mountain lake in Mineral County, Trail Lake covers about 12 fishy acres.

Location: 17 miles south-southwest of the town of Superior

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle Illinois Peak (for reference only—trail to Trail Lake not shown on topo map). USDA Forest Service map Lolo National Forest, Superior Ranger District; DeLorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, page 52; Benchmark Montana Road and Recreation Atlas, page 61

Elevations:

Trailhead: 4,723 feet

Lake: 5,740 feet

Round-Trip Hike: 4.4 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Sometimes you just hit the jackpot, and the jackpot in this case was fat, feisty, eastern brook averaging 10 to 12 inches.

Knowing that mountain trout don’t usually get up early, I didn’t arrive at the trailhead and start my hike on a bright and lovely July morning until 11 a.m. The forecast was for light and variable winds and a sunny afternoon in the low 80s. Nice.

I took my time hiking in, enjoying my time on the trail just as much as the prospect of sampling a new lake. It was two p.m. by the time I arrived at Trail Lake, unpacked, and inflated my little boat. My hiking partner for the day had arrived at the lake before me and was already out on the lake fishing and catching fish. He kept hollering, “Got another one, Mike! Got another one! Hurry up and get out here!”

But I’m never in a hurry when I’m in the mountains. I want to savor every moment. So with my friend still hollering, “Got another one!” I found a comfortable perch on a log, shared a PBJ with my poodle, and had a cool drink.

After lunch, I rigged up double flies on my 3-weight with a size 16 green foam beetle and a size 14 Royal Wulff as the caboose. I walked my boat down to the lake shore and eased it into the lake. Just then a mayfly hatch exploded.

Suddenly there were mayflies everywhere: in the air, on the water, landing on my boat, my shirt, and my dog. I pulled out a fly box and searched for something to imitate the hatch. I found a size 16 Callibaetis (mayfly) spinner with a green thorax. The color wasn’t a match to the hatch, but the size was right on. Remembering that size is more important than color, I hurriedly clipped off the Royal Wulff, replaced it with the mayfly spinner, and shoved off.

My first two casts didn’t produce, but after that it was cheesecake. I had two takes in a row on the mayfly spinner, but I foul-hooked both fish. Thus began a lesson in flyfishing adaptability.

I removed the beetle, replaced it with the spinner for a one-fly setup, and settled my offering a few feet from shore. Trout were rising all around the fly, but they ignored the spinner. Try something different, I thought. I gave the fly line a little tug to sink the fly and started a slow, stripping retrieve. Fish on.

I landed and released the fish and figuring the fly was too slimed up to float, I decided to send it back to work. But after I double-hauled the line back out, the darn bug dried out and floated. No takers. Once again I tugged the line to sink the fly and repeated the slow retrieve. Bam. Fish on.

Okay, you idiots, I thought, you want it wet, I’ll give it to you wet. I retrieved the fly and clipped off the white spinner wings which were drying out and causing the fly to float. I sealed the deal by dousing the fly in sinkum.

I sent the fly back on the job with a smug smile. This time it sank. I repeated the retrieve. This time no fish. Another cast. No fish. Hmmm. I retrieved the line.

I sat in the boat thinking for a moment as a gentle breeze nudged me along the shore. What had I learned so far?

1. They want it wet.
2. They want the white.

I had one of those “light-bulb-over-the-head” moments.

I clipped off the mutilated fly and tied on another identical to the first. After a good soak in sinkum, I sent the fly on mission. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. And so it went as long as the mayfly hatch lasted. Ahh…. Sometimes you just hit the jackpot.

Getting There

From Interstate 90 at the town of Superior, take Exit 47, travel east on FR 250, which is also named Diamond Match Road and later becomes Trout Creek Road. Continue about 17 miles from Superior to FR 7813 and turn right (north). At 1.9 miles, turn south (left) on FR 388. Follow FR 388 about 1 mile to the trailhead for Trail 256. The trailhead is not signed, but it starts just before you cross the bridge over the North Fork of Trout Creek.

Caution: That last mile on FR 388 is kind of nasty. You won’t need four-wheel drive, but forget it if you’re driving a Corvette.

The Hike

For the most part, the trail follows the course of an old mining road. In fact, as I started the hike I asked myself, What’s a nice trail like you doing in a place like this? The trail ascended gradually until it crossed the North Fork of Trout Creek and then the switchbacks began. When I came to the switchbacks I asked myself, What’s a nice fisherman like you doing on a trail like this? However, the switchbacks marked the final ascent and only climbed about 0.25 mile to the lake.

Camping

There are a few very nice but primitive campsites at the lake.