Project Healing Waters

bitterroot river guidesOff to another valley and a brand new adventure, these three days found me on the Big Hole river guiding a Project Healing Waters trip for the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River.  For those that don’t know about this program, it is for veterans of our armed forces to give them a chance to experience the outdoors and heal from years on our front lines.  These guys are the real deal, having served our country valiantly and unselfishly in foreign lands far away from family and friends, and definitely a long ways from blue ribbon trout water.

bitterroot river guidesWill and Randy were my troops, and they ate up all the lessons I could throw at them for our trip.  More comfortable with an M16 or an M1 Abrams tank than a fly rod, we had to slowly build up confidence and technique with the fishing to get these guys up to speed.  Backcasts, line control, mending, setting fish, fighting fish, and a myriad of other subjects were addressed on our daily floats as we cruised many miles of the famous Big Hole river.

bitterroot river guidesBy our third day, these boys could chuck a streamer or drop a double nymph set into any bucket on the river, finding good fish at will rather than by luck.  I took them down the Dewey canyon and partway through the Melrose canyon, some of the hardest and quickest water on that river.  Using those previous two days of instructions and beatings to our advantage, this quick water was filled with willing fish and the casts were on target and fished proper.  With solid technique, fish came to hand readily and snag ups and screw ups were minimal, the three of us having a blast and talking hunting, fishing, war games, and how to properly demolish an enemy railroad.  Good shit!

project healing watersThank you to our veterans and active service members for all that you’ve done for this great country, here and overseas.  These guys are regular Joes, just like you and me, but have taken an oath to defend our country and gone through some serious shit because of that oath.  Whether you support our country’s decisions as per warfare or not, these men and women have selflessly upheld the values we Americans take way to easily for granted, and they deserve our honor and respect, and maybe even a stud brown trout or Big Hole sunrise sometimes!  Thanks guys…  Jed

Dad and Lad

bitterroot river guidesSome of our favorite trips are with father/son groups, helping both Dad and Lad to hone their fly fishing skills, and giving Dad a much needed rest at coaching the youngster.  We’ve got this!  Youngsters respond well to patient guiding,  listening with full attention to the lessons we teach.  With a clean slate to work on, good guidance will stick like glue to an interested lad, as long as the lessons are simple and straightforward.

bitterroot river guidesSo off on another ten mile float of the Bitterroot, I started these two in excellent water, albeit very quick with the spring thaws.  I worked quickly and efficiently with the youngster, keeping the lessons useful and to the point.  Being  avid fishermen in the Northeast already, both Dad and son picked up our Montana style quickly, putting those lessons to work immediately on the river.

bitterroot river guidesBy midday, we were a well oiled machine, making great casts and drifts to many hungry trout, and with proper fish fighting techniques many strong fish came to our net.  By our day’s end, both my fishermen had experienced nymph fishing, dry fly, and even a good amount of streamer chucking, catching fish on almost every discipline of river fly fishing.  These are lessons which will stick, as these techniques are applicable across many types of fly fishing situations, regardless if it’s Montana or Vermont.  Thanks to those Dads out there for bringing those wee lads into our boats and letting us plant the seeds to our future fly fishermen!

Missouri River Baetis Hatch

Missouri river baetis hatchFinally the Missouri is back to her old self for the spring/summer season, meaning some real bugs are peeling off the river and creating some excellent fishing.  Not easy fishing, mind you, but excellent nonetheless if you are willing to put up with some serious weather and make that cast twenty more times before you get it perfect. Which is what Don and I did for three long, cold, windy, and rainsoaked days based out of Wolf Creek.

Missouri river baetis hatchFortunately on the Mo, when the weather goes to shit the bugs go nuts, which may be the only positive at times on that cruel river.  Eventually those big trout heads can’t resist ten million Baetis popping at once and start feeding on the surface somewhere, though the chop on the water makes finding them difficult.  With lots of flats, riffles, back eddies, and channels, finding these fish is a matter of searching that endless river for the areas that will produce today, and definitely not always the same lie from day to day.

Missouri river baetis hatchIn between spotting risers, the nymph game fished stellar at times for us.  Finding the right bug and setting depth and weight was crucial, but once we solved the riddle those big bows were ready and eager to eat.  Our final day was our best: good weather, only a couple hours of gale force wind, a damn good emergence of baetis and march browns, and heavy rising rainbows in a few riffles later in the day.  Find them and they’ll eat right now, on the first good drift.

 

Leviathan

bitterroot river guidesIt’s been a while since I’ve been involved in a catch and release of this magnitude, and just being near this fish is an honor.  Our good man Jim hooked onto this hen brown trout at the end of an excellent long day of streamer fishing, Chris rowing him as a single on day two of the trip.  Steve and I were sipping beers downstream in the same run, content with our good fortune of fishing for the day.  We heard some shouts and figured something good, or really bad, had occurred.  Stroking quickly downstream with Jim hunched over the bow holding the net, they pulled up mumbling with excitement and dropped anchor.  Chris finally spatted out, Leviathan!, and I understood immediately.

Merle Big BrownThese fish are once in a lifetime to many, and some of us guides are lucky enough to see a few in a career.  Springtime and early summer on good water years gives someone the best shot at a fish like this, covering many miles throwing the junk or rolling big stoneflies under a bobber.  My biggest client fish was a couple inches less than this girl, and amazingly ate a salmon fly dry during late June.  That’s been over five years now, and I’ve personally witnessed only one other fish of this caliber, caught on a san juan a few years back by a fellow guide’s client.  No camera on that one sad to say.:((

bitterroot river guidesOur springtime fishing has been excellent this season, with lots of little dinkers like this one.  Just kidding, this fish taped 19″ but after Jim’s legit 28 incher the scale got a bit screwed up.  The rest of our prior fishing for two days was grand, albeit big water and lots of cast with the big rods.  Little dry fly activity was happening, though when your catching solid fish every few runs underneath and having a blast why bother?  Keep that elbow in, power up the backcast, and let that puppy fly!  This is the time of year to suit up for bear, and get out on the big water with us.