All posts by jedfitzpatrick

Tarpon and Bones: Andros Island, Bahamas

andros island bahamasDreams have a way of nudging themselves into reality, only if one truly believes and follows up on them.  The Bahamas have been on my radar for many years, but always out of reach for one excuse or another.  Not anymore.  A chance meeting at Jackson Hot Springs with Craig and Lia Jones of Great Divide Outfitters two months ago began turning this dream into action with the invitation of a lifetime. Planning a month with clients in Andros Island, Bahamas, Craig and Lia selflessly extended an extra bed due to a cancellation, if I could just figure out how to get there.  Three days of contemplation, my main man Chris Rockhold and I pulled the trigger on what has now become an experience of a lifetime: fly fishing Andros.

andros island bahamas bonefishingBased out of Fresh Creek on the Eastern shores of the Island, our fishing journey began the moment we arrived, wading flats within the protective confines of Fresh Creek.  Not a creek by our Montana standards, this water is tidal and expansive, covering tens of square miles of flats heading inland deep into the island.  Bonefish live here year round and stay inland even at the lowest tides, making for consistent targets anytime of day at any tide.  On clear days, one can spot these ghosts of the flats from safe casting distances, say 60-70 feet.  When the clouds come, good luck.  You can damn near step on a ten pound fish and the only indication is an explosive wake screaming off like a blown bull elk in the timber.

photo 2 (3)Oceanside flats are more affected by tides and wind, but the expansiveness is mind boggling when the tide is low and wadeable.  Chris and I toured the Andros backcountry several times, wandering off for miles upon miles of ankle to knee deep flats filled with bones, Carribean lobsters, starfish, conchs, sharks, and barracudas.  Pack plenty of water and a little grub, keep a close eye on the tide so you don’t get stranded, and let your legs take you to the horizon.  Always keep your eyes peeled for nervous water and those ghostly tails, often in water barely covering your ankles.  Every fish demands a different cast: lead them by a few feet if they’re moving, drop it on their head if they are tailing, always a slow long strip when they’re on your bug, and plenty of backing to absorb their mind bending runs.

andros island bahamas bonefishing tarpon fishingWhen Big Al LeFore says he has a tarpon connection, listen carefully. Al is a long time friend and mentor of mine living half time in Andros, and knows a good guide when he sees one.  There is a man named Tommy Kee, and I could dedicate an entire blog just to this guy, probably will.  Chris and I packed 7 rods to Andros, two of them 12 and 10 weight Thomas and Thomas’s with Bauer MX6’s holding the lines, and really didn’t know if we’d have the chance to use them.  Tommy gave us that chance and has forever branded memories into our minds, changing fly fishing forever as I know it.  Tarpon.

andros island bahamas bonefish and tarpon fly fishingTarpon are found mostly on the remote west side of Andros, and very few guides know their routines, habits, and locations. Tommy Kee has these behemoths wired, knowing their affinity’s of tide, feeding patterns, and behavior.  After motoring for over an hour and well over 20 miles of expansive ocean, we slipped into areas bulging with tarpon, permit, and countless bonefish.  Poling us stealthily into the falling tide, Tommy began blowing our minds with his ability to spot and identify fish from obscene distances.  Once we were all on point with the fish we had targeted, the game began with getting within the right distance and angle to make the shot.  With patience and excellent coaching strip for strip, Tommy instructed us to a pin point of what to do to make the eat happen.  Strip, stop, long strip, bump it, bump it, long strip, loooong, hit em! hit em!

andros island bahamas bonefish and tarpon fly fishingWords cannot explain the excitement and fervor of when a tarpon is interested in your bug, almost like a bugling bull elk coming close to a bowhunter, fire from his nostrils and eyes keen on your locale.  My legs shake thinking of my fish as he steadily approached my fly, peeling off from a daisy chain of three fish to come closer, closer, bump it, loooong strip, loooooooong!!, hit em!, HIT EM!!!!  And then all hell breaks loose!  Jumps unexplainable in power and speed, blistering runs with head thrashing jumps at 100 yards, then right back at you as you try to catch up on him, threatening to jump right into your boat.  Fifteen teeth gritting minutes later, if you’ve survived, and this eighty pound minnow is at your feet in the shallows, gulping air on the surface and planning another head thrash, your eighty pound shock tipped mangled from his sharp gill plates….

andros island bahamas bonefish and tarpon fly fishingAfter tarpon, I’m not real sure what comes next in this life of fly fishing.  I’m sure there is much more out there, but I think I don’t need to look much farther for a while.  After so many years in the north country with trout as my staple and steelhead as my adventure, this warm climate with backing burning fish and variety as far as the imagination allows is something to admire.  I never realized the potential of the salt, and how conducive to fly fishing the ocean actually is.  I guess I just thought of a big lake with lethargic fish sitting on structure, when in reality it is a vibrant flowing expanse of water and life, holding fish deep and hidden as well as shallow and visually target-able.  All of them powerful beyond belief, and as challenging as anything found in the fresh flowing rivers of Montana.

andros island bahamas bonefish and tarpon fly fishingandros island bahamas bonefish and tarpon fly fishing

 

 

Missouri River, Final Days

missouri river fallHoly cow! What a whirlwind of a season it has been this year!  A damn fine season of fishing, with many many days back to back for this dude.  From early spring on the ‘Root and Big Hole, to Salmonflies on Rock Creek and all the other western rivers, to the final fall wrap up on the Mighty Mo.  Jim and I have fished the Mo together now three years, and he is always the final adventure before we switch into hunt mode.  Hell, we fished through the opener of rifle season!  If that’s not some serious angling dedication I don’t know what is.  Oh yeah, steelhead are coming!!!  Until next trout season, my friends.  Look for some steel and birds in the future.  JF

Fall Hecubas and Mahoganies

Hecuba and mahogany hatch bitterroot riverWhen the skies look like this in September, best get the trailer hitched up and get downriver, quicklike!  Dark heavy days are the catalyst for exceptional mayfly emergences, and this time of year the Hecubas and Mahoganies are ready to pop, just give them a good reason.  We still have Tricos in the morning, though they could be some other little TMF, and they provide interesting target fishing first thing.

Hecuba and mahogany hatch bitterroot riverThe real deal comes later.  Midday when things warm up and if the weather isn’t too crappy, which sometimes can happen, the holy grail of mayflies may bless you with their presence.  On some days, which we witnessed once in a five day trip, the river went absolutely bat shit crazy with bugs, followed by the fish.  I made sure we were in some serious big fish water around the witching hour, and suddenly twenty to thirty pigs started slurping mayflies right before our eyes, slashing hard at the big duns.  Soon enough, it is all over and the river fades back to calm, time to row out.

Late Summer Days

bitterroot river guidesWe’re starting to see the signs of Fall here in the Bitterroot Valley, thank God!  It’s been an interesting summer, teetering on the edge of fire danger but dodging the bullet every time.  Roaring Lion blew up last month while we were floating the Wally Crawford section right adjacent.  Seeing a small plume of smoke, my front angler turned and asked “is that a fire?”  I said I hope not, and within 45 minutes all hell broke loose.  You can read about the rest of it from the real journalists, I’m just a fishing guide.

photo 2 (6)So fishing is pretty damn good in the mornings on tricos and the occasional big whack on a searching pattern.  On the cooler mornings we are having, we’re getting back to normal fishing hours, without having to be on the water pre-7am and can show up at a gentlemanly 8-9.  Traffic is low where we’ve been fishing, preferring the down river stretches this time of year to the upper canyon.

Bitterroot River July

bitterroot river guidesRight smack dab in the heart of the season is when the Bitterroot River sees it’s most consistent days, weather wise. Ha.  Fishing is great when and where you can find it, and playing the traffic game can really help this time of year.  I like to get out very early right now to avoid the crowds, relative term of course here in Montana, and get a move on the day before things heat up too much.  Fortunately, the weather has been very cooperative this summer, with plenty of moisture when we need it most and bearable temperatures.

first fishBug-wise any little dry fly will do the trick right now, and later in the afternoons we are seeing some crushing takes on hoppers and big uglies.  Some days the fishing can get slow, especially if several boats are in front of us pounding away at the water.  This is when I will switch tactics, and simply fish an outfit that they are not.  On most Montana rivers, this can be one hell of a good play, and the added traffic pressure forces you to fish a rig outside the usual box.  Streamers midday in low water?  Hell yes!  At least give it a roll and you never know, you may find the best fishing on the river.

Mid Summer Missouri

With all the running around the state this time of season, I always get the jitters when I’m scheduled for the Missouri River.  Never knowing what to expect, the Mo can be your best friend or your nemesis, depending which way the weather and conditions go.  Cool, cloudy, and calm, chances are we’re going to have a stellar trip hunting heads throughout the day.  Bright, high pressure, and breezy, who knows?

missouri river dry flyThis trip went off very well, even though the weather was not ideal.  My fishermen were long time friends that have fished many rivers in Montana with me, so we were able to get right to the point on this big river.  Right away Elliot set into a good fish with the boat ramp still below us, always a good sign from the gods.  Running the nymphs for the first half of the day, we hooked into a good many of the Missouri’s finest rainbows.

missouri river dry flyWith the ice broken, my crew and I switched almost entirely to dry flies for the next two days.  Certain banks were alive with rising trout, too random to target specifically, but if one put the right drift out front and left it the hell alone, these big bows would fall for it every time.  Sometimes it’s best to just get in the general area with the right offering, and let ‘er ride.  Even if you feel like you’ve passed the fish, just keep it riding high and cross your fingers, they’ll find it!

All About Montana

bitterroot river Mid summer is upon us, and on us quickly.  Just when I’m getting the hang of rainy days and 2x to my dry flies, the reality of late June and early July is here and it’s back to smaller bugs, shorter floats, and hot afternoons.  Fishing is holding up swell, as we’ve been having stellar days out there regardless of the Salmonfly hangover and a few 90 degree afternoons.

Missouri river sunsetThe last few weeks have been a blur as we guide throughout the state, covering hundreds of miles in just a few days then off to the next river and a new adventure.  We’ve run the Big Hole Tuesday and Wednesday then it’s off to Wolf Creek and the mighty Mo that night to guide Thursday morning.  Pick up the drift boat and roll down to the bridge to see what we can stir up, praying for a calm day.  Saturday eve the tent comes down, the Adipose goes home, and the big Yeti is hauled back in the rig, a quick stop at Trixi’s in Ovando for a burger and beer, then finally home for a real night’s sleep.  Kinda.  Because we have another one brewing up the next morning….And so it goes.

rock creek cuttFrom our local Bitterroot, to Rock Creek and beyond, it’s already been a wonderful summer of chasing sunsets and rising trout.  Fishing is good anywhere you go if you know how to play your cards, all you can do is give it a whirl and see how she goes.  Every river has a different character: some kind and gentle like the Bitterroot, some downright menacing at times like the Missouri.  All are absolute gems, and we are lucky to live in a place like Montana that has such abundance.

Montana Salmonfly Hatch: Rock Creek

salmon bugAh, yes!  The time is here, time for the big bug on the big water: stoneflies.  More specifically pteronarcys californica, the giant stonefly, or commonly known as the Salmon fly.  This almighty of bugs shows itself around mid May on main rivers throughout Montana and Idaho, but really goes nutso early June on the upper ends of pristine river systems such as Rock Creek, the Big Hole, Blackfoot, Madison, and many other clean rocky bottomed streams.

rock creek salmonfly hatchThis adventure led us to the world famous Rock Creek.  Though there are a multitude of Rock Creeks throughout the west, even a modest handful right here in the Bitterroot, there is only one Rock Creek to serious fly fishermen.  The Rock Creek flows from the north Pintlars and eastern Sapphires and flows due north till its confluence with the Clark’s Fork some 50 speedy miles later near Clinton, Montana.  We guide the upper sixteen miles only, as permits only held by a few outfitters control the lower forty.  So be it, the upper 16 is sweet.

rock creek salmonfly hatchThe Crick as we call it, has one of the earliest and most prolific Salmonfly hatches in Montana.  By early June we’re chomping at the bit for Skalkaho pass to open up so we can make the annual rumble over.  Chris and I hauled a long time client over recently to roll the crick with big bugs and fast action: hang on as the gradient of Rock Creek is unlike any other river we guide.  Left, right, back to the left, mend that sonofabitch, all in about fifteen seconds, and so the entire day goes.  When times are good, which they pretty much always are, fish are flying at your bug or at least snarfing up your favorite dropper off the dry fly.

rock creek salmonfly hatchSalmon fly is definitely here in Montana, the buzz is on, you can feel it in the conversations from Craig on the Mo, where I just came from, to the brewery in Hamilton, where I just came from.  My crew will be on the Big Hole, Bitterroot, and the occasional Rock Creek tour for the next few weeks.  Get in touch quick to get a spot fishing the hatch with us, before shes all over and its back to the little bugs of summer.

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!