Warm Weekend

PaulThis weekend’s predicted highs look great for getting out and doing a little winter fishing. The predicted winds, less so. It’s likely to be blowing hard down near Livingston. What should you do? One answer would be to fish today, when the winds are forecast to be only moderate (and a high of 44). Tell your boss that you’ve taken ill (“cabin fever”) and hit the Yellowstone River or one of the Paradise Valley spring creeks this afternoon. Bring your nymphing box and dredge some slower, deeper water. The other option? Head up high this weekend. The breeze is likely to be much weaker up at Point of Rocks, Carbella, or even above Yankee Jim Canyon. There’s plenty of open water right now to fish with nymphs or dead-drifted streamers. Rubberlegs, red, black or chartreuse Copper Johns, Lightning Bugs, smaller Wooly Buggers or Zonkers…. You’ll likely see me somewhere up that way on Sunday. I’ve got some sample flies I need to test. The hard work never ends!

Yellowstone River Pipeline Spill – The Good and The Bad

By now, you’ve likely heard about the massive oil pipeline leak that occurred on the Yellowstone River a couple of days ago. Eerily reminiscent of the spill that happened a few years back, this one dumped approximately 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone (according to the pipeline company). Montana governor Steve Bullock has declared a state of emergency, and agencies are scrambling to begin what promises to be a long and difficult cleanup effort.

The good news (for us, at least)? The spill occurred out east of Billings, far downstream of any of the trout-holding stretches of the Yellowstone River. It won’t affect the river’s famed blue ribbon trout fishing. Not at all.

The bad news? I hardly need to tell you that an oil spill of this magnitude is bad. Bad for the river and its denizens; bad for local residents. Our best wishes go out to the people and wildlife of the lower Yellowstone River! Let’s hope that the long-term effects are relatively minor.

Dry Fly Surprise

It’s been a weird week. After a November autumn that gave us arctic air and temperatures in the negative teens, it seems as though Mother Nature has thrown us a December holiday bone.

As I type this from the Sweetwater Fly Shop desk, the windows reveal bright sunshine and warmth approaching 50 degrees. The snow is nearly gone in Paradise Valley, and it feels more like the advent of spring than the precipice of winter.

The warming trend has made me think of fishing rather than hunting lately. And that led my wife, Ruthann, and me to schedule a day at DePuy’s Spring Creek on Friday.

It took me a while to find my fishing stuff; a sad commentary on exactly how much time has passed since my last fishing trip. But the rods, waders, fly boxes, vests, and other items that make our sport so interesting (see expensive in the dictionary) eventually came together. I even narrowly avoided leaving the house sans fly reels.

It was calm and cloudy during our short drive to DePuy’s. But as soon as we began to wader-up the dreaded “W” made its presence known. You should never say the “W” word out loud during a fishing trip, lest it hear you and show itself. And just writing the word “wind” here makes me pretty sure that my next several trips are now doomed to blow.

Wind makes it difficult to cast with distance. Difficult to cast with accuracy. Difficult to get drag-free drifts. But most importantly, wind seems to inhibit fish from rising. This is especially true with hatches of small aquatic insects. I’ve long surmised that trout have difficulty seeing the bugs on the surface of water that’s being rippled by wind.

I was struggling to grasp my wader’s right suspender strap as a strong wind gust made it flutter beyond reach, when I noticed something along the far bank. A small grassy peninsula jutted out from the bank, and it created a wind-protected zone below it about a two feet wide and six feet long. There were tiny olive sailboats flowing through this calm zone–mayflies. And trout were rising to eat them.

I’d like to tell you that the fishing was epic, one of the best trips of my life. But it wasn’t. The wind made it tough, and occasionally, the sun would peak through the clouds and the fish would stop rising even when there was a break in the wind.

After an all too brief flurry, the mayflies dwindled, and the water’s surface was relegated to a few midges. Rise forms diminished from near constant to sporadic. But not before we each caught several December dry fly trout with size 20 CDC Compara-duns. And that was a pleasant surprise.

It was autumn’s departing gift; one with a short expiration date. Because it’s only mid December, and the warmth is just visiting. The long winter is nearly here.

Winter Fishing

Depuy's RainbowThe unseasonably warm weather has me thinking about getting out for a bit of December fishing fun! With that in mind, just thought I’d share a few words that I penned a little while back on the subject of fly fishing in the Winter months:

When the temperatures are in the negative, it’s hard to think about fishing. And maybe that’s a good thing (see Suggestion #1). But at some point, cabin fever sets in, it warms up, and some of us feel the need to get out on the water. At least for a few minutes, if only to say we fished in December.

Suggestion #1: Enjoy the seasonality of fishing. Take a break. Sit in front of a fire with a mug of hot chocolate (spiced up with a little rum, if that’s your style) and tie up some killer patterns for next spring and summer.

BonefishSuggestion #2: Book yourself a fishing trip to somewhere warm and exotic. Bahamas, Belize, Brazil…. Make some memories that will last a lifetime.

Suggestion #3: Spend a day on one of the Paradise Valley spring creeks. Winter rates are very affordable ($40 per angler) and the near-constant water temperatures ensure that the fish keep eating and that your toes are less likely to go numb. It’s primarily a nymphing game this time of year. Small midge and mayfly patterns, scuds, etc…. Leave the big pink bobbers and heavy split-shot at home. We like small pinch-on foam indicators, especially in white, and tiny (if any) weights. If you go on a warmer, cloudy day, you may see some fish rising to midges, so be sure to have some midge dries and emergers in your box. Stop in to any of the local fly shops and they’ll be happy to help you out with flies and advice.

Suggestion #4: If you must, you must. Fish the Yellowstone, that is (or one of the other local freestones). If you can find some ice-free water, you can usually find fish. With the cold water temperatures, the fish will tend to congregate in slower, deeper water. Tie on a double nymph rig under an indicator, with plenty of weight, and try to hit them right on the nose. They won’t move far for food. Try a bigger, dark stonefly nymph with something a little flashy as a dropper (e.g., Copper John, Lightning Bug). Zebra Midges are another effective dropper. If you catch a trout, keep fishing the same spot; the fish tend to “pod up” this time of year. And for goodness sakes, be careful out there. Watch for thin shelf ice that may protrude out over deep water. If you start to feel light-headed (or heaven forbid, fall in or get wet), retreat to a warm place immediately. Hypothermia can set in quickly, especially when you’re concentrating hard on the fishing. And remember, it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t grit it out for “just one more cast.” See Suggestion #1.

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