Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing’ Category

Why Do You Fly Fish?

Why do you fly fish?

If you asked this question of 100 fly fishermen, you’d get 100 different answers.  Each of us has a unique motive, yet, I wager that none of the responders would reply, “ Because I like to catch fish”.

While “catching fish” is the obvious result we are all looking for, fly fishing aficionados seem to offer up elaborate reasons for their devotion.  Authors of books and articles on the subject seem particularly prone to these abstract descriptions.  I’ve read a lot of them.  My favorite – because it is closest to my feelings – was written by Robert Traver.

Robert Traver was the pseudonym of John Donaldson Voelker, a lawyer, a prosecuting attorney and, in his later years, a justice in the Michigan Supreme Court.  He authored several books, some with legal themes and some on fly fishing.  His most important book on the law was the best-selling courtroom drama, “Anatomy of a Murder”, which became an Oscar-nominated movie directed by Otto Preminger and starring James Stewart.

Travers’ book, “Trout Madness”, is a collection of short stories.  It is mytrout_madness1 favorite.  In this book, Traver wrote: 

“Successful fly fishing for trout is an act of high deceit; not only must the angler lure one of nature’s subtlest and wariest creatures, he must do so with something that is false and no good – an artificial fly. Thus fake and sham lie at the heart of the enterprise. The amount of Machiavellian subtlety, guile, and sly deception that ultimately becomes wrapped up in the person of an experienced trout fisherman is faintly horrifying to contemplate.”

In his book, “Anatomy of a Fly Fisherman”, Mr. Traver offers up his reason for being a fly fisherman, his “Testament of a Fisherman”:

“I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.”

Yeah, that’s kinda like I feel….


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I had just finished loading what seemed like half my possessions into my truck when my friend Chuck Robbins pulled into my driveway in his pickup.  Chuck nodded a “good morning” and quickly transferred his gear from his truck to mine.   It was 3 a.m., and I was still trying to convince my body that going back to bed was not an option.

Suddenly, we were off!  From high in the Idaho Panhandle, our route took us south to Coeur d’Alene, east on Interstate 90 to Missoula, Montana, then south and back into Idaho on U.S. Route 93, to the small town of North Fork, Idaho.  We were headed to the Salmon River, and we no longer felt sleep-deprived.  Now, we were stoked!

FR 30 Near Corn Creek

FR 030 Near Corn Creek

A journey to the River of No Return is on our calendar every August, where Corn Creek Campground becomes our home-away-from-home for a few days.  Located 40 miles west of the town of North Fork via Forest Road 030 (FR 030), the campground is the staging area for backcountry hiking treks, whitewater rafting/kayaking and fly fishing adventures on the Salmon River.  This mighty river is the main thoroughfare through the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the Continental United States.

Corn Creek Campground has 16 campsites with tables and fire rings.  It’s handicap accessible, has pit toilets and potable water.  Reservations are not accepted.  There is a $5.00/day fee.  If Corn Creek is full, other campgrounds can be found in the area.  Call the North Fork Ranger District at (208) 865-2700 for information or availability.

This Corn Creek area gets very busy in July and August.   That’s guaranteed.   I can’t recommend it earlier because of heart-pounding, high water.  September and part of October can be okay, but the weather is often changing quickly in those months.  I do remember, however, a mid-October day not many years ago when I hooked, landed and released scores of fish.  All of them came up to dry flies.

The Mighty Salmon River

The Mighty Salmon River

The Salmon River has its beginnings high in the mountains of central and eastern Idaho. It cuts through the gut of central Idaho for about 425 miles to its confluence with the Snake River on the Oregon-Idaho border.  For the fly fisherman, the river holds rainbow and cutthroat trout, steelhead and salmon, mountain whitefish and bull trout (actually a char), also known as the Dolly Varden.

These days, Chuck and I are “getting up there” age-wise, so we do most of our fishing for a mile or two upstream and downstream from the campground.  Most of our fly casting is done from the bank, although there are some spots we can wade.  We used to hike much further, but that gets a little tougher for us each year.   The river and surroundings are the best nature has to offer and the fish are wild.  It’s a hoot!

For dry flies, we usually rely on the Wulff series, the Humpy, Stimulators, Parachute Stones and Chernobyl Ants.  For subsurface, we toss Woolly Buggers in a variety of colors, marabou streamers, Zug Bugs and Bunny Leeches.  We have also had intermittent success with Bird’s Nest and  large Prince Nymphs.  A 6-weight, 9-foot rod works best, and you can get by with an 8-foot leader with a 4X tippet.

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As the leaves begin to fall from the trees here in the western United States, many fly fishermen leave the streams and unhappily turn to fly tying or some good books to make it through the cold times ahead.   That’s good….for me.   It opens up some superb stretches of water that had been uncomfortably crowded during warmer days.

Precious trout suck in nymphs throughout the winter months and, even better, will rise to attack a dry fly clear up until freeze-up.  It’s that cold weather dry fly fishing that I really enjoy.  Fishing is a little harder then, but in some ways, harder is better.

Shivering, select your fly....

Shivering, select your fly....

The rivers are lower and clearer now, the previous snow pack long-since depleted.  Fish have started moving into deeper holes and runs in anticipation of the impending winter.  The trout are more wary, having seen a plethora of feathered counterfeits and scores of clumsy fly fisherman all summer long.   Finally, the hatches – which there are few of – provide scant numbers of airborne naturals.

Tiny midges hatch during cold weather in most streams and a baetis (the blue-winged olive mayfly), and even a tardy caddisfly or two can make an appearance.  On the terrestrial side, a trout rarely ignores a beetle pattern or the deadly black ant.  At these times, even a small attractor pattern can bring up a hefty fish.

Bundle up, wade carefully and throw the book at those cunning rascals.  And, look around, Lucky One.   You have all the beauty nature can offer all to yourself.

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Mel Krieger Dies

Mel Krieger has passed away at home in his sleep on October 7, 2008.  Mel, who was 80 as I recall, was the finest fly casting teacher I ever knew  His classic book, “The Essence of Flycasting”, is a useful resource for the beginning or veteran fly fisherman.  The book is also available as a DVD. Mel taught me the double-haul many years ago.  Primarily a stream trout fisherman, I never used the technique until fishing a few years later off Christmas Island.  Thanks, Mel.  I had a guide who couldn’t get me close to the “bones“, and your instructions came in handy.  God bless you, Mel, and tight lines!

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Let’s take a snapshot look at some of the high-quality trout streams in Idaho.  I’ll try to cover all of them in this Idaho Blue Ribbon Series.

We start with Kelly Creek, the stream I consider perfect trout water – clear, clean water, pristine beauty, seclusion and lots of lively trout. Kelly is a tributary of the North Fork of the Clearwater River in the expansive Clearwater National Forest.  It’s not easy to get to, but is well worth the effort.  Really a river in spite of its name, Kelly Creek holds rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee, mountain whitefish and the native west slope cutthroat trout.

What To Try?  What To Try?

What To Try? What To Try?

The stream is presently open for fishing from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through November 30th.  No Winter season.  It is strictly a catch-and-release stream, requiring single, barbless hooks for any fishing method and allowing no bait.   Kelly Creek’s cutthroat population was all but wiped out by greedy fishermen in the 1960’s.  A tribute to the catch-and-release theory, the colorful native “cuts” have made a most remarkable comeback since that time, elevating Kelly Creek to its Blue Ribbon status.

A 5 or 6-weight rod in your preferred length is the perfect tool.  A floating fly line works well in most locations, although deeper pools call for a sinking tip.  I use 8’ to 10’ leaders tapered to 4X for dry fly fishing, but rarely go over 3’ with the sinking tip line.  The fish are not particularly leader-shy.  I like some old, stand-by flies on the Kelly.  For dries, I prefer Adams, Humpy, Wulff patterns and the Elk Hair Caddis in sizes 10 – 16, plus Hopper copies when they are timely.  My nymph selection always includes the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear and the Pheasant Tail in sizes 12 – 16.  I always give my old standby, the  Renegade,  a try, soaked and fished like a wet fly, and sometimes work small,  marabou streamers in the deeper pools.

Check out http://www.idaho-insider.com/kellycreekidaho.html for more Kelly Creek information and directions to this premium trout stream.  If you enjoy real fly fishing fun (and, who doesn’t?) give Kelly Creek a test.

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Joe W. Brooks was a special friend.

Brooks, the fishing editor of Outdoor Life Magazine when I knew him, was also the author of many books on fly fishing and fishing, in general.  To call Joe “an avid fly fisherman” would be a travesty…… When Joe passed away in 1972, I lost more than a friend.  I lost my favorite fishing buddy and my mentor – my fly fishing mentor and my life mentor.

There are many stories I can tell about my good friend, but the one I like to tell took place the very last time I fished with him.  It was July 1971, and Joe and his lovely wife, Mary, had come to stay with us in Oregon while Joe and I fished for 5 days to prepare a story for his magazine.

I did an outdoor show on the local television station, so when Joe and Mary arrived, I rushed him to the station to tape 3 segments for later use.  We returned to the house just in time for dinner, then chitty-chatted until 10 o’clock before retiring.  The next day,  we were scheduled to fish Hosmer Lake, a shallow water lake in Central Oregon.  Hosmer held planted Atlantic Salmon, an experiment by the fish and game folks.

The alarm was set for 5 am.  The master bedroom and the kid’s bedrooms were upstairs, while the guest bedroom – with Joe and Mary – was downstairs.  I awoke from a deep sleep at about 2 am and became aware of a bright light downstairs.  I crept down the stairs and found Joe in his pajamas sitting in the middle of the living room floor.  He was cleaning his fly lines and making adjustments to his fly reels!

Cripes, it was 2 o’clock and Joe was 70 years old!  Joe Brooks fished for a living, and he had fished many amazing waters all over the world for years.  But, you had to know Joe.  Despite his age and experience, he was as excited as a little kid knowing that we were going fishing!

Fly fishermen like to tell others that they are avid fly fishermen.  No one I’ve met was as avid as my special friend, Joe W. Brooks.

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I was only 8-years-old when my infatuation with fly fishing and tying trout flies began.  The first fly I tied was the Gray Hackle Peacock – a few red hackle fibers for the tail, a peacock herl body and a sparse grizzly hackle up front.  It was a simple and popular wet fly pattern of the day.   Even today, it’s one of my favorites.

Like many of the flies I tediously constructed in those early days, it took an hour or more to put it together using an illustration from a Herter’s catalog.  When completed, it looked somewhat like the catalog picture so it became a treasured addition to the skimpy fly selection I possessed in those early days.

I kept my trout flies – some handed down and some carefully tied – in a small, wooden box that my Grandmother gave me for that purpose.  The fly box had a special place on my cluttered nightstand.  Before falling asleep each night, I would admire each fly in my collection, especially that first Gray Hackle Peacock I had tied.

It was the beginning of an awkward love affair and a life-long journey.

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