28
Jul 22

My Mad Idaho Adventure

I’m just back from a grand adventure. I towed my raft from the SF Bay Area to Idaho and drifted the S. Fork Snake River from Palisades Creek to Byington, covering ~37 miles of river over three days/two nights, camping along the way, with two other anglers/friends (John and Mark).

The trip ticks many boxes on the “epic adventure” checklist:

  • ~1900 miles of road covered
  • Drove through 3 Western States
  • ~37 miles of river covered
  • New, renowned river fished

This sort of adventure has long legs… the stories will persist from here on until my memory fades. Things I saw, things I did, the conversations, the friendships deepened, the fishing… I’ll carry it with me for a long, long time. I love these epic adventures, be it a trip to East End Lodge to pursue bonefish in calf-deep Bahamian flats, or rowing a legendary Western river in search of giant cutthroat and browns.

To be clear, this trip really was madness. This fact started to come into focus about mile 4 when the immensity of the task ahead started to sharpen. I had rowed about 4 miles in the previous year and somehow I thought “Sure, I’ll row 27 miles… nah, make it 37.” I mean… what was I thinking? I did it… and we didn’t die… so, I COULD do it… but there were certainly times I was questioning my sanity. It felt like I bit off more than I could chew, but I didn’t choke on any of it and we made it safely down the river. My hands are a bit swollen and I have a few blisters, but that’s a small price to pay for what we got.

The craft that took us down the river, on the kit trailer that somehow survived the trip.

I had never fished the Snake and I’m unsure if I’d ever even seen it in person before. I had been thinking about it ever since I got the raft (Outcast PAC 1300), but it was a conversation with guide Kris Kennedy that pushed me to do it. From there, it went fairly fast as I collected gear, put the crew together and planned the route. Before I knew it was was pushing off and the river currents were taking us down river.

The way you have something in your head never maps totally to the experience and there is a certain danger in high expectations.

Our first day on the river was rough as we were figuring things out. We just weren’t fishing this great water very well and I’m sure if we went with a guide we would have all had fish-weary arms, but that isn’t how it shook out. We got to camp having covered 15 miles in a monster first day and we had very, very few fish between us. At camp I managed a couple more, including a nice brown I took a bit after the sun went down that was crushing salmon flies about two inches off the bank. That was a little shard of what I thought we’d be doing the whole time.

John’s Brown

Day two was a canyon day where we saw, roughly, 9 billion eagles. If you threw a rock in the canyon section there was a not-small-probability you’d hit an eagle. We saw both Balds and Goldens and they were with us the whole way.

We had our best fishing of the trip on this day, but it was also much different that what I expected. What I thought we’d have was consistently decent fishing along the drift, but what we actually had were a few spots where we got out of the raft and had great fishing in small spots/slots/buckets. We never really put it together in the raft as I think we had conflicting ideas about what was going to be effective and just needed more time to gel as a crew. Out of the boat though, we could throw what and how we wanted and that worked.

So, our productive water went from 37 miles to a hundred yards. That, I think, isn’t how it is supposed to fish, but that’s how it worked for us. That hundred yards was pretty cool.

We ran into the tail end of the salmon flies on the Snake and that was… fun. At one point there were so many of the big stones out there they were dropping from the trees and bushes onto the water where the trout awaited and any cast up along the bank stood a good chance of an orca-like attack. We called one spot Salmon Fly Alley and made a fair number of memories there.

The third day the weight of ~13 miles to cover, how exhausted I was, how little sleep I’d had, the drive ahead of us all looked like a lot and we decided we’d push through a lot of the water, pick our spots and get off the river early. That’s what we did and managed to pull into the Byington boat ramp about 3:00 in the afternoon and John and I managed to get almost 600 miles down the road by the time we pulled into a Super 8 for the night.

Of course, as we closed the trip out I felt like I was just starting to understand a bit of how the river fished, where to find the fish, how to get us where we needed to be. Takes some time for things to come together, but time and the river don’t really wait.

I learned a lot and I’m a better angler now than when I set off from home. My horizons are just that much broader and I have a few more tools in my tool box.

I encourage you all to get out there, wherever out there is for you… Bahamas, Belize, Christmas Island, Montana, Yellowstone, Wyoming, Idaho, Louisiana, Florida… wherever it is you have lodged in your head that keeps tickling your thoughts. Do the thing. Take the trip. Make the memories. In the end, that’s all we really have.


18
Jul 22

Adventure

This Friday I’m packing up the car, attaching the trailer and staring off on a long, long drive which will (I hope) culminate with two friends and I floating down a river I’ve never seen in my raft for three days.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before and that has me full of equal parts excitement and anxiety. There has been a steady procession of Amazon trucks disgorging supplies and bits of gear for a month now and all of a sudden Departure Day is almost here. I feel mostly ready.

I won’t be chasing bonefish, so this is more of a “back to my roots” kind of adventure of the trouty kind. Even so, I just realized I’ve only fished a river like this one a few times in my life… a big, broad, fast tailwater not named the Lower Sacramento. These other Western rivers are different… dry flies while the sun is out just isn’t a thing we do out here in California. I’m much more used to rivers you get in and wade around in where a 60′ cast might put you 20′ up the opposite bank, a river where you consider whether you should have 2 or 3 split shot on (I won’t say euro-nymphing as folks have been nymphing with a tight line out here since the early 1900’s). This trip, this whole thing will be pretty new and very different from my usual trout days.

Exciting. This is where growth happens, right?

I’ll post some pics when I’m back.

Trying to find a fly that would work… spoiler… they didn’t.

15
Jul 22

Beginnings

I’m in the blanket…

So, I had an honest start to this whole fishing thing.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that day. I managed to get my dad out on the water about a month or so ago and he even managed to catch a fish, something he hadn’t done in over a year. Every day is special now… never know how many more you’ll get.


01
Jul 22

Maui and Me

Family vacation, not a fishing vacation, but, ya know, I’m going to bring a rod along.

We stayed at a resort for a conference my wife has signed up for in the “before COVID” times and this was our chance to actually get there and do it.

Maui isn’t known as a hot bonefish location, or as much of a fly fishing location. Sure, you can catch bones trolling in a kayak or jigging a fly with a spinning rod, but for the most part, this just isn’t a fly fishing destination. I knew that going in.

I fished three of the days, wading out on some old pipes as far as I could and seeing what was what. I managed to get broken off by what I think was a blue fin trevally and then I started to see some black triggers. The triggers became my prime targets, as I could see them.

Even these little triggers bite hard enough to bend a hook, as I found out. I had some crab flies from Christmas and used those with much stronger hooks and they worked well. The more realistic, the better.

I managed to land one black trigger, hooked and lost another and had a hand full of grabs I missed.

Man… they are prety.

There was a big of surf to contend with and there were a couple days it felt pretty stupid to be standing out there. One set came in that knocked me down. Glad my wife didn’t see that one or she may never let me fish again. The waves really were something to contend with and I have to say I didn’t totally enjoy that aspect of it.

It was not productive fishing, but I still enjoyed it. I haven’t been able to get out in the salt for a while and I really enjoyed just being there and doing it… scanning the water, trying to see what was happening, looking for fish, sometimes finding them. That part felt good… really good.

All my gear still works. My flies were mostly correct and un-corroded. My cast was still there. My boots hadn’t fallen apart. And… I caught a fish. That one fish felt really, really good.


29
Jun 22

Dr. Mike Larkin on Bonefish – The Tom Roland Podcast

Dr. Mike Larkin once sent me a bonefish tongue. It was awesome. The guy has forgot more about bonefish than I’m likely to ever know. So, I invite you to listen to this episode of the Tom Roland Podcast, where he talks about, well, bonefish.

Not a licker
Tongue… bonefish tongue.

08
May 22

An odd parallel

Back in the pre-COVID world I got to fish Christmas Island. On the last day, on the last flat, I had a beast of a GT pushing water toward me. I made a cast, the fish followed. In my mind I was thinking “This is perfect! This is how you write it up! Victory at the death!”

The fish pulled up short, probably seeing me standing there, and just swam off. The script I was writing in my head of the last cast of the trip just didn’t play out the way I was hoping. There was a “wait, that’s not how that’s supposed to end!” thought in my head. The last cast in the low light on the last flat with the big opportunity in front of me… the script says that’s the one you are supposed to pull off… that’s what makes the story.

Fast forward a bit to yesterday. Here I am coaching U9 competitive soccer and we are playing our last game of the season. My son is on the team and he’s playing left mid. The clock is ticking down. A player on our team wins the ball back in the far corner and puts a lovely ball right in front of my son who slots a shot past the keeper. The last kick of the game. The last kick of the season.

One of my first thoughts was of that flat on Christmas Island and my last shot at a GT in the dying minutes of the trip, the last cast I’d get, and how I didn’t make it happen… but here, my son, a few thousand miles away and in a totally different context… well… he took the shot and scored.

A weird parallel maybe. Two things that are not at all the same, but that’s where my mind went, maybe realizing just a taste of how totally satisfying it is to see your kid do better than you.


19
Apr 22

Save the Slime

Over the years I have pursued bonefish I came to realize a few things about handling bonefish.

  1. A LOT of people, including my former self, have done it wrong. Just because a guide isn’t yelling at you for doing it wrong doesn’t mean they aren’t letting you do it wrong.
  2. These aren’t trout. When you put that fish back into the water you are are putting them back into a “Only the fit survive” kind of environment. It isn’t the air exposure or handling that kills them, it is the cuda or shark waiting for the weakened/dazed fish (from air exposure or handling) to wander across their path.
  3. Even when you do it right the fish can STILL be killed. That makes it important to do it right all the time.

Here’s a page on the BTT website that tells you exactly how you can best increase the fish’s chance of survival.


10
Feb 22

Drugs R Bad, mkay.

Drugs er bad… right? Well then, why are so many bonefish doing drugs? SERIOUS QUESTION (kind of)!

BTT recently released a story about trace amounts of chemical-life-enhancers found in bonefish in Florida. Seems wastewater carries enough of it to tip the flag on the assays used to check for pharmaceuticals in these fish.

Old friend and man whose hair I envy, Matt Smythe, recently wrote about that story here in Free Range American.

We just don’t seem to have a good grip on the many, many impacts we have on the world around us.

South Andros Bonefish. Photo by Andrew Bennett

01
Feb 22

Mighty Waters – A Bahamas Story

I’ve written about this story before, but here it again. A good film about a good people and a good person in Ansil Saunders. Good on ya SIMMS and COSTA.


26
Sep 21

Duality

Driving North felt like descending into hell.

As I got close to Redding, 3 hours north of the Bay Area, I was met with a wall of ash. There was a fire, a new fire in months of never-ending fires, and it was close. More forests and homes burning up.

So much has burned this year. 2.4 million acres up in smoke. It was so thick. I wore my N95 in the car and it still smelled like a campout.

Once past this latest fire I emerged just beyond Shasta Lake and into areas which had already burned by other fires in the past couple years. Miles of burned-out forests, no canopy, no undergrowth, just the slightly reddish earth and the charred skeletons of trees.

It is apocalyptic and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the characters from “The Road” walking along the shoulder of I-5.

Arriving in my little home-town the smoke was background level and the forests the clung to the canyon walls were still thick and dark green. A stop at Ted Fey’s Fly Shop and a quick stop off at my dad’s now former home and I set off for the river.

In September you don’t need waders and I stepped into the waters to find them cool. I had been expecting the worst after my drive up and was almost surprised to find the waters so frigid and trout friendly.

It was just so nice.

This summer started off rough up here. June had temps over 100 every day, all month. That didn’t happen when I grew up here. Temps like that were reserved for late August and early September, but not June. June can still be cool. June can still be cold in the early mornings. June can be cold at night. June has runoff swollen rivers that are both a little high and very cold.

This year there wasn’t much snowpack to come down, so the river was not high at all when I saw it in May, and no where near as cold as it should have been. I feared for the summer months.

Now, in the waning days of September, I could see the river had made it though the unprecedented heat. It survived.

I hiked up the tracks to the Falls, which are always beautiful. They are worth the hike all by themselves. They are also about as far as most people get. I started fishing upstream from there.

Over the next four hours or so I enjoyed some of the best fishing I’ve had in ages. It was a throwback to how this river fished for me 15 years ago. I caught fish and then more and then more. I saw a mink. I landed a very nice fish at or above 18″ which is a really nice fish for this river. I didn’t see another soul above the Falls. I had the place to myself to enjoy, to reconnect with, the play in.

It was odd, how I felt on the drive up, how it all felt like it was all being lost, and how I felt standing in that bit of paradise, having it all to myself. It was hard to hold both things in my head at the same time.

I hope this little bit of perfection survives the next few decades… the droughts and the fires that are likely to keep ravaging California and the West as we struggle to come to grips with what exactly we are losing. I want to hold onto this a bit longer.