Friday, March 01, 2019

Fishing With Matty

The trip ended with just another one of those moments in an angling life that is best described as nothing less than disappointing. Standing on the bow with my 11-year-old son, staring at water the color of lead, I saw the slightest of bumps, maybe 80’ feet out at 12 O’clock. Stillness followed for a time that seemed long enough to indicate that I had seen nothing after all. The water moved again, this time at 15’ and 1 O’clock, followed by a hauntingly orange glow that just barely poked its way through the dark grey water of the Louisiana Gulf that October morning.
Matthew made the cast, stripped tight and one can imagine the rest. The line cut clean on an Oyster shell after 10 minutes or so, leaving us with that empty feeling, knowing only that we will never know what might have been. This wasn’t his first rodeo and he shook off the disappointment quicker than most, moving on and looking for the next push. The next push never came.
Planning the Day with Rich Waldner and Fins & Feathers of Bozeman in Louisiana
Four months later, we arrive once again to the Gulf Coast shores just south of New Orleans in search of Bull Reds and respite from the bitter cold of our Bozeman, Montana home. The forecast was not in our favor with the weatherman calling for clouds, cold fronts, and winds in the 15-20 mph range for the duration of our stay. The guide was willing to give it a shot, so we geared up and headed across lagoons, bayside ponds, open water, narrow trenches and man-made canals in search of hungry Redfish. The conditions were terrible and the visibility even worse with water the color of Louisiana mud.

Most anglers would have opted for a few days off Bourbon Street and chasing who knows what around the Big Easy. Matthew isn’t old enough to know about these distractions, so he opted to stick with it and just keep looking so long as our guide was willing to push-pole us across and up into the relentless winds that wouldn’t settle.

Day one was a shut-out followed by a day two that held very little hope of being much better. The sun worked its way through the clouds sometime late morning and the water clarity went from none to just a little bit less than some. We started bumping fish here and there with their pectoral fins out and bellies glued to the mud with no sign of tailing fish, nervous water, or the occasional push of a feeding fish.

Just after a lunch of Oreos and PBJ, Matthew stood tall once again on the platform and renewed his efforts to find something to cast at before we lost the light. Just around a couple of bends in a small channel connecting a pair Oyster ponds, we saw a tail stand tall for just the narrowest window in time, 200’ out and downwind. Our guide slowed the boat and we settled in to stillness, staring intensely for another sign of whatever it was we had seen. The tail reappeared at 20’ and 11 O’clock, Matthew made the cast we all wish to make when it matters most, and the fly settled just inches from the Black Drum’s probing mouth. Needless to say, the line went tight, ripping away through those narrow waters with the reel screaming and us all savoring the moment. Matthew landed the fish after 10 minutes or so and brought to hand his largest Black Drum to date at just a notch over 25 pounds. Still, dad was riding the skunk-train high and dry for two days in a row.

The morning of day three greeted us with calming winds and warming air cloaked in a pea-soup dense fog from ground to sky. Once again, far from ideal conditions held just enough hope for us to salvage the trip if only the wind or sun decided to show up by late morning. Per usual, neither really made a grand appearance and we ended up navigating to the holy waters via GPS and some gut feelings on our guide’s part that seemed more certain than not. We ended up finding some clean water, tucked into a lee shoreline with some sun here and there as the fog began to move, more so than dissipate.

Fish started to show, and contrary to my typical Redfish experiences, they wouldn’t eat.  We made cast after cast to laid up fish, cruising singles, and even a few schools moving in and out of the grassy cuts lining the shore. Eventually, one ate my fly and the 2.5-day skunk was gone. However, as any dad will appreciate, I had hope that the cooperative one would have been on my son’s fly rather than mine. Still, we smiled, laughed, posed for the pic and released one of the hardest earned fish in my angling life. Matthew told me that he was happy for me and thanks for bringing him along as we watched the fish swim away. Hard to beat, to say the least.

The fog began to settle in once again and the 4 O’clock light convinced our guide that we should start heading back. References were made to the loneliness of a winter night spent on a Louisiana oil well-head. He followed his tracks and picked our way across the open water as the sun began to set with the fog turning the light a pumpkin orange.

The boat slowed as our guide decided to check one last Oyster pond that had eluded us the previous days as the winds and tide had made the opening inaccessible. He tested the depth, made a push, and suddenly we were in. The light was pretty much gone in terms of being useful for spotting fish by this time of the day. Still, we could see a push here, some mud clouds there, and even a few tails poking up near the bank. We made some blind casts with little spoon flies and crab imitations, stripping slower than one would expect with the day rapidly disappearing into darkness.
I felt a tug, saw a splash and watched my line go limp as the hookset never came and yet another fish won the battle. Another tug followed moments later with a small Redfish coming to hand in the evening light.

Matthew asked if he could use my rod for the last few casts to which I offered no objection and watched as he methodically worked the water out and ahead as we prepared to head to the dock. The tug didn’t come, he seemed understandably frustrated as he was casting and fishing well. When I offered words of encouragement, he asked if I would take the fly from my rod and put it on his rod for the last few casts. As I finished the loop of leader to fly, a push of water showed just 30’ out at 12 O’clock on a small point just ahead. Matthew climbed onto the platform, made the cast, and got the fish.

He has caught many fish to date, including Permit, Tarpon, and even a 30-pound Bull Redfish on previous trips to the salt. I’ve been fortunate enough to be there for all of them (except the Permit - which he caught with his grandfather) and I know that this little 5-pound Redfish will always be near the top of his list. He would surely love nothing more than having one of those days where big Redfish show up and eat from start to finish, but I think that he will always cherish the success found on the hard days more than most.

I love fly fishing. The greatest gift the sport has given me is the medium in which I share my life with my children.
Matthew Swank celebrating the end to a great trip withRich Waldner in Louisiana during Winter 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

Life Goes

Back from another fun-filled adventure to the Bayou heartland with Matty. Weather was borderline, water was dirty, fish seemed as cold as the bite. The food was awesome. The experience was as good as ever, maybe even a little bit better, to be honest.

Matty is growing up...almost 12 years old. This was probably the last trip that he'll have to wear a life jacket while running around the boats. It has been so fun for me to have him be into fishing the way he always has been. I love sharing the moments with him, the fish are just a bonus. It is all about the adventure and living in the moment with him, I'm so lucky to be able to be his co-pilot through much of it right now.

I'm not looking forward to the days ahead when I once again become a stupid idiot in the eyes of my son. At least I know they are coming!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Keyser Soze Stix

I received a package last week from my friends at Orvis that I knew contended a few rods. These were replacing the rods that I lost in a fishing/rafting debacle last fall, the Orvis folks felt some sympathy for my misfortune and offered to help me get some new H3's to replace the ones that my friends somehow dropped and lost while rolling upside down in the dark on a cold, unfamiliar stream as the result of what could or could not have been caused by pilot error. He said She said stuff.

These rods were a bit more special than most in my collection as the set included a prototype Helios 3D that had worked it's way, painfully, to number one of my list for the 905 category. The other rod was matched with the 15 Year Limited Edition Hatch Gen 2 that I literally nought that morning. I hadn't lost a rod in that manner in well over 20 years (it was a Sage 590 VPS with a Gunnison) and I had become numb to the pain of losing something sweet.

Special gear just can't be replaced in the fly fishing world as they are, after all, just toys that come to mean more because of the emotions and time spent together rather than their practical functionality. So, I lamented quietly and came to resent my fishing buddies just a little bit more, everyday, for opting to cling to life in the cold, dark waters rather than clinging to my sacred sticks just a bit longer.

Shawn Combs - one of the smartest, hard-working and quietly competitive fly fishing executives I have come across (and master rod designer with Orvis) - and I exchanged a few texts one night as the weight of this loss became too much for me to bear. Also, I had given up on suing the landowner and the hope that my buddies would ever step up to replace my losses. Again, all they had to do was hold their breath a little bit longer and avoid being trapped under the raft as it POTENTIALLY rolled, end over end, in the dark down a fast-moving river in the dark...jeez! Anyway, Shawn said he would see what he could do, it might be awhile and I had the sneaking feeling that he also intended to say "don't hold your breath".

The package contained 3 new Orvis Helios 3D fly rods, one each 905,906,907. I have a store full of new fly rods so the wonder of opening a new rod tube is often lost on me these days. However, Shawn mentioned something about personalization so I opened these with particular excitement and curiosity. I had excepted the white label on the rod's butt section to be miscolored or perhaps even not present. Maybe my name or some disparaging words referencing my boat rowing skills that particular night would be written on the label instead.

No, each rod has the name "Keyser Soze" cleanly etched into the aluminum reel seat insert. You'll have to watch the Usual Suspects from start to finish if that name is lost on you.

What did I think....I Have Been Heard!

Serious thanks to Orvis for these sticks...and to my buddies that gave up on my gear rather than risk a few more moments precariously rolling underwater in the dark.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Down But Not Out

No, I am not "OUT" once again. I have been under the weather for the last week and a half and saving all of my spare energy for skiing. During the times that I have not been either lying in bed or on the slopes, I have been working on diagnosing my illness thanks to this super-awesome toolkit my wife gave me for Christmas. I either have TB, a Wondering Spleen, or throat cancer according to this self-help kit. My doctor says I have a "cold"! I'll try to work on drilling this down a bit more whilst shredding the mega fresh gnar gnar on the hill tomorrow with the little Googan (turns out he has opted to call in sick to school tomorrow).

Monday, January 14, 2019

May on the MO

Another beautiful day here in the Bozone with little or next to nothing of actual importance really going on. I had a hard weekend of skiing with the kids, too stressful to recount here - or maybe it wasn't at all and that why it wasn't stressful other than watching both of them eat shit a time or two as their speeds may have exceeded their abilities to stop.

I'm starting to think about 2019 and life on the water. Although I am no longer going to be doing teh "Missouri Thing" in the spring, I am kind of booked up already so I may be squeezing in a few more days. Here are the details:

“May on the Missouri River” is back once again for 2019 with Fins & Feathers of Bozeman’s fly fishing guide service. We will be heading up to Craig, Montana in late April, offering Missouri River guided fly fishing through Memorial Day weekend on the stretch of the Missouri River between Holter Dam and Cascade, Montana. Spring is the best time of year on the Missouri River to avoid crowds and get some serious numbers of wild trout in the 16”-20” range - with a few over 20” -  on a daily basis. Book your days soon as availability is limited in terms of both lodging and open guided dates.

Fins & Feathers of Bozeman’s fly fishing guides have been guiding fly anglers on the Missouri River since 2000 and fishing the river since 1992. We have fished it all throughout the year in high water, low water, bank to bank weeds, crowds, dirty water, and primetime conditions. Late April through late May is as close to  "home run timing" as there is up on the Missouri River, near Craig, Montana.

Montana fly fishing guide trip on the Missouri River

Our Montana fly fishing guides prefer to work Monday – Friday during this time of year to avoid the weekend crowds, but we are available weekends as well with advanced planning. Guests typically stay in hotel rooms (only two rooms) at Cross Currents fly shop in Craig Montana, but are welcome to arrange their own lodging as well. Dinners can be had at Izaaks in Craig, the Oasis in Wolf Creek, or one of several options in Cascade. Breakfast is available at a couple of spots in Craig while lunches are included on our the guided days.

The fishing this time of year is condition dependent, but typically consists of nymph fishing along current seams and below drop-offs from the driftboat. Cloudy days bring out BWO and March Browns, with some Caddis typically showing up in mid-late May making for intermittent dry fly fishing. Streamer fishing is really dependent on water levels and temperature on the Missouri River in the spring, with lower flows and warmer conditions being ideal. We always have a great time during our spring guided trips on the Missouri River and look forward to getting it done once again in 2019.
Availability is limited during our Missouri River guided fly fishing trips, so please make your arrangements sooner rather than later. Deposits aren’t due until Jan. 31, 2019 but we recommend getting on the books as soon as possible. Guided fly fishing rates for the Missouri River are $575 per boat for 1-2 anglers for trips that take place between April 29 – May 24, 2019. A minimum booking of two days is required for advance reservations. Lodging at Cross Currents can be reserved with Fins & Feathers  or by contacting Cross Currents directly.

Email Toby Swank at Fins & Feathers of Bozeman or call him at 406-586-2188 to make a reservation for the 2019 spring season on the Missouri River.

We are happy to help arrange your travel and lodging logistics as well, so don't heistate to reach out for plannning adivce. People usually fly into either Helena or Great Falls (both served by United, Delta, and Frontier), rent a car and then meet up with our guides in Craig. A rental car is helpful for getting around to different restaurants in the mornings and evenings.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Spring Deals on Guided Fly Fishing in Bozeman

March and April around Bozeman can offer some amazing early season fly fishing opportunities on the Madison and Yellowstone rivers. Characterized by cool nights and mild days, the scenery often features snow-lines mountain vistas across our wide-open valley floors. Hatching insects include midges, mayflies, caddis, and even stoneflies too. Most days offer dry fly opportunities mid-day with morning efforts generally focused around nymphing or streamer fishing. This is an excellent time of year for anglers that would prefer to focus their efforts wading rather than floating as well. Join Fins & Feathers on a guided fly-fishing trip this spring and experience the less-crowded waters around Bozeman, Montana.
We have a spring special on our guided fly-fishing packages in Bozeman that include lodging at a couple of our preferred partners in town.
  • Save 20% off our standard package pricing at either the Holiday Inn Express or Bozeman Element when you book a minimum of 2 Day Guided Fishing with 3 Nights Lodging.
  • Offer is valid on guided trips between March 16 – April 20, based on availability.
  • Standard deposit and cancellation policies apply.
  • Reservations required by February 24, 2018 to take advantage of these deals.
Call our Bozeman fly shop at 406-586-2188 or email us to learn more about the Montana fly fishing opportunities around Bozeman and to make a reservation. Be sure to mention the “Spring Promotion” when booking your trip!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

TBT | Halcyon Days

I had left the crew early this morning for a solo outing to a busy river in New Zealand with hopes of being first to the beat as the morning clouds dissipated with the rising sun. The day could have been one of those days that stays with an angler forever - I don’t’ recall.  I wonder if that was the day the fish were hugged up on the skinny shelves, slowly swinging off the riffles and eating little Mayflies with patient certainty.

Were those the Halcyon Days? That morning up the Ahuriri certainly was. Like I said, I don’t recall the fishing that day, but I can still hear the gravel bouncing off the little Subaru. I remember how much I enjoyed casting that Orvis Helios to those exceptionally wary trout. I remember the sense of awe and spectacle that awaited around every bend in the road. Yes, that was a good day. 

Fly-fishing gives us days like these.