Sunday, September 9, 2018

Floating the South Fork

Fishing with Terry Kowalis July 28, 2018

I met Terry at his house early on a late July morning. Terry and I had not fished together since last summer and neither of us had floated the South Fork of the Boise this year. I threw my gear in his truck and we took off for the South Fork.

As we approached the Cow Creek bridge, it was apparent that Mormon crickets were a possible food source. Large black crickets peppered the road and the Cow Creek bridge. 
"Should we toss a few in and see if they're eating them today?" Terry asked with childish delight.
"Sure!" I responded, already envisioning the likely results of our test.
We both grabbed a cricket in each hand and walk onto the bridge. The river left bank always held a few fish and we knew right where they lived. Splat, splat. Two dark crickets hit the water hard but floated in the surface film down the bank alongside the willows. Shhlurp! Shhlurp! Two large rainbow trout made quick work of the chunky crickets. Terry and I looked up at each other with wide eyes.
"Let's float this section first!" Terry said.
"I think that's a great idea!" I responded logically.
We dropped off the shuttle bike at the take out and launched the boat at Cow Creek. We rigged the "big bug" rod with a Mormon cricket pattern and another smaller rod with a grasshopper.

We pushed off from shore, myself in the front seat ready to fish first. I began casting to the willow lined banks, my fly drifting in and out of the shadows. Shlurp! A large golden rainbow came up and devoured my fly right where it should. I brought the fish in and quickly released it. We had only drifted downstream a couple hundred yards.
"Ok Terry, you're up!" I said, setting the rod down in the ready position, 30 feet of fly line out of the reel.
In Terry's boat we use the 3 strikes you're out rule and the one fish landed, swap rule. I landed my fish so it was now Terry's turn at bat.

Terry worked the banks, threading his fly in and out of the bushes. It wasn't long before he was into a nice fish of his own.

We swapped again, this time I missed 2 fish before connecting with the 3rd, a rainbow at about 18 inches. The fish kicked the fly at the boat; a perfect release. Terry was up again. Terry and I made 2 swaps before we reached the take out of our short float. 
"Let's do that one again!" Terry said, taking into consideration our success and earliness of the day.
"Makes sense to me." I responded, as I held the boat so Terry could exit and make the shuttle.

I had always wanted to fish streamers on the South Fork from the boat but had never committed to doing it. While Terry was running the shuttle I rigged up my other rod with a money minnow and began casting it from the shore at the take out. My sparkly minnow danced in the water. I was only checking how the fly looked in the water when a large flash darted at my fly, inhaling it. I set the hook and fought the large rainbow from the boat. Seems to work pretty well. I netted the fish just as Terry returned with the truck and trailer.
"Fish took a streamer. I think I'm going to try this on our next float." I chuckled, as I released the fish. 

We launched the boat at the same spot as before. Once again, the fish were eager to rise to the cricket pattern. We lost a few flies in the trees and tied on a large purple chubby instead of a cricket. It also worked confirming my theory that these fish will eat almost anything big and buggy when placed in the right spot with the right presentation. 

I landed a chunky rainbow that had a long synthetic line coming out of it's throat. I have caught steelhead with these before and was informed they are some sort of tracking device. I could only assume that's what it was. If anyone knows, please let me know.

We finished up our second brief float shortly after lunch time. Our next float would be from the village down. We made our shuttle and by 2 pm were were launching at the village put it. We made our way down the river. Yellow sallies could be seen fluttering around, so we tried a yellow sally fly. It worked, producing a small scrappy fish.

We entered a side channel Terry had named "Muggers". We pulled into a back eddie and anchored up, watching for rising fish. Sure enough, fish rose here and there. We tied on a pink Albert and began targeting rising fish. It didn't take Terry long to connect with a nice rainbow. 

The current seam we were fishing was very slow, causing the trout to cruise in and out of the back-water instead of holding in the current. This made it tough to anticipate where the trout would be and therefore where to present your fly. Eventually I timed a cast right and was rewarded with a nice trout.

After playing with these rising fish for probably too long, we pulled the anchor and drifted down to another spot looking for pink eating trout. Once again, a healthy population of fish were feeding on the surface. Terry and I each connected with several fish at this location before moving on. 

As we drifted down the river, it was obvious this stretch received the bulk of the fishing pressure. Not only did we see a lot of boats, but the fish were not eager to rise to our attractor patterns like down below. Our solution: a Ken Held hopper. As realistic of a hopper pattern as it gets. This 1 hour long tie can fool both fish and humans alike. Armed with this fly, we finally started seeing looks from the fish. 

Fishing was still tough until we made it past the common take out location. Like magic, the fish started looking up again and Terry responded with a dandy fish.

We each landed a few more fish before we reached our take out spot. It had been a long but fun float down one of my favorite rivers. With the boat on the trailer, we drove over the Cow Creek bridge to head home. Terry slowed as we reached the other side.
"Shall we grab a couple more crickets and feed the fish before we leave?" Terry questioned.
"I was hoping you'd say that..." I responded with a smile.   

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Lake Cascade, Like Yellow Perch, only Bigger

Katie and I had been hitting the fishing pretty hard in the spring of 2018. Crane Falls, Owyhee and Brownlee; all overnight trips and all great fishing. My mind was already thinking about the next place I wanted to fish: Cascade Reservoir. World famous for it's trophy perch, Cascade is one of the few places in the world where you have a shot at catching a 16 inch fish. Until you see one that size, you won't understand.
"I was thinking we should try Cascade this weekend," Katie suggested one evening. 
My head quickly cocked to the side. Did I just hear what I wanted her to say? "I think that's a brilliant idea!" I responded enthusiastically. "You are one amazing woman!"
"Let's try to catch some of those perch!" The angel next to me said.
"I've been wanting to try that.."

I conducted a little research, talking to guys who have fished the reservoir. Cascade is a large formidable body of water, but with some advice, I had narrowed down our fishing options to a couple locations. After getting off shift at the fire department, I rushed home and packed up the truck, leaving Boise by 10AM. Katie's brother Trevor was also going to meet us up there.

Upon arrival at the lake, we found a nice campsite in a developed camp ground; something Katie and I are not used to. We set up camp and quickly made friends with our neighbors across the way: a fellow fire fighter! He and his wife would be there for a whole week and they had brought their boat. We discovered they were fairly experienced at fishing Cascade. They gave us tips to find the fish and even invited us out on the boat in the morning, an offer we couldn't refuse.

We got our gear and boats ready, pushing off the bank just in time for the evening bite. 
"I don't think this tape is big enough for the fish I'm going to catch!" Katie said, referring to the stripping apron on her float tube.
"Oh really? You are so spoiled!" I laughed, and then thought about all the large fish my wife had caught this year. She truly was spoiled. "We'll see about that!"

Perch tend to hang in deeper water than most fish we're used to targeting on the fly rod, so we set our balanced minnows at about 15 feet and began to slowly troll and jig them at the same time. Katie and I kicked along, probing the depths for perch, or whatever wanted to bite. Tall aquatic weeds had begun to grow, snagging our flies when we wandered too shallow.

I began to kick into slightly deeper water and away from the weeds when my indicator sunk and I felt some resistance. I set the hook and felt a fish squirming on the other end. The fish didn't put up much of a fight, telling me it probably wasn't a trout or a smallmouth. Could it be a perch? A large, yellow shape with dark stripes materialized beneath my boat.
"Honey, I got a perch! And it's huge!" I shouted to Katie, who was about 50 yards away.
Katie kicked over to take a picture.
"Look honey, it's like a perch. Only bigger!" We both chuckled as I held up the large specimen.
I measured the fish on my stripping apron: 15 inches!
I placed the fish on my stringer and we kept on fishing.

My next fish was a rainbow trout. Only 14 inches and diseased looking, it made it back into the water without a picture. 

By 7 pm we had still only caught the 2 fish. This perch fishing may be a bit more challenging than we hoped for. We were almost back to where we launched the boats when Katie tied into a fish.
"It's a perch!" Katie said, netting the fish.
"Looks like another big one!" I said, getting ready to take a picture.
Katie held it up for a photo; another dandy specimen, about 14 inches.

Trevor showed up and we went back out to fish until dark. Again, the fishing was not superb. We tried deeper water and shallower water but we just couldn't seem to find anything consistent. About a half hour before dark I tied into another 2 perch right by our launch spot. Trevor also caught one that was a monster at 17 inches, finishing up a fun but tough afternoon of fishing.

The next morning we went out in the boat with our fire fighter friend. He took us to a couple spots where I landed a few more large perch. 
Once again the fishing was slow and no one else caught a fish. By 10 am we were back to camp and ready to hit it hard in the float tubes.
"It's as hot as the dickens out here!" Trevor exclaimed, as we pushed off the shore to fish for the afternoon.
We laughed at Trevor's comment, the start of an afternoon overusing the expression.
"These perch are as big as the dickens in here!"
"This fishing is as slow as the dickens!"
"I'm as hungry as the dickens!"
"This water is as cold as the dickens!"
If fishing was going to be slow we might as well have fun while doing it. 

By dinnertime we had landed a couple more perch and some decent smallmouth. One bass was 19.5 inches.

We also stumbled upon a couple pike minnows. Between wanting to kill them for ecological reasons and never have eaten one, we put both on the stringer to eat later. This trip was turning redneck... 

While Katie warmed up our planned dinner, Trevor and I set the pike minnows on the grill over the fire. We had no foil or seasoning to go along with them, so what we would taste would be truly squawfish. We also grilled up a couple hotdogs to go along with them. Hotdogs and squawfish, the phrase sounded so gross it made us laugh. Once the fish began to fall apart, we scooped them onto a plate and dug in. The pale, bland and slightly fishy meat reminded me of a fish I haven't eaten in years: trout. It was edible but less than exciting. It was also full of small Y-shaped bones that appeared to be in every bite. We ate most of the 2 fish and burned the remains. I can now check eating squawfish off my list. If you think trout taste good and like picking bones out of each bite, give pike minnow a try!
A storm was rolling in and we debated on whether to go back out after dinner.
"Let's just stay in camp... but on the other hand, the wind on the water will give our flies some great action."
"Let's just go out and fish... but on the other hand, we could get struck by lightning."
"Let's stay in camp tonight... but on the other hand, this is our last evening to fish. What if the perch really bite well tonight?"
We all joked around with the phrase, "but on the other hand...". It reminded Trevor and I of a guy we used to work with in Alaska who over-used the expression.

After some debate we decided to go out and fish. It was a good thing we did, because we ended up catching several more perch and bass.

The following morning we went back out in the boat with our friend. We tried a new location and it ended up being fairly decent. Our friend landed a few perch, a trout and a bass, while I ended up with one perch.

We packed up camp and headed home with several large perch fillets in the cooler. I am glad we gave Cascade a try, giving us a new place to fish. We never saw another fly fisherman and ran into very few other anglers. Although fishing was tough, we tried a new body of water and were successful in finding a few of our targeted fish. We all had caught the largest perch in our angling histories. We will surely return to Cascade in the future. Like I said, until you see a 16 inch perch you won't understand. They are like perch, only bigger! 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

More than just Sausage

The story about my first buck: Late October 2012

"I'm telling you Trev, I'll probably shoot the first deer I see. I just see walking sausage." I said as we drove to the my in-laws secret whitetail spot.
"I really think you should hold out for a buck. At least for the first couple days," Trevor reasoned.
"It'll be tough for me to pass up a doe, especially if it's an easy shot."
"Just promise me you'll try."
"Ok, I'll try, but I'm not promising."
We would be hunting for 3 days in an area where you can shoot any whitetail deer. The previous year I had killed my first deer, as written in my "Double Does" blog entry. I was still in the infant stage of big game hunting, but my in-laws were diehards and they had agreed to take me. I still didn't understand the allure of big antlers. To me they were just funky bones. Little did I know, this hunt would change the way I hunt and see antlers forever.
We set up camp, loaded our hunting gear into the suburban and set off for an evening hunt. We were bouncing down the dirt road, headed to our hunting area when we rounded the corner and came to a halt. A small clearing opened up before us and on the hillside, 150 yards away stood 2 does. My heart raced as I scanned the terrain for all possible targets. There appeared to be only 2 does. 
"Oh gosh guys, that's super tempting. They're just standing there broadside. That's a lot of sausage..." I said, staring at my rifle and back at the deer, then back at my rifle.
"It's the first evening. We'll see plenty more." Rick said, staring through the binoculars.
"Ok, FINE!" I said, with a slight sense of doubt in my mind.
We drove on and hunted the area planned without seeing any deer. The next day we decided to walk up a closed road and onto a ridge where Rick would meet us. Trevor and I set out in the early morning on the old road, walking slowly and quietly. We reached the ridge and sat down to do a little glassing, scanning the nearby hillsides for signs of life. Across the canyon we spotted 3 bull elk leisurely feeding in the nastiest, steepest country imaginable. I pictured packing an animal out of that area and shuddered. Good thing we didn't have an elk tag or we might have been tempted... we continued on and Trevor began to tell me stories of all the bucks he'd shot on this ridge. My optimism grew along with the elevation we gained with each step. I'd seen the pictures and shoulder mounts to go alongside Trevor's stories and I was beginning to understand why someone might choose to shoot a buck instead of a doe. Regardless, my number one goal on this hunt was to come home with some meat and I wasn't going to let my quest for antlers get in the way of that.
"Look up there Ryan!" Trevor stopped and pointed to a flat area on the ridge.
"Are those mules?" I asked out loud, already knowing the answer.
"Looks like it. I wonder how close we can get?"
"Let's find out."
We approached slowly. A herd of 10 or so mules fed leisurely on the crest of the ridge, seemingly unafraid or concerned with our approaching presence. On the other side of the mules stood Rick.
"Mules, eh?" Rick said from the other side of the herd.
"I guess. You never know what you're going to run into in the woods." Trevor said, getting closer.
The mules moved off a little ways as we met up with Rick.
"I'm going to try to ride one of them!" Trevor said, with a wild look in his eyes.
"That doesn't sound like a good idea." I warned, picturing a wild bucking bronco and Trevor flying through the air. 
"I'm doing it!" Trevor said triumphantly, setting down his rifle.
Trevor walked up to one of the mules, placed his hand on it's side, and jumped onto it's back. I closed my eyes for a moment out of fear and began to open them slowly. The scene in front of me was not one I expected to see on this hunting trip.

The mule picked up his head and seemed to roll it's eyes as if to say, really? The mule stood there for a moment and then began to feed as if nothing happened. Trevor sat on the mule for a few minutes before dismounting and joining us.
"That was cool!" He said, grabbing his rifle.
"Wow, I can't believe it." I said, still astounded.

We hunted that area a while longer before returning to camp for lunch and to plan our afternoon. Rick decided we should head to an area they had seen numerous bucks in the past and plan a nighttime sit over some meadows. We loaded up into the suburban and lumbered down the road. Maybe it was the early morning hike or the soft suspension of the old SUV, but I could not stay awake as we floated down the dirt road. I take great pride in spotting game while driving, sometimes spending too much time looking at the hillsides and not at the road...just ask my friend, Erik Moncada. But this afternoon, nothing could hold back my afternoon nap.
"Whitetail buck! Whitetail buck!"
I suddenly jerked awake as the suburban came to a halt. I opened my groggy eyes in time to see the flashing white flag of a whitetail deer bound away from the road on our left. Trevor and Rick jumped out of the vehicle and crept off the road into the woods in the direction of the deer. I quickly grabbed my rifle and hurried after them. I expected to hear a gun shot as I looked up to see Rick looking through his scope, where 60 yards ahead stood a nice whitetail buck. I heard Rick muttering something that sounded like safety, while I shuffled to the right and loaded a round into the chamber. The deer still stood there looking everywhere but at us. Why isn't this deer running away? Once again, I heard Rick mutter something in frustration about his safety. I didn't know what was going on, but I knew this deer wouldn't stand there forever. I set my bi-pod out, took a knee, found the deer in my scope and squeezed the trigger. BOOOOM! The buck instantly dropped to the ground. Wow! I just shot a buck! The deer kicked for only a minute or so before passing.
"Ryan! That's a nice buck! Good job!" Trevor said, patting me on the back. "Let's go take a look at him."
We approached the buck and admired him.

I placed my hands on his antlers and somehow couldn't let go. Each antler was different from the other. I inspected them from the base to the tips and everywhere in between. I simply couldn't stop looking at them. The antlers were just captivating! The buck was not a giant by any means, but it was larger than I had expected. What also surprised me was the size of it's body.
"This is a lot more meat than that doe I shot last year!" I said, patting the animal on it's side. "That's a lot of sausage!" 

"I think you should do a shoulder mount. I can help you do it." Rick exclaimed.
"I guess. If you think so." I replied, imagining the animal on my wall. I think I could admire this animal forever. "Yeah, let's do it!"
Once the photos had been taken, it was time for the dirty work. The deer was about 100 yards away from the vehicle. An easy drag to the suburban and we could take the deer back to camp and quarter him there.
We made it back to camp and unloaded the deer out of the back of the suburban. Trevor agreed to stay with me and help, while Rick went back out to hunt. Trevor showed me all his tricks in quickly and cleanly quartering a deer. I was indeed thinking about all the good meat this would be, but then I would look at those antlers... Those are pretty neat too. I began to see that each deer had it's own unique antlers. Not one buck is the same as another. Antlers have character and a way of captivating you. Once they start to get in your blood they don't go away. That was the only deer we harvested on that trip, but it made me realize how much more there was to deer hunting. I wasn't out there to simply fill the freezer and head home. I also wasn't out there to trophy hunt. I was there to enjoy the hunt with family and friends and maybe, just maybe, spend a little extra time trying to find one of those unique and mature bucks. I love eating deer, but that hunt made me realize there was more to deer and deer hunting than just sausage. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Little Further Up the Road, Owyhee Reservoir

Springtime in Idaho can be frustrating for a traditional fly fisherman. Most wait impatiently for the rivers, high from snow melt, to recede and the weather to stabilize. Other rivers like the Owyhee receive so much "love" that anglers are practically fighting each other for the opportunity to catch a trout with 5 holes already in it's mouth. I embrace this time of year because of the plethora of non-traditional options available; especially if you have some sort of watercraft like a float tube. Trout are available any month of the year in Idaho, but warm water species like bass and crappie are prime in the spring. 

Katie and I had so much fun last year fishing Owyhee Reservoir that this year we decided to camp and stay a couple days. We arrived mid-morning, made camp on the river and headed up the road towards the reservoir. We crested the dam to find a still water anglers dream: glassy clear water.

"Wow, that cove is just filthy with fish!" Katie said as we rounded a corner, spying the bass, carp and crappie basking in the warm sunlight. 
I chuckled at her expression. "That water is very clear. This is going to be good!"

We arrived at an easy launching place, rigged the boats and kicked out into the calm, clear water. Armed with marabou crappie jigs and balanced minnows under a strike indicator, it didn't take more than several casts before Katie's rod was bent. 

Katie hauled in the fiesty male black crappie, hoisting it up for a picture.  

Crappie are delicious and we intended to bring some home for eating. Previous experience has shown me that crappie smaller than 10 inches are harder to fillet and hardly worth the effort. Katie's was 9 inches, so back in the water it went. If fishing was anything like it was last year, we'd have plenty of opportunities to bring home a pile of crappie.  

We worked the shore line, heading towards some coves we guessed would be productive. Our progress was slow due to the constant task of unhooking crappie. On some stretches of shoreline, we routinely had doubles and crappie were taking our flies every cast. We began to decipher that the average size was between 9 and 10.5 inches. About every 5th crappie made it onto the stringer.

Katie threw a cast towards a rock point. Before the ripples could even dissipate, her indicator took a dive. Katie heaved back on the rod and instead of the scrappy thrashing of a crappie, she was met with the strong deep digging, notorious of a smallmouth bass. After a decent battle, she lipped the smallmouth bass. Owyhee reservoir is home to both smallmouth and largemouth bass.

We were having a blast slowly making our way to the coves, when
dark clouds began to brew. They seemed to all converge over the reservoir promising a thunderstorm. We began to hear thunder in the distance and we kicked hard to get into a cove and out of the water.

Rain came down hard as we sat on the shore waiting for the storm to pass. I remembered I had an umbrella in the pontoon boat and went to retrieve it. Some say it's precarious to walk in fins, but sometimes I think I'm part duck.  

When the storm had subsided slightly, we got back into the boats and made our way to the truck. The air temperature had dropped so much that the air in our boats had condensed, leaving them slightly deflated. We had only covered a quarter mile of shoreline, caught more crappie than we could count and still had about 30 crappie to fillet when we got there. It had been a good first day. 

Spying some promising looking water on the drive back, we knew where we would begin fishing the next morning. By 9am we were on the water, catching crappie again.

The water clarity was even better at this spot; close to 10 feet! Submerged sticks could be seen; a sure sign crappie would be close by. 
We began catching crappie in good numbers as we worked toward a rocky point. My indicator went down and I set the hook. Immediately a large bronze smallmouth shot out of the water, shaking it's head in attempts to free the foreign object in it's mouth. It put up a great battle, doubling over the rod numerous times.

We released the large bass and continued casting towards the rocky point. Katie was into the next fish. Once again, the immediate splash told us we had another bass.

This time it was a nice largemouth. I responded with another bass of my own; a chunky smallmouth.

We continued along the shoreline catching more crappie and bass.

Katie had to remind me it was lunchtime. We kicked back toward the truck. As I ate my sandwich, I couldn't help but think about all the people fishing the river, struggling to catch a few nice trout. Our thumbs were seriously trashed from all the fish we had caught so far, and it was only noon! 

After lunch we got back in the boats and decided to work the opposite direction. Once again, more crappie and bass were caught, including one very substantial largemouth.

We kicked out to a rocky island that screamed of bass. I made a cast to a small point on the island that looked "fishy". My indicator plunged and I lifted back, feeling serious weight. Off to the depths the fish raced. Giant bass occupied my thoughts as line peeled off my reel. The "wow's" and "holy cow's" brought Katie over to my boat to see what was going on. Finally after a few minutes with no sightings of the creature on the end of my line, gold emerged from the depths indicating I had a common carp. The carp had inhaled the minnow; not a first but a rare occurrence.

By 4pm we were tired, sore and content with the number of fish we had caught. The weather had been perfect, the water crystal clear and hundreds of fish had been caught. It was now time to fillet another couple stringers of delicious crappie.

Once again, the hidden fly fishing secret spot, Owyhee Reservoir had not let us down. We would surely return, once our palms and thumbs healed. 

Crappie Palm
Craw-pee Palm

Pricked, scratched and abraded palm as a result of grabbing crappie while attempting to place on a stringer for consumption.