Saturday, December 26, 2015

An Early Christmas Gift

It had been several weeks since I had picked up a rod, so when my friend Camron came into town and suggested we try for some steelhead, I happily agreed. At 7 am, I received a text letting me know I would be fishing alone this morning; Camron's wife had gotten sick and he decided losing points wasn't a good idea. So I headed to my favorite Boise River steelhead spot and began fishing. I had to work at 10 am, so 2 hours in the cold rain would be just the right amount.
I tied on a green leech and trailed an egg pattern behind it. I worked the water thoroughly in one spot where I have hooked a few fish in the past. The rain began to turn to snow as I waded over to my most productive cut bank. I have taken numerous steelhead in this location, but as the morning faded with no hook ups in this spot either, I decided to try a different technique.    
I have taken many steelhead under a strike indicator in Idaho and Alaska, so I figured I'd give that a try for my last half hour on the water. I put on a different egg pattern and bobbered up! I walked upstream to a good looking run and started fishing. 
My first couple casts indicated I was set at a good depth. I watched the indicator as it gently drifted through the run, bumping the bottom occasionally. I put a little more effort into my next cast, sending my flies into the overhanging tree strategically planted next to the river to eat flies and lures. The worst thing you can do when your flies decide to perch in the trees is to yank them out immediately. The best thing to do is wait, and often times they will fall out on their own, or a gentle pull will free your hook back into the water. I waited a few moments and my egg pattern swung back over the branch and fell into the water. Yes! The indicator drifted downstream and took a dive. I set the hook and the fish took off with the strength of a bonefish. Woooo! This was obviously a steelhead. 
The fish battled for his life as he flung himself out of the water. Up and down the river he went with the strength of a fresh chrome fish, quite uncharacteristic of the usual Boise River type. Again he cartwheeled across the surface of the water, desperately trying to shake the hook. This fish was feisty! After another several minutes and a couple more jumps, he was ready for apprehension. Netting a large fish is difficult enough, let alone when you're by yourself and you have a small trout net. Regardless, patience paid off, and after dancing with the fish for a couple minutes in the shallows, I landed him.
I could barely keep the fish still enough for a photo as he squirmed and tried to kick back into the depths of the river. After a couple quick photos, I knelt beside the fish and thought of what I should do. I normally keep Boise River steelhead, but this one showed so much life and I had no means of processing him before work.

Another strong pulse of energy through the fish's body told me he deserved another day in the river. Maybe myself or someone else will be able to catch him again. I let go of his tail and he surged back into the dark cold waters of the Boise River.
I fished my way back downstream with my remaining 10 minutes on the water. I closely watched my indicator with a fresh sense of optimism. There had to be more steelhead left in this run, I could bump into one at any moment... Just then, my indicator went under and my reflexes couldn't have been faster. I immediately felt tension, telling me my hook had connected with something solid. I waited for the usual slow steelhead shake. I received no such feeling and my hopes faded quickly. I continued to pull back on my rod, and the object I had hooked slowly came toward me until it broke the surface. 

How a hook can find it's way into a tiny tunnel on a rock is beyond me. Some would take this as a sign that their luck is about to increase and a steelhead is waiting for them on the next cast. Others might take it as a sign to stop fishing. Since I had to be at work in 25 minutes, I was forced to adhere to the latter.
I reeled my line in and walked back to my truck. I believe any quick trip before work that results in a landed steelhead is a gift, and with Christmas just a couple days away, I considered that steelhead to be an early Christmas gift.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Too Much of a Good Thing

When it comes to hunting waterfowl, wind is your least that's what I always thought.
My good friend, Jim Bottorff, invited me to hunt with him on a small piece of private land with a flooded field. You'd have to be nuts to refuse an offer like this. Flooded fields to mallards are like lily pads to bass; you can't keep them out. So of course I took him up on his offer and at 6 am we were driving in the dark to the field.

 We readied our gear and set the decoys.
From our spot in the blind, the wind was blowing at a steady 10 MPH, directly at our faces. This is not ideal but fairly easy to remedy on a small body of water. We set the decoys in a U shape at 40 yards away. This way the ducks would approach over our heads and choose to land between us and the decoys. Jim informed me the importance of keeping a large hole for the ducks to land in breezier conditions.
With everything set in place we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful sunrise.
The first ducks to come in were a pair of wigeons. They descended exactly the way we wanted them to. 
"Let's take em!" Jim shouted and we rose to accomplish our task.
Both birds fell and Bear, Jim's chocolate lab, charged out of the blind to retrieve them.
"Good girl, Bear!" Jim praised, as Bear brought the ducks into the blind and into Jim's hand.  
We intently watched the skies for more birds. Occasionally we'd see a group approach and veer off without giving us a second look. I started to express some concern as the morning progressed and several groups gave us the "cold wing". It seemed the wind may be affecting them in a negative way. Jim kept up his optimism however, and before long, another small group circled and a drake mallard descended into the decoys. Jim rose and shot, giving Bear another bird to carry back to the blind. 
We waited a while longer before any more birds showed interest in our location. There just didn't appear to be many birds in the area. Jim and Bear scanned the skies intently.
The hunting slowly began to pick up as the morning progressed, but so did the wind. Another gullible greenhead hit the water and immediately was blown back towards us, giving Bear a short retrieve. 
One by one we began to add greenheads to our stringer.

As fun as it was to get a duck every half hour, we wanted to see more birds working our decoys. The wind had picked up even more and was easily blowing 15 MPH, with gusts over 20. Our small, flooded field looked like the ocean with 3 foot rollers. Not exactly enticing to birds looking to feed and loft out of the wind. 

"I think we better move the decoys out further. Maybe another 15 yards. When the wind is blowing like this, it's always best to give them plenty of room to land. They don't like being cramped." Jim said with certainty.
"Ok I'll go move them. Get ready, because as soon as I step out of the blind, the birds will start pouring in!" I said, referring to the dozens of times that has happened to me.
No birds approached as I was moving the decoys, but as soon as I got back into the blind, a pair came in and met their fate. Bear made a couple of wonderful retrieves.

The next hour produced several more birds. It seemed that moving the decoys had paid off. Birds were giving us a little better look.  


It was nearly noon now and we had 9 birds on our stringer. We were talking about calling it a day when a single mallard snuck in and tried to land. We both rose and shot, bringing down a hen. We decided that was a great place to end our hunt.
We packed up our gear and the decoys, and laid the birds out for some photos. It had been a fun hunt, but not a terribly easy one. The wind had been too strong, changing our flooded field from an inviting duck oasis to a hostile desert. By moving the decoys further out and opening up the "pocket" we made the ducks feel a little better about landing. I always thought wind was a good thing, but on this day, it was too much. In super windy conditions, remember to open things up a bit and you'll likely see more success.