Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Float Tubing in the Mountains

September 2018
As fall approaches, the evenings cool and the days grow shorter, trout begin to move back into the shallows of lakes and reservoirs. These seasonal changes stir in them an instinct to pack on the pounds for the coming winter. Minnows and leeches become a prime food source, and if they're available, trout will even feed on dead Kokanee salmon. 
Katie and I planned our next adventure to put us in the Central Idaho mountains chasing trout in our float tubes. This particular reservoir was one I hadn't fished in years but had fond memories of. We chose to camp and fish where the river entered the reservoir. Google Earth revealed some great drop-offs and a distinguishable river channel; key features to focus our effort on. 
The first day of fishing started like most trips to a lake; calm, glassy water with fish rising everywhere. Once our float tubes touched the water, however, the wind kicked up and waves started lapping against our tubes as we kicked away from the shore. It's almost comical how many times this has happened to me and I suspect many anglers can relate. Regardless, the water was very clear and the sun was out, showing us exactly where the river channel was. We trolled our flies over to the river channel, tethered our boats together and anchored near the edge. I started casting a flesh fly and Katie a leech. BOOM! My line tightened and I set the hook on the first fish of the trip. A chunky cut-bow darted about in the clear water.
After releasing the fish, we continued casting and stripping with no success. Rather than moving on to another location, I reeled my line in and looked over at Katie.
"It's bobber time!" I said, grabbing the other rod in my boat already rigged with a balanced leech and a large yellow strike indicator.
Katie chuckled and grabbed hers as well. 
I started with an olive and brown leech and Katie with a halloween.
It couldn't have been more than 20 seconds before Katie's big pink bobber dove under the surface and she heaved back on a nice fish. This one was a gorgeous cutthroat.
The next several hours were filled with a lot of nice fish: rainbows, cutthroat and cut-bows. The trout were cruising the edge of the river channel. When one spot slowed we would re-anchor 20 yards away and resume catching fish. The chop on the water was also helping our flies dance under the water as our bobbers rose and fell with the waves.  
"Gosh, this topography is awesome!" I said in a humorous way, pointing to the steep drop-off in front of us leading into the depths of the river channel. "It's all about that topography!"
"You're silly," she laughed and rolled her eyes in the, 'I married a nerd' sort of way.
"Oh, this topography!" 
Topography became the joke of the afternoon, and I beat it to death. But you couldn't argue with the success we were having because of it.
We kicked back to the truck near dinnertime, finishing up a stellar afternoon of fishing.

The following morning we rose to the chirping of bald eagles. The skies and shorelines were full of them, as well as osprey, vultures, sandhill cranes and herons. Today we would try a different spot. Google earth showed a clear drop off that extended out into the lake a couple hundred yards. We kicked off from shore, this time trolling a flesh fly and a leech. I hadn't gone more than 30 yards from shore when my line went tight to a fish. I brought in the cutthroat and released it.
Katie was on next.
We continued to troll along the edge. To my right it was 4 feet deep and to my left, 10. We continued to pick up fish here and there.
We eventually lost track of the drop off and turned around, trolling our way back. We began picking up fish once we found the edge again. We decided to anchor up and try the bobbers for a little while. It worked like a charm, despite the calm water. From my experience, fishing a balanced fly under a bobber works about the same whether it's calm water or choppy. 
We took a few hours off from fishing to eat lunch and go for a hike. But at 5 pm we were back on the water to see what the evening held. We anchored our boats near the river channel and caught several more rainbows, cuts and cut-bows to finish out a great day.
The last morning of our trip we rose bright and early to catch the morning bite and the calm water before it was time to drive home. We tried trolling the drop off before kicking over to the river channel. On the way over we passed through some deep water with large pine stumps scattered about. My line quickly tightened to a strong fish! A silver flash came from the depths. What is this? A black, freckled, silvery fish came thrashing to the surface. A chinook salmon! I scooped the 17 inch fish into the net. Fish and game has been planting chinook in many reservoirs in Idaho over the last few years and in some locations they are thriving and reaching sporting size. This was the largest land-locked chinook I'd ever caught, but surely more to come in the future.
We released the fish and proceeded to the river channel. The calm, clear water enabled us to find little pockets of old creek channels, stumps and holes the fish were using adjacent to the river channel. The action was consistent, however today our hooking success was lacking. 
"Honey, you got one!" I shouted with excitement as I watched her bobber dive.
Katie heaved back on the rod, several seconds too late. "Darn-it! I was looking at the eagles! Oh, you've got one!"
I quickly looked at the end of my fly line to see my bobber one foot under the surface. I yanked back in a futile attempt, seconds too slow for a seasoned trout. "Darn-it! I was paying attention to your bobber!"
We both laughed. After re-casting, the same thing happened again.
"Stare at your own bobber!" I said, frustrated that we kept missing fish due to looking at each others bobbers instead of our own.
Even after we committed to looking at our own bobbers, something else would distract us, causing us to miss more fish. At least we were having fun. Despite the poor hook up rate, we managed to land numerous fish, including this nice rainbow.
We drove home with big smiles on our faces. The fall can be a fantastic time of year to get the float tubes back out, and most of the time, you'll have the whole lake to yourself. Concentrate your effort on river and creek channels, drop offs and flats. Locate these topographic features with a depth finder, google earth or simply clear water on a sunny day. Find these and you will likely find the fish. When things seem to slow down, remember: put a bobber on it!

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.