Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Archive for ‘September 14th, 2017’

Alberton to Boise

September 10, 2017

Rhonda and Martha were flying into Boise on the evening of the 12th. Then Kelly and Rhonda would be heading south to Moab, while Martha and I would head back north and west. Everything we had was covered in dust. Our trip with David couldn’t be topped, so we decided to leave the fishing on that great note. We had a great three weeks of fishing, but now we needed to do some serious cleaning.

Setting the truck GPS for Boise, we turned the radio to listen to news. We weren’t paying enough attention to where we were going until we saw a sign for Spokane. It is no doubt the simplest way to go on major highways, but not the way we wanted to go. We cut over to 12, 95 and 55. It was definitely the longer route, but it is a beautiful drive with such variety of terrain. It follows the beautiful Salmon River for a long time, then the Little Salmon River and the Payette River. Incredible, beautiful waters. The Payette is Olympic-calibre kayak water. Ron Lowry would later tell us about running a raft on it and turning it over.

Finally arriving at Mountain View RV Resort, we spent the next day and a half washing, cleaning, doing laundry, and rearranging for our next adventure. Kelly rented a car and got a hotel room. By the time we picked up the girls at the airport, we were really tired, and so were the girls after a long day of travel. We had a nice dinner exchanging stories before going our separate ways and getting a good night’s sleep.

Fishing The Bitterroot River with David Hufman

September 9, 2017

We drove 30 minutes to the Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula to meet our guide at 7:00. We met David Hufman and did all the paperwork in the shop and put our rods in his Toyota truck. We drove south about 45 minutes to the Bitterroot River. We thought we were going to fish Clark Fork, but David said the Bitterroot was fishing better. We talked about the fires as we headed toward Lolo National Forest. He said the smoke acted like a cloud cover for the river, keeping it cool and making fishing better. I asked about his beautiful Boulder boat. He said it is the third one he has had. A client had given him this one! He has guided this man on many fishing trips. He is a very wealthy man, now 90 years old, and still comes fishing with him. He had bought the boat and wanted his aid to learn how to use it and to take him fishing. That never quite worked out, and it sat in a shed for two years. One day David got a call from the man’s aid, who said, “David, this is your lucky day. Mr. … is giving you his Boulder boat. He is going to have it shipped to your house.” The drift boat is a light, thin-walled boat that slides easily over rocks.

We learned that David grew up in western Pennsylvania. His best friend moved to Montana and kept telling David he needed to come join him guiding fishing trips. Finally, he came, and now he has been guiding for 18 years. By the time we got to the river we learned David is a bright guy with tremendous knowledge and enthusiasm for his profession. After pushing off into the river, he put tippet and different hoppers on our lines. Then he gave us some instructions on how he wanted us to fish. We told him we were here to fish, but also to learn, and we welcomed any instruction and coaching. You might think we know how to fish, and we do to some extent, but a great guide, like David, is fishing every day. He talks to other professionals, and he spends every day with fishermen and women, talking and watching techniques. He knows where the fish are, what they like to eat and what time the hatches are. Even if you had a boat like this to float the river, we would just start fishing flies we thought might work, but we would likely make the wrong choices, the wrong colors or the wrong presentation. We would probably catch some fish, but we would not have the kind of day we were about to have.

David coached constantly, in a soft, positive manner all day. It was like going to a clinic with a great expert. We started catching fish from the start – big, strong cutthroats, rainbows and a cutbow, which is a cross of the two. The biggest fish of the day was a 19-incher Kelly caught. He almost made the 20/20 club, where you catch a 20 inch fish with a size 20 fly. That is a very tiny fly! After about an hour and a half the Trico hatch started. These are tiny little flies that hatch, spawn and the males die. David said they must be like cocaine for trout, because the love them, and while feeding on them, they will ignore everything else. We watched a real bug float over feeding fish, and they ignored it.

In one area, they had put old cars on the bank to try to stabilize the river banks. It didn’t work so well, but it makes great cover for fish. It also makes a great place to break your line and lose fish. It doesn’t look like these old car frames will do what they wanted. David said the powerful river moves every year, washing these sandy banks away. In one  area the river will likely go up and over the banks and take an entirely new route.

We have seen feeding trout before, but never like this. Big noses poking out of the water as they sipped Tricos. They were schooled-up in certain areas with 10-15 fish feeding. David called them pods of fish. He could tell the big ones by the size of rings they made in the water. Sometimes you would get a glimpse of the tail or the whole fish sipping tiny Tricos, 3-4mm in size. Looking into the water by the boat, you could see hundreds of dead males floating by. Similar to salmon, they hatch and mate. Then the males die while the females live on. This river is full of food for fish. The trick, and it’s a demanding trick, is to pick out a ring where a fish is feeding and cast the tiny fly one foot above it with absolutely no drag from the line. You have to drop the fly right on the target, not a foot in front or behind. Why would the fish move when the food just keeps coming down the river. You have to drop the tiny fly so gently, it looks like it has a parachute on. The fish then has 100 options, one of which is your fly. If he takes it, you must wait for him to swallow it. He has his big mouth open and if you jerk the fly, it just comes out of his mouth before he has a chance to close. This is a whole, new level of fishing. There were so many fish feeding that we managed to catch some of them. Big, powerful, hard-fighting fish that and take 15 minutes to land. Even then it takes an expert lunge of the net by David to finally land the fish.

After a while, we went back to hoppers and kept catching fish. We agreed this was the best day of trout fishing we have ever had. It was a beautiful day on a beautiful river with a great guide and coach. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Fish Creek

September 8, 2017

Fish Creek is 30 minutes west from River’s Edge Campground. This time there was no fly shop, no restaurant, but plenty of people fish it. The stream was low and very clear, but with many deep pools. We could not find a fly the fish wanted. Was it fished out? Had someone fished ahead of us? Were they feeding on something we didn’t have? Finally we found a big pool where we could see them feeding. Still they weren’t interested in what we had. I went to the end of the pool to see what washed down. Tiny, little dead, black bugs floated downstream. Kelly put on a black ant and that did the trick, catching some nice cutthroats.

As we walked toward another pool, I stopped in my tracks as caught a glimpse of something big in the bushes. A moose looked back at me in similar surprise. There was a small, but perfect moose bog where she was happily eating.

Driving to what we thought was the top of the stream, it split into two branches. The stream became too small, so we headed back down the long, dusty road.

Fishing Rock Creek

September 7, 2017

We drove to the Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula, about 30 minutes away. As we drove south, the smoke intensified. Rick greeted us in this large shop with everything. I looked at flies while Kelly asked about a guided trip, what streams to fish and what to use. Despite the smoke, they are busy with guided trips. We decided to go get a cup of coffee and think it over. Since Rock Creek was another 30 minutes away, we decided to fish that today and go to Fish Creek tomorrow. We agreed on a guided trip on Clark Fork on Saturday, when his best guide was available. We bought the flies he recommended and headed out, while a couple came in and cancelled a trip tomorrow because of the smoke.

Walking back to the truck, I noticed a parking ticket. There were no meters, but looking around, I saw the place you pay and put a ticket in your window. Shoot! Opening the envelope, there was a ticket, but also a note forgiving it for a first offense. Nice touch Missoula!

A mile or so after turning on Rock Creek Road, there was a fly shop, so of course we stopped to ask what to use. He recommended October Caddis, so I bought four and four Prince nymphs. The road follows this beautiful, medium-sized stream for maybe 50 miles, but the road is closed 19 miles up. The stream is the border between two fires, and they had just opened it back up. There is a restaurant beside the fly shop that JC Hanks recommended to Kelly. We went in to see if we could get a sandwich at Stage Station Restaurant. Lisa was carrying out four big plates with the best-looking breakfasts I have seen. One with big, beautiful pancakes, another with a big omelet,  sausage and toast. Man! She asked what we wanted, then put these big sandwiches, a big cookie, chips and an apple in water-proof bags. Then she told us what was for dinner.

Maybe because the stream had just reopened, there were lots of people fishing, one couple coming from Connecticut. It’s all catch and release, barbless hooks. There were farms and houses along the first part, and another fly shop! There were fishing camps and rental places. We weren’t exactly the first ones on the stream, but we stopped at the first pool without a car parked and caught a few. It was tough walking in this slippery stream. Cleats were a better choice. I messed up one Caddis removing it from a small cutthroat. I was on the far side of the stream fishing upstream as Kelly cursed on the other side. He kept missing fish, a couple of them pretty big. Finally he looked at his fly to discover a broken hook.

Moving up to about mile 16, we found another good area. Kelly went up and I went down. I hooked a 16” powerful fish in the middle of the river downstream from me. I had my 7’ 4-weight rod, a little rod, and I wondered if it was enough to hold this fish as it stripped line running downstream fast. I have never seen this reel being stripped like this and didn’t even know if it had backing on it. The line is really old too, so I got over to the rocky bank and started walking as quickly as I could downstream, reeling line in. He jumped and spit the October Caddis out, but somehow it hooked in his tail. Now I ran to catch up with him, grabbing my net. With a plunge of the net, I missed the first time, but caught him the second. Looking at this magnificent fish, I put the net in the water to let him catch his breath. The fly was no longer attached to the fish. I took a couple of pictures and set him free.

We caught a few more in this pool before moving up for one more pool. We fished this area up and down for about an hour. Watching a big fish rising in the middle of a huge pool, I could barely get close enough to cast to it. After a couple of tries, I put it in the right place and wham! In one quick strike, he took my last Caddis and broke the line. It had a two-pound tippet on it. Surely he wasn’t two pounds, but he hit it with such force that it broke it. I’ll change to a four-pound tomorrow. I hate losing them, not so much for losing a fish, but that he has a hook in his mouth. I know it’s barbless and he’ll probably shake it out, but I hate it.

We were tired now, and Kelly was having a terrible time with felt-bottom boots in this slippery stream. He almost fell several times. It’s not so easy climbing out with felt either. No doubt, we are not as spry as we were on our last trip four years ago, but it was a good day. Driving back down the road, a bunch of Bighorn Sheep crossed the road. Back on I90, the smoke looked heavier. Missoula looked like a smog-choked city. With a million acres burning in Montana, it remains on the front page of the papers. but also the Missoula paper is the only one I have ever seen with a whole page on fishing conditions on all the major trout streams. There is also a festival here this weekend celebrating “A River Runs Through It”. They moved it from its original location because of smoke.

Hungry Horse to Alberton, Montana

September 6, 2017

We went back to the ranger station to see what the fire situation is in Alberton, to the south in Montana. Another very nice ranger checked the computers and maps, finding that Fish Creek would be OK, but Rock Creek was closed, defining the border of two fires. Forest roads were closed. There were fires all around it, one being totally uncontained. The biggest fire is the Lolo fire in Missoula County, burning 48,300 acres. More than 1 million acres of Montana have burned this season with over 4,000 firefighters involved in the battle. The total number of fires is 1,687, 938 being started by people. One of the biggest fires was started by a 15 year old boy shooting fireworks. The west is more than 80 days without measurable rain.

We stopped in Columbia Falls to wash the truck and trailer. The further we drove south on Rt. 2, 93 and 90 to Alberton, the smokier it got. We kept the windows closed the entire time. I’m sure this is beautiful country, but it was clouded with smoke. We arrived in Alberton, population 420, and pulled into River’s Edge Campground with our fingers crossed. It only has 17 sites, but we figured the fires would slow business down. Wrong again. Fortunately they had two sites available. As we backed into a small site, our new neighbors watched. On my third attempt to get the trailer straight, I rolled down the window, telling them not to give me any grief. They just smiled and said they were going to sell the video.

We spent an hour and a half cleaning the inside of the trailer, then fixed a drink and went out to a picnic table on a cliff beside Clark’s Fork River. It’s a beautiful spot with a big, rocky cliff across a beautiful river. The smoke had eased up some, and it was a delightful evening at 70 degrees.. We fixed bison burgers, rice and green beans. Kelly had bought a couple of movies, but decided we wouldn’t stay awake long enough to watch. I was quickly asleep. I think Kelly read two pages of his book.

Fishing South Fork of Flathead River

September 5, 2017

We woke up to the coldest it has been yet, 38 degrees. After a leisurely breakfast we headed out. By 9:00 when we first stepped into the cold river, it was still chilly. We are “wet wading” without waders. Most of the time in the summer it’s just fine. We fished a fast-flowing area with plenty of water with no results. It seems cutthroat don’t like these parts of the rivers. They need a pool nearby. Our Virginia Brook Trout would love this. 

We moved up river and crossed to the other side where there were huge, long pools. As we walked to the side of the river about 50’ up, we saw rocks that were lined up in formation on the far side of the current. One rock was closer to shore. I walked down a bit, picked up a small stone and tossed it near the closest fish-looking rock. It swam upstream! Oh my, the others were all fish, big fish, maybe 18 or 20 inchers. Our hearts leapt. We stood there wondering how to get a fly to them across the current without dragging the line, but there was no way. You couldn’t wade out, because it was probably 20’ deep in that area. We have never seen fish schooled up like that, in perfect formation like a military company. There were 40 or 50 of them sitting there in clear, turquoise water.

If there were that many fish in that spot, surely there were a bunch in the beautiful pools ahead. We fished hard for several hours, but only caught a few small fish. We changed flies many times to no avail. There are lots of stonefly shells all over the rocks. Maybe they have feasted on these big, molting bugs and are full. Walking back downstream, we stopped to analyze the possibilities of fishing that school. The wind was blowing hard now, making ripples on the water, so we could not see if they were still there. Kelly went above and I went below. We tried our best, but we couldn’t really reach the sweet spot. When I lost my fly on the rock cliff behind me, I gave up. That was the third fly I had lost on the rocks.

Planes and helicopters flew over us all day, going to fight fires all around us. Maybe those fish were sitting in the best possible position in case of disaster. We went back to Spotted Bear and fished for an hour. This time I fished upstream and Kelly went down. I managed to catch just enough for dinner. this is a gorgeous stream and would be great to fish for several days. The problem is how to get out when you are tired at the end of the day. It can be a long, steep climb out to the road. If you are younger and you love fishing, this is a great stream. 

In fact, looking at the maps, where all the roads end, trails follow the Flathead for miles and miles. There are also trails following all the other streams. That still doesn’t mean the trail will be right next to the stream, and it could be straight up, but that is how it works fishing the west. Still, at least there are trails. You have to be comfortable camping in the wild and doing all the bear-prevention things, but there are few places like this. There is only one way in and one way out, and that is 50 miles of rough road. Actually, you can fly in and stay in one of several lodges. There is great opportunity to float the Flathead, probably the best way to really fish it, perhaps camping along the river for several days. One of the pioneers of this area loved horses, so there are extensive horse trails. This is one of the coolest places I have ever been. It breaks your heart to see so much of it burning.