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 Post subject: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 7th, 2019, 11:46 am 
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Joined: December 2nd, 2001, 1:00 am
Posts: 4254
Location: Ellsworth
All........

My Western TR this year consists of two parts. Part 1 is the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks; and Part 2 will be the Bighorn. The Cliff Notes version of the trip will be: Mediocre......not outstanding, as we usually do. Several reasons for that, but the main one will be the ridiculously high water we encountered for the 6th out of the last seven years. I'll explain shortly........

PART 1 Paradise Valley Spring Creeks

I fished 1 day on Nelson's...in 25 to gusting to 30 knot winds. Just ridiculous conditions. My "go to: Spring Creek rod is a Winston BiiiX 8'6" 3 weight paired with a Hardy Featherweight reel and Rio Gold line. That outfit fits the Spring Creeks perfectly. It wouldn't have mattered if I'd had a 7 wt that day. I managed to catch a few trout on PMD's, but the hatch was winding down, and the wind made accurate casting (a must on those creeks) virtually impossible. I was thrilled to just get a few trout.

The other 4.5 days were spent on DePuy's Spring Creek.......on the western side of the Yellowstone. That first evening I managed a great 20" Cuttbow on a #24 Sulphur Spinner. Just a freaking *blast* on a 3 weight rod. That #24 Sulphur Spinner is *money* on those Creeks. The short version is that we caught more large trout than normal....."large" being in the 18"; 19"; and 20" inch catagory, but noticibly lacking in the 14" to 17" trout that are the staples of our catch that we get there.

I love fishing all three creeks. It's tough....and that's why we go there. I will say.....truthfully....that it was not my best trip in terns of numbers of trout; but a really good trip in terms of the lenght...and girth, of the trout. After a week of that we headed three hours east to Ft. Smith, and the Bighorn.


Part 2 The Bighorn

When you plan a trip 6 to 9 months (or 12) in advance; you're at the mercy of Mother Nature. In this years case, Mother Nature was not kind to us. The Bighorn was way too high for great fishing. We were there for 10 days, and she only came down to wadeable levels the last 4 or 5. We had heard that the trout biomass in the river was WAY down from prior years. We're used to fishing over 7500 trout/mile.......the Montana F&W biologists sampled the river this spring; and electro-fished ~1100/mile. The Flyshop owners all disputed that claim....and said the Biologists were sampling in the wrong areas. In our experience, the Flyshop owners were trying to protect their businesses......and the biologists were spot-on.

We fished mostly nymphs (a couple of our guys fished Streamers.....if, in fact, you called a Golden Retriever a streamer), and Black Caddis dries. No Trikes to speak of....we were more than a week early for the great Trico Spinner falls. (Insert big expleteve deleted here).

The best nymphs were #22 Zebra's with a red bead head) and #22 Pinkies on TMC #200r hooks. Just a dynamite pair of flies. The Black Caddis dries were mostly #18 and #20 CDC Caddis and Corn Fed Caddis.......another great caddis pattern.

My outfit for the Bighorn is a Winston BiiiX 4 wt. rod. I had four 4 weight reels with me; and all performed wonderfully. My Peerless 1.5 paired with a Triangle Taper line; my Hardy LRH paired with a Rio In-Touch Perception; My Orvis (Abel) CFO III (I really sometimes forget what a GREAT reel that is) and my Hardy Dutchess that never came out of the case......but it's way better to have too much equipment that's not needed....that to need it and not have it.

I had two 5 wt. outfits that never got used......there was no need for them. Again; Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

I spoke with the Editor of Fly Tyer magazine after getting off the plane in Bangor; and, at least apparently........we had way better fishing that he and his wife did......even if I'd classify our trip.....overall (with exceptions a few days) as mediocre; compared to prior years.

OVERALL OBSERVATIONS

Bigger trout.....harder fighting trout.......absolutely! Numbers of trout, however, were way down from my prior experiences of the last 25+ trips out West. I'm not sure I'll go back to the Bighorn until I'm certain that the trout numbers have recovered. Also......I *love* the Missouri, and we didn't get to fish it this year. I'm going to make certain I don't miss it next year.

The reason for this.....apparently.......was the ridicuously high water these last seven years that has seriously affected Rainbow spawning. The trout were WAY bigger than we usually catch. They looked and acted more like Missouri River trout. The 10/12; 12/14; and 14/16" age classes just weren't there. Three entire age classes of trout were absent. If you hooked up......you were almost guaranteed of a 17"+ to 20"+ hot trout. I caught about 95% Browns. They fought like Banshees in that 52* to 54* water......and on 5.5X tippet (Trouthunter....great stuff).

Final Observation(s)

I started fishing the mountain West in my late 30's. I'm now (geesus!) in my Middle 60's. This trip was 19 days long. That sounds great reading this on a laptop or I Pad; but i've gotta tell you: Physically I just can't do what I could do in my 30's and 40's. I was exhausted by the end of it. Rowing a Drift boat for 10 straight days takes it out of you. Ive been home a full day now......and I'm still beat. No more three week trips for me. I'm thinking 10 days for 2020.

The flights (United) were fine....if a bit rushed getting on to the plane to O'Hare from Denver.

Good equipment is worth its weight in gold on these trips.

WE met Marshall (and his son) from this Board on the Bighorn ramp. Great guys...and gave us valuable info....Thanks Marshall!

If anyone has any questions Id be happy to answer them in replies to this thread...or PM me.

Pictures....sure. But I've gotta tell you: We've all seen pics of trout in the net....or in hand....and I usually fish somewhat alone, and nobody is nearby for those ubiquitous "hero shots", and Photosuckit won't let me put up any more pics...so if you want to see them I'll e mail them to you.

Sling packs: Uggh......All the cool flyfishers have gone over to Sling Packs. I haven’t been “cool” for a long time, but figured they might be lighter than my Fishpond Pack. Lighter......yup. More user friendly? Ahhhhh.......not so much for me. I just couldn’t get the damn thing to work right. Every time I needed something I had to go into contortions to try to get it. I almost hung myself once. I used it one day, then went back to my tried and true pack if you’ve been looking for a great deal on a Simms Sling, check the classifieds in the next couple of days. I’ll make you a screaming deal on a one day old one. ;-)

Dave M

PS: My brain is (somewhat) fried right now...if I think of anything else I'll just reply to this thread

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"Fish the West every year. Life is short; and you'll be dead a long time." Chris Hutchins--2009


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 7th, 2019, 5:52 pm 
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Joined: February 14th, 2007, 1:00 am
Posts: 1532
Location: New Hampshire
Dave, what do you think is the story on the reduced bio mass on the bighorn? A fishkill of 6000 fish per mile would have been noticed right?

Slingpacks.... I just don’t get them. I HATE having to go into the back of my pack and that only holds lunch and stock boxes. I can’t see the benefit of having essentials back there.

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"Fishermen...spending their lives in the fields and woods...are often in a more favorable mood for observing her, in the intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach her with expectation." - Thoreau


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 7th, 2019, 7:06 pm 
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Joined: December 2nd, 2001, 1:00 am
Posts: 4254
Location: Ellsworth
TGIF wrote:
Dave, what do you think is the story on the reduced bio mass on the bighorn? A fishkill of 6000 fish per mile would have been noticed .


Tim......

I don’t believe it was a fish kill. That section of the river is 13 miles long, so losing 6000 trout times 13 miles would be give/take 80,000 trout. It wasn’t a fish kill. It was that all the Rainbow eggs from the last three years of spawning got washed away in the ridiculously high water. That’s why the 2016; 2017; and 2018 year classes of Rainbows aren’t there. Why the fall spawning Browns numbers are down I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that conundrum.

Dave M

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"Fish the West every year. Life is short; and you'll be dead a long time." Chris Hutchins--2009


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 7th, 2019, 10:02 pm 
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Joined: December 5th, 2001, 1:00 am
Posts: 5442
Location: Manchester, ME
The tailwater giveth, and the tailwater taketh away.

Dave, did you hear anything about the upper sections of the Bighorn, up around Thermopolis, WY? We've got 5 days planned in Meeteetse, with the primary goal of spending time in the Absarokas and poking around on the Greybull and Wood, but there is a day we'll head south for some sight seeing, and I hear the Bighorn up there can fish very well.


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 7th, 2019, 10:59 pm 
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Joined: July 23rd, 2012, 12:11 pm
Posts: 193
Location: New Hampshire
I know its hard to complain about fishing, but I found the Bighorn to be "boring". The year I went there were so many fish that if you got a good drift, you got a fish. We did a float with a guide and I had to almost beat him over the head to get him to understand that I did not need a 50 fish day if that meant staring at a plastic bobber all day. Guides think that numbers are the key to a good fishing experience and maybe for beginners that is true, but bobber fishing and especially easy bobber (nymph) fishing is not my thing. The second day the guide finally got the message and we dry fly fished. It was frustrating as we were dry fly fishing with midges/tricos, but it was great. I only got maybe 12-15 fish on each of the 2 subsequent days, but I earned them and a few were really big.


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 8th, 2019, 6:51 am 
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Location: Ellsworth
Jeff Reardon wrote:
The tailwater giveth, and the tailwater taketh away.

Dave, did you hear anything about the upper sections of the Bighorn, up around Thermopolis, WY? We've got 5 days planned in Meeteetse, with the primary goal of spending time in the Absarokas and poking around on the Greybull and Wood, but there is a day we'll head south for some sight seeing, and I hear the Bighorn up there can fish very well.



Jeff......

I’ve heard the same thing, but I hadn’t heard anything about that section of the river you’re going to, as it’s almost 100 miles south of where we were. The lake itself above Yellowtail Dam is 70 miles long, and I believe the section you’re going to is south of that.

Dave M

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"Fish the West every year. Life is short; and you'll be dead a long time." Chris Hutchins--2009


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 8th, 2019, 7:01 am 
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Joined: December 2nd, 2001, 1:00 am
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Location: Ellsworth
kmudgn wrote:
I know its hard to complain about fishing, but I found the Bighorn to be "boring". The year I went there were so many fish that if you got a good drift, you got a fish. We did a float with a guide and I had to almost beat him over the head to get him to understand that I did not need a 50 fish day if that meant staring at a plastic bobber all day. Guides think that numbers are the key to a good fishing experience and maybe for beginners that is true, but bobber fishing and especially easy bobber (nymph) fishing is not my thing. The second day the guide finally got the message and we dry fly fished. It was frustrating as we were dry fly fishing with midges/tricos, but it was great. I only got maybe 12-15 fish on each of the 2 subsequent days, but I earned them and a few were really big.


Bingo. That’s exactly why we never fish that way. If I understand correctly, most of the money on a guided trip actually goes to the shop.....not the Guide taking you out.

So, they figure their tip depends on putting numbers of trout into the boat. Most of the folks that hire Guides are beginners, of Intermediates.....
And many of them can’t cast a line farther than the bow of 5he boat. The Guides want their “sports” to stare at a bobber for 13 miles.

We never fish that way. Most of us dry fly fish if there’s even a hint of a hatch.

This year even the Guides putting their sports on bobbers we’re struggling to get trout into the net. It was a very different experience for all of us. The flyshops are really hurting, as many of their clients heard of the ridiculous water levels, lack of trout......and said “F-it......and cancelled.

Usually when the Guides with their sports go by is in the drift boats they’re hooking up constantly.....as you said. I just didn’t see that this year. The sports seemed to go a long ways without bent rods.

Dave M

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"Fish the West every year. Life is short; and you'll be dead a long time." Chris Hutchins--2009


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 8th, 2019, 11:25 am 
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It sounds like the Bighorn and Kennebec have a lot in common. Recruitment failure can occur for a number of reasons- and fluctuating river levels due to dam regulation of said river levels is one of them. But it's usually not that the eggs are washed away, but rather that the fry can't feed fast enough to keep up with energy losses, or that they get swept into straining grasses, etc.. that impinge them. Of course, on the Kennebec - river temps are a big driver for recruitment failure, as sac fry don't develop well in warm water.

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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 9th, 2019, 7:24 am 
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Joined: April 1st, 2010, 10:35 am
Posts: 350
Location: flatland and Vienna Me.
Dave glad you had good fishing and made it back safely. I hear you on the getting old thing, feeling it myself.


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 11th, 2019, 11:57 pm 
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Joined: January 24th, 2002, 1:00 am
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Location: Lyons, CO
Sounds like you paid your dues this year, Dave. There are very, very few sure things in fly fishing, even on the tailwaters and spring creeks. I'd have been plenty happy to see what you saw. I've also observed similar cycles in other waters I fish -- some years it seems like the smaller fish just disappeared. Other years there are gajillions of 8-10 inch trout everywhere and the bigger fish seem to have disappeared. I'm usually seeing this variability more in the freestone streams, but I guess when there's big water, things change.

I was pleased to see that my local water (as in what I can walk to from my house) seems to be picking up increased recruitment 6 years post flood. They finally quit having excavators in the river a couple years ago and apparently there were still enough fish to spawn and get things rolling again. I couldn't keep the 5-7 inch trout off my dry flies the last couple of evenings. Some of them appeared to be little wild rainbows, too, and there hasn't been good natural rainbow recruitment in that creek since long before I started fishing it 15 years ago, since before whirling disease. If they were in fact wild, those were my first wild rainbows caught in town.

Jeff --
I haven't fished that section of the Big Horn through Thermopolis, but I think it's supposed to run a little warm most years in late summer. That might not be an issue this year with how much water we have.


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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: August 17th, 2019, 9:06 pm 
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Thank you Dave - I just read yours and Hutch's excellent reports one more time as a final prep for my trip - I'm so stoked right now I'm about to crawl out of my skin! Keep'em coming & tight lines!

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 Post subject: Re: 2019 Western TR
PostPosted: September 7th, 2019, 10:47 pm 
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Joined: December 15th, 2001, 1:00 am
Posts: 247
Location: Twin Bridges, Mt.
Two quick comments besides saying that I always enjoy reading your TR's.

First, regarding getting worn out. 10 straight days spent in a boat, on and off the sticks will do that to anyone. I'd suggest that if you go to the Missouri next year, you mix in a couple of days of gentleman's hours where you fish on foot for 3-4 hours and make a visit to the L&C interpretive center and/or the Charlie Russell museum in Great Falls. Another day perhaps make a run out to the N. Fork of the Blackfoot and go after Cutts for 3-4 hours midday. Just to give yourself a bit of a break.

Second, regarding sling packs. I was a vest guy for 30+ years until I started fishing in FLA. Down there I decided I wanted something that didn't have zippers and could hold 3-4 fly boxes. I picked up a Fish Pond Lodgepole satchel and love it. After a couple years of fishing with the satchel down there I looked at what options there are for Montana. My main fishing partner uses an Umpqua sling pack and swears by it, but, Like Dave, it wasn't my cup of tea. I asked for and was gifted a Fishpond Delta Sling Pack ($30 off at REELFLYROD) which is much more satchel like than sling pack like. It has a perfect net holder, drink holder and plenty of room for my fly boxes. Very comfortable and easy to maneuver. It sits perfectly and I don't snap the strap around my waist. Highly recommend as it is a lot less bulky than a vest and not as restricting as a regular Sling pack.


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