Friday, July 25, 2014

Wyoming 2014 Day Five

After four hard days of fishing, a little boozing and the late night tire change my body was not cool with the alarm but it was the final morning and time to rally.  Our initial plans had been to do some canyon fishing but another opportunity came up that was too good to pass up.  A river from my first year out, but unavailable since, was an option for the day so we jumped on it.  It is a much bigger river, big enough in fact to easily hold the flows from the first few days combined.  It is a river that has less fish then the others we have hit but they are generally larger and the potential is there for monsters.  It is where I caught my largest brown in Wyoming to that is the only replica I have on my wall.

As we walked towards it through the field I was mentally steeling myself.  This water holds big fish but they are that way for a better do everything right or not bother.  The old adage that they are big for a reason holds true here.  These fish are thick, wary and far to smart to fool with any subpar drift.  Once we hit the rivers edge a smile spread across my face as the water looked perfect.  I entered the water carefully and re-rigged to make sure I was a prepared as I could be.  This is some serious hopper water so I decided to start the day by tying on one of the hoppers I knocked out just before heading west.  With the yellow hopper at the ready I moved in to position. 

The first spot was the outside of a bend with a deep pool that was 50 yards long and as wide as a two lane highway.  At the head of the pool there was a grass bank that sloughed off in to the water and formed a small island that was the perfect water break to slow the water on the outside of the bend.  A few casts were laid out to knock off the overnight rust and gauge water spped before moving in to target holding water that almost certainly had fish looking up.  A few casts later I connected with the first fish of the day.

Greg quickly got in on the act as well with a solid fish on one of his Virgin Chubbies followed shortly thereafter by our guide and friend Cole landing a solid slab as well.  It was an awesome feeling to all be on the board quickly as this river is not always that accomodating.

It is a much more wide open sort of scenery here than the last couple days.  A gentle breeze  was present most of the day and pushed the grass back and forth giving the illusion of green waves.  Wind is a four letter word but breeze is a fantastic thing.  Ninety degrees in dry air is still ninety degrees so a little breeze is always welcome to cool off, and of course it is always good to have more bugs blown in the water so the fish are looking up!

Where the browns from the last two days where a dark yellow with orangish tints and nearly arctic char like orange around the mouth, these fish were much more buttery.  The rocks here were far less red and orange so the fish had adapted accordingly and were a deep rich yellow.  They were obviously very well fed too as the shoulders on these fish were impressive.

There are a few spots where permanent islands have taken hold forcing the river to braid.  They were neat spots to fish as the current i nthe braids was very steady, fairly strong, and both banks were undercut and fishy their entire lengths.  A well placed fly typically meant a high casting angle to avoid the grass and overpowering the forward stroke to an abrupt stop to curve the fly up under the overhanging grass while piling in some slack.  Tricky cast but doable and there were a few rewards to be had.

The farther into the day we got the more I started to reflect on the trip and how fantastic it had been.  This day was similarly fantastic to the previous days but in a different way.  We saw far less fish but the ones we tangled with were significantly larger on average...and there were a few heart breakers that came off early or bent the hook out.

One last fish in the net to end my day and I reeled up.  No point in making any more casts as my spirit was full.  With smiles from ear to ear Greg and I stayed on the bank and watched Cole work through the last run, hitting one final fish.  What a day and what a trip.  After a few handshakes and thank yous we headed back towards the vehicles to see how the other guys did gear down.  Again all I could think was what a trip...and just 361 days until I am back (now 349). 

Ummm...the end.

Making this trip happen yearly is an indulgence that’s thankfully supported by my amazing wife.  She understands the opportunity to get out and experience the scenery, fishing and camaraderie of this trip is both something I will never forget and something I cannot get enough of.  I am lucky enough to have a great friend in Greg Senyo to share the water with and really work hard together to make these trips come off smoothly.   We are also very lucky to have such a phenomenal staff of guides to work with that will put up with finding the experience we are looking for and changing locations on the fly if necessary to do so.   Clark runs a tight ship but has fun while doing it.  Fishing with guides Clark, Cole and Anthony as well as friends Dan, Aaron, Chad and Rob this year was a top notch experience and one that I can not wait to do again.  To that end we set up time for the return trip during the first half of July in 2015 so if you are interested in coming along shoot Greg ( or myself ( an email to get the details.

-mike schmidt

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wyoming 2014 Day Four

Day four started off much like the previous day had; rolling out of bed feeling well rested Greg and I headed down to grab breakfast early. The difference for me today was that I had to consciously think about chewing my food and slowing myself down. The excitement was near boiling over for me as today we were headed to my favorite water.  I managed to put down enough food to fuel me through lunch and then headed back up to the room to get my gear together.  Carefully I sorted through my pack, with shaking hands, to make sure that I did not leave any needed piece of gear behind.  Of course I loaded up the humidor with a fresh supply of cigars as well...Leaf, LFD and Kristoffs would do nicely for the day on the water.  After what seemed like hours, but was in reality about thirty minutes, everyone met up at the cars and hit the road.
Today's river meanders it's way through some amazing geography and has formed some of the best trout holding water I have ever seen.  One pool with undercut banks flows in to the next through gentle riffles as it snakes it's way back and forth through a canyon rivalling Sedona's color with it's red rock outcroppings.  The fish in this water have adapted to the bright sun and red rock bottom in such a way that I have not seen any other place.  In this place their color truly reflects the conditions found in this valley.  Their appearance is spectacular having taken on the coloration of a bright yellowy slab with intesely dark spotting, and with their pectoral fins and belly taking on a orangish-reddish glow.
The very first pool we dropped in to had what looked like a pair of really nice fish rising in the tailout.  I had a small hopper tied on from the previous afternoon so I carefully waded in to position.  They both rose again so I waited  about the same amount of time from the previous rise then laid out a perfect cast to the bank.  The hopper landed with a satisfying *plop* then slid down in the current mere inches from the grassy edge and right over the fish...with no reaction.  Crap.  We backed off and took a look at the water to see what we could find.  There were a few female caddis flitting about dropping to lay eggs so we decided to go small and tie on a size 16 caddis.  It only took one more cast to confirm that was the ticket to start the day.

Another reason I was excited for the day is that we got to hang out with our good friend Clark.  Clark is a top notch guide and quick to laugh so we always have a great time.  When we get out with him we generally play baseball on the fish then rotate out between all three of us.  While it does mean less time fishing I can not imagine a more fun way to spend a day than the shared excitement of catching fish and giving each other shit all day!  Frankly I think it also makes me a better angler to be able to fish some and then be forced to observe.  It is surprising how much happening on the river you may miss when you are zoned in on casting, mending and watching the drift.  This also allows me to see how the other guys approach the water and fish through it.

Where the browns have adapted their coloration to be more vivd and match the surroundings the rainbows actually went the other way and are a bit more pale.  In reality they are nearly like mirrors in the water and you rarely spot anything other than their shadows to give them away.

They just silently slide in and melt right back in to the bottom as you release them.

Clark was really digging the Orvis Superfine Fiberglass 4wt that I brought along.  As he fished it throughout the day he agreed with me that it was perfect for this style of fishing.

Did I mention that Clark really REALLY loves his fish...never a dull moment!  I won't give a play by play for the next few fish pictures as I think they speak for themselves.  It was seemingly an unending parade of gorgeous fish throughout the day.  I was super excited to be back here and it did not disappoint...this place is still king of the west for me.  350 days until I am back...give or take.


The day ended a little short of what we normally fish but everybody was all smiles.  We had to get om the road a little early to get back to town and then out for our traditional prime rib dinner at the ranch.  On the way back to the truck I caught the father and son team, Dan and Aaron, trekking back across the field.

Out at the ranch the dinner was amazing as always.  Shortly after arriving we sat down and out came the perfect cuts of prime rib with green beans and twice baked potatoes.  When we were on the river it was so good I had doubts about leaving but this feast made it worth it!  After dinner we headed back over to the the shop, that is also the bar, to unwind for the evening.  One neat thing about this place is the population of hummingbirds...they are everywhere.  To get a close look I posted up underneath the feeder on the porch and stayed as still as I could.  After about thirty seconds they were back buzzing close enough that I could feel their wings.  One actually landed on my finger to feed and then hovered inches from my face staring at me before flitting up in to the trees.  When you are close enough to a hummingbird to see their tongue you know you are close!

Inside at the bar people gathered around to have a few beverages and tell some stories from the day.  It's about as unique a gathering spot as you are likely to find anywhere and something I always look forward to.  This shot is from actually from two years ago but you'd never know it unless you spotted Teddy behind the bar, since he is guiding the Ponoi right now, or one of the new pitures not yet above the bar.
After a few hours of having more fun than anyone should be allowed to have the day was catching up with us.  We had one more day to fish and needed to head back and get some rest so we said our good byes to those that would not be out the next day and headed back to town.  Thanks to a pair of flats it was not a quick trip home...  Cole and Justin bounced out with headlamps to help us out and it wasn't too long before we were back at the hotel and crashing hard, just under five hours before the morning alarm...
-mike schmidt

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wyoming 2014 Day Three

When you are travelling there are all sorts of tricks to settle your body in to whatever time zone you will be enjoying.  Sometimes they work well and you don't skip a beat, but other times your body doesn't fall for the ruse.  The amount of food eaten the night before and the high level of anticipation had everyone rolling early on Day Three! 
One nice thing about hopper fishing is that it is not really a crack of dawn type of thing. It takes a little time for the water to warm up a degree or two with the sun and the bugs to wake up and get to doing buggy things. Knowing that we usually get up and have some coffe a nice breakfeast about 7 then head back to the rooms to shower up and grab gear for the day before meeting around 8:30 to hit the road. Greg and I rolled down about 6:45 to find that everyone was already chowing. This year we had the father and son team of Dan and Aaron finally back for a second year along with Chad and his business partner Rob who is just dipping his toe into our proverbial rabbit hole of a sport. I could not wait to see the smiles and excitement on the faces of the return crew and the absolute look of awe with the new guys.  The forecast was for rain showers throughout the day but you sure couldn't tell that on the drive in!

Greg and I got to fish with Anthony for the first time and on Greg's favorite water to boot.  Anthony is a great guy that we have joked around with the last few years out there but not had a chance to hit the water with yet.  I always give Greg first crack on this river as this is his ShangriLa and right out of the gate Anthony was on his game and was coaching up Senyo.  Greg let it go for a few casts before the shit talking started.  We were going to make it one of the easiest days for him as a guide, but we were going to talk shit and laugh hard all day.  Despite Anthony barking out when to set just to rile Greg he kept his composure and hit the first fish of the day a few minuted in.  This was going to be fun.

I quickly got on the board as well with a great surface eat.  This fish wanted the fly so bad that it slow rose to inspect it and took too long to eat so the fly started to drag out.  That made no difference as he was on the fly like a cruise missle...he chased it down a few feet out of his holding water and sharked it!

The water we hit this day is a mixture of narrow willow lined chutes and deep meandering bend pools.  The combination really forces you to keep track of where your line is at all times.  If you get too excited and lose track or are off target then you are definitely in for a date with a tree.

If you can keep the line in the water though and get a good drift then there are jewels in these depths!
This is a pretty typical chute.  Great undercut banks with overhanging grasses and a well defined current seam.  Trout heaven.

In all the days I have spent out there I had somehow avoided all bad weather, until this rolled in.  It went from sunny to nasty rolling thunder just over the range and out of sight to dark and windy in about five minutes.  The sunlight coming through the clouds and bouncing off the canyon walls a really sinister dark purplish look and we knew that we were not avoiding this one.  As Anthony was hoofin back to grab out lunches the storm hit and Greg and I found ourselves in hurricane style sideways rain.  It was pretty warm so we did not have rain gear on us and chose to back in to the willows get a little out of it.  And then it was gone.  As fast as the storm popped up it was out of there in about ten minutes.  Lucked out again!

There was just enough rain to raise the humidity to normal midwestern level soupiness and wake up every mosquito in the area.  Time to cover up or become a meal.

Some places you can get away from the swarms of little blood sucking bastards but not here.  There is just not enough space to separate you from them so you ignore it because it is some of the best trout fishing around and they generally do not stick around too long.   Just to be safe though I lit up a particularly girthy and dark cigar to give them more incentive to look elsewhere, and it worked...mostly.

The color of the fish here never ceases to amaze me.

This is the reason I will continue to go back every year that I possibly can.  This fish needs no photoshopping of any kind to glow and is as thick as my wrist.  I will never get enough of it.

Greg has a spot that he has been waiting to hit literally since last year.  Two years ago he hit the biggest fish of the day in a nondescript spot that has mere inches of depth change as a current break with a small stump to guard it.  Last year, on the same fly, he had what we decided to call the same fish in the same spot rise and miss the fly...and it was all of a solid twenty.  As the day wore on I caught him looking upstream and knew this was where he wanted to be.  Just downstream of 'the spot' he re rigged his leader and put the fly on then worked in to casting range.

It wasn't Neo that he hooked in to but a great fish none the less.  Greg was admittedly down on it a bit at the time, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't as well, as when the line went taught for that split second we yelled and thought it was stilll there.  Looking back on it later that night we both were impressed with this fish, both in color and fight that it displayed.  Now this is the one we will look to find next year, a little wiser and a few inches bigger!

This foam tasted like hopper.

The rainbow above and brown below show the amazing spot patterns that this river has.  High frequency of spots and dark as night, providing great camoflage.

Really just about perfect camoflage actually.  They seem to just melt away at your feet in to nothing and do it right in front of your eyes.  If you blink they are gone...even though they are still right there in inches of water.  Really an amazing adaptation for survival in a harsh and unforgiving environment.

It really doesn't get much better than this.

At the end of the day we all met back up at the cars to shed our gear and load up.  Everyone had enjoyed a fantastic day on the water and there were smiles all around.  Rob, our least experienced guy, had caught his fill and had a look of near shock on his face.  On the drive back towards town the silence was frequently broken by headshakes and laughs of disbelief at what we had experienced.  It was beyond fulfilling to be in this environment and share it with people that so obviously were enjoying every second and soaking it all in.  We stopped up on the mesa in one of our favorite spots to show them the scope of where we were.  Parking the car on the side of the road you can see the valley is there, but not until you walk about 100 yards out and up a gentle slope do you come to the edge and realize just how vast this single valley is.  Awe inspiring.   
We made it back in to town in time to stop off for a quick pizza dinner and by the time it was on the table you could see the jet lag and physical nature of the day had caught up with everyone.  There were a few stories told of fish from each team of anglers but once the food was gone so were we.  Back to the hotel to recharge, organize gear and get to sleep.  Tomorrow we do it all again.
-mike schmidt