It's 2AM here at WoodnFire Studios in Mpls. I sit in my studio chair while ProTools files are rendering and my heart is as well rendering big files as it's being swept back to some hiding places from the last few weeks of life. We say life is made of making memories, good and bad. We survive through the black and white moments of life, but we live or die in the colors of our memories. Colors sometimes more real in memory that fade in time. So I take a few minutes and paint some photos of my last two soul safari's. As i traversed many times roads traveled by Lewis and Clark, they used pencil and paper and I use an I-Phone5 to capture moments that will automatically like a decoder ring decipher to words when I upload and look at them. Now I know you are not a cheater if you are reading this but if you click on this first picture, it should bring up a lightbox to just view the photos,videos and skip 20min. of actual reading :)
The Ruby Reservoir.
By day you drive by and it's a pretty flat rolling countryside that moves down to a man made lake. I guess you'd say it's not much to look at. You can walk an hour in most directions and just pass sagebrush bush after sagebrush bush and rodent/snake holes with dried cow pies. So how is it possible that I had my most memorable night ever in 30+ years of sleeping in Montana on that flat land...
We say in golf that to get your driving, chipping and putting all into alignment, is the trifecta. It's is about the only way to break a score into the 70's. Usually you can get one or two together but three? Not often.
Camping and Fly Fishing have a different set of things for the trifecta. On the fishing side, and unlike lakes, streams are always alive with food moving, and fish eating. If you understood what really happens under that stream water to facilitate the life of trout, you'd have to believe in God.
So simple, so amazing and complex. There are major hatches throughout the year on every river and stream that fly fisherman look to key on to make the fishing a bit easier and more productive but, there are "always" fish to be had if you're good enough to figure out "how" to make it happen. and Ps. I'm not that good, and I get skunked after 35years of this, and i still leave a stream smiling every time.
For camping nirvana I guess it different for everyone. There are times when rainy days are relaxing and comforting and you just love to stay in your tent with a rain fly on and read and study and drink steaming coffee while trying to keep the intoxicating smell of a smoke fire going all day. Then there are cold nights when you go beneath your rated limits (mine are 15degrees). I've been down in single digits all alone, and had to put on all my clothes and jackets inside my bag. Not fun, but exciting in a sick way. Then there is new moon or light moon, no clouds, clear atmosphere, 65degrees, no wind, a calm lake that looks like land after sunset, the smell of a sagebrush and pine fire, a flat horizon that you can see stars from, from the flat land edges to the other side of the world in all directions. The Milky Way looks like a milk streak on your glasses lenses that you cant really believe is there. The sound of a lost cow crying through the night in the distance. Your favorite beverage and a cuban cigar, a best friend and the best real cowboy music on the planet playing quietly in the background. (Royal Trifecta)..
Well that day we fished the Ruby River down stream away from this dam. There was a 30 something guy with a spinning reel in his right hand and a 5 iron in his left heading to the river. (Rattlers) he said with fear in his voice. I asked him if he was right handed? Yes, he responded with a puzzled look of fear. I said you best change hands then, and put the 5iron in your right hand or you'll be in for a big surprise down there. I left him and I carried my river collapsible wading stick in my right hand down stream. Within 5 min. I had to kill my first Rattler on the rock filled banks. You don't want to be shooting pistols into the rocks my friends. That would be a Laurel and Hardy moment. Oh yea,, now another gift of that day is that I've fished with various Sage rods exclusively for trout for over 30 years. For me the best and fastest rods. But that morning we had stopped by Sweetgrass Rods where my partner had had a bamboo made a few years ago by these legendary rod makers in Twin Bridges Montana. Dave Delici handed me a 7'9" 4/5 weight 2 pc on the way out and said hey, take it today and fish it. Tell me what ya think and drop it off when ya head back this way. Ya, no forms, no phone numbers no credit cards. Just: Here, take a 1,000 or $2,000. rod out and drop it off on your way back through town (not even a be careful). A thank you and we were off. Really, do people do business like this anymore? Well hello Montana where opposite your wallet is your revolver and a handshake.
It was windy that afternoon, and i didn't think this soft rod could throw line in the wind. Boy I was wrong. It was kind of a religious experience. The fish I landed in the 18"'s fought that shorter bamboo rod in a way I'd never experienced before. Like good shock absorbers vs old springs. The fish i lost and broke off were the largest trout (that is a plural form), I'd ever had on to date. If i had not been out of paid work for 5 months and only doing unpaid ministry, I'd have not left Montana without that rod , and was kinda praying for a miracle that God would turn the graphite into bamboo before my very eyes... Anyway I'll talk of Ruby Res. later here, back to camping..
So we finish that day of fishing like always, at the trunk of the suv. Usually somewhere between 4 and 7PM we meet. Dripped in sweat i cant wait to open the cooler for that incredible first sip of a quality IPA. Sidebar... a few years ago inside Yellowstone park at the ranger and horse pull off of the Soda Butte, I come at sunset alone to my truck. Having just navigated a new way down river because a large male buffalo kept keeping me from the trails, I had climbed down an embankment and hoofed new ground back to the truck. Sweating and thirsty as the sunset, I opened the back of my truck, took off my gear
as two other guys were just coming to their trucks. They both lit pipes and opened Moose Drool IPAs as they sat on the back of their rental suv in fishing nirvana. I lit a cigar and pulled out a can of GrainBelt premium. These two guys yelled out. Holy Cow they don't make that beer anymore. Not for years. I said ya want one? they both poured their ipas on the ground (ok just kidding there) and headed to my truck with their lit pipes looking like kids in a candy store opening a can of grainbelt. I said hey whats your story? Sheepishly they said, were here for a convention but wanted to make time to fish. This has been incredible. I said cheers, and with my cigar i raised a hand and said I'm a minister who works in music and other business of life ministry and I'm here enjoying God and worshiping and this here grainbelt on my sweaty brow has me thanking God big time. These to 30 somethings lit up like Christmas trees and said, we're both pastors from the East coast and are here for an inter denom. pastors retreat. I then toasted and said "in my house the only toast is To The King" and it aint Budweiser. So there as the sun set in the mountains along that river, three pastors with beers, pipes, a cigar and huge smiles of joy on their faces talked of how we are trying do ministry with more of Jesus honesty and truthfulness to the world than passing out rules and regs and saying be like me and then you'll be happy. So much to discuss here but I'll leave it. Suffice to say I met them again in another part of yellowstone and we shared THE LOOK. (God is Good, God is Great, Life is Incredible).
Ok, had to share that bit from five years ago, now back to Ruby Res.
My partner and I head to this free camping area up off and around the lake or (resv.)
Like i said earlier we set camp up on a big flat hill of sagebrush overlooking the resv. You see when it rains in that kind of setting the earth smells like a Thanksgiving dinner. (100% full blown sage aroma and fresh rain).. Surrounded by mountains and a glass lake, with clear skies and a fire crackling of the smell of Christmas and Thanksgiving, we sat and laid down to watch the painted sunset slowly drop beyond the hills as a three quarter moon lit the sky with a night light of dark dark blue that lasted till morning. The kind of blue that you see on a Broadway stage night scene, where you really believe it's night as the actors do their magic. The billion stars took a while to say hello that night with the moon in play, but it was a celestial chorus by 1AM. I remembered I had my laptop charged and I quickly opened I-tunes to play (great american cowboy) record by Sons of the SanJoaquin (over and over) http://youtu.be/fvWQ6ELfLqw Yes Riders in the Sky are my fav. all around western group but the honesty of the "Son's" is overwhelming it that setting.
Listening to them that night with a lost cow crying in the valley, and the fire, and a old friend who fishes better than I sharing stories of life and faith, I was just overwhelmed with all 5 senses as I sat in tears of thanksgiving, It was worship at it's finest. If only our favorite dogs had been with us... That would have been over the edge.
The photo above was after 10PM and you can see how bright the moon was already. My precious wife had given me a few $30. cigars from her trips overseas and I sat with a cold beverage, a pot of coffee and a great cigar until the wee hours of the morning laughing, crying and worshiping in silence.
It's not always so nice. A month earlier I had spent 7 days and nights in the rain, high winds and cold temps in this part of the country camping in the Bear Trap Canyon Reserve. (photo of my wet fire one morning during devotions). At this wilderness region, you sign in at a trail head for the rangers. So in case you don't come out at sunset, they will know your are in need of serious help with the bear population being what it is. I was the only person signed in that day in the wilderness reserve. I got back to camp before dark with one good trout for dinner and no pans and a huge storm about to break loose. I had to cook my trout and eat it off of my army shovel in the entryway rain flap of my little tent as the storm rolled in and my only food was gonna be destroyed if I didn't find shelter. Now
if you camp in bear country you know you NEVER eat within 100 ft of your tent and should actually change clothes and wash up before going to your tent for the night. I slept a bit light that night knowing I had permeated my tent with the smell of Grilled Rainbow trout.. Wednesday In The Rain from Craig T Olson on Vimeo.
Well, it was about 2AM in the rain that I was awakened to the full blown cry of a wolf within 50ft of my tent. So loud I was actually frightened for a few minutes as I lay in the dark alone in this canyon now with a knife in each hand listening for footsteps. It was then I noticed the key fob for my 4wd truck. Yup with unbelievable joy, and like a kid, I began pushing the horn and locate vehicle buttons yelling "suckerrrrrs take that!" Like somehow a horn and lights made me invincible alone in the wilderness. I fell asleep fast with that key fob in my hand and it now has new meaning and respect :). It's funny in life how you can have such false courage so fast with a little weapon in your hand... Animals are not to be taken lightly.
And speaking of animals, A month earlier driving down from reviewing a property between Livingston and Bozeman I came across something I'm sure I'll never see again. A mother fox and six cubs. I had my realtor pull over to try to get a shot before they all ran into hiding in their dens there in a large fallen tree. Only three ran when we stopped, and the other 4 are in this picture. They blend in so well, if you weren't really looking, you'd pass them right by.
On this trip we drove up a pass from the West Fork of the Madison river West on dirt logging roads to the top of the Mt pass, and stumbled upon this beautiful deer with winter coat along the side of the Mt. It certainly is survival of the fittest up there and to see them leap away into the forest and out of sight is breathtaking. Remember you can click on any of the photos in these blogs and see the original photo size (compressed for web of course) :).
Until you drive this country, you just can't imagine how big and large and dangerous is really is. And to think Lewis and Clark did this the way they did, is beyond incredible. Columbus crossing the ocean. yea. Crossing the Continental Divide? Some in this life are born explorers and risk takers. God bless their mothers is all i can say.. In Montana one risk taker is ole Ted.
Well, let me go back to landing in Bozeman. Ole Ted Turners jet sits next to the rental car lot with buffalo logo and all, waiting for him to jetset somewhere at any time.
When you land and see it, you kind of feel like the landlord is in town since he has the largest ranch and most beautiful in all Montana.. Like Richard Branson and a few others, they are unique men of our time mixing business and love of wild. Yet a few years ago I was drifting the Yellowstone River and there along a steep bank stood Ted on a narrow trail throwing flies to a riffle full of trout in well worn fishing attire. Our boat drifted by him and he just looked up long enough to do a head greeting followed with his unmistakable cocky voice bellowing "great day for fishing boys".. A river and a fly rod makes no distinction between a billionaire and a trout bum and neither does God. It can however always tell a rookie by the amount of fresh and clean LL Bean gear he's wearing that morning. Kind of reminds me of the east coast brother in "A River Runs Through It" who shows up with a bait casting reel and an old coffee can o' worms...
Now when you camp and live on freeze dried for weeks at a time there is a bit of planning that must take place. You have to plan enough foods and extras to make it through till you get to a store in a town down line.
I have a thing for laying everything out in my tent and doing inventory on a regular basis (in the mornings) and to checking to be sure I have the flies and extras I need for the next day on a river. If it's raining it takes a lot longer since that sound on a rain flap is intoxicating at the least when mixed with a steaming pot of french press. If only i prepped this hard to go golfing.. Shoes. yup, Bag, yup, lets' go..
Anyway, back to landing in Bozeman... My partner was held up in delayed flights for 12 hours so I rented a car for the day and went and just did business followed by a drive to Belgrade to listen to a band I'd heard a few times over the years playin in a new joint. I stood out side for a few hours on a Friday night as these boys tore up the country and western vibe with a lot of folks attempting to two step and having quite a time doing it! the whole band was wearing good in ears, and the keyboard player had a nice Nord Keyboard rig set up. I's impressed.
Most my friends know I'd like to re-locate to the Bozeman area and do and finish my life ministry there. Free thinking, free spirited artisans out there. Ranchers and Hippies and radical leftwingers and conservative rich folk all finding away to get along and leave each other alone with a big university crowd to keep hip. Pretty libertarian for not being libertarian at all.. (laughter)..
Geeze back to fishing..
If you follow my Montana Blogs you know I fish paradise valley allot and in the NE corner of the park. All catch and release for cutthroats, so I rarely ever eat a fish. The last two trips have been different. First off I'll say I'm grieving. My old hand made net from idaho falls ID, that I've had for over 30 years (in this pic) came unclipped off my wading belt some 3 miles deep in the woods climbing up a ravine full of high thicket. It will most likely never be found by anyone. Here's the basic location of where it is if you're ever down there..
In life we make many offerings, I guess this was my offering to the trout gods.. and bear..... If you ever see a picture of a bear wearing this net in the river fishing, call the park ranger and tell em it's mine.
|15min up the trailhead|
On this trip, my friend and I staked out a section of the Madison River one evening before dark and walked the high grass banks looking for a spot to settle in and wait for dark where we could wait for the caddis hatch to come on after dark, and then night cast and listen for "pow".... on the top of the water with multiple aerial jumps. The hard part is not snapping the lines in hook sets and climbing down the bank into a dark river to land them. I only managed to get one photo in the dark. For losing an Iphone5 into a dark river is not a good idea while tryin to handle a feisty fish and then get er back to safety in the river. This beauty was not large but the colors were spectacular with my head lamp on. I didn't have a net so that made it even more dicey..
In near the same sections of the river upstream and across there were some nice riffs along the banks of rocks to fish and after missing and snapping off a few larger fish I finally found a couple of nice browns. These bigger browns will hit you on the swing or deeper in a whole and just sit there for a min. to decide if they want to play or not. You might think you're snagged on a rock and try to roll cast and get the hook off the rock when many times you have a larger fish down there waiting to see what you're gonna do. And when they decide to move in the river.... get ready. :)
I've since found that this portion of the river is catch and release as well. I didn't know that at the time, and this brown and a few of his relatives didn't taste at all like they were verbotten. Much better than freeze dried rice and beans, and tastes allot like bald eagle and spotted owl.
It might sound a bit strange but after you get a hook out of a good trout, half the fun is gettin in the water and holding them by the tail as they re-oxygenate themselves and get strong enough to swim away. You have to be very careful of this. I've sadly lost to many fish over 35years, thinking they were ready after a few minutes in the stream. Then when they swim off they flip over and become bear and fish food down river. This one was Craig food...
The West Fork...
There are many rivers that flow into larger ones. It's the cycle of life. This river flows into the Madison a mile or so down from here. From my camp space in this very bear country, I hiked up stream to this point and then climbed down and entered by that broken tree and fished up stream beyond this view. With pepper spray (thanks Bruce:) ) and a bear bell on, I fished a lot of very small nymph patterns without much success. A half dozen misses and no hook sets beyond the proverbial head shake "see ya"... Like all rivers as you go up stream the rivers run smaller and smaller with creeks feeding into them from the melting mountain snow pack. This photo was before 7AM. My breath was frosted and the sun had just peeked over the Mountain onto this section of the lush green forest. I had taken an early walk before breakfast to scope out this new area before gearing up and heading out and up river.
This part of the river has allot of fallen trees in it. It was a time of testing to not lose nymph patterns to the submerged tree limbs off the banks as you'd drift your nymph silently down stream. You cast and move and cast and move, looking at the banks and the rocks and the riffs. All the while you are looking into the stream for any thing floating by to give you a clue when there are no hatches going on around you. You look at the tree limbs and grass and rocks for sings of what might be in the area. There were a remarkable abundance of red and black ants that the camp sight. two parts red one part black so I had an accoutrement of them in my vest to use as droppers floating behind an weightier nymph pattern. On my way back down stream i stopped at a curve in the river after a bend and was drifting along the bank when. God said "here dummy try this".. and onto my vest and hand flew the precious Salmon fly.
This hatch is one of the most prized in fly fishing. You cant count on it, you cant time it, you don't know when it will surface from the deep each year, but when they do, and when the trout finally realize it's Christmas, the big fish who hide all day and feed at night come roaring out of no where to feast with reckless abandon.
I've always had salmon fly patterns in my fly box but never could use them unless it was for ignorant bass in the Midwest. These 3plus inch critters are harmless and allot like dogs. They just love ya and want to be all over you. Well I put this on in my fly box for a souvenir and quickly cut my 5x fly line back 3 feet and tied my best salmon fly on.. Having not landing a fish that morning i was not remotely ready to throw my first cast back to a run I had thrown into 10 times already. Instant Wham and my line was tight and snapped. That was the highlight of the day. It's not catching and landing them, it's tricking them to the take. If you get them in, it's a bonus. Ahh the salmon fly.. what a beautiful creation. Their stain glassed wings and either yellowish or orange bodies make them quite a site.
I grew up a spinning reel kid with an old famous Mitchell 300 reel. One of my little spinners growing up for crappies and bass was a mepps 01. this little black and white spinner polka dot spinner blade. They said it was for trout. Well I'm eating breakfast in my site one morning and I look down and there is a mepps 01. I reached down to get it and it moved... I'll be darned if it wasn't a small butterfly.
I couldn't get my phone to get the contrast right but these wings were coal black the those spots were bright white and it was florescent green under the wing body. Wow, God is so amazing. I see Him in nature way more than in humans... This section of the West Fork was remarkably scenic and I'd be happy to just hike back up that river to enjoy the view. This clip of the West Fork from outside my tent was during a late afternoon caddis hatch. I'd never been in the west fork before and the first night we cooked a few miles away and changed clothes before coming into camp to be sure the bears would have no scent of us. Pepperspray and kinves laid out exactly where you know they are for a in the dark reactionary grap are essential to a good nights sleep. When you're 10 ft from a river the noise is so loud you'ld think you'd hear nothing. Well that night I heard plenty of sounds along wtih a cattle drive that went on all night and through the next day. Here's a clip in the morning during that same cattle drive. Off in the distance you can see and hear them moving over the sounds of the river.
Now back fishing along the Madison, its a much wider river and you have to pick your spots more carefully I caught a pic of my old fishing partner Bruce casting away in silence toward sunset.... the way he likes it. (shut up and dont' talk to me will ya) never spoken - just realized :) We headed from their south to the Ruby River and Reservoir. Yes the Ruby, I talked about that a bit earlier in this blog. The fish down stream and beneath that dam were the biggest trout I'd ever had on a line to date. Never landed one and broke them all off the first night. Fished there the next day and the only ones I landed were 16 to 19". The rest were snap offs. My last cast of the day was downstream crossing on the mend into one seam for a 2sec. chance at a good drift. It took me 5min to get into a casting place in the river to make the cast and as it passed over that hole a fish rose up on my 1x leader and hit me so hard.. I lifted hard and fast and this monster browns back and tail moved the water like a freekin top water muskie. Snapped my 1x and it was over in 5sec. Wow what a ride for a moment. I had a few smaller fish there but never landed anything large.
HOOKS. now hooks are a controversy in fly fishing. To barb or not to barb is the question. I like to fish.. no, let me clarify, I try to remember to debarb every hook i fish with. It's 10 times harder to land a fish this way because if you give the fish one second to turn on you or go to the bottom, they just move their heads and hook comes out. Frustrating, but worth it to save the trouts mouth and for me... since I made the great mistake of getting a Joes Hopper fly, with barb embedded into my head years ago on Soda Butte or Lamar River in the Yellowstone Park. I had to go to the hospital to get it removed. If I had debarbed it I could have taken it out n 2sec. As it was, I had my buddy Bruce back then trying to rip it out with a leatherman pliers. Not a chance. There is a science to pulling out a light wire barbed fly fishing hook. Usually if its a steel hook you can just turn the hook up and push it back out of your body, cut the barb off and it's out. Wire bends... Cant do that....
I actually did that push it through on my index finger with a barbed nymph in bear trap canyon last month. I thought it was debarbed, was walkin along a path and my line became undone from my rod. It caught a limb and ripped a little green nymph pattern completely buried into my index finger. If that had been a dry fly hook I'd a been screwed but since it was a hard nymph hook I took my leatherman along the steam edge and pulled it back out the other side of my finger. Little bit of water and hand sanitizer and we were all good..
Well, I've got allot more pics and allot more stories but It's time to get back to work and I'll have to blog again on this in the future... I know I could write this all in story form but only have the time to get down the basics here today. I'll just say this, we then fished the Jefferson River in rain, snow/hail/sleet and driving winds for two days. Those two days have now become the measure of what a large trout means to me. 22 and up.... small flies jammed into larger tippets with hopes you can keep from snapping just one..
Till next time or trip.. keep the dream alive and burning in your hearts..