Missoula Fly Fishing Lessons

Krieger v. Kreh Fly Casting Techniques

There are two schools of fly casting instruction that dominate fly fishing. One method is espoused by Mel Krieger and Joan Wulff. The other is espoused by Lefty Kreh and others. They are quite different in some respects, and very similar in others. It pays to note that world Fly Casting champion Steve Rajeff uses the Krieger/Wulff method of casting.

In the Krieger method of casting, the rod remains close to vertical through the entire cast, only dropping as the cast is delivered. It maintains the 10-2 casting stroke as most efficient. The elbow is mostly stationary during the cast, with only the forearm and wrist moving to propel the fly line. The wrist hinges to deliver energy to the rod, and the concepts of line control remain the same. The line must be extended behind you before starting forward- the line must be extended in front of you before starting a back cast.

The Kreh method of casting differs in these ways. The rod is held at an angle to the body, and the elbow is not stationary. The upper arm, forearm and wrist are all involved in the cast, with a longer motion through the body. During the elongated casting stroke, the wrist hinges from 10-2.

At the Missoulian Angler, we have employees who are proponents of both casting styles. It’s a matter of style, not substance. Each employee has their reasons for using the particular method, and most casts are a combination of both styles. We feel it’s important to know both styles, and then pick and choose the parts you like and work for you!

Most beginners will be shown the Krieger/Wulff method of casting. It has less moving parts (elbow stationary) and is quickly grasped by beginners. The main difficulty lies in the fact you can’t watch the line on your back cast, and you’re doing it all on feel. The Kreh method is not taught as often, due to the relative complexity of the cast. With a moving elbow, more places are introduced where the cast can have problems. Krieger for simplicity, Kreh for comfort.

Wondering how this relates to your casting instruction? If you click here to go to How To Cast If You Spinfish, you’re going to find the method shown is the Krieger/Wulff school of casting. If you click here to go to How To Cast A rod If You’ve Never Held One Before, you will find the Kreh school of casting. We think at some point, you should click on both links, and learn as much about casting as you can!

Missoula Fly Fishing

Smart Wet Wading

When the weather gets hot, a lot of anglers ditch the waders in favor of comfort. It doesn’t matter how breathable waders are, in 90 degree weather, any extra layer adds a lot of warmth. When the waders come off for comfort, you’ll need to have the proper equipment for a full days fishing when wet wading

Ask any Sergeant about the most important piece of equipment they own, and they’ll tell you about footwear. When your feet are sore or blistered, the rest of the day gets that much longer. Being smart about your footwear when wet wading keeps your feet, and therefore your fishing, in shape.

Wet Wading Footwear

The easiest solution for wet waders is to use neoprene booties. Designed to mimic the neoprene sock found on breathable waders, the neoprene booties allow an angler to use their wading boots. Most anglers are comfortable with wading boots, and the thick neoprene sock allows an angler to wear the footwear they already own.

There are a couple of disadvantages to neoprene socks. When worn in a boat, neoprene socks get really hot. Additionally, neoprene socks allow water to enter. When your feet aren’t immersed in the river, the water trapped in the neoprene sock gets very warm. It’s like a petri dish around your feet, and you run the risk of a serious case of athlete’s foot. When you use a neoprene sock, it works better in a wet wading situation, not as much in a boat.

Many of the best guides in Missoula Montana wear sandals when they’re rowing. Keen and Chacos tend to be the favored footwear in a boat. So much cooler, and so much more comfortable.

When you wear sandals, MAKE SURE you put sunscreen on your feet! Crafty anglers apply waterproof sunscreen before putting on the sandals. Rub the sunscreen between your toes, and make sure you get complete coverage. Sunburn on your feet is sneaky. Because you’re getting in and out of the water, your feet feel cool. But the sun is baking them, and like Sarge said, keep your feet in good shape. Sunscreen is critical for comfortable sandal wear for wet wading.

Sandals have other issues as well when wet wading fly fishing. In low gradient rivers, like the Clark Fork and Bitterroot river near Missoula, sandals are easily worn for wet wading. In higher gradient rivers, like Rock Creek and the Blackfoot, sandals can be a bit more problematic. High gradient rivers have very little scree and cobble- most of the rocks lining the bottom are bowling ball sized or larger. Runoff moves the smaller strata, leaving the big rocks.

Most wet wading is controlled, but not all! It only takes once- having your foot slip off the top of a rock, and wedging your sandaled foot between two stones. Wading boots have a rigid toe box, ankle support and padding. When you wedge between rocks wearing sandals, you run a good chance of scraping your foot or jamming a toe. Wedge a wading boot, and the problems are minimized.

Low gradient rivers have their own issues. The cobble and scree that provides easier wading also suspends and enter into the sandal. Sandals without a toe cap are easy to sluice out when you get pebbles between your foot and the sandal. Sandals with a toe cap provide additional protection when wading, but at least once a day you’re going to end up sitting down and rinsing the gravel out. Wearing socks helps a bit with that, but nothing stops scree from getting into a wet wading sandal and rubbing against your feet. Socks also help block the sun and minimize sunburn.

Please, no mid calf black socks with sandals.

Once you feel the freedom of wet wading, it starts to become a habit, and you try to extend the wet wading season. As you do this, remember the first thing you learned as a young adult- warm beer is cheaper than cold beer, and the fastest way to get your beer cold is put it in ice water. When you’re wet wading in colder weather or colder water, the river is pulling the heat out of your body. It’s easy to get a lot colder than you think you are.

Surprisingly, there are advantages. Most of the time, if you find yourself wading waist deep, you’re standing where the fish were before you got there. Cold weather/water wet wading keeps you shallower and spooking fewer fish.

Plan Ahead

But you need to plan ahead. If the day calls for one fleece layer, wear two if you’re wet wading. You need to keep your core warm, and the additional layer(s) will pay dividends over the course of the day.

Make sure to get out of the water once in a while, even if the fishing is good. Depending on how cold the weather is, once you get cold, it’s tough to get warm again. It’s a lot easier to stay warm than get warm again.

Take this from a life long wet wader- after the fishing day is done, moisturize your feet and lower legs. No, we’re not going to recommend a specific lotion- just get one and rub it on. Constant immersion in water drains the skin of moisture, so you need to replenish it.

A down side to wet wading is the wear and tear on your lower body. When you’re wearing waders, you don’t really care about walking through mild brambles and bracken along the river. About 5 hours into a wet wading day, those thorns and prickers really start to hurt. Take a page from New Zealand guides. They wet wade, but wear a pair of running tights under their shorts. The skin tight fabric doesn’t impede water flow like quick dry pants or waders, so there’s less pressure on your legs. It also protects your legs from most of the thorns and plant life along the edge of the stream.

A big upside to wet wading is you can never go in above your waders. When crossing a river, or wading deep, you’re always worried about flooding your waders with water and being damp for the rest of the day. Hey, you’re already wet, so it makes no difference. You never have to feel the trickle of a new leak in your waders, as the water seeps down the back of your leg.

It pays to wear quick drying clothing, including your underwear. Yes, we’re talking about underwear- no snickering. Cotton may be comfortable when dry, but once it’s wet, it get clammy, uncomfortable, binding and can be a bit rashy. If you plan to seriously wet wade, spring for a pair of quick dry undies, it will make the day a lot more comfortable.

Wet wading is a truly freeing experience on the water. So much more comfortable in hot weather, and if you plan correctly, you can wet wade in conditions that might not be perfect. Getting the proper footwear and clothing is imperative for a comfortable experience. Grab your fanny or sling pack and hit the water, you’ll be amazed at how much cooler, comfortable and free you feel on the water.

Olive CDC Caddis

How To Use CDC Flies

CDC is used in some of our favorite flies, as pictured above. The Last Chance Cripple, Rastaman Stonefly and Hi-Viz Spinner all utilize CDC, and are amongst our best fish takers. CDC’s unique properties adds an almost irreproducible fish attraction. Yet we hesitate to recommend these flies. If an angler doesn’t know how to use CDC flies, their effectiveness can be ruined before the first cast. This sounds odd, but CDC’s performance can be eliminated with floatant.

CDC stands for Cul De Canard, which freely translates to duck’s bottom. CDC feathers are found surrounding a duck’s (or goose’s) preen gland. The preen gland secretes an oil waterfowl use to waterproof their feathers. CDC feathers evolved to maintain shape when the oil is secreted, which preserves insulative properties without “waterlogging”.

As the photo shows, CDC is fluffy. Like all feathers, CDC has a stem with barbs coming off the stem. What makes CDC unique is the barbs extending from the stem also have barbs, and depending on the size, those barbs have barbs as well. When used in a fly, all those little tendrils trap air bubbles.

Why CDC Works

When Gary LaFontaine researched his books, he didn’t rely on empirical evidence. He donned a scuba tank, and went subsurface to watch the naturals and his flies. In his seminal work, Caddisflies, LaFontaine studied emerging caddis pupa. Caddis pupa fill their exoskeleton with gas bubbles, which floats the pupa to the surface when emerging. The bubbles refract light, making the pupa look like a tiny, glowing ball during emergence. To mimic that characteristic, Gary pioneered the use of Antron. Antron is a trilobal material (Antron fibers are extruded in a triangular shape) working as a prism, refracting light just as the natural pupa refracts light via gas bubbles.

Gary didn’t just see caddis pupa. He also observed when insect wings are flush to the surface (such as spinners, cripples, drowned stoneflies and caddis), air bubbles are trapped under the wings. Light refracts through the trapped air bubbles just as in the caddis pupa, creating the distinctive light pattern. A spent wing, whether a spinner or a cripple, telegraphs to the trout, here’s an insect trapped in the surface film and unable to escape.

When a dry CDC feather contacts water, the microfibers trap air bubbles, refracting light like a natural. The critical point is the feather must be dry. This is where CDC becomes a bit tricky to use. When many anglers “gink” their fly, they use enough floatant to drown any dry, especially in hot weather when gel floatants liquify.

How To Properly Dress a CDC Dry Fly

CDC feathers will matt (absorb enough water to lose their shape), if enough liquid is applied. Despite CDC feather evolution, enough moisture drowns the feather. Using too much gink matts the fibers and you can’t get it out, ruining the fly for the moment. The fly isn’t permanently ruined-washing with soap and water restores the CDC to it’s fuzzy original shape. Water also soak CDC feathers over time, but it evaporates- more on that later.

After the initial floatant is applied, CDC feathers should look exactly the same as they did before floatant application. Fly-Agra and High N Dry’s Liquid Floatant are great for CDC. A quick dip, and then false cast the excess off. CDC feathers don’t benefit from pre-dipping in liquid floatants- the micro fibers retain too much floatant, and won’t hold air bubbles. Liquid floatants must be cast off. Loon Lochsa is a gel-style floatant designed for CDC use, and won’t matt the feathers when applied properly. It has the added benefit of working on standard dries, so while a bit more expensive, Lochsa replaces the gink bottle. One less thing to carry, which is a good thing.

Floatants are a relatively modern invention, and anglers LOVE them! Missoula’s best fly fishing guides carry 3-4 different floatants, each having a specific purpose and usage. Anglers getting into CDC, as well as many others, buy Lochsa and continue to carry Gink. Embarrassingly, a quick survey of this blog writers flotant pocket showed Fly-Agra, Gink, Umpqua’s EZ Dry, Lochsa and two bottles of Frog’s Fanny.

When using CDC flies, you want a desiccant style floatant, like Frog’s Fanny, Shimizaki or High N Dry Powdered Floatant. No matter how well CDC feathers are initially treated, during use CDC absorbs water and soaks down to nothing. This nullifies CDC’s ability to hold air bubbles, which is why we use it. The best way to resuscitate matted CDC feathers are desiccants. Dessicants bring CDC back to life. Prior to desiccants, old school anglers carried amadou or a small chamois. If those are not available, at worst you just blow on the fly till the CDC fluffs back up. Yes, this blog writer has done that. Damn near hyperventilated in the middle of the hatch, when I HAD THE FLY. I hope everyone has that feeling at least once- to be in the right place at the right time with the right fly. It’s indescribable.

That fly was a Last Chance Cripple, a go-to for many of the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, and across the Rocky Mountains. Developed on the Henry’s Fork by the Harrop family, the Last Chance Cripple combines CDC with the classic Quigley cripple shape to take the fussiest trout. Big trout focus on cripples. Cripples often have a wing trapped in the water. The wing traps air bubbles, refracting light. Exactly like the air bubbles trapped in CDC. To this blog writer, that makes CDC worth learning how to use.

It’s a fussy feather. You need to recognize flies with CDC, so it’s treated correctly. CDC is found in many more flies than mentioned here. You’ll end up with multiple floatants to coat and then rejuvenate the feathers. CDC takes more on water maintenance, and maybe a more organized way to carry your flies! Segregation has bad connotations, but it may apply to CDC flies.

Sub-Surface CDC

With the advent of the Tungsten Jig style flies, CDC is being used in new ways. Because the fibers are easily torn, and look good after they’re shortened, CDC feathers are being used to collar many jig nymphs, like the Duracell, the Umpqua PT Jig, the Tungsten Yellow Spot Jig and many others. With only 1-2 wraps, the fibers don’t trap enough air to hinder sinking when first tied on, and once saturated, the CDC works like any soft hackle.

This is where CDC knowledge comes in handy. When a CDC hackled nymph is initially tied on, the fibers hold air bubbles, which is realistic to the trout. The collar adds attraction till saturated, then it only provides motion. The crafty nympher casts his Perdigon 3-4 times, and then uses a desiccant to dry the fibers. It now holds air bubbles again, and returns to being an attractor and advantage. Make sure to use the wand on the desiccant cap to dust the CDC hackle only. (blatant sales pitch for Frog’s Fanny and Dry Dust). Applying floatant to the nymph body inhibits sink rate.

Do anglers do this all the time? No, not really. Most of the time, it’s not necessary. But there are days when you need every advantage you can find just to get a trout to open its mouth. That’s when knowing about CDC wet fly hackle can be utilized to your advantage. It’s like all knowledge- it doesn’t have to be used all the time, but good to have. Knowledge is power- it’s why we write these blogs!

Direct Hype for Frog’s Fanny

This blog writer, and some of Missoula’s fly fishing guides, favor Frog’s Fanny as their desiccant. Too many fish have been hooked on the first cast after applying Frog’s Fanny to be ignored, both dry and nymph. It brings feathers, especially CDC, back to life after saturation, and adds a little sparkle. It’s no knock on the other desiccants- they do exactly as advertised and remove the moisture. Frog’s Fanny seems to have a little bit extra going for it. It’s an opinion, but it’s backed up by lots of empirical evidence … and no hard facts! Take it for what it’s worth.

Once you recognize and know how to use CDC on the water, it becomes a staple in your fly box. CDC’s fish attraction far outweighs the fussiness of the feather. It’s why the Harrop’s use it on the Henry’s Fork, one of the world’s most demanding rivers. It moves fish- easy ones and difficult ones. Once you understand the care and feeding of CDC, you’ll wonder why it took so long to start using it.

Bullet Points in Fly Fishing History

If you want to study fly fishing history, study the hook! The earliest hooks were discovered in Okinawa, and made from snail shells. Wikipedia says they are anywhere from 22.360 to 22,770 years old. Man has been looking to the ocean for food for quite some time!

Inshore, it probably didn’t take long to figure out there was food beneath a rise. All early man had to do was figure out how to get it. It took a while for technology to catch up with fly fishing, because it would be difficult to dress a snail-shell hook!  The first record of true fly fishing comes from the Roman author Aelius in 200 AD, from his book On The Nature Of Animals. In volume 17, he tells of Macedonians attaching red wool and two feathers to a hook, to imitate the Hippurus fly. The fly was attached to a 6’ rod that held a 6’ line. He called it the Macedonian way of fishing.

It’s important to note Aelius didn’t stumble upon this the first time it was done. This method of fishing had been in place for a while. While we date the first true fly fishing documentation as 200 AD, the tradition had been established before then. No one had bothered to write it down! Also note this is a Western version of history. As the world shrinks, and we get more information from China and Japan, the earliest date of fly fishing may change. The Chinese and Japanese have their own history of fly fishing that is just coming to light. We shall see!

Fly fishing was present throughout the Middle Ages. Reference to using a Vederangel (feathered hook) is found in German literature in the 13th century. If was known well enough to be a literary device, the idea of fly fishing was firmly established. Fly fishing is also referenced in Britain and Spain, as well as Japan. The writings are clear about fly fishing, but not very clear on details. But the seeds are there for Dame Juliana and her landmark achievement.

The first book on fly fishing to be published with moveable type was A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle,credited to Dame Juliana Berners. She was a nun, and an avid fly fisherman. It was the first manual for fly fishing, detailing building rods, weaving horsehair into lines and listing 12 flies, one for each month of the year. The fly for May was an Ephemerella, or a Mayfly. The impact of this book still resonates with us today.

In 1496, an angler’s tackle consisted of a rod anywhere from 12-16 feet long, made of 3-4 pieces of solid wood, angled at the ends and spliced together with twine. The horse hair line was approximately the same length as the rod, and attached to the tip. Flies were dressed on hooks, which were often shaped pins, and the horsehair leader was snelled into the fly as part of the tying process. If you hooked a smaller fish, you yanked it out. Hook something bigger, and you tossed the rod in the water and let the fish tow it around till it tired. It was not an easy sport to pursue, as the angler had very few places to procure tackle. The very wealthy had gillies (someone hired to do nothing but maintain tackle and do stream keeping if applicable) but most made their own tackle.

Interestingly, Tenkara today is almost a carbon copy of the angling enjoyed in 1496. Of course, Tenkara rods are graphite, the line and tippets are polyvinyl and mono, but the concept is the same. The Missoulian Angler fly shop hasn’t fully embraced Tenkara- its simplicity doesn’t seem to appeal to the tackle junkies who work here! But there’s no doubting the ease of taking a Tenkara rod backpacking, or the thrill of sneaking close enough to feeding fish to make the technology of 1496 work today.

Change came slowly over the next 350 years. Rings (metal hoops held by a band and wrapped on with thread) were the first guides, which allowed the line to extend and retract. Silk was a new material, and it was incorporated into lines. Gut replaced horsehair as the leader of choice, and would remain so until 1945. With a moveable line came the reel. As the world expanded, the woods used in rod building became more varied, and as bamboo came from China, anglers knew they had found something that held some promise.

Initially, bamboo was used as it came from China, like a cane pole. It was lighter in weight, with some flexibility in the thinner sections. Ferrules were a tricky business in the early 1800’s, as anglers tried to get away from splicing rod pieces into place every time out. The metallurgy still hadn’t caught up with the need. But by 1847, rod tips were being made with 3-4 strips of shaved bamboo, though the process hadn’t come close to being perfected. That was done in America by Samuel Phillipe and Hiram Leonard. Both were originally gunsmiths by trade, and both helped revolutionize fly fishing. They moved to 6 strip construction (hexagonal) which is still the preferred design to this day. They built rods that truly cast, and were significantly shorter and lighter than their predecessors. Reels continued to improve, as did the silk lines. Rod action was now controllable and expanded, with lines manufactured in different thicknesses (weights) to enhance the now controllable action.

An angler in 1939 was decked out waterproof pants made of canvas sandwiching a layer of rubber. They used a hexagonal cane rod, either hand or machine planed. The reel was steel or aluminum, and the line was made of silk. The leader was still gut, which needed to be soaked the previous day or it had no flexibility. The picture our Missoula fly shop bathroom called Grandpas Tackle shows an aluminum gut soaker. The flies had integral metal eyes, and were dressed with much thinner thread than used in the 1800’s. The 1939 angler would be quite recognizable today, with tackle we would easily recognize and be comfortable with.

Then came WWll, and the world fought in ways that had never been experienced. From that carnage came plastic, fiberglass and Poly Vinyl. Rods went from cane to Fiberglass. Leaders went from gut to monofilament, and fly lines went from silk to poly coated. Spin fishing came from the technological explosion during the war. Fly fishing became easier and much more accessible. Tapered leaders were now extruded, not hand tied. Rods didn’t wear out, and required less maintenance. Lines lasted well over a year. Fly fishing was simplifying.

This blog writer learned how to fly fish using a cane rod with a plastic reel seat. When it was built, plastic was a marvel. Waterproof, almost unbreakable- it was a miracle of the modern age. I learned to spin fish before I learned to fly fish, and my grandfather provided me with a left-hand spinning reel.  I cast with my right hand, and reeled with my right hand, as I do today. In the early 1900’s, you cast right and reeled right, which made sense. A big bass or salmon rod weighed 9 ounces, and the reel might weigh 15. When you hooked a fish, you fought the fish with your “fresh” arm. By the early ‘60’s, left hand wind in fly fishing carried a stigma with old school fly fishers. It meant you started out spin fishing, and then moved to fly fishing. No grandson was going to go through life with that black mark on his head! So I reel right handed. Don’t sweat it, that thinking is long gone!

Things progressed until 1973, when Orvis introduced the first graphite rod. Talk about an upgrade! With graphite, rods became casting tools, built for power, accuracy and distance. New vistas opened up for fly fishing in the salt, as well as on streams and rivers. Rods weighed less, and reels soon followed suit. Fly fishing was getting easier and easier.

October 9, 1992. Brad Pitt stars, and Robert Redford directs. Fly fishing goes mainstream, and there’s no going back. In 1993, at the Fly Tackle Dealer Show, I got collared by Jim Murphy, president of Redington Rods at the time. You must try this rod. So I did. He asked me how much I thought the rod I’d just cast retailed for. I said $400-$450. He said $129, with a lifetime warranty. I said Bullsh*t. I said he cherry picked it- he brought me 5 more and they were all good rods. It was my introduction to overseas manufacturing of fly rods. In 1986, when I entered the fly fishing industry, I could say without hesitation that a good fly rod would cost you $375- half that if you put it together yourself, as I did. That changed in 1993. Fly fishing became (relatively) affordable, and the industry has never looked back.

I still have some of my grandfathers old tackle- rods, reels, flies and other assorted paraphernalia. I can say this without hesitation- we argue the finer points of rods like it makes a difference. Use one of my Grandpa’s “sticks”, and you know how they got that nickname. You’ll run back to your modern tackle so fast your head will spin. We’re in the Golden Age of fly fishing, and don’t let others tell you different. Our tackle is so far beyond what my grandfather used in 1978, it’s science fiction. Fly tying materials have never been better or more varied, The Feather Thief be damned. Be glad you have access to the best it’s ever been, because that’s what we have. Enjoy!!!!

George Kesel

Blackfoot River Salmonflies

Yellowstone Flooding – Missoula Rivers Coming Into Shape

It’s all over the news- Yellowstone Park Closed! It looks like they’re having a 100 year flood down south, and we feel for them. Missoula had a 100 year flood event in 2018, and the town had issues for about 2 weeks. And then, except for the people whose houses took on water, we went back to a normal year. Better, in fact, because the water was high and cold throughout the summer and fall. Freestone rivers are at the mercy of the weather, and when the weather makes the national news, it has a definite affect on the rest of the season.

Right now in Missoula, the rivers are dropping. The cool spring has our flows where we want them, falling, and water temps staying cold. We have some heat coming in the next few days, but we don’t expect as dramatic of a bump like last week with the rain, followed by more mild temperatures. Last year at this time we were already talking about when hoot owl hours would come into play, and at the end of June we needed them. That won’t be the case this year. We have the makings of a good end of June fly fishing in western Montana and great fishing for the rest of the season. Water is what we need in the drought plagued west.

It’s a 4 hour drive to Yellowstone Park from Missoula, the intense flood we see on the Yellowstone river is much different than the bump in flows we saw last week around Missoula. We’ve had some people call and email the shop today concerned with what they’re seeing on national news. It’s important to note that Yellowstone river is almost 300 miles away from us. That’s multiple states away for some areas of the country! The Yellowstone river fly fishing will be affected by these floods for a while, Missoula rivers are in better shape and the rivers are dropping and the fishing is going to slowly picking up. Should be a decent salmonfly hatch starting by next week, although we don’t expect the rivers to keep dropping as quickly with the warm weather on tap for the next few days. Most likely another bump that should be smaller than last week and flows should continue to drop after that.

It’s the cycle of nature- the snow will melt and spring rains will come. Sometimes it happens early, and takes a while. Sometimes it happens late and occurs all at once. This year in Yellowstone Park, it’s happening late and a lot at once. In Missoula, it’s taking a while to occur. Both are normal, though we sympathize with the people whose lives and travel have been impacted by the extreme weather down south. It’s normal for the rivers to be high and off color.

But in a time, the roads will be cleared and the rivers will be back in play in Yellowstone. In the long run, it’s just a blip on the radar. Just as last year’s low, warm water was a blip on the radar to Missoula. Each year brings its own challenges, and its own set of conditions. But it takes a crazy year to really foul up the fishing beyond June 22 in this area and we don’t expect that to happen in Missoula. We expect our late spring fishing to be decent in Missoula, and the summer/fall fishing is going to be spectacular across the western half of Montana. Of course these are all speculations at this point but we are optimistic about the last week of June and the rest of summer

It’s all about the water, and in both places, we’re getting it. It might not be the way they want it in West, but it will be there. We’re having an easier time of it, and for that we’re thankful. But in the end, this too will pass, as Spring goes into Summer and then Fall. Then we see how next year shapes up, we see how nature treats us. It’s an endless cycle that anglers and other travelers have been dealing with for centuries. It seems like a lot right now, but in the long run, the trout, the rivers and the anglers will be doing what they always do- handling the conditions as they find them.

Right now, despite the news, it’s looking pretty darn good in the Missoula area for at least the last week of June and the rest of summer. Yellowstone will be out of commission for a while and we expect there to be an extended road closure for the summer months over there. We realize that many people are changing their plans to come fish the western side of the state at least for the next few weeks as we don’t have near the amount of issues like many other places in the state. Just remember those small businesses on the Yellowstone will have a tough summer. We’re happy to accommodate the lost fisherman for the time being but those small businesses will hopefully be ready when the damage is repaired. Might not be a bad idea to give them some business later this year or next, whenever they open back up.

Flat Water Of Clark Fork River

What’s A Good Day on the Water

One of the WORST things I ever did in a fly shop happened in early summer 2000. Yes, I remember the year- surprised I don’t remember the date. A guy came in the shop simply bouncing, telling me he had the best day he ever had on Rock Creek. It was epic! He’d never caught so many fish! He was so excited. I joined in his excitement, and said, “Hey, you must have caught like 40 or 50!

He looks at me and says, “I caught 6”

You can imagine his face. You can imagine how bad I felt. In one sentence, I’d crushed his day. Just crushed it. Still, to this day, I think about that. He’d HAD a good day….until he talked to me. I’m still haunted.

About 2007, I found myself back on the Bighorn in a 7 boat guide trip. I’d fished the Bighorn in the early ‘90’s, and spent two guided days following a huge polypropylene indicator. I caught 50 fish a day. It was terrible. I vowed I would never do that again.

That morning in 2007, the guide introduces himself and says he’d like to take a look at my rod. I said, “Don’t touch my fly rod. Do not put a bobber on my line.” You can imagine the look on his face. He starts to tell me it’s the best way to fish, catch the most fish, etc. I say I don’t care, I don’t care how many fish I catch, do not put a bobber on my line. By this time, every guide in the group is watching this exchange, wondering what it’s going to be like having this @sshole in their boat, and who could blame them. After about 2 more minutes of the same conversation with my guide, including asking him to keep my friend Tom on all the fish, I reach into my wallet and tip the guide $150. In the parking lot, before the boat is wet. He looks at me and says, “I guess I have to believe you.”

I caught 7-8 fish that day, including a smallmouth bass, the guide’s first in that watershed. I was casting my streamer into some REALLY random water! Meanwhile, Tom is hooking up consistently. It must have looked pretty funny, the boat pointed into the bank for Tom, while I’m flipping a streamer behind the boat. Once in a while, I floated a dry fly, fruitlessly, and watched it drift along the bank. It was a great day on the water.

What’s up with that? 50 is terrible, 8 is good? It’s what I wanted on the water. It can’t be any simpler. I like fishing the way I like fishing. That makes a good day on the water.

Take A Kid Fishing!

When the Missoulian Angler fly shop books a guided fly fishing trip, we ask a lot of questions, trying to find out what the guest wants from his/her day on the water. Instruction? A shot at a legit 20” trout? A lot of trout? Only dry flies, or do they want to Euro nymph?

Can we guarantee a big trout, or a lot of fish? No. It’s fishing! But we guarantee our guides, the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, will do everything possible to make the day live up to expectations. We can’t stress this enough- talk to your guide, tell them what you’re looking for in a day. No matter what it might be. Our guides are good, but you’re input makes them better. That information will do a lot to make your day on the water a good day.

My Dad traveled the west for years, alone and being guided. He was happiest tossing a dry and catching fish 8-13” long. It made him happy. One day a guide, who knew my Dad was a “stick” (Guidespeak for a good angler) was floating Dad down a river. He stopped, and said, “George, let’s take a walk.” 45 minutes later, they’ve come to a slough. The guide gets excited, and ties on a little dry. “Cast it just above that log.” So Dad casts just above the log, and a 28” Brown Trout slides out from under the log and starts to rise… but halfway up, decides against, drifts back down and back under the log. “OOOOHHHH, that’s the farthest up he’s ever moved!” groans the guide. And then says, let’s get back to the boat.

About 2 hours, one cast. That was absolutely NOT what my Dad wanted. That was his memory of the day. The guide thought it was a magic chance for a huge Brown on a dry! That was his memory of the day. Straight up miscommunication. Just that simple.

There are anglers who go fishing for the Instagram moment. (Not my Dad!) They’ll walk or float anywhere to take one trout that garners the Big Looks! A day without big is a bad day. A one fish day over 20 inches, and it’s a great day. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s changing the concepts of fly fishing and fly tying. Some is good, some not so good.

We have pictures lining the ceiling beam at the MAngler. What shop doesn’t have a bragging board! Big trout and happy anglers! We get questioned about those pictures all the time. Is that the average size of trout around here? Were they caught this week? And the answer is always no. They got on the wall because of their rarity. But it gives some anglers an inferiority complex, because they’re not catching those trout. Sometimes it crosses my mind to take those pictures down, because it raises expectations and may make an angler’s trip less enjoyable. Not always, but it does happen.

The same happens with magazine articles. In the mid ‘90’s, I worked at a catalog fly shop in New Hampshire, where I spoke with anglers all over the country. I got a call from a man in Texas. He’d just finished reading an article about trout fishing on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I’d fished the Housatonic fairly often- the Smallmouth Bass fishing was pretty good. He was asking me about lodging, and when the best time to come for the Housatonic trout fishing.

I was baffled. I barely drove 3 hours to get there, and thought it was a bit of drive for the fishing. I went because one of my best friends lived close by, and I would hang out with him and his Dad (who still remembers me as “the guy who falls in the Housatonic.” It was very slippery, and I was too young to need a wading staff. Hence, falling). I asked the customer why he was even considering coming? He said he’d read the article, and was ready to make the effort for that type of fishing. I zipped out front of the shop, got the magazine, and started to read the article. Hmmm….

I’ve been to exactly ONE place where the fishing was as good as the magazine said, and that was New Zealand. What I was reading about the Housatonic was as close to fiction as you could get, without downright lying. I’m sure what was described happened on one magic day, but it was not anywhere close to what I experienced on that river in my 14-15 times fishing it. Think about magazine articles you’ve read about rivers you’ve fished- was the reality anywhere close to the actual experience?

That’s what I thought.

I told this gentleman about my experience on the Housatonic. I told him he was going to an airport, and standing at a gate. He had a lot of gates to choose from! Missoula. Bozeman. West Yellowstone. Colorado. So many options where I KNEW the fishing was actually good. None of those gates included Hartford, CT. No dis on the Housatonic, but there are better rivers in the United States. Yet someone had written an article about it, and people from away were reading it and believing it. I think he would have had the worst days of fishing there- the reality would never have matched the expectations created.

This dovetails with a fascinating conversation I had with the caretaker of DePuys Spring Creek in Livingston, MT. I found myself on this amazing stream in early August in 2009. I was there with two friends, and there was a fourth rod on the water, but he was gone by noon. My two friends went to their spot and stayed there. I basically had 3 miles of spring creek to myself. It was amazing!

In my wanderings along the river, I saw the caretaker and we started talking. I said how pleased I was to be there when so few where fishing, and he said yes, that’s the new way of fly fishing. When I asked for an explanation of that statement, he told me this.

He’d been the Depuy’s caretaker for 20 years, and had seen a huge change in booking patterns. He said at this point, when the hatch chart said there was a strong hatch, all 16 rods were filled. But when there were no hatches, no one booked a rod. In early August, no hatches, so no anglers. Again, I was baffled. He elaborated, and it has stuck with me.

20 years ago, people came to Montana to fish when they could. They went fishing, and caught some trout. But since The River Ran Through It, a lot of anglers needed a REASON to be there. It wasn’t enough to go fishing, there had to be a reason to go fishing. To come when “nothing” was happening didn’t have enough ROI, it didn’t have punch, not enough to be GOOD. It made me think about my experience in destination fly shops and booking trips, and saw his insight was correct. There are many anglers out there who travel to something. Not to the fishing, but to the expectations of what fishing could be. There needed to be more than just fishing. An event was needed.

I caught about 30 fish that day, all on the surface. Hoppers, ants, beetles, micro caddis and there was even a rusty spinner fall for about 30 minutes. No, the rises didn’t make it look like it was raining. But if you think 30 fish on the surface isn’t a good day, you and I aren’t calibrating our fishing days the same way. The sky was iridescently blue, the mountains so close you thought you could touch them, but so far away. A good cast was rewarded often enough that subsurface never crossed my mind. It was a great day.

When nothing was going on.

Instagram and Facebook. So many magazines about fly fishing. I get it, I’m old and crotchety. I’ve been fly fishing for 49 years, and I was taught that a day on the river is better than a day doing anything else. Sometimes you hit it right, and lite the world on fire. Other days you got your fanny handed to you, and went home smelling of skunk. But it was never about the end result. It was always about the journey.

I feel that’s changed in the last 25 years. Now, it’s less about the process and more about the result. Guides have reported getting in a boat with anglers who have a counter with them. Yes, a finger activated counter. When they caught a trout- not a fish, a trout- the counter was clicked and the event recorded. Next.

Some of those anglers return year after year, and they will definitively let you know they had better fishing 8 years ago. As you speak with them, you find they aren’t enjoying the fishing as much. It didn’t meet their expectations. It can get a bit crazy. I’ve been told that the 25 fish day just wasn’t as good as the 40 fish day they had in the past. I get it. This is their vacation- it needs to be what they want. But every year is different, hell, every day is different.

I get a unique perspective in the shop. I see guides every day, I know how the fishing is. Everyone in the shop does. I know when a 5 fish day is a GOOD day. Here’s a thought. Missoula is blessed with over 300 miles of floatable water an hour’s drive from town. That means everyday, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides have a big decision in front of them. Some days, you make the call and you’re the hero. Some days you’re the goat. It’s all part of the experience. The experience………

I try not to be old and grouchy. Older is actually easier to deal with! We’re lucky enough to be close to a college- I see young, enthusiastic anglers every day. I wish I still had their legs! They go places and do things I used to do, and it makes me happy. It keeps me young. When asked (and often unprompted!) I’ll tell them something I think is important. Sometimes they think it is, sometimes not.

Grouchy is tougher some days. When the going gets tough, some customers get grumpy. Not enough surface action, not enough fish, not enough big fish, too many people. I want to ask them, did you look at the iridescent sky? Did you watch that little cloud form, and then simply fade away across the vast panorama of the mountains? Did you watch a storm move up the valley? Were you aware of the herd of Elk behind you, watching you, wondering what you might be doing in their river? What did you miss in your quest for fish?

We know all the hackneyed phrases. “It’s not called catching, it’s called fishing” and others are bandied about when the conditions go against you. Said with a laugh, but meant with a purpose.

Again, I get it. I used to fish so hard for so long. Nose to the water, complete focus on the cast. Drift. Cast again. Drift. Cast, drift, cast, drift. Next thing I knew, it was dusk. Where did the time go?? It went fishing. And I went with it. Some days hero, some days goat. But always, at the bottom line, I went fishing. And that was good.

To sound like a jackass, I can truthfully say I’ve caught enough fish in my lifetime. I’ve been lucky, and I know it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I go fishing and it’s important to catch fish. It’s not as often as it used to be, but it’s still there. I’ll never lose that. But it makes fishing a lot more peaceful when the day doesn’t always rely on a result. Some days are about the journey, and those are turning into my good days on the water.

Do I tell my customers I went out and caught nothing? Not a chance! I use my father’s stock phrase, “I caught a couple.” Never more, never less. But I do tell them about the eagle’s nest and the circling adult, looking for food for her babies. I think about the play of light across the water, and wonder how many crayfish might be in the shallow rocks I’m walking through. I hope I don’t see a snake, and secretly hope to see a bear…..on the other side of the river! I talk about the ones I didn’t catch, and tell them how I plan to take them later. It always requires a new fly!

Missouri River Guided Fly Fishing Trip

So as you contemplate what a good day on the water is, think about what it is that really matters. Ask yourself if it matters all the time. Think about the things that do matter all the time when you go fishing. And think if you’re giving each day on the water a fair chance. Every day on the water is good- if you have to search a bit deeper to find it that’s OK. And never forget Robert Traver’s words about why go fishing;

“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that people are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
― Robert Traver

And as a final note in this somewhat contained rant, I ask you to look up one of my favorite fishing stories. It’s short, fun and to the point. It defines why we fish, and why the bad days are so important. Because they are!

George Kesel Mssoula Fly Fishing

George Kesel