The Shape of Water 2020

It’s that time of year again when we take a closer look at current snowpack, long-term weather and precipitation forecasts, current flow conditions and current reservoir data at Canyon Ferry to come up with some kind of prediction of what you might expect to see for water conditions on the Missouri this spring and summer.

Five days into April we’re still looking at snow on the ground in Wolf Creek, left over from last week’s spring snow storm but heading into this week it looks like we’ll be seeing some more spring-like weather with temps in the 50’s through the middle of the week and possibly climbing into the mid 60’s on Thursday before another cold front moves through next weekend. I would bet we haven’t seen the last snowfall of the year but hopefully we’re on our way to those warm, sunny spring days on the MO.

The snow water equivalent is looking good with everything in the region in the 100 to 140 percent of normal range and the majority or locations at right around 120 percent of normal. This is right where we like to see things at this point in the season though snowpack fails to tell the whole story. It looks good now but a sudden warm up could rapidly deplete that snowpack and leave us well below average and similarly we could still see plenty of high country precipitation accumulating and setting us up for the possibility of higher flows depending on what we see in the way of spring rains.

Missouri River flows below Holter Dam are currently at 5180 CFS and have remained relatively steady all winter in the 4500 CFS – 5000 CFS range. I would expect to see that pattern remain over these next couple of weeks and then tick up in late April as the spring flows begin to take shape.

Canyon Ferry is currently 73% full with inflows at 3395 CFS and outflows of 5283 CFS. March weather resulted in near normal precipitation, while cooler temperatures occurred throughout the Missouri River Headwaters.
The one-month outlook forecast, dated March 31st, is an equal chance for normal, above, or below normal precipitation and a 50 percent chance that below normal temperatures will occur during April in the Missouri Headwaters.

Based on these factors the current model for April is predicting most probable flows holding right about where they’re currently at with the minimum probable at around 4500 CFS and the max probable at right around 6K. Not a lot of variation in April which will make for ideal fishing conditions.

The show starts in May as run-off begins and while we’re always hoping for at least a few days of flushing flows (over 15K) it looks like the most probable model has us bumping up to just 8000 CFS with the minimum being right around 4,000 and the maximum at just over 10,000 CFS which we would gladly take.

Looking beyond May this far out isn’t all that practical but at this point the best guess is for most probable flows holding at that same 8K before leveling out in the 5,000 cfs range while the max probable peaks around 14K and the minimum probable holds steady at around 4,000 CFS. At this point it’s really anyone’s guess so we try to steer clear of making any bold predictions about June this far out.

It’s all dependent on spring precipitation which we’re assuming at this point will be at or slightly below normal but again, it’s a bit like trying to predict what will happen with the Coronavirus, the models are only as good as the data that goes into them. The more data, the more accurate the model so we’re content to just sit and wait and see and hold off on any prime-time predictions until we have more data. (For both the Coronavirus and the water conditions).

All that being said, I will make the same bold prediction I make every year. There will be water (how much or how little we don’t know) and there will be fish (plenty) and we will be fishing.

Stay tuned for up to date reports and conditions from Wolf Creek Angler.

ON HOLD

 

Missouri River Guide Trips ON HOLD

Following days of agonizing over how to proceed under the current Covid-19 circumstances we have made the decision to close our doors and also to suspend guide trips effective immediately until conditions allow for a loosening of suggested social distancing norms.

We will continue to offer curb-side service for those seeking flies or other merchandise but the shop doors will be closed to the public indefinitely. Please call the shop (406)235-4350 to place orders and pay via credit or debit card and we will deliver curbside to your vehicle at Wolf Creek Angler or to your doorstep in and around Helena. We’re also offering free shipping on orders over $50.

We have been vigilant about sanitizing and disinfecting touch surfaces but we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re simply not able to practically observe the CDC suggested 6 feet of social distancing within the confines of the shop or within the confines of a drift boat.

We’re not putting a time line on this closure other than to say “until further notice” as the situation continues to evolve rapidly but you can rest assured that we are keeping a very close eye on things and will re-open the shop and resume guide trips just as soon as it’s safe and responsible to do so.

Those with trips scheduled for the next couple of weeks have been notified and given the opportunity to reschedule.

We’ve not been ordered to close as of this moment but if we’re to adhere to the concept of only essential businesses being open at this time we really have no choice but to close for the time being. As much as we like to think of fly fishing as essential to our mental health it’s a bit of a stretch to include fly fishing retail or guide trips in this category so by all means you should get out and fish on your own and soon enough we will gather again to share the magic of social interaction within the framework of moving water and rising trout.

Thank you again for your support through these uncertain times. We are so appreciative of your business and your words of encouragement and we can’t wait to get back to doing what we do best.
Stay Safe. Stay Sane.

By |2020-03-25T17:13:16+00:00March 25th, 2020|Categories: Local Buzz|Tags: , , , , |1 Comment

Escape

Your Escape from a new reality. Photo by Chris Beaudoin

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the doom and gloom of the moment, much of which is real, some of which is perceived but perhaps unfounded.

We’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing now and the reality is we’re likely in for a rough ride in 2020 in the broadest (global) sense but if you drill down and look at this not only from the community health and safety perspective but also from an economic consideration it gets all too real all too fast.

And to be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing exactly what we’re doing as communities, as states, as a nation, as a world, but the economic damage this virus and our reaction to it are inflicting on the economic system at all levels is truly incomprehensible.

You don’t have to look far to see the real impacts happening all around us as businesses are ordered to close and those remaining open face an uncertain future with all social and economic normalcy grinding to a halt.

So yes, the future is uncertain and we’re all riding this out together hoping and praying life will return to normal sooner than later. It feels like we’re living in a dream with the world turned completely upside-down.

It was under these uneasy circumstances that I took to the water a couple of days ago and I need to report that I did not expect nor was I prepared for the level of escape afforded me by this outing. An escape from the news, an escape from the looming economic challenges troubling my mind, an escape from a surreal reality where we’re watching numbers and waiting for the next shoe to drop.

We’re watching the numbers of infected and the number of deaths increase while at the same time watching the markets rise and fall in chaos. Our physical health is the driver as we collectively wait. We dread contracting the virus as we brace ourselves for what we’re told will be the worst of the outbreak happening over the next couple of weeks. Our economic health has already contracted the virus and no amount of social distancing will prevent the mass infection which has already taken hold.

Our mental health is also at risk of infection and while it is the responsibility of everyone to stay informed and adhere to the advice of the experts, the amount of hysteria being driven by some in the media is overblown and irresponsible and we must tune it out if we’re to stand a chance of maintaining our mental health.

So back to the water – I was asked by my good friends at SOVRN Creative in Helena to help with a media shoot to promote fly fishing and while I was more than happy to jump in the boat and row them down the MO, it wasn’t until an hour or more into the float that I realized what an incredible boost this was to my psyche.

No phone calls, no texts, no watching infection stats, no watching the roller coaster market, no dealing with cancellations….none of it. It was six hours of bliss, a perfect escape as yet again the river comes through and carries away the worries of the day.

A few friends, a few fish, a few beers and a desperately needed escape. And it’s readily available anytime you want it. Part of the escape for me was being able to hang out with friends but if you’re all about the social distancing there’s no better place to quarantine, just you and the fish and the magic of the river.

So in the midst of this stoppage of life as we know it, we’re still here, open for business and wanting to help you access this great escape. We’re trying to strike a sensible balance between social distancing and commerce and we will continue to adjust the way we’re doing things as the situation changes.

As outlined in my previous post we are offering you, our customers options to promote and comply with distancing measures. We encourage you to take advantage of any one of the following options;

Curbside Service – We are more than happy to take orders over the phone and have your product ready for you curbside when you get here. Just give us a call and tell us what you need and when you will be here and we’ll ring you up, process your credit card payment, assemble your order and deliver to you at your vehicle when you arrive.

Limited Delivery in the Helena Area – As above, give us a call and tell us what you need and where you live and we’ll ring  up your purchase, process your credit card payment, assemble your order and deliver your product to your doorstep in the greater Helena area in most cases the same day.

Free Shipping – Orders of $50 or more ship free for the time being. Give us a call or email us at info@wolfcreekangler.com with your order and we will process your payment, assemble your order and ship anywhere free of charge.

Darken our Door – We don’t want you to feel unwelcome in the shop, we’re just doing what we can to encourage responsible social distancing. But should you prefer to darken our door you can rest assured that we’re cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day. The shop is clean and the staff is healthy. Should that change, we will let you know and we will adjust our options accordingly.

We encourage you to buy your Montana fishing license online which you can do here and if it’s just a shuttle you need you’re encouraged to call that in. We would also ask that if you are feeling sick or just under the weather that you would not enter our shop.

We are so thankful for your continued support through these strange times and we’re looking forward to the day when we can encourage and return to a shop full.

Stay safe and WASH YOUR HANDS!

Weathering the Storm

These are no doubt crazy times. It feels like the world has gone mad and unfortunately this time that madness can be felt everywhere…even in Montana.

Many who settle in places like Wyoming and Montana do so to escape the madness and while there are no confirmed cases in Montana, and just one confirmed case in Wyoming at this time, it feels like it’s just a matter of time as cases are obviously on the rise. Just as a matter of housekeeping, you may have seen  reports that Montana has one confirmed case of COVID-19 but according to the Montana DPHHS the patient acquired the illness outside of Montana and has not returned to the state since becoming ill.

It’s easy to get sucked in to the doomsday media hype and if you spend too much time listening to those talking heads you’re bound to start to panic sooner or later but that’s obviously the absolute worst thing you can do.

Obviously the markets are reacting to the hysteria and that is not an ideal scenario.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in NO way dismissing the seriousness of the situation but calm must prevail.

I watched the president’s prime-time address last night and I have to say that I didn’t find it particularly calming or reassuring but listening to the analysis afterwards was insane and maddening and disgusting and this gets to the heart of why it’s important to stay informed but why you shouldn’t be seeking information through a partisan filter.

As you would expect, the right said the address was great and the POTUS is doing a terrific job of handling things while the left proclaims he’s botched this from the start. I can’t stand listening to either side.

Here’s what we know. The coronavirus is here and it will likely be something we’re dealing with for a while. Confirmed cases are on the rise due in large part to increased testing and while the increase in cases looks scary the bright side is that the mortality rate is dropping rapidly due to the fact that the more reported cases there are the lower the death rate will be.

This is an interesting take from the Washington Times

We do not yet have a vaccine for the coronavirus but there are common-sense measures we can all take to avoid getting sick. I’ve heard a lot of talk that this shouldn’t be compared to the seasonal flu and that’s fine but the preventative measures are exactly the same. WASH YOUR HANDS!!

From the CDC…

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

• Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
• Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. Please consult with your health care provider about additional steps you may be able to take to protect yourself.
Take steps to protect yourself

Clean your hands often
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
• If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
• Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Take steps to protect others

Stay home if you’re sick
• Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.

Cover coughs and sneezes
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
• Throw used tissues in the trash.
• Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Wear a facemask if you are sick
• If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
• If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.

Clean and disinfect
• Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
• If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

To disinfect:
Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface.
Options include:
• Diluting your household bleach.
To make a bleach solution, mix:
o 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water
OR
o 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.
• Alcohol solutions.
Ensure solution has at least 70% alcohol.
• Other common EPA-registered household disinfectants.
Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens pdf icon[7 pages]external icon claims are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.)

Common sense right? Get off the panic track and do what you can to avoid exposure to the virus.

So here’s what we’re doing at Wolf Creek Angler in response to the Coronavirus threat…

Disinfecting/Cleaning early and often

We’re taking extra measures to make sure there are no viruses, corona or other, hanging around at WCA. We’re disinfecting often in the shop and you can rest assured that nobody is reporting to work if they are sick.

We are closely monitoring the guidance of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the spread of the virus. Our focus is to ensure we meet our guest needs while doing our part to keep you, our associates, and our communities safe.

We have enhanced techniques used to clean guest rooms after each stay. We are paying particular attention to high touch point areas, to include room keys, public areas, door handles, locks and latches, light switches, and bathroom fixture handles as well as kitchen appliance handles and controls.

Our guides have been instructed to take extra precautionary measures like wiping down high touch surfaces in vehicles and boats and we are providing hand sanitizer to each of our guides for use by clients as well as the guides themselves throughout the day. Guides have also been instructed that they are not to report to work if they are sick.

If social distancing is major part of avoiding the virus then might we suggest that there is no better place to engage in social distancing than on Montana waters.

We strongly encourage you to limit your intake of doomsday catastrophizing and instead turn to neutral expert sources for information.

Here are a couple we follow closely.

Johns Hopkins University

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Montana DPHHS

Stay informed. Keep Calm and Fish On. We’re looking forward to a great season on the Missouri, regardless of the madness!

Not so fast…

As if on cue, winter is about to make a return coinciding nicely with our recent decision to open additional lodging units to accommodate the increase in traffic spurred by last week’s warm weather.

We had been looking at a full house for the weekend but as it stands now we have ample availability should you decide to tough it out.

Temps look fine this week but it’s going to be breezy today and tomorrow. . We’ll make 50 today and close to it tomorrow but expect gusty winds 11-18 with gusts to 30 today and 18-26 mph with 30+mph gusts tomorrow. Thursday may be your best bet with a high of 42 and winds 5-9 mph.

Winter rolls in on Friday with snow and a high of 34 and then the bottom drops out with lows in the single digits Friday night. We’ll struggle to make it into the teens through the weekend so while I had hoped we were past this (should’ve known better) I guess we’ll be resuming the fight against frozen plumbing! If we can make it through the early part of next week things look to trend warmer beginning on Tuesday.

Maybe not a great fishing weekend but it’s not all bad as another shot of precipitation certainly won’t hurt.

We’re currently looking at 100 to 120 percent of normal snow water equivalent throughout the region which should translate into another good water year on the Missouri.
Updated projections from the Bureau of Reclamation indicate most probable peak flows in the 8K range and summer flows in the 5 to 6K range. Max probable peak at this point looks to be somewhere in the 13K range and minimum probable holds steady around 4K all season long.

So what does that mean for your 2020 season flows? It’s still early to tell but odds are we’ll see some decent volume (not flushing flows by any stretch) early on, leveling off to somewhere in the 6K range for your Prime Time.

Once again, spring rainfall (or lack thereof) can make all the difference in the world but at this point we’re liking what we’re seeing for the Missouri and also liking the fact that current projections indicate a good water year throughout the region and perhaps minimal Hoot Owl restrictions but time will tell.

This is the time of year when most calls to the shop turn from booking trips to inquiring about what the conditions will be for said booked trips. While we’re definitely not experts, from a layman’s perspective it appears as though that volume shift away from early June towards mid-June/early July we saw in bookings in 2019 and in our current bookings was the right call.

In spite of the winter weather hiccup we’re anticipating an early and busy spring season. Half of our lodging units are now open and the rest will follow as soon as the weather permits and the traffic volume dictates.

The word is that Shotgun Annie’s will be opening for the season this Thursday. It’s been a long winter without them being open and we’re super stoked to have them back.

If you decide to sit this weekend out why not take some time and book yourself a spring special guide trip. $400 for a full day for one or two anglers. Book two days on the river and a night of lodging and we’ll throw in a second night’s lodging for FREE!

Spring merch arriving daily by the truckload at Wolf Creek Angler. Stop by the shop and see what’s new.

Welcome to March on the Missouri

 

Fred Davison Wolf Creek Angler Guide

As I drove in this morning it sure felt to me like spring was in the air. 40 degrees with a mix of clouds and sun and a light rain…quintessential early spring conditions. If it wasn’t for the howling wind it might be the perfect day to be on the water.

Fast forward two hours and I’m staring out the shop window at sheets of snow blowing across the horizon. And then, just like that, there’s the sun again. Yes, this is spring time in the Rocky Mountains.

If it wasn’t for the high wind warning I suspect there would be some traffic today. This is the kind of weather that gets people thinking about spring fishing and the forecast going forward this week is likely going to bring them out in droves.  After all, with temps expected to be in the low 60’s on Friday, who can resist?Sure it’ll likely be breezy but once you get into the 60’s the wind is much easier to tolerate.

Lodging is starting to book up for the weekend, we’ll have more available possibly by this weekend but for sure by next week so give us a call if you’re thinking of coming out. And don’t forget our spring guide special is in full effect. $400 Full Day guide trips for one or two anglers. Book two trips and a night of lodging and we’ll throw in the second night of lodging for FREE. That’s right – FREE LODGING at Wolf Creek Angler.

If you’re inclined to DIY – we’ve got two fancy new Adipose drift boats for rent (a Runoff and a Flow) and the Mending Waters Montana boats are once again available for rent via mendingwatersmontana.org FREE to all vets and active duty military personnel.

The water is in great shape with flows currently at 4480 cfs and water temp bumping up against 36 degrees. It’ll get there soon. Flows will bump over the next two days, back up to around 4900 cfs by Friday.

Nymphing and streamer fishing will be your methods of choice but don’t count out dry fly fishing. Breezy conditions typically take this option off the table but you never know. Sometimes you come upon that perfect spot, shielded from the wind where the midge feast is occurring. If I were wade fishing I probably wouldn’t go through the trouble of bringing the extra rig unless conditions were just right,  but you’d be a fool not to have a dry fly rod at the ready in your boat from here on out as spring fishing commences.It’s on the early side but if you’re fishing from a drift boat I wouldn’t hesitate to spend some time prospecting with a Skwalla or chubby. You just might get surprised.

Likewise, nymphing is still in the winter zone but it’s about to undergo a transformation as the water warms and the fish start to move and the spring bugs begin to emerge. I’ve been sticking with the Bubble Yum/Rainbow Czech/Amex/Pederson’s Sow/Pill Popper/Caviar Scud point fly trailed with a tailwater sow/soft hackle sow/zebra midge/Yum Yum/Ray Charles etc but there’s no reason you shouldn’t start to work some baetis nymphs into the mix. Jujus’, Radiation Baetis, BWO Wondernymphs, Olive S & M’s, Split Case BWO’s, Magic Flies, LGM’s, Olive Lightning Bugs etc. would all be good options going forward but if you’re happy with your winter rig’s performance then by no means should you change it up. You do you!

There’s been plenty of talk about the streamer action as of late and the talk has been that if streamer fishing is your thing and you’re not out there, then you’re missing out right now. It’s been primarily a swing game but don’t let anyone tell you you can’t strip. I wouldn’t get overly aggressive with your strip just yet but a nice slow strip with plenty of pauses in between has been very effective. Polar leeches, Mojo minnows, Kreelex, Clouser-type minnows and buggers have been steady movers out of the bins these last few weeks and will continue to be good options. Don’t be afraid to go bigger, bulkier and flashier though. The big browns seem to be on the hunt and on the right day don’t seem to be overly selective. Fish what you like. Again…you do you!

Reports have been good for most sections though I haven’t heard much from Pelican down. It’s likely on the cold side down there. Wolf Creek to Craig is a great go-to and Craig to Dearborn has been my preference as of late. I’ve heard decent reports from the canyon and Holter Dam will likely be a busy place very soon so go where you like and do what you like to do…it’s time for spring fishing on the MO’.

Farewell to February


We’re closing out February with another spring-like weekend and even though I’m pretty sure there’s bound to be some winter to come I can’t help but shift gears.

Conditions are still favorable with snow water equivalent still at over 120 percent of average in most areas but at the same we’re looking at bare ground and mild temps here on the Missouri. As I’ve been saying for most of the winter, it’s the best of both worlds with snow in the high country to feed our flows and mild conditions where we’re at giving us ample opportunities to get out on the water.

Winter/Spring Special in FULL EFFECT as we speak. $400 Full Day Missouri River Guide Trips and the most affordable lodging option around at $99 (plus tax) for a clean and cozy bungalow with private bath and full kitchen facilities. Now through the end of April book two days on the water and one night of lodging and we’ll throw in a second night of lodging for free. I challenge you to find a better deal ANYWHERE on the MO!

The winter slumber is about to come to an end, slowly but surely. We’ll soon be opening additional lodging as required and while we don’t have a firm date, I know Shotgun Annie’s will be opening in March.

The fishing has been consistently strong over these past weeks with very little in the way of traffic. Saturdays have been busy but only by winter standards. It’s been the perfect winter to fish the Missouri and there haven’t been many doing it so we urge you to get out here and enjoy the solitude while it lasts.

Warm, sunny days will be here before you know it and with them the crowds which, from the shop perspective, can’t come soon enough but we have definitely been enjoying good fishing and an abundance of solitude on the river.

If you’re on the fence, wondering if it’s worth fishing this time of the season, wonder no more. Every day you’ve got the potential for excellent nymphing, ever-improving streamer fishing and even some good top water action on the right days when the wind stays down. And it’s only going to get better from here on out.

As the water warms the fish will start moving out of those deep winter runs, expanding your opportunities both sub-surface and on top.

It’s still a winter nymph game and will continue to be so for the next month. Anything with a pink or orange bead is a good start and a little soft hackle is never a bad call. Pill Poppers, Caviar Scuds, Rainbow Czechs, Hot Bead Rays, UV Crush, Pink Amex, Pederson’s Sow, Bubble Yum Scuds, Pink Weight Flies, Tailwater Sows, Cotton Candy, Yum Yums Pink Lighting Bugs and don’t forget your Zebra Midges. All of these and many more available now at WCA.

Top Water – it’s a midge game. Fish your favorite midge cluster paired with an Adams or single midge. Griffiths gnats, black sippers, Grizzly Midge Clusters, Bucky’s Midge Cluster, Hi Vis midge etc.

The streamer set has started to mobilize. Action has been decent and is trending upwards. Still a lot of swinging happening which may be your best bet but strippers don’t despair, it’s about to turn. A couple of degrees and it could blow up.

When will that happen? It’s anyone’s guess but this weekend looks prime with temps back into the 50’s Friday and Saturday. It’ll be on the breezy side but it definitely looks to be fishable.

We do have limited lodging available which I expect will fill for the weekend so don’t wait to make that call.

Also – if you’re out and about, stop in and see Chewy this weekend. After a long winter on the IR he will be back in the shop all weekend.

Call ahead for up to the minute reports and conditions.

Under the Influence Part Two

Long ago and far away – pre fly fishing days in Ontario with my dad

This is the second installment of a two-part post.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a blog on our Facebook page from HATCH Magazine that asked the question “Which Anglers have influenced your Fly Fishing?” The post got a good response and got me thinking about my own fly fishing history and remembering all of those who played a role in my journey from curious observer to reluctant participant to sell it all and move to Montana to be a fly fishing guide and fly shop owner.

As is the case for many of us, the towering figure in my personal fishing history most responsible for my being where I’m at today would have to be my dad.

This breaks slightly from the theme of that Hatch blog because my dad was not a fly fisherman but that aside, he did instill in me that sense of awe and reverence elicited by the sight of mountains and forests, the sound of babbling streams and raging rivers, the smell of spring rains and the feel of a trout on the line.

Like many, I grew up fishing conventional gear. I was handed a Zebco rod at the age of five, prompting a journey which continues today.

I fished worms with a bobber for bluegill, sunfish and bass on the lake I grew up on in Michigan, and eventually graduated to hardware. My first experience on a trout stream was also fishing with worms but the memories I have of those early days trout fishing the White and Pere Marquette Rivers in Western Michigan have much more to do with experiencing moving water than with catching fish.

Michigan’s Pere Marquette River

I remember donning my first pair of waders and stepping into those rushing waters. I remember feeling the force of water pushing against me, lifting my feet off the gravel bottom. It was like nothing I’d felt before. It was both thrilling and terrifying and I loved it.

The twists and turns of the stream framed by the emerging spring vegetation under the radiant heat of the April sun left a permanent mark on my memory and I still recall those mid-spring Midwestern days on the water like they were yesterday.

But it wasn’t all warm and fuzzy. Numb fingers on cold mornings, an often-times less than patient guide who was doing his best to enjoy his own escape while making sure nothing terrible happened to his kid, snags and tangles and what felt like an awful abundance of SNAKES all tipped the scales in favor of staying home.

I don’t recall how often we trout fished, probably not more than a couple of times a year, but it was enough to plant the seed. I wasn’t always thrilled to be going and I don’t recall really ever being given a choice but the bribe of snacks for the ride helped and once I stepped in that water I always enjoyed myself. I began to learn where the trout live and why, Reading Trout Water 101.

At some point in my late teens it all clicked and I fell in love with trout fishing. I began to pursue it on my own which has obviously led me to all sorts of places but it was all rooted in those early days on the water with my dad.

He was an avid outdoorsman and did what he could to bring me into the fold but I think more effective than his efforts was his passion. I grew up surrounded by books about National Parks and wilderness and hunting and fishing. I grew up watching my dad head out the door, shotgun, rifle or fishing rod in hand, only to return with all manners of tasty table fare. We watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom every week on television and we actually saw The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams in the movie theatre. The concept of wilderness was not a foreign one in our house.

Having spent his army days at Fort Lewis in Washington State, my dad always had a fondness for the Pacific Northwest and the western half of the country in general. When I was eight or nine years old we did the family cross country trek from Michigan to California, traveling through the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon to get there.

The pictures I had poured over time and again in those National Park books on the shelf at home were brought to life as I took in the plains and forests and snow-capped mountains and rivers and Big Skies and red wood trees and finally the big blue Pacific. There is no doubt the immersion in wild places which occurred on this trip planted the seeds for my future as I fell in love with the place I would someday, some way, call home.

My dad and I fished together in an on-again, off-again manner over the years. He spent most of his fishing efforts on Lake Michigan where he operated a charter boat. I worked as his first mate for a couple of seasons but never cared for that type of fishing.

The solitude and the poetry of the trout stream continued to captivate me. We fished Ontario’s Superior tributaries annually for steelhead which pulled me even further into the wade fishing fold and then fly fishing caught my eye.

As is the case for so many of us in this business, A River Runs Through It played a pivotal role in attracting me to the sport of fly fishing and reinforced my infatuation with Montana. After seeing it, I sheepishly told my dad I wanted to try fly fishing. Sheepishly because, as already stated, he was not a fly fisherman and he was not a fan. In fact, I don’t recall him ever having much nice to say about fly fishing in general.

My first fly rod was a Shakespeare kit that he gave me. I don’t remember what weight it was but looking back it seems like it was likely a #8 or #9 weight. Whatever the case, it was a broom stick and not only was it a broom stick but it was a broom stick I mismatched with a trout line because I was afraid to ask questions at the K-Mart where I purchased the line and no backing. Obviously my time on the lawn trying to cast this ridiculous set up did nothing to inspire me to actually try this on the stream. I quickly abandoned the idea of fly fishing based on my experience with this set up but that desire to learn the quiet sport lingered though the intimidation factor would ultimately keep me gear fishing for several more years.

Little did I know how much this particular episode would relate to my future as the owner of a fly shop. It’s where my customer service is rooted. It seems like a few times a season a kid will show up with a similar set-up and a similar hesitation to ask questions about what, for the beginner, is an insanely confusing, overwhelming and intimidating sport. I pride myself on having been in those shoes and I always do everything I can to simplify things and to encourage the would be fly fisher to ask all the questions they want but not to over-complicate it.

My second fly rod was a Cabela’s PT(Progressive Taper) #5 weight which also came in a kit but this one I’d done the research on and it was much better suited for what I was wanting to do. Casting remained a struggle but there was hope. I flailed around on the water with this rig but I would always take my spinning gear as well and would usually spend no more than a couple of minutes frothing the water before switching over to the deadly Panther Martins I loved so much.

I dabbled in fly fishing for trout for a couple of years while continuing to gear fish, mostly for steelhead with my dad.

He called me one summer afternoon when I was 29 and asked me if I wanted to go trout fishing with him. We hadn’t trout fished together in years. My passion for the sport was growing, his seemed to be waning. While I was starting to become proficient with the fly rod I opted for my spinning gear to avoid his criticism. We agreed on a time and place and I headed there early to get a shot at the best water.

I heard his vehicle pull up and a few minutes later heard his door close so I made my way to a spot where I could signal to him where I was. I waved and thought I had seen him wave so went back to fishing. He looked to be about a 10 minute walk from me.

A half hour later I wondered where he was and figured he must have found good water so I continued to fish. Finally he emerged from the brush looking perturbed and a little out of sorts and told me he had gotten turned around trying to make his way to the creek.

It was now getting towards dark so we fished within ear-shot of one another and then made our way back to the vehicles. Neither of us caught fish that evening. The Panther Martins were ineffective, as were the Rooster Tails.

 

When we got back to the vehicles he offered me a beer and cracked one himself. At this point in his life my dad was not a beer drinker so I found it maybe a little strange but I was incredibly moved by the gesture which I felt affirmed our emerging relationship. My dad and I clashed a lot over the years and were never particularly close. This invitation to fish followed by streamside beers exemplified the new norm. We worked closely together in the family business and the battles of the past were gone. He was 60, I was nearing 30, the time had come to develop an adult relationship and it was perfect!

In retrospect, I think he had other reasons for inviting me to go trout fishing that summer evening. It was purely a gift.

I was anxious to talk him into trying fly fishing and I was looking forward to a summer of trout fishing and a fall of deer hunting with him.

Alas, it was not to be. This would be the last time we would fish together. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of weeks later and was gone before I turned 30.

20 years later, looking back, while he didn’t have so much  to do specifically with my fly fishing history, there is no one more responsible for shaping who, what and where I’ve come to be.

 

The Countdown is Underway

With spring just 29 days away we can’t help but turn our thoughts to what’s soon to come.

And while it wasn’t very spring-like this morning with temperatures in the single digits, the early dawn and the sunshine and clear blue skies today have us thinking spring fishing on the Missouri.

Spring ranks high as one of our absolute favorite times to fish the MO’. As winter loosens is grip the water temps begin their slow ascent awakening our hungry trout from their cold-weather stupor and igniting the instinct to feed with reckless abandon.

The rainbows are looking to stockpile calories for the upcoming arduous spawning season while the brown trout key in on high calorie targets like baitfish. Couple this aggressive feeding with the least amount of aquatic vegetation you’ll see all season long and you can see why spring is THE absolute best time to fish streamers on the Missouri River.

The fish are hungry for nymphs, they’re hungry for streamers and as if that weren’t enough, they’re more than willing to eat a dry fly as midges and later BWO’s provide great top water action and pave the way for the coming summer dry fly smorgasbord.

You might think that with all these fishing opportunities available in the spring we’d charge a premium for guide trips but if you thought that you’d be wrong. Quite to the contrary, spring just so happens to be the time when we offer the best rates of the season for guide trips and lodging.

Like trout emerging from a somewhat dormant winter existence, outfitters, guides and fly shops are also emerging from winter dormancy. As is the nature of the business, we’ve expended substantially more than we’ve taken in over the winter months and it’s time to start feeding again! Spring trip specials are our way of enticing you into getting an early start on your season. Dust off those cobwebs and get dialed in for the coming season.

At Wolf Creek Angler we’re thinking spring all winter long so unlike some of the other shops who make you wait almost until it’s technically spring by the calendar, we offer our spring special ALL WINTER LONG! $400 FULL DAY GUIDE TRIPS and great deals on lodging. And speaking of great deals, we’ve got the best lodging/guide trip deal on the river hands down. Book two days of guided fishing and a night of lodging and your second night’s lodging is on us. That’s right – FREE LODGING at Wolf Creek Angler. Try to find a better deal…you won’t. I guarantee it.

So while you might think February is a little early to start talking spring fishing, we disagree. If the weather allows for it, why wouldn’t you come get an early start on your 2020 season?

Case in point – the coming weekend looks pretty darn good with temps nearing 50 each day. It will likely be breezy but not enough to prevent you from having a great day on the water.
Things have been quiet so far this week with the colder temps and snow but I’m expecting we’ll see a fairly busy weekend. At this point we do have lodging available but I expect that will book up for the weekend. Guides are chomping at the bit, ready to get back to work.

The fishing has been consistently good these past couple of weeks and should continue to hold steady. Water temps are holding at around 35 which will continue to dictate winter locations/techniques but a tic or two up could make a huge difference, especially if you’re itching for the streamer game.

Give us a call for real-time updates and conditions or to book your spring special lodging and guide trips.

Under The Influence Part One

A couple of weeks ago I shared a blog on our Facebook page from HATCH Magazine that asked the question “Which Anglers have influenced your Fly Fishing?” The post got a good response and got me thinking about my own fly fishing history and remembering all of those who played a role in my journey from curious observer to reluctant participant to sell it all and move to Montana to be a fly fishing guide and fly shop owner.

While I don’t have any TITANS of the industry in my history, there are a couple of individuals who come to mind when I ponder this and I’ll likely treat this in a couple of installments in order to do it justice.

Mike Lenahan

When I was attempting to make the transition from fishing conventional gear to fly fishing I stalled out because I was afraid of making a fool of myself on the water trying to cast a fly rod. My casting work on the lawn was coming along but my fear of being seen on the river flailing away kept me fishing conventional gear more often than not until I met Mike Lenahan.

Mike was CEO at Resource Recovery Corporation of West Michigan where I served on the board and he and I would get together and fish occasionally. I told him I wanted to learn to fly fish and he was happy to oblige. I don’t know that it was his favorite thing in the world but our next trip to the Pere Marquette River he convinced me to leave the spinning gear in the truck and then proceeded to spend the majority of that outing teaching me to fly cast and to mend.

I don’t believe there were fish caught on that trip but what I do remember about it was finally feeling like I could actually cast and just being so excited that I was really fly fishing after years of flailing around and being too embarrassed to take my fly rod on the water if there was even a remote chance that someone would be there who might see me making a fool of myself.

Mike and I fished a few times after that and he was there when I caught my first brown trout on a fly. It was a glorious experience! And while I don’t recall exactly what all Mike taught me about fly fishing I can say that had he not taken the time to go with me that day and had he not convinced me to leave my spinning gear in the truck I might still be fishing gear!

Paul Drewry

Once I started to develop some proficiency at fly fishing for trout I decided it was time to give Steelhead fishing a try.
Our veterinarian Paul Drewry was an avid fly fisherman and we spent a fair amount of time at dog appointments talking fly fishing. The subject of steelhead fishing came up and Paul told me exactly what setup I should purchase.

I drove to my local fly shop and bought a 9’6” #7 St Croix Avid and a Solitude reel. It was the sweetest rig and compared to my Cabelas trout setup, my first foray into what at the time felt like high dollar gear. Little did I know this was just the gateway drug but it was a great way to ease in to it.

I’d spent enough time fishing dry flies on a #5 that this #7 felt like a whole different world to me. At that time most of the folks fly fishing for Great Lakes steelhead were indicator fishing which was a completely foreign concept to me. Sure, I’d dropped a hare’s ear off of a hopper before but this was a whole different animal and while I was excited to learn something new, I could feel myself sinking back into intimidation paralysis. Paul was able to help!

We spent a few early spring days wade fishing the Pere Marquette where I had grown up fishing worms for trout and spawn bags for steelhead. Paul clued me in to how to nymph a steelhead run.

Those days were filled with snags, re-ties, bad casts and more bad casts and while I caught plenty of tree branches both on the river bank and the river bottom, after three or four outings I had yet to hook into anything that felt remotely like a fish.

And then everything in my fishing universe changed….

Paul invited me to float with him one spring day. I’d never set foot in a drift boat and wasn’t sure what to expect.
Nothing has had a bigger effect on my fly fishing life than stepping in that boat that day. The change in perspective from standing in the water to standing in the bow of that drift boat was life altering for me. That was the day I knew I’d be buying a drift boat and that was also the day my psyche underwent a transformation from reluctant participation to obsession.

As we made our way down the river I was captivated by every log jam, deep bend and shallow riffle. I’d spent more than my fair share of time on a boat on Lake Michigan and I’d been down the river a time or two in a canoe but this, this was something different. We floated probably 5 miles that day, a relatively short float, but it really struck me when I recognized a bend in the river as the start of the 1/2 mile or so of water I’d fished since I was a little kid. This short stretch of river was my entire fishing world for so many years. It WAS the Pere Marquette to me. Now, floating through my “world” in just a few minutes time I discovered just how small my world was and the idea that stepping in that boat opened up an entirely new frontier completely blew my mind.

I fished a bit that day but the fishing was not what was significant on that trip. It was all about the journey from wade fishing with all of its limitations to a new world of opportunities I’d never even considered.

Following that trip I immediately started looking into boats. I didn’t think I could afford to buy a drift boat so I bought a pontoon but as I assembled that boat all I could think about was how awesome that day in the drift boat was. All that room for all the gear you could possibly need. I disassembled the pontoon, put it back in the box and returned it and headed to Newaygo to order myself a drift boat.

I picked up my brand new Hyde in November and began to plot the future. However, one big obstacle did remain…I had no idea how to row a drift boat. I figured the best way to learn was to dump the thing in the water and figure it out. Looking back, launching the boat at Rainbow Rapids (the only stretch of water on the Pere Marquette even remotely resembling a rapids) was probably not the wisest decision but it did reinforce the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, as if there was any doubt.

I think we ran into or over every boulder in the rapids but spun our way through without sinking the boat and once below the rapids, just when I was feeling like I was getting the hang of it I ran the bow of the boat into two steel posts while trying to power forward through a bend leaving a permanent reminder on the bow of my shiny new boat of that maiden voyage.

Following that trip I invited Paul to fish with me, asking him if he would give me some tips on rowing. He obliged, sitting behind me most of the day and teaching me with taps on the shoulders and audible commands of “push” or “pull”. It was slow going but by the end of that day I felt like I had at least a rudimentary understanding of rowing.

The Pere Marquette was a great river on which to learn to row a drift boat. Not much in the way of rapids but plenty of log jams and tight bends offering ample opportunities to sink a boat (which thankfully I’ve yet to do, though I’ve had a couple of close calls).

I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Paul Drewry for his excellent care of our pets during those years as well as for opening the doors to a new world for me.

Fred Davison

At 30 years old I was not really looking to make friends. I was busy with work and had a kid on the way and even though I was enjoying fishing it was something I enjoyed doing on my own.

I met Fred when he was doing drywall work in our house as we prepared a room for the coming baby. Fred’s wife worked in the same office as my wife Sheila and they arranged for him to do the drywall as he was running his own drywall company at the time.

The first day I talked to Fred was just for a couple of minutes when he was working on the house and I came home from work and grabbed my gear, heading for Canada for solo steelhead fishing.

I told him where I was headed and he mentioned that he liked fishing but didn’t like it THAT much, that he’d drive 8 hours to do what he could do in our back yard. I assumed he must not really be into it. Little did I know we would end up spending the next 11 years on a fishing odyssey, both trading in our conventional gear for fly gear and getting to know the Pere Marquette and other local waters intimately as we indulged our habit which turned us both into streamer junkies and eventually led us to leave what we knew behind and start a fly shop in Montana.

Fred is one of those people who is really good at everything he does and seemingly everything he tries and he seems to pick up most of what he tries on his own with very little formal instruction. Over those eleven years Fred picked up fly fishing, fly tying, hockey, home brewing, boat building…just to name a few, and was pretty damn good at all of them. The boat building may have been a stretch but it did float and even made it down the river a few times!

The first time I fished with Fred was on the Pine River with conventional gear. He pulled a 17” brown off the bank on one of his first casts with a gold Panther Martin and I noticed he could read the water better than most anyone I’d seen.

I don’t know how much we discussed the idea of fly fishing but we were definitely on the same page. I called him one day to tell him I had bought a fly rod…he had as well.

I was given a guide trip on the Pere Marquette for my birthday that summer and I asked Fred to join me. It was a fun trip though not one I would say had much of an effect on my fly fishing history. Neither of us was crazy about the guide and I can’t say that I learned much on that trip but what I do remember was an after-dark explosion on a mouse pattern, followed by a second which I actually connected on. I lost that battle much to mine and the guide’s disappointment but the after-dark thing grabbed hold and would eventually become an obsession. I also remember a thunder storm rolling in and the guide having to row out the last couple of miles through that storm which wasn’t pleasant for anyone involved but it was an experience to be sure.

The following spring I convinced Fred to go to Canada with me on the steelhead trip. If I recall correctly we stuck to conventional gear on that trip but on the way home we caught the BWO hatch on the Holy Water of the Ausable near Grayling and shortly thereafter we discovered the Gray Drake hatch on the Pere Marquette and went night after night. Then it was Hexagenia in the swamps, hoppers through the summer and salmon fishing in fall.

At that time we hadn’t yet attempted to fly fish for steelhead but we booked a guide trip that winter and each caught our first steelhead on a fly rod. We’d both been bitten hard by the bug though as was typical the obsession took hold in different ways.

I was attracted to the gear, the boats, the brands, and the destinations….everything about fly fishing. Fred liked tying flies and catching fish and could care less about Simms or Sage or Hyde or Orvis or any of it. He just wanted to fish and as was usually the case when he tried something new, he was rapidly becoming a very good angler and fly tier.

When I bought my first drift boat it opened up a whole new world of adventure for Fred and I and we spent countless hours on that boat, both of us developing proficiency on the sticks as well as learning the addresses of many a hefty brown as we picked apart the PM with sinking lines and streamers.

We fished every month of the year and covered the entirety of the PM.

During the summer months we would fish all night frequently, developing different patterns and techniques for fishing mice and learning to row and cast in the dark.

We would occasionally float the Ausable or the Upper Manistee but most of our time was spent on the Pere Marquette. It was an education by immersion.

We fished through a lot of life events during those years. There were good times, bad times, sad times, dark times… and the river was always there for us even when we were blind to it.

My focus started to turn towards going and fishing other places including Montana which I first fished probably around 2008. Once I’d done that my dreams got big and my mission became figuring out an exit strategy and a way to move to Montana.

Long story short we left Michigan in 2012 and I bid farewell to Fred and while I was thrilled to be in Montana it was tough losing my fishing partner of the previous decade.

As doors opened in Montana I got in touch with Fred to see if he would be interested in going into the fly shop, lodging and outfitting business. With nothing really holding him back in Michigan, he agreed to join us as a partner in Wolf Creek Angler.

His plan was to spend the seasons in Montana and go back to Michigan in the winter to be with his family though the year we bought the place he spent a good part of the winter here doing the remodel on the shop. It seemed like the perfect arrangement but things being what they are and adding up like they do, we opted to go our separate ways after a couple of seasons.

Times change, people change, circumstances change and ultimately things happen as they’re supposed to but that being said, regardless of how it turned out for us at WCA, I’ll always cherish those years Fred and I spent learning to fly fish and honing our skills while developing a wonderful friendship.