Monday, October 3, 2011

Big Cutts

Woke early again today (6:30) to fish again. People think I'm insane for getting minimum amounts of sleep and getting up even before the sun rises. The plan for today was to hit a stream that I fell in love with a year ago on my college visit. The North Fork of the Blackfoot River. The visit that ultimately altered my decision of where I wanted to go to college. That visit wasn't the best for fishing (yes my college choice was mostly related to fishing). High water conditions while I was there in June made catching fish pretty difficult. In fact, I barely caught any fish at all in the state of Montana when I was here for my visit more than a year ago. So how could I have been hooked on this stream? The North Fork of the Blackfoot to me, is one of the most beautiful streams that I have ever fished. The deep turquoise plunge pools and giant steep canyon walls make this a perfect mountain stream. Flowing out of the Scapegoat Wilderness area, the North Fork is known for its high population of Westslope Cutthroats and also a sanctuary for the threatened Bull Trout. Out of all 83 tributaries of the Blackfoot River, the North Fork is ranked #1 for restoration priority. Restoration efforts have been done in the lower river in order to reduce fish losses in irrigation canals by installing fish screening devices. Since restoration projects began, the bull trout population density has been increasing steadily.

Back to the actual story. The person I was fishing with today is a new friend of mine Troy who is a transfer student from Washington. We headed to the north fork and found that we had some overcast conditions. Streamer fishing was the first thing on my mind as we drove up the canyon on a dirt road. The river below looked awesome and I was instantly reminded of how much I love this stream.

We got to the parking lot and put all of our gear on. We were going to fish for the day so we had our backpacks and snacks with us. We headed through the short tamarack trees, bushwhacking our way to the edge of the high bank overlooking the river. Below us was a deep pool. We headed down the steep bank and troy took the head of the pool while I worked the tail. I started with my streamer because it was still overcast and cloudy. I could see my fly clearly and I could also see something pretty large down in the bottom of the pool. I figured it was a bull trout. I started working the pool with different striping patterns. i tried quick strips, long pulls, short quick strips and a crinkle retrieve. Nothing was working. Then I decided to give the fly some sporadic twitches. I let the fly sink and then vigorously shook my rod tip very fast to make the fly twitch many times and then gave a strip. Through the pool came my flashy fly and after it was a large fish. the fish swiped and I saw the whole take. I set the hook good and I yelled to troy with excitement that I had a big fish on. St first I thought it was a Bull trout but then I saw some nice color. It was a big fat cutthroat. I brought the fish towards the steep rocks and lifted the fish from the water. It was a huge cutthroat of about 18 inches and I was on Cloud 9. If someone had told me I was going to land an 18 inch cutthroat on the North Fork I would have probably responded...."ehhh. probably not." I guess I was wrong. Troy snapped a few pictures and then I released the fish back into the deep pool.

What a way to start the day! I was stoked. After that we began our trek upstream and began fishing the deep runs and pools. Troy missed a nice fish out of the next pool and I caught one nice fish on the streamer. It was the same deal again. I made many casts but the fish only hit it when my stripping pattern was with crazy sporadic twitches. We continued on upstream hitting the deep pockets. I picked up a couple more fish about 12 and 14 inches and then we got to a deep run where I could clearly see many fish. The sun was starting to come out and so were the hatches. October Caddis (as if right on schedule), were all over the place. However after both Troy and I presented dries over all the fish it was time to nymph. I put on a small nymph and immediately hooked up with a fish of about 16 inches. There were many other fish deep in the run and I managed to get some great video footage and pictures of some of them.

While Troy was fishing a black wolly bugger, I witnessed a huge Cutty come up and swipe at his fly. The fish was easily over 20 inches. We kept on going and a little while later Troy nailed a decent fish which he fought on his zero weight rod. He said it was lots fun.

At the next deep run when I was swinging in front of a bug boulder, a big bull trout came chasing my fly but missed. I didn't see him again. I did pick up 2 more cuttys thought, each of decent size. We walked a little bit more upstream and we found a giant deep pool that was about 150 yards long. And there was plenty of fish. I got hit on the first 3 casts but couldn't manage to land the fish. I eventually landed a couple nice ones and then went to the head of the pool to throw my streamers there. I threw my streamer into the current and as I was untangling my line (and accidentally pulling the fly slowly out of the current) I looked up just in time to see a huge cutty take the fly. I set the hook good and could tell it was a big fish. I fought it downstream to where Troy was and I landed the fish. It was a beautiful colored cutthroat and very fat too. I estimated the fish to be about 19 or 20 inches. Troy snapped some pics with his camera and then the fish was released.

 I was so satisfied and that was my 15th fish of the day. We fished for a little while longer and Troy landed a nice cutty.

After trying to nymph up some fish that I spotted, we decided to call it quits. It was an amazing day of fishing and streamers were deadly. I've never had a day of streamer fishing quite like that. 10 of my 15 fish came on streamers and not one of my fish was under 12 inches. I was very surprised at the size of the Cutthroats. We made it back to the car a while later and we were both very tired. Tired, but happy that we had a great day of fishing. When we got back to the dorm later and I uploaded the pictures I actually found that one of my underwater pictures captured the fish I wanted to see today.....Bull trout. Not one, but 2 of them which were sneaking by as I was taking pictures of some cutthroats. The fish whose dorsal you can see on the bottom a BIG fish.

I'll definitely be back to the North Fork in the coming weeks to try and hook up with a really big cutthroat. Hopefully I'll get an overcast day for streamers. Tomorrow evening I'm headed to northwestern Montana with my friend Chris to take part in a DNA grizzly bear research project. Should be a blast! We may fish up in the area depending how much time we have. Stay tuned. Otherwise, I'll be back Wednesday night.

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