Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fly Fishing 201, Crane frustration, stinkbait, and Missouri pyromaniacs…

You can probably call me the “ultimate” newb in the group. Chance seems to have been born with a fly rod in his hand. Cole gave an account of his history with the passion last week. Donny bought his first fly outfit a little under a year ago. I, on the other hand, have just only recently dove head-first into the great obsession that is fly fishing. In the last three months I have evolved from talking about wanting to get a rod and give it a try - to owning a full set-up of gear, having fly fishing catalogs from Cabela’s, Orvis, and L.L. Bean scattered across my apartment, and collecting scrap pieces of tippet between my toes as I walk barefoot across my living room. As I type this there are three internet windows minimized up on my computer that contain information on gear reviews, fishing tactics, and water generation schedules. Yeah, I’ve got it bad.

Prior to this weekend I had only been fly fishing for trout twice on the Lower Illinois, which is a great place for a beginner to learn. But with a weekend trip to the Current River rapidly approaching, The Bum decided it was time to put us on some more technical water. So Chance, Cole, Donny, and I left Broken Arrow around 6 a.m. on Sunday morning loaded down with about three gallons of coffee, some EXCELLENT chocolate chip muffins courtesy of Chance’s wonderful wife (I hope she reads this so we can have some for the next trip), and bellies full of my more questionable homemade breakfast burritos. Our destination was Roaring River, with the lesson plan covering the skills of mending, proper weight usage, and fishing elbow-to-elbow with the rest of the crowd.

About two and a half hours later we pulled up to the park store to get our fishing licenses and trout stamps, along with a few last minute flies, then we geared up and headed down to a stretch of the catch and release area. There were a few cars in the parking lot, so we were pleased to see only one other fisherman in view. This water was like looking through glass compared to the Lower Illinois and definitely had more flow than we were used to, at least for me and The Don. Chance and Cole waded straight in and put lines on the water, while Donny and I worked our way up stream a ways. Within a couple hundred yards we found a couple pools with about a dozen fish stacked up like dominoes and we set to it.

We threw everything but our hats at them and couldn’t get ONE bite. We were trying everything. Mending, changing presentation, changing flies… it didn’t matter, nothing worked. The fish wouldn’t even move, not one look. I could hear Donny laugh in frustration as fish jumped five feet away, and I watched as a fish almost ran between my feet. Cole was still fishing around the same stretch he had started on, while Chance had moved around the bend and out of sight. Finally I heard Donny set the hook. ‘Ata boys were being proclaimed and hopes were rising while he landed the fish… a perch. Hmm… Well a fish landed is a fish landed in my book, and something was biting so I got back to fishing. I tied on an orange beadhead wooly bugger and got a couple of good fish to follow it, but they still weren’t biting. It was starting to warm up, and after another half hour had passed Chance walked back up to where we were. We decided to head to the truck and shed a layer.

After refueling ourselves on coffee and muffins we headed downstream. Chance said they had been biting around the bend, and had caught some ridiculous number of fish (like seventeen) on some magical little fly he had tied and only had a couple on him. So we tied on whatever we could find that looked similar and waded in. This is where mending school really began and within a couple of casts Chance had me on the fish. I caught one right off on a beadhead BWO emerger, but after a bit switched to eggs and they really started biting. These fish were good and fat, and seemed content on eating whatever color egg I threw at them. I must have been on the prime spot because Donny and Cole weren’t having much luck. After a while the fish quit biting and it had become a little crowded in our area, so we decided to pack it in and move down river a bit.

We headed down to the no wading area of zone two and spread out along the bank. This place was definitely a popular spot and had plenty of people moving around trying to find the fish. I got lucky and staked out a nice area where the water stepped down and the fish were feeding. I hooked a couple on eggs before I noticed the fish were feeding off the top of the water, so I tied on a blue winged olive and set my sights on the fish that seemed to be feeding the most. My heart would rise and fall as I would watch fish after fish come toward my fly… only to eat the bug next to it or shy away at the last moment. Finally, after this happened ten or thirty times, one took the BWO and I landed my first catch with a dry fly!

The rest of the guys had all moved up to where the trout had stacked up in a big pool next to a dock for the handicapped, and there were some real pigs in there. You could watch as a couple of 20+” monsters worked their way around the pool, and Chance got one to hook up and fight for a bit before it shook him off. Other than that not many fish were biting here, and space on the dock began to get scarce so we pointed the truck toward Crane.

Now we had all heard and read about Chance’s adventures on Crane Creek in the past and the challenges it presented, but none of us had ever been there. Just listening to a description of the place and the methods required to be successful were enough to plant the seeds of doubt in my mind… but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to give it a try. Our 9’ 5 wt. rods weren’t going to be much use here so we rigged up a couple of Chance’s short rods and tramped down to the water. Fully intending to play guide for a while, Chance didn’t carry a rod, and was tossing last minute tips and strategies over his shoulder as we made our way downstream. The plan was to take turns fishing our way back toward the bridge, and I was “volunteered” as first at bat. Well, I spent my time at the first hole learning how to cast a 6’ 3 wt. from my knees. No luck. We started working our way upstream, leap-frogging from bend to bend. Donny’s 9’ rod put him at a severe disadvantage here, but he did find some neat fossils on the riverbank before finding a deep pool that he could jig his fly through. I skipped up stream a ways and found a long, straight stretch of the creek that I could cast down the middle. Or so I thought, as I quickly found myself a tree-fish that kept half of the leader as a trophy. I decided I better give Chance his rod back before I broke it. Cole was finding tree-fish too, so we fired our guide and told him to go fishing. After all, we wanted to see a McCloud first-hand and daylight was rapidly fading. Not one to let his buddies down, Chance hooked up on his second cast!

And again not ten minutes later!

By this time I was content just watching and learning, but Cole on the other hand had declared a vengeance against Crane Creek and its McCloud rainbows. As daylight slipped away and we found ourselves walking back to the truck, Cole was still fishing his way upstream. It wasn’t until we had all of our gear packed away that he came walking out of the woods, vowing to come back and conquer the Crane on another day.

Often when you’re traveling you get to experience new things, sights and smells that you don’t encounter everyday in your neck of the woods… like the sun rising over a snow capped mountain top, or the smell of a turkey farm alongside the road. We weren’t ten minutes on the road to home when a smell overcame the truck that sent us all to gagging and the windows down. We couldn’t get away from it! It smelled as if some gremlin had lined the a/c vents with Danny King’s stinkbait. I’m telling you this smell was vile, and we could not find where it was coming from! When the light-headedness finally passed another smell greeted us… smoke. I was starting to wonder if the eye watering-lung burning-stomach turning-gag a maggot-stinkbait odor had fried my sense of smell when Donny spotted a burning brush pile. And another, and not a mile down the road another! The more we got to thinking about it we realized we had seen something burning nearly everywhere we went in Missouri that day. By the time we crossed back into Oklahoma, we had counted over a dozen burn piles. After we got home I looked around on the internet to see if Sunday had been Missouri’s “burn stuff in your yard” day or if we had unknowingly run over Bigfoot and carried his stench home with us- but couldn’t find a thing. I guess we’ll have to do some investigating on our next trip into The Show Me State…


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