Monthly Archives: June 2014

Water Wednesday

I’ll never tire of river rock photos. They always remind me of this quote:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Rock Creek, river rocks

We were on Rock Creek a couple of weekends ago chasing native Westslope Cutthroat, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity for one more river rock photo!

Fishing Deep Fast Water

Waters West Quick Release Indicators

The Waters West Quick Release Indicators worked well on the Nilan Reservoir.

A question was posted to us about the Quick Release Indicators we recently used on the Nilan Reservoir. The question was, “Would these work in deep fast water?”

These little gems were awesome when fishing still water with small nymphs in deep water, because they slip free and slide down the leader, making it much easier to land fish. But I’m afraid the small ones we used would not be able to hold the weight needed to get down in deep fast water.

However, after consulting the Waters West Web site, they do offer the Quick Release Indicators in large and extra-large sizes. They state that these indicators can be used in deep water and have been used successfully in rivers for trout and steelhead.

Honestly, I wish I had known about these years ago. I think the large or extra-large indicators might just work for deep fast water, but just in case, here’s an alternative I came up with for steelheading.

The year was 2007 or 2008, and a buddy and I were fishing for steelhead on the Clearwater River in Idaho. I marked a hole that had a shallow shelf, was very fast, and dropped off quickly – 14 feet at the head of the hole right off the shelf, to 20 feet at its deepest point. I drifted through the hole with my Humminbird Fish Finder that attaches to the rod (what a great little tool!) and marked several fish located right off the bottom of the shelf.

On this particular trip, I tried drifting through the hole using a balloon (indicator), which is what we used at that time, to no avail. Frustrated, I went home and schemed a plan. I remembered an article in Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine on Micro Nymphs. These nymphs are hand-made and a lot of fun to tie. Unfortunately, I do not remember who the author of the article was, but what a great idea!

Micro Jig

Micro Jig used for steelheading.

Using a #8, 3X heavy 3X long hook, and bending it so that it was shaped like a jig, super gluing a BB-sized split shot with no ears onto the bent portion, then heating it just enough with a torch without melting the lead so it could be dipped into Pro-Tec powder paint, we were able to make some awesome little Micro Jigs.

Then there was the issue of being able to get it to the right depth, while still being able to land fish successfully. Using a small balsa wood slip bobber on 16 feet of 0x fluorocarbon leader with a bobber stop, we headed to the hole.

Steelheading Micro Jig set up

A small balsa wood slip bobber on 16 feet of fluorocarbon leader with a bobber stop above a Micro Jig.

Again, we marked fish, this time in about the middle of the hole, with a few in the tail end where it shallowed up. After making a few casts, I could tell the Micro Jig was not getting down fast enough. I adjusted the weight by placing split shot on the leader approximately 18 inches above the jig, and I was then able to cast onto the shelf.

The balsa wood slip bobber, floating horizontal in the water, indicated that it was dragging on the shelf. As soon as it cleared into deep water, the bobber went vertical, and on the third drift, down she went! The results are evident (see photo).

Ron Steelhead

This steelhead was caught using a Micro Jig, underneath a small balsa wood slip bobber on 16 feet of fluorocarbon leader and a bobber stop.

Although the mechanics of this technique are different than the Waters West Quick Release Indicator, it provides similar performance in that the balsa wood bobber slides down toward the hook as you reel in, making it much easier to land fish.

This solution definitely works in fast deep water. Although it’s a little awkward to cast, with my 8 weight Sage, after a few casts, it felt just fine.

Give it a shot if you find the Waters West large or extra-large indicators won’t hold for you. Styrofoam Slip Bobbers (often used with a bait casting outfit for steelhead) are also an option.

Items mentioned in this post.

Items mentioned in this post. Clockwise from top: Humminbird fish finder, Humminbird rod attachment, Micro Jigs, Bobber Stop string and bead, large Styrofoam Slip Bobber, small Balsa Wood Slip Bobber, and the small Waters West Quick Release Indicator.

And I know, I know … the swinging fly advocates might poo-poo this technique, but we like to catch fish!

Ron Watt, 06/22/14

Bowfishing for Carp on Canyon Ferry Reservoir

Carp can weigh as much as 40 pounds.

Carp can weigh as much as 40 pounds!

Sport fishing. With a bow and arrow. For carp. Disgusting, bloody, barbaric. And eww, the smell of flopping, decaying sucker-lipped fish. But what a BLAST!

Ron and I were first introduced to carp shooting in 2006 when we went to the Montana Bowhunters Association “Carp Safari” at Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Now we go back each summer to partake for a day or two in this deadly and delirious sport.

We rig our traditional equipment for bow fishing with an inexpensive Zebco reel attached with a rubber strap, and some heavy-duty fishing line tied to an unfletched arrow. We wear hip waders and walk the shallow waters to stalk spawning carp along the banks and inlets of Canyon Ferry.

Double shot carp

Ron lost an arrow in this carp, so he had to shoot it a second time to retrieve his arrow.

Carp splash all around. The water muddies as their yellowish brown scaled bodies gyrate above water and just below the surface. Thunk. Splash, splash, splash. One less carp. An arrow through the body. If you hit them in the head, there’s no splashing, just a trail of blood. And one less carp.

These carp are actively spawning at Canyon Ferry in June and July. They can lay up to 300,000 eggs and spawn several times a year.1 There are literally thousands of these monsters along the pristine shores of this mountain reservoir during the summer months.

Carp shoot on Canyon Ferry Reservoir

Carp can lay up to 300,000 eggs and spawn several times a year.

The Montana Field Guide states, “The introduction of carp into North America from Asia is considered to be one of the greatest mistakes in the history of American fisheries management by biologists who have documented the widespread loss of native fish and habitat to this aggressive intruder.”2 Not only do their feeding and spawning habits disturb sediments and effect water quality, but carp also prey on the eggs of other fish species.

Ron and I generally practice catch and release, but these fish are not trout. Ron often says, “Trout are God’s canvas.” If that’s the case, then carp must be the devil’s spawn.

Carp shoot on Canyon Ferry

Bowfishing for carp on Canyon Ferry Reservoir.



Rough Start to an Epic Night of Fishing on the Big Hole River

Editor’s Note: To our surprise, one of our friends wrote the following story about his own outdoor adventure on the Big Hole River with Ron a couple of years back.

Rough Start to an Epic Night of Fishing
By Jeremey Conlan, 06/11/14

The night started a couple of days before, in the lunch room at work. Ron Watt, Chad Heath and I decided to go fishing on the Big Hole. We were going to go right after work, so at 5:30 we set off for some fly fishing and floating.

The evening began with Ron’s first experience with Twisted Tea. Most people who live in Butte know how far it is from Butte to Maiden Rock access on the Big Hole. The drive does not take too long, so when Ron was on his fifth Twisted Tea, I knew it was going to be a good night.

As we pulled up to the Maiden Rock put in, after a long shuttle, and feeling pretty good, we got out to get the raft ready. The moment we stepped out of the truck the mosquitoes were thick, so we were hurrying to get the boat in the river. After a run and gun session, we were ready to push off. Ron climbed in to row and Chad jumped in the back. Ron grabbed the oar to get it in the water and smacked Chad in the back of the head knocking his sun glasses off. I almost pissed my pants I was laughing so hard. After a long laugh we were off, and within 50 yards it was fish on! I had caught the first fish of the night – a vibrant-colored rainbow.

Green drake hook in ring finger. Ouch!

Green drake hook in ring finger. Ouch!

As we floated another 150 yards, Chad and I were mid-cast when Chad’s green drake hook landed in my ring finger. As he went to back cast, I tried to grab the line so my finger wouldn’t get ripped off. Calmly I said, “Look at this Ron,” and he busted out laughing. To the bank we went, all three of us laughing – them more than me. But it was still funny until Ron asked Chad if he pinched the barb. The look on Chad’s face was priceless – let’s just say the barb was not pinched. So we tried to push the hook through, but it was buried in my knuckle. Ron said, “I know how to get it out.”

Hook Removal Technique

As he explained how we were going to remove the hook I thought to myself, “No way that will work.” Chad was all for it because it involved him pulling as hard as he could. This is how it was going to go – Ron was going to push down on the barb in my finger with some hemostats, Chad had 20 lbs. line around the butt end of the hook, and on the count of three Chad was to pull. I was certain that this was a bad idea. After a long drink of Twisted Tea the countdown began. “One, two,” and Chad pulled, no three, just pulled. The hook popped right out, no blood, nothing. It was pretty cool. After another Twisted Tea we were back on the river. *

We floated for about half an hour with not much action with the green drakes. Ron pulled to the side. “It’s time to change the flies out,” he said. He handed Chad and I a fly I have never seen before, and he called it a “purple chubby.” After we tied the PC on we started down the river, and let me tell you it was epic. It was like someone turned the light switch on. We were hooking fish left and right. It was unreal.

We came around a bend and there was a straight stretch in the river. Ron said, “Throw to the bank, just about a foot off.” Chad and I threw to the bank, and at the same time, fish hit both. Ron yelled, “Set!” but we came up with nothing, so we cast back to the bank. Within seconds two hits again, and again nothing. This went on for about five more casts. For about 200 yards we cast, the fish would hit, we would try to set, but nothing! Then quiet. All we heard was, “You two are @#$! killing me.” We had missed every fish in that stretch, and Ron was about to kill us. So we gave him another Twisted Tea and kept going.

We hammered the fish until dusk. As we floated in the twilight, Chad was turned around in the seat with his line behind the boat. In the darkness all you could hear was splash! He yelled, “Fish on!” This was the biggest fish of the night – a big fat brown!

That was the best fishing I have ever experienced. Being on the river with Ron is like playing poker and knowing the other people’s hands. He knows what to fish with and where to be. It’s like watching Picasso paint, a true artist. When I say epic that’s what it was – good friends, great fishing, and Twisted Tea. Could it get any better?!

Big Hole River brown trout

Chad with a Big Hole River brown trout.

* Never try this hook removal technique if hook is in the head or face area. Under those circumstances, see a medical professional. Also, it is a good idea to always wear some kind of eye protection when fly fishing!


Early June Fishing on the Upper Big Hole River

Upper Big Hole River

Fishing on the upper Big Hole River in June.

This time of year, the Big Hole River is still running full, fast and dirty down low. Higher up, though, there’s a good probability that some hungry trout are holding in the slower waters near the bank. The salmonfly hatch will be popping any day now, too, so Ron and I figured we’d best get out there and see who’s taking what where.

Last Friday, we floated 11.6 miles from East Bank to Jerry Creek. We threw everything at ‘em – stonefly nymphs, San Juan worms, streamers, wooly buggers, bead headed pheasant tails – but it was a slow day. Eight fish in all – four white fish and four lovely little rainbows.

Nothing of great size … oh, except for the one that got away. Ron is still talking about a 20” brown he saw take my fly. As the line zipped out, Ron couldn’t slow the boat in the fast current. I let the fish have his head too long, and soon enough that wily old bugger just spit the hook out.

Upper Big Hole River

Big Hole River between Jerry Creek and George Grant Memorial accesses.

Sunday we were back at it, on another stretch – 4.1 miles from Jerry Creek to George Grant Memorial. We milked this short float for all we were worth and made a six hour trip of it in high water. That’s probably why, again trying a number of different bugs, we caught 14 fish. Only a couple of white fish in this section, mostly rainbows and a couple of browns. Again, nothing of great size, but a good time nonetheless.

Ron’s out again tonight, scouting the section between Divide and Maiden Rock. I’m pretty sure, since I’m not aboard, it’ll be a hundred fish night!

George Grant Memorial access on the Big Hole River.

Waiting for our shuttle at George Grant Memorial access on the Big Hole River.