Monday, November 19, 2012


I know it isn’t even December yet but we need to start thinking about our fishing trip(s) for 2013 if we want to have the best trip possible.  Here are a few simple tips that I think will help you have a great 2013 fishing season.

Be as flexible in scheduling your trip as you can possibly be.  For many people last year’s trip was a complete bust.  Nearly every area of the west was in drought conditions.  Rivers were too low to float and the water was too warm to fish. It is much too early to be deciding on when you are going to make a summer trip out west.  It will still be too early in the middle of January to mark your calendar.  I generally hold off until mid-April.  By then the maximum amount of snow has fallen.  If you don’t have scheduling flexibility and have to determine your dates soon, you can make an “educated” guess by checking USGS gauging stations in the area you are interested in and seeing what the long-term runoff hydrograph looks like.  Remember that long-term value is the median values for many many years of record.  The last two years are perfect examples of variability in stream flow.  2011 was an extremely heavy snow year.  In the mountains there were still patches of snow into August. 
With all the snow, both the volume of runoff and the duration of the runoff season, was greatly extended.  For the Encampment River the optimum fishing flows were not reached until almost the 1st of August.   

2012 was the opposite of 2011 for both snow fall and runoff.  This past summer with the winters 

exceeding low snow falls the Encampment's optimum fishing time was weeks earlier than normal. 

All the folks that made their plans based on what they knew or expected from previous years were very disappointed.    
Information on snow levels throughout the west are readily available for the US Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL system.    

First click on the state you are interested in, say Wyoming.  On the state map you can click on the SNOTEL stations in the area you are planning to fish to see what the snow levels are.  Start doing this now and return every few weeks to see how the snowpac is progressing.   

 Start doing this now and return to the sites every few weeks to see how the snowpac is progressing.  Generally by early April you will know what the runoff potential will be and be able to mark you summer fishing calendar. 

Define your trip objectives and set realistic expectations.   If your trip is taking you to a new location, on your own, an expectation of lots of fish and lots of big fish will likely be a recipe for disappointment.   In a new area, on your own, you can often “figure” the area out.  But if you are going on a family vacation and expect to be able to get enough stream time in to learn the area, you are likely to be disappointed.  If finances permit hire a guide.  Guides know the area and the subtle nuances that make a day on the stream more rewarding.  But don’t expect you guide to give everything up to you.  There is a sixth sense that lets us know when clients are just trying to find your locations.  I learned this hard way in Chile.

Getting the information you need.  There are a lot of book out there about where to fish and even more magazine and online articles about specific regions or rivers.  They have a place in the trip planning process but should not be the considered the definitive word.  A couple of years ago there was an article in Southwest Fly Fishing about the Encampment River.  A longtime client told me about it.  I’ve been fishing and guiding on the Encampment River for 25 years.  The Encampment is one of the wests best if you know it well.  But if I had based my trip – timing, locations and techniques – on that article I would have been very disappointing.   How can someone who may never have fished a river system be able to provide reliable information.

Fly Shops are often cited as a great source of local information.  And, to some extent, they are.  But fly shops see crowds of people during the season and often don’t have the time to offer you valuable advice.  Don’t forget that most fly shops also run guided trips.  You can be pretty sure that they are not going to be sending people to locations where paying clients will be going.  Your best bet for getting valuable information is to establish a relationship with the shop.  Call them during the offseason and ask about the best times to be there, what are the predominate hatches and the like.  Stay in contact with them.  If there is a local special pattern buy a few from them to use as models.  When you show up during your trip, remind them about your previous contacts.  There is a very good chance that you will get information that someone without any history with them will.

A couple of years ago Duane, my friend and fishing buddy, set off on a fly fishing quest to not just complete the California Heritage Trout Challenge but to catch all the catchable species.  We did it with a 10 day 2,800 mile road trip.  We were able to do it so quickly for one reason: We had insider information.  By that I mean we talked to the fisheries management professional for the areas where the different species occur.  They were more than happy to tell us exactly where to go in their area to find the trout we were looking for.  Often times the local manager has a location he or she is especially proud of and will happily tell you all about it.  This “insider trading” has led me to some fantastic and unexpected fishing locations.  How about an old irrigation ditch full of Colorado River Cutthroats!

If you hire a guide: The guide is working for you.  You have the right, and responsibility, to have a qualified and compact-able guide.  When you are booking ask about the guides, their experience and knowledge of local conditions.  A guide may be great as a float trip guide but lousy on a walk-wade trip.

Your responsibility to the shop and the guide is to be brutally honest about you experiences, skill and physical ability.   We once had a client tell us that they have 10 years of experience only to find out that really meant was about 20 days on the stream over a ten year period.   It was a long day on a stream that was rather technical.  Now we quiz folks about what 10 year really means.   The same goes for skill level.  Perhaps the most important consideration is you physical ability, especially on a walk-wade trip.   Wading all day in even moderate current is strenuous.  Add altitude and perhaps a hike in and out and you have a serious workout.  Day one might be OK but the remainder of the trip might be HARD.

Winter trip planning may not be a good as actually being on the water.  But if you do your homework while there is snow on the ground you will have a much better summer trip.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I like food.  I like everything about it.  I love to shop for it, prepare it and enjoy it with my friends.  I also have what may best be described as an “adventuresome palate.”  What that translates into is that I’ll try anything at least once.  That is not to say that I’ll search out weird things to eat.  I’ve never had brains – some would say I still don’t have had any – and I wouldn’t order them off a menu.  But if you order them and asked me to try them, I would.  Or if they were included in some dish, I didn’t know it and then was told about it, I wouldn’t run off and barf.  Most likely I’d find the meal quite pleasant and would consider eating them again.

There are a couple of things I’m not real fond of.  Right now the only things that come to mind are trout (goes back to eating them all the time as a kid) and rodent.  The only rodent I’ve knowingly eaten is squirrel.  I hunt them so I eat them.  Well, actually I donate them to my friend Wayne for inclusion in his semi-sporadic “Rodent Feast”.  We call it “Rodent Feast” but actually it a clean out the freezer of wild game meal.  Wayne’s chipolata squirrel is ok – lower case on purpose – but I’d rather have wild boar or antelope.

We have marmots in the Rocky Mountains.  Besides marmot, we also call them “whistle pigs.”  In the Midwest we call a closely related species Woodchucks or Ground Hogs.  I don’t know of anyone who purposely, or even accidentally for that matter, says “Marmot: It’s what for dinner.”  They have never been on the Rodent Feast menu.  So when, on a recent trip Mongolia, I was asked by a local family to help prepare and savor with them a traditional delicacy, fresh marmot, of course I joined them.

Supposedly the best marmots are the ones that are shot in the fall.  They have a generous layer of subcutaneous fat to last them through the winter hibernation.  The fat layer is what adds that special taste appeal.  My marmot timing was perfect.

So here in narrative and pictures is “Marmot. It’s what for dinner.”

The man of the Ger apparently is the local purveyor of marmot.  He came home the night that we stayed in the Ger with two marmots.  He hunts them up in the rocky edges of the steeps with an old rifle with “sticks” attached to the forearm to stead his aim.  All kills are head shots to keep from damaging any of the prime cut.

The marmots were hung from a bar with a loop around the neck just below the jaw.  A circular cut was made through the skin were the neck joins the body.  Carefully the skin is peeled off the body down to the paws and the tail, kind of like turning a dirty sock down off your stinky feet. Once peeled the marmots were eviscerated (the heart and liver being saved) and the carcass cut into pieces.  After washing the marmot chunks  were placed back into the skin, now turned right side – fur side -out, and the future meal was stored in a hole in the ground covered with a piece of tin to keep the dogs out.

Apparently there is a good market for marmot.  A local trader who stopped at the ger wanted three kid goats for a big sack of flour.  But gladly turned over the flour for two kids and a marmot. 

 Just by looking I couldn’t tell what constitutes a “prime” marmot over a “choice” marmot.  But Tsog could.  He spent a lot of time examining the cache, checking the thickness of the fat before deciding on the best one for dinner.

Now remember that the marmot were peeled and not skinned.  Skinning would have resulted in all that wonderful subcutaneous fat going to waste.  So what do you do with hairy bag of marmot meat?  Simple, you singe off the hair with a 

blow torch, scrapping the body as you flame it, to get all the hair off.  No one wants to find a hair on their chunk of marmot meat.  Beyond singing the hair, the blow torch treatment makes the skin nice and crispy and melts some of the fat to baste the meat piece inside the skin bag.   

Once cooled, the skin bag is opened, the meat pieces cut into smaller units and the skin cut into pieces.  

 In traditional marmot cooking 1) all the cooking was done by the men of the ger community, 2) the hair was removed and the skin crisped up by putting the skin bag directly on the fire and 3) hot rocks were put in the skin bag to cook the meat form the inside out.  But my marmot was nouveau cuisine.

The skin and meat chunks were finished over the cooking/heating stove in the ger in the wok like utensil that was used to cook everything.  

First some rendered mutton fat oil has added to the wok and heated.  Next came some cut up potatoes, onions, marmot pieces and a few hot rocks.  After stirring it around for a bit, another layer of potato, onion, marmot and rocks was added.   Finally a generous portion of salt and some water was added, the wok cover and some milk tea enjoyed as the marmot cooked. 

So how was it?  I still don’t care for rodent and I’m not going to shot one so we can have chipolata wood chuck at Wayne’s next Rodent Feast!  But if marmot is what’s for dinner, I’ll gnaw on a few of the better pieces and wash it down with some milk tea.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


When most fly fishers think about any weather related aspect of their time on the water, generally atmospheric pressure is the first thing that comes to mind.  Much has been written about pressure and fishing, including a little ditty like “Wind from the west – Fishing best – Wind from the east – Fishing least.”  Like so many axioms, there is a degree of truth to it.  Winds in the northern hemisphere flow counter clock wise around a low pressure area.  If the winds are coming from the west, a low pressure area is approaching and the pressure is starting to fall.   Fishing tends to be the best with a falling barometer.  A falling barometer is a harbinger of a weather change.  More often than not the change is rain or snow.
Rain has two effects on the waters we fish.  The first one we always think of is a raise in water level from the runoff.   For more information to help understand runoff follow these links: and    The second effect, and the one we rarely think of, is on water temperature.

Nimbus clouds are rain clouds.  The mother of all nimbus clouds is the cumulonimbus clouds.  These are the clouds associated severe thunderstorms and the “pop up” afternoon storms of the mountain west.  While nimbus clouds can form at any elevation, many reach an altitude of up 50,000 feet.  It keeps getting colder with increased altitude.  A general rule of thumb is that for each 1,000 feet of elevation the temperature falls by 3 degrees F.  The water vapor falling as rain from those clouds can be very cold,  cold enough to dramatically cool lakes, ponds and streams.  I first started thinking about this a couple of years ago while fishing my favorite bluegill pond.  For the previous week the fishing had been fantastic.  The spawn was going on.  The big males were building and guarding nests and the females were hanging just out near the drop off.  Then we got a thunder storm – one of those short but violent and intense ones.  The pond level rose only a little bit and didn’t get off color.  The fishing the day after the storm was terrible.  I didn’t have a thermometer with me but just from the feel I was sure the water temperature had dropped a few degrees – enough to lower the ponds temperature to below the preferred spawning temperature.

The summer of 2012 was hot and dry out west.  The snow pack was way below normal and temperatures we normally see in mid-August were reached in late June.  Add to that very little rain and water temperatures were dangerously high.  Morning temperatures were not too bad but by noon you could feel the water being much warmer.  Each day as the water temperature rose above the trout’s preferred temperature, the fishing slowed to a stop.  Then one day it didn’t happen.  There had been a little rain up in the mountains, the water was cooler and the flow increase slightly.  That single rain event had made a big difference in

the water temperatures.  Unlike the bluegill fishing, in this case a few degrees decrease in temperature keep the fishing good all day!

In this case the rise in water level was to minimal - only about 5 inches - and didn't effect water clarity enough it be a significant cause of the improved fishing.  But in other areas, the Missouri Ozarks for example,  A rain that results in an increase in a few inches of stream depth will result in a noticeable increase in available habitat and a significantly more food available.  Add a decrease in water clarity, making the fish a bit less spooky and it is the prime time to fish.   

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I going to be carrying two digital still cameras, an HD video camera and my laptop on my upcoming trip to Mongolia.  You never know what you are going to see, if your fly fishing is going to result in the fish of your life and you may only get there once in your life.  One still camera is a waterproof “point and shoot” and the other is a digital SLR.  My video camera is also waterproof.  All three cameras are different makes and require different accessories .   I tell you this because it has a direct bearing on the first piece of gear I’m going to suggest.  I’m going to make a major assumption:  You take a notebook, tablet, or laptop with you.    

At home it is hard enough to keep all the different camera USB connection cords under control.  On the road, camping and riding on public transportation, they get even wilder and harder to keep track of!  So why should I take three with me?   I don’t.   I take a card reader.  Each night, or every few days at the most, I take the SD cards out and copy the images to my computer.   All my SD cards are at least 4 gig so I don’t have to clear the cards every time I copy the images.  Now I have the images in a second location.  And when I have WiFi I can e-mail photo’s to friends or post them on social media sites.

With a card reader I don’t have to worry about taking up space on my SD card.  That translates into taking a lot of pictures.  Electrons are much cheaper than film!  I take a lot of pictures.  Yes, many turn out to not being what I had hoped they would be.  But the longer you have your camera on and the more pictures you take the faster your batteries are going to run down.  After a month on the road the last thing I want to happen is have the trip photo opportunity and have no battery life left.  If USB connection cords are a pain to take on a trip, all the different battery chargers are even more of a problem.   The easy solution is universal battery charger.  And most, besides recharging camera batteries, will also work on the rechargeable AA batteries for you flashlight or GPS.

Since most of my trips involve camping or being “off the grid” there is one more thing I take with me, a power inverter.  I just plug it into the “lighter”/power outlet of my vehicle, connect the universal charger or my computer and I’m ready for what is around the next bend in the road or over the next hill!