Big smoky sky country
Joe Aaron shows off a trout from the Big Hole River in Montana.
Dottie and I, and our lab, Annie, made our annual pilgrimage to Montana last week to stay with our Sonoma friends, Joe and Beth Aaron, at their cabin in Melrose on the Big Hole River. Tom and Katherine Culligan flew up to join us, and together we attempted to fool the Big Hole’s primary residents (trout) with feathers.
Joe had reported previously that the fishing was outstanding and that he and Beth had had fabulous days during the tricot hatches, catching and releasing lots of very big fish, mostly German brown trout.
Naturally, by the time we arrived the hatch was over. That did not deter us from creating a virtual hatch of our own, and with six anglers throwing feathers over a small stretch of the river there is always the possibility that some trout (the really dumb ones) might think that their dinner bell has rung.
The “purple haze” was our primary fly of choice, a name that partially described the atmospheric conditions in the area. Numerous forest fires, most burning many miles away from us, had blanketed the state and neighboring Idaho with a smoky haze that was more reddish brown than purple, but trout are supposedly color blind so it probably didn’t matter, except we often felt like we were fishing in a smoke-filled back room instead of the beautiful, blue, Big Sky country.
It seemed to me that the fish understood this and spent most of their days feeding near the bottom of the river rather than chasing anything near the surface, which is why we caught a lot more fish with nymphs (copper Johns) than with the purple haze flies.
Four of us also spent a day drifting the canyon near Divide, on the Big Hole. Dottie and Katherine fished with guide John “Ike” Eisenbarth, while Tom and I drifted with George Goody, owner of the Montana Fly Company in Melrose. George grew up in Melrose and is wealth of information on local history and fishing the Big Hole. Ike charmed Dottie and Katherine and they apparently enjoyed not only the fishing but also the conversation.
We all caught enough fish and the only negative continued to be the smoky air, which muted the beauty of the scenery and was unpleasant to breath. Montana did not escape the drought that hit most of the middle of the country and the river was as low as I’ve ever seen it. They need rain badly, not only to suppress the fires, but also to revive the streams.
The very best part of our trip, as always, was sharing fish tales and other events of the day over fine Sonoma Valley wines and dinner at the Aarons’ cabin.
Closer to home, striped bass are making life interesting for anglers along the Napa River, Napa Slough and the Petaluma River near Port Sonoma says Joel Sinkay at Leonard’s Bait Shop at Port Sonoma. Live bullheads are the best bait now for stripers and Joel has plenty, along with live grass shrimp and pile worms.
Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Bait Shop is also reporting good striped bass action for trollers at the top of the tide along the Marin Shoreline, and drifting live shiners through the usual bay locations at other times. The stripers are on the small side (one in three a keeper), but using shiners you can also catch some halibut. Salmon action in the bay has been mostly slow.
Capt. Rick Powers at Bodega Bay Sportsfishing has hosted two very successful albacore trips out about 35 miles from shore including one charter group of four anglers who caught 25 albacore up to 25 pounds. Rick is also still hosting successful rock cod and lingcod trips. Call him at 875-3344 for more info and reservations.
Fishing on the upper Sacramento River is also improving this week according to Bob Grace at the Ted Fay Fly Shop in Dunsmuir. Nymphing offers best results although some fall hatches are providing dry fly action.