So, There were were, out doing a little bass fishing the other night when three guys in a canoe rolled up next to the Triton. We had a great talk with locals Trent Senske, Brandon Juarez, and Zach Biagini. When they eventually paddled away, I yelled over to remind them to find us if they happened to hook up with a big fish. Well, just before dark that evening, fishing partner Jacob Gibb and I noticed a tiny canoe out on the horizon headed our direction. Ten minutes later, up paddle the three, and Trent quickly held up his catch. After a few quick photos by Jacob, the big ol' bass went back to the murky depths, a look of embarrassment on its fishy face. That's the great thing about fishing. You just never know who you'll run into on the water. By the way, can anyone guess where we were fishing that night? Great job guys! Hope we get a chance to fish together someday!
When was the last time you fished with a legend? By that, I mean someone who has truly mastered fishing and changed the sport? This past week, we waded the challenging western waters of the North Umpqua River with Steelhead legend Frank Moore. Frank, more than just about any other fisherman I’ve met, long ago earned the title, Legend. Spend a week with him and you’ll better understand why.
Photojournalist Cy Dodson and I flew out to Eugene, Oregon to document Frank’s history for a documentary-style show we produce on the Outdoor Channel called “Legends of Rod and Reel”. Cy and I jammed our television and fishing gear into a tiny, white rental car and drove the roughly two hours south and east to Idleyld Park, Oregon. We pulled into the gravel drive of Frank and Jeanne Moore’s grand log cabin tucked away on 80 steep acres in the Umpqua National Forest (which Frank built with almost no construction experience). Just below the cabin, the Umpqua River winds sixty wild miles down from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Every year, like clockwork, wild runs of Salmon and Steelhead return from their 2000 mile trek to swim their way up the river. Frank’s been there waiting for them, fly rod in hand, since the days when no one even imagined aWorld War II.
The river’s fish counters had watched more than 4,000 wild steelhead work their way into the river system, yet the fishing proved pretty tough. Our alarm clock chimed at 5 a.m. each morning, and we’d grab a piece of toast smothered in crunchy peanut butter, swig down a quick mug of instant coffee and hop into Frank’s 1985 Volkswagon Golf to stake out a fishing hole. Frank’s faded-yellow car is truly a fishing rig. The dash reads 346,000 miles. Frank, by the way, says the odometer stopped working back in 2001. We wandered roughly 20 miles of river with Frank and his fishing buddy, Ron Hamill, watching for wild fish in the riffles, climbing down steep drops of jagged rip rap, then wading into fast, 51 degree water. I sat much of the trip just watching Frank throw a 100 foot Steelhead fly line. Oh, did I mention he does it on a roll cast? If you’re not familiar with a roll cast, think of it as using your rod to flick a line100 feet. Most folks have a hard time rolling out much more than 30 feet of line. To see Frank’s line unroll from his 10 foot rod is quite a sight. Think of it as watching Tiger Woods swing and launch a golf ball 320 yards without any effort. This kind of skill isn’t learned. It’s a rare fisherman who can cast like Frank. Oh, and did I mention Frank Moore is just about to turn 86 years old? Yep. I said a legend.
After fishing ‘til sunset, we’d wander home completely bushed in sweaty waders, only to find Jeanne waiting for us at the front door. She’d ask how the fishing was, already knowing our answer, and then lead us to a table full of home-cooked food. After filling our bellies (the sign on the cabin wall reads, “Eat until your belly ouches”), we’d slowly drag off to bed, completely whipped and completely content.
To spend such intimate time with a guy like Frank will change you. We listened to Frank’s stories; the day he and thousands of other young American men crashed Utah beach on D-Day. You get a sense of why Frank and Jeanne felt a need to take a big risk and take out a loan to build and open the Umpqua Steamboat Inn back in the 1957 (By the way, the Inn served dinner after dark, so fishermen could take advantage of the great evening fishing. I believe this was Frank’s idea). You appreciate Frank’s tireless conservation work. Frank blew the whistle on devastating logging practices that were quickly reducing the number of wild Steelhead in the river. You understand why Frank played cop and watchdog protecting the now famous Steamboat pool, where wild pods of spawning Steelhead and Salmon find cold refuge in an upper Steamboat Hole stretch of the river system. Poachers used to dynamite the pool illegally to harvest thousands of fish. By the way, the North Umpqua Foundation now pays Lee Spencer (who grew up in Moorehead, Minnesota) to sit, from May through December, watching that pool that Frank once babysat. Yep, I said Frank was a legend.
He's been a key name and face in the G Loomis world. He's been a part of just about every outdoor television show and magazine worth a hoot. Dozens of conservation awards hang on the walls of his cabin. Ask anyone in the Pacific Northwest and they will tell you Frank Moore is a legend, and maybe most importantly, a good man. That's may be Frank's proudest title of all.
We had a great week fishing with Frank and his friends. Seems each time I'd turn around, Cy would be taking a two minute break from shooting to take in a little of the Umpqua's sweetest side. Can't help it when the berries line every path two and from the river! The river runs gin-clearn and it runs wild. Wading was truly tough. Wading boots with spikes and a wading staff are absolutely necessary to walk this river. At 86, Frank ventured into spots I'd never consider hitting. That's what happens when you're tough as nails and have more than a half century of of experience.
Now, nearing 86, Frank gets a little frustrated wandering the river. He thinks he’s slowing down in old age. I figure he’s just doing what all true legends do. They simply take a little more time to savor every step, every smell, every sound, every last sensation in a place they rightly, call their own. In Frank's case, I believe the Umpqua is his river. He deserves nothing less.....
So, when was the last time you jumped out of your comfort zone? The reason I ask? It seems these days, a lot of people tend to corner me and call me a fly fisherman. It drives me absolutely nuts. As long as I can remember (and each day it seems that gets a little longer), I have thrown spinning and baitcasting gear. I still remember my very first fishing pole. Still have it. Dad bought it for me. A black and white Zebco rod with a gold, closed-face, Zebco reel. I hated that reel. Instead of line zipping out on long casts, that toothy thing always seemed to suck in and eat every inch of line I had. As hard as I tugged, it wouldn’t ever come back out, at least in one piece.
Anyway, several years back, I decided to take a little risk and hop out of my comfort zone. I picked up a $59 fly rod and gave it a throw. It wasn’t pretty at first. Thing was, every single time I hooked a fish, I realized the excitement that can come from leaving your comfort zone. I set out to get really good at using a fly rod. Not just to chase trout in streams and lakes, but to catch every species of fish I could imagine. I bet I have 30 or so species under my belt. Trout, carp, sunfish, bass, pike, even walleyes. I’ve been lucky enough to chase quite a few saltwater species too. See, I love to fish conventional gear all year long. It’s just that sometimes, I try the fly rod instead. I try different techniques. I used different flies. I experiment. Turns out, fly rods can be a great way to catch fish, especially those that get chased with conventional gear. Let me explain.
Most free weekends, I head north to my home water of Gull Lake. This past weekend, I chose to skip it and chase bass on a lake a buddy and I have always wanted to fish together. Too bad we always get too busy and never get to the lake. So, we took the time to fish “The Ville” Friday evening and early Saturday morning. The catch? We chose to fish for “The Ville’s” bass on fly rods. I saw guys in other bass boats out there tossing plastics, topwater baits, jigs and minnows, you name it. Actually, with all the guys on the water chucking conventional gear, Jacob and I looked a little out of place. Our whizzing fly lines mined up a few chuckles from other boats. No sweat. That’s what fear of wandering out of the comfort zone brings.
I chase bass in the dead of summer, by fishing early and late, at least when I throw flies. I false cast out a lot of topwater stuff right on top of weed beds and along weed lines. I tie most of my own flies and take a little pride in knowing what I created tricked the fish. Oh, and I’m about convinced that flies will often bring bass to the surface when conventional gear just won’t do it. We talked to a couple of people in boats whocomplained of slow fishing. Turns out, Jacob and I had decent luck on poppers. Big, gnarly, green, blockhead poppers with jiggly eyes. They’re my favorite. They’re fun to tie. They make a ton of noise in the water. Oh, and many of my biggest fish have come on them. While the fishing wasn’t lights out on the150 acre lake, the bass offered us enough action to keep the trip interesting.
There’s something about a bass taking a fly off the surface of calm water. I think I can remember every fish I’ve seen chase a topwater fly. It’s much the same sensation I get when a gobbler calls back first time to my turkey call. Heart pumps. Head spins. Exactly the result when the first fish erupted out of quiet water Saturday morning. The big splash got our attention immediately. The fish missed the fly completely. Instead of recasting, I simply let that green popper sit. After a few long moments, I popped it once and the fish instantly struck again. Two minutes later, with sweaty brow and slightly tired arms, Jacob snapped a quick picture, a juicy three-pounder in my hands. Just after, we noticed a red tiller slowly making its way our direction. At the controls? An older gentleman with a well-weathered felt hat resting on top. As he got close enough to talk, he chuckled and said, “I thought I was the only one smart enough to use a fly rod out here.” He winked and we proceeded to trade a few fishing tales between boats. Then we traded a few home-spun bass flies and then trolled off our separate ways, waving fly lines as we drifted away. Jacob and I proceeded to hook a few more respectable fish over the next hour or two. In all, we caught a handful of big bass. Who knew wandering out of the comfort zone could lead to such adventures. On a different note, I’m currently in seat 10-D headed to Roseburg, Oregon to fish with one of the most influential Steelhead fishermen in the western world. I have the honor of spending this week with Washington Fisherman Frank Moore. At 80-some-years-old, he still wades the Umqua River’s wildest water. I’ll try and drop an update and a few pictures later this week (that is, if I’m not hooked up to a 20 pound Pacific Steelhead). Oh yes, I should tell you...I'll be fast water on a big river. Yep, seems I plan to find myself way outside of my comfort zone the next couple of days. I can’t wait….
Okay, so that's not exactly how things went down, but.... I was out on Lake Calhoun last night in search of a few bass and maybe, just maybe, a tiger muskie or two. Well, got out there, fired up the trolling motor and I got a little lesson last night. Actually, I got taught a few. First, 3/4 full on the trolling motor battery monitor means roughly 12 minutes of trolling motor power before the system gives out. Okay, my fault. I got lazy and didn't plug in the charger the night before. So, fishing buddy Jacob and I drifted around on Calhoun and eventually made our way into Lake of the Isles. That's when we welcomed a canoe up next to the boat. The guy in the canoe had a handgun, a patch on his shoulder and a big smile. Conservation Officer Thor Nelson was busy paddling Calhoun, Cedar and Lake of the Isles, stopping folks to make sure they were following the rules of the lakes. Great to see him out. Found out he's a fellow ringneck hunter. I won't be surprised if we hunt together this fall. Oh, and in case you are wondering, we passed our boat inspection. Proper fishing licenses, plenty of life vests, a floatable and a fire extinguisher WITH a full charge. He did stop by later in the evening as we trailered the boat to tell us to get our navigational lights up a bit earlier next time we're out. No later than sunset. I'm happy whenever I see Department of Natural Resources officers out and about. Frankly, I wish there were many, many more of them in this state. I remember reading a letter awhile back addressed to the state from CO Roger Lueth. He was a seasoned conservation officer close to retirement. In his letter, I remember him stating that Minnesota was 45th out of 50 states when it came to the ratio of conservation officers per hunter/fisherman. Crazy if you ask me. Especially when you think of the resources we're trying to protect in this state. Earlier this spring, I was also stopped over in Wisconsin by a first year officer. Great to see him out as well. I chuckle a bit because he walked out of the deep woods along a fairly remote trout stream. I remember thinking, "he came out of nowhere." "Where the heck do they come from?" And yes, I passed that inspection as well. Anyway, CO Nelson, consider this a "thanks" and I'll get my nav lights on before the sun hits the horizon next time.
So, here's a trick question for you. What the heck does the scientific study of entomolgy have to do with fishing? After all, aren't great fishermen those who know exactly when to use a Fluke, Daredevil or Mepps? Not really, in my opinion. Let me explain. Who knows, maybe you'll learn something. I had two fishing companions out on the Mississippi River the other night on a smallie trip and I had expected us to witness a rarity right at sunset. Something that could be both entertaining and a bit of an education. Lou, Wayne and I caught plenty of fish that evening. We got them on both conventional and fly gear. But right at sunset, as the Ol' Miss started to darken, the guys noticed a lot of bugs suddenly buzzing around. As the skies darked even further, more and more bugs popped. Soon enough, we found ourselves drifting downstream in what looked like a snowstorm. Witnessing a major bug hatch on a river or stream is quite an experience. We we watching Whtie Millers hatch. We could also hear the fish eating them up. If you can time a fishing trip to a major hatch, you can catch a ton of fish. The key there, you need to be fishing with something that mimics (almost exactly) what the fish are eating.
A year ago I was lucky enough to fish Michigan's Pere Marquette on the second night of the river's famous Hex hatch. Monster Mayflies pop and the big trout eat them as soon as the bugs die and fall back to the water. See, that's essentially a Mayfly's existence. For about a year, they live on the bottom of the river in the muck. They're called nymphs. For some reason, come some set time each year, the bugs all hatch at once and pop out of the water and flutter skyward. The next few minutes are about as good and as bad as life gets. The adult Mayflies do what adult Mayflies do (procreate) and then they die. So, just a few minutes after flying up, they spin lifeless, back to the river. That's when the food chain gets kickin' . See, fish gorge themselves on the buggy buffet of dead mayflies. Fishermen throw flies that look like Mayflies and catch monster fish. On the Pere Marquette, it's the one chance to catch a big fish. Exactly what we did. You essentially cast, in darkness, to the sound of fish eating bugs. Small fish jump out of the water and you hear a splash. Big fish slurp. Hear that gurgle, throw a few casts to that big fish and suddenly, BOOM! Big fish on. Fishing in complete darkness can be intimidating at first. Get used to it and you'll get used to the big rewards. Learn about bug hatches on your local rivers AND lakes and you'll become a better fisherman! I promise.