We hit the river around 1:00 in the afternoon this past Saturday, with a three hour drive in the rearview mirror and the various necessities of early March fly fishing - the waders and the synthetic long johns and the fleece pants and the heavy wool socks and the Nano-Puff jackets - all in place.
Late winter on the Missouri River (photo: Mark Raisler, Headhunters Fly Shop).
It didn’t matter. While the air temperature was decent, the water was down in the mid-30s and wading conditions that were fine for a grown man were bone-achingly, foot-numbingly cold for a 9 year old boy with no body mass to speak of and the fat reserves of your typical anorexic super model.
We slid down the muddy brown bank of the side channel, stepped into the Missouri, and picked our way slowly across the current on a wide gravel bar, his hand in mine, both of us holding tight, knowing that if he went in the river, even here in the shallows, he’d be hypothermic before I could get him back to the truck.
It’s an almost ungodly sight. It doesn’t seem real. Not when you catch that first glimpse, and not when you’re standing there among a throng of tourists at the Talkeetna overlook, each of whom is asking the same question: “Is that really Denali?”
It can’t be real, can it? Those rocky crags in front of it… the ones that look like the Tetons—only bigger—they might be real. But that massive white-cloaked behemoth of a mountain behind them? That’s not real. It can’t be.
But Denali is real, all 20-some-thousand feet of it. On rare clear days, it is the Alaska skyline—a massive preserve of rock and ice that looms menacingly over the interior like a moody schoolmarm just waiting for a reason to be cranky.
It's New Year's day, so we're phoning it in a bit by looking back on the most read articles from last year. Even though we keep pretty tight tabs on which articles are well received by our readers, when you look back at a period as long as a year, there are often some surprises. The five articles that follow were the most read of those we published in 2013.
Probably not typical, but this is still why you sling mice for trout.
#5) This is Why You Sling Mice for Trout
While many of you already know that catching a trout on a fly pattern intended to imitate a mouse or other rodent is perhaps the most exhilarating way to do so, there are always some folks out there that find it hard to believe that trout seek prey as large as mice. The inspiration behind this article, a photo of an unintentionally killed trout that was revealed to have a staggering number of voles in its stomach, likely set those doubts aside for many fishermen out there.
#4) Nymphing: Get More Hookups
I'm always surprised to hear other fly fishermen remark that they very rarely nymph, due to its difficulty or perceived lack of efficacy. If for no other reason, nymphing should be one of every fly fishermen's go-to tactics particularly because it is so deadly effective. It is also simple to learn and become adept at nymphing. If you're struggling with nymphing or just want to up your catch rate, there could be one simple mistake you're making that's costing you hookups.
In a recent post, oh-so cleverly titled Mousing Accomplished, I related how my pledge to catch a trout on a deer hair mouse pattern while on a brief summer tour of Alaska was saved at nearly the last opportunity by a stroke of good luck. The good news is, my experience was entirely atypical, thanks to a preposterous, never-before-seen Alaskan heat wave. Normally, luring voracious Alaskan rainbows to swung and skated deer hair mouse patterns is relatively easy and fantastically entertaining monkey business.
I count 19 (photo: Togiak National Wildlife Refuge).
The picture above of the stomach contents of an unintentionally mortally wounded trout caught on the Kanektok River, shared by the staff of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska, should provide all the proof one would ever need to confidently tie on a mouse pattern when hunting Alaskan rainbow trout. To be fair, the unfortunate souls above are those of the common shrew, and not mice. This is, however, an altogether unimportant distinction. The point is that trout like rodents. A lot.
I've only recently returned from an almost 3 week stint in Alaska, a trip which turned out quite differently than expected. This was due in part to inaccurate or ignorant assumptions on my behalf, but resulted mostly from a wholly unexpected, never before seen, record-breaking heat wave that set upon Alaska virtually the moment my plane touched ground in state. The result, during large stretches of the trip, was an out-of-the-ordinary sensory experience, a half duffel full of cold weather gear that never saw the light of day and a muted -- albeit still spectacular -- fishing experience.
Trout eats mouse.
One of the unexpected turns of the trip was in regards to my lustful anticipation of spending time in Alaska mousing. Before leaving for the trip, I wrote that I would "finally lay to rest my obsession with catching a big, fat rainbow on a skated mouse pattern", words which I very nearly ended up eating. And, truth be told, it would have most certainly been for lack of trying. Regardless of how long I've been doing this, and regardless of how many unreasonable expectations I've had dashed, I've yet to learn that there are no sure things in the world of fishing. This lesson likely applies to a world far beyond that of fishing, but assuming it does, I've yet to learn that too.