I’m sitting here on a rather cold winter’s day, looking at some snowflakes slowly fall towards the earth. It’s cozy inside with the fire finely at that point where everything is just perfect. This is what causes my mind to slowly drift into the past and recall last summer’s trout fishing outings and some other memorable ones from years gone by.
I own a cabin in Spearfish Canyon that has a creek (or as we say, crik) of the same name running right in front of it. Some folks label this stream as a "blue ribbon" waterway. I know what they mean, icy cold waters that never exceed 46 if even on the hottest day in August. The waters are crystal clear, and even though they don’t recommend drinking from it, I drink freely from the stream whenever I choose. Although, that might be pressing it a bit these days with all the cabins and septic systems that are mandatory.
The trout flourish in these waters, but they are not easily fished, especially with a fly rod. The stream banks are shored up with towering Spruce and Ponderosa Pine. Many have fallen across, making walking and fly fishing a real challenge in certain places. You also have Paper Birch, Choke-cherry, Serviceberry and Willow growing right down to the waters edge. The stream is not all that wide or deep on average, but coupled with the steep banks and deep holes it presents all the quirks a person needs to test his or her skills at casting little bugs in hopes of catching that elusive trout.
This is not a stream where long casts are the order of the day. No sir, instead, many short casts are thrown to gage the distance so as to avoid the big "kerplop." Trout don’t like that sound; the presentation is everything. Trying to figure out how to drop that fly into the exact spot without making a single "splash" is what you practice for over many years.
I have to thank my Dad for teaching me how to fish this stream and others just as hard to negotiate. You see, he was left handed and I was right handed, and we would head out to the ponds and dams in the canyon and stand side by side while casting flies. It was a perfect mirror image, watching him along side of me, and it all seemed so natural. We would do that for hours with my hand-me down fly rods and used equipment. Then back to the cabin where he would set up bowls of water and tell me "son, you can’t quit until you have placed a fly in each bowl on the first cast."
Thank God for Mom calling "suppers ready" or I’d still be there with those bowls. But it worked , and then he taught me all the different types of casts that can be made with a fly rod. Roll casts, flip casts, underhand casts, the bow and arrow cast and so many more. They have all paid off handsomely over the years. Call it trickery I guess, but it sure is fun when it works.
Hardest thing about fishing for trout in these here parts is getting out of bed in the morning at the cabin. The squirrels are a chattering, the birds are a chirping, the coffee is brewing and it’s still not daybreak. The way I figure it, trout are like me, they like to sleep in and just have a "continental" breakfast. Besides, it’s still dark outside and I hate to fish when you can’t see diddily squat.
I finally roll out of bed, do my manly thing, eat my glazed roll, slosh it down with several cups of brew and decide it’s time to go fishing. I get all duded out with my hip boots, my vest, my wicker creel and the usual assortment of gear required for a man of my age - magnifying glass for example. Then I string my 3 1/4 oz world class rod with the finest string money can buy, check my tippet and open up the old fly box to check out what dazzling little beauty I will choose today.
Now here is where the fun begins. Have you ever been in a shop that sold flies for trout fishing? Darn they’re purdy! All sizes, shapes, colors and fabrics, enough to drive a man to drink. Not yet, way to early for that. I love the names too - Pink Lady" or "Blue Dunn," then there’s "Royal Coachman," and "Adams Irresistible." No doubt about it, those are cool names for artificial flies, so cool in fact that flatlanders buy them in carloads. Do they catch trout or what? Nah, just like most artificial bugs or lures, they’re made for the fisherman, not the fish.
So back to my choice, what’s it going to be today?
No matter what I’ve fished with, the "Black Gnat" is my all time favorite, especially if I can find one with white tips on it’s wings, or I go tie my own. I choose to use a
#14 or # 16 size hook for two reasons. First, I can’t see those itsy bitsy fly’s anymore. Second, fish are like you and me, they want a meal, none of this hard to get recent hatch small ****, they want to chow down.
So I head towards the creek looking every bit the part of Curt Gowdy and wade in the shallows to get loosened up and proceed upstream. I was taught to fish upstream for several reasons; the trout’s eyeballs are facing upstream too, hence they can’t see you as well. They also swim facing upstream, that’s where the grub comes from. Makes perfect sense to me, always has anyway.
It’s about now where I depart Mountain Standard Time and enter a vortex that can only be explained by other trout fisherman. Time no longer exists; I live in a world totally devoted to each and every cast. My footsteps are very carefully calculated so I don’t fall or miss a cast. Each hole and ripple is carefully scrutinized to avoid hang-ups and wasted casts.
Ah-ha, a strike, a catch from a place you would never think held a trout. A little one, maybe eight inches, a keeper, but not today. The old "Black Gnat" does it again. I continue to mosey my way upstream totally devoid of time, just concentrating on every single cast. I know by now where they hide and how to present the fly. The trick is to do it to perfection since trout are such finicky little buggers, not unlike Morris the Cat.
With complete skill and cunning I’m able to land a couple more keepers in the 10 - 11 inch range. Plus, I had fun missing a bunch and throwing a few back that needed more growing up to do. So I decide it’s time to change flies, just because the water ahead is different. I pull up on the bank, grab me a new pinch of Cope and figure it’s time for the "***** Creek." I don’t know who designed this fly, all I know is it works. I often wonder if he, or she, was responsible for naming it. The very word "***** Creek" brings a wry smirk and dash of giddiness which promotes self confidence, making it a joy to fish with, knowing you have a hammer on your fly line that’s unique.
The fly has an orange belly with a big fuzzy woven black top and two white rubber legs protruding from the front and back. Some have brown hackle on the belly side only. I have been told it represents a fresh water shrimp. Sounds ok to me, all I know is it’s a killer on trout in streams.
Meantime, I’m reminiscing about my trout fishing days in the Himalayas back in 1973. Eat your heart out Kurt Gowdy. I was a young fighter pilot on leave then, but the memories are indelible. We were in Kashmir and lived on a houseboat on Lake Dahl in Shrinigar. We drove in taxis for two hours to get to the mountains, where we married up with our guides and hit the streams. Talk about big water, similar to the Yellowstone or the Madison, only very little vegetation and a slope that made the water constantly boiling.
Oh what pure pleasure it was, the rods must have been left behind by the British, and the flies were, what else, back gnats! All the trout were German Browns brought in by the blokes over a hundred and fifty years ago. How they got them there is beyond me, but what we caught we ate for lunch on the banks, with red and white checker cloth on the ground, a picnic basket with fruit, bread, and Indian beer, and K-2 in the background. Words are woefully incapable of describing just how magnificent that place really was.
Snapping out of it and realizing it’s beginning to sprinkle a bit gets me even more excited about using this "***** Creek." However, a sudden commotion upstream heading my way catches my attention. By golly if it isn’t a couple of young lads, maybe 15 years old or so fishing downstream towards me with nothing more than spinning rods, tennis shoes and a knap sack tied around their waist. Now if these two weren’t Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, they were dead ringers I swear.
"Howdy mister," the one kid yells out. "How ya doin," I shout back.
They finally get up close and I can see they have a fine mess of trout. "What are you guy’s fishing with," I ask? "Rooster Tails. What are you using mister" they respond. "Well, I just tied on a fly called a ***** Creek," I tell them." The laughter is almost contagious and soon we’re all roaring at the belly.
"I just have to ask you kids," I says, "how can you catch trout by fishing downstream?"
"Ah, it’s easy mister," they respond. "Trout are stupid."
And with that, 50 years of thinking I was one of the world’s best fly fisherman slid right down the drain. I got over it quickly enough, continued upstream and had a dandy of a time with my silly fly. I didn’t catch any whoppers that day, but I left planet earth for awhile, which reminds me, what time is it anyway?
All of a sudden my wife is shaking me and telling me I have fallen asleep again in front of the fire. "What’s your excuse this time she asks?" I steal a bit of thunder from Henry David Thoreau who said, "most men spend their entire lives fishing before they find out it’s not the fish they’re really after."
After throwing a few logs on the fire and getting it going again, I reckon that Thoreau fella also saved himself a fair amount of pocket change as he didn’t buy any flies or lures to fish with. Smart man.
Born in Deadwood, SD., and growing up in nearby Lead, Tony "Silver" Bulat Joined the US Air Force in February of 1968. Tony has racked up more than 3500 hours in single seat, single engine fighters and flew a total of 157 combat missions (142 in the F-100 , 15 in the A-7D). He was never shot down and never took a hit.
In addition to being an avid trout hunter, Tony tells us that he is now a proud member of The Command Bar Stoolers Association