By Jake Schilling - April 2020
Madison River just above Ennis, MT
Bored yet? I am, I saw this quarantine break as a chance to float the Madison every day and practice my spey casting before heading over to Washington to steelhead fish. Between Montana’s weather (20 degrees & another 5 inches of snow) and Washington closing to fishing for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t look like I’ll be heading West Coast, or possibly even the Smith River in central Montana next month. Damn this coronavirus if it breaks up my 6-year streak on the Smith…
Plans get changed, adjust. That’s life. Make sure to keep your mind and body busy so you come out of this rearing to go and not a couch version of Castaway sifting your way through the meat lover’s pizza boxes to get from one room to the next. Been there, egg rolls will sneak up on you.
With all this new snow my alley turned back into a great casting lane. Five minutes a day this winter and you’ll notice the results this summer. Have goals and work on them, can be as simple as “I want to improve my 15-20 ft. range.” Bring out some fun little targets and play with the dog while you’re at it.
I went over to Mike Loebl's a couple of weeks back and tried his new bamboo rods (which are fantastic), I immediately realized my casting was rustier than my boat trailer. Part of this is I tend to cast more two-hand rods during the winter, the other part is you can’t expect to be great at something if you drop it 4 months out of the year.
Just practice a little every day, better than watching Friends, right?
This winter has been an exception, I’ve tied a lot. Usually, my tying is more in-season when I’m in ‘fishing-mode’, but this free time has me cranking em’ out. The Steelhead flies will have to wait until fall, but everything else is ready to rock from my swing flies, Skwalas (hopefully coming soon to a river near you) to late-summer spruce moths, ants and more nymphs for guiding than I want to admit.
The amount of free-time many of us has also led to quality learning time, not just seeing how fast you can pump out a dozen royal chubbies. I’ve worked on getting better at Perdigon patterns, they fish great and are fun to tie. Epoxy and flashlights? I’m in. Brings me back to my elementary glue-sniffing days. Click here for an example of one I’ll frequently use guiding.
Easily my least favorite of these activities to perform, but also gives the best feeling when done. It starts with genuine disappointment after seeing how I left my boat bag from last season. I remember my last trip in November, it was gross out and cold as shit. I was ready for ski season at that point. Just dump the whole bag and start with a clean slate, if you don’t I promise you’ll miss at least 27 bottles of 1/16 filled gink and frogs fanny bottles.
After all the junk is out, go through all your boxes and organize them. I’m sure there are at least a dozen cups of flies in your bag that need to be appropriately distributed.
Once your boat bag and hip bag are in the clear, time to look at the boat. I picked mine up in Idaho Falls early March, nice of Clackacraft to let me store the Dirty Oar there over the winter. I left a PB-n-J, a box of Chewy Dipps, and a half-dozen Folger’s tea-style Coffee bags in the rower’s bench. The things left in a boat for 5 months say a lot about a person. I mentioned this in a blog back in early winter, but remember to check for all your required items and replace them if needed. My first aid-kit was in dire need of a refill, Amazon had some great re-fill options before everything shut down.
Get new ropes too, either at the hardware store or NRS. If you haven’t made the move yet, I highly recommend cutting off the standard strap on trailer cranks and moving to a strong 1/4” rope. Keeping the strap straight while cranking is such a stupid & pointless exercise. Put 20’ of rope on there and just guide the rope while cranking like you would on a reel backing machine. Rick Welle does it, isn’t that a good enough explanation?
I’m on the 3rd season with a pair of waders and sent them in for new booties just before the virus slowed everything down. If you’re not actively fishing or have multiple pairs, make sure they’re ready for spring. If you’re not able to send them in for a check-up, do it at home. Every company has a different cleaning and repair guideline so please follow those first before taking any of my frontier recommendations.
For cleaning, I prefer to do one wash (front-loader) with Nikwax Techwash, and then a second wash with Nikwax TX-Direct. Basically step-one is washing, step-two is re-waterproofing. Probably overkill, but I’ve been doing backpacking tents this way for a long time. The dry-phase is important too, the heat spreads the DWR. Low heat tumble.
For leaks, I’ve always been a fan of flipping waders inside out, hang up, and slowly fill with water. Keep a sharpie handy and mark all at the wet spots, pinholes, and rips. Dump water and air dry. For the wet spots and pinholes you marked, Aqua Seal should do the trick. For larger leaks and rips, the combo pack of aqua seal & gore-tex patches is your best option besides sending them back to the manufacturer. Send them back if you have time and/or an extra pair of waders, take advantage of warrantied repairs- it’s why new waders cost $600-800.
Oars need lovin’ too. I put a 6” crack in my Sawyer blade last summer and just finished epoxy-ing and filling the crack. Soon I’ll have the varnish kit and can start re-finishing the oars on my deck once the snow melts. These are my favorite guiding tools and I don’t want to wait until they look like old cattle fence posts.
Yes, fishing! Be smart, pay attention, and stay distanced. That’s usually my fishing plan anyhow. The beauty of a boat ramp/fishing access is the only area people would commonly touch is the restroom, which I avoided at all costs before the virus. Less high fives, more elbow bumps, air-fives, and why not try to foot shake dance in waders? Just be smart, I don’t have any new advice on this well-covered subject.
I’ve also seen posts from folks avoiding the shuttle driver by self-shuttling with a bike. Neat! Good idea, but you’ll never catch my ass on a ten-speed on highway 287. Maybe this virus will bring back more social distancing this fall to the Madison inside YNP, doubtful though.
I don’t want this the last section of the blog to be too highfalutin. Make sure to watch Tiger King first, and then do some reading. That show is nuts, it makes me fear to leave Montana ever again.
My quarantine collection currently involves Billionaires Wilderness by Justin Farrell, American Serengeti by Dan Flores, & few pages each day of Nymphs I or II by Schwiebert. Just like anything in life, variety is important.
At age 21 Jake moved to West Yellowstone from Missoula in May 2012. That first summer he spent two months living in a tent, before moving into a 1971 Lark camper until October. After three years of part-time guiding, Jake moved into a full-time guide job with MRO. During the winter he spends his time spey casting, midge fishing, steelhead fishing, and cross-country skiing while off work. Jake’s laid-back attitude and patience are unmatched, he loves taking the day slow; walking the boat and always having one more fly to try before moving on.
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