Bob Marshall Wilderness

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

cut throat

When my fishing buddy first suggested fishing the Bob Marshal Wilderness I said “where’s that?” “THAT’ is 1.5 million acres of wilderness in the northern part of Montana about one hour north of Missoula. The creation of the Wilderness Act of 1964 led to the protection of 110 million acres of public land in the U.S. Devoid of structures and roads these areas limit access by not allowing motors, 4-wheelers, no bikes, not even chain saws. Hike in on foot or ride a horse.

We started our 8-day trip from the Rich ranch at Lake Steely which has been owned by the C. B. Rich family since the early 1900’s. Peggy, one of C.B.’s daughters lead us in with her granddaughter Kiley in the rear. Speaking of rears, thank goodness for padded saddle cushions. Our first day was a 4-5-hour ride into the wilderness to a hunting camp. Everyone pitched his own tent and crawled into his sleeping bag before the 8-hour ride the next day. The most beautiful country starts to pale after 8 hours in the saddle walking 1-foot wide trails with a 300-foot drop inches away. Glad these horses knew what to do. They are ridden 3 years before graduating to a trail horse. Our stop was on the South Fork of the Flathead River. It was clear and cold with areas that probably had never seen a fly fisherman.

The fishing was spectacular. These cut throat trout were hungry, aggressive and would have hit a beer can if thrown. The gear was a 4-5 wt. with 4x tippet and finished off with a dry fly. Nymphing is cheating. Parachutes and hopper size 12 worked well and everyone caught fish AND to make it complete we ate a supper of cut throat one night. The sky really put on a show at night. No lights, just stars and shooting stars. Makes you wonder about the first people to cross the area in the pioneer days with no rails, Gortex, or fleece. We camped a couple of days on the Flathead here and began the ride back, but this time we broke up the 8-hour ride with another overnight camp on the river. The final day we stopped at Pyramid Lake on our ride back to fish and take a dip if you wanted to join the Pyramid Lake swim club. Three hardy souls were all you could get out of our 10-person group. After this refreshing plunge it was back to the ranch and pack for home.

What made this trip unique was the wilderness, pristine and unspoiled. No evidence of human trespassing.

Don’t Overlook Mountain Whitefish

By Dino N. Frangos

The last few evenings on the Teton River in Idaho have provided some impressive dry fly action during an evening spinner fall. Aggressive hits with an excellent fight. Good presentation casts with non-drag drifts were rewarded.  Are we talking about Cutthroat, Rainbows, or Brookies?  No, we are talking about the often maligned Whitefish.  Mountain Whitefish are widely distributed throughout the West. A member of the Salmonid family, they are normally thought of as bottom feeders, but from personal experience they will actively pursue a surface meal. They are a native fish and not a significant threat to the Cutthroat population. Their eggs are an important source of food for trout. The two groups tend to populate different levels in the water column.

Mountain Whitefish typically range in size from 10-12 inches. An older fish may reach 15 inches.  These fish often congregate in groups, so if you get on one, you will probably catch others. They put up a very spirited fight and landing them is a lot of fun. Their small mouths can add a little more challenge to the hook set.  Having caught a lot of Mountain Whitefish with dry flies on the Teton this summer, this spirited fish has gained my respect. In my opinion, those recreational fly fishers and guides, who bad-mouth Mountain Whitefish, are only demonstrating their inexperience and ignorance.

Smallmouth Fishing Mecca

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Some 100+ miles north of Bangor Maine lies the best smallmouth bass fishing your angling heart can imagine. I have had the opportunity to make my second trip to northern Maine to experience one of the most unique fisheries anywhere, the Wheaton’s lodge on Grand Lake. Tucked along the shore is Sandy and Patrick’s fishing camp offering one the experience of “how it was done”60 years ago. The 20 ft. Grand Isle canoes and the guides in tall leather lace up boots with waxed rain gear, offer you the chance to fish the “traditional” way. Every day is a new adventure in this proud state that outlaw’s highway billboards, so nice. Shore side lunches or more accurate consist of steamed lobsters, steak, chicken all cooked over open forehand the fish chowder made from the harvesting of some outlaw largemouth bass is something that is indescribable. and the lodge meals give you the flexibility of any gourmet restaurant. Oh, let’s not forget the real reason we are there, the fishing. My preference is of course a fly rod 5 to 7 wt., floating line with any bug to catch them on top. Look for ant rock, and these lakes grow rocks. Cast to the dark shadowed side and wait. The take can be kamikaze or very subtle, either way a 2- to 4-pound bronze back is left chopping on your fly. They will hit about anything that crosses their stick zone. Yes, the small have neighbors, white perch, pickerel, largemouth bass and land locked salmon but the smallmouth are why you are here. Check out Wheaton’s lodge on the internet or better come fish there.

Fishing Victor, Idaho

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Had an opportunity to try some trout around Victor, Idaho with my good friend and fishing partner Dino Frangos. Located about 18 miles from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Victor is a stones throw to numerous ponds, streams and rivers that get far less fishing pressure that some of the big boys in that area. With his “new” drift boat we took off to the Teton River. After surveying the water for inviting rises we rigged up with 5x tippet topped off with a blue winged olive and started the float. Each rise was an invitation to see who was home. We caught cut throat, white fish, a few rainbow and lots of brook trout. It was interesting that the brook trout almost always hit nymphs or wet flies when the other guys were picky to say the least even with the dries.

The following day we waded Fox creek, lots of brook trout with the same deal on wet flies and nymphs. That was the day we got in a snow storm on the river. Great to see tat take out through iced over foggy glasses and frozen hands, but the river was spectacular in the snow.

The biggest and best fish were caught on dries on the ponds around the golf course. I still believe that extra club in your golf bag should be a fly rod. That day it was true. These ponds were loaded with big, fat rainbows looking for something floating up top. In fact I had to step up to 3x to avoid losing of my fishing partners supply. Nothing more exciting than seeing that hit on top water. With the Teton mountains as a background, there is not a more picturesque spot in the west to enjoy the outdoors and there is no better way than standing in a trout stream swinging a rod. We were also treated to an entire moose family watching us drift by on the Teton. 

It makes you appreciate the outdoors and the wildlife when you visit such a special place. The people all seem to be happy, the fish too. I just want to thank them for letting us net a few.

Fishing Alaska

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Alaska was the first trip I ever fished with a fly rod. What a journey it’s been. Now some thirty some years later, I still love fishing Alaska. This September marked twenty seven years since I first fished the Blue Mountain lodge on the Keani Peninsula about 300 miles from Anchorage. This place is the best fishing in all of Alaska by far. Tracy Vrem and his wife Linda began the lodge as a bear hunting operation that quickly expanded into a hunting and fishing service. What makes it so unique is that they only take 6 guest per week and Tracy, being a self described airplane junkie, has 4 planes at his disposal. This means you can go anywhere any time. There happened to be just 3 of us on this last week of the fishing season at the lodge which gave us the opportunity to explore some fishing areas that had seen little pressure this season.

Day one was silver salmon day. We flew to the coast, landed on the beach, and fished the small rivers dumping onto the ocean. The salmon move up the rivers to spawn and are hungry and eager to take a fly. They seemed to have a particular appetite for anything pink. This is a perfect setting to use a 2-handed rod. I always take one to Alaska. Ninety caught, give or take a few, a good days work.     

The next day was not for the faint at heart.  After a short plane ride and a landing on an carefully chosen crest, followed by a 2 mile walk through willows 8 feet tall, swampy mud to your knees, over rocks and tundra, along bear trails all with waders and boots on to the “rainbow river“. Not more than 50 feet across at it’s widest part, this honey hole produced the biggest rainbows I’ve ever caught, and lots of them. I think the 3 of us caught maybe 50. These were beasts 22-26 inches all taken on top on mouse patterns. It was worth the walk especially when we hopped in the plane to go back to the lodge to hog down on a delicious supper that Linda had prepared.

Day three was Dolly Varden day on a still smaller river so shallow you wonder where the fish were hiding since you caught one on just about every drift. These Dollies were beautiful in their purple suits with pink spots, all dressed up for spawning. The trek wasn’t but a mile or so, duck soup. 

Arctic Char came next on a swift river that emptied into a big lake. Glad I brought a wading staff. I remembered this place from a couple of years ago. It is strange that certain species live in certain rivers when all the water looks the same. These fish are spectacular with an orange belly that seems to light up the longer you stare at them.  Mixed in with the bows, dollies, and salmon were huge graylings, majestic with that huge dorsal fin.  They seemed to be in every river we fished and loved the top water flies.

The facility at the Blue Mountain Lodge has changed considerably from the first time I visited some 27 years ago. A new lodge, but the old weather station with bunks is now a spillover for an extra guide or helper. No more outdoor toilets marked with deer antlers or moose antler so we can be gender correct. Gone is the pipe to the lake for water but the big cooler of Tang is still present. I didn’t think you could even find Tang anymore. Before I ever visited Alaska, I wondered why people ooohed! and aaad! when speaking of living in Alaska or having visited there, all I can say after fishing there a dozen or more times, is aaaaaah!

Fishing in Maine

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Just returned from a fishing trip back in time to the way it was done years ago in northern Maine. There’s something about preserving the traditions of hunting and fishing in “ the old days”. We flew into Bangor and drove about 2 hours north through thickly forested country along winding roads with NO billboards – billboards are illegal in Maine. The camp, Wheaton Fishing Camp is located in the hamlet of Forrest City, maybe 6 or 8 houses. Built in 1921, it is a series of cabins on the shore of East Grand Lake, 8000 acres of smallmouth paradise. Patrick and Sandy Patterson bought the operation from Dale Wheaton, the son of the founder. Dale and his brother Art are still around, in fact Art, at age 78, guided us on Spednic lake, a lake he has guided since he was 17.

We started on day one with a hardy breakfast, typical of the north woods, and then paired up with our guides who had discussed the agenda for fishing based on more reports from fellow guides and the prevailing weather and winds. Grand Isle 20 foot ash and cedar canoes are our rides. They are as traditional as the waxed coats, fedoras, and high boots the locals wear. Powered by 9.9 hp outboards and paddle manpower, they can cover the lakes very, very well. All the spots on the lake looked the same to me, clear water with automobile sized rocks sticking up. The fishing seemed best in these rock gardens. The smallmouth come up over the rocks to warm themselves in the 60 degree water.   We fished the St. Croix, between the US and New Brunswick. Then Lake Spednic,16000 acres. Get the picture? Many, many glacier carved lakes, all with fish waiting for you. You could fish a lifetime on one single lake and not make a dent in covering it.                                                                                                                          

June is spawning time in Maine for smallmouth bass. That’s when you can really hammer them. Seven wts., floating lines with 7 1/2 ft 15 lb. leaders will do it. They hit streamers and top water, but the way to really experience the moment is to cast, very little popper movement, not like with largemouth, then just wait, and wait, then, BOOM !!, fish on.                                            

Besides the smallmouth, there are lake trout, sun fish, pickerel, and non-native largemouth bass illegally introduced and not welcomed. They compete with the native smallmouth and will wipe them out. But they did taste good at the shore lunch. I have never had the guides put on a feed like they did on the shores, potatoes and onions always with beef, or pork, or sausage and of course, lobster and corn. The lunches were a ritual at which all the guides and anglers gathered together at noon with all present.        

We have our no-see-ums, Maine has black flies. Nothing keeps them completely at bay. On the water they are no problem, but once you hit land, bring out the Thermacll. No snakes, too cold. Moose and bear, plentiful. These people enjoy a freedom with nature that is slowly dwindling away. Most of the guests were older, except the ones there whose parents were regulars at Wheaton and were introducing their children to this unique way of life. Glad I got †o go before it is just a memory of ‘How it was back then.”