Articles written by Chuck Stranahan


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  • High Water Chronicles 2024, Vol. 1 - safety afloat

    Chuck Stranahan|May 16, 2024

    Safety any time you're on the water begins with preparation. For the wading angler this means gearing up for safety (and comfort) before going out. Comfort, you say? If you're miserable it follows that you might put yourself in danger. Getting chilled in a sudden downpour might not lead to hypothermia, but why take the chance? Slick-soled sandals or running shoes instead of purpose-built wading footwear? I've done it and survived the falls, but I've outgrown that silliness and don't recommend...

  • Boy Scout (and river safety) motto - be prepared

    Chuck Stranahan|May 9, 2024

    Safety begins with preparation. When you wade fish in streams, be they big rivers or small creeks, you stalk your fish. That usually means getting into the water, staying at angles where you are concealed, and positioning yourself away from swift currents and slippery rocks as you prepare to make your first cast. Preparation begins with respecting the swift currents and staying out of them. That's not where the trout are anyway. They're along the edges of those currents. At any time of year,...

  • You never know - on the very next cast

    Chuck Stranahan|May 2, 2024

    Sometimes you just need to go fishing. You just need that time alone, time away from what doesn't give you peace. You might catch a trout or two but that doesn't really matter. The trout aren't what you're after. You need for your peace to return and know, when you fish, that you're connecting with something greater than yourself that will restore your peace. At other times it's about being with those rare people with whom you share a special bond - it's about strengthening the bond and...

  • It's not just a philosophy - catch, revive and release

    Chuck Stranahan|Apr 25, 2024

    What I see on too many YouTube videos makes me wince. Some of the trout, I'm sure, don't survive. Most of them probably make it, despite the rough handling they're subjected to. Wild trout are hearty creatures, but still, they're deserving of our respect. They deserve - and require, if they're to remain viable when subjected to natural stresses and unnatural fishing pressure - informed and responsible handling that will give them an optimal chance of survival. I've written comments in response...

  • March (Brown) madness in April and other spring flies

    Chuck Stranahan|Apr 18, 2024

    You see the same thing every year: on the Bitterroot, some anglers get so fixated on the skwala hatch that they forget everything else. Never mind, especially in a year like this one, that the hatch might sputter from day to day. The angler armed with the hot new skwala fly, or a proven old one, for that matter, might find himself out of luck. These big brown-olive stoneflies bring the big fish up when they're present. And when they're not, the fish might still come up for them. It's no wonder...

  • Taking care of the trout - Preserving our fisheries, part one

    Chuck Stranahan|Apr 11, 2024

    It's ultimately up to us to take care of our fisheries. Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a complex job to do, but when it comes to taking care of western Montana's fishery resources, the most critical jobs are in our hands - literally. I'm talking about how we handle trout. Last week I promised I'd write more about the best ways to do that. Catch and release fishing is an effective management tool for preserving and conserving wild trout fisheries. For some, it borders on a religious...

  • What we can do

    Chuck Stranahan|Apr 4, 2024

    The conversation over coffee with friends, naturally for us, was mostly about fishing. We talked about fly rods and my recent conversations with Kerry Burkheimer. In what had to be a weak moment Kerry said I could trade flies in partial payment for two of his rods. Time marches on and I hope to get some flies in his hands before he changes his mind. His rods are superb. You could make a real good argument that Burkheimers are the best graphite fly rods made. They are made from scratch with...

  • The Ides of March - or, what's an ide, anyway?

    Chuck Stranahan|Mar 28, 2024

    For a few days recently it has seemed like spring. Maybe it is. On the Ancient Roman Calendar the Ides of March occur on March 15. Winter is supposed to separate from spring precisely on March 15, according to the ancient Romans. They never made it to Montana. On the Modern Montanan Calendar the days of winter and spring bounce around on both sides of March 15. We take the spring weather when we can get it. "Beware the Ides of March," one Shakespearian character said, and when that line was...

  • It might as well be spring – almost

    Chuck Stranahan|Mar 14, 2024

    Remember that old Rodgers and Hammerstein tune? It Might As Well Be Spring, from the musical Oklahoma? It feels like spring should be here but hasn't arrived yet. It might as well be, and should be, but isn't yet spring. I remember Februarys in years past when Jan and I would take long walks on the banks of the river. Winter eased up to the point where it felt good to get out. Taking a fly rod on those walks would come next. The past few days have been sunny enough. But instead of rising trout,...

  • The search for the ultimate skwala pattern

    Chuck Stranahan|Mar 7, 2024

    My fly tying friends are at their vices already. They're tying skwalas - old favorites and some inevitable new ones. They can't help themselves. And they can't help but add too much of this, and a dab of that to their flies. Every flytier in western Montana where the early season skwala stonefly hatch occurs probably has at least one favorite skwala dry fly pattern, a fugitive from the accumulation of wild overdressed experiments gone wrong. Taken together, that scrap heap of abandoned flies...

  • Fishing for winter whitefish, then and now

    Chuck Stranahan|Feb 29, 2024

    It’s been a few years since I deliberately fished for winter whitefish. The last time, I joined some friends at a café in Darby for a late breakfast. The object was to fuel ourselves up with enough calories to withstand a chilly afternoon on the river, where we planned to catch a mess of whitefish. After that, the plan was to cook a few for an early dinner according to one of Mike’s all-time-great whitefish recipes (he’s a great cook) and if enough were left over, to smoke them. Who would do the smoking was uncertain. Both Jim and Mike are gr...

  • Tactics and flies for late winter, early spring

    Chuck Stranahan|Feb 22, 2024

    One nice thing about fishing this time of year: you're not likely to fish in a crowd. You might see a couple of others, and like you, they probably value their solitude as much as you do. You tend not to bother each other; the social exchanges are apt to be quiet, pleasant, and brief before you go your separate ways. The solitude you'll find when it's not quite spring is reason enough to get out and fish. Another nice thing is that despite the cold water temperatures that lull the trout into a...

  • Not your usual February, and walking along the river

    Chuck Stranahan|Feb 15, 2024

    This February feels different. I don't quite have a sense of what to expect as it plays out. Today, as I write, I see a covering of fresh snow. The rain that fell over the last few days is frozen under the snow. The streets are icy and very slick. The cars move slowly, cautiously, along the road I can see from the house. The day feels more like it belongs in early December. The intermittent rains and snows will come, or so the weather forecasts tell me, and the snow will melt and the rain and...

  • An afternoon remembrance and lesson from a master

    Chuck Stranahan|Feb 8, 2024

    Cal Bird stopped by my shop in northern California on a hot midsummer afternoon about 40 years ago. He was on his way to fish Hat Creek and wanted me to come along. If Cal wanted me to go fishing with him, I rarely refused. Cal was old enough to be my father. I called him Papa, as his children did, and we loved each other as a father and son. We met when I was a student at San Francisco State. He had a small fly shop not far from where I lived. I was amazed the first time I watched him tie — and peppered him with all sorts of questions. He d...

  • The western Montana hot stove fly tying league

    Chuck Stranahan|Jan 25, 2024

    The meetings are probably coming to order – in some sort or another, all over western Montana. For about 16 years on Tuesday afternoons we held a meeting that would qualify for the hot stove fly tying league in my shop. A typical session might go like this: The guys would start rolling in about two in the afternoon and we'd exchanged greetings. They'd get settled into their customary places around the fly tying table, plug in their lamps, set up their vises and fuss with their other tools. "...

  • Scratching the fly tying itch

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Jan 18, 2024

    Alvin looked like he could have stepped out of an old-country Weiner schnitzel or biergarten commercial: rotund body, big features, big frame, distinctly Germanic features set in a jolly countenance, and big strong workingman's hands with calloused fingers the size of bratwursts. He wanted to learn how to tie flies. He enrolled in a course I was teaching. He was the nicest guy in the world, and we became good friends, but my first thought going in was that it would be a challenge for him to...

  • In the bleak midwinter

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Jan 11, 2024

    I'll take the stillness. I'll take the fact I don't have to shovel snow. I'll take streets that are mostly dry and fairly safe to drive on in the afternoons and the luxury of not having much of anyplace to go most mornings. I'll take the daily temperatures that produce highs, some days, that bring mist off the river. The mist, if everything goes just right, freezes overnight to appear as hoar frost the following mornings; some mornings there is enough sunlight to turn the whole landscape into a...

  • Winter midges, the serendipity, the $3 dip and Ross Merigold

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Dec 14, 2023

    For a long time I didn't bother with fishing the winter midges that typically occur in December. They were too small – and I didn't know much about them. That changed on those winter days when it was comfortable to be out fishing and I'd see a pod of trout rising incessantly in a foam eddy, and I couldn't catch them. I learned that there are over fifty species of midges active in trout streams. That was intimidating. Because they're so little they're difficult to see clearly, much less c...

  • Teddy Roosevelt was right - about a lot of things

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Dec 7, 2023

    I have a sign on the bulletin space above my desk that says, ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” For me especially, and those who know me well would agree, that’s a good admonition. The quote is from Teddy Roosevelt. It’s one of many Teddy Roosevelt quotes worth remembering. From the time I was a young man or more likely an old boy, Teddy Roosevelt has been one of my heroes. Still is, for reasons added to those I found inspirational as a 12-year-old, looking at the rough-riding figure on horseback, riding into the Dakotas...

  • The world record snow goose and other stories

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Nov 30, 2023

    In a way I felt sorry for the guy and in another, thought he got what he deserved. The incident happened in a small café in Macdoel, California, a small town in northern California below the Oregon border, north of Mount Shasta, near the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Preserves. At times it seems that every migratory waterfowl bird on the Pacific flyway would headquarter on the 90,000 acres of marshland on these preserves. On a series of crisp early winter mornings before first...

  • A fly fisher's thanksgiving

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Nov 23, 2023

    Once again we'll be going to my friend Jim's place for Thanksgiving. Among other things, our camaraderie is rooted in flyfishing. And as is so often true of flyfishers, our commonality extends to other things, other areas of interest, other affinities. The usual crowd consists of three or four couples of empty nesters, depending on who will travel out-of-state to visit the children, or which kids will make the trek home this year. It just sort of happened, over time, that this tradition...

  • (Some of) the joys of fly tying

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Nov 16, 2023

    When I was a kid I was fascinated by trout flies. It seemed almost inborn. It started when I was about eight when my godfather showed me a box of flies that he tied. There was a sporting goods store in my small home town that sold .22 rifles and ammo, among other things, and I took to shooting at an early age. My dad and my godfather instructed me carefully and well. My dad had the stock of my first .22 sawed off so it would fit a boy. There was a small assortment of flies in the store where...

  • Preparing for the fly tying season

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Nov 9, 2023

    The past few snowy days have driven me indoors. And I'm at home here. I'm not house-bound, yet, but will be by the end of February. Until then there is plenty to do: on several sides I'm faced with an unending pile of clutter to be sorted out as it gets added to while deciding which of it to discard; there are abandoned manuscripts in the computer that need an infusion of interest; there are the musical instruments - guitars, a banjo and a mandolin – on their stands next to the computer s...

  • There is still time for streamers

    Chuck Stranahan, The Fly Fishing Journal|Nov 2, 2023

    I had an invitation from a friend to do one last float before he put his boat up for the season. The weather was due to turn cloudy and cool. We were looking for a blue-winged olive mayfly hatch to bring some fish o the top, and a day of fry fly fishing to top off our season. Before our schedules cleared, a midweek chance of rain prediction morphed into four inches of snow and a stretch of chilly – or downright cold – days to go with it. I used to be up for launching and loading a raft in tho...

  • Walking the river with a fly rod in autumn

    Chuck Stranahan, , The Fly Fishing Journal|Oct 19, 2023

    The leaves are just turning color along favorite stretches of my home river; they're likely doing the same along your river, too. Wherever you fish there's a certain feel to taking your fly rod for a walk along a river in autumn that doesn't come anywhere else at any other time. It's meditative and can fill your soul with what it needs. You don't get that same sense at other times, or if you do, it's likely something you brought to the river yourself; the things that surround your senses and...

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