Dan’s Focus on the Fishing Hole – Fresh is Best

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Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge has it’s own currency among guests and guides.  No it’s not the US dollar, the Loonie or even the Yen, it’s a freshie.  Walking around the dock and on any boat you will constantly hear the term “freshie”.  “Do you mind lending me a few freshies?”, ” How many freshies do you have?”, ” WOW! Look at all those freshies!”, “If there are any left-over freshies I will take them”.  These are a few of the many common phrases you will hear on the boat dock at the lodge.  
 
Now, while someone who has never been to Dundas Island and fished at HNNL may think freshie is another word for money, a freshie in fact, is something that money can’t buy.  Most important of all though, it is a treat no salmon can refuse! A morning-jigged Pacific Herring is what we call a freshie. There is a reason why we wake up at 4:30am to be the first boats on the water hunting for these little silver bullets: they are without question the best bait to use when mooching for Pacific Salmon.  Herring are exactly what a chinook salmon eats, so it is only fitting to use the exact bait.
 
Heading out to the herring grounds, gulls and diving birds are a dead give away for the location of bait, especially when the birds are literally diving into the water and slurping back these precious baitfish.  Orcas, sea-lions, porpoises and humpback whales are also often in the mix when a large school of herring is near. Many guests fall in love with herring jigging and we literally have to grab the rod from them in order to start salmon fishing.  “One more stringer, please”… Famous last words!
 
With a cooler full of fresh bait – it is time for the real fun to start.  After rigging up a cut plugged herring you must ALWAYS inspect the “roll”.  You want that fish to give off a certain movement that says “Eat Me!”.  It is important to handle the baitfish with care and leave all the scales intact.  The scales are what give them their deadly sparkle in the water – flash which we joke, can be seen from a mile away.
 
One morning last June we ran an experiment on one guide boat: We rigged two rods with freshly jigged cut plugged herring and the other two with brined bait, also known as “T.V. dinners”.  The freshies out-fished the brined herring 5-0!  The experiment ended quickly and all rods were switched over.  On several occasions last season boats using fresh herring vastly out-fished boats using T.V. dinners.
 
So trust me, it’s worth driving around like maniacs looking for fresh bait in the morning.  Some days it takes a little longer than others but the extra time spent is well worth the reward.  Plus, do you think we would reach our hands into the freezing cold ice water at 5am picking out perfect freshie if they did not work?  I think not!!

Outlook for 2016

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Chinook

It is always interesting to read through the collected data from the past season’s sport and commercial fishery.  Comparing the data to previous years, biologists come up with an educated estimate of run sizes for the upcoming season.  It causes us to reflect on last season’s ups and downs and pushes us to think long and hard on how to characterize a whole season at the lodge in just a few paragraphs.
 
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) forecast for our region concerning Chinook salmon always seems to be about the same: average returns, all hinging on ocean survival of outgoing smolts.  When you really sort through the data you can see some downward trends and some definite trends looking upward. It appears that the early season Nass and Skeena fish, which make up a large portion of the fish we intercept on Dundas Island, seem to be fairly stable or slightly down from the historical average.  However, the percentages of fish swimming by Dundas to the central and lower parts of the Pacific Northwest seem to be on the rise. It is only a matter of time before we get a bumper year on the North Coast tributaries and when combined with the increasing numbers to Central and Southern rivers, we could be in for some incredible fishing.
 
Last year saw some of the largest returns of big fish to our local tributaries.  At one local hatchery, fish in the 70 pound range were being harvested for brood stock on almost a daily basis. The hatchery manager on this tributary anticipates this season to be even better! These big fish are still out there and swim past Dundas – who will be the lucky one to get their fish of a lifetime this season? Our regional biologist has noted some highlights from last year: in 2015 the average weight of the commercial troll fishery  Chinook on the north coast was only 11 pounds. In most fisheries when there is a large return of jacks or smaller fish, the next year tends to get a bump in the population of 4 and 5 year olds (big fish). With any luck we will see that bump in 2016.

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Coho

The outlook for coho on the North Coast has been described as abundant for 2016. This is good news given that late run Skeena coho numbers were down last season. These low numbers didn’t seem to impact our experience – we continued to have incredible coho action on both cut plugs and on the fly throughout August and into early September. We are excited by this forecast for next season and hope to see large numbers of coho passing through the waters on the north end of Dundas.

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Bottom Fish
 
Possession limits for halibut will remain the same in 2016 (one halibut per day, 2 possession), however there will be changes in the size restrictions.  The large fish will remain at 133 cm and the second fish in possession will drop from 90 cm to 83 cm.  We are also anticipating a change in yellow-eye limits from 3 per day down to 2 per day, four in possession.  We look forward to more great fishing for halibut and all other bottom species.  Fishing may even get better as our guides and anglers are always trying new techniques and locations to further our knowledge of the area.

2015 Year in Review – Bottom Fishing

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Fishing for the bottom dwellers around Dundas Island seems to keep getting better and better.  Several new halibut and lingcod spots were discovered and explored last season.  Some of these new holes consistently held large halibut and massive lingcod.  Often the moment your bait hit bottom and was within eyesight of these behemoths, it would be engulfed.  We are very interested to see if fishing in these areas will remain as good in 2016 – the true test of a secret fishing hole.

 
All of our regular spots produced well again last season.  Most anglers that put the time in pursuing these tasty creatures were rewarded.  Our staple “chicken” halibut (<25lbs) fishing was great throughout the season.  Several flats are within mere minutes of the lodge – these local hot spots can be fished under almost any weather conditions and always seem to produce well.
 
One technique that has been very productive over the last several years has been the ‘drop mooch’ or ‘dangle’ as it is known.  While anchored halibut fishing we fish a deep running salmon rod rigged with a cut plugged herring.  Depths range from 40-90 pulls down.  While you wait patiently for the flatties to grab your hali-sticks you have a great opportunity to hook chinook and coho on the salmon pole. Chaos often ensues when you “double up” on both a salmon and halibut. If you are up for a new challenge then give it a try!  Ask any of our knowledgeable, friendly guides and they will set you up and direct you to a deep-water combo flat.

What to expect in August?

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As the summer winds gently blow warm air off the Pacific so comes with it one of our finest fisheries of the season.  It’s NORTHERN time:  when large, hooked nosed coho begin their journey past Dundas Island.  These large coho can grow in excess of 18 pounds and boy do they fight!  Cartwheeling through the air and making long screaming runs they are a true testament to what is still wild and pure.  Plentiful and very aggressive, they are significantly different in appearance to the early run fish.  Shiny blue backs are replaced by olive greens with noses hooked in preparation for their upcoming spawning battle.  After a long 3 or 4 year journey into the open Pacific these perfect specimens are destined to northern rivers like the Skeena, Nass, Kitwanga or the Kwinamass, just to name a few of the local watersheds.  This is exciting fishing which tests light tackle to the max!  Many guests prefer to put down the mooching rods and jig buzz bombs or Stingsildas with even lighter tackle while others enjoy bucktailing or casting a fly.  Whichever method you choose they can all be very successful and produce some heart-stopping excitement.  As table fare, coho salmon is one of the finest.  Lean, bright red meat lends itself nicely to the smoker or on the BBQ. 

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Combine this coho action with the fabulous bottom fishing and it makes August a great time of year to come enjoy Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge.  Remote by nature, Dundas Island has very few local anglers or charter boats making the long trek to our waters in August and early September.  It is remote, quiet and exciting, everything that you expect out of a fly-in fishing trip.  When the day is done you can look forward to our fabulous hostess preparing you a specialty cocktail and après-fishing treats on the back deck.  A great way to wind down after a long hard day on the water, after all catching big coho and halibut and be very stressful!  

2015 Year in Review – Coho Fishing

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Coho Fishing
 
What a fantastic year for coho!  Large numbers of coho arrived in early June holding strong through early August, and they were big!  Many of these bright, blue-sided early coho were tipping the scales at well over 10 pounds.  These fish were not likely returning to our northern rivers but rather were headed to the south or central coast – hence their early arrival.  The strong early presence of these fish was a great indication of what was about to come in August.
 
August fly-fishing was outstanding!  In the history of our fly-fishing program at HNNL it ranked among our top three seasons.  Double-digit days were normal and not the exception in 2015.  Some of our anglers were even lucky enough to tackle a Chinook on the cast fly!  Although rare, such events do happen and when they do, watch out!  Not nearly as abundant as previous years, our late season local coho seemed to follow a different pattern than usual.  These fish weren’t found offshore chasing deep schools of herring but instead we found them regularly driving jack herring in amongst the kelp forests into very shallow water.  While looking down you could often watch pods of coho cruising for feed.  These fish seemed to really focus on surface presented flies.  There were many days throughout August where anglers didn’t have to throw a wet line and could watch coho voraciously attack gurglers on the surface cast after cast.

Year in Review – 2015 Chinook Fishing

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 Chinook Fishing

Overall, chinook fishing in 2015 was great!  Lodge guests experienced consistent catches all season long, hooking limits of bright fish daily.  The arrival of our first guests in late May kicked off our season with larger numbers of fish than previous years.  While the average fish weight was smaller than in previous seasons, the numbers definitely made up for it.  As we often see when targeting migratory fish, there were ‘bumps’ of salmon throughout the season: last season the end of June was a bit of a slump as fishing tapered off a little. This only lasted for a short time frame then the fishing came back strong as we moved into July.  Mid-tide bites seemed to be the ticket last season, more often than not the bite would come on right smack in the middle of the tide change – a refreshing transformation from 2014 when the bites were very unpredictable and fleeting.
 
Weather seemed to play a large part in the good fishing.  May had only a few hours of rain throughout the entire month.  Normal average rainfall in Prince Rupert in May is approximately 132cm (52 inches), less than 3 cm (1inch) of precipitation fell in 2015.  June, which can sometimes be a rainy month, was equally nice.  These warm conditions paired with the long hours of sunlight had a noticeable effect on the marine conditions.  The ocean was teeming with algae and plankton, conditions perfect for herring to actively feed in the shallows and close to the surface.  Where there is bait salmon are never far behind!
 
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With little wind and few storms lodge guides were free to roam wherever the bite would take us.  The average weight of chinook salmon in May/June was below our 25 year lodge average, though many fish in the 20-25 pound range were boated by our first eager guests.  These early season fish pull line very hard – there is something that makes them a little different.  Maybe it is the long, cold winter without our rods bent, or just that these anadromous fish are genetically perfect in every way.  After an amazing journey where they spend 3-8 years at seas, less than 2% of theses fish beat the odds and return.  They swim past our island to feed on the abundant bait fish in preparation for yet another amazing journey up our wild, remote northern rivers to spawn; continuing an age-old cycle.
 
The first Tyee of the season was caught by none other than Anita Irwin Bowers, Jason’s lovely bride.  Anita’s 34 pound buck at the end of May set the stage for many other Tyee that would arrive later.  As June crept along the average fish size stayed about the same, though fishing continued to be very strong and most guests were able to take home their limits.  For a few days in late June salmon fishing was slower than normal.  There are a few factors which may have contributed to this.  Though they are only guesses at best, the most plausible theory is that the north coast drought, while it brought great early season action may have also been a factor to the clearing of water surrounding Dundas Island.  Clear means no plankton – which is the foundation of life in the ocean.  Krill and other euphausiids feed off plankton and in turn the herring feed on them.  This may have pushed the salmon runs a little offshore and made them travel deeper in search of food their favourite food: herring.
The late June slump didn’t last for long, the rain eventually showed up and with it the return of some real Dundas Island hogs – there were four fish landed at the lodge weighing in at over 50 pounds!! Congratulations to 15 year old Kate Leeuwenburg who on her first ever salmon fishing trip landed a beautiful 55 pound chinook, out-fishing not just her Dad, but Uncle Chris and Grandpa too – all seasoned salmon fishermen.  Overall the 2015 season saw over 50 Tyee landed – that means you have a 1 in 4 chance of being the next member of the Tyee club.  These are some of the best odds Chinook fishing on the coast of BC.  The strong Chinook fishing continued un-characteristically late into August. One noteworthy slab was a 35 pounder brought to the boat in the third week of August!
 
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2015 HALL OF FAME

Dan Nordstrom 58 lbs
Kate Leeuwenburg 55 lbs
Jon Heisler
54 lbs
Joerg Nixdorf
52 lbs
Gunn Robison
47 lbs
Dana Burchart
45 lbs
Chris Davis
43 lbs
Stephanie Kramer 41 lbs
Gary Lewis 41 lbs
Kevin Formes 40 lbs
Mel Grant 40 lbs
Another of the many highlights of the season was watching Leon Loucheur set a new lodge record – one that may never be broken! Leon caught a 30lb Tyee on a small trout rod using a buzz bomb with 12lb test line! The battle lasted about an hour and the Chinook tired out before Leon did, giving him the chance to net the fish all by himself. This was an extraordinary feat for any angler and is an experience that Leon will never forget!
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First time Lodge guest Joerg had the trip of a lifetime too – arriving late on Friday night – not on the same schedule the rest of the group and departing at lunch time Sunday, Joerg still managed to clean house.  Joerg’s first ever Dundas Island salmon was a 52 pounder, followed by an even 30 pounder and a couple in the high teens. Add to that 2 nice halibut and a boatload of ling, Joerg went home with full fish boxes thinking “That was easy!”, though he did miss collecting his derby winnings for the weekend!

Looking Back on 2015

WOW! What an amazing 2015 season it was at Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge. Thank you to everyone who joined us this summer. You made it a very memorable season for everyone!!

The staff is now transitioning from the “lodge life” back to the real world. This consists of driving vehicles instead of boats, walking on solid ground, and learning how to interact with the general public again. You would be surprised how long it takes to make that difficult transition! I still find myself saying, “ya roger that” when I’m asked to do something, or when I answer my phone …“go ahead”. Perhaps the worst part of being back in civilization is no hot breakfast snack at 9:30am.

Where to start? Looking back at the season here are some of the highlights that come to mind:

-We saw one of the longest stretches of sunny skies ever from May-July and then paid for it in the last couple weeks of July and most of August.

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-Early June we saw some of the best Chinook fishing of the whole summer. These fish pulled extremely hard and it was not uncommon to hook 10-15 a day. I remember one morning at Arniston point during the 2nd week of June when the bite was on from 6:30-noon and every 10-20 minutes a HNNL boat was into a Chinook. Good times!

-The record number of halibut over 100cm caught this season. Some new spots, along with an overall increase in time spent targeting the species due to guests having limits of salmon aided in many whoppers being pulled in.

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-August fly-fishing! It sure was a 180 degree turn this August from last season for Coho on the cast fly. All the fly guys who came this August got rewarded with exceptional fishing. The large amount of juvenile herring in shallow water and tight to the kelp made for some exciting top water actionNothing beats stripping in poppers and gurglers waiting for that silver ghost to shoot up hammer it!

-Bobblehead doing a cartwheel off the boat while checking the prawn traps. I would be lying if I said she did it on purpose. Classic Bobble!

Christian's 35lb. Spring landed on August 23rd!!

Christian’s 35lb. Spring landed on August 23rd!!

Thinking about these awesome memories have me missing Dundas Island already… It’s going to be a long offseason! I can’t wait to see what the 2016 season has in store. In the mean time fall salmon and steelhead will have to suffice.

Tight lines,

Nugget

August – A little bit of Everything

It has been a very memorable past 10 days here on Paradise Island! We have experienced all sorts of weather, from sunny flat calm days to thick fog, rain and high winds. It seems the weather Gods are still making us pay this August for the tropical weather we had throughout all of May and June. As long as there are fish around though, that’s all that matters!

The guests on the past 3 trips have had excellent Coho fishing. The fly guys have done exceptionally well fishing top water patterns tight to the kelp and often times inside the kelp. The jack herring seemed to be holding right inside the kelp at most locations, thus the Coho were also inside the kelp feeding. Most anglers had the best success casting into the kelp and stripping back. Watching a big Coho come shooting out from underneath the kelp and smash your gurgler is the most exhilarating feeling any saltwater fly-fishing angler could possibly experience – if you ask me! It is very difficult to hold back on setting the hook when you see a big swirl on your fly, however if you wait that extra second or two, your hookup ratio will be much better when fishing a dry fly.DSCN0598

Some guests spent the majority of their time buck tailing and did very well too. Trolling at speeds of 3-4mph worked best for enticing these silver missiles to come racing up and slam your presentation right below the surface. Buck tailing is also a great method for finding where the fish are and choosing a spot to anchor and cast. When you troll 3-4mph you can cover lots of water and observe all the surface activity, if you are getting strikes every pass in front of a certain kelp bed or off a point, that usually is an area you can have success anchoring and casting.
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This past weekend trip, the majority of guests mooched with herring and hammered them! Along with the large numbers of Cohos, 9 Chinook salmon were caught which – was a very nice surprise. The largest was a beautifulchrome 27lber caught by Gary. This was also Gary’s largest salmon ever and he plans on getting a replica made. Congrats Gary, a very memorable fish!
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Guests wishing for a change of pace from salmon have also targeted Black Rockfish a.k.a “Black Bombers” with great success. There are certain kelp beds which hold large populations of these aggressive rockfish and are a blast to catch. Once you have locked on to the school, you can expect to have a customer every cast, and get ready because the takes are extremely aggressive! Whether you are fly-fishing or vertical jigging, they are a real treat to catch and tasty to eat.

DSCN0667One of my favourite memories from the past 10 days was watching first time fly-fisher, Grace, hook her first Coho on a gurgler! The fish made such a loud splash when it grabbed the fly, that I heard it when I was facing the opposite direction proceeded by “holy @#$#@”!!! The Coho was a large 12-13lb fish and unfortunately broke off later in the battle however it was a very spirited tussle and she was more than happy to hook her first salmon on a dry fly. While she was walking up the ramp to board the floatplane she said the first thing she is going to buy when she gets home is a fly rod! Another angler hooked.

The Coho are ranging from 8-14lbs with the occasional 14+. I’m sure in the next few trips we will see some larger hogs brought in!

Tight Lines,

Nugget

Early August Fly Fishing – Top Water takes


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The fly fishing season is now in full swing! How can we characterize the fishing so far? When the guys come back at the end of a day fishing, they are almost speechless. They shake their heads and smile like they have just had a day that no one would possibly believe. They scarf down their dinners, tie fresh foam on their gurglers, and then get right back out there – enjoying every moment on the water – rain or shine.

Large schools of Juvenile herring have invaded the inshore waters surrounding Dundas and can be seen flashing around tight to the kelp throughout the water column at most of our hot spots. This is driving the Coho Salmon in shallow and on the prowl for food. These two ingredients make for an excellent day casting a fly for these silver bullets!

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Double-digit fish days are a regular occurrence right now for anglers casting a fly. Coho bites are being enticed by both the wet and floating line. One of the highlights of August came on the weekday trip where 3 Chinook salmon were caught on the cast fly! Dwight. Chris and Les, were fortunate all enough to experience the fight of a Chinook on a 8wt fly rod! Congratulations guys! To put how good the fishing was into perspective, many guests only fished a dry fly later on in the day because they were getting to many fish on the full sink! Is that even possible, too many Coho on the cast fly?! Seeing a large wake appear behind your dry fly as your frantically striping in really gets the heart thumping! Or nearly having your rod ripped out of your hands mid-strip on the wet line sure gives you a good shot of adrenaline!

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This past group of 14 had 6 first time fly fishers, some of whom had never caught a salmon before. As Clay likes to say, they were fresh off the Turnip Truck. The first night out all of them got into fish on the cast fly and after that they were hooked. The progress they made from the first evening out to the last morning was amazing. Fly fishing continued to be very productive throughout the weekend with a couple slower periods mixed in. During the slower periods trolling around buck-tails 3-4mph a few inches below the surface worked great! If you have not done this before I highly recommend trying it, as the hits you get are savage! Often times resulting in the Coho going airborne as soon as it is hooked! It also produced a 25lb Chinook yesterday afternoon caught by long-time guest Kirk!

The Coho have been averaging 7-12lbs and are getting fatter every day! Most fish you see on your line are puking up lots of juvenile herring attracting wolf packs of aggressive coho looking for an easy meal.

Things are setting up great for the next group of eager anglers! Looking forward to more Coho on the fly!

 

Tight lines

Goodbye Chinook! Welcome Coho on the fly!


Well, we have been paying for the amazing stretch of weather we had the past 2 and a half months! The creek behind the lodge looks more like a small river dumping into the bay. The long term forecast looks like much of the same, scattered showers.

The weekday trip starting July 20th had excellent fishing for both Chinook and Coho salmon. A couple personal bests were achieved as Kevin and Stephanie, both hailing from Oklahoma, reeled in a 40 and 41lb Chinook salmon! Congratulations guys! One of the many highlights of the trip was when first time guest Leon caught a 30lb Tyee on a small trout rod using a buzz bomb with 12lb test line! A new Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge record! The battle lasted about an hour until it was tired out and Leon was able to net the fish all by himself. His smile could be seen for miles! It will be a memory he will have for the rest of his life. Way to go Leon! DSCN0455

The weekend warriors experienced much of the same with slightly fewer Chinook caught. That being said, some very nice fish were brought in and Cohos were around in big numbers! Hot rod Dana caught a 45lb pig the first evening, followed by a 32 and 28 the next morning! His 45lber the first night stood as the largest fish of the trip. Congratulations Dana! I hope you bought a lottery ticket when you got home. Those who were not able to get their 4 springs filled out the rest of their limit with some real nice Coho salmon ranging from 7-13lbs.

The ladies of Haa-Nee-Naa have been cleaning up lately – this past trip another “fish of a lifetime” hit the dock! In fact it was the 2nd biggest Chinook caught this year and the 4th 50+lber! Kate made her very first visit to the lodge this summer, with Dad and Grandpa, and was a natural! Many anglers will fish their whole life and never have the chance to reel in a fish like this, but Kate was a natural on the salmon rod and wrangled this beauty on her first day salmon fishing! She fought this 55lb Chinook like a seasoned vet guided by big fish slayer D-30. Way to go Kate!

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Not to be outdone, Kate’s Dad, Jay, landed a trophy Coho on the last morning of the trip. This beautiful 16lb Coho was a very large fish for this time of year. Last year Jay also landed the biggest Coho of the season weighing 18lbs! He must know something about catching trophy Coho’s that I don’t. It was an excellent finale to a very memorable Chinook season!

Typically July 31st marks the end of our Chinook season and the beginning of Coho salmon on the fly! The large majority of migratory Chinooks have passed through and are headed to their home river, while the Coho continue to move through and heavily feed throughout the month of August and into September. Some fish will gain up to 1lb a week in size – the perfect specimen to target on the fly! There is no better feeling than watching a 10lb Coho chase your chartreuse Clouser minnow right to the boat and at the last second – hammer it!

At the beginning of August the lodge boats undergo a minor transformation and turn into fly-fishing machines! Anchors and casting carpets are added, while the troll plates come off so you can troll faster while you buck-tail the shallows.

Stay tuned for our first fly fishing report….. it is going to be a good one!DSCN0503

Bring on the fly fishing!

Tight Lines

Nugget