Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gone Fishing

The analytics tell the story: even the few die-hard followers of this blog have now given up hope of a resurgence of content. And rightly so, it's been several months since my last post. The once steady stream of content that I've shared since 2009 has slowed to a trickle over the past couple of years.

I've come to a point in life where I've gained a bit of perspective. My priorities have shifted substantially. 2014 was a big year of firsts in my world - I became a husband, a homeowner, and an expecting father.

This will be my last post on 111° West. The blog served its purpose for many years, providing an unbridled outlet for my writing and photography and serving as a portfolio of sorts to showcase my work to editors, potential employers, and etc. The blog made its debut in October of 2009, and over the following six years I managed to crank out 149 posts. At the blog's peak I was consistently sharing content on a bi-weekly basis. While my Mom may have been my most loyal reader, she wasn't the only one - the all-time stats include 95,081 page views and 16,823 visitors.

I enjoyed sharing content freely through this blog, but I will now be focusing my time and effort on more lucrative media outlets. Print is not dead, and you'll find my work in quality publications such as Montana Outdoors, Big Sky Journal, Northwest Fly Fishing, The Drake, and The Flyfish Journal, among others.

You can also find my recent work at:, or on my fishing-centric Facebook and Instagram feeds.

All the Best,

Will Jordan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Making It Happen

What makes a good guide? In my mind the best guides have a number of characteristics and qualities: experience, knowledge, patience, great communication, an ability to work with and teach clients of all skill levels, and an overwhelming desire to get clients into fish, no matter what.

I know a lot of guides, but only a handful with all of these qualities, my good friend Matt Ruuhela is one of them. He's one of the fishiest guys I know and it's been great seeing him do well as a fly-fishing guide. During his first season of guiding, I remember him mentioning that the biggest challenge was not in helping people catch fish, but in making them catch fish. I understood completely. Making it happen day in and day out, regardless of river conditions, weather, fishing pressure, physical limitations of clients, etc. is very challenging. 

Matt has certainly been making it happen for his clients lately, despite runoff conditions. Over the past month I've been amazed by both the number of fish and the size of fish that he has reported his clients having caught.  In particular there was a 24-inch brown from the Gallatin River, and a 28-inch brown from the upper Madison River - incredible fish anywhere, but particularly so on these rivers. 

Matt is based out of Big Sky, MT and specializes in walk-wade trips on the upper reaches of both the Gallatin River and Madison River. If you're in the market for a guide in this area, I'd highly recommend seeing if Matt is available - he can be booked through Wild Trout Outfitters

Two "never-evers" and a very rare two-foot Gallatin brown.

Stoked! A young man with a great catch on the upper Madison.

This photo does the fish more justice, it was taped at 28"!

All photos courtesy of Matt Ruuhela

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

No Service

Comfort and convenience permeate every area of our lives. Communication is instantaneous and a response always urgent. Information is at our fingertips, any topic, anytime – on demand. Fortunately there are still places where things aren't so easy. Places where hard work and experience trump search engines, where help isn't a phone call away, and where things are a little rough around the edges.

Last week a buddy and I traveled to such a place in rural Montana. A place that a Google search reveals little about. We were there to fish, and perhaps to disconnect for a few days. This was my second trip to the far-flung fishery and it was every bit as challenging as the first. We had brutal weather the entire time, the roads were rough, and the fishing was slow. But that is what I've come to expect from the place, and I wouldn't want it any other way – albeit less wind would have been nice. It’s not a river where you can expect to rack up 50 fish days, or even 20 fish days for that matter. A few trout to hand is a good day, and with a little luck one of those will be the type that isn't soon forgotten.    

Catch of the day.
The river is typically deserted. If you do run into other anglers, they’re generally the type that you’d be happy to share a campfire with. There are a couple of over-eager guides that bring clients to the river, but most guides are wise enough to keep the place for themselves.

Not another person or a paved road for miles.
There are no fly shops, no fishing lodges, and no shuttle services to call upon here. In fact there’s nothing to call upon, cell service is nearly non-existent. It’s a place where self-reliance is critical, and where you’re on your own to figure out the nuances of the fishery. It's a nice change of pace from the hype and industry surrounding the fisheries closer to home. It's becoming one of my favorite places to unplug and recharge - here's to hoping that you too have such a place. 

Our shuttle rig, the venerable Trail 90

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Farewell to a Fishery

I'm not sure why I still bother trying to keep the place a secret, it’s purely out of habit at this point I suppose. Word is out. For about three weeks during spring the creek is now crawling with anglers of all stripes. It wasn't always like this. They come out of the woodwork to pillage the non-native Yellowstone cutthroat spawning run (yes, non-native) and have been cordially invited to do so over the past couple of years by state and federal agencies. Stringers weighing upwards of fifty pounds were regularly hauled out of the remote mountain valley last spring. The trout that manage to successfully navigate the armada of treble hooks along the creek are funneled into a weir, filleted by agency employees, and trucked to local food banks. This experimental management strategy is in place for the next few years, and possibly in perpetuity if deemed beneficial to the native fish inhabiting the watershed.

Last weekend some friends and I made the long drive to the remote valley to see for ourselves what remains of the run of big cutthroat trout, a run that was long kept quiet by those in the know. Considering the cold, snowy winter that we endured in Montana this year, we knew that late April would probably be more of a sure thing in regard to road conditions and the timing of the run. But we also knew that everyone else was likely thinking the same thing. It’s heartbreaking to see a pristine valley overrun with pickup trucks and anglers who have little appreciation for the resource. So we went in early, ahead of the crowds. We saw the valley as it should be seen and as I remember seeing it for the first time, stark and beautiful, and largely devoid of people.

It was also devoid of trout. Winter hadn’t fully loosened its grip on the valley, ice on the lower end of the creek was preventing the cutthroat from making their annual migration upstream. With warming temperatures the creek will soon flow freely, and those trout that remain will run the gauntlet. It's unlikely that I'll return anytime soon – at least not for the cutthroat run. I’d prefer to remember the fishery as it was, and hope that it will someday recover to resemble the days of old.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book Review: 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish

Many of the tailwater trout fisheries found throughout North America are among the most famous fly-fishing destinations in the world. These dam-controlled rivers provide one thing above all else, consistency. Unlike their freewheeling counterparts, tailwaters typically have relatively stable flow regimes and water temperatures - conditions conducive to sustaining prolific aquatic insect populations, healthy trout, and great year-round fishing.

Stonefly Press recently published a guidebook authored by Terry and Wendy Gunn titled, 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish. The Gunns are the owners and operators of  Lee's Ferry Anglers Fly Shop & Guide Service in northern Arizona. Their operation is centered around the productive tailwater trout fishery on the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry - a fishery covered in the book.

Throughout the book the Gunn's call upon the expertise of local fly-fishing authorities for each tailwater. The collective knowledge found within the pages of this book is well worth the price of admission. The book is at its best when utilized for the accurate and informative overviews that it provides of each fishery. An experienced angler probably isn't going to glean much about his or her home river from the book as it doesn't go into great detail about any particular fishery. But for the angler investigating a new fishery, or planning a trip itinerary, this book is a great starting point.

As I read through the book I couldn't help but string together multi-day road trips in my mind. A spring tour of the southwest perhaps, with stops at Lee's Ferry, the San Juan, and the Dolores. Or maybe a trip back east to take in the fall colors and explore the Delaware, Neversink, and Farmington. So many possibilities, so little time.

Of these fifty tailwaters I've fished just seven - only forty three to go. Whether fishing all fifty tailwaters is your goal, or just learning a bit about one or two of them, the Gunn's guidebook is a great resource.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Only in Bozeman

Tonight I got my chores around the house completed in time to peddle my bike downtown for the 7pm showing of F3T. I was looking forward to the films, particularly Blood Knot featuring brothers Brian and Colby Trow of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. I had a chance to spend some time with these guys at The Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ last weekend and enjoyed the stories they shared of fisheries in and around Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

I worked my way through the trucker-hat-clad crowd milling about the theater lobby, only to arrive at the ticket counter and find that the show was sold out. I've seen good bands that couldn't fill this venue, yet a film tour about fly fishing sells out. Welcome to Bozeman.

I've had similar frustrations on the water around town recently. A Saturday-afternoon hall pass a couple of weeks ago found me driving the length of a local river in search of an unoccupied access point. Every county-bridge crossing had two vehicles flanking it, and on this river, three is a crowd. Eventually I conceded to fishing the backwater of a guy who didn't exactly appear to have the fishery dialed in. I enjoyed showing him what he'd missed, but I would have preferred to have a stretch of water to myself. And worse yet, I've found a guy knee deep in my favorite lunch-break fishing hole more days than not over the past couple of weeks.

I enjoy the positive vibes and fly-fishing culture in Bozeman, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Around here it seems there's always someone a step ahead. Someone a little more hardcore. Someone a little less employed.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Grand Canyon Trout Fisheries Interview

Bright Angel Creek
I recently submitted a feature article covering Grand Canyon National Park for Southwest Fly Fishing, it will run in the May/June '14 issue. I enjoyed writing the piece and having the opportunity to share a place that I love with the magazine's readers.

I know the canyon and its trout fishery well - having lived within the park from '02 - '06, but much has changed since then. The National Park Service, along with cooperating agencies, have ramped up efforts to suppress non-native trout populations throughout the park. I'm not going to provide any background on the situation, I've written about it here and a Google search will reveal numerous sources of information on the topic.

For those interested in the Grand Canyon's trout fishery and in staying up to speed on the topic, I've decided to share a recent interview with Brian Healy, Fisheries Program Manager for Grand Canyon National Park. The overall tone of Mr. Healy's responses don't provide much optimism for Grand Canyon anglers, but keep in mind that he has an agenda, and a NPS mandate to adhere to. I don't necessarily agree with all of his responses, but I'm not going to disparage any of them publicly without first giving him the opportunity to respond. 

Are there plans to translocate humpback chub (HBC) into Bright Angel Creek, or Tapeats Creek, as has taken place in Shinumo and Havasu Creeks?
We just completed a fish managment plan that should be signed this week, including long-term management for translocations to Shinumo, Havasu, and Bright Angel (Tapeats is too cold). The plan is adaptive, and is informed by genetics and population monitoring. Here is a link to the EA:

Do the tributaries provide suitable spawning habitat for HBC? Is there concern that streams such as Shinumo, and Bright Angel in particular, are too cold for successful spawning?
There is no concern that Shinumo or Bright Angel are too cold for chub. The streams provide optimum spawning temperatures in the summer months. 

The trout reduction project on BA Creek over the past decade has made a notable impact on trout numbers. Has it been deemed a success, or is it too early to tell? Do you expect that the trout population in BA Creek will have to be manually suppressed in perpetuity in order to have a lasting benefit to native fishes?
I just started analyzing the data for BAC from last year- and it appears we have made an impact on brown trout numbers in lower BAC. However, its too early to tell what any long-term impacts may be, particularly since we hadn't been able to fully fund the project in the past. We don't know what the future will hold, but we proposed an adaptive strategy in the fish plan, with a decision point to be made in 5 years, based on the data.

Has it been determined if the removal of 20k+ trout that took place from ’03-’06 in the vicinity of the LCR confluence has had a positive impact on native fishes? Additionally, have trout numbers in the vicinity of the LCR confluence remained suppressed as a result of this project?
There are confounding factors making it difficult to determine. There are studies ongoing by GCMRC for this question, and I don't believe anything has been published since 2011 (Coggins et al. 2011, Yard et al. 2011). If you'd like I can send you those papers. 

Do you foresee the possibility of a quality trout fishery co-existing with a self-sustaining HBC population within the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout Grand Canyon?
No. The NPS is mandated to remove non-native species, including trout, from the Park. However, we hope to maintain a quality RBT fishery outside GCNP in the Lees Ferry reach within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (see fish plan link above). 

Do you have any advice for anglers currently seeking quality trout fishing within GCNP? Are there any particular tributaries or reaches of the Colorado River that maintain strong populations of trout? 
I've been recommending that they go to Lees Ferry, but I also ask that if they are going to BAC, that they remove and eat the trout they catch.  The reach above Lees Ferry, and Marble Canyon has a very high density of rainbow trout right now.

Monday, November 4, 2013

First Sunday of November

My park license didn't get utilized as much this year as I'd have liked. The government shutdown contributed, but more than anything, life simply got in the way.

A long weekend in the northeast corner of the park, a day on Fan Creek, and a few quick stops at favorite roadside holes on the Gallatin were about it. It seems to be this way every year, all of a sudden closing day nears and I wonder where the time went.

And so on the first Sunday of November I arose to a cold dawn, leaving a warm bed and the beautiful woman sleeping within it. It was closing day in Yellowstone, one last chance. It's a long off season.

The last one of the 2013 season.
A nice Madison buck.
Brews and views above the Gibbon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Shortest Season

Shouldering our packs for the long hike back to the trailhead, I took one last look at the high country above our spike camp in the Lee Metcalf. I wanted nothing more than to stay in the wilderness for another couple of days, roaming the grassy southern slopes and timbered draws in search of a mature bull elk.

Hoping to glass up another opening day bull.

Expectations pulled us back down the mountain. Loved ones were waiting at home and emails demanded a response Monday morning.

Just five weekends remain. Ten days afield, maybe eleven or twelve if you're lucky - a strategically planned sick day here, a post-Thanksgiving Day hall pass there. It's a short season, make the most of it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall Begins

According to my calendar, Sunday marked the autumnal equinox. Here in southwest Montana, it feels like fall. There is frost on the pumpkin, and snow in the short-term forecast.

In a lonesome place somewhere between a waning Harvest Moon lingering to the west, and a brilliant sunrise to the east, I found myself knee deep in a Montana trout stream on this first day of fall. It was a spectacular day. The first snow of the year capped the high peaks, sandhill cranes flocked in the fields, and bull elk bugled in the distant timber. In the midst of it all, my friends and I experienced classic fall fishing for beautiful brown trout.

Here's to hoping that it will be the first of many such days over the coming months.

First fish on my new Hardy setup. Solid! Photo by Ben Pierce.

 This big fella clobbered a streamer swung beneath a grassy cut bank.

Christine with the one that didn't get away.