Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana
phonelineAdmittedly, I spend a lot of time on rivers in Montana between March and November. With all that time on water, one is bound to find stuff that someone else lost. Flies, lengths of leader and indicators are the usual finds. That tandem nymph setup with two split shot and a yarn indicator high up in the stream-side brush is typical evidence of an errant cast from a passing drift boat. There aren’t many of them where I fish in Montana, but I always marvel at the collection of leaders, weights, lures, bobbers and hooks that can accumulate on a telephone line running above the stream at a bridge pool. I can imagine the “expletive deleted” moans each time another rig ended up on the line. There’s also the annoying snag in the middle of the river that when you finally sort it out, your fly has tangled itself in another abandoned terminal rig seemingly destined to snarl as much monofilament as possible. Those are the usual annoyances, but there are a lot of other things that get lost along the rivers I’ve fished.

Pieces of clothing are an occasional find, especially hats. Rarely is anything salvageable, but I suspect I’ve got a couple of hats in my stash that originated as a river find. There’s the occasional jacket or tee shirt, usually so deteriorated they are hardly recognizable. Many most likely originated at some point well upstream and several seasons of runoff has left them tattered and torn, clinging to some rock twig until the next flood. Shoes, although I never seem to find them in pairs, are also an occasional find. Once I stumbled over a single wading boat and pondered how the hell do you lose a wading boat? For many seasons on the Big Hole River at a very large and prominent log jam, there hung a rather intact pair of blue jeans high on a cottonwood limb. It served as sort of a mile marker on the river. It obviously got there during run-off and was lost at some point upstream. But how, one can only imagine how one loses their pants along the river. Of course losing anything of value might make you “Lose Your Lunch” when you realize what’s happened. But, one day on the Madison I came to a shallow gravel bar that’s a logical place to stop and fish and there was somebody’s lunch. Nicely wrapped sandwiches, a few drinks and fruit all contained in a cloth satchel sitting square in the middle of the gravel bar. As it was early morning, clearly somebody had “Lost their lunch” the day before. A few days later when I returned to the same spot, lunch was gone.

rodpitchWhen you total up the cost of all the equipment and other gear (including clothing) you might have with you on a typical fishing trip, the sum is usually pretty substantial. Generally well into the $1000s, especially if you are using quality, high-end gear. Losing stuff like that can be costly. Finding stuff like that can be rewarding. Over the years I’ve lost my fair share of fly boxes, either left on a streamside rock, dropped in the river or as the consequence of upending my kayak in deep water. Once lost, they are gone, until someone finds them. On the upside however, I spend sufficient amount of time on rivers to have found my fair share of fly boxes, fly patches and such and I am always rewarded when they sell well on Ebay. My neighbor, Bruce Richards, who spends a great deal of time fishing the Upper Madison in the spring and fall told me of one of his finds early in the spring at one of the Madison’s Fishing Access Sites. As he was walking back down river to his car, he noticed a glint of something shiny at the edge of a little snow drift in the parking lot. When he investigated, it turned out to be one of those very large foam fly patches drift boat guides use to hold their flies during a float. Although covered in snow and silt, the entire patch was in pretty good shape, including well over a 1000 flies. It had to have been lost in the fall, but was somewhat hidden and protected by the snow over the winter. Bruce told me he probably didn’t need to tie many flies that summer.

trashOf course fly rods and reels/fly lines make up much of the considerable cost of our equipment and gear. Although I’ve never lost a complete rod (that I haven’t recovered) I have lost more than one section of a fly rod on several occasions. And as always, it’s been through carelessness on my part. The point at which you reach back for a rod and find the tip or other section missing is not pretty. A sickening feeling overtakes you and because you don’t know when and where you lost it, finding it is essentially impossible. Absentmindedness can contribute to losing things, but can also have an upside if you are savvy enough. I was fishing in the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone one day with a friend requiring a rather long strenuous hike in to the river. I carried two rods and several reels with different lines in a small backpack to deal with the different conditions I knew we’d encounter. Once at the river, we established a little base camp with our packs and other stuff and moved off and fished up and downstream. At some point I went back to the packs to change reels. I distinctly remember putting the reel down in the grass next to my pack while I rigged up the new reel. When we left the river for the day, we packed everything up and made the hike out. The next day at home I couldn’t find the first reel in my gear. It immediately occurred to me that I must have left it in the grass instead of packing it up. I’d lost a very nice reel and line that was essential for future fishing trips. Within a day or so, I bit the bullet, buying a new reel and line to replace the lost one. Fly fishing has its priorities. A few weeks later, another trip was planned that required a good hike in and I started to get the small back pack I use ready. As I went through the various sections, there was the missing reel, packed away in a section that I would never use to store a reel, thus overlooked during the first search. Absentmindedness has its perks when you lose essential gear temporarily.

Many years ago when I was fishing rivers in Central Alabama with my kayak, I took my cousin and his then girlfriend on a trip to the Tallapoosa River tail water at Tallassee, Alabama. This was fairly easy class one whitewater with lots of deep pools, ledges and great spotted bass fishing. My young cousin and I had fished it together many times but he wanted his girlfriend to experience it as well. To say the least, she was not a natural born angler and did not know how to cast a fly rod. So I equipped her with one of my ultralight spinning rods. As we floated and fished downstream, she did pretty well. However, when we needed to turn around and head back to the put-in things went south. To go back, we all needed to paddle upstream through a small chute that was easier to paddle through than wade through. While my cousin and I made it easily, but the young lady just couldn’t do it and on the third try, rolled the kayak and bailed out. My cousin went to the rescue and helped her get around the chute and safely into calmer waters. Unfortunately, my expensive ultralight rod and reel was now at the bottom of the river. After calming down, she was very apologetic and I just wrote it off as “stuff happens”. Lucky me, a week later to the day, I floated through the chute and saw my lost rod in the now somewhat shallower water. Easily recovered, the ultralight was back in action after a bit of cleaning and drying out, although I’ve never told my cousin or his now wife that I found it.

Most recently I’ve come across two expensive pieces of equipment in the rivers I fish. The first was last season when I was fishing along Grasshopper Bank on the Madison River. Four intact and joined pieces of a Winston 5 piece Boron IIIX 9’ were floating gently in a small eddy at the edge of the river. Unfortunately, the 5th butt section was missing. It was in excellent shape. Without the usual Winston serial numbers, it was obviously a custom rod built from a Winston blank. Without a serial number, it was untraceable through Winston, but the next time I was in Twin Bridges, I returned it to Winston with the details of where I found it just in case someone inquired. But how one loses the top 80% of a $900 fly rod on a Yellowstone Park river remains a mystery. My final lost and found story still has some mystery to it, but does contain a happy ending.

mcline4I was fishing a valley section of the Gallatin River for the first time ever this summer, so discovering the riffles, runs and pools of a new river was fun. As I made my way up a small, but turbulent channel with the kayak there was fly rod dangling in the current, reel downstream, the tip and line hung on a small limb. All rigged up with a foam reel case enveloping the reel, the rod had obviously been in the river for some time as it was coated with slime and moss. I was able to free it and when I began to examine it, the fly rod was another Winston, this time a completely intact Boron IIIX 9’ 5 weight with a Ross Evolution Reel. Once I got it home and cleaned up, everything proved to be in great shape. This was $1100 in fly gear. Since the section of the Gallatin I was fishing is wade fishing only and the rod was completely rigged, reel in case and fly in keeper, this rod must have fallen out of a boat as the anglers floated down the river. After a call to Winston, I found out the rod was registered to an angler in Salt Lake City, Utah and arranged to return it to him. When I asked him how he lost it, thinking he lost it on the Gallatin, some of the mystery remained as he didn’t realize it had been lost. Apparently some time earlier this year, his brother-in-law borrowed the rod for a trip to the Grey’s River in Wyoming. During the trip the rod disappeared out of an unlocked vehicle in a supermarket parking lot. The brother-in-law, chagrined by the loss failed to tell the owner, hoping instead to save enough money to replace the rod without ever telling the owner it was lost. According to the rod owner, the Evolution reel belonged to the brother-in-law. The mystery as to how it was lost and by whom on the Gallatin will likely never come to light but the brother-in-law is now on the hook for some explaining. I was happy through the good graces of Winston to find the rightful owner and return it to him. Lost and Found, painful when you lose it, fun when you find it.


  1. Fun article Mike. Reminds me of things in the past. My own two most prominent “eras” during which I’d find stuff included back when I was doing a lot of canoeing and kayaking of little rivers throughout the midwest, on each of which I was sure to find at least one paddle and one life jacket per trip, plus the ubiquitous fishing lures ornamenting trees, plus an occasional welcome unopened can of beer washed up in the odd shallows…plus articles of clothing on a bank somewhere (often the kind that would make one wonder how its owner had walked home).

    And the other “era of finding things” I had was a summer-long bicycle trip across the USA, from southern Ohio to Montana (in search of a west coast that proved to be further away than the summer or the energy reserves were long). Riding at ~15mph along backroads for months with eyes glued to the berm served up no small number of broken 8-track-tape cartridges of course, but also hand tools that had come off fenders or step bumpers of passing vehicles. My brother and I ended up with a decent little collection of wrenches and such, which were windfalls of a sort but which also had a cost–the weight of the tools added to our trying-to-stay-light gear.

    On that trip, in South Dakota, a truck with an occupied horse trailer passed us. The tail of the horse, which hung out the back, had a nice new green hand-towel wrapped around it in a neat rubber-banded roll as they went by…evidently to keep it tangle-free. Must have been a show horse or something. A few miles further we came upon that neatly rolled towel lying in the middle of the little road. I still have the “horse-tail towel” today. 🙂

    But never have I ever found a premium fly rod or a box of flies! Gotta get out more I guess.

    – Mike

  2. I fish the Catskills regularly and often look up in trees to find flies that anglers lose. Flies bought from shops can be pricey too. I just add em to the flies I’ve tied. But I agree you can find some odd things on a stream bank.

  3. Amazing story. I’ve found a few things over the years also. A nice box of steelhead flies: frammus, fleas, assorted little stonefly nymphs that were tied in an interesting way, single biot tail and yarn body & wing case. Plastic rib and micro flash chenille thorax. Simple fishing flies typical of the Salmon R. NY where I found them buried in the snow on a steep bank. Nice to see how those flies were constructed other than a photo & recipe. They were all tied on #8 to #12 bait holder hooks too, very economical. The box was probably lost the same way I found them, sliding down the bank to get to the water. Tip: no felt soled waders when winter steelheading. Before long you’ll be six inches taller, unless you tip over first!
    I’ve had more lucrative findings fishing the “dark side” as they say. My buddy and I were fishing from a boat, I don’t remember where, but I thought I was snagged. When I got free I felt a heavy weight. As I reeled the weight started to bob. The water was very dark so I couldn’t see until it broke the surface. A rod tip slowly emerged, all six feet of it complete with a Mitchell 300! Just like the rod commercial I watched on the old TV fishing shows. That was the reel of choice back then. I cleaned it up and still have it today. A single mantle Coleman lantern with a reflector/ handle was liberated from the river too. Countless flies, rapalas, fly lines, mono (that I always take home for proper disposal), a beautiful two blade 6″ Buck knife, nice needle nose pliers, clippers, pounds of shot and sinkers, etc ect. Clothes I leave alone. Especially when accompanied with a towel in the vicinity of a parking area a short distance from the local greasy spoon. I’ve been down that dirty highway before!

      1. More than likely Mike. I’ve had a lot fun over the years. This blog stuff is new to me. So is this internet & computer thingy. I still have to comment on the bounce, smells like Larry Tullis. Mention of Utah tasted of his writing. Since that post I’ve tasted the cuisine of other notables on YouTube and other blogs on that technique. It usually brings me back to my first love, fishing “the dark side”. It’s not easy being faithful to just one love. I gave up on multiple fly rigs after too many tangles. I do like the sound of a heavily weighted Carl Coleman March brown nymph, with a varnished abdomen. Plop! Just like Coleman said it should sound. My first brown ever came from that fly on the Ausable. Split shot progressed to multiple shot and so on. Like Mr Cline says, you lose the aesthetics of casting. Eventually it was just unweighted nymphs and relying on long enough casts and mending. If I needed more depth I would use shot until I made contact with the bottom, or a fish.
        Now the jumping fish. Loved the pictures! I think you’ve almost nailed it. Ive got nothing better. I’d like to see the streamer you’ll use. Maybe they’re herding the minnows.
        Thanks Mike, just like to share my thoughts in appreciation of all the great experience you guys share with me. I always learn, reminisce, and am entertained in the best sense of the word.

        1. Likewise Joe! Always a great pleasure to read your thoughts here. I too shy away from multi-fly rigs…tried a 2-fly rig (2nd fly dropped off the hook bend of the 1st) again two days ago and was instantly reminded of how poor that casting experience is, and also how non-lifelike the top fly looked. I’d talked myself into using it again after going off it for awhile, thinking I’d “prospect” twice as fast…that’s always the seduction, isn’t it? But ultimately I went back to a single fly and one tiny little shot and just changed flies twice as frequently. I like it better, and I like my shot very small and above the fly.

          As for the nice trout who I think are camped out below little minnows (who in turn are camped out below hatching midges), I already know the streamer I want to use, but I’ll keep mum until I test it and see how it works. One reason is that I’ll have to make it, and it’ll be a little bit of an innovation game. But when I know, I’ll share.

          Keep your input coming Joe! It’s good stuff.

          – Mike

          1. Thanks Mike, I will. I already have a few “pin head” fry swimming around my head. You know I started reading this blog at 6:30 this morning on and off for nine hours! Still at it. Well good luck my friend, I’m rooting for ya! Time to flip off those jumpers! We’ll celebrate with a nice black & tan. m-m-m…

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