Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eagle Eyes on a Colorado Trout Bum

Fishing my favorite Colorado Canyon.

     What I love most about fly fishing is that something always happens. When you are outside near the water something unexpected always happens. 
     I returned to a spot I'd weakly fished a week earlier.  

Water temperature was 42-44 degrees both times. I'd convinced myself that I must have been fishing flies that were too big, so this time I kicked up some gravel and screen out a scud and a stonefly nymph. Both appeared to be size 16-18 just as I'd been fishing. 

Finally on a size 22 foam winged midge emerger I succeeded. 

I left the hole for a couple hours and moved up stream. A mature bald eagle had been cruising up and down the river all day. I'd seen him four times. On my way back I noticed another angler had just hooked up to a nice fish under the eyes of a bald eagle in the hole I had left.
You should be able to see the white dot of his head in a tall pine tree 4 trees in from the left.

Here's a youtube video. My apologies for not having a better camera along. I didn't expect the eagle.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Improving a natural 3,000 trout/mi stream to a hatchery put & take fishery.

I'm only guessing. You be the judge.

Is it a good idea to do "aquatic habitat" improvements on a stream that supports 3,000 fish per mile and has some of the most iconic feeding lies in the Rocky Mountains ?

     Tarryall Creek flows through the Pike National Forest close to the Lost Creek Wilderness area. Most of the stream flows through private property that has been preserved for fly fishing. This very fertile stream holds cutthroats, cutbows, rainbows, and brown trout self sustaining populations. South Park Fly Fishers, Rocky Mountain Angling Club, and a few private clubs hold leases on the creek. The elevation is about 9,500 to 10,500 feet and traffic along 2 lane Route 77 is limited, giving the fly caster a nice quiet experience. I actually saw a cougar chasing prey on 8/20/201. (Luckily it wasn't me.) 
     Then along comes a deep pocket resort that creates a fishing-camp and "improves" the stream. Most of the landowners have done some modest bank stabilization, or rock placement to improve stream habitat, but IMHO, the Broadmoor Fishing-Camp has improved the character right out of this stream in their 1.3 mile section. It no longer looks like Tarryall Creek. It now looks like the exclusive Wigwam Club. Not everyone needs botox and plastic surgery, even if we can afford it, and sometimes it makes you uglier. Here are some examples:

Beaver dam before from TripAdvisor user STLCarib 2011.

"Improved" finely crafter rock drop.
   Downstream around the bend as the Tarryall comes out of a canyon where the tracked excavators could not work, the glides and riffles have been replaced by log over pour dams like most private clubs seem to favor and deep, deep, hatchery like pools.

This stretch is followed just down stream by: 

This. On each side of the over pour log a deep hole has been excavated.
J-Hooks and resting nooks built with imported stone, all perfectly placed complete the 3/4 mile of improvements. 

     All these types of "aquatic habitat improvements" are permitted and encouraged under the Federal Clean Water Protection Act and the Corps of Engineers permitting process. These type of aquatic habitat improvements are what we are hoping for to restore the Denver South Platte river from it's current state of a trapezoidal shaped flood control conduit to a natural river setting.  But here the creek already was perfect. 
     These "improvements" will definitely enable the Broadmoor Fishing Camp to:
1. Make a happy place for hatchery raised trout.
2. Put a 150 neophyte anglers in a safe place where the mowed lawn will not hang up their back cast.
3. Feed the fish a healthy diet of fish chow and use nymphs that look like pellets to assure fishing success. 
      Here is the first fish caught just after the tractors left the scene. A pale stocked rainbow probably from the spring stocking of a neighboring ranch. Many more stockers are sure to follow.

     Whether the existing bugs and wild trout will like these new and quite different digs is another matter. You be the judge. Here are some photos areas left natural. Except for this one fish above, I could not catch or even glimpse any wild trout in the new improved areas. Admittedly this was a limited study.

This is Ralph. An 18 inch rainbow on a neighboring natural area. Note the dark color of his spots.

Released back home.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teach Kids to Fly Fish or just Get Out of the Way.

Get Kids into Fly Fishing

    What is the purpose of grandparents if not for getting their grandkids, bonus grandkids, and god grandkids into fly fishing? 
     But how? Tradition says hook them up with worms, bamboo pole and a lake shore full of sunfish. Yuk! Starting them out by killing worms won't point them in right conservation direction and letting them thrash about with a $5,000 bamboo fly rod seems a little bit risky. 
Gary helps Patrick with his first bass of the season on a spinner.

    Then there's the question of starting them out with a spinning rod or a fly rod. As an obsessed fly angler I just couldn't bring myself to do the spinning rod, although Patrick above seems to have mastered it quickly on the lake. Last year he told me, "Grand PerĂ©, I'll probably only use the fly rod you made me when I'm fishing with you."
     Given the competition from electronic gizmos with immediate feedback, convincing a 4 to 8 year old that fishing is fun seems to require some nearly immediate hook-ups. The excitement and fascination of connecting to a wild creature is a phenomenal experience for all involved.

   But fly casting could be a hang-up. Adults believe that fly fishing is actually fly casting and spend an enormous amount of effort when they are getting started reading, studying, practicing, and getting instruction in putting the fly in the air. I decided that kids are smarter than this and actually don't have the patience for it since casting in the parking lot is only esoterically linked to fishing on a stream.
   Four year old Eloise convinced me of this while watching her cast without an prior instruction on a lake near Chicago. Here's what her cast looks like a month later in Colorado :

Grammy points out the feeding lies to Francesca.
     I had a chance to take Max out on the iconic Gold Medal Roaring Fork River in Colorado. 
At over  a dozen trout 14 inches or over per acre, fishing here, like most famous rivers is not all that easy. These fish get large due to the fertile water and by surviving the heavy pressure of fly anglers.  I was nervous that he'd not get any action. 
The last time I fished with him we pretty much just watched the river. 

     I rigged him up with a peeking caddis that looked like what we had found under a rock. He was fascinated.
   I told him where he should try to get his indicator to drift and he figured out  how to flick or roll cast it there by himself. I helped him put in a couple mends but that seemed to be too much detail. We only spent about 10 casts in each pool as we walked up stream. I was astounded that after 45 minutes he was still at it and still interested. And then this happened.

And the release.

   I think he's hooked. The secret? Rig'em up and get out of the way. 

If you are an adult getting into fly fishing is much, much, harder. Luckily I wrote a book just for you since you are cheap, don't have the time, and are easily distracted. Check out 
"Getting into Fly Fishing for under $100." It's actually gotten some good reviews.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mending a broken graphite fly rod with a piece of carbon arrow shaft.

     When you build your own fly rods, sending them back when they break is a very short trip.


     It is certainly true that a life-time warranty can save your life and that of your fly rod. But it does take time, usually some negotiations, and occasionally an up-front cost. On the other hand, if you made the rod yourself, (See reposted Blog entry below) sending it back for repair means back to your own work room. 

To retrieve my favorite 7 piece 5 weight travel rod, sadly snapped in an upper section, I stumbled across a suggestion in the to use a chunk of carbon arrow made of the same material, the same way and what appears to be the same wall thickness as our graphite fly rods except on a constant diameter rather than a tapered mandrel.
      The broken pieces are made to snugly fit inside the piece of arrow using thread draped over the ends rather than masking tape and then epoxied. This will work for breaks only on certain upper sections of rods, but this is where I always break mine.  The guys at RMSGear Archery Supply in Denver are also fly casters and were more than happy to cut me a couple pieces from their scrap box at no charge.  Don't try cutting it yourself because it shatters and the dust is probably carcinogenic.
       Here is  a photo of my light weight emergency fly rod mending kit. The glue is to melt on a rod tip when it breaks off in the first section. The mended section is shown below the samples. So far so good. It seems to cast just the same. Now I'll try it on an 18 inch brown (I'm wishing.)

I used the pack bay finish for both the bonding the sleeve over the broken rod and costing the thread wrapped ends of the patch.
After coating the sleeve with the epoxy finish and letting it rotate over night using the Weber motor described below.

I took the time to label the rod this time printing a label on a black background in white letters, affixing it with clear packing tape, wrapping the ends and then epoxying over it and letting it turn for a night.

Updated:  Duncan Knots and Wire Ties to the Rescue

The brilliant Duncan knot secures the foot for wrapping things up.

     No matter how many times you count your fly rods the answer is always the same. You need one more. Using a 9 ft 5 weight above 10,000 feet for Greenback Cutthroats probably violates a dozen law of natures like, Newton's Second Law, "A body, like a parachute Adams, when acted upon by a force, like a loaded 5 weight fly rod, will travel in a straight line." In the tiny creeks where the greenbacks live, your fly will travel in which ever direction will result in an irretrievable hang up. The answer is obvious. You need a 7 foot 4 weight.
     Building your own rods is actually a lot simpler than Orvis or the Scott pro would have you believe.
You need just a couple objects normally found around the home.

  1. A rotisserie motor from your Weber grill, with a hunk of 3/8 square bar stock stuffed into a pierced rubber card table caster. See Photo.
  2. Newspaper to catch the spills of epoxy.
  3. Toenail clippers and a 5 pound barbell.
Make it youself wrapping station and tools.

     Everything else either comes in the rod building kit or you can order a la carte on line at places like Hook and Hackle. Hand built fly rods make great gifts, especially for people who otherwise would not have sufficient guilt or motivation to come fishing with you.

     As far as skills go, you don't need any. What you need are these two tricks that I'm about to give you. One I invented myself, thank you very much, and the other came from the storehouse of cheap, quick, and dirty tricks for parsimonious people, The Rod Building Forum. 

     Figuring out where to place the guides on the blank piece of graphite can take hours and over 5 shots of single malt. Screw this up and you might as well use a hand line. Formulae based on Newtons Third Law, F1 = F2 but opposite, don't exist and the cookbook tables that come with the kits have no idea how you are going to fish the rod.
     Wire ties to the rescue. After you have found the spline of the rod, epoxied it to the cork grip and rod seat, masking tape it to a coffee table with the reel installed. Then guess at the number of rod guides you're going to use, make small loops, and slip them on the rod. Thread the rod with your fly line through these faux guides, and stretch the line out to about the spot where you normally break off big fish and tie the line to the barbell. Then go back and slide the ties to a places where the line runs as close to parallel as possible to the bend of the rod. Then just mark the rod with a lead pencil at each wire tie, undo the whole thing and write down the measurement to each rod guide location.

Anchor the loaded rod vertically.

Wire ties simulate rod guides for perfect placement on your loaded rod.

    The next biggest challenge is attaching the rod guides to the rod while you wrap them. Thanks go to Perchjerker in the above mentioned rod building forum. He/she suggested using 15-25# monofilament and a Duncan Knot. Brilliant. They are moveable for alignment and when you are ready to take them off, the toenail clippers snap them off faster than a Skylark bartender on ladies night.

The final challenge is marking the rod. You need to do this because after your 6th or 7th rod you'll lose track of their provenance. Further more, when it inevitably falls off the top of your car as you drive away from the creek, or gets lost with your luggage, you may get it back if you've put contact info on the rod. Should you find your lost or stolen rod in the hands of an unauthorized user, it will give you cause to use your carry permit. I'm trying an ink jet printed label stuck fast to a clear piece of USPS package tape smoothly wrapped around the rod, then wrapped with guide thread at both ends and covered in epoxy finish. I'll post a photo if it works.

Weber motor, 3/8 sq bar, card table footie and masking tape.

UPDATE 7/14/2014  - Labeling the rod is still a royal pain for me.

    The use of the clear packing tape is marginally OK. You have to measure the circumference of the rod where the label will go, set the width of the label to that size (I use Apple Preview, Tools, Adjust Size). Using a background color close to the rod color seems to work better than printing on a photo background.

    In making a 10ft 4Wt for granddaughter Eloise, I couldn't find the wire ties, so I just used more Duncan knotted 25lb monofilament. It actually worked ok and I skipped one step by not having to mark the rod where the guides went. The rod turned out to be 10ft 4 inches because I used the first section, rod seat, and cork handle of another rod that I made but broke a few years ago. I built up the first section of the rod with masking tape,  just as I would have for slipping the reel seat over a fly rod blank, but instead I epoxied it inside a new 9 ft wt blank making the rod now 10 ft 4 inches long.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Trespass or Free Pass -It's all in the eyes of the beholder.

Trespass or Free Pass - It's all in the eyes of the beholder.

     The quest for access is second only to the quest for trout in my world. There are a number of legal, ethical, and practical issues involved but the bottom line is achieving a drift to a likely looking  feeding zone without getting shot at, yelled at, or perish the thought, arrested by the sheriff.
      I don't like to be where I am not wanted. The culture in the United States provides a plethora of places for me to be unwanted. Somehow I've developed the sensitivity to be absolutely convinced that I'm always on the wrong side of the fence, in the wrong line, or have shown up at the wrong time. 
     In England for instance, walking paths through feudal estates have a tradition and acceptance by the lords of the manor. In the United States, setting foot on a stone at the edge of someone's rented camp site is treated like a federal offense.
      There are huge National Forests near Denver with idyllic trout streams far from the noise of highways. Unfortunately through legal mechanisms I don't understand yet, access to these streams is often landlocked by bordering private properties. A quarter acre plot of fenced and posted private property along a public road that passes through a National Forest effectively blocks the ethical and responsible fly caster from access to miles of stream and at the same time provides the private property owner with a 100,000 acre back yard at no cost. In Colorado, unfortunately, the property owner has title to the stream bottom. 
     So the public is denied access to their lands acquired and maintained at large cost while the neighboring private property owner is given control of land they don't own. On the other hand, the fly caster has not paid the taxes, mortgage, fencing, or surveillance fees for the property owner and a property right certainly is the right to enjoy the property without the annoyance of seeing or hearing a stranger crossing your land. 
     I've been researching ways of getting to this piece of water for three years and think I'm getting close. I've found a piece of abandoned property along the stream who's ownership and control is muddled in the Colorado and Indiana University Systems. There must be a right of way conveyance in bordering property deeds allowing access to this isolated mountain plot. I thought I locate it yesterday.

My goal was to be within the National Forest Service Boundary. 
The trail behind me seems to be the missing route to the abandoned mountain lab.

After an hour of bushwhacking along a canyon wall I found this obvious road to the lab.
There was plenty of elk scat but this is obviously a hereford patty which meant to me that I was on Forest Service  property leased to a cattle rancher which would make it publicly available for a free pass to the stream.
      I had to cross one ancient barbwire fence breeched by a fallen tree at least ten years ago. I keep carefully to the outside of a string of "Private Property" signs and well out of the sight line to cabins. I trekked down through a canyon with a tiny stream which held brook trout.
Healthy and colorful brook along the way through the canyon. 
Finally I spotted one of the lab buildings used to house students during summer projects.

Water in the main stream was a little high and unwadable due to the monster runoff of 2014.

Just as expected in a natural stream there were side pools where trout can rest and feed during periods of high water.  I worked this pool for 30 minutes with 10 flies, hooking one on a flashback size 20 nymph and finally releasing on that fell for a size 20 barrs emerger.

Feet up for lunch.

It's not just about the fish.

     There was no way I was going to trudge back up through the canyon to get to my car when I could just fish back upstream to the road. This meant crossing that one 1/4 acre plot of posted property along the shore line behind the trees and brush. I took my chances and did not encounter either the property owner, an electric fence, or a large doberman. But just thinking about it kind of ruined the whole great outdoors experience. I've got to figure out how to get a free pass.