Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Blown Away - Fishing in South Park Colorado

Blown Away fishing South Park, Colorado

We scheduled a late April date with Reid Baker, Freestone Outfitters, assuming balmy pre-run off, blue bird sky, spring in Colorado conditions. Reid, suggested we postpone due to an early and extraordinary run off, a winter that was hanging on, and blown out private water that he'd planned to fish.
     But we already had it on the calendar and having fished with Reid a number of times, we knew he'd figure it out. I believe that Fred and I were the only fools in the entire state to believe a 20 degree day with gusting 40 mph winds was a fishable day.
Don't they look cozy and toasty. This is April 29th!!

     Reid decided not to setup the folding chairs, carpet, and hot coffee for us to use while putting on our waders because they'd be blown to New Mexico before our butts hit the canvas. As Reid opened the back door of the SUV, the wind tunnel effect, nearly pushed Fred and me out of the car.
     I rigged up my rod but Fred decided to wait. I think he wanted to confirm that this water was indeed fishable. After a long, long, trek downwind thankfully, to our starting position, Reid tied on a pegged egg with a juju baetis dropper, pointed out the redds we must avoid, and put me on the far bank in the above photo. He then started to set up Fred's rod. Fred and Reid both had brought wool fold over mittens to keep their finger tips warm. I had assumed we were past that and only had my cotton half finger gloves. I knew my finger tips where still there, I just could not tell exactly where they were. I bunched them inside my gloves and gripped my rod between my thumb and palm and attempted to control my free line for a cast with the claw left on my left hand. I managed to get a roll cast into the wind and let it drift. Not bad. 
     WHAM, the indicator disappear and DAMN, I'm hung up already. But wait, the hang up is moving. A huge rainbow rolled on the surface and started a run pulling line from my reel. Luckily, I didn't have much line out and I'd adjusted the drag so I could keep tension on the fish without fancy finger work. I brought him in quickly and even though I hate doing it, we got a quick "grip and grin" photo before releasing the 19 in fat, healthy, lake run, already spawned rainbow hen.  

This never happens. Best fish of the day on the first cast of the day.
     While I attempted to get circulation back into my fingers and cower out of the wind, I passed my rod to Fred while he was waiting to have his rod rigged by Reid.  He made about a half dozen casts to the same run. When Reid was finished, Fred handed my rod back to me in mid-drift. I fished out the rest of the drift and WHAM, another nice fish. I'd only cast once and already had landed two fish. If it wasn't a 45 minute hike against the 40 mph gusts of 20F wind, I would've loved to just call it a day and drink coffee, have lunch, stop for some bourbon, and mosey home. But honor among obsessed fly anglers, and dedication among guides dictated that we had to consider that Fred had not yet had a hook-up.
     It was another couple hours of leap frogging upstream under Reid's guidance before Fred starting pulling out two fish per hole on eggs and nymphs. His beloved streamers were not getting any love at all.

Reid came through:
  •  putting us on public water new to us, (we have 60 years of cumulative experience in Colorado waters), 
  • keeping us safe, 
  • lugging our lunch, 
  • untangling Fred's wind knots, 
  • scouting ahead of us for the best water, 
  • choosing the right flies, 
  • and getting us into some GREAT fishing.  
     There were moments when the wind gusts nearly toppled us into the water, when a little roll cast down wind would carry my line 80 feet perfectly into a stream seam, where all the guides on the rod were frozen shut but the guide on the ground miraculously was still tying blood knots in our 4x, and where the wind was so strong that the stream appeared to be moving in the opposite direction. And we were still catching fish. We caught, released, and hooked up to at least 20 fish between us.
     Mark Twain said that it's not really an adventure unless half way there you wish you were home. Well Mark, this blown away adventure will certainly qualify in my top 10.   

Monday, April 28, 2014

Willie during a Tweek

Fishing the Willie


 a Tweek

Sometime you hit it just right. The Williams Fork 4/24/2014.

 Fred Miller and I decided against the Colorado because at 1,200 cfs not even Fred's legs are long enough to reach the bottom. That left the Williams Fork which the dam powers-that-be had been running at a consistent high 6x normal, probably in anticipation of the big runoff starting soon. But when we looked at it on Monday night, they'd dropped the release to about 180 cfs. Hmm. If I was a nice healthy brown trout this could be nice and comfortable after the chaos of 380 cfs for many night. For the baetis, they were probably thinking, "Whew. Finally. The surface is not so far away. Time to spread my wings and get a little sex. "

We had discussed, ad nauseaum the night before via email, how we were going to get to the Willie. Would we walk 1.2 miles in from the Breeze Unit parking lot and then across the bridge over the roaring Colorado? Fred insisted the bridge was not there although Google Earth photos showed that it was there. (Anyone know if that's open to public use without gunfire?)  Or, would we take the parking lot just off RT 3 in Parshall and walk 1.0 miles to the Willie near the mouth.

We chose the latter.  Fred said, "It's just over that hill...." Then, "Damn. They've moved the river."
We did eventually arrive at the river to find it crystal clear under bright blue skies and running about 80 CFS at 42F. Perfect. It wasn't long before I had a nice brown (about 14in) on a pegged egg. Fred went on to the confluence with the Colorado just in case he could throw his streamer. 

     We leap frogged up the stream. Fred finally switching to dries when fish started to rise about 12:15 PM. I found a really nice looking spot that unfortunately seemed to have a dead brown lying in state off to the side. Damn. I hate to see that. Then I noticed that the clump of logs and brush it was lying against was actually a huge submerged elk, lying on its side with its rib cage torn open. Hmm. I'll bet that was an interesting story. Neither seemed to me to have been dead very long.

     There was a brown feeding just off the far bank which fell to my powers of persuasion on a size 18 caddis emerger.
     Just upstream of this rock was another brown taking blue winged olives from the surface. This one launched a monster take of my size 16 parachute adams which I was using as an indicator fly. Scared the s..t out of me.

     I stopped to eat my ham and cheese tortilla wrap and a couple malted milk balls and then snuck up on a likely looking pool behind a big rock. I was concentrating on my drift when WHOOSH! What sounded like a 2,000 pound moose hit the water just to my left. 
     "JEEZE!!!" I gasped and fell backwards a couple steps. I looked to the left and a 50 pound adult beaver was madly clawing at the bank from which he must have slipped when I broke his concentration. He frantically started swimming around the edges of the pool toward me and passed about 3 feet as he disappeared under an overhanding rock. My heart rate was 180, which if you know me, is clearly impossible. 
      Later I recounted it to Fred who was only mildly impressed since I didn't actually have a hookup with the beaver. 
      I asked Fred about the dead trout and he said he'd pulled it out and put it on the bank. 
      I asked him what he thought of the dead elk next to it and he said, "What dead elk?" 
     That's the wondrous thing about fly fishing in these wild places. Something unusual always happens and we all experience it differently. 
      Here's another release sequence. Doesn't it make you just feel good all over?

Hanging homes and lotsa browns.

Fishing Tommy


His 9/2013 Flood 

 Mike Hobbs and I fished the Big Thompson last tuesday April 22, 2014. The inlet to Estes Park lake was off color and high, and the stretch below the dam was a nice color, low, but wall-to-wall fly anglers. We headed down RT 34 toward Drake. The water was clear at what Mike calls the "Sign Hole", but both the Department of Parks and Wildlife as well as the Hole had been washed away or moved out of sight. There were however lots of fish of a nice size which I spooked and which Mike caught on a parachute Adams and a Barrs Emerger. 

 The river valley is quite surreal looking with the lack of vegetation along the banks, polished boulders and gravel along the water line, and houses with inspection and condemnation stickers scattered along the stream. Many are hanging by a thread to a small ledge of bank.

     We traveled downstream past a stream and road bank stabilization site where a huge tracked backhoe was in the river working the bank. We pulled off a couple of miles downstream and fished to some more nice browns before the muddy water stirred up by the backhoe reached us. It is ironic that Denver Trout Unlimited's home stream aquatic improvement project has been reduced because of sky rocketing construction costs due to competition with reconstruction work on the Big Thompson.
What makes it ironic is that according to Brian Peterson, of ECI Construction, the firm doing the River Vision Implementation Plan on the Denver South Platte, is that the cost on the South Platte is enormously high because them have to build a sheet wall the length of the project to divert the river, so that their construction equipment will NOT stir up this muddy water. There must be something I don't understand.

     About 12:30 PM and then again at 2:30 PM there was a very nice baetis hatch and the browns and rainbows just gobbled up our parachute adams and caddis emerges. A fine time was had by all.The fish looked really healthy both before and after their encounter with our dry flies. Here's a release lapse series to prove my point.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dialed in in wet underwear.

Dialed In


 Wet Underwear

      It's been a slow season so far for me on the Arkansas. I just haven't hit that moment when I fell "dialed in" with all nobs adjusted for the perfect signal. We stopped at the same fly shop as last time and got some of the same advise. I asked if we could return any flies that didn't work and Captain Taylor said, "Of course, these flies come with an absolute guarantee based on your excellent casting, your exceptional fly fishing skills, and your high quality equipment." We laughed about the LinkedIn blog that dealt with the difficulty a fly shop has with dispensing flies and wisdom to anglers of unknown skills and destinations. 
     Well this time I was not going to let any stray fly shop smack get into my head and impede my focus on figuring out what is going on in the moment with mayflies, caddis flies, stone flies, and trout at my feet in the Arkansas.
     I wanted to fish some new areas so Ned headed us to one of the many pull offs we'd not fished before. All the water looked great. Flows were about 550 cfs (kinda wadeable) and water temperature was a perfect 43F. 
     I started off with an orange stimulator as a strike indicator - attractor, a pegged egg, and a sparkle RS2. I changed after fishing some good water to a thing-a-ma-bobber indicator, some heavier split shot and a Barrs emerger , size 20 foam back emerger, and glue gun midge. No hits, no runs, no errors. None left on. I swapped out the midge for a black bead head yellow caddis larva. I removed the indicator and started straight-line high sticking. Two hits but none left on the mandatory 8 seconds.
     Three hours later with the same rig, I ventured into this spot. I picked up a nice brown on the yellow caddis larva. As I was maneuvering to retrieve my flies from ANOTHER snagged beaver branch, did I tell you I HATE beavers, a surprising rock hidden in the mud turned slippery and dumped me sideways into the Arkansas. In 15 years of fishing in Colorado, this is only the second time this has happened. I eventually regained enough balance to push my self upright with my wading stick. Hmmm. My right sleeve was soaked. Water seemed to have entered over the top of my waders and run down inside wetting my right leg and foot. Not a lot of water but I also felt the cold creeping into my crotch. 
     At exactly that moment I heard a gentle splash. A large brown rose again exposing about a third of his body. A rainbow next to him in the swirl of water midway up the right side of this photo did the same. 
     "Well alright then," I thought. "We'll feed them an emerger." I couldn't see what the hatch was. The wind was so strong it was probably blowing them off the water. It didn't matter. I had a fly I love to use in these cases.
     I re-rigged with this caddis emerger I learned to tie from Tom Flagler's Mid-Currents video.  Intuitively I left it unweighted figuring the swirls around the submerged rocks were tossing whatever is hatching all over the water column. I cast it above the feeding zone, let it drift with a tight line of 12 feet of leader and tippet and about 3 feet of fly line hanging from my raised 9' - 7 piece 4 wt fly rod. As it went through the swirl the FIRST time, I felt the tug and nailed a nice healthy 14 inch rainbow. On the next series of about 20 casts I had another 5 fish all of the same class, some browns and some rainbows. I'm dialed in! If I hadn't had a hit by the time the fly drifted past the swirl, I'd just lift the rod tip and induce a Leisenring like lift. Tug, another fish. 

My absolutely favorite part of fly fishing is shown in this sequence of photos.

This is actually a very nice Arkansas River trout.

     All definitely worth the 3 hour trip home in wet underwear. The fleeced I'd left in the car replace the wet shirt sleeve and turtle neck but why oh, why didn't I pack an extra pair of pants this time. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Can I Get my Neighbors Into Fly Fishing ?

Fraser chills out.  John tenses up.

Sunday will be another attempt to create fishing buddies,

 guide my neighbors into using less water on their inappropriate lawns,

 and shamelessly pump my book, "Get Into Fly Fishing for Less Than $100."

     I volunteered to put on a one hour workshop and book signing at my great local bookstore, called the BookBar, on Tennyson St, Denver. It's this Sunday, April 13, 2014 at 11:00AM.  I'm a little nervous about Fraser, the Greenback Cutthroat, who has been searching my neighborhood for his home water, pumped here under the Continental Divide, by Denver Water.
     Fraser is actually quite happy that the water company, a number of counties, and Trout Unlimited have come up with some plans to save his home waters so he can enjoy them in perpetuity. He's been resting in my tying room waiting for his big chance Sunday before the throngs at the free event at the BookBar. Every time I enter the room he just scares the crap out of me. I wish I knew what he was thinking.
    I'm thinking that one hour will be just the right amount of time to give Fraser a shot at getting people out on his water, go over the gear you can get for under a $100, tie a couple flies, try a flip, roll, and bow and arrow cast on the sidewalk, and practice some knots.  Ambitious? Of course.

      I'm going to send them out to Clear Creek to get started and have them look for water that satisfies a trouts needs according this ladder. Hopefully they'll find these spots and these fish.

I always share the stream and really appreciate the climbers staying out of the water above me.