12/01/2008

Deckers Trip Nov 08

Well, being that it was a holiday week, with a long list of things to get done (as well as Rivalry Weekend in NCAA Football) I didn't manage to get out onto the river until Tuesday, and then it was only for about 3 hours. But 3 hours is better than no hours, so who am I to complain? However, once again, I didn't manage to get any pictures of my own, so any images posted with this blog are ones that I scrounged up elsewhere.

Since we were limited with our time, we decided to hit the Deckers area, just above the confluence of the North Fork, which is a very productive stretch of water. I don't fish this area often, but when I do, something good always seems to happen, which makes me wonder why I don't fish it on a more regular basis. In any case, we arrived about 10:30, along with a lot of other folks that had the same idea as us, but still managed to find ourselves a nice little stretch of water to work.

The weather was overcast and a little north of 'chilly' - especially being that I had forgotten my gloves (I be edumacated!) - but the fish were active, and there were some nice sized lunkers hanging around just waiting to be nailed. For most of the first hour, I was fighting the ice in my guides and on my line, which, as you may know, wreaks havoc with your cast and makes mending about as successful as Dane Cook trying to be funny.

Basically, I had no feelings in my fingers or my hands, so when I did manage to set my hook the first time, I pulled way too hard and wound up snapping my line and spooking all the fish within a 20 mile radius. I decided to move on down the river a few yards, and stood upon a boulder overlooking the water, and it was then that I spotted a monster. Seriously. This fish was in the 33-35 inch range, but it was in deep water, with three currents all coming together in a seriously messed up manner above and to his left - but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Besides, he was actively feeding, so the odds of hooking this behemoth were in my favor, right?

After I retied my line, complete with a yellow egg pattern, I stood on top of the boulder and started taking some practice casts to see if I could get a bead on the current. I knew that if I really wanted to hook this guy, I was going to have to get down to the river somehow, but for now, my vantage point directly above this guy was the best place to see where I needed to put my line, and how the current would drift my fly - thus the yellow egg pattern. I was able to see my fly in the water and see where it was drifting in relation to my indicator. Oh yeah, planning and strategy that would make Sun Tzu proud!

So after numerous casts to make sure I had it down, I moved off the boulder and wormed my way to the edge of the water. Now, I'm all for comfort and ease when fishing, and this was not it. I was now about 7 feet downstream from my target, between some bushes and balancing on some rocks. On top of that, due to my angle, the glare (coupled with the water's depth) made it impossible to sight-fish to this guy, and I was struggling to even see my tiny, yellow pinch-on indicator as it made it's way through the riffles on the surface.

Ah, but along came Eva. Good ol' Eva! She was making her way upriver when I asked her if she could get on top of the boulder and help spot this fish for me and, being the good sport that she is, she did. Keep in mind, she could have easily said "No, you're an idiot for even trying, and I am going to go fish" and I would have been good with that. But she didn't. Perhaps it was the macabre scene that was unfolding in front of her, and her morbid curiosity got the better of her. Whatever it was, she took the spot, on the boulder, about 8 feet above the water and started feeding me the location of this fish (he was actively feeding, so his position was constantly changing).

I had since changed to a scud pattern, and after a few tries, decided to change it out. Next came a WD-40 pattern, which actually got his attention, but alas, no hits. Getting warmer, though, so I switched over to a #22 blue Bead Head Copper John. And by golly, I hooked him. There was no shaking of the line and no 'bumps', just a feeling of extreme weight on the end of my pole as this guy took off across the river - and then he came back to where I was standing. Which was a good thing since there was no way in hell I could have followed this guy if he had decided to run up or downstream.

Now, I'm all for the enthusiasm and ambition that can come with this sport, and I will be the first to throw those words around like so many bead necklaces at Mardi Gras. However, those attributes are worthless without a PLAN. That's right kids, a plan. Let's see if we can't use this in a sentence that would better convey it's meaning: "What do you plan on doing if you do hook this fish?" Strange, but Eva asked me this very question, but somehow it bounced off my simian brain and went to where all my other responsible, adult thoughts go: filed behind my favorite episodes of Spongebob Squarepants that I have stored upstairs, never to be heard from again.

So yes, I was blinded by my ambition (and less than stellar mental capacity) and found myself outsmarted. Sure, I had a fish on the end of my line bigger than Gary Coleman, but now that the moment of truth had arrived I saw several road-blocks in my diabolical plan of Trout Domination. First, there was a large number of rocks the size of Larry King's prostate that I would have to navigate this fish through to even get him close to me. Secondly, there was no way I could net this thing by myself, given the precarious position I was in (or should I say on) if I did manage to make it through the first point above.

Well, Eva was there for me once again. She squeezed her way down to the water's edge and took my net and tried to make her way out into the water far enough to try and net this guy - but it just wasn't the most ideal spot to be hooking a fish to begin with and she was having a rough time. Coming closer to our position, he spotted us on the side and reversed direction and as he turned in the water, he came up and out, and I think that both of us let out a collective gasp at the sheer size of this fish, which was easily pushing 35 inches. On top of that, it was brilliantly colored and healthy to boot, and was the type of catch that just begs to be photographed.

And then my line broke free. That's right, I lost it. And with it, a little piece of my soul, which I had traded to the Devil, a few casts prior, for the chance to hook this guy. And as I watched this magnificent fish swim away, I could only be thankful that it was Satan, and not the IRS, that I had bargained with. The fish and I both got off lucky that day.

We fished for about an hour more after that, and then it was time to head on back to reality. Aside from the bitter cold we experienced earlier in the morning, it was a good time. Eva hooked a nice sized fish, and I managed two more of my own before we packed up. We're now into December, and hopefully we'll be able to squeeze in a couple more trips before the year is out. But until then, I will lament the loss of yet another big catch and hope that I have enough of my soul left to barter with on subsequent trips.

11/17/2008

What is it?

Let's face it, fish are fun and exciting to catch - whether you're into popping brookies in a beaver pond, or addicted to the rush of hitting a fatty in deep water (no, I'm not talking about slapping Dennis Franz around in the swimming pool) it's just plain fun. From little kids, to us big kids, it's a hobby that's easy to get hooked on (no pun intended).

As a beginner (and sometimes even as an experienced angler) determining what you've caught can be a little difficult. Is it a Brown? A Rainbow? Thats a good question, so let's start with the main types of fish that you're most likely to encounter here on the rivers in Colorado (and some neighboring states):

Rainbow Trout
Brown Trout
Cutthroat Trout (native to the area)
Brook Trout

There are a lot of other fish species to be sure, but I think it's safe to assume that, since this is a blog about fly fishing, that the fish in question would be trout, and that the water would be of the river/stream variety.

With that, let's break these down and take a look at each fish and see if we can't bring a little order out of chaos and make the fish identification process a little easier (besides - I've got nothing but time right now).

The Unofficial Fish Guide

Rainbow Trout: ah yes, the famous Rainbow. The unwilling participant of many a joyful moment (for me, at least - not too sure about the fish). Introduced to the Rocky Mountains in the late 1800s, these are probably the most plentiful of the fish here, being that they're a popular product of the hatchery system.

Since they are members of the Salmon family, they have the potential to grow quite large given the proper conditions. With adequate food supplies, preferable water conditions and room to move about, these fish, on average, will hit the 16-24 inch mark provided they meet their expected lifespan (5-7 years). However, they can, and do, surpass the averages quite regularly, and it's not unusual to find Rainbows pushing the 30-40 inch mark and weighing upwards of 20+ pounds.

And being that these fish love to jump, it can be quite an impressive sight to see a 25 inch bow on the end of your line breaching the water like a whale as you frantically try to keep him on the hook. Sure, he may try to go deep and run a little, but for the most part, it'll be a well-fought battle of fish versus the strength of your line, up close and personal.

How do you know it's a Rainbow? Well, my sticky little friend, it's easy: the first clue is the red/pink colored stripe (the rainbow) that runs the length of the body, horizontally. The spots on a 'Bow are also smaller than other fish (in most cases - there are exceptions) and the body itself is usually lighter in color than it's counterparts. I say usually since the body color can vary drastically among Rainbows (from light to dark) but for general reference, it will be lighter in color (silvery). Also, the spots will encompass the entire tail section along with the upper portions of the body, unlike most Brown and some Brookies.

So, you've landed a fish, and you've identified it as a Rainbow, and it seems rather large - but is it considered a 'big' catch? I would say if it falls within the 20-26 inch range, you've landed yourself a 'large' fish. Anything above and beyond that and you've got yourself a submarine and you better hope that there's someone around to get a picture of it, otherwise, it's just a story to everyone else (like 99% of my blog).

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Brown Trout: Like the Rainbow, the Brown was first introduced into Colorado waters in the late 1800s, and it's been my nemesis on many a fishing trip throughout the years. While most trout species can be elusive, it sure does appear (from experience and popular opinion) that these guys are tougher to catch than what would normally be expected. And the bigger they get, the smarter they seem to be which, unfortunately, cannot be said for me.

Also related to Salmon, the hearty Brown can reach massive proportions in the right conditions, which include an abundant food supply, stable water conditions and plenty of room to do all of the stuff that fish like to do. Since we're talking about rivers here, the average Brown is 14-21 inches, but can (and do) get much bigger. Like it's cousins, Brown trout can reach the 3-4 foot / 10-15 pound mark where river conditions permit, or if you happen to catch them migrating upstream from a lake.

Browns are also the more aggressive feeders of the trout world, eagerly (and I don't say that lightly) taking streamers or a well presented fly. Oftentimes, you can see a Brown on the move, looking for feeding opportunities. If you're lucky enough to get your line in front of him, the chances are good that you'll be rewarded with a solid hit. One time, while fishing the South Platte, I tossed a bead-head pheasant tail into a current only to see a Brown come downstream like a torpedo (from the far-side of the river) to hit my fly hard. Now that was an impressive display of aggression and it is one that I will never forget.

Brown trout tend to have a longer lifespan of approximately 7-11 years, and are very resilient fish, which means there are some whoppers swimming around out there in the rivers. They also tend to feed at night or in the early morning, which adds to their reputation of being hard to catch. However, being an opportunistic feeder, it's possible to catch yourself a Brown at all hours of the day.

So, how do you know it's a Brown on the end of your line? Along with the heavier olive or brown coloring along the back, this species has darker spots than a Rainbow (sometimes red with a black outline) which, as a general rule of thumb, does not entirely cover the tail. Also, the body coloring will be a yellowish (or cream) color. Keep in mind, like with all trout, these body characteristics can be different, depending on the river conditions, time of year, size and individuality of the fish itself.

So, is it a large fish, or a big fish? For a Brown, I would have to say that anything between 17-21 inches is a large Brown. And a nice one at that. Above and beyond 21 inches and you have yourself a bona fide hog (and hopefully a witness that is sober).

Hold the phone, you say. If Browns live longer than Rainbows, then shouldn't it stand to reason that the 'guidelines' for large and big should be greater for Browns as opposed to Rainbows? And to that I would say this: no.

And here's my logic behind that: as mentioned above, Browns can be a little more challenging to hook (whether real or imagined), and the larger / older ones even more difficult. Add to that fact that rainbows are more prevalent, and that would give you the method behind my madness. I know, it makes about as much sense as the BCS rankings in College Football.

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Cutthroat Trout: Out of all of the trout species found in the rivers here, the Cutthroat is my favorite. It's also a native species to the Rocky Mountain states, and there are approximately fourteen sub-species of this particular fish. Because of this, I am going to narrow this section down to generic descriptions.

Going out on a limb here, I don't want to say that the Cutthroat is a total Homer, but they do tend to be a little more gullible than their brethren. But, if you're like me, and you like a fight, then this works nicely in our favor.

When hooked, a Cut's first instinct is to head to deeper water, which means they will run. And they'll run hard. And unlike other trout, they rarely jump (which increases your odds of keeping them on your line) preferring instead to roll, wiggle and go deep, which means you'll be hoofing it alongside the water to keep up with them. I've only hit the backing on my line once while fishing, and it was a Cutthroat that was the culprit. I've also spent plenty of time trying to ease a Cut out of a deep run in fast water - which, if you've never experienced that, is not the easiest thing to do.

Along with the fight, they are, in my opinion, the prettiest of the lot. However, due to the different sub-species that we have available here in the Rockies, I'll stick with general descriptions that should apply across the board. First and foremost, there is the red, pink or orange colored 'slash' that runs along the gill, under the throat and along the jaw. In addition, there may also be a red / pink stripe that runs laterally along a yellow / cream colored (sometimes silvery) body. As far as spots, they can be anywhere from big, dark and numerous, to light and few, to somewhere in between. However the spots do tend to be more concentrated (and larger) the closer it gets to the aft end of the fish and the tail fin itself will usually be covered.

In most cases, you can expect mature river-dwelling Cutthroats to fall somewhere in the 12-18 inch range, and, depending on the sub-species, can live anywhere from 3-8 years. Of course, these are averages, and the Cutthroat trout can, and do, grow much bigger (in particular, the hybrid Cut-Bow) in conditions that are favorable.

So, after a well-fought battle, is the fish in your net large or big? If you're staring at a Cut that is in the 15-20 inch range, you've got yourself a large fish. Any Cutthroat above 20 inches is big, and if you land a Cut-Bow pushing the 30 inch mark, you've earned yourself a cold one. Or three. As well as bragging rights for the rest of your life. "Mom! Dad's telling that stupid story about the fish again!"

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Brook Trout: That's right, our little speckled friend, the Brookie, which was introduced to the Inter-mountain West during the 1800s. Technically this fish belongs to the Char family, and can be found in lakes, rivers, spring ponds and streams throughout most of North America. Rarely reaching more than 12 inches in length, they can hit sizes up to, and beyond, 15 inches. A friend of mine once hit a Brookie that was pushing 19 inches, and there are a lot of stories about 22+ inch Brook Trout being hit in shallow, smaller streams throughout the West.

While I can't vouch for the stories, I did see the picture of the 'monster' Brookie, so I can confidently say that at least one of them hit the 19 inch mark in some very small water. For the most part that would be the exception, rather than the rule, so expect your catches to be on the shorter end of the measuring stick here in the Western states. As a side note, they are the perfect 'gate-way' fish for the wee ones in your life, and the kids should get a kick out of the fight that these little 'trout' can put up when hooked.

Brook Trout are normally a dark green in color, with a multitude of spots, patterns and colors that adorn it's back and sides. Some colors that you can see in these bantam-weights are white, red, blue, orange, cream and black. The underside (belly) of these fish is normally an off-yellow to orange color, which can become quite deep during the spawn. Overall, they may be smaller than most, but they do tend to look impressive.

These little fellas don't have a lengthy life-cycle, usually only lasting 2-4 years at the most. And again, they really don't get too big here in the West, usually averaging in the 6-12 inch range when mature.

What's a large Brookie? Well, maybe one in the 8-12 inch range. And a Brook Trout that comes in over 13 inches would be considered big and, hopefully, you've got plenty of butter, spices and lemon to go with it.

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At the end of the day, it's about being on great water and enjoying the outdoors that really counts. But, it is nice to be able to identify your catch. The size guidelines that I listed are just that: guidelines. And they're strictly mine, which means you may or may not agree with them, which is to be expected.

But having a point from which to start is nice when trying to identify and measure up your catch. After all, how else can you tell your stories and still remain relatively 'accurate' (wink wink) if you have no basis from which to compare?



11/10/2008

Cheeseman Canyon Trip Nov 08

Ah yes, the first trip of November. Originally the plan was to try and sneak in one last run to the Taylor before winter set in but, unfortunately, Cottonwood Pass was closed for the season at the beginning of this month. So, the next logical (ha! Logic, from me?) choice was Cheeseman Canyon, an old, familiar friend (that doesn't ask to borrow money or pass out on your couch) that is always there, and never ceases to disappoint.

The morning started out early, with a quick stop by - SURPRISE! - Burger King for some (un)wholesome chow to sustain us through the day. From there, we hit the road for a very pleasant, early morning drive through the foothills and on into the back-country of the front-range.

After a 90 minute drive we arrived at the Gill Trail parking lot, and geared up faster than Oprah making her way to the dinner table. There's a sense of excitement and anticipation that comes with the morning of a fishing trip, and once there, the only thought on your mind is getting on the water. Or is it just me?

Once finished, we started down the Gill Trail, a relatively easy hike that takes you through some of the remnants of the 2002 Hayman Fire, which was the largest (and costliest) wild-fire in Colorado history. Along with the monetary cost, six lives were lost as a result of the fire which, sadly, was started by a Forestry Officer.

Initially, there was great concern about the impact to the river system, and the thought at the time, was that the South Platte would take many years to recover from the after-effects of the fire. Fortunately, the damage was not as bad as originally anticipated, and the canyon was re-opened for fishing approximately two years after the fires ravaged the area.

The trail itself is a work in progress and thanks to the help of countless hours of volunteer work, it is continually maintained and in great shape. This area is also popular with hikers, and on most days, you will see plenty of folks out enjoying the scenery of the canyon.

At the mouth of the canyon, along the trail, there is an informational sign about the canyon which shows the layout of the water, and all of the specific areas along the river. If you've never been here before, it's worth taking a peek at, as you can then scope out the three-miles of water that lay at your feet. It's at this point that the trail splits in two directions - left and right, and it's here, that we usually go left, down to the Family Pool and the Ice Box. Unfortunately there is no 'middle' trail, so all of you conservative Liberals will have to choose wisely.

Once down at the Family Pool, we wasted no time in getting our lines wet. Being so late in the year, the water levels are low, the fish are moving upstream, and they are amassed in huge groups that are easily seen throughout this section of the river. We started off by pulling some streamers upriver and, while the fish reacted positively to them, we just were not able to close the deal. On top of that, it was still a little cold in the canyon, and the eyelets on our rods were icing up, which made pulling the line in a little difficult.

After a few attempts, we switched over to nymphs, which is my favorite method of fishing a river. Eva went off and started fishing some runs and riffles, and watching her, I can honestly say that she is getting her cast down nicely, and her drift is looking pretty tight as well. Being that she's only been out on the river a few times, her progress is impressive. She's already hooked numerous fish (which says a lot about her presentation) but had yet to net one. But that was about to change.


Within a short time, I heard her call out that she had hooked one and, looking over, I saw her rod bent, and her line being pulled. She had landed a pretty nice fish, and I really wanted her to net this one. So, I sat back and watched, offering up some advice here and there, but for the most part, she worked this one herself. I did net it for her though, but once caught, I turned it over to her and she proceeded to do the rest herself. I think next time, though, she'll be just fine netting it herself.

As you can see, for her first official catch with a fly-rod, it was a nice fish. Landing a catch like that will get the adrenaline going and my hat's off to Eva for keeping cool under pressure and for a job well done. Welcome to the club, Eva, you're official!

Throughout the day, she had some close calls and near misses - she lost several flies to some hooked hogs, so it was a great time overall. I've always said that it's an easy sport to learn, but takes a lifetime to master, so every day out on the river is a learning experience, and this day was no different.

As for me, well, it was a rather strange day, and one that found me in a battle of wits with an albino Rainbow that held my attention for the better part of the day. I was determined to land this guy, who was in the 25-30 inch range and easily 3 pounds, but he was having a great time teasing and taunting me with his incandescent profile, snubbing my presentation time after time, all the while laughing at my efforts (not unlike most women, now that I think about it).

To say I was fixated on this one fish is an understatement. I was Captain Ahab and this was Moby-Dick and I had to land him, if it was the last thing I did. Plus, I believe that fish like these are magical and, when caught, they will grant you three wishes in exchange for their freedom. So, the thought of a lifetime supply of Cheez Whiz got the better of me.

In the process of trying to bag Moby-Dick, I hooked a really decent fish, which I did manage to net. Another time, with my focus trained on Moby, my fly was taken by an even larger 'Bow that was behind my colorless friend. I didn't know he was there, and as my fly drifted past Powder, I started pulling my line to recast, and my fly got SLAMMED. Hard. And it actually scared me slightly, being that I was not expecting it. He took off with my line, jumped once and broke the surface, broadside to me, and I realized how big it actually was, which got me freaking out again and screaming like a school-girl. And then my line snapped and just like that, he was gone, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth and a not-too-clean feeling in my waders.

After regrouping and retying my line, I went back to Moby and our colossal battle of wills. It was as if he was daring me to catch him...calling out to me in his little fish voice "I dare you to catch me". So I did. I finally hooked him, and after such a long test of wills, I proudly shouted out to Eva "I GOT HIM!" just as he shot off up the river. I had him just long enough for him to break the surface AND my line before he swam off to skulk, beaten and outsmarted by the slow guy on the side of the river that never stopped believing (this has made-for-tv movie written all over it).

Now, I'm no rhetorician, but I know that there is a good parable in there somewhere, such as, there's no such thing as free Cheez Whiz. In any case, I take great comfort in knowing that I am smarter than a pigment-challenged fish and will always remember (and talk about) my epic battle with Moby-Dick. Even if he did use his magical powers to cut my line.

11/01/2008

Inspiration Weekend


It's something that goes beyond just a desire, and is a calling that borders on necessity (or insanity?). Almost as important as sleep or food, the 'need' to get out and walk a stretch of water is overwhelming at times. Like today. An unseasonably warm, late autumn day, with lots of blue skies and plenty of sun. It's a calling that only another angler can understand or appreciate. While winter fishing is, and can be, a regular event, knowing that days like today are numbered until Springtime, makes the pull all that much greater.

On the other hand, it's days like today that allows us to plan out the next trip, visualizing every detail, fly, or technique. At least it does for me. But then again, I may not be right in the head. Yeah, it's safe to say that fishing is a deep-seeded passion. Maybe too deep at times.

And it's times like these that radical ideas are born - or at the very least, radical fly patterns. Years ago, while fishing a river with a friend, we were watching some large trout parked deep and low, and he said to me 'forget it, you'll never get those big ones.' And I thought, 'why not?' His reasoning was thus: they only go for other fish (or streamers in the right conditions) and due to the depth, the presentation would be tough to hit. Uh, yeah. 'Tell me where I can't go and I bet you that I see you there.'

I've never bought into that idea (one of many 'ideas' that I don't subscribe to), and so I mainly shoot for the larger sized fish, and in the process have landed some really nice 'smaller' trout. I will say this though, that they are more wary and not easily fooled and that it takes a lot of work and patience to hit them on a smaller fly. But being able to think outside of the box and being a bit unorthodox helps. Some would say that to laugh in the face of hundreds of years of traditions and anglers far better skilled (and wiser) than me, is arrogant. To that, I would say, I'm crazy, so I get a free pass.

So the challenge was, design a smaller fly that would appeal to the subs as well as the rest of the group - and it had to be easy to tie (sheer numbers) thus expendable. I did manage to come up with a pattern that was quite effective on the South Platte with the average to larger fish, but didn't seem to budge the truly massive hogs that I enjoy going after. Matter of fact, I met a guide from the Blue Quill, and after talking to him for a bit, he showed me a 'secret' pattern that he used quite effectively, and it was very similar to the one that I had come up with. I call that one sheer luck, being that I'm an idiot when it comes to basic thinking skills and comprehension. Like the old saying goes, put a bunch of monkeys in front of a typewriter and eventually they'll write a novel. Put me in front of a vise (the tying kind) and eventually I'll come up with something effective.

In any case, it was last night that I had a thought as to what may make this pattern more effective - and it's been close to the only thing I've been chewing on since, being that I can't get out on the river this weekend. The downside is, due to some 'events' over the past few years, I haven't been tying any flies. And my materials and tools are boxed up somewhere in the basement.

Which means only one thing: time to head downstairs and dig out my stuff and to start tying again. I've got this idea rattling around in my head like a BB in an empty tuna can and it isn't going anywhere. If anything, it's going to drive me insane (Poe anyone?) and, with a free weekend coming up, it would be a great time to get that pattern back in the water and tested. Sure, I may never find a single pattern that consistently appeals to fish across the spectrum, but it sure is fun trying (and I'll never stop believing that it can't be done).

Yup, it's weekends like this that inspiration (or madness) is born - and while I can't be out there, mending my line and tending my drift, I can at least dream, can't I?

10/29/2008

Cheeseman Canyon Trip Oct 08

Ah yes, a nice weekend in late fall, with clear blue skies, mild temps and three miles of classic tail-water at your feet. From riffles to flats, dreamy pocket water to deep runs, this river has it all. And what better way to start it off than a quick stop through the drive-through at Burger King followed by a drive to the river before the sun has even peeked above the horizon. Living a dream, I tell ya.

Heading south on Highway 85 (Santa Fe) we turn right, onto 67 (at Sedalia) and wind our way through Pike National Forest on our way to Deckers. This stretch of two-lane road is about as scenic as they get, as it cuts through the front range of the Rocky Mountains and into the back-country. Not seeing any wildlife on this drive would be the exception, rather than the rule, and this morning was no different. Numerous herds of deer crossed our path, and at one point, there were several deer running off to the left side of the road, keeping pace with us for some time.

Earlier this year, I came around a bend in the road, only to come face to face with a bull elk. And a big one at that. And he wasn't moving - not for me at least. On past trips, I've seen wild turkey, black bear, porcupine and just about every other animal that roams these parts, along with the standard fare of deer. Did I mention that I'm living a dream, here?

Once past Deckers, we made it to the Gill Trail parking lot, and quickly got geared up. So quick, in fact, I completely forgot to get ANY pictures, which I really wanted to get, being that this was Eva's first day of fly fishing. So let's stop here and get it out in the open right now. Yes, I am an idiot. An idiot with a digital camera, to boot. Did I get ANY pictures of Eva that day on the river? No, I did not. Why not, you may ask? Again, let me state that I am an idiot. Did Eva get pictures of me on the river? Yes, she did, because Eva, unlike me, is NOT an idiot and has the sense to know how much pictures can be appreciated after the fact. So now we know: I am a complete TOOL. Eva is not.

Like I said, being that it was her first outing, I figured we'd fish the Family Hole and maybe the Ice Box that day. These two areas are fairly open, with slower water and an abundance of fish, which is perfect for someone looking to make their bones in fly fishing. Once we got to the river, we saw that the flows were down (which was perfect) and that the fish were bunched in nice little pockets (even better). After moving off and practicing her casts for a while, Eva came back down to where I was, and the fun began.

After floating a #20 Bead-Head Hare's Ear, she had several hit's but didn't manage to set the hook in time, which is to be expected. We also noticed that a very large Brown was taking extreme interest in the black yarn indicator that Eva was using. So, we switched her fly out to a #16 Black Stone Fly pattern, and floated this one past him. Sure enough, he came after it but turned at the very last second. To quote Eva: "He snubbed me." Yes, Eva, he sure did.

However, on subsequent casts, she did manage to hook a rather nice fish on the same pattern - and after setting the hook, the line broke and she lost him. This all happened so fast that I'm not sure she even had time to weed through the panic of hooking a fish to actually 'enjoy' the thrill of it all. Later that morning, while using a #18 Orange Stimulator, we both watched as a fish rose, took the fly and went back down, with me shouting "Set! Set! Set!' the entire time. But alas, we lost that one too. But, it's all in the name of fishing, and it was turning into a great day of learning experiences for Eva.

Several hours later, while fishing, I noticed a large brown taking some extreme interest in my pinch-on indicator (which is orange). So I switched out my fly and put on a #18 Yellow Yarn Egg, threw on some serious weight, and ran it past him. Sure enough, he was all over that fly like a rat on a nacho. Too bad I yanked it out of his mouth before he could take it. Seeing if I could fool him again, I cast my line farther upriver this time to gauge his reaction, and again, he made a beeline for the fly. And again, I misjudged the timing and pulled it from his mouth. Third time's the charm, and if this fish hadn't learned his lesson the first two times I yanked his meal out from under his nose, then he's earned a trip into my net. I cast my line, and sure enough he was all over it. And sure enough, like a total goober that had had too many sugary treats, I pulled too soon.

It was at this point that I realized that this would be the perfect set-up for Eva. She would be able to see the fly in the water, see the fish take the fly and be able to set the hook - provided this fish didn't wise up to our tricks. So I called Eva over, and she put the fly on her line, cast her line in, and like a good little fish that was much slower than it's brethren, he went for it AGAIN. And, like me, she pulled too soon and yanked this poor fish's meal right out of his mouth for the fourth time in as many minutes.

Now, one would think that after four tries this fish would have gotten smart to what was going on, but he didn't. On her next cast, Eva settled down and this time, set the hook with precision timing, and was rewarded with the excitement that only comes from landing a nice trout. I was in the process of telling her to 'let the fish run if he wants to' when I noticed that he was coming straight up out of the water - I also noticed that he was bigger than I thought. He was at least 22 inches and wiggling like crazy on the end of that hook. I looked over to Eva and saw that her index finger was pressed so tightly against the line and pole, that there was no drag on the line whatsoever. That fish wasn't going anywhere - except up and out of the water as she raised her pole. Alas, a fish that big, kicking as hard as he was, will only stay on the line so long. And so it was, with saddened hearts, that we watched as the line snapped, and Bubba the Fish dropped back into the drink only to quickly swim away.

Ok, so hooking four fish on your first day out - that's impressive. It was a great day all around, and we left the river tired and happy, and making plans for out next foray back to Cheeseman Canyon.

As for me, I managed to hook several fish that day, and netted two nice ones. However, there was one extremely large Rainbow that I kept seeing throughout the day. He would swim in and then just as quickly, swim out, so I never really got a great shot at him. Until late in the day. I spotted him moving back up the river and parking in a nice little run right behind a rock. And this time, he wasn't all over the board like Robin Williams after several espressos. No, he was there, and he was feeding, and I was determined to snag him. Using a #22 Olive Scud, I drifted past him several times - the last cast actually getting a reaction out of him and allowing me to get my drift down. I cast again and this time he took it. Boy did he take it. And my line. Within a second of my set, he was off and running and my reel went nuts. By the time I was able to slow him down some, he was already across the river and pulling out even more of my line.

Eva was watching this scene play out, and after telling her that I 'finally got that big fish we've been seeing all day' she replied "yeah, but you've got a lot of line out that you're going to have to reel back in". Why yes, yes I do. Not wanting to hit my backing, and knowing I needed to slow this guy down some more, I adjusted my drag just as he stopped and reversed direction, leaving some slack in the line that I was desperately trying to take in. But too late. He took off again upriver and as soon as the slack played out, the tension snapped my line.

For the record, that would have been one of the biggest trout I've ever caught, hands down. He was big. And it was a great way to end an incredible day on the river. And rest assured, we'll be back for more.

Taylor River Trip September 08

I said I would make it back out again, and I did, sans my son. In his place was my girlfriend Eva, and together we enjoyed a fantastic autumn drive through the Rockies. Next to Spring, this is one of my favorite times of the year (and NOT just because of College football) - the air is cool, the color is fantastic and the crowds are down to a minimum. And let's not forget that the fish are feeding in anticipation of the upcoming winter like Oprah at an All You Can Eat buffet.

Heading west on highway 285 from Denver, we made our way to Buena Vista, which is a great little town in the Arkansas Valley right next to - surprise! The Arkansas River (which has some great fishing, by the way). Buena Vista is the jumping off point for some of Colorado's best recreational activities, such as white water rafting, skiing, hiking and fishing. On top of that, this little town just seriously kicks butt. If given a chance, I would move here in a heartbeat, instantly dropping everyone's property value over night in the process.

As majestic as the Collegiate Peaks are to the west of the town, they can't hold a candle to the wonderful little drive-in, K's Old Fashioned Hamburgers. After a long day of fishing, there is nothing better than a big greasy burger, onion rings and a chocolate shake to fill your tank back up. Conveniently located on Highway 24 there is no excuse not to stop here to clog your arteries and take a few years off of your life.

From Buena Vista, we head west towards the Sawatch Range, which includes the highest peak in the Rocky Mountain range (North America), Mt. Elbert and Cottonwood Pass, which offers some incredible views.

From here, it's a short drive to the tail-waters of the Taylor River and some mighty fine fishing. Being that it was September, the crowds were minimal. Actually, let me restate that: there were no crowds. Unless one person could be called a crowd, but he left shortly after we arrived leaving us all alone on the river. And to that, all I can say is WOOHOO!

Eva made us some sandwiches while I geared up - I think I took one bite before running to the river's edge like an excited schoolgirl (and probably giggling like one, too) to see where I would put my line in. It wasn't long before I settled in and started to fish in earnest.

Like most great stretches of river, the fish are desensitized to anglers - they see so many lines thrown at them in the course of a year that they're not easily fooled. And it may just be me, but they seem to be a lot softer on the take here on the Taylor, which means you really have to pay attention to what's going on. Which is tough for someone like me, who has the attention span of a circus monkey.

In the water in front of me, maybe 2-3 feet down, there were about seven large fish, stacked up like planes in a holding pattern. I started off by throwing a #20 Pheasant Tail their way, and they didn't budge. Nothing. I followed that up with a #22 Barr's Emerger and got snubbed. I mean, these guys didn't even flinch. So, I pulled my line out of the water, added a little more weight and changed up to a #22 Bead-Head Pheasant Tail.

Have you ever been on the river, tying on a fly, and just instinctively knew that something good was going to happen? I had that feeling, and I told Eva this was it - that I was going to land me a fish. And sure enough, I did. It wasn't the foremost of the fish (which was also the biggest) but one of the 'smaller' guys behind him - but land him I did. It was a great set and I felt him shake and start to run, which for me is one of the single most incredible feelings, and one that I never get tired of experiencing. On top of that, the reel starts to sing and your pole almost bends in half, and you know you're in for a ride because you've just hooked a hog.

And then the line snaps. Yet another page to file under the 'big one that got away' heading.

I changed out my line, and decided to go with a #22 Brassie - and went back to work. The big guy at the front of the pack was down low and feeding off of a current that was coming off of the rock in front of him and it was a tough drift to hit being that it was down so far in the water. But I kept at it, and my patience finally paid off when I set my hook. He bucked, he darted, and he popped off my hook. I scratched him off my list after that and focused on the guys behind him again.

A little while later, after a brief 'snow' squall, I finally managed to hit another one - and it was a nice fish. Within seconds of setting my hook, he was up the river and attempting to wrap me on some rocks. Now, people that haven't fly fished would doubt that last statement, but let me assure you, fish are smart, albeit in a Forrest Gump sort of way. They will try to snap the line by running you behind and around rocks and trees or anything else that may potentially cut your line - it's effective and they know it. And so do I.

After the second attempt at trying to wrap a rock, I decided to take a chance, and I horsed him back towards some shallow water, all of the while praying to the Fish Gods not to let my line snap. It was a move I wouldn't normally attempt with a fish this size, but I wanted to net him. Scratch that. I needed to net him. The Fish Gods favored me that afternoon, and within a few minutes, I had this fellow netted and my hook safely removed. And with a picture to prove it (thank you Eva!).

After that, I managed to hook one more, which subsequently broke my line, but hey, that's part of the game. Fishing rivers like the Taylor are a study in futility. If you go with a heavier line, the fish will spook. If you go with a lighter line, the fish will snap it. So what to do? Well, I don't think there's much you can do other than to enjoy the fact that you're out on the river, that there are massive fish in huge quantities at your feet, and that there is a big greasy burger waiting for you at the end of the day. Anything else is just a bonus.

Since that trip, Eva has taken up fly fishing, and she's actually very good. She's picked it up quickly and, even better, she absolutely loves it. I'm trying to talk her into coming back to the Taylor one last time before the pass is closed for the winter, and if we do, know that there will be another entry for this river in 2008 with a lot of pictures.

10/28/2008

Taylor River Trip July 08


This past July I had the opportunity to fish the Taylor River when my son and I went camping a few miles east of Taylor Reservoir. We had been fishing some beaver ponds located next to our campsite for the better part of the morning, and his interest in fishing was waning, so I made an executive decision to drive the 15 miles over to the tailwaters of the Taylor for an hour of Adult fishing.

Well, mid-summer on this river is a classic example of Combat Fishing, and this day lived up to that billing, esepcially being that it was a Saturday.

After walking up and down the access road for the better part of ten minutes, I finally managed to find a spot on a bend in the river. Granted, it wasn't the best spot - I was faced with a horrific angle with an even more atrocious current that would make my drift a real challenge. But, there was a nice place for my son to safely play at the water's edge and I needed to fish. So I did.

Now, here on the Taylor, the popular idea is to use a Mysis pattern, which is all well and good. It's the primary source of protein for these lunkers, and partially why they are so big. So that's why I went with a #20 Pheasant Tail. And, after a few casts (and weight changes) to guage the current, it paid off. In spades. With a nice 23 inch HEALTHY brown that put up one heck of a fight. It also took me halfway down the river, moving many an aggitated fisherman/woman out of my way in the process. All the while my son was yelling "My dad caught a fish! My dad caught a fish!".

Now, understand this - I came in, wearing shorts and sandals, unshaven and probably smelling less than clean after a day and half of camping. Within five minutes I land a really nice fish which forces all of them to pull their lines in and move out of the way for me as I work my way down the river (under their hateful stares) with a BIG, FEISTY BROWN on the end of my line. And all the while there is a five-year-old rubbing it in their faces. Yeah, I was feeling no love in the room at that moment.

So, after letting my finned friend go, I took my place back in the spot that nobody else wanted and, after twenty minutes or so, I hooked another one. A big one. According to the mark on my net, he came in just a little over 26 inches. A younger fellow offered to net him for me, but I declined (that's a smooth way of checking out what fly the other person is using). The only picture I've got is from my son, who actually snapped the picture of me netting this monster (it's actually not a bad picture when you consider it was taken by a 5 year old).

At this point, several guys on the other side of the river asked me what I was using and I jokingly replied "lots of skill." And, noticing the looks on their faces, I relented and told them that I was using a Pheasant Tail. Sure enough, within a few minutes, one of the guys landed a nice fish on a Flash Back. Go figure.

I went back and fished some more, managing to catch one other nice brown before my son lost one of his new Sketchers down the river, and I decided to wrap it up. All in all, it was not a bad two hours of fishing, and I knew I had to get back to this place again before winter. And I did.

10/05/2008

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Bead-Head Zebra Midge: simple, yet effective

One pattern that I use a lot (and that I rely on heavily) is the bead-head Zebra Midge. I know, from experience, that this fly is deadly on the South Platte, and for me, it's second only to a Scud pattern in terms of big fish landed. It's a mighty little workhorse that is effective year-round, in all types of water conditions (I know some purists would disagree with that last statement, but we can agree to disagree).

No, it's not flashy like a Copper John, or as intricately tied as most dries - it's the working-man's version of an effective fly, and even Paris Hilton could tie one with little to no direction. I only put it up here now, being that the spring run-off is starting to kick in, and these flies are great for said conditions (see the May 2009 post Stormin' the River).

Aside from being fast and easy to tie, these little SOBs are resilient, too - easily absorbing an Ike Turner booze-induced thrashing, yet still able to perform when called upon. Plus, they can be fished just about any way you want: shallow or deep, slow or fast, it makes no difference. They're so versatile, it wouldn't surprise me if I turned on the TV and saw Billy Mays shouting and abrasively hawking these flies to non-anglers, who gobble them up at $19.99 a dozen for no other reason than Billy told them to.

While these flies do come in different colors, the pattern that I've found to be most effective on the South Platte is the olive variation - that's not to say the red or black (or other colors) are in-effective, I'm just saying I've caught more on the olive flies. For you two-fly riggers, this is a great dropper.

While dead-drift is the main objective, I've also hit some fish on the swing with this fly, so keep your wits about you.

As for sizes, I've found a #20 works well year round, so for the most part, that's the only size I tie. However a #18, #22, or even a #24, could work well, too. And if you're feeling really saucy, try the red/pink thread and clear tubing combo with a black bead...mull that one around in your brain-bucket for a bit.

And finally, if you've never had a chance to really fish this fly, and you decide to give it a shot - kick me off a message and let me know how it went.

Bead-Head Zebra Midge

Hook: #20 Tiemco 2487
Body: 8/0 Olive UNI-Thread
Head: 5/64 Tungsten Bead (Nickel)
Rib: BR Silver Ultra Wire

Step 1

Start by wrapping your thread behind the bead and clipping off the tag-end.

Step 2

Tie your wire onto the hook and begin tightly wrapping your thread towards the bend.

Step 3

Wrap the thread down to the bend of the hook.

Step 4

Now, work your thread back to the bead, building up a nice taper as you go.

Step 5

Once you've got your taper, apply some head cement to the body, and rejoice in the fact that by doing so, you've just offended every fly-tying purist out there with your 'over-use' of head cement. Now pat yourself on the back.

Step 6

Now, begin by wrapping the wire around the hook, towards the bead - on a #20 hook, you should come out with 5 turns. I would say 'evenly spaced turns' but as you can see from the picture, that's not always the case.

Step 7
Snap off your wire behind the bead and whip finish. At this point, you can use your dubbing needle, a fingernail, or Howard Stern's penis to readjust the spacing on your ribs (looks like I missed one!) and you're ready to drift that bad boy.

Some examples of the fish caught on a Zebra between January and April of 2009. There's several more pictures, but you get the idea, though.


Flies

As much as I like to get out and fish different water, it seems like, lately, I spend every chance I get in Cheeseman Canyon. Even the fish are sick of seeing me up there. So, for what it's worth, here are the flies that I use on that stretch of water.

And let's make this perfectly clear up-front: in no way is this a definitive list - it's my list, of the flies that I use.

I'm no Pat Dorsey (not even remotely close, for that matter), but using the patterns below, I've managed to catch some fish in that canyon for the better part of eight years. And if a knucklehead like me can do it with the flies below, then imagine what you could do...


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