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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