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).


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.


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!"


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.


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?


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.


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?