Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Monday, April 08, 2013

Baby Bass

Boulder County is blessed, not only with some quality trout water, but with a diverse array of warm water options as well.  Last Thursday I managed an hour or so exploring a new pond.  My original goal was to look for some big bluegill, but I soon realized that there were too many small fish to be worth messing with.  Some big carp cruising inspired me to try and figure out that species as well, but in the meantime I rigged up for bass or anything else that might hit.

Then I proceeded to fish, casting again and again with only an occasional tap to remind me that I was trying to catch something.  Those taps were mostly from bluegill with appetites much larger than their small size would normally indicate.  Eventually I decided to downsize.  Apparently the bass weren't hungry, or I wasn't stealthy enough, or maybe I'm just not a bass angler yet (definitely the most likely conclusion here).  Anyway, I was now changing tactics from let's catch some bass to let's not get skunked.  Those bluegill were looking pretty interesting at this point.

Only a couple of casts with the new fly (a Simi Seal Leech of course!!!), and I hooked up.  The monster took me for a ride all over the lake..........oh, wait, that must be from another story.  I quickly landed the bass, glad to have avoided a skunk although not entirely sure if baby fish count or if that just makes me a mean fisherman

Thursday, April 04, 2013

From the Office

Not a bad view from work!!!  I must admit, however, that it does occasionally encourage daydreaming. Yesterday, a few scattered showers moved across the front range.  Late afternoon sunlight lit up the precipitation falling over the Flatirons creating an amazing display between light and shadows.  Sadly, my camera was at home but before it was too late I remembered the old point and shoot was somewhere in my car.  The pictures didn't turn out too bad...

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


One of my all time favorite flies for a variety of situations is the Simi Seal Leech.  This simply fly can be modified to look more like a nymph or left buggy to serve as a great leech pattern.  And did I mention that it catches fish?

For years, this has been a late winter/early spring staple on the trout streams.  Tied sparsely and without brushing the long fibers out, it is a good generic stonefly nymph.  I fish it in double nymph rigs and have had days where it out-fishes more precise patterns like a bead head Pheasant Tail nymph.  Then there are the bluegill....

Ah, the bluegill.  I still have not found a good bluegill lake or pond here in Colorado, but trust me I'm starting to look.  Back home, early season bluegill were a great way to pass the time in between trips to trout waters.  Last year, I caught some big ones, including this one.

Yes, you guessed it, this brute and many others were all caught on the Simi Seal Leech.  It is my secret bluegill fly.  Of course, bluegill will often eat just about anything, but this pattern seems to be particularly successful.  Recently, I sent an order for a half dozen of my Ultra Wire Soft Hackles to Bill over at Fishing Through Life.  I tossed in an extra bead head Simi Seal Leech to aid him in his quest to catch 100 big bull bluegill this spring.  It worked great, so good in fact that I just sent him another dozen with some new color schemes.

The best thing about this pattern is that it is super fast to tie.  I find myself caring less and less about a fly looking good and more and more about effectiveness and ease of tying.  These flies just look buggy.  If you are interested in trying this fly for yourself, you can purchase the material straight from the originator, John Rohmer.  He has lots of other good materials that are also worth checking out.  Personally, I use Black Simi Seal dubbing the most followed closely by Crystal although there are a LOT of other colors to check out.  Try the dubbing on stonefly and other nymph patterns as well as for bodies on streamers.

I'm hoping to add some big stillwater trout to the list of fish I've caught on this pattern now that I live in Colorado.  The float tube is ready for spring and it will be time to hit the mountain lakes before we know it!!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tying Feathers

Do you ever want to try and steal some feathers from a duck?  I've come close to considering this one a few times.  Just imagine what all these feathers would look like on a fly.  If we could harvest these without killing the duck, it would be a great renewable source.  Instead of buying a bag of feathers, each tier would simply keep a small flock of various birds...  I'm sure someone would consider this cruelty to animals, but if I was this duck, I think this solution would be much preferred over getting shot...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Hiking is one of my favorite activities, after fishing of course.  Hiking in the snow is always a blast, and with the fresh snowfall, I got out on Sunday to hike Mt. Sanitas in Boulder for the first time.  What a great hike!!!

Monday, March 25, 2013

More Water

We had more open water last week on Boulder Creek than I have seen since last fall.  Alas, ironically, more water over the weekend shut things back down at least a bit.  The frozen precipitation that fell this weekend locked some of the better pools down again temporarily.  I fished last Wednesday evening for an hour and a half or so.  The water was low and clear making the fish spooky.

The weekend lockdown, while frustrating in the short term, is a real blessing as we need as much moisture as possible looking towards the summer months.  Before the big snowstorm, the creek was waking up with good midge hatches.  I even noticed some BWOs in the air at one point although not many.  The fish were all sitting out in the open, obviously hungry after months of ice on the creek.  The fish were on the feed for sure!

While the stream was obviously begging me to fish a tiny dry/dropper rig, I willfully ignored that in favor of a small streamer.  These days I often find myself preferring the streamer over anything else.  Maybe on my next trip I'll bust out the 3 weight along with some small dry flies and midge droppers.

Several fish gave chase to the streamer, but overall things were slow.  Finally, one little brown rewarded my persistence.  Not a bad mid-week outing on the stream!!!

The PB&J

Several years ago, I was faced with a "shad" dilemma.  A recent post on the Little River Outfitter message board reminded me of the great fun of fishing shad patterns during shad kills.  I developed this pattern to not only imitate the size and color of the naturals but also to get down deep where the large fish often are.  For those of you interested in fishing on top during shad kills, I recommend taking a guide trip with me or with my buddy David Perry.  A favorite technique is fishing flies on the surface during this time. I can promise that there is nothing more exciting than a huge trout sipping a dying shad off the surface as delicately as it would a mayfly during a hatch.

This pattern has been one of my favorites for big shad-eating stripers.  In fact, I have caught more big stripers on this pattern than anything else.  This fly can be modified to use plastic eyes so it has neutral buoyancy if you don't want it sinking too far.  I call it the Puglisi, Bunny, and Jelly, PB&J for short.  The little bit of red near the throat gives it a wounded appearance.  I'm a firm believer in giving fish that extra trigger to induce strikes.

Hook:  Gamakatsu SL11-3H or similar hook (also use Mustad 34007)
Thread: White 3/0
Eyes: Medium Lead Eyes tied in on the BOTTOM of the hook shank (original) (or lead-free substitute)
Body (top): White Zonker strip (I personally like the magnum strips for extra bulk and movement)
Body (bottom): White Puglisi fibers
Throat: Fiery Blood Red Jorgensen SLF dubbing with a bit more Puglisi Fibers tied in in front of the red dubbing

Note that the eyes are tied in on the bottom instead of in the usual Clouser method.  I find that for this pattern, it rides better and gets better hookups when the eyes are tied on the bottom of the hook shank.  However, it is more likely to snag on the bottom this way.

This fly is one of my bread and butter streamers.  When all else fails, I toss some PB&J and the fish will usually eat!!!

Learn to tie this fly HERE

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chasing Panfish

One of my favorite spring rituals involving fishing is chasing panfish as they put on the feed in preparation for spawning.  Bluegill, shellcrackers, and crappie all are perfect fly rod fish: they are aggressive and will readily eat just about any well-presented fly.  Here in Colorado I have focused mainly on trout, but hope to change that soon.

On my recent trip to Tennessee, I had to make a stop at the small lake near my parents' place that is my early season hot spot.  The stop turned out to be only about 15 minutes, both because I had friends along and because it was downright COLD.  Yep, I forgot how bone-chilling the humid air of the southeast can be.  The recent cold front had ushered in gusty northwest winds and after catching a fish, I was happy to head back home.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The crappie are not exactly on fire yet, or were not on that particular day.  My educated guess says that the crappie fishing improved drastically this last weekend with the warm temperatures.  Hopefully I'll find a good spot or two to chase some panfish nearby soon.  Maybe, just maybe, even this afternoon...

Monday, March 18, 2013

High and Cold

Spring in east Tennessee, Quill Gordons, Blue Quills, Black and Brown Stoneflies, rising trout....and don't forget the daffodils and everything else that combines to make this one of the best times of the year.  Conventional wisdom says that the bugs should be hatching around the first of March give or take a week.  By mid-month things should be pretty awesome, in a normal year that is.

The new norm is, well, anything but normal.  Last year the bugs were hatching a full month ahead of schedule in early February.  Shoot, I even had a day in mid-February that was so warm that it was NOT prime fishing unless you arrived early in the morning.  By noon the hatches were over.  Fast forward a year and a warm and very wet winter has been followed by a cool and wet spring, make that cold and wet.

My initial fears of arriving after the peak hatches were soon replaced by fears of no hatches.  In the end the actual conditions were somewhere in the middle but closer to the latter extreme.  My first day in the Park was last Tuesday, March 12.  While driving into Townsend, a text brought a call from my buddy Josh Pheiffer who was heading into the Park to fish.  After arranging where to meet, we were soon on the stream and looking for trout.

In a couple of hours of fishing, we saw a handful of fish with the best being a 15-16 inch brown that I fished for but never even remotely interested in my offerings.  I also missed a healthy brown on a big Parachute Adams but that was it.  The water was cold, high, and clear which made things a bit tricky.  Finally we parted ways for the evening with my dad and myself heading back to Townsend for the night.

Photo by David H. Knapp

The next morning brought back the excitement at being in the mountains.  I knew that Wednesday would be the toughest day in the Park but was dead set on making the most of my time there.  My dad was just along to hang out.  It was great having him along to chat with and made the long fishless periods go much quicker.  By mid-afternoon, the waters had warmed from frigid (upper 30s) to very cold (low 40s).  I wasn't particularly hopeful and had decided to just fish streamers.

My new 5 weight was rigged with a small white streamer like I fish out here on the local creeks.  My seven weight was rigged with fast sinking line and a much larger streamer.  I was covering my bases size-wise but was dedicated to fishing streamers on this day.

Finally, in a pool recommended by my friend and Smokies big fish guru Joe McGroom, I spotted a rise.  Huh???  The sun had not been out much, nevertheless, a few bugs were hatching here and there and soon I spotted a very nice brown rising to the snack.  The two isolated rises did not deter me from my original intent and I was soon probing the depths with the seven weight.

Gradually I worked out more and more line.  Casting was tricky with all the trees and high bank behind me.  However, I finally got something resembling a rhythm down.  Two false casts with a vigorous double haul would land the streamer on the far side of the current.  Three quick mends while throwing out more line soon had the fly swimming properly downstream and across.  On one of these drifts, something slammed the streamer.  Finally, a fish, I thought.

Fighting the fish through the heavy current, I soon had a nice glimpse and was thrilled.  Not a bad first fish of the year in the Smokies!!!  My dad graciously came over and took the camera from me to document this beautiful brown trout.  I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face.

Photo by David H. Knapp 

Photo by David H. Knapp

Something about catching a nice fish like this makes me appreciate my surroundings even more.  Instead of immediately fishing even harder to catch another, I took a breather and used my camera to help me remember that moment.  The water continued to roll past.  I noticed a single large boulder across the stream facing the onslaught of water and was impressed at the forces it had to withstand to still be there at the head of this pool.  Many Smokies pools are completely different this spring as a result of the high water this past winter.

Eventually, I felt like fishing some more.  Further up river, I came to a nice undercut bank with deep soft water next to it.  I just new there had to be a fish somewhere in there.  The soft water reminded me that I was still carrying a 5 weight in addition to the heavier rod.  I set the 7 weight down and started jigging the little streamer along the bank.  The second cast produced a spirited strike and soon I was admiring my second Smokies trout of 2013, a colorful 8 inch brown.

Again, I paused to enjoy the beauty around me.  On some trips, I almost wish that I could just photograph while someone else fishes, almost.  There is something rewarding to me about not only coming into such close contact with nature by fishing, but also photographing the experience for rememberance later.

My day was becoming better by the moment.  While landing the last fish I had noticed mayflies crawling out along the bank and quickly drying their wings.  The cold weather had slowed down the hatches but not stopped them altogether.  The little brown I had caught was obviously along that bank to eat the nymphs migrating to the bank to hatch.  I paused to wonder whether a nymph pattern would have fooled the fish as well, coming to the conclusion that, yes, it probably would have worked just fine.

The day was beginning to draw to a conclusion, but I had one or two more pools on my mind.  Heading upriver even further, I soon came to the last pool of the day.  Just one more, I thought to myself.  By this time, I had changed over to a big dark articulated fly.  The second hook was cut off at the bend to remain legal in Park waters.  Slinging the fly across the current and beginning the retrieve, I felt a tug after the first strip.  An especially hungry brown had grabbed the fly, and I was excited again.  What a way to end the day.

Soon I had my third and final brown for the day to hand.  My dad again graciously took pictures, and I slipped the hook out and watched the fish swim away.

Photo by David H. Knapp

Photo by David H. Knapp

Considering the water conditions, I think it was a pretty amazing day on the water.  Besides, the highlight of the trip for me was just seeing so many friends and family in Tennessee and visiting the Smoky Mountains.  Catching fish was just icing on the cake.

The final day of my Smokies excursion would bring yet another great experience, but more on that later.  Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures of the streams.

Friday, March 15, 2013


My trip home is nearing completion, but I can already declare it a success.  The Smokies were visited, and I even caught some fish despite high, cold water.  The last fish of the trip, the big one, escaped with minimal evidence beyond a couple of eye witnesses, so the makings of a great fish story are in place.  Lots more on this trip will be coming in the next few days.  In the meantime, I need to enjoy the last day here in Tennessee...