Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Care Packages

I'm always excited to get new gear or for that matter any fly fishing related goodies.  Recently, Ben over at Arizona Wanderings ran a fall season giveaway contest, and I was lucky enough to be one of the runner up winners good enough for a t-shirt and furled leader!  Today I was thrilled when I got home and saw a small package from Arizona Wanderings.

It didn't take me too long to rip it open the care package and find a t-shirt I've been drooling over for a while along with one of Ben's handmade furled leaders.  I'm already planning on a small stream excursion to see how much good luck came with the shirt and to try out the furled leader.  Stay tuned for more on that...

Ben, thanks again and hope to fish with you sometime!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

High Country Cutthroat

A couple of weeks ago I decided that it was past time that I headed for a high country stillwater.  The sheer volume of great places to fish means that some get overlooked.  Having fished rivers and streams all summer, I wanted to try something different.  Deciding where to fish was difficult since I have numerous lakes to choose from within about an hour of where I live.  Just in Rocky Mountain NP alone there are enough options to keep me busy for several years.

A bit closer, the Indian Peaks Wilderness also offers many choices and that is where I decided to go.  The particular area actually had a few lakes somewhat close to each other allowing me to hit more than one if the fishing turned out to be poor in my first choice.

At the lake, caddis where periodically landing on the surface and then skittering around for anywhere from a couple of seconds to maybe half a minute before disappearing in large boils.  Some of the takes were downright violent and with building excitement I rigged up with a #14 Elk Hair Caddis in black.

Maneuvering carefully around the lake while avoiding the low wet spots, I was finally in position.  On the second cast, a small cutthroat of perhaps 11 inches torpedoed out of the stained water to hammer the fly.  I promptly ripped it out of its mouth.  Bummer.

The next several minutes quickly showed me that the fish were spooky.  The rises soon ended, and I wondered if I had just blown my only shot at a fish.  The scenery was great though, so nice in fact that I  started looking around to take it all in.

I'm sure you all can guess what happens next.  I have a theory that fish have sentinels designated to spy on fishermen and whenever our attention is distracted the fish will spread the word that it is time to feed.  I heard the take rather than saw it.  After getting too excited on the first fish that was probably a good thing.  I reared back on the fly rod.  The full-flex 4 weight (say that 10 times fast) bent to a heavy cutthroat and the battle was on.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Using every trick it knew, the fish took more and more line until I was seriously contemplating whether I would be able to land it.  Thankfully, the fly rod's soft tip protected the 5x tippet just fine, and slowly I regained control.  The fish made several powerful runs, something I'm not really used to seeing from cutthroat.  More often they just roll over and give up.  Finally, I got it close enough to see it clearly the next time it rolled, and I got excited.  It was really colorful, looking almost like a giant goldfish swimming around out in the lake.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Not wanting to beach such a magnificent fish on a dry bank, I jumped in (I was wearing sandals) to land the trout.  A quick picture was captured before it gave a mighty thrash.  The look on my face in the second picture says it all.  It snapped the line on its way down and was gone.  I hated leaving a fly in the fishes mouth.  Next time I'm carrying my big net, even if it is a long hike.

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

Catherine McGrath Photograph

I'm developing a collection of awesome fish "escape" photos.  One of these days I'll share a post of "Escapes Over the Years."  Until then, rest assured, this fish fell straight into the water (which was really cold by the way) and other than some new jewelry escaped unscathed.  If you happen to catch a nice cutthroat in a high country lake that has a Black EHC, let me know!

Monday, August 19, 2013

One, Two, Three, Set!!!

My favorite fishing trips are those I take with minimal expectations.  A box of dry flies, a 4 weight fly rod, and wet wading gear is the recipe for a perfect afternoon on the water.  If I catch a few small stream fish I'm happy.  Big fish are not the goal here although deep down I always hope to catch a bunch of fish.

A week or so ago I experienced one of those rare days where everything goes right.  My destination?  A small stream in Rocky Mountain National Park.  To be fair, around here it might be considered a medium sized stream.  Anyway, back to my fishing trip, I hit the road at the lazy hour of noon.  A stop at Taco Bell and Dairy Queen for burritos and blizzards provided the fuel I would need to navigate the steep pocket water reach I hoped to fish.

At the trailhead I was happy to find a parking spot on the first try.  Soon I was hauling my favorite 4 weight out of the trunk, an old Orvis Tight Loop Superfine.  I attached the Battenkill Original Reel I've had for the past 15 years and switched out to a fresh 7 1/2 foot 4x leader that I extended with some 5x tippet.  This rig has fished with me across the country from small streams in the Smokies to spring fed streams in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

A complex mixed hatch was going on.  Little Yellow Stoneflies, Caddis, PMDs (duns and spinners), midges, and other assorted flying critters were floating the breeze above the plunge pools and pocket water.  I'm all about keeping things simple and selected a Parachute Adams.  It didn't particularly look like anything I saw on the water, but with opportunistic fish I figured that wouldn't matter.

Walking up the trail, I wondered if the tiny tributary stream flowing under the bridge just ahead held any fish.  Glancing upstream into the 5 inch deep "run" above, I saw a shadow finning in the current.  My casts were sloppy as I tried to sling the fly under the overhanging brush.

My backcast snagged, and I spent the next few minutes untangling things.  Finally, 5 or 6 casts into the experience, I got the fly somewhat close to the fish.  It turned and ate the fly without hesitation.  A brook trout to get things going!

Moving on to the main destination stream, I started casting.  The first cast was blind, but then I spotted a trout holding.  My second cast was too far right, but the third was right on.  One fish every 5 or so casts?  I'll take it.  Moving on up the stream and away from the obvious access point, I started catching nice brook trout.  Even though the spawn is still a month or two away at least, the fish are already starting to show their fall colors.

Best of all, each fish was eating the dry fly with abandon.  Brook trout are sneaky and their rises can be much more subtle than a rainbow would be in similar water.  Usually, when I saw the fly disappear, I would set the hook.  More often than not a trout would be on the other end of my line.  In fact, the trip reached "epic" status when I cast upstream to a boulder just above.  The fly drifted out of sight and I counted one, two, three to myself and then set the hook.  Sure enough, there was a brook trout dancing on the short line.

The stream alternated between steep pocket water and wider sections with nice runs and pools.  Fish were everywhere.  

I knew something was up when I started catching dinks.  It took probably 30 feet of stream to be sure, but I figured I was fishing behind someone.  Small fish were still coming to hand but the big chunky 8-10 inch brookies seemed to have evaporated.  The hour was getting late so I headed back down the trail.

When I passed a couple of pools that were huge for this stream, I had to stop.  Maybe, just maybe....

It wasn't until I threw all the way across alongside the undercut rock ledge before my fly vanished.  When I set the hook I was excited.  The potential large wild brook trout morphed into a brown and my smile grew even wider.  Variety keeps things interesting.  

Wouldn't it be crazy if I caught a cutthroat?  The slam was now within reach, but I was well below where cutts start to show up regularly.  The thought kept nagging though so when I spotted the nice "brookie" while standing on a rock I should have known better.  When I set the hook it didn't take long to figure out that this fish was not a brookie.  Cutthroat just don't normally seem to fight as hard, at least in my experience.  Thrilled to catch such a beauty, I snapped two quick pictures.  

A parting stream shot was in order.  The tourists had mostly left for the day so the rocks were barren and wild, just the way they should be.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Hunch

Most fishermen I know have a favorite place they like to fish or perhaps a short list of favorite places.  As I have explored my local streams, I've developed an affinity for a few select streams, most of which are within an hour or so.  A few trips have led me further afield.  Some ended up producing good fishing while others were largely a bust.  Back in the old days, exploring would often start by staring for a while at a map followed by daydreaming of the possibilities.  Technology has changed that.  Now I cruise the landscape on Google Maps, switching to the satellite view when I'm ready to hone in on a particular spot.  Further research happens as I search for every little bit of information the internet contains on a potential destination.  The ones I like most?  Anywhere that has very little information available.

When my buddy Joe McGroom was planning a trip out to visit, I naturally wanted to show him a good time.  Favorite fishing spots were reviewed and new ones contemplated.  After a bit of research, I started to develop a hunch about a certain piece of water.  We both have a soft spot for meadow streams.  Choosing to fish them in an unorthodox manner using techniques that can produce large fish, prowling grassy banks are one of my favorite things to do.  Recently this has been resulting in trips up to Moraine Park, but for Joe I really wanted to find a special piece of water that wouldn't be crowded.

When I informed him of my hunch, he was all in.  "David, you know me.  If you say 'meadow stream' and 'brown trout' in the same sentence I'm in."  That was what I wanted to hear.  Joe is a good sport and will enjoy fishing a piece of water regardless of how fast we are catching or not catching.  He is always willing to hunt for that one big fish that can make not just your day but even a whole trip.  The stream is quite out of the way and not the first place most people would think of to hunt big browns.  After considerable effort and time to find the stream, we were finally there and rigging up.

We both knew the routine.  Joe headed for the far bank so we could work upstream by leapfrogging.  The first  couple of bends were sadly lacking in fish, but soon thereafter Joe hooked up with a little fish of maybe 13 inches.  Chuckling at how most people would be thrilled with a fish of that size, we continued hunting.  My hunch was now being tested, and I hoped it would prove correct.

The next hole was interesting.  Joe snagged his fly on the far bank but did not want to spook any potential fish.  He called me up to fish the head of the run before he waded over to unhook his fly since he didn't want to break it off.  My second cast was perfect and a larger trout hammered the fly.  After one good jump, the brown (yep, leaping brown trout!) threw the fly, but we both were pretty happy.  The hunch seemed to be confirmed.  The fish was in the 17-18" class and super chunky.

Moving very purposefully now and really working the water, Joe was the next to hook up.  We finally had our first photo-worthy trout.  You can judge for yourself.  Not a bad fish eh?

In the meantime, I caught a couple little 16-17 inch fish.  I did not want to waste time photographing little fish so quickly unhooked them and kept on fishing.  Joe was again in line for photo worthy fish.  As soon as he hooked up I could tell it was a nice one and hustled over with my net and camera.  This fish had a weird growth or old would under his jaw.  You can barely see it in the second picture below...

Continuing on up the stream, it was finally my turn.  Joe returned the photo favor, and after a couple of shots, I let the fish go.

The next fish was also mine as we finally broke the twenty inch mark.  This fish came out of a rather unusual spot that was the perfect reminder to NOT ignore any water.  I was definitely thankful I fished it.  The best part was watching the take as the big brown slid out from under the bank and eyed my fly, drifting back in the current lazily and then slowly inhaling my offering.

Catching big fish can really work up an appetite.  Despite the good fishing, we decided to try a different spot over lunch.  After a quick relocation upstream, we were back on the water.  Joe was working the far bank when a big fish again materialized from under the undercut bank and the fight was soon on.  We had the fish in the net pretty quick, and I snapped pictures of another 20" fish.  This fish was particularly beautiful with that rich buttery brown color and a bright blue dot on its gill plate.

I found a couple of dinks but this spot was getting owned by Joe. The camera came back out, and I just enjoyed photographing the moment.

The crazy thing about this trip is how many quality fish we caught.  We both caught more 14"-17" trout than we knew what to do with.  The camera did not even come out until we hit at least 18 inches and not even for all of those.

My hunch had paid off more than either of us had hoped or dreamed for.  Sadly, when we got back to camp, Joe received some bad news from home that would lead to a late night drive back to Denver so he could fly home the next morning.  I still believe that day was a special gift for both of us since his weeklong trip was cancelled.  I'm sure that we'll fish this great place together again sometime but am not sure if it is possible to ever match our first encounter with this piece of water.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Moose Magnet

In many cultures throughout history, names bestowed at birth would eventually give way to a "grown up" name.  The name would usually be based off of a characteristic or perhaps even stem from some great deed done by the individual.  Usually names were earned and were a part of the rite of passage into adulthood.  No, I'm not changing my name.  Now that we cleared that up, I want to introduce you to.......drumroll please........the Moose Magnet.

Initially dubbed the Trout Seeker, my new vehicle has already carried me to some great fishing experiences.  In fact, I probably had one of my best days ever catching brown trout with my buddy Joe McGroom on a piece of water that will not be named.  However, while the car has been great at taking me to those fishing spots, it has excelled in carrying me to moose sightings.  During my first 11.5 months in Colorado, I spotted 12 moose.  In the 3 weeks or so since buying my new car, I have already seen 15 additional moose.  The only changes I have made in my trips is the vehicle that is taking me, so clearly this car will now be the Moose Magnet (much thanks to Joe McGroom for helping me to discover this important name).  Here are a couple of moose spotted on the car's first mountain excursion.  

Then, a couple of days later, a nice bull on another trip. 

Just a couple of days ago, I was finishing a trip with David Perry when we spotted 5 more moose.  Here are two of them, a mother and her young.  

While I haven't decided if fate is obviously insisting that I begin guided moose viewing trips, I do know that anytime I'm in the Moose Seeker, I had best be on the lookout for these large critters.  I'm half expecting some moose to move into my neighborhood just to be near my new car.  You can be sure that you will be the first to hear if there are any developments in that direction.  Until then, I'll be taking fishing and moose (or is it moose and fishing) trips as often as possible.  The high country is beckoning...