Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Scouting

Having lived in Colorado for just over a year, I'm still learning the rhythms of my favorite trout streams.  One of my favorite aspects of learning new water is scouting.  These may just be the perfect fishing trips since there are no high expectations that can result in disappointment, at least not usually.  Often, I find the stream more generous when I don't expect too much.

One favorite river system has a fairly well-known fall run of brown trout.  Last year I pulled a nice 20 inch brown out along with some other beautifully colored browns.  The best time is while they are running to their spawning grounds.  Their aggression is general and directed at just about anything they see.  Once the spawn starts, these fish are focused and should be left to reproduce.  Most fish that are "caught" during actual spawning activity are snagged and this is not sporting.

Fall is my favorite season and what better way to bring it in than a scouting trip?  Last year, I knew the big fish showed up in early October.  I also knew that on my last trip a few weeks ago, there were only a handful of larger resident fish in the system and no runner fish.  Would the fish be there?

The weather was threatening Sunday morning, but that is how I like it for fall fishing.  Packing a fleece and raincoat along with the regular fishing gear guaranteed I would still be comfortable.  The drive was long but scenic which makes any length of trip a bit more enjoyable.  The highlight of the day was finding fall colors at higher elevations.  The aspen were incredible and not just the standard yellow gold either.  No, many trees had rich orange and even red colors as well which is something I'm not really used to finding here in Colorado.  One clump of trees was close enough to a pullout for me to stop and shoot a couple of pictures.  The threatening sky muted the light, creating perfect conditions for photography.

Driving further, I was soon along the stream I hoped to fish.  The very first access point was wide open with no one in sight.  Taking my time, I pulled on waders and topped everything with my raincoat.  The rain was coming.  Large nymphs and streamers would be my weapon of choice for what I hoped would be large migratory brown trout.

Working my way downstream, I quickly found my first fish in a deep but small run with an undercut bank nearby.  It was a pretty brown with lighter colors indicating it had moved up from the lake.

Then things slowed to a crawl.  Naturally, the stream teased me until I was nearly ready to quit before giving up another gem.  As is normally the case, the lake-run fish were spread out and hard to pinpoint. Things started to improve though as I stumbled upon some deeper runs and pools.  There were even a few redds showing up in the backs of the best holes.

By the time I got another nice fish, the rain was pouring.  Thankfully I had stowed my old point and shoot Pentax and again I blessed its waterproof capabilities.

Eventually the rain passed on, leaving clouds behind to remind me that the rain could come again.

The stream proved to be quite inspirational.  Sweeping grassy banks had me contemplating how good the hopper fishing could be if the nice browns were here throughout the summer months.  I know that there are at least a few nice resident fish although the brookies definitely seem to have an edge in terms of numbers.

Finally, in a series of impressive bend pools, I found some nice fish.  Not every fish I found would eat, but enough nice fish were coming to hand to keep my forgetting my growing hunger.

Finally, with thunder rumbling in the distance, I noticed the rumbling in my belly and decided it was time to eat.  I headed back to the car and drove to a nice spot where I planned to fish after eating.  I heated up some delicious chili and then added some Fritos.  Chili and chips have become one of my favorite stream-side meals when I feel like something hot and filling.  This day was no different.  The thunderstorm skirted off to the south but a few stray drops kept things damp while I ate.

While I was cooking, a gentleman from Kansas came by and asked if I had found a fly box.  Unfortunately I had not fished yet so had not found a lost box.  He looked for a while and was unable to locate his box.  I took his name and email in case I could find it but luck was not with me on this day when it came to finding lost stuff.

I was lucky as a fisherman however.  Working up the stream, I found one particular deep spot where trees had fallen across the stream.  Having spotted nice trout here in the past, I always toss a fly in when I am in the area.  On today, I carefully maneuvered into position and tossed my fly in between the two logs.

When a brown shot out to slam the fly, I was glad that I had 2x tippet on.  The fish tried to run upstream and down, but the stout 5 weight rod kept the pressure on, and soon I was slipping the big net under the fish.

Based on where this fish lived and its coloration, I believe that it was a resident fish instead of a lake-run fish.  I'm also pretty sure I spotted it last spring on one of my early trips to this stream.

At this point, thunder was threatening again.  The sky was ominously dark and the wind was picking up.  I decided to call it a day.  Not long after starting the drive home, the storm broke in its full fury, pounding the landscape with sleet.  The temperature dropped into the low forties.  Further south, I escaped the storm and noted white up high on the mountains above.  The first high country snow of the year had fallen and would continue into the night.  Fall is definitely here!!!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hopper Banks

Have you ever found a piece of water that just begs for a particular fly or presentation?  Of course you have.  We all have a particular log jam that we always toss a streamer at or a dry fly slick where a trout is normally poking its nose out of the water to the prevailing hatch.  We probably even have a favorite run that we prefer to nymph.  Back in Tennessee, I had a section of bank on a tailwater that had a bunch of overhanging trees.  Terrestrials were the ticket in the summer on that section.

Here in Colorado, I've been blessed to find more than my share of good terrestrial water.  My favorite banks are those slightly undercut banks with plenty of grass hanging down into the water.  Hopper banks...  I fly smacked down with authority can result in a major adrenaline rush, even when the fish doesn't end up committing.  Here's a nice piece of hopper water I came across today.  When you get bored at work and need a short daydream about fishing, think about the surprise that might be waiting here...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Drenched

I was there when the floods started.  At the time it was not clear that floods were on the way.  Where I was fishing, I got a firsthand look at what a Colorado cloudburst could do, not in the same way that we would see destruction over the next few days of course but still pretty impressive.  The forecast called for a chance of rain, but as the day wore on the clouds thinned.  As a good fisherman I hoped that the clouds would return.  When I arrived at South Boulder Creek at Walker Ranch, the sky was again starting to lower.  Off to the south it was darker and more threatening.  Perfect fishing weather.  It was Tuesday evening, September 10, 2013.

On the creek, I was surprised when streamers did not give me any results.  We are quickly approaching fall and the brown trout should be aggressive now or soon.  Fish were rising though.  It started to drizzle.  Quickly I changed leaders and added some 6x tippet. BWO weather.  I dug out my box of dries and scrounged around in the one compartment where I keep my small patterns.  A few #20 BWO Sparkle Duns were there from my tying spree last fall that came as a result of a fantastic experience fishing the little dries on Clear Creek.  By now the drizzle was falling harder.  Adding floatant was a challenge.  I leaned forward to protect the dry fly with my hat brim and body as I rubbed the Aquel into the body of the little fly.  Pulling out a bottle of Frogs Fanny, I put it conveniently into my pocket.  I would need a lot to keep that fly afloat.

Finding one of the best pools empty, I quickly moved in.  Rain was steady and my camera bag was getting wet.  Looking around, I noticed a small boulder with an overhang under a bush.  I shoved the camera bag underneath the overhang and hoped it would stay dry enough.  Fish were almost causing the water to boil with rises by now.  Every once in a while a larger mayfly would make an appearance as it labored upstream just above the water, all the while getting pelted with raindrops...or was it dodging them?

I settled into a nice rhythm. Cast, cast, set, land fish, release, repeat.  Some nicer rainbows started mixing into the catch.  The little rainbows looked a lot like the little 'bows I used to catch in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  It was raining, making it feel even more like home.  I could get used to this.

A gully washer moved in, pelting the water so hard that every 3 or 4 casts I was applying Frogs Fanny with the same procedure as the original floatant.  Still the fish were eating.  A guy from somewhere back east came down the canyon as he headed for the bridge and a quick hike out.  We chatted in the pouring rain and then he continued on his soggy way.  Even with my rain coat on I was getting drenched.  What a day to wet wade.  Yet another wallet drying experience loomed in my immediate future.  I checked under the rock to see how my camera was doing.  The bag was pretty damp.  Maybe it's time to hike out.  Fish were still rising though so I kept fishing.

The runoff hit the stream pretty hard just a couple of fish later.  I noticed the murky torrent along the edge of the clear water.  With the dam just upstream, I felt fairly safe from flash floods.  The road was another story though.  I've been bogged down in mud before and didn't want a repeat performance.  Hiking upstream, the real mud hit. I had left at just the right time.  The fish were still biting but the clarity would have changed that inside of 2 minutes.

Despite the wet conditions, the rain nearly stopped as I hiked out.  I was still soaking in the experience, literally and figuratively I might add.  The fishing experience was one of the best I've had since moving to Colorado, and it had been too wet to photograph any of it.  Apparently leaving your camera safely under a rock to keep dry is as good as leaving it at home to guarantee a great time of fishing.

That night, I reflected on the amazing trip I had just had.  With growing concern I noted that the rain was continuing and forecast to become heavy the next day.  I still had no idea what that would actually mean though.

Now I have no clue when I'll fish some of my favorite streams here on the Front Range.  Thus, it seems fitting that my last and best memory might just be of getting drenched...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Staying Dry

We are staying as dry as can be although unfortunately that cannot be said for everyone nearby.  The last few days have seen unbelievable destruction due to flooding here in the northern Front Range.  On Friday, I got out to photograph some of the effects.  Boulder Creek was still HIGH and rolling.  You could hear big boulders being rolled along the stream bottom.  I found this one spot in particular that was interesting to me, mostly because I had photographed it before and would have a good reference point for how high the water was.  Note that this photo was after the water had dropped a lot.  At the peak of the flood event the water was up on this bridge based on the debris we saw...

And at normal low flows...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Big Fish

All of us enjoy catching a large fish every now and again.  My preferred catch is the brown trout but of course I will not turn down catching other species and it is even better when they are large.  A month or so ago, I stopped to sample a small meadow stream I had never fished but that showed great potential.  I'll admit, I have a soft spot for meadow streams.  Perhaps this is because we don't really have such a thing back in Tennessee (at least not trout streams) and the novelty is what appeals.  Then again, maybe it has something to do with the fact that I normally catch some really nice trout on meadow streams.  Regardless, I was doing some quick scouting to see if I would want to return.

Mostly I was just covering water.  If good fish are present, you can usually at least spook one or draw one out from an undercut with the right techniques.  It wasn't until I threw in a bend pool well downstream of where I accessed the water that I saw the large shadow swirl on my fly.  Quickly, but without much hope, I threw it right back for another try.  Amazingly I had the same result but the fish again missed the hook point.  On the third try, I started ripping the small streamer back in my direction and this time there was no doubt.  A big rainbow had hammered the fly and proceeded to run around the small stream in every direction it could think of.

Chasing up and down the bank, I finally beached the tired trout in the shallows.  The fish was not a brown trout but you won't find me complaining when they are this big...

Friday, September 06, 2013

New Water

Having lived here in Colorado for more than a year now, I'm still exploring new water.  Some places are obviously way out of the way such as high alpine lakes.  Others are quite accessible, I just haven't tried them out yet.  South Boulder Creek was one such destination.  Close to Boulder, the tailwater section receives a lot of pressure.  Finding open water can be challenging.  The hatches are worth it though.

I arrived right in the middle of the day.  Sleeping in is always attractive on my days off so I had a leisurely morning.  By the time I arrived, I considered myself fortunate to grab the last open parking space.  Armed with my favorite 5 weight and ready to do combat with the anticipated crowds, I started walking downstream.

Whenever I fish tailwaters, be it here in the west or back east, I always notice people standing right in the middle of the better runs.  This day was no different.  Some of the best holes had people right on top of where they should be fishing.  So much for stealth.  Meandering down the river, I found some nice spots, but each time I was nearly ready to jump in, I would notice another angler already working the water.

A rough canyon stretch that was better left to the wild critters was finally free of any other fisher folk.  Carefully working my way down a boulder field, I pushed through the tangle of willows lining the stream only to discover that I wouldn't be wading far.  The water was deep and swift.

Very carefully I worked the edges.  Then I waded as far out as I dared and worked the far current seam.  Sure enough, tight to the boulder providing a break in the current, my first fish rose energetically.

After a few more casts, I noticed the water just upstream had been vacated.  Hating to fish used water but preferring it over swimming, I somehow slithered and stumbled my way upstream over rocks, through willows....and found a paradise.

The section I was now gazing over was a bit wider meaning I could wade all the way across if I was careful.  By this time, drakes, PMDs, rusty spinners, caddis, and a few stoneflies were all making an appearance.  I love fishing big dries and dug out a big Parachute Adams that was close in size to the drakes I was seeing.  Fish started to hammer the big dry as soon as I tossed it out.

Working the closer water first, I slowly started fanning out with my casting to cover the water meticulously.  On just the other side of the main current, I noticed a couple of rises.  Casting over, a better fish took the fly and promptly headed for fast water.  For a couple of minutes it was touch and go.  Then the fish went over the rapids below, and I just knew I had lost it.  Incredibly, the 5x tippet held, and slowly I regained control.  It wasn't until I slipped the net under the fish that I looked up and noticed several spectators giving me the thumps up.  Glad I landed that fish!

By now the hatch was getting heavier and fish were rising everywhere.  Proceeding slowly upstream, I caught fish after fish, missing as many or more than I was landing.  Most were small to medium sized rainbows and browns although every once in a while a better fish would eat.

Taking time to look at the scenery, I noticed signs of fall on the far bank and took time to take pictures. The heat is still holding on here on the plains, but it will be no time at all before the nights are cool and crisp and the browns and brookies are spawning.  The elk are already bugling up in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The best time of year has arrived!!!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Overlooked Puddles

Puddles don't look like much, but they can sure surprise you.  That's what I learned today.  A long drive through the mountains eventually led me to the headwaters of a rather well-known trout stream.  Normally I chase brown trout in this particular area and today my intention was the same.  Since moving out here, I have fished a large portion of the stream and have discovered that it has more nice brown trout than most people think.

Pulling in to a familiar parking area, I quickly grabbed my gear and started the short walk to the stream. I had barely started walking when I noticed something in a small puddle along the path.  A rise???  In all likelihood, the small puddle was the work of beavers at some point in the past.  The puddle was small enough I really didn't think of looking for fish in it.

Edging over, I was soon casting.  A small and eager brook trout swirled again and again but couldn't quite figure out how to eat my fly.  I was rigged up to chase brown trout after all, and a snack for a nice brown would be a 5 course dinner for this little brookie with leftovers to spare.  Again I tossed the fly out with the same result.  On the third cast, a larger shadow swirled and found the hook!

Not a large fish, this brookie made up for lack of size with its beauty.  I was just enjoying having caught a fish out of a puddle that I'm sure many other fishermen walk right past on their way to the real trout water.

Oh yeah, I caught a few brook trout in the stream as well.  I suppose I'll be tying some brook trout colored streamers for the browns this year...

Fish Tails (and Tales) Coming Soon!