Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth
Showing posts with label Clear Creek. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clear Creek. Show all posts

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall High Water

Historically, fall is the driest season here in middle and east Tennessee.  In fact, October is the driest month climatologically speaking.  More often than not, however, we usually see at least one good high water event in the fall season.  The worst ones are when it blows out the spawn up in the Smokies.  The wild brown and brook trout need all the help they can get, and a serious high water event can practically wipe out an entire age class.

This year we got lucky.  I'm sure my clients who had trips cancelled would be glad to argue that point, but the fish will definitely be in good shape this year for the spawn.  With some areas receiving over 5 inches of rain, area creeks, streams, and rivers were really rolling by the middle of this week.  Little River peaked at over 8 feet on the Townsend gauge which is in the vicinity of flood stage.  When normal this time of year is under 2 feet, you can imagine that we are talking about a lot of water.

With all the streams blown out and unfishable, I decided that a drive up to Clear Creek would be a great idea.  The chance to see both the fall colors and the high water was just too tempting.  Sure enough, the river was higher than I have ever seen it, although to be fair I don't normally drive up there to look at high water.  Still, the normally tranquil stream was up in the trees and generally looking quite dangerous.  The colors were nice as well.  We are very close to peak colors here in the Cumberland Plateau and should see the best of fall during the next 2 weeks.  Some spots have already reached their peak but there are still plenty of colorful trees to enjoy.



Monday, December 02, 2013

Finding the Rhythm

One of the highlights of fall fishing, at least for me, is finding reliable emergences of Blue-winged Olives.  Back in Tennessee, the small mayflies would show up on occasion, but here in Colorado it is not an if or a when but rather a given.  The little BWOs are so reliable on some waters that you can tell when the hatch is about to start based on when all the fishermen show up.  In other places, the hatch is a guarantee, but the timing might be a bit more unpredictable.

My first memory of hitting this hatch in Colorado is from Clear Creek last September.  The little browns were rising with abandon in the shaded pool where the stream hugged the cliff on the south bank.  Every now and again, a larger specimen would rise, leaving a subtle rise that was clearly the work of a more experienced trout than most of the splashy efforts I was seeing.  I fished a little Sparkle Dun, a #18 if my memory is correct, and the trout would eat if I showed them a clean drift.

Last spring, one particularly drizzly day found me torn between the BWOs and throwing streamers.  Most people who know me can guess that streamers won.  I'm still not sure whether or not that was the right choice.  Every single pool had numerous fish rising to bugs struggling to get off the water into the chilly mountain air.  The meadow stream eventually yielded a fine brown to my streamer, but I still wonder how the day would have been if I had fished a BWO the whole time.

Most recently, on a trip to the Arkansas River tailwater in Pueblo, I stumbled into one of the more epic hatches I've been blessed to fish.  Deciding to put my Colorado State Parks sticker to good use, I parked at the Valco parking lot.  An early morning departure had me rigging up in air temperatures that had just edged above the freezing point.  A fleece kept me warm while I started working my way down the river to explore new water.  The number of fishermen out was impressive, but finally I started to find water I could call my own.

Deep water nymphing was turning up very few fish, and I began to wonder if the decision to get up ridiculously early and drive all the way to Pueblo was a sound one.  The occasional tug on the line from small to average stockers was not really helping my mindset.  Once it warmed up, my mood gradually improved however.  I stumbled upon a family of deer in the brush along the river and was reminded to look for the little things that make a trip great.  It wasn't before I had finally wandered down close to the bridge that I noticed a few fish rising in the slack water along the far bank.


Refusing to acknowledge the possibility that it was time to change tactics, I stumbled on down the river.  Crossing at a point of shallow riffles to search for that deep run that I just knew had to exist and would be loaded with big trout, I saw a few BWO duns floating along.  That's what they were eating back there.  Still stubborn, I found a pool perfectly suited to my nymph rig.  Running the flies through time after time, I saw a few rise rings just downstream, then another a bit closer.  Not wishing to ignore the obvious for too long, I walked a few yards down to a nice long flat with several rising trout.

Digging through my fly boxes, I chose a #20 Parachute BWO with a hi-vis post that I tied a few months ago.  Extending my leader to end in 6x tippet, I was now ready to go head-to-head with these annoying trout.  Since when does any self-respecting trout ignore my delicious sub-surface offering of midges and BWO nymphs anyway?  After a few casts that did not produce a hit, I paused to observe.  Suddenly it was obvious:  the fish were rising in a consistent rhythm.  Somehow I was drifting my fly past in between each rise.

I waited for a trout to rise, then waited for the next rise.  Finding the rhythm, I waited until just before  the next rise and then made the cast.  The little fly floated for all of 3 feet before a chunky rainbow nailed it.  The next couple of hours proceeded about the same until I started to get hungry.


Wandering back upstream, I came across the same little flat where I initially spotted rising fish.  A huge wake from the back indicated that I had moved just a little too quickly for at least one large rainbow's liking.  Slowing things down, I decided to retie.  I had lost the Parachute pattern some time before.  Several other patterns had fooled trout, but I wanted something extra for the large risers I was now stalking.  A #20 Comparadun seemed appropriate.  Testing the knot and checking the drag was the last step before beginning to cast.

Several casts later, another wake quickly exited the exposed shallows.  Slow down, find the rhythm.  Refocused, I waited.  There, right against the bank.  The drift was particularly difficult since I was casting 35 feet across 2 different current seams and trying to drift the fly in the calm water outside the last current seam.  Again and again I expected to spook the trout, but somehow luck was on my side, and it just moved up a couple of feet before rising again.  Finally, the stars aligned.  The fly dropped just outside the main current, drifted a foot and a half, and was inhaled.  Six more inches and it would have started to drag.  Knowing my luck had turned gave me more confidence.  The beautiful 14 inch fish was not the owner of one of the large heads I had been watching another 20 feet upstream.

Releasing the fish, I again paused and observed.  Two large trout, the kind that are big enough to get your pulse racing, were rising a good 45 feet up and across.  To get a good drift, I took 2 steps forward...and saw yet another wake zigzagging frantically away.  One more chance.  Finding the rhythm, I waited for the trout to rise once more, paused, then made one solid backcast before sending the fly on its way.  The fish ate a natural 6 inches to the left of my fly.  After a short pause to avoid spooking the fish, I lifted the line off the water, bought time with two false casts, and presented the fly again.  This time the fish rose a foot below my fly.  This went on for probably 30 casts.  Every cast I expected to spook the fish, but apparently it was a day for fishing miracles.

Finally, the fly settled in 12 inches above the fish.  My adrenaline shot through the roof as that big head I had been watching slowly appeared below my fly.  As I lifted the rod, I knew that this trout was mine to lose.  The fish was smart, but it was also stuck on that shallow flat.  Once, it made a heart-stopping run towards the fast riffles below, but somehow I got its head turned.  When I finally slipped the net under the fish my day was complete.  I released the gorgeous rainbow trout after getting a good picture, cradling it gently until it slipped off to battle another day.


Continuing upstream, I discovered that fishermen had been fishing hard with nymph rigs the whole day.  The bugs only made it another 75 yards or so above that last hole.  Sometimes, a fishing day's success is measured strictly on whether you go upstream or downstream.  Thankfully, I went downstream...


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Clearly Stumbling Around

My fishing fortunes have improved drastically in the last week.  In fact, I have been on the water 3 out of the past 6 days which is doing well in my book.  The life of an assumedly responsible adult tends to not have time for fun activities like fishing and skiing (yeah I did that also in the past few days).  The warm water trip last Thursday is what kicked off the recent string of fishing opportunities.  Friday afternoon, after getting off work at 1:00, I was off to fish again.  My destination?  Clear Creek of course.

You see, there is something about this stream that keeps pulling me back.  After winter lockdown, I was getting a bit antsy to fish Clear Creek again.  According to the streamflow gauges online, it seemed likely that the entire stream was open through the canyon between Golden and Idaho Springs.  Of course, even without that bit of technology, the recent warm weather had me convinced that it was time to fish Clear Creek again.

I arrived and rigged up my trusty 9' 5 weight Legend Ultra with a streamer.  I was already convinced that I could catch fish on nymphs and wanted something a bit more fast paced.  Soon I was picking my way down a steep boulder covered embankment.

As I stumbled slowly down towards the creek, I grew excited.  That pool looks perfect, just one last step on that rock and I'm down...well, maybe two more rocks.  As it turns out, I'm not Superman, so when that first rock started to roll under my foot and I went airborne, I failed to maintain my flight.  The rock was large, between 200 and 300 pounds.  The whole way down I was hoping it wouldn't land on me while also thinking, this is going to hurt.

After completing a textbook perfect crash landing, I glanced at my fly rod.  Still in one piece.  Next I glanced at my camera bag and dug out the camera.  Also still in one piece.  That's about the time I realized that several previously unnoticed aches and pains were making themselves manifest.  My hand required the most immediate attention.  Blood was welling up from a nasty scrape that had removed a sizable chunk of skin on my palm.  Next I noticed that my elbow hurt, a lot.  And why do my legs hurt?  I need those to get around on the stream.

After a few minutes of sitting by the water and breathing slowly, I remembered that my goal was to fish.  I was clearly just stumbling around up until this point.  I took several additional minutes to put pressure on the bleeding area until I had it under control. No one wants too much blood all over their fishing gear.  Figuring I would just avoid putting that hand in the water and thus avoid infection, I finally rose to my feet and put the past behind me.  I'm here to fish, and fish I shall.  


Soon my streamer was plying the beautiful pool.  After the second cast, I saw a nice fish rise.  Enough BWOs were on the water to get the fish looking up.  Most fish were still sitting on the bottom I noticed.  After several more fish failed to commit to the streamer, I switched over to a nymph rig.  My Ultra Wire Soft Hackle with a RS2 trailing seemed like a good combination, and sure enough, the fish went nuts over the soft hackle fished deep.  I had to play with the amount of weight until I had the flies ticking the bottom but then it was game on!

The first fish was a healthy rainbow, and I soon caught another.  Pain was now a distant memory as I continued upstream.  After another angler jumped in right above me (helllllllllo people, there is a whole CANYON of fishable water...no need to jump in front of someone), I decided to head up to another favorite stretch I have fished before.



The nymphs continued to work very well.  In fact, I soon had caught so many fish that I started wondering again about the streamer.  Instead of tying on the same white streamer, I decided to try something darker.  A #8 Crawbugger tied in the style that Iain Emmons over at the Oak Creek Angler uses proved to be just the right choice.


I was surprised at some of the spots producing fish.  This new stretch of Clear Creek had more pocket water than pools.  In general, fish will pod up in the deep pools for winter, but it soon become apparent that the fish had spread out as spring approached.  I was either catching or spooking fish out of almost every pocket along the bank I was traversing.  My casts across the stream to the far bank produced fish as well.  The fish were hungry and willing to play.





Finishing up this next stretch of water, I decided to venture further upstream and explore a bit.  Not far above one of the tunnels I found some more good water.  Again the streamer worked its magic.  Lots of fish were following now as the light grew dimmer as the sun sank towards the horizon.  A few tiny fish managed to find the hook but mostly the streamer produced nicer fish.



As the shadows grew longer, I started bringing out the camera more and more.  A glow from the setting sun was reflecting off the water.  Trying to capture the moment was fun but also reminded me of my new aches and pains.  Laying down across the rocks to get the right angle was painful but worth the pictures...


Large snow banks were still present on the shady side of the stream.  Despite the recent warm temperatures and the fact that I had been comfortable wet wading, there is still a bit of ice to melt in the canyon.  I'm sure the recent snowstorm briefly added to that total as well.  In general though, spring fishing is here.





Clear Creek is now firmly entrenched as one of my favorite highly accessible nearby streams.  However, each stream has its own benefits, and I'm excited to explore the Big Thompson soon as well.  Maybe this weekend...