Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Beginning

Warm nights are still the norm here on the plains.  High in the mountains the trees are hinting at the cool nights ahead.  Pockets of aspen in the highest elevations are turning golden yellow, splashing their brilliant colors across the slopes just below tree line.  Back in Tennessee, colors would start changing by late September, but even here on the plains I'm higher above sea level than everything except the highest elevations in the Smokies.  Winter comes earlier here, and I'm intent on enjoying the mountains before the snow flies.

The beginning of fall is here, never mind that it does not officially start for another couple of weeks.  Last Sunday I hit a high country trail.  In addition to the brook trout coloring up for the spawn and heading upstream, the trees were proclaiming the changing seasons as well.  The streams are low and clear and the late afternoon storms are definitely on the decline as the monsoon slowly winds down.  Fish are hungry, putting on as much weight as possible before ice takes over the streams and lakes.  As a fisherman, I love this time of year, likely because I feel like quite the pro when fishing for such hungry and aggressive fish.

On Sunday, I only made minimal progress up the trail before the stream was calling me.  That's one benefit of exploring a new area.  Instead of doing the smart thing and heading far upstream, you can ignorantly fish wherever there is water.  In my case, ignorance was bliss.  The brook trout were hungry and coloring up for the spawn.  Brook trout are probably not more beautiful at any other time of year.  The next two months is the time to catch them, not to mention all the other hungry fish out there.

As the trail and stream nearly merged into one, I had a front row seat and soon decided to jump in instead of carrying on as a specter.  The first thing I saw was a nice 8 inch brook trout that casually refused just about everything I tossed at it.  In faster water, a fish rose to the buggy Parachute Adams, and I was soon admiring my first fish of the day.  I snapped a picture and then remembered a fishtail picture for my buddy David Perry.

Moving up through the steep pocket water, I managed a fish from nearly every deep pocket and some of the smaller less obvious spots as well.  In one wide pool a chunky and colored up male rose from the deepest water to inhale my fly.  My excitement level shot through the roof as I saw the colors.  I dug out the camera and snapped a couple of pictures.  Another picture documented the little non-descript run that the big brookie rose from.  I suspect it had moved up from the deeper pool immediately downstream, but maybe it lives in the flat run year round.

Glancing up, I saw the beginning of fall broadcasting on the stream bank.  Eight years ago, I was in Arizona for the fall and while exploring the White Mountains, I fell in love with aspen dressed up in their fall colors.  My camera was still out, and after finishing with the aspen picture, I looked upstream and decided to continue taking pictures.  Every corner turned begged for another picture.  The beauty of this place was just incredible.

Moving upstream, I found some more willing brook trout.  The average size continued to be excellent and I found two more larger males sporting their spawning colors and some intimidating teeth.

Like a kid in a candy store, I was excited to discover what each new pocket and pool held.  The brookies seemed to just grow in size as I progressed upstream.  The lower portion of this stream follows a road and the average size of the fish I caught there was probably a couple of inches shorter than it was along the trail.  Finally, I decided to scratch my wandering itch and climbed out of the stream to hit the trail.  Looking up I spotted large patches of aspen turning gold high above.  After snapping a couple of pictures of the stream I had just left as well as the colors on the mountain, I was ready to head upstream.

Crossing the first bridge over the creek, I stopped to photograph the brook trout jumping the falls.  Another half mile up the trail I discovered a sign suggesting that I might find Greenback cutthroat nearby.  Glancing around, I saw a little pool beside the trail with a fish finning that looked different from the brookies I had been finding.  On the first cast the fish rose and I soon had my first Greenback!!!

Catherine McGrath Photograph

A nearby cascade suggested pristine Greenback water above so up the high I went.  Before long, however, I became more interested in the scenery than catching fish.  The views opened up quickly and  the cascades itself was stunning.

Absorbed in taking pictures, I didn't forget to catch another Greenback.  After following gravity back down hill, I found a few more willing cutts before deciding it was time to head back to the car for lunch.  By three in the afternoon, I get pretty hungry even when thoroughly distracted by the spectacular fishing and great scenery.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Jumping Brook Trout!!!

These brookies think they are salmon heading upstream to spawn, or at least they were doing their best salmon impersonation.  The high country brookies are starting to color up nicely for the spawn.  Today I found many willing fish, but the highlight of the day was watching several fish repeatedly trying to scale a small falls.  They appeared to be moving upstream in anticipation of the upcoming spawn.  I got several pictures as the fish hurled themselves into the air only to be swept back downstream in the fast water.

While I was definitely pleased with the pictures, the real highlight is the following video taken by my friend, Catherine McGrath.  In just a 15 second clip, you can see three different fish trying to scale the falls.  For the best video, watch this in full screen HD...

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Thinking About Fall

As late summer holds on tenaciously with 90 degree plus temperatures here near Boulder, I find myself excited about the changing of the seasons that is almost here.  Before I left Tennessee, the dry weather had already started changing some of the leaves.

Here in Colorado I have found the same thing.  Long range forecasts are starting to suggest a significant cooling trend may begin by late next week.  Overnight lows in the mountains will be dipping down towards freezing which means the aspen will be turning a brilliant golden yellow, perhaps sooner instead of later.  In addition to chasing trout during my favorite season, I will also be out with my camera enjoying the beautiful transition to winter.  I can't wait!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dries Required

Upstream and to rising fish only...well, almost anyways.  I headed out for another short adventure this afternoon.  The original goal was to head for the high country but I had lots to do at home so decided to save the longer trips for another day.  Thankfully, there are fish to be had a bit closer to home.

Another trip, some more brown trout, and dry flies!  It doesn't get much better than that if you ask me.  I tied on the same dry fly that I fished last week along with a soft hackle dropper.  After picking up only 2 fish on the dropper, I noticed someone heading up the road with a fly rod in hand.  Suspicious that I had been fishing behind them, I persevered and started moving more fish right about where they seemed to have left the creek.  As brown after brown nosed the dry, I realized that the dropper was pointless.  The fish were telling me what they wanted and only a fool would ignore the mandate:  dries or nothing.

I removed the dropper and rummaged around in my fly box for just the right fly.  A mixed hatch was on including good numbers of mayflies (duns and spinners) but I decided to show the fish something just a bit different.  A yellow Neversink Caddis found its way to the end of my tippet, and now I was ready to show these browns how we do things back in Tennessee.

A few casts later I hooked the first of several nice chunky browns.  The fish began to come with regularity, even after the poor fly had been mangled to the point of no longer floating very well.  Several of the nicer fish were caught after betraying themselves with a rise.  I never did determine what the fish were taking although they probably weren't being too selective and simply feeding on the entire range of insects available at the time.  Regardless, the Neversink Caddis must have looked like candy.

The last pool had some serious big fish potential.  A big fish for this creek would probably be 16 inches or so but some spots just scream big fish and this was one of them.  I never did find that big fish, but I know its in there.  One of its more reasonably sized friends was willing to play though.  This one fish rose a couple of times and by the boil I knew it was larger than some of the little fish I had caught.  I cast and finally saw the fish swirl about the time I was ready to give up.  After a brief fight, I took a couple of pictures and then watched the fish swim under an undercut rock to recover.

I'm still thinking about cutthroat.  Next week, maybe.  I have a long weekend and am ready to do some exploring...

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Canyon

My adopted home waters by virtue of proximity, Boulder Creek as well as South Boulder Creek and the various forks of the St. Vrain are a small stream fisher's paradise.  The closest for me is Boulder Creek in Boulder and up the canyon above town.  Did I mention that it holds predominantly brown trout?  Most who know me are well aware that I enjoy catching browns perhaps more than any other species.  Its always difficult to complain though when something else tugs at the end of the line.  Really I just enjoy getting out on the water and away from the hustle and bustle of life.

Two days ago, I was able to do just that.  After leaving work, I headed home for a quick supper and then it was off to Boulder.  I had heard some good things about one of the area fly shops including recommendations from friends and acquaintances.  Eventually I'll probably stop by all the area shops but I think I have already found a new "home" shop.  Rocky Mountain Anglers in Boulder is a fantastic shop.  After only one visit, I would rank it in the top 5 shops I have ever visited.  That is an obviously biased ranking so you probably want to know how I determine my list of top shops.  It is actually pretty simple and based on one question: do the shop staff treat me well regardless of whether or not I am actually buying something or look like a real fisherman?

Many shops around the country are staffed by people who won't give you the time of day unless you are looking for the newest and most expensive fly rod on the market and definitely don't want to bother talking to you if you don't look the part of the fly fisher.  Maybe I'm just rebellious but I've never been one to dress like a fisherman when I'm visiting shops.  Rocky Mountain Anglers is now towards the top of my list along with Little River Outfitters, Blue Ribbon Flies, Taylor Creek Fly Shop, and a little tiny shop called Solitude Outdoors in Cedaredge, Colorado.  At each of these shops, I was treated like royalty, and for that they have all earned my loyalty and business.

My question at Rocky Mountain Anglers was pretty simple.  I wanted a recommendation on a good guidebook to help familiarize myself with the area.  Instead of selling me a book that might only offer limited insights, the shop staff took the time to look at my Colorado Delorme, making notes and circling likely fishing spots.  That is something average shops will never even consider unless you are investing in the shop's stock or other such nonsense.  While I may not buy a brand new rod from them next week, they will definitely have my business when I need all the random gear and tying equipment that keeps me going in the sport.

After my stop at the shop it was off for Boulder Canyon.  Time was somewhat limited so after driving just a few miles to find some nice steep pocket water, I pulled into a likely looking spot and rigged up.  The only rod I had with me happened to also be my favorite: an 8' 4 weight Orvis Superfine Tight Loop (one of the old Superfine rods).  I started with a Crawbugger on inspiration from the Oak Creek Angler who often utilizes this deadly pattern with great results.  The one big pool I wanted to try this pattern in did not produce so I went to plan B.  Rusty spinners were increasing rapidly in number above the water so I dug out a Parachute Adams that I had tied in more of a rusty brown color and added a favorite soft hackle dropper.

The first little pocket I hit produced several strikes before I actually connected with a feisty little brown that found the soft hackle dropper to its liking.  I started covering water and the fish came with more and more consistency as the light began to fade.  Considering how low the water was and that this was my first time, I think I did fairly well.  I fished for probably somewhere between 1 and 2 hours and caught between 10 and 20 fish.  I know that's quite a spread, but when you're enjoying the experience, my general philosophy is that counting should be the last thing you think about.

At one point I was surprised to catch a brookie although I know they are Colorado's version of the invasive species that has adapted a little too well to the local streams and lakes.  Coming from Tennessee, it is kind of nice to see the beautiful little reminders of home although at the same time it can bring on the occasional bout of homesicknesses for the mountain streams of Tennessee.

The brookie was apparently the exception as every other fish was a brown ranging between 4 and 9-10 or so inches.  Large browns are apparently extremely rare in Boulder Creek based on the research I have done.  The last fish of the evening came out of a section where the creek was beginning to narrow into a steeper stretch.  It was a beautiful pool that almost guaranteed a better fish.  Still, I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or the fish.  I had to resort to using the flash and realized it was probably late enough to head home.  The first of what I hope will be many pleasant hours on Boulder Creek was finished.

This afternoon I made the mistake of looking over maps of National Parks, National Forests, and famous rivers here in Colorado.  Now I'm already planning trips further afield.  This weekend I'm leaning towards a trip for cutthroat somewhere in the high mountains.  As the days shorten and fall approaches, I'll be hitting the larger streams for big browns, but until then you will probably find me somewhere on a small stream in a canyon catching willing trout.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There's A Brookie In There

How would you go about catching this fish???  It was just relaxing on the bottom of this beaver pond...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Colorado Living

Settling in slowly, mostly in between working, has left little time for exploration and fishing.  That will eventually begin to change but until then I will take what I can get.  Every day, the mountains loom on the horizon beckoning for me to come and lose myself in the vast wild spaces.  My car gravitates in that direction naturally.  I just happen to be conveniently inside when it does.

Last weekend, despite all the important things I should probably have been doing, I did a bit of exploring.  The scenery was naturally epic.  It is the Rocky Mountains after all.  The highlight was last Sunday's trip to Rocky Mountain National Park which is around an hour away.  There are so many mountain lakes just begging for a backpacking trip with a fly rod that it is hard not to just start hiking out unprepared.  Wild flowers could be found just about anywhere but never in profusion.

The wild critters were out and about although the larger species were noticeably absent during the middle of the afternoon.  This marmot was hanging out in the road and appeared to be eating gravel.  Actually there was a very small spring in the road that was producing a simple damp spot.  I'm still not sure what that animal was actually doing there but it was not frightened in the last by the car rolling by a few feet away.

We drove up the Old Fall River Road which was a nice variation on the normal Trail Ridge Road.  Fewer cars were venturing off the pavement and the road stubbornly held to the bottom of the canyon until several switchbacks took us quickly higher until we were looking back down on the trees and valleys we had just left.  On the way up, a stop by the now gentle stream allowed me to play with the camera just a bit.  I'm sure that in early summer the creek would be a raging torrent but not this time of year as dry as things are.

Above tree line on Trail Ridge Road, we took a bit of time to take in the majestic views before dropping down a bit towards the west side of the Park.  There we found a nice little picnic area near a lake which was perfect for lunch.  The chipmunks were active and before we knew it, our cameras were keeping us busier than lunch was.  We also saw several birds including the apparently plentiful Clark's Nutcracker.

After lunch, we regained elevation as we headed back towards the east side of the Park.  Very little snow remains but the high country is still beautiful although a little on the dry side.  The larger animals were still nowhere to be seen but we continued to hope that they might appear late in the day.  Our next goal was Bear Lake and after that, Sprague Lake.  

Easily accessible, Sprague Lake apparently has brook trout.  A large contingent of fly fishers were active, wading well out into the lake and flailing away.  It was apparently a fly fishing class or perhaps a club on an outing.  The scenery around the lake was definitely beautiful.  I stayed busy with my camera.  The wildflowers were glorious when you found them, and the lake itself provided some nice shots as well.

Heading back down the road towards Estes Park, we finally ran into some interesting animals.  A couple of large bull elk were out feeding as well as some nice bucks nearby.  A large herd of Elk was spotted nearby but consisted of mostly cows and their young.

Sometime around the elk sighting is when disaster struck.  I had tossed in a favorite 4 weight in the morning in the hopes of catching some trout.  The brook trout at Sprague Lake had energized and motivated me.  I had my sights set on Glacier Creek.  Stopping at a pullout near the creek, I opened the back door to pull out my fly rod and reel and gear and......................????  The reel was conspicuously absent and then I noticed that my lumbar pack was missing in action as well.  A quick and thorough search confirmed that I would not be fishing.  Numb with shock, I stumbled back to the driver's seat to head home.  The knowledge that my job would keep me too busy to fish didn't help the situation.  

Heading south out of Estes Park, I had time to ponder my luck.  By and by, an idea began to develop.  By the time we arrived at Wild Basin, I was ready to act.  Searching the entire car unearthed a braided leader and a couple of old 4x nylon leaders.  Guiding the car to a creekside parking spot, I put the fly rod together and began innovating.  My fly rod became a Tenkara rod as I attached the braided leader to the last guide and then attached the bottom 3rd or so of the 4x leader.  I scrounged around and came up with a nice Ultra Wire soft hackle in my favorite mustard color.  Finally, I was ready to attack the stream.  Working my way through the stream side foliage, I gingerly moved from one rock to another.  Soon, I slipped and quickly submersed my feet but realized it was not that cold after all.  Before too many casts had been made, I had a small brook trout fighting on the other end of my makeshift rig.  

Maneuvering around, I landed the fish and got a picture of my first fish caught as a resident of Colorado.  That fish made me pretty happy I have to say.  I had prevailed against the odds and still managed to find a way to catch fish.  In the process I realized that the simplicity of Tenkara has a definite appeal.

Moving further up the pool, I soon caught a little brown trout and another brookie before deciding that the day was a success and fishing any more would just be greedy.  I left with the knowledge that I had found a gem of a creek to which I will return.  I can't wait to fish some of the state's "famous" waters but the mountain streams remind me a lot of home and I'll hopefully be spending a lot of time on them before the season ends in a few weeks.  

Settling In

The initial high stress moments of moving are about over.  Settling in can take a bit longer though.  I hope to get things happening again here on my blog including a few updates and pictures.  If you have been wondering where I have been but did not notice that I was moving, I am now in Colorado close to Boulder.  Naturally I will be working hard but also hope to get out and enjoy the outdoors in this beautiful state.  Last weekend I even caught my first trout in Colorado.  More to come on that soon...