Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

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...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lightning Over South Park

When my buddy Joe McGroom made plans to come out and visit for a fishing trip, I knew we would have great fishing because that is a given every time we get together.  What I didn't know about was the great bonus photography session I would be blessed with.  These pictures are looking out across Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir from our campsite in Eleven Mile State Park.  At this point, I still did not know how epic the fishing was going to be the next day but the lightning made the whole trip worth it even if the amazing fishing did not happen.

We initially spotted the storm from a distance while putting in our first two hours on the water.  The fishing was mediocre although Joe did manage one really nice 17 inch brown.  

Eventually we noticed the storm looming off to the east was actually building back in our direction.  Our conversation turned to whether or not camp would be spared from the storm.  Both of us were tired, especially Joe since he had woke up at 3:00 that morning to make it to the airport on time and had travelled west 2 time zones.  The last thing we wanted was a big storm to ruin supper.  

Thankfully, the storm moved to within 5 or 6 miles of camp and then just sat still, allowing for perfect photo opportunities.  The trip was off to a great start with a full day of fishing a short night's rest away...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Black Canyon

This past week turned out a bit differently than planned but the Black Canyon of the Gunnison was still on my list of places to visit.  In fact, I spent three nights camping down at East Portal.  The water was unusually off-colored and the fishing at East Portal was not the best I've had for sure.  For the second time, I hiked one of the inner canyon routes.  The last time I hiked the inner canyon I did the popular Gunnison route.  This time it was the Warner route which has nearly another 1,000 feet of elevation loss.  My legs are still feeling it, and I'm still processing pictures from the trip.  

Also while in the area, I fished the Uncompahgre River tailwater at Ridgeway and found some really nice fish.  Much more to come on this trip as well as the great time I had with my friend Joe last weekend.  I've caught more big trout in the last week than I have caught in Colorado since moving here so I promise there will be some pictures of large fish!!!  

Here is a shot from the bottom of the canyon while fishing via the Warner route access.  Pictures do not do the canyon justice.  Those cliffs are massive!!!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teaching Never Stops

As a teacher, having my summers relatively free is a nice bonus.  This does not mean I stop teaching though.  A couple of weekends ago, I went camping with a group of friends near Gunnison.  Fishing was a definite must and one of my friends had been wanting to learn the sport as well.  I told him that I would be glad to teach him so extra rods were packed and the dry fly box was well-stocked in anticipation of finding some brookies.  

The stream was a small one, out of the way, meandering through the willows and over beaver dams.  Some sections were considerably steeper with tight pocket water while others took on the meadow stream nature that I've come to love.  Both brown and brook trout inhabit this stream.  I tied on a streamer to look for the big guys while my buddy John started off with a yellow Neversink Caddis, size 16.  

Since the stream was so small, I knew he would not have to cast very far to catch something.  I gave a short informal lecture on the theory behind fly casting, showed him what he should be doing, then handed him the rod.  His first two casts were slightly errant, but after another quick tip he was throwing the fly right where it needed to go.  A little more advice on what to do when a fish hit, and we started fishing.  

I was catching a few fish here and there when I found a nice open section just above a beaver dam.  The casting area was definitely not as tight and there were fish waiting for a snack as well!  From up above on the trail, I showed John were to fish and how to approach the pool.  Soon he had snuck into position and laid out a nice cast.  A brookie came up to annihilate the dry and the battle was on.  John fought and landed that fish just like a seasoned pro and soon was posing for a picture of his first trout on the fly rod!  

Not to be outdone, I fished my way around some undercut banks and close to log jams hoping for a big brown.  One 14 incher (a really nice fish for this stream) came out but would not commit while my heart nearly burst from the suspense.  Later, I found a willing brown trout in a larger than average run.  A quick picture and I sent it on its way.  

John continued to do well and ended up catching several fish.  His smile showed that he was enjoying this new sport.  I was happy to be back on the water in Colorado after a month away from home and also happy that I still had a few weeks before school started again.  Teaching fly fishing is a lot different from teaching math, but only because it is outside instead of indoors.  There's nothing like being out in nature!!!

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Sporadic posts will continue, and as I'm enjoying my summer break I won't apologize too much.  I'm not a very good liar so making excuses will only go so far, and quite frankly I just haven't had the time.  The next two or three weeks will contain a lot more fishing however so I should have some good material for posts.

Also, the famed Trout Mobile has finally been retired. Okay, now that I hear your collective gasps from around the globe, I'm glad we have that little news item out of the way.  Having owned it for 10 years, I was a bit sad to see it go but the time had definitely come for some new wheels.  The old car took me many places that a stock jeep would have been scared to go (almost anyway).  At least in the short term, the new ride will be treated with utmost respect, unlike the old Trout Mobile as seen below overlooking the junction between the Gunnison and the North Fork of the Gunnison...

Tomorrow, I'm taking the new Trout Seeker on its maiden fishing trip.  Details to follow...

The Border

The drive to Denver via I-80 and I-76 is thankfully a bit more interesting than the I-70 route through Kansas.  Following the South Platte River always brings out the amateur history buff in me.  I think of the covered wagons headed west on the Oregon Trail or the first Transcontinental Railroad being built up this river valley.  The disheartening part of the trip is when you drive across the border into Colorado.  Looking north into Nebraska, you can see the lush river bottoms...

Looking south into Colorado, you see the part of the state that accounts for about half of the total area.  Not many people are thinking of this when they think of Colorado...