Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

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!


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.