Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Suggestion Box

There are some new ideas bubbling around these parts, strictly in the world of this blog. The debate is on, wondering if I should be posting Sunday evenings. Not actually moving the posting day, but have an additional short posting. About what? Well, I’m not exactly sure yet. I was checking over my stats and found that Survival 101: Water was a complete flop. On the flip side of that, This is a Tasty Burger and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane were the top 2. Burgers are read about twice as much as fishing. I do not want to turn this into a food blog. What about some fish science? Light refraction and dissipation in water, guanine crystals on fish skin, schreckstoff, UV qualities of different tying materials, fish perception of polarization? Any interest there? I’m not looking to gain extra readers (that is a great side effect though), I just don’t want to lose them. You guys are my virtual fishing buddies and I enjoy that. July marks month number 5 of writing and so far it’s going good. I would like to thank the people that read the blog, you guys keep me going. If you have any suggestions or likes and dislikes, feel free to sound off in a comment below.

Onward! To the fish! In the previous post, John and I did some hiking in the RMNP to fish some clean water. This time, I wanted to continue that and explore more of the area. If you were up there, you know that there are some trails that are buried beneath 10′ of snow. My destination was beyond that. Bridges were out and flooded, and with the amount of snow, we were forced back into the same water. After catching a couple fish, we decided that the drainage would have to suffice. The wind was awful and the pressure on the lake was growing. Because of the wind and the right time of year, the pollen from the local pine trees did the work of dusting for fingerprints at a crime scene.

Fishing on the creeks was amazing. So many people have walked along these places that the fish are not spooky and don’t react when you accidentally slap the water. Mostly small, yet feisty browns. Are there bigger fish in here? Sure! Check it out! The only fish we were into were 6″-9″ and too miswired to have their mugshots taken. We had to make one more stop for the day at the Big Thompson. The river was very high and as far as I could tell, it has been that way for a while. Undaunted, we fished. Nothing, not a twitch. We had stopped here on our way up and John caught this…

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there are tons of fisherman in Colorado. Even more than them are the hikers, bikers, and tourists. My search in the coming weeks will be for the unpopular areas of this state. The rougher turf, and maybe the nearly impossible. The rivers will begin coming down in the Platte watershed soon, and that means some water will be opening up to spread us fly fisherman out of one another’s turf. I’m sure it will be bringing some out of the woodworks as well. After yesterday’s heat, I’m sure that this weekend will be busy. After all, it is the weekend of the 4th.

Also, if you glance over to the left, you’ll see a list of writers that you will find enjoyable. Go have a read!

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Battle of the Buggers

Saturday night was the plan. Camp, then fish the morning session in some of Colorado’s most pristine water. Shrouded in darkness, the trip up canyon was tugging at dream strings that conjured giant fish in a slightly swelling river. Leviathans hiding in plain sight, seeking shelter from the increased volume of water, choosing pools to sip insects from the foam and catch monster insects zooming by in the current. The night was spent sleeping on uncomfortable stones, dreaming of the day to come.

Leave it to light to shed light upon what is really happening. The sun dashed all hopes of catching fish. Has anyone ever tickled you or pretended to punch you in the gut while you attempt your morning stretch? This was the reaction upon my sun greeting stretch. Dreams destroyed, dashed by photons and radiant heat from the sun. I cursed the sun for both ruining the fishing and my stretch. Without a second thought, the tent was packed into the back of the car as the car and I traveled out of the twisting canyon with determination. Sure, the river was fishable and fish concentrated in the eddies, more than likely aggressively eating washed down cranefly larva and huge uprooted stoneflies. In order to get to these fish, one would have to cast over 30′ across 2800 cfs of wild river and time casts between the hordes of rafters. Not my cup of tea. Heck, I don’t even drink tea. Time to go home, tie some flies, and come up with a new plan.

While t wisting feathers around a hook, thoughts of tailwaters crossed my mind. Great idea! Controlled water, low sediment, big fish… Wait, why am I tying buggers? I need to be tying UFO’s, RS2’s, WD40’s, C3P0’s, R2D2’s and other assorted minuscule patterns. Admittedly, the last 2 are Star Wars droids.

There is some back story involved that didn’t make it into the last post completely. When John flew down to NM for the fishing trip, his transportation back to Denver was my car. Long story short, I moved to Denver with John inviting me into his home as a roomie. Am I too old to be or have a roomie? Yes. I needed a new start on life. You could consider it running away from the fires of hell. I mean, all 4 good places to fish in NM are on fire, or at least they will be at one point. Now, I’m a White Sucker in a pond full of Tiger Muskies. In a place where everyone is a guide and I’m just a guy fishing someone else’s secret turf. I apologize in advance to anyone that comes across some NM license plates in their favorite place. I’ll try not to make much of an impact. Because of this, I will not mention where I go anymore out of respect for other bloggers and guides. Unless it is an obviously busy stretch of river.

Back to the story at hand. After finishing tying, John had arrived, expecting to fish. For trips into unknown water, the shotgun approach works very well. Just pick an area with a lot of water and explore. Easier said than done here in Colorado. There is fishable water EVERYWHERE! Digging through my wallet, I found a card for the RMNP. Still good until September and the ultimate shotgun approach. John asked where we were going. I replied by pointing to a map. “Somewhere here. There has to be camping somewhere.” Off we went to find fish. Directly after setting up camp, the downpour began. Lightening touched down closely and abruptly boomed and the tent showed it’s weakness. The leaks. We needed pots and pans. After securing the 2 driest places in the tent, the rain and thunder did it’s job of lulling me to sleep. Again, I had dreams of fishing. This time, nightmares of raging waters.

I naturally sprang to attention at 5am and put on my shoe. Yes, 1 shoe. The other of my recently purchased shoes acted as a catch pool to a leak. 36° outside. 1 wet shoe, 1 wading boot. Why not both wading boots? Have you ever worn wading boots without waders before? It is like those shoes they give you when you break your ankle.

We stopped early and close, and lingered too long at a lake full of actively spawning fish after a rainstorm during a moon that said no way. Sure, we had plenty of strikes, but subtlety ruled the day and the wind did a great job of masking the subtlety. Not a fish to hand. Maybe after the spawn. During my slow approach to a skunking, it dawned on me. If the run off is bad here, it isn’t bad where there is still snow. The back country. You would assume that I would naturally gravitate toward it, but it wan’t really an idea until that moment. Then, after slipping into the lake with my other dry shoe, we left.

Glacier water is clear right?

A 20 minute drive turned into an hour due to amateur photographers parking dead-center in the road taking 400 photos of each individual elk for which there were thousands. I’ve never seen an elk in full velvet before, but wasn’t about to clog traffic to get a better look at an elk that was standing 5 feet from the road. It really loses its magic when they don’t want to run away. There was fishing to be done, and not much day left to do so.

We lost the trail in the snow and tourists experts without fishing gear along the way commented, “There aren’t any fish up there.” There was still a lot of snow. The temps had plummeted overnight and stayed that way. The mountains unleashed wind and rain to further increase the cold, but we pressed on.  Both John and I driven by the feeling of setting a hook. Over the last hill, there it was. Crystal clear and perfect, begging to be fished. John was the first to entice a fish with the bugger that he left tied on. I thought I could get the one-up by running a midge. I was denied.

My hands, John's fish

After John brought 3 fish to hand, I was forced to change to what was working. A Woolly Bugger. The cutthroat killer. The water was so clear that we couldn’t tell how deep it was. We could see the bottom and the contours and sometimes the fish when the sun was out. No natural thing attracted attention and I was stumped at the buggers yet again. The water couldn’t have been over 40°F, absolutely clear, and perfect for midges of any kind. Big dumb buggers though? For lethargic fish. Ok… I’m going with that. After taking a spill that almost landed me in the freezing lake, I was finally onto the fish.

Persistance pays.

We only fished for 2 hours and the day was winding to an end. The sun, although mostly unseen, was finding a resting place behind the mountain peak, prompting us to put an end to the trip. Freezing weather was coming. John, the student, became the master that day.

On the way down, I was thinking about the fish I’ve caught this year. So far, 7 species of trout. I guess my next trip will have to be somewhere along the Colorado river to become more familiar with the cutthroats around these parts. Fish shown are supposed to be Greenbacks, but there was a mix up in the late 70’s where Colorado River Cutts were restored into Greenback territory. Therefore, I have no idea. Two very similar fish.

Lesson #11: Even in the middle of June, Snow is still slippery.


The Tragedy

I love the solitude that mountains bring. The fresh cool air flowing through the trees from the alpine areas, the solitude, the quiet. There is only so much lonely fishing a guy can take though. So when the time comes to teach a newcomer to the sport, I will raise my hand and be the first to volunteer. Last year in Denver, I thought it would be a good idea to impart my love for fishing upon my long time friend, John. It didn’t take long for John to get casting down and took only minutes to get his first fish. I remember the moment well. I had taught him to cast and never really covered my bases for him to land a fish on his own. He eventually got the fish in and landed it, but his fear of killing fish by squeezing the life out of them still haunts him to this day. Not that he does, he just feels that they are quite fragile. I assume that he loves the sport by now, having his own rig, asking me to teach him to tie his own flies, randomly texting me while I’m on my own fishing trip, asking me what flies to use, etc. Recently he taught his brother Joe to fish as well. When I caught wind of this newcomer, I had to give him a call and plan a fun trip to some easy water. On the weekend of our planned trip, John decided he would fly into New Mexico for some “better than Colorado” fishing (John did not say this, I am adding this statement because for some reason it was, that is, when we were not in Co.). This was Joe’s first real trip out into moving water and John’s first real taste of what New Mexico really has to offer. Leaving me as the only guy with experience enough to help them out. Dave (me) plays guide but still fishes. Joe also brought his son Jace, who was so excited to go fishing that he waited in the truck for hours while we gathered ourselves and our equipment. I didn’t even know where he was, although I did know that he was going. Even when Joe got in the truck to leave, I asked if he had forgotten his son. This day, it was decided that Cabresto Creek would be our hunting ground. When we arrived and the area was closed, the Red River was a good second choice. A solid 0 fish on the first day was a great way to start. The only way to go was up. I did catch 2 mini fish on the first day, but I’m not really counting those because… Well, you know. We had arrived late and the chances of catching fish in the way over pressured section of water were slim. I figured that I could get into fish late in the day because in the past it has rewarded me greatly. Not this time though. Setting up Joe’s house tent was pretty simple and suited the four of us well and comfortably, for the rest of the evening we were sawing logs in the tent. I was contently dreaming of the day to come.

For me, day 2 started at 6am. I was off to the river to find the bugs that would work before waking the rest of the crew and heading to quality water. I was in such a hurry, that I forgot my camera. A nice brown and a couple other trout went home without a mug shot. After we gathered again, we packed the campsite and headed up river into the less choked water. It didn’t take long for me to start the catching and keep catching, when finally, John reminded me that this trip was more for Joe and Jace than either of us. This was the part when I was disallowed from fishing. While trying to assist joe, I lent him my 8wt. that I was currently using. If you are curious about why I’m fishing an 8wt in a 100cfs stream, the answer is that John didn’t bring his rig and I loaned out the 5wt to him. Why would I use my 5wt for this? Well, it’s my only other rod. I’m not a rich man. Joe slung the 8wt with as much grace as one can have while trying to pinch off 6′ of line with a rod not meant to do it, and boom! Fish on! Not just any fish either. A very healthy rainbow. Needless to say, some ties were donated to Joe, John, and Jace.

From there on out, it was like fish in a barrel, or fish in a crowded stream.

Stream born AND picky

Jace even got some action, with the biggest brook trout of the day!

Fly fishing's future

When the day was over, it was time to move on. Eagle Nest, too windy; Cimmaron, too crowded and pressured; Sugarite Canyon, just right. We arrived late enough in the day to be too late for campsites, but we still managed to find some in other places across the border. Hello Colorado! We decided it wasn’t late enough in the day to miss out on the fishing and back to Lake Maloya we went! The fishing was amazing if you include perch in your fly fishing diet. As fun as they were to catch, they slowly became irritating. Then, John received a couple twitches on his indicator and set the hook. “I think it’s small” he said as he worked in the biggest brown I have seen in a long time.

This fish came hunting perch.

Day 3 was by far the most incredible fishing I have had this year. Lake Dorothy. Go ahead and cringe at the release of this location. There is a reason I decided to let this info out later. Dorothy is a very under fished and over populated lake. Texans usually stay on the New Mexico side and it is a very short hike to the very well hidden lake in Colorado. These fish were the strongest fish I have EVER fought in my life. We’re talking putting a healthy bend in an 8wt rod, breaking your line from tension alone, and jumping 5′ out of the water. Once the pattern was worked out, my fighting arm was tired before midday. John and Joe both caught their fair share of fish as well and I commend them for the task of getting even one of these fish landed. There was even a point in the day where Joe caught fish on every cast for a short time. I’m really proud of these guys for catching so many fish.

The over-sized tail made this fish that much harder to fight.

Lake dwelling acrobats!

Now for the incredibly sad part of the story. I smelled smoke toward midday and wondered if it was a fire or just the wind carrying Wallow Fire smoke up into the canyon. Later in the day, Joe looked back and saw a plume of smoke. After a few hours, we went to break down the campsite and the smoke was high in the sky and black. At first it seemed to be in the canyon. When we got to the tent, it was folded up from the wind and falling apart. The rods holding the tent upright had kinked over and failed. Struggling with unpacking and hoping that the fire wasn’t in the canyon, we rushed to get things put away. As we finished packing, a man came down from the road and panicked about how there was a fire in the canyon. On his way back up, he informed us that he couldn’t see the road down by Lake Maloya. As wrong as he was, we still think that he was a rancher from not too far away. If this was the case, I wish him the best and hope his home was not taken in the fire. As we passed through Sugarite for the last time anyone will ever see the true beauty of the canyon, we realized that the canyon had been evacuated. Everyone but us, at the lake around the corner that was quite possibly the best high country lake I have ever fished. The giant ponderosa pines of Lake Dorothy stood once as old men, rising from the banks to heights that seemed to feed upon the clouds. The grass was once a lush and green carpet as their only purpose in life seemed to be hanging prismatic dew from their droopy tips. There are no words to describe the uniqueness of the area. Just a handful of memories and maybe a few unbelievable stories in the future. Not only was it a time for change in the forest, it was a time for change in my world as well.

The fire had started just north of Raton and closed I-25. In fact, I-25 is still closed as I write this. Since our day in the mountains, Sugarite has burned, but many memories were made. We were there when it was amazing. This may not be the case in the future. Our hearts go out to all of those that have lost their homes in the Track Fire as well as the Wallow Fire that has claimed almost 500,000 acres now. I hope that you visited one of the largest ponderosa forests in the world before it caught fire. Both fires were caused by very irresponsible people. Sometimes a 6 month prison sentence isn’t enough.


Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

The headline is something both Mike and I should have used as a greeting when meeting up before our expedition into The Wild. Mike runs the blog “of Dry Flies & Fat Tires” and has done his fair share of inspiring me to go galavanting around the state through his blog. This time, I ride with him, not living vicariously through his tales of grandeur.

The day started off strange, smoke filled the sky and painted the sun a dim red-orange. Maybe it was a sign of things to come. Slightly awestruck, I didn’t realize that the road trip had come to an end. It was a day of vibrant colors, even the grass was an exceptional hue of green that shouldn’t be this time of year. After a short talk of things and the state of the day, we were off into some water that Mike knew and I may or may not have been. The local mosquito population seemed to be focused on me, and again, no repellent. During our hike up the skinny water, we noticed that something was wrong. No fish in really fishy holes and a general lack of fish. I even tested the spooking theory by casting across shoreline and over grass to no avail. A short discussion later and the trip turned from pristine meadow fishing on a simple back country hike to an expedition worthy of Livingstone’s search for middle Africa.

The steep canyon hike was difficult enough without the thousands of dead trees slowing us even further.  Or as Mike put it, “scramble over deadfalls, around rockpiles, through thickets, rattlesnake dens, landmine fields, broken glass, and finally, legions of TSA screeners”

The terrain shifted and below us lay the river. I’m not really used to fishing meadows and open water, the cascades and pools were more my turf. I was home.

Mike showed his expert skills and hooked up with the first fish on this section of water while I was down river and the lack of life in the last river was easily offset by the abundance of life in this one.

Mike's mad skills

The hike was well worth every step with the river filled to the brim with cutthroats that seemed fairly pure. In fact, not a single Rainbow was pulled from this section by either mike or myself. Crazy talk you say? It was!

A strange RGCT color, but unique!

Lightning fast!

We were easily into fish from this point on, but the fishing wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I was losing more fish than I landed for some reason and it seemed that the fish going for my flies were fired from a crossbow, darting out at full speed from 5 feet away.

There was a point where I stood on a log jam watching Mike’s fly drift downstream when 2 fish locked on target and slowly moved in for the kill when out of nowhere, the largest fish of the day attacked his fly.

How Mike attains hero status

Note: The can on my back are my batteries, not cashews. Photo by Mike at of Dry Flies & Fat Tires

The rest of the days fishing was rather eventful with I would say 20-30 fish for each of us (my guess would put Mike a bit higher on the number). The trip was incredibly timed, arriving back at what some might consider a trail in enough time to get back before dark. Quite frankly, I think I speak for both of us when I say that we were also spent.

It didn’t end there either. This trail looked like the rest of the forest. There was no real path back, forcing Mike to use his “Keen Map Reading Skills” to lead us back to where we dropped in. Thank goodness we made it back with me still in tact. I was a guest on the expedition, making me the food source in the case of becoming stranded.

Again, a very special thanks to Mike for the trip! Great guy and excellent fisherman. If you want to read about this trip through his eyes, go here. Enjoy!

For me, this was the highlight of the day... and week... possibly decade.

Lesson 10: When an animal looks injured, be aware, it could spring up at a moments notice.