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.

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8 responses to “Battle of the Buggers

  • Erin Block

    Great, great post! R2D2 is an awesome name for a fly….do something with that! You got into some beautiful fish…welcome to Colorado. 🙂

  • Sanders

    Us non-natives have to stick together…ha! Glad you found some fish…I was hoping the trip up wouldn’t end in disappointment. I think you made a good choice heading into the park. Those are some seriously pretty fish.

    ….a Star Wars themed bug line would be solid…looking forward to it 🙂

  • backcountryfishnerd

    Ha! I guess we do. I think all trips have some kind of happy ending. If I didn’t catch fish, I would’ve found some other pleasant thing. Like, now my shoes are clean!

    A whole line of bugs now? What are you guys trying to get me to do here? Ok… I’ll do it.

  • Royal Wulff aka Mike

    Whoa, big move David! I’m thinking your fish are gonna miss you round these parts. Good luck on the fresh start, look forward to keeping updated on your future adventures! mike

    • backcountryfishnerd

      I don’t know if they are going to miss me as much as they will be partying. I will be back on occasion. Who can miss the Chama in the fall and what kind of fisherman can cut the San Juan completely out of his or her diet? Not this guy.

      Thanks a bunch for the luck! I’m going to need it.

  • cofisher

    We Coloradoans welcome people from all over…well maybe not Texans so much or Californians or New Yorkers and New Jerseyites. I personally love going to NM. Outstanding, beautiful country. Welcome and enjoy you’re a Coloradoan now.

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