Tag Archives: Bluewater Lake

The New Guy

Throughout school and beyond, I was an awkward person. I guess it rings true today as well. I don’t dress right, never did, or fit in within social groups. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends. They just happened to be in that same “the weird people” social class. It was the waiting room of sorts, the people you hung out with while you were waiting to be a cool kid. Not me though. I was a permanent fixture. I was made fun of a lot for having big ears or just being generally weird looking. Totally ok with that if you are concerned.

Bluewater Lake seems to be that same sort of outcast, the underdog. If anyone knows me, they know that I constantly root for the things and people I see great amounts of potential in. This lake, as sad as it has become to watch a struggling environment, is one of those places. I’ve asked and suggested on numerous occasion to stock new and interesting fish to fill the gap between super predator and minnow. The state usually responded with a canned “no” and a slew of reasons why my ideas were not the best courses of action. Understandable, I’m quite used to it.

Last year, we heard rumors that a couple of private ponds on the west end of the lake had overfilled their boundaries. Ponds loaded to the brim with sunfish and largemouth. We didn’t think much of it, but hoped that something cool would come of it. Time went by and we fished for trout with the back-handed excuse that we were really fishing for something else. To fit in. Come May, nothing interesting happened. We did see a couple of photos of perch and sunfish, but using these fish as bait is both common and illegal. We thought nothing of it. There is no way a dumped bait bucket could survive in a population density of musky that rivals all other lakes on the planet. It would take tens of thousands of perfectly placed fish for them to take hold.

In my years, I’ve gone through the rounds of seeing this lake ride the rollercoaster of having loads of fish and having none. I’ve fished the creek when it flowed year round and was chock-full of little rainbow trout who made their way up the creek. I watched it dry up and die. I’ve seen the white sucker population explode and been through throwing 5-6lbers on the banks for the crows. After that, goldfish. The state response, at first, was the implementation of largemouth bass. They grew to great size very quickly, but suddenly disappeared after the musky were stocked. This was all over the course of about 6 years. Then in 2004, 1.1 million sterile trout were stocked, a deviation from the norm due to whirling disease in the hatcheries. For 7 years, things remained the same and the goldfish were gone. The muskies were huge. After 3,000 adult muskies were released, things quickly spiraled out of control. Their food quickly disappeared and the muskies began to starve. The stocking program could not support it. By the end 2016, the lake had reached a low I had never seen and the future looked dismal.

This lake has held (at some point or another) multiple records for every fish that has lived in it. Even rainbow trout. The distribution of the food web for minnow, insect and algae eaters is one of the best in the state and can grow fish to their full potential. Pair that with the long growing seasons and cool summers and you have a lake of great potential.

Enter the new guy, overlooked and typically made fun of. Not targeted or desired, just invisible. Not instagram worthy. A fish full of potential in a lake full of potential. A fish that I am very happy to have. One of the most exciting days that I have had on the water in years. Two undesirables hanging out on the water together.IMG_1417

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Here Comes the Ice Cream Truck!

When I was a kid, it was a bell, it was a child’s call to arms. These days it is bad digital music through a megaphone often precluded by a child’s voice saying “Hello!?”. A process that further complicated the simple world of the ice cream man. I do not wonder why hordes of kids carrying pitchforks are not chasing these big white box trucks around. They have gone too far trying to make the truck acceptable and cool. What ever happened to good ol’ bright colors? Unusual, bright color combinations that just attracted children. Blue ice cream and hot pink sprinkles!? Yes please! There is something otherworldly about the colors, as they are not commonly edible. Why do kids love them? The answer is ultra simple. Curiosity.

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It is common in science to conclude that animals have minds equivalent to young humans. They can accomplish seemingly complex tasks in the wild, but when it comes to processing new information or training, animals seem to have trouble. We can teach them to speak sign language, yet it does not give us much insight into the way they think. We can only observe. Maybe observing a young child’s behavior when it comes to food can give us insight into highly educated fish. Which takes me right back to ice cream.

When I was young, chasing after the ice cream truck was a habit. If my parents did give me money, it might have been a dollar. Enough to get an ice cream cone, probably bubble gum. Yes, I wanted something more than bubble gum ice cream, the coveted “Rocket Pop”. It was $2.50 if I remember correctly. Never had enough to buy one. Something about it called to me and I can’t quite pinpoint why. It just looked like unending bliss, or maybe I would fly to the moon after eating one. Who knows?

Nothing has changed over the years. I was digging through my materials one day, looking for some that were rarely used. I saw it. A hot pink northern bucktail. Not something I would normally buy, but this one was perfect. I proceeded to tie some muskie flies. For some reason, I combined it with chartreuse and my brain exploded. Working with the hair took too long and I needed a quick and easy go-to pattern for the times when I’m in a hurry to go fishing (always). I bought up a handful of materials and began to tie. What I came up with was an articulating and suspending, not really fishy looking fly. It was the colors that looked delicious. The “Rocket Pop”.

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I know, it doesn’t look like a fish, but it was never meant to. It was meant to tap into the brain of a child, to make things that looked delicious and unreal. It was the idea that maybe children also have the same primitive instinct and curiosity as a predatory fish. The same fish that spends his entire life hunting prey, knowing exactly which fish to eat. One with senses about as sharp as his teeth. One quick in his reflexes and right in his choices. One with a weakness, the ice cream truck.

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Lesson #20: Be a kid. You never know when it might come in handy.


The Beginning

For twenty years, I didn’t know this photograph existed. It was buried away in a shoebox time capsule waiting for a time when it may be of some use. The use was an ear to ear grin about a time when things were simple, unadulterated. Although it may have been just the simple act of fishing, life was easy then. No quotas or deadlines, no bills or worries, and no liars or thieves. As a child, nobody was out to get what they could from you, their only goal was to add what they could. It takes a child or mother or father to see the real beauty here. Not that I’m saying that those are the only people who will see it. Rather, you have an element of one of those within you. To others, it is a poorly handled and obviously dead, fish. I would sacrifice that fish again, if it meant that I could live it all over the same way.

That's me on the left!

That’s me on the left! Please also note that I have the same hairdo.

Life beyond that moment was changed forever. In the following weeks, I would pick up fly fishing. For me, there were no hand-me-down rods and reels, no mentor, nobody to tell me right and wrong. Just magazines and books totaling endless hours at libraries and grocery stores. A kid dreaming about his first fly rod through a Bass Pro Shop catalog, asking his mom what we could and could not afford. In reality, we couldn’t afford any of it. Christmas that year would tell a new tale, beginning the life of a fly fisherman. Not one who entered by means of indoctrination, but one that entered by the majesty of the fish itself.

 

Through my pleading, my parents would take me to wonderful places. Montana, Colorado and Wyoming were some of the most memorable places. For some reason, New Mexico was where I could really get out and explore. It is where I felt the most comfortable. While looking through these photos, I realized that I had a fishing outfit. A very large white shirt. Most of my clothes belonged to older and larger people before they found their way onto my back, but no matter, I was doing what I loved to do.

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The first place I ever fly fished will remain in my heart forever. It was my companion and mentor. It was my teacher of life and self reflection. It was, in essence, a hero of mine. As the years passed, it remained a constant in my life and showed me some amazing fish along the way. The beauty of the canyon and the wildlife within it were my escape through high school and may have also been my saving grace from drugs and other crime amongst my childhood friends. The creek was there through it all. Rather than go to a party, I would find myself wanting to fish. Life just worked out. In the long run, everything was ok. I only ever saw one other fly fisherman on this creek one time. I think the creek knew me well and felt the same as I did. When I left for Florida, the creek died. It dried out from cattle ranchers damming up the springs and feeders. They killed the trout in the wake of it all. It died from lack of use, lack of people that loved it.

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What happened next, I feel is an odd turn of events. With the drying up of the creek, the white sucker and goldfish populations exploded out of control. The state had no other choice but to put a predator in to kill the rough population. With that, there was new life and a new species to fly fish for. They have grown to their full adult size around the time that I stumbled back to this place, the place that taught me that a river can be a friend too. The place where I found fly fishing. Is it chance?

Lesson #19: Secrets can be dangerous to some places. Without people, your secret can dry up and you will carry it with you to your grave. The real secret is sharing it with the right people.

Side note: One of the photos is of the San Juan LONG before any habitat projects. The hole I’m standing in is the “Kiddie pool”. I’ll try to replicate this image in another post to show you how much it has changed.


Seeing Red

The day started off quite well. I woke up early, took a shower, brushed my teeth and headed west. The brisk nature of high desert winter still loomed from the night before. The sunrise peeked assuredly from mountains slowly fading into the horizon. I felt as though I raced time herself, like the sun was setting again as I drove opposing the rotation of Earth. I was unknowingly driving back in time, back to the Miocene Epoch when ancestors of the modern Esox genus roamed the deep. Of course, this could have also been my imagination.

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These prehistoric critters have had a lot of time to become more and more efficient. If I was on the Earth for over five million years, I would be one hell of a fisherman too. Time after time, these fish remind you of how long their species has been smarter than ours. It only took us 20,000 years to develop the fly rod that we use today. Even after all of this time we have yet to develop polarized vision. They even have sensors on their bottom jaw that contain little tiny hairs that detect the signature of swimming fish. This is standard issue on these fish! We had to spend THOUSANDS of years just getting smart enough to figure out side scanning sonar! GAH! I digress…

These fish can present difficulties, they are even called the fish of 10,000 casts. There are intensely difficult days and I think I know exactly why. Have you ever brought a muskie up to your fly and it stares at it for a second, gives you a “Pfft” and a giggle as it meanders back off into the deep? Sucks, right? Let us say that someone drops a pink hat on the ground. Roughly 5% of humans would pick it up and wear it. The other 95% would look, but scoff at it instead. Due to the individuality among groups of muskie, they would also rather not wear a pink hat. At least not today. After all, it only took them five million years of being angry and territorial to become more individual. Although the group of fish has very common habits as a whole, each fish also has a set of personal tastes. Call me crazy…

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I looked over the partially frozen lake to find an ice free section of water that has been known to produce a handful of fish. I sat down to dig through my box for the weapon of choice. A green and blue double articulating streamer, deadly in the fall here. After one fish and a handful of follows, I gave up on the fly and fumbled through my box for other patterns. The idea here is common for me. Change flies, cast twenty times, count follows and takes, rinse and repeat. I tried many different patterns over the next few hours, ruling out common streamers and color combinations until one nearly punched me in the face. I felt stupid when I pulled it out of the box. Every other fly that day was weighted. This was not. Just simply a red and black articulating streamer. Armed with a sink tip line, this fly would suspend exactly where and when I  needed it too. Within ten casts, I was into two fish with no follows (follows are usually bad). This means the fish were taking the fly when they saw it. Red. It had to be red. Every other color did not produce results. I really think this was a sign. Muskies are, as usual, plotting against you.

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If you have been reading this blog for the past few months, you will know that the muskies and I are at war. Allow me to paraphrase, the muskie took flies and snapped hooks, I vowed to go after their entire race and here we are today. I should have known they were out for blood when they chose red as their feeding color. The bad color. When landing fish, I noticed they would tightly close their mouth. Unusual for all of these fish to display this. They were telling me something. Getting them to open up requires a simple trick, just put the fish underwater until they become buoyant. Their mouth will open right up. This puts you in a rather precarious position when fishing from shore. Crouched and unstable next to the subject who is in it’s element almost entirely. Mano a fisho. The last fish of the day went well. Quick fight, hook removed, easy release. Until I looked down. A pool of blood was gathering at my feet and the line was sticking to my fingers. I hadn’t injured the fish, the fish injured me. I did not feel a thing. I have nicked my knuckles and other parts of my hand on teeth before, but apparently thumb wounds are like head wounds. It was just bleeding and I couldn’t stop it. For a couple minutes I fished on. I never realized how important your thumbs are while stripping fly line. I had to stop. Since there was no superglue in my Jeep, I went home with my tail between my legs. The muskie won the battle that day, but I learned a very powerful lesson. Never trust a muskie.

Lesson #18: Although they appear soft and cuddly, the muskie is a voracious predator and a reckless surgeon. Try to keep your hands out of it’s mouth full of tiny scalpels or lose your scruples. And by scruples, I mean your digits. And by digits, I don’t mean your phone number.

*Warning!!! Graphic image below!*

Much like bigfoot, the culprit is always fuzzy.

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The aftermath

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More Video!!! Hooray!


From Birth to Change

My birth into fly fishing began at age ten. My father, brother and I combed the shores of Bluewater Lake for catfish twenty years ago. Instead of finding catfish, we found a trout. At the time, I had no idea exactly what it was, but I did know that it was cool looking. My head was then wrapped around this fish. My nose buried in untouched books and magazines. My mother probably thought it was a child’s addiction, a passing phase. We were all unaware that this was a precursor to a life made from that addiction. A life so infused with fly fishing, time away from the water seemed like an eternity. Fly fishing ruined my life and saved it at the same time. Relationships were lost, friendships destroyed, all for one goal. To fish. The Lake...

Naturally, after twenty years, I returned to this lake. The lake of my fly fishing birth. Things had changed wildly. Upon my departure in 2002, the lake was so low and temps so high that the goldfish and white sucker population exploded. Gold bands largely covered the lake. Around the same time, Ramah Lake turned over and died taking its huge largemouth bass population with it. For the time, fishing was dead. I took my leave to Florida to study the worthless career path of “Audio Engineering”. Just before I left, there was talk about introducing bass to the lake. Then, talk of tiger muskie. The operation had momentum in 2003 when I returned. It takes a few years to grow a muskie and as I hiked down to the shoreline, thoughts of age began to surface. The oldest fish in this lake is ten, and we broke the state record five times last year. If you dig around in the world of studies and boring graphs, you will find that on average, these fish should only be around fourty inches. Not here, records are already topping fifty inches. This place has become world-class and it will remain that way for the next ten years.

I sat down on the broken shoreline and stared out across the lake. I was looking for signs of muskie. Ducks dove down into the water catching my attention, tricking me into the thought of swirling fish. There were no signs of fish, just calm and very cold water. I began casting clousers and other small flies to no avail. After the first couple hours, the story was about missed hook-ups and failing gear. I even had one snap a hook in two. Something wasn’t right. I tied on an articulating streamer pattern, only about five or so inches and the only one I had tied. On the second cast, I hooked up and lost the fly.frayed

It wasn’t long ago that I was out here and it happened in the same way. I swore I would come after the entire race to retrieve my fly. That day, I tied a ten inch double articulating fly that looked strikingly similar to a parrot. This could have been fueled by my subconscious hatred of parrots, but it was created to be big and bold. I tied with revenge on my mind.

On day two, I threw caution to the wind and tied on the monster. Within the first few minutes I had a fish in hand. They continually came after it, the fly bombarded by swimming baseball bats with teeth. In the wake of each miss, the fly would shed some hair and feathers, floating debris after being struck center mass by a torpedo. The fish came abundantly, sometimes waiting in the dark three feet from shore to come screaming out of nowhere. It became a suspense movie. My little brother was reeling in his lure humming “Pop!  Goes The Weasel”. Automatically, when turning that crank, you know a scary clown will pop out of the Jack-in-the Box. The question was, when? The clowns who stood before me in this lake weren’t happily colored clowns with red noses and a chipper attitude. These were voracious predators. Imagine a hand crank on the side of a lions cage, that is about the level of fear that works through you when you are trying to entice a strike from an unseen monster with a mouthful of razorblades. You expect the clown to jump out of the box at the end of the song. It never happens that way. Ever. That isn’t even the worst part of it! When you look down at the water and your fly, you will see the shadow lurking behind it. Even when there isn’t a shadow, your mind will create one. You will dangle that fly in front of the shadow, then the shadow disappears. It isn’t over yet. It’s like a dog waiting for you to throw its ball. Before you know it, you are evacuating your bladder while this fish tries to rip your arm off. You thought you would be casting until your arm turned to jello, but it isn’t the casting that gets you. It is the huge takes. They even give you a warning twitch! As if to say, “Hey! Watch this!”the take

The excitement never really ends. If you aren’t a smoker, by the time you finish muskie fishing, you will be. Just one to calm the nerves, just one more to calm the nerves… I couldn’t tell if my hands were shaking from the cold or from me being on edge. I walked around the corner into the sun for warmth. A cast and an immediate take and set. I didn’t know I was on with the biggest muskie of my life. As it lifted it’s head, I realized this fish could potentially put me in the hospital. I couldn’t tell the difference between excitement and fear. My whole life lead up to this moment. My life of fly fishing started here. Events of my life had been changing, as did with this lake. We evolved together. Even though we had our times apart, maybe the beginnings will be our future endings.Monster


Apex Predators, Lack of Teeth and Renormalized Rationality

tigerHumans like to believe that we are top tier predators. For most, it is true even without the use of weapons. For others, fearsome spiders and snakes reduce the ability to be any kind of predator at all. It is just a part of the human condition. Take away all we have and it wont be long before animals find out that we are delicious and slow bags of meat. What makes us the most voracious predator that walks the Earth is our ability to reason and control the environment around us. All predators do it to some degree. The Orca whale is a great example of this. Thanks to opposable thumbs of humans, we now drive cars with vanity mirrors and cup holders. To me, vehicular travel seems to be one of the most irrational things that humans have done. Why do I mention this? Imagine that there is only one car in the world. How much money and manpower would it take to create and maintain that single vehicle? You need a metal foundry, mines for each alloy, oil wells, refineries, and factories to produce all parts of the car. In terms of human survival, it makes no sense at all. According to some scholars and theorists, the only rational thing in existence is a computer or general computation, simple machines, artificial intelligence. To some degree, fish are simple machines with instinctual, rational thought. At least, this is how I see it. Days of a certain length, water of a specific temperature, optimal flows or height of water, and fish behavior can produce specific results. Fish do not retain memory of the past day, trout do not remember the exact look of the pteronarcys californica. They do know they are hungry around the second week of June. With this being said, there must be a certain instinctual reaction to insects. Much like a moth to flame. They just have to. Machines reacting to the environment.

It was day 33 in a row of work when I noticed a very distinct pain in my mouth. A tooth decided that it wanted to go. The pain was intense. The road trip that ensued was to get to a dentist, 4 hours southwest. I picked a doctor where I had planned on fishing, closer to where I grew up. Why not fish for something toothy when I had lost a tooth? It makes perfect sense to me, to desire the unattainable. Little did I know, my wisdom had slipped away, forcefully pulled from my mouth by a man given a doctorate by peers. Ironically, my line was also dangling in front of fish who should also have a doctorate. The elusive yet prolific Tiger Muskie, a true top tier predator. Their Achilles heel? Anything moving. The catch? They manipulate the environment around them, if your fly doesn’t fall within that harvestable world, kiss your chances goodbye. I see these fish as more curious and apt to strike at a moments notice. Very much like when your brother or sister points at you in the back seat of a car on a long road trip and proclaims, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” Instead of slapping your sibling or telling on them, in the Tiger Muskie world, you would just simply eat them. That seems pretty rational to me. Rationality, by definition, is having the ability to reason. When a muskie looms a couple feet away from your legs, staring down your fly, you can see reason taking place. You can tell the fish is thinking. You know that it can see you, but can it also see you reason? This is the point where it becomes a game…workin

Fishing is a sport. Plain and simple. Fishing is not a means to attain food. I’ll go to the store and buy a fish to eat before I sit behind a vise for hours designing, thinking, redesigning, rethinking, and repeating. There are so many options of materials in the world of streamers. They begin as just options for coloration and become materials for the science that is swim. Back in the water, predators do not sit reading books of what it is that you will tie, but everyday they will see something new. Something you might already be working on. Everyday you are gone, they learn, they evolve. I can not help but to think the predator also sees you as sport. Like a dog with a towel, it just wants to see if it can beat you one time. Since I feel that these fish are involved with this game, I must play it. The game does not lie in the fight, it is enticing predator and predator into that fight. The acknowledgement of two warriors about to engage in battle, because the fish knows you are there and the acknowledgement is taking your fly.

Although game theory leans into mathematics to hypothesize the rational outcome of an event involving two competitors, one competitor always wins. To further dive into the theory, what happens when two rational players are involved? One would think the universe will fold in upon itself and we would end up in an eternal stalemate. Unfortunately, there will be no universal paradoxical conundrums here. 😦 The simple answer here is both players end up with zero loss or only gain, renormalized rationality. When fishing for predators, we are in competition. A game of evolutionary gain. They call the muskie “the fish of ten-thousand casts”. To me, on cast ten-thousand, you have just changed the game. You dropped your guard and became more like prey. Your actions of stripping became lazier and more erratic, your casts shorter, you sat down and became tired. You changed the environment by accident and by doing so, invoked the wrath of an apex predator that never drops its guard. Next time you are out there on the water with predators, rather than constantly changing flies, play the game and manipulate the environment around you. Change your game and attitude and you will find your huckleberry.photogenic