Thursday, February 18, 2010
I sat in the passenger seat spotting the occasional fish while my buddy Dan drove along the Arkansas River. All of a sudden we came up on a black spot on the bottom of the river that was about as big as a truck. As the black mass came into focus I realized this was a bait ball type grouping of well colored, healthy Sucker fish. We hopped out and put our best sucker fishing flies and techniques to good use. Like a couple of kids we laughed and joked as we played another dog fighting turd rustler. We gasped in awe as we spooked the fish and they moved over the river bottom like a blanket of black silk. You have to love the pleasant surprises that happen upon us in this sport.
It often amazes me how comfortable the Hartsel area is from the seat of a truck. Blue skies are the norm and the fields of grass are so windblown that a 60 mph. wind barely flutters the tip of each blade. Herds of Buffalo and Prong Horn serve as greeters for the Spinney Mountain area and it isn't uncommon to spook a jack rabbit the size of a small deer along the way. It can be easy, on the way to the river, to see why they call it the Dream Stream.
Today the river was seasonably low and crystal clear with more frozen water than I have seen all winter. You risk spooking fish when you break ice while sliding into the river which is where you want to be casting from if at all possible. Angles are a large part of analyzing your approach on the Dream Stream or similar small streams. Fishing from the bank brings you too far in to the trout's "cone of vision". I have found that if the trout in this river are unaware of your presence they will feed on almost every likely food source presented to them. If they know you are there then you better have done your homework to know what bugs are present and in what stage of the hatch the fish are keying on.
From 9:00 a.m - 2:00 p.m. the fish fell for various stages of a sz. 26 black midge below a light pink or purple San Juan worm or Tan scud. The attractors worked less as the day progressed and the fishing became extremely technical by 1:15 when the sun was at its brightest. Not spooking or alerting the fish on your approach can be the toughest part of the battle. To me, crawling through the snow and ice just makes this a more exciting game we play. I knew those countless hours of playing army as a kid would pay off somehow.
As I packed for a trip down to Houston Texas, my head was blurred with thoughts of warm weather, outdoor crawfish boils, and hard hitting Bass and Redfish. Every item of clothing packed had a purpose, down to the exact number of underwear that I knew would be worn (2). This method of minimalist packing was needed to accommodate the extra forty pounds of fly fishing equipment that could not be left at home. When you throw that bag up on the scale at the airport and the numbers quit spinning at exactly fifty pounds, it's almost like winning the lottery. I get everything I can from the extra $30.00 bag charge.
We arrived in Houston just in time to see the only glimpse of sunshine all week fade below the horizon. I was quickly reminded of why people say that the cold weather here in Colorado is tolerable thanks to the dry climate and constant sunshine. I felt like I hopped from the plane into the cold water of the Arkansas River. The sounds of chattering teeth echoed through the concrete walls of the city.
A massive winter storm system over Texas put the ole' kabash on the prospect of catching anything on the Gulf. As for lake-fishing, thirty year lows combined with flooding gave the bass all the advantage they needed to stay clear of my hands. After spending hours casting to muddy waters, the time had come to feel some kind of tug. I replaced the seven inch long blue gill pattern with a sz. 12 clouser variation behind a trusty Hairs Ear. Finally, I breathed a sigh of contentment as I caught and released my first Blue Gill for 2010. It was even on an eight weight, which is a solid three sizes larger than any other rods I have used for Blue Gill. Staying flexible and being prepared for multiple species are two important aspects of winter time, warm-water fishing. These tough periods of fishing in winter are times of great growth for the persistent fisherman. Even though my dreams were of Redfish, and what I got was Blue Gill, I walked away from the trip a better fisherman than I would have become if things had gone as planned.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Two years ago I had a brief encounter with a monster Lake Trout that left me searching like a junkie trying to duplicate his first good fix. When Twin Lakes freezes over in the winter time, an open channel is left between the two reservoirs. In maybe 20 times of fishing this channel, the only thing I've ever landed was one little carp, nothing even worthy of a photograph. I have, however, had that unforgetable Laker chase my fly to my feet. This thing was so big that it splashed waves past my feet onto the bank, as it turned to slowly swim up the channel. My heart raced as I watched its massive shape swim away just below the surface. I had enough time to lead the fish with one more cast before it was out of reach and, in good fashion, stepped on the line, blowing the cast and spooking one of the biggest trout that has ever shown itself to me. With little chance of removing the memory of that waking goliath spooking back under the ice, I have made it a habit to fish that channel every week or two during the winter months, trying, in vain, to duplicate a visual rush experienced too long ago.
I find myself wondering...is it really just the catches and trophies that keep us returning to the water day after day? Maybe it's also the addiction, the thrill of the chase, that brings us back for more. After all, how many hobbies dictate the direction of your entire life?
Saturday, February 6, 2010
It is pretty amazing, when the fish in a river, move in to a pre spawn mode. You begin to see the occasional pair of fish cruising through a run and clean patches of rocks concentrated in the tail out of pools. There are rarely any fish on them and it is my belief that the majority of those beds are cleaned under the cover of darkness. In the last three days the dream stream has seen more and more fish move in to there pre spawn secrecy. That would account for the greater number of small, freshly started beds. That would, in some degree, also give an explanation for the fickleness of the larger resident fish. Most of the usual small flies were producing, but most fish were small rainbows. Hatchery fish, that were probably planted last fall in Elevenmile Reservoir. I came across numerous larger fish that were either previously spooked or resting from other events and only caught 2 above average fish over the course of the day. Even with the average fish size being less than I had hoped, it was calm, warmer than usual and I never got charged by a buffalo. I can't wait to get back over there and see what changes have ocured.
Friday, February 5, 2010
There is a little known spring that comes in to a creek around where I live. It consists, mostly, of slow moving beaver ponds and two foot wide channels that connect them. It does not get wider than that in spots, but you get my point, it's tight. These kinds of spots can be very rewarding and frustrating to fish. Although these brown trout can be aggressive and are not picky, they might quite possibly be some of the most spooky trout I have cast to. That is part of the attraction for me. You crawl to within a long cast to the trout's lie. Surrounded by trees and willows you have to hit a toilette bowl sized spot with beaver chewed sticks coming out in all directions. It's a beautiful thing when you make the right cast and actually hit the target without a dimple in the water. All it takes is one loop of line wrapping around one of the many sticks around your feet and the cast is blown. The all to familiar sign of wakes erupting a dead calm pool, is all that you are left with. Today I threw small streamers and the pattern I chose did not seam to matter much, although the color brown did seem to work the best. For winter fishing it was a blast. I can't tell you how many fish would wake out of shallow water or the bank ice to chase a fly. There were even times were 2 or 3 fish would be going after it at once, wakes coming from all directions in the shallow pond and as they draw down on the fly, one fish spooks another leaving you holding your limp line. Finding open spring water in your local creeks can be a surprisingly rewarding winter task. It won't hurt your casting and approach either.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
This morning around 7:30am my buddy Dan and I headed to the Dream Stream section of the South Platte. We drove through wild mountains and rolling hills looking out on warm, blue skies. It's a short trip from B.V. to the river, maybe 45 minutes. I found myself thinking it could be warm out there. It was almost warm when we got to the river, probably a balmy 7 degrees or so. There was just enough breeze to make the exposed skin on your face feel like a Japanese midget was swatting you with a reed. All in all it was a perfect day for what we wanted to do. It's Tuesday and cold, so we won't have to worry about fighting for the primo spots. At a place where, in the summer, you just might walk up on an old man shitin' in the bushes, today we saw only one other fisherman the whole time we were there. We had it all to ourselves, and the bright clear sky made it perfect for spotting big rainbows in the crystal clear water.
Both Dan and I started with similar riggs. A grey Ray Charles up top and a small (sz. 24) midge running as dropper. The biggest difference between our setups was that one of us used a big white thing-a-mabober as an indicator, and the other did not. It was shown, again, that the use of an indicator for small stream fishing is not an efficient way to detect strikes. Don't get me wrong, Dan is an exceptional fisherman, and all but the purist nymph fishermen have caught fish using an indicator, but you don't have the line control or the ability to detect strikes as well. We both caught plenty of nice fish and it will only get better over the next couple of months. The Ray Charles with the red midge worked all day for me; where we found fish, we caught fish. It goes to show that we trout fishermen put so much emphesis on fly selection, when really that's only a part of the equation. All in all it was a dandy of a day out there.
I typically use a gray Ray Charles to imitate the dead sow bugs that are drifting down stream. Other colors work as well, but gray is the color you should start with.