Fishing our way home

As good things must, our trip was drawing to an end. We were reluctantly headed back down the road towards Denver, determined to stop a few times to fish along the way. I was looking forward to getting some dry fly action in, which you might think is a little funny after catching several great streamer browns. I just love a topwater bite over any other. I think it might have to do with tempting a fish to enter my world, the world above water, if just for a little bit, if only with the tip of his nose.

I was planning on throwing a hopper all day.

We put the pavement behind us, already rehashing stories of the fish we had caught in the previous days.

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A couple hours later the truck was rumbling down gravel, then bouncing through potholes, and then resting in the shade of a riverside tree grove.

We wadered up as Brian filled me in on stories of fishing the water in years past. Rigging quickly as we talked, we smelled the river-smell and listened to the gentle chuckle of the riffle only a few yards away. Determined to get the topwater eat that I was hankering for, but not yet confident they were willing to eat on the surface, I tied on a hopper-dropper rig. Call me a noob if you must, but I love the versatility and functionality of using a floating fly as a strike indicator. It just makes sense to me to have as many options available to the fish as possible when you’re unsure of their mood.

I was soon to find out exactly what kind of mood the fish were in.

Brian and I strode down to the water, heading upstream of where we had parked to a more convenient wade-in point. Ever the gentleman, Brian encouraged me to forge slightly ahead and fish the beautiful shallow run, knowing I was craving an eat on dry fly. My first cast laid out flat, drifted with the current about 5 feet, and – whap! – a trout came up and smacked the hopper. I honestly wasn’t ready for it, so I missed that fish, but a huge grin lit my face. The next strike came a few casts later, my hopper slipping under the surface to tell me the midge dangling below the surface had found a fishy face to hang on to. A beautiful little rainbow trout was soon in my hand, with the truly vibrant color that the small trout seem to show off best.

Slipping the fish back in the water, we exchanged high fives and moved slowly upstream, working current seams and other likely water. I moved towards the shady far bank as Brian hooked and released several of the gleaming young trout. I moved a couple more fish on the dropper, but decided to trim the midge off and stick to the hopper. A few yards further upstream, at the end of a 12 foot drift down a current seam, this fish moved to take the fly just a rod length away. The moment is clear in my mind – watching the fly drift, the sudden blur of yellow-gold appearing from nowhere in a foot of clear water, the slashing take. Immediately the fish realized its mistake and ran downstream, almost going between my legs. After a brief but spirited fight, he came to hand.

 

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Not a bad fish at all for that stretch of water. My dry fly thirst was slaked, and before the anticipated afternoon thunderstorm rolled in, I continued upstream, exploring and casting at likely pockets. A few more of the small river jewels were eager to bite, and I carefully released them as quickly as possible.

As the rain and lightning came down, we sheltered in Brian’s truck and dripped water from the brims of our hats as we considered our next move. We knew the rain would murk up the water but what the heck. We were here.

After the rain had passed, we started downstream, swinging flies across the current to see if we could spark a strike in the off-color conditions. Brian quickly hooked a couple in a row, and before dark we had each caught a few more. At the turnaround point, as dusk settled in, we came to a small feeder creek dumping in at the bottom of a short but swift rapid. The creek was dumping muddy water into the river, creating a stark color change before the waters mixed. I decided there was probably a fish hanging on the edge, and this was going to be my last cast anyway, so I stripped out a pile of line. The mouth of the creek was probably 60 feet away, so that conehead streamer was humming as it whistled by my head headed to the far bank. The line tautened, the fly zipping across the current, and just like that – bam. Fish on. A couple minutes later a 14 inch brown slipped from my fingers and Brian and I headed back to the truck.

 

Last cast, last day, awesome trip. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Rainbrowns – Afternoon trophy trouting

After my morning success, the guys decided to get serious about looking for large brown trout in the winding creek behind the house. Brian and I, along with our host, wadered up and set off to do a little bushwhacking.

Our host had explored a lot of the available territory, so he was able to point us in the direction of a few likely big fish haunts. In the warm, liquid light of a fall Colorado afternoon, we explored, fished, and enjoyed life.

 

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We didn’t see any hatches come off during the couple days we were there. The sand-silt bottom made for fairly murky visibility, so streamers were the name of the game. Brian had a fly box full of meaty goodness tied up by Fly Geek’s Matt Bennett, while I stuck with the battle-proven black Smullett that had coaxed many strikes already.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re sure that fish are around but none of them want to play. I figured I should move and cover as much of the stream as possible, presenting a fly to as many fishy spots as I could. After an hour of stealthy approaches to likely water, difficult casts, getting hung up and not getting so much as a swipe, I was starting to think that maybe all the fish left. Or hated me. Or both.

Brian was unperturbed in the face of my blitzkrieg skunking. I made my way back to where we had split up, finding him not 25 yards from where I had left him. He was meticulously working his way through a prime lie, trying different fly weights, colors and retrieval styles. When I happened back by, he revealed that he had gotten one good bump and was going to try again with a different fly to try and trigger a strike. Just goes to show that methodical patience is sometimes the best approach.

I moved back upstream to give him space to work, but I didn’t get very far before I heard Brian call out – fish on!

Arriving out of breath from my wader-hampered jog, I assisted with the net landing. What a beautiful brown trout!

 

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Lots of congratulations and high fives followed. After the trout swam off strongly, the glow of victory made for a pleasant walk back up to the house even as the sunlight faded. We had done what we came for, and now it was time to enjoy some good food, drink, and camaraderie.

Trophy Trout: Accomplished.

Rainbrowns – In the Trees.

The next morning dawned cool and quiet, with the excitement from the nocturnal fish wrangling still lingering. I was just as ready to throw on waders as the previous morning, but Brian wanted to spend some time chatting with his buddy over coffee so they hung back at the house. I headed for a section of the creek that I had looked over but hadn’t given a proper chance to produce the big fish it looked capable of holding.

I felt confident in what I had learned about this new water, and I figured that I would be able to do a little headhunting for the bigger browns I knew had to be hanging in tight to the tangled cover. I had figured out that the browns were behaving a lot like snook, demanding a pinpoint accurate cast tight in next to cover to elicit a strike.

The creek bank was solidly lined on each side with willows, with only a few moose trails creating open paths. These trails had been enhanced in some areas with chainsaw and elbow grease, but the places I wanted to go were pretty darn thick. The close-quarters nature of the vegetation made casting a real headache, but I relished the challenge, the antithesis of throwing bomb casts over open water like I was used to.

It was extremely technical, close quarters fishing. Steeple casts and bow-and-arrow casts were my primary tools I moved from spot to spot. I made it to a shallow sandy riffle area that dropped off quickly, with an undercut bank on the far side. There just had to be a fish in there, but in order to land a fly on target I had to cast through a foot wide slot in the willows behind me and lay in on the backcast, making accuracy a real challenge. Not only that, but getting the rod to load with only the leader and a couple feet of flyline out the tip was quite the challenge.

My first cast fell a little short of the tiny gap in the willow branches that I was aiming for, but the second dropped right in. I actually couldn’t believe that I had managed it, to be honest with you. I let the black streamer sink down into the tannin-murk for a one count, and immediately began the retrieve. Well, I tried to begin the retrieve, but immediately came tight onto a branch. A branch that moved… not a branch!

A thrumming headshake and a quick turn downstream had my heart racing as I grudgingly gave line to the unseen fish. It immediately headed for the nearest tangle, but I had an 8lb (3x) fluoro leader on. I was able to apply some serious pressure to put the brakes on, and used the long lever of the fly rod to turn the fish. A few tense moments more, and a beautiful buck was in hand, my largest fish for the trip.

Brown trout giving me the crazy eye

Whutchew lookin’ at?

 

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I had a huge grin plastered across my face as I positioned the tired fish for a couple quick photos and then watched him slip from my hands back into the slow current. Mission accomplished… but let’s do that again!

Working downstream through another set of moose trails, I hit the creek again. I spotted a tempting brushpile downstream a bit and headed that way. My second step found me suddenly wading through knee-deep muck. Trying to be stealthy, I squelched my way into position. Using the creek as a casting lane this time, I laid out a cast parallel to the waterlogged limbs and began to retrieve.

This time, the thump! of the take reverberated with unquestionable fishiness. Then, quicker than I could think, the fish darted for the safety of the branches. Aww… crap.

 

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Ohhhh… beaver.

To the bottom left of the picture you can see the flyline and amnesia mono to which my leader is looped. The situation seemed grim, but I could feel the fish down there, thrashing. My leader held, so I was left with a choice; Break the fish off and let it perhaps die of starvation while tied to the brush pile, or go in after it. I sighed and started removing layers, down to t-shirt and waders.

Working my hand down the mono, freeing as I went, I ended up nearly to my shoulder in the frigid water. I had a great view of my wavering reflection, since my face practically rested on the surface film. I was almost as busy making sure I didn’t dip water into my waders as I was with untangling the fish, cussing quietly the whole time.

Eventually, I was able to drag the fish back up and out of the bottom of the pile, and a nice hen rose into the light.

 

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I snapped a picture and eased the trout back in the water. Since I was already wet, cold, and in the middle of the stream, I figured I might as well use the good casting lane to hit a couple points down the way that I couldn’t get at while on the bank.

Two casts later, a thump!

To my amazement, I was hooked up again. I was surprised all the commotion hadn’t turned off the pool.

Soon, another pretty fish was in hand, red bespeckled sides gleaming in the gathering morning brightness.

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After she swam off, it was time to head back to breakfast. We had a day of fishing to discuss, and I was sure that the guys had cooked up a great plan along with the scrambled eggs and taters.

Rainbrowns – Nighttime is the Right Time.

After a delicious evening meal constructed around the fresh trout caught earlier in the day, we relaxed with a couple fingers of slow-burning scotch. Full bellies and the warmth of the living room dimmed our desire for heading back out in the evening chill, but tales of massive eruptions under mouse flies had us strapping into waders once again.

Quietly easing down to the beaver dam where I had gotten a bump the day before, Brian and I spread out and started casting.  I was chunking the same black streamer that had worked for me the evening before, while Brian was determined to experience a mousing strike. The water was cloudy, so I doubted that he would be successful, but I could definitely appreciate the goal.

The night was dead calm, and the coyotes sang from a nearby ridge as the Milky Way sprawled across the bejeweled velvet of the night sky. Long minutes of nothing ensued. The quiet shushing sounds of casting mingled with the rustling of small rodents going about their night-business. Casting at the far bank was a tricky endeavor; a wall of willow limbs waited for a fly cast just too far. Casting down the grassy near bank was much easier. I heard the plop of Brian’s mouse fly down the bank a ways to my right as he too fished the grassy shore. Suddenly, a surface commotion, followed quickly by the terse call – “Fish!” I hurriedly reeled in and moved down the bank to his position to see if I could assist.

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A couple pictures later, the fish was once again a top predator lurking in the inky blackness. High fives all around – time to hit the sack and see what the morrow would bring.

 

 

Rainbrowns, Day 2

After a night of waking up every couple hours to check the clock – “Is it time to fish yet?!…No… Now?!… No…” – I finally woke up the last time to the giddy sight of a thin line of light on the eastern horizon. Time to fish! I hopped out of bed, crawled from my den of fly fishing tackle, and headed for my waders.

 

The air was still as I stepped out into the coolness of the morning. Walking to my fly rod Continue reading

Rainbrowns, Day 1

Rainbrowns, Day 1

I have a confession to make:

I don’t fish for freshwater trout very much.

I flyfish in areas that earn me googley-eyed looks and somewhat bewildered queries, often along the lines of “I didn’t think you could fly fish in saltwater/on the jetty/in the surf/offshore?”

On the jetty, I often get asked “Ever catch anything on that out here?”, with a nod towards my fly rod; so often, in fact, that I have started using it as an inside joke greeting with my fellow jetty flyfishers.

I mean, heck, this blog’s name illustrates my point – this isn’t Fresh396, or Coldwater396…

Anyway, I digress. My point is that I was given the chance to join a good buddy of mine in his native state of Colorado, fishing for freshwater trout with little rods and wimpy leaders. I expected it to be a blast. Continue reading

Smack into Springtime…

Spring is green water, and the first week of sunny days without a cold front to bust the pattern. Spring is out once again on the warm granite of the jetty, remembering the times before, anticipating the times ahead. Spring is a lightning slash through schools of tiny baitfish; a flicker of black forked tail re-entering the water in the afternoon sun, as terns dip and wheel, crying the raucous song of their people. Spring, for me, really truly starts when the Spanish mackerel arrive at the jetty.

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Breakfast is served… on the rocks.

They’re not the biggest, or the fastest, but they’re big enough and fast enough to make your reel sing, your heart rate elevate. They’ve got a face full of razors and they mean business; they’ll slice you good if you’re careless while de-hooking. Follow the birds and you’ll often find the Spanish, ripping up the surface as they slap-chop baitfish. In the picture above, they had corralled schools of bait against the rocks of the jetty and were systematically shredding them. They can often be found right off the rocks; for this reason, they’re a great introduction fish for jetty fly neophytes. In my next post, I’ll talk more about that.

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My buddy Zach with his first saltwater fish on fly, a hard-pulling Spanish Mackerel.

Size 2 clousers in your favorite color combo, heavy on the flash, retrieved as fast as you possibly can. No wire needed, just 50lb bite tippet if you start getting bitten off. Simple, and at times very fast-paced. Spring has smacked, and soon… very soon… the summer will kick off for real. I can’t wait.

The Salt396 Guide to 2013

This year was one for my personal recordbooks. I had many things happen that I had planned on, such as the successful one year anniversary of my blog. I had things happen that I had hoped for, such as a succession of calm, flat days offshore that were ripe for chasing big pelagic fish. And then of course I had the things that I never dreamt of, such as my stunner of a lake trout experience. Grab your preferred adult beverage, and let’s think back… waaaay back…

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Early in 2013, I had the chance to go try and find some redfish and/or speckled trout with a good buddy of mine. We didn’t expect much, knowing that cold waters would have the fish lethargic and deep water blind casting would be the name of the game. Boring, yes, but better than not trying at all. So we chunked fuzz in the deepwater pockets and drifted promising edges, but we might as well have stayed home it seemed. Then, on impulse, we scouted some new water over the figurative and literal hill, and hit red-gold. Boom, said the tailing redfish. Continue reading

Flats Leaders

When rigging for the flats, it’s more a question of knowing how to deal with the current situation than anything else. For many flats fly fishers, the prepackaged tapered leaders made by many manufacturers are their go-to, and that often works just fine. They’re hard to beat for convenience.

Personally I like to make my own leaders, mostly because I think I can do it just as well for less cost. Like most guys that roll their own leaders, I like to start with a heavy butt section. This allows for efficient transfer of energy from the flyline to the leader. I generally go with a 30-20-12 progression in pound test if I am expecting to be casting to tailing or cruising fish (reds, drum, trout) on the flat.

The typical leader I will use on the flats is around 9-10′, but I have gone up to 14-15′ in super clear water. Longer leaders/tippets become necessary on highly spooky/pressured fish, or when hunting the big sow speckled trout that will prowl the shallows from time to time. Windy conditions call for shorter, stouter leaders; something like an 8-9′ leader of 50-30-20 or 40-20. When facing windy conditions, the heavier tippet turns over bulky, air-resistant flies a little better and can withstand the occasional windknot. This same configuration is what I will use when I am searching for fish with topwaters or sliders – the more casts you make, the more likely that you will eventually put a windknot in the line.The last thing you want to do is come tight on a good red after a crashing eat and have that tippet pop – ping! Don’ ask me how I know this.

When I’m actually walking the flats, I will generally carry a small roll of 12-14lb tippet material, in case I need to refresh my tippet or I have some sort of catastrophic failure happen to my leader. Being unprepared for that when you’re several hundred yards from the boat or truck is not something that you want to do to yourself. Don’t ask me how I know. Just trust me when I say:

Fortune favors the prepared.

 

Gettin’ lined up

Most high-end flylines these days come with a loop already formed at the terminal ends of the line. There are people who believe that you should fashion your own loops – if you’re one of those people then you probably already have a favorite method.

For those that either have no experience with the procedure or come across an older line with no welded loops, here is the technique that I use most often. Thanks to the guys at InTheRiffle.com for posting that up for all of us. In a slight but important difference, I’ll use Dacron for the wraps, which forms a flatter knot Continue reading