Skip to content

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.

2013-09-06 16.56.23

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 dry fly eat that I was hankering for ...continue reading "Fishing our way home"

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.

 

2013-09-06 18.50.33

 

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 ...continue reading "Rainbrowns – Afternoon trophy trouting"

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?

 

2013-09-08 07.35.57

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.

 

2013-09-08 07.03.15
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.

 

2013-09-08 07.05.38

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.

2013-09-07 07.11.01-1

2013-09-08 07.05.45

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.

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 "Rainbrowns, Day 1"

There was a storm brewing... had been all day. Night before, we had stopped and spent the night in a motel rather than risk running through what we knew could be a twister-maker of a thunderstorm. You gotta know when to push your luck. Listened on the radio as a tornado was spotted dropping between towns, winding along, and then disappearing back in the clouds. No fuss, no muss - typical plains springtime. Weather cleared and we arrived safely the next morning.

Today was a different story. I watched from orbit as wave upon gnarly wave of thunderstorms marched northeastward, just missing us. I studied the radar, hoping it would ...continue reading "Carpy Weather"

3

 

There are times when fly fishing - and blogging - can seem a lonely pursuit. Hey, most of the time I kinda prefer it that way. Sometimes though, we need solidarity; we need one voice. These are the times when we need to all be in the same room at once, finally getting to put names to faces and enjoy the company of people who share our mindset. Such was the occasion on January 8, when I joined many of my fellow fly fishers and conservation enthusiasts in gathering to help support the Bristol Bay protection effort. If you are just hearing about this topic, you can visit these resources, or watch the documentary Red Gold that outlines the impact not only felt by, but to be dealt to, the local ecology and the local people. My position is a little biased of course but I feel like the guys at Felt Soul Media did a great job of trying to portray both sides of the story.

 

It was great to finally meet Christine Warren, aka Fly Fish Chick and once again run into fly slingers like Amanda of Red's Cottage photography and custom fly tying, Gabriel Langley, Matt Bennet and Chris Johnson of Living Waters Fly Shop, and a host of other comrades who love the woods and water. A special thanks goes to Banning Collins of Class V Outfitters for helping organize and promote this important event.

 

The raffles were great, the venue was warm and dry on a wet, chilly day, and the networking was fast and furious. A great cause was supported, and even as the specter of utter doom and disaster hangs over one of the most prolific and beautiful areas in the world... a ray of hope shines. We can help, and I ask you now, learn about this issue. Please. If not for yourself, for your grandchildren, and their children's grandchildren. We only get one chance to do this right.

 

Sportsmen are standing up and drawing a line in the sand, and you and I and all of us can make a difference here. We are in this together - you are not alone.

2

It was too damn cold for anyone to be out here. Only crazy people went fishing on a day like this.

He was talking to himself on the drive to the water, one cold day in January with the wind blowing and the distinct possibility ice freezing in his guides. Sounds like the beginning of a story from Up North, or at least Out West… but no, this was Down South, deep in central Texas. Most people down here don’t venture very far from the central heating when it gets much below 40… when it does get that cold. But here it was, 28 degrees, and he was getting out of his vehicle at streamside, stringing up a 4wt. He had just come off a long hunting season of guiding hunters and doing a little hunting himself, and he was craving a pull on his line and some fish-slimed hands.

Most of the spots close by weren’t going to fish well, but there was a place he knew of where a couple springs welled up from the bottom of the riverbed, and fish would crowd into the warmer water those provided.

Taking a slow, deep breath, he blew a steady stream of ‘smoke’, watching it blast outwards and then dissipate in the almost non-existent breeze. It was one of those cold, quiet days where sound seems amplified… sharper, somehow.  He could hear the burble of water pushing past the concrete bridge pilings, and the sudden splashing and annoyed duck speech of mallards taking off. Listening for the quacking echo that never came. Who taught ducks to quack without echoing anyway…

Striding crunchily down the limestone graveled road, he noticed how drab everything seemed. One could see right through thickets that during the summer had been an impenetrable snarl of leaves – reminded him of the time he worked back through those thickets on a deer trail and had come upon a couple sunbathing nude. Whoops. He smiled in remembrance. Their faces had been a dramatic shade of red, whether from too much sun or too much fun he couldn’t say…

But now the branches were as naked as the sunbathers, the leaves a motley assortment of patchwork colors strewn across the ground in an ill-sewn quilt. As he neared the bridge, a great blue heron took fight with that awkward, noisy way they have that shatters the stillness. The bird glided to the next sandbar down and glowered back at the interloper disturbing the bird’s peaceful day.

Don’t worry old man, the fisherman thought. Soon enough you’ll have your river to yourself again. Cursory inspection of the cold, clear flow revealed not a flicker of fin, so the fisherman traipsed off the bridge and waded gently into the ankle deep water at the edge of the current. As he gradually meandered downstream, he had time to realize that his nose was really starting to complain about how cold it was outside and was demonstrating disapproval by creating more mucous than any one nose should ever need. Continued negotiations with the back of his wool glove ensued, and the fisherman wandered on.

The gloves reminded him of a time on a steelhead river where he had swung a fly across the current time after time after time, so many times, and then suddenly the brilliant flash of a take and the feel of lightning on the line… it had been cold then, too.

The gloves remembered.

Rounding the bend the fisherman came upon the entrance to the small backwater that held the springs.  Approaching slowly and quietly, he stooped low to avoid spooking fish.

Keeping a scraggly young bush between him and the green-clear water, he got his first glimpse – a carp, swimming slow patrol circuits along the opposite edge of the backwater.

The fisherman kept still and watched, knowing from hard-won experience that to barge in after the first fish one sees is a great way to catch no fish.

A sunfish drifted up into view, dimpling the surface like it was June. Catfish prowled the depths near an old, broken down branch resting on the bottom amongst a carpet of dead leaves.

Sniffling a bit, he scrubbed at his nose again and flexed fingers going stiff with cold. Resting on his knees behind the young shrub, the fisherman dug in his pocket to retrieve the small fly box nestled there. He glanced up at the dreary sky, gauging ambient light, and eyed the carp that was still making slow circuits. Probably not enough light to cast a line shadow, but best be careful.  Clicking open the simple box revealed a small bedraggled group of flies; he hadn’t tied in a couple months, but he had faith that a fish catcher was in the lineup.

Watching the carp again, he considered his options. Needed to sink about a foot pulling an 8lb leader, get the fish’s attention but not too much, cold water, overcast day…

His bare fingertips rested lightly on a beadhead zugbug. Weight, glimmer, silhouette, movement… yes.

The gloves slipped off his hands quickly, and the zug went on the leader with a dab of saliva and deft twists made difficult by numb fingers.

Grey wool against the tan and white river cobble of the gravel bar. A cardinal’s call from across the river. Stinging cold nipping at nose and ears. Great to be alive.

Scrunching the gloves back on awkwardly, he flexed his hands again and readied himself. Deep breath, gout of steam. Making sure the fish couldn’t see him, he flicked the newly-knotted fly into the main current of the river where it ran a couple feet to his right. Water haul here, he thought to himself. The line and leader floated lightly, making a tiny v-wake behind the skating fly. Making sure he had a clear casting lane, the angler waited, stoic. Downstream, the heron waited. Brothers of purpose.

The carp circled, meandering, and paused to nose among some leaves.

Now. The flyline accelerated in a smooth curl, arcing up over the rodtip, straightening and dropping to deliver the fly with a tiny plop between the lethargic fish and the bank. Sinking, so slowly... but now the fish raises in the water column and spots the interesting speck dropping to the leaves in front of its face. The fisherman watches the fish, the fish watches the fly.

Intensity.

The angler watched the fly drift to a stop on a rusty orange leaf. A tiny twitch of the line, and the fly breathed and quivered. The fish didn’t move… then almost imperceptibly, it leaned forward. The fisherman subconsciously leaned as well, although he was unaware he did so.

A subtle gill flare was the only clue, but the arm raised quickly and confidently, and the thrill of a tight line thrummed in the angler’s veins. The fight was almost inconsequential, but satisfying. The carp proved to be 4 or 5 pounds when brought near and the angler didn’t hesitate to strip his gloves and wet his hands in the cold water so he could raise and admire the golden-scaled visitor from a far-off land.

Back in the water, the fish pulled away into the depths with slow, steady cadence. The fisherman stood, shaking water and slime from his numb fingers, and slipped the gloves back on. He looked downstream, through the skeletons of winter-weary trees, and decided that was good enough. With another deep breath and gout of steam, he turned, and began to crunch back to the bridge.

His need for a bite had been quieted, and besides, it was too damn cold for anyone to be out here anyway. Only crazy people went fishing on a day like this.

2

It was hot.

The line burned through my fingers as the thing I had hooked down in the turbid water heaved and surged. I started taking steps back up to the water’s edge to help clear line faster as my eyes darted down to my line, searching for heart-breaking tangles that might catch on a guide and ruin this adventure before it hardly began.

The last of the slack whipped up off the water and came taut with an audible ‘Ting!’, slapping against the arbor of my reel. I could hear my fishing buddy reeling furiously from down the bank as he prepared to come assist and spectate.

My 8wt throbbed with powerful headshakes; I dropped my rodtip to the downstream side to try and lend some side pressure and turn the force of nature I had latched on to. I was still unsure at this point if I had them or if they had me…

My buddy arrived, mud spattered and a little breathless. I grinned at him and he gave me a slap on the back – we knew this was as close as we had gotten to the Goal. After the initial run the creature in the depths had settled down to a steady, inexorable pull. I couldn’t turn it, couldn’t control it, so I applied pressure and settled back to wait. I tried not to think about all the rocks and trees and other debris that the river had swallowed and that might be waiting to part my twenty pound leader.

When you're fighting a big fish there is that niggling worry that grows in the back for your mind - you must master it. The very fear that you might lose the fish can cause it to happen. Hurried netting attempts, horsing the fish, grabbing too quickly for a leader, bringing in a green fish... all can spell disaster for that fish of a lifetime. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Now, I'm not saying baby the fish either. Apply pressure when applicable, and whip that fish's ass with good fighting technique. You will dispel the whispers of doubt in the back of your mind if you know you're fighting the fish as best you can. This is good for your mental state and leaves the fish in better condition to swim away after a picture or two.

In the middle of the river, the fish surged to the surface.

I got a glimpse of it for the first time as it made a huge swirl, pushing back towards the bottom. My rod was bent in a smooth parabolic curve as I grudgingly gave a few feet of line, and then stopped the fish again. Ah, yes - we've got 'er now. Applying brutal side pressure and reeling in a few inches at a time, I worked the fish up from the bottom and ever closer to my feet.

My fishing partner slipped on a glove and got out a camera. After a couple more short runs for the depths, the fish was beached in all her glory.

Gloriously Beastly

 

We quickly applied a tape and got a measurement -

Taped In
Taped Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And revived her, watching her swim away powerfully. Goal Accomplished.

Release... The Kraken!

 

'Til Next Time...

 

And on to the next spot...

It was hot. The weight of the sunlight was almost a palpable thing, given mass by the humidity of the air.

My buff drank sweat directly from my pores, almost able to keep up with its wicking duties. I was consciously breathing through my mouth instead of my nose so that my glasses wouldn't fog.

None of this bothered me. I was born down here - hot summers are all I know. Hardcore steelheaders rely on the cold to keep the rivers clear of the unworthy; I have the heat.

Down the bank, my fishing buddy was cussing quietly as he missed a strike, and then suddenly came tight with a heavy strip strike. Gar are great training for tarpon - gotta hit ‘em hard. Go google a picture of a gar skull and you’ll understand why. They’re all bone.

The fish leapt from the water, showing itself to be a medium sized longnose. A fun catch, but not what we were after.

We had seen the Kraken, and we had our hearts set on nothing less than her.

So began the game - cast as absolutely far as you can, wherever you thought a ‘gator gar might be lurking. Slowly strip back, feeling for any deviation that might mean a fish has picked up your fly. Smell the river, watch the dragonflies, strip, cast, repeat.

A solid peck telegraphed down my line; a swift strip strike came tight to a fish buried in the murk of the river. It wasn't like hooking a brick wall, so I knew it wasn't the Kraken. A couple minutes later a nice spotted gar appeared from the depths. These are the prettiest of the gar, superbly mottled and camouflaged for their watery environ. I slipped on a glove for the final approach. Thus protected from the coarse armor, it was easy to pop the hook out and slip the fish back into the water.

Tha-wOOSH!

This time back down towards my buddy. Flicking fly lines immediately split the distance between us. Two lines, one mustard orange and one light blue, drifted together down the lazy, swirling current. The flies sinking down, perhaps even now passing within inches of a gar, THE gar…

Strip, sink…. Strip, sink…

All the way back ‘til the leader connection is just outside the rod tip. Shake out a couple feet of line, roll cast to get everything going and the satisfying acceleration of a couple good double hauls. Then fishing again - the most zen part of fly fishing, in tune with everything and nothing at once. Reaching for the slightest hint… wait… there’s a bit of extra weight… a slight sluggishness… my left hand grips and rips the fly line back past my left hip as my right hand powers the rod back to the right. Or… tried to.

The movement of my right hand is arrested suddenly by a great weight attached to the end of my line. The line thrums with power and starts leaving, burning through the tight grip of my left hand. I had time to turn and look wide-eyed down the bank and succinctly sum up the situation to my fishing partner - “Oh s*^%.”

5

It was midafternoon. The Texas heat bore down on my shoulders as I stood silently by the riverside, listening to the background drone of katydids and cicadas. My fishing partner readied tippet and selected his fly down the bank a ways. I could smell the heat, and the river; a subtle bouquet of drying plant material and mud. I took note of all this, but my eyes never left the water. I was searching for a sign. As the water warmed its ability to retain oxygen decreased, and as a result a fish that could use it’s air bladder like a lung would have an advantage. A predatory advantage over the sluggish, oxygen-starved minnows and other prey. A gar advantage.

There. A subtle roll, not really a gasp for breathe just kind of a sip. Small gar, that one. Probably a longnose. Another rolled, and another.

I waited.

Rod in my right hand, leader in my left. My fly hung a few inches below my left hand, swaying gently in the occasional puff of breeze that crawled through the riparian vegetation. My eyes slightly unfocused, looking at nothing and everything. The heat was hot, and the insects droned on.

Down the bank, my fishing partner waded gently out into the water, ripples emanating from his knees as he stopped and started stripping a pile of light blue line into the water.

From the corner of my eye I watched the pile zip up off the water as he flexed the rod through a double haul. I took a deep breath of hot, wet air, and stepped into the water. It was warm, but cool to my legs and the backs of my knees. I stopped and started making my own line pile, still watching.

Tha-wOOSH! Mid-river, a leviathan surfaced for a fleeting moment, gulping air and turning immediately back towards the bottom, throwing water with a caudal fin as big as my head.

I glanced over at my buddy down the bank. He grinned and motioned with his head towards the retreating ring of ripples created by the rolling alligator gar. Go get ‘em, he said without words. I nodded. So it begins…

 

%d bloggers like this: