Sunday, September 27, 2009

Look to the fish!!

Well, it looks like Bin Laden's gotten his knickers all in a bundle again, picking a fight with Obama on the 9/11 anniversary and now warning the Germans to pack up their NATO-colored lederhosen and get out of Afghanistan.

The poor guy's turban is too tight. Someday I'd like to take him trout fishing, just to see how civilized we infidels (and our fish) are. 'Course I'd like to waterboard him in the Poudre afterwards, but first I'd show him that people, just like fish, can live together in civility. Then again, I wouldn't want his cave dwelling stank to soil my favorite river, so maybe he'll just read this blog sometime and see for himself.



Ebony and ivory (ok, brown and rainbow), living together in perfect harmony. Coexisting peacefully in the very same neighborhood. Imagine that!



Look to the fish, Usama! In a world where nobody can seem to get along, we all need to take a cue from our aquatic friends. It is possible to live with one another in peace

Friday, September 25, 2009

Changes...

Changes.

I'm beginning to learn - finally - that they're a part of life. If there's one thing I know for certain, it's that the only thing that won't change in life is that life will be a constant series of changes. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results just doesn't work. This beauty proved it to me today.




Fall seems to have come to Colorado in a sudden burst of cool air, turning leaves, and mosquito-free sunsets. Nowhere was it more apparent than on the river today. The water felt markedly colder to me, and was noticeably lower than just a week ago. One of the neat things about the stretch of river we've visited over the summer is that it provides consistent challenges for admittedly amateur anglers such as myself. Spots that were raging with water just two weeks ago are now too shallow to fish well, while stretches that were previously too deep to even reach now teem with trout feeding on the surface on caddis and mayfly hatches, making them ideal for honing dry fly skills.

Today took me way out of my comfort zone. As I've written previously, I've become an almost full-time nympher over the summer, and I think my success at polishing my nymphing skills has caused my dry fly prowess to suffer (not that it was all that great to begin with). Today I just didn't have a choice. My favorite stretches of river from the summer were too shallow to be fishable. The riffles, pockets, and eddies that were so fruitful last month were non-existant today. I grew frustrated as nymph after nymph became hung up on rocks or sticks, and finally came to grips with the fact that I was going to have to work harder today to catch something. Out came the dreaded dry flies. It's not that I don't enjoy fishing dries, it's just that I have to concentrate on so many different things: watching the fly; mending just enough to keep a natural float without sinking the fly; placing it in the right spot; and being quick enough to hook on sight.

After trying a number of different patterns - an Irresistable, Wyoming Renegade, BWOs, and even a big ol' hopper - I went to an Elk Hair Caddis, the last dry in the small flybox attached to the lanyard around my neck. There was plenty of surface action, but I just couldn't seem to pitch the right bug out. Finally, just as I finished tying on the Caddis, a fish launched into a ferocious rise, consuming whatever prey happened to be there for the taking. "What the heck," I thought to myself, and threw the Caddis out as close as possible to the remaining ripples from the rise.

Much to my delight, he took it. And much to my surprise, my reflexes were instant. 20 minutes later, I pulled the worn-out rainbow out of the water for the obligatory photo. A beautiful, fat, 20 inch trout.

Sure, it's a fishing lesson. You have to adapt to the water, the insects, the sunlight, and the temperature. Sometimes, you can simply get in the water and start dragging nymphs along the bottom. Sometimes, you have to stalk, doing everything possible to minimize your presence on the water. As I walked down the bank of the river to check on Dad and Chris, it suddenly struck me that it wasn't just a fishing lesson, but a good one for life as well.

I used to question God quite a bit in my life. I had no doubts about his power, his omniscience, or his love for mankind. Yet I have to confess that I often allowed myself to get angry at him. Why would he allow unpleasant things to happen? Why wouldn't he simply answer my prayers?

I think I'm coming to understand that God allows us to make our own choices in life, and sometimes he tests our mettle when those choices lead us down the wrong path. How will we respond? Will we keep nymphing, even when it has no chance of working, or will we embrace the challenge and reach for the dry fly when we're least comfortable in doing so?

The glass was half full today. Gotta start applying that perspective away from the river a little more often.

As David Bowie once said (or sang, rather): Turn and face the strange...changes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Training Day on Black Ice

Is it possible that this little guy could cause one man so much trouble?



Apparently so.

Today, I ventured out on my own. Neither of my regular fishing partners were available, so I drove up the canyon to explore some higher waters for a little practice. I was quite surprised on the drive up as I scanned the river for some solitude. The Poudre is such a great river for fly fishing because of mile after mile after mile of public access to the water. If you encounter a fellow angler in one of your favorite stretches, you either move on or you create enough space to not bother him/her. A couple of things surprised me about today. One, there seemed to be very few anglers on the river. Secondly, the water still seemed to be abnormally high for this time of year. Nonetheless, both the sky and the river were crystal clear. I didn't see much of a hatch on the surface, which was just fine with me as I seem to be turning into a full-time nympher more and more.

I decided to stop and fish a stretch I'd never tried before. This stretch of water had a nice combination of slow moving drifts and plenty of large boulders with nice holding areas behind them. I finally settled on a Prince Nymph for one rod with a Blue Winged Olive on my backup rod.

My troubles began almost immediately. One thing about the Poudre that you can take to the Bank is that the current will be strong. I stepped into the water and began to wade very uneasily to a spot where I could begin to drift the nymph from above a large boulder into the eddy behind it. In addition to the strong current, the rocks on the bottom seemed unusually slippery. I felt as though I were walking on ice with each step, and nearly went into the drink a couple of times before even making a cast. Finally, I stumbled my way to a huge rock that would allow me to sit for a few minutes while I casted upstream.

Fish began to take the nymph almost immediately, and I caught my first fish - a very small rainbow - about five minutes into things. After returning him to the river, I again drifted into the eddy and saw the indicator stop, followed quickly by a light, but very clear tug on the fly. I missed the hook set and casted again. And again, in the same spot, the fish kissed the fly. I slowly stripped in some line and watched as the fish followed the fly until I pulled it out of the water.

This cat and mouse game continued for a couple more casts before I finally coaxed him into taking it. Another nice little rainbow that popped off the line just as I reached down to pull him out. Having done enough in this spot, I decided to wade back to shore and work upstream a little bit.

I didn't bother bringing the fly in as I began to wade back across the river. The current was strong enough to warrant my full concentration, and I was still stumbling over my feet a little as I stepped on slippery rock after slippery rock. I finally reached some shallow water and turned to look at my line, which was harmlessly downstream. That's when the little tiger in the picture above took the nymph. Oh well, sometimes you get a little lucky. When a fish basically hooks itself, I don't stop to question why.

In retrospect, I'm convinced that the "why" in this case was that the fish wanted to have a little fun with me. I started to turn my feet downstream so I could quickly bring him in and move on. As I did so, I took a step onto what I can only describe as "black ice." The ensuing bit of comic relief to follow convinced me that I'm not quite the skilled, sophisticated river rat I sometimes delude myself into thinking I am.

There's a famous scene in the movie "A River Runs Through It." Paul, the younger son, hooks an enormous trout while older brother Norman watches. The fish starts to run downstream, and Paul risks life and limb to bring the giant in. The fish drags him down a treacherous, deep rapid, and as Paul submerges the only remaining sign of him is a hand holding firmly to the end of a flyrod, extended as high in the air as possible to keep tension on the line. Eventually, Paul reemerges in a calmer section of the river, lands the fish, and poses gloriously for the post-catch photo.

Um...yeah. My catch was nothing at all like that. I stepped on the cursed black ice rock, temporarily stood on my other leg, fell on my ass, and sat in water up to my waist. The fish stayed on the line. I think I might have heard him laughing. Rather than risk another ill-conceived step on the slippery rocks, I decided I might as well just sit there. My camera bag is waterproof, and it was safely around my neck out of the water anyway. So I landed the little guy from the cheap seats, not really caring whether he would squirm his way off the fly or not. Since he didn't, I decided to take his picture.

My waders and t-shirt will dry, but it may take awhile to regain the dignity that an 8 inch trout took away from me today.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

For the Record...

...the photographic evidence should leave no doubt.

On a recent family vacation, I was given a ribbing over some grievous allegations of "enhancing" or "inflating" my numbers with respect to my accounting of fish caught.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll concede to having occasionally added an inch or two to a trout I've caught. It's a time honored tradition among fishermen, and who am I to mess with tradition?

But doggone it, pictures don't lie! Today, I have no tall tales to weave. Today's match up in the ongoing "Poudre '09" battle was one to remember, and Dad and I have the pictures to prove it.

Three short hours were all it took to land two of the four biggest trout in the battle so far. Over the summer, we've developed a nice routine. We begin in a fast riffle where someone almost always strikes first blood; fish a long stretch of steady water adorned on the south side by numerous overhanging trees and deep holding areas; progress to "the hub," a playground of sorts where the river ebbs and flows in alternately fast current and deep, slow runs; and finish in a stretch of slow dry-fly current where fish almost always rise to the surface until just before we get in the water.

Following this familiar routine, I started nymphing while Dad went with a hopper pattern. Dad quickly progressed downstream to get the hopper out of the swift water, while I stayed at the riffle a bit longer and drifted nymphs along the bottom. Just as I had about given up on the nymphing, I turned to see Dad's rod tip bending dramatically, twitching back and forth. No more than five seconds later, my indicator sank and I set the hook. I landed a nice, fat rainbow, seen below.



I turned to get a look at Dad's fish, only to see that he was still playing it, and it looked like it had some more fight left in it.















I made my way downstream, knowing that Dad would eventually land the fish, and I wanted to be there for the picture. The photo op wouldn't happen for another 10 minutes, when Dad finally got the fish out of fast water, having tired it out enough to land it along the bank. A beautiful rainbow, probably approaching 20 inches.















I decided to keep nymphing, wondering all the while if I were making the right strategic choice. My doubts grew as I turned to once again see Dad calmly playing another strong fish. He was close to shore and I was up to my thighs in water, so I decided to stay put. Dad jumped into the lead with a nice brown, the only one of the day.




















By this point, I decided I would give Dad one more fish to prove to me that the hopper pattern was the hot fly of the day. What's the old adage? Good things come to those who wait? I tossed the nymph upstream and concentrated on the float. The bright orange indicator stopped a couple of times, and I responded with a quick tug on the rod, as I was always taught. I assumed I was hitting rocks, which happens often. I thought back to some reading I recently did and told myself to keep setting the hook when the indicator stopped. On the third cast upstream, the indicator took a nose dive. I set the hook and felt the solid resistance. For a split second, it felt as though the fly had lodged securely under a rock. Suddenly, the rock started shaking the line and moving, and then started running downstream. The rock, of course, was a very strong rainbow trout.

The rainbow seemed content to pull steadily and stay in the deep water, and really didn't start to fight until I coaxed him into some shallower current. Initially, it didn't feel like that much of a fish. As I continued to play him in the shallow water, he seemed to get stronger. "I think this one might have some size to him," I remarked to Dad, who by now was watching intently. As the fish finally surfaced for the first time, Dad let me know that it indeed had some weight. "Biggest one so far," he said. A few minutes later I landed him along the bank, and Dad got to do the honors with the camera this time.





What a comeback! Shortly after being safely released back into the river, he must have had the last laugh. As I began to make my way back to the bank following a few more casts, I paid too much attention to casting and too little attention to wading. A quick misstep sent me tumbling face first into the river, thoroughly soaking me from head to toe. Thank goodness for my waterproof camera bag.

The remainder of the day was anti-climactic. "The hub" produced nothing more than a solitary hit on my nymph. For good measure, Dad turned a beautifully casted dry fly into another nice rainbow...just to break the tie. I was too slow on the one trout that came after my elk hair caddis, and then my toes started to turn numb from the cold water that had flooded my waders during my less than graceful fall into the drink.

In any event, Battle Poudre '09 remains tight. And nobody can accuse either of us of embellishment, not one bit.

At least not until the next family get together.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Redstone Diary Part IV - How Proud am I???!!!!

This should warm the heart of even the crustiest old flyfisherman. Pretty darn good form for a 10 year-old's first flycasts. I'm all giddy!!

video

Redstone Diary Part III - No Name to Hanging Lake

Sunday, September 7



With just a hint of reluctance, I took a break from fishing on Sunday and hopped on the bike for a ride along the Colorado River with Mom, Heather, Nick, and Brenden. We made the drive from Redstone through Glenwood Springs and accessed the trail at the strangely named "No Name, CO." I was certain that there was some kind of clever story behind the name, but at the time I didn't bother to look into it. As it turns out, the Wikipedia entry I found states very matter of factly that it was simply named after No Name Creek and No Name Canyon. As it stands now, I have No Time for anymore No Name research, so we'll leave it at that.

The initial stretch of the trail was pretty much downhill and then flat, and the scenery was less than spectacular. After reaching our first rendevous point, however, it became very scenic and active, with dozens of bikers passing us in the opposite direction.



As I pedaled methodically, I instinctively began to wonder if maybe I should have tried to figure out a way to pack a flyrod with me and leave the biking to the rest of the crew. My fears were confirmed as I passed a stretch of river occupied by two flyfishermen, both of whom were in the middle of fighting trout at that very moment. Having put some distance between myself and the rest of the crew, I stopped to watch as one of the fishermen pulled in a nice looking brown. I made a quick mental note of the location and plugged it into my handheld GPS for future reference. On the return trip, I snapped a photo (below left), which captures both the natural beauty of the ride and the approximate location of the catch.
























We stopped at Hanging Lake Rest Area for a quick bite to refuel for the return trip. Nick's sarcastic wit kept us laughing as we sat just long enough for the older members of the crew (i.e. John and Mom) to stiffen up and develop kinks that would have to be worked out on the return ride.



The return trip was, by and large, one gigantic coast downhill, and we made close to double time on the way back. I proved I could still keep up with the young bucks. All in all, we traveled 14 miles. Granted, we're not ready for the Ironman yet, but not bad for a bunch of weekend warriors. I reassured myself that I hadn't committed any grave sins by skipping fishing that afternoon, and looked forward to another huge meal and time with family around the fire. Not a bad day by any measure!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Redstone Diary Part II - Ferocious Little Monsters.

Saturday, September 6

Sleep always comes difficultly to me on the initial night of a camping trip. A small breeze sounds like a cyclone; a chipmunk grows exponentially in size; snapping twigs sound like falling timber; and the smallest rain conjurs up images of typhoons. I awakened this morning to the sounds of a 10 year-old who had no such difficulty getting a good night's sleep and his grandfather, who sees sleeping past 6 a.m. on a camping trip as a waste of imminent sunlight. I struggled to my feet, my back feeling just precisely the way it should after a night spent horizontal on solid ground, softened ever so slightly by a half inch of foam rubber "sleeping pad." Once vertical, I fought with the zipper on my tent's door and splashed some frigid water on my face.

Fire would soon warm my hands enough to blissfully reach for a steaming hot cup of coffee, brewed in a well-used metal percolator. My mood quickly improved at the sight of Cameron's campfire dance, some sort of morning aerobics routine he seems to have just invented.



After an enormous breakfast and some relaxation with family, feeling sufficiently warmed in temperature and spirit, I couldn't wait any longer. Trout were calling me from the river. Time to gear up. Having scouted a few spots the day before, I noticed a large holding area teaming with trout. They looked small, but they were devouring everything on the surface of the water. I tied on a size 14 Adams, liberally greased with "Gink," and gently placed the fly into the flat at the end of a strong run. Almost immediately, a quick flash of water consumed the Adams, so fast that I missed the hook.

I returned my fly to the same spot upstream, this time with my complete attention on the fly. Another quick flash. BOOM! Set the hook and felt a small but fierce little fighter dive deep underwater and run downstream. With any luck, in a few years he'll have some additional weight to him and give some other fisherman the thrill of a lifetime. Today, he got caught.






The fun lasted for about an hour, with fifteen or so similar results. None of the small rainbows measured more than 12 inches, but they fought with the ferocity so typical of the rainbow trout. It turned out to be great dry fly practice. By the end of the hour, they began to slow down as the sun reached its peak and the temperature rose. The perfect time to leave the pool for someone else and grab a quick bite of lunch.

It's a beautiful thing, this obsession of mine.

Redstone Diary - Part I

Friday, September 5

Day 1 began in typical fashion as we prepared to leave town. Most of the prep time was spent packing the trailer and truck, trying to fit two bicycles into Dad's camper and arranging food into every nook and cranny of refrigerator and cooler space. I slept a little later than anticipated, so I had to hurry to make sure I got packed in record time without forgetting the important things (cameras and fishing gear!).



On roads relatively free of Labor Day weekend traffic, we pulled into camp around 4:30 p.m. and got set up. The scenery is breathtaking and the setting perfect for a family reunion of sorts. I'm immediately struck by how much better I feel. While my thoughts turn immediately to the river, I decide to stay put for the afternoon. There'll be plenty of time for fishing.



Mom finally breathed a sigh of relief when Chris, Christel, Matt, Heather, and the boys pulled into the campground near 10:00 p.m. Mothers never stop worrying, a fact I know from personal experience, as Mom has never stopped worrying about me and never ceases to know when things are wrong with me. It’s a lesson that all children learn in the course of life - some sooner than others, but eventually a man or woman realizes that his/her mother will always be able to tell when they are hurting. With all safely in camp for the night, I think she finally can rest easy, although the camp host’s warning about bear sightings in recent days did cause her to realize the wisdom of me having a firearm in my tent with me.

Speaking of firearms…that’s a good place to start the trip diary. As always, I dutifully packed my Glock .45 along with Dad’s .357, both secured with trigger locks and separately stored ammunition. Trouble is, trigger locks don’t come undone without a key. As we left Fort Collins today, I stopped to do a final mental check of supplies and conveniences that I like to have with me on a camping trip. I glanced at my keys, sitting prominently on the living room coffee table. I thought to myself, “why would I need to bring my keys along? I’m riding with Mom and Dad. May as well just leave them here.” The reason for bringing my keys hit me square between the eyes as the camp host told us of a menacing bear that had been frightening campers within the past couple of weeks. The key to the trigger lock for my Glock, of course, sat securely on my key chain on the living room coffee table, next to a recent issue of the NRA’s American Rifleman. How ironic. I can see the headlines now. “39 YEAR OLD KILLED BY BEAR. INOPERABLE FIREARM TO BLAME.”

Brenden and Nick appear to be having fun so far, joined at the hip as always. Cam, God bless him, arrived fast asleep in the back of Christel’s Jeep, bundled up in a small flannel blanket. I looked at him with envy. So peaceful, so innocent, so much life ahead of him. The little bugger is out like a light on the couch inside Dad’s camper, the spoils of being the youngest.

Matt and Heather operated with typical efficiency in setting up camp, adorned in matching His and Her headlamps. What a great idea. I’ll have to pick one of those up. Christel and Chris set up an absolute monster of a tent. My battered, well-traveled two-man, by comparison, looks like the Christmas tree in the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

The moon sparkles brightly, peering out slightly above a rugged, rust colored ridge to our west. Nearly full, it sits inches, yet light years away from a solitary bright star. The camp is now quiet. The right kind of quiet - not isolating or fearful, but grand and peaceful. The sandman calls, and I must answer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Like a kid on Christmas Eve...

...I'm anxiously awaiting the Sandman's arrival so I can quickly kill the next six hours and spend a long weekend with the best people in the world - my family. My waders are patched (again), flies tied, reels packed, tents cleaned, camera charged, and food for an army prepared. Tomorrow we're off for a long weekend in Redstone, Colorado - all ten of us! I'm hoping to get some quality angling time in on the Crystal, Roaring Fork, and Frying Pan rivers, but mostly I'm just excited to have a few days with parents, siblings, and the three coolest nephews in the world.

I'm not certain that anyone outside the ten of us will really care all that much, but I'll do my best to document the laughs, quibbles, and idiosyncracies that will undoubtedly give us all lasting memories. Getting the ten of us together for more than a few hours anymore is an accomplishment in and of itself. So forgive me if I overdo it with a laymen's version of photojournalism over the next few days.

Predictions:

1) Bears will be frightened away by high decibel snoring emanating from two separate tents and one hard-sided camper.
2) Matt will triumph on the bike ride.
3) Mom will beat me in Flinch.
4) Brenden will succumb to pyromania, and we'll all be warmer for it.
5) Dad will turn truck packing into a meticulous, precise, science.
6) Nick will learn how to flyfish (he has no choice, he's my nephew).
7) Christel will wonder what she's gotten herself into, and Matt will give her the "I told you so" look.
8) Cameron will make a brilliant legal argument about a yet to be decided issue.
9) Heather will be organized, efficient, and game for anything, as always.
10) Chris will avoid stepping over barbed wire in his fishing waders (that's an inside joke).
11) I will be at peace, if only for a few days.
12) God will travel with us and bless us.

Happy Labor Day weekend!