Sunday, July 18, 2010

One to Remember: Lower Poudre, 7/17/10

I woke up yesterday morning feeling groggy, having slept a mere four hours.  I'd stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning, eagerly and impatiently awaiting the start of another day on the river.  This time there were no distractions to worry about.  No suffering through another day of work-related annoyances.  No errands to run.  No bills to pay for a few weeks.  I was entirely consumed and completely prepared.  At around 2 a.m., I decided that it wouldn't hurt to have a few more flies in my arsenal, so I hopped out of bed and tied some pheasant tail nymphs.  Something led me to a pattern with red wire ribbing.  I'll never know why, but it would be a fateful choice.

At 6:30, I hastily jump into some clothes.  I use the word "clothes" loosely here; an old pair of comfortable swim trunks and the lightest t-shirt I could find, my feet adorned by nothing but a cheap pair of Walmart-issue flip flops.  The hum of the old man's Dodge diesel notified me that the river was ready, simply waiting for us to arrive.

At 7:00, we're armed and ready, and we arrive at the stream just minutes before another fisherman with trout-hunting on his mind.  He looks somewhat put-off that we would have the temerity to beat him to the put-in spot, makes a brief, hopeful inquiry that we're not actually going to fish at this particular spot, then drives on downstream in a subdued huff.  Doc smiles.  That was close.

The first hour goes slowly.  Most of the river is waking slowly.  I cast and drift patiently, wondering whether the nymph will produce.  Caught off guard, I react slowly as the line stops its drift and bends back upstream.  I lift on the rod.  Too slow.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Two minutes later, I'm alert.  The strike indicator sinks, and I respond forcefully this time.  Hook up.  The sensation is familiar, yet surprisingly new and fresh.  Like a kid, I look around for Dad's approval.  He's busy upstream, so I start the battle.  A hefty brown trout wanders back and forth along the bottom of the stream, my pheasant tail nymph secured in his lip.  He instinctively runs for deep water...and then sits.  The steady pull feels heavy, like trying to retrieve a concrete block.  I  follow his run, wading through waist-deep current.  Finally, he surfaces, and finds his way into my net.

Swift, heavy slicks await us further upstream, and surely more trout.  The entry point is fast whitewater, but runs smoothly and gradually into a quarter mile of perfect water.  Trees overhang the river every 20 yards, forming a series of shady, concealed holding lies.  I cast upstream and drift the nymph into the first.  There's nothing subtle about the strike.  A strong, river-seasoned rainbow consumes the nymph and runs.  I make a feeble effort at setting the hook, which has already been sufficiently set.  And I hang on for dear life as the trout begins to thrash.  Unlike the brown who simply sat and tugged, this rainbow zigs, zags, runs upstream, runs downstream, and leaps.  It's a heavy fish that isn't going to come in quietly.  The bend in the rod is dramatic, but the sight of the trout in the net is one that will lodge itself in my memory, stored alongside images of others in my mind.

Under the next set of trees, the story repeats itself.  The character is different, but the result is the same.  Another rainbow.  This one takes the hook a bit more cautiously.  The indicator seems to stop, and then the line bends back upstream.  My mind is now focused, attuned to react.  A quick raise on the rod, and the fish is hooked.  Not as large, but compensates with beauty.

Another set of trees, another rainbow.  I play this one quickly, and he tosses the fly before I can snap his photo.  It's just as well, because the final act in this drama is about to play.

Under the last bunch of trees, I drift a new nymph close to the far bank.  I'm pleased at how the nymphs are holding up.  The first was durable enough to survive two large trout through long, hard battles.  The second survives another two trout, but takes quite a beating.  They're patterns I've tied myself, and while they aren't as pretty as the store-bought variety, they're clearly working.  A fresh fly on the line won't hurt at this point.

After several drifts, I finally get it right.  The indicator is flowing downstream perfectly, neither racing ahead nor dragging behind the line.  Suddenly it disappears, taking a nose dive for the bottom of the stream.  I set the hook securely and listen as line immediately begins to zip out of the reel.  I see a huge flash of silver take off on a dead sprint, and then turn back upstream.  The monster goes aerial three times in rapid succession, each leap out of the water punctuated by mid-air thrashing.  The big fish tries everything it can think of to shake the fly loose.  Doc is watching this one, and drops everything to handle net duty.  Marvelous, marvelous fish.

We break for lunch and respite from the searing mid-summer heat,  then return to the same stretch.  It's been so good to me throughout the morning that we decide to refish the stretch during late afternoon, this time with Doc leading the downstream progression and me playing cleanup behind.  At the first set of trees, the scene is familiar.  Doc sees the indicator drop and sets the hook.  A brief battle ensues and Doc nets the fish.

As I start downstream to capture the fish on film, I see it give one thrash and disappear.  It's out of Doc's hands and gone.  Doc looks at me with an "uh-oh" expression, and mentions something about me having to "cut it loose."  I have no idea that he's referring to the pheasant tail nymph stuck in his finger.  I arrive on the scene and find this grisly carnage:

Doc finds it somewhat odd that I want to take a picture.  He shoots me a look somewhere between perplexed and perturbed.  "All part of the Flywriter's mentality," I say.  He shakes his head and holds out his hand before asking, non-verbally, "can we get to the damn doctor now?"

Our afternoon ends.  The physician at the clinic compliments Doc on his wherewithal to shove the barb through the skin, making it easier for him to clip through the hook and pull the remainder out.

Fun day.  Looking forward to the next one...  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rod tips matter after all

I'll start with the good news, which has been been infrequent in most respects lately.  The Poudre continues to produce nice fish, like this little brown.

A few just like him entertained me on the lower Poudre yesterday.  Great fun.

The bad news?  Remember when I previously uttered this idiotic statement in Monday's post

After calming myself following a brief period of hyperventilating, I reached for my other fly rod.  You all know the one.  I wrote about it previously, I think.  It used to be nine feet, but it's now only about eight and a half, thanks to a broken rod tip.  How big a difference could a tip make, right?
As it turns out, quite a difference!

I knew it was coming.  A day after discovering that the top half of my one fly rod is MIA, the top half of my second rod...already tipless...suddenly got a lot shorter.  I hooked into a fish that put quite a bend in the rod, and sure enough, without the flexibility of the tip, the remainder snapped in two, like a brittle old bone. 

I'm officially flyrodless, and in my life, that is quite a catastrophe.

The hits just keep on coming.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lower Poudre, 7/12/10

Today was almost a day full of losses.  But not quite.

I had a rough day at work.  That qualifies as a loss, as in hours of lost living that I'll never get back.  I lost patience.  I lost fully functioning and productive brain cells.  I lost enthusiasm.  Nearly lost my mind entirely.

That's all completely unimportant, however.  After all, it's only work.  The real losses started to pile up later.  As the sun began it's gradual descent, I couldn't shake the euphoria from the weekend's successful brook trout excursion and a newfound technique that I'm sure is old hat to many, but quite unique for me.  I've never really spent too much time fishing two-fly rigs before, save for some double-nymphing that I played around with earlier in the spring.  It's normally enough for me to focus on one dry fly.  The double dry rig from the weekend, however, got me thinking that it's probably a good thing for me to keep mastering.  A lot of the blogs I follow seem to treat the technique as second-nature.  Like any good student, I learn by observation and emulation.  So I kept after it today.

Which brings me back to the first loss.  I opened up the case to my eight-foot five weight and found exactly one half of a fly rod.  One half.  I think there was supposed to be a second half in there too, but it's gone.  No idea where.  Searched high and low.  Lost temper.

After calming myself following a brief period of hyperventilating, I reached for my other fly rod.  You all know the one.  I wrote about it previously, I think.  It used to be nine feet, but it's now only about eight and a half, thanks to a broken rod tip.  How big a difference could a tip make, right?

I got to the river and prepared to make the best of an increasingly frustrating chain of events.  I reached in the fly box and pulled out a para-caddis pattern that doubles as a dry fly and an indicator.  I promptly hooked myself in the thumb, frantically pulled it out, and summarily dropped it in the river.  Lost about a half hour's worth of time spent at the tying table (hey, it's a hard pattern for me).  Nearly lost mind.

After all these losses, I probably should have simply cut them and gone home.  Nah.  One last try.

A few chunky little rainbows kept the day from being a total loss, and kept me from feeling like a total loser.  Thank God for this beautiful hobby of mine.

The flies of the day were the para-caddis on the surface and smallish (#18) pheasant tail nymphs trailing below, for those of you interested in that sort of intel.  Fish took both of them consistently.  The water clarity is good and the flow is manageable in most spots, although the far bank is still running awfully heavy.

Also, I'll be looking for a decent, budget-conscious fly rod.  Recommendations will be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

South Fork, 7/10/10

Had a blast this weekend fishing for brook trout on the South Fork of the Poudre, near Pingree Park.

I hadn't really planned on fishing much, given that the outing was primarily a family get-together just for some R&R, but of course I couldn't fathom the idea of leaving the fly rod at home, especially with such a pretty little stream in close proximity to our camp.

I've never been much good on small streams.  Come to think of it, I've never been spectacular on any stream of any size, but small streams in particular require a level of finesse and patience that I haven't really mastered just yet.  I have a feeling that, like many fly fisherman, my hunger for big fish and my adequate but hardly elegant casting skills lend themselves to big waters with fewer opportunities for error (i.e. snags and overhanging trees/brush).  Imagine my satisfaction this weekend at having seemingly found my groove on a stream that was small and shallow, but surprisingly productive and exceedingly fishable.

Along with my brother-in-law, and very briefly with my 10 year-old nephew, I managed to hook-up with just about a dozen gorgeous little brook trout like the two pictured here.  We started after them with two-fly rigs, initially a para-caddis with small dropper nymphs.  After the first hook-up and a number of misses, I realized that the fish were exclusively hitting on the para-caddis, which I was more or less fishing as an indicator.  Rather than wasting any more time, I removed the trailing nymphs and replaced them with another dry-fly.  It's the first time I've ever fished two surface flies at once, and it was a bit of a challenge to keep track of both flies on the surface, but it became a really productive approach once I got used to it.

The stream itself was a dream come true.  Much of the stream winds back and forth through a meadow, providing ample turns in the river where the water grows deeper and calmer.  These natural lies were generally full of actively feeding brookies.  No other fishermen, the banks surrounded by meadows on both sides, surprisingly warm water temperatures (I didn't even bother putting my waders on, just an old pair of hiking boots), and a nice combination of sun and rain.  The only drawback was an afternoon rainstorm, which wouldn't have been a drawback at all, except that it briefly turned into a lightning storm with some nasty little hail.  Fortunately we were able to simply wait out the hail and lightning, and the rain and clouds made the dry fly fishing even better.

It was a really nice, fun change from my normal routine on the big, roaring Poudre.  I can see several return trips happening.    

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Little Revolutionaries

Happy 4th of July!

After church, I postponed sinking my teeth into a thick t-bone for a couple quick hours on the Poudre.  The park along the river, which I expected to be jammed full of patriotic revelers, was nearly empty.  Puzzled, I decided to take advantage.

The revelers were in the water, and they showed themselves to be fish born out of the tradition established by the founders of this country - revolutionaries with the odds stacked against them!  Like this nation in its infancy, the little Poudre rebels fought with a tenacity well beyond their small stature.   

Believe it or not, the fish shown above was NOT the smallest fish I caught today.  I took his photo because - other than a larger brown I caught later in the afternoon - he fought unbelievably hard, jumping four or five times before I pulled him in and turned him loose. 

One thing's for sure:  I seem to have mastered the art of catching the small fish, but as of yet I haven't seen one over 12 inches.  Still fun, but I'm wondering where the sizable trout have gone since late March and April.  More water, more hiding spots, I suppose.

Here's hoping your summer is a revolutionary one!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lower Poudre, 7/2/10

My 2nd trip to the Poudre, post run-off, resulted in five rainbows totaling a combined whopping 30 inches of fish.  I hesitate to even call two of them fish at this point, as they were scarcely any bigger than the flies I was throwing at them.  The biggest was probably 10 inches, but at least put up a good fight.   It was the first fish, however, that gave me a good laugh.

It generally happens to me once every season - the accidental catch.  I suppose I should be thankful, but something about a fish jumping onto your fly and holding on while you're not paying attention really humbles the ego and makes you wonder if anything you're doing the rest of the time really works at all.

I'd just arrived at the river and was struggling to wade upstream through some thick vegetation and deep water along the bank.  My line was in the water, the fly sitting in the current behind me.  As I tried to keep my footing, I felt a little resistance on the rod, but didn't think anything of it.  Having finally gotten to the point where I wanted to stop and begin casting, I set my feet and raised the rod tip for my first cast.  Much to my surprise, I pulled on the rod and found a six inch trout trying desperately to free itself from a Gold Stonefly nymph just slightly smaller than the fish itself. 

Some fly fisherman, huh?  

I can't say that any pattern was any more effective than another.  I caught the remaining four fish on a San Juan Worm, a Pheasant Tail nymph, a Prince nymph, and a green scud.  The interesting thing was that each fish was caught on the first presentation of a new fly, which leads me to believe that they are generally hitting on pretty much any bug offered up right now. 

The river itself is beautiful, dropping a bit each day and settling in after a month of rapid fluctuation in volume.  I'm anticipating some great fishing for the remainder of the summer. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lower Poudre, 6/30/10

I took a few hours yesterday evening and spent some time on the Poudre, my first time on the river since the water finally started to drop to a fishable level.  The water clarity is improving every day, and while the current is still really strong in most places, there are a few really nice runs forming natural holding lies for fish.

I spent most of my time trying to get a feel for the river, which has changed a lot since my last trip.  Spots that were hot a few months ago are now beyond reach, and I found that the fish seem to have moved to areas along the near bank, which is filled with water in areas that were bone dry earlier in the year.  I noticed almost nothing happening on the surface despite an abundance of bug life buzzing around.  Short of one fish that briefly launched itself out of the water, I didn't see any coming to the surface. 

I made one major mistake in preparation, leaving a small container of split shot behind.  I think it would have made a difference, as I'm not certain the nymphs I was drifting were running quite deep enough.  I fished with big, heavy bead head patterns, and landed a couple of nice rainbows on a gold stone fly and a red Copper John - both were heavy enough to get down in the water. 

I'm really excited for the next month, as I think the water is in great shape and dropping nicely.  More to come later.