Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections from a year on my home waters

I've learned a lot about myself throughout 2010.  The lessons were revealed to me in a number of different contexts.  A lot of people stood by me when they really had no reason to do so.  God carried me through some things that I couldn't manage on my own.  I alternated between useful and useless; good and not so good; and turmoil and contentment.  I'm sure it must just sound like life to most "normal" people, but for someone like me it's been a year of enlightenment.

In any event, one thing is certain:  my moments of sanity and serenity more often than not came from being knee-deep in water; specifically, the Cache La Poudre River.

I don't keep a detailed count of my days flinging flies into the current in search of rainbows and browns, but it's safe to say that I spent more time wading the stream than a crazy man should!  As a result, I learned a lot about fly fishing this year as well:  sometimes through trial and error; sometimes through intuition; sometimes through remembering something I'd studied or read; and quite often simply because of dumb luck.

Some of the more memorable reflections from 2010:

1)  I learned how to tie a decent caddis, and that's something absolutely critical to fishing the lower Poudre during the summer months.  My journal notes - as well as some earlier posts to this blog - lead me to believe that having an entire box full of caddis flies, ranging from sizes 16-22, will draw the attention of most rainbows and cutthroats in the lower Poudre.  The browns didn't seem nearly so inclined to go after them, and while I have several theories as to why, I'm not confident enough in those theories to actually put them in writing.

2)  I picked up a handy tip about "streamside surgery" from a fellow angler who runs a great blog.  Buried hooks, and day-ending trips to the doctor, can be remedied by carrying some wire cutters, disinfectant wipes, and super glue in your vest or chest pack.

3)  I learned that sometimes size matters, and sometimes it doesn't.  And before I go any further, let me offer the caveat that I'm referring entirely to fishing in making that assertion (I'll leave it to Cosmopolitan or Maxim to answer that eternal question in its more commonly-referenced context).  In fly fishing, I'm convinced that the size of a bug can make a world of difference between getting skunked and landing big numbers.  In that sense, size indeed matters.  Having said that, one of the most enjoyable days of fishing I've ever had was on the South Fork of the Poudre.  I was fishing a small stream catching little brook trout, none of which exceeded 10-11 inches.  Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the scenery...who knows?  But it was a blast, and size didn't matter.     

4)  I used to be convinced that trout tend to generally stay in certain areas.  I can't say that anymore.  In fact, I'm now fairly certain that they move as the landscape of a river changes.  In late March and early April, I caught dozens of really nice trout in a deep pool during a time when the water level on most of the river was very low.  After the spring runoff, the hole became unfishable, as I knew it would.  In October and November, the water in the same spot dropped back down to a level comparable to that from March and April, and I started salivating at the prospect of once again nailing some big fish.  In several late season sessions, however, I failed to land a single trout in that stretch of water.  The lesson for me here is that fly fishing requires a constant study and re-evaluation of the water (and the insect life, I'm sure).

5)  Finally, I learned some valuable lessons about what one wise fly fisherman refers to as "streamcraft," including river etiquette and careful handling of fish.  On the former, I've always made an effort to be a gentleman on the river, trying to share a valuable resource with others while respecting their desire for solitude and enjoyment.  On the latter, I learned - simply by reading the insights of more experienced fisherman - that I've likely done some unnecessary damage to fish by handling them way too much, often due to an unintended vanity that comes with holding a fish for a picture.  I still take pictures of a lot of the trout I catch, but I generally try to simply snap a quick shot while they're still in the net or water, and I do my best to let them pop the fly out on their own.

So there you have it.  Mundane observations, I suppose, but part of my journey.  I won't bother making any fishing resolutions for the coming year.  I have no idea where life will take me this year.  The only resolution I can make is the one that's already a given:  the Poudre's in my backyard, and I'll be knee-deep in its waters again as soon as possible.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

27 in 27, Days 24-25: Red Copper John, Czech Nymp

No mas!

I did the best I could, but a lack of materials and a waning motivation left me at 25 flies in 27 days.  I'll try for the consolation prize tomorrow morning (maybe), but here's the fnal two:

Red Copper John

Czech Nymph

It's been fun.  Ran out of time.  Should have gone heavier on some midges.

Thanks for checking it out.  I'll write up some "lessons learned" after the holidays.

I hope everyone has the most blessed of Christmases and a wonderful, fantastic new year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

27 in 27, Days 22-23: The Yellow Sallie, and the Elk Hair Caddis

Well, here we are at day 27.  My holiday boxes for my favorite fly fishing companions are essentially finished and wrapped.  Visions of rainbows and browns are dancing through my head; then again, that's nothing really unique to Christmas Eve - more like a daily occurence.

By my count, I've got three unique flies to tie tonight in order to follow through and get it done by the midnight transition from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, which really leaves me no time to engage in any witty banter or offer any stories.  I'll just warn you in advance, the last three flies for the day could be uglier than normal, although I'm committed to doing my best work and finish strong.  Not sure what they'll be yet.

The yellow sallie is far too heavy on  the thorax, I realize.  Which I blame on the only roll of yellow thread I have; a thick, waxy thread that adds a lot of body with an undercoating of red thread for the hotspot near the tail.  Wings look good, though, I think.

Next is simply and elk-hair caddis with a hi-vis spot of white antron.  I'm keepin' this one for mself.  I think it will be a great lead fly with a small dry trailing behind, and I really liked the way it turned out.  I'm also going to tie a couple for my older brother Chris, who has the tools for catching fish but suffers from some aging eyes and has a hard time with some of the smaller bugs on the river.  I think the white hot spot will help in that respect.

Three left to go.  T-minus 2.5 hours and counting.  Wish me luck.

Monday, December 20, 2010

27 in 27, Day 21: Flashback Pheasant Tail

Dark green + a little flash = a feeding frenzy and a mangled paw (pun intended, Dad).

It was a winning combination for a few brief moments on the Poudre earlier in the summer.  Doc was a bit skeptical at first, but when he started hooking up with big fat rainbows on virtually every drift, he became a convert.

Doc's a died-in-the-wool dry fly guy, and he'd much sooner float visible dries along the surface than drag nymphs underwater.  I think nymphing kind of bores him.  When I convinced him to submerge this bug and watch an indicator, he came around after a monstrous trout started zipping his line out, running full steam upstream in a violent streak.  The monster managed to spit the fly, enough to cause both of us to throw our heads back in one of those "doggone it" moments that all fly flingers go through from time to time.

The events shortly thereafter became comical, in retrospect.  Doc briefly got his revenge, landing another nice rainbow on the flashback PT, only to immediately have it lodged in his hand by the angry trout.

Hook:  Tier's choice.  I like them in the 16-20 range
Thread:  Dark olive
Bead:  Gold
Thorax/abdomen/tail:  Forest green pheasant tail fibers
Wing casing:  Scud backing or clear tinsel
Rib:  Dark green ultra wire (small)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

27 in 27, Days 18-20: Platte River Special, Pale Morning Dun, BWO

Oy Vey!

I think that's an expression commonly used to convey exasperation or stress.  I'm not really feeling either at this point, but I've fallen behind in this 27 in 27 thing, at least in terms of posting the results.

The rookie's tying obsession continues unabated, however, and tonight I'll play a little catch up and post not only the three flies to correspond with the past three days, but also post some pictures of tangible results of today's flies - at least two of them.

The Platte River Special was a request from Doc.  I tried to oblige.  He's caught trout on them.  I haven't.  I'm not much with a streamer yet.  I've tried ripping a few, but I'm not sure I have a clue on the technique.  It's not really a complicated fly - just takes a big hook - but mine are ugly, as usual.  Doc must be rolling his eyes at this one:

A year ago, I'd have told you I was a nympher.  Can't say that today.  March/April 2010 converted me to dries.  A skinny stretch of water flowing into a deep hole under a rural bridge COMPLETELY changed my mind. 

On a day in late March, 2010, I reached frantically for my cell phone.  "Doc, you gotta get down here!  They're going nuts on this little BWO!"  Ten minutes later, Doc's standing on the bank behind me in street clothes.  His approach was stealthy, or else I was just too busy landing uncharacteristically big trout on a stretch of water we'd fished before.

Moments earlier, a guy named Bob was about 20 yards upstream from me.  Bob had been hooking up on virtually every cast for the past hour, and he wasn't landing normal 12 inch Poudre rainbows.  Bob was nailing big fish.  I wouldn't call them "pigs" (is that the term?), but they qualified at least as "piglets."  Bob was a true gentleman fly fisher.  I'd arrived at the river just behind him, wandered down to the spot we were now completely killing, and he'd invited me to join him.  "Come on in, friend," Bob called out.  "You got a little BWO?"

I had some BWOs, but they were too big.  "Go smaller," Bob advised.  "20."

I tied on a 20.


Bob left, with a friendly "have fun."  Cool guy.  Really cool guy.  Hope he shows up on the Poudre sometime again.

With Bob gone, I had a stretch of the Poudre to myself for an afternoon of what I can only describe as world-class dry fly fishing.  Doc arrived without his rod or boots.  He's caught enough trout over the years to simply enjoy watching.  As he wandered down the city-supplied bike path, I was playing one of the biggest trout I've caught on the Poudre.  Doc showed up just in time to snap a sweet photo of the fish, and an unflattering photo of his son, without so much as a curse word for having left his gear at his house.  That's Doc.  Just loving the moment, as always.

Anyway, I caught it on what I believe to be one of the two absolute key dry flies on the Poudre, the BWO.  Basic knowledge for anyone who's fished the Poudre, I guess.  BWO and Caddis hatches are common on my home waters.  Here's my version.  The pros over at St. Pete's tie it with CDC for the wings - and they flat out work - but I don't have the patience or skill for the oily little CDC fibers yet.


Today's last fly, in my opinion, is a dry fly fisherman's dream - the Pale Morning Dun.  It's so easy to keep track of on the water it almost makes dry fly fishing easy.  It's a big white target.  If you're awake, you'll see it floating  in whitewater.  And damn, I caught a beauty with it:

Hands down, prettiest fish I've ever caught.  You gotta have one of these in your box if you're fishing the Poudre.

Way too much info. from an amateur fly tier.  Goes to show you how fun this obsession of ours can be!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

27 in 27, Day Seventeen: Zebra Midge (or, that's my story and I'm sticking to it)

The bead and rib are technically the wrong colors, but silver beads and wires are in short supply here at Flywriter HQ. 

I'll call it a zebra midge that has been slightly discolored.  Alternatively, I'll call it a "zebra midge from the island of misfit toys." 

27 in 27, Day Sixteen: Parachute BWO

Cut me some slack.  It's the first parachute pattern I've tried, and I'm pretty sure the chute is malfunctioning on this one. 

Regardless of how ugly it may look up close, I'm banking on it for big results on the Poudre come late March/early April. 

I tried!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

27 in 27, Day Fifteen: The Prince Nymph

When I'm not fishing dries, this is my favorite fly, hands down.  Nymphing the Poudre, I've found that you can't go wrong with this one.  I like to tie in some red wire for the ribbing.  No particular reason, other than that it seems to be really productive.


Hook:  Size 18
Bead:  Tier's choice
Hackle:  Brown saddle
Abdomen/thorax:  Peacock hearl
Rib:  Tier's choice (I like red, traditional gold)
Wings and tail:  Goose biots (tier's choice)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

27 in 27, Day Fourteen: Stone fly Interpretation

This one's my interpretation of a big stone fly.  It's particularly good during high water on the Poudre, with enough size and weight to attract attention and drag along the bottom.  I don't have a name for it.  It's a big, ugly fly with rubber legs in place of the traditional goose biots.  It looks "buggy" to me.

I also played around with some parachute BWOs, but I'm not happy enough with any of them to post a picture yet. 

Here's Day Fourteen's entry:

Hook:  Size 14
Bead:  Tungsten (gold would also work nicely)
Tail:  Brown goose biots
Thorax/abdomen:  Peacock hearl
Ribbing:  Gold Wire
Legs:  Dark Green rubber

Friday, December 10, 2010

27 in 27, Day Thirteen: The RS2

Having felt just a pang of guilt about yesterday's feeble entry (the San Juan Worm), I decided to tackle the RS2 for today's 27 in 27 installment.  It's actually not a terribly complex fly, except for the fact that I have trouble with the fluorofiber split tail.

I'll take the result.  I think I got it looking OK.  The tutorial from the Hopper Juan helped a great deal.  Whether or not I can pull it off consistently remains to be seen, but my target for the night is five to help fill a holiday gift box I've been working on.

Hook:  Size 18
Collar/abdomen:  Charcoal thread covered with dark hare's ear dubbing
Wing:  White antron
Tail:  White sparkle fluorofiber

Thursday, December 9, 2010

27 in 27, Day Twelve: The San Juan Worm

I know what you're thinking.  It's pretty much cheating on my part.  Today's "fly" is the San Juan Worm.

I'm tired, it's past my bedtime, and I just struggled through several attempts at a Czech Nymph, which I will successfully master at some later point in this experiment.  Rather than spend the night cursing, I decided to tie a few of these bugs:


The San Juan Worm seems to be controversial in the fly fishing community, alternatively viewed as either a pariah (much like an egg pattern) or a productive bug that gets results.  For me, it's the latter.  I've done particularly well with this bug during the summer as the runoff on the Poudre becomes manageable.  In fact, it drew the attention of what was probably the biggest rainbow I've ever caught on the Poudre. 

Is it a fly?  I guess not.  Still, from my perspective, it's made from artificial material and tied with thread, and mimics part of the aquatic life of my home waters.  I'd be an idiot not to have a few on hand. 

Hook:  Size 16 nymph hook
Thread:  Red
Body:  Red Chenile with tier's choice of bead

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

27 in 27, Day Eleven: Oh Hairy Boy (a Flywriter Original)

OK, so I probably need a better name for it than "Oh Hairy Boy."  Frankly, I'm not sure what to call it, so I could use some suggestions.  Today's fly is an attempt to keep a special memory alive, and replicate a bug that caused a bunch of little brookies to go absolutely bananas. 

About three months ago, I had an epic day catching Brook Trout on the South Fork of the Poudre up near Sky Ranch, a Lutheran camp where my folks took me to camp when I was a kid.  All things considered - environment, contentment, company, and numbers of fish in a short timeframe - it was probably the second-best day of fishing I had over the summer.

Let me digress for a moment.  I say "second-best" while fully keeping in mind all of the "bests" that I've had with Doc over the past two years.  Doc and I have shared so many wonderful days on the water that I've kind of lumped them all into one huge day.  Still, I had one day of fishing with Doc that nothing could ever compare to, simply because we both caught huge trout and because I was able to laugh my ass off when Doc impaled his trigger finger with a pheasant tail nymph.  That was truly funny.  Doc's hands are giant.  He can pick up a basketball like you and I can pick up a grapefruit.  I had to crack a smile watching him try to shake a size 18 pheasant tail nymph out of his meaty paw.

When he finally conceded that the hook was buried in his hand, I remember wanting to gnaw the buried hook out with my teeth rather than leave the huge trout that we were catching.  To no avail.  Doc's sense of adventure was overwhelmed by his desire to avoid an infection from a hook that had just been in a trout's mouth. That gory spectacle aside, there's just nothing better for me than fishing with Doc.  My Dad and I simply breathe the same air when we're on the river.  I guess it's just me having followed his lead for all these years.  We rarely need words to communicate perfectly.  When we're in a spot to actually talk to each other, it's usually either Doc telling me to straighten out my back cast (he still doesn't like my sidearm) or me telling him to sink his nymph with a little split-shot.  Otherwise, we communicate non-verbally, and it just works.  Doc has some minor hearing difficulties, exacerbated by his reluctance to wear a hearing aid on the river where it could be an expensive casualty during a wading misstep, yet the two of us can carry on complex conversations hundreds of yards apart with sign language and facial expressions when we're on the river.  When he looks at me and subtly raises his eyebrows, that means "big fish on!"  (or, alternatively, "get your ass down here with the net").  When I smile at him as my fly rod bends down, it means "see, my sidearm cast ain't so bad."

Setting aside all the "battle days" on the Poudre where Doc and I try to outdo each other, with his elegant, flowing dry-fly casts eclipsing my workmanlike nymphing, my day this past July on the South Fork near Sky Ranch was pretty special.  I was fishing with my brother-in-law Matt, who is so busy with career, family, and personal issues that he rarely gets to put a line in the water.  He's an absolutely wonderful guy - I wish I was more like him - who takes such great care of my sister and my nephews.  And like most things he tries to do, he's a natural with a fly rod.  With some more time on the water, he'd be an expert.  He needs a better teacher than me! 

Matt and I had just finished waiting out a ridiculous lightning storm, complete with hail that actually hurt when it hit our uncovered heads.  The clouds lifted and the fish started rising to dries as if they were candy floating down the stream.  The South Fork is a Colorado treasure, winding through a gorgeous meadow for an eternity.  You never know when you'll run into a Moose, a Bear, or see a Bald Eagle.  It's wild country.  You can wade the stream for miles without seeing another soul, and it's chock full of wild brookies like this one:

On that day, I was fishing a dry/dropper rig, and the small brookies kept ignoring the small dropper in favor of a big, hairy para-caddis that I thought would basically serve as an indicator.  After a few fish hit the big caddis, I initially switched to a double dry rig with a small caddis serving as the trailer.  The little brookies kept going after the big monster indicator, so I just clipped the trailer off and fished the big para-caddis.  In the hour and a half that Matt and I spent on the stream before heading back to our families at camp, I landed over a dozen wild, feisty brookies.

For today's fly, I was trying to remember what the big para-caddis looked like, and this is the best that I could come up with, from memory.  It's big, fat, and hairy...and I like it.  I guess you could call it my first original pattern, although that would be generous, as it's more like a memory wrapped in a passing thought wrapped in a "what I have on my tying table" creation.  The good things is, it'll float and it's easy to see.   

Hook:  3XL Streamer/Nymph, Size 14
Legs:  Some kind of green rubber - it came in a strip that looked like a fan belt
Thread:  Iron Gray
Collar/Wing:  Elk Hair, White Antron

27 in 27, Day Ten: The Best Damn Scud Pattern, Period (tied by one of the worst damn scud tiers, period!)

I can honestly say I've fished a scud pattern once, on a lark.  It was a slow day on the Poudre, and I scraped up some rocks from the bottom of the stream and found a small, gelatinous, squirming thing in my hand.  Knowing what I know now, it was a surely just a fat aquatic worm, and I'd have been better off tying on an annelid or a San Juan Worm to match it.  At the time, however, I looked in my flybox in an effort to find something that looked like what I had in my hand.  In the box, I noticed something that looked like a shrimp - I think it was covered in something like epoxy.  Or hell, maybe super glue.  I tied it on, and promptly caught...nothing.

Nonetheless, I'm broadening my horizons here, and out of respect for an obviously skilled angler who flat out consistently catches hog trout and has a flair for writing hilarious fly flishing prose (he occasionally refers to himself as Alpha Male, a label I like to apply to myself on rare occasions), I decided to mimic his scud. He calls it the "Best Damn Scud Pattern, Period."  I followed the tutorial on the pattern, and I think I stuck to the recipe pretty closely.  And yeah, I realize I went overboard on the tail fibers - I just don't have the energy to clip it, take another photo, and upload it.  Otherwise, I hope I did it justice, or at the very least haven't embarrassed the man behind the scud.  If the latter, I take full responsibility, and encourage the reader to view the links to the original recipe.  While you're there, you'll read some great stories and see pictures of some of the best trout in Colorado.

Here's the Best Damn Scud Pattern, Period!  You'll just have to trust me.

Hook:  Size 16 Light Wire Scud
Tail:  Pheasant Tail fibers
Thread:  Does it matter?
Thorax/abdomen:  Gold Ice Dubbing
Rib:  Red Ultra Wire (small)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

27 in 27, Day Nine: The Lazy Boy Emerger

Courtesy of the Midge Man over at Poudre Canyon Chronicles, this fly works nicely for me as a hack flytier who has yet to master the split tail of the RS2.  In keeping with the "use what you have on hand" theme, the tail is comprised of flourofiber with some color in it.  The gold ice dubbing comes out a bit hairy, but I'm assuming that won't matter much under water.  I had some decent luck on the Poudre with this one as a trailing fly behind a big caddis.   

I'll try my hand at an RS2 later, but I filled a row in the flybox with this one tonight. 

Hook:  Size 20
Thorax/body:  Charcoal thread covered in Gold Ice Dubbing
Wing:  White antron
Tail:  Dark sparkle flourofiber

27 in 27, Day Eight: Blue Poison Tung

I don't know much, but of two things I am reasonably certain:  1) there is a God, and I'm not him; and 2) some guys and gals like tying microscopic midges, and I ain't one of them.

Since I'm certain that some - if not all - of the components of this valiant effort of mine stray from the original recipe, I'm almost wanting to name the fly pictured here the "Patience Tester."  After a few attempts at this size 22 bug, I at least finally figured out an easier way to get the bead head on by holding the eye of the hook in a pair of needlenose pliers and then lowering the business end of the hook into the hole in the bead.  Still, the little hooks gave me fits.  On at least three occasions I had to start over after snapping the thread on the barb as I wrapped it around the shank.  When I read about folks who tie bugs down in the 30 range, I shake my head in amazement with a new found respect for midge tiers.

I give you the Blue Poison Tung (once again...sort of)

Hook:  Size 22
Head:  Small tungsten bead
Thorax:  White ice dubbing
Body:  Gray thread, small blue micro-wire

Saturday, December 4, 2010

27 in 27, Day Seven: The Poison Tung

You'll recall that when I started this project, one of my objectives was to broaden my horizons - both on the water and at the vise - and start building an inventory beyond my typical go-to flies (BWOs, Caddis, PMDs, PTs, and Princes).  This broadening will cover both ends of the size spectrum, from small midges to large streamers and maybe even a hopper or two.  I've not yet made any serious efforts on any of the above.

To start, I'll be tackling some midges for a few days.  Yesterday, I tied a simple Brassie.  Today's fly, a variation (as always) of Charlie Craven's Poison Tung, was literally a physical challenge for me.  I used a size 22 hook, which is small for my big, clumsy fingers.  I had difficulty getting the midge tubing connected to the bend in the hook, and had even more difficulty getting the maddeningly small bead head onto the hook. 

It's far from a perfect replica, I'm sure.  You'll have to forgive the constant "variations."  It's largely a function of me trying to make do with the materials that I have on hand rather than making constant trips to the fly shop for new materials I can't really afford at present. 

My first attempt at the Poison Tung:

Hook:  Size 22
Head:  Small tungsten bead
Thorax:  Hair's Ear dubbing
Body:  Black midge tubing
Thread:  Charcoal micro

Friday, December 3, 2010

27 in 27, Day Six: The Brassie

As with all my fly patterns in this experiment, I offer the caveat of "sort of."  I think I'm safe in calling this one a Brassie, as it contains all the necessary components (thread, wire, dubbing) in colors I chose.  From all the reading I've done, it appears that tiers tend to fall into one of two schools of thought on color choice:  1) those who think it's of critical importance in imitating the aquatic life of a given river; and 2) those who see color as far less important than matching the general appearance of that aquatic life.  For the sake of this post, I'll conveniently lump myself in with the latter (at least for now). 

Thus, the Flywriter's version of the Brassie:

Hook:  Size 20
Thorax:  Olive dubbing
Thread:  Olive
Body:  Hot yellow Ultra Wire, small

The midge theme continues tomorrow with my first attempt at a classic (or a variation thereof), Craven's Poison Tung.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

27 in 27, Day Five: The Adams

This little bug - tied here in a size 22 - is one of my go to dry flies on the Poudre, particularly in the early spring, when small BWO and PMD hatches dominate the aquatic life on the surface.  Considered one of the universal classic dry flies, I've found the Adams to be an effective both in its own right and as an alternative to either the BWO or PMD, particularly when those hatches are so prevalent that a slightly different looking bug seems to draw the attention of actively feeding trout.  Of course, who knows?  Maybe it's just been dumb luck for me.

Hook:  Size 22
Wings:  Grizzly hackle tips
Hackle:  Grizzly
Body/Thorax:  Hair's ear dubbing
Tail:  Grizzly hackle tip