Sunday, September 25, 2011

Three strikes, One Fish...

...still far, far better than work.

Ridiculously low water levels and bright sunshine made the trout stalking pretty difficult yesterday.  The fish were feeding selectively, and it seems that every time I tried to cast to the rises, they would move to other locales.  It was, I'm afraid, a classic case of the angler spooking the fish.  The rainbow pictured above was a real beauty, and the result of sheer patience.  I finally enticed him with a large hopper, which matched absolutely none of the bugs on the surface of the water.

Doc fared a little better, managing a couple of nice fish - a rainbow and a cutbow. 

The day on the water didn't do wonders for the cold I've been trying to fight off for a few days.  I woke up this morning with my head about to explode.  I guess there's a price to pay sometimes; tough work, but somebody has to do it.

From the medicine cabinet...
The Flywriter

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ad-libbing, Algae, and the Best Peach Ever.

The build-up was almost too much for us.

For months, my friend Jae and I have been talking the talk, comparing notes and fly boxes, and spinning yarns about our previous angling conquests.  Between work schedules and family obligations, we found it difficult to walk the walk.  On a cool day in early September, just on the cusp of fall, we finally found a day to put up or shut up, and wandered up the canyon to see if we could cash the checks our mouths had been writing.

Jae strikes me as the classic outdoorsman.  Despite my years of fishing the canyon, I have an appalling lack of useful knowledge about the miles upon miles of public access on the Poudre, a river literally in my backyard.  My method of planning for a day on the Poudre typically consists of driving the winding road until I see a stretch of river that looks interesting.  Jae, on the other hand, knows the canyon.  He's actually capable of formulating a plan for the day, and brings along neat things - like maps - to aid in getting to a predetermined location.  With Jae along, I felt strangely prepared.

It was almost over before it began.

As we slipped - or in my case, struggled - into waders and boots, I noticed a quizzical look on Jae's face, followed by an increasingly blank expression that was rapidly turning into that "oh, crap" look.

"You didn't see my reel, did ya John?"  Uh-oh.  "No, Jae, I sure didn't."  I started sifting through gear in the trunk while the wheels in Jae's head started turning, a clear indication that he was already thinking of ways to turn his nine-foot into a makeshift Tenkara rod.  In a rare moment of either clarity or good fortune, I'd tossed in an extra reel that would save Jae the indignity of turning his rod into the world's longest cane pole.  I'm sure the line weight didn't precisely match the rod, but we were adapting.

Having solved the reel "issue," I unzipped my tubular fly rod case and turned it upside down.  The bottom half of a fly rod fell out, and then...nothing.  "Uh, you didn't see the other half of my rod, did ya Jae?"  Double uh-oh.  "No, John, I sure didn't."  I knew darn well that I hadn't thrown in another fly rod.  So much for clarity and good fortune.  With a sinking feeling in my gut, I turned the case over again and shook it violently.  To my utter relief, the top half of the fly rod fell on the ground.  So, no nine-foot Tenkara rod/cane pole for Jae and no four-foot Tenkara rod/cane pole for me. A hearty round of laughs and a hodgepodge of rods and reels later, we were off to see if we could muster up anything beyond a continued comedy of errors.

The good news is that things fell into place and we enjoyed a good day of fishing.  We hit a stretch of the Poudre that I'd never fished before, probably because it flows away from the main road and out of my normal field of vision driving up the canyon.  After a short, easy walk, we were on some great water that was marred only by some sort of invasive, prolific, bright green algae that had grown on the riverbed.  The algae did very little, in my view, to hinder the fishing, although I did have to periodically clean off the nymphs I was drifting for much of the day.  It also made wading a little more precarious than usual, although the riverbed up the canyon is somewhat difficult to wade to begin with, being full of big rocks as opposed to the sand and gravel I'm used to in the stretches of the lower Poudre.

After a period of adjustment, trial, and error, we started tying into some small but healthy trout.  Despite being handicapped with an unfamiliar reel of lesser quality, Jae proved himself to be a skilled fisherman with a keen eye for reading a stream. 

After hooking up with a couple of trout and struggling with nymphs and algae-covered rocks for the remainder of the morning, I found a little bit of a groove in the afternoon session and managed to save a little bit of face.  My recent obsession with hoppers and big stimulators paid off with several pretty little rainbows.  Some decent afternoon surface action went a long way toward helping me to forget about my less-than-graceful tumble into a whopping five inches of water earlier in the day.


One final but not insignificant highlight of the day:  In addition to being a skilled angler, a calm and serene presence, and an adaptable fishing companion, Jae has the additional gift of picking high-quality, choice produce.  At lunchtime, he offered me a gigantic peach that was just about the best thing I've ever eaten!  No bruises or blemishes, perfectly ripe but not mushy.  A nugget of heaven in every bite.  As I frantically wiped away the juice that was streaming down into my goatee, I took a mental note that I was just where God wanted me to be on that day.  No ruminating over the past.  No fear of the future.  Just living in the moment right there in front of me.  Good place to be. 

Shampooing the nectar out of my beard.... 
The Flywriter

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Big Bug Bonanza

Sometimes, size does matter. 

I should clarify that I'm referring, of course, to fishing, so there's no need to avert your eyes.  As the summer closes, I've developed a fascination with big bugs; specifically, grasshoppers and any artificial variation thereof.

Ever since I can remember, grasshoppers have been a scourge to those of us in northern Colorado, particularly those of us who've made any earnest efforts to grow corn, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables.  They don't seem to make much of a dent in zucchini or cucumber plants, but I'm convinced that grasshoppers bear sole responsibility for several failed corn crops in the last few years.  As a child, I used to get a kick out of frying them under the concentrated light beams of a magnifying glass, and to this day I like to hone  my fine motor skills by running them over as I pedal my bike to work along the bike path that follows the river to town.  It likely comes as no surprise, therefore, that I would find delight in the revelation that big trout will seemingly rise to the surface from a deep slumber to suck the big, juicy bugs in a mid-day feeding frenzy.

Last weekend, Doc and I discovered first hand what many before us already knew.  Our day trip to the lower Poudre started off no different than most.    After quickly scanning the water for rising fish and seeing nothing, I hastily secured a Pheasant Tail nymph to some 5X and unceremoniously descended the bank to the river, bidding Doc good luck with an equally hasty "I'll catch up with you downstream."

For awhile, it seemed like the right choice.  The PT nymph with a gold bead head (and usually a rib of red wire) has become my go-to fly for the Poudre when no obvious alternative reveals itself.  On this particular morning, it was enough to fool two browns within the first half hour, one of which was as healthy looking as I've seen on this stretch of river.  The PT also produced a really nice cut-bow that fought like a demon and  measured about 16".

After an hour or so, feeding on the PT came to a halt, and I took a moment to gather my thoughts just in time to see Doc pitching something big into a fast riffle that emptied into a nice run of heavy, deep water.  Curious, I made my way dowstream.  In the time it took me to wade the hundred or so yards between us, I watched as he consistently casted, drifted, and yanked back the rod in several attempts to set the hook.  Just as I arrived, he brought one to net and remarked that I'd missed the first few he landed.  He was throwing a fly I'd tied for him that's basically a large caddis with legs.  The trout, he said, were inhaling it in the fast water.  I reasoned that if the large stimulator-esque creation was drawing attention, it might be fun to see if any of my amateurish hoppers would produce similar results.

I think two things happened in the next couple of hours.  One, I think we happened upon a genuine "honey hole" that happened to be full of stout, actively feeding trout; and two, the trout weren't the least bit interested in carefully examining or scrutinizing the bugs we threw at them in the fast water.  They weren't necessarily hooking themselves - a bunch of missed hook sets prove that we still had to actually try - but the fish were hitting the hopper in a pretty convincing manner.

On a humorous note, I also spent the better part of 10 minutes earlier in the day sight fishing to a mysterious fish that rose every couple of minutes and created a huge splash each time.  When I would cast upstream, I would hear the splash downstream.  At the downstream end of a drift, the splash could be heard upstream.  Finally, and too close for my comfort as I drifted the PT fairly close in front of me, I got a visual on the source of the splash and realized that I'd been fishing to a mink who was out for a frolicking swim.  He popped out of the water no more than 10 yards from where I stood, stopping my heart momentarily before rolling over, darting underwater, and resurfacing on the far bank, content to burrow into what I'm sure is an elaborate underground network of secret tunnels.  Needless to say, he startled me enough that I saw imaginary mink flashing about for the next half hour.

This weekend, I'll be changing scenery a bit and venturing up the canyon to fish some of the upper stretches with a good friend of mine.  I have the feeling I'll be trading green drakes in for hoppers, but I'm hoping for some more of the same action.  The Poudre seems to be fishing great these days, and the trout I'm landing appear to have benefited from the long runoff period, with increased size and far fewer battle scars.

With love to the Hopper....
The Flywriter