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Today, I’ve realized something, and I can deny it no longer.
I’ve got the itchin’ to go fishin’.
Now you might say, Andrew, that’s ridiculous. You’ve been fishing. Hitting Deckers and the Blue a lot this winter. Come on now. But I’m itching for the little streams to open up. Bear Creek in particular. What? Why would you want to fish Bear Creek when you can catch fish that are twice as big somewhere else? It’s where I learned to fly fish, and therefore, has a special place in my heart. As much as I love technical nymphing and pulling 20 inch rainbows from tailwaters, it’s been too long since I’ve fished casually, at a place where fish are essentially guaranteed. Where I only need my old- school small stream rod, one box of flies, and a couple hours.
As much as everyone talks about the fish being willing to eat dries on Bear Creek, I still like to nymph the place. I’ve always caught more fish that way, and it is there that I teach myself new tactics. Since I pretty much know that I can catch fish there, the pressure is off, and I begin to work on new techniques. No indicator nymphing. Dry dropper rigs. Czech nymphing. It’s the first place I test my new flies (even though flies working here isn’t particularly meaningful). I know my favorite runs like the back of my hand, and I’ve even come to know where a few fish live. I’ve taken a few friends there and taught them the basics of fly fishing, and we’ve always been successful due to the cooperative fish. I think part of this desire to fish Bear Creek again stems from the fact that it was closed for much of last summer. I couldn’t get my quick fix as much as I used to. Now, Im really itching to get back. I want to see if the fish survived the low water. I want to see if any new pockets or pools have been created by kids moving rocks around. I want to be able to toss two size 14 nymphs again. But most of all, I want to see what it feels like to catch 20 fish in two hours again. It’s rare to have that kind of day on a tailwater, where fish are trained to watch their step very closely. I love this challenging fishing, but there’s something charming about catching fish without trying too hard that is tough to resist. The good news is that it’s March, and the ice- off is just around the corner, and I cannot wait to get back to Bear Creek to catch me some pretty little browns.
Flows have been super low in Deckers recently (45cfs), causing the fish to stack up in deep holes, sometimes under the ice. The way you handle that is to get to wherever you’re going to fish early and bust all the ice up and get it moving down stream and out of your hole. Then chill for an hour or two waiting for the slush ice to melt and move out.
After things clear up you can start fishing, which will be hit or miss depending on the water temperature, fishing pressure, and time of day.
Keep an eye out for fish that are moving around and actively feeding. You can tell if they’re feeding by watching their mouths. If they are opening and closing their mouths then cast to them if not then don’t. Another strategy is to search out the deep dark holes where you can’t see the bottom. Fish a #10 Pat’s Rubber Legs with either a #20 Hare’s Ear or a Rainbow Warrior if the water is off color, and add a #20-#24 Miracle Midge as a third fly with a 4x-6x fluoro leader and hang on.
I’ll adjust my weight and indicator before I change flies, and you want to make sure that you’re flies are getting down. If you aren’t getting hung up at least once out of every 10 drifts then you need to either add more weight or set your indicator closer to you fly line.
Other flies to try are #20-24 Black Beauty, Zebra Midge, and Top Secret Midge along with egg patterns. I hammered fish with a 8mm orange trout bead followed by a #14 Tiemco 2488h that had been debarbed and had great luck, but you can substitute either yarn or Otter’s Egg Patterns as well.
I had a sweet day on the Blue this past Saturday. I have always loved this tailwater, but since I hate dealing with ski traffic and such in the winter, it had been quite a while since I fished it last. However, since I was going to be up in the area anyways, I decided to take a few hours and hit the Blue in Silverthorne in pursuit of these trophy fish.
I got to the river a little before 9 am, pulling my friend’s car up near a honey hole that always holds some fish. However, as I was rigging up, another fisherman moved in and stole the pool. Whatever. I trekked downstream, hit another hole, where I hooked a lunker for a brief second before he wiggled off, and after a little bit I found myself in the heart of the shopping center, directly above the Spectator Pool. Here, a bridge crosses the river, and all the gawkers feel obliged to offer you their advice and expertise, right after you explain to them that yes, there are actually fish in here. I’ve fished this river enough that I have learned to just ignore them. Some of them take this personally, and begin yelling and whistling at me to try to get my attention, but I have heard, “There’s one under that tree,” and “There’s a big one right here,” more times than any one person should. So ignoring them is ususally the best way to go. If I do make eye contact with one of them, I just give them the thumbs up, then go back to what I was doing.
Anyways, after a few drifts, I hooked a fish, but I set too early and pulled the hook out. My mind flashed back to my last trip to Deckers, and I feared a repeat performance. However, my fears were calmed when I got a solid hookup on a nice 17-18 inch male rainbow. I battled the fish for a few minutes with my 7x tippet, and I thought I had him. But when I reached for him with the net, he took off and went over the nearby waterfall. Line screamed off my reel as the current rocketed the fish downstream. I stumbled across the river, found a relatively calm place in the waterfall, and went airborne. I splashed down from my jump and started hustling downstream again, trying to get below the fish. As I ran, I pulled sideways on the fish and got him into shallow water, where I netted him. I held him in the water for a bit while he recovered, and when he swam away, I slogged back up to my old spot. When I was nearning the place I was before, I saw a bright red stripe in the water. A big one. One that was sweeping back and forth voraciously, munching some minute aquatic organism.
I got into position and started casting to the fish. After a few minutes of unsucessful drifts, I decided to relocate. I took a few steps downstream, where I could high stick the fly right into the fish’s mouth. A couple drifts later, I felt a weight on the set, and I watched a cherry- red stripe turn sideways in the water as the fish’s head was pulled toward the surface. I was stunned at the size of this beast. However, the fish didn’t like the sudden head jerk, and he pulled back. popping of the lower fly in my rig. I was still shaking a bit as I rerigged, and spotted the fish again. Two drifts later, I hooked him again. This time he ran around in circles, then sprinted towards me. As I struggled to keep tight, he pulled a 180 and sped away, pulling the tippet tight, and snapping it. Damn it. I thought I was done. I was shocked I got two shots at this fish. But sure enough, after I rerigged, the same cherry stripe was sweeping back and forth in the same slot.
Now I was deeply involved in this game of cat and mouse. My friend called me to see when I’d be back with her car. I told her that I was gonna have to call her back, I was kind of preoccupied. With that, I ignored the people on the bridge and began casting again. On the first drift, I set the hook and to my surprise, the fish rockets off the bottom again, breaking the surface and shaking her head before snapping the 7x tippet. Are you kidding me? I rerig again, and again, on the first drift, I feel a fish on the end of my line after setting the hook. This time, however, it wasn’t the fish I was after. I pulled this fish downstream out of the pool, and landed him as quickly as possible to avoid spooking the big one. It’s not actually possible to be disappointed with an 18 inch rainbow, but I remember trying to land and release this fish as quickly as possible to get back at the big one.
When I got back to my spot, I spotted the fish again, and guess what? I hooked him on the third drift. This time I basically tried to let the fish be his own demise. I worked my way downstream of him, making him fight both myself and the current. I let him run up into the riffle, then I would work him back down. Each time I reached for him with the net, however, he took off again. This mysis- fed fish clearly still had plenty of juice in him. I repeated this process for over five minutes, and quite a crowd gathered on the bridge in the hopes of watching me land this fish. I felt confident that I would land him. I was working him with the rod, letting him make runs, then I would work the line back in. I knew I was in for the long haul, but I thought I would land him. However, on one of many runs up into the riffle, I suddenly felt my line go slack, and I just tipped my head back in despair. There was no way I would get another shot at this beast. I tried to think what I had done wrong, but I think that ultimately, it was the tiny 7x tippet that just couldn’t handle the strain any more. I rerigged anyways, knowing that I could see a few other fish in the pool. However, when I got back to my spot, I was amazed to see that stripe flashing back and forth in the water. How many chances was I going to get? And, as luck would have it, the fish ate on the first drift. Knowing that the fish would be tired from the last battle, I pulled on him hard, daring the tippet to break. I reached for him with the net, and nabbed him. I couldn’t believe it.
Most fish this size spook after one bad cast, and I had been able to hook this fish no less than six times before I landed it. I was shocked. I looked at this pig filling up my whole net, and I sloshed over to the bank to try to get some pictures. I couldn’t fit my hand around him, and I didn’t want to lay him on the bank and hurt him, so I did the best I could while still keeping him the water. It’s tough to display the true size of this fish without any scale, but I did my best. While he recovered, I took some photos of him. He was exactly as long as my net, which later measurements would show was 23 inched long. His flank was as wide as my hand. I had only caught fish like this in the Frying Pan before. He was very heavy, and my best guess is that he was about 7 pounds. He looked like a side of bacon: impressive length matched by equally impressive girth. After I photographed him, I let him recover, and then he kicked away and swam away to sulk in his hiding hole. That would do for the day. I broke my rod down and went back to my friend’s house. This fish was so impressive that I think I wore a permanent grin for about 30 minutes. After my last tough outing at Deckers, this fish was even sweeter than it would have normally been.
I was itchin’ to go fishin’ again but since Andrew was up on the Blue and I’m supposed to be doing stuff for school and work, I chose not to go down to that sweet honey hole called Deckers.
Instead I went to Waterton Canyon.
Waterton Canyon is a great place if you want something close by and don’t want to have to scramble along trails.
Through the canyon is a well maintained dirt road, his and hers outhouses, and plenty of picnic tables.
Anyway’s it is about a 20 minute drive from my house to the parking lot and when I got there it was chocked full of lycra clad cyclists and joggers.
The weather has been really nice recently and the fishing has been great in Deckers so I didn’t think trying Waterton out would be a bad idea.
Oh how wrong I was.
How am I supposed to fish that?
Since I had already gone through the trouble of wadering up I decided to press onward towards the dam in hope of warmer water and less ice.
On my way up there I saw these guys.
Did the river clear up?
Yes it did.
But just as I had found the answer to my icy dilemma I found a sign that changed everything.
Not wanting to test my luck by trying the beautiful glassy pool that I knew would hold some lunkers, but that might also get me in trouble, I climbed up to the road and pressed on above the dam to more ice.
Eventually it cleared up again and I waded in making a few casts to a nice deep pool. I inevitably snagged my rig and lost my bottom two flies.
At that point I gave up and hiked back out of the canyon meeting a couple of fisherman who had gotten skunked, a bearded fisherman with a fisherwoman heading upstream, a noob fisherwoman and her non-fishing friend, and another angler out on a walk with his wife who wanted to tell me why it’s not worth it to fish during the winter and how I should fish when he just saw me walking out of the canyon.
After I got to my car and shed my waders, I checked my phone and it had this picture waiting for me.
It seems that Andrew had a great day up on the Blue and we can expect a full story from him in the next few days.
Some days you’re the pigeon other days you’re the statue.
I love casting. False casts, back casts, double hauls, single hauls, etc…
Winter fishing has been killing me because all the casting I have been doing is roll casting or variations of it in order to lessen the chances of tangling three flies, a large bead of split shot, and plenty o’tungsten putty.
The roll cast is useful as all get out but that’s about it.
It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. It’s just effective.
While I have been enjoying my recent success, I can’t say that I don’t have regrets.
Those fish would be a whole lot better had I caught them on a dry with a backcast and false cast or two.
I got to treat myself the other day after Andrew had already broken down his rod, we spotted an actively feeding fish that wasn’t holding near the bottom.
I happily cut off my three fly monstrosity that had a cowboy action shooter’s weekly ration of lead attached to it and tied on a dry dropper rig.
By the time it was all rigged up the fish had moved but i made a few casts just in case. Then, after knowing that my last shot at a fish that day was blown I waded out into open water and casted for the hell of it.
I double hauled to get the line speed up and snapped the dropper fly off in a way that would make Hank Patterson weep.
I then spent a few minutes enjoying fly casting like it was meant to be, with a nice supple line, a beautiful, blonde, bamboo rod, and a parachute Adams.
Last Friday, Steve and I hit Deckers again. The weather forecast and the stream flows were looking prime for fishing, not to mention the fact that I had fished Deckers just four days before and absolutely slayed it. I had high expectations going into the day. Things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. We were the first ones on the river, which meant that we had our choice of any spot we wanted. We found a spot where the sun was shining, which happened to be on one of my favorite stretches, right below the Wigwam club. This was also the spot where I caught double digit fish before noon on my last trip to Deckers. I got in position and made a few casts, and that’s when things started to go south. I hooked a fish on the third or fourth drift, but missed it due to a poor hookset. Oh well. That does happen from time to time. I cast out again, and I’m running my rig through a fishy seam when the indicator sinks. I feel something on there for a split second, then my rig pops out of the water suddenly. My flies are all wrapped around each other from whatever was on the end of my line. I untangle them and continue casting. A few minutes later, I pull my rig in and find the split shot wrapped around itself, with the three flies twisted up as well. Now I’m starting to get a little frustrated. I cut off the rig and tied on a new one. When I went to tighten up the last knot, it pulled through on me. Now the piece of tippet was too short, so I had to add a new one and tie the fly on. Then I accidentally clipped the knot with my nippers. I finally got fishing again, only to find a new tangle and repeat the process just a few minutes later.
And so it continued. I was spending at least as much time rigging and untangling my rig as I was fishing. Fish were few and far between, and I only landed a few of the ones I hooked. The other fish would wiggle off after a struggle of a few seconds. I looked like a guide’s worst nightmare- one of those guys who says he knows how to fish, only to spend half the day tying accidental knots in his leader and missing fish after fish. As I pulled my rig out time and time again to check it, only to find it tangled horribly, I was getting more and more frustrated. I was still fishless by lunch, but a break by the car and a pull of Scotch from Steve’s flask helped set my nerves straight again. After lunch, things started to look up. No more than five drifts after the lunch break, I finally hooked and landed a nice rainbow. All right. After fishing that hole for a few more minutes (and untangling my rig a few more times), I headed down to see what Steve was doing in the mini canyon. I got down there and helped him land his big fish. It was a solid 19 inches long, and maybe about 5 pounds. It was one of the bigger fish I’ve seen caught at Deckers. He went to sit on the bank to reflect on the fish, and I moved into the pool to try to pull something out. I watched my indicator plunge down, set the hook, and popped off my bottom two flies. Great. So I rerig again, cast out again, and find myself with the split shot tangled up. At this point I’m starting to get downright pissed off. We move back up to the hole we started at, where I am faced with more of the same: tangles and lost flies. After a lot of swearing and time spent unwrapping my flies from around the leader, I finally caught another fish. Maybe this would be the turnaround for the day. But, sadly, just a few drifts later, I pulled in a rat’s nest on the end of my leader. At this point, I think Steve was a little embarrassed to be seen with the guy swearing up a storm every five minutes, but what can I say? I was frustrated, running on four hours of sleep, and had to make the transition from a double digit fish day to a less than stellar day.
I guess the moral of the story is that fishing can be downright aggravating sometimes. That can mean a few things. Maybe it’s getting skunked on a day when everyone else around you is slaying fish. Maybe its a day where you’re hooking fish left and right, but can’t land any of them. Maybe it just so happens to be a day when when you spend more time tying and untying knots than actually fishing. It’s something that we all have to deal with as anglers, because there’s no way to avoid it. Trout can be real bastards sometimes, and you wonder how an animal with a pebble- sized brain can push your buttons so much. But it always comes full circle, and that next great day is just a little bit sweeter when you look back on the day where you lost 20 flies and spent three hours tying knots.
I recently made a fundraising campaign on indiegogo.com so that I can raise money to go to Sweetwater Guide School in Livingston, Montana.
Some of the perks I am giving away are flies for $1 a piece in different amounts from 5 to 100.
If you haven’t seen it already, you should check it out, and if you have a couple extra bucks lying around feel free to throw them my way.
Today, I finally finished my small- stream fly box. I’ve been working on it since November, but with the holiday and travelling, not to mention the trip to the Frying Pan, I didn’t have a lot of time to tie flies that I won’t be able to use until spring is upon us. However, if you find yourself with some time to tie flies, and you’re sick of tying size 22 midges, start working on a small stream fly box. It’s a fun exercise that gives you an excuse to tie more and more flies, and it even has a practical purpose.
The whole point of the small stream fly box is to simplify your fly collection into one box for use on small, unpressured streams. My box probably contains more patterns than most people would deem necessary, but that’s because several of the smaller rivers that I frequent do get some fishing pressure. Also, I think I’m addicted to tying flies, but I’m sticking with the fishing pressure excuse. The box that I use is a small Umpqua UPG box. I think it holds 274 flies maximum, but I didn’t fill every slot. Basically, I just thought about the flies that I have the most confidence in and tied those flies in a few different sizes. One side of the box is reserved for nymphs, and the other holds a selection of dry flies. The thing to remember is to not get too in- depth. Small stream fish generally aren’t too selective, and it’s a fun challenge to go to a river armed only with one box of your favorite flies. So ditch the tiny scud hooks, reach for the dry fly hooks, and arm yourself for some fun days on your favorite little creeks.
Most of the nymphs are tied either with a beadhead or some other form of weight to make dry- dropper fishing more practical. Since dry- dropper fishing is a really fun way to fish, especially on small streams, I tried to select a lot of flies that would work well for this method. Of course, there are some exceptions, but since I like fishing a dry- dropper rig more than an indicator rig on small streams, most of the nymphs have been modified to fit into this system. I tried to cover all the basic hatches that are most common in Colorado, but no pattern is too tricky.
The dry fly side contains fewer flies, but I still have confidence in those patterns to cover most situations I’ll encounter on my favorite small rivers. After all, the small streams that the box is designed for won’t have fish that scrutinize your fly for ten seconds before they decide to eat it or not. There are several caddisfly patterns as well as a few different species of mayfly adults that I frequently encounter when I go fishing. Of course, everyone loves watching fish slam a large hopper or other attractor fly, so there are a few of those in the box as well.
The whole point of the small stream box is to peel away all the complications that are necessary on fisheries that see more angling pressure. As several of my previous posts have mentioned, I love fishing to selective fish in tailwater fisheries, but from time to time I also enjoy finding an unpressured stream where dry flies rule and the fish aren’t too picky. There is no set prescription for the flies that should fill your small stream box. Just think about the flies that you fish most often on your favorite small streams, tie up a few of those in a couple different sizes, stash them in your box, and enjoy the simplicity of only carrying one small box all day. Trust me, when most of your fishing trips involve carrying around seven fly boxes in two packs (because I can’t fit all of my stuff into one), there is a definite charm and relaxing quality to only needing one fly box for an entire day of fishing. If you’re nervous about only carrying one box, bring your other boxes with you on your first few trips to small creeks, but leave them in the car. You’ll be surprised at how few times you’ll need to go and get them.