Of Luddites, schadenfreude and big fish…

A while back I wrote about the reasons why fishing with sheilas was generally more fun than fishing with blokes. One of the reasons was that with blokes, conversation rarely rises above and beyond football, beer, and which Baywatch babe has the biggest assets. Of course, I hadn’t figured on fishing with Bill and Scott. Now, maybe in part it’s because Bill is from Canada, where people tend to be a little more widely read. And besides, being all tucked away down there, only about one village in a hundred has a TV set, so discussing Baywatch is something most Canadians can only dream about.

Scott, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. All American boy, product of the public school system, and so one would expect, raised in the firm belief in the power of log cabins, Mom’s apple pie, and secure in the  knowledge that if it didn’t happen within the borders of the continental US then it probably isn’t worth knowing about. And yet here we were, floating down the river, catching a bunch of big fish on a windy day, and discussing instances of schadenfreude in fly fishing, and the struggle of the Luddites in 19th century England and it’s analogies to today’s dry fly fishermen in the face of the advancing hordes of technologically advanced nymphomaniacs.

Fishing conditions out there are kind of tricky right now, what with the low, clear water making the fish a bit nervous, but it is by no means doom and gloom. A light touch on the oars, and a fisherman who can cast delicately well away from the boat, will be rewarded. The fish seem to be hanging out in the faster riffles, in water about a foot or two deep, rather than in the shallows along the edges. The cooler, cloudy afternoon brought with it a pretty good blue winged olive hatch, although the fish were only keying in on the dries sporadically.

What impressed us most about this day was not the quantity of fish we landed, because numbers-wise it was good but not spectacular. What really impressed was the size of the fish we caught. Pretty much each one landed would have been  fish of the day on a normal day. Maybe the big boys are preparing to sow their oats, packing on the pounds before they are called upon to do their annual Mandingo impression. Although a decent number of fish took dries, in particular hoppers and pmx’s, the good old bead head pheasant tail worked the best.

I love fall fishing, and I would expect the action to stay strong through the end of October at least. So don’t believe the naysayers and ne’er-do-wells who say the river is too low, and the fish too spooky. There’s still plenty of good fishing left in the river yet, so get in touch if you’d like to get out there and see for yourself.

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Double Haul, Double Happy

We are each born with an account from which we can all make withdrawals, but never add to. That is the account that contains the hours of our lives. Choosing to spend a portion of those hours in the service of others is perhaps the most noble thing a person can do. Last weekend saw Salida host the second annual Double Haul Celebrity Fly Fishing Event. The event is the brainchild of Chaffee County resident Dave Moore, and organized and conducted by the combined Rotary Clubs of Salida and Buena Vista. The concept sounds simple. Get a group of celebrities together, bring them to town for a weekend, set them up with a boat and a guide, and get locals to bid for the second fishing seat on the boat, and donate the proceeds to kids causes in the County.

The reality is an organizational feat a year in the making, with countless hours of time, effort and execution by dozens of local volunteers. This year, as with last, the core of the celebrity make up was formed by the Broncos Alumni. In this era of overpaid, over hyped and self centered sports stars, it is heart warming to see these guys selflessly giving back so much of their time and energy to causes such as this.

This year, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days on the river with Mark Cooper. Mark played for the Broncos and Tampa Bay from 1983 through 1989, starting in Super Bowl XXI. Now, being a Kiwi lad raised on rugby and hence relatively ignorant of American sporting traditions, it never occurred to me that Mark might have been in his playing days one of those huge guys who stands in front of his quarter back and pushes other huge guys the size of Mack trucks out of the way for a living. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue but with the river running at around 250 cfs, you can be in for a long day when your fisherman’s weight exceeds the river flow.

Fortunately Mark turned out to be such fun, in addition to a skilled fisherman and low maintenance kind of guy, that the time just flew by. Also on the boat the day this video was taken was my friend and Salida native Lee Graf. Lee has generously donated two Broncos tickets to a Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas fundraiser to be held later this year, so as way of saying Thanks, I rowed them down the river the day before the Double Haul. How Lee and Mark first became friends I have no idea, but I suspect college bars and seedy frat houses played a part.

To be sure, we had a great day. The beer was cold, and the fish were active. For some reason, there seems to be a lot of rainbows being caught at the moment. On this day, we actually landed more bows than browns, which is the first time I have seen that happen. I know the Division of Wildlife have been stocking the river with a strain of rainbow resistant to whirling disease, and when these guys get a little bigger, they will be a handful on a fly rod.

And so the planning begins anew for next years Double Haul. To all those , famous, anonymous, and infamous, who helped to make this year’s event a big success, Thank You. Roll on 2010.

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Patience, Grasshopper, Patience…

As a teenager in the 70’s, [ my God, I can hear my bones creak just writing that ] one of my favorite shows on the Idiot Box was Kung Fu, starring David Carradine. The most memorable character was the old blind Master Po, who in the first episode held out his hand containing three pebbles to the young Carradine. ‘When you can take the pebbles from my hand, it will be time for you to leave,’ he said. No matter how many times he tried, the Old Master was too quick for Grasshopper. It took him many years to realize that youth and speed were no match for patience, intuition and guile.

These thoughts were floating through my mind as I floated through town the other morning with Gary and Elaine. These guys are living proof that being from Boulder does not automatically qualify you for the lunatic fringe. After an hour or so of fruitless fishing, the words of the Old Master came to my ears. ‘ But Master, what shall I use instead of pebbles?’ I silently inquired. ‘Look deep within the cooler.’ came the reply. Of course – Tecate! How could I have been so blind and novice like. No sense in using all the water up while the fish obviously had no intention of feeding.

And so we pulled over to the side of the, popped the top off a cold one, and discussed all that was wrong in the world, from predatory multinationals to overpaid sports stars who think the world owes them a living, to endless staff meetings. There is something decadent about a mild beer buzz in the morning. Strangely enough, after our riverside time out, the fish were ready for us and we started to catch them, if not in abundance, at least with regularity. If you pay attention to the river,  hopefully you realize that when you fish you are delving into rhythms and cycles of nature that you really have no understanding of and can only speculate upon. We have theories and science, but ultimately it is Mother Nature who controls the on / off switch. And that is the way it should be.

It proved to be a little too early yet for the fish to be chasing streamers. It is usually earlier on the summer when the river is still high and the fish hungry, or later in the fall when the spawn is approaching, and prior to the deathly serious business of procreating, , the males are strutting their stuff, puffing and preening in a effort to catch the eye of the chicks. A dry / dropper combo worked best for us as the day progressed. A decent number of fish were still looking up and taking dries, but the nymph worked the best. The river level has dropped considerably over the last week or so. This seems to have seen the fish move off the edges to seek out the slightly deeper water in the trenches and drop offs. As the nights grow cooler and the days shorter, I would expect to see the window of opportunity to cast to feeding fish shorten also, but as they fatten for the spawn they should still feed aggressively when they do.

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The Dog Days of Summer

Isn’t it amazing how quickly summer has flown by? The kids are back at school [ whew ], the mornings are getting chilly, evenings drawing in, and in a week or two up high the leaves will be turning. What better way then, to spend a warm and languid Sunday afternoon than floating down the river through town with a cold beer, a dry fly or two, and some great company. It was great to float through downtown and see so many people out enjoying the river and downtown in different ways – swimming dogs and themselves, kayaking, relaxing etc.

There are many reasons why I like fishing with my friend Ardele. They can be best encapsulated, I think by a brief exchange we had on the river with a couple of passing fishermen. We were eddied out at the side of the river, attending to a fly change or something, and they floated past us looking a little on the glum side. Now generally, when fishermen encounter each other on the river, they tend to put on a bit of a poker face, not wanting to let the other guy know off the bat how good or bad of a day they are having. If you’ve ever watched a couple of dogs greet for the first time, hackles raised and yet tails tentatively wagging, you’ll get the idea.

“How’s it going?” I asked. [ My standard tail wag. ] “We’re doing OK, getting a few” they replied, although by their tone and expression, you could tell they were a little disappointed. “Yeah, us too” I replied, pretty sure that we were doing better than them judging by their hang dog looks. After they were gone, Ardele said ” I know why they’re not doing any good.” “Really?” I replied, thinking she had picked up some major flaw in their rowing or casting technique. “Yep,” she said, “they don’t have any beer.”

And there in lies the secret to success on the river. Now, I am not advocating rampant drunkeness on the river, but rather realizing that if you focus too much on the destination, you can lose your appreciation of the journey. A bit of Buddhist detachment has its place on the river, as elsewhere in life. And it is amazing how the fish seem to come when you adopt this approach. At least they did on Sunday.

The action on dries like stimulators and pmxs was good right off the bat from our launch just above town. We also fished a bead head dropper above town, and it seemed primarily the smaller fish were active on those. Below town we switched to a double dry rig, and all the bigger fish took dries. Ardele also caught the Arkansas River trifecta – a cutthroat, a rainbow and a brown. Since filming this, the river level has dropped significantly as a result of the end of this year’s augmentation program for the rafting industry. In my experience, this generally leads to a few days of patchy fishing as the fish get used to new flows and new holding positions. Once things have settled down, however, it should be back to business as usual as the fish feed and fatten before fall and the spawn.

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How bad can it be???

Long has the debate raged about the effects of different weather patterns on fish and their feeding activities. My favorite fishing adage is: When in doubt, blame the weather. This has served me well in the past, especially when guiding on difficult days. Apart from the obvious effects, like temperature and wind, there are the less tangibles events like the effect of the full moon, and a rising or falling barometer. Having just retuned from a trip to California, I came back to Salida to fishing stories full of doom and gloom – too bright, too hot, too windy, too much moon etc etc etc. So what more can a guy do except get out there and find out for himself.

There is no doubt I dislike fishing in the wind, but it is one of those things that you either have to deal with on a regular basis, or else take up bowling. Bright sunlight too is a bit of a turn off, but then again you need to be careful what you ask for if you start cursing  too much sunshine in your life. Besides, Colorado is definitely not the place to live if you have an aversion to sunny days. The full moon theory is an interesting one. Personally, I don’t subscribe to it too seriously. I’ve had some lousy days fishing around the full moon, but  some spectacular ones also. Barometric pressure is a bit more problematic. The best advice I’ve read on the subject is from a book by Norman Marsh, one of the doyens of New Zealand fly fishing. After discussing all the theories and conjecture about the effects of a rising and falling barometer on fish feeding patterns he concluded by saying “So before you go fishing, always check your barometer. And then go fishing anyway.”

And so I did. I figured that Sunday was a lovely day, the river looks beautiful, so how bad could it be? And I had a lot of fun. To be sure, I wouldn’t call the fishing spectacular, but it was definitely productive. I had to try a number of different patterns before getting the combo right. I started with a hopper, switched to a stimulator, then downsized to an ant. Then I noticed a half decent pmd hatch coming off, and tied on a caddis and an adams. This combo in reality is my default dry fly combo on the Arkansas, so it is no surprise it worked well.

That said, I did cover a lot of ground for relatively few fish landed, but as the video shows, I had plenty of opportunity. And as soon as fishing becomes a numbers game, it’s another pointer to take up bowling. Too much of the slothful life in California had dulled my senses and…… actually, if I am honest, I probably missed about as many fish as I usually do. Anyone who tells you they hook them all has trouble separating fact from fiction.

And so I am glad I roused myself from the couch and got out there. The wind makes it difficult at times to get the fly positioned and drifting naturally, but if it were easy it’d be called spin fishing. There is still a decent amount of bug activity on the water, so keep changing things around until you find something that works. And remember, no matter how tough the fishing, a day on the river is always better than living in Houston.

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