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.


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.


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.


Thou shalt not live by fish alone

Being inclined towards laziness [ I feel some of us have to act to counter the damned Puritans and their work ethic ] I am naturally drawn towards fishing, with it’s emphasis on patience, stealth, standing  in one place for a long time, and sitting around drinking beer. While in a perfect world this would be enough to maintain a physically healthy equilibrium, alas, science tells us it is not so. So a couple of times a week I try to think of my physical well being and  go mountain biking.

Now, I want to make it clear here and now: I am in no way some fearless young hotshot adrenaline junky. Au contraire, I am 49 years old, a bit of a wimp, know my limits [ which doesn’t mean I am beyond testing them from time to time ] and learnt several years ago that the body takes a lot longer to heal than it used to. However, for an aerobic work out, combined with the odd heart in the mouth moment and the fun of a real life video game, few things can come close to tearing down the side of a mountain on two wheels.

Of course, first you have to get to the top of the mountain. There are a couple of ways to do this: California style, i.e. get someone to drive you, or crank your way up the honest way. The nice thing about living on the valley floor is that you usually get your workout early in the piece, and once you get to the top, the rewards are all down hill from there. So it is with this ride. From home, about two and a half hours in the saddle, with about eight miles and a little over 2000 feet of combined vertical, followed by about ten miles of largely downhill single track.

Of course, my mind works in mysterious and at times counter productive ways. After a workout like that, it is easy to convince yourself that you have earned a beer and a plate of wings at Bensons, thereby undoing some of the good achieved on the ride. But to be honest, I would have probably eaten the wings anyway, so it all balances out in the end.

And a special thanks goes out to Doug Green for carrying a well stocked first aid kit.


It’s Hopper Time (:-)

Note: for the full audio visual experience, it is recommended you follow the links where indicated.

Some days stick out in a guys mind. The start of football season, the start of hockey season, the start of baseball season, the day your mother in law leaves to go back to Hades – all these are red letter days in a guy’s calendar. If you happen to be a fisherman, you can add in the first day of the year you start catching fish on hoppers. Such a day was gifted to Caveman and I  this week as we ventured down river to the Texas Creek area to float from Trading Post to Pinnacle Rock.

The last time we were down that way, in the spring, there was an encounter with the State Patrol that delayed our launch time, but this time around things went smoothly. The law was avoided, the correct parks pass purchased, and away we went. The dry fly fishing is particularly good right now. There are some prolific caddis hatches coming off around dusk, and into the night, and this has made the black foam caddis a hard fly for a fish to pass up. But once I’d figured out that it was working as well as ever, I wanted to try something different, and a Daves Hopper turned out out be just the ticket.

There are several reasons why hopper fishing is about as fun as it gets. First, delicate presentation is not a requirement, which for a hack like me is an advantage. Heavy tippet is the order of the day, no messing about with 4x and 5x. Second, you can mix up the dead drifts with some twitching of the rod tip to impart life to the fly. This will often tease the fish out of their lairs to come and investigate, thereby giving you a good idea of where they are holding. And thirdly, when they do decide to take, it is seldom subtle. The fish will often hit hard and aggressively and get extra p****d when you hook them.

Generally the key is to get the hopper right next to the bank, if not landing it in the grass and teasing it out into the water – art imitating life, if you will. This generally precludes using a second fly, as this increases the potential of snagging the bank. Being a simple kind of a guy, a single fly is fine by me.

I would look for the hopper fishing to get better and better as we roll further through summer into fall. For a fish dining on caddis and pmds, there’s a decent amount of protein to be had in a hopper or two. So next time you head to the river, try leaving the bead heads behind, forego a two fly rig, and stick on a hopper and start slapping it around.