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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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.

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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.

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Dry fly till you die…

Sometimes, missing a fish is as much fun as catching one, at least that is if you still manage to hook a few in the process. And so it turned out to be as Caveman and I set out down the river to try a few different things out. For me, I wanted to catch fish, so I stuck to the tried and true flies this time of the year – small [ size 16 ] stimulators, pmx’s and caddis. Caveman adopted the opposite approach. He has spent enough days guiding on the river being tormented by fish that he decided to torment them back – by throwing a huge rubber legged dry fly pattern. The results were hilarious, at least if you are, like me,  a socially challenged fishing geek – plenty of lookers, wtf’ers, a few fish that took one look and ran away to hide, and several that plucked up the courage and had a go at it.

 We floated from Salida East to Rincon on a river that couldn’t look more perfect if it tried. Finally, after the protracted water releases and runoff, the level has dropped and stabilized, the clarity is great, and the fish are hungry. More than at any other time of the year, the fish have a plethora of bug life to choose from. Yellow Sallies are probably the most prolific hatchers right now, closely followed by PMDs, caddis and golden stones.

The net result is that pretty much any dry fly will work, provided it is cast tight to the bank. At one point we pulled over to the side of the river for a refreshment break, and watched a caddis float down the opposite side of the river, about two and a half feet off the bank. “It’s OK little fella, you’re safe, there’s no fish live that far out” said Cave sarcastically. As if on cue, the caddis started swimming for the shore. “No, don’t go there, its not safe” we both yelled, and sure enough, just as it reached for a rock along the bank – slurp – it was nailed by a fish. So the lesson is: cast to the bank – two feet off it is about eighteen inches too far out.

Bead head nymphs have been working very well also, but this time of the year I find it really hard to tie one on unless I really need to. There is something extra fun, to me anyway, about throwing a single dry. You are putting all your eggs into one basket so to speak, hunting for that fish tucked in hard along the edge. The advantage of one fly is that you can really tuck it into the nooks and crannies in a way you can’t with two flies, especially if one of them is a bead head.

So cast along the edges and the slow water. Fish will be holding in any little pocket along the bank, in some places stacked up like cord wood. Take a break during the heat of the day, especially when there is no cloud cover, as the fish will often lay low during this time. But above all, take a sense of humor, a couple of buddies, and a cold brew or two.

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Sometimes, there’s nothing like a whopper or two…

Note: for the full splendor of the audio visual experience, please follow the links where indicated.

With the Arkansas River continuing it’s late season peak, it’s time for a fisherman to start getting creative about when and where to fish. For sure, once the river clears and drops, the fishing will be on fire. There are going to be hungry fish and lots of food flying and swimming around for them to eat. In the meantime, I headed off to Antero Reservoir the other day with a six weight rod and some salubrious company to chase after a few lunkers. After having had fun last week catching joeys in a small stream environment, it was time to enjoy the other end of the scale, with screaming reels, rods bent in half, and line backing seeing the light of day for the first time in a month of Sundays.

Antero is one of the  jewels in the  Colorado Division of Wildlife’s fishing crown. Back in 2002 it was drained completely during the drought year, but a succession of decent winter snow falls have seen the reservoir refilled and opened again to fishing a few years back. It must be said that flat water fishing is not my preferred style. Generally there is too much sitting around with nothing to do except doze, hydrate with barley pops, and let the mind wander onto important things. Should I really have gone to the office today? What would have happened if I’d had the cojones to ask that girl out in high school? Jeez, maybe the old man was right and I shouldn’t have dropped out of college. Then, all of a sudden, the bobber gives a little nudge, you set the hook, and putting all such futile musings aside, it’s game on.

There is no doubt Antero is a great place to go to tie into a big one. There is also no doubt it is not the place to go for those seeking solitude and serenity. But the fishing is great right now, the backdrop stunning and seeing that many fishermen out on the water having fun in one place makes you grateful they have somewhere to go, and are not wandering the streets wild eyed and gaunt, looking to throw a hook at anything fish-like that moves. This particular day we were blessed with one of the most superb days South Park will unveil this year I am sure. How many times do you venture over Trout Creek Pass and not find the wind blowing hard from about 11.00 am, with thunderheads looming all around? Not this day. As the video shows, the weather was perfect throughout. The fish were being cooperative also, and all around we were surrounded by happy fishermen floating on all manner of craft. From canoes and belly boats to high tech fizz boats, everyone was having a great time.

Antero is generally not the place to go if you want to throw dry flies. The water supports a tremendous variety of insect life, and while there was the odd fish hitting the surface, it is the nymphs that were doing the damage. For us, damsel fly patterns worked the best. Getting there early is the key, before the wind kicks up. There is something about being on the water in the early morning that is very soothing. Normally at that time your hard drive is occupied with the work day ahead, getting the kids organized and fed etc, so it is great to sit and enjoy the change of pace as the sun comes up and the day warms. Things were pretty quiet for a bit, but right around 9.30 the alarm clocks went off under water, and the fish showed up for their days work with great enthusiasm. All in all, a wonderful day.

A brief word about tail and belly hooking. It seems that ever since, a few weeks ago, I made disparaging remarks about someone’s propensity to hook fish anywhere but in the mouth, I have discovered the knack myself. So what can I say except: anyone can hook a fish in the mouth, it takes extra timing and finesse to get them in the side, and it is a good way to make an 18 inch fish feel like a 24 incher.

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