Not the report I imagined…

Sometimes, you can get swept up in your own little agenda to such an extent that you wouldn’t know a good time if it bit you on the ass. We can get so self centered that what are seminal moments in the lives of those near and dear to us pass us by because mentally we are elsewhere. Or so I rediscovered this weekend. Initially it started out as a weekend born of frustration. A trip to the Black Canyon is always one of the highlights of my annual fishing calendar, especially during the stone fly hatch. It is a special place any time of the year, but the opportunity to throw ridiculously large dries at ridiculously large shameless fish is a hard one to pass up. But pass it up I did, as a combination of work and family commitments saw me reluctantly remain in Salida.

I had visions of a great video report showing the Canyon in all it’s splendor, and me catching a bunch of large fish to boot. Visions of camping out with some great friends, lots of beer and good food, and no cell phones or email. But after taking the decision to forego the opportunity, once I acknowledged a combination of parental and professional responsibilities, I actually impressed myself by realizing that maybe, if I payed attention to the here and now, and didn’t devote too much time and energy focussing on “what ifs”, a silver lining would emerge. How often does something happen that at the time makes you think “bummer”, but with the benefit of hindsight turns out to be a blessing?

Firstly, I determined that if I couldn’t go and fish, I would at least indulge in my second favorite passion this time of the year, mountain biking. So up early on Saturday morning, I set off to ride a local, quasi legal trail that begins with a seven mile climb. Imagining myself as Lance Armstrong, I completed the climb in record time, for me at least. As I gained the summit in severe oxygen debt, and sat down gasping for breath, a younger rider smiled and cheerily waved “Hello” as he rode effortlessly by. A note to all those of youth out there [ namely anyone under forty ]: make the most of it, because the day will soon come when you can no longer scratch your ear with your big toe, or stand next to a wall and pee higher than your head.


In praise of a fickle mistress…

What is it about having your advances spurned that can keep a guy coming back for more? You knock on the door, and instead of being greeted with a warm hearth and  warmer bosom, you get a quick slap in the face and the door slammed shut on your hopes and aspirations. But somehow, that glimpse of fire in her eyes and ankle under the skirt keeps you coming back for more. So it is with the Conejos River. Those who fish it regularly often shake their heads in exasperation and bemusement. Those of us who venture down there a time or two a year have glimpsed her bounty sufficiently to endure the slings and arrows of random rejection, dust ourselves off, square our shoulders and knock on the door one more time.

Any trip to the Conejos should start with a visit to Jon Harp at Conejos River Anglers. Not only is he a fine, upstanding chap, but if anyone knows anything about what is happening on the river, he’s the man. Right now, the Conejos is still running a little high for comfortable wading. To offset that however, is the bug activity. As we speak, the big salmonflies are hatching, there is an abundance of caddis, and for those lucky enough to unlock the combination, bountiful fruits await. As evidenced by the video, on this particular trip, I was greeted with a warm smile, a glimpse of flesh, and then just when I thought I had gained entry to the inner sanctum, a boot up the backside and unceremoniously sent home with my tail between my legs. Sigh. I’ll be back.

Apart from the challenge and quality of the fishing, the thing I really like about this river is its variety and breathtaking scenery. I wrote last fall about a trip to its upper reaches, with the trees bare of leaves and ice along the shaded portions of the banks. Right now, those trees are in full neon green bloom, the peaks have the last vestiges of winter’s snow on their flanks, and the river is alive and flowing with strength and purpose. The Conejos is a river that can demand a long hike down into and out of steep sided gorges, tight casting along overgrown banks into fast moving pocket water, and reward the hopeful suitor with the real prospect of hooking into a twenty inch plus  wild brown. Or with a long day of tight casting, standing and moving against strong current, and unanswered drifts. Obviously don’t bother asking me about how the catch these fish. I do know that a little NZ style stalking, long casts and good presentation won’t go amiss.

And that’s how it should be, and thats why we have cold beer and margaritas to drown our sorrows, rebuild the ego, and come back prepared to tilt the lance at the windmill once more.


It’s Stonefly Time on the Arkansas River

June 12, 2009

There are two floats that a fisherman looks forward to the most throughout the year. The first is the inaugural spring float, that rite of passage as we emerge from winter’s long dark tunnel to the burgeoning dawn of the new day. The second is the first float after runoff. The river is still high, but dropping and clearing, and the fish haven’t had much to do for the last month or so except hunker down, spit grit out their gills and get hungry.

While kayakers and rafters may be lamenting the decreasing flows, we fishermen are pretty excited. Not only are the fish hungry thanks to their enforced Ramadan or Lent, but the higher flows force them to seek shelter along the banks out of the main current, where they lie stacked like cordwood. Add to this the fact that June is the time of the year when the stoneflies hatch, and you have a pretty good combination. Runoff came early this year. Normally the river doesn’t peak till around mid – late June, so we don’t often get to fish the stonefly hatch. Not so this year.

The great thing about stoneflies is that they are generally big and ungainly. For fish persevering on a diet of small mayflies and caddis flies, a stonefly is like a cheeseburger or wings after several months of tofu slivers and brown rice. For the fisher person, it is the chance to ditch the 5x and 6x and size 18 patterns for 3x and size 10s. Stoneflies are the predators of the nymph world. No grazing on vegetables for these guys. They grow to pretty impressive sizes, and feed on other nymphs for up to three years before crawling from the river onto rocks along the banks of the river, usually at night, to shed their skins, fly away and procreate.

The Arkansas River has two main types of stones – golden and yellow sallies. While not as large as a salmonfly, the goldens in particular can grow to a pretty respectable size, providing a good shot of protein for a hungry fish. As you can see from the video, the river is still pretty high and fast, which makes wading a bit of a sketchy proposition. I would not recommend setting foot in the water at this level, but rather fishing carefully up the banks, keeping your feet dry. As all the fish are stacked along the banks anyway, there’s no need to wade out into the stream – they’re all right there under your nose.

As for float fishing, things happen pretty fast – a drift of five seconds duration is  good. Hence the importance of getting the fly on the bank and right in front of the fish. We fished single dry flies all afternoon, and it didn’t seem to matter too much what size or color. Stimulators, pmxs and yellow foam flies all worked well, both big and small. As the river continues to drop and settle, the fishing will only get better. While the caddis hatch is fun, for me this is the best time of the year to fish. No more snow storms,  measuring the water temperature and trying to decipher the feeding patterns, now it’s fishing for the attention deficit. Just tie on a piece of 3x, stick on something big, hairy and dry, and throw it out there. For more up to the minute fishing conditions, click here.