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.


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.


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

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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.


Who said size matters?

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Of all the things I love about fly fishing, one is the timely reminders you get about your true place in the universe. We like to think of ourselves as masters of our domain, so it can be a reality check to get outsmarted from time to time by a creature with no powers of reasoning and a brain the size of a pea. Such was the case last week with my journey to the Conejos. My fragile ego can only take so much of a battering, so I decided to head somewhere where I felt the odds might be a little more in my favor.

Small stream fishing is a lot of fun. The narrow confines of the stream bed, often with overhanging vegetation and debris, can make for some tight, technical casting. The fish avail themselves of any piece of water offering shelter from current and predator. They dart out, hitting their prey with remarkable speed, and scurry back to their lair often in the blink of an eye. It is easy to gain a tremendous respect for these little guys, particularly their ability to survive and thrive in such a harsh environment. Winters are longer at this altitude, spring run off reduces the amount of habitable river dramatically, and the summer growing season is short.

This combination of factors definitely increases the fishing fun factor. The fish generally find it hard to resist a well drifted fly, as they need to get as many square meals into a day as they can. Given the increased chance of tangling a fly or line on undergrowth, overgrowth and snags, I’ll usually fish a single dry fly – which is how they fish in heaven anyway, so I figure it’s good practice 😉 .

Fly fishing in New Zealand, where I was born and raised, it is too easy to get fixated on the size of the fish you catch. Sometimes you will get an eighteen inch fish on your line and get annoyed because you were trying to hook the big one next to it. Accordingly, if you are not careful, the success of your day can be measured against how big the fish was you caught. While many women may well smirk at this male obsession with size, there is nothing like a small stream to teach you that it is not the size of the fish that defines your manhood, but how much fun you have catching it that really sets the men apart from the boys.

And so a fun couple of hours was had. Honor was restored. For each fish I landed, at least a couple were too fast and wary for me. While the Arkansas River is too high yet to fish effectively, I’m pretty sure I’ll be heading to a couple more small, high mountain streams in the near future, there to remind myself that it is not the size or number of the catch that matters, but the privilege of being there in the first place.


Showdown at Grass Lake

June 8, 2009

As the rivers rise, its time to head to the hills in search of fish and salvation. With the Arkansas and most of its feeder streams running high and murky, it’s the high lakes that offer the best opportunity locally for a fishing fix. I’ve never been a huge fan of still water fishing. I like the dynamic of moving water. I like the challenges of accurate fly placement and manipulating the line to achieve a natural drift. That said, Grass Lake has been my nemesis over the last few years. Despite several trips there, I had yet to catch a fish, and the pressure was on.

There are several reasons why hiking to a high lake makes for a great day of fishing. Firstly, the surroundings: no crowds, and there is a stark, harsh beauty to these lakes. To survive there, both flora and fauna have to be extremely resilient. They manage to survive in an environment far removed from our comfortable, insulated existence. Secondly, the fishing is often challenging on a number of levels. Unlike rivers, with their better defined holding areas, fish move around in search of food rather than waiting for it to come to them. Consequently, a new strategy is required.

Firstly, its a good idea to walk the shoreline slowly looking for fish feeding and cruising. Upon locating a cruising fish, try to place the fly a few feet ahead of the as it swims by – just like bone fishing in the Bahamas, but a whole lot cheaper. Also, look for inflow and outflow streams where the movement of the water creates current, and you will often see fish concentrated around these places also. That said, there are often times where because of light conditions, the play of wind on water etc there is no way you will see fish, unless they happen to be rising. This is the time where patience and paying attention is paramount. Unlike river fishing, where thirty seconds equates to a long drift, on a lake sometimes you throw it out there and leave it for several minutes waiting for a passing cruiser. In this case, I can guarantee that the second you look away will be the second the fish chooses to strike, as evidenced by my tail hook on the video.

Secondly, lakes are often very still and clear. Fish can see a long way as they cruise, so are very sensitive to a poorly presented cast. I’ll usually fish with a longer leader and lighter tippet to help counter this, as unlike in moving water, a fish has all the time in the world to inspect a fly before deciding whether or not to take. A little trick to help overcome this shyness is to impart a little movement to the fly as the fish approaches. Art imitates life, and sometimes a little twitch of a dry fly, or lifting of a nymph will induce a take.

And then, there is the satisfaction of feeling like you have done something healthy with your day. The demands of a hike at altitude goes some way towards mitigating the life of relative sloth that we float fishermen tend to lead. Some days the most physically challenging thing you do is reach into the cooler for another brew, so huffing and puffing up the side of a mountain makes for a pleasant change of pace.