Sticks and Stones…

The current volcanic activity in Iceland is reminder to the human race about who is really in charge here. We might like to think we are in control, but every now and then Mother Nature has a way of effortlessly reasserting herself. A little closer to home, rain and low level snow melt are lately having as much of an impact on the humble fisherman as volcanic ash is on international travel and commerce.

Fishing at springtime is generally fraught with variables. Wind, fluctuating water temperatures and changeable weather can combine to make even the most sagacious of anglers eat humble pie. This year, heavy rain and a belated melt of low level snow have produced a greater degree of unpredictability than usual. Below Salida, Badger Creek has been busy emptying murky water into the Arkansas, giving the river the color of late May runoff , while a recent heavy and much welcome overnight rain brought a nice slug of murky water all the way  downstream from Granite.

Consequently, hatches have been sporadic, fishing a little unpredictable, and you have to make sure you bring your own fun along with you. Fortunately, with Mort and Will as fishing buddies, fun is seldom in short supply, even if I spend more time snagging sticks, hooking rocks and tangling in trees than catching fish. Right now, with the variable conditions, it is more important than ever to: 1) have an adequate supply of beer on board, and 2) keep an eye on water temperature as it changes throughout the day. Cooler temps in the morning mean more midge activity, with blue wings and caddis becoming more active as the day advances and the sun warms the water.

Of course, hatching bugs and feeding fish don’t necessarily go together. I have yet to see consistent dry fly activity, with the fish still preferring to take their food sub surface when they are in the mood. For me lately, pheasant tails and olive caddis pupae have been the best producers, with micro olive mayflies worth a cast or two also.

If you can believe the ten day weather forecast, this warming trend should continue, with hopefully more consistent hatches and predictable feeding patterns. Nevertheless, in the meantime take along a sense of humor, keep changing your flies around, and be thankful you are not stranded in an airport departure lounge somewhere.

For up to the minute fishing conditions, click here.


Of windy days and blue wings….

One of the dangers of living in Salida, with a river running through it, and a ski area close by, is that you can get a little too selective on the days you choose to recreate, thereby missing out on some great opportunities that others living in a big city somewhere would crawl across hot coals for. Easter Sunday was nearly such a time. Sitting in the comfort of home over breakfast, it was almost all too easy to listen to the gusting wind, watch the trees swaying and almost feel the bite of the wind and decide to stay indoors. Fortunately, the prospect of fishing with a good mate, Jim, who was in town for the weekend, tipped the scales in favor of heading out to the river to see what was really going on.

After all, how bad could it be? If things were too cold and inhospitable, the truck was only a few minutes away, and I’d be back home cracking a beer at noon instead of three. Either way, win – win. And so Jim and I headed out to check things out in person. Certainly wind complicates fishing, but if you aren’t prepared to deal with it from time to time then you automatically disqualify yourself from a significant number of days on the river. And wind also is a great leveler when it comes to casting. Anyone can cast like a rock star when the air is calm, but wind exposes deficiencies in technique like nothing else. For me, the solution is to take a heavier rod, in this case a 5wt, shorten the leader, and lengthen the cast.

A shortened leader makes it more difficult to present a fly delicately, but it does help the leader to roll out fully, and the disturbance caused by the wind on the surface of the water helps hide most blemishes in technique. Making longer casts may sound counter intuitive, but the more line you have out there, the more mass there is to power up the rod on the backcast. Lastly you need to throw a real tight loop. The further behind vertical your rod wanders on the backcast, the wider the loop, and consequently the greater the wind resistance.

This time of year, the blue wings are particularly active, so arriving at the river I went for a dry / dropper rig with Klinkhammer on top and a micro olive mayfly as the dropper. For the first part of the day, the dropper worked extremely well. The fish I caught seemed to be holding in water around knee to thigh deep in places where there was a steady current, particularly at the tail outs of rapids and riffles. Jim stuck to a dry fly rig, and got several fish also. After an hour or so, we moved to another  spot downstream, and a drop in the wind also coincided with a pretty nice blue wing hatch. It was here that the fun really started.

Give me a choice, and I’ll fish with a dry fly over any other kind of fly any day. Fishing with dries is to me both the most fun, but also potentially the most frustrating way to fish. Fishing with nymphs involves a lot of guess work as to where the fish are, and what if anything they are feeding on. When fishing dries to rising fish, you can see the fish, you can see what they are eating, and yet they can still manage to make you look foolish. Patience is the key. A fish that is close to the surface actually has a very narrow range of vision, so unless you get your fly in exactly the right place, it can easily float by them unseen. Then there is the competition from the naturals. When there are dozens of real ones floating by, you need to be spot on with your choice of fly, and presentation, especially when the water is low, slow and clear. After messing around with a few different patterns, the good old parachute adams came through and delivered a few fish.

The result was some of the funnest action I have had in a long time. Certainly I got spanked more often than I succeeded in hooking up, but it is often the spankings that you remember long after the catches have faded from memory. And so a day that was very nearly called off at the outset turned out to be most memorable. So, thanks to the fish, thanks to the blue wings, and thanks to Jim for not laughing too hard.


Redemption: Fish + Beer = Love.

Last Tuesday was a delightful foretaste of what is to come, both from fishing and weather point of view. After what has seemed like a long cold winter, Tuesday was one of those days that was filled with the promise of a spring and summer on the way. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Although I am sure there are still a couple of wintery surprises left, we are basically over winter’s hump, so to speak. So an afternoon with the temperature in the seventies, floating on the river and catching a few fish to boot was an afternoon to be savored. And as easy as it is to complain about winter’s grip, it is hard to not be grateful for all that snow on the ground. Ranchers will hopefully have plenty of water for irrigating, and those of us who recreate or make our living on the river should have more than enough to enjoy ourselves.

After last week’s ignominious spanking, I was keen to get back in the ring for another go round as soon as possible. Fortunately, time and circumstance combined to allow Kevin, Noel and myself a few hours for a shot at redemption. In the spirit of bipartisanship and outreach to those less fortunate, we allowed Noel, an accomplished spin fisherman, to ride along. Kevin, smart lad that he is, ensured there were a few PBR’s along for the trip this time around. The rules are clear in these circumstances. If you don’t know how to row, you fish in the back of the boat, and if you are a spin fisherman, you are not allowed to catch any fish either.

Noel, gentleman that he is, obliged on both counts. This is not to imply any deficiencies on Noels account, or to make any claims for the primacy of one style of fishing over another, but rather that Tuesday was a day for flies over spinners. Although anything can happen on a daily basis, it seems that the fish are still a little too lethargic to aggressively chase a lure, while they are slowly moving out to the edges of the river to feed on the stonefly and mayfly nymphs that are currently active, as well as the awakening caddis. While Noel was up the back of the boat engaged in his dark arts, Kevin and I were fishing a golden stonefly nymph with a small caddis larva or an RS 2 behind it. Each fly was effective, in itself reflective of the propensity and variety of insect activity taking place right now. It is not just we who are emerging, cold and cramped from our hovels into the light of a new season. The stoneflies are molting, there were blue wings floating in the back eddies, and we even spotted a few early caddis flying about. There are over forty species of caddis on the Arkansas, so while the main hatch of brachycentrus is still a few weeks way, there are others active right now.

Despite the bugs flying around, we didn’t see a fish rise the whole afternoon. It will probably take a couple of cloudy days and a prolonged mayfly hatch or two to get them looking up with consistency. I would expect a nymph rig to be the most consistent producer for the next couple of weeks, but still keep a dry fly rod with an adams and a sprout baetis handy if you spot any risers. The most productive water for us were the riffles and the associated pockets of water along the banks. There has been some cloudiness to the water on account of the low level snow melt going on at the moment. Castle Gardens just east of town has been particularly responsible for much of the discoloration, but that should be pretty much passed by now, unless more snow comes along. Besides, at these lower flows, I prefer a little cloudiness to the water over it being gin clear. That little bit of murk helps to hide the flaws of a hack like me.

One door closes, and another opens. So while Monarch is getting ready to wind down after what has turned out to be a pretty good season,  it is getting near time to put away the boards and skis for a few months. It is also time to break out the bikes, kayaks and fly rods and look forward to another great summer season in the mountains.


No beer, no fish, no love….

Sooner or later in every person’s life, there comes a time when you have to put your money where your mouth is. Walk the talk. Put up or shut up. And so today, it was my turn. I have gone to great lengths in the past to convince fishing clients and fellow anglers that catching fish is not really what fishing is about. Usually this conversation comes at the end of a long hard day when the fish haven’t been co-operative and you are looking for pearls of wisdom to help cushion the disappointment of being skunked.

And so today was my turn. Along with Cody Kuester, it was time to christen the boat for the season and float the river for the first time this year. The weather, in the form of snowstorms, had forced the cancellation of a couple of trips planned over the last couple of weeks, but this Monday afternoon was the day. We set off above town with the water lovely and clear, and a gentle breeze pushing us down the river. Now one of the challenges of fishing at this time of the year is to try and figure out the dynamic. There are so many variables – weather, water temperature and clarity, no to mention insect activity, that make fishing this time of the year so unpredictable. Apres run off, it seems a fisherman can set cruise control – water levels are stable, clarity generally good and water temperatures are conducive to bugs hatching and active fish.

Spring time, it tends to be more of a roller coaster. Red hot one day, flatlined the next. Summer time, they will feed on pretty much anything – stone flies, caddis, pmds – if it floats, they’ll eat it. Spring time it seems they are a lot more finicky, keying in on one stage of one particular insect. One day it will be stone fly nymphs, the next baetis emergers, the next caddis larva. Sometimes all of the above at different times of the same day.

So all of this is a round about way of trying to explain why we didn’t catch anything. Below town, the water was murked up some owing to the work currently being done on the whitewater park, and while that didn’t help, its not like we were slaying them above town. Incidentally, it is great to see the next phase of the park happening. This is an excellent project, and kudos to the Arkansas River Trust and all others involved.

When in doubt, blame the weather, so maybe the day was too fine and sunny. Or maybe the fact that we didn’t have any beer along was to blame – getting skunked was the fish’s way of revoking our Man Cards. We can read all the books, have all the gear and spout all the theories, but still we are only one half of the equation. If the fish haven’t reading from the same book, then all fishing really is about is a fishing rod with a jerk on one end. The point is that at this time of the year, we could go and float the same stretch again tomorrow, throw the same flies, and catch a bunch of fish. One of my intentions with the videos is to show fishing how it really is, not like some heavily edited ESPN show where the fisherman never screws up a cast, and never misses a fish. So while my initial reaction was to delete the footage and try again next week, I decided I had better be true to my creed and celebrate a day on the river for what it is – always fun, sometimes challenging, and always better than most other things you could be doing.

A beer would have been nice though. Of course, all the usual accompaniments for a day on the river came along: a bit of wind, some tangles, a few lost flies, everything but the fish. And beer. Did I mention we left that behind? Hopefully the fish will be gracious enough to return my card to me next time.