Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ice Fishing... with Fly Gear?!?!

It's officially Winter. The flowing, bubbling mountain streams look to have been frozen in time and then coated in a sugary snow. The once plunging waterfalls now stick to the hillsides paralyzed in airy, crystallized ice, patiently waiting for Spring so they can get back to their business of rushing.

The trout reside deep within this ice cage, grouped together in the deepest pools where the water won't freeze solid in their motionless, seemingly hypnotized state.

This state of deep freeze is not the case, however, in every stream across Colorado. There are special exceptions in tailwaters. Tailwaters are streams in which their water is derived from the outflow of dams. While there may be a completely frozen lid on the water within the dam, the water being released below is pulled from the bottom of the reservoir allowing the streams to remain free from ice through even the coldest of weather. In some premier tailwaters the water is silt free, stable in temperature year round, and is full of nutritious food for the fish resulting in exceptional fisheries. The DOW is aware of this and has made many tailwaters C&R only for stretches directly below the dams boosting the quality of fishing that much more by allowing fish to grow large.

At the beginning of the Winter season when most freestone streams (streams in which a majority of its water is derived from rainfall and glacial runoff) are frozen, yet Colorado sun is still providing 60 degree days, the tailwaters get absolutely slammed with anglers. People will literally wait in line to fish holes (so I hear).

I refuse to fish in such crowded conditions. This limbo of changing seasons has contributed to my lack of posting on this here blog as a result of my lack of actual fishing. I will start hitting the tailwaters once it gets cold enough to turn away the teeming masses of anglers, but until then...

Ice on the Fly

This brings us to ice fishing. Last year I dismissed the activity because, after all, it's sitting on a bucket with spin gear... and I'm a fly fisherman dammit! However, I dismissed it not without an air of curiosity due to the pictures of mammoth fish people pull through the ice.

This year as the hard water season approached my fly fishing associate,Vaughn, kept inserting little tidbits in my ear such as,

"You've fished in a belly boat right?"


"It's the same thing, except you're on ice instead of in a raft."

"Well, when you put it like that..."

Any protest I made was quickly quelled with impenetrable logic that my fish deprived mind eagerly justified, and secretly relished in. He knew what I needed to hear.

He even had all the necessary gear I lacked - extra short rods (or are they poles? ...don't ask don't tell) and an extra ice hut. He had years and years of experience of where to go, what to use, and the big fish, oh the big fish.


In addition, Matt, my close friend and roommate of 3 years from college was flying out from VA to visit and I wanted to take him on some sort of Colorado expedition. Ice fishing fit the bill. It all fell neatly into place.

The Trip

2:30 A.M. departure, it was snowing. Hard. Matt, my brother and I met up with Vaughn and Swizz and started trekking. During the drive out the snow whited out the vast views of mountains in the distance and any potential of a sunrise. Instead, it gave us a fuzzy, glowing calmness and offered closer range, peaceful landscapes.

We got to the lake, drug our gear out to the ice and set up shop.

Drill Baby Drill!

View from inside the hut.

The hut blocks out all outside light and the result is a lime green glowing hole to fish through. You can see the bottom of the lake, your fly, and trout swimming up to inspect your offering. We would yell to each other if we saw one swim by in someone else's direction.

After just a few minutes of sitting in there with our flies in the water Matt calmly says,

"Something... just... happened."

I look over and he's hand lining with a confused look on his face.

"Grab your rod!" Nick and I exclaim.

He picks of the stick and lands his first ever trout like a natural!

The action slowed toward the afternoon, but all five of us managed to land fish during the morning. I didn't even know it at the time, but Matt was taking awesome videos with his point and shoot camera.

Cookie Cutter Bow

Nick Botches One at the Hole

Toward the end of the day the sky broke for a little while and we got some nice views during the drive home.

Then more snow.

Just to show the potential for ice fishing, Vaughn caught this spawned up 25 in. cutbow 2 weeks after our trip!

Our friend Kevin, who is a talented taxidermist, will be mounting it and entering it in the world taxidermy championships in a few months. Some of his previous work can be seen here at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Knot

The last thread reminded me to link the proper way to tie a knot to the fly. As Jason will attest, the difference between the clinch knot and the improved clinch knot is a broken off fish or a landed fish. What makes it the "improved" clinch knot is step 8 in the animation.

I used to get frustrated with tying knots and skip the improved step. When you're standing in the water watching feeding fish it's easy to get excited and to brush over taking your time tying in the proper knots. The normal clinch knot will work as long as you don't hook into a big fish (relative to your line thickness)...

In other local fishing news, ice chunks are starting to show up in the rivers, and lakes are getting their lids. It looks like my first season of ice fishing is coming up. There may be a lull in fishing activity for me as the ice firms up and I hit the back country snowshoeing and snowboarding.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Big Trout, Short Story

I went out to my favorite local tail water this past weekend. It was my first trip out since the neck injury. My buddy Jason and I headed out there and the weather was glorious. About 50 degrees and sunny all day, with not another soul on the water.

I had tied up about 9 czech nymphs and planned to show Jason the way to slay it out there with them. As fortune would have it, czech nymphing just wasn't the ticket that day. We both had a hit or two without hookups.

We come up to a slow stretch of the river and Jason spots a rainbow about 60 feet below us in the canyon that is actively feeding in a lane. It's hard to read the size, but it looks every bit of 20 inches.

Let me preface this by saying that this river is known for its wiley trout. Any fish of size has been around the block and doesn't stand for the slightest hint of foul play. The approach, the cast and the drift all have to be purrrrrfect. Jason just picked up fly fishing this year and has really excelled, but catching one of these trout would be a challenge even for an experienced angler.

Jason climbs down the boulders of the canyon wall to the water and ties on an egg/nymph rig while I stay up on the rocks to spot for him. I told him how far away the trout was and damn if he didn't lay an undetected cast above it with a top notch drift right for its face.

The 'bow took a nonchalant glance at the egg before lazily wavering away.

"He's lookin... he's lookin," I stammer. "Nope he didn't go."

I see Jason's shoulders sink in a gesture of dissapointment as he gets ready to pick up the line for another cast.

"Wait, wait! Hes turned back at it... and hes following!" I yell out in amazement.

All I know from that point is Jason sets the hook and a flopping splash errupts the placid surface.

"Holy shit! YOU'VE GOT HIM! Holy shit!" I cry as I fumble for my net and begin to scramble down the canyon wall. Jason is tripping backwards, stripping line, letting it out, laughing, cursing -- doing the big fish shuffle.

I get down to the water, net in hand, and raise my eyes ready to do this only to see the tension in his rod abruptly release and the line skip across the water... fish off.

We crack a smile and give a high five just for the excitement of the ordeal. It's not every day you get to hook into a fish like that in a place such as this.

"The adrenaline is wearing off and it's being replaced with saddness." Jason laments.

I chuckle because I sure know that shitty feeling.

It turned out to be a bad knot on the fly and he knew it before we even took a look at the end of the line. It would have been his personal best trout.

I once read a story in which a young boy hooks into the biggest trout of his life and it breaks him off. The boy is sitting on the shore with his head between his knees crying when an old man walks up with a long gray beard scattered with odd looking, rusty flies. The old-timer tells the boy that maybe it was necessary for him to break that fish off in order for him to have the tools to catch a big one later on down the road. He plucks a few flies out of his crusty beard, hands them to the boy, and fades into the woods...

...and so is fly fishing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tie Me A River

I have a strange obsession with the woolly bugger and its a magical powers over trout. This is a variation on my previously posted purple bead head pattern. This one features the standard palmered hackle, a chartreuse wire wrap, some flash in the tail, and rubber legs.

With all this talk on my blog about czech nymphs, I figured I'd finally throw up a photo of one. There is nothing very exciting about these flies. It's wrapped with lead underneath, dubbed, covered with scud skin over the back, and then wraped with some 5x mono for segmentation.

My brother has gotten really into photography and I asked him to take some photos of me tying over some cold beers and music - to inspire creativity of course.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kokanee Salmon and Spawning Browns

I haven't put up a post in a while and the guilt has been weighing on me heavily. In the back of my mind all I can think of is that loyal reader checking my page only to find the same photo of me with my arm around Worm. I thought up a few solid excuses, but in truth, I have just been lazy. Sorry.

One of my fishing buddies, Vaughn, and I became obsessed with catching a mess of salmon to take home for many dinners to come.

The idea, of course, was to find a hot spot of podded salmon that will hit on every cast. A fantasy of raining salmon: every angler dancing up and down the banks on tippy toes playing hard-fighting fish, big grins, belly laughs, high fives, back slapping and such.

In reality, this involved us waking up around three o'clock in the morning, driving for hours, and then just being teased with something like one undersized salmon every hour or so.


Most days we even had our secondary plans all ready to go such as, "Well, I figure we can head over to the ******* river for trout after we limit out on salmon sometime around noon."

Nope. That whole "sometime around noon" graceful exit kept turning into me squatted on a desolate shoreline with bloodshot eyes and a five o'clock shadow around six o'clock with Vaughn murmuring something about his wife expecting him home tonight.

Keep in mind that there are easier ways to catch Salmon in the state of Colorado. It's called snagging.

I have this preference to not line up elbow to elbow with the likes of Mr. Deuce McAllister, fish kicking mullet man, guy sitting on cooler and family. This video is not shot in Colorado, but the scene is always the same when it comes to snagging.

No thanks. I'd rather have a slow day in pursuit of catching them in the mouth.

Moving on.

I decided to cut my losses on the salmon hunt and do what an angler is supposed to do during Colorado autumn - chase spawning browns and the rogue rainbows that are gorging on the brown roe.

I met up with the man, the legend known as Swizz and headed to a prime destination.

Sunrise while driving.

The action was slow which was disappointing considering the 3.5 hour drive each direction, but I learned a ton from Swizz and some of his friends that we ran into out there. Even though I got the skunk, I was able to take some photos of trout that those guys caught.

A prime example of a spawning brown all colored up.

A superior specimen of said rogue 'bow that is hanging out around the spawners gulping up the eggs.

I also spotted a sun dog at the end of the day and captured some photos of it. This is the second sun dog I've seen in Colorado. I find them extraordinary and enchanting and it put a smile on my face for the drive home.

On a side note, I was rudely awakened at four o'clock Tuesday morning with immobilizing pain in my neck. Long story short, my brother drove me to the ER with my chin glued to my chest and they said I just had to wait it out. Some strong meds and four blurry days later my neck feels much better. However, for this weekend, as they say in the NFL, I will be on the PUP list, so no fishing for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rocky Mountain Rhapsody

When I saw the pictures of Tangler’s trophy cutthroat trout on this blog, my juices began to flow like a Rocky Mountain river.

“I simply have to make a fly fishing trip out there,” I concluded, as I began to purchase a flight with child-like abandon.

A month later I found myself hiking up a gray and foreboding mountain, so colossal in stature, it makes my hometown Virginia Blue Ridge look like a rolling hill. It took about five minutes of light upward hiking before I realized that I was completely out of shape. My vision was a bit blurred from the exhaustion, but I could make out the two figures ambling in the distance.

“Hey Tangler” I yelled, “I need to get my ass on a treadmill more often, my lungs feel like they are about to explode!”

He looked back and flashed me a knowing grin, but I certainly didn’t share his amusement.

We arrived at the first mountain-top lake around mid-day. Coinciding our arrival to the lake, the clouds darkened abruptly and a light snow began to sting our ruddy faces.

“What happened? It was sunny five minutes ago,” I thought, as we passed the lake by and kept climbing higher.

We arrived at the upper lake and continued to a nearby boulder to have lunch. I hungrily pawed my backpack for my lunch sack, but was horrified to discover that I forgot my sandwich. I didn’t even have to tell Tangler what I forgot, he could see it my somber eyes when I looked at him.

“It’s okay fatty, you can have some of mine,” he assured, as he held out his mangled Turkey Sub.

After lunch we spent time walking along the lake, looking for all the trout we were to slay. I wasn’t sure what shapes we were supposed to be looking for in the water, but Tangler peered in with a hawk-like veracity, as focused in as a camera lens. He saw nothing, and it took about a half-hour of lake walking for him to admit it.

“They just aren’t out today,” he said, with an accompanied sigh.

“But where do they go,” I asked, “they exist in this pond don’t they?”

This question, with its penetrating logic, seemed to catch him off guard: “Yeah, I guess they do still exist somewhere in the pond…”

That was the end of our conversation.

("Where are the fish???")

We caught no fish, but we had one hell of a hike. Even five minutes of ambling through the Rocky Mountains is worth the trip out there.

On the way down, I noticed my head beginning to ache. I told Tangler about my ailments (headache, blurry vision, lack of balance, shortness of breath, numbness of the arms, etc), and he shot me that enigmatic smile again. What was he up to?

His brother finally confessed, “I think you have High Altitude Sickness (HAS), we probably should have warned you.”

Thanks asshole, I thought, but honestly I couldn’t be too upset; it’s a small price to pay for the hike of a lifetime. I’ll just have to remember to bring Advil with me when I go back next year to get revenge on those phantom mountain-top trout...

Guest Blogger

Some more photos from the day:

The Ptarmigans:

How many do you count?

Sun set. You shoulda seen it in real life...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Recent Activity

My friend Armin came and visited Colorado last weekend as I had mentioned in a previous entry. The plan was to Hit North Park, but that kind of fell through. My brother and Armin got all wide eyed when I mentioned that the drive would be over 3 hours each way. My plans were swiftly vetoed and replaced with a local stroll out to the Gross Reservoir inlet (let the record show that I warned them we would catch nothing there). The truth is that there is no such thing as a bad fishing trip, and I'm just glad I got to spend time with an old buddy.

While we didn't go after the browns, we did make a journey up to a high lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness despite the cold front setting in on Saturday. That's all that I am saying about that trip because Armin is guest authoring a blog post about it.

Jumping topics...

My analytic report shows that Colorado Fly Fisherman Anon. has been getting hits from Baghdad. Since I'm fairly confident that Iraqis aren't fly fishing in their spare time, I presume that the views are coming from an American troop.

Whoever you are, it really gives me a sense of purpose with this blog to know that I am connecting with you over there. Thanks for fighting for this beautiful country, and thanks for reading. Hopefully some of my writings allowed you to fly fish and hike in the rocky mountains this season vicariously. Come home safe.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

2008 shots of wildlife

Here are some choice wildlife photos from throughout 2008 that, for whatever reason, didn't make the blog. Please make sure to view them in full screen for best experience.

Categorized by photographer:


Lady Bugs
Eleven Mile wild donkey


Tough Guy
Spinney Pelican

Eleven Mile wild, aggressive donkey w/ onlooker


Chipmunk profile
Mule Deer on Flagstaff looking down on Boulder

Bull Elk in RMNP

Female Bluebird

Eleven Mile Bluebirds in flight

Spinney bows 20''+

My frying pan of a personal best 'Bow