Monday, August 25, 2008

The Payout

I kneel down on the rocks, hands shaking, chest and arms covered in an ice cold slime and let loose a cry of joy that echos across the mirror lake and down the gorge below to be swallowed up by the indifference of the wild. The moment is pure. The moment is thoughtless. It's what dreams are made of.

I bought a topo map at REI at 21:00 Friday night, went to sleep at 24:3o, woke up at 3:45, and was on the trail head at 6:30. The morning was very pleasant. I don't know what the air temp was but it felt just right with the pant legs zipped off and sleeves rolled up. The animals thought so too, and were uncharacteristically caught off guard by the particularly early human invasion of their pristine world.

I bought a polarised lens for my camera specifically for getting shots of lake reflections and fish under the surface like I see them with my shades. It's all too beautifully exotic not to share.

We arrive at the lake and I begin my standard stalking lap around the edge peering into the water for fish. I see a deep flash and take a few casts to it, but quickly lose interest and move on.

Suddenly my eye catches some movement close in to the shore ahead and I get a stark view of the source of said movement. I gasp and slowly lay down behind a bush and let the vision pass by me no more than 5 feet off the shore. He lumbers by taking a gulp of something underwater and then sticks his nose out and seems to gulp something else off the surface. Maybe it was just a gulp of air.

My heart starts pounding knowing that I will get a single chance. The pressure of the situation is immense and mounting by the second.

I raise to a crouched position, eyes glued, and follow him trailing by 30 feet or so. A cast is made 10 feet in front of him and the woolly bugger is let to sink. As he closes in on the position I give it a wiggle with my line hand and wait.

I honestly don't know what told me to set the hook. It was a "zen set" as they say. When I tightened the line his nose softly tilted up through the water like a string puppet, followed by a toilet flush; the show had begun.

Time lost existence. The joy of hooking him quickly melted into the dreadful prospect of snapping him off. I had no net, 5x tippet, and a barbless hook.

He would pump his whale-ish tail with force throwing his weight, and then relax just to let me know that even though there was a dang hook in his mouth, he was king.

I finally make my move and begin leading him in for the tail grab. The wire of emotional tension pulling on my heart cranks fully taught:

A fit of splashing and yelling, then finally a hoist... the wire in my chest snaps.

A few photos are shot by Ryan who, thank god, was there to wittness and capture it all. Ryan, you are the man. The cutty is measured against my rod, revived, and then released to pass on his beastly genes and get back to the business of ruling.

I shudder, drop to my knees, and let out a Michael Phelps roar.

The Aftermath

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a state of wonder. I walked around and took more photos, utilizing the new lens.

Some cutthroats hiding under the broken surface (notice the red):

As usual, the clouds tumbled in and flexed their thunderous might. Time to book it out of there, and the day came to an end.

The cutty measured an unprecedented 26 inches.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cheesman Canyon Downpour

The weatherman says that the temperature will drop to 50 degrees and pour rain all weekend on the Front Range. It will snow around 6 inches anywhere above 10,000 ft. Thank the fishing gods, I've been waiting for weather like this all summer.

While rain and snow strike the average person as being adverse fishing conditions, it's actually quite the contrary in my book.

Reasons why Tangler likes to fish in "poor" weather conditions:
  1. All the weaklings stay home and don't fish.
    1. This in turn opens up the water for yours truly, specifically for the more famous, high pressure spots.
  2. Trout are more concealed from predators in the dim light and can consequently be more apt to come out to feed. This is especially true for the bigger trout who dine almost exclusively at night anyways. The foul weather can trigger their instinct to be on the hunt.
  3. Cloud cover that blocks the sun will often reduce the glare on the water surface allowing for crystal clear windows that reveal the underwater world. If you can see the fish, most of the battle is already won.
  4. Trout have a harder time spotting anglers.
  5. There is no such thing as poor weather, only poor clothing.
I meet up with Ryan and Jim at the park-and-ride in Morrison and head out for the infamous Cheesman Canyon of the South Platte River. We pull into the parking lot at the bottom of the canyon and there's two guides with two "white-foots" in tow. On a typical weekend the lot is packed with vehicles and clamoring with anglers. Yessss.

We drop off one truck and drive up the canyon to the top so we can hike the entire thing. As we're gearing up every angler's nightmare falls upon me. Terror strikes as my mind rewinds in a flash of events leading to the conclusion that my rod is resting behind my truck seat back in Morrison. Noooooooo!

After rightfully getting made fun of for a while I sucked it up and decided I'd just take the role of net/camera man as seriously as one can. After all, I was the only one who brought a net and, as fate had it, the net would come into play.

We take the trail over the ridge viewing Cheesman Reservoir before plunging down into the steep canyon.

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We get to the water and start to rig up. Jim walks over and yanks a 'bow out before Ryan and I had even tied a fly on. The fish outright refused to be photographed.

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One of the canyon's signature features are its house sized boulders. This photo was taken atop one.

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The issue with the boulders is that if you hook a trout and it runs downstream there's nothing you can do about it unless you pull a Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It and dive in to ride down the rapids after the fish. The fact is that if they run downstream you will be broken off. The trout here are wise to this and seem to dart for the fast water instantly after being hooked, so action to net them must be taken quickly and there will only be one chance with a big fish.

Ryan and I move downstream and soon hear Jim squealing with joy upstream around the bend. I yell through the deafening pitter-patter to ask if he needs me to net for him. I think I hear a muffled affirmative. I come wading around the bend and see him weathering the blows of a strong fish.

"Here it comes, here it comes!" He shouts with a worried glance.

A rambunctious rainbow materializes in front of my knees. I quickly scoop it up and walk it up to a relieved Jim.

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The guys pitied me and let me cast their rods here and there. At one point I hooked a fat bow who proceeded to launch out of the water and dance 5 ft. across the surface on its tail like a circus dolphin. I swear it winked at me as it dove into the white water and my flies came shooting out of the river at my face. No love. Things slowed down after the first two hours and the only other action involved lipping fish and losing them.

However, for about 15 min. at the end of the day we caught a caddis hatch over a pool of risers. Several smaller browns got taken on the dry. This was Ryan's first trout on his new rod. He spent the whole day receiving a czech nymph crash course so it was a breath of fresh air to hook a few on the dry.

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-Method used all day was czech nymphing excluding the brief hatch.
-Flows were 377 out of the pipes with additional spill.

The fishing gods must have approved of my minimal complaining about not bringing a rod, for the next trip would be the most memorable experience in my fly fishing career. Stay tuned for the next blog entry...