Monday, September 28, 2009

On the River: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO

September 7th and 12th, 2009

Yes, in fact, I did head down to the Black Canyon the day after I got back from Wyoming! My apologies that I am just now getting to blogging, schedules get crazy sometimes ... and technically, fishing is more important than blogging.

Ben had never been to the Black since he's become a true fly-fisherman, so after a few of my blogs and much salivating, he decided it was time to carve out some time for the 5 hour drive it would take to get from C. Springs to the Black.

We headed down on Labor Day and much to our surprise it was a ghost town! We were the only people on the north side of the river that day (East Portal, of course, any other location requires a very early start and some serious pain), and there really weren't many people on the south side either. So, we began the day like so many other days and tied on scuds and baetis.

Actually, the fishing was considerably slowed down from 2 weekends ago. Sure, there were still plenty of fish to be spotted and they were feeding just fine, but the flows and their feeding patterns had officially transitioned to "Fall season spookiness". Personally, I am a fan because it makes it more rewarding when you do finally get that finicky salmonoid to take your fly, but I think Ben was hoping for a little more of that "Summer season, fish slamming your fly" action.

All in all, we did great. The morning was filled with more small fish, and Ben even got into a nice pool of risers, by the afternoon we had started spotting some of the old regulars feeding high in the water column behind Volkswagen sized boulders.

It was a beautiful day spent enjoying the weather, then I decided to facebook about it, elicited a response from some old friends from back east, Greg and Scott. Turns out they commented on my day and said "hey, we're going to be in Durango next week!" Naturally, I replied back that if they were up for the drive, I'd be psyched to meet them at the Black and paddle them across the river in my sketchy raft.

So, the date was set for another day on the Black.

We met that Saturday morning and before long I found myself in the familiar surroundings of shear black walls, rocky walking, poison ivy and some large, gorgeous fish! Surprisingly, I'd say the fish were even a little more spooky than just 5 days ago, but when you are in that environment and seeing those fish, sometimes it doesn't matter too much if you aren't catching them.

Greg hooked a monster early in the morning that we got a few looks at, but that fish was determined to keep his head down and keep running rapids, so we never got to behold him. Scott found a great pocket of fish by wading out a little deep and making some crazy reaches over a raging riffle to the slow water on the backside and Michelle and I just kept making our way up the river picking off good spots when we saw them.

We had to play slot jockey with another group of 4 that joined us on the north shore, so that made the day a little tough, but just after noon, we all got set up in a slow pool that had a lot of fish just sitting over gravel, taking flies quite readily. It really turned out to be a fun time! It had been a while since I had really done some "true" sight nymphing where you forget the indicator and just watch for the fish to take the fly. Most of the big fish were skittish enough to bolt when your cast was within 6 feet of them, but there were plenty of 10" to 14" browns to be had.

If I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times more ... If you've never been to the Black Canyon you need to go.

And feel free to drop me a line. I'm always game to skip out of work if I can make it.

Tight lines,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weekend: Jackson Hole, Wy

September 3-6, 2009

How did I find myself in Jackson, Wy on September 3, 2009? Well it's a funny story.

Sometimes, life can serendipitously throw some pretty awesome stuff at you. If you'll remember my post from August 22nd on the Arkansas River, a large part of being there was to watch my good friend Duncan Callahan run the Leadville 100. He had a good finish (3rd place), but it had left a bitter taste in his mouth that he was once in 1st with a 20 minute lead and stomach issues, being unable to keep any amount of food down since mile 87, would ultimately slow him to a crawl and thus, watch the victory slip away.

So, three nights after Leadville 100, we were hanging out at our house over coffee discussing that the only way to fix the stomach problem was to run more races and figure it out. Duncan got a gleam in his eye and told me about a 50 mile race in Wyoming the following weekend, but that to do it he would need someone to crew the race and his wife wouldn't be able to make it. I said, "I'm in".

Duncan Callahan around mile 37 with a solid 5 minute lead over second place

That night Duncan e-mailed his sponsor Vasque and the next day I got the call to pack my bags, we were heading to Jackson, Wy for a long weekend. Naturally, that included my fly-rod to fish some familiar stomping grounds and the birthplace of the Blacktail Baetis.

It turned out that most of Friday Duncan was going to be busy at a speaking engagement and then on a light run to get prepped for Saturday's event, so I would need to kill a bit of time until 3 PM. Flat Creek, being just up the road from where we stayed in Jackson on Thursday night, seemed like a sweet idea and a friend and guide from Jackson, Kevin Mock, was going to be meeting me on the river at around 10 AM. I decided there was no reason to wait, so I got a ride to Flat Creek at about 8 AM and was feeling the sun on my face, breathing the fresh air, and happy to be alive (especially after a great breakfast at Jedediah's Sourdough pancake restaurant).

I got pretty schooled on Flat Creek. Mostly, I walked about 1 mile of the river and only saw 3 fish, all of which were bolting as fast as they could by the time I even spotted them. I've only fished flat creek once before, but from the rumors I had heard, it seemed like a pretty normal day. By around 10 AM there were starting to be some heavy clouds of spinners over some of the riffles and I finally spotted a regular feeder on the surface. I tied on a rusty spinner and he took the first drift that was perfectly placed in his 4" feeding zone (it only took me about 30 casts to get the fly in the right spot!). Not a bad fish, but nothing to right home about. Kevin showed up on the river right as I hooked the fish, so he got some video footage (I hope to post at a later date). Then we walked the river for another 30 minutes and decided it was time to head up to Blacktail Ponds where we might find some more fortune.

Surprisingly, we arrived at Blacktail to find the situation not much different. If you know anything about Blacktail, you know that there are lots of large fish in a crystal clear, small creek. This time there were not ...

An underwater shot of the plant life of Blacktail Ponds. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can actually see midges and black-fly larvae in abundance on the plant leaves. You can even see a few floating in the water that have broken free from the plant. That place is a BIO-factory!

We walked a good chunk of the river and I would say we only spotted 25 total fish in a river where you would normally spot 80+ fish. Also, much to our sadness, 15 of those fish were located in two spots that already had fisherman on the lockdown. So, we set up camp in a lower riffle that I had spotted 3 good fish in, and they were feeding hard.

That's when my second schooling of the day began ...

Kevin was pretty content hanging out, watching and chatting since these were his home waters, so I commenced fishing to a tank that was swinging left and right like it was his last meal. Of course, I started with the Blacktail Baetis assuming I'd be hooked up in a matter of minutes. About an hour later, after trying 8 different patterns, I don't think that fish looked at my fly once.

I decided it was time to stop being a neanderthal and spend some time looking at the water. I had not seen this fish rise, but had seen a few other sporadic risers here an there, leading me to believe that there wasn't a strong enough hatch for dries. But, after examining the water I noticed there were quite a lot of PMD's starting to roll off. I tried the Blacktail PMD ... nothing, then I looked a the water again and actually saw a PMD wiggle free from his shuck, dry out his little soggy clump of wings and fly off. So, I switched it up to the Polywing PMD (the big brother of the Blacktail PMD). Second cast and that fish took it like it was his long lost cheeseburger that he had been searching for all day! If that's not sweet market research I don't know what it!

After a 5 minute fight, and a sweet release with an underwater shot that made me happy, I dried off my fly, noticed a second cutt was in position just upstream and he was actually feeding on the surface quite heavily. Four casts later I was in for another 5 minute fight (for slow water, those boys don't give up easily!) and another long deep breath of thorough satisfaction.

Another great shot of how clear the water is at Blacktail Ponds.

And then, that was it. I searched the river for more willing suspects, made a few casts to some other nice fish, but didn't hook up again. At around 2 PM Kevin had finally decided to rig up his rod and we headed out to the main channel of the Snake River. We were short on time, but had a great time hooking numerous smaller cutt's and an occasional take from a big guy, all on the Allen Brother Power Ant.

One short fishing day ... couple of nice fish ... scenery that will leave your jaw wide open ... not a bad time at all!

As for Duncan, I guess he had an alright time too. He ended up finishing first in the Grand Targhee Resort 50 mile race, and beat the previous course record by 40+ minutes.

Life is seriously great sometimes!

Here's a great parting shot! Blacktail Ponds has some serious undercut banks. So, I decided to stick my hand under one as far as I could and snap a few photos and ... look what I found! The cool thing was, the "burm" on the right of the photo was where the edge of the river was, so this was a solid 3 feet of undercut, with a fish tucked under there far enough that you would have no idea he was there!