Friday, January 29, 2010

On the Rivers: Uncompahgre and Taylor

January 1 and 16, 2010

A quick catch up ... I actually didn't make it out during the month of December, which is quite rare, because Michelle and I typically love hitting the Taylor C & R during that time. In fact Michelle and I even ventured up to the Taylor once, but arrived to see 10 cars and the temp was about 8 degrees, so we decided to go for a quick walk up the banks and then headed home.

I did make it out to the Uncompahgre on the first of the year. I arrived at the river and promptly realized I left my camera at home ... bummer. The day was glorious, the fishing less so. I spent the majority of the time blind fishing, and walking the river looking for midging fish, or targets I could sight fish to, and was met with little success. After about two hours I rolled up on a nice gravel bar that held about 10 good sized fish and I was able to spend some quality time fishing to, and landing most of them. All in all, it's pretty good to start your year on the water with balmy 40 degree temps in the air.

The Taylor was ... not too special. Mostly cold, and windy. With snow glare enough to blind the hardest of mountaineers, Michelle and I resigned ourselves to blind nymphing some popular holes and only produced one 14" brown. He was a good looking fish, but not exactly what we were looking for that day. We eventually went home and had some hot chocolate!

Tight lines,
Dreams of summer,


Friday, January 22, 2010

On the River: Ashtabula River, Ashtabula, Ohio

November 23, 2009

Michelle and I flew home, to Ohio, for Thanksgiving and the natural thing to do is figure out how to get to a steelhead river. I mean, let's be honest folks, I'm a thankful guy, but I'm a lot more thankful for everything when I've got an 8 lb. steelhead on the end of my line!

So we headed up to the Ashtabula River the morning of the 23 of November. Pretty much every time I go home for the Holidays I try to hit up the steelhead run, and every time the conditions are kind of crap. Last year the Holiday was Christmas. We showed up just at the end of a rain cycle, which meant the rivers were blown out, but the day before we went fishing a cold snap moved in overnight. It was so cold that the water was actually below freezing and the friction was the only thing keeping the water from being frozen solid. How do I know this? Because after 20 drifts our flies were a solid nugget of ice (even the hook point was buried in ice) so we would have to suck on the flies until the melted then start casting again.

I say all that to give you an idea of my steelhead experiences, but I'll get back to my story now.

This year was quite the opposite, it was an unusually warm Thanksgiving and there hadn't been rain for about 3 weeks, so the rivers were low and gin clear. Unfortunately, for steelheading, that presents a new set of problems. To start, not many fish had run up the river yet as they usually wait for higher flows to come out of the lake en-masse. Then, the gin clear, low water, made for some very skittish fish when we did find them.

However, I still can't help but smile when I think of the whole day! The warm, overcast skies made this Colorado boy giddy with excitement. I fished the day in my down jacket, but could have easily been in just a hoodie. And then there was the wind ... or lack thereof. You don't realize that Colorado is windy ALL THE TIME until you go somewhere that is not. Most of the time as a Colorado resident you think, "wow, it's a really calm day" when all that really means is "the wind is light, as opposed to gale forces". Out East it is not that way. You can actually have days that are DEAD CALM. It's a beautiful thing, being able to cast at a target without having to calculate what the wind is going to do to you.

The Ashtabula is not a big river, and with the low flows most of the day we were fishing in less than 3 feet of water. Our plan was to foul hook AS FEW of the monsters as possible so most of the time we fished some very light line tactics. It really was like sight nymphing on a spring creek, except that every fish could eat your leg if they wanted to. Most of the day I fished a #16 tungsten pheasant tail, or a glow bug with one micro split-shot. To fish any sort of a tandem rig in that slow water would have been asking to get hung up on the bottom, or snag a 10 lb. steelhead in the dorsal fin on every drift ... not something you want to do.

We arrived at the river and within 15 minutes found a healthy, but skittish, pod of about 10 fish. I gave Michelle first crack at it and she hooked up with a solid 24" fish within 30 minutes. After about a 10 minute battle the solid rainbow made some fast movements and spit the hook. Michelle cried ... I laughed ... it was definitely the first time she had felt the sheer power of a 5 lb. steelhead.

Michelle, putting her back into it.

She handed the rod over to me and I started targeting some big dogs at the head of the pool. After 40 minutes of casting I finally hooked up with a fish that was sure to be 15 lbs.+ but had similar results as Michelle, a couple of powerful runs and the fly pulled out.

After that we ran dry for a while as the low numbers of fish in the rivers made finding pods few and far between. We traveled downstream for a bit and found a pod of 3 fish. After 20 minutes of persistence the alpha fish swung hard and CRUSHED my pheasant tail. After 15 minutes with a 5 wt and 6x tippet I was holding a hefty, good looking steelhead. Please, don't ever let them tell you that you can't put the pressure on a big fish with a light rod and tippet! Jay and I are huge fans of soft action light line rods and are confident that monster fish don't have to be played to death. In fact most of the time I feel a light rod will help protect your tippet better and allow you to fight a fish more effectively. I have a good deal of experience to prove my theories too.

Thanksgiving indeed!

The rest of the day was spent moving from pod to pod, making casts at each one for an hour or so. Michelle had a couple of great opportunities, and briefly had a few other fish on, but never did land one.

She'll be back another day ...


Friday, January 15, 2010

On the River: Dream Stream, South Platte River

November 7 and 21, 2009

Michelle and I travel to Colorado Springs quite frequently to visit friends and family. Whenever possible, I try and sneak away for a half day or so and hit some of the great rivers in that area. The Dream Stream (South Platte between 11 mile Reservoir and Spinney Reservoir) has always had an allure to it.

Sure, it gets packed with fisherman looking for "the big one", coming to put a notch on their belt, and earn bragging rights with their friends - it's nice to do that every once in a while. In all fairness though, It is a pretty excellent river. Other than privately owned water, the state has a general lack of "spring creek" water, and while the Dream Stream, Cheeseman, Black Canyon and the Taylor C and R are not spring creeks, tailwater rivers do create a very spring creek-like environment.

I actually feel that is the main draw for me to go to these rivers. The monster fish are fun (and a typical, true spring creek does produce monsters as well because they are insect factories), but I really am there because they are finicky, small fly, hard-to-catch, sight nymphing (and dry-fly) fish.

Having said all that, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at a few chances to fish the Dream Stream, especially during my favorite season ... the late Fall, when crowds have diminished on the river.

To my sadness, the Dream Stream is definitely an exception to that rule. In fact, I think the crowds were stronger. We showed up at about 9 AM on both days and there were already 15 cars that had beat us, and that was just to the one parking spot, I could see glistening fields of cars at various other locations. In my limited experience with this river it does make sense, and I even think that the late fall, all the way through spring, is where the river gets its moniker.

Having fished the river in the middle of the summer, and not being too impressed, I am convinced that it is primarily a psuedo-steelhead river. There seem to be increased numbers of rainbows (most likely lake run) in the river starting in the fall, and they are probably bulking up for their spring spawning season. You will also find almost everyone on the river in this timeframe fishing an egg pattern, or bright fly, of some sort.

In these two outings we did well. The first trip was Ben and I, and we spent the morning targeting a couple of fish in the 24"+ range down in the lowest stretch, just above 11 Mile. We each hooked up with one of them. Ben tied into a brown that was pushing the 32" mark with his first cast on a Blacktail Baetis. The fish actually swung for the fly!!!! But, it was a short 3 second fight before the fly pulled out.

I also hooked a large Kokanee on a baetis pattern, picked up a few fish on the Poly-wing Baetis (the late fall on the Dream Stream can have EPIC baetis hatches if the wind isn't too crazy). The real stumper of the day was pods of feeding Cutthroat that I tried my hardest and couldn't get to happen.

Most of the Cutts were well over the 20" mark, and I would find them congregated together. They were definitely feeding, and I exhausted most of my patterns on them, pulling all the stops, fishing midge down to size #26 on 7x. I lipped a few here and there but never landed one of the bigger ones. I would run across the occasional riser, tie on a Poly-wing Baetis, land him and then move on, but none of the risers ever topped the 18" mark.

The second day was just Michelle and I and fished almost exactly like the day Ben and I were there. Being two weeks later, there were definitely more rainbows in the river, so our hook-ups were more frequent. We did take a few fish on egg patterns, but when possible, I still stuck to fishing the Gammarus Scud, Blacktail Baetis, Poly-wing Baetis and midge.

All in all, it was some pretty spectacular Fall fishing, except for the ever-present wind.

Tight lines,