Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gentlemen (and ladies) - start your float tubes!

Growing up here in Colorado, the Indy 500 was a yearly landmark event.  To this day it brings back fond memories of watching the race with my dad (it was one of the few races we tuned into).  But it also still reminds me of going hunting.  Not for big game, but for worms.  On the eve of the race we had a tradition of grabbing a tin can and filling it half full of dirt and then we'd impatiently wait for dark.  With flashlights in hand we would creep around a previously wetted lawn to spot and capture night crawlers.  Early the next morning we'd wake at dawn and head up the Poudre Canyon for our first fishing trip of the year.  Armed with worms from the garden, night crawlers from the lawn, salmon eggs (good ol' Pautzkes Balls o' Fire) and some mepps lures we would hit all of our favorite holes.  I absolutely LIVED for that each year - more than my folks realized.  My brother and I would carefully prep and tune up our inexpensive spinning rods, save our paper route money to buy needed supplies (new line, hooks, split shot, mepps lures) and then wait for Memorial weekend.  We'd watch the Indy 500 and the next day we'd set off for a couple days camping adventure - always up the Poudre Canyon.

Like the path that so many of us have taken, I gradually evolved from worms to a single egg to lures to fly-and-bubble and finally to fly fishing.  And along that journey built a thousand memories.

With the rivers working their way into full run-off mode, I use the opportunity to focus on our many excellent stillwater fisheries.  I'm much more successful fishing rivers than I am on stillwater - it's humbling at first.  But I'm gradually improving. 

My first float tube trip of the year was today - some private lakes near Red Feather and the day could not have been better.  It was cold (38F) but zero wind and completely overcast.  Perfect conditions for a hatch and the chironomids did not disappoint!  When I arrived the lake was alive with rise forms and surface activity.  I looked over the water and could actually see chironomids hatching and escaping from their shucks - it was incredible!  Despite this rare (for me) display EVERY other fisherman was plying the water with wooly buggers of various sorts.  Most were using intermediate lines and I could see them all doing the strip-strip-pause dance.  Totally fine - to each his own.  I was not going to spend the moment stripping streamers - since I'll have plenty of chances to do that when the are no observable hatches going on.  See that so much action was at the surface, I tied my first chironomid only 12" below a big dry fly used as an indicator and another 12" below that one.  I hooked up on my very first cast.  Eventually I replaced the indicator dry with an foam indicator to make it easier on my straining eyes.  I had steady action, bringing 15 to the net and losing 5 or so.  I caught a couple on an olive scud and one on the Denny Rickard stillwater nymph but the best flies for me turned out to be my own versions of a chironomid called Yankee Buzzer that I think was originally invented by famous Scottish tyer Davie McPhail.  Dozens of others have claimed to invented similar flies but I think he showed us the way.


Yankee Buzzer (photo:  Front Range Anglers)     Glass Buzzer - Davie McPhail

The best colors turned out to be:
- black with blue rib
- black with red rib
- olive with brass rib

This is an easy tie - here's how I do it:

hook:  #14-16 TMC 2302
body:  thread
rib:  UTC ultra wire (small)
thorax:  thread
wing case:  pearl mirage tinsel
wing buds:  white goose biots
gills/breathers:  Oral-B super floss  (you can get it at Walgreens)

1) start thread and wrap a to the bend of the hook.  Return thread to 80% point.
2) Tie in rib wire along the hook shank down to the bend of the hook.  Return thread to 80% point.
3) Add a layer or two of thread to create a very slight tapered body (don't over-do it).
4) spiral the ribbing wire forward evenly to create the segmented body up to the 75% point.
5) Tie in a 1" piece of pearl flash along the top of the hook - you'll pull this over the thorax and bind it down later.
6) Tie in a goose biot along near and far side of the hook.  You'll pull these over along the side of the thorax to form the wing buds.
7) Build up the thorax with thread to form a slight but obvious bulbous thorax.  Leave thread about a hook eye width from the eye.  You need to leave room for the gills.
8) Pull the biots forward along the sides of the thorax and bind them down beind the eye.
9) Pull the flash over the top of the thorax and bind down behind the eye.
10) Trim the tag ends of the flash and biots as close as you can and hide the ends with a few more thread wraps.
11) cut a 1" piece of floss and bind it down with x-wraps so that it is perpendicular to the hook shank like a bowtie - simiular to a spinner wing.  Clip the floss so that about 1/16th inch of floss extends on each side and use your fingers to fluff it out.
12) coat the entire length of the fly on all sides with Loons UV Knot Sense and harden with a UV light.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trip report - Big-T at mouth of canyon

I fished the Big-T at the canyon mouth the past 2 Saturdays.  I had time only for a brief 2-3 hour session, so I stayed close to home and gave this often overlooked water some time.  Quite a bit of the lower Big-T near the canyon mouth is quite channeled by the elevated road and not ideal habitat but there are some nice riffles, runs and some pocket water worth spending some time - particularly if you don't have time to drive up higher.  The water is noticeably higher and stained, especially from the rains we've been having.  Flows are still in the range where the river is quite fishable.  I'm more concerned about water clarity and whether the flows have been stable for at least 48 hours than I am about the actual flow rate, which was in the low 200's cfs.  Not great but not bad either.  Just need to wade carefully and THIS TIME I left the just-replaced iPhone4 (see my previous post) in the truck and brought my Olympus stylus tough waterproof camera for any pictures (which I didn't end up taking).

Both days I fished the same general area in the lower canyon and tried different technique and flies but found the same approach worked best both times.  The winning combination was a heavily weighted stonefly with a #18 Taks Go2 Prince trailed 12" behind.  I was using some tungsten putty for additional weight to keep the flies right along the bottom.  If you haven't tried tungsten putty yet, you're missing out.  Leave those lead splitshot at home and convert to putty - you'll never go back.  Because I was hugging the bottom, I was getting consistent hook-ups but I was also snagging frequently.  I love to fish stoneflies in fast water and have 4 that I love because they consistently work:

Tungsten 20 incher
Taks stone
Barrs tungstone
Penningtons D-rib Golden Stone

On both of these days the D-rib Golden Stone was THE ticket.  Even though I caught most of the fish on the Go2 Prince, I did catch 3 on the stone and when I had the other stone flies on I caught nothing.  Weird.

The D-rib golden stone was created by Carl Pennington.  It's fun to tie, makes inventive use of d-rib and pens to create the mottled coloration of golden stone fly nymphs.  Juan Ramirez has nice video tutorial on tying this nymph here:

and Mr. Pennington has a great tutorial and recipe on his site.

Great day on the Big-T that ended badly

5/12/11 - Riffles above the handicap access deck

I love the section of river in the few miles above the handicap access deck past Waltonia bridge.  It's usually not crowded like the sections closer to the top of the canyon are and it suits my style of fishing better.  I love fishing riffles and I have success with both dry-dropper and double nymph in that type of water.  It's not difficult to get a nice drift and it's fun to work the water methodically.  It was cold and bouncing between snow and light frozen rain. The fish weren't looking up so I stuck with double nymph and indicator rig.  I took a few in the riffles with 6 (4 rainbow, 2 brown) falling for a #20 Little Green Machine - an excellent fly by Vince Wilcox.  I stopped by Elkhorn Fly Shop to say hi to my friend Brian Chavet and he mentioned that lots of free swimming caddis were observed in the river the day before so I decided that the chartreuse color of that fly would be a hit - the trout agreed.

Finished for the day, I started to wade toward the bank and as I pulled the beanie I was wearing back down over my ears I somehow lost grip on my fly rod.  If you saw my earlier post - this is a brand new rig for me - just got it for Christmas and it's a dream set up.  I look down just in time to see my Winston BIIIx and Abel reel disappear into the water, drifting downstream.  Like a protective parent I instinctively dropped to my knees, lunged for it and felt the rod butt but it was swept away by the fast current.  In a panic I dived forward and explored frantically with my hands as I drifted in the 38 degree water.  THERE IT IS!!!  I grabbed it, lifted it out of water and held it clear of any rocks and then began working on my exit strategy.  Took around 10 seconds to get stood back up.  I was soaked but my rod and reel were safe and sound and for that I was grateful.  My knee was injured somewhere in the scramble but I knew I'd be fine once I warmed up again; however, my 2-week old iPhone4 did not appreciate the swiming lesson.  I went through a full 5-day dry-out ritual with it, sealing it in a bag with rice but it never recovered.  I had a business trip the next week to Boise and I stopped in the Apple store there and told them what happened.  They cracked it open and showed me where the moisture indicators detected water had been.  The battery was toast and they informed me that water damage is not covered by warranty.  However, because I had been upfront and honest about what happened and was a new Apple customer, they REPLACED IT FOR FREE ANWAY!!!  Now THAT is customer service.  No wonder Apple is kicking butt.

Trip report - Spring time on the Big-T

I transitioned to a new role at work as the manager of several R&D teams in an organization that is being built from scratch so work has kept me off the river for too long this year.  I missed the window on the Poudre so I've been focusing on the Big-T.  The Big Thompson is technically considered a tailwater due to the dam in Estes Park, but I find that it fishes more like a freestone than a traditional tailwater.  To me it's the best of both worlds.  The section of river that attracts the most attention from anglers is the first quarter mile directly below the dam.  Everyday that section gets hammered by dozens of anglers - it's pretty ridiculous and the closest thing to combat fishing we have here in this area.  Anglers arrive early, claim a spot and then hang on to it.  Not my idea of what fly fishing is about so I rarely go up there anymore.  Instead I focus on the lower and middle sections of the canyon where I can have solitude.

4/1/11 - Pocket water just above Drake

I had decent couple hours of fishing with no wind and perfect conditions.  It was sunny and there were no noticeable hatches to speak of.  Water was clear and still in winter mode and I didn't check the flows but I think she was running right around 50 cfs.  In the 2 hours I fished I caught 2 rainbows on a #20 Jujubaetis and 1 rainbow and 1 brown on a #22 zebra midge emerger.  The zebra emerger is one of my all-time favorite flies for the Big-T.  The zebra emerger consistently outfishes the zebra midge and the only difference is the the small tuft of white antron for the emerging wing - a small detail that the trout seem to notice.  So I only tie and carry the emerger now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


After following so many other great blogs for so long, I finally decided to publish one of my own to share things that are of interest to me.