Fri. Jul 18, 2014
Off to the Eagle River today which is virgin water for me to explore after my relocation to Western Colorado. It's hard getting out of the old wagon ruts that old and familiar water creates. Waters that you limit yourself to a few choice pools you have come to know. When you know the timing of every single hatch for the entire year or the location of each feeding station. Only getting up off my ass and out the door just moments prior to a predicted hatch. This complacency serves to eliminate any possible down time of just casting practice, you know the saying "fishing and not catching".
Today is all about "new" new water, new holding and new feeding lanes, new hatches and unfamiliar hatch timing; heck, even the usual bugs might be a different color. This is exactly the reason why I have twenty fly boxes filled to capacity for exactly this kind of unfamiliar day. Somehow, after all my boy scout training has taught me to always be prepared for the unknown, I know for sure, out of the several thousand flies in my quiver...I will not have the "right one".
After my day of exploring a new river, I will inevitably come home, re-tool a pattern or two that I wish I had with me today. Maybe I will go back tomorrow, to the same place and nail it. I will make a note in my ledger of the incident and then - rinse, repeat. Maybe in three days time, I will once again face another challenge, as things will certainly change. I will get skunked or at worse, bring to hand a meager rations of trout. I will go back to the lab, re-formulate my strategy and head back to try it again. It's the cycle of life for a certified trout bum. rinse –retool and repeat. This is how old habits get started in the first place.
I drove 24 miles through the stunning Glenwood Canyon and arrive at a waypoint that I marked on my GPS for public access. There were a few cars already parked alng the road and anglers already occupying the choice pools that I had hoped to have to myself. Pools that are too close to an RV park offering the cadre of retired boomers easy access to prime water. When I looked at the water, I soon realized that the storm that I was so eager to welcome to my part of the state last night, had done its damage to the low clear flows in which I had hoped to find. While the rain was very welcome in the desert, the river didn't need the silt that gets washed off the adobe hills upstream. The Eagle River was high and muddy today, so I decided to go back to my home water on the Roaring Fork which flows out of Aspen and further explore its mysterious depths. I know that I wanted to explore new water today, so I rationalize with myself that the stretch of water right out my front door is still very much new to me and worthy of additional investigation. Besides, I haven't put a name on that run yet.
I took a slight right turn just past the Roaring Fork Anglers Fly Shop which leads me over the bridge that gives access to my driveway. I didn't see anyone fishing the river from my high vantage point on the bridge, I rarely do, as this section is not listed on a map for public access that visiting anglers often buy. I pulled into my garage, and strung up my rod, jumped into my waders and walked down to the bike path that leads to the river. I always feel strange walking through the neighborhood in all my fly fishing regalia. It has been an odd sensation for me to get in my waders while sitting at my fly tying desk only to walk down the stairs of my condo and go fishing just a few hundred yards away.
I haven't had a chance yet to fish the river during the mid-day since I moved to this small mountain town. Like I said before, I was stuck in a rut back in Oregon and was soon eroding the same new rut here in which I become complacent. I know that at dusk, the evening caddis hatch commences, so I arrive before dusk to swing a pupa into a pod of feeding fish and go home for a late dinner around 10:00pm. In order for me to get out of my newly forming rut, I forced myself to don the SPF70, a white bandana around my neck to keep me cool and hit the river mid-day.
When I arrived at the foot of the run, I decided I should be the scientist that I am, and turn over a few rocks to see what's wriggling about on the dark side. I found plenty of light olive Hydropsychidae larva and Heptageniidae crawling about. Good, this is a fine starting point to begin my afternoon of search fishing. I didn't detect any observable hatches occurring, though I suspect that I should be encountering some PMD's soon. I browsed through my caddis larva box and selected the closet thing I had to the color and size of the Hydropsyche that I found. I had half a dozen yellow olive #14 Czech nymphs with an orange thorax. "What the heck" I said to myself " lets give this a try except that I want to suspend it about a foot off the bottom to get it right in from of the fish's snouts" I added a single split shot and moved the small clear indicator down to about four feet away from my fly. I use a 15' leader tapered down to 5x fluorocarbon tippet so that I can be as stealthy as I can be with my terminal tackle. I added an #18 PT dropper for good measure in case the PMD's are in fact down there waiting to hatch.
Within a few drifts I get a take, a few tugs and the fish is off. "wow" I thought to myself. I didn't actually expect to get any action during the brightest part of the day in mid-summer. Usually, only early morning and late evenings get the action. A couple of more casts later I am into another fish. "Alright!" I said out loud. I talk to myself when I am fishing. I landed that fish, a very well fed and most perfect specimen of a 16" rainbow. I snap a quick iPhoto of the fish; revive him for a few minutes so he can swim off safely. I wade back out into the same position I was just in, make a few more drifts and, repeat. This time another perfect 16" rainbow came to my hand, but rather easily. "Could this be the same exact fish that I just released? Could this fish have gone right back into the feeding lane and felt compelled to eat the same bug again" I will always wonder about that. I lost the next fish, it was that darned 24" brown I keep hooking and loosing. One of these days I will get em.
I noticed a bug fly off the surface of the water towards me. I caught the insect mid-flight to discover that it was a yellow/olive toned yellow sally with a slight orange thorax. Yes my dear fly fishing friends. Some stoneflies actually hatch just like caddis with midstream emergences and Yellow Sally's belong to that group. By absolute CHANCE, perhaps coupled with 37 years of experience studying aquatic insects and fish, and a few hunches thrown in for good measure, I had chosen a fly that best imitates what was actually occurring.
I continued to work my way up the run, landing ten and losing two along the way. As thunder roared up the Roaring Fork Valley, the decision to take just a few more cast was made. I waded upstream just a few more feet to the head of the run that I have not yet fished. I made a couple more presentations along the margins of the fast and slow water when the indicator went down. I set the hook into a fish that nearly pulled the rod right out of my hands. This fish felt different, it felt like a steelhead imparting an instant song of a reels disc drag. The fish jumped free and clear of a rapid giving me the first glimpse into what I had hooked. The fish made two more leaps for freedom and each time the fish was suspended in the air; time seemed to stop allowing me a full view of its chrome bright flanks. "Holy shit!" I screamed out loud " OMG, it's a flipping' steelhead in Colorado". I've caught enough steelhead over the last 30 years in Oregon to know what a steelhead feels like during a battle, and this fish gave me the same adrenaline rush that any steelhead could. I beached the fish as I would a steelhead so as to prevent it from flopping around on the rocks and possibly injure itself. I snapped an iPhoto of the fish against my rod for length comparison. It extended two inches past the 24" mark. In Oregon, this would technically be six inches past the steelhead standard, a standard in Oregon that defined any rainbow over 20" a steelhead regardless of whether or not that fish touched the brine or not.
I revived the fish, let him go, pinned the fly to its keeper and walked home.
I think today will certainly make for an interesting new habit and I will call the run "Rainbow Alley"