Friday, September 1, 2017

South Platte River, CO Trip Openings

South Platte River September 25-30

One spot is filled. Only one spot left!

How would you like to be able to spend 5 nights with 4 days fishing on one of the country’s premier trout rivers? And you can do it for around $500 total cost including lodging, breakfast and evening meals. Sound too good to be true? Well in this case it isn’t. Due to the recent hurricane that ravaged the Texas coast two anglers have had to drop out of this 4 angler trip to Colorado Springs to fish 3 locations on the South Platte River and an alpine lake loaded with some of the most beautiful cutthroat trout you have ever seen!

The dates are set for the last week in September. We will depart north Texas early on Monday September 25 and return Saturday September 30. If you are from a different region of the country you can get to Woodland Park and meet us there. The lodging is a fully appointed 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in beautiful Woodland Park, CO which is 20 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. At an elevation of over 8,400 feet and surrounded by alpine mountains, Woodland Park is one of the most picturesque cities in the country. Breakfast and evening meals will be prepared hot, daily from a set menu or we can eat out at the many local establishments. That aspect can be determined beforehand. Lunches can be prepared for you or you can bring your own.  

We will be fishing what are arguably three of the most famous and sought after stretches trophy trout water in the country! These are pristine stretches of river that are full of wild, stream bred rainbow, brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout.

The tentative itinerary looks like this:
Tuesday, day 1-Fishing will be on the Dream Stream stretch of the South Platte river approximately a one hour drive from our lodging. This strectch of river gets it’s nickname by making angler’s dreams come true. Every fall brown trout of up to 34” are taken as they migrate to the tailwater of Spinney Reservoir. There aren’t many of these behemoths, some anglers fish for years without ever hooking one and even fewer anglers land them but that’s why they are the fish of a lifetime. But fear not! The river hosts a healthy resident population of rainbow, brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout that average 18” with large specimens over 24” fairly common. If that’s not enough then add in the chance to catch kokanee salmon as they migrate up out of Elevenmile Reservoir and stage alongside the staging brown trout. PLEASE TAKE NOTE!!!!!! We will NOT be fishing for actively spawning fish. If the brown trout are on redds, which is highly unlikely, we will NOT target them. Historically they do not move on to active beds until weeks after our scheduled trip.

Wednesday, day 2- We will be fishing in Elevenmile Canyon, which is a little closer to Woodland Park at just a 40 minute drive. Elevenmile Canyon is no secret to the angling fraternity and with good reason. This beautiful stretch of river lies within a granite walled canyon and flows from the dam at Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir. This stretch of river is a sight to see and visually a complete contrast to the Dream Stream section of the river. With everything from plunge pools to long quiet runs this stretch of river offers something for any and every style of fly fishing. The majority of the trout landed here are browns that range in size up to 20” though I have heard tales of larger browns being taken. The real treat here is the dry fly fishing for cutthroats which I have personally taken up to 24”! These are picky trout with an appetite for tiny flies drifted perfectly. In total contrast the deep seams, plunge pools and rapids scream for a dead-drifted nymph, the smaller the better. September is an excellent time to fish Elevenmile due to the prolific hatches and minimal crowds. You can expect to find BOW, PMD, Trico and caddis hatches along with a still healthy populating of terrestrials to keep the trout looking up. The wading and climbing in and out of the river are more demanding than the Dream Stream-which is a piece of cake by the way- so being physically fit is important, especially since Thursday will be even more demanding.

Thursday, day 3- We will be making a trek into the famous Cheesman Canyon stretch of the South Platte River. Cheesman Canyon is a 45-minute drive from Woodland Park many miles downstream from Tuesday and Wednesday’s fishing locations. Of all the waters in Colorado, Cheesman Canyon is considered the most picturesque by almost all who enter and make the trek we are scheduled to make! It is also unique in that it requires a 2-mile hike at approximately 8,000 feet elevation to get to the sections we will be fishing but the hike is well worth every step! Once in the canyon with boots planted firmly in the river you will have the opportunity to fish over some the most selective trout in the country. These trout live in pristine clear water that is loaded with tiny insects. The trout here don’t see as much pressure as other stretches of the South Platte yet somehow they are inherently selective and that’s the challenge. This stretch of river is a nympher’s dream. You will be able to sight fish to some very large rainbow, cutthroat, brown and cutbow trout. You will also have the opportunity to fish deep slots, seams and pools where you will be relying on nothing but your nymphing skills to detect subtle strikes from trout that you may not be able to land once hooked! There are brutes in this section of the river. The bonus here is the dry fly fishing, the catch is that it doesn’t always occur. Conditions have to be right but when they are trout up to 20” will sip tiny flies from the surface in challenging lies, a situation that may well test your patience and casting skills to the limit.

 Friday, day 4 and our last day on the water- We will be driving up to an alpine lake managed by the city of Colorado Springs. This will be our longest driving day but also the shortest fishing day. We will want to arrive at the gate before 7:00 a.m. ready to go, because we have to be out the gate before 2:30 p.m. when the gate is locked for the evening. I can’t say enough about this lake and the awesome cutthroat that live there. Lake fishing for trout is completely different from river fishing and will require different flies and techniques but these trout are worth it. This is not a numbers lake it is a size and beauty lake. These are definitely some of the most beautifully colored trout in the world! If you are a tyer I can supply photos and recipes for the go-to flies and if you are not a tyer I can supply them or they can be purchased locally.

Having a short day on Friday will give us the opportunity to get back to the lodge by mid-afternoon and get all our gear squared away. We will be leaving pre-dawn on Saturday morning for the drive back to north Texas.

Another thing to note is that I am NOT a guide and will NOT be actively guiding. This is a DIY fishing trip. I know the waters we will be fishing very well and have had great success over the years on all the stretches of river mentioned. I have only been on this alpine lake once and my personal success was…..well there wasn’t any due to extreme hard headed stubbornness on my part in refusing to fish the way my guides told me to. That said everyone else in the party caught trout. I won’t make the mistake of squandering the opportunity to land one of those beauties again!

If you are a reader of Southwest Fly Fishing magazine you may have seen articles covering the Dream Stream (May/June 2017) and Cheesman Canyon (July/Aug 2017) in recent issues. I haven't written about Elevenmile Canyon.....yet.

Because it's always a question here's how the expenses break down. The only hard expense is the lodging at $350. Beyond the lodging expenses are an estimate to cover gas to get to and from Colorado, food, fishing license and incidentals. You may want to bring a few dollars along for a stop at Angler's Covey in Colorado Springs.

Please note that Thursday's hike into Chessman Canyon is a demanding hike. On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is sitting in a lawn chair beside a river and 10 is scaling a cliff with a rod in your teeth the hike itself is a 6 if you can handle the altitude. If you have never been at altitude or have trouble with it it will be 8 on that same scale.

If you want more details I can be reached at 719-640-2198. Please note that I don’t usually answer calls from numbers I don’t already know. Leave a message and I will call you back promptly.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Maiden Voyage

There are some days you write home about and then there are days you just write about. I'm not sure which one this morning turned out to be-probably the latter-but either way it was a ton of fun.

As of April 15 Sharon and I are no longer traveling the country in our travel trailer. Of all places we settled down, for a couple years anyway, in Denton, TX. The reasons for Denton are numerous but but few are of any consequence. Since this is the part of Texas where I was born and raised we're close to family and that's inducement enough at this point in our lives.

From before the time we landed here I have been telling myself and Sharon that I was going to get a kayak so I can can get out on the local lakes, fish with friends across the state and just generally get on the water. Last week I finally pulled the trigger. I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek because it's not like I spent a ton of money and got a top of the line model or brand for that matter. The thing is I'm not one to spend big bucks, as a general rule, on any item when a regular model will do. Not that wouldn't like to have a Diablo, Jackson, Hobie or one of those other super cool brands but the truth is I think my $300 Lifetime Tamarack Angler will do just fine.

Before you tune out I should tell you I chose this one because I was fortunate enough to use a predecessor to this hull in Florida this past winter. I was extremely impressed with the stability and the amount of room for the size. As for the stability it is far more stable than any of the other kayaks I've been in; not exactly a ringing endorsement since that number now totals 4 different hulls designs but it is stable enough that I feel completely safe hitting open water after just one outing.

Being of the mind that once it's mine it needs to be branded the first thing I did was wash the warehouse dust off the hull and start applying decals. In honor of my time this spring in Rockport I deflowered the hull with a decal courtesy of my good friend Jeff Johnson owner, guide, head cook and chief bottle washer at Fly Fish Rockport then a bunch of others I happened to have around including a few from Cam at The Fiberglass Manifesto. You can bet there will be more as I can collect them, along with a mane for the vessel I'm calling "My-Yak" for now because that's just the kind of guy that I am.

This morning I took My-Yak on it's maiden voyage to Lake Ray Roberts north of Denton. One of the benefits of being close to family is that they are all is finatical (it's a pun) about fishing as I am and my brother Mark is in the know about Ray Bob as the locals call it. With the aid of an AID map (yes another pun, it's that kind of day, you'll see why soon) he directed me to a starting point which as it turns out would be fine in a bass boat but not so much for a kayak. Launching into the wind on a maiden voyage just doesn't seem like peaches to me, luckily I have the map, which by the way wasn't as easy to locate in stores as one would think but maybe that's a story in itself examining why local sporting goods stores only carry maps for locations other than the ones closest to them. Like I said, a story for another day.

So off I went with the aid of my AID map to another boat launch. Not knowing the lake I felt it best to stick with known workable locations rather than try and find some of the hidden gems Mark rattled off in a fast paced phone conversation. I could visualize him visualizing every detail as if I knew what the F&@k he was seeing in his head after spending years roaming the lake. I think we may need to sit down with the map or do some physical recon together so future conversations like that will mean something to both of us.

Wanting to keep things as simple as possible, and up my odds of landing a bass on the maiden voyage, I reverted to casting gear for the day. Yes gasp, gasp I used casting gear, freely admit it and I am writing about it on a blog devoted to fly fishing. Life is hard now let's move on because this is where things get a bit interesting. Feel free to let me know about it if you are so inclined.

Picking up casting gear after basically NOT for several years presents just as many challenges as a gear angler picking up a fly rod after a long hiatus. First item of note is that bass lure have far more hooks than a single hook fly. When you grab the rod watch out for the pair of extra sharp treble hooks they will stick to your thumb, or should I say into your thumb and subsequently into the index finger of your other hand while trying to extract them from the original stuck thumb!!! And that's what it's like to have battle scars before you even get started!

But wait there's more. Having not used my casting gear for several years it has been packed away without line, drags completely loosened and stored in a cool dry location. Last night while spooling new line, which by the way has increased substantially in price over the last few years.
Who knew? I tightened the drags on my reels enough to get the line in place. Now here's a little tip for all my fly fishing friends who may want to pick up a casting rod and reel. When you spool the line on the reel go ahead and tighten the drag to the proper tension. More about that later.

I was on the water just after daylight, prime time to try some topwater because  just like trout fishing I will eagerly forego catching numerous fish subsurface in order to catch one on top. That was a no go situation this morning. The sunfish were eager enough to oblige my desire to catch fish on top but try as hard as they did they could not get that 4" spook in their mouths and the two bass that showed themselves were quite half-hearted about it. I wasn't too broken up about it though because I was on the maiden voyage of my new kayak, which I absolutely love by the way. I can feel the addiction genes multiplying as I write.

Knowing what I do about bass fishing from a former incarnation of my angling career, after over an hour, with the sun peeking through the clouds it was time to go deep, Carolina rigged ringworm to the rescue which I rigged last night. Now as much as I absolutely prefer catching fish on top it may seem quite peculiar that my #2 for bass fishing is a Carolina rigged worm. For my fly angling friends it's the equivalent of Booby fishing but instead of using a full sinking line a 3/8-1 oz. weight is attached to the line above a large swivel and a section of leader is attached to the other end and tipped with a floating rubber worm on a light wire hook. I have long suspected that some bass fisherman somewhere, sometime got the idea from the English practice of Booby fishing but try as I might I have yet been able to find a definitive answer on the origins of the Carolina rig. Stories abound.

On the first cast I felt the familiar tap and pressure of a bass picking up the worm. I reeled down and set hard........kind of.  What you're expecting did not happen. I did NOT go over backwards. I've seen far too many blooper reels to let that happen. Remember the drag? You guessed it, I forgot to finish tightening the drag and the spool freely spun backwards. I frantically reeled and tried to set again but by that time a rather hefty largemouth had catapulted from the surface and threw the hook.

Slightly frustrated I calmed myself down and cranked the drag on the reel. Three casts later I felt the familiar tap and run again. This time I reel down and set to the feeling of the fish swimming toward me, the one down-side of Carolina rig fishing. The weight is so heavy that you can't tell if the fish is swimming at you or towards the other end of the lake. Oh and lest I forget, the drag still slipped, not free-spooling slipped but just enough. Repeat previous hook throwing sequence. The fish wasn't quite as big but it would still have made a fine model for the first photo shoot in my new kayak.

It was quite some time before I got another hit but the drag was tight enough to pull down a tree, instead I pulled up a dull gray Gaspergoo of about 2 pounds. Do we measure Gaspergoo? I'm not sure. Just so you are aware, no Gaspergoo were seriously harmed, it revived quickly and swam away with more gusto than I thought those fish had. Reeling one in is a bit of a let down but at least I didn't get skunked. I got Gaspergooed and that's just fine. As the old adage goes "A bad day fishing beats a good day at work" In my case, as a fishing writer, I think the two are the same right?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wind, Rain and Cedar Key Yakkin'

Looking out the window this morning I can only imagine what it was like on Thursday afternoon when Nick Althauser and I went out to chase redfish around the oyster flats near Cedar Key, FL. It rained all night overnight as a front blew in a took the warm temperatures with it, where ever that is. It's still raining on and off, cold, with gusts of wind that shudder the awning on Prime Mover (our travel trailer) every few minutes. So all there is to do this morning is sit inside, write, simmer a pot of chili on the stove and dream of warmer, calmer days.

Nick Rigging his Rod at the Launch

As surprising as it may seem, to me especially, Thursday was the first time I ever sat in a kayak on the water. I really liked the experience, that is after the perfunctory dunk I took trying to sit in it the first time. It wasn't a full dunk but I did have a wet left arm up to the pit and a damp ass before I got the knack of staying upright. Then there was that initial wobbly feeling as I started out across the flat where Daniel from Cedar Key Paddling had steered us. The wobbles didn't last too long. Once I stopped thinking about wobbling and started thinking about fishing it was all too easy.

With the incoming tide and a short 3 hour window before pick-up time Daniel launched us on a beach near an expanse of oyster beds. His advice was to fish the edges of the oyster beds where the reds come in and feed on the tide. The conditions couldn't have been better with low winds, incoming tide and sunny skies.
Nick Landing The Fish of the Day

I would like to report that Nick and I caught a boat load of fish that kept us busy the entire time. But........ what really happened was us trying to figure out how this redfishing works. We're trout guys with minimal saltwater experience, although I wouldn't mind changing the latter. Damn that was FUN!

The water here isn't as clear as it is in most other locations across Florida. Probably due to the extremely shallow conditions. The night before as Nick, I and our wives sat in Steamers Restaurant waiting on our waitress Nick pointed out a power plant on the horizon where he had done an engineering study many moons ago. The study was for a cooling water intake location. The intake required a depth of 30 feet. Using charts and sounding equipment it was determined that the nearest 30 foot depth was over 7 miles offshore. Like I said, shallow.

Given the slightly off-colored water and our low positions in the kayaks sight-fishing was out. The best we could hope for was blind casting to likely spots or looking for active fish in shallow water. Finding active fish wasn't that hard but the population of mullet in the flats is off the charts. It took some time to determine the difference between the mullet and the redfish. Then all we had to do was get the kayaks into position without running over an oyster bed, guess which direction the redfish was moving and place the fly in a position close enough to get their attention without spooking them. Piece of cake right? Not always.

We both had several follows, I had one touch by a fish that didn't hook up but mostly I skidded over lots of oysters, blew lots of casts and generally just flailed around and had a good time. Near the end of our allotted time I had what was most certainly a redfish in my sights working the back of a small cut. Cruising in at a good speed with line stripped and stored in the floor of the kayak I pulled into position and stopped with what felt like deft yak handling skills. Insert image of me patting my own back here...........

As I lifted the rod out of the holder I heard the faint cry of my name........and again. I turned to see Nick's rod bent as the redfish on the end of his line slowly turned his kayak. Have you ever had one of those moments when you're right there, the efforts of the day feel like they're about to pay off and suddenly you're faced with a choice. Mine was to try for this fish and ignore Nick who most certainly was destined to land a redfish presenting a photo opportunity and our chance to record the event.

With a heavy sigh, not too heavy, I spooled the line, turned and made it to Nick's kayak just as the redfish was spent enough to be landed.  We took advantage of the photo op with huge grins and congratulatory expressions. It's no surprise that Nick scored while I didn't. He's far more patient and methodical in his approach to practically everything than I am. He's a confident angler, smooth and accurate caster, experienced paddler and jut generally a pleasure to be around in any situation.

With little time left I headed back to the back of the cut I had been in to find the redfish I was after had vacated the area, most likely having something to do with my noisy exit. Just a few minutes later I saw Daniel's truck and trailer pulling onto the parking area. It was time to go.

It seems that I will have to add redfish to the list of fish tried for and not captured. It's not quite as high on the nemesis fish list as a large striper but it's moving up fast along with a good-size walleye. I may be able to break the redfish jinx this March however when I spend a few days in Rockport, TX with Jeff at Fly Fish Rockport.

Until then I'll just sit and listen to the rain outside our little house on wheels, rock with the wind and think about the one that got away...........for now.