Friday, July 13, 2018

Fly-fishing 2018

If you would have asked me after injuring my back last September if I would have been able to drive the 1600 miles+ to the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado and do all the backpacking and fly-fishing I wanted to do, I would likely have said "no chance". I was in that much pain. But, after hundreds of miles of hiking and swimming over the winter, and some spring bike riding, I not only made it to CO, but the trip was a resounding success - both in terms of my back holding up and the fishing, which was once again most excellent.

The trip out was uneventful - other than the Toyo rolling over to 200,000 (finally broken in):

Truck used only 1/3rd of a quart of oil going out (all after Denver, going up the divide) and none at all coming back home. What a great 16 year-old vehicle. I just wish I could insure it for what it is worth!

The trip out this year was a bit cooler and less windy than previous years and it was nice - for a change - not to have to dodge the tornadoes in Kansas!

My usual hotel in Colorado was oddly all booked up on a Sunday night as apparently a contractor came in and took all the rooms. So, after the very difficult two-day drive instead of a leisurely recovery (and much needed hot shower) I had to fill up with ice and groceries at the City Market and get onto the BLM land where I camped for free. Had some altitude effects that night but I was up early the next morning, drove over to the campground, and after a short hike of a mile or two I was on the water by 10:30 am and had my first fly-fishing outing of 2018. I didn't catch many fish (only 8), but whether they were rainbows or cut-bows, all but one was in the 18-20" range and included two "battle royales" - the highlight being a near 20" cut-bow that went airborne 5 times. Here he is - one of the strongest trout I have ever fought:

A near 20" Flat-tops cut-bow.
Before I get criticized for stringing this guy up, please consideration that both of us were spent after a 10min+ battle in whitewater. He took me downstream a good 50-yards, which included two large boulder crossings - one of which had a tree hanging over, and was touching the top of the rock. Luckily for me the branches were aimed downstream so a swift and strong move with my Winston was sufficient to propel the fly-line through the branches with no hang-up. Point is, both the fish and I needed to rest and I did want a picture of this guy for remembrance. But I can assure you the fish was released in good health and lived to fight another day (if someone else actually puts in the effort to find him again....). Anyhow, the first outing of the year was a grand success. And while I didn't see the moose again, I did see two huge shit piles - both of which were pure black.

After a couple excellent days of dry-fly river fishing, I headed up to Trappers Lake to meet my buddy Scott and do some lake fishing. As it has been for the past few years (at least for me...), the fishing at Trappers was, as they say, "not like it used to be". So we hiked into another lake - Scott with his float tube - and tried our luck. Scott brought and offered another float tube for me, but so early in the trip I was hesitant to test out the old back. So while I through my arm out on the bank, Scott did well, including this handsome brook-trout:

Scott Holding A beautiful Flat-Tops Brookie

Scott let me use his float tube for an hour or so while he ate lunch. I caught a few, but none that could match the nice brook shown above. On the way back to the campground Scott pulled over to see what a couple stopped on the road were looking at through their binoculars. The man handed me the pipes and down below us in a small lake was a momma moose and two calves. She was showing them how to wade into the water and forage, an lesson that I am sure will be repeated many times over the rest of the summer.

Thanks to Scott for turning me on to a nice pack of bear sausage. I had never eaten bear before, but it went well with my potato/egg/cheese wrap!

I did get a room on my way out of the flat-tops and the hot shower and Chinese take out recharged my batteries. It was on to more river fishing and while the water was very low due to a significant below average snowpack (the "new normal"?), the fishing was excellent, including this nice rainbow on my buddy Bill's "magic fly":

I say magic because as we were splitting up from the campground last year he handed me two pink dry-flies. I thought it was a joke and perhaps a subtle poke at my masculinity. But after fishing for an hour with my standard line-up of flies, and only catching a fish or two, I tried his "girly pink fly" and started catching fish left and right. Who knew? Obviously, Bill did. However, if I ever discover the right nymph/emerger that the trout were keyed in on, I will absolutely slay the fish on this river. But that assuming I could see and tie a #26 fly....

Fish of My Life (so far...)

The water was very low - forcing most of the fisherman into a fairly small area. I hate fishing elbow to elbow, so during most of the day I went into town or spent time at the swimming hole working on my tan, which seems harder and harder to get the older I get. But one evening, after a couple Stella's in the truck while just sitting and watching the water, I noticed the crowd was gone and only a fisherman or two remained. So I rigged up and started fishing not long before the sun went down behind the mountain. I caught a half dozen or so on long drifts, all browns and nothing to write home about, and overall the activity on the surface had slackened. Just as I was about to leave, I got a strong take. A guy on the bank said "that's a big fish" and he sure felt that way so I headed for the bank as quickly as possible in order to get downstream of the fish. I caught of glimpse of him and, yeah, he was nice. After all the big fish I lost last summer, my first thought was "well, I'll probably lose this guy too". But then a feeling of complete calm came over me. Mostly because he was a strong fish there was really wasn't much I could do but play him easy and hope he tired out. He slowly worked me downriver and I successfully negotiated the two or three large boulders that I could easily see and that in past years were used to by fish on my line to "pop free". The main obstacle now, as the two spectators kept reminding me, was the fast white water and boulders waiting downstream of the flat water. Of course I was fully aware of this and knew that the if the fish headed down there the probability of landing it dropped dramatically. I already had my net in hand (thanks to the guy who unclipped it from my vest for me!) and it was clear the fish hated the net. He'd run every time he saw it. So to keep the fish from reaching the white water I waded out into the deep hole in the middle of the river with the net stretched out with my arm. It worked and the fish headed back upstream away from the fast water. Damn, I just might land this fish after all. He would occasionally tire and start floating back toward me and in my desire to not let him get past me (not to mention catch the brute), in desperation I tried twice to net him from behind. But of course that never works on large fish and it didn't work on this one either. He tired once more and was floating back toward me and I decided to go head first and if the line popped out so be it. But I nabbed him in my (very small...) net and I don't know who was happier, me or the guy on the bank that was video-taping the episode with his phone. Regardless, after 10-15 minutes of fun, I landed not only the biggest trout of my career, but one of the best looking:

23" rainbow: est 7-8 lbs caught on a #16 dry fly (it remains a secret), a 6X 3-lb fluorocarbon tippet, and a tiny net.

One thing I liked about this fish is that in a river that is fished so hard, every day, 365 days a year, most of the fish have battle scars and hook marks all along their jaws. This magnificent bastard was absolutely beautiful and had only one other small hook mark in his jaw. This fish sure went a long way into making up for all the large trout I have hooked (and lost..) in my life. I should also note that all the fish I was catching on this river were brown trout except for the two rainbows shown in the last two pix. But my adrenaline was pumping so hard I forgot to ask the guy taking the video, and who took the photo above, for his email address. So if you are out there, I would love to see the video! Please message me.

While I certainly enjoyed the excellent dry-fly fishing here, I began to feel guilty for taking advantage of the low-flow conditions and genuinely felt sorry for the trout that were at my mercy. So I headed down to the Arkansas river for a change of scenery and to fish all my favorite runs in the Salida area. I was not disappointed, that is, until the wind came up around 10am. After that, "church was out" for dry-fly fisherman like me and I spent most of my time in town at the swimming hole or reading James Michener's Caravans - an excellent book written in the 1960's about life in Afghanistan - under the big cottonwood trees in the park. Hard to beat reading a fascinating Michener masterpiece in the park in Salida on a hot and beautiful summer day, with a nice cold beer.

Old Dog, New Trick

One thing I love about fly-fishing is that one never stops learning new tricks and techniques. On the Arkansas I was fishing my 5-weight 3-piece bamboo rod and it "froze up" in the heat and wind and I was unable to separate the butt section from the mid-section. This has happened many times before - on nearly all my rods. The solution has always been to dip the rod in the cold river water which typically will free-up the ferrules. But it didn't work this time. I even tried ice water out of my cooler back at the campground. No luck. What a pisser. Anyways, I was heading into Salida to get a grinder at Mommas (I think they changed the name to "El Hombre" or something, but it will always be Mommas to me) so I thought I would drop into the fly-shop for assistance. As I walked in, a young guy (early 20's I'd guess) said "I sure don't like to see guys come in with part of a fly-rod in their hand" and we had a good laugh at that. As I recommended that he grab one-end and I grab the other - while cautioning him that if I broke this bamboo rod, it's maker - Preacher Jim Beasley - would likely never speak to me again (it was a gift from him), the young man said, can I recommend we do this differently? I said what do you have in mind? He explained to me the "cross-over" technique whereby we each put one hand on both sections - pulling in with one hand while pushing away on the other. He said this greatly lowered the chances of a break because all the forces would be better aligned. He was right, and the two sections came apart with the quality "pop" that Beasley's rods are famous for (as he always said, better too tight than too loose). I was so happy I asked the guy if he drank beer. He said of course so I ran out to the truck and brought him a nice cold Stella as a reward. But you've got to love a sport where you can participate for 20+ years and learn something new about pink flies and rod separation techniques (from a 20-something year-old). And how to land a big fish with a small net.

My favorite swimming hole in downtown Salida

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Tidbits From "The Drifters" by James Michener

Random thoughts/sayings .... pearls of wisdom .... lifted from Michener's "The Drifters" which, like all James Michener novels, I can highly recommend:
  • Nature is the balm that will cure all the ills created by those who have abused nature.
  • Never pick up a girl before one o'clock in the afternoon. If she's so beautiful, what's she doing out of bed before noon?
  • The daughter of a lion is also a lion.
  • For God's sake, give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself. (Stevenson)
  • In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.
  •  Burn pot, not people.
  • A great empire and little minds go ill together. (How applicable today!)
  • War is good business. Invest your sons.
  • Hire the morally handicapped ... it's more fun.
  • The blunders of youth are preferable to the success of old age. (Disraeli)
  • To use bad English is regrettable. To use bad Scotch is unforgivable.
  • Sex to a young girl is like a bed of flowers to a honeybee. She can sense its existence even though she has not yet seen it.
  •  The three most important building blocks of American history are black: coal, petroleum, and slaves.
  •  A man who changes his country is like a dog who changes his bark ... not to be trusted). (How applicable today!)
  • In this country we get stuck with taxes ... but in the old country we got stuck with bayonets. (Anyone listening?)
  • The Arabs can lose every way, if only they win the last one. The Jews have gained nothing if they win all the wars but lost the last one.
  • Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
  • God is great but grass is gentler.
  • To be 70 years young is sometimes more cheerful and hopeful than to be 40 years old.
  • He that has a beautiful wife or castle on the frontier must be prepared for war ....
  • A Spaniard is a Portuguese with brains; a Portuguese is a Spaniard with character.
  • People who live in grass houses shouldn't get stoned.
  • The president is going on a 12-day tour to visit some friendly nations. What will he do on the other 11 days?
  • Girl Scouts wear green berets ...
  • The fool wanders .... the wise man travels.
  • Don't put off for tomorrow for what you can do today. Because if you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.
  • Southern Florida is filled with people 68 years old who were going to do something big in their lives but waited until it was safe. Now it's safe and they are 68 years old.
  • The I-Ching is the Bible without its capitalistic moralizing.
  • Youth is truth. 
  • In the end, there'll be only one thing that will bridge the generation gap: money.
  • Old boys have their playthings as well as young ones; the difference is only the price. (Franklin)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fly-fishing 2017: Part II

The second trip out was a long drive and I missed the turn to go around Colorado Springs and ended up in a traffic jam, in the rain, in downtown CS. Finally got out and then had to deal with my Mom not getting her meds (again) and she only had one day left. So I am dealing with this on the phone as I am grocery shopping to fill up my coolers for what is a much anticipated 4-5 days on one of my favorite trout streams:

I finally get the med issue resolved and head into the San Juans with a happy (but stressed out) heart. I drive down the 20+ miles of dirt pot-holed road, finally get a decent campsite, and go to sleep. I slept good because it was quite cold and rainy. I get up early to make sure I get my spot on the river, drive out to my favorite stretch at 6:30am (way before the trout start rising, but again to get my spot), rig up my Winston 4 wt rod, and go to put my waders on and ... Lord Have Mercy - I forgot not one pair but BOTH pair of waders back home in the garage. First I get mad. Then I almost came to tears. Then I remembered the PBS interview I heard while in the traffic jam in CS about finding "joy with adversity". To step outside one's self and look at the situation from the 3rd person point of view. So I went back to the campground and drank a quarter of my pint of Jameson's - which I have for just such emergencies. Decided to drive up to the "resort" and see about buying a pair of waders. That resulted in a suggestion and offer to supply garbage bags and duct-tape. The only other option was to drive about 30 miles (20+ of those down the dirt road) to the nearest fly-shop. Called there, the only waders they had were Simms at $230. Plus, I really didn't feel like helping that business because it is a primary reason there are sooo many fly-fisherman on this river these days. So I decide to channel my Buddhist self and make myself stay a couple nights at the campground with NO FISHING. Worse, it rained everyday (worse for me, certainly great for the trees and river and wildlife) so I couldn't even hike up to some of the lakes I wanted to fish - not because of the rain but because of the lightening.

So I hung out. Got to know some folks, including a 70-year old fellow who got married again at 54 and had 16=year old twins! Amazingly enough, he too forgot his waders! So I had someone to talk to and luckily for us we agreed 100% on politics. Meantime the biggest excitement was a single hunderclap that hit about 2am which was - perhaps - the loudest thing I have ever heard. I literally rose 6 inches off my bed.

On to the Arkansas River where I bought some waders ($130 grrrr....) and finally starting catching some brown trout. Nothing big, but all day long:

The were readily taking late season hoppers (dark brown bodies as opposed to the green bodied hops I fish in early July). Great fun and bombastic strikes. The gold miners were out in force on the opposite bank and one of these days I am going to go down to a "natural sluice" in the river that I know of and where I have seen lots of shiny stuff. That spot is also where I have missed, for several years in a row, a big brown trout that is always holding in a specific spot. This year was no different. The wind was working against the cast I needed to execute to hit the spot. I tried and tried and finally just man-handled a hard cast and the hopper came down with a big "splat". I was just watching and surprised I hit the spot when sure enough a big brown  (25 inches perhaps and a head that was 3-4 inches wide) took the hopper, and of course I set the hook too hard and it popped off. He calmly turned around and looked right at me, and then swam off to the deep hole, nearby, that I am sure is his year-round home.

So after a few days of fishing all my runs along the Arkansas, I head up to the Fryingpan to see if I can duplicate the dry-fly success I have had the last couple of years. First fish is a huge rainbow that I (of course) lose. But I caught 21 fish the first day - which started at 11:30am until dark - the best single day of dry-fly fishing I have ever had on the Pan. It included multiple trout, interesting enough - mostly browns, in the 20" category. Here is a brown I took a photo of because it had to be the most beautiful brown trout I had ever seen or caught. It's belly was a deep gold and the red stripe was stunning. Of course due to oxidation, by the time I took the photo it had dulled considerably, but I will always remember this brown - just gorgeous.
And just look at that beautiful water!

Oh, before I got to the river I set up camp and noticed there was an orange cone in my old campsite - the one where the bear accosted my trailer at 1:30am (see previous blog). The story is some couple stored some peaches in the bear box and did not connect the carabiner at the top, with predictable results:

So the bear got the peaches. Isn't that wonderful. So the couple decides to stay overnight in their car - which means the windows were rolled down so they could breath. Again with predictable results. Here is a photo of our Forest Service man and the shattered glass as a result of the bear grabbing the window with her paw and snapping it like a toothpick:

The glass is just about where the hatch on my trailer was on my prior trip to the Pan. Well the couple screamed bloody murder and a neighbor hit the emergency switch on his car remote and the bear exited stage left. Only to come back later where my friend Janis got a picture of her with her phone:

My old campsite, and the shattered glass, is just to the right of this photo. If you ask me, the couple got what they deserved and I feel sorry for the bear (and her cub...) for what may happen to her. I say cub because it was my contention that the paws on my trailer (again, see previous blog post) indicated a mother and cub, or perhaps a yearling. But everyone kept saying, no, we have only seen the big bear above.

That is, until we (my friends Bill and Ken) fished until dark one evening and drove back in the dark to the camground. Bill was in front, and I was a few minutes behind. When I drove past Bill's site, he said "did you see them"? And I said no, what. He said they saw the bear and the cub at the second campground. So, finally, a cub sighting as I predicted.

The bear came to my campsite one more time. I got up to take a leak around 4am and was looking at the stars in the awesome Colorado sky ... it was not as relaxing this year as the bears are so quiet you never know when one could walk up behind you in the dark. Anyhow, I noted the time and thought the bear had learned to leave me alone because they usually come between 1am and 3am. So I went back to sleep and sure enough about 5:40 am the bear woke me up shaking my trailer. This time I got up, got out, and told her to leave me the hell alone. I stayed 3 more nights with no problems. One guy took a halloween trinket and put it on his cooler. This is a motion detector that turns on some flashing LED and makes that "oooooo" scary Halloween sound. He said it went off almost every night but worked and the bear never got in his cooler. I asked why he kept his cooler in the back of his truck and he said it was too big and he was too weak to put in the bear box. 

Anyhow, the Fitzman then went into a terrible slump. While I continued to catch fish, I popped off 3 big (25" or larger) trout. I was frustrated beyond belief. There was a huge trout way upstream in 6" of water that was rising steadily to large dry flies hatching on the river. Ken came up to watch and I rifled a cast through the wind with my #16 grizzly adams (slightly modified....) and on the very first drift the fish rose, took the fly, I waited until the mouth closed, set the hook, and the fly came out. Ken said how did you miss it, that was perfect. Did your line pop. No, the line did not pop, the fly was still there. Sooo frustrating.

I popped off two more big fish, one not my fault as I was lifting to make a back-cast when he hit. The second one was, once again, all my fault. Set too hard, fish too big and didn't move, 3lb 6X fluorocarbon tippet popped. One lost fish broke at the 5lb//4lb blood knot, not at the 3lb 6X tippet. Go figure. This is my life.

The crowning blow came later that evening after everyone left. There is a bend in the river (you all know it...) where the big rock is, that is always holding a large fish. I drifted a fly (I'd rather not mention what kind) downstream and played out about 20 yards of line... it was perfect ... jaws came up and clamped down ... I hooked him perfectly. Finally I said. I crossed back across the river and the fish started taking me downstream. I went around the corner and there was the man with the lab ... the lab that he allowed to walk right over the spot where the big fish was rising earlier in the day and which I was working my way down to. I had decided then that I did not like this man for that reason, and refused to say "fish on" or "would you mind helping me net this monster". So I tried to land it on my own. A terrible decision ... as I was reaching to unhook my net, the fish went into the shallows - not 10 feet from the man - and put on quite a show with the result that my fly came out of his mouth. The man looked over, saw the huge fish and my arm cocked trying to unhook my net and looked at me and said "why didn't you ask me to net that for you?". He was a very nice man. He said "that fish was huge". Don't I know it.

So that's it. I am going to quit fly-fishing. In fact, I walked off that river and did not fish again the rest of that day and left the next. That's it. I'm through. I suck - that is all there is to it. But of course I said that about golf too.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fly-fishing 2017

It was another adventurous summer of fly-fishing for the Fitzman and although the lake fishing this year was disappointing (especially in comparison with last year!), the river and stream fishing made up for it.

Trappers Lake was disappointing once again. The days of casting dries for hours at 16-20" native Colorado cutthroat cruisers in the shallows of Scott's Bay seem like a distant memory. I struck up a conversation with a guy from Georgia on the Fryingpan River, who now lives in Castle Rock, and when I mentioned the big change in Trappers he said oh, that is due to the "gill lice" infestation. I was like huh? What's that and how do you know about it? He said he read all about it in some DOW publication which I have googled to find w/o success. Here is one article about gill lice in 11-mile reservoir affecting the kokanee salmon. Apparently brookies are also at risk, but browns, and rainbows have a higher resistance. Still haven't read anything specific about Colorado cutthroat in Trappers, but boy, something is going on there.

The guy from Georgia mentioned that he was in the demolition business and actually was involved in tearing down my old dorm at Georgia Tech (Techwood). GT tore down Techwood to make way for housing for the Olympic athletes during the Atlanta Olympics back in 1996. And it's a good thing .... I am sure had the athletes been put in Techwood, they would have thought the Olympics were being held in a third world country (showers!!). The interesting thing is that he said the ground below Techwood was just chock-full of Civil War relics - musket balls, guns, knives, everything. Man ... if that hallowed ground could only talk ... the stories it could tell of not only the Civil War but the stuff that went on in the Techwood dorm. I'll never forget living there!

The highlight of my lake fishing this year was catching a single brook trout at a highland lake. Scott took up a float tube earlier in the day, and I followed later just with my rod & reel (no float tube or waders). I had never been to this small lake before but got there and Scott was catching brook trout on a regular basis from his float. I meandered around the lake looking for cruisers from the shore. Not finding any I returned to a shade tree to be satisfied with lunch. Then I saw a brook trout cruising and decided to try my luck. Threw a nice dry fly and he couldn't have cared less. So I tied a "Fitz special" off the hook of a hopper. I was half-ass casting while sitting down (so the fish would not see me) and as a result the Fitz special landed about 5 feet away. But the brookie spotted it immediately and I have never seen a fish move that fast to hit something. Here he is with Scott on the float in the background (just over the dorsall fin) - and note the beautiful red/black/white coloring on the ventral and anal fins:

This was the first year I can remember when I left the flat-tops without even catching a single Colorado cutthroat. So I headed to the streams for some dry-fly fishing (which I really prefer anyway) and was rewarded on my first outing with my Jim Beasley bamboo fly-rod with this beauty (a cut-bow):
    21" cut-bow: 3lb 5X fluorocarbon tippet, Beasley Bamboo 4-weight. Rod, #16 Grizzly Adams (barbless)

He was hooked upstream about 30 yards with a #16 grizzly adams after I first missed him on an orange stimulator. He was wary after that ... so I waited 10 minutes or so and he took the grizz on the first cast. Fun fish and lucky I was able to guide him into the skinny water around the island you see me standing on. If he had gotten to either side, I would have been lucky to land him. For those of you who own a small weight bamboo stick (this is a 4-weight with a 3lb tippet), I don't have to tell you that feeling every twitch a fish this size makes is a thrill. Another photo of this guy with the bamboo rod & Ross reel:

And before I get criticism for the stringer, I can assure you this fish was released back to the river (like all my fish) and was very strong as he swam away.

The next day I decided to take a longer hike upstream into the wilderness and immediately had a big take on an orange stimulator. The fish took me downstream but I hesitated before taking on the downed pine tree shown in this photo:

I hooked the fish upstream about where the red circle is shown and he immediately went into the deep channel and took me down to just about the pine-tree. Anyhow, not knowing the depth below those rapids I hesitated before following and lost the fish. One always needs to know the river when hooking large trout in fast water with small tippets. Anyhow, the depth next to the tree was barely over waste level (just enough to get some cold water down the crack of my ass) and the next fish I hooked just up from the red circle I did land below the pine-tree:

The next photos are of where he lives and his sister and his brother - nice clear trout water, rugged country, and pretty fish:

After getting my spirits buoyed by some dry-fly success, I decided to head to the Fryingpan River. But the campsite were all booked up so after some soul-searching, I headed back into the wilderness. Once again I was rewarded with a "battle-royale" - catching likely my longest (~22") but not heaviest trout to date. Better yet was the fight. I hooked him just around a turn in the stream at the top of a nice run of white water. He took a #16 custom hopper pattern - smaller than the normal hopper with a yellow foam tail. A friend gave me this fly after I complimented him on his tying skills. I thought it would work well in that it was small enough not to spook fish, and light enough to float well in fast water. Sure enough, with willows behind me and only enough room for a short and sideways back cast, he rose to the fly as soon as it landed with the slow "jaws" take so typical of larger trout. As soon as I hooked him he went to the bottom of his hole, and - once he knew something was terribly wrong - out into the fast water in the main channel. He took me downstream about 70 yards before, once again, I used the skinny water of an island in the middle of the river to net him:

22" Cut-bow: 3 lb 5X fluorocarbon tippet, Winston 4-weight rod, in fast water, on a barbless #16 hopper.

 Here is another photo of the same fish supper-imposed with the fly used to catch him (note: not to scale):

I sent this photo to a friend of mine and he said "Nice fish, but who's the prospector?" Lol

The fish was hooked all the way at the top of this photo and landed in the skinny water you see on the lower right.

I have hooked quite a few fish of this size in this kind of water, and actually landed less than a handful. Considering the effort put in (I was out of breath and sweating when it was over) I consider the accomplishment one of the top sporting achievements of my life, if not the #1. This is a wild trout (i.e. no hook marks) that certainly knew how to use fast water (i.e. arched back to torque my rod, etc. etc), deep holes, and boulders to his benefit. I don't have to tell fly-fishermen that when the fish weighs substantially more than the tippet, and you are in fast water, the fisherman must stay below the trout ... and in this case, I was below him for an estimated 70 yards before I was able to net him. And yes, he was released after a revival period that took about 5-10 minutes ... but, as I was bent over holding the fish in some cold fast water ... and getting dizzy doing it ... I was not sure who I was reviving more ... the trout ... or me. He sure seemed to swim off with more energy than I had when I released him!

So I finally made it over to the Fryingpan where I was (once again) frustrated by the dry-fly fishing below the dam  - where everyone with a brain typically fishes nymphs and mysis shrimp. But as you all know, I am definitely a dry-fly bigot. And I did manage to land a few until I ran out of 6X tippet and then church was out.

Meantime, I had visitors at 1:30 am at the old campsite:

I had backed the teardrop into a space that required me jacking up the front much higher than I ever have before to get her level. I remembered thinking "all I need is for some bear to hassle me and this could easily fall off the blocks". Welp, about 1:30 am I was jolted awake and thought she did fall off the blocks, but it was still level (?). Then another big jolt and I knew it was a bear. I swung around by the window to see if I could get a look and her mouth was right there all breathing and drooling and shit and I figured I better quite messing around before I got a snout or paw through my screen. "GO AWAY!" I said as I searched for the overhead light switch and/or my LED flashlight. She went away as soon as the light came on. I say "she" because the next morning it appeared to me to be two sets of prints - a momma bear and a small cub (print over the fender). So as I am looking at these prints one of a group of guys from Michigan across the road falls out of a hammock tied between two aspen trees. He's yawning and scratching his ass and whatknot and I say hey, did you have a visitor last night? He was like no, what are you talking about and I said you should take a look at this. And he is like why is this dude asking me to go to his campsite but I just waved him over like "come see this" and he did. You should have seen his eyes when he say the big paw on the back - ha ha! He was like man, can I take some pictures and I said of course and he came and documented it.

I have been camping at this campground for over 20 years and although I know bear come in every night, and I have seen and heard them many times over the years, I have never had one hit-up my trailer like this. I never eat in the trailer nor store food in it (ok, except the time I forgot about the green banana that I was trying to ripen in the hatch and a bear let me know I forgot about it... but that was certainly my fault), so I don't know what motivated her. It had been 8 or 9 days since I had anything other than a whore's bath in the river, so I was a bit ripe, but still - I do that every year and have never had an issue before. Perhaps it was the stink left on me by the last rainbow I caught in the Pan? I had fished until after dark and may have been less than clean when I crashed. Anyhow, there was no damage to the trailer and I never really felt threatened so no harm, no foul.

So I headed down to Salida to fish the Arkansas but got distracted by the 21st annual Salida Brewfest. Man how that has changed since the very first one back in 1996. That year, the marketing director at Fire Tire (pretty lady!) gave me a whole spool of drink tickets and boy did I make use of them (and the two babes that assisted me in using them all). Back then there was no entry fee, only about 10 or 12 tents, and maybe a few hundred people. Now, there are like 100 tents, all kinds of food, and VIP tickets (!). A $125 VIP ticket will get you early entry, a t-shirt, all the bear you can drink, and VIP bathrooms (I kid you not...). Not sure one can ever feel like a VIP in a porta-potty, but hey, it's all in the marketing. Regular tickets get you in an hour or two later and an 8 oz glass with unlimited refills.

The transformation of the Salida brewfest reminds me of SXSW in Austin ... at first, a really cool little known happening that has turned into a corporate event. That said, the Salida Brewfest is still much cooler than SXSW imho.

I didn't pay to get in as I was leaving the next morning and I knew from experience that driving through Big Sheep Canyon after a brewfest was not a good idea for the Fitzman considering the level of police activity in the area. But I was able to be served some tasty 8 oz glasses from a couple of very nice young ladies who wanted me desperately to sample their favorite beers. I told them they were risking get tossed out on their asses, but I think that just egg'd them on. Sweet!


Every year it seems there is one song that sticks in my mind while I am out hiking and fishing ... typically this is a source of aggravation regardless of if I like the song, or not. This year one of the last tunes I heard before hitting the Wilderness camp was "Under Pressure" - a collaboration between David Bowie and Queen. I am not a big Queen fan but do like much of Bowie's work. Anyhow, here I am out on the river all by myself in the most relaxing and beautiful environments that one could imagine, and I have "Under Pressure" going through my mind ...over, and over, and over again. I keep hearing Bowie's dramatic voice singing:

"It's the terror of knowing
What the world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming 'Let me out'
Pray tomorrow gets me higher"

And then of course the little bass line that is unforgettable and quite catchy. What must I do to "get away" from it all? Lol This could only happen to me.

But I tell you what ... there is nothing like listening to no music whatsoever for 4 or 5 days and then tuning into a really sweet guitar solo on a Steely Dan or Doobie Brothers tune. It always sounds soooo good.

Truck Issues

For the first time in more than 25 trips my truck let me down a bit. I am not talking about the star in the windshield I got in Denver (I seriously believe it was a case of road rage). That actually turned out to be a blessing because for a $100 "no fault" claim I was able to get a brand new windshield installed. And let me tell you something, I had Noooo idea how scratched up and pathetic my 15-year old windshield was. The first thing I said to the dude that installed it was, wow, that has a very nice light green tint to it, thanks. And he said that I probably didn't remember (I did not...of course...) but the original windshield came with a light green tint to it. He said over time an "old windhshield like yours" lost the tint. I said shhhhhh, don't talk so loud ... my truck will take such comments personally. Anyhow, it is like driving a brand new truck now! I can't believe how much nicer the view is out the new windshield. So road rager, thanks for helping me out!

Anyhow, the issue with the truck was its refusal to go into 4-wheel drive. Not that I needed it badly on this trip - there was no snow on the cut-off road, but I usually click the 4WD on because of the washboard affect, which can get really bouncy and sometime end you up in the ditch. The 4WD smooths it out, plus I like to exercise the unit and keep it lubed up and functioning. Anyhow, it wouldn't go into 4WD and I tried everything I knew. Called my service advisor and he said, oh, you only really use it in the summer, right? Your actuator is likely stuck. Just bang on it with a rubber hammer and sometimes they will "un-stick" themselves. Well this made sense to me because I knew the "one-touch 4WD" button was working because the indicator on the dash-board was lit-up (even though it wasn't in 4WD) and I could hear it trying to engage into 4WD. Anyhow, I located the transfer case today and found the actuator attached to the top of it, tapped sharply (on both) a few times with a rubber hammer and low-n-behold she dropped down into 4WD just like it used to. Whoo-hoooo! I'll need it when I drive up on the road to climb mount Conejos ... not a road you want to be caught on after a rain with street tires on (Michelin LTX MS2's) and no 4WD. So I am a happy boy. Especially considering I need a new set of Meeechelins since I have 70k on them now.

Jokes of the Day

A man is drinking with his wife when out of the blue he announces "I love you". "Is that you talking or the beer" she asked. He replies "It's me talking to the beer."

 Later they are home and she's had enough of him. She packs his bags, sits them by the door and orders him to "get out!". As he is walking to the door, she yells "I hope you die a long, slow, and painful death!" He turned around and said "so you want me to stay?"

He stays ... and ends up at the doctors office. "Doc, I think my wife is dead." The doctor replies "what makes you think that?". The man says "well, the sex hasn't changed, but the dishes are piling up."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Colorado Buddy Goes On African Safari

My buddy Scott in Colorado married wisely. At a big outdoor show last winter his wife won an all expenses paid African safari - guides included. Since she needed an escort, Scott had a great excuse to plan a "trip of a lifetime" to bag some game and put some mounts on the wall.

Here's Scott with a massive kudu!

Scott With a 53" Kudu
According to Scott these guys can get up to 65", but that is rare. He rated this guy an 8 outta 10. All I know is that's a fine twist on those horns.  Here's some more:



Blue Wildebeest
Here's one that Scott's wife took down. Who says a Lady with pink finger nail polish can't go on an African Safari and take down a wild beast - with a bow no less? Congrats!

Nettie With A ??
 And what would a trip to Africa be without the obligatory Zebra?

That is an amazingly articulated hide - I like how it goes right up through the mane.

I've yet to discuss details of the trip with Scott. But that can wait until next summer at the campground and on the hikes. Hopefully he won't have forgotten all the stories by then! ;)

Back at home, the Lost Solar fire picked up again in late summer:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Colorado Trip 2016 - One Heck of A Trout Grand Slam

My annual trip to Colorado can best be described as a bit "early" but very productive. The spawn at Trappers Lake appeared to be peaking while I was there. As a result, the excellent dry-fly fishing on Trappers which I have come to expect (and prefer) was pretty much a non-event. So I switched over to nymphs and had some success with the crystal flash, zebra midge, but primarily the Fitz Special which continues to produce well not only on Trappers but also the high lakes in the Flat Tops Wilderness. However, the one single fish I caught on a dry-fly on Trappers was a record low for me. But while the sheer number of fish I caught in the Flat Tops region may have been down this year, the average size was bigger. I attribute this to bigger fish staying closer to the bottom and more susceptible to nymphs. Here's a nice cutthroat in full spawning regalia from a high mountain lake in the Flat Tops. It fell victim to the Fitz Special:

Is there a more spectacular looking trout than a cutthroat in full spawning colors?

Like last summer, I set my personal best for brook trout this year. Actually, three times on three consecutive fish! Here's one I took the time to self-pic:

Here's another brook I caught on the hike in with Scott - this one took the Fitz Special as well:

 These were real healthy brookies - they fought like hell. Great fun!

I didn't see any Moose in the Flat Tops Wilderness this year, but I did see some nice tracks - so they're still around for sure. Hope they make it through another Fall hunting season and through the winter too!

Scott brought a great care package up from Meeker: Pizza from La Familia along with sixers of Stella and Colorado Home Brew in an ice chest packed with ice. Pizza, beer - and badly needed ice - what else could I have asked for? Thanks Scott! Duane also turned me on to another bottle of his "Backyard Wine". This year it was a Strawberry Rhubard which I drank with a couple on the Fryingpan River to celebrate July 4th. Thanks Duane!

Anyhow, the Flat Tops was fun but not as fun as when I'm getting up every morning looking forward to fishing dry-flies. Next year! So I hauled ass down to the Fryingpan River to get a campsite before the July 4th crowd got there. When I arrived at the primitive campground, I was like why did I get up at 5am and drive so hard as the place was near empty. But by the time I had the Teardrop disconnected and set-up, the place was full. Whew. Anyhow, lots of people this year (more out-of-staters coming to Colorado for summer vacations and to buy their hooch), but I got down to the river the first evening before the crowd and busted the shit out of some trout on the Pan. Here's a handsome brown trout that took my #20 zebra midge dropper (thanks for the photo Jenny!):

And here's the very first fish I caught on the Pan this year - a classic Fryingpan football (rainbow) that fought like hell. The fish was pissed off! Fooled him with a black leach pattern with two strips of flash. It was floated with no weight and drifted for ~20 feet, then stripped - he hit after the very first strip:

I had my first bad encounter with a campground host in 25 years of camping this year. The guy pulls up at 9:30 pm and wakes me up (remember, I woke up at 5am, set-up a new camp, and fished til near dark). I crawl out of my trailer and there is a spotlight on me and the host jumps on me for not reading his note. What note? I ask and he says the note on the door of my trailer. But of course he left the note on the door I wasn't using. Then I find out he has a problem with my check because I crossed out my address. I said yes, I recently moved and crossed out the address on the check and put my new - correct - address on the envelop that I filled out and put the check in. Well this doesn't sit well with him at all and he starts badgering me like I am a criminal or something! I guess I would have been much better off just leaving the incorrect address on the check. And I am like seriously man, if I was going to try to pass a hot check I think I would have written it for a bit more than $42 bucks (two nights of camping fees). At this point he tells me I am free to leave! Seriously. I have been camping at this campground for nearly 20 years and I have never had anyone doubt my checks and no one ever treated me this way. But he demands to see my drivers license (!) or he wants me to leave. I couldn't believe it. Not to mention everyone else is watching this like wow, what did this guy do. I am getting pissed off just writing about it. And this is the same campground that a few years back  I spent two afternoons clearing downed aspen trees off the road so people could come into the primitive campground! The campground host at that time (a very nice lady) was so thankful she let me camp free for those two days. But this guy was on some kind of a serious power trip. And he wakes me up at 9:30 pm to lay it on me? Unbelievable. I think I am going to write the Colorado DOW about this experience and let them know there are other states that want my fly-fishing expenditures if CO is going to accept more campground hosts like this guy. Maybe it was the old man beard I was sporting combined with the retro Teardrop trailer...perhaps he thought I was homeless! Heh heh. But the fishing on the Pan was excellent and I even caught a few trout on dries on the lower stretches - but not all that many and no green drakes hatches like in previous years :(

I did experience something quite odd: a hail storm that lasted almost 2 hours. No exaggeration. I came back from a fishing outing to make a ham sandwich and guzzle a Stella and there was a big-ass bolt of lightning followed by a rumble of thunder that made my ga-noobles vibrate, and then a big black storm blew over the top of the mountain and all hell broke lose in the campground. This picture was taken after only the first 45 minutes or so when I was stranded in my truck. It was mostly pea sized hail, but everyone once in awhile it would get even noisier and there was some marble sized hail:

After I took this photo I thought the hail was over, finished my Stella, and got into the Teardrop. Then it started back up, harder than before and it pretty much kept hailing/raining for the next hour-n-a-half. It was so loud inside I thought surely my Teardrop's aluminum shell was ruined. After it was all over there was almost 3 inches of hail stones on top of the Teardrop and Toyota. Yes, I should have got photos of that but after sitting in the trailer listening to the hail beat hell out of it all I could think of when I got out was to see what the damage was. Amazingly, no damage to the trailer or truck. You gotta love a Toyota clear coat finish! Anyhow, I had never been in anything like that before. I found out later down in Basalt all they got was rain - no hail at all. Basalt is about 14 miles down the river road and ~1,800 feet lower in elevation than the campground.

After the Pan I passed straight through Salida as the Ark was still quite high and I was anxious to fish the Conejos since I didn't make it there last year. While stocking up in Alamosa, the check engine light went on in the Toyota - the first time that has happened in the 14 years I have owned it. I figured it was the O2 sensor but stopped in at the local AutoZone to get the code read out. A guy there read it out (for free) and the code was P1135 - sure enough, the O2 sensor. But now that I am home and have consulted my repair manuals, I see there are two sensors and the code message and repair manual aren't clear about which one is the culprit. So I will have to disconnect the sensors' connectors and measure the resistance across two terminals to see which one is faulty. I haven't done it yet because the engine light has gone off and not reappeared. But I suppose I should check my gas mileage to see if it's having a negative affect on that, but I'll get around to replacing the sensor(s) one of these days. Regardless, one engine light malfunction after 14 years and 170,000 miles ain't too bad. The Toyota continues to perform great - drove it pretty much 75-80 mph the whole way to/from CO with the trailer and AC on and it barely used a drop of oil. It's been a great truck!

So I made it down to the Conejos River and was anxious to get into some serious dry-fly fishing on the upper meadow. It was not to be. On my first outing the wind picked up and was blowing an estimated 30+ mph plus. Man, how frustrating it was to be on such premier fly-fishing water and deal with wind like that! I went to bed thinking surely it must be better the next day. Nope, same thing. The last day I got up at dawn and hit the river just after the sun came over the mountain. I had about an hour of really good fishing (usually I don't even start until 9:30 am or so) and then the gale force winds started up again. C'est la vie. Next year.

Lost Phone - Found Phone

On the way home I reached over to call a friend to help the miles roll by faster only to find my phone was not there. Panic! I pulled over and looked in the typical places - under the seat, beside the console - it was gone. Oh hell. There were only two places I stopped since using it last - the Carl's Junior in Walsenburg for my annual Western Bacon Cheeseburger (love these guys but they are ~30% smaller then when they first came out in San Diego back in the early 1980's and are now more than 2x the price back then) and the Chevron station in Raton, NM. Then I remembered ... I had been eating pistachio nuts and throwing the shells on the floor board thinking I would clean them up at the next gas-up. Which I did. But, I remembered while bending over to pick up the shells I heard a "click" and - thinking it was a handle on a gas pump - paid no attention. Wrong...that click was my phone getting knocked out of its holster and falling onto the pavement. So I went to call the Chevron station but that's tough without a phone so I continued driving down the road - away from Raton - to the next establishment which luckily had a very friendly lady that let me use her phone. Yes! The Chevron attendant said a phone had been found and turned in! So, I retraced the 37 miles back to the CVX station and sure enough, it was my phone and was in perfect working condition although the protective case was cracked. Who-hoooo! Happy boy and this experience re-established my faith in humanity - at least three good people in a row: the girl that let me use her phone, the person who found the phone and turned it in, and the gas station attendant who held it for me. This more than made up for the campground host experience! When I think of not only the cost of a new iPhone, but the time and effort to restore the contact list and general configuration (none of which I have backed up on the iCloud), man, was I relieved to get it back!


Anyhow, to sum up this year's trip: I arrived too early and the dry fly-fishing wasn't good. But I did catch some nice trout on nymphs and the Pan fished great! In fact, on a "grand slam of trout" basis the combination of my biggest cutthroat, brook (personal best), brown, and rainbow this year certainly exceeded my biggest four of any other year. By far. But the fact they were all caught on nymphs was odd (at least for me). The hail storm and campground host at the Pan were also a bit odd and I sure missed catching 15-20 trout a day during a green drake hatch on dry-flies! This is what I dream about but it was not to be this year. But hopefully I can time it right and make it back soon. In addition, July 4th came on a Monday this year and it's always much worse when it falls on a weekend versus in the middle of the week. In 2017 July 4th falls on a Tuesday and that may make the campground traffic somewhat better, but probably not too much.

Tight lines my friends and may your dreams of landing big trout be fulfilled this Summer and Fall!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pigs in Georgia

No, I won't tell you what waters these trout came from other than from the state of Georgia: