Thursday, July 16, 2009

Coffee, Cane, and the Conejos

July 7-12, 2009

I caught 9 browns at Swissdale (on the Arkansas River) including the first brown of the summer (shown below).

First Brown Trout of the Year (Arkansas River).

It's pretty amazing that I have been in Colorado over two weeks and only now catching a brown. That said, it's easy to stay in the Flat Tops and catch nothing but cutthroats, rainbows, and cut-bows. Nine trout isn't bad, but the Arkansas was flowing high and fast and it seemed that it was time to go to the Conejos, my "home river" so to speak. On July 7 I drove to the Conejos from Salida stopping in Alamosa for supplies. With the 5 day cooler Mom & Dad bought me, and with a few towels and waders stacked on top, I can now get 7 days out of my cooler and this is a big deal considering the time and distance for ice and food.

July 7:

After setting up the Teardrop at Lake Fork CG, the first fly-fisherman I met told me the story: it had rained nearly every day in June, Platoro Reservoir was at a 30 year high (after being at a 30 year low just a few drought years back), and the Conejos had been running high and fast all spring until just before the 4th of July weekend when they cut back the flow out of Platoro for the fisherman. And the river dropped bigtime. Now, even though the Conejos is fed by the dam at Platoro, it really fishes more like a free-stone river. That is, it's length (over 25 miles long), number of tributaries (Elk Creek, South Fork, etc.), and varied terrain (from meandering meadows, to great pocket water, to gorging canyons) makes it appear to fish more like a freestone river (ala the Cache la Poudre in northern CO) than a tailwater fishery. Low water excited me as I felt I could wade across the river and work the opposite bank. Being a right-handed caster, this is a big plus - not to mention the opposite bank doesn't get as much fishing pressure as most wussies don't dare cross. So, I headed out about 6pm to fish a place downstream from the campground where I caught an awesome green drake hatch this time last year. Sure enough, the river was low, I waded across and busted some trout using my Beasley Perfectionist (4 wt bamboo) fly-rod and a #12 orange stimulator. And sure enough, just about when the sun was going down (and blinding me to where I couldn't see my fly), the green drakes came out and I ended up catching 12 fish in about 2 hours including some below. Love the Conejos and man do I know how to fish!

Nice to be catching Rainbow Trout again on the Conejos.

First Brown Trout on the Conejos. All day long....

July 8:

Got cold as hell last night and the hot coffee this morning was the highlight of the day. Went upstream to a favorite section of river and could do nothing right. Hung up, tippet screwed up, fly landing like a 747 on the surface of the water and scared all the fish back up to Platoro. By the time I fixed my leader and rig, the wind came up and was blowing the fly 20 yards from its intended landing zone. What am I doing up here all alone? What about that girl back at the bookstore in Alamosa...or the one that helped me pick out wine at the liquor store. I don't know how to fish, so why am I trying to catch trout on this river??

July 9:

Decided last nite to climb Mt. Conejos today since I obviously no longer no how to fly-fish. However, when I awoke the sky was overcast and darkening clouds (very unusual - it's usually clear as a bell in the mornings) and I didn't want to get caught on Conejos Peak if it was gonna get nasty. So, I decided to fish but wanted none of the wind of the upper canyon so I went downstream further then ever before and tried a new stretch of river. Bam! Caught a trout on the first cast and caught trout non-stop from 8am-2pm. What a difference a day makes. The day was topped off by catching 3 fish on 5 casts from the same slot in the river. For once, I was patient enough to take all the right measures. When I saw this slot in the river, I knew it was big trout territory. I fixed a wind knot in my tippet I had been ignoring, and actually broke off some limbs of some bushes so that I could not only cast to the slot, but also form a path of retreat as I knew a big fish would head for the fast water and take me downstream. With all this preparation down, with a swig of water and a mouth full of sunflower seeds...I headed in and made the first cast. BAM!! A big brown swallowed my fly wholesale and headed for the fast water. I gave his some line, retreated deftly over the boulders and down to some calmer water where I wore him out and netted him. The Fitzman is baaack! :) Took a pic, revived and released the fish, and headed back to the slot for more. Another strike. Another cast a foot farther upstream - BAM!! Carbon copy of the first fish...fought the same, took the same route downstream, landed the same, looked the same, same coloring, same size, coudda been brothers. After releasing...I headed back in again. A fourth cast to the slot...nada...a fifth cast a foot further than before and BAM!! A triplet brother! I swear all three fish could have been brothers, all 17-18" and just beautiful browns. Here's a picture of the biggest (I think) of the "brothers":

The mosquitos love this hole in my old fly-fishing shirt.

A beautiful and productive run on the Conejos River

Overall on this day, I landed about 20 trout and had numerous other battles where the fish won out. Good news in that among the 20 odd fish were 4 rainbows. Last year, I didn't catch a rainbow all year on the Conejos and they have been in decline since the browns have taken over. The cutthroat in the Conejos are all but gone - being somewhat slow and bashful, they cannot compete with the browns. Despite all the reputation of cunning, I have found browns to be very agressive and will not let a rainbow or cuttie or brookie take a fly before himself. Anyhow, it's good to catch bows on the Conejos again.

July 10:

Wind is up again - shit! I don't know how to fish. Caught two fish all day - the biggest one being 7 inches long. What on earth am I doing here? I bet the girl at the bookstore is at Milagros having a nice cup of coffee and flirting with some guy on a fly-fishing vacation while I am out here throwing my arm off for no reason at all....

July 11:

Went further downstream to Trail Creek trailhead and hiked down the gultch to the river. Hmm..bear tracks...not too big deal...just keep an eye out. As I get closer to the river I'm in willows over my head and can't see 10 feet. I start being quieter and real stealthy like so as not to spook the fish and all of a sudden I look up and notice a big black animal and a little black animal. My first instinct (incorrect I might add..) was to run like hell! I somehow kept myself from doing that and my second instinct was to beshit my knickers (or in this case, my waders) but it is a good thing I did not. Just two cows who had gotten separated from the rest up on the mesa. Whew. Boy, that will get yer ole heart pumpin at 8am on a cold morning in the wilderness! Long story short - this was a great day of fishing and about 25 fish were landed. None over 16", but all fun and the scenery was awesome as usual. Orange stimulators, caddis, adams wulff - you name it, they all worked. What a river. Do I know how to fish after all? I can't decide.

July 12:

There was the coolest electrical storm over the continental divide toward Platoro last nite. I got up to take a whizz about 3am and I kept thinking someone was taking my picture..then I thought I'd gone crazy..I finally just stood there and looked up at the sky and it was fantastic. The quickets flashes of the brightest white you have ever seen in your life filled the canyon up-river. No sound at all - just flashes of brilliance.

After 5 days at Lake Fork, I was ready for a new campground. Especially after I fixed the CG hosts' waterpump in his RV for which he was very grateful. I kinda thought he'd give me a free night's stay ($14/night) but the offer was not made and I did not suggest it - though I thought strongly about doing so. Oh well, it still felt good to help someone out.

So, I packed up and headed to where I didn't know. On the way back down the dirt road, I pulled over to look down at the river from the infamous "Pinnacles". The Pinnacles if famous for a few things:

1) Hardest section of the river to fish due to the very steep drop down to the river.
2) Hot and heavy pocket water fishing.
3) Big trout.
4) A *very* big grunt back up the mountain after the fishing is over.

For these reasons, I'd never found the time to fish the Pinnacles before. Today however, I felt the water being really low - at least there was no risk of a big hike to unfishable water. I wished I had a companion for this venture, but what the heck. I pulled over (Teardrop and all), suited up, and hiked down to the river. Well, the reputation was correct - it was steep and a bit of work. But worth it - the river was gorgeous and the trout were receptive. That said, I was a bit dissapointed in the size of the fish - nothing bigger than I had been catching. I did catch one rather fat 17" brown, but of course the camera batteries were finally kaput (they had been "not working" for some time, but all I had to do was take them out, warm them in my hands, scratch around the contacts a bit, and I could always get one more picture. Well, not today. So, not only did I not get a picture of the fat brown trout, but I got none of the beautiful river down there either. Take my word though, it was spectacular and wild country. On the way out after catching 7 or 8 fish, I was lucky enough to find an old abandoned road. It looked like the original road to Platoro it had telephone lines strung next to it and the poles looked really old. Anyhow, this made the hike back downstream to the original route down the mountain much easier. Then the grunt up. Let's just say the Fitzman was looking for any shade tree on the hike up for which to rest under. Whew! What a workout. But I'll do it again next summer...later this summer??

The picture below didn't turn out as cool as I had hoped. Yes, the fish is small, but he was rising under that rock and the cast was just perfect and he nailed it! Just imagine me not in the picture and you too will see a beautiful little slice of the Conejos flowing under that rock.

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