Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July on the Fryingpan River

Monday, July 20, 2009

After an "off day" at the Sugarbush campground in which I did laundry, took a shower, attached new leaders to all my water logged fly lines, and participated in the "pie-fest" by showing up with my fork in hand, I drove over Independence pass, through Aspen and down to Basalt where the Fryingpan River meets the Roaring Fork. As usual, I was so excited to be back on the "Pan" I could not even drive the 15 or so miles up the river road to the Little Maud campground at Ruedi Reservoir. So, I pulled over, Teardrop trailer and all, to fish a stretch of the lower Pan. Within minutes I quickly discovered why I hate store-bought leaders - they snap off real easy and I lost two fish and two flies until I broke down and did what I knew I had to do: cut off the last 3 or 4 feet of the leader and engineer it with my normal setup: 6lb, 5lb, 4lb, and 3lb Maxim tippet material (2x -> 5x). The 3 lb 5x tippet seems to work well with the dries I throw, and is way stronger than the supposed 3lb strength of the store bought leader. Of course the other factor involved here is hook setting: after leaving the Arkansas where I catch many smallish quick hitting brown trout, here on the Pan the fish are generally bigger and the first rise I had didn't even budge when I attempted a rather excitedly strong hook set. So, less coffee, no sugar, and more beer. Much more beer...

Anyhow, once the blood knots for my leader were completed I was soon hooking and landing what I came for: Fryingpan River rainbow trout. Here's my first Fryingpan Rainbow of 2009:

Not to be outdone, the brown trout wanted me to know they too would challenge the Rainbows for my dry fly:

Note the bright red spots on this brown. I challenge anyone to show me brown trout that have brighter red spots than those found on the lower Fryingpan River. Notice the red spots on the hind dorsal fin as well. Friggin gorgeous fish. Click the picture to enlarge and check out that awesome trout water! I miss the river already. Anyhow, my first outing on the Pan was a success (if one disregards losing the two rather large fish and associated flies due to the snapped off store bought leaders...) and I landed 11 fish total, all on dry flies, including 4 browns. Oh, the session ended with the hooking of a rather large rainbow which jumped out of the water 2 feet (no kidding), shook his mouth furiously, popping the "new and improved" leader. More on this fish later.

So, I headed off to Little Maud Campground to setup camp. Later that evening, I took out the 5 wt bamboo rod I made and tried my luck on the upper Pan, which I define as upstream of the bridge just below the Ruedi dam. I have not had much success on this stretch of the river in the past. My plan this year was to nymph my way to success and weight the nymphs so as to get them down to the fish - thus the 5 wt rod which I use for large dries, woolies, and weighted nymphs, as opposed to the Winston or Beasley bamboo (both 4 wts) which I use exclusively for smaller dry flies. Anyhow, one would think that the earlier experience would have taught me the need to retie the new store bought leader on the 5 wt fly line. But noooo, the Fitzman was in a hurry to get a spot on the river and too impatient to retie an entire leader with 3 or 4 blood knots. The result was quite predictable. I tried a new presentation (at least for me) on the upper Pan: an attractor nymph (in this case, bright orange with gold bead head), weighted, to which I then dropped off a #20 zebra midge which I have begun using on the Caney Fork River back in TN. I tied both flies myself and used about 16 inches of fluro-carbon tippet for the midge dropper, and set the weight about 8 inches above it allowing it to drift more freely. Considering my past performance on the upper Pan (using mostly dry flies being the dry fly bigot that I am), I was not prepared for what soon happened. I got an immediate and powerful strike which, quite predictably, snapped off. Both flies lost. Do you think I would retie the leader now? Of course not - several fisherman saw the strike and started edging toward "my" hole. You must understand the fly-fishermen of the Pan are not "normal"... they will horn in on "your" territory without thinking twice and to sit down for 10 minutes and retie a leader is to lose your position on the river. Standing and tying the knots is no longer an option for me can't I am losing my eyesight and need to take off my glasses to tie the damn knots. So, I tied on another attractor and midge and promptly lost those two flies as well, this time I at least saw the fish (a big bow) and played him for all of about 5 seconds before he popped off. At this point, it's getting dark, I finally retied the leader, and hooked a nice dark brown trout right as light was failing. I had the net out but lost the fish when the fly simply popped out of his mouth. At least I got to see what fly he hit: it was the zebra midge. Overall, the action was encouraging (at least I am getting strikes on the upper Fryingpan), but overall it was an idiotic performance which cost me 4 nice flies and perhaps two really nice rainbow trout.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fished the upper Pan again right after sunrise and missed two strikes on the attractor/midge combo. Action slowed, so I went downstream to one of my favorite stretches of river for dry fly action. This is one of my favorite slots to fish because I wade across the river and fish under the shade of some trees in full view of the road. The result is alot of action, and many car honks as passerby's (mostly fly-fisherman) acknowledge a bent rod. However, in this section the current is fast and even a 14" fish can give quite a battle which passerbys probably assume must be a larger fish. This particular day was, as often happens, frustrating for those on the opposite bank. "What fly are you using?" "What's your tippet?" they ask - the "they" being 4 guys all within about 25 yards of each other pounding the water over-n-over with casts while standing out in the hot midday sun. I converse politely but it is amazing they can't see the obvious: one, they are fishing water that gets alot of pressure. Two, they are standing in the sun. Three, I am fishing the other side of the river in the shade. Oh well, I must admit it's kinda fun to be watched like that and hearing things like "damn, he's hooked another!". Bar har har. Of course, I am sure these guys would get a similar kick out of watching me lose all the big fish I have been losing lately. Grrrrrr....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Started at the upper Pan again where I had developed the big fish fever affliction affecting so many Fryingpan River fisherman. It was an all too familiar story as the Fitzman hooked a nice rainbow (I would estimate 24" and a football figure) on his now new and improved leader. The Fitzman hung on and survived a vicious leap out of the water, and then began calmly walking toward the fish thinking, ah, now I've got you now you son-of-a-bitch. About this time the fish too recognized he was in trouble and did what every living thing does when distressed - he went home. Home happend to be under a rock which I had seen days earlier, but apparently had not studied closely enough. The rock was embedded on a ledge, and there was a large hole under it. Worse, the part of the rock toward the center of the river was overhanging and outcropping. All those are excuses for the fact that the fish dove under the rock, my line stopped moving (to my absolute dread...) and I soon found my attractor fly hooked on the rock and the midge was gone. I let out a scream that reverberated against the walls of the Fryingpan Canyon, soon to be followed by the knowing chuckles (and outright laughter!) of fly-fisherman up and down the river. I did manage to catch and land a respectable brown (on the midge). He was starting to grow some manly shoulders. However, apparently the earlier "battle" spooked the river, and action slowed. So, I headed downstream to fish dries for the afternoon and despite the nice brown, left the upper pan with a very empty feeling in the old gullet.

The highlight of the afternoon outing was getting hung up in a tree(seriously). Not wanting to lose my fly, I stood tall on a rock (at some physical risk I might add), grabbed a limb of the tree, and pulled in the section to which my fly was embedded. I soon found a number of lines and realized I would bust my ass if I didn't get off the rock, so I broke off the entire limb and headed to the safety of the bank where I found not only my fly, but a BWO and two nymphs. Not bad. Obviously someone else was trying to make the same tight cast to a rising fish - possible the same fish as I was. I did not manage to catch that fish nor to even get him to rise to my fly. I did catch 4 trout, and met a nice local named Norm. Norm gave me two green drakes tied by none other than A.K. Best himself. So, Norm, if you're out there bud, thanks! I gave Norm one of my zebra midges and told him the story of the big fish earlier in the day. He was sympathetic as only someone on the Pan who had lived a similar experience.

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