Thursday, July 9, 2015

In Search of Trout: Summer 2015

Starting off in the Flat Tops Wilderness' Trappers Lake, it was good to be back casting small dry flies for the native Colorado Cutthroat trout that inhabit the lake. Not sure I know of a more beautiful trout than a native Colorado CT in its full spawning regalia.
Colorado Cutthroat Trout From Trappers Lake
The brook trout in high country lakes of the Flat Tops are also quite beautiful:

A Flat Tops Brook Trout - a personal best.

On the hike back from this lake, I was struggling to open an energy bar and in a bout of frustration finally just ripped it open. The noise startled an animal in the brambles next to me. All I could see was that the animal was quite large and black. I took a few steps forward to get a better view and peaked over the brambles to see a moose staring right at me. At that moment, the moose began to urinate profusely. I wanted to get a picture but my camera was in my fishing vest which was in the lower compartment of my backpack. That fact, combined with the rather threatening and intimidating attitude of the moose, along with a steep trail with dead trees on both sides (from the fire years ago), and I decided the prudent move would be to break eye contact and head down the trail slowly and carefully. I was asked later if it was a cow or bull, and I said cow based on the fact that there were no paddles visible. However, after some thought, and realizing the urine came out like a firehose as opposed to a squirt, it was most likely a male yearling.

Back at Trappers I hooked up with my buddy Scott for our long awaited canoe trip for a great day of dry-fly fishing. However, the day was not to be auspicious for us as we found all canoes were already spoken for and we ended up in a row boat - something we'll never do again. On top of that, the weather changed, high pressure moved in, the wind was exactly opposite of normal. Long story short: the dry-fly hatches never came off, there were no fish rising, and the larger fished we had hoped to bag were elusive. So we nymphed our way around the lake. I caught a dozen or so and Scott caught ~15. Scott had considerable success with a black chironomid while I was getting many strikes on my zug-bug and 'Fitz special' dropper, yet failed to hook many of the hits. Later I inspected the 'Fitz special' fly I was using and realized I had wound too many turns of orange thread leaving less of the rather small (#18) hook exposed. I look forward to fishing with Scott again next summer (from a canoe!) and perhaps gaining an advantage with a slimmed down 'Fitz Special'!
Scott with one of the many trout he took on Trappers despite tough conditions.

The author with a native CT taken on the 'Fitz Special'. Although a small fish, you get an idea of the spectacular coloring of these trout during the spawn.
After a few days of lake fishing I was anxious to do what I love best: river fishing with dry flies. I spent three days doing so and had considerable success. Although the numbers were down in comparison with the recent past, I don't think I landed one fish under 14" and most were in the 16-18" range. So the quality was definitely there. Some examples:
The Fitzman in heaven. Look at that beautiful trout water.

An average Flat Tops Cut-bow - 6-8 of these in a day make for an exciting time.
Another beautiful cut-bow - this guy went completely airborne three times. A very strong fish.

On my last day in the Flat Tops I was having a terrible time - I could not get my fly to drift naturally (largely due to my fly-line being waterlogged after all the nymphing in Trappers), was constantly getting hung up, and just couldn't seem to do a damn thing right. I found myself faced with a deep hole in the river and crossed to the other side in hopes of continuing upstream but got hung up in some briers. As I pondered my situation I looked up and saw my second moose of the trip - he was staring right at me. There was no doubt this was a young bull as he had some nice paddles already out. It could well be the same moose Al and Tina saw last year as a yearling. I quickly dropped down to me knees to get the camera out of my FF vest, and snapped this picture:

Yes, he is hard to see but at least I got him on film even it if was with my crappy old camera. After taking this picture, the moose moved quickly and walked directly toward me to the opposite bank. I was quite surprised with his aggressiveness. I figured it was because I had made myself small by getting down on my knees to get out the camera. So, I stood up and made myself "big" by spreading my arms and legs apart and holding up my fly rod and moving it slowly back-n-forth. This worked as the moose stopped moving toward me. He then simply stared curiously at me for a few seconds before moving downstream at a leisurely pace. I got another picture of him as he crossed a small tributary:

This was a good sized animal and I was very glad he was on the opposite side of the river. Packman once said that he was more concerned about meeting up with a moose as opposed to a bear. I understand now where he was coming from. When I told old man Jones, Al's father, about how curious the moose was about me and how he walked directly toward me, Duane said "Heck, he probably thought he was gonna get him a lil' bit before lunch". That man cracks me up! Duane and Nancy also make fine wines and gave me a bottle of their Strawberry Margarita "Twisted Mist", which I treasure and am saving for a special occasion. Speaking of Al, a man who prefers to catch (and eat) whitefish, here he is with a nice rainbow caught on his multiple nymph rig:
At this point I had been in the bush for 9 days and needed to restock the cooler and hit a hotel for a much needed hot shower. So I headed down the dirt road from Buford to New Castle ... ~30 miles of dirt road through beautiful country. I typically drive about 20 mph because of the bumps and towing the Teardrop trailer, so every summer it seems this drive is time for much contemplation about life in general. This year, out of nowhere and while driving down this old dirt road, I had a rather cathartic experience related to the passing of my father this past Halloween. Looking back, I simply never had the time to really come to grips with his death. Well, I dealt with it on this day, and I needed to.

The Fryingpan River

After a hot shower at the hotel it was on to the "Pan" where I planned to camp over the July 4th weekend (ya gotta stay somewhere!). As usual, it was quite crowed but luckily, at least for me, the weather worked in my favor as every late afternoon there were thunderstorms with lightening that chased anglers off the river. Since I was camping nearby at the Reservoir, I would simply wait out the storms and go down to the river around 5-6pm and have it more-or-less all to myself. And the fishing was fantastic! What was strange though was that I was catching nothing but brown trout in the Pan this year, when usually I catch mostly rainbows. Perhaps it was how I was fishing - with a streamer and zebra midge dropper. Here is a brown typical of what I was catching:

On one trip to the river, it was quite crowded and I was hoping for a storm and sure enough it came and ran everyone off. I found shelter in the truck (pea sized hail was falling along with the rain) and drank a Stella Artois beer while I waited for the lightening to stop. I figured the fishing would be pretty good and decided if I caught a decent fish I would name it "Stella". The fishing was great and I fished til dark. I did catch a couple fat and quite beautiful Fryingpan brown trout:

"Stella" hit a zebra midge tied by yours truly.

Before you guys write in and criticize me for these fish laying on the ground for pix, it was night time, quite chilly, and since I was alone I had to remove the fish from my net, with the dropper or attractor usually getting snagged in the net, so it was quite difficult to manage while trying to calm down a flopping trout. But let me assure you, all of these fish were released unharmed and very healthy. Despite some good success at catching browns, I realized that I had not yet caught a rainbow and I only had one day to go. So just to round out the trip, sure enough the very last fish I caught before leaving for home was a nice rainbow that just clobbered my streamer and put up quite a nice fight. Here he is:

Thanks to Ethan for this last picture.
What a trip! But I did have some challenges...5 minutes after seeing moose #1, the Vibram sole on the heel of my left 10-year old Lowa hiking boot decided to come off. So I had to hike the last ~2 miles back to the truck with a hitch in my giddy-up to keep the sole from coming off the toe and completely falling off. I managed to do so, but suffered a helluva blister on my left big-toe and my moleskin was woefully old (from the Grand Canyon hike way back in my Phoenix days!). Also for two years in a row I forgot my beer coozies and this year, a major blow-it when I left my bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey behind. This caused particular suffering on those cold and wet night when my feet were frozen and didn't have a couple shots of Jamey's to warm the soul. But the biggest foobar was my 5-day cooler...somehow the plug had come undone and the backseat of my truck was wet for some days before I figured this out. I kept thinking - this shirt or these socks should not be wet....likewise, the odors emanating from the backseat were a lil stronger than normal...I kept washing off my net ... but it was only part of the problem ;)

The Bear

On my next to the last day on the Pan, I was alone on the river and kept hearing a loud crunches and crashes seemingly coming from the area where my truck was parked, which was hidden behind the willows. The noise kept happening until finally I got concerned and started to leave the river and walk to my truck to check it out. But then I saw what it was - on the side of the very steep mountain behind my truck was a bear knocking over dead trees and tearing through the stumps - for grubs or something. This was a large and very powerful bear that was negotiating the steep and rocky incline as though it was nothing at all. You would never know this was a black bear as it was a beautifully blonde color and I am wondering if it is the same bear that I saw last fall on the bank of the river with two cubs (Paul, an artist painting on the bank of the river saw 3 cubs). It was a beautiful cinnamon color at that time. Sure wish I had had my Canon so as to have taken a video of this bear but alas, it was back at the trailer. I guess I'll have to start bringing the Canon (with a 50x zoom) with me regardless of its size and weight and the risk of it falling in the water (with me...) and getting it wet. After all, what good is a nice camera if you never have it with you when you need it? Would have loved to have gotten a video of that moose as well. Next year!

Elk Story

Late edition - I forgot to relay the elk story told to me by Rich who is working at the Trappers Lake Lodge this summer. Last fall he said he heard two elk buggling back-n-forth and he and a buddy set out for the hunt. They pretty quickly came upon a 4x that presented himself nicely and Rich put an arrow through him just above the heart. He said the elk was stunned and had a look on his face like "what the hell is happening" and eventually dropped to down to his front knees while he tried to figure out what to do. The next thing Rich says the other bull comes running over and rams the half-fallen bull in the ass and puts him down for good. He then started to urinate on the downed bull and spent the next few minutes marking the entire territory around the downed animal.

I have met women that I would do just about anything for ... and I suppose for an entire heard of cows the motivation may be even stronger ... but man, talking about hitting a man while he's down! Then again, as the old saying goes, to the victor belongs the spoils.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed your writing about the frying pan river. Thanks for giving me the photo credit! I had great luck the next day until about 1pm when a tiny assortment of baetids started hatching. I watched the fish gulp the real bugs down centimeters away from every dry fly I had....Oh well...I saw some of the beautiful and large trout the Pan has to offer. All of your other photos are fantastic as well. Tight lines!


the_fitzman said...

Hi Ethan - thank you and it was good to meet you this summer. Thanks for taking the picture for me as well. Don't feel bad, I (and I am sure many other anglers) have literally spent hours on the upper Pan casting to very large rising trout with little to no luck. You are probably already doing so, but in addition to matching the hatch I have found that long fluorocarbon leaders (I use Maxima tippet reels) increase the odds of success. And of course the good thing about the Pan is it fishes well year-round!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for great shots and great story telling Mike ! ‘Sounds like a very successful trip and I can understand your excitement looking forward to such a trip each summer. As you know I’ve never gotten into trout fishing given my clumsiness and un-nimble fingers – but would love to try fly fishing once again if you’d teach me  (after failed attempt in Scottish lochs with Guide). And you know, there are lots of trout in the lakes around here as well 
Cheers !

the_fitzman said...

Sure! Here's what you do...plan an extended vacation in the US and rent a travel trailer. That way you can visit your brothers & sisters and stop over in Colorado for a couple weeks on your way to Alaska. We'll bust 'em up cuz!

Andy Schwaller said...

Great Trip. I live here and have only seen one moose. What river were you fishing on up by Trappers? It is OK if it remains a secrete. Most the guides bail about 4:00 up the frying pan to get to the bar or off work by 5:00. It is also good to get out before 10:00 am since the clients like to sleep in. I enjoy the Frying Pan late fall, winter and early spring. Not many people but still the fish are there. Always a challenge to match the hatch and not just look like other debris floating down the river.

Nice chatting with you. Give me a call if you get back up this way next summer. Andy Schwaller 970-274-1323. I can lend you a canoe!

the_fitzman said...

Hi Andy - yup, I have to keep my rivers and creeks up by Trappers a secret - sorry! ;) As for the guides and fisherman up on Trappers, I literally had the river all to myself after the lightening storms passed. It was awesome! In general, I kind of struggle with dry flies on the Pan because the fish are so damn picky and the size they want is so damn small, but over the years I have persisted and now can catch a few. Have hooked some really large fish on the river, and have lost the biggest. Thanks for the number and canoe offer. Perhaps we can hook up next summer for a day on the water somewhere. Meantime, enjoy living in a magical paradise that is Colorado! - Fitz

Andy Schwaller said...

Looks like it is snowing on the Flat Tops above Glenwood. 20 degrees warmer this morning than earlier in the week. One could catch a fish today if work did not get in the way. Darn it. The Pan can really be a humbling thing when the midge hatch is a size microscopic. Lots of surface takes but none on my fly kind of a thing. I love going up there if nothing else just to see the fish. I leave the hogs directly below the dam alone. A friend landed one and picked off 14 other flies from various places on the poor fish. If you are up here next summer, there is a day hike up Rocky Fork the creek at the end of the road that travels next to the Pan below the dam. The creek actually goes underground for a short distance. One can hike up to several beaver ponds full of small cut throats. Nice comment about your father by the way. They move on in a hurry. It always takes us a little longer to move forward with it all. More fishing always helps. Maybe see you next summer. Andy

the_fitzman said...

Hey Andy - thanks for the snow report. I like to hear it's snowing up there. As you know, the FT's around Trappers are still recovering from the big fire. Snow and water certainly help after the many very dry years. I was humbled by the Pan just below the damn for years (not the Toilet Bowl, I hate fishing shoulder to shoulder...) but the nice pools down below before the bridge. I forget the name of the pool there at the first turn below the damn, but that is where the rainbow picture was taken. I have had excellent luck over the years farther down stream toward town and have been lucky enough to experience the Green Drake hatch in the evening and found myself there a few times after dark casting out and listening for the toilet plunger sound to set the hook - what a blast. I would definitely be interested in a day hike up the Rocky Fork next summer to fish some beaver ponds. I love small water cuttie fishing - as they say, size sometimes does not matter and if I am in a beautiful place catching cutties on dries I am a happy man. Thanks for the comment about my Dad - got choked up all over again. Wonder if that is the way it will always be. Anyhow, I will give you a call next summer and hopefully meet and fish with you in person. I have a very nice dry fly for use on the upper Pan during summer that works pretty well. You may already know about it but I would rather give you one in person than to post it hear. Meantime have a great weekend and thx for the post. - Fitz

Trevor Casey said...

Hey Fitzman! Still love coming back to the blog to see your adventures, especially to the FT's. Honestly, you are the one that got me hooked on that place. I've taken my wife and three girls there for the last three years and plan to do so for many years to come. My wife loves the place especially when the flowers in full bloom in late June to early July. Plus it gives me an excuse to fish. haha! Always looking for that excuse.... Could you shoot me a recipe for that Fitz-Special? It looks like it's a winner for sure. Thanks man and I look forward to your future adventures. -TC

the_fitzman said...

Hey Trevor - instructions on the Fitz Special sent to your private email (I am such a novice at tying flies, I didn't want any pros to criticize my simple ways).

Hey - anybody got a recent weather report from the FT in terms of snow-pack and trending temps? I know it is early, but it's always good info this time of year. Thanks!

Trevor Casey said...

Hey Fitz, check this link out (see below) as it gives all precip measures both current and historic. Its kind of fun to mess around with. It looks like there is 39 inches of snow sitting at the sensor as compared to 24-25 inches of snow last year on 4/6/15. Looks like it'll be nice and green, lots of flowers, and lots of mosquitos this year(more trout food, haha!):

the_fitzman said...

Thanks for the link - that's a good site. It will be interesting to see if we get a late spring storm, that can always change things up. But yes, it is nice to see some higher snow-packs after the last decade or two up there! Hopefully no more fires at Trappers for awhile!