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."