Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the river...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Snowy Rainbows of the San Juan


After waking up early to find the excited troops already stirring, I was pumped.  Greg, Timmy and I were off fairly quickly, and out the door of the cabin by 7am.  Google maps told us it would take a little over 2.5 hours, so I must have been excited since we pulled up to Abe's Fly Shop around 9:05 (after pulling over to pull out a minivan from a snowdrift).  We got the licenses and were off, back up the road toward the tailwater.  

For my first time there, I was incredibly surprised by the size of the river.  I expected a large river, but did not expect to see one this large and relatively slow moving.  We pulled up to the top pullout, closest to the spillway to become the 7th car in the lot.  Greg and I rigged up quickly, and made out way down the zigzagging ice luge and then through the thick willows.  Timmy was moving like a snail, so we left him behind and told him to meet us on the river.  

First San Juan Rainbow into the net
Once we made it to the river, we could see Timmy still up at the truck.  Full of excitement, we trudged into the river hoping that we would have some in the net by the time Timmy made it on the river.  Not able to identify any particular seam or deep section, Greg and I made our way out into the middle of the river directly after it came back together from two braids around an island.  The water had an off-green color, that did not really allow you to know the depth.  I set up about 20 yards ahead of Greg, and began aimlessly casting upstream and to my sides as I watched intently for any signs of where the fish were hiding.  I knew my chances were good to hook up with the blind casting technique, since there are over 10,000 fish per mile in these sections.  Thankfully, I noticed a small bump in my small white indicator within five minutes, and pulled in a nice rainbow.  At about the same time, a small, I mean tiny, midge hatch started and the fish were paying attention to the adults floating on top.  

Beautiful colors and spots!

Healthy San Juan Rainbow
Since I did not have a robust arsenal of dries (after they all were stolen from my truck back in December), I tried various emergers paired with midge larva.  Within the first hour, I had nearly 10 hookups, with 5-6 to the net on various flies.  The day was looking great when things really shut off.  I switched between many #22-24 midge larva patterns in red, orange, green black and grey, trying to see what the ticket was.  I also tried various patterns with some flash, whether it was a flash wing, a bead, or a flashy body, but nothing seemed to be getting more love than the other.  The number of bent rods throughout the river was decreasing as well, making me feel slightly (only barely) better, that I too, was struggling to get any action.

San Juan Rainbow
As the action slowed down and the wind really picked up, I tried swinging streamers with no love whatsoever, and finally tried some of the dries that I had in my one remaining box of dries.  Thankfully I did have small flies, down to #22, but I still thought those would be seen as enormous compared to the tiny #26's floating by.  To add to the dilema, I did not have any midges, so I tried tying on a #22 spent trico after clipping the tails.  I also tied on a tiny black attractor with an olive green tail that I also trimmed down.  I could not help myself from targeting the risers that were coming up in all directions, sporadically, sometimes within 15' of me.  To my surprise, they did take notice, although the love came in more refusals than hook ups.  I was able to land 2 on the dries, and lose another 4 that I hooked into. Regardless, it was more fun to go down in flames trying than to have no love with the nymphs.  

The midge/larva box with flies from 20-24
The cold temps and heavy wind was slowly taking its toll on the fisherman.  We were trying our hardest to hang in there and not become a casualty for the day, as the river was slowly clearing out.  Thankfully, Greg packed a backpack full of beer that we drank in between our jumping jacks and jogging sessions on the shore to try and regain feeling in our lower extremities.  It appeared to work as we were in great spirits once the wind died down.  Just as the wind died, small dimples were appearing across the river, a nice gesture from the fishing gods to remind us why we brave the cold.  The three of us split up again, over about 150' to try our luck.  Together, we were able to hook into some fish on the dries, but could not get any to the net.  The wind started up again, this time from another direction, and did not seem to have any breaks in it like it did earlier.  I tied back on the nymphs in a final hail mary attempt, and was able to coax one nice rainbow to the net.  When the snowflakes were coming in sideways, and the size of quarters, we decided to hit the road back to the cabin.  

Now that I have experienced this river, I am excited to come back with an arsenal of small flies, and more layers to brave the cold and find the elusive San Juan Monster.  Hasta Pronto San Juan... 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Elevenmile means many more winter fish!

Driving out of Elevenmile Canyon
I finally made the trek down to the famous Elevenmile Canyon this past Sunday, 2/12/12, which turned out to be a great decision.  After talking with Dave and Greg over at Charlie's Fly Box for some advice, as well as pouring over as many (nearly) up to date fishing reports from various shops, guide services, and online forums, I thought I had it all dialed in for some success.

Rigging up next to the river
The weather was also going to be great, hovering in the mid-30's with occasional snow showers throughout the day.  The best part, wind was supposed to stay below 8-9 mph, making it ideal for sight fishing for these picky trout.  After the nice drive down there in the new truck, I drove into the canyon around 10am to find only one other car at the pullout closest to the spillway.  I stopped and talked to the gentleman as he was rigging up, and gathered a little more intel before I drove down to the next bridge and rigged up.

First fish!  Nice bow on a red midge larva
Using all of the info I was able to hear/read, I knew nymphing was going to be key early on, but if the sun opened up, there would be great chances with some dry adult midges.  I started using a small, size 20 beadhead pheasant tail, trailed by a size 24 red midge larva with a black head.  Within 5 minutes I missed one take, and landed one nice 14" rainbow on the midge larva.  I was in heaven, thinking to myself the day was going to be amazing, losing count of fish since I was off to a great start.  Rookie mistake.  Just as it seems to be bad luck when you hook into a fish at the boat launch, this little spur of action turned out to be just that, a little, random spike in activity.  For about an hour, I moved stealthily through the flats, attempting to send splash-less casts to the visible trout.  I continued to get attention, but the refusals were adding up so I continued to change my tactics.

Another nice bow
As I slowly moved upstream, I continued to change my flies and change the depth of my strike indicator (I was using the smallest white thingamabobber).  Finally I found some actively feeding fish which also enjoyed my flies.  Using a black/gray jujubee midge #22, with a small cream/tan colored midge larva with a clear glass bead, I was finally back on the fish.  Even though some adult midges were beginning to show us as the sun was coming over the canyon wall, the fish was actively feeding on the emerging insects and they were clearly interested in these flies.
Fishing the flat section
I was quickly reminded just how fun a tricky tail water can be when you finally figure out the right combo.  I meticulously worked my way up the run, casting in front of feeding fish.  The combo of their comfort with anglers in close proximity, as well as their current feeding frenzy, I was having a blast high-sticking to them merely 10 feet away from me.  It was difficult not to lose focus, and try casting further upstream as I was witnessing many fish zigzagging back and forth as they were gorging.  I needed to remind myself that I needed to pick the fish from the back first, and slowly work upstream, or I risk spooking all of the fish and losing out entirely.

Eager Cuttie
The highlight came when a nice 16" cutthroat moved out from the deep section, about 8 feet in front of me and was chasing food like crazy.  I watched him for a minute or two, to determine how exact my drift needed to be.  I cast about 5 feet ahead of him, and the single split dropped the flies right in front of him and started to take them about a foot to his side.  Right when I thought they had drifted past him, he turned abruptly and I saw the classic wink, his mouth open and shut.  Without feeling any tension, I set the hook and he bolted upstream.  Awesome!

This frenzy lasted for about an hour and a half, and slowly tapered off.  By this point, the sun had disappeared, and my feet were frozen so I walked back to the truck to eat some snacks and warm up a bit. Once I made it back on the water, I saw some nice sections of water, but could not see through the glare.  For the first time of the day, I tried blind casting into some nice looking runs, just as they spilled out from some larger boulders in the middle of the stream.  Second cast, I thought I hooked into a monster, as the indicator stopped in its tracks.  I set hard, only to find that I did hook a monster, a nice ~40lb boulder.  Snap went the 6x flouro, and I figured I would completely change up some flies.  I tied on a fly I had picked up last year at Cutthroat Anglers, a somewhat combination of a short/stout hares ear with a flashwing prince.  This thing is pretty heavy, so I removed the split shot and tied on a red sparkly midge larva.  First cast with the rig, the indicator stopped again, and I had hooked into a nice energetic rainbow.  For the next 40 or so minutes, I continued up the section, blind casting into the glare, and hooking into many fish between 13-16".

Overall a great day on the water!  I am now a big fan of Elevenmile Canyon and recommend you get out there if you can!  Visitors to the net included many rainbows, a few cutties, and one fat brown.
Fatty brown... Probably a larger circumference than length
Flies and Setups to Use: SMALL!  Size 22-24 midge larva, especially in grey, black, tan and cream tied onto 6x flouro.  Combos of those colors also worked really well!     When the adults were flying, and there were sporadic risers, I made sure my nymphs had small wing cases which worked out well.  In the late afternoon, the fish really liked the slightly more flashy beadhead options, size 18-20.

Leader, Strike Indicator and Split Shot: I had about 6' to the strike indicator, which was consistently above water as I high-sticked.    For my leader, I used a very long leader, which I typically do while fishing heavily pressured tail waters.  I tied on a 9' 5x leader, and attached about 4' of 6x flouro.  From there I tied my first fly, and trailed the second about 20" behind the first.  Water was not rushing, and the fish were in the slower water, so a beadhead was sufficient to get the nymphs down.  When I used two small midges, I pinched on a small splitshot about 16-20" above the lead fly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cure for the Common Virus

Fly Fishing Virus
Jimmy Moore

There is a new virus -- code name is "work." If you receive "work"  from your colleagues, your boss, via e-mail or any one else, do not touch "work" under any circumstances. This virus wipes out your private life completely.  If you should happen to come in contact with this virus follow these steps:

1. Put on your fly fishing vest and take a good friend and go straight to  the nearest stream.

2. About the 5th cast you will find  that "work" has been completely deleted from your brain.

3. After leaving the stream, stop by your favorite fly shop and talk fly fishing.  This will further erase "work" from your mind.

4.  Go to your favorite pub/bar and imbibe a little, while talking fly fishing.  Work" will now be completely gone from your mind.

5.  Tomorrow, instead of going to "work" go fishing.  Your boss will understand.  The hell he/she will !

6.  If you get fired, you might have to fish to put food on the table.

 So . . . . . it's off to "work" we go until retirement.  "working" ain't fun, but it's necessary.

Friday, December 16, 2011

From the Ground Up - Photo Journal of the Cabin Construction

Throughout my life I have only hoped to have a cabin on or near some primo fishing and hunting.  Over the course of the last few years, my dad purchased two lots of land, equaling nearly ten acres, along the Conejos River with hopes of constructing a hunting/fishing headquarters for the family.  Last spring we had the well drilled, road constructed and archway built while toying with the idea of cabins, meanwhile I did not think it would be a reality for some time.  
Drill rig after installing the well - December 2010

End of the road at the end of the property...  Future site of the cabin
Wapeti Archway courtesy of Jimmy Duran

Right after I got back to Eagle from PA this past spring, my dad calls and informs me he set up a meeting with an Amish cabin builder named Ivan Miller.  I was shocked that my dad was going forward with it so quickly, but was very excited none the less.  In a little over a couple weeks, we had a contract signed and blueprints drawn.

Finding the right logs

Construction began at Ivan's home by constructing the first floor of the cabin, Lincoln Log style.  While this was taking place, my dad and some close friends in Mogote chose the location for the cabin on one of the lots.  Once the foundation was set and the pieces of the first floor were labeled, they were packed up and moved to the property in late July.

As my season continued to keep me wrapped up in Eagle, my pops took care of overseeing the construction.  Since the cabin and property are in my sister's and my name, I had to make sure to stay up to date with deadlines for permits and contractors for all aspects of the final product.  By the end of September, I was the point person for the electrician, plumber, stone worker and cabin builder.  I was excited to get down to the property in early October to be there and help out first hand as the "final touches" were being made.
Dad and Gabe checking out the progress

Before there were walls

Looking out to the river!!!

In one bedroom, looking to the other room, bathroom and loft
This is when all of the chaos with my dad's health took place, so I found myself trying to stay informed with the construction while I was with family down in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  During my dad's last couple of weeks, he stressed how important this project was to him and insisted that I take the reigns to ensure all of the work completed exceeded all expectations.
Spray-Foam insulation - Going to stay ROASTY in the winter!

La Estufita de la Casa - Source of the heat

Seeing the tongue-n-groove come together

Some of the first snow, cabin is nearly fully sealed up!

Beginnings of the kitchen counter

View of upstairs from loft

Soon after my dad's passing, I found that I would be the busiest I had been yet, making sure all of the t's were crossed and i's dotted with the final touches.  The biggest pain has been dealing with Xcel Energy who dragged their feet with setting up power on the property.  Basically a month and a half behind, we should have power on the property by this weekend.
Floors are in!  Progress early December 
Kass and I moved some furniture in.  One step closer to it being completed!
With a couple more weeks before we plan to head up for the first official fiesta, I hope everything goes smoothly and all inspections are passed.
Loft view from bedroom

Finished product for stairway

I am excited to see the finished product very soon.  I look forward to having this amazing cabin to use as a home base for many more hunting and fishing adventures.  Thank you dad, for making your dream come true and in turn, helping your family share the love you had with the great outdoors.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Most Beautiful Crappy Day

On Tuesday morning I woke up knowing I was going to head out to one of my favorite places, Cheesman Canyon.  The weather forecast could not have been better, low 60's and little to no wind.  I made it to the Gill Trailhead only to find three more cars.  Things were looking great and I was excited to throw my gear on and head out.  I was on the river by 10:45 and enjoying the weather and being back in the canyon.

With the nice weather, I wish I could say there were small midges coming off, but instead there were TINY midges coming off.  The fish weren't coming to the surface, but I could see them moving around pretty actively in the deeper seams and pools behind the rocks.  I finally got some attention by using a size #22 Palamino Midge trailed by a #24 black RS2.  Had a few takers on the RS2, and continued to switch out the lead fly in the nymph rig.  The golden ticket came when I put on a #20 pheasant tail with the RS2 behind and I was able to pick up fish on each.

The fish were stacked up on one another in the deep pools, just on the edges of the main channel. I picked up some decent fish, all on the nymph rig.  Throughout the day there would be the sporadic riser, but nothing to get excited about.  It was clear the fish were feeding on the larva or emergers.  

I couldn't help but enjoy the day spent outside in a short sleeved shirt, standing in the river, catching fish under the sun.  Unfortunately things were about to change as I as wrapping up the day.  I hiked out and made it back to the truck.  As I was walking up to it, and noticed the back window was pushed out, and not locked like I had left it.  Immediately I swelled with anger and fear as I opened up the back.  My plastic tub with my flies and reels was gone.

When I moved back to Denver, I consolidated all of my reels and flies into that tub and did not think about it being a risk.  In all of my years I have never heard of gear being targeted or stolen, and did not think twice about throwing the whole thing in the truck for the day.

This whole experience leaves an extremely bitter taste in my mouth.  I can only help to think that this one instance is a wake up call that we can never become too comfortable.  I have fallen guilty to overlooking risks that we should all be aware of.  Even if you park in a 'fishing parking lot,' be conscious that there are the same risks as parking outside your house and only bring those things that you will need for the day.  Never again will I have my entire arsenal of gear, even if it is only my reels, with me at one place.

I am now working with the insurance company (renter's insurance), trying to sort out everything I lost and how to prove it.  As I am sure most fisherman do, I accumulated much of my gear little by little, over a period of years.  Since it has been so long, I don't have receipts for those goods, but hopefully the pictures I have with the reels in action will suffice.  If anyone has any advice, please feel free to respond.

In the meantime, maybe take a minute next time you are cleaning your gear out and snap a pic or two of  it all, or even better, keep a detailed log with receipts of your items as well.  If something ever happens with your cherished fishing gear, maybe that will help out.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A day to reflect, a day to enjoy

Only a few weeks since my dad's passing,  I found myself incredibly busy with the tasks that come with death of a loved one.  Between moving into my new place in Denver along with taking care of some things in Santa Fe, I realized I had not been on the water since mid October.  I think Kassie also noticed my change in attitude with everything going on, so as she walked out the door yesterday, she told me, "Whatever you do, get outside today.  Even if you don't go fishing, get out there."  I knew that was what I needed, and knew my dad would be happy to see me out there again. 

I waited until Charlies Flybox opened, and stopped in to chat with Greg Garcia about the current hatches on S. Boulder Creek.  As I expected, small midges, beatis and possibly some BWO's would come off if it warmed up enough.  Regardless, it was nice to be back in the fly shop and talking the talk with fellow fisherman.  I headed out toward Walkers Ranch Loop, and was at the trail head around 11am and on the water with the first colorful rainbow tugging not more than 25 minutes and 10 casts later.  Water temps were chilly, registering at 42 degrees, but the sun was trying its hardest to stay above the canyon's rim.
About to drop down to the river

Spotted some deer on the side of the trail
I got on the water a little upstream from where the trail meets the river, instead of hiking downstream like I typically do.   Even with the water temps low, the fish I was spotting were set up in the shallow water, both in the shade and sun, and seemed to be feeding actively even though I had not seen a bug.  I tried a few different setups, but quickly found that they were interested in the flashy beadheads and small egg patterns.  Olive micromays, beadhead pheasants and poison tungs size 18-22 were getting more love than the natural baetis and midge patterns I was using.  I also grabbed a couple of fish on some a rainbow warrior. 

I tried a few dries with no luck.  Some fish rose from the depths to appear interested, but would only take the dropper.  The double dropper nymph rig outperformed the dry dropper, so I chose to stick with that. 

Enjoying a cold one celebrating the first one in the net

Colorful rainbow in deep holding water

Awesome patterned brownie from shallow fast water

The largest fish I coaxed to the net came in around 13", but they were all brilliantly colored and full of fight.  I was very surprised to see how active they were considering how cold the water and air temps were.  As I worked my way up the canyon, I had to bust the ice out of the eyelets on my rod about every 10 minutes.  I only came across two other anglers, so as long as you can brave a little bit of cold, the fish are very willing to tug on your line with little to no pressure from other fisherman. 

A day on the river was exactly what I needed to reflect on all that my dad provided me through the years.  Growing up fishing with him, I can't help but think of all of the good times we shared stomping around Questa and Red River, NM, chasing browns, rainbows and cutties.  Dad, thank you for everything, I truly appreciate it and will miss you more than you can imagine. 

I can't wait to get back out there and grab some more fish.  I will be heading down to the family cabin early next week to check the progress of the building and will hopefully wet some line.  I suggest you all should do the same!

Nice pocket water with hungry fish waiting in every likely place!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More to come next week...

I apologize for the lack of postings.  The last month has been rough as I spent a lot of it in the hospital with my dad.  He passed on October 23rd.  I can only think back to my love of fly fishing being what it is due to my dad.  He will be dearly missed and will always be there with me when I have that rod in my hand.