Monday, March 28, 2011

The Fork, The Pan and the The Raddy, in a Weekend

This is a mostly true story about two guys, a dog, a few fly rods, and a weekend to burn. Get your mind out of the gutter, we did nothing weird with the fly rods.

Day 1 - the Roaring Fork River - Friday, March 25, 2011....a day to remember.

I worked a half a day, got out of there at 12:15, hit home, grabbed the dog, and headed for the Morrison park-n-ride at I70. Made it around 1:15pm, and Steffan was waiting, he packed his gear in my truck and we were on our way. A quick stop at Subway in Idaho Springs and we were again on our way up the hill. We rolled into Glenwood around 3:45 and pulled into the Roaring Fork access right across from the Days Inn in Carbondale at around 4:15pm.

We got out, stretched a little, tinkled, and chatted up a couple guys who were just leaving. One was a guide from Taylor Creek Anglers who said he had been guiding this river for over 10 years. He said he had caught a 22 incher just up river on a size 22 purple baetis. He had caught a few others as well, including an 18 incher. They said good luck, jumped into their pick-up and were gone.

We looked at each other and debate the story - did he say he caught an 18 incher on a size 22 baetis, or a 22 incher on a size 18 baetis? We couldn't agree on what he had said, but we knew that the Fork didn't have any 22 inch fish, so the guy was fibbing a little bit - and he didn't even have a camera or a pic to prove it, so he was definitely bullshitting us.

We suited up, walked across the cement halfwall and then were ankle deep in the Fork. We made the gentleman's pack that the first fish caught the other guy bought beer for the weekend - of course Steffan's only comment before agreeing was "what kind of beer?".

We tied on our size 20 and 22 inch midges, and a purple crystal midge and hit the water. Within minutes Steffan hooked a fattie out of the first hole and had him right up to him when he popped off. That was when we realized, he didn't have a net. It's ok, I had two - I had the big boat aluminum ghost net in the truck - did we get it? Hell no - why would we need it on the Fork?

We moved up river, Steffan was ahead and Cabo and I following. The next 2 hours were a blur, filled with many obscenities. The river was pretty clear (surprisingly) and low. My first stretch was a deep hole about 10 feet out in the river where you could lean you knee on a rock and drift a fly through a 4 foot deep hole - it was maybe 15 feet long so you needed to get the fly down - so add some weight. I did that and on my second cast into the hole the line ripped forward 15 feet, where it got skinny and then shot straight to the middle of the river. I was first shocked, then laughed, then said "oh shit" as the fish tore out 30 feet of line. I gained line on him and he sat there, as I muscled him to me (on a size 22 midge and 4X) I saw him and he saw me...and I froze and then he took off. I started chasing, problem is, the Roaring Fork is one of the most slippery frickin rivers out there and nothing happens fast in felts.

I had to get the fish out of the current, although now he was 40 feet down from me in skinny shallow water and I could see him going all dead man's float on me like a sideways 2X4 not interested in fighting. I splashed near him and he took off. I turn him back into the slack water, this fish was in 6 inches of water and half of it's body was OUT of the water! The fish has to wiggle to move on the gravel. And them it happens. I can't say it, but you know what happens when you are within 5 feet of your all time best fish, rod pointing completely the other way with a net so frickin small you don't know whether to scoop at the fishes head or just beat it in the head with it - or throw it at it. Yes, well it happened. The sad part is the fish just sat there, clueless it was free, and the thought crossed my mind to throw myself on it like it was a hot grenade. But I just fell to my knees and said some things I promised I would never say again. That fish was easily 22 inches long and was the fatest fish I would see all day (not the longest). I would guess 5 lbs - but only a guess.

I made my way back to the hole - the fish of a lifelime gone, I looked at my flies, no bent hooks and threw another cast in. To make the story short, I'd hook two more fish, both I would get within 10 feet of, both over 20 inches, both popped off. The last fish I had in the skinny water laying sideways (none of the fish had much in them after the second run, they point their noses into the water and just make it impossible to muscle the fish), I get right to the fish with my aquarium net and POP.......and I swear on my kids this is what I did.....I dove on top of the fish with the net, pinning it's hand sized tail under the net, and for a brief half second I could see into it's eye and it looked scared, and then in another half second it shook itself free and was gone. This fish was the biggest fish I saw the whole weekend - easily 24 inches long, but not as heavy as the first fish - all three rainbows were silver muted in color.

I won't tell you how I felt, I won't tell you what was going through my mind, and I won't tell you that I felt really good about the weekend so far. We are talking about being on the river 45 minutes and I have had the worst fly fishing luck of my life. I didn't swear after this fish, didn't say anything, looked at my flies (which were still intact and not bent) and put the bottom one in the loop of the rod and started walking up to see what Steffan was doing. Steffan was now 100 yards away from me, so it took a while for Cabo and I to cross the waterfall and get to him. Having just explained what happened to me, all Steffan could say was "me too". Wow - we sucked.

Luckily our luck would turn. The channel side of the river inside the jetty was narrow but deep and Steffan was having luck with the fish in these holes. We kept fishing, I think we caught a couple small ones, but nothing fancy. About 6:30 or so I hooked a tank, and this fish was big. He wasn't much interested in coming to the net either - I waved Steffan down and he came to help. This fish twice tried to go under the boulder we were standing on and dislodge the fly, then he started running - down the channel (which looks like a skinny drainage ditch when you get further down river). He'd stop in a hole, and try to run under the far bank, rubbing on anything he could. Steffan takes the dip net and heads down the channel, the fish thinks it is me, so the fish keeps going down channel ahead of him. Finally Steffan gets past the fish and gets into the water up to his knees - now the fish starts running up river at me - but when he gets within 7 feet he turns back around and flops in 6 inch water next to the bank - his tail actually hits the dry bank. The fish tries to bury it's head straight into the bank, three times! Finally he starts going belly up and Steffan fumbles three times and nets it's head.

We were all exhausted. I sat on a rock and popped out the midge hook. The fish was not fat, but it was long, or colorful. 23 inches to be exact. After reviving her, we were pretty pumped. We fished some more in the hole, picking up a couple more fish, Steffan got a nice 17 incher that was pretty fat. Then I hooked another monster - this one took off down the channel again and popped of. I wasn't too upset, but bummed that I missed another. In total between the 2 of us, we had 8 pigs on and only landed 1. It was almost dark now - about 7:30 or so and we were a 1/4 mile away from the truck - the dog was freezing and we were beat. We stumbled, literally, back to the truck. Threw our shit in, drove up the road, over the bridge into the parking lot of Days Inn. We undressed out of waders and boots as the snow started falling hard, big flakes. We needed to check in, get our room, then empty the truck. Cabo was soaked, shivering. We still needed to eat dinner.

average sized bow

We got the room, moved the truck, grabbed a bunch of shit threw it in the room, grabbed the dog and went to a steak place that was highly recommended.Got some beer, hit dinner and then were back in the room at 9:30 or so. Tomorrow would be fun too.

Day 2 - the Frying Pan River and the Roaring Fork River - Saturday, March 26, 2011
How do you top a day like we just day? Sleep in and get a nice greasy breakfast, that's how. The morning was very cold and icy and a fresh 3 inches or so of snow coated everything. The road was sheer ice, and we weren't in any hurry to get our asses out of bed. So we hit the Breakfast in America place in El Jebel on the way to the Pan just before 8am.

We made our way to the Toilet Bowl at 8:45, 1 car in the lot, but three guys holed up (only one fishing) with a propane space heater and like 9 rigged rods in the Toilet Bowl. Steffan and I took a look at the pigs spinning around in the pool after the bowl and then rigged up. We had our first beer of the morning - and damn were they good.

We then jumped in the riffle just after the Toilet Bowl stretch. This time of year there is so much green algae and weeds in the river it is impossible to keep your flies clean. I did manage to ass hook on pretty rainbow - he was maybe 16 inches long - nothing special for that hole, but still nice to get the skunk off.

We moved down - to the stretch above the Bend Pool where it is very flat, very wide and very shallow water. Moving down we hit some slow water just before the Bend Pool and the fish were stacked in the slack water - I mean about 30 fish. 1 fish, that you can see in this pic at center but just behind the fish in the fish in the very center, looked like it was an alligator, it's mouth looked like a a clown wearing white lipstick - it was easily 30 inches long - I know because I threw everything at it, and 1 time it was within 8 feet of me - you could see it very clearly. I didn't hook it, or any other fish that were laughing at the both of us in this stretch. So, we decided to move down river.

Cabo enjoyed the snow - but we couldn't find any tennis balls in the truck, so she was a bit pissed off at me.

You might recognize this rock, it is one of my favorite places to fish, lots of small fish and the occasional 20 incher if lucky.

Just your average rainbow out of this hole. The fish here are not huge, but the browns are super colorful. They aren't easy to catch either. I think I got 3 fish out of this hole, Steffan landed about 8 or so - a nice stop over. Steffan even managed a few out of the rock pool on a dry fly. The fish never seem to come easy - they were still super picky and only hitting size 22 midges.

Cabo perched on a rock for an hour or so - I think she liked this spot.

We moved down river again, a couple good spots were taken, but we did find a nice corner riffle on a nice bend. We drank some more beers and watched a few large fish play in the riffles below us. Steffan tried fishing to them, but we couldn't figure out what the hell they were eating - dry flies didn't even bring them up. I waded to the middle of the riffle and casted to the far side in the soft stuff - a size 22 killer midge brought a few dinks to hand, but nothing too exciting.

We decided that we were done with the Pan. The Fork had been good to us and we wanted to explore some more. It was already mid-afternoon and we knew where the big fish were. We headed to Basalt, and followed the road that follows the Fork. We tracked the private and public water on the fishing map and stopped at the Tree Farm access site just up river from Catherine's Store access. Although it was beautiful, we had no luck in this spot - so we moved on again. We stopped at Catherine's Store access, but decided we wanted to hit the river by the Days Inn again - and it was already 5:30 or so.

We pulled into our spot by the bridge, and headed for our spot. The water was up higher than the previous day (flows showed an additional 75 cfs or so) and much more off color - but still good visibility. I stopped at the first hole I hooked the tanks and tied on a Pat's Rubberlegs, a charisse pigsticker and a chartreuse egg. The second cast into the hole and my reel was singing!! I landed a fat 17 inch rainbow shortly after - no dramatics on a size 8 rubberlegs - that was firmly in this fishes jaw. It was a great start.

I could see Steffan fighting fish further down at the end in the first hole. I picked up another rainbow at the start of the channel and found a huge hog sitting in a pool about half way up. I managed to spook him though. I moved up to just before the pool Steffan was in and started slaying them, two dinks on the egg, two 17 or 18 inchers on the pigsticker wire worm, and one nice rainbow to end it on the rubber legs. The wind was howling, the dog was shaking, and we were about out of daylight - so we called it a day. We didn't have to stumble back to the truck, we could see where we were walking tonight.

I hooked this rainbow sometime during the day - here is Cabo getting a look.

Back at the hotel we both got hot showers, Cabo got a nice blow dry so she wouldn't be soaked all night and we headed to the diner across the street. We ate everything in site, soup, 2 salads, bread, fried seafood plate, chicken fried chicken, pork chops, 3 servings of mashed potatoes, three servings of broccoli and a few beers, and then we headed back across the street to the hotel. We were lights out by 10pm.

Day 3 - the Colorado River @ Pumphouse - Sunday, March 27, 2011....the journey home.

Sunday started much like the rest of the weekend – slow, cold and wet. We were slow to get out of bed, it was cold again, and it had snowed about an inch on the ground. This time it wasn’t cold enough to freeze on the ground and the roads were wet, but not slick. We headed back over to the Diner for breakfast, then back to the hotel. We saw a couple of drift boats in the parking lot and chatted with a few guys who were on their way home – they had floated the lower Roaring Fork below Carbondale for four days straight and had decent success – but hadn’t caught any huge fish.

With that knowledge we decided to get the hell out of Carbondale and hit some new water to Steffan, I suggested Pumphouse for it’s desolation away from the crowds, and the chance to catch decent amounts of fish – and if that didn’t work we could hit the Blue on the way home. We left Carbondale around 9:30, the ride was relatively uneventful, but the back way from Wolcott to State Bridge to Pumphouse is pretty nice – the Colorado looked really nice too. We hit the Pumphouse parking lot at 11:15 or so and the sun was starting to pop out behind clouds. The snow kept falling and blowing sideways from all the wind. The temp was just under 40 degrees and the wind was a pain in the ass. We suited up, chatted with a couple of rafters who were already in the water – one guy said that the fish were slamming Pat’s Rubberlegs in size 4 and 6’s – way bigger than what we had. But we were excited to hear the fish were slamming the bigger flies – so we tied on an egg/worm/rubberlegs rig and started fishing.

grey as hell outside

Cabo bored as hell

The water had about 12 inches of visibility, and it was higher than what I had seen in the past. There were huge ice chunks about 5 feet up on the bank that looked like they had been pushed up there by high water – but the water would have to have been astronomically higher than the current flows of 650 CFS – I’d say probably 2,000 or 3,000 more flows to get the water that high up on the bank – not even sure if that is possible there.

We had no luck at all early on, so we moved up river to the bend pool. The water was still off color and high, but there were plenty of spots where there should have been fish - still nothing. So we walked back to the parking lot, and headed down river. We stopped just after the lower boat ramp and threw our rigs for a while - we both broke off everything - mine on the bottom and Steffan's on a fish - so finally we saw life in the water. We still didn't catch anything and moved down river again. Steffan hooked up a nice fish, but he popped off after a short fight. He was pretty bummed, but hell, I hadn't even seen a fish yet!

Down a little more (is this vague enough for you??)I waded to the middle to fish the far side and hooked a small 14 inch brown - Cabo helped me get the fly out of the fish.

We moved down and pitched some more eggs/worms/rubberlegs - I managed a tank of a white fish (below), a small rainbow and another average sized whitie. Nothing special.

We fished our way back to the truck, hitting a couple of holes - I managed a couple small whities, Steffan didn't get a hit. So we decided to head home. It was 4:30 and we had a 2 hour ride ahead of us. The ride home was uneventful without any traffic - nice ride home. I was home by 6:30 pm.

That was our trip in a nutshell. I'd like to thank Steffan for putting up with me and helping me net the biggest river fish of my life. It was a great time and we did it to the max.