Archive for the ‘Fishing Colorado’ Category

Some of my biggest revelations have come from thinking outside the box. Many fly fishers are creatures of habit, returning to the same spot, trip after trip, based on previous success. Trapped in a rut, these anglers tend to rely on the same techniques and strategies to catch their trout, regardless of the conditions or the season. While this rationale may provide comfort, over time it can limit your productivity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your tactics and the water you fish.

While most anglers tend to target the honey holes—textbook riffles and runs that get hammered by hordes of anglers—I prefer to work the little nooks and crannies that rarely get fished. I’ve caught countless trout (some in excess of 5 pounds) in the swift-flowing, highly oxygenated boulder gardens most fly fishers overlook.

Reading the Water
Pocketwater is best defined as a section of stream where boulders of all sizes (both protruding and submerged) are randomly sprinkled throughout a long riffle or run. The boulders divide the river into a series of cascades, producing deflections in the current commonly referred to as pockets. Think of each pocket as a miniature pool.

Some fly fishers avoid pocketwater because the difficult wading and repetitious casting required by the fast water is hard work. At the end of the day, the extra effort is worth it In most cases, the more difficult the terrain, the better the fishing.

Reading the water is one of the greatest challenges to successful pocketwater fishing. Don’t let the faster currents and whitewater intimidate you. Simply break the river into small sections and cast to all the likely spots that provide a current break or offer seams between fast and slower moving water.

Typical holding areas are in front of, to the side of, and a couple of feet behind each boulder. Other candidates include the inside edges of either fast/slow or rock-created seams. Trout prefer these lies because seams channel a steady food supply.

I avoid fishing the swirling reverse current directly behind the boulders because it is too unpredictable for trout to hold in, and it’s difficult to get a good drift. To fish the water behind a boulder properly, cast 2 to 3 feet downstream to avoid getting trapped in the reverse current.

Trout often hold toward the end of the boulder pocket. These feeding lanes require less energy due to additional rocks slowing the pace of the current. These pockets also occur close to the bank, creating holding areas that are excellent for terrestrials and dry-dropper rigs.

Where several boulders gather to form a boulder garden, you’ll find a cosmic array of complex currents. Each seam becomes a tiny buffet line for trout, and these slots are excellent areas to find big fish with nymphs or large dry flies such as Stimulators, Parachute Adams, and Humpys.

Cover the water methodically by hopscotching upstream from pocket to pocket. Fish one pocket, then wade into it and fish the next pocket, repeating the process as you move upriver. With this strategy, you’re in the fast water only when moving between pockets, and often standing in the softer pocket you just finished fishing.

Seasonal Strategies
Between November and March, most anglers target traditional wintering holes, where transitional zones funnel into deep runs and pools. But there are still ample opportunities in pocketwater, especially if you tweak your tactics to match the winter conditions.

With diminished hatches and trout sustaining their lowest metabolism of the year, focus on deeper pockets, slower slots, tailouts, and plunge pools. Large trout still hold in pocketwater during the winter months due to the lack of fishing pressure there.

Tailwaters are your best pocketwater options through the winter months, as they rarely freeze in the first few miles below the dam. In Colorado, tailwaters such as the Frying Pan, Taylor, Blue, and South Platte rivers are reliable winter fisheries. The Green (Utah), North Platte (Wyoming), Bighorn (Montana), and others also remain free-flowing through the winter and have productive pocketwater sections.

Winter tailwater flies should include tiny midge patterns #20-24 Mercury Black Beauties, Pure Midge Larvae, Mercury Midges, Mercury Blood Midges, Jujubee Midges, and Rojo Midges.

I have had surprisingly good success in pocketwater during the initial phases of spring runoff. Don’t let the high, roiling water intimidate you—there is still good fishing out there.

High spring flows push the fish toward the edges of the stream, where they seek shelter from the swift current near the center. The off-color water is often advantageous because the trout are less wary, and less critical of your fly pattern.

Under these conditions, fish large flies tight along shoreline pockets with 3X tippet. Chamois Leeches, chartreuse egg patterns, and pink San Juan Worms are good flies. Dark flies such as string leeches and Woolly Buggers present strong silhouettes in dirty water and are also top producers.

The most productive pocketwater fishing occurs during late spring and midsummer (after runoff), through autumn. Starting in mid-July, water temperatures begin escalating and when oxygen levels plummet in the slower runs and pools, trout concentrate in pocketwater areas where they find increased oxygen and better feeding opportunities.

Strong hatches of Blue-winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, Green Drakes, caddis, stoneflies (Pteronarcys, Golden Stoneflies, and Yellow Sallies), Red Quills, and terrestrials provide steady food sources for opportunistic trout. Effective nymphs include #18-20 Beadhead Pheasant Tails, #16-20 Barr’s Emergers, #14-18 Beadhead Breadcrusts, and #10-14 Barr’s Tungstones.

During high summer spates, scouring flows dislodge larger food organisms such as aquatic worms, scuds, and crane flies. Use #14 San Juan Worms (tan and red), #12-16 UV Scuds (orange and olive), and #10 Barr’s Crane Fly Larvae.

Pocketwater trout also rise eagerly to drys during spring and summer hatches—sometimes even when nothing is hatching. Choice patterns include #18 Barr’s Graphic Caddis, #16 Elk-hair Caddis, #14-16 Puterbaugh Caddis, #14-16 yellow Stimulators, #16 Red Quills, #10 Amy’s Ants, #10 BC Hoppers, #14 ants and beetles, and attractors such as Royal Wulffs, Renegades, and #12-16 Humpys.

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Wildcat Canyon

Wild Cat Canyon is the rugged section of river upstream from Cheesman Reservoir. Located in the center of the Hayman fire area, this section of river was closed to access for several years after the fire. There is now a trail, actually an old 4 wheel drive road down Corral Creek that is open for hikers to access the middle of the canyon. On October 31, Mike, Alex, and I decided to hike down the trail into the Canyon and check out the fishing that has basically been untouched since the Hayman fire. Alex had been in a couple of times this past summer and knew how to get to the trailhead that takes you down into the Canyon. Much of the 3 mile trail passes right through the Hayman burn area and is a spectacle of burned trees that has a stark beauty of  it’s own. The hike down takes about an hour or so to get to the stream where you can go up or down depending o

Haman Burn Area from Corral Creek Trail

n how you are feeling.  Going upstream is recommended as the lower section of the river is a nasty canyon where if you fell and hurt yourself, you will more than likely be there a while. Hiking back out of the canyon after a long day of fishing is a different story.  Brutal from the start and  uphill almost the entire 3 miles out.

The river is very similar to Cheesman Canyon. It has a variety of canyons, huge boulders, rifles, pocket water and pools. There are also log  jams and areas where severe erosion has, and is still taking place. Shifting red granite gravel has washed in since the fire  and covers much of the bottom.  

Log jams and severe erosion are effects of the Haman Fire

 

We found the fishing to be average. It appeared that the Browns had already spawned and retreated to the deeper holes and pocket water areas.  A few redds were visible at the tailouts of longer runs. Most of the fish we caught were Browns and several 8-10″ Rainbows. Several larger fish were spotted among log jams and deeper boulder areas.

Impressive rock and the raw power of nature are evident at every turn

 

Although the fishing was a little dissapointing, I am sure there are times when it is exceptional. The area is stunningly rugged, remote and filled with an anticipation to see what is around the next bend. I haven’t fished many places in Colorado where there was not even a footprint but this is definitely one of them. I hope to return, but will plan to camp over night. Hiking in and out the same day is a little much, with more hiking than fishing!

Most anglers ask what are you using today as you are laying waste to some really nice fish.  One of the more obscure answers is a Black Fly Larva.  The next response is usually “what the hell is a Black Fly Larva?”   This question has been asked more than once here in Colorado on the famous Chesman Canyon Section of the South Platte.

Blackflies teeter on the margins of angler awareness–outcasts in spite of their standing with fish. black fly larvaThey don’t fit into the aesthetic of the mainstream angling world, where priority is given to prettier bugs that drift sacrificially on meandering currents.

Among the many insects that fly anglers ignore, perhaps none is more important to trout than the black fly. Let those anglers with aesthetic hang-ups keep doing their thing. The rest of us will let the trout dictate what flies to fish!!

In a recent study, black flies were consistently consumed by trout at a much higher rate than their proportion in the drift. While Blackflies composed about 10% of the drift, they made up nearly 70% of the trout diets in June and July!

If that isn’t enough for you, consider that on the same stream, Baetis–the orthodox angler’s security blanket–made up 70% of the drift and contributed a mere 20% of the total trout diet while other common drifters Ephemerella (PMD) mayflies, were nearly unscathed.

Are Black flies important on “real” trout streams? In the Chesman Canyon Section of the South Platte River, black fly larvae were the most consumed aquatic food among rainbow trout that were two or more years old during the summer months.

With this staggering wealth of scientific observation plainly accessible to angling researchers, how could black flies have been overlooked by experts and recreational fly fishers for so long?

Several factors contribute to this neglect. First, most anglers probably mistake black fly larvae for caddis larvae, which look quite similar to the untrained eye.

Also, black flies are in the order Diptera. Thus many well-intentioned writers and researchers who take the time to consult professional papers and science books, often see “Diptera” in stomach samples and connect it with “midge.” In the process, they forget that the order Diptera casts a wide shadow and includes midges, mosquitoes, phantom midges, net-winged midges, craneflies, as well as our new friend the black fly.

Another reason is that “kicking riffles”–the preferred sampling technique of most anglers–often doesn’t knock many of these larvae off the rocks because they are tough clingers in the fastest currents.

Probably more important than these factors is the fact that there is little dry fly fishing (or even fish rises) during a black fly emergence. This cannot be underestimated; so much angling literature has only valued insects that provided dry fly action.

Finally, black fly activity isn’t really a concentrated hatch like most aquatic insects. They will go through 4-14 generations a year, with larval growth, emergence, and egg-laying overlapping between generations. This means that black flies maintain a constant role in the year-round diets of most river-dwelling trout. All these factors go a long way to explain why anglers have overlooked black flies, while trout happily indulge in this abundant prey.

Life Cycle of the Black Fly:

Larva to Pupablack fly larva from Umpqua feather merchants

Black fly larvae are medium-sized insects, from 4-15mm in length. They are a distinctly shaped grub with feathery fan gills, prolegs at the head, and a fat butt (the rear 1/3 of Simuliidae larvae can be almost twice the thickness of the front). Colors range from smoky olive, dirty yellow, creamish, and black. Most mistake the small black larvae for microcaddis larvae, which also have a distinguishing fat butt.

The larvae are the most important stage for most trout, especially for trout living in streams with many fast riffles. Larvae attach themselves to rocks with the hooks of their posterior disc, then trail their heads and fans downstream to filter the current for food. To move short distances, black fly larvae excrete a strand of silk and “rappel” downstream, in much the same manner as some caddis larvae.

Besides bouldered riffle water, black flies can be extremely abundant on bedrock slabs where their silken pad and anal hooks give them excellent holding power against strong currents. Larvae are also unusually visible at night when they are heavily fed upon by both fry and adult trout. This feeding may be because the light-colored, semi translucent larvae are easy to detect.

After 3-10 weeks of larval development, black flies undergo pupation which lasts anywhere between 2 and 8 days. Unlike many other aquatic insects the Black Fly larvae don’t migrate to pupate. They just build their cocoon wherever they happen to be at pupation time.

Emergence

Black flies have a unique and fascinating method of emergence that is vitally important for fly anglers to understand. Fully formed adults burst from their pupal casing and are shot to the surface enclosed in a bubble of air. This is a similar process to caddis emergence, with two major differences. First, the shimmering “air bubble” effect is much more pronounced for black flies. Secondly, a caddis rides to the surface as a pupa, while the black fly rides to the surface as a fully developed adult. If you do a stomach sample that reveals adult black flies, it is virtually impossible to tell if the trout captured the black fly when it was rising or floating. Emergence occurs in the morning from 6:00 a.m. to noon and rarely occurs at night or in the evening. Emergence accounts for heavy feeding action throughout the water column even when no surface action is visible.

There is usually no visual hint of emergence with trout rising as the air bubble keeps their bodies and wings dry, so the adults arrive at the surface and instantly fly off. The lack of surface activity is undoubtedly a reason this insect has been overlooked by so many for so long.

Final Thought for you the Angler to Consider

Are Blackflies the most critical food sources for trout? Probably not  but they are more important as a family than many of the species of insects that we fly anglers fuss over.

Simuliids are significantly more important, in terms of annual consumption, than salmonflies, hoppers, and even the much-lauded midge. It would be safe to say that simuliids on average throughout the United States contribute more to a stream trout’s diet than any single species of mayfly except Baetis. When you consider that there are large numbers of Blackflies available to trout for the entire year while most mayflies and caddis are too small to feed a descent sized trout for half the year, putting your faith in a blackfly larva makes alot more sense.

Probably one of the most fascinating things is to see a trout rise and take an insect off of the surface.  The most frustrating thing is casting to where the ring was, matching the hatch perfect and coming up empty.  Hopefully the following explanations of trout rise forms will help on you next fishing outings. 

There are several different ways that trout feed.  One way is considered to be a Simple Rise which generally occurs during a good hatch and the trout are pretty sure of the type of food floating downstream.  These rises are usually quick and sometimes violent with very little hesitation by the trout.  He will leave his holding area, rise to the surface and either take or refuse the fly, and will always return to his holding area.

Another type of rise is the Compound Rise.  This is similar to the Simple Rise, but it involves a much longer drift from the holding area and longer inspection of the food.  This is caused when the trout has some doubt about the edibility of the food floating by.  The trout will almost always stay with the food, drifting just under the surface at the same rate continuously inspecting the food while deciding whether to take or refuse.  This is why it is important to have a drag-free drift.  Any unusual movement that does not look natural or goes against the current will result in a refusal 90% of the time.  If you notice the trout turn sideways in the current, this is the beginning of a more thorough inspection because there is still to much doubt.  A puddle cast can be very effective in getting the long drag-free drift required in this situation.  At some point or another the trout will make the final decision to take the fly or refuse and move back to his holding area. 

The third type of rise is the Complex Rise which occurs when there is extreme doubt in the trout mind about the food type drifting overhead.  As with the compound rise the trout will begin drifting downstream or across stream with the fly giving it a thorough inspection.  If there is excessive drag on the fly or the trout believes it is an inedible object, the trout will immediately refuse and return to the holding area.  If the drift is good, and the trout is still interested but very doubtful, he will allow the fly to begin floating away from him.  It is now time for a decision.  If he refuses, he will return to his holding area.  However, if he does decide to take, the trout will turn facing downstream in a very fast motion and begin his pursuit.  Once you see a trout displaying this pursuit, he will never refuse it.

Hopefully this will help you understand that when a trout rises, he is generally not sitting under the ring he left waiting for his next morsel of food.  When you make a cast, make sure you land the fly far enough above that last rise form or your cast may fall short of where the fish is holding or you may land directly on top of the fish and spook him.  

One of the most important things is the drag free float when you are fishing over finicky fish.  If you cannot achieve the drift you need from where you are fishing, try moving upstream and fish back down to where the trout is holding.

THE BLUE-WINGED OLIVE (BWO) is not a single species, but a group of them in the genus Baetis. There are many mayflies out there with olive bodies and gray or dun-colored wings, the key during a BWO hatch is to get the size right.  These tiny mayflies rule the rivers half the year, the half most people don’t fish. Hatches can begin as early as late September and continue until April, with the best activity in February and early March. I’ve never been out fishing in the winter when we didn’t have a few blue-winged olives every afternoon.

The Baetis nymphs are active swimmers and live in almost all types of running water, but slow to moderate runs hold the largest populations. Beatis nymphs have a habit of purposefully drifting short distances (behavioral drift) in the current when they feel overcrowded to find a new home; sunrise and sunset are the prime times for this activity. Thus nymph imitations can be productive even when there is no hatch in progress.  Morning and evening are great times to rig up double Baetis patterns on a nymph rig and make sure to let it swing at the end of the drift.  This will trigger a lot of strikes that sometime can be pretty violent.     

During a Beatis hatch, it’s important to collect an insect and look at its underside before you choose a fly pattern to match it. The belly will always be a different color–usually lighter and more olive–than the back. It’s the belly, not the back, that trout see when they take a floating insect. Again, it is important during this hatch to get the size of your imitation right. If you just glance at a small insect like this, and choose a pattern based on that glance, your pattern will almost always be a size, or even two sizes, too large. Set your collected natural right next to the imitation you’ve chosen for it, and be sure that they are the same size.

There is really not a single pattern that will cover a Baetis hatch.  I now realize it’s important to carry an emerger pattern, two or three dun patterns, and a spinner pattern–all tied in a narrow range of sizes. Trout might take one for a while, and suddenly turn off until you try another.

The most frequently asked questions in a fly shop is  “What flies should I have?”. This time of year it takes longer to answer this common question. Fall is one of the most exciting times of the year to go fly fishing. But it can also be one of the most challenging. Water flows are low and clear and the fish can be spooky.  But there is more going on in the fall than at any other time of the year. The river can be a “buffet” with many different offerings on the table. Mid summer hatches of Pale Morning  Duns, Red Quills, Green Drakes, and Caddis flies can still be prevalent. Morning hatches of  Trico Mayflies become a regular occurence with the Spinner Fall coming  later in the day as the days get shorter.  The reappearance of the Blue Wing Olives, especially on overcast days is a not so welcome sign that winter is just around the corner. Midge hatches that were lost  in higher water will once again become a prominent food source continuing throughout the coming winter. A few terrestrials such as hoppers, ants, and beetles may still he around but most rivers here in Colorado excluding the lower elevation streams have had their first frost so terrestrial fishing is tapering off right now.  Brown trout, Brook Trout and Whitefishwill all begin spawning soon so they are on the feed right now looking for anything to satisfy their constant hunger. Fall is the dry fly anglers paradise as the amount and variety of aquatic insects on the surface  combined with low, clear water creat ea perfect environment for trout to “risk it all ” to pluck a struggling morsel from the water’s surface.

Fall Patterns

          Patterns for fall fishing cover the broadest range of Aquatic Insects and Terrestrials. Aquatic patterns available to the trout can be a combination of Midges, Mayflies, Caddis Flies, Terrestrial, Stoneflies, Minnows, Eggs and Aquatic earthworms.  The best fishing is usually on those first overcast, nasty, days of the fall when a variety of Mayflies including Blue Wing Olives, Tiny Psuedocoleons BWO’s and Trico’s are abundant. Here is a list of recommended flies for a fantastic fall:

Nymphs:

  • Eggs: Nuclear egg, Flash Tail Egg
  • Scuds: Olive, Orange as well as Dorsey’s UV Scud
  • Baetis Nymphs: RandySmith’s Baetis Nymph, Barr’s BWO Emerger, Sparkle Wing RS2, Mercury Baetis, Pheasant Tails ,JuJu Baetis, Mercer’s Tungsten Micro Mayfly, Black Copper Johns, Soft Hackle Pheasant Tails.
  •  Midge Larvae and Pupae: Dorsey’s Mercury Black Beauty, Dye’s Pearl Jam in Pearl, Red, Green. Dorsey’s        Mercury Midge, Dorsey’s Top Secret Midge, Dorsey’s Medallion Midge, Dorsey’s Blood Midge, Rainbow Warriors, Barr’s Pure Midge Larva in red, WD-40, Chocolate Johnny Flash, JuJube Midge, Brassies, Dorsey’s  Mercury Midge and Parrott’s Chironoflash
  • PMD Nymphs:  Pheasant Tails, Dorsey’s Mercury PMD Nymph, Barr’s PMD Emerger, Mitchell’s Split Case PMD, JuJu PMD Nymph and Bead Head Trigger Nymph.
  • Cased and free-living caddis: Dorsey’s Mercury Caddis,   Barr’s uncased Caddis, Barr’s Net Building Caddis, Barr’s Graphic Caddis.
  • Trico’s: Engle’s Drowned Trico – Black and Chartreuse, Barr’s Trico Emerger

Dry Flies:

  • BWO’s: Matthew’s  Sparkle Dun, Cannon’s Snowshoe Dun BWO, Parachute Adams, Dry Emerger Baetis, Cripples,      Sprout’s BWO Emerger, Barr’s Visa Dun BWO and A.K.‘s Olive Dun Quill.
  • Trico’s: Cannon’s Snowshoe Trico Dun, CDC Trico Dun, CDC   Trico Spinner and Barr’s Visa Dun Trico.
  • PMD’s: Cannon’s Snowshoe PMD Dun, Matthew’s Sparkle Dun PMD, Sprout’s PMD, Schmidt’s Dry Emerger PMD.
  • Caddis Flies: Peacock Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis Brown, Tan Grey, Slow Water Caddis.
  • Midges: Cannon’s Snowshoe Midge Emerger, Griffith’s Gnat, Matt’s Midge, Trailing Shuck Midge, Cannon’s Snowshoe     Midge Cluster. 

Attractors, Hoppers, Ants, Beetles:

  • Amy’s Ant, Dave’s Hopper, Pilatzke’s Beetles, Parachute Ant.  

Streamers:

  • Heng’s Autumn Splendor, Barr’s Slump Buster, Conehead Black Wolley Bugger, Sparkle Bugger, Clouser Minnows.

Fall is a great time to get out, enjoy some great fishing and beautiful scenery as the leaves begin to change.  Winter will be upon us before we know it so get out on the water and create some really great fishing memories for 2010!!!

Don’t forget to take the Blue Quill Angler Quiz to win free gear.  Correct answers will be automatically registered for a drawing at the end of October to win a FREE RIO Gold Fly line of your choice.

Blue Quill guide Joe Shafer, originally uploaded by Blue Quill Angler.

With the warmer weather we had last week, the Bass fishing is heating up. The cold spell this past weekend will shut things down for a while but with teperatures forcasted to rise, Bass fishing in the Front Range will kick into high gear. This is a great way to beat the incredible run-off we are having this year not to mention a real blast whacking a few “bucket mouths” on the fly.