Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Odd Year On The Water

2013 has had it's ups and downs when it came to fly fishing on this end.  We managed a couple of really fun trips this season. For the most part between a couple of mild heart attacks in early spring that required having some new stents set, then a slow summer resting up from those little episodes, followed by and early fall of heavy flooding on our rivers and a period in the late fall where the Docs decided they wanted to go back in a re-do and revise some of the older work they had done on my ticker back in the 90's... I think I've spent more time in the damn hospital than I have on the water.  Then again, it's now pushing into the 1st week of November, all the medical issues are behind me and I'm actually feeling better than I have in five or six years.
Having given it a great deal of thought, I think the old man is going to prop his feet up for the winter, spend a little time at the tying bench as Lord knows I didn't loose many bugs this season and just play with new patterns as the winter passes.  Our snow line is dropping lower and lower with each passing storm front and this winter is beginning to look like we might have a good snow pack year.  It will be of great benefit if we see s normal winter leading into a normal runoff for next season.  Even the floods that devastated the rivers this fall had some positive impact as the Poudre River that had been so hard hit from the sludge that flushed into the lower river sections after the earlier fires in that area was swept clean with the insane rains and flooding of the fall and that is a big step in seeing that old river be given the chance to breath and come back to life.  As always Mother Nature finds a way!
On my end.... I think patience and a little preparation for the coming season will go a long way towards making what has been a pretty strange fishing season in 2013 a dim memory by the time spring rolls around.  For now I believe it's time to just set back, get a log in the fire place, roll a few new bugs out of the vise and maybe enjoy a good bourbon while watching the snow flakes fall. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Balanced Damsel Nymph

In my September 1st post on the little lake Lisa and I fished in Southern Colorado I mentioned the trout being receptive to a Damsel Nymph presentation and Andrew over at Truttablog was curious about the damsel pattern we were using as they fish damsels in South Africa as well.  This post is for Andrew.
I've been tied up with one heart procedure being done last week (it went great) and another scheduled  a couple weeks in the future, but while I don't have my wing in a sling I thought I'd set down this afternoon and tie up some replacements for those lost in the earlier trip and get a photo of the pattern.
This is a very simple little fly to tie up and uses the same type of tying approach as the Balanced Leech pattern listed in an earlier post as well with the exception that the Tungsten Bead used to balance the leech pattern is replaced with a pair of bead chain eyes to more closely approximate the damsel nymphs profile.  Adding either a bead or bead chain eyes to properly balance this style pattern  into a fly that presents horizontally is as simple as having a few sewing pins on hand and extending the pin out the for end of the fly pattern while attaching the weight forward of the hook eye. In this case the damsel nymph is tied on a size 14 Dohiku J style hook to permit a hook point up,  jig like presentation.
These little damsels lend themselves to a couple of different presentation styles as they have a relatively slow sink rate and can be fished on a naked leader and tippet set up where the fly is fished on a standard leader set up, then permitted to sink to the desired presentation depth at which point they are retrieved with a fairly steady short pull retrieve that swims the nymph along in a mild, almost hopping retrieve.  The second method is to fish this style of fly under an indicator with the depth set so that the fly will run about a foot or so above a weed bed or the lake bottom.  With the indicator set up, I'm usually looking for a cross wind blowing across a weed flat and a little riffle on the water surface.  Cast at about a 45 degree angle up wind, the fly is permitted to settle to depth and fished slowing across the lake structure with the wind driving the drift.  In this cast the fly moves slowly, is in targeted area for a long presentation period and the surface riffles jig the fly up and down giving it a very erratic jigging motion that is enhanced by the materials used to tie the fly.  These materials consist primarily of marabou and CDC hackle so the little bug looks very much alive as it pulses through the feeding area.  The trout will often trail this fly as it's on it's drift and it's kind of fun if you can locate the fly visually and watch as three of four fish stalk it.
I also have to mention that this style of fly fishes very well in running waters, particularly if you have a back eddy or weedy section that has a population of damsel nymphs and this style of fly can be fished on a standard nymph rigs in many of these situations.  Last but not least this fly produces well on every thing from Blue Gill, Crappie, Bass in addition to Carp.  Carp love damsels and a slow drift though their feeding areas with a fly of this style draws a take when other methods will sometimes spook them.  This is not to mention that wind drifting your fly through a pod of mudding carp can add a little buzz to you fishing when you know your bug is right there amongst the beasts and you have to wait and watch intensely for the take or let your fly drift well past the pod before recasting for a new drift.  Slow, controlled presentations like this can add to the pucker factor of most fly anglers regardless of the species you're chasing.
Hook: Dohiku J Style Hook or any 90 degree or 60 degree style jig hook dependent on the size fly wanted.
Thread: 6/0 olive or a color to match the primary color of the bug... Chartreuse, Brown etc.
Eyes: Small bead chain cross mounted on the sewing pin extension.
Tail:  Grizzly Barred Marabou
Body: Non Barred Marabou twisted to form a rope and covering the entire body area.
Wire:  Fine wire counter wrapped over the Marabou body to reinforce the more or less fragile body.
Collar: CDC wrapped as a hackle.
Hints.....  Try to balance the fly so that it is just slightly tail heavy, but still hangs horizontally as this enhances the jigging action.  Balancing is done by extending or lessening the length of the forward pin extension.  Buggers and any number of streamer type patterns can be modified in this manner to give your presentation a little different look and the use of a slip style indicator will permit you to have absolute depth control with this style of fly down to a depth approaching 20 feet.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Big Water

It wasn't so very long ago that I wrote of a trip up the Big Thompson River and a day combating tourists and heavy fishing pressure ending that post with the thought that as the gentler days of September arrived the tourist traffic would subside and many of the anglers would spend more time glued to their TV sets as the NFL season got under way and the air temperatures got chillier. After that I posted that I had made a solo trip where much to my surprise an over sized Brown had hit a small rainbow I had on and left me slack jawed in the process.  Then last week Lisa and I began talking up a return trip to the Tommy this week just to see how the fall fishing might be shaping up, but a quick look at the weather forecast delayed those plans as it showed days of back to back rain headed our way so we delayed our plans for a week figuring the river would go off color and need a few days to clear.
Without dwelling on what has happened over the last couple of days, it can be summed up by saying that those back to back days of projected rain turned into a monster or a storm system that dropped as much as 1/2 the average precipitation for an entire year along some areas of the front range here in Colorado all in just a 48 hour period.  The steep terrain here combined with that much water triggered flash floods that ripped not only the Big Thompson Canyon, but The Poudre River Canyon, Boulder Canyon and frankly nearly every canyon along the upper half  of the front range.  For the first time in my life time I actually heard the U.S. Weather Service refer to a storm as being of Biblical proportions and all of us here watched as the waters raced east out of the high mountains, through the mountain communities and into the river canyons.  Then we watched as the dams reached capacity and had to open their gates to let the flows pass.  The end result being that the Tommy that we knew is no more and same can be said for a number of the streams here along the front range.
This is not to say that we won't live to see the Tommy up and fishing as a viable trout stream again as Mother Nature fixes all things in time, but it will take a few years for the stream to reestablish itself.  From the looks of the photos that have come out of the area, the little river has completely rearranged the canyon, many of the lovely homes that once set along side the stream are simply gone, much of the highway that once lead up the canyon is gone as well and some areas look to be scoured down to bedrock.  Estes Park, the little town that set at the upper end of the canyon and was the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park suffered a great deal of damage as well as have many little towns and highways that cut through the mountains up this way and some communities are completely cut off from the outside world have to be evacuated by air lifts.

Further down stream where the streams and river finally reach the plains the cities in their paths were hit hard as well and they all basically dump into the South Platte River which topped her banks and huge areas of Eastern Colorado are now flooded as well.

In all of this the saving grace seems to be that due to some well thought out disaster planning the death toll sets at only four people this evening.  A great many folks are listed as missing so the list of those lost will undoubtably climb over the next few days, but given the circumstances the loss of life is amazingly low!  With folks lost and many more dreams shattered, it seems kind of silly to lament over the loss of a trout stream, but I have to admit that little river meant a great deal to me.  The Tommy was always my quick fix.....  A hour from the house and I could almost always find a little open water that would kick out a few fish and provide a little solitude, but for the time being and I'm afraid for a few years to come the river will be reestablishing itself, access will be being rebuilt and I'm sure that at least some of the homes that were lost will be replaced.  The simple truth is Mother Nature will prevail in the end regardless of if her choice is to destroy or promote re-birth and in this case so long as the human powers that be recognize that this new stream will need to be protected for a time to have a chance to return to normal.....  I might well live long enough to enjoy that canyon again and any lose I might feel is far outweighed by the memories I made over the years along her banks.
As always my heart goes out to those that have suffered real loss and it never ceases to amaze me to watch as the people of this state rally around one another when the going gets tough.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Matching The Hatch... Stillwater Style

Size 18 Chironomid Pattern On The Left........ An Attempt To Match The Natural Shown On Right.
I wouldn't even care to guess how many photos of the little olive chironomids I attempted to take before I managed to get the photo that is combined with the fly shown above.  It's one thing to have a macro lens, but quite another to combine a macro lens and a 10X loop element to get down to really fine detail.  Lets just say that I downloaded and then deleted a sizable number of fuzzy photos this afternoon and I miss the old days when I was shooting 35mm slides on a macro jig.  A couple of the shots worked out well enough to permit this combination of photos....
The bottom line was that the trout we throat sampled on yesterday's little trip had their throats fairly packed with these little olive pupas and I had an olive chironomid pattern that worked, being nothing more than a white bead, light olive thread body and a fine brown wire rib, but this afternoon I put together the pattern shown above in an effort to more closely match the naturals I collected.  The truth being that I may never get down and fish that little lake again as this was my first return since the late 1980s, but with the thousands of subspecies of chironomids and the likelihood that I'll run into a close approximation of a banded olive hatch somewhere in the future I decided to go with a style that is a little more realistic than the bomber style I was using yesterday.  That realism may well come in handy next time around, particularly if I'm fishing extremely clear water conditions and have trout that are more closely examining my fly.  I've found that under extremely clear conditions that the more realistic patterns fish more effectively where the white bead of the bomber style patterns seem to do well with water that is a little stained.
If I get right down to it the fly and style are nothing more than a Tak's Crystal Chironomid that has been slightly down sized to a size 18, then the color is altered from the standard pattern to more closely match the naturals I encountered.  To do that alteration three steps are added to the tying process.  Prior to tying the pattern the hook, in this case a TMC 2312, size 18 is first colored with a green permanent marker in the area that will be visible through the clear lace wrap and some fine black banding has been added to approximate the black segmentation that is obvious on the natural.
A small amount of red permanent marker is also added to the tail of the fly to give the impression of the remnant hemoglobin that remains in the little naturals lower sections on this bug.  The only other variation on the pattern is that I changed the wing pad that Rick ties in a holographic or bright blue to a peacock colored tinsel to maintain the flash, but tone the color palette down a bit.
In other words there is a whole lot of Rick Takahashi's Crystal Chironomid in this little copy with just a tweak or two to take the coloration more closely to the naturals I encountered yesterday.  In as much as Rick's fly fishes great, I'm sure the trout will find this little variation acceptable.  In addition, today's little experiment at the vise has shown me that the pattern is simple to alter in the color spectrum and after putting a dozen of the little olives in the box, I began playing with browns and black under colors which look pretty cool as well.  In fact the black version takes on almost a gunmetal color once the clear lace is over wrapped and very closely approximates the almost chrome/gunmetal coloration of the pupas as they gas up and rise to the surface to hatch, so today was a learning experience and in all reality can bring on a number of variations in colors that may be helpful in the future.
Would I have caught more fish using this little pattern versus the Olive Bomber I had on yesterday day?  In all reality who knows!  Then again it is far closer to the natural that the fish were feeding on and the bottom line is this type of situation is why some of us play around at the vise for hours or tie flies in the first place.
Hook: TMC 2312 sizes 14 to 20 or this pattern can very easily be converted to the tier's favorite hook for chironomid patterns.
Hook Preparation: Color the rear 2/3s of the hook with a green permanent marker, then once dry add fine black banding to the length of the colored section and a touch of red coloration to the very rear of the colored section with permanent markers as well.
Thorax:  The front 1/3 of the hook is covered with 70 Denier UTC thread to form the base of the thorax area and a small section of clear micro midge lace is tied in facing the rear of the hook.
Abdomen: The previously colored abdomen area is now over wrapped with the clear larva lace from front to back and then wrapped forward to the back of the thorax area in very tightly stretched, touching wraps to maintain the slimness of the insects abdomen.  The lace is secured at the rear of the base wraps of the thorax area.
Antenna: White Poly Yarn fibers, unwaxed dental floss or tiers choice.
Thorax:  Peacock colored tinsel for the wing case, hot orange Fluoro Fiber for the cheeks brought forward over a slightly enlarged thorax section of black tying thread.
Finish:  Coat the entire body section of the fly with a very thin coat of UV resin and cut the antenna stubs to length.
As a final note... The final count on Damsel Nymph versus Chironomid was dead even a ten apiece and a couple of other Cutts that fell for a soft hackle peacock on a dead slow retrieve.  Takes came over the tops of the weeds in the morning and evening, but mid day the fish moved to the weed line break and deeper water where the Damsel and little soft hackle ruled.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Passes With A Quiet Day On The Water And Finding An Uncrowded Lake On Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Weekend isn't usually on my calendar when it comes to heading out on a fishing trip, but Lisa and I decided late last night that we'd load up the car and head out early this morning in hopes of breathing something other than city air.  In a effort to beat the holiday traffic we were on the road at 4:00 AM with thoughts of heading south and three hours later we were south of Pueblo and heading into the neck of the woods I grew up in.
Another hour and a half later we were about ten miles from the New Mexico border and at a little lake that I've had a lot of history with.  I grew up participating in a lot of family picnics along the shores of this little lake and over the years I've watched as our Division of Wildlife has stocked and re-stocked this water first with Brookies, then Rainbows and I was pleased to see that they obviously are now planting Cutts in the lake.

 The place has never produced large fish, but seems to maintain a decent population level and our  numbers were good today.  In addition to having a willing trout population, I was all but taken back when I found we nearly had the lake to ourselves.  There were a half dozen or so bait fishermen scattered around the lake and only two other float tubers on the water so finding open water wasn't an issue.  Good fertile little lake with lots of weed lines to work and the fish responded well to just about anything we threw at them.  Lots of bear track along the banks as well, as this is good bear country and they are always around even if you don't see them.  To the best of my recollection Lisa and I last visited this little lake in the late 80's along with the kids who were very young at that point and the trip was marked not by a bear encounter, but by a pair of skunks who charged into out picnic spot knowing full well that they would run us off.  Then they took over our picnic table and helped themselves to a pretty decent meal from the containers and food still on our plates.  I'm happy to report that the place hasn't changed all that much and we got a good laugh out of scent of skunk as it whiffed by late in the day.
By the end of the day both of us were about worn out from the drive and a long day of fishing so we drove back down the pass and found a room at a local B&B.  As this is being written I'm setting on the front porch of a nice little inn that was nice enough to keep their kitchen open late enough to toss a couple of steaks on the grill so it's been a good day.
As I said the fish responded well to just about any fly that was presented today, but they paid special attention to a size 14 damsel nymph pattern fished right over the weed tops and I throat sampled several of them to find they were eating a varied diet of scuds, damsels and a good number of small chironomid pupa with the majority running to an olive coloration with a few dark brown mixed in for good measure.  The chironomid samples are being taken home so I can tie up a new variation on the little olive colored pupa that were still alive when they went into the sample jars.
Tomorrow its early to rise and the long run back up north to Denver before the traffic gets too nuts.  This trip goes into the books as a rarity as I never fish holiday weekends, but it's great to sneak away from the city and even better to find there are still places in this state where you can find open water on the last big holiday of the summer.
Tomorrow the commercial recreational rafting season will all but come to an end and folks will be headed home getting their kids who are going back to school.  Add to this football weekends and folks that stay home to watch the games and we're entering my favorite time of year. This was a fitting end to the summer season.
I'm sure my next post will involve my attempts to photograph and match those little chironomid pupa I sampled. I don't often find olive pupa in the numbers I saw today.  Off to bed as tomorrow will be a long drive.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Conquering Chironomids

Fly fishing in any of its forms isn't exactly rocket science, but there are intricacies and subtleties that are inherent to almost any technique that will put more fish in your net.  I've read every article I could for the past several years that were written by either Brian Chan or Phil Rowley regarding fishing chironomid patterns in stillwaters and a couple of weeks ago I ordered their new video "Conquering Chironomids, Volume 1, Strike Indicator Techniques" as I read or view just about everything I can get my hands on when it comes to our sport.  These two gents have teamed up and are producing a series of tapes covering this form of fly fishing and will have later DVDs that cover non indicator techniques as well.

I don't usually review books, articles or gear as I think that unless something is really remarkable it's kind of silly for a lay person to do so, but their new video has to be given highest of marks and falls into that remarkable category!  I get a lot of questions and emails regarding this stillwater stuff and I watch some of my friends struggle with it as there's a bit of a learning curve.  Now I can actually just say "go buy the video"!  There it is.... I'm outright plugging a video and don't even know the two gentlemen involved with it's creation.

The great thing about their new production is that it's concise, covers virtually every angle of this technique and it isn't dressed up with a bunch of staged grab and grin shots or throbbing rock music to set up the fish they take while taking the viewer through the process of learning to actually fish the technique well.  They do catch some damn nice fish while proceeding through the teaching process, but watching this video is far more like spending a day on the water with a couple of guys that know what the hell they are doing versus having a production company over dress the learning experience.  The video also includes a number of superb fly patterns and a good selection of animated knot tying instructions as a add on.  Just a refreshing approach and extraordinarily well done with enough information that you have to watch it several times to actually pick up on all the little subtle tips and hints that are included!

In short....  If you're even remotely interested in refining your stillwater techniques, this video and the series to follow will be well worth the purchase at twice the price!  Best $20 I've spent in a couple of years!!!

Click here to link to Brian and Phil's Stillwater Fly Fishing Store...... 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yellow Quill Buzzer

Buzzer patterns in general lend themselves to an almost unlimited variation in color and color combinations.  Some are an attempt to more or less match the hatch and others seem to draw the trout's attention as attractors. I've never encountered a yellow chironomid hatch, but this little variation has proven itself time and time again for me.
I first fished this little bug on a couple of small lakes in the southern part of the state near my old home town and because these are man-made water retention reservoirs, no boating or float tubes are allowed.  Then again these lakes drop quickly to depth and facilitate fishing chironomid patterns from the bank beautifully. With almost a constant breeze coming off the plains down there, playing the breeze often times permits long uninterrupted drifts that cover a great deal of water.  In fact this was the location where I first tried my hand at the suspended chironomid techniques and I often take fish on drifts that are no further than three or four feet off the banks edge.
As with all buzzer style patterns, a pretty simple little tie.
Hook:  Light scud style hook, tier's choice.
Tread: UTC 70 Rusty Brown
Body: Yellow dyed peacock quill
Rib: Fine silver wire ribbed to follow the dark edges of the peacock quill wrap
Thorax: Rusty Brown UTC 70 tying thread
Cheeks: Yellow Floss
Overcoat: Two coats of Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails

Monday, July 29, 2013

Balanced Leech

For years, I have been a fan of horizontal presentation when fishing an active retrieve in stillwaters and I couldn't even begin to tell you how many packs of 1/120th oz jig hooks I've tied though over the years.  In all reality this is simply jig fishing with a fly rod and most often an indicator and it has proven deadly.  The reason being is that an angler can present their flies at an exact depth and have total control over their retrieve and presentation.
This all began for me on Tarryall Reservoir some fifteen odd years ago when I discovered a hump in a weed bed that consistently produced trout.  In fact so consistently that I often spent whole days throwing damsel patterns to an area not twenty yards square in area.  The jig and indicator system came into being simply for control of depth as when the reservoir was full the top of the weed bed set at a depth of eight feet and I was able to set my fly depth at seven feet so that I just skimmed the top of the weeds on my retrieve.  I also had the option of slowing or stopping the retrieve over the hump and letting the wind driven riffles on the surface basically jig those little damsels in one spot for a few moments and then begin the retrieve again.  To put it the simplest terms the trout and an occasional pike couldn't resist this presentation and I had more days than I can count pulling nice fish off of that weed hump.  Even better yet the hump was only about 40 feet from shore so there wasn't even a need to break out the float tube as I had one big old rock I could stand on, stay nice and dry, warm and I didn't have to wear my legs out kicking to hold position or set an anchor.  In fact with the right breeze I could cast up wind of this weed hump and drift the rig over the top of the hump in a manner that would almost mimic a very slow nymph drift on a  very slow stream.
As the years went on I was in communication with a friend in Northwest who enlightened me to Jerry McBride's method of balancing some of his lake patterns and frankly his balancing system far surpassed fishing the small jigs in two important areas.  (A quick look at olive leech pictured above will show that the hook eye is actually located at the center of balance on this style of pattern to achieve the horizontal presentation)...

The first issue this solves is that jig hooks are cheaply made in the smaller sizes and basically designed for pan fish so loosing a good fish to a bent hook wasn't all that uncommon when fishing the 1/120th oz patterns and secondly Mr. McBride's system allows not only fishing a stronger hook, but also allows the tier to balance the fly so that it will set almost perfectly horizontal on the retrieve.  In fact with a little effort the fly can be balanced slightly weight forward which allows for a midge pattern or smaller fly pattern to be used as a trailer. It can also be balanced just slightly on the tail heavy side and produce a horizontal presentation with a very erratic jigging action on those days where there's chop on the water.
The system is not difficult to cast and I've found over the last several seasons that it has multiple applications.  First damn near any fish that swims seems to be willing to take you fly when fishing this system.  I works wonderfully for trout, carp, bass and pan fish, you name it, and with a little thought it is can be fished in a very slow, seductive and stealthy manner.  Secondly it isn't restricted to stillwaters as I've had several very nice fish take leech patterns on the Pueblo tailwater while fishing moderate flows on a very slow drift.  Then again I have to say that it seems to be at it's deadliest on the stillwaters as with a little work and experimentation and angler can really fine tune their presentation, depth and show the fish something a little different.
The flies at the top of the page are not my ties as I'm setting here with a camera that is on the fritz at the moment, so the image is "borrowed".  I couldn't find a credit to attribute to these bugs to so I'm hoping that the originator of the photo will forgive my not wanting to wait for the camera to get back from the repair shop.  I have also added a tying video link at the bottom of this post that shows Phil Rowley tying up his version of the balanced leech.
It's a bit of an odd tie, but certainly not difficult and I can simply state that in my experience if either an damsel or leech pattern tied in this method will give an angler a decided edge when they are working the stillwaters.  In addition, although the flies may look a little odd the first time they come out of your vise, this style can be adapted to virtually any still water pattern out there if the tier is so disposed.  An orange Carp Candy tied in this manner is a killer under an indicator on our South Platte here in Denver when chasing the hog carp that hang out down around Sante Fe Blvd. and in a totally different world the fish over at Antero and Spinney Reservoirs love a size 10 Olive Bugger that slowly dances along the weed tops in there respective waters.
I must be getting old!  Doing Stillwater patterns.....  Might even have to go out and find a nice pram so I can just go anchor and set versus climbing rock falls when chasing fish.
In closing, this is a fine example of what adaptations can be added to our tying.  If Mr. McBride is the originator of this style, then he should be congratulated for introducing it to the tying bench.  A very effective little alteration to seemingly simple patterns that really makes the trout take a look.

Link to tying video: