Thursday, February 26, 2015
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Fourteen years ago I made the acquaintance with the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers; guided by the then much younger, slimmer and all-around handsomer, Matt Ippoliti. Only nine years-old and a Tennessee native, I had never seen anything like those Rocky Mountain rivers. I was not even aware that something so amazing and beautiful even existed. The water was fresh and fast-flowing, not stagnant and dirty, and most importantly, there were trout; wild trout. Unbeknownst to me at the time, those days on the Pan and Fork would mark the beginning of a long and winding pilgrimage back to Colorado, and back to the doors of Taylor Creek Fly Shop.
To me, a fish-obsessed youngster, Ippoliti was the man. His word was law when we were on the river, and obeying that law meant catching fish. His abilities seemed supernatural to me at the time. He could see a fish from a mile away, always knew when to set the hook, and could answer any fish-related question that I threw at him. What struck me as his most admirable trait though was his unquestionable confidence, even in the face of adversity. If the water was too deep for me to wade, he would drag me by the back of my waders, or throw me on his back if necessary to cross the river. One misstep would mean certain death, but it only added to the thrill for me. For several years thereafter and even to this very day, I can hear Ippoliti’s words echoing out to me when I’m on the river. Even when he’s not within yelling range of me on the river anymore, there are still those little reminders that he gave to me that I remember based solely on our vivid memories together back then; “Mend. Bigger. Bigger! Too big. Again. Same spot”, Matt would say. Truthfully, when I can’t hear his advice in the back of my head, I know I’m doing something right.
Over a decade after first stepping foot in the Roaring Fork Valley, things had finally come full circle. This past May (2014) marked the start of my rookie season as a Taylor Creek guide, and the whole process just seemed surreal to me. My first guide trip came and it very well might’ve been my favorite trip of the summer. Jack was a Floridian and about the same age as me when I first stepped out on the Pan, and he just got it. He was a natural and stood on top of the world from mile one to mile fourteen and back; you could just tell that this kid was meant to be on the river. One fish in particular comes to mind when I think about that day, and no, it wasn't the fishes beastly size or the heart-pounding fight or the spectacular markings displayed on the trout. It was everything leading up to and including that moment when that little rainbow on the lower Pan moved what seemed like twenty-five feet to crush (devour, inhale, obliterate, etc.) that cat-poop stonefly pattern. I don’t even remember what I said at that moment. I think I just uttered some inhuman noise which slightly resembled set-it.
Hamilton (Hambone) Wallace
Taylor Creek guide
Taylor Creek guide
Reprinted from our annual publication, Fly On The Wall 2015
Saturday, February 7, 2015
When I was a young boy, I frequently used to beg and plead my mother to drop me off at a popular local reservoir so that I could go fishing. My amazing mother has always supported my passion for the outdoors and fishing but naturally would worry about me the entire time after she dropped me off, as only parents can do. It wasn't exactly in a bad neighborhood or anything but there were certainly some characters around. Fishing was always the excuse I used to initially get me out of the house but what I really went on to love was all of the exploration that would inevitably ensue. I was in sixth grade, twelve years old, and I can still vividly remember my most memorable and first carp fishing experience to date.
The area surrounding the lake was just large enough and just wild enough to hold some pockets of land that were overlooked by seemingly everyone but me. Access was a little rough-and-tough due to the overgrown shrubbery, and because of that, many of the ponds surrounding the reservoir were, and still are, well hidden. (I visited one of them again a few years ago to find it just as I’d last seen it, much to my pleasure) The reservoir has a popular swim beach surrounded by heavy vegetation along its outer edge. In periods of high water, a small depression deep in the heavily shrouded fortress of vines and brush would flood, thus creating during draw-down periods a small pond. The small piece of water was maybe only fifteen yards in width and twenty yards in length; a puddle really. It was here in this jungle pond that I saw my first glimpses of truly big and tangible fish, laid-up in shallow water, surrounded in mystery and impossible for me to catch.
I tried everything that a studious, fishing-obsessed twelve year old could think of to catch these coffin sized fish. At the suggestion of a local bait shop, I tried a berry flavored doughbait, plus the usual worms, spinners, jigs, crankbaits, and even some flies. Nothing worked. It wasn't until I intuitively learned to hunt and stalk these fish that I finally began to catch them. Nowadays, this is what my friends and I call storking. That is, waiting patiently and moving silently with the cunning and speed of a stork waiting for its next meal to swim by, slip up and make a mistake. It’s a game that’s 99% mental and 1% physical, where the more you know about your adversary, the better your outcome and the more frequently that the odds will tip in your favor. And to be perfectly honest, there’s never, ever, a substitute for time spent in the field with your quarry.
All of this was long before the internet, where access to knowledge of fly fishing for carp was seemingly impossible to find in print, and what you did find was often a very short blurb saying something along the lines of, little is known of fly fishing for carp but their diets include crayfish, minnows, insects and algae among others, where anglers occasionally land them as a bi-catch. You get the idea; virgin territory. John Gierach has said of this before too, but it’s true. There were some random Dave Whitlock writings here and there (which are phenomenal by the way), but that was really it. This is before Brad Befus, Barry Reynolds and John Berryman (also famed Colorado carp chasers) came out with their popular book, Carp on the Fly in 1997. Fly fishing for carp I imagine to be like tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys back in the 50's, 60's and 70's when guys were still figuring it all out and creating a path for the rest of us to follow. It pleases me greatly to know that there are still opportunities like this to be had in fly fishing.
Anyways, where was I? Right. There were about half a dozen of these large carp swimming around in a pond that could barely contain them all. It was like watching enormous arapaima in remote Amazon jungle ponds; very Jeremy Wade type shit for a kid of that age. With persistence, a little luck, and my new-found storking skills, I finally managed to hook into one of these large, ghostly fish.
While eating a hot and sweating peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I noticed the fish sipping small piles of milkweed seeds that would occasionally blow off from the surrounding canopy. Being the observant little angler that I was, I jeri-rigged a pod of the seeds to a small baitholder hook using monofilament fishing line as string to fashion them onto my hook. Keep in mind that I was already tying flies at this point, so it wasn't really too out of line for me. I would watch the fish swim in predictable laps to where all I had to do was to time them right and then dangle my “fly” carefully in front of them. I remember the take being slow and deliberate, much like the tarpon that eat fish scraps at Bud n Mary’s marina in Islamorada, Florida. The fish was nearly three feet long and threw massive sprays of water everywhere, making the pond look like a raging ocean of angered waves.
At that time, as an impressionable, young pre-teen, this fish seemed twice as big and was in fact nearly as large as I was. I really do remember it like it just happened yesterday. I can still picture myself holding that sea-monster in my visibly shaking hands, covered in carp slime, fueled with adrenaline, admiring its strength, beauty and aura that surrounded it. I could feel the fishes spirit, our lives forever connected and I never even had to think twice about letting it go (which was very rare for me at that time). We were mutual adversary’s who over time became mutual friends that studied, learned and respected much from each other. To this day, I still have those same feelings when I hold a carp in my still shaking and wet hands.
I wanted to starting writing The Knowledge Webb Diaries because of the lack of authenticity found in cyberspace surrounding fly fishing, and fly fishing for carp. There are those that "fish" for carp, those who don't, and then there are those that carp for fish(ing).
The Knowledge Webb Diaries is written and photographed by Kirk Webb
This is the second in a multi-part series about carp, carp fishing and whatever else I'm inspired by.
This is the second in a multi-part series about carp, carp fishing and whatever else I'm inspired by.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
It’s hard for me to explain to people exactly why I love pursuing carp on the fly. It's hard enough just explaining to people why I fly fish period for Christ's sake, let alone for carp. You're taking a hard fish to catch and then purposely making it even harder. Those split-second visuals of a large, well-earned fish taking your fly, followed by a deeply bent rod, singing reel and line-burnt fingers keep me up thinking, designing, planning and dreaming at night. You either get it, or you don't. Chances are, those who don’t get it, simply haven’t done it yet, or didn't have the patience to solve the many riddles that carp present. And for the few that do do it and take it seriously, are often heavily infatuated with it. I'm not trying to swing you over to the dark side of fly fishing and make you a carp convert or anything. In fact, I secretly keep hope that all of this new carp hype in fly fishing will subside. More water and more fish for me, right? I'm just simply trying to say that I enjoy the challenge of the carp.
One of the coolest aspects of carp fishing in my opinion is that even though some chase them around from time to time, they're still not popular enough for people to spend money and travel to catch them like say, trout, Atlantic salmon, or bonefish. I think it’s safe to say that I don’t foresee many of our clients wanting to go carp fishing in July or August when the green drakes, PMDs and caddis are hatching on our fabled, local trout streams (notice I said clients not guides). This leaves carp fly anglers like myself with no shortage of solitude and a large array of “unspoiled” fishing locations. Maybe I should've said untapped or underutilized, as many carp fisheries are not necessarily unspoiled if you know what I mean. They get fished alright, just that it's usually by the odd rancher or local kid drowning some worms, looking to put a little meat on the table. Plus, I don't guide much anymore which leaves me and my non-fishing guide fishing partners (guides are busy working) free-range on our carp water. I say our carp water like we own it, which is only natural when you've fished an area for so long that you feel entitlement towards it. On the very rare occasion that I do bump into another fly angler on our carp water, I usually end up knowing the angler, even when I'm over a hundred miles from home. If you think that fly fishing is a subculture, then being a carp fly fisherman is like being involved in Freemasonry.
People are always amazed to learn that I spend the majority of my year chasing these alarmingly beautiful and rewarding fish, especially since I live smack-dab in the middle of a trout fishing Mecca. But it really is quite simple for me; they are big fish that demand -but are yet willing to eat- a well presented fly, and often feed in shallow water, making them visible and accessible to the willing freshwater angler. Add to this the fact that they are an incredibly shy and skittish fish; one whose entire body has been dubbed as "one big sensory organ" by my friend and veracious carp-hound, Thomas Clennon. And they pull hard; damn hard. It’s the inland working man’s redfish, complete with tarpon and bonefish like characteristics. If you're anything like me and can't afford to go on expensive saltwater fishing trips often, carping helps fill the void (minus the palm trees, mangroves and bikinis of course). Fly fishing for carp will not only make you a better trout fly angler, but a better angler period. That in itself should be incentive enough to make you want to learn how to fly fish for this masculine fish.
The Knowledge Webb Diaries is written and photographed by Kirk Webb
This is the first in a multi-part series about carp, carp fishing and whatever else I'm inspired by.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
What is your favorite season here in the Roaring Fork Valley? We always talk about “shoulder seasons,” but I suspect most of Taylor Creek’s staff enjoys fall the most. It’s nice to take a deep breath after a very hectic guide season, enjoy rivers devoid of tourists, and still have the opportunity to fish summer insects with fall "crowds." Streamer fishing consumes most of us through September and October, with healthy numbers of green drakes, pmds, bwos and caddis adding to the fly fisher’s menu too.
One of best attributes of the Fryingpan is its cold, and I mean cold water. The average water temperature coming from the deeps of Ruedi Reservoir is 37 degrees, which prolongs our mayfly hatches a month and even more than the rest of the state enjoys. It isn’t uncommon to fish green drakes and pale morning duns well into October here in the Valley. The dry fly fishing gets tougher as the year rolls along, so be sure to use light fluorocarbon tippets, cover a lot of water, and most importantly, present those dries downstream and in an erratic, motion-filled way. Forget those perfect, drag-free drifts and bump that bug around.
This is also the time to explore everything the Colorado High Country has to offer. There are more alpine lakes and small streams here than you could fish in five lifetimes, and fall really is the best time to fish them, in my opinion. Most people in the High Country are focused on hunting, leaving most waters wide open for exploration. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, there are a myriad of “half tank trips” to check out, including the Grand Mesa, the Flat Tops, and so many more that it’s sometimes hard to choose. I find it best to simply point the truck in a general direction and see where the weekend takes me. Then again, I’m single and childless, which certainly helps.
Most people I know would rather catch one fish on a streamer than a dozen on nymphs, and this time of year it is as good as it ever gets. And it’s damn good. Browns around here (and pretty much everywhere) get very aggressive in the fall, as spawning behaviors and instincts take over. We are already seeing bigger browns up and down the Valley pairing up and preparing their beds, and when you compound those behaviors with shortening days and cooler temperatures, its game on! Tim Heng’s venerable Autumn Splendor, a Taylor Creek original and favorite of fly fishers the world over, is really our go-to streamer here in the Valley. But anyone who considers themselves a true “streamer fisherman” knows they need to carry a palate of colors in olive, black, rust, olive, yellow and natural, as well as a good mix of heavy and light flies. A good mix of small, medium and large articulated streamers in these colors can save your day too, and give you endless hours of fun on your vise. Spinning up streamers is a ton of fun, and keeps you out of trouble, too.
The colors are breathtaking, the crowds are relatively nonexistent, the sun keeps on shining, and the fishing just keeps getting better and better. I don’t know what else you can ask for. If you don’t live here in the Roaring Fork Valley, it’s time to come check out our scene. If you’re a local yokel, I’m probably preaching to the choir. Either way, be sure to get out there and enjoy our simply spectacular fall fishing. You won’t regret it!
Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner and Christian Hill
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
The Fryingpan River is one of the richest streams in the west, and her net worth is on display in full force right now. The Pan’s wealth comes from incredibly diverse insect life, sky-high numbers of wild fish, and the jaw-dropping beauty of the valley she calls home. The Fryinpan’s chief asset, green drake mayflies, are starting their engines and are being seen in increasingly stronger numbers every day now. The Pan is full of cold, clean water, averaging 38-40 degrees year-round, which allows her drakes to slowly roll out over July, August and into September. Last year we enjoyed green drake hatches into the first few weeks of October as well.
It is a joy to see these corn chip sized bugs on the surface of the water, and even more fun to watch the fish checking them out. It takes the trout a week or so to remember what a drake is, and whether or not it is food, but once they figure it out, it’s game on. I watched one fish follow a drake dun thirty feet down the river yesterday, ultimately refusing the natural bug for some reason or another. Fryingpan trout are distrustful, especially on the front end of a new hatch. They will usually revert back to this lack of trust once they’ve been fooled over July and August by artificials, and will require movement (twitches, hops, flops) of the fly by the angler to entice that surface take.
Whether it is the nymph, emerger, dun, cripple or spinner, green drakes garner plenty of attention on the Fryingpan River. The nymphs tend to gravitate towards gravelly-bottomed, slightly faster water, and transition when they can to “softer” water to emerge. Most hatches occur mid-day, especially on the cloudier warm days. If you are lucky enough to be on the Fryingpan on a rainy day, the duns aren’t able to dry their wings quick enough before “takeoff,” and are picked off by opportunistic fish by the hundreds. Drakes escape from their shucks and fly off the surface fairly quickly, and we see fish swim five feet or more out of their way to inhale these tasty morsels. Cripple patterns can be absolutely devastating on the Fryingpan, as many bugs have a tough time breaking through the surface tension on the water and are either “stillborn” or crippled by factors like rain, rough water, or bad luck. The spinner phase generally occurs in the middle of the night, but there are days when spinners are plentiful on and around the river.
As far as techniques go for fishing this hatch, you need to let the fish tell you what they want and how they want it. As the hatch progresses over the summer, the fish get jaded and need reassurances that the fly they are tracking is real. The most obvious tactic to produce success is adding movement to your dry fly, and this is easier to do when fishing a double dry fly rig. You can use the end fly as an anchor on the water surface, while hopping the lead fly up and down to attract attention. We employ this tactic often on the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers while fishing caddis hatches, and it works well on the Fryingpan too. Fishing upright duns on softer water and sunken cripples in the rougher sections will usually play in your favor, and we employ dry-dropper techniques some days with success as well. Downstream presentations (allowing the fish to see the fly first instead of the bright colored fly line) always produce on tough days, and using invisible fluorocarbon tippet always helps, too. The best tool for fishing this famous hatch is your polarized sunglasses. Watch the fish for clues.
Even though green drakes typically hatch mid-day, you can certainly fish cripple and spinner patterns late into the day or first thing in the morning, too. The Fryingpan can be a bit of a zoo during this hatch, but everyone seems to melt away after 4 or 5 in the afternoon and you have seemingly the whole river to yourself. This isn’t meant to discourage you from fishing during the mid-day hatch, as there are plenty of public areas up and down the river, and you only need to carve out a small slice of fishable water to enjoy the drake hatch. Oftentimes the fish are more attracted to cripples and dead spinners because of the ease in eating them (they aren’t flying away any time soon..) and generally prefer them anyway. Many of your favorite dry fly patterns can be manipulated to look like and drift like a cripple or spinner by laying the wings off to the side and so on. Early and late fishing on the Fryingpan can really be special, and if there are no fish rising or yesterdays bugs still around, don’t be afraid to throw a streamer or ply the river with PMDs, midges, ants, beetles, and the like.
Birds are the best harbinger of a great hatch. Swallows, ouzels, and robins consume as many if not more of these bugs than the fish, and when we see the birds going crazy over the river, it is time to pull over and string that rod up. Having a bird snatch your fly as you cast isn’t uncommon, and I have certainly caught my share of bats on the Roaring Fork as the green drakes hatch in the twilight. If you’ve ever fished saltwater, you already know about the clues birds give us fishermen and women. Keep your eyes peeled! Lastly, I’d recommend thinking outside of the box when it comes to choosing your fly pattern. These fish see the same 3 or 4 patterns all day, every year. Consider breaking out those Irresistables, Wulffs, or even an H and L Variant or Dandelion-style bug. Another trick is to downsize your fly to a 12 or 14, even though the naturals are usually size 10. Fryingpan fish see a bunch of flies and people over the course of their day, and something a little different can help seal the deal. If you tie your own flies, be sure to bring your unique patterns along and have some fun!
Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Kirk Webb
Monday, June 30, 2014
Tim Heng said it best a few summers back. A guest was venting his frustrations with the Fryingpan River and its PhD trout, and he said, “You can’t expect to come up here once every few years and expect our fish to treat you like a local.” After the laughter subsided, I thought about what he said, and how true it really is. Anyone can go up the Pan and have a lucky day, but we all know those fluke days are few and far between, and the Pan can be downright tough to fish. But it doesn’t have to be.
I counsel plenty of people this time of year, similar to a bartender listening to the frustrations of his or her patrons. Most often the root of the problem is that people rent waders and a rod, then buy a few flies without even considering hiring a guide, even for half a day. This isn’t meant to sound snobbish or elitist, because I have to save for quite a while to be able to afford a guide on top of everything else when on vacation, being a trout bum making the big bucks working in a fly shop. When I travel to new waters, hiring a guide (for the first day) is a no-brainer. Who wants to spend time and money traveling to a great fishing destination and waste time getting skunked? Getting the local guide’s perspective will show you quickly what they use, where they go, and why. DIY fishing goes much easier after learning what the locals are focused on. What Tim said is true, but there are little tricks and tips I want to impart here that will ease the pain of persnickety fish.
First and foremost, just because you have waders on, it doesn’t mean you need to walk right in to the middle of the river. Stealth is pretty important while trout fishing, and the best key to success on the Pan is not announcing your arrival to every fish in the pool or run. The other side of this coin is that Fryingpan fish are used to people, as we have all caught fish only feet away from us up there. The moral of the story is to wade in as a last resort, and if you do, give the fish a minute to get used to the idea of you standing there before you start casting. If the fish don’t know you are there, your success rate will increase exponentially.
Forget the flies the guy at Bass Pro in your home town says you need. The bugs people tend to bring in are invariably way too big, flashy, inappropriate, or all three. Usually all three. When you see as many artificial flies as Fryingpan fish do, you’ve got to nail down the size, shape, color and even action of the naturals. When there isn’t a hatch to imitate, our go-to flies are plain pheasant tails and Adamses in sizes 16 through 24. Cut the tail off during a midge hatch, and presto, your mayfly dry or nymph is now a midge pattern. On another note, we work very hard on our river reports here at Taylor Creek, and all the insect information is on the web, free, and very detailed. The running joke in the Valley is, “When does the Adams hatch start?” It’s no joke.
It’s got to be fluorocarbon tippet on the Fryingpan. This is usually the most recognizable reason people aren’t catching fish up here. Monofilament is cheaper and floats like a champ, but these fish can see it from a mile away, plain and simple. Fryingpan trout (especially in the top mile) can even see the dimple tippet creates on the water where it is tied to the fly. If your 6 or 7x sinks just a bit, this is not a bad thing, as it is generally light enough to not drag the fly underneath with it. Monofilament reflects sunlight, which is why the fish see it so easily, in addition to its gray color. Flourocarbon is essentially invisible to the fish in smaller diameters, and is much more abrasion resistant too. If it ain’t flouro, you’re wasting your time.
Cement shoes are for gangsters on piers. You can’t have cement shoes on the Fryingpan and expect much success. In other words, you’ve simply got to cover a lot of water. Don’t leave cooperative trout to find more, but I rarely waste much time in a section that has unhappy fish or no bugs to speak of. Ten casts, change flies, ten more casts, then I’m gone if there’s no love. Even moving a hundred yards will often change your fishing dramatically, finding a solid hatch just around the bend from a spot where there was none. It is a pretty common phenomenon for folks who get here once every year or two, they head to their favorite spot on the river and never leave it. For days on end. That nice fish they caught in that spot years ago is still calling to them like a siren, and they are missing the opportunity to fish some different water because they need to stick to what they know. Be not afraid, people. Chances are you will learn a few new favorite spots.
When you can, fire the strike indicators. I noticed this on the Taylor River tailwater years ago, and it applies to the Fryingpan too. Fish tend to learn when they see, hear or feel the plop of a Thingamabobber hitting the water, it’s time to shut their mouths and slide out of the way. We tend to use the indicator as a crutch, and when we learn to watch the flies and the fish versus the indicator, we uncannily pick up more strikes right away. Use your intuition instead of staring at an indicator when and where it is appropriate to do so.
Lastly, it seems everyone races past twelve miles of quality water to fish the upper mile below the dam. Yes, the fish tend to average larger and more numerous up there, but that’s about it. There are quality fish everywhere in the Fryingpan, plain and simple. The access tends to be more difficult, especially on the lower river, but that shouldn’t stop most anglers. Most fly fishers tend to enjoy the occasional challenge, and billy goating around big boulders and steep trails will satisfy that need. The biggest benefit to venturing outside of the upper river is that you can use heavier tippet, on bigger flies, to trick fish that have much, much less paranoia than their upper mile cousins.
The Fryingpan can be a cruel mistress one day and a flirty one the next. You might get your heart broken, or you may fall in love. Or both.
Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner and Taylor Creek Fly Shop