Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fryingpan River Green Drakes

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

Cracking the Fryingpan Code

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Future Taylor Creek Guides in Training



When it comes to the next generation of fly fishers, Basalt has it covered in spades.  Luckily for the kids around here there are 4 major rivers, a bunch of lakes and ponds, and a big group of quality guides who love to share their knowledge with young people.  Recently the kids in Basalt Parks and Recreation Summer Camp enjoyed a few days with our crew learning about bugs, knots, casting and landing fish, and it’s easy to see a few future fishing guides in those little ones.


Nothing compares to seeing a young person start to “get it,” catching fish, understanding the hatch, and tying the proper fly on by themselves.  Young people don’t bring their problems and egos to the river like their grownup counterparts, and the joy they bring is quite contagious.  Kids don’t usually have bad fly fishing habits to break, so setting them on the right path is usually a cinch.


We sometimes wonder where the next Joan Wulff, Lefty Kreh, Tim Heng or Ernest Schwiebert is going to spring up from, and I’m willing to bet it is right here in Basalt, Colorado.  These kids (and us older kids too) have a lifetime’s worth of rivers, streams, high country lakes and ponds to explore in one of the most beautiful places in the country.  How lucky is that?


Taylor Creek guides love to give back, whether it is the Cystic Fibrosis Tournament, helping wounded warriors with Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities, Casting For Recovery, and especially with the youth here in Basalt during Summer Camp.  Volunteering keeps you humble, and our guys and gals are certainly that, despite their amazing talents and patience. 



So, take a cue from our crew and take a kid fishing.  Many kids’ parents don’t fly fish, so getting time on the water is tough.  Most young people who are interested in this sport are just dying to learn, they just need a good neighbor, parent or any fishy and responsible adult to show them why and how we do what we do.  You just might create the next great ambassador of our sport!




Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner and Taylor Creek Guide Christian Hill

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hucking Streamers on the Fryingpan


As we all know, fly fishing the world-famous Fryingpan River can be an incredible experience. It’s a well known tailwater fishery with rainbow and brown trout that have their bellies full of mysis shrimp along with all the other amazing bug life that makes up the fishes diet.  The dry fly fishing is the main attraction for those who venture up the river to chase down the trout that frequently are sipping midges and BWOs in the surface film.   There is an overlooked method of fishing that can provide intense hook-ups and a very visual way to fish the Fryingpan. Streamer fishing can be a great way to spend a day on the river.  No more 6x or 7x tippets and size 22 flies. We’re talking heavy tippets, short leaders and big meaty flies.




As with other fly fishing techniques, there’s a method to the madness of throwing streamers.  I prefer a 5wt or 6wt rod with a little more back bone to them.  Having a heavier rod will help you turn over those bigger flies while casting.  Don’t be afraid to cut down your leaders as well. Leaders that are in the range of 4 to 6 feet in length (commonly referred to as shorty or pocket water leaders), in addition to the tippet material will make up your complete streamer leader. Your tippet sizes are determined based upon the fishing conditions at hand. Ideally, I like to fish 2x through 4x tippets on the Pan, though heavier tippet sizes can be appropriate on overcast or cloudy days.  However, if there’s high sun in your picture, knock down the size of your tippet to be along the lighter end of the spectrum at 3x or 4x.  




When it comes down to fly selection we all have favorites that find their place in our own boxes. As with other styles of flies, there are a variety of patterns that work, some more eye catching than others. A few go-to flies to start with include: Barr’s Conehead Slumpbuster in natural, black and olive, sizes 4 thru 8. Sand’s Stinging Sculpin in natural, black and olive, size 8 and Mini Sculpin in natural and black, sizes 4 thru 8.




The key here is to fish patterns that represent the food source that you’re trying to imitate, in this case juvenile trout and sculpins. What is a sculpin? A sculpin is a bottom dwelling, reclusive fish that inhabit most trout streams, with large flat heads, ranging in size from 1” to 4” long.  These fish will be found underneath rocks and logs, in shallower, quick water.  Sculpins can be a favorite food source for a big brown trout lurking for a hearty meal, or in some cases, brown trout will become territorial over a section of river and will attack any other smaller trout or sculpin that swims through that “owned” piece of water. These territorial trout are often larger than most and are referred to as “sculpin killers”.




Techniques to fishing streamers can be broken down simple to understand.  Let me paint a picture for you on what you’re going to be looking for in the water that you’ll be fishing. Generally, what you’ll be looking for is pocket water (ie: behind boulders, logs and back eddies, runs and seams). The best point on a stretch of river to start your fishing is at the head or top of a run and work your way down, making casts across the current and slightly down stream of your position. It’s always good to create motion on your fly while it swings through the current. Motion can be made by pulling in line using your free hand (known as your stripping hand) or by simply twitching the tip of your rod.  Play around with the speed of your retrieve.  Often times, the retrieval speed can be the difference maker in hook ups.  Don’t forget to cover water, making 5-10 casts per each run or pocket.  Catch a few fish and then move on to the next piece of water.





The tug is the drug!  Streamer fishing can be a very exciting avenue in the world of fly fishing. I hope this guide to fishing streamers opens up new doors and teaches you some new tricks that will keep you fishing for a lifetime.


Words by Travis Lyons

Photographs courtesy of Kirk Webb, Scott Spooner and Taylor Creek Fly Shop

Reprinted from "Fly on the Wall"

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bar ZX Ranch


Bar ZX Ranch is a private hunting and fishing ranch located within an hour’s drive from the fly shop at the base of a mountain range called, the Raggeds. The ranch, owned by Dean and Kathy Lampton, is known for its population of large and challenging trout. Taylor Creek offers the ranch as an option for full day trips.  Overnight stays at the ranch’s rustic hunting lodge are available for those who simply want more time on the property.  If you are looking for something different and want to experience big trout, then a day at Bar ZX may be the trip to consider.

Fishing on the ranch consists of 26 ponds scattered throughout 640 acres of some of the most beautiful property anywhere. With fish starting at 3-5 lbs and a good population of 8-10 pound bruisers, it is truly an exciting place to fish.

Dry flies are most commonly used in addition to a dropper added to the fly.  Terrestrial patterns from tiny flying ants, beetles and hoppers are used to fool these fish on the surface.  And yes, the big ones do eat on the surface; I have seen 8-10 pound fish crush a hopper without hesitation. The blue damsels, which naturally hatch from the ponds and mate over the water, can send the fish into a feeding frenzy where they will launch themselves to eat a damsel in mid-air. This usually occurs at the end of June and catching and seeing fish feed in this manner is unforgettable. I also use mouse and frog patterns, which are flies that most fishermen do not use everyday for trout. They work well throughout the summer, but the best time for the frog can be in the fall. Some of the biggest fish I have seen there seem to always be on a streamer or wooly bugger fished deep. The largest fish last summer was a 34.5 inch brown trout that ate a wooly bugger! If you are a little experienced in, and love fishing streamers, then this place is for you.  

I do want you to know that these fish are smart and this is not like “shooting fish in a barrel”. Once these fish get spooked they are done eating. Stealth is the key and a sneaky approach to the water is a must. The ability to cast some distance creates the opportunity to reach fish that may not be aware of your presence. This aspect to the fishing makes the day much more challenging and each fish more of a prize. In our local rivers we do not cast long distances; fishing these ponds gives you an opportunity to do so.  I have had many clients improve their casting greatly throughout day and return home full of big fish stories and improved casting skills.

The ranch’s location offers incredible scenic views and wild beauty. Sighting elk, deer and the occasional bear are common and traveling from pond to pond through the ranch’s natural setting has the feeling of adventure. Each pond fishes a little differently and each seems to show its own personality stemming from the vast variety of trout. Cutthroat, browns, brook trout, tiger trout and several varieties of rainbows give fishermen opportunities to catch types of trout they may have not yet experienced. 




Due to winter conditions, the ranch opens for guided trips usually around mid-May with the season ending around mid-October. In the spring, when our local rivers are high with runoff or flowing dirty do to consistent rains, Bar ZX Ranch remains unaffected and always maintains clear fishable waters. A stormy day will not ruin the fishing.  As a matter of fact, rain and cloud cover can create some of the best conditions in the mid-summer months.

The ranch can be booked through Taylor Creek and necessitates an additional rod fee of $125.00 to access the property. Staying the night at the hunting lodge is an additional $75.00 and includes breakfast and dinner. Because all the water is on private land, a fishing license is not needed. We do not wade in the ponds so there is no need for waders, but a rain coat is always a smart idea and please do not forget the camera!  The ranch is not exclusive to just Taylor Creek Fly Shop and does limit the number of rods per day so booking ahead of time is highly recommended.


Whether it is big fish, numbers of fish, or different varieties of fish, Bar ZX Ranch has a lot to offer. It is truly a unique place that promises challenges, rewards and sometimes even big fish heartache. If this sounds like a day for you, please give it a try. I can guarantee a day of fun and fly fishing you will never forget!


Words by Taylor Creek guide, Thomas Clennon
Photographs courtesy of Taylor Logsdon, Scott Spooner
Reprinted from Taylor Creek's annual publication, Fly On The Wall

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Be Not Afraid

Be Not Afraid


As we move later into spring, the most significant change we will begin to see is the changing of water clarity, especially on the Roaring Fork.  While water clarity certainly affects fishing conditions, it sometimes is to the angler’s advantage.  While we are blessed with our local rivers running clear most of the year, the first signs of discolored water often scares anglers from getting out to wet a line.  However, as our local water conditions change from gin clear to slightly off color this change can make for exceptional fishing with some slight adjustments.



The first adjustment anglers need to make when they approach off colored water is to distinguish between just off-colored or is it truly blown-out and unfishable?  A general rule of thumb is green in good, brown is bad. This guide metaphor simply means if the river has taken on a green color,than that it is more than fishable. But if it is chocolate brown then it is probably time to head elsewhere.  


Before you perceive the river as being blown out, you need to determine if there is any visibility at all?  This can quite simply be determined by actually wading out a foot or two feet into the water and looking down at your boots. If you can see down a foot, it's fishable. If you can see two feet of water or more, hell, that's game time .  Also take note to the fact that the clearest water will be along the banks and fish will move tighter to these banks.




The next step to taking on off colored water is increasing the size and brightness of your flies.  Larger and brighter (and darker) flies will be noticed more readily in the off-colored water.  Generally speaking, fly patterns such as San Juan Worms, Pat’s Rubber Legs, Red Copper Johns, large Prince nymphs and stonefly patterns will produce well in off-colored water. 



Just because things are changing a bit does not mean it’s time to give up. Always remember that the Fryingpan will run clear from the base of the dam downstream for three miles or so at the very least when everything else gets too muddy.


Words by Kirk Webb


Photographs courtesy of Susan Seifert, Kirk Webb, John Hansen, Nick Williams

Monday, April 21, 2014

You Don't Row? You Can't Go.

There is an adage here in the valley amongst the local fly fishers.  If you can’t row, you can’t go.  This refers to how we rotate around the boat while floating the Roaring Fork and Colorado, everyone getting a shot at the coveted front spot, as well as the back seat and the middle, where the work gets done.  If you don’t know how to row, your friends are less likely to ask you along. 




Learning how to handle the sticks can be challenging, but after a few days you start to get the swing of it.  The main challenge is listening to your instructor (beer drinking buddy) and turning your brain off at first, as most of the moves are counter-intuitive to what you think you need to be doing.  When your instructor tells you to point the boat at what you want to avoid, it takes a minute to wrap your head around that concept.




Nothing will make you appreciate the skills of a skilled oarsman (or woman) than getting behind the wheel yourself.  A talented rower works on his or her angler’s fly drifts as hard as the angler, as the boat needs to equal the speed of the dry flies or indicator moving down the river.  This requires a myriad of small adjustments, whether it is slowing down or speeding up the boat, as well as the angle of the boat in relation to the bank, the distance kept between the boat and the sweet spot, and so on.  We have all ridden with someone who doesn’t pay attention to these subtleties, and the boat feels like it is flying past the honey holes all day. 










You also pick up the nuances of boater etiquette as you learn, which includes being tidy and surgical on the boat ramp, staying clear of private property, giving other anglers a wide berth, and the host of other ways you can be an effective and conscious river steward.  If you have the itch to learn to row, hit up that friend that has a boat and get some stick time!  (Hint:  Your stock will rise if you bring the food, beer, and run the shuttle..)


Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Jeremy Stott, Taylor Logsdon, Mike Thomas and Scott Spooner
Reprinted from "On the Fly" in the Aspen Times and Post Independent