Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Streamer Fishing the Frying Pan

As we all know, fly fishing the world-famous Frying Pan 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 BWO’s 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 Frying Pan. 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 colors, natural, black and olive, sizes 4 thru 8. Sand’s Stinging Sculpin in colors, natural, black and olive, size 8 and Mini Sculpin in colors, 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 sculpin. 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, browns 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 and made to be pretty 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 up’s. 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.

Written by Taylor Creek Assistant Manager/Guide, Travis Lyons
Photo's courtesy of Kirk Webb and Taylor Creek Fly Shop

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anatomy Of A Guide Vehicle

You can tell a lot about your guide by their vehicle. Just as each guide has their own techniques they employ along the river, each guide also drives a very distinct fishing rig. Fly fisherman are much like skaters and snowboarders in that they all seemingly have a fetish for tattooing their rigs with fishing propaganda and window/bumper stickers and decals. Most trout guides I know like to fish in the salt and have bonefish or tarpon stickers on their rigs. Let's face it. When you live in the Rockies and have snow on the ground for months each year, many guides get the urge to head somewhere warm after a long winter. They've been out on the river landing fish, getting their hands wet, tying countless knots and taking swims to land their clients big fish. All this at temperatures below freezing and often, well below freezing. Hence, why many guides come spring, take a nice long vacation to go chase fish that live in balmy latitudes. Often you'll also see rod and reel manufacturer logo stickers like G.Loomis and Sage, Lamson, and Ross. Accompanying many of these fish themed stickers are local micro brew and tavern companies along with jam band stickers from the Grateful Dead, Phish, and others. Local non-profits, be it Trout Unlimited, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, or the Henry's Fork Foundation are also popular.

What's the best guide vehicle? Almost all drive 4x4's whether it's a truck, SUV or wagon. It's rare that many of these are new. Most are five to twenty years old, some more, some less. I've seen everything from VW bus's to mini van's to large, dually diesel-charged trucks and Hummers. The outside of any ideal fishing rig is rarely clean. If there's not dirt on the rig you kinda wonder if the guide actually fishes much. Most guides are too busy working for weeks and sometimes months on end without a day off. After a long day on the river, most go right to the bar for a drink or two or ten, and then go home and either pass out, tie a few flies, or lazily just chill out. It'd be a rarity to see a guide washing their vehicle, though float fishing guides seem to diligently clean their boats. Every guide I've ever met has always had a heavy collection of flies pinned to their roof, visors, or somewhere in the trunk of their car. I find it comical to look at these pseudo fly boxes. Everything from barracuda flies, to carp flies to trout flies to wild who-knows-what flies that were created at the vise amongst tequila shots during the last football game exist in these fly car collections.

A proper guide rig must be ready to get dirty and wet. Wet waders and boots should feel at home in these rigs. You know that feeling when you walk into a high end restaurant, house, or store and feel like you can't touch anything because every object is set out perfectly on display? Well, there will be none of that here. It doesn't matter if you have mud and rocks stuck to your boots. Just hop in and drive to the next hole or boat ramp and go. Many guides have addictive personalities. I know I sure do. By that I mean that the hobbies or habits they have, they usually go full-bore and to the extreme with. For some it's surfing, photography, snowboarding or hunting. For others it might be cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. It's somewhat rare to find a guide who doesn't use tobacco or claim to be a master at another hobby. Because of this, one might find empty chew cans, cigarette boxes, or cigar wrappers and other gear pertaining to their addictive personalities.

Rod storage is another issue. Some have external rod racks mounted to roof racks. Guides are often scrappers (broke), so their rod rack might be home made from pvc pipe and a tackle box. Some guides like the bling and professional look of commercially made rod racks that are made out of aluminum. These are often the same guides who take very good care of their equipment. Yes, believe it or not, some guides are anal about their gear. Internal rod systems for SUV's and trucks seem to be all the rage now. There are even a large number of guides that utilize both systems. They might have four rods on top of their rig and another six rods inside their car. One of our guides carries at any given time 8-18 rods in his car. Let's do some math here for grins. Eighteen top of the line rods (18 x 750 = $13,500) and reels (18 x 400 = $7,200) with fly line (18 x 75 = $1,350) would equal $22,050! You know for damn sure that his car isn't worth nearly half that! How crazy is that? That figure doesn't even take into account the tens of thousands of flies and boxes in his car either. One other option you frequently see is the easily removable magnetic or suction styles of external rod rack holders. These nifty trinkets hold up to six rods and amazingly stay on at speeds of over 100 mph, not that I'd know.

Every good fishing vehicle should have stories behind it. Something like, Remember that time we were on the Frying Pan in -15 f weather, and got the Jeep stuck in four feet of snow and kept fishing because the Mysis were flowing out hard, then later dug the Jeep out in darkness using our nets and headlamps? I used to own an old Chevy S-10 pickup that I put 200k miles on. It traveled everywhere from the Roaring Fork to the Pere Marquette, the Madison to the Henry's Fork, the San Juan to the Green, the Bighorn to the Colorado, the North Platte to the Yampa and everywhere in between. It had a rubber floor and I could literally clean the inside of it with a hose. It was the cheapest new truck I could find. No power anything, no a/c, not even a radio. I rocked that truck for ten years and never ended up putting a radio in it. I'd drive on these long road trips listening to mother nature and the wind blowing over the hood. It was surprisingly peaceful. Every guide rig has lived a long, good life. The guides are able to recount every battle wound and dent on the car, and are proud of these scars. Just for grins, the next time you meet a guide on the river or flat, ask them about their vehicle, and get ready for an hour long conversation that will range anywhere from American versus Foreign, gas mileage, best tires, the 12 point deer that was hit after getting skunked hunting or the time it died in the middle of NNAW, nowhere near anywhere worthwhile.

I wouldn't count on seeing many of the guides sporting a GPS unit either. It kind of defeats the purpose of a good guide rig and ultimately would make the guide loose credibility amongst their peers. After all, especially with men, we ALWAYS know where we are going. There's no such thing as a wrong turn, but rather a scenic route, or a new shortcut that you always wanted to try. Despite the lack of a GPS unit, count on finding many maps scattered throughout their car. More often than not you'll find Atlas and Gazetteers and topo maps of certain areas and certain states. They should look well used and maybe even have the covers worn out and torn, in addition to earmarks on many of the pages, perhaps with scribbles and circles surrounding certain pieces and bodies of water.

Most of these cars are reserved specifically for fishing. Guide rigs are generally not meant to drive across the country with, though during their lifetime all of these cars have traveled great distances. A fishing vehicle should be able to sleep two persons as well. Either in the bed of the truck under a shell, or inside the car itself with the seats folded down. Better yet, for those that drive vans, it's almost a must that the back seats be removed. All should be able to hold everything but the kitchen sink. At least enough for camping gear, coolers and fishing gear. I know that doesn't sound like much, but fly fishers are gear junkies, and when heading to new trout country, expect at least a short 3 weight for tiny creeks, a 4 weight for dries and light nymphing, a 5 weight for an all around stick, and a 6 weight for streamers and big water. And of course there'll be back-up rods for at least two of these line weights and maybe an 8 weight thrown in for warm waters that you might pass along the way, just in case.

Last year I purchased a new SUV that had power everything, a/c, 4 wheel drive, a cd player and all the trimmings. I immediately tattooed it with stickers, and put in an internal rod rack system. I took it fishing several times and it just flat out felt weird, almost eerie. Something about it just wasn't right. As luck would have it, another guide in the valley was selling his old guide vehicle, an 85' GMC V8 pickup, Ranch Edition. It didn't run, and hadn't run in a few years, but thankfully one of my fishing buddies is a mechanic and spent a few hours on it and got it back up to speed. It was perfect. It was old, beat-up, but in a good way, and had 4 wheel drive with a topper and tape deck. As an added bonus it also came loaded with old, faded fishing stickers (Umpqua and Scott rods), a few beat up drakes stuck on the dash (an H&L Variant and a Hen Wing Drake both size 12), a Derek and the Domino's tape in the deck and came already nice and dirty. Right up my alley. It was like an omen from the fishing gods telling me I had to have this truck. We settled on a price tag of $200 and it was mine. As much as I love my new fancy SUV, I'd rather be driving in my Ranch Edition 85' GMC jammin' to Derek and the Domino's with the windows down, the wind blowing in my hair, and a fly rod or two in the back of the truck. Welcome Home.

You Might Have A Guide Vehicle If...

If you have 40 bumper stickers and a cracked windshield, you might have a guide vehicle.

If the rods inside your car are worth more than the car itself, you might have a guide vehicle.

If your paint job is permanently the color of dirt, you might have a guide vehicle.

If your new 2011 SUV already has 50,000 miles on it, you might have a guide vehicle.

If your collection of flies is worth more than the car itself, you might have a guide vehicle.

If your license plate reads, TROUT or CTHRLSE, you might have a guide vehicle.

If your car houses more spit cups than water, you might have a guide vehicle.

Photo's and article courtesy of Kirk Webb and Taylor Creek Fly Shop