Monday, July 8, 2013

Runoff Reprieve

May and June are often traveling months for many local anglers. After surviving yet another long winter, nothing feels better than soaking in some vitamin D, walking barefoot on a beach, ditching your iPhone and losing the whole concept of time. It’s a beautiful thing, especially if you have a fly rod in your hand.

The tarpon migration is in full swing down in the Florida Keys, rooster fish are surfing the breakers along Baja, and bonefish are tailing the flats in the Bahamas. These saltwater pursuits are damn fun and are highly recommended.
But what if you can’t afford thousands of dollars for a weeklong stay in some exotic destination? Let’s just say that a few thousand bucks is a lot of freaking money for this single parent living in the Roaring Fork Valley on a fly fisher’s budget. As much as I’d love to be in the salt right now, I simply can’t afford it. My time will come again soon enough, but it won’t be this year.

I've taken a few extra days off lately to get a line wet and enjoy the downtime before our summer fishing season begins.  The Crystal, Colorado and lower Roaring Fork rivers have been high and dirty with spring runoff, the Fryingpan is between hatches, and I've already been lake trout, pike and carp fishing several times over the previous two months. 

One of my favorite May and early June past times is partaking in a little (or a lot of) bass and bluegill fishing.  Western Colorado is not often thought as bass and bluegill country, but there are a few hidden gems here and there for anglers willing to do some map research, investigating, putting some time behind the wheel and actually going fishing.

After hopping off of I-70 and cruising down back road after back road into BFE, we encountered a cattle drive of a few hundred head.  I enjoyed seeing real roughneck cowpokes on horseback driving the herd down the road to another pasture.  The new-age cowboys on ATV's, helicopters and trucks just don't look right to me.  And then there's the kids; both girls and boys, no older than the age of 10, on horseback and doing the actual work while the adults brought up the rear and supervised.  It always amazes me just how tough ranching and farming folk are, even the children.  They live modest lives and are totally dependent on the fruits of Mother Nature as well dealing with her hardships.  What can I say, I guess the kid in me always thought it'd be cool to grow up and be a cowboy, (or farmer, or fisherman) and in a sense I am.  I didn't go to college, barely graduated high school, and cetainly did not follow in my father's footsteps.  I chose instead to chase fish around "professionally" and have been able to make a simple living doing it.  How's that for being a cowboy?

A few hours later we finally hit the first of our many destinations.  It's a lonely lake that sits in the middle of a desert landscape.  It's rarely fished, even by those who live much closer to it than us.  The seemingly constant coffee-with-cream clarity of the water probably scares off most fly rodders I suppose.  A few of the local cowboys in their big trucks occassionally drown some worms and tall boys and catch channel catfish and stocker trout, but even that is rare.  We, on the other hand, are here for the carp.  We lace up our hiking boots, take a big swig of water, grab our six and seven weights and go.  En route to the lake, my eye catches a patch of red and I see a thicket of brightly hued Indian Paintbrush.  I admire it briefly after a seemingly long winter of snow but am anxious to fish after the pleasantly long drive.
The lake has lots of carp, they love to eat, and many are big.  It's a vastly different kind of carp fishing from what you see and read about in the magazines, on tv or on the web. This is real carp fishing - the way we think carp fishing should be.  We don't talk about it, don't photograph it, (or at least share photos) and it's hours out of the way from anything.  In other words, it's perfection.  Or so we thought.
It's still early in the year and none of us that fish this lake have been here this early in the year before.  We walk the shoreline in the ususal late-season good spots and don't even so much as see a fish.  It's too early. The fish aren't cruising the shoreline and flats yet and we decide to bail after two hours to the next closest lake an hour away, to try and save the day.  All fishermen should have a Plan B, Plan C and a Plan D.  You never know for sure what's going happen and I'll be damned if I piss a day off of work  to not go fishing.
Arriving at the next lake, our hopes were high but our expectations were low.  We've fished here a few times over the years and have caught some decent bass, pike and carp, but never anything special.  It's just decent enough to pay the obligatory visit every year. It's a scorcher outside and we're desperate to feel something, anything, pulling against our rods at this point. 
We walk along an inlet to the lake and see some glimpses of carp mudding along the bottom.  They look like they'd be easy to catch, kind of like shooting fish in a barrel in a sense, but they were anything but.  A trained carp fisher can pick out fish through muddy, discolored water by seeing a slightly lighter colored puff of mud within the mud, or streams of bubbles signifying a carp feeding along the bottom.  They're in spawn mode and we decide to leave them alone and check out the lake. 
I tie on a red and yellow bunny streamer without hesitation knowing that I'm now targeting bass and pike.  That color combo is my bread and butter for spring pike and should double over well enough for the bass too.  This specific fly was tied by one of our guide's girlfriends.  It's simple, effective and tied cleanly. Plus it stuck a few pike for me a few weeks ago on a different lake.  Good fishermen often just go with that gut feeling because something about it tells you that it's the right fly.  Fishing is often a confidence game. 
Ten casts in and I hook a fish.  I could tell by the pull, and confirmed my suspition with the first leap that it was a largemouth bass.  And not just any bass, a solid 2lb. fish; a damn nice bass for Western Colorado, let alone on a fly rod. 
Our day ended with numerous quality bass landed and plans to fish early-season prespawn carp here next year, and a definate return trip for more bass; possibly in the dog-days of late summer with an evening popper bite.  Hopefully.
While on the drive back we made a quick pit stop at one of those drive-up fast food joints.  Famished from a long day of fishing without eating, we super-sized our meals (including desert) and tipped the attendant. Instead of eating in the concrete jungle listening to bad pop music, I drove to some nearby ponds that I knew of just two minutes down the road. 
As we finished our burgers and shakes, I finally said the inevitable question, that wasn't so much of a question as it was a strong, casual, fishing notion. "Well, you ready to finish the day out.", I said already knowing the answer.
We fished till dark, threw poppers, and caught several quality bluegill, sunfish and bass.  Finally we arrived at the tailgate of the truck where we enjoyed a smoke, gazed at the stars, talked about the weather and finalized our plans for the next bass and bluegill trip. 
To me, a bass and bluegill fisherman originally from Michigan and Colorado’s Front Range, these waters are kept and held more secret than big, high-country cutthroat locations.
The pictures below are some of my "mud-season" highlights.  As much as I love my warmwater, I moved here for trout, and my God, I'm glad the rivers are clear and fishable again, just in time for green drakes!  Thank you spring for your runoff clense but I'm ready for summer.
 You know they're big when you can lip em'
Palm-sized pleasures
 The white tail splotch and yellow and blue hues of this bluegill made it my most memorable
Glimpses of bass in heavy cover

 Brandon sticking some serious hawgs
(I watched him stick about 10 of these 3-6lb specimans within an hours timespan!)
 Sight fishing to springtime bass in clear water is a welcomed vacation from trout
Travis claimed the prestigious "2013 First Bass on the Popper" award 

My best bass this spring, a 4 pounder.
Heading quickly for cover
None of these fish are big enough to garner much attention from most, but when you do your homework and have secret stashes of fish, the rewards are always greater to me. Go explore! 
 Story and photos by Kirk Webb, Taylor Creek Fly Shops