Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall Pandemonium in the Roaring Fork Valley

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

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Oh April, Where Art Thou?

Are you tired of midge fishing the last five months?  April is the panacea for winter-weary fly fishers here in the valley.  Blue Winged Olives are the harbinger of spring here, and there is some furious surface activity already underway on the lower Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers.  BWOs, or baetis are on the scene in spring and fall, and the fish are keyed in on them almost exclusively at this point.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just mentioning the word caddis causes most of us to shudder and salivate in anticipation of skating dries and exploding surface action.  Tax day through Mother’s Day is the sweet spot for caddis fishing, even though they will be on the menu for the next five months.  Be on the water mid-day and again at dusk to keep that rod bent.  

Golden Stoneflies are the giants amongst lilliputian bugs we normally deal with, and these aquatic double cheeseburgers are in the process of molting right now.  Stoneflies are extremely vulnerable to trout when they shed their exoskeletons and are temporarily whitish-yellow in color, and it’s no secret that blonde stonefly nymphs are on the end of many fly fishers tippets right now. 

April also brings pike and carp fishing back to the forefront, especially for guide’s day off excursions.  Most people jealously guard their secret spots, especially when it comes to carp, and for good reasons.  Tricking these paranoid 10, 20 and 30 pound omnivores isn’t easy, and can be just as challenging as stalking bonefish on Bahamian flats. 

Before you know it, we will be talking about Green Drakes, Pale Morning Duns and Yellow Sallies, and midging will seem like a distant memory.  On those complex hatch summer days, you just may long for those simplified midge-only winter hatches!  Be careful what you wish for.  

Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Brandon Soucie, Jerry Erich and Britt White
Reprinted from "On the Fly" in the Aspen Times and Post Independent

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Own Private Fryingpan

One of the advantages to living on the lower Fryingpan is that most people drive right by on their frenzied way to the top mile.  I often feel that mile one through four is my own private stretch, and over the last few years I’ve gotten to know every rock, downed tree and especially the trout.  These fish are noticeably less paranoid than their cousins in the upper reaches, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy, either. 

The lower Pan is similar to the Colorado River in that it offers up the earliest and latest hatches of the year due to its lower elevation.  It is warmer closer to town than up at mile twelve, and already I am seeing caddis, blue winged olives and even a few giant stoneflies flapping about.  This isn’t the case below the dam yet. 

The lower river continues to fish well through summer, especially if you love casting grasshopper patterns like I do, and this stretch is ideal for playing around with European-style nymphing and Tenkara also.  Big boulders, plunge pools, riffles and runs abound on this stretch of river, which lends itself to these new and experimental styles of presenting flies to trout. 

It is true that the fish aren’t as big as the mysis-fed slabs in the upper, but there are trade-offs that make these fish more of a joy to stalk.  The lack of crowds, the willingness of the fish to eat the fly, the “trick shot” casting opportunities, and the abundant wildlife are just a few of these trade-offs. 

If the cars and throngs of wader-clad prospectors start bumming you out in the upper miles of the Fryingpan this summer, do yourself a favor and check out the water closer to town.  I am perfectly willing to share my stretch of “private” water with you!

Words and photographs by Scott Spooner
Reprinted from "On the Fly" in the Aspen Times and Post Independent

Friday, February 28, 2014

The times, they are a changing

We are officially coming out of the deep freeze around here, and the shop staff and guides are furiously shaking off the winter blues.  The guides are ecstatic to have more room to roam and are venturing with their sports to the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers again.  The fishing has been awesome, to put it mildly.  We have been putting boats back in the river for guides-day-off and commercial trips, and the fish are super grabby after the long, dark winter.  Digging the boat out of the snow can be challenging, and it will surely be buried under a few more feet of snow before it’s all over, but that’s life here in the valley.

All of the boat ramps are plowed out and usable on the Roaring Fork and Colorado, although most of us have been exclusively banging up the latter.  As I’m sure you’ve heard, the midges (big ones) are popping pretty hard on the Colorado, and the surface action has been improving in a major way as of late.  The best hatches have been happening in the afternoons on windless, warm and cloudy days.  When the dry-fly activity isn’t happening, we have been catching them on stones, princes and various largish midge nymphs.  My observations are that most of the browns have been in the softer water, and the rainbows like a bit of current in their holding lies.  As always, with the Colorado, there are plenty of “exotics” on the menu whilst fishing, including carp, whitefish and the ubiquitous sucker.

Floating is what we are all doing on our days off now, with one major exception, throwing flies at our favorite toothy critter…. Northern pike.  I’m not saying the pike fishing has been exceptional as of yet, but rigging up an eight weight with a 5 inch hunk of rabbit and marabou tied on the end of the line sure beats the hell out of fishing 6 and 7x on the Fryingpan.  Especially when that is all you’ve been doing for the last few months.  We are totally happy to drive an hour to find out the pike aren’t interested in feeding, and even more thrilled when the opposite is true.  There is no better adrenaline rush this time of year than a two-to-four foot predator chasing down last night’s tequila-influenced fly creation.  Spring and fall are exceptional times of the year to hunt for these beasts, and we are only a few weeks away from the first day of spring!

Before we know it, we’ll be talking about stonefly molts, caddis hatches and heavy baetis emergences.  That sure beats the hell out of midges, midges and midges.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

Words by Scott Spooner
Photos courtesy of Brandon Soucie, Rich Hastings and Scott Spooner

Monday, February 17, 2014

If Mesa the shop dog could talk....

Dear Mesa:
My dog back home in Texas is a real pain in the butt to fish with.  He is always splashing around in the pool I’m focused on, getting caught in my fly line, and tries to bite the fish I put in the net.  Any suggestions?  -Hank from Midland

Hank:  That’s a tough one.  My dad only lets me goof off downstream when wade fishing, which leaves the fish he is casting to relatively undisturbed.  Maybe you should take him back to the truck when he screws up in the future to teach him a lesson.  If you want to send him out on a guide trip with me sometime, I’ll show him how to behave.  –Mesa

Dear Mesa:
I fish with the guides at Taylor Creek every year, and am wondering if I should check out other places to fish in Colorado.  Any suggestions?  -Janet from New Orleans

Janet:  There are plenty of places to fish here in colorful Colorado, but nowhere else comes close to our prolific insect hatches, variety of rivers, talented guides, huge numbers of wild fish, and amazing weather.  That being said, I hear there are suckers on restaurant patios all over the state that are willing to part with their french fries, so I could take my game just about anywhere.  But I will always stay partial to the truffle fries next door at the Riverside Grill.  Delicious.  -Mesa

Dear Mesa:
I floated the Colorado River with Taylor Creek guide Gifford Maytham last year and he kept mumbling about “skittle eats” versus “insect eats” and kept telling me to keep my indicator in the “niceness,” not the “weirdness.”  Is he crazy?  -Cheryl from Aspen

Cheryl:  Yes, Gifford is crazy.  But an extremely talented fishing guide.  Most guides have a little crazy in them, which is what makes them so talented and fishy.  –Mesa

Dear Mesa: 
Every time I take my wife fishing, we end up getting into an argument.  Any helpful hints?  -Biff from Atlanta

Biff:  Sounds like you need to chill out.  I would have an honest discussion with your better half about what her expectations are and how you can make her (your) time on the water more enjoyable.  The river is far too beautiful a place to be stressed out and upset.  Or maybe you should both have a beer on your way to your favorite waters.  I’m just saying…  -Mesa

Dear Mesa:
What is the best breed of dog for being a faithful fishing companion?  -Tara from Missouri

Tara:  There are two ways to go on this one.  I would suggest getting a dog that either A) loves the water, or B) despises the water.  I have a dachshund friend who loves to go fishing, and her owner enjoys how “low profile” she is.  The fish never see her because she is only 8 inches tall and she has no interest in splashing around in the water.  My older Labrador brother is an awesome fishing dog too, he doesn’t have to be carried across the river and he watches his masters’ dry fly better than most humans.  Tough call, Tara.  –Mesa

Dear Mesa:
What is the best time of year to come fish with Taylor Creek?  -Bruce from San Diego

Bruce:  That’s a tough one.  Giant midges on the Colorado in late February into March, Blue Wings on the Fryingpan in April, Caddis and Stoneflies in June,  Twilight Drakes on the Roaring Fork in July, Pale Morning Duns everywhere in August, Green Drakes on the Fryingpan until Halloween, fall streamer fishing out of the drift boat, awesome midge hatches all winter long….  My advice is to book your trip no matter what time of year you can join us.  Bring me treats!  –Mesa

Dear Mesa:
What is the best part about being the Taylor Creek official greeter dog?  -Dick from Vegas

Dick:  It’s all about treats and belly scratches.  I’ll admit, during the summer I usually retire to sleeping under the rental waders after the morning rush, but I love meeting the people that fish with us from all over the world.  Nothing beats floating with my dad on the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, or wading around the Flats on the upper Fryingpan!  Oh, and of course, Riverside Grill french fries.  –Mesa

Dear Mesa:
Is there really a difference between fishing with monofilament versus fluorocarbon tippets?  -Judy from Kansas City

Judy:  Absolutely.  I hear the shop crew having this conversation on a daily basis, so I consider myself a bit of an expert.  Monofilament is less expensive and is totally fine for casting dries at non-pressured fish, but our PhD trout here in the Valley require more stealth on the part of the angler.  Flourocarbon tippet presents the fly nearly invisibly, whether you are nymphing or throwing dries.  It also reflects much less in sunlight, is more abrasion resistant, and is more supple and sensitive.  Like me.  –Mesa

Dear Mesa:
I notice more women enjoying the sport of fly fishing every time I go out, are you excited about this?  -Hugh from Dayton

Hugh:  This is an awesome thing.  Most women are natural-born casters, entomologists and listeners.  They also tend to remember to bring me snacks when popping into the shop for a few flies or advice.  We love seeing this uptick in female fly fishers, although we have plenty of female customers and clients who have fished with us for decades.  Many people find our sport intimidating at first, and we at Taylor Creek love dispelling this myth and helping anyone who walks through our doors.  –Mesa

Dear Mesa:
If you could actually cast a fly rod, what sweet new stick would you pick up this year?  -Kurt from Maine

Kurt:  Hmmm….  First up would be a G Loomis NRX LP in four or five weight.  That rod tracks very well, is light in the hand, and super accurate.  The Orvis Helios 2 and Sage Method are favorite rods in dad’s quiver, and I think he should pick up a Sage Circa for dries on the Fryingpan.   –Mesa

Dear Mesa: 
I hear that Taylor Creek Fly Shop hosts annual bonefishing trips to Christmas Island.  What’s the deal?  -Georgia from Georgia

Georgia:  If you have never casted flies in saltwater, you should really check this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity off your bucket list.  A trout swims around 15-20 mph when fleeing, but a bonefish will top out around 55 mph.  Wading in knee-deep sandy flats is very therapeutic and learning to see the fish and cast accurately will make you a better all-around fisherwoman.  Christmas Island has miles and miles of flats to explore, the food is amazing, the guides are true talents, and you get to spend some quality time with Talyor Creek hosts.  You also have shots at catching trevally, barracuda, jacks of all kinds, even exotics like trigger fish.  Just go!  -Mesa

Article by Scott Spooner
Photos by Louis Cahill, Angus Drummond and Mesa's dad, Will Sands
Reprinted from The Fly on the Wall 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Outsider

When you live in a small-town resort area, your perspective over time can become a bit skewed. 

I made a living for nearly twenty years doing what most people dream about; spending my days on a beautiful river casting feathers, threads and hook to a waiting trout. But alas, no longer.  As with all things, life changes can be good or bad.

My path and life changes (always when a girl becomes involved) have recently led me to the beautiful city of San Francisco, far, far away from the hustle-bustle of Basalt, Colorado and the magnificent Roaring Fork Valley: The same Valley where a roundabout caused a wild uproar with the long time residents, many of whom are still upset that Highway 82 is four lane highway with God forbid, stop lights. Coincidently, these are same residents that welcomed Whole Foods like a favorite aunt coming home from a five year stint in a hippy commune. I love that.  That is the charm of living in a small town. 

As a local, you just come to understand and accept, -almost expect- a somewhat closed mindedness of our type.  Of course I mean that in the most complimentary of ways. We forget what the pressures of city living is like: the traffic, all the in-our-opinion, the speed of life, and the idea or belief of how work is supposed to work.

First, let's define work. In a city, work is a way to provide for your family. You keep your head down and grind it out to save for that two week vacation that will include your obligatory 1-3 days of fly fishing, all the while making sure that there is something else for the family to do. The difference in a valley like ours, is that you do the work that you want to do, avoid the work that you don't want to do and fish before dinner, or more accurately, fish through dinner. That is really the way it is.

Now, my tables have turned.  I am now a city dweller, thinking and longing for the river. My perspective has now changed drastically. As a professional fly-fishing guide, your biggest concerns are as follows; is the water clear, what is the flow, what is the weather going to do today, is my client a gun or a squid?  It's true.  Just like you would prejudge your guide, "he looks nothing like Brad Pitt" or "this is nothing like the the movie". One of my personal favorites that was said to me from a client the moment we shook hands was, "I’ve read about a 24" brown trout that John Gierach caught behind Two Rocks on the Fryingpan. I want to catch it". We as guides sometimes make judgments too, but they are soft judgments that we never stick firmly to, as I have been surprised more often than not. 

I have now become a pedestrian, living miles, not yards, away from the river, mentally planning my next trip to get out and wet a line. This is a new perspective for me. It has given me a much needed, new point of view of what an out-of-town client really comes to expect and what to leave with; serenity. I now get it. I am willing to pay, willing to travel, willing to spend my day with someone that is living a life that people dream of. I absolutely loved being a guide. I looked forward to hearing the stories about lifestyles that I never wanted to live; the grind, the tow, the stress, all things that make an urbanite tick. I am now one of them. 

As of today, I have a couple hundred bucks saved up to make a trip back to the Valley and actually do what I used to get paid handsomely to do for years. What I have learned since leaving my amazing home in the mountains is to simply appreciate every day, and to be light handed on the judgment thing and to remember that everyone has their own story. 

When I tell people what I have done in my life, as I'm sitting at a craft beer bar in the Bay Area, they are captivated and awestruck by how I have lived my life up to this point. When I ask about their path, I often find that they are a major player in a well known social media company that I can only describe in 140 characters or less, that they are just 24 years old and have more money and toys than God. Somewhat amazingly, I never have envy. I have lived a life that they could only dream of living.

The river is part of me. I miss the sound and feeling of the current pushing against my legs in waders. I miss the rain at 4 o'clock everyday and the "pop" of a caddis busting through the surface. I now know what it's like to be in the hype of a big city and looking for a fly shop just to check out what's going on; it's woven into me. I will always make trips back to the waters that I love, now fully understanding just how special they really are. And I will never take it for granted and realize that I too, will be "lightly judged" by the new guides, not know my history, my story, until we are out on the water and quietly proving that I'm a gun and not calamari.

Article and photos provided by Glenn Smith
Reprinted from Taylor Creeks annual publication, The Fly on the Wall 2014