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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Establishing a Pattern

It was a Saturday morning and Bill Dance was tearing up his local bass pond and endorsing a new hard-body crankbait on national television; it had a wide wobble and a long soft tail.  As his rod went bent along every point and tree branch, Bill said something that I will never forget, “The wrong lure in the right place is still better than the right lure in the wrong place”.
Mr. Dance was certainly not prospecting Kentucky Lake for a magic school of bass on off-shore structure that day.  Even more ironic was the amount of time spent discussing rod, lure, and tackle during that episode.  Professional bass fishermen are primarily distinguished by their ability to locate fish.  In bass fishing, establishing a “pattern” is locating fish in a specific set of environmental conditions and attempting to fish those same factors across the lake to put more fish in the live well.  To find a pattern, bass fisherman pay great attention to where they catch fish, not what they catch fish on.  Typically, once fish are located, they can be caught using a variety of techniques and lures.     

If we are fishing the upper Fryingpan, location may not be as relevant as a good pair of polarized glasses and some trained eyes.  When we make the transition to fishing bigger water like the Roaring Fork and Colorado, attention to location can pay dividends.  The same environmental conditions come into play: current speed, depth, water temperature, light levels, shade, food, spawning ritual, moon phase, water levels, time of day, time of year, structure, cover and so on. How often do we hear an angler ask: Where are you finding your fish? How are you rigging that leader?  What are you using?  If our presentation, rigging, and location are off, that special fly or lure is obsolete. 
Experienced float fisherman capitalize on location throughout the year and often throughout the day.  A boat may leave the ramp in early August fishing streamers up against the bank or putting caddis and spinners in tight on the seam to raise trout looking up.  In the afternoon, those same fish are likely seeking cooler flows and more oxygen out away from the bank as temperature and light level increases.  A cloudy fall afternoon with baetis hatching may call for dropping some weight and getting that fly in tighter to the softer flows and seams to find more suspended fish.  Where fish are feeding in the water column is a frequently overlooked aspect of proper rigging and boat or wading position. 

Now, in the heart of winter, a softer flow in the middle third of the run or pool is the ticket.  Bombing the egg rig deep will sometimes fail as fish move into calmer flows to feed on midges.  The key may be rigging a shorter, lighter leader and getting rid of the egg that was so magical in November.  A slowly falling rig will stay in front of these midge grazing trout longer and trigger more strikes.  Trout often use the same type of water to feed on certain insects throughout the year.  Fish pushing into the heads of riffles and runs during the Mother’s Day caddis emergence is a prime example.  Once we dial in where the fish prefer to feed we can direct our attention to those areas of the river, effectively ruling out a lot of water.  Fly selection can be secondary.  
On a given day, many anglers ply the same water here in the Roaring Fork Valley.  Many fisherman and guides leave the shop full of hope.  Some days we catch them and some days we don’t.  My father reminds me that there are a million and one excuses for why the fish are not biting; a perennial favorite is barometric pressure.  It can be hard to admit that we just could not catch them, outwitted by a fish.  The term “slow” fishing can be an ego defense mechanism.  Rest assured, on tougher days when we are in the struggle box, there is a fisherman bright eyed and bending somewhere on the river.  He is either full of luck or has figured out a piece of the puzzle that we have not.  Perhaps this is the challenge that motivates us, keeps us coming back to the river.  

Article by Chris Kish
Photos by Kirk Webb, Chris Kish
Reprinted from Taylor Creek's annual publication, The Fly on the Wall 2014