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