Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ski Bummin' and Winter Fly Fishing in Aspen, Colorado

My name is Will Cardamone, and I live to ski and I love to fly fish!
The most ideal day in my mind is one where both of these artistic extensions of myself can be molded together within one amazing day. My life for the past eight years has been filled with intense skiing adventures.
This, however, is why I fly fish. Fly fishing has become a balance for me; in many ways, a meditation that counters my sometimes reckless winter mindset. This balance is quite necessary in this life of mine.
I consider myself to be lucky to have grown up in the mountains and rivers of the Roaring Fork Valley. I now reside in the Skier’s Chalet, an Aspen motel hidden in time from the golden days of ski bumming in these parts. I find myself somewhat lost within a town drastically changed by wealth while trying to find my own true roots in the place where I was born; a place where I might not be able to afford to live if not for the Skier’s Chalet anomaly.
When I think hard about this predicament, I am always grateful for my passions of skiing and fishing. These passions have allowed me to travel the world. I now realize that this amazing valley where I am lucky enough to call home is well worth it.
Here’s an example of why.
It’s a beautiful bluebird day at the end of February and I, along with a few friends — well trusted ski partners — are standing on top of a 4,000-foot vertical line off of West Hayden; a line that has serious consequences if it slides.
We have been skiing together all winter long at this point and trust each other’s instincts well. The line turns out to be absolutely epic, with buttery spring powder all the way down on top of a well-settled spring snowpack.
When we finally reach the bottom, the feeling is exhilarating. High-fives are handed out liberally, and the understanding that the mountains have let us all pass through unscathed is both deep and mutual. We make our way through the lower part of the Conundrum Valley, skating with long strides on the still-frozen, lower-elevation snow, with the effervescent buzz still pumping through our veins. We finally reach the cars, but its only 1:30 p.m.

What else is there to do but go fishing?
By the end of February, the rainbow trout in the Roaring Fork River are getting pumped-up for spawning. The water in the river is warming up more and more every day as the sun rises higher. By now, my buddy Mark and I have thrown on our waders and fishing boots, grabbed our rods and are headed to one of our many favorite spots just downstream from Aspen. After a short walk to the river and a quick re-rig, our lines grace the water and we have doubles on.
Mark lands a beautiful rainbow and myself, a spunky brown. We give each other the bro nod, release our fish and move on.
At this point in the day, it is hard to believe that we were both standing at 13,000 feet in elevation that morning on top off a dream ski line — a line that only came about with lots of planning and hard work — only to be relaxing on the river fishing for trout a few hours later. These are the days that I truly strive for. They only come once in a while, but when everything lines up, it’s like a dream for us. A dream of two amazing days mashed into one.
This is why I live here.
Written by Taylor Creek guide, Will Cardamone
Pictures by Will Cardamone
Will Cardamone is the real deal; an authentic outdoorsman who teaches wilderness survival classes, is an accomplished primitive hunter, a well known sponsored ski bum, and of course, a fly fishing guide.  He is also one of the most humble and caring persons you'll ever run across on the slopes, river or woods.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Full Circle: When The Client Becomes The Guide

Fourteen years ago I made the acquaintance with the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers; guided by the then much younger, slimmer and all-around handsomer, Matt Ippoliti. Only nine years-old and a Tennessee native, I had never seen anything like those Rocky Mountain rivers.  I was not even aware that something so amazing and beautiful even existed. The water was fresh and fast-flowing, not stagnant and dirty, and most importantly, there were trout; wild trout. Unbeknownst to me at the time, those days on the Pan and Fork would mark the beginning of a long and winding pilgrimage back to Colorado, and back to the doors of Taylor Creek Fly Shop.   
To me, a fish-obsessed youngster, Ippoliti was the man. His word was law when we were on the river, and obeying that law meant catching fish. His abilities seemed supernatural to me at the time. He could see a fish from a mile away, always knew when to set the hook, and could answer any fish-related question that I threw at him. What struck me as his most admirable trait though was his unquestionable confidence, even in the face of adversity. If the water was too deep for me to wade, he would drag me by the back of my waders, or throw me on his back if necessary to cross the river. One misstep would mean certain death, but it only added to the thrill for me. For several years thereafter and even to this very day, I can hear Ippoliti’s words echoing out to me when I’m on the river. Even when he’s not within yelling range of me on the river anymore, there are still those little reminders that he gave to me that I remember based solely on our vivid memories together back then; “Mend. Bigger. Bigger! Too big. Again. Same spot”, Matt would say. Truthfully, when I can’t hear his advice in the back of my head, I know I’m doing something right.

Over a decade after first stepping foot in the Roaring Fork Valley, things had finally come full circle. This past May (2014) marked the start of my rookie season as a Taylor Creek guide, and the whole process just seemed surreal to me. My first guide trip came and it very well might’ve been my favorite trip of the summer. Jack was a Floridian and about the same age as me when I first stepped out on the Pan, and he just got it. He was a natural and stood on top of the world from mile one to mile fourteen and back; you could just tell that this kid was meant to be on the river. One fish in particular comes to mind when I think about that day, and no, it wasn't the fishes beastly size or the heart-pounding fight or the spectacular markings displayed on the trout. It was everything leading up to and including that moment when that little rainbow on the lower Pan moved what seemed like twenty-five feet to crush (devour, inhale, obliterate, etc.) that cat-poop stonefly pattern. I don’t even remember what I said at that moment. I think I just uttered some inhuman noise which slightly resembled set-it.   

Hamilton (Hambone) Wallace
Taylor Creek guide
Reprinted from our annual publication, Fly On The Wall 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Knowledge Webb Diaries: Carp Part 2, The Beginning

When I was a young boy, I frequently used to beg and plead my mother to drop me off at a popular local reservoir so that I could go fishing. My amazing mother has always supported my passion for the outdoors and fishing but naturally would worry about me the entire time after she dropped me off, as only parents can do. It wasn't exactly in a bad neighborhood or anything but there were certainly some characters around. Fishing was always the excuse I used to initially get me out of the house but what I really went on to love was all of the exploration that would inevitably ensue.  I was in sixth grade, twelve years old, and I can still vividly remember my most memorable and first carp fishing experience to date.    

The area surrounding the lake was just large enough and just wild enough to hold some pockets of land that were overlooked by seemingly everyone but me.  Access was a little rough-and-tough due to the overgrown shrubbery, and because of that, many of the ponds surrounding the reservoir were, and still are, well hidden.  (I visited one of them again a few years ago to find it just as I’d last seen it, much to my pleasure)  The reservoir has a popular swim beach surrounded by heavy vegetation along its outer edge.  In periods of high water, a small depression deep in the heavily shrouded fortress of vines and brush would flood, thus creating during draw-down periods a small pond.  The small piece of water was maybe only fifteen yards in width and twenty yards in length; a puddle really. It was here in this jungle pond that I saw my first glimpses of truly big and tangible fish, laid-up in shallow water, surrounded in mystery and impossible for me to catch.

I tried everything that a studious, fishing-obsessed twelve year old could think of to catch these coffin sized fish. At the suggestion of a local bait shop, I tried a berry flavored doughbait, plus the usual worms, spinners, jigs, crankbaits, and even some flies. Nothing worked. It wasn't until I intuitively learned to hunt and stalk these fish that I finally began to catch them. Nowadays, this is what my friends and I call storking. That is, waiting patiently and moving silently with the cunning and speed of a stork waiting for its next meal to swim by, slip up and make a mistake. It’s a game that’s 99% mental and 1% physical, where the more you know about your adversary, the better your outcome and the more frequently that the odds will tip in your favor. And to be perfectly honest, there’s never, ever, a substitute for time spent in the field with your quarry.   

All of this was long before the internet, where access to knowledge of fly fishing for carp was seemingly impossible to find in print, and what you did find was often a very short blurb saying something along the lines of, little is known of fly fishing for carp but their diets include crayfish, minnows, insects and algae among others, where anglers occasionally land them as a bi-catch. You get the idea; virgin territory.  John Gierach has said of this before too, but it’s true. There were some random Dave Whitlock writings here and there (which are phenomenal by the way), but that was really it. This is before Brad Befus, Barry Reynolds and John Berryman (also famed Colorado carp chasers) came out with their popular book, Carp on the Fly in 1997. Fly fishing for carp I imagine to be like tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys back in the 50's, 60's and 70's when guys were still figuring it all out and creating a path for the rest of us to follow. It pleases me greatly to know that there are still opportunities like this to be had in fly fishing.  

Anyways, where was I? Right. There were about half a dozen of these large carp swimming around in a pond that could barely contain them all. It was like watching enormous arapaima in remote Amazon jungle ponds; very Jeremy Wade type shit for a kid of that age. With persistence, a little luck, and my new-found storking skills, I finally managed to hook into one of these large, ghostly fish.

While eating a hot and sweating peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I noticed the fish sipping small piles of milkweed seeds that would occasionally blow off from the surrounding canopy. Being the observant little angler that I was, I jeri-rigged a pod of the seeds to a small baitholder hook using monofilament fishing line as string to fashion them onto my hook. Keep in mind that I was already tying flies at this point, so it wasn't really too out of line for me. I would watch the fish swim in predictable laps to where all I had to do was to time them right and then dangle my “fly” carefully in front of them. I remember the take being slow and deliberate, much like the tarpon that eat fish scraps at Bud n Mary’s marina in Islamorada, Florida. The fish was nearly three feet long and threw massive sprays of water everywhere, making the pond look like a raging ocean of angered waves.

At that time, as an impressionable, young pre-teen, this fish seemed twice as big and was in fact nearly as large as I was. I really do remember it like it just happened yesterday. I can still picture myself holding that sea-monster in my visibly shaking hands, covered in carp slime, fueled with adrenaline, admiring its strength, beauty and aura that surrounded it. I could feel the fishes spirit, our lives forever connected and I never even had to think twice about letting it go (which was very rare for me at that time). We were mutual adversary’s who over time became mutual friends that studied, learned and respected much from each other. To this day, I still have those same feelings when I hold a carp in my still shaking and wet hands.

I wanted to starting writing The Knowledge Webb Diaries because of the lack of authenticity found in cyberspace surrounding fly fishing, and fly fishing for carp. There are those that "fish" for carp, those who don't, and then there are those that carp for fish(ing).

The Knowledge Webb Diaries is written and photographed by Kirk Webb
This is the second in a multi-part series about carp, carp fishing and whatever else I'm inspired by.