“Nothing Makes A Fish Bigger Than Almost Being Caught!”
December 30, 2017
Some of my cheeky friends accuse me of being a tad balmy for my dedication to piscatorial pursuits. Just to confirm these suspicions, I decided this last week of 2017 to take advantage of balmy weather in Colorado’s Banana Belt to chase trout several times in the Big Ark River around Salida, Colorado.
Locals use the term “Banana Belt” somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At an elevation of some 7,500 feet, Salida admittedly does not have tropical or even subtropical weather any time of year. But in truth, it is a remarkably warm high mountain valley when compared to surrounding alpine communities–Fairplay, Gunnison, Saguache–just over the passes to the north, west, and south. They are truly frigid! Indeed, this past couple of weeks we have been just as warm in Salida, and often much warmer, than mile-high Denver. The temps pushed 60 degrees several times. That’s not to say the fishing is a snap. Some tips follow that may put a big rainbow trout or brown on your line before winter really arrives.
Hello From Florida….When you say Blizzard, we think of Dairy Queen!
Want to catch a monster barracuda or maybe a big snook, hefty grouper, or gigantic shark in the Florida Keys? Maybe a mess of snapper? Got to have a big boat, right? That notion was being firmly dispelled as I watched Mark Resto of Miami, with the help of a fishing buddy, fight a big barracuda on the Seven Mile Fishing Bridge near Marathon. His rod bent double, Michael was on the edge of exhaustion.
The four-foot-long cuda was churning in the fast current 20 feet below, threatening to snap his line at any moment. Arms aching, Michael finally brought the fish to the surface, quickly passed the rod to his buddy and threw a bridge net down in the water next to the barracuda, corralled it, and slowly winched up the prize.
Shore-fishing is one of the great delights of the Florida Keys. Starting at the Tea Table Bridge, Mile Marker 79, and heading southwest on Highway 1 towards Key West there is accessible, exciting fishing right near the road. Numerous bridges, wadeable nearshore flats, and close-in hotspots easily reached by kayak or other cartop vessel offer access to good fishing.
Not that this fishing is a snap. Ferreting out the honeyholes can take a little sleuthing and successful bridge fishing is an art, not for those who like to lollygag in lawn chairs! The article below reveals some of the best nearshore spots and offers tips from experts at local bait and tackle shops who specialize in bridge fishing and wading and kayaking to stalk their quarry.
CLICK ON THE LINK TO VIEW A PDF COPY OF MY NOVEMBER 2016 FLORIDA KEYS DRIVE-IN FISHING ARTICLE FROM FLORIDA SPORTSMAN magazine.
“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau
December 19, 2017
The Ice Man Cometh this weekend sayeth the weatherman….so time to sneak away for one last outing in the water and dances with trout. With 50 degree weather and light winds in the forecast, I decide to visit my home water, the Arkansas River just upstream from Salida. I know a stretch where the valley is broad and the sunshine plentiful, even in winter, and hopefully the fish cooperative.
When I arrive at just after noon after a short 15-minute drive from my cabin, I am treated to a picture-perfect scene, abundant sunshine, and no ice flow on the river. Two weeks ago several nights of single digit temperatures had clogged up the water with ice, but now it’s flowing freely, at least for a couple of more days.
I used that spate of cold weather profitably, hunkering down inside with the fireplace going to tie up a bunch of my favorite fly pattern for the upcoming season—a concoction I created called a green hotwire beadhead caddis. Naturally, it’s a simple tie—I am no Rembrandt at the fly-tying vise. But it works, and how!!
I wade into one of my familiar reliable pools, the water frigid despite wearing three pairs of socks underneath my neoprene waders. On my third cast the little yellow yarn strike indicator, below which dangle two nymphs, hesitates ever so slightly. I lift my rod slowly and it’s FISH ON! Just a little brownie, but a good start. No skunk for me on this final 2017 outing.
For the next hour or so, I have a ball laying out long casts over the crystal clear water. At the end of the year fly casting becomes so natural, so easy, so graceful that it’s a treat in itself to watch the line unfurl, and the tiny flies alight delicately on the water exactly where the cast was aimed. A bonus is hooking an occasional trout. The first half-dozen are small (all on the beadhead caddis except for one on a big stonefly nymph), but then a nice 14-inch brown surprises me by nailing the caddis in a shallow, fast mid-stream run where the fish are not supposed to be this time of year.
Usually they retreat to deeper pools where the slow-moving water is warmer. Then if to prove the point, 15 minutes later an even bigger, stronger 15-inch rainbow gobbles the caddis nymph in a deeper hole off the main current.
As I release the shiny beauty, I take a seat on the bank and reflect on what a wonderful world we have and what a wonderful year 2017 has been thanks to family, friends, and yes, fish. Great gifts and a refuge in turbulent times. My little sweetheart of a granddaughter, Aly, went from baby to toddler in a flash, and along the way exhibited a strong predilection for running water and playing in creeks. Sure way to grandpa’s heart!!
I have had many great adventures in the wilds this year, alone and with friends. Solitude and pristine nature abounded and surrounded me, kept me peaceful and sane. It has been written that fishing is a perpetual series of occasions of hope, elusive but attainable. And so it is with life. 2017 has been a wonderful year, and I see hope on the water and in the world for 2018. My best to all my readers, compatriots, and friends for the New Year. Here is a tribute to 2017 in pictures….indeed a wonderful world!!
Note: Please read this article in tandem with my earlier blog on late fall fishing (December 6) that contains more detailed information on essential gear, flies, and technique.
I ease into the crystal clear pool where Beaver Creek cascades up against a big cliff. True to the inside scoop from a Colorado Springs fly shop, I have already caught a couple of beautiful small browns. The skinny is that lots of 4-to-11 inch trout inhabit this pristine little stream near Canon City. Nothing much bigger. But then I catch sight of a silver blue form undulating deep in the hole.
Then it’s gone. Maybe a rainbow trout? I gently loft my two-fly rig—a Royal Trude dry on top trailed by my old reliable green hotwire caddis nymph—into the cascade and watch it drift down gracefully, enticingly up against the cliff then bounce downstream. How could any fish resist? I try again…and again. Nobody home? I am just about ready to move on, when a small swirling back eddy above the craggy rocks catches my eye. I reach out with my rod, using my 36-inch long arms to maximum advantage, and flip the dry/dropper against the rock wall into the foam of the eddy, which is swirling slowly upstream in reverse. The dry twists and turns, then disappears. I reflexively set the hook and feel the bottom. Grrrr! But then it begins to move, and I see the light-colored back of a big rainbow. He knows his home territory and dives under the rocks, but my stout 5-weight rod is up to the task and slowly he comes my way. Then he jets downstream into shallower water, a fatal mistake—I can more easily play him out in the open. In a minute he is sliding into my net for a quick measure and photo. I am astonished to find he is a tad over 15-inches!! So much for Lilliputian trout!! And just a couple of days before December! Another legend of the late fall.
Perfect weather for my last angling excursion of 2017 into Lower Grape Creek in Temple Canyon Park–upper 60s, bluebird sky, gentle breeze. Alas, Old Man Winter got there before me last week and locked things up till next spring. Saw some nice bows but ice made a decent drift almost impossible and all of the deeper holes where the trout were holding a couple of weeks ago were iced in. Oh well, on the bright side got great exercise walking 4 miles in waders and boots, was shadowed by a friendly little Dipper, and the ice on the creek was artistic. Everglades here I come!!