I had a few hours on a beautiful remote creek last Friday not far from Salida, Colorado, and got my annual full body submersion out of the way early this fishing season. Hooked and lost a large brown trout on a #20 red zebra midge…..
Then a few minutes later proceeded to step off the shoreline onto a raft of water cress that was hiding a four-foot deep hole.
Soon was dog paddling in ice cold water up to my neck wearing chest-high waders and a fully loaded fishing vest. Never in any danger, but thankful no one was videoing this misadventure! Continued on resolutely dripping wet, then recovered nicely 10 minutes later to catch this gorgeous 17”+ brown trout on a #20 black foam midge.
He was one of the most beautifully colored I have ever seen. Red and black rings on a field of gold. Nature’s gift. Ah, persistence! 🥴
I’m standing in the ice-cold Arkansas River just after noon watching my little white bubble strike indicator bob slowly downstream. After barely making it to midnight on New Year’s Eve before crashing, I resolved to get out among some Banana Belt bad boys early in 2018 for a little fun. So here I am, decked out in my finest New Year’s costume, ready to party. It’s a balmy 46 degrees, not bad for early January at 7,500 feet.
Then wham!! Something slams into me, almost knocking me off my feet. It’s not a fish, but a big chunk of ice four feet long, one that could sink a small boat. The cold weather the last few nights has frozen up the shallows, and now as the sun shines and temps rise into the upper 40s, big pieces are breaking off and flowing downstream in the fast current. I dance around trying to evade some more chunks while keeping one eye on the strike indicator…which I notice seems to have disappeared. I reflexively lift my rod tip quickly and feel the surge of a good fish. So begins my first outing of the New Year with what will prove to be some big bad boy brown trout on the Arkansas River near Salida.
“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!!