All posts by Ken

Ken was born in on the island of Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska. His family moved to Colorado when he was 3 year old, he graduated with BS in Microbiology from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University and then migrated to Steamboat Springs in 1976. He owns the Proper Exposure a commercial photography studio located downtown on Lincoln Avenue. His love of history, photography and creative writing melded together with Then & Now: A History of Steamboat Springs co-authored with Harriet Freiberger. His passion for fly fishing created an opportunity to write and photograph features for Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine. His education in microbiology wasn’t wasted , he brews handcrafted German ales and beers for his family and friends.
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Catch & Release

L1150291Every 4 or 5 years the tropical moisture of El Nino creates monsoons in the Rocky Mountains from late July through August and possibly September during enhanced cycles. This is a good thing. Typically August is the hottest month in the northern hemisphere and daily rain cools the air temperate, increases river flows and consequently also lowers water temperate. Cold water fish species endure less stress. The downside is the rivers tend to be more turbid from muddy runoff upstream. In times of plenty, anglers should continue using good techniques for catch and release. Fish mortality increases with stress and injury.

P1090376Stress factors that will kill fish are lack of oxygen in warm water, fighting a fish to exhaustion, poor landing and keeping them too long out of water. In addition, bringing fish, such as, grayling or lake trout from deep water too quickly to the surface can be fatal. Anglers need a balance of experience and good sense. Don’t fish in low water on hot days. A fish shouldn’t be out of the water longer than anglers can hold their breath. Higher test-strength line shortens the battle. Keeping the fish in the net and in the water helps insure a long life. Wet your hands before handling fish. A dry hand can wipe the mucus or slime from the skin and increase the possibility of infection.

P1060925Injury is reduced with artificial flies and lures. A fish will suck bait in deeply. By chance if your fly is hooked deep, simply cut the line close to the hook. It will typically deteriorate. Don’t worry about losing fish with barbless hooks, just keep the line tight. They are easier to remove from the lips, mouths and cheeks. Avoid handling your catch over hard surfaces such as boats and rocks. Fish wiggle a lot and are slippery. So, keep them in the net and if possible release them from the net. Neoprene nets are better than twine and bigger baskets hold the all of the fish. With wet hands, gently place your catch in slower water, facing upstream in a river, pushing them forward and pulling back until they swim from your hands. Practice good conservation in your piscaphilia purses. All anglers want to photograph their trophy, so just hold your breath and smile.

Ice off at Colorado High Country Lakes

An angler stands on his favorite river, swelled bank to bank with cold, turbid, fast moving, dangerous mid June runoff, and mutters, “When is there going to be some fishable water? Curses foiled again.”

Have no fear high country lakes are here! The fish are looking up, hungry and cruise the shallows.  Dead insects, formerly encrusted in ice, drift in the melted film and those alive are responding to the spring warmth. Grab your rod and get up there.

We picked three lakes above 9000’ elevation in northwest Colorado near the town of Steamboat Springs with roads close by, Steamboat, Pearl and Dumont. A short walk around drifted snow banks and we were fishing. The aspens were sucking up the snow melt and sprouting soft, tender, green leaves. Glacier lilies burst from the edge of snow banks with yellow flowers.  The mountains were alive again and soothed the soul.P1030171

At Steamboat Lake the rainbows and cutthroats hit size 8 black woolly buggers with hints of purple mixed in. A float tube was helpful to fish towards the shallow shore but cold. The possibility of hypothermia crossed our minds. Dress in layers because the skies can change from sunny to snowy quickly. While we fished, the Pleistocene era sand hill cranes soared above us uttering their strange, haunting prehistoric cries. The ancestors of this 2 million year old species, with a six foot wingspan, began migrating through North America at the end of the last Ice Age and make the lake marshes here their summer home.

Pearl Lake is only a few miles away. We aimed our casts to evening rises as the sun reflected the mountains in the cool, blue water. It was frustrating because I kept missing strikes at my Griffiths gnat dry fly. In desperation, I downsized twice and finally, with a size 18, I got a hook up. The fish darted deep, pulling my line from side to side and eventually tiring ended up in my net. It was an arctic grayling which have smaller mouths and they apparently couldn’t get their jaws around my larger flies. One of my fishing buddies said, “I never thought grayling would take a dry fly.” Typically they live deep in the lake, but in the spring move to the shallows to spawn and then disappear again.

Dumont Lake lays near the continent divide on Rabbit Ears Pass by U. S. Highway 40. We left a paved road, busy with traffic, to the serenity of a mountain lake. During the summer the lake and campground generally crawls with anglers and campers. During our spring trip we had it all to ourselves. A couple years ago the lake was drained, the brook trout removed, the dam repaired, re-filled with melted snow creeks and stocked with Hofer-Colorado River strain, whirling disease resistant, rainbow trout. The rich organic material encouraged quick growth and we encountered fat, feisty, fish. Aquatic worms were abundant. Small size 14 hooks wrapped with red floss and ribbed with copper wire worked well. Occasionally, the trout would take a larger San Juan worm or green Copper John midges too.

As always, it took a little experimentation to figure out what the fish wanted and each lake provided forage that was different, but the fish were hungry after a long winter beneath the ice. A local fly shop can offer tips to solve the riddle.

A high mountain lake awakes and waits for you. Don’t despair, get up there.

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Mothers Day and the Caddis Hatch on the Arkansas River

The Mothers Day caddis hatch on Arkansas River in Colorado is famous. Slowly the hatch creeps up steam in late April and early May dictated by the magical water temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. A little extra snow melt cools the water and postpones the movement of cocooned caddis pupa squirming to the surface to shed their shucks and lifting airborne. But don’t worry; with 2 decades of water quality and structure improvement, the 102 miles of the Gold Medal freestone river from the Pueblo Reservoir to Leadville has a plethora of spring hatching bugs. Blue-wing-olives, caddis, golden stones, smaller dark stoneflies and midges now populate the waterway plus Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently introduced salmonflies which seem to like the Ark.

Spring Time Brown
Spring Time on the Arkansas

Dark (purple, brown or black) BWO nymphs size 20 to 26 and bright (chartreuse, orange or red) midge larva, also size 20-26, are always in the water column, moving up or down and deciding if the time is right to surface and hatch. The improvement of water quality on the river that endured a century and a half of mineral mining byproducts has changed the trout from smaller, short lived browns to a mixture of healthy rainbows and browns enjoying a longer life and growing to sixteen inches or more.

Until you see rising fish, Czech or high stick nymphing are the best techniques. Fishing with a long line and an indicator has limitations and works only in certain areas. Use a heavy attractor pattern like a golden stone, smaller dark stone or San Juan worm as the lead fly and a BWO nymph or midge larva pattern 12 to 18 inches lower. Methodically fish and try to reach all the parts of deep tail-outs below riffles, seams and deeper holding water. During the middle of a May day the trout will key into the specific hatch, either caddis, midges or BWOs. A dry fly as an indicator with the emerger of the same insect as the dropper is a good method. The sub-surface tends to be where the action occurs with so much competition with naturals on the surface. Dead drift with long leaders, good knots and fine (6x or 7x) tippets to weary trout.

Nymphing a Run
Nymphing a Run

The tailwater below Pueblo Reservoir is open to angling year round. The spring runoff captured from Arkansas River flows out of the dam at a fairly consistent temperature and generally close to gin clear. When high, discolored water surges through the freestone river section; this is the place to be. Public fishing is available for nearly all the water that meanders through the City of Pueblo. Anglers must pay a small fee in some areas. Colorado Parks and Wildlife have built structures for a decade, studied fish populations and created a first class fishery. The same techniques and fly patterns apply here as the mountainous head waters. The big difference is the city resides at a 5000 foot elevation and frequently has 50 degree air temperatures in January and February. Fly fishers feeling the effect of winter cabin fever, but hesitant to angle in cold weather will find they don’t have to wait for Mothers Day to catch big trout.

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Fly fishing the Colorado River at the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Park

It was 45 degrees with blue skies, white puffy clouds and a 25 mph wind blowing up the Colorado River near Parshall.  At noon it looked lovely out the windshield, but I immediately added a coat once outside. With no cars in the parking lot on the mid March day, I was ready to endure a little misery for the sake of fun. Moments later another car pulled up and the driver gave a “Hello” wave. We chatted briefly while booting up and rigging up our fly rods. Then I left the other fellow and headed to my favorite spot by the ranch bridge which has four deep holes divided on both sides of the bridge and river.  The south facing bank had a ribbon of exposed grass in the melting snow while the opposite side had ice and snow to the river’s edge.  Both provided an easy step into the water for wading.

I started below the bridge on the sunny side and used the wind to cast upstream. Comfortably numb, the first hour passed without a strike. Honking geese flew passed and a bald eagle sat on a tree limb just watching. I had rotated through the four holes and was standing on the icy edge in the shade when I saw the first subtle rise, another rise and then a more violent splash. An armada of adult midges quickly appeared floating and swirling on the surface. My brother-in-law a week earlier mentioned he liked to put the weighted nymph on the bottom of the leader and the upper fly on a loop. I figured why not and proceed to tie a bead head black zebra midge on the end of my 6x tippet and make a loop for the RS2. Gloves off, my cold fingers slowly completed the task while trout began to boil the surface. With the first cast a brown was hooked, leaped wildly in the air and disappeared with my nymph as a trophy. Damn, a bad knot.

Numb fingers picked out a replacement midge and fumbled through a new knot while watching the fish pummel the sub-surface. My frustration was followed by fear that I was going to miss this fishing opportunity. Finally I was ready to cast, landed a 14 inch rainbow immediately and promptly hooked my glove with the fly while releasing the fish. Does this happen to all anglers or just me? With gloves tucked neatly in the top of my chest waders, I caught and released a dozen fish in the next 45 minutes with wet fingers in the chilling wind. No longer comfortably numb, my feet and hands were just plain frozen.

P1010257Looking down river I noticed the other fellow had appeared and was catching a fish just below the bridge. With one more cast producing one more trout; I was done and walked across the bridge. Although fighting another fish, he shouted up, “You were really hammering them. Anything big?”

“No, all under 16 inches,” I replied.

“I don’t how much longer I can take this,” he said while releasing the rainbow.

I laughed and walked to my car. Misery loves company.