Tag Archives: dry flies

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Canadian High Mountain Lakes (Gorgeous views guaranteed! Epic fishing a possibility…)

I am not a dedicated fisher of alpine stillwaters.  I have never planned a fishing trip where these destinations were the main focus.  On the other hand, I am an enthusiastic hiker who is always on the lookout for spectacular scenery. Not surprisingly, some of the most scenic trails wind up on the shore of a high mountain lake. And I am dedicated enough to tote along my fly rod

I have to admit that the fishing on these expeditions has been largely hit and miss, with much more emphasis on the “miss” portion.  Many mountain lakes –  because of short growing seasons, limited forage, winterkill, and a lack of spawning habitat – do not support large trout populations.  Other mountain lakes have a decent trout population, but while I’m fishing, which is usually close to noon in the middle of summer, the trout are hunkered down and uninterested.

Nevertheless, if there is a lake at the end of the trail, I am going to toss a few casts.  Occasionally, it pays off, like this past summer…

My girlfriend Deb and I were in Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta.  We decided to hike the Alderson-Carthew Lakes trail; the word from the Visitor Info Center was that the views were stunning and the fishing was off the charts.  We set off at 9 AM, carrying day packs loaded with rain jackets, lunch, and fishing gear.

1For the first six miles of trail, the only scenery was the forest pushing in on either side of us. It was an uphill trudge through swarms of horse flies.  When the sign for Alderson Lake came into view, we were ready to stop.  About the same time, a hiker from the opposite direction told us that the trout in Carthew Lake –3 more miles up the trail – were going crazy.  So we decided to keep going.

At this point the trail started to climb into a truly amazing alpine environment. We were soon looking down at Alderson Lake and up toward the peaks that hid Carthew Lake:

2In another hour, we were at Carthew Lake.  It was how you would hope all mountain lakes would look, especially after hiking 9 miles to get there.  Better yet, there were trout rising sporadically.  The sun was high in the sky but the lake was cold enough that the trout – and whatever they were eating – welcomed the warmth.  I threw a small Adams beyond the sun-drenched shallows to the darker, deeper water.  It was engulfed immediately.

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And so it went.  Every cast to the edge of the deep water brought an instant fish.  They were native, colorful cutthroats.  Most of them were eight  to ten inches long and a couple stretched out to twelve.  I was pleasantly surprised by the size; to be honest I was expecting hordes of stunted six inchers.

Casts that fell on the shallow, clear water were even more entertaining. Although a fly that landed on the shoreline shoal was never gobbled instantly, a cruising trout would notice it within a minute.  Then I would have the pleasure of watching the entire take.

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The trout were just as active subsurface. Deb was using a spinning rod and a tiny spoon.  At any given time, she had a fish on and two or three others chasing it.

The fishing certainly wasn’t challenging, but it sure was fun.  After about an hour, we started to make our way back down the trail.   The scenery was just as gorgeous on the way back.

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Post-Script….

A couple weeks later, we were further north in Alberta, on the road between Banff and Jasper National Parks.  We hiked into Helen Lake, a tiny tarn sitting amongst the usual array of peaks and meadows.  We left the fishing gear in the car, figuring that the lake was so tiny and so high that its fish population would be zero.  Wrong!

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From the shoreline we could see dozens of cutthroat finning through the shallows and rising with semi-regularity.  It would have been a sight-fishing dream.  The moral of the story:  Always hike with fishing gear!

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.

G2 Series Rod

One For The Quiver: Scott G2 884-4

Today I would like to talk about something that is near and dear to my heart. Winter fishing! My favorite time of the year as an angler is the upcoming winter months. These are the times when most Utahans trade the fly rods for ski’s or a board. This leaves the trout waters of Utah a little less crowded.

The name of the game totally changes in the wintertime however. This is the time of year where tiny flies and light tippets are the name of the game.  It is pretty much the norm to throw bugs ranging from size 22-28 with tippet in the 6 or 7x range here in Utah from now until springtime.

This is the time of year that I find myself fishing one of my favorite rods in my quiver. I am talking about the Scott G2 884-4.  This is one of my go to rods during this time of year because of its slower action.  In the winter I have found that most casts need to be highly accurate at shorter distances.  By my definition shorter casts are in the ballpark of 15 to 30 feet, definitely distance where a fast action rod just won’t cut it. The more moderate action of the G2 allows the angler to feel the rod load precisely in that area thus making that cast to those picky rising fish much easier.

The nice thing about the G2 is that power is not compromised on this rod whatsoever. Sure I feel that this particular rod excels when fishing smaller dries however the 884 G2 can do it all from big dries to light nymphing and swinging soft hackles.  The greatest thing about this rod is when you catch a fish you know it. I for one can tell each headshake and movement of the fish when playing them. The light and soft tip of the rod also leaves me to know that my tippet will be just fine in the heat of the moment when the fish is on.

What rounds this rod out to be one of my favorites in my quiver is what I would like to call the “Scott Touch”.  The first thing that I feel sets Scott Rods apart from most other manufacturers is the unsanded and unfinished blank. Some may not like this aspect of the rod because the status quo for rods these days has become wild colors like Lava Red for example, however I find the minimalist design and finish to be quite refreshing. One look can tell you that this rod was made by rod builders with a true passion for the sport that I feel is capped off by the hand signed rod description that you find on each G2 series rod.

Don’t take my word for it though. Come on down to the shop and give one of these rods a cast or two or you can check them out by clicking HERE.

Epic Hatches and Other Rural Legends

Results

“The hatch is just above the bridge!” said the voice from the phone.  While this may be a rather innocuous phrase to the non-angler, in me, it induced an involuntary fist pump, a silent whoop, and a sudden onset of Steve Martin’s Happy Feet in the middle of my office cubicle.  I was calling the fly shop in Ashton for the sixth consecutive day, asking about the salmon fly hatch.  Ignoring the strange looks from my fellow office workers, minutes later my friend and I were escaping the gopher farm and racing our way across the Idaho desert toward an afternoon of casting orange bellied behemoths, more akin to miniature Goodyear blimps, than the delicate creations normally presented to Henry’s Fork trout.

The guy in the shop answering the phone each morning understood completely and likely would have had a similar reaction to mine if the roles were reversed. Surely he had been tolerating the daily inquiries, in anticipation of the fulfillment of the unspoken agreement that we would be stopping into the shop to purchase a few of his handmade creations in exchange for the information we anxiously pursued.  It is my adherence to this type of arrangement that helps to explain the many boxes of “local flies” that continue to fill every pocket, pouch, and sleeve in my fly vest.  Indeed, you can never have too many flies. You just don’t have to carry ALL of them with you everywhere you go. Last year, I consolidated some of these into boxes that would only be inserted for a trip to that specific locale.  The alternative being a vest more suited for combat training than fly fishing.

Eventually, every angler decides to target a specific hatch of insects.  Sometimes it is on local waters; sometimes great distances are traveled in hopes of fishing the often finicky, always ephemeral, and like most things in nature unpredictable, and yet potentially epic insect hatches.  I once shared a flight home to Idaho Falls with a couple from New Zealand who were targeting the Mother’s Day hatch on the Madison.  We all found it amusing that we both wanted to circumnavigate the globe to fish each other’s home waters.

Some believe that these epic hatches are nothing short of urban legends; or perhaps rural legends as it were.  My wife has yet to experience a true dry fly hatch of any kind.  Last June, in an effort to remedy this situation, I scheduled a guided trip for us in Yellowstone National Park.  The week preceding our trip it rained nonstop causing the rivers in the park to swell well beyond their banks.  I still remember the look on our guide’s face as he implored us saying “please don’t make me take you into The Park today”.  We gladly changed our plans to float the Madison and had a fantastic day throwing rubber legs.  While my wife landed countless trout that day, an insect hatch remained in the same category as our elusive friend Sasquatch.

Trout Food...I find it interesting that while trout play a critical role in this pursuit, the primary focus is on a species of insect. This change in focus allows anglers to tolerate what, under other circumstances would be considered unbearable conditions.  Combat fishing; which is normally avoided by all but the most oblivious, some might say imbecilic, of anglers, is suddenly kosher.  It seems that when the fish are eating flies as if they were a bunch of skittles that have been strewn about the floor of a day care center, an occasional tangle with another angler is abided by all.  The solitude so often sought in our sport becomes a party where proximity is only limited by the propensity to catch each other, wasting precious fishing time.

Ed and I had a blast splashing down sofa pillows that day on the Henry’s Fork.  Despite having wings, salmon flies are clearly not designed for flight, especially in the windy conditions of Eastern Idaho. I have to admit that having giant bugs crash land into your head and proceed to crawl up your body in search of who knows what, is a bit unnerving.  Eventually I discovered that the brim of my hat is their preferred vantage point.

Whether it be cicadas, green drakes, salmon flies, bikinis, stones, or sallies, chasing something that may or may not happen when and where you end up adds another dimension to an already fascinating obsession.   I just heard that the green drakes are coming off on the Middle Provo and my happy feet are shuffling toward the truck…

Map

Maps

Living in the state of Arizona, most people don’t think about trout fishing. Truth be told, there is more than rattlesnakes and saguaros in this desert state, and with a bit of work, some very respectable fish can be found.

The one key tool that any respectable fisherman needs when exploring in Arizona is a good map. A good map can take many forms, and often times, the best type is a topographical map. Topos are worth their weight in gold when trying to find an access points into the rugged canyons through which Arizona’s creeks flow. That same map that was beneficial accessing the creek can be a lifesaver when trying to get back out to the truck, as steep rock walls seem impenetrable.

Although the topographical map is arguably the most accurate, it may not be the best tool for the job. The most valuable maps are often drawn by hand and exchanged with a solemn oath to never spill their secrets. Typically, they include hastily scribbled odometer readings, forest road numbers, and notes that read “if you see burned tree next to the dinosaur-egg-rock, you’ve gone too far.” These hand drawn diagrams are treasure maps where “X” marks the spot full of hungry trout ready to gobble up a well-placed fly. Fly fishermen don’t share these readily and typically after a trip or two, they are left in a safe place at home, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

Every state and locale has their honey holes that only the locals know, but it seems in this digital age that more of these locations are being leaked.  I married an Arizona girl and will likely be here for life, and I can tell you quite easily, those hastily scrawled maps are tucked away in the safe next to car titles, birth certificates, and the rest of the other valuables only to be passed on to the next generation of Smiths.