Monday, November 12, 2018

Windows of Opportunity

It's shoulder season in the southern Colorado foothills and canyons.  It's that time of year when you can run the air conditioner and the heater in your truck all on the same day.  One weekend it can snow  six inches and the next one you can go for a trail run in shorts.  There are windows of opportunity to get out into the canyons in pursuit of browns and rainbows, and you have to grab those windows when you can.

Winter storms are in the forecast, but not quite here yet.  Coming tomorrow.  Navigating my truck down washed-out switchbacks and bedrock to the bottom of the canyon, and then back up the opposite wall to a hidden pullout.  Getting out of the cab, I notice the so-called road was so rough it rattled my gas cap open.

A good friend meets me at the pullout, his own truck dusty and disheveled from the trek.  We've fished together in the canyons, and beyond, even to Alaska.  Conversations begin where they ended weeks or months ago.

We gear up and start the thousand-foot drop down the canyon wall to the creek.  Old knees and worn backs welcome the weight of wading boots and backpacks.  Our bones and muscles know this routine well, and we know this is the easy part...we will have to climb back out at the end of the day.

The water is low and gin clear.  The browns and rainbows are holed up in the bend pools...spaces between cold rock and deep water.  They aren't picky, and they know they have the same windows of opportunity to eat what they can before the winter ice closes off their world for six months.  Hard takes on Killer Bugs, Beadhead Squirrel Nymphs, and RS2s.  It's an exceedingly good day.

The sun sets early behind canyons walls, and the temperature plummets.  We climb the thousand feet up and out of the canyons, chests heaving and brows sweating, sad to be leaving  Once on top of the wall we sit in the dark drinking beer, discussing the day, the fish we caught.  We feel fortunate to have had this window of opportunity!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Delicious Autumn!

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”  --George Eliot

Autumn in the canyons!
I'm sitting here on my patio five minutes from the banks of the Arkansas River.  We've already had measurable snow this month.  There's a foot of desicated, brown, crunchy maple leaves in the backyard.  The shadows are getting longer, the days are getting shorter, and it's my absolute favorite season of the year!  It's that same season that calls to me every year, urging me to get with the program and get firewood cut and split, get elk anchored to the ground and in the freezer, and get out onto the water to grasp what remaining fishing can be done before winter sets in.  There's both a soothing relaxation of the season, and a haunting reminder that it'll all be wrapped up by Mother Nature, whether I like it or not, in the next few weeks.  I heard (or read) somewhere that the same Mother Nature saved all of the beauty of the other three seasons and dumped it into this one all at once.  I tend to agree.

Golden aspens and long afternoon shadows!
This fall has been blessed with success and fraught with failure.  I'll take them both in stride and keep on trucking.  First of all, I've been fortunate enough to spend some really great days out on the water, enjoying Indian summer and catching a lot of fish.  Secondly, I've been struggling with some injuries caused by a 20-plus year career in the Army, that raise their ugly heads a couple of times a year, and those injuries made me miss my wilderness elk hunt during the first season here in Colorado.  You just cannot haul 150 pounds of boned-out elk meat out of the backcountry in a backpack with nagging, decades-old problems with your lower back, not to mention the wear and tear of 40 years of backpacking.  So be it...I know where those elk live, and they aren't going anywhere.  I'll be back after them in a late season hunt this year when there's plenty of snow on the ground.

Back to autumn fishing.  After a good guide trip in early October with some awesome clients, I was able to get out into some higher canyons for a full day of fishing.  Just prior to that trip, I had made the Tactical Tenkara Nymphing (TTN) line I designed public, offering it exclusively through the fly shop I work and guide for, Royal Gorge Anglers.  It was a whole lot of fun to take that same capable tenkara line out into the canyons this fall for some small water nymphing.  I had been testing and tweaking that line for nearly three years on water ranging from my tiny canyons and larger rivers here at home in Colorado, to streams in southwest Wisconsin's Driftless, and then all the way up to Alaska where it worked amazingly well on trophy Alaskan rainbows.  Most of my big water nymphing is done with the standard 12-foot TTN, including the fishing I've done in remote Alaska.  However, I've also dialed in the taper of this weight-forward line to a shorter overall length line for small water nymphing here at home in my canyons.  It was this shorter line (in this case an 11-foot length) that I used this fall for some stellar fall fishing at home. 

The heart and soul of small water nymphing, my 11' TTN!
A couple of fall trips to tenkara waters really stand out this year.  One was very close to home and the other was a few hours away.  Both of them were a celebration of this brief season here in Colorado, and a thoughtful comparison of solo fishing and the camaraderie of fishing with a friend.

I happen to guide with some very talented folks, who also happen to be very good friends.  This past season, my busiest ever, was spent guiding some group trips (enough clients to warrant two guides) with a couple of solid fellow fly fishing guides.  One of them, Joe, has been my fishing partner on more than one "guides day off" fishing trip this year.  We partnered up for one such trip in mid-October this year.  We headed up to around 8,500 feet to one of our favorite canyons.  I really didn't know what expect up there, because I just hadn't had the time to scout it at all this year.  What I did know was that there had been widespread low water this year in all of the canyons, but of all of the canyons I fish close to home, this one was one of the highest in elevation.  That would give us lower water temps, and hopefully higher flows.  My estimations were correct, and Joe and I found conditions just about perfect for a day of small water canyon fishing.  The aspens were golden, the cool fall air was refreshing, and the brown trout were hungry!

A beautiful fall drive in my Tenkara Taco on dirt roads to the canyons!

Good company!
On this particular trip I took along a Zen Tenkara Suzume, my favorite small water rod.  I nearly always fish this rod at it's fully extended length of 10'8".  I teamed this rod up with my  11' TTN line, with about 3' of tippet, terminating with a #16 olive Bead Caddis tied by my friend, Rich Osthoff.  I put one #4 splitshot about 9" in front of the nymph.  It was a simple, lightweight nymph rig, perfect for small water nymphing!

A rock-solid small water rod!

Rigged up for a full day of fall fishing.

Rich Osthoff's wonderful little nymph.
I stopped counting fish at around 30.  It was a great full day of fishing with a good friend.  The Colorado fall colors were vibrant, and the air was cool with a hint of the coming winter.  It was a simply amazing day!

Fall colors, fall water.

Joe, working a tailout.

A beautiful little brown trout
The next fall trip that really stands out is my annual pilgrimage to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.  Our family has been making this trip, on the same weekend each year, for a very long time.  We usually rent a cabin in or near Estes Park, and this year was no different.  We had room in the cabin for our immediate family and a few guests, including our oldest daughter who's attending college at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, about an hour away from Estes Park.  Each year, I'm able to spend a whole day during this retreat fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Passing through my Stomping Grounds, en route to Estes Park.

Mule deer in the yard at the cabin in Estes Park.
My normal routine is to get up before dark, brew coffee and eat breakfast, and then head into Rocky Mountain National Park for my fishing day.  Over the years, I've spent most of my time fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park and Forest Canyon, and fishing Glacier Creek below Bear Lake.  This time around I headed back to my regular spot on the Big Thompson at the upstream end of Moraine Park, and started fishing up.  If you fish this way on that section of the Big T, it becomes increasingly overgrown with Douglas fir, blue spruce, willow, and western river birch.  Thankful that I was casting a relatively short tenkara rod (the Zen Suzume), I kept fishing upstream until I finally had enough of the spider web of tippet-catching vegetation overhead.  In the process, I caught a dozen or so brook trout on the upper half of this stretch, and half as many browns on the lower.  Luckily, I had enough time left to head over to Glacier Creek, so I at my lunch on the bank of the Big T in Moraine Park, and then headed back to my truck.

A glorious view of Moraine Park!

The Big T, near the entrance to Forest Canyon.

The headwaters of the Big Thompson River.

An upper Big T brown.
After fishing the Big T, I drove out of Moraine Park, enroute to Glacier Creek on Bear Lake Road.  At the downstream end of Moraine Park the park rangers had set up a roadblock.  Once I got to the head of the long line of vehicles, the ranger informed me that because every single parking space had been filled between Moraine Park and Bear Lake, they were turning all traffic away for about an hour.  In all of the years I've been fishing Rocky Mountain National Park, and that's a lot of years, I've never seen this happen!

A view of Longs Peak from near Deer Ridge Junction.

Horseshoe Park.
After pulling a quick u-turn at the roadblock, I drove up to Deer Ridge Junction, down into Horseshoe Park, and drove up along Fall River and parked just below the Alluvial Fan.  It's a good quarter-mile hike across the grass and marsh of the valley to Fall River, but it was worth it!  After the devastation of the last flood on Fall River, I was a little worried that it may not have fully bounced back yet.  I was pleasantly surprise to find a LOT of trout in the river.  Bright sun and no shade along the river (the exact opposite of Forest Canyon) made it challenging!    

Fall River in Horseshoe Park

Fall River, looking downstream toward Estes Park

A Fall River brown.
In all, I've had a very enjoyable fall season of tenkara!  I don't think it's over yet, but we're close.  There are sometimes brief windows of balmy weather even into December, and when they come along I'll jump on it!  But for now I have a hot wood stove heating our home, six inches of snow in tonight's forecast, flies to tie, and tenkara lines to make.  Life is good!



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tenkara Bricolage: Long Overdue Catching Up!

After a long period of being solidly placed on the back burner, here's a short blog post to catch up a bit!

Each year I try to get out into the canyons either in late fall, or early spring, for a multi-day cold weather backpack trip.   During Thanksgiving break last year, I found a window of relatively mild (highs in the 40s and lows around 20) weather.  It ended up being a four-day solo backpack trip to one of my favorite spots in the canyons, and it was filled with peace, solitude, and hungry trout!  These kinds of trips really recharge my batteries and clear my head!

Out in the canyons with my Kifaru KU3700, packed full.

Long shadows fall early this time of year!

Standing beside my Kifaru Sawtooth, the best cold weather solo shelter in the world!

Looking downstream toward my camp, a mile away.

Cooking up a hot cup of kasha for lunch.

One of dozens of late fall browns.
Early spring 2018 rolled around, and on February 24th the weather turned warm.  My frequent partner in the backcountry, Shawn Larson, joined me for a full day deep in the canyons.  It was an amazingly productive day, with hungry browns eating BWO emergers and midge patterns on lightly weighted nymph rigs, cast with a prototype of my weight-forward tenkara nymphing line.  This was actually the first day of fishing of 2018, and we had a blast!

Shawn, testing icy water.

Fishing one of dozens of bend pools.

A welcome patch of sunshine!

A face only a mother could love.  His, not mine!

Side by side Kifaru 14'r packs.  Mine is the Ranger green on the left, Shawn's is the coyote brown on the right.

Whipping up a pot full of potato soup, using my Bushbuddy stove.  This is the original Fritz Handel design, and this one was handmade for me by Fritz' successor, Jeff Tinker, in Alaska.

This is what it's all about!

Each guide season I end up saying "that was the busiest season yet!", and this year was no exception!  I had a great time guiding both tenkara and western trips for Royal Gorge Anglers, and my seventh year as a tenkara guide was one of my best.  It seems only yesterday that I was starting out in 2012 as one of the first tenkara-specific professional guides in Colorado.  Things have come a long way since then, and I've learned a lot about the fly fishing industry in the past seven seasons!  

Here are a few highlights from my 2018 guide season.  I actually start my guide season in mid-spring and it usually goes into October.  Here are just a few photos taken during those trips.

Then there was that little side trip called ALASKA!  This was the third year I've hosted a group of clients to Intricate Bay Lodge through Royal Gorge Anglers, which is a one-of-a-kind fly-in lodge situated on the shore of Lake Iliamna, Alaska.  Each year I accompany up to 9 clients during the opening week of rainbow trout season.  This week-long trip is spent flying out in bush planes or jet-boating across the bay to remote destinations on the Copper, Kvichak, and Gibraltar Rivers.  This is a mixed-bag trip featuring both western and tenkara fly fishing for huge trophy rainbows, equally beautiful arctic graying, and once in a while we even catch a dolly varden or two.  The lodge accomodations are wonderful, the staff bombproof and talented, and the landscape and fish are simply stunning!  This year I took a great group to Alaska, some of which I knew previously, and a couple of new faces that I had the privilege of getting to know.  Spending the day with good friends, in the Last Frontier, sight fishing for huge rainbows, is an experience every fly angler should have!  I'll be hosting the next trip to Intricate Bay Lodge on June 8-15, 2019!

Intricate Bay Lodge

Our capable Cessna 206.

Up close and personal with a sow and twin cubs on the shore of Intricate Bay.

First cast of the day on the Middle Copper River.

The second year in a row the Kvichak River gifted me a 28" rainbow!

Good company in the raft on the Middle Copper!

Relaxing at midnight in the greatroom at the lodge.

My good friend, Jake, with a dandy rainbow.

Releasing a giant on the Kvichak River.

The view of the eastern end of the Aleutian Range.

Lastly, in early August, I took a break from guiding to join my good friends, Shawn Larson and Eric Lynn on an epic 50+ mile backpack and burro packing trip into the Wind River Range of western Wyoming.  I'll write a separate blog post very soon about that trip, which will undoubtedly morph into a longer magazine article, but for now here are a few photos from that trip.