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!



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