Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Day Three: Gila Trout

When nightfall arrived we were amazed on how bright the stars were.  All the constellations could be seen quite vividly.  We later found out that we actually camped in a site that was considered one of the darkest places in the states.  It's a common site for those interested in astronomy.  There are even telescope platforms installed for stargazing.  I had no clue about this when I looked for suitable campgrounds in fact we debated even camping here at all since there was a closer campsite to the fishing destination but decided to stay here as we were tired of driving and still had over an hour away from the water.
I awoke early around 2 or 3am thinking someone was snooping around my tent.  My hand instinctively reached for my snubnose and I groggily looked through the mesh panels of my tent to see if anyone was near but there was nothing.  I couldn't go back to sleep after that and stayed up watching the sunrise from my foam sleeping pad.  After breakfast it was time to make our journey to our next fishing destination.
We looked in to Gila Trout fishing in Arizona but after communicating with Ben from AZ Wanderings, he let us know that despite an initial successful restocking of Gilas, the fish did not survive a massive fire a few years ago.  So we looked in New Mexico.  Originally when we planned the Gila portion of the trip I had us at another location, one that we would fish later in the day, but after contacting Curtis and under hiss advise we checked out another.  I'm sure glad we did.  Not only were the fish bigger but the scenery was simply stunning.  Also it is was much easier to get to which we later learned.  I had totally forgotten that Curtis had retired in New Mexico so I'm glad I remembered and also glad he was willing to help us out.
When we got to the parking lot, a park ranger was doing his chores and we chatted him up.  He let us know about the fishing and how there were fish up to 18 inches in this water but he doubted that any were left.  New Mexico allows you to harvest two Gilas in this water and many people do come here and take fish home.  It's a shame but as I'm learning the culture of catch and release in New Mexico is not very prevalent.  After our conversation while rigging our gear, a fly fishermen was coming out and heading toward his car.  We asked him how he did and he said he got a few on a bunny leech under the banks.
After rigging up we hiked in and not long after I took the first sizable hole and threw my fly out.  Again fishing my favorite dry fly.  On the very first cast I had a take and as set the hook and felt the fish he came off as easily as he came on.  I'd get four more rises before I'd get my first Gila trout to hand.   It would turn out to be the largest of the day, though not very large, and the least colorful.  It's blue parr marks now fading and little terms of spots.  I'd catch a few more in this hole all more vivid that the first before I took to the trail again looking for my buddy Kelly.
I'd stop at a few holes before I reached him though and each produced fish.  One run was in slot just wide enough for me to slip in if I wanted.  I would have crossed if it weren't for the fact that it was deep.  Beyond the slot was a big pool feed by a small waterfall.  There must have been big fish in there I thought.  Not only was it an ideal feeding location but also somewhat difficult to get into.   It also required you to get wet up to your chest which means those fish were likely unbothered by anglers.  I chose to stay dry and just fish the slot and caught several fish there but my mind kept thinking of the fish that likely awaited for any angler willing to go for  a swim.  I figured I'd try again on the way out as getting wet would keep me cool in the afternoon heat.  Unfortunately when I returned the small pool in front of the boulders were taken by a group of women and so I didn't even bother.
I finally reached Kelly he fishing a "big" pool in front of a small waterfall.  He'd caught a few and was rigging tippet as he'd just broken off.  As a typical A-Hole I took that to mean I could fish his hole.  I caught a few on my dry fly.  On one instance I caught a 6-7 incher and it was chased by a fish at least 15 inches.  Once Kelly was rerigged I gave him his hole back and he proceeded to catch a few more.
The hole died after that and we moved on upstream after climbing up some large boulders and squeezing through a small tunnel.  We'd catch a few more fish here and there hop scotching one another looking for the next fish.
At this point there was no trail and to get any further required some navigating through some nasty terrain and boulder hopping.  So we called it at one hole after it proved very fruitful.  I seemed to get a fish on every cast.  No longer wanting to fight our way upstream we started our way out.  On the way we would return to the hole with the big fish.  After getting a couple with my dry I decided to tie on a chartreuse balanced leech.  It was no long before that hog returned and hit my fly.  I set the hook felt his heft but came unglued not long after that.  Not sure why though. 
After eating our lunch at the parking lot we began our way to the next Gila spot.  In terms of mileage it wasn't far but the ranger had told us that it would be at least an hour and half drive to get there.  It may have actually been longer and we'd have to climb over the crest to the other side.  The road was not only windy but also narrow.  It was actually quite annoying and even more so when we had to navigate past a UPS truck coming the opposite direction.  We eventually made it to the little creek and fished it for an hour or so before heading out.  The water was skinny and so were the fish.  Most were so small we launched them out of the water as we set the hook.
We made our way out and toward Albuquerque.  One thing I discovered is very little cell phone coverage exists in New Mexico and Siri's directions are less than stellar.  I guess whoever does the mapping software for Apple hasn't put New Mexico as a priority.   When we reached a small town I was able to reach Curtis to see if he were free to fish the next day.  Luckily we were able to get a hold of each other as cell reception from there was hit or miss.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Day One/Two: Cowboy Country Apache Trout

 July 22-23, 2019
A year ago my buddy Joel invited Kelly and I to fish with him for a week in his home state of Pennsylvania while his boy was away at skateboard camp there.  It was such a success we planned to do the same the following year.  So for past year we researched new waters, tied flies and waited for the day to return. With a month away til our trip and tickets bought and anticipating growing, we got some distressing news that Joel may put an end to the trip as his boy wasn't doing well in school.  The boy was given an ultimatum get his act together or he wouldn't be going to camp.  Within a couple weeks Joel gave us the bad news and said he and his boy won't be making the trip and we were more than welcome to use his deposit for the Feathered Hook if we so chose.  We decided against it and went ahead with our own plans for an alternative trip.  Kelly had always wanted to check out Ouray, Colorado after seeing some pics on the internet five years ago.  So a road trip was planned around making it to the town.  In addition to Ouray Kelly wanted to fish New Mexico.  I looked into want I wanted and for me I wanted to try and get as many unique species as possible.  Size was not a primary consideration.  As we would have to pass through Arizona I looked into what fishing possibilities existed in the Grand Canyon state.  After looking into it I decided I wanted to get an Apache and Gila Trout, two native fish that only are found within these two states.  In addition, the Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroats were going to be my primary targets. 
Day one was always intended to be a travel day. With plans changing last minute for a slightly earlier departure time there was a small chance to wet our lines in Arizona.  I arrived at Kelly's place to start packing his truck with our gear.  When Kelly said just throw my stuff willy-nilly in the bed, I instantly shut that down.  When it comes to car camping I am a bit OCD.  I need things somewhat organized as we'll be spending alot of time trying to access things as we go.  After loading the truck we were off and along the way we needed to stop by for lunch El Mexicali Cafe in Indio for some fish tacos.
At around 5pm we made it Phoenix to stop in at Cabela's for our license, intel and other supplies.  We asked the fly shop how the Apache fishing is and he gave us some info and told us to use small dries an dropper system.  I asked if there were any good fishing on the way to the destination, he said it wasn't worth a stop and we should just head to the campground.  We still had another four and half hours before we made it to our destination.  After a few hours of driving we were still a hour or so away from our goal before we hit a wall and needed to stop for the night.  I checked Siri for any nearby stops and found one.  We drove up to it in pitch darkness and made camp.

Day Two
When we awoke the next morning, we were pleasantly surprised and how nice a campground we selected.  It even had some old relics from the early 1900s, this barn and a nearby ranger station are preserved nicely.
The drive out and toward our fishery provided two separate sightings of cow elk pairs.  On the way we passed another watershed that was known to hold Apaches so we stopped an took a look.  It was small and brushy but looked promising so we rigged up and took to the stream. 
We didn't get too far before deciding to head back to the truck and fish our original destination.  We still had about an hour before we would reach it though.  Along the way more elk sightings and some stunning scenery.
In time we made it to our river.  I still wasn't quite sure if we were in the right spot for apaches though.  I was going on some vague info on a website so I had to make my best educated guess as to where and what part of the river we should start.  The river looked much like a smaller version of the Upper Owens.
At first we decided against putting on wading boots as the river didn't look very wide.  After we hiked and fished a bit we came to the conclusion to go back to the truck and put them so we could access better fishing angles and cross the stream when needed.  I saw my first rise very early near log jam at the end a large pool.  It never rose again and I couldn't get a good drift on it.  Going on the advice of the Cabela's employee, I started small with a size 18 dry and a similar sized nymph both which one I've already forgotten.
It wasn't long before I gave up on the small flies as I had trouble seeing them and put on my favorite local mountain fly.  I hiked up the meadow maybe a mile from the truck did I finally get my first rise and preceded to miss it.  I let out a few choice curse words.  Not knowing how selective or difficult these fish were I worried I may have missed my chance.  If the morning quick session was any indication of things to come I slightly began to stress about perhaps missing my only opportunity.  I moved up further upstream to a similar looking water and casted where I thought best.
It was not long before my drift induced a splashy take.  This time it was one.  Finally my first Apache trout.  I managed it to hand it was a good 8 or 9 inches.  I forgot my net and I regretted almost instantly as I reached for my camera for a pic.  While doing so the little trout bucked off the hook and I missed my opportunity to document my very first.  I wasn't too heart broken though as I had my gopro running through the whole incident.  As I reached toward action cam to turn it off, I realized that the camera shifted and was no longer pointed in the proper direction but pointing down toward the bill of the cap.  Did I really just lose both chances to capture my first fish?  Filled with both anger and panic now I fished on looking for another willing fish.  A few bends up I got another to take.  This time when I reached for the camera to take a photo I soon realized it wasn't an Apache but rather a brook trout.  It was cruel joke.  The next fish was also a brookie.
My worry of not documenting an Apache was unfounded though as throughout the day there were more than enough willing fish to take my size 12 fly.  Fishing for these Apaches, at least in this area, is no more difficult than fishing any one of our local creeks.  They are plentiful and behaved liked any small creek trout would, opportunistic and aggressive.
For the next few hours we fished catching more than we can remember.  We reached the end of the meadow and into the tree line.  Casting room now came at a premium and navigating through the brush more difficult.  We decided to end it here and head back fishing along the way back.  I had noticed a particular smell in the air throughout the day.  It had a faint smell of skunk but not in a bad way.  It was pleasant and slightly sweet.  I had no clue what it was and I asked if Kelly had smelt it throughout the day as well.  He had but he too had no clue what it was.  I tried to find a brush or plant that it could have come from but could not locate it whatsoever.  We got to the truck chatted with a Phoenix couple that had just finished their hike before we made our way to New Mexico for our next campground.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Preview: Cowboy Country Tour

Apache Trout

Gila Trout

Brown Trout

Rio Grande Cutthroat

Brook Trout

San Juan River

Lee's Ferry

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Exploration and Return to Alpine Bass Pond

June 10, 2019
Jacob and I took to the mountains to check out some section of water that we've both never fished but have always wanted to explore.  It was a scorcher and after hiking for a while and fishing without any luck we gave up on it.  The water was raging and deep.  We gave up on it and choose to leave to fish for some alpine bass.
We arrived at the pond and fished for several hours.  There were a few bass still on beds but the beds were mostly occupied by the sunfish.  I manged only one small trout shaped juvenile bass losing a few that came undone.  For whatever reason these fish are hard to keep on the hook, they have a habit of spitting the fly.  That includes the sunfish as well.  I managed several green sunfish this trip that eluded me on the last.  One in particular was a beer bellied version ready to burst.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Memorial Day Fishing

May 27,2019
Rain forecasts prevented any fishing trips for the long weekend.  Initial plans were to hit the east side but changed to a backpacking trip into a SoCal stream but that plan was canceled by the weather.    Next we planned on a northernmost local creek that I'd not fished in well over a decade, maybe even a decade and a half but after some deliberation I decided to stay closer to home and hit an old standby.
So on Memorial Day holiday we met up at a department store parking lot at the base of the mountain before Kelly gathered his gear and joined me in my SUV.  We arrived at the parking lot rigged up and  hiked in 2 miles before we began fishing.  For whatever reason my right wading boot was giving me problems for the first time.  I was getting a hot spot on my heel and it was creating a blister.  I didn't brink any moleskin or bandages with me.  So I just dealt with it until it became unbearable.  Finally I remembered I carry a rolled up wad of gorilla tape on my pack and fashioned a DIY bandaid.  I took some toilet paper and placed it in the center of the tape and stuck it on my foot.

Fishing was slow at first and the typical spots I thought they'd be were producing zero results.  I moved onto a slower deeper stretch of water and from there it seemed like it produced fish on every cast.  Must have pulled at least a dozen out of that stretch before moving on. 

Fished further up picking up a few here and there before heading back in search of KB.  I'd eventually joined him again and we fished a couple more hours before heading back but not before we stopped at the glory hole once again to let KB give it a go. After a several failed attempts to hook on rises we finally managed a couple.  We fished a few spots along the way back with some success.  There were many rises but only a few hook ups; most of the fish were too small for our size 12 hooks.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

High Elevation Bass

May 18, 2019
There's a high elevation lake that I've been dying to take a look at for years but the drought put it in a very poor state and so I never checked it out.  With good rain for the past couple years it was time to finally take a look.  I was prepared for loud and obnoxious fishing with larger flies mostly the topwater variety.  But finesse was called for this day.  I was ill-prepared and I had little in the way of appropriate fly and gear for that matter.  I brought a rod that was too big (8 wt) and line that was too heavy (Rio Musky/Pike line).  Whereas I should have been armed with a traditional floating line in a 5 or 6 weight.  I only had one beat-to-shreds chartreuse conehead wooly bugger in my box which seemed to be the ticket until I lost it on a backcast into some foliage.  The fly had multiple grabs but no hook ups.  I kept pulling the fly out of the fishes' mouth.  They seemed to only lip the fly rather than attack it.  Eventually I decided not to set the hook immediately but  rather let him take it and pull away and slowly tighten the line.  Then and only then did I set the hook.  This seemed to be the answer but it was easier said than done.
The first bass was early on within the first 10 minutes of so.  Like all the fish it would grab the fly multiple time but it took several times before I could actually set the hook into him.   I lost another after  bass after it jumped and threw the hook.  I would circle around the lake looking for more fish willing to bite.  I saw plenty but none were willing to actually take the fly.  In fact while on the other side of the lake all the fish seemed very skittish and spooked more readily than the fish on the opposite end.
One odd thing was while we were sight casting at all the fish they all seemed to look smaller in the water than the actually were, in fact they looked tiny.  Refraction will do this but the fish I caught seriously looked like they were small trout sized but once I pulled them out of the water they were very respectable.  I made it around the lake again and managed another bass roughly at the same spot as the first before calling it a day before noon.  I caught this one on a krystal conehead wooly in purple that I had to get out of my buddy's flybox.
He managed a pair as well but of the sunfish variety, a green sunfish.  No bass were willing to take his presentations.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Taking a Look at New Water

I went to bed exhausted and fell asleep early around 9ish.  I thought I'd have a nice long sleep but woke at 11:30pm and was awake for of the night into the next morning.  I think I managed to fall asleep again at around 5am only to wake up an hour or so later.  After breakfast we packed the truck and cleaned the apartment before heading out to some new water (for me).
Having driven past this water hundreds of times, I've never actually fished it despite wanting to for ages.  Kelly has fished here so he took the lead and we hiked into the field bypassing much of the water toward the parking lot.  After climbing a fences we made it to some good looking water.  I wasn't sure if the cutties had started their migration into the water yet and left my egg box in the truck.
Well they were in the system and saw a pair doing their thing.  I moved down to and targeted a hole with rainbows waiting to intercept eggs drifting past them.  Without any eggs on me I drifted my nymphs past them.  The hole was only a few feet deep and I highsticked my nymph through it.  Several times my flies were taken but I couldn't get a proper hook set.  Eventually I managed to get one one.  We wanted to get out somewhat early so after a few more drifts I hoofed it upstream to meet up with Kelly.  Along the way I aided a fellow angler with a pic cuttie he just landed. 
I met up with KB and asked how he did.  Not so well and we fished here and there as we moved closer to the jeep.  Evetually though we just gave up as the wind was simply too much to bare.  It was time to head home.  Along the way we made a pit stop at the hatchery to check it out.  I've never been but Kelly suggested I take a look at it so I did.  He was right it was definitely worth a visit.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Good Karma

May 4, 2019
The decision was made to head up further north and see how one of my favorite waters was fishing.  It also allowed us to fish the Nevada side as well in case the California side was too busy (as it always is).  While in town we bought our Nevada licenses which seemed to take eternity because the computer system for whatever reason recognized my address as a foreign country.  After which we headed off to the water and after seeing all the crowds we drove further down the road to our neighboring State.
It's been a while since I fished this part of the river.  The last time was at least a decade or more back when the Sherminator and Joel were my regular fishing buddies.  Back when they were without kids.  It took me a while to recognize any of the water.  When we began rigging up I noticed that I mistakenly brought a mismatched pair of boots.  Initially I intended to bring both pairs.  My Rivertek boots are on it's last leg.  The soles are falling apart.  I glued them back together with aquaseal knowing that it was not an fix but rather a bandage.  I just wanted to get a few more outings with them before they are tossed in the bin.  So I wanted to bring my other pair in case the Riverteks die.  At the last moment I decided that since I wasn't driving I didn't want to bring so much gear with me.  I without noticing mistakenly took of one boot from each pair.  Jokingly I said "I look like fucking Punky Brewster."
Trying to get to the water was a pain.  The river is now swollen with reeds and quite difficult to access.  This was never the case before.  Trying to navigate through that mess with a ten foot rod is quite the ordeal and extremely frustrating.  Finally made it to the water, California flows were at 312 and we were told Nevada was slightly higher and off color, so wading was doable but slightly quick but some spots were not going to be easily navigated through.
I fished a very productive looking run only to break off my entire nymph rig on some submerged structure.  After rerigging I moved up and maned my first fish on my Sage X 4100-4.  It was a Owens Valley Speckled Dace.  Definitely proof that spending big bucks on fancy rods has its merits.  All joking aside, I guess I can add it to the species list.  Fishing here was disappointing especially the difficulty accessing the good parts of the water so we drove further downstream to explore.  It looked much the same and while speaking with a local, he told us that access to the water is so hard now that NV no longer allows cattle grazing in this area.  They used to create the pathways into the water.
After sampling some of the water, I decided enough of this and head back to the CA side where I know where the fish are hiding.
We fished a few holes without success before I decided enough of this skunk nonsense and head out to my favorite hole.  When I got there I saw an angler standing in it Czech nymphing the other side of the bank.  Cursing him under my breath I looked for another hole before coming back.  When I came back 20 minutes late he had moved upstream.  I began fishing my hole hoping it had reset.  It was not long before the angler was on a fish.  A good one that ran him downstream toward me.  He was having a hard time self landing it and I asked him if he need an assist.  He declined but after a few failed attempts he said yes.  So I got out of my fishing position and moved toward him.  His fishing partner was now with him and I noticed it was his son and after landing the fish I asked if he wanted me to take a photo of the two together with the fish.  After the photo I returned to my hole now with good karma.  It was no time before I hooked up on a fish that jumped three times before spitting the hook.  It was bigger than the 18 incher the angler just landed.  On the next cast I hooked up another before my knot broke.  Eventually I did land my fish the smallest of the group but at least the skunk was off.  Fished the hole for some more before leaving and heading back to the trunk to meet up with KB.