About this blog

This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page nativetroutflyfishing.com.

Gary

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gotta make the best with what you have

After our last trip out to the Olympic Peninsula, Chris and I have been itching to get back out there. Especially since Blake had made it out there shortly after our last trip and had a pretty darn successful trip, which you can read about here. After several days of watching flows, when we both finally had a day off again it looked like river levels weren't going to be ideal, but we decided to go for it anyway. With that we met up at 4:00AM and were on our way for another day of steelheading on the OP.

The river

Upon arriving at the river it quickly became clear that the levels and amount of clarity were going to be an issue. In fact when we forded a tailout to get to one of our favorite holes there was only about eight inches of visibility. This meant that bright flies were likely bring us the best chances of success, so I rigged up with a nymph that I came up that has a copious amount of pink UV flash in it, followed by a glue egg. This step up definitely made a good a dirty water nymphing rig as Chris noted that all he could see an orb of pink drifting down the river with it.

Covering the water

We pounded the water in the stretch for several hours, but didn't see any real sign of fish and it seemed like that water was just to high so we decided to move downstream a bit further. We covered the entire next several hundred yard stretch downstream and Chris got one take down, but that was it. It was at this point that Chris pointed out that he had yet to drink his Red Bull and that this fact was putting a crux on our fishing. Sure enough he was right. I had only made a couple of casts after he cracked his Red Bull open and made a drift into a slot between a couple of boulders when my indicator went down. I set on it and at first thought that it was just bottom as it didn't budge, then the fish realized what had happened and took off.

Red Bull = steelhead???

The first thing that I could tell with this fish was that it was much bigger than the one that I had gotten on our last trip. The other thing was that it seemed to be quite a bit stronger. The fish ran me up and down the tailout a couple of times before I got it close enough to see that it was a nice about 9 lb chrome wild buck steelhead!! Wild steelhead are a very special fish and with the dwindling populations of these fish across the Pacific Northwest all of them should be released unharmed. Due to this fact Chris and I were extra careful with this fish and that meant that when he decided that he didn't want a photograph take he got his way. I was thrilled to have a had the opportunity to catch a fish like this and watch it swim away again to hopefully continue on to the spawning grounds.

I made a few more casts while Chris finished up his Red Bull and hooked into another fish just in front of where other one had been holding. However I only got a couple of head shakes out of this fish before it tossed my fly.

With that it was Chris' turn. Chris was fishing his new 12'3" Winston switch rod and while I could only reach the middle of the river with my single hander he was able to get to the seam on the far side. After a couple of casts his indicator went down and for a second I thought that had a good hookup, but like my last fish this one too was able to toss his fly. Only a few casts later Chris found another fish and this time got a solid hook up on it.

Chris hooked up

Chris fought this fish for a while, but while mine had decided to simply stay in the tailout his decided to head downstream. Chris followed the fish down and had to work to keep the fish out of the rocks and some snags along the bank, but brought the about 6lb wild buck steelhead within tailing range before long. Once again we were being very careful with this fish since it was wild and just as Chris went to tail it the hook popped out and the fish slipped back into the current.

The extremely short distance release of Chris' fish, we covered the pool for another a couple of hours, but it seemed that the effects of the mystic Red Bull had worn off so we decided to go try some new water.

In the first spot that we went to was a deep hole with a big eddy one our side of the river. We had only been here a couple of minutes when a fish rolled in the eddy Chris tried a few casts by didn't get any grabs on the inside of the eddy so he started working the seam on the edge. With that I took the inside and watch as the unknown fish rolled again. The current was pretty slow here so I was giving my fly some sporadic twitches downstream followed by a dead drift to give it a little extra action. I was in the dead drift part of this routine when my indicator started to move slowly upstream. I set on it and the water erupted as about a 10lb coho broke the surface. After a short battle (very short compared to any steelhead) I brought the fish in, pulled the UV bomb out of its jaw and turned it loose.

The culprit - a wild hen coho

We spent a little more time fishing this stretch after I turned the coho loose, but we still wanted to check out a hike in section of the river, so before long we headed out again.

We picked a stretch of river about a 1/2 mile from the road to try and found a nice hole were a tributary dumped in. While we saw a couple of fish roll in this stretch the only thing that we got from it was some lost flies so we kept moving downstream.

Chris working some of the hike in water

We covered a few nice runs downstream with no luck before the banks became to steep to continue and we had to turn around. While there was some nice water down in this section it definitely would fish better with less water, like most of the river.

The hike out was a bit steep...

After checking out the hike in water, we still had a little bit of daylight so we decided to head downstream and try out one more spot. However while we did see a few fish roll, the amount of daylight just didn't allow us enough time to properly cover the water and we had to call it a day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter Steelhead Time

While the Puget Sound has been fishing good for sea-run cutthroat lately, during this time of the year it is hard to not think about winter steelhead. The only problem with this has been that November was an exceptionally wet month and virtually all of Washington's westside rivers have been blown out for the last three weeks. Over the course of this period Chris Ringlee (a fellow guide and co-worker at the fly shop) and I have been monitoring the river flows looking for a break and we finally got one this last week. With the rivers finally dropping back into shape, we decided to make the run out to one of my favorite Olympic Peninsula streams.

As with most steelhead trips, we got off to an early start and were on the road by 4:15AM, which placed us on the water just as the sun was rising. The air was crisp when we hit the water and the water had just about the perfect amount of color too it. Being that we were fishing a smaller stream, Chris and I both decided to toss nymphs although he was using his switch rod and I was stuck with my single hander. We both had a couple of takes in the first few runs, but no hook-ups so we went searching for some better water. I had fished this river last year and hooked a fish not far below where we were fishing, so we decided to see if we could find any fish in there.
The river

Once we got to this spot, it didn't take all of that long to see that there some fish around as one rolled right in front of us within the first five minutes. With proof that there were fish in this spot, Chris and I started pounding the water and before long he hooked into a good sized fish. This fish was extremely active and seemed to be bent on spending as much time out of the water as possible. The coloration of the fish looked a bit strange and at first we thought that it was just a dark steelhead, but after the fifth jump we got a good look at it and could see that it was about a 13lb chum that had grabbed Chris' egg imitation.

Chris' chum taking flight

This chum put up a heck of a fight, but before long Chris won out and then set him free again to continue upstream. After this we hit a bit of a lull and for the next hour or so we fruitlessly covered the water and started donating flies to the snags in the river like they were going out of style. However the lull couldn't last and Chris got a good take from a steelhead but missed it. Now that we knew that there was a fish holding in this section of the river we decided to rest it for a little while and cover the pools just upstream. I covered the pool just above where Chris had the grab, while Chris opted to grab lunch. It was here that we saw one of the worst displays of low-holing fishing ethics that I have ever seen. Although I am not going to name the culprit a certain Olympic Peninsula guide snuck into the spot that we were resting, not thirty feet below me, made one cast and caught a steelhead (probably the one Chris was resting...), bonked it, made a comment about that being a "good spot" then headed off downstream. I am not one to get to upset about sharing the water, but this was just something else. If I want to fish a spot were somebody else is, it is common practice to ask permission first, not to just barge right in. I might be able to excuse this with the average fisherman, but for a guide to do this it really left a bad taste in my mouth.


Covering the water

After the incident we had to once again rest the hole, but this time kept a much better eye one it. When it did come time to fish it again, I got the first shot at it and had a good take but missed. However before I could make too more tries at running my nymph rig through the hole again, Chris hooked into another fish in the hole above me.

Chris putting the hurt on his fish

This fish didn't seem to interested in jumping like the chum hadn't but instead tried to go deep. It didn't take Chris to long to get the fish into and we were surprised to see that it was a 10 lb chrome bright wild hen coho.

Chris' coho

After the coho fishing seemed to turn on for a while and Chris hooked up with a nice chrome steelhead that ran across the pool a couple of times before taking him right into a rock and coming off. Within about five casts of this, Chris hooked into a second larger steelhead that he had on for a few seconds but came unbuttoned. We worked the pool for another hour or so after this but before long decided that we wanted to try out some new water so we continued downstream. We covered a good 1/3 of a mile downstream and although it looked like good water, we didn't see any sign of fish so made the decision try out another stretch on the lower river while we still had some day light.

Working the way back upstream

When we got to our next spot, we figured that we only had about another hour to fish before dark, so we quickly found ourselves a nice run that looked fishy and got to it. Chris covered the pool first, while I came up behind him now using a pink and purple nymph trailed by an egg imitation. I was about half way through the run and had tossed my flies into a seam behind a log when my indicator shot under the surface. I set the hook and instead of feeling the dead weight of a snag, there was the clear throb of a head shake. The fish immediately took off down stream, but proved to be no match for my 8 weight and I was able to keep it fairly well under control. Before long I got the fish in close enough to get a good look at it and could see that I had a nice about 4-5lb chrome steelhead on the end of my line.

Me hooked up with some steel

The fish made a couple more runs and did a bit of thrashing on the surface before I pulled her into the shallows. I still couldn't tell if the fish was wild or hatchery and didn't want to drag it up on shore just in case if it was wild so instead I pulled it up onto a shallow shelf so Chris could check. This is where things went wrong. The fish was lying on its side in the water and Chris was making the check, when the fish decided to thrash and threw the hook. It sat on the shelf for a second, but before either of us could react, it slowly slide back into the current and out of sight. So technically I "landed" (it was on land at one point) my first steelhead on the fly, although I didn't get the honor of touching it or to get a photo as I would have liked to.

After my very short distance release of the steelhead, we covered the rest of the run without any further sign of fish. We did have a whole lot of day light left at this point, but fished through the next run before a lack of light forced us off of the water. All and all it was a great day on the water. We caught some fish and hooked a few others, which is more than I could ask for. I can definitely say that I will be back out there again the first chance that I can get!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gila Trout restored in Frye Creek, AZ

With the Gila trout restoration in New Mexico being largely successful, the state of Arizona is starting to follow suit and has recently reintroduced Gila trout in Frye Creek. Frye Creek is a small stream flowing from the Penaleno Mountains of southeastern Arizona and like some many other Gila trout waters these desert natives have been absent since the introduction of non-native rainbow, brown and brook trout.

Gila Trout

With the recent downlisting of the Gila trout and opening to fishing in New Mexico, Arizona is hoping to meet the same success and plans to open up some limited catch and release options in the future. For full details: http://sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/fishing/news/story?id=4663995

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

End of one thing, begining of another

Each year the end of October marks the end of small stream fishing for trout in Washington State. With the long wait until the June opener, I always try to make at least one last trip at the end of the month before the closure. For the last couple of years I have kept my end of the season trip close to home and this year was no exception. As with the past two years I headed down to a small sea-run cutthroat stream just a few miles from my house to give my 2wt one last work out before the winter. The small stream in question is exceptionally brushy so it is not the world's most friendly fly water, but it does hold some decent fish. During this time of the year the lower portion near the tidal influence is always best as the cutthroat will follow salmon upstream on each tide looking for an easy meal of salmon eggs.

In the first run that I came to there were about eight 6-10lb coho holding and as usual there were several decent cutthroat holding just behind them. The only problem with this situation was that the coho seemed just as interested in my glo bug as what the cutts did and I kept having to pull my fly away from them, since the combo of large salmon, skinny snag ridden water and a 2 wt does not work out so well. I ended up getting a couple of hook ups with the cutts and a couple of very close calls with the coho, before I decided that I better not push my luck and headed downstream. It didn't take to long to get into some cutthroat and in a small pocket just behind a snag I caught my first fish of the day.

A small yet beautiful native coastal cutthroat

I kept working my way downstream catching a couple of cutthroat here and there, but nothing too sizable. When I came to one of my favorite holes I did hook up with a decent about 12" cutthroat, which gave me one good jump before tossing the hook; a situation that seems to play out far to often for me... After this hookup I covered the rest of the pool, but couldn't dredge up anything else, so it was time to get on the move again.

Some great cutthroat holding water

Fishing was unusually slow through the remainder of the stretch that I was working until I came to the last hole. In this spot the creek gets slightly skinnier, but the depth goes from the usual 1 foot deep to around waste deep. On my first cast, my indicator shot under, but when I set the hook there was nothing there. Something told me that this had to be a fish and not bottom, so I continued to make cast after cast until finally the indicator went down again and this time my hookset was answered with a nice head shake from a decent cuttie. The cutthroat put up a good fight and almost pulled me into a snag a few times, but before long my little 2wt over powered him and I was able to bring the nice 12" fish to hand. I felt that this was a good of a time as any to call it quites for the day and season as streams go.

My end of the season cutthroat

With small streams closed, it is time to start thinking about the salt water and steelhead. However with the coastal rivers being blown out more often than not right now and work greatly restricting how far I can travel steelheading hasn't been an option for me yet, so chum salmon in the saltwater are the next best thing. This past week I called up my buddy Bob to go looking for some chum, as they are usually holding off some of the looking estuaries in good numbers by this time of the year. Of course Bob was in, so we headed out to the Hood Canal to check things out. The first spot that we went to was a bust, with only a couple of pods of fish moving through and definitely not enough chum in to justify hanging around for very long. We headed down to another spot that has treated me well in the past, only to find some brand new no trespassing signs had been posted. I guess I can check that one off of my list of fishing spots... However the third try was the charm and upon pulling up at this spot, chum could be seen jumping and boiling all around.

Luckily we had all of our gear rigged up still from our first two failed attempts and we were casting within a couple of minutes. Within a couple more minutes that casting turned to catching and we were in business! I had my first hookup about ten casts in, but fish made one quick run and then tossed the hook. However after that fish spit my fly I only had to strip it back in a couple of times before another chum grabbed. This fish also managed to elude me, but on the next cast I got another grab and this time got a good hookset. As soon as I hooked into this fish it was heading for my backing and putting up a pretty good display of acrobatics while it was at it. When I had the fish about half way in I looked over and saw Bob hook into a nice fish as well and we had a double going. I managed to land my fish while Bob was fighting his fish and quickly released the ~8lb chrome female fish before going to help Bob get his fish in.

Shinny...

Bob's fish ended up being a being a nice ~10lb male and ran him all of the way into his backing a couple of more times before he could get it back in close enough for me to tail it for him.

Bob's chum

For the next hour and a half the fishing was off the hook, with us doubling up three more times and each of us get about 6 or 7 chum, with a few around 15lbs. After that the fish didn't seem to be quite as grabby, but were still able to hook into a few more fish before the lack of daylight told us that it was time to head back home.

A perfect end to a great day of fishing
- note that those ripples on the left side of the picture are from chum...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rise Film Premier

This is a FREE EVENT!


The Gig Harbor Fly Shop is hosting a film premier for Rise from Confluence Films, makers of last year's popular film Drift. If you are in Western Washington, this is not an event to miss!


Hosted by the Gig Harbor Fly Shop in partnership with Patagonia, at The Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, WA.


Tuesday night November 17th from 7-9pm.


FREE ADMISSION! Tides is also offering Happy Hour specials.


$5 Raffle Tickets - all proceeds go to the Wild Steelhead Coalition - great raffle items from Patagonia, Oakley, Solitude, Fishpond, Recycled Waders, and more.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Defying expections

If there is one thing that I have learned about sea-run cutthroat it is that as soon as I think that I have them figured out, they will go and do something completely out of the ordinary and catch me off guard. This was one of those days.

Since I hadn't fished with Zach since July, he decided to join me on a day of scouting out new beaches in search of cutthroat and possibly some coho salmon. While the tidal conditions weren't too favorable for checking out standard beaches, since it would be high tide most of the day, we decided to concentrate our efforts on some estuaries. We decided to start our day at a local estuary that is rather well known, but that just doesn't seem to get any fishing attention. Usually there is a reason for a publically accessible beach not getting fished, but I thought that this might be an exception to the rule.

I beat Zach to the estuary and upon walking down to the water a school of about 40 coho and another 5 or so pinks swam by about fifteen feet off shore. A very good sign!! I hurried back to the car to grab my rods (6wt & 8wt) and rigged one up with a hot wire comet and the other with a small attractor pattern. Zach arrived not to long after I started fishing and although the salmon would show up in front of us about every 10 minutes or so, we could only get a few fish to even look at our flies and none to bite. Then the cutthroat showed up. I spotted the first cutthroat off to my left about 20 feet away, tossed my fly a few feet in front of him. At first the fly seemed to spook this fish, but then he noticed that it appeared to be edible and charged forward to get his "meal". I set the hook and after a quick battle I brought the little cutthroat to shore.
My little cutthroat

Over the next half hour we got a few more cutthroat including one nice 15" fish that Zach caught, but before long we decided that it was time to go check out the next spot. The second estuary that we fished was a bit more off the beaten path, but unlike the first one the salmon just didn't seem to be around yet and without the salmon the cutthroat didn't want to hang around either. We only spent about an hour at this spot and never once saw any sign of fish so we hit the road to another spot that was just as fish deprived as the second estuary.

A great little fishing spot, just missing the key ingredient... the fish...

Since we had met at the first beach anyways, upon arriving back there decided to check things out again. Walking out to the water we immediately saw a small cutthroat cruising the shallows. After a couple more minutes of scanning the water we spotted several other much larger fish between 15" and 20", all just sitting in one to two feet of water, something that I rarely see sea-run cutthroat do. The prospect of sight fishing to these cutthroat had us running back to the car to grab our fly rods. On his first cast Zach caught one of the smaller cutthroat, but I had bigger fish to fry so I set my sights on the largest cutthroat. This was sight fishing at its best and I tossed my hot wire comet right next to the 20" fish that I had spotted. While my fly landed within a couple feet of the 20" fish, there was also a 17" cutthroat holding behind this fish and he wanted my fly more than larger fish. As soon as the comet hit the water, this cutthroat charged over and inhaled hit. Like most sea-run cutthroat that I have caught, this fish put up an exceptionally fight for its size, making several strong runs and jumping a number of times before coming to the net.
The 17" cutthroat

Zach and I spent the next half hour sight casting to number of cutthroat, although we didn't catch any more as large as the 17"er we did get a number of smaller fish before the fish followed the tide out of the estuary.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eastside Redbands

Last week I headed out to a small stream on the eastern slope of the Cascades, which I have been meaning to check out for the last several years. The research that I had done on this drainage showed that it was rather rugged and home to populations of native Columbia Basin redbands and westslope cutthroat. Being that the was located a little further east on the rain shadow of the Cascades, it took on a little be more of an arid Rocky Mountain feel. Also due to being a bit further east summer still had a bit stronger hold on the region and it was already in the low 80's when I arrived. Perfect wet wading conditions. Like usual I rigged up my 2wt with an attractor dry and a small size 16 bi-color prince nymph dropper. Being early fall the creek was low, but working my way upstream I quickly found and nice pool with fish rising along the basalt cliff edge.

A productive pool on the creek

Most of these fish ended up being juvenile salmon, which are slowly starting to repopulate the streams of the Yakima River watershed. These little fish were extremely aggressive and made it difficult to get my fly in front of any trout, but after a handful of casts my dropper went under with a little to much force to be a salmon fry and sure enough I hooked into a nice redband. For their size these redbands are exceptional fighters seemed to be bent on spending as much time out of the water as in.

A picture perfect Columbia Basin redband

Each pool seemed to have several decent redbands in it and the creek had just the right combination of pools and deeper pocket water to keep me occupied. At the head of one of the may basalt rimmed pools I placed a cast right along a perfect looking seem and was caught off guard when a solid 18" redband cruised up and grabbed my dry fly. I got a good hook up, but the combination of the swift current at the head of the pool and my light rod gave the fish the advantage and within short order he was able to shake me loose. After combing the pool for any other unusually large, which of course there weren't any of, I continued upstream and continued to catch the more standard sized 8-10" redbands.

A rugged section of the creek

Finally I got to the point where the shallow to deep water ratio got to low and the creek was to shallow to fish for an exceptionally long stretch so I decided to head back downstream. As I started to work my way back toward the car a nice October caddis hatch kicked into gear and the redbands started looking up a bit more. I put a size 8 stimulator on and started catching a few fish out f each of the pools that I had thought were already fished out. I never did see any of the westslope cutthroat, but the feisty little redbands continued to keep me occupied until I found my way back to the car.

An October caddis eating redband

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

September in the Southwest: Part 4 Rio Grande Cutthroat

Day 9: Wednesday September 9th 2009: The weather was clear once again when we left Santa Fe in the morning, headed for a small creek in the headwaters of the Pecos drainage. It took us a little over an hour of driving to reach the trailhead that would provide us with access to a small stream that was said to hold a population of large spotted Rio Grande cutthroat.

The view of the valley from the trailhead

After rigging up our gear we made our way down to the creek, which ended up being a bit smaller and brushier than what I had hopped for. We decided to head upstream hoping that maybe things would thin out a bit or that we could find some decent pockets to fish. Within the first five minutes I found a nice little pocket along an undercut bank and watched a nice looking fish grab my dropper. The fish didn't have anywhere to go, but as I went to net him my size 18 copper john came loose and he darted off downstream. For the next half mile of stream, I only spotted a handful of fish, all of which were either holding in impossible to fish spots or would spook before I could even get close enough to cast to them. Derek faired no better, but I was dead set on catching one of these fish so I continued to work my way upstream. The further upstream that I got the more fish that I saw and I did manage to rise a few but couldn't get any solid hookups.

I finally came to a pool that had a fairly open angle to cast from, some good cover to allow for a stealthy approach and most importantly two good-sized cutthroat holding in the tailout. I didn't want to take any chances here so I sized up my cast and tried to aim for the larger of the two fish. My first cast was a little short but my next cast was right on target, upstream and slightly to the right of the larger fish. The larger cutthroat slowly cruised over to my fly, took a quick look and changed its mind. I was thinking that the fish had found something wrong with my fly, but before I decided to pick up my fly to make another cast the fish turned back around, swam over to my fly and nipped at it before changing its mind again and turning away. However just as quickly as this fish decided to refuse my offering it changed its mind once again and this time confidently slurped my dry fly. I allowed a second of pause before setting the hook and was tied into the fish. This time my hook up was solid and after a short battle I was able to bring the beautiful cutthroat to my net.

A large spotted Pecos strain Rio Grande cutthroat

While photographing this cutthroat I noticed that the clear blue sky that we had started out with was now blanketed with scattered clouds, but I really didn't pay too much attention to it. Instead I continued upstream and found a nice deep pool where I caught another slightly smaller cutthroat and hooked a couple of others, before the now all too familiar sound of thunder told me that it was time to head back to the car.

The Pecos River tributary

Stormy weather once again

It was pretty impressive to watch how fast this storm built up, as by the time that we got back to the car and put the gear away it was right on top of us. By the time that we hit the road, it was just beginning to pour down rain, but a few minutes down the road we were able to leave bad weather behind us. The rest of the day was spent in the car getting to Denver, Colorado where I would be picking Blake up to head to Fly Fishing Retailers Show.

Day 10: Thursday September 10th 2009: I picked Blake up at the airport in Denver at 9:30AM for a full day at the FF Retailers Show. Our goal for the show was to look for some new products that would fit in well with the line up of gear at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop. Our main interest was in finding some saltwater ready rods and reels that would complement the current line up of Echo and Scott rods and Ross and Lamson reels. I will say this; it ended up being a very long yet productive day of looking at gear and meeting with reps to discuss their various product lines. We looked at products from a number of companies, such as Abel, Sage, Hatch, Galvan, Winston, Loop and Nautilus to name a few.

We also checked out new products from several of the brands that the shop already carries, such as the new Lamson Vanquish, an amazingly light big game salt water reel that is bound to leave most fly fisherman drooling. There was also the new Ross Evolution LT reel and some new 4 and 5wt switch rods by Echo, which have some serious potential as great beach setups for the Puget Sound cutthroat fishery. However the most impressive products that I saw for the day were a couple of Scott rods, one new to their line up and one not so new. The new rod was the S4S, a faster action saltwater version of the Scott S4, which would go on to be beat out the new Sage Xi3 and VT2 for the 2009 FF Retailers Choice Award. The S4S was most impressive indeed and would be a great rod for casting shooting head lines for cutthroat and salmon on the Sound. The not so new product that caught my eye was the Scott F series 6' 1wt rod. With my day on the brushy little Rio Grande cutthroat stream in New Mexico still fresh in my mind, this short but durable little fiberglass rod was looking VERY appealing, and is likely to sneak its way into my rod line up in the near future. Even with a full day at the show we still didn't get to look at nearly everything that we had wanted to, but at the end of the day it looked like Winston fly rods and Nautilus reels will be the most likely candidates to appear at the fly shop.

After the show came the party at Bubba Gumps and Drake Magazine film festival. The party was cool as there was plenty of free food and drinks to go around and lots of great people from the fly fishing industry to talk too. Blake and I talked with several shop owners from around the country for a while, then I ran into Teeg Stouffer from Recycled Fish, a non-profit group that promotes catch and release ethics and a lifestyle of stewardship for our fisheries resources both on and off the water. Of course we got talking about a variety of fisheries conservation topics and before I knew it, it was already time for film festival. The film festival was held at a small bar/ club a few blocks away from Bubba Gumps and highlighted some great upcoming films for this next year, with everything from trout, tarpon, Dorado, bass and Taimen. The introduction to the festival was hilarious and probably one of my favorite parts, the video can be viewed here. Short clips of most of the featured films can be view on the Drake's website as well here.

After the film festival, Blake and I walked back to our hotel a couple miles away and Derek and I discussed our plans for the rest of the trip. Since Blake and I hadn't finished looking at everything, we decided that I would join him at the show till around 10AM and then Derek and I would hit the road, since we had over 20 hours of driving ahead of us. The drive home was going to be a little longer that it could be since Derek and I had decided to make a side trip through Yellowstone on the way back, since he had never been there.

Day 11: Friday September 11th 2009: I started the day out at the FF Retailers Show with Blake again, where we checked out a few more cool products. The Bauer Reels, especially their Rouge Reel was probably my favorite item that I looked at for the day and something that will be likely to show up at a certain fly shop in Gig Harbor in the near future. However given the amount of driving that Derek and I had to do over the course of the day I had to take off from the show at around 10:30AM to hit the road once again.

Our drive getting out of Denver was a slow go to say the least due to an extremely nasty car wreck, but once we got past that we started making good timing. The drive really wasn't all that eventful until we got within a couple of hours of Jackson Wyoming, where the combination of the Wind River Range on the horizon and Pronghorn Antelope on their annual migration through the Green River valley made things a bit more interesting. While we didn't see nearly as many antelope as I had seen last October, the front edge of the migration had definitely reached the valley and we probably spotted close to a hundred of these creatures before crossed the pass into the Hoback River drainage. We pulled into Jackson, WY at around 7pm wandered around town for a bit before heading up the Gros Ventre valley to camp for the night.

Day 12: Saturday September 12th 2009: This was our day to see the sights of Yellowstone and the Tetons before cutting the distance between us and home down by as much as possible. The only catch to our time in Yellowstone was that with our remaining drive there wouldn't be anytime to fish. Something that I always seem to struggle with when surrounded by so many amazing trout streams. Our first stop of the trip was Grand Teton National Park, which we more or less just cruised through on our way north, although we did have to stop for a couple of photos.

The Tetons

After getting out of the Tetons, we headed up to Old Faithful so that Derek could see the most famous feature in the park. When we pulled up the board walk around the geyser, it was already filled with people, which usually means that the geyser is about to go off. I didn't want Derek to miss the eruption and have to wait another hour, so I dropped him off before going to search for parking myself. By the time the I parked the car and got within a hundred feet of Old Faithful, it finally went off. This is the second year in a row that I have had such good timing. After getting the whole Old Faithful experience Derek and I did a quick hike around the Geyser basin and then headed over to the lodge to grab an early lunch.

The Firehole River in the Geyser basin

From Old Faithful, we headed over to the Yellowstone River valley with hopes of getting to see some more of the park's abundant wildlife. Between Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone we only saw around ten bison and one deer a much lower amount that what I have come to expect. We did make up for this a little bit by getting out of the car to do some hike and sight seeing through.

One of the park's many thermal features

Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Even after covering the drive between Yellowstone Falls and Tower Junction we hadn't seen anymore animals, so I decided to make a quick side trip up the Lamar Valley to Soda Butte Creek. This was a good call, as we saw numerous herds of bison and antelope all up and down the valley. Although it was tough for me to pass through this near perfect valley without sampling the waters, Soda Butte Creek and the upper Lamar were both crawling with so many fisherman that it was almost pathetic and eased my pain a bit. I just amazes me the increase in pressure that these streams have seen since I have been visiting the park another reason that I favor the small out of the way waters that the average angler will never see.

A Lamar Valley Bison

After heading back down the Lamar Valley, we made one more quick stop at Mammoth Hotsprings where several dozen elk had decided to hang out, before we finally headed out of the park. While I had intended on driving to the Missoula area at the furthest I really didn't feel all that tired when we drove through town at around 9PM so we decided to keep going. After having gone this far, we decided that we might as well try to get back to Derek's place in Yakima, WA and by the time that we finally pulled into the driveway at 2:00AM I was tired enough to be happy to be out of the car.

Day 13: Sunday September 13th 2009: I got up early in the morning, or at least as early as I could manage with the combination of 18 hours in the car and transitioning back to Pacific time and finished the drive home a mere two and a half hours that flew by. Even though this was my longest native trout adventure to date it went by so fast that I hardly noticed it. I have to say that I really couldn't have asked for more out of this trip as all of the pieces seemed to just fall into place perfectly and I managed to accomplish exactly what I set out to do. However after the nearly 4500 miles of driving definitely had me glad to be back home.

Monday, October 5, 2009

September in the Southwest: Part 3 Gila Trout

Day 6: Sunday September 6th 2009: The storm that we had seen hovering over the mountains yesterday had spread its arms out across the valley over night, making for cold wet conditions when we woke up in the morning. In the distance I could see some pretty gnarly rain clouds headed our way, but just that beyond was a vast expanse of blue sky. With the way that the wind was blowing it looked like both the rain and sun were going to find us, so Derek and I had the decision to either wait out the weather or to start right away and likely get soaked on the trail. We decided to wait and by 9:00AM the rain that we had seen finally hit us and for the next 45 minutes or so it poured in buckets. Then the rain finally died off and was replaced by dazzling sunlight. Time to start hiking!

Off to a rainy start

The hike started out relatively flat, traveling through a land of prickly pear cactus and scrub brush thickets, but before long we reached the ridge and started the long uphill climb. Given the terrain that we were hiking through, there was very little in the way of shade on the climb up the countless switchbacks to the top of he ridge. However around mid-day we made it to the "top" of the ridge, where pine trees seemed to have a little bit of a better hold and provided us with a little protection from the sun.

The Gila Wilderness Area

The "top" of the ridge was most definitely not the end of out uphill climb, as the trail wound along the backside of the ridge for several miles before beginning its decent into the canyon on the far side. The terrain up in the high country of the Mogollon Mountains made it easy to see why this region was designated as the first wilderness area in the nation. The combination of pine trees, cacti and rugged peaks made this some of the wildest country that I have ever encountered. The weather seemed to match the wild character of the land and where we were worrying about the unforgiving sun one minute, the boom of thunder in the distance gave us something else to worry about the next . As we rounded a bend a it became apparent that a thunderstorm was building in the distance and from what it looked like, we were heading straight into it. With a massive storm standing right in our path, we were a bit anxious to get to the creek, however the trail seemed to linger on the top of the ridge for much longer than what we had hoped.

Black clouds... A great sight when you are miles into the back country

Finally we reached the rim of the canyon and started our decent to the creek. It was quickly evident that this side of the peak received much more precipitation, as the cacti started fading away and pines and oaks dominated. A little over half way down to the bottom of the canyon the storm finally caught up with us, but only long enough for us to get all of our gear waterproofed before the sun took over again. However the clouds hanging overhead made it evident that this was just a short break from the rain and that we should get the move on. When we reached the creek, the sun was still out and we quickly scrambled to find a decent place to set up camp. The tent had probably only been up for about ten minutes when the main front of the storm hit us and the down pour started. While the storm raged we took refuge in the tent and I prepped the fishing gear for when things finally calmed down.

After a half an hour of rain, the sun finally won out again and this time it appeared that the worst had passed us by. As such we grabbed an early dinner, got the fishing gear ready and headed down to the creek. It became evident that we were in the right place, as after a quick scan of the creek, I had already spotted a couple dozen fish.

Can you spot the Gila trout??

With the high numbers of fish I wasn't too surprise to be rewarded with my first Gila trout on my first cast, or when my second cast was equally rewarding. All that I knew was that this was more then what I had been hoping for over the past six months of careful planning.

The reward for months of planning - the Gila Trout

With good numbers of trout in the creek I had Derek cover the first stretch, while I headed a few hundred yards upstream to see if I could find any fish. Once again it didn't take long to find the fish as the creek seemed if anything to be slightly overpopulated with Gila trout ranging from 5" to 8". The water in the creek was fairly low and most of the pools seemed to be a bit shallower than expected making a stealthy approach difficult at times. While I wouldn't quite go as far as calling these fish overly spooky, they definitely were a bit on the cautious side and scarring the small fish that held in the shallow tailouts could put the larger fish at the head of a pool down or at least make them more difficult to catch. Before long Derek caught back up to me and we decided to just take turns fishing each pool as we headed upstream. Derek had no trouble getting into a few trout as we made our way up the creek, although all of the fish seemed to fall into the same size range.

Derek with a Gila Trout

I kept hoping that as we headed upstream we would run into a few deeper pools that might hold some larger trout, but the creek seemed to just maintain its character of pocket water and shallow pools. About 3/4 mile above our campsite we came across a log laying across the creek with a sizeable trout holding under it. I got a decent cast in just above the log and a nice 10" Gila trout cruised out from under the cover and grabbed my fly. I got a good hook up on the fish, but as I went to net him, he tossed my fly. While I wasn't happy about losing this fish I made a mental note that I would have to return to try for him again in the morning. We continued working our way upstream, catching Gilas in just about every likely looking spot before the sun finally started to sink behind the ridge line and it was time to head back.

Evening on the creek

We made it back to camp just before dark and grabbed a quick bite to eat before turning in for the night on what had been a long day of fishing and hiking.

Day 7: Monday September 7th 2009: We awoke in the morning to clear blue skies and a full day of exploring the canyon. After a quick breakfast, I had already made up my mind to head back upstream to get another shot at the 10" Gila that had managed to shake free. Derek decided that he wanted to check out the creek downstream of camp, so I started to make my way towards the spot where I lost the trout. Along the way I caught a few more Gilas in the 6-8" range, but nothing larger. Finally I arrived at the log and while I couldn't see any trout holding near it I knew that there had to be something there so I placed a cast right along the side of it and the "big" Gila came out and grabbed my fly again. I had him on for a couple of seconds before he got a good head shake or two and once again threw my fly. I was a bit frustrated at this point, but figured that he might have some neighbors and as it turned out I was right. While they weren't as big as the fish that I seemed to be unable to catch, I did manage to catch two trout at around 8" each, with one on my dry and the other taking my nymph dropper.

Not the big fish that I had hoped for but a none the less beautiful Gila

The creek near our campsite

After once again failing to catch the "big" Gila trout I decided to head back downstream to see what Derek was up to. I found Derek not to far from our campsite and he was pretty excited about a couple of deep pools that he had found not far downstream. About a quarter mile below our campsite the canyon walls closed in and sure enough formed a couple great looking about 10 foot deep pools that appeared to be loaded with trout.

The head of the upper pool - note the waterfall was about 8 feet tall.

Not only did these pools look like good fishing water, but they also looked perfectly suited for some swimming. Of course fishing would have to come first though. I started out fishing my dry and dropper system and caught a handful of fish, before I decided to try one of my favorite large pool/ beaver pond techniques of stripping a zug bug. This method proved to be just as effective as ever and on each cast about ten Gila trout would appear behind my fly and follow it for a ways before one got brave enough to race forward and grab it. The fishing in the pools was great, but the only problem was the both pools had nearly shear cliffs dropping into them making getting down to the edge of the water to land fish very difficult. In the upper pool the best option was to lift the fish into a small pool above the waterfall to land them, but there were a couple of spots that I could get down to the water if necessary. In the lower pool it was lift the fish over the falls or nothing. I fished the pools for about a half an hour and did manage to catch a couple of fish in the 10" range, but both of these fish proved to be a bit photo shy and got released a little quicker than planned.

After fishing it was time for a bit of swimming and just relaxing to recover from the long trek into the creek. We didn't get to spend nearly as much time at the pool as I would have liked though, as after about a half hour of swimming the not so distant rumbling sound of thunder caught our attention and we had to head back to camp to make sure everything was rain proofed.

A rain ready camp

We hung around camp for a couple of hours to make sure that the storm was going to pass us over before I decided that I could safely head back down to the pools. I started out using the zug bug again, but only the smaller fish seemed to take notice of this. As such I decided to switch tactics a bit and put on a size 8 Jumbo John, which should look like a bit more of a substantial meal to the bigger fish. Apparently it did, because on one of my first casts with it, two nice 12" Gilas raced out from under the rock ledge to grab my fly. One of the fish just barely out paced the other and absolutely crushed my fly. This fish fought rather hard for its size and put quite a bend in my 2wt. The only problem was landing him as this was the bottom pool and there was no option but lifting him over the falls. This fish didn't want any of this and with one good headshake when he was about half way up, he tossed the hook and disappeared back into the depths. I worked both pools with the Jumbo John for some time, but not matter what I did I couldn't get any of the bigger fish to take again.

As the sun started to fall a little lower in the sky I decided to head back up to the top pool and give a dry fly a try again. Upon arriving at the pool I spotted a decent 10" Gila holding on the bottom and sporadically rising to take something off the surface. The question was what fly should I go with. I first tried one of my old standbys, the Royal PMX but I had already harassed these fish with that fly plenty and they really didn't seem too interested. Next I tried a stimulator, BC Hopper, elk hair caddis and a few may fly patterns but only the smaller fish seemed to be willing to look at them. I looked through my fly box a few times and finally landed on a small beetle pattern that I had come up with about four years ago and never gotten around to testing out. I figured it was better late than never and tossed it in front of the 10"er and sure enough he slowly rose to sip it off the surface. I held off of a second before setting the hook and got a solid connection. The fish jumped a few times, but there were only so many places that he could try to run in the pool and soon he was ready to bring to the net. Unlike the lower pool there was a nice ledge along the water where I was able to land and photograph this Gila trout. I figured that at this point I had caught more than my fair share of these rare trout and as it was dinnertime anyways I headed back to camp.

An underwater Gila Trout

Day 8: Tuesday September 8th 2009: We awoke to clear skies in the morning and what looked like perfect weather for the hike out of the creek and after quickly breaking down camp, we were back on the trail. The hike out of the canyon was rather steep, but was much shorter than what the climb to the top of the ridge on the other side had been so we made pretty good timing. Once at the top of the ridge we noticed that like each of the previous days another thunderstorm was brewing over the mountains and with the way that the wind was blowing it was heading in our direction fairly fast.

Me at the top of the canyon on the hike out - note the dark clouds in the corner...

With this thunderstorm on our heels, were in a bit of a hurry to get off of the ridge as we really didn't want to be caught in the middle of a storm with no shelter. Given our pace and the storm on our heels, it probably isn't to surprising that I wasn't paying as much attention to the trail as I should have been and almost made a fatal mistake. I was in front of Derek when all of a sudden I heard a rattling noise somewhere very close by. I could see that the route in front of me was clear, so I ran forward as fast as I could while Derek froze where he was. When I looked back I could see a huge rattlesnake of at least four feet long sitting within a foot or two of where I had just been. Derek gave the snake a wide breadth and after this close call we were a bit more cautious for the rest of the hike, although this would be our only encounter on the way out.

The big rattler - I walked just past him on the other side of the big rock - WAY TO CLOSE!!!

By the time that we reached the other side other side other ridge, it was evident that it was raining where we had been camping and was still headed our way. As such we were quite happy to beat the storm to the car a get on the road again.

The storm

After hitting the road made the six-hour drive to Sante Fe, NM where we grabbed some decent Mexican food and hotel for the night to recoup from the long hike and get ready to target the last fish of the trip the next day.