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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.


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.

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