December 1, 2017

Fall Stocking Completed at Cold Creek Pond

On a day with temperatures in the low 50s and just a gentle breeze, I was very happy
that I had but one other angler to share Cold Creek on the first Friday of December 2017.
A few weeks ago I read in the local paper the Nevada Department of Wildlife was scheduled to plant trout in the Cold Creek pond.  Today I confirmed they did.  One other angler was fishing bait, but he was doing it well: small hooks enabling him to catch and release five trout that I noticed.  As for me, in about an hour I landed four, but had hooks pulled out of three others.  Awesome weather there today.  I was surprised but thankful only one other angler was on the pond.  Enjoy the photos. 
Feral horses getting their morning drink from the pond. Several small groups (I hesitate to
label them "herds") came through, including a few mares with young colts from last spring.
Doesn't the ribbon of creek water glistening as it flows into the pond look inviting; often
the horses stop near it to drink, likely because it's cleaner at the inlet.
Little stocked rainbow struggling to free itself from the size 16 nymph.
All four were carbon copies of this one.
One last examination before release back into the pond.

November 22, 2017

Dacey Reservoir in the Late Fall

Trout Truck at Dacey's rustic boat launch site. Sign says, "ARTIFICIAL LURES ONLY,
ONE TROUT LIMIT, ALL YEAR, UPPER END CLOSED, NO MOTORS FEB 15 - AUG 15."
These regulations help to keep the Dacey trout fishery in top condition.
This is the time of year elementary students are cutting, painting, and creating all sorts of Thanksgiving papers that their moms and dads will affix to various kitchen appliances and cabinetry in celebration of the things the child is thankful for.  You never really know what your youngster might write on these papers, particularly if their teacher doesn’t attempt to influence their selection so as not to embarrass the parents.  You can imagine parents across the country rhetorically asking, “What the hell are they teaching my kid?

My eight-year-old daughter came home at the break with the ubiquitous turkey paper, and on the backside she listed the three things she was grateful for this season: “God, my parents, and my pets.”  I could only smile when I read her paper; mind you, this was a product of a secular school.

As if the Thanksgiving season weren’t reason enough, my daughter’s choices certainly caused me to reflect upon my own thankfulness.  What is the condition of my heart this year?
This was the largest trout I landed. It was probably 9 inches when stocked last spring,
and is now a healthy 12-13 inches. I landed about 10 trout, but two that suffered
hook pull-outs would have adequately filled the Fishpond landing net.
To give perspective to other blog pictures of 19 inch and larger trout in my Fishpond net,
this is what a 12-13 inch trout looks like inside it. 
Apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the many blessings we, the church, receive from Jesus (note the lower case “church” connoting believers and not a specific building or religion).  These are blessings we are freely given, but cannot earn. For Christians, the gift of salvation through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is at the top of the list.  But even for non-believers, surely they did not pick their parents, the country or nation they were born into.  Although there are environmental factors at play, our personalities and inherent talents seem to grow out of us from nowhere.  We don’t seem to pick them as much as they pick us.

Put another way, could you be as thankful if you were born to abusive parents who were addicted to their sins, inflicting all sorts of physical and emotional pain on your childhood? What if you were born into poverty, or in a nation where human rights didn’t exist?  What if you were born with a disability, or with a progressive condition that prevented you from enjoying good health? What if you dreamed of a life with talent in areas like music, singing, art, or even areas like mathematics or writing? Certainly these skills can be learned and developed to various levels of proficiency, but real talent is usually something we easily recognize and refer to as “a gift” for good reason.  What about our physical attributes?  While diet and exercise, and dare I throw in surgical procedures, can improve things, we really can’t make ourselves taller or shorter, big boned or thin boned.  If you don’t have the gift of strength, quickness or hand-eye coordination you’ll never improve enough to play a sport at the professional level.

So, for the most part, we are who we are.  Sometimes we focus too much on what we are not, what we don’t have, and not enough on what we do have.  In his letter to the Philippians Paul also wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).  He wrote this letter while chained to a guard in a Roman prison, confined in a filthy jail, while some “followers” tried to make trouble for him in prison for their own selfish reasons, and although he desired his freedom he was resigned to the fact that he’d likely die at the hands of the Romans. How could he be content in such conditions?
Caught lots of these recently stocked rainbows, all in the 9-10 inch range. You'll notice I
was hoping for much larger quarry based on 
this beaded woolly bugger's hook size.
Contentment, being at peace with yourself and your condition wherever you are in life, is also a gift from God.  It’s a contentment flowing from the certainty that you are saved through Christ, and that you are an eternal being who will live within the peace and glory of The Lord after your earthly death just as surely as Jesus rose from His earthly grave to be reunited with his Father in heaven.  This level of contentment, no matter your status or condition in this worldly life, is truly a gift from God.

So yes, I am thankful for all the gifts God has freely given me, even those that I occasionally wish I could return for another.

This visit to Dacey on the day before Thanksgiving was a reminder of the gift of contentment.  I had hopes of at least a few large trout.  I had hopes of peace and serenity while viewing wildlife in awe inspiring conditions.  And although those hopes and aspirations were achieved on some level, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess some level of disappointment.  But I’ve been fishing enough to know that these adventures are always different than my expectations, and that they always offer their own elements of peace and awe if I’m willing to look for them.

While I did not land anything large, I did land many trout.  While I did suffer the fall waterfowl hunters and the report of their shotguns sporadically for a few hours, I did have the reservoir to myself most of the day.  While the dead weeds had jammed up the boat launch and most of the reservoir, they did create interesting channels weaving through the surface that revealed their own secrets when proper levels of patience and observation were practiced.  The snow geese and a few large grey herons peppered my visit with sightings not usually seen every day.  And because I was able to take an extra day off, and because we made dinner arrangements that enabled me to go fishing the day before Thanksgiving, I was able to spend a day alone with my thoughts, prayers, and my favorite hobby… something many others simply cannot do… how could I not be thankful for that gift, regardless of the number or size of the fish?
Closeup of the signage, boat launch, and the rip-rap dam structure. The reservoir water
level was down about 2 feet, and while there were patches of open water, there was some
heavy matting from the dead water weeds that had risen to the surface and been blown by
the prevailing winds towards the southern end near the dam.
Notice the grey heron peeking at me as I drove over the dam.  Notice
also his size in relation to the white billed coots floating on the dead
weed bed to the left of him.
He took flight after I purposely spooked him. These large predatory birds are
magnificent to watch when they take flight... although they eat their share of the smaller
trout and bass. This photo also gives a perspective of the matted dead weeds floating
on the surface that needed to be navigated by the Water Master fishing craft.
In the mid-afternoon I did hook a couple of large trout that I got to see pretty clearly.  The first one eventually came to the surface and began to tail slap the tippet that held the hook in its jaw.  I’ve seen this action before with large trout, especially in reservoirs.  I could see the length of its body, especially the width of its tail as it slapped at the tippet, and I judged the rainbow trout to be about 16 - 17 inches.  It was about 30 feet away as it thrashed on the surface, and it was successful with the last tail slap.  It became an LDR statistic.  The second big rainbow, not that long after the first, was brought within arm’s reach of the Water Master fishing craft.  I could tell it was large when I felt its head thrashing from the depth of the reservoir, something an angler never forgets from the very first time he experiences the vibrations of a large fish. I immediately spun the slack line onto the Galvin reel with my left hand, hoping the hook wouldn’t pull out.  I got it onto the reel and managed to play it within a net-handle length of the Water Master. I could see its full body, especially its broad, dark green back just a few inches from the surface.  I knew it was at least 20 inches, maybe a lot more.  As I reached back for the handle of the Fishpond landing net… the hook pulled out.  The beast calmly finned its tail and moseyed back into Dacey’s darker depths.  I confess I was angry.

But, it was a magnificent and beautiful fish.  Losing a good fish before you can boat it is one of those things that comes with the territory.  You don’t land every fish you hook, and the odds are worse the larger they get.  You learn to be thankful you could even be on the water, that you actually caught any fish, let alone hook one close enough that you were blessed to witness its awesome beauty and significant size.  Most people never get to experience even a sliver of that angling euphoria.  My disappointment quickly vanished into thankfulness.

It is lessons derived from experiences like today’s Dacey offerings that develop contentment in all things for fly anglers.

September 29, 2017

Comins Reservoir, Steptoe Valley Wildlife Management Area

Admiring the Egan Range from the Water Master fishing craft, with Ward Mountain as it crown jewel. 
As early as mid-September they received a dusting of snow, still visible in this photo. 

Trout Truck on the far right bank.  
I would like to have written a title that exclaimed “Comins is Back,” but the truth is that while this fishing trip included a significant number of large trout, they were likely excess broodstock from the Gallagher Fish Hatchery in the Ruby Valley.  Additionally, there’s the reality that 5 to 8 inch northern pike were discovered in the reservoir through Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) electrofishing.  If NDOW cannot eradicate the illegally introduced pike through electrofishing, they will undoubtedly grow, spawn, and feed such that the decimation of one of the State’s best trout fisheries will seem likely for the third time since I started fly fishing in 1977.  While that may seem somber news, this Comins fishing trip can still be described as awesome; the “regular” trout stocking program has already begun to produce results that demonstrate this remarkable fishery that has the ability to grow trout by 1 to 2 inches per month. 
First trout of Thursday evening.  I don't believe this came from Gallagher broodstock, but rather a regular 
March 2017 stocking of rainbows.  She was close to 17 inches, and very "girthy." 
Comins is about 400 acres in size.  Like most, if not all, of the State’s Wildlife Management Areas it was acquired through the purchase of ranch property, in this case from the 3-C Ranch in 1999.  It’s less than 10 miles southeast of Ely, NV; you might say nestled at the bottom of Steptoe and Cave creeks.  The typical Nevada panorama is evident here.  From the alluvial plane you have the mountain vistas from which the Spaniards gave Nevada its name (Nevada translates to “snow-covered”).  Massive Schell Creek Range rises in the east with Cleve Creek Baldy standing watch at 10,923 feet, and to the southwest the Egan Range and its 10,936 foot Ward Mountain watches over Steptoe Valley.  But for the US Highway 93 traffic, you’d be hard pressed to find a more serene angling destination with world class potential.
It's not often you see rainbows with dark spotting patterns well into the belly.
Another pretty rainbow of 16 - 17 inches.
I am not a Comins expect.  In fact, this was just my fifth visit.  My prior trips were almost a decade ago when the trout fishery was booming from the 1989 pike eradication (see Ely, NV - Comins & Cave Lakes and Comins Reservoir - Ely, NV bogs).  I believe pike were present then; there certainly were pictures of pike in every restaurant and gas station I did business with.  By the early part of this decade the pike became so prevalent that they devoured all the planted trout.  Once the trout disappeared the pike started eating smaller pike until all that was left was a stunted pike fishery.  The trout anglers stopped fishing the reservoir.  The fishery, and might I say an Ely “micro-economy,” disappeared.
One of three trout that seemed identical in size and coloring.  Another large 
male likely from the broodstock excess.  These large trout burrowed down
into the weeds; tippets of 5x or even 4x strength are highly recommended.
 Most of us trout anglers read last spring’s reports that NDOW was restocking Comins after successfully removing the northern pike remnants. I believe they’ve stocked about 15,000 trout since March 2017.   As evidence, my fly angling friend from Santa Barbara, Ron Wilmot, emailed me last July:

I fished Kirch for 10 days in early June then moved to Comins for 4 days. Fishing was amazing!!!!!  On June 10, my 81st birthday, I quit at 3:45 with a sore arm. All rainbows from 15” - 21”. Fished a #14 beadhead P/T about 4’ under an indicator, cast out and twitched it in. The reservoir has returned to its original fishery after the eradication of the pike. Fished the weed beds on the west side way down by the last bathroom. No one but me and a guy from Long Beach, Ca. GO!
Here is the bulrush section on the northwestern edge of the reservoir.  Both Ron and I heartily
recommend this area.
So, I’ve been waiting for the cool fall weather to try Comins myself, and my experience mirrored exactly what Ron wrote.
A 20-inch rainbow that obviously was from the Gallagher Fish Hatchery broodstock.  A  male rainbow trout
showing some "mileage" on him, taken late Thursday afternoon. 
I had a business meeting Thursday morning, so I didn’t get on the road until noon.  There was reconstruction work on US Highway 6, so I didn’t arrive at the reservoir until 4:30 pm.  The temperature was in the low sixties; very comfortable.  I fished from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, landing ten beautifully colored trout (as I’ve written before, these appear to be what the hatcheries refer to as Tasmanian rainbow trout – for more detail on Tasmanian trout read Comins Reservoir - Ely, NV – originating from the southern hemisphere where their solar cycle causes them to be fall rather than spring spawners).  Five of them were in the 17 to 20 inch range.  Although aware of Comins’ prodigious growth rates, I did not believe these could have been from the March stocking of 9-inch trout.  In fact, several looked a little old to me.
Note how this one, also caught Thursday night, is almost identical to the trout three photos above. 
It is not he same trout based on the spot pattern on the gill plate. There was yet another very similar.  
They all were really healthy trout.
Remarkably I was the only angler on the reservoir.  But as I was getting out of the water I noted a truck towing a boat to the launching area.  I saw what I thought was an NDOW emblem on the truck, so I decided to drive over and see what was going on.  I chatted with a NDOW warden (or maybe a fisheries biologist; I didn’t ask him) about the fishery.  I told him that my two hours were better than I ever expected, but then I asked about the size of the trout.  He admitted that Gallagher had some excess broodstock, and they decided to salt Comins with a bunch of them to quickly spike fishermen’s interest.  Well, I told him it got my attention.  He also confirmed that they had seen evidence of pike in the fishery, and that they were looking for more in that evening’s electrofishing procedure.  He instructed me to kill any pike I caught and to drop off their carcasses at the Ely office of NDOW so that they could examine the evidence.
Last trout Thursday evening.  Reminiscent of last trout I caught on October 27, 2005.
Friday I awoke at 6:00 am to a 37 degree temperature.  After breakfast at the Silver State Cafe, I launched the Water Master on Comins by 7:00 am.  I had taken Ron’s advice to fish the bulrush on the northwestern end of the reservoir where trucks zoom by on US Highway 93.  By noon I was simply exhausted after landing 15 more trout, over half of them ranging from 17 to 21 inches.  This time I did note a few stale eggs dropped on my apron which validated their Tasmanian heredity.
Another long Comins rainbow that fought like a hog. Note my fingerless glove 
necessary for me to start a day with a temperature of 37 degrees.
Hooked on the outside of the jaw with a bead-headed olive woolly bugger that had tinsel is its tail.
After excluding all the trout landed over 17 inches, on the premise they were excess Gallagher broodstock and not the normal 9-inch planters, I noticed an interesting pattern: half of those 10 trout were in the 14-17 inch range.  That’s what I would expect from a normal Comins stocking back in March.  If those trout can hold over through the winter, many could be young 20-inchers by late spring.  To me, that’s a great indication of the Comins trout prognosis.
Practically every trout filled my Fishpond Nomad, mid-length landing net.  Its 37 inch length is perfect
for tube and pontoon floating. The 13 inch wide by 18 inch long mouth is plenty big for
even the largest trout. 
Another beautiful 16 inch trout I suspect was a normal stocked rainbow back in March 2017.
I made the below chart as a way to measure what I believe is the distinction between the normal 9-inch stocking program and the excess Gallagher broodstock.  It recaps the results of my two-day, seven-hour fishing experience.  I believe it does validate the remarkable growth rate in Comins, and foretells the success that Comins could experience.  The athleticism of trout that spend a few seasons growing in the Comins fishery will far outclass that of the broodstock.  By the way, I lost about 5 or 6 trout due to hook pull-outs despite the 5 - 6 lbs tippets, and I also caught 8 - 10 baby black bass with the largest being about 9 inches.  As usual, all fish were released to grow larger and allow other anglers to experience.
Excluding what I believe to be the Gallagher broodstock at 17 inches or larger, of the remaining 10 trout, 5 were
in the 14 - 17 inch range. That is still an impressive growth rate of  5 - 8 inches in just 5 months.  By next
spring the trout in that band could easily be 18 to 22 inches. 
Early Friday morning photo.  It's hard to see, but there was a mist or fog blowing off the water from left to right. 
It's barely visible against the far bank on the right side of the picture.
Yes, large trout have large teeth.  Getting a little bloody is part of the deal.
I must say that while the re-introduction of the pike is disappointing news, perhaps NDOW will be able to manage their population such that the trout fishery can return to its lofty status of years past.  And I believe that a highly productive Comins trout and bass fishery will do more for the Ely economy than a northern pike fishery.  So, next spring, as Ron simply advises, “GO!
Last trout landed, just in front of the beach where the Trout Truck was parked.  I lost a Whitlock damsel nymph
and the bead-headed olive woolly bugger to the weeds when two large trout burrowed into them. 
I switched to this olive woolly bugger with a red head.  This trout was over 20 inches, very close to 21 inches.
Up close and personal with a Tasmanian rainbow trout.
Bringing a trout to the Water Master Grizzly; I am very pleased with the Water Master so far. 
Last view of the Comins Reservoir expanse before the long drive home.