November 27, 2009

Mammoth Creek, Garfield Co., Utah

What to photograph when you haven't caught a thing?

I’m not sure, but I think it has been about twenty years since I last fished Mammoth Creek. I got to know Mammoth when Jim Jones, my former boss and friend, introduced me to the area. The first fifteen years of my fishing pursuits were spent on Beaver Dam Creek, but Mammoth presented an entirely different experience. Beaver, a thin creek with lots of bushy vegetation along its banks, had plentiful numbers of small rainbow trout. Mammoth is a larger stream, perhaps two or three times the flow of Beaver, and it is known for its brown trout. Mammoth has several sections, but the one I fished most often was the meandering meadow section known as the Hatch Ranch Meadow. It was never as bountiful as Beaver, but it had the mystique of holding brown trout of worthy proportions.

Note the ice along shore and my Trout Truck hiding behind the sage

Looking upstream
I’m not sure what possessed me, perhaps it was the onset of cabin fever. Maybe it was the realization that trout fishing was all but over with the onset of winter. I had taken the whole Thanksgiving week off, so it could have been the desire to run away for a day. Whatever the reason, this Mammoth trip will go into my book as a trip I would like to have a “do over” on.

Observing the serpentine creek between the stream bank sage

My trout truck computer said I was on the road seven hours and thirty-nine minutes during the round trip. I fished for about three and one-half hours, so that’s more than a two-to-one ratio of driving vs. fishing; I’d rather have a one-to-one ratio for day-trips. On the drive up I chose Utah’s Highway 89 rather than taking Interstate 15 to Cedar City and cutting over via Highway 14. Unfortunately I missed the Hurricane turn-off so I had to pay to drive through Zion National Park. I didn’t mind having to pay to see the sights of Zion, but I was very frustrated by all the slow moving sightseers along the way. That cost me an hour of travel time, at least. On top of that, once I crossed over to Highway 89 and reached the town of Hatch I discovered that its only gas station was closed, so I had to make an additional thirty mile round trip to Panguitch to gas up the truck. I didn’t get on the water until about 1:30pm Mountain Standard Time.

Hatch Ranch Meadow Section - Google Earth
The meadow section is about 7,500 feet in elevation, and the truck's computer said the temperature was forty-three degrees at mid-day. Ice had formed on the banks along the slower-moving portions of the creek. Although with the mid-day temperature rising above forty the ice was breaking up, sending slabs adrift downstream. In the three and one-half hours I fished I only worked a quarter mile length of the creek. The creek was a little low, and very clear. I saw no fish scurry for cover, which was disappointing. (Sometimes when fishing small creeks and not getting any strikes I will walk up to the edge of the water to purposely frighten any fish just to prove they exist... which is a sign of quiet desperation. Fish scurrying for cover is a exceedingly observable event in small creeks.) I did see two rise forms in one short run, likely made by the same fish. Encouraged by the visual stimuli I worked that section carefully. I managed to get one strike but I lost the fly to the trout due to a weak blood knot in the tippet. I was unsuccessful getting the trout to take any flies again.
The drama of Zion Park
Snow on the meadows near Cedar Breaks - 9,500 foot elevation

And so, it was another fruitless trip if measured by caught trout. But the scenery was spectacular, especially the drive through Zion. And the fishing was good even if it didn’t result in a trout or two. It had been a while since I had done any stream fishing and it felt good to work the stream and place my fly into positions that looked like the best trout holding areas. Alas, there were not many trout in this section of the creek and the one opportunity that arose failed me, or should I say I failed it. But still, it got me out of town and provided lots of reflective time while driving up and back. As I think it through, I’d like another opportunity to cast to that lone rising trout. I should have been more patient, I think. Maybe I felt rushed with the shortening daylight or frustrated by the excessively long drive to Mammoth. For whatever reason, I just wish I could do that trip over. Oh well, something to look forward to next spring.

Fishless, but still content with whatever God provides

November 11, 2009

Beginners Gear-Guide to Fly Fishing

21 inch rainbow caught on 8-foot, 5-weight fly rod I built in 1981

“John in LV” recently posted a comment regarding fly fishing gear for someone who wants to get started, or even get back into, fly fishing for trout (bass, too, readily take flies as I previously wrote about on Haymeadow and Cold Springs reservoirs). 
Other readers appear to have posted comments on other blogs that seemed to skirt around their interest in learning to fly fish. So I decided that I would give it a try. Although I have my specific preferences and prejudices, I’ve done my best to describe what I think would be a good outfit for a beginning fly fisherman.

For many of us in our 50s and 60s, getting into fly fishing in preparation of our retirement could be very good. Not only can it provide a little exercise for us, it lifts our spirits and can be a source of great pleasure and accomplishment. Fly fishing is not something you can pick up quickly, but with perseverance and practice you can become skilled enough to catch a good number of trout. Be careful, as that could become the beginning of the end, as you succumb to the lure and lore of fly fishing. As for me, I find great satisfaction in the outdoors, always have. There’s something about the “wildness” that stirs in a man’s soul. God made us that way and I don’t feel apologetic about it. Fly fishing is a gentle way to unleash that “wild at heart” penchant many men have. Unfortunately I have discovered that I am not immune to the aging process, so I am mindful of that as I approach retirement myself and continue to pursue my fly fishing passion.

To begin we must first decide where and what we are fishing. I assume if you’re reading this blog you are interested in trout fishing. We don’t have any significant rivers near southern Nevada (other than the Colorado), so most creek fishing can be done from shore or in calf deep water that is pretty timid. As we age, walking a creek bank and crouching to minimize spooking wild trout can get tiring. I guess we just have to go slower for shorter periods of time as we age... no shame in that. Contrast that with lake/reservoir/pond fishing and we’re still left standing and strolling along the bank where it is accessible. Places like our urban ponds, Cave Lake, Illipah, Pine Valley, and Fish Lake National Forest are all easily accessible from the shore. You could even bring along a folding chair to take a break now and then and simply sit and absorb the outdoors. I am beginning to have circulation issues with my own legs, so I’m not as inclined to be scrambling in and out of canyons like Beaver Dam State Park and hiking into remote areas like the Ruby Mountains. Consequently, I have found float tubing to be an excellent choice for lakes and reservoirs.

Before we start I will need to define some fly-fishing terms so that the jargon I'm about to spew forth makes some sense:
  • Fly Fishing - the art of casting a weighted line but an unweighted leader and lure such that the lure appeals to fish as a natural food source.
  • Fly Rod - a particular type of fishing rod that comes in varying lengths (typically 6 to 9 feet in length, but special fly rods can be as long as 15 feet) designed to cast varying fly line weights (typically 2 to 12-weight lines).
  • Fly Line - a typically 90-foot line that acts as a weight and thus can be cast in arcs and loops pulling the leader and fly behind it; line weights designate their ability to carry different size flies, and it is imperative to match the line weight to the fly rod weight (i.e., 2-weight to 12-weight fly lines); trout line weights are typically 2 to 6 weights whereas bass line weights are typically 6 to 8 weights.
  • Floating/Sinking Fly Line - the ability of a line to float or sink in the water regardless of its line weight; sinking lines have varying sinking rates from slow to very fast; combo lines are available where the first 6 to 25 feet sink but the remaining line floats.
  • Weight Forward vs. Double Taper Fly Lines - weight forward (WF) lines have slender running line that facilitate shooting line for longer casts, whereas double-taper (DT) lines are thought to be more delicate in presenting the fly and have the added feature of being reversed on the fly reel so as to prolong the line's useful life.
  • Fly Line Designations - a way of naming fly lines so you can easily match them to your fly rod weight and fishing strategy; e.g., a double-taper floating line for a 5-weight fly rod would be labeled DT-5-F.
  • Line Backing - a very thin, usually 20lb test Dacron line that attaches between the fly reel and fly line in order to add length to the reel's ability to give out line on a large, fast running fish, especially important with salmon and salt-water fly fishing. 
  • Fly Reel - a reel designed to both store the fly line and backing as well as retrieve line cast or stripped from the reel; comes with varying drag or brake mechanisms to slow the reel spin when a large fish is swimming away from you.
  • Leader - the nylon or fluorocarbon line that connects the fly line to the fly ranging in lengths from 6 to 12 feet; it is tapered from a butt section of about 20 pound or higher test to a tippet section of 2 to 6 pound test; often referred to as the terminal end of the line.
  • Tippet - the last three feet or so at the end of the leader; this is the most delicate portion of your line and is usually described in "x" sizes as follows (7x to 3x being the typical range of sizes for trout):
  • Fly - the fly fisherman's equivalent of bait or lure; usually a single barbed hook in sizes 22 to 2 (larger number being the smallest of hooks) with feathers, fur, tinsel, and other materials tied on the hook to resemble all manner of aquatic life that fish eat, including insects, crustaceans, and baitfish; note that the larger the fly you intend to fish, the heavier the fly line and rod weight (fly tackle needs to be weight matched).   
I realize this terminology seems intimidating, but it is greatly simplified if you stick to a narrow band of game fish, like trout or bass. Ok, now on to a beginner’s fly fishing gear list for trout and bass.

I must first confess that I can be a gear hound... having fly fished for about 35 years I have accumulated much stuff. I’ll do my best to keep this simple. My very first suggestion is to buy a fly casting training tool before you do anything else. Try the Echo Micro Practice Rod at Feather-Craft Fly Fishing.

If you spend $37 on this practice tool but never get the hang of casting it, you might want to think twice before spending ten times that amount of money only to discover that fly casting just isn’t your cup of tea. Either that or ask a fly fishing friend to loan you a fly rod, some casting advice, and thirty minutes of time to teach you the fundamentals of fly casting. Joan Wulff’s DVD titled “Dynamics of Fly Casting” would also be a good investment to go with the Echo practice rod.

Regarding fly fishing stores, there is only one decent fly shop in Clark County and that’s the White River Fly Shop in the Bass Pro Shop located in the Silverton Hotel Casino. While I have purchased flies from that shop, I think it’s a little pricey for retirees on a budget. I suggest Cabela’s catalog orders as a good substitute, and to make this “beginner’s outfit list” easier I’ll try to only reference items from their 2009 Fly-Fishing Catalog (yes, like everything else, Cabela’s has a special catalog for fly fishing). You can find everything you will need in that online Cabela's catalog.

I would start with the “Cabela's Three Forks/Prestige Plus Fly Combo with Fly Line” which will run you about $80. I would select a 5-weight line; it’s a good all around line. As to rod length, that depends. If you were solely going to fish lakes and reservoirs I’d select the 8.5 or 9 foot five-weight rods (I prefer the 2-piece rods as they are easier to assemble and might have better casting action than the multi-piece rods, but you can’t beat the 4-piece rods for traveling on an airplane). If you might fish creeks as well (like Mammoth Creek) I’d suggest an 8-footer... it can handle the small creeks as well as larger lakes. If you were fishing creeks exclusively I’d be more inclined toward a 7.5 foot four-weight rod. In fact, if you knew you were going to stick with the fly fishing I’d buy the combo as a 9-foot, 5-weight ($80), but then add to it the 7.5-foot 4-weight “Cabela’s Traditional II” rod only ($100) because the Three Forks doesn’t offer a 7.5-foot 4-weight rod, and the “Three Forks” 3-weight will be too light in breezy conditions and unable to cast small streamers and woolly buggers. If you add the 4-weight to the combo you will need to buy two or three extra spools for the “Cabela’s Prestige” fly reel ($25 ea.)... but be sure you order the right size spool to match the combo reel. You can put a 4-weight line on a larger spool, but you can’t put a 5-weight line on a smaller spool (the line weight is directly relational to the diameter of the line, hence heavier weighted lines take up more spool volume).

Rod and reel in hand, now we need to put lines on the spools. The Cabela’s “Three Forks Combo” comes with a 5-weight floating line, backing, and tapered leader. As to the extra spools, manufacturers always recommend “line backing” first for several reasons: (1) the average line length is about 90 feet (30 yards) so a large (4 or 5 lbs) fish could easily deplete your line; backing adds length to your line while taking up very little volume, and (2) the extra volume the backing does take up will result in a faster retrieval rate and slightly less line coiling tendencies. For a beginner you can forget the backing; it can easily be added later if you feel the need. As to fly lines, I mostly fish sinking or sink-tip lines because the vast majority of the time trout feed underwater. Only during significant insect hatches will they exclusively feed on the surface. So, you’re always better off to get the line down. Lines can be expensive, and they wear out. Unfortunately, a bad line can be a nightmare to handle and cast so I tend to gravitate to the more expensive lines. But, a beginner could start by trying “Cabela’s Prestige sink-tip lines” ($30), but for a full sinking line (my preference) try the “Cortland 444 Classic Fly Line” ($52) with the SIII sink rate. I prefer weight forward (WF) tapers for the ease of longer casts.

Pflueger Trion 7-weight reel on left, Orvis CFO 123 4-weight reel on right
Okay, let’s see, if we buy the combo only with one extra spool and a sinking line, the cash register is up to $157 so far. Now we need leaders and flies.

Cabela’s offers their brand of “Prestige Fluorocarbon” leaders and tippet. You’ll need the extra tippet spools to add length to the leaders as their tips get “consumed” with changing flies and break-offs from fish and snags. I prefer size 6x for trout fishing (a 3.5lb test tippet). You’ll need three or so of their 2-pack leaders ($14 ea.). I prefer the 9-foot length, but you can buy other brands at a 7.5-foot length which might be easier for a beginner to cast. Whatever weight size leader you buy (6x, 5x, or 4x), you’ll need a matching size tippet spool for mending shortened leaders (remember, as the leader shortens its terminal end diameter increases making it more visible to the trout). Adding tippet length to your leader requires the blood or surgeon knot. A “Prestige Fluorocarbon” 30-foot tippet spool will run you $9. You’ll need to have connection loops on your lines in order to be able to quickly change leaders on the lines. Some new lines come with their own loops. If yours don’t, you’ll need to create one by using 20lb test leader material. You tie a perfection loop on one end, and then three inches toward the other end you attach it with a nail knot to the tip of the line (if using a WF line, be sure you have the correct tip). The Prestige Leaders already have a perfection loop on their butt sections so you’ll be ready to swap out leaders quickly. Try Killroy's web site if you need help with knot tying.

Tapered leader on left, matching tippet spool on right

Example of Perfection Knot loop connecting line to leader

Example of Nail Knot connecting Perfection Loop section to end of fly line
Let’s see. If we buy three leader packs and one matching tippet spool that’ll come to $51, so now we’re up to $208, plus tax and shipping. Now we need flies. For most of the trout I have pursued in this blog I prefer small nymphs on size 16 and 14 hooks. I especially like them on the small creeks. Often when on reservoirs looking for trout of fourteen inches and over I prefer woolly buggers over streamers because they just seem to be more productive on average. I prefer shades of green or brown for the woolly buggers, but in murky water I’ll swap to black to gain visibility. Flies generally run about $1 each, plus or minus depending upon hook size and complexity. To start fishing lakes and reservoirs try “Denny Rickard's 44-Piece Lake Fly” assortment on Cabela’s web site ($60). If you’re into stream fishing try “30-Piece Hare's Ear Fly Assortment” or “36-Piece Baetis Cycle Top to Bottom Fly Assortment”, but both will work on still water very well. One or two of these assortments would be a very good start, but will set you back $50 to $100. Alternatively you can buy individual fly patterns in sets of two or three. Unlike nymphs and woolly buggers, dry flies imitate insects floating on the water surface (either morphing from nymph into adult, depositing eggs, or simply spent and dying). A dry fly assortment is very nice to have, but surface fishing with a floating line can be very slow as most action is occurring under the surface. Still, having trout rise to your floating dry fly is one of the most exciting fly fishing events.  I suggest a twenty to thirty fly assortment to begin with, mostly because beginners will lose lots of flies. Oh, and you’ll need a fly box, for which I recommend the “Wind River Molded Foam Box” in medium or large ($14).

Wheatley aluminum fly box with nymphs on left, dry flies on right

Morell foam box; note woolly buggers / streamers on left

Another Morell foam box with efficient assortment of nymphs
Okay, by now if you add one fly assortment to your single-rod outfit your sub-total is hovering around $275, but you are now ready to fish as long as you don’t intend to wade or float the water. Start at a local urban pond, like Sunset Park in the southeast or Floyd Lamb in the northwest, but practice casting on the grass at a local school yard before you go (use a fly-less leader with a small piece of yarn tied on the tippet to resemble the fly). If you’re like most of us you’ll not be able to cast your first time out. This is where the Nevada Department of Wildlife or a local organization like the Las Vegas Fly Fishing Club can come in handy. Here again, I strongly suggest the Echo practice rod before investing in this level of gear.

Once you get the hang of basic casting and you’re getting the fly fishing bug, you might want to invest in a cheap pair of waders. Try Cabela’s “Three Forks™ 420-Denier Featherlight Chest Waders” with the boot foot ($70). The boot foot wader saves the added expense of purchasing wading boots. And if you’re into floating the lakes and reservoirs for larger trout, try the “Fish Cat 4 Float Tube” ($195) which I personally use due to the efficient valve system and its foam seat which keeps everything from my calves up out of the water (chest high waders still recommended). I don't recommend circular float tubes that suspend two-thirds of your body in the water; they are uncomfortable and much less maneuverable.  You’ll need to add fins to your ensemble, and I highly recommend the “Caddis Kick Tube Fins” with the snap buckle as they seem to be the easiest and most efficient ($27), but Cabela’s doesn’t carry them. Try the Sportsman's Warehouse website.

So, this wader/float tube outfit will set you back $292, which when added to the single-rod outfit will put the grand total to around $567, plus tax and shipping. If you think that is expensive, it is. I blame Robert Redford’s movie, “A River Runs Through It”, for popularizing this sport which enabled manufacturers to escalate prices as demand increased. Then again, the popularity sure has produced gear innovations not previously seen prior to the 1990s. Nonetheless, the price for this beginners outfit is still way cheaper than a bass boat (smile).

I hope this encourages my fellow piscators who want to try the “art” of fly fishing. From scratch, expect to dish out about $300 to get a decent beginner's start. If you remain interested and want to advance further you can add the waders and float tube (and an extra rod or reel here and there) as you go along. Use the NDOW and Las Vegas Fly Fishing Club as sources of free instruction; it’ll help minimize the frustration level and shorten your learning curve. And to feed your interest during the winter off-season and save money, too, you can advance on to tying your own flies and building your own rods. It’s an outdoor hobby that can turn into a year-round passion.

Wishing you all tight lines, but more importantly satisfied souls!
Orvis Battenkill Mid Arbor II 4-weight reel

October 30, 2009

Cold Creek Pond, Clark County, Nevada

Plump Cold Creek rainbow of twelve inches
Being a local government employee, I benefit from the Nevada statehood holiday. Strangely, or not, it coincides with Halloween. Some, mostly those who mispronounce its name, probably think that makes Nevada a scary state. Regardless, I took advantage of the holiday to run up to Cold Creek for ninety minutes of fishing.
Another rainbow on stillwater nymph
From my perusal of the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) website I noticed they stocked the little pond on October 23. I say Cold Creek is little because even when at capacity it can't be over two acres in size... maybe 100,000 surface square-feet at most. Despite the cold front that blew into the valley on Wednesday I decided a quick trip to Cold Creek was needed before all the meat anglers depleted the pond of its little jewels. I tried to cajole my son Brian into going with me to “get out of Dodge” as they say. But he feared it would be cold and windy on Saturday morning. Turns out this morning was calm, but cool. The temperature upon arrival at 8:30am was about 45 degrees. But since there was no wind it was very tolerable.
Healthy ten-inch trout next to my newly built rod
(foul hooked near pectoral fin)
There were two gents slinging hardware (i.e., metal spinning lures) into the pond when I arrived. They were from Las Vegas and were clearly harvesting fish for a meal. They had a few on a stringer that were slapping around near the shore. Unfortunately for them, they did not realize that the average size of these little stocked trout was about 9.2 inches, making it difficult for most of them to get their mouths around the metal lures, assuming they wanted to eat those things. In contrast I had the perfect weapon for these little fish... flies tied to resemble little bugs. Trout naturally feed on aquatic insects. Bugs that live their nymph stage in the water clinging to rocks and weeds. As they transform from nymph to full grown insect they emerge from the water to molt into mature winged bugs that mate and drop their fertilized eggs into the water, starting the cycle of life all over again. The point is that trout eat bugs, and the closer you can resemble the bugs they are eating the more successful you will be. Of course they will eat other food that resembles or smells like something edible (e.g., worms and cheese-ball bait), but there is no debating that they eat aquatic insects.
Fat rainbow on stillwater nymph
Same trout; note barbless hook barely holding onto lip
In ninety minutes I landed well over fifteen trout, maybe even twenty. I lost count. On several occasions I caught three in a row on successive casts, much to the dismay of my fishing company. Most were as advertized on the NDOW website: about nine inches. I did land several close to eleven inches, and two plump ones close to twelve inches. What I found especially nice was that they were deeply colored, and many leaped wildly out of the water. The NDOW website indicates these Cold Creek trout were stocked from the Mason Valley Hatchery near Yerington, NV; looks like Mason Valley produces some healthy, nice looking rainbow trout.  I was using my newly built seven foot, six inch fly rod with a four-weight sinking fly line. It was a blast. I was casting size twelve still-water nymphs. One of them lacked a tail and it sometimes acted as a dry fly sitting on the surface. I noticed a trout rose to the surface to strike it, and for a while I fished it as a dry fly. I took four nice trout using that tactic.

Others had arrived at the pond, and some were catching a few trout, but nothing like what I was experiencing. I caught trout in practically every corner of that little pond. The weather was cooperating nicely, as were the trout. I tried hard not to let my pride swell too much, but I admit to getting a little giddy at times. I think a couple of the other fishermen were enjoying my success in a vicarious sort of way. I heard one older gentleman talking with his wife on the cell phone. “Yes honey, I arrived just fine. I’ll call you when I leave. There are a few guys fishing, and one fly fisherman who’s catching fish on practically every cast.”
My three early-morning fishing buddies
Before I got into my truck to depart, I talked with one of the fishermen who was there when I arrived. He claimed to have loaned his fly rod to his sister or daughter or someone, which made no sense to me at the time. He asked to see the flies I was using. I opened my Wheatley box and showed him the flies. I told him how I would rig up my spinning rods for my sons to fish flies. He seemed sincerely interested, and so I gave him a couple of flies. As I was driving up the dirt road I looked into my rear view mirror to witness him dragging the nymph on the end of a bobber as if it were a spinner. I reckoned that my first impression about the “loaning” of his fly rod to someone else was right on... he clearly was not a fly fisherman.
Awfully pretty for a stocked trout; caught on a beaded nymph
For the past twenty-five years I’ve been practicing catch and release, returning the fish to their environs, hopefully to grow larger and be caught again by another catch and release angler. I was glad to have released all those Cold Creek trout back into the pond. Maybe the fishermen I left behind caught a few of them, who knows for sure. One of them made a disdainful comment or two about my catch and release practices, especially when he saw me release the larger ones. But I always feel a sense of joy returning fish unharmed to the water. The excitement is in the casting and catching, not the killing. And with little ponds like Cold Creek, the stocked fish can be harvested out within a month if the fishing pressure is hard. Putting them back in prolongs the fishing enjoyment, for most of us anyway.
Yes, the cold weather was worth it...

October 15, 2009

Haymeadow Reservoir, Wayne Kirch WMA

Haymeadow benches and sign in memory of J. R. Hanson
I stole another “sanity” day from work to fish Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area (KWMA) on Thursday. My boss told me to take time off now since the next six months will be too busy to allow it. I didn’t say it at the time but I thought, “Heck, it’s always that way around here... it never lets up.” Nonetheless, with her permission I took advantage of the hole in my schedule to sample the fall weather at the KWMA.

The KWMA is located in the White River Valley in northeastern Nye County off of State Route 318. It is composed of a total of 14,815 acres, including five reservoirs. The KWMA habitat, raging from sagebrush to wet meadows and grasslands, supports an abundance of fish and wildlife. Its wetlands are among the most productive wildlife habitats in Nevada. It provides food, cover, and water for numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The Tule, Adams-McGill, Cold Springs, Dacey, and Haymeadow reservoirs provide water habitat for fish and waterfowl (although I’ve never read fishing reports on Tule Reservoir). The uplands on KWMA include sagebrush, alkali desert scrub, annual grassland and desert wash. Sagebrush provides important habitat for mule deer, pronghorn, and sage grouse.
Smaller rainbow fooled by beaded prince nymph
The State of Nevada purchased the KWMA land from Ervin Hendrix in 1959, who had purchased it from the Adams-McGill Company in 1943. The state wildlife agency purchased the land (formerly known as Sunnyside) for its wetland waterfowl value. The four major reservoirs within the 14,815 acres are Adams-McGill (785 surface acres), Dacey (185 surface acres), Cold Springs (275 surface acres), and Haymeadow (190 surface acres), but to date I’ve only fished Cold Springs and Haymeadow (thus, I have reasons for more KWMA visits).

When I arrived at Haymeadow at 8:30am, after my 2½ hour drive, the temperature was just getting to 50 degrees from its overnight low in the mid-30s, but by noon it had warmed into the low 70s, although the water temperature did not feel that cold...yet. All the KWMA reservoirs are relatively shallow, with depths averaging six to seven feet. The water weeds, while starting to fade in the cooling temperatures, were still occupying much of the lake’s volume. Navigating the float tube wasn’t the issue as much as casting along and between the numerous weed beds. Except for a small, short lived, late morning mayfly hatch most of the trout were feeding three to five feet under the surface. I had equal luck with several flies, including small brown and green streamers, hares ear and beaded prince nymphs, as well as callibaetis nymphs.
First fourteen-inch rainbow
Action was fairly good from the start, but most trout seemed around twelve inches, plus or minus. They were pretty rainbows with deep, saturated colors. By mid-day I started to hook up with larger trout, with a smattering of small bass (eight inches and smaller) that were getting active as the temperature warmed. I did not count the fish, but I was easily over 20 fish by the end of the day. I was using a 4x tippet testing at about 5 pounds, and I think that gave me a false sense of security to play the fish harder. I didn’t want to lose flies in the weeds, and you can really haul in twelve-inch trout on a 4x tippet. But that kind of muscling won’t work with larger, heavier fish. The result often becomes the hook tearing out of the lip rather than the big fish coming to the net. And so, I lost many trout with hook pull-outs that day... but I never lost a fly. A stupid trade off, I know. I did land two rainbows around sixteen inches, and two others around fourteen. But my best hook-up of the day came around 1:00pm in a relatively shallow, weedy portion near Haymeadow’s earthen dam. I could sense it was large by the electrified pulsation it sent through the fly line as it thrashed its head under the water. It was the only fish of the day that I decided to play off the reel. With trout fifteen inches or smaller I usually strip them in with my left hand while holding the rod in my right casting hand, but since I was using a 4x tippet I had stripped in the two sixteen-inchers by hand... which might be why I lost so many trout. I like my reels to be right-hand retrieve, so when I decided to play this big trout off the reel I had to switch my rod hand from right to left and then I reeled like crazy to pick up the line laying on my lap. While doing that the trout thrashed on the surface and tail-slapped the line... his peduncle (the portion of his body preceding his tail, or caudal fin) was clearly visible and looked to be the size of my wrist. I quickly calculated a twenty inch trout of three to four pounds in weight. A few seconds after I got him onto the reel, and feeling a sense of relief for having done so, the hooked ripped out. I was not happy.
First sixteen-inch rainbow

Last trout of the day, sixteen inches
I decided I had enough, and headed towards the boat dock. It was near the boat dock that I landed the second sixteen inch rainbow, and that helped me to deal with my loss of the big trout. It was a good day. I got out of the water at 2:00pm, and thirty minutes later after stowing away all my gear I had started my drive back home. I had the Haymeadow reservoir all to myself for five and one half hours of fishing. It was a good day to be fishing, and a good day to escape the demands of my job. Any day I spend fishing is such a blessing from the Lord... but the truth is that every day, no matter what the circumstances, is a day that deserves our eternal thanks to God our Father.
Taking lunch break on the earthen dam, just before losing the large trout

Satisfied angler ready to return home


September 10, 2009

Illipah Reservoir & Cave Lake, White Pine County

The summer heat was starting to wane and I was yearning to return to Cave Lake to work on the brown trout that inhabit the inlet waters of the lake. I enjoy a challenge, and when Brian and I visited Cave Lake four weeks ago I wasn’t able to give the task my full attention. I was coaching Brian through his first fly fishing trip but found the slurping brown trout inhabiting the shallows to be a nagging distraction. I caught a few browns that day, one reaching about thirteen inches. I saw larger trout, but I either put them down with sloppy casting or didn’t offer a fly they wanted. Even though it wasn’t quite fall weather yet, I wanted to return and try for a few of the larger brown trout.

I arranged to take a Thursday and Friday off. Rather than fish both days on Cave Lake, my plan was to fish Thursday afternoon at Illipah Reservoir west of Ely and Friday morning at Cave Lake just southeast of Ely. Illipah had been getting good reports as of late and the trout there are generally larger than those in Cave Lake, but the brown trout aren’t as reliably located as they are in Cave Lake. In Cave Lake I always find them near the Cave Creek inlet, but Illipah lacks the same reliable inlet as the reservoir is managed by the ranch such that the water levels are unreliable; often large portions of the shore and inlet area are exposed. In fact, this trip revealed the lowest Illipah water level I’ve ever seen, and I only landed a few small brown trout there.

Moorman Ridge to the east of Illipah Reservoir
An additional reason for adding Illipah to this trip was that I had just finished building my nine-foot, five weight replacement rod for the one I broke on the August trip to Cave Lake with Brian. I wanted to try out the nine footer on Illipah first since the fishing seemed to be better suited for it there. But I also brought along the two little four-weights: the six footer and the seven and one-half footer. I envisioned fishing the nine footer at Illipah and then using the seven and one-half footer on Cave Lake with the six footer as a spare.

Freshly built 7.5 and 9 foot flyrods on float tube

At Illipah the weather was perfect; breezes under ten miles per hour with light cloud cover. After assessing the low water level I set off on my float tube at around 1:30pm. At first I got decent action, especially around or near the floating weed beds. I caught several rainbows of about fourteen inches, but most everything else was around twelve inches, plus or minus an inch or so. There were large trout about, but I couldn’t land any of them. I enjoyed casting the new nine footer, but its action is different from the Cabela’s PT+ rod blanks used on the little four weights. The Cabela’s IM7 blank has a higher graphite content and casts a little faster. It definitely seemed that I could cast farther, but I occasionally had trouble with timing. After a while the fishing activity slowed down until around 6:30pm; that’s when the shallows started to show the tell tale ringlets of rising trout. A hatch of little gray mayflies was on and the trout were slurping them in. I switched to the seven foot six inch, four weight rod with a floating line and landed a few more nice rainbows, but no large brown trout. I wanted to stay out until dark, but I still had a thirty minute drive back to Ely, and I was hungry. By 7:30pm I had landed eighteen trout, three of which were little brown trout. That’s about three fish per hour, but most of those were caught the first couple of hours and the last couple of hours with a two-hour dry spell in between.

Looking southwest towards Mt. Hamilton in the White Pine Range
I did have the accompaniment of an Osprey while on Illipah. I witnessed him diving twice, with his second dive delivering a nice trout supper for him. He was about one-hundred yards away, but I still should have attempted a picture to crystallize the moment.

Typical 14-inch Illipah rainbow

Small Illipah brown trout
with beadhead Prince nymph in corner of mouth

Trout Truck patiently waiting on Illipah Reservoir
That night in Ely I slept well, but was up by 5:30am. After my 6:00pm breakfast I was able to launch my tube on Cave Lake by 7:30am. The winds were calm and the skies were clear of clouds (I could have used some cloud cover). I was the first and only on the lake, and it was beautiful.

Placid Cave Lake in Schell Creek Range, 7:30am
I noticed a little morning hatch coming off the shallows near the cattails, just to the north side of the inlet. The water was glass flat and crystal clear. I quickly landed several rainbows and a couple of small brown trout on small nymphs. I slowly worked my way over to the south side of the inlet shallows, where I’ve always observed the larger trout working. I switched to a floating line with a deer-hair Caddis fly, but only hooked a few small rainbows. Then I changed to an Adams and found good luck with that fly for a while, including a couple of thirteen-inch brown trout. Fisherman, mostly shore fisherman, started to arrive around 8:30am, and by 9:30 a couple of pontoon fly fisherman arrived. Sensing they had my same motives, I departed the water so they could access my area, which they quickly did. My goal was to leave Ely at 9:00am to get home shortly after noon (Denise and I still had chores to get the house ready for the County foster license renewal visit on Sunday), but I stayed on the water until 10:30am as I was really enjoying myself. Still, no large brown trout as I had fancied (i.e., over fifteen inches), but in those three hours I did manage to land seventeen trout, or about one fish every ten or eleven minutes... crisp action. 
This Cave Lake brown succumbed to Adams dry fly
Cave Lake brown with Callibaetis nymph in mouth

Pontoon fly fishermen taking over my spot as I depart for home

This was a nice two-day getaway. The weather was still warm during the day, but the coming of fall could be felt in the crisp evening temperature. If I had more time I’d go back in mid-October one more time before winter... but then again Wayne Kirch will be getting active with its large rainbows about then as well. Don’t you love having choices and decisions to make? Meanwhile, thirty-five trout landed in nine hours of fishing works out to about four fish per hour, which will sustain me until the next opportunity.

August 14, 2009

Cave Lake, White Pine Co., Nevada

Fishing Cave Lake inlet with 10,000 foot Schell Creek range in backgound
The dog days of August foretell not only the approaching school year but the end of the sweltering Las Vegas heat. Although I must say, from my perspective, this has not been a typically hot summer (maybe I just tolerate it better as I age). Still, getting away for a little fishing in northeastern Nevada surely bolsters my sufferance for 110 degree temperatures.

As I mentioned in my July 11, 2009 blog, my “number four son” Brian was developing an interest in fly fishing. Since just one week remained before he was to start his freshman year at UNLV we decided to make a “training” trip. I selected Cave Lake mostly due to bad weather patterns over southern Utah, but also because I knew we would catch trout near the Cave Lake inlet (which I knew would also hold wild brown trout to feed my amusement). The downside to Cave Lake is the 240 mile two-lane highway that takes about three-and-one-half hours to navigate; it is surprising how much traffic it carries, especially freight trucks.

Brian’s been on a pretty strict schedule all summer, including working his third season as a full-time YMCA counselor as well as a rigorous exercise routine (he’s getting very noticeable results) not to mention the end-of-high-school social activities normal for young adults preparing for college and new careers. We were both able to take a Friday off from work, departing Thursday night for Ely. We planned to fish Friday morning to beat the weekend camping crowd and return home late Friday afternoon. On the return home, however, Brian noted we did way too much driving and too little fishing... a good observation from my point of view and the first really useful lesson to be learned.

Brian had been practicing fly casting with an eight foot, five weight rod that I built in 1981. It’s a favorite rod for many reasons, some of which are sentimental (see my Henderson Springs blog). He was a little rough at first, but no more than any beginner trying to get down the timing and physics of casting a fly line. I also purchased Joan Wulff’s video on fly casting which helped (being self taught I really can’t describe very well what I do when I cast... I sort of cast by feel since I’ve been fly casting for over thirty years). I was a little anxious for Brian when we got on the water because I knew he had a lower tolerance for frustration and higher expectations for performance... two conflicting traits when learning to fly fish. But truthfully, he did really well for his first time out.

Brian preparing to step into his waders
The tube launch site
We launched the tubes near the inlet. It was already 8:00am and several families were fishing from shore, some from a rubber raft opting for the deeper water (fools). There also was a fly fishing float tuber getting out of the water as we prepared our equipment. When I asked how he did he only replied that it was cold. It was a curious response because it was not cold (65 degrees and climbing to a high of about 80 degrees), it was only 8:00am, and he did not answer my question which was obviously directed toward the fishing results not the temperature. I did not pursue the matter further because I assumed he had little success, and if that was the case I didn’t want his experience to cloud Brian and my expectations.

Tools of the trade
I rigged up the old eight-footer for Brian with my favorite Galvan Torque fly real, and as for me I assembled my newly-built seven-and-one-half foot, four weight rod with my old Orvis CFO reel. I built the new rod for my birthday, purposely filling the gap between the little six-footer I made last January and the nine-footer I usually use when float-tubing large water. (In thirty-five years of fishing I’ve never broken a rod. On this trip I brought four rods, the two I just described as well as two “store-bought” nine footers: a Fenwick and an early model Sage, both low-priced rods relatively speaking. I had all four stuffed in a rod tube. It was tight in the tube, so when we finished I had to pull the nine-footers out so I could slide all four in at once. Upon sliding out the nine-footers, both in rod bags, I caught the tip of the Fenwick on the zipper cap of the tube. The resulting sound I heard, despite being the first time I have ever heard it, registered in my brain as a broken tip. Sure enough, when I opened the rod bag I had snapped two inches off the Fenwick tip. The Fenwick was my favorite nine-footer. After the initial disappointment wore off I realized that for the same $150 I paid for the rod I could build a custom replacement... smile).

Brian had the usual beginner difficulty. Mostly he was breaking his wrist on his back cast causing the rod tip, and therefore his line, to dip too low. This resulted in the line slapping the water on his back cast. The other beginner’s frustration was timing on his forward cast. Obviously, you can see the line in front of you so timing the start of the back cast is easier as you naturally watch the line roll out in front of you. Since you don’t see the line behind you unless you purposely crank your neck around, starting the forward cast is more problematic, even for experienced fly casters. Usually what happens to beginners is that as the line begins to extend out behind them they start the forward cast too early, i.e., before the line rolls out and loads up the fly rod. Starting too early can cause all sorts of ugly problems, one of which is the whipping action that all too often snaps off the fly. Brian lost several flies on Cave Lake. But you know, remembering back to my early learning years, he didn’t lose more flies than I did back then.

One of Brian's eight rainbows on the fly

Changing flies

Brian learning to land trout by hand

But best of all, Brian caught eight rainbow trout. Darn good for a first time fly-fisherman! That, of course, is the purpose of fishing. Yes we love the outdoor scenery, the tranquility of nature, the rhythmic dance we do with the fly rods, but don’t kid yourself; we fish to catch fish. I thought Brian’s performance was really excellent for a beginning fly caster. His largest was about twelve inches. I was amused by the little issues he experienced that I had erased from my early memories, like how do you bring the trout to your hand while sitting on a float tube; just little things you take for granted after years of experience that seem so obvious to me now (doesn’t everyone in the world know how to land a trout by hand while sitting in a float tube?). Watching Brian experience and figure them out on his own brought back memories of fishing with my brother Neal. And, he tied all his own knots, which is a very good thing when you’re losing flies on your back cast.

As for me, I had a blast with my newest four-weight rod. I knew the wild brown trout would be in the shallows near the inlet. Although I did not count fish, I’d guess I caught something more than fifteen. About six were brown trout, two being right at fourteen inches. The seven-and-one-half-foot rod blank I used for this rod was the same Cabela’s PT Plus model I used for the six-footer, and I’m really pleased with the way both of these four-weights cast. I think I’d like to return in the fall with both of them and try for the browns while they’re in the full spawning mode.
Landing a rainbow trout
Don't talk with your mouth full, Mr. Brown
A nice twelve-inch rainbow
Once again the time spent driving with Brian offered wonderful opportunities to talk. Not that I live with regrets, but I wish I had made more opportunities to have long, casual discussions with Brian’s older brothers when they were formative teenagers. Some of us parents mistakenly think quality time trumps quantity, but I’m convinced it’s a misleading theory. There is something that compels conversation when you’re trapped together in the cab of a truck, a walk in the outdoors, or an evening at dinner. While I don’t think words speak louder than actions, conversation puts the meaning and context to them. Sure, mom and dad have been married thirty years, but they’ve had lots of rough spots that have sunk similar marriages. Having the time to discuss those difficulties and the journey through them with the love, grace, and hope of Jesus helps explain the source of the actions in which marriages survive and even flourish; love of each other simply isn’t enough when you’re struggling and hurting due to your selfish desires. After all, we’re all sinners who the evil one wants to kill, steal, and destroy, and so we’re in need of our own 12 Step program for sinners, aren’t we?

Maybe there’s a 12 Step for Fishermen Anonymous?!
Casting along the reeds near boat dock
End of a successful day fishing for Brian