December 9, 2010

New Watercraft - Wayne Kirch

Adams McGill bay area, looking southwest
BEFORE READING THIS BLOG, READ THIS ONE: North Fork Outdoors: Not Responsive to Warranty Claims

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time you know I prefer to use a Fish Cat float tube to navigate and fish stillwater lakes and reservoirs. As much as it makes stillwater fishing fun, I always had a couple complaints about the Fish Cat. My most significant complaint about that style watercraft is that your lower legs are always under water which is uncomfortable after six hours fishing in the late fall or early spring. My second complaint, although less serious, is that kick-paddling is too difficult against winds in excess of fifteen miles per hour.

In the spring of 2008 I purchased a framed pontoon boat in an attempt to remedy some of the complaints I logged in my April 2008 blog. After using it once, though, I decided it was too large and bulky for use on the reservoirs I frequent. The pontoons were nine feet long, and fully assembled it weighed about eighty pounds. Furthermore, assembly of the pontoon took about thirty minutes, as did disassembly (which translated into one-hour not on the water fishing).

The past few years I’ve been searching for a better solution on the Internet. Dave Scadden’s North Fork Outdoors (NFO) seemed to be leading the pack, and his latest series of Outlaw designs really caught my attention. The Outlaw Renegade, a nine-foot watercraft weighing less than thirty pounds and capable of navigating Class V whitewater, was a design that really caught my eye because it was frameless. Still, its nine foot length was a lot for me. But, last year Scadden came out with a shorter Outlaw Escape… six feet in length and a scant twenty-five pounds. And although there’s not much whitewater near Las Vegas, it is comforting to know that the Escape is Class III rated. If you want to see the Outlaw Escape in action check out these videos:
Recently I received a Cabela’s catalog and noticed that they had a NFO Renegade on sale at half price. I logged on the NFO site and discovered that they were selling off their 2010 demo models. So I called NFO and actually got Dave on the phone. Last year’s demos were sold out, but Dave was able to let me pick up a demo of his latest Outlaw Escape model that had only seen carpet… also at half price. I couldn’t resist. (As an aside, Dave revealed he was in on the design of the Fish Cat which I was so endeared with.)

New NFO Outlaw Escape nestled in Trout Truck, 
Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area
Upon receiving the NFO watercraft I will say that I was disappointed in that it did not come with an acceptable valve adapter for filling the tube. When I called Dave back he said they were not using the more common Halkey Roberts valves, but rather new Bravo valves manufactured by Scoprega out of Italy. My initial search uncovered some blog writing by a disgruntled NFO customer who was having trouble getting Bravo parts for his watercraft. However, my search turned up a great source for Bravo parts at a very reasonable price. Defender, a marine outfitter, carries Bravo valve replacements and tools. So, I would not let the new Bravo valves become a reason to avoid the NFO Outlaw watercrafts.

And so, after storing my new Outlaw Escape in the garage for a few weeks I decided I needed to get away before the trout lakes and reservoirs froze over for the winter. The prior week’s report from Wayne Kirch indicated skim ice, and this Thursday’s report said it was iced over but un-walkable. Being of stubborn mind and ever hopeful I reasoned that the ice may have softened enough with the recently warmer weather, and so last Thursday after a mid-morning meeting I took-off for Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area. The temperature upon arrival at 1:30 PM was forty-five degrees with no wind, but still the Cold Springs and Haymeadow reservoirs were indeed frozen over. Not to be disappointed I drove over to the Adams McGill reservoir and to my pleasure found that the bay near the boat dock was not yet frozen. I was able to launch the Escape and christen her first water voyage.

Frozen Cold Springs boat launch area
Another view of Cold Springs ice-over
Now Adams McGill is more of a bass fishery, and the un-iced bay area was very shallow with no sign of trout. Still, I was able to run the little Escape through its paces. With the oars in their oarlocks the watercraft kick paddled easier than my Fish Cat, likely because of the better rocker design that makes it track higher and straighter in the water. And when I put my feet up on the cross-bar and unfolded the oars I could locomote quite easily and quickly through the water (…bring the wind on!). Although it’s not possible to love an inanimate object, I could tell this Escape was already my favorite watercraft and I had yet to catch a fish from it.

Inflated NFO Outlaw Escape propped against Trout Truck
Escape ready to be launched on Adams McGill
Finned feet resting out of water on cross bar
Well, after playing for about ninety minutes I had to get home for a dinner party. Some might think of a trip like this as crazy (five hours of round-trip driving for ninety minutes of fishless float tubing)… but I know better. It was a maiden voyage full of promise of good things to come at ice out next spring.

Am I a little excited... yes
(note Escape's rocker curvature that gives excellent tracking in water)
No fish, but happy NFO Outlaw Escape owner 

November 11, 2010

Cold Creek Pond, Clark County

Approaching the town of Cold Creek on highway 172
Hey, for those Las Vegans that have been asking about the stocking of Cold Creek I am happy to report that occurred last week. I made a short visit Thursday morning on a hunch that the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) had performed their scheduled deed even though their website had not been updated since last August.

Town of Cold Creek from the fishing pond, with just a light dusting of snow
I arrived at about 6:45 AM with the temperature in the high thirties. Two bait fisherman were already there and having good success with worms. After my usual slow start I caught about ten little ones in about two hours. Largest being maybe 10.5 inches (normal average stocking length is about 9.5 inches in NDOW’s urban pond program). Although, the healthier trout that survive the winter and make it to the spring can reach twelve inches or more.

Nice little rainbow about to be released, caught on 7.5-foot fly I built
After the first hour a truck with five fishermen arrived. They were using spinning rods with flies, mostly green woolly buggers. These stocked trout are small, and if you want lots of action here you need to use a smaller fly. Using woolly buggers on Cold Creek will produce the feeling of "taps” when the trout strike, but more often than not they won’t get the whole fly into their mouths, at least not past the hook point. I was slightly amused to hear all their talk about methods and results. And they did get some results with larger fish in the stocking pool, but had more than their share of missed strikes.
Close up of gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph compared to trout mouth

Pretty little trout on small nymph; note missing pectoral fin,
eaten off in the closed, neurotic confines of the fish hatchery

One amusing occurrence, which I suspect was driven by their trout hatchery upbringing, was that every time a cloud impeded the sun’s early morning rays six or seven trout would immediately roll on the surface. As soon as the sun came back they stopped. On this outing practically every one of my strikes was from the depths of the pond (four to five feet down). None of eight of us fishing the pond ever got a strike while the trout were rolling on the surface, despite what one member of the five fishermen predicted. I believe this is because as recently stocked hatchery trout reared in concrete runs, they were seeking the solace and protection of the depths of the pond while acclimating to their new environs, and the shadows of the cloud cover triggered some learned hatchery response... at least that’s my supposition. There where no “hatches” occurring on the pond.  Once accustomed to their new environment they will rise to dry flies fairly well, as my friend Mitch Kobler has often discovered.

Anyway, the trout are there and the fishing is fun. Enjoy the pictures.
Average Cold Creek stocked rainbow
Colorful gill plate on rainbow fooled by beaded nymph

Rainbow on the fly

This guy succumbed to a gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph

This one, too
Another classic colored rainbow on the hare's ear nymph
Looking southwest toward Spring Mountains and Cold Creek

October 28, 2010

Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area

Egan Mountain Range northeast of Cold Springs Reservoir
This past fishing season I concentrated more than usual on fishing streams rather than reservoirs. It was a conscious decision to get back to my fishing roots. Fishing the East Walker River for the first time was a rewarding experience, but all the trout I caught were just about twelve inches; respectable but not what I was used to catching in the lakes and reservoirs I frequent (excluding the local Cold Creek pond, of course). This year I made two trips to Mammoth Creek, and one each to Beaver River and Beaver Dam Creek. Those last four stream fishing encounters, while enjoyable, came up a little lame in the “fish caught” category. As the fall season was moving into its final month I thought I deserved a final still water fling with large trout.

Trout Truck patiently waiting at Haymeadow Reservoir
October 29th was a holiday for me (observance of Nevada’s statehood), but we had several family engagements scheduled that day as the boys were off from school as well. Luckily I was able to take the preceding Thursday off and create a four-day weekend, enabling me to fish Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area (Kirch), or Sunnyside as some refer to it based on the original ranch owner.

Float tube and equipment at Haymeadow boat launch
I dropped Evan off at school at 6:40 am, gassed up the truck and headed for Kirch. I was heading north on Interstate 15 by about 7:00 am. As I’ve written before, Kirch contains four fishable reservoirs that are all spring fed. To an untrained eye it is a rather desolate looking place sitting in a Great Basin alluvial desert at about 5,150 feet above sea level. I have never fished the Adams-McGill or Dacey reservoirs, but I have spent a fair amount of time on Cold Springs and Haymeadow. I arrived at Cold Springs at about 9:30 am, and I was fishing on the reservoir by 10:00 am. There were two men in a boat already on the water, but I saw no one else at Kirch the rest of the day. My Trout Truck said the outside temperature was 36 degrees, but I knew from the weather forecast that it would reach 50 degrees by noon, so I chose to wear a heavy canvas shirt over a t-shirt underneath chest-high waders. I was comfortable all day.

Rainbow rolling while on the line
Within about five casts I hooked into a nice male of over fifteen inches. I perceived that as a good omen. I fished until noon on Cold Springs landing another seven rainbows, and had two long-distance releases (LDRs). Claiming LDRs, as they are referred to, is a way of taking credit for hooking a fish that you never did land... if you’re into fish counts (smile). Most were in the ten to eleven inch range but nothing close to the size of the first trout.

First Cold Springs trout, 15.5 inches, gullet stuffed with eggs
Note this rainbow's sharp teeth
Typical eleven-inch Kirch rainbow
The fishing seemed a little slow to me, so I decided to leave Cold Springs for a run at Haymeadow Reservoir. The men in the boat had already circled the reservoir’s perimeter and were drinking their beers when I kick-paddled into the boat launch area. I discovered that they had fared worse than me, catching just five around twelve inches between the two of them. They, too, had driven up from Las Vegas with their fifth-wheel camper towing a boat behind it. We finished our pleasantries and I drove down to Haymeadow. The wind had begun to gust up, but the water was not choppy and kick-paddling was not a chore. I fished Haymeadow from about 12:30 pm to just after 3:30 pm. I caught a thirteen inch trout right away and then it seamed as if the southern dam portion of the reservoir was devoid of trout (of course it wasn’t, but it seemed that way). I would have stayed until sunset (5:30 pm), but I told Denise I’d be home by 5:00 pm and I was already more than an hour behind that schedule. I was late because the fishing on Haymeadow didn’t pick up until around 2:00 pm and I wanted to make the most of the newfound action. I fished Cold Springs almost exclusively with a green woolly bugger, but on Haymeadow I threw in brown buggers and several nymph patterns. Haymeadow seems shallower, or at least the weeds are closer to the surface, so I switched from my full sinking line to a sink-tip line and avoided the bead-headed flies. The tool of the day was my custom nine-foot, five-weight rod. I ended up landing eight trout on Haymeadow with three LDRs, most occurring within the last ninety minutes of fishing. About half were over twelve inches, but the clincher of the day was a fat female measuring right at sixteen inches. For you fish counters that was sixteen landed and five LDRs in about five hours, translating to a hookup every fifteen minutes or so.

Another woolly bugger victim
Sixteen-inch Haymeadow rainbow hen fish
Being that it was deep into the fall weather I had expected the trout to be more energized. What I found was that the larger fish did not seem to want to leap much, a characteristic usually found in the heat of the summer due to lower oxygen levels. Rainbows are known for their leaping ability, and catching them in the springtime usually results in an onslaught of exciting acrobatics. Some of the smaller trout did quite a bit of leaping, but not the larger ones. Another interesting observation was that when I removed the fly from the fifteen-inch male I could see many little round balls of a mottled grey color stuffed in his throat. I was trying to release him quickly after snapping a few pictures, but in retrospect I should have used my forceps to pull out one of those spheres. My initial reaction was that they were eggs of some sort, but I was puzzled as to what would be laying them so late in the fall. Bass and rainbow trout are spring spawners, but then I recalled that the trout in Cumins reservoir were from a Tasmania strain.

Let me digress. Rainbow trout are indigenous to North America. Years ago rainbows were transplanted down under in Tasmania and New Zealand. Over the decades these transplanted trout began spawning in October rather than April because the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. Since there are no competing salmonoids on those continents, these rainbow strains remained very strong, and now are used for stocking programs back in the United States where the indigenous brood stock had become weaker. Ironically, these confused fish when stocked from Tasmanian eggs still spawn in the fall. See my Cumins Reservoir blog for an encounter with fall spawning rainbows.

Perhaps what happened was that some of the Kirch stocked trout were of the Tasmanian gene pool and the hen fish were releasing their eggs. Maybe that male’s gullet was full of trout eggs. Come to think of it, when I look at the pictures of the sixteen-inch hen fish from Haymeadow she looks as if she could have just spawned. That could also explain somewhat of their lethargic action when hooked (trout can be a little weak after spawning). I really don’t know, but it is interesting to speculate.

Sixteen-inch rainbow; a spawned-out Tasmanian?
I doubt I’ll return to Kirch before it ices over. It will likely have to wait for next year. But I’ll have a few nice memories, and a little mystery, to carry me over to the spring while I fool around with those Cold Creek trout over the winter.

Happy angler

October 8, 2010

Beaver River and Mammoth Creek, Utah

Fishing Gear on truck bed, with Beaver River in background
The little seven and one-half foot, four-weight rod I built last year was designed for the small rivers and creeks such as I fished in my younger years. It can easily handle fifteen or sixteen-inch trout, but it can also cast a size eighteen dry fly with the proper delicacy. And ten to twelve inch trout will put a respectable bend in the light rod.

This past year I’ve had a craving for fishing small streams. Mostly because that’s where I started this fly fishing journey, but also because the new rod casts wonderfully and I really enjoy fishing it. And, there was that trip to Mammoth Creek last November in which I was skunked that needed to be expunged from my record. And so on October 8, 2010 I took a long trip into Utah to fish my little rod on a couple of streams.

Looking upstream on Beaver River
I had never fished the lower Beaver River, below Minersville Reservoir along Utah highway 21. The first time I ever saw the Beaver River was by mistake in 1978. My brother Neal was taking me on my first real fly fishing trip to the reservoirs of Fish Lake National Forest, only we were a week early for the Utah trout fishing season. Not wanting to waste the trip we headed west on Highway 21 to Baker, Nevada and ultimately Cave Lake near Ely, Nevada. That spring the Beaver was flowing full and looked to be a very inviting. Cave Lake turned out to be a fortuitous trip, but that first sighting of the Beaver River stuck in my mind, and it took thirty-two years to satisfy that curiosity.

Looking over the sage towards the Black Mountains south of Beaver River
I had heard good reports about Beaver River below the reservoir, but upon passing the reservoir I noted it was very low, no doubt the result of the summer irrigation season. It was so low, in fact, that there was no water coming over the spillway. There must have been a lower pipe that ensured water flow when Minersville was low, but I didn’t see one. What I did see was a very low, slow moving creek. There were a few brown trout in the creek. I hooked two and landed one, a whopping seven to eight inches long. I decided to leave Beaver after about ninety minutes and head for Mammoth Creek on the way back home.

Precious little Beaver brown trout taken on a dry fly
The recent rain and snow had Mammoth running heavy and cloudy. (Minersville Reservoir protected the lower Beaver River from that condition, but Mammoth runs free from its headwaters 10,500 feet above sea level.) I did have the creek to myself, however, so that was encouraging. I recalled a story Neal told me of a friend of his who caught a seventeen-inch brown from under the bridge.

Looking upstream towards Brian Head on the Mammoth Creek
I parked next to the bridge and decided to float a brown woolly bugger from upstream along the sweeping current to the other side of the bridge. Water visibility seamed about two to three feet so I knew I had to get it close to the fish or they’d never see the fly. On my second attempt under the bridge I got a strong take and played a nice little brown of maybe twelve inches for about thirty seconds. I tried to muscle him too much against the strong current and he broke off. Later, upstream a quarter mile or so, I did land another little brown of maybe seven inches. I was running out of daylight, regretful to have wasted four to five hours on the Beaver River excursion, but thankful I had stopped to try Mammoth again on the way home. Although I have yet to experience the fortune I found on Mammoth thirty years ago, I will not give up on her and will certainly return again.
Little brown trout from Mammoth Creek

September 6, 2010

Beaver Dam Creek, Lincoln County, Nevada

On the road to Beaver Dam State Park
They say you can never go back. Especially after you’ve been gone a long time. Things change. You change. Memories live on in your brain, scenes and events immortalized within. They say as you age the short-term memory goes, but the long-term memory lingers. Maybe that bodes well for senile reminiscing on early life adventures. Maybe I won’t remember this most recent trip.

I have written many times how I learned to fish the fly on a small creek near Caliente, Nevada, called Beaver Dam Creek. The fishable portion of the creek is contained within the boundaries of Nevada’s Beaver Dam State Park, but the eastern border is shared with the state of Utah. My deceased brother Neal told me of this creek and the joy he had fishing it. To this day I remain entranced by a photo of a male rainbow in spawning regalia that Neal had caught in the 1970s. It was not a large trout by my current standards, but it was a wild trout of significant proportions for Beaver Dam. That creek provided the basis for all I leaned about the sport during those early years, as I wrote in a prevoius Beaver Dam Creek blog.

Neal's impressive wild trout - note pan-sized trout piled above it
In 2005 the dam was breached and the reservoir drained in a controlled fashion. The earthen dam was leaking and the Nevada Park Service was concerned that it would fail resulting in a dangerous flood.  (Ranchers live downstream from the park, not to mention the residents of Beaver Dam, Arizona, where the creek enters the Virgin River.)  My last visit was in 2002, and I had not returned since the reservoir was drained. Through correspondence with the park staff I knew the creek still supported trout, and I was curious to see for myself what it had become without the reservoir. This past Labor Day I succumbed to a spontaneous desire to make a day trip.

Union Pacific comming through Acoma siding
Rail through Acoma
I left the house at 5:00am and arrived at the park before 8:00am. The Trout Truck (a term of endearment for my 2007 Dodge Dakota quad cab 4x4) descended into the canyon below the reservoir site and then cut over and back onto an access road that carved into the canyon wall, obviously cut there when the dam was built in 1961. A gate forced me to park at the top of a little outcropping from the canyon wall, from where I continued the decent to the creek on foot. I then crossed the creek and walked downstream on the access road on the other side. My intention was to get below the pool from where I remembered always starting my upstream fishing until reaching the first pool fed by the reservoir’s concrete spillway. I’m sure in length it’s less than a quarter mile. Although the daytime temperature seemed warm, I doubt it ever reached ninety degrees. It felt cool when I was in the shade, but uncomfortably warm in full sun; certainly wearing hip waders over jeans with a long-sleeved canvas shirt over a T-shirt did not help.

Trout Truck waiting patiently on the outcropping
At several points along the access roads on both sides of the creek it became obvious that the riparian vegetation was different than the 1980s. The breaching of the dam had brought much sand and silt through the little canyon and consequently seemed to foster excessive willow growth. Willows choked the creek so much that most casting had to be done while in the creek. The creek was much narrower, and in the few places it did spread out it was very shallow. Deep pools, large enough to support several fish, were few and far between. All the consistently productive pools I recalled, pools that used to produce four or five trout of eight to ten inches, and occasionally up to twelve inches, were altered so much that for all intents and purposes they were gone.

Example of a shallow riffle
Example of the tight willows
Remnant of the east-side access road 
leading down to my favorite starting place
Still, one does not drive three hours to a creek and not fish, so fish I did. And Beaver Dam did have fish. I did not count, but I landed at least ten, and lost several others. So as not to mislead you, the fish I lost were not due to their hefty weight and hard fighting, but rather that their mouths were so small that they likely never got all of the hook shank into their mouths. My smallest was less than two inches, and I doubt the largest reached eight inches. And while to some extent catching fish of any size can at least be entertaining, fighting dense willows and rock-hopping along was much more work than I anticipated for the pleasure of whipping rainbow fingerlings out of a creek on a six-foot, four-weight fly rod.

Rainbow just in excess of seven inches
A young parr rainbow
Fingerling on the dry fly
What a mouthfull surprize this little guy received
Nonetheless, I did make my journey all the way to the site of the old spillway pool. Obviously it was gone, but I don’t think I was prepared for what was left behind. In person it seemed like a moonscape of sorts, wide and barren of much of anything. The creek was cut deep into the sand and silt left over from the bottom of the reservoir. It clearly couldn’t contain any trout as it was shallow and without the streamside vegetation and cover necessary for trout.

The slope that once held the concrete spillway
There was a dam right here, once
Making my way back to the truck I began to realize that not only had the creek changed significantly over this past decade, but I was having a much harder time scrambling over rocks, negotiating through the dense vegetation, and hiking up the steep canyon walls. My body was tired and sore. Had I caught a few ten-inch trout in the pools and pockets I had etched in my memory it would have been worth it all. But I had not.
Beaver Dam's mini-version of a bleached Bryce Canyon

So, things change. Nothing of this world will last in this world. Those of us not of this world have the eternal promise of life with the Father, and that’s what sustains us with the hope of new life after death. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3, “There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season.” Beaver Dam Creek’s special season may be over for my lifetime, but I was surely blessed by it in the 1980s, and the Lord has provided so much more since then that I doubt I’ll revisit Beaver Dam again, but rather hold on to those rich and warm memories. They say you can’t go home, but they are wrong.