Lifelong angling buddies, Ed Weber of Rochester, N.Y., and Gary Giudice from Norman, Okla., are fly fishing their way up the spine of the Rocky Mountains following mayfly hatches. They started in the White Mountains of Arizona and will end on the Bow River of Alberta, Canada. This blog follows their trip.
BUENA VISTA, Colo. "Is there any clear, low rivers left in America? Look at this water," said Ed Weber, my traveling buddy from Rochester, N.Y. "This is just not right!"
We're on a month-long trout fishing adventure and muddy, high water is plaguing us ever step of the way.
Late run-off and heavy rains are hammering the Rocky Mountains. Surprisingly it's not hurting the fishing as much as it is the fishermen.
The fish still have to eat. It's just that they are eating nymphs and minnows not bugs on the surface.
Now, we are not dry fly purists, far from it. We do love to catch wild trout on a fly rod and we like to catch them on top from time to time. Mostly we just like to catch them but this is getting ridiculous. Come on! Damn the high water!
But it is what it is. We have to work with what we have and we have is high muddy water. The Arkansas River fishes well most of the time.
Perhaps the most famous hatch is the Mothers Day caddis hatch every year. It happens, well, around Mother's Day before the snow melts on all those magnificent 14,000-foot mountains that surround the area.
Now the snow is still melting and there's rain. Every day torrents. The trout get used to it, but the fishermen have a tough time.
Just like bass, when water is high these fish tend to go to the bank. That's good if you're in a drift boat, but if the water is too fast and deep to wade, well, you are screwed.
Basically you're looking at big nymphs or streamers. Wooly buggers, bunnies, muddlers or big prince nymphs, pheasant tails, or hare's ears are about it. Lots of weight and a large strike indicator are also a must.
Then you have to dredge it out. Cast after cast, doing the best you can to keep the flies in the seams is about the only way you can catch them. Five or six weight rods are a must and big 4X or 5X tippets are fine.
These new "Thingamabobber" bubble strike indicators are the best I've seen in this kind of water. They go on and off the line with ease and won't slip. Changing depth is a snap. Your local fly shop should have them. You really need to give these things a try.
Working the seams with big nymphs, Ed and I hammered them in the Arkansas. Brown trout in the 14- to 16-inch range came from every likely spot.
We were fishing a ranch just south of Buena Vista, Colo. Great water that we would love to fish when it was at normal levels, but I really doubt we would catch more fish.
Butter belied browns with plenty of spunk are hard to beat high water or low. Local ranches generally hold the best fishing but not always. There's a lot of public water nearby as well.
Gary Puckett, a Buena Vista police officer, set up the local ranch for us. Gary and I have hunted together several times, and he is truly a great guy.
If Gary can't make you laugh or keep you enthralled in a story, nobody can. He and his wonderful girlfriend, Caroline, cooked Ed and I this great grilled chicken. They plugged a can of beer up the bird's hind end and cooked it on the grill. Sounds crazy but very tasty.
We fished a day and a half and caught maybe 50 brown trout between the two of us. All good fish but I am sure getting tired of chunking weighted flies.
We heard from a guy on a bicycle that the North Platte up in Wyoming was fishing well with plenty of pale morning duns (PMDs) hatching most of the day. Finally, dry flies and an actual hatch! Just a nine-hour drive to the Grey Reef area, we made it in eight.
But it was not to be. Somebody gave us some bad information. Never again will I believe a guy on a bike I don't care if he does have a fly rod tied to it. No PMDs, no hatches, now we're back to fishing nymphs again. I hope that guy's tip- section falls off in the middle of the road in front of a simi-trailered truck.
But at least the water is mostly clear, running high but fishable. The North Platte where we fished is a tailrace fishery below Grey Reef Dam.
The temperature of the river was running too cold for much mayfly action so it was midge fishing but with heavy leaders. 4X and 5X worked out just great. This can be combat fishing with crowds of fly fishers.
Most of them will gang up just below the dam and pound on big, heavy rainbows. Ed and I moved downstream a bit and caught several ourselves. Mean fish with an attitude to match a hungry police dog.
Fast water and strong fighting trout can lead to loosing a few, but we caught more than our share as well. We would drift a very small (size 18) PMD nymph and drop a size 24-midge nymph on behind.
Fish came on both. Two BB size split shot and the "Thingamabobber" made the difference between bites and catching nothing. Lots of algae in the water was a pain but not that big a deal.
Some Latino dude at the Grey Reef Camp Ground told us that the bite was on big time over in Idaho on the Henry's Fork. I watched this guy fish earlier in the day and he really had it together. We took him for his word; on the Henry's Fork.
I've fished it before with very fond memories. Maybe we'll find some rising fish. Worse case is we'll have to nymph fish but I'll get to show Ed one of America's great trout rivers.
I've been tying dry flies for months and yet to wet a one. I feel good about the next stop on our trout travels. We need some mayfly hatches!
Maybe we will find them but if we don't there's still plenty of rivers left to try.