Saturday, June 22, 2013

Good to Go for Trout in Wyoming?

According to my desktop widget, river levels were dropping. I had been closely watching these graphs for weeks and now it finally appeared our streams might be good-to-go. Last week, flash flood warnings had been issued when heavy thunderstorms laid siege to NE Wyoming.  Ping pong ball-sized hail, vicious winds and drenching rains became seemingly everyday events which spiked the hydrographs and put an end to my fishing plans.

But It had now been dry for a week. Every day, I drive across a bridge that takes me over Little Goose Creek so I monitor this stream on a daily basis. This stream was now a bit off-color, but I could see the bottom. I thought it was time to give one of my favorite prairie streams a try. I loaded up my gear and drove south. About 30 minutes later, I pulled off an asphalt county road, rattled over an old cattle guard and swung into a verdant alfalfa field. I stepped out of my outfit into the knee deep grass. We were only a couple days off the solstice, yet this ranch had a summer feel to it.

I rigged a rod and grabbed a box of flies before I peered over the bank and into the riverbed. My heart sank. This stream was much higher than the creek near my home. Water was rolling over riverside grasses and had that cafe au lait, you're-not-gonna-dry-fly-fish/ you-might-get-skunked look to it.

With this cloudy water, I thought there would be no mayfly or caddis hatches and even if there were, the fish wouldn’t be looking up. If I could catch a fish it would no doubt be on a streamer or a nymph. I thought the fish would be in the "soft" water meaning eddies, near the bank or in the tailouts of runs. I didn't think they would be in the riffles. The water was too cloudy and moving too fast for them to pick out anything edible.

I put on a huge foam beetle with a hare's ear dropper three feet below the big bug. As I hiked across the alfalfa field, a dry breeze blew 90 degree air in my face. I muttered to myself knowing these conditions were far from ideal.

In the first run, I focused on the tailout. I made a few casts into the fast water at the head of the run, but didn't expect anything. I didn’t fish the run too long instead impatiently choosing to move upstream to look at a long slick hoping someone might be eating off the surface. But there were no risers. I waded up the long slick to the riffle now convinced I was going to have to put on a streamer to get any fish today. Well, at least it was a beautiful summer day I told myself. This never works! I wanted some action and wished it was next week when I knew the fishing would be better.

I waded up to the top of the slick and cast my rig into the slightly faster water at the bottom end of the riffle that fed the slick. As my eyes were averted while watching a fawn drink beside its mother, I thought I saw my beetle stall on its drift. I failed to react and  made the same drift on the next cast. The beetle bobbed again. I struck and a fish was on. Surprised, I reeled in a 14 inch bow. Now I rarely catch small fish on this stream. Usually I work hard to catch a few fish, but they are usually over 20 inches, so the size of this fish intrigued me. Maybe the high water had flushed some smaller fish in from upstream. Maybe this would be the harbinger of things to come with a new class-size arriving with the recent floods.

Pondering the significance of this catch, I waded up the run soon picking up fish after fish in faster and faster water, all on the nymph. The fish were all 14-16 inches. I had six or seven fish before I lost count. They were all stocky, well fed browns and rainbows. If this was the future on this stream, I could live with it! In the next run, I again caught nothing in my "soft" water and started picking up fish in the faster water of the riffle. 

These fish were slamming my nymph and obviously had no problem seeing it in the fast cloudy water. I had been so wrong that I stopped wading and took a moment to “self assess”. I concluded I was an idiot for at least three reasons... they were:
1.) The fish were going to be only in the "soft" water. WRONG!
2.) They couldn't see my fly in the cloudy fast water of the runs. WRONG!
3.) My day was going to suck. WRONG!

 I had been wrong and my attitude had probably ruined the first run. I made a note to try it again on my way back to the car. After all these years trout fishing, you’d think I would have learned my lesson to be open minded and positive... but no, today I had to learn this lesson all over again.

At the head of the run, water shot over a small ledge and pooled into a deep slot. I knew this from fishing the stream previous years at low water. I threw my rig into the very head of the riffle and something immediately smacked the nymph... hard. As I pulled back on my rod, a big bow jumped 4 feet out of the water. After a strong dogged fight, the fish was netted and measured at 19 inches. She was a deep, full bodied hen... Rubenesque if you will! I picked off a few more in the 16-18 inch range and could have quit for the day very happy...wrong and contrite... but very happy!

By the time I reached the next pool, I was almost mellow having melted into that content state that only a successful day brings. I fished the tailout, but only half-heartedly since I “knew” now the fish were most probably in the runs. Then I thought, you’re doing it again! You were wrong once, so don’t be fool again. I told myself to fish this "soft" water without preconceived notions.

This beautiful run has a very long tailout with two distinct tongues at the top that roll off a rock garden. Midway downstream, the two tongues meet to flow along a grassy cutbank. As the currents mix, the waters pass under two Russian olives trees that provide an afternoon parasol for any sun-shy trout. I flung my awkward dropper rig under the first of the olives making sure to throw a curve cast so the nymph landed upstream allowing the beetle to hit near the bank. It's hard to give yourself a chance with the up-fly when you're using such a long dropper rig. Often I put the nymph on shore or in a tree branch when I try to land a big dry next to the bank.

This time I was lucky. The moment the big beetle hit the shade near the bank a huge fish confidently swiped at the fly rolling to show a bright yellow belly. I knew this was a big brown and probably a male. He took off downstream.  I fumbled with my line hoping to clear it before I was screwed. I struggled to keep him out of the next run and with only inches to spare, he turned and chugged back upstream. I knew that was it and soon had him in the net. He was over 21 inches and more importantly, he promised great things for this stream this summer: lots of smaller 14-18 inch fish and apparently, some big monsters. I picked up another 20 inch brown in the fast water at the head of the run and another similar brown that hit my beetle as I dragging my fly behind me thru the rock garden! Unbelievable!

So now I started fishing everything: the runs, the softwater next to the bank, any structure and after this last fish, I added skating the beetle to my repertoire. It all worked! I caught some 12" dinks and a 22" hen brown next to the bank in very "soft" water on the nymph. I caught a few 16" fatties in the shallowest of runs and a 20" bow near a log jam. I first saw the ‘bow flash the beetle so on the next cast, I popped the bug away from the logjam eventually getting an impressively powerful strike.

I did not change my flies all day! At the end of the day, the beetle had no rubber legs left, teeth marks throughout its body and a tattered orange collar. The nymph was stripped to a bead and some dubbing. This was cheap fun: two flies and three feet of 3X tippet. Let’s call it 6 bucks worth of gear! 

It was a hell of a day and one that made me remember to dispense with pre-conceived notions, keep a positive outlook despite the conditions and play the game out... you really never have any idea what might happen. Each day is a new puzzle filled with hope and mystery.

1 comment:

  1. Well, sucks to be you, huh? Did you yell at that brown for sneezing all over your lens in that first shot? Here's a question for you: do you ever eat a trout anymore? I haven't eaten one in a long time and was thinking maybe I should just for old times sake. But I like to eat one when I'm camping, with a little bacon grease and corn meal, salt & pepper, maybe a sliced up tater - that's when they seem to taste best. I went out with a local buddy two evenings ago and caught my first Oreegone trouts.