Monday, September 30, 2013

FISH XXII: Last day

Today, under perfectly clear skies, I fished with Blake Dye on the upper ranch. We started above a beaver dam and fished slowly and deliberately. Blake was eager for info so I guided him through the intricacies of a perfect drift for most of the day. By the end of the day, he had it down!

Blake Dye with his first fish of the day caught on a hopper!

We worked hard, caught some great fish both on dries and on nymph droppers, but we also lost more than we landed... the way it should be on your last day. Leave the river and go home hungry for more!
We caught fish on grasshoppers, beetles, sow bugs and copper Johns. We had had a great day and I'll thank Blake for that. Man, I'm going to miss these big chunky rainbows! 

A beautiful, broad tailed 'bow!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

FISH: Day: Day 6

It got cold last night. It would have been tough to crawl from beneath my comforter in the morning, but having gotten a fire ready to light the night before in my cabin's stove, all I had to do was roll over, fire-up a match, and by first light, my cabin was toasty warm. When I left my cabin a half hour later, the first frost of the year for me coated my car.

Through a partially defrosted windshield, I saw Deeni Taylor, Chad Sukurs and Blake Dye already in their saddles at the corrals. They were on their way to the high country. While I sipped on a hot cup of coffee, I could see them climbing up into the mountains on the far side of the river.

For this second session of FISH, Jim Tilmant started off the day with another great clinic. Jim put more emphasis on the roll cast this time and with the sometimes tight quarters of the Laramie River on the attendees schedule for the day, everyone felt the clinic was very helpful.

After the clinic, Jim Snyder, Matt Jenkins and I took off upriver. Matt started us off with a fish that was too big for the shallow basket of his net. We had a tough time capturing this fish... it was like trying to pick up a hardboiled egg out of a pot with a teaspoon. Eventually, we succeeded, but just as we were about to click a photo, Matt's fish jumped out of the net and was gone. The same thing happened to the next fish we hooked so we made a note to get a good deep net from the guide shack at lunch.

Matt Jenkins with another nice bow

I spent most of my time helping Jim on this beautiful day, but in between guiding Jim through nymphing and casting techniques, I did manage to catch a hefty 'bow on a beetle which made my day! 

Thanks Jim and Matt for a great day!

Friday, September 27, 2013


Today I again fished the Hohnholz Ranch with my old bud John Hoover. John is an accomplished angler equipped with a great sense of humor! This combination makes for a great day for anyone fishing with John, but especially ME. We leapfrogged runs and holes and checked in with each other during the pass-by. John is always good for a great quip while I'm leaping and I love watching him work a run while he's frogging.

Julie Carmichael, a long-time FISH member, calls us Obi-wan and Yoda. I'm not sure who is who, but to use John's parlance to describe John, "He knows his way around a fly rod."

In any case, the Hohnholz Ranch waters were higher due to yesterday's rains, but John and I fished hard and managed to catch a few "keepers". I used a hopper with a very bright San Juan worm as a dropper. Let's just say a few good fish found this colorful fly even in the off-color waters we encountered.
Another great day with FISH XXII!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

FISH XXIII: Turnaround Day

Today was turnaround day and with dark clouds on the horizon it looked like rain. It would not be long before we got that and a whole lot more. With the long detour through Laramie necessitated by the road closures through Poudre Canyon, all of the attendees of the first session were gone shortly after breakfast.

The six of us that were staying for both sessions approached the day with varying degrees of intensity. Deeni Taylor and Mike Turner took a drift boat with guides Scott and Rob to Hohnholz Lakes. Cliff Beyler and I decided to hike upstream to fish the water off the ranch and the only smart ones in the bunch, Terry Heath and Chad Sukurs, took a relaxing morning by the fire in the lodge then fished a bit in the afternoon. They missed all the rain, hail, lightning and thunder that later pelted Cliff and I and forced Deeni and Mike off the stream after they had intelligently abandoned the lakes. Later in the morning, Cliff and I could see the heavy weather to the north of us. We knew Deeni and Mike were getting hammered. 

But at the beginning of our day, Cliff and I hiked upstream until we were off the property, found the stream again in the dense willows and climbed down a steep bank and into the river. Cliff immediately caught a good brown on a hopper as a light rain began to fall. The fish was on the inside seam of a riffle. The brown ate Cliff's hopper deliberately. We were off to a great start!

Cliff with a nice brown!
I waded upstream and found a big pool where a riffle ran into a cutbank before making a left turn forming a slow tailout. The big left created a swirling eddie on the downstream side of the riffle and I immediately caught a 15 inch brown on a droppered nymph in it. Under threatening skies and low light, I thought I saw a much bigger fish flash on my hopper just before I hooked the brown. Playing a hunch, I put on a much less garish hopper, removed the dropper and made a cast into the swirling waters at the tail end of the eddie. The fly slowly swirled and spun unmolested before the current started to pull it out of the eddie and into the slow tailout current.

Just as I was about to recast, a big silver form materialized under my fly. The fish suspended vertically and in this posture, followed the tan hopper downstream for about ten feet and at least, ten seconds. The big 'bow watched my fly for the whole ten seconds from about two feet away. Just before the hopper got sucked into the faster water of the next riffle, the fish made its move. As if ascending through Karo syrup, the 'bow slowly made its way towards my fly. Finally, its big mouth opened to engulf my hopper, then clamped down tight and dropped below the water's surface. I struck and the fish exploded. The 'bow raced all over the pool then ominously headed downstream.

Luckily, two things happened: First, the fish headed back upstream when pressed hard by my 4 wt. and secondly, Cliff showed up to help me land the 'bow. Cliff made sure my beach landing worked as I backed up with a tight line. After we landed him, Cliff was kind enough to pose with my fish so I could get some photos before heading off upstream to get in some fishing before all hell broke loose weather-wise. Thanks Cliff!

A 24" beast!

For the next half hour we experienced heavy rains, a blinding hailstorm and frightening riffs of lightning followed by rumbling thunder. Cliff and I caught a few more fish that day during the periods immediately after one storm and just before the next one rolled in. We even managed to catch a few more hefty 19-20" bows, but nothing like that one that took the hopper.

In between storms, Cliff casts upstream...
...then gets a sweet drag-free drift!

We covered a lot of water on this chilly day, but soon it was time to head back downriver for a hot  cup of coffee and to get spruced up before the next group arrived. Thanks Cliff for a great day!

A thick 'bow caught in the brief sunshine between storms.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

FISH XXII: Fishing Day #3

We awoke to an absolutely gorgeous day. I downed a few quarts of coffee before enjoying a delicious breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs. But we didn't linger over breakfast... on a day like this, we were all eager to get going!

After breakfast, everyone assembled outside the guide shack and pulled on their waders. The guides got their assignments and rigged rods before we ambled down to where Guide Jin Tilmant put on a short, but great clinic on casting, presentation, nymphing (including mending and getting a drag free drift) and fishing the hopper/dropper. Jim covered all the pertinent points. I'm sure this translated into more hookups for many of those who attended. The other guides offered a few hints of their own and it's wasn't long before we adjourned to go try out the points covered in the clinic.

Jim teaches, we listen!
After the clinic, Terry Heath (the fearless leader of FISH) and I fished together with guide Scott Thompson. We literally strolled out the back door of the lodge, walked 100 yards and started to fish. In long shadowed runs, the fishing was slow in the morning, but soon it warmed up with the temps. Terry left Scott's side to make a phone call and I took his place fishing within a few yards on where we held the clinic this morning.

I was fishing a hopper/ dropper thru a long slot next to a dense copse of willows when we saw a big head breech in a shallow eddie behind a rock. It was a very big head! Scott and I checked my rig, then I made a few casts trying to get a good drift through the seam running along the eddie line. The current kept pulling the fly off-course so I had to exaggerate the casting angle to get the fly to drift past the appropriate point. Finally, I got the drift right and it wasn't long before the hopper disappeared.

"He ate the hopper!" Scott yelled, then added, "that is a big, big fish!"

Notice the net is floating... it is headed downstream.

27" and probably 10 lbs.!

I was fishing a 4 weight Sage and this fish seemed like the king salmon I once caught on a 6 weight in Alaska. It took a long time to wear this beast out but luckily, the runs he made were upstream so after what seemed like an eternity, Scott was able to net the fish.

"That's a 10 lb. rainbow." Scott said.

"I've got a tape, let's measure him." I told Scott.

"27 inches... and very fat." I told Scott, then excitedly added, "That is a BIG rainbow anywhere in the world!" 

After this fish, I caught a 20" rainbow while Scott was looking for his net (he lost it while we were understandably distracted measuring the 27" "big  boy". He found it downstream wedged in a logjam). After that fish, I landed a 24" 'bow without moving more than 20 feet. We took photos of each fish, then I handed the rod to Scott.

"You fish... I'm done for awhile... how can you improve on this." I told Scott.

Scott fished until we broke for lunch in the lodge.

24"... a dink!

20"... and very strong and deep!

I'm done, Scott you're up!
Another great lunch!
After lunch, I fished alone in the afternoon, while Terry and Scott fished a very productive riffle/pool downstream. My afternoon was tepid compared to my morning, but amazing when you count all the 19-21" 'bows I caught. 
What a great day! Terry also reported a wonderful afternoon.

My afternoon was filled with these.

Dinner was great, but I retired early that night! I was a tired buckeroo and fell asleep soon after the moon cleared the ridge behind my cabin.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

FISH XXII: Second Fishing Day

On this beautiful fall day, Chad Sukurs, Mark Ryberg and Mark Ponski joined Steve Peskoe and me to fish the Laramie River on the Hohnholz Ranch. Mark Ponski and Steve are two of the pioneers of our FISH adventures. In fact, Mark was wearing a Big Horn Mountain Sports hat that must be 18 or 19 years old. BHMS was the Outdoor store that I owned and operated in Sheridan, Wyoming for some 25 years! One of the early FISH trips explored small streams in our corner of Wyoming headquartering from the Wallop Ranch in Big Horn, Wyoming. Mark had bought the hat during that FISH trip. I was amazed to see it!

The hat!
I've been friends with Steve Peskoe for 20 some years. We have traveled all over the world together: Mongolia, the Seychelles, the Bahamas and the Amazon... we've dozen perhaps a dozen, float trips together in Alaska... we've done horseback trips together with our wives and kids... I don't even know how many adventures we have shared, so suffice it to say, I love to get a chance to fish together with Steve. But back to the fishing... the Hohnholz Ranch is quite a distance downstream from the Rawah Ranch. The river is bigger here and more open having collected water from a number of tributaries along the way.

Danny ties on a hopper with a bead head dropper.

Mark Ryberg and Danny goofing off after lunch... this is some skinny water!
If in shape, this stream could be incredible. I only hope we can get to see it in all it's glory. I'm sure it holds some BIG browns! Thanks for a great day guys!

18 inches of brown trout!

Monday, September 23, 2013

FISH XXII: First Fishing Day

I fished with Chad Sukurs and guide Jim Tilmant. Jim is a Federation of Fly Fishers casting instructor and an excellent, hard-driving guide. He is a master of the roll cast (off both shoulders) and the downstream water load cast.  In the tight quarters of this stream, (dense streamside willows over undercut banks), Jim worked hard with Chad on his roll cast which allowed him to be successful with the fish in this stream by avoiding the dangers of the conventional cast.
Chad was a pleasure to fish with and his bright smile told the tail of our day. It flashed often and consistently until he and Jim moved upstream and out of sight. As for me, I caught nothing but small dinks for the first hour. When I reached the first deep bend, my fortunes changed.
With two miles of private water to explore, I was expecting some good water, but I was not prepared for the size of the fish I caught. The rainbows were very deep and as powerful as any Alaska rainbow. I was successful with a hopper/dropper (I started with a small bead head flashback pheasant tail nymph and was also successful with a tiny copper John). I also caught fish with a black streamer and on a small chubby rubber legged hopper fished on a dead drift over the lush shallow weed beds.

Jim and Chad work a beautiful pool with a downstream water load cast.

At one point, as I was busy catching 19-23" rainbows, nature called. I was within 100 yards of my cabin, so I walked to my cabin, did my business, and was soon back on the river. Talk about civilized angling! 

A fat rainbow caught within sight of my cabin.
The rains that were plaguing Colorado's front range fell upon us too, but for us, the weather only increased our success. The light rains hid us from the fish and had them looking up when the day's sporadic light hatches occurred.

The slick was good to me.
Eventually, I reached a long slow slick above a breeched beaver dam that slithered over dense weed beds. The area reminded me of the classic spring creeks of Idaho and Montana. There were small slots between the weed beds and that, of course, is where the fish held. Casts had to be perfect to avoid hanging up on the weeds and thus spooking the fish. Long casts, good mends and quiet presentations were essential, but the rewards for such tactics were literally immense.

A big rainbow and the dense weed beds that feed him so well.

I fished by myself most of the afternoon as Chad and Jim explored the water upstream. They too had a great day and as the afternoon reached the cocktail hour, we pulled out of the river totally sated. Truly an incredible day!