Seven Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall

This guest post is from my buddy Jon Holman who runs the No See Um Lodge – a family-owned Alaska fishing lodge on the Kvichak River.  John has been guiding and flying since the age of 19 and is licensed and certified as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, AI (Aircraft Inspector), Coast Guard Captain First Aid and CPR First Responder.  When not running the lodge during the Alaska fishing season, he can be found flying, hunting, fishing and scuba diving around the world. No See Um is truly a bucket lister for any fly fishing enthusiast!

Fly fishing in Alaska

Fly fishing in Alaska

Seven Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall

by Jon Holman

Spring and summer always get great press. Both promise beautiful weather, productive waters and fish that almost volunteer to hit your fly. Where does that leave September through November? It leaves fall fly fishing in Alaska to anglers who look forward to the change in seasons because they know this last stretch of action rocks.

Honestly, we don’t try to keep it a secret. On the other hand, we can’t complain about having the riverbanks all to ourselves. If you don’t mind a little chill, shorter hours and big ‘bows, get that rod ready for one more trip. You still have plenty of time to enjoy the tail end of some of the best fly fishing on the planet.

Trophy trout catch with the help of John Holman

Trophy trout catch with the help of John Holman

How to Finesse Fall Fly Fishing: Seven Simple Tips

You know temperatures are going to be colder than usual. The seasonal salmon egg smorgasbord is just about over. It’s time to switch up flesh patterns and throw some leeches and sculpins too. The steelhead and dolly varden may work you a little harder, but you have an advantage they don’t. You have this list of seven smart fall fly fishing tips.

Rainbows put up a healthy fight!

Rainbows put up a healthy fight!

  1. Don’t Get Up at Dawn

Sunrise isn’t really a big part of fall fly fishing and neither is sunset. Trout and salmon handle the cold better than we do, but even they take it easy until mid-day. Once the water warms up a little bit, they’re a lot more interested in your flies, so don’t set the alarm clock for daybreak.

  1. Watch Your Shadow Casting             

Those long shadows that make our autumn landscapes so beautiful can get in your way when you’re sneaking up on fish. Actually, they give you away. The fall sun throws shadows farther, so keep your silhouette from frightening potential catch with some distance casting.

  1. Try Long and Light

You can also minimize scaring the fish by throwing a long, thin leader with a light tippet. It doesn’t make casting easier, but it really helps especially when you’re working low water.

  1. Get Their Attention

Sometimes, it seems like you’re trying to see through a carpet of fallen leaves and twigs. All that stuff on the water surface makes it harder for fish to see you too. Put a little action in your fly with a small twitch. Try short, slow strips. If nothing works, consider the setting as an opportunity to sharpen up your target skills.

  1. Pack Plenty of Streamers

You can’t go wrong with streamers in the fall. Whether you give them a standard swing, bang the banks or go with a dead drift, big streamers catch big fish. We nominate sculpins and leeches as the official autumn patterns for fly fishing. They’re that productive.

Fly fishing flies used in Alaska

Fly fishing flies used in Alaska

  1. Fight Ice With Cooking Spray

Iced-up guides happen when you’re fly fishing in the fall. We wish they didn’t, but a little cheap cooking spray goes a long way towards keeping them clear. If you’re concerned about rod resins and line coatings, just dip your guides into the water. They’ll freeze up again, so be prepared to rinse and repeat.

  1. Buck Tradition With a Tenkara Rod

Move past moving parts. Find out what fixed line fly fishing is all about. Get into the zen of focusing on technique instead of equipment. Yes, we’re definitely Tenkara fans. No, it’s not for everybody, but it’s a great way to enjoy fly fishing in conditions that give reels and guides cold-weather headaches.

Take Time to Enjoy Your Time

If you like the idea of landing 15-pound rainbows and chasing the last of the coho runs, why let a chilly forecast stand between you and an unforgettable fishing experience? Our incredible backcountry takes on a special glow in the fall, and you practically have the entire place to yourself.

We’re here of course, and we really enjoy sharing this time of year. Now that you’re armed with smart tips for fall fly fishing, come on up, and join us in our Alaskan fishing lodge. Don’t worry about the weather. If an afternoon gets too cold, we’ll just wait it out in the hot tub. There’s always plenty of time to enjoy your time here at No See Um Lodge.

Landing Rainbows in Alaska

Landing Rainbows in Alaska

Solunar Theory: As Applied to Fly Fishing

For the last 4 months, I have been studying Solunar Theory.  There is plenty of information on the internet and countless books on it.  My infatuation with solunar theory started when I fished in the Ecuadorian Andes with Eduardo Campuzano, owner of Campuchoca Lodge near Quito, Ecuador.  That adventure is detailed here.  My amusing / eye opening experience was Eduardo using an app on his android phone, staring at it for a period of time and then saying, “Tim, you have come on a below average stretch of fishing days.  You should have come next week.”  At first I thought a storm must be moving in with the barometer falling.  However, the weather was perfect, sunny and even some clouds for potential hatches.   I asked him what he was staring at and he basically said, “The solunar score for today’s fishing.  It’s only a 44 and tomorrow is 43.”  Amusingly I said, “out of 100?” and he said yes.  Now, I was really skeptical, but intrigued.   I stared at his application on his phone and he showed me how the week coming the scores were in the 80s and 90s.  He told me it was based on science.  And that statement is what got me motivated to learn more about Solunar Theory.

I did pretty darn well in hot creek on a poor solunar fishing day

I did pretty darn well in hot creek on a poor solunar fishing day

Well, we went out fishing and I did well.  After practically every fish I caught, I teased Eduardo with the statement, “Below average fishing.” with a smile on my face.  He always retorted, “You should come back when it’s good.”  So after two, what I would call good days of fly-fishing and some cocktails, I decided I needed to learn more.

Since then I have tested Solunar Theory “in the field”.  This is about my findings and conclusions.

a big spawing rainbow caught on the upper owens river on a good solunar fishing day.

a big spawing rainbow caught on the upper owens river on a good solunar fishing day.

Background on Solunar Theory

John Alden Knight created the Solunar Theory.  Essentially Solunar Theory is that fishing is best when the sun and moon are closest.  Mr. Knight was an avid fly angler and wrote many books on fly-fishing.  He wrote three important books on Solunar Theory:

In 1926, while fishing in Florida Mr. Knight analyzed some local folk lore that which inspired him to evaluate 33 factors that seemed to influence behavior of fish.   The theory was that these 33 factors caused fish to be periodically more active.  One by one each factor was disproven until 3 remained: sun, moon and tides. It was from this field research that Mr. Knight created Solunar Theory.  Sol for sun; Lunar for moon.

It is also commonly accepted that Solunar Theory applies to all living things.  from www.solunar.com:

“It is now known that the sun and moon are the two major sources of the astral energies that daily bombard the Earth and all her life forms. The closer they are to you at any given moment, the stronger the influence. The day of a new or full moon will provide the strongest influence in each month.”

You can learn a lot more about Solunar theory from Mr. Knight’s books or www.solunar.com.

We've had a record winter in the Sierras this year and water temperature definitely affects the fly-fishing.

We’ve had a record winter in the Sierras this year and water temperature definitely affects the fly-fishing.

Field Testing Solunar Theory

After i got home from Ecuador i intended to immediately buy the Solunar Theory app that Eduardo uses.  Well, i thought i bought what i thought was the app.  The app store is so saturated now that i bought a solunar theory fishing app, but it was the wrong one.  i was really disappointed with it.  Turns out I bought the wrong app.  After some investigation, I bought the right app; the app that Eduardo uses, called “Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro” from the iphone app store for $2.99.  It’s a really well written app.  I’m a software guy.  I know a good piece of software when I use it.

You can download the app in the apple store here.

You can download the app in the google store here.

I reached out to the developer of the app, Anton Nikitin, anton.nkt@gmail.com, and he was very responsive to a few questions I had on the use of the app.  I now use the app all the time.  It’s one of, if not the only app I use with fly fishing.

An excellent Solunar Fishing day on the Lower Owens River as reported on the Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro app

So, I started my testing of Solunar Theory fishing on excellent solunar fishing days.  My first fishing day was in the surf in Carlsbad, CA….skunked.  The solunar app told me it was a “93” day and I caught the rising tide perfectly in the morning.  I only fished for a couple hours.  Skunked.  Why?  Because the waves were huge.  It was impossible to get a cast and the line down with enough strips to make it effective.  That was my first lesson on solunar theory: so many other factors can screw with it.

But, I did have 2 back to back weekend trips to the lower Owens River in the eastern sierras just weeks later.  The first weekend was 3 days where the app showed excellent Solunar fishing days above 90.  The following weekend it showed the exact opposite solunar fishing days: poor, in the 20s and 30s.  Surely that would be a good test: fishing the exact same place on both good and poor solunar days.  It was not.  Why?  The river was blown out.  But, I did go to the upper Owens river for a single day each of those weekends where the river was not blown out.  The problem was that I did good on both weekends there.  Not great; good.  I caught big fish on both those days.  I even caught a handful of quality fish in Hot Creek on a bad solunar day.  Hot creek has not fished well in a long time because of the drought.  I did slightly worse on the bad solunar days, but, not enough to blame it on solunar theory.

An poor Solunar Fishing day at the beach in Carlsbad as reported on the Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro app

An poor Solunar Fishing day at the beach in Carlsbad as reported on the Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro app

Summary

I believe Solunar Theory as applied to fly-fishing does help.  I am going to continue to field test Solunar Theory.  If I was guiding full time I would use Solunar Theory religiously for the way I fished; not when I fished.  In good weather and good river conditions, I’d be much more apt to dry fly on excellent solunar days and much more apt to fish “under the bobber” on poor solunar days.

However, as contrasted to hunting or fishing conventionally there are so many other factors that affect success in fly-fishing: Weather, the Barometer, river flow, water temperature, time of year, hatches, spawning, etc.  Nothing, including Solunar Theory replaces skill, knowledge and a little luck: a good cast that puts the bug in the right water at the right time and even a little luck is still the best prescription for fly-fishing success.  But, if Solunar Theory can help your chances of success, then why the heck not leverage it?

 

 

 

Guest Blog – Choosing trout flies simplified: 2 super-easy methods

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For this post, I invited Bill Bernhardt, a professional guide and instructor with over 15 years of fishing experience to share a method he developed to drastically reduce the number of flies you need to take with you when you fish.  And Bill’s guidance speaks exactly to my weakness: I am “that guy” that takes 5 boxes of flies backpacking when one will do.  I am “that guy” that has the ultra fishing vest so i can carry 15 fly boxes to a river when one will do.   i carry 10,000 flies and typically use 4 or 5.

The original version of this post can be found at http://www.fishfindersource.com/trout-flies-choosing/   Bill can be found on his website at www.nc-flyfishing.com

Introduction

From today onwards, you’ll never have to take multiple fly boxes with you when you go fishing anymore.

In fact, you’ll be able to fit everything you need in your fishing vest, without making it feel like a backpack!

And all the while, you’ll still be able to catch just as many fish, if not more.

How the Three Color Attractor and Six Color Imitator method lets me catch trout anytime of the year

15 years of experience has taught me that there are a few specific colors of attractor and imitator flies that trout will just jump at. I was able to drop so many flies from my tackle box this way and it made my fly fishing so much easier and more relaxed. I no longer have to manage those pesky aquatic insect charts, either.

The three attractors and six imitators are pretty much what you need to get trout to bite all year round.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty, then, shall we?

How we ended up with so many flies(a short history)

Although we have records of the art of fly fishing dating back as far as the Roman Empire, most fly fishing historians agree that the art of fly fishing was truly developed by the English who observed large brown trout feeding on mayflies in their local chalk streams.

Being the inventive and enterprising folk they were, the English people used hand-forged, iron hooks which they then wrapped with bits of fur and feathers in an attempt to create an artificial insect that appeared enough like a real insect to fool the trout into striking it.

From there, they eventually developed long “spey” rods made from multiple types of wood along with silk fly lines and leaders made from animal intestine as outlined by Dame Juliana Berners in her Treatyse on Fysshynge Wyth an Angle which was published in The Boke of St. Albans in 1486.

This heritage is still with us today and, in fact, most any modern book you choose to read on the topic of fly fishing will instill in you the mantra of “match the hatch”.

Consequently, this has led biologists to develop long lists of the family, genus, and species of aquatic insects that inhabit the trout streams in many regions of the world which enterprising fly fishermen have used to create local hatch charts.

Novice fly fisherman today are taught to consult these local hatch charts and choose a fly selection accordingly and then, once on the stream, to choose a fly from their selection that “matches the hatch” according to the species, size, and color of the insects that are hatching in that area during a given month.

However, this often leads to fly fishermen carrying multiple fly boxes in their fly fishing vests stuffed with all of the various fly patterns listed on their local hatch chart; many of which they never use.

But what if there was a way to simplify the approach to fly selection such that a fly fisherman could carry a single fly box containing generic patterns of dry flies, nymphs, or streamers that would enable him to catch trout anywhere in the world at any time of the year?

A fly fisherman’s odyssey

Like many novice fly fishermen, I too followed the time honored method of obtaining a local hatch chart and then set about collecting the many different fly patterns listed which, of course, also made it necessary for me to purchase numerous different fly boxes to hold them all.

Then, each time I would go fly fishing, I would approach the stream and spend some time observing the air above the stream as well as the streamside foliage and the current to see if I noticed any flies hatching and, if so, I would then capture one and note both its genus, size, and color.

Next, I would attempt to choose a fly from my extensive fly collection that would closely match the fly I had captured just as I had been taught.

Consequently, I eventually ended up carrying four or five different fly boxes stuffed to the brim with numerous different dry fly patterns which made my fly vest so heavy and bulky that I often felt like I was wearing a backpack rather than a fly vest!

However, as I gained streamside experience, I began to notice that there were numerous fly patterns in my fly boxes that I never used despite them being listed on my local hatch chart.

After spending fifteen years or so as an avid (or should I say fanatical?) fly fisherman as well as learning everything I could about the sport by reading every book on the topic that I could get my hands on, I eventually decided that I should endeavor to pass my knowledge and experience on to others who were interested in learning the sport.

So I decided to become a professional fly fishing guide and instructor which, in turn, enabled me to spend numerous hours each week on the stream observing the habits of both trout and the insects that they consume.

As I gained additonal knowledge and experience, I began to realize that so much of what I had read in all of those fly fishing books simply did not seem to apply to the southern Appalachian trout streams where I fish.

I eventually decided to discard all of the conventional knowledge that I had gained from reading all of those books and instead use my experience and streamside observations to develop my own method of fly selection.

Now, instead of carrying a whole fly shop’s worth of flies in my vest, I instead carry only four fly boxes which contain my dry fly patterns, my nymph patterns, my terrestrial patterns, and my streamer patterns.

The Three-Color Attractor System

So, in an effort simplify my approach to fly selection, I started with the basic knowledge that trout flies are commonly divided into two different categories consisting of “attractors” and “imitators”.

For those of you who are not familiar with these terms, an “attractor” fly is a fly pattern such as the Royal Wulff (developed by a fellow angler named Lee Wulff) that is tied.

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It uses bright colors that “attract” the trout and cause them to strike the fly even though it does not closely resemble any natural insect that exists in any trout stream anywhere.

On the other hand, an “imitator” fly is a fly pattern such as the Light Cahill that is instead tied using a much a more subtle color scheme that is designed to closely resemble a natural aquatic insect.

I combined this knowledge with the observation that trout in our local southern Appalachian trout streams seem to be highly attracted to the colors red, yellow, and green which, in turn, led me to develop something that I call the Three-Color Attractor System.

As the name implies, my Three-Color Attractor System consists of fly patterns that are predominately red, yellow, or green such as:

  • the Royal Wulff (one of the most effective attractor fly patterns ever developed) which uses red floss combined with green peacock herl for the body and white Polar Bear fur for the wings,
  • the Carolina Wullf which uses yellow floss instead of red, and
  • the Tennessee Wullf which uses green floss or, the Humpy pattern in red, yellow, and green.

I combine those patterns with red, yellow, and green Elk Hair Caddis flies and red, yellow, and green Stimulator flies (even though both are technically considered to be imitator patterns) in sizes 12, 14, and 16 to complete my Three-Color Attractor System.

I use my attractor flies during periods when there are no insects presently hatching in order to entice the trout to strike my flies. In addition, it is helpful to realize that my three-color system can also be applied to nymphs in order to help you locate actively feeding fish that will not respond to a dry fly.

For instance, in order to create a three-color attractor system using nymphs, you could choose a Royal Wulff nymph, a Pheasant Tail Sulphur nymph, and a green Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph or, perhaps, a Firebug nymph, a Tellico nymph, and a Prince nymph.

Also, if you have Caddis Flies in your local waters, you might want to add a selection of Serendipity nymphs in red, yellow, and olive as well a selection of Copper John nymphs in red, copper, and green.

The Six-Color Imitator System

Although attractor patterns are very effective at catching trout during non-hatch periods, because trout are sight feeders and, because of a concept called the “Food vs. Energy Equation”, they quickly learn to differentiate between the family and genus of the various aquatic and terrestrial insects that occur in their locale.

They tend to become highly selective during periods when insects such a May Flies, Caddis Flies, Damsel Flies, Dobson Flies, or Stone Flies are hatching.

They then tend to ignore any fly that does not closely resemble the insects that they are presently feeding on in shape, size, and color. Therefore, many frustrated fly fisherman have endeavored to develop realistic fly patterns that closely resemble these insects which are called “imitator” patterns and of which there is a seemingly infinite variety.

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Rather than consult a local hatch chart and then purchase several dozen different fly patterns in order to imitate the various species of aquatic insects that inhabit the trout streams in a given region, I have instead developed a second fly selection system that I call the Six-Color Imitator System.

Again starting with the observation that the very large majority of the flies that I see on our local trout streams regardless of family or genus tend to predominately display one of six different colors consisting of cream, yellow, green, grey, brown, or black, I developed my Six-Color Imitator System to include the Light Cahill, the Sulphur Dun, the Blue Winged Olive, the Female Adams, the March Brown, and the Black Gnat fly patterns in sizes 12, 14, and 16.

In addition, most swiftly flowing streams here in the Southeast harbor large populations of Caddis Flies and thus, a selection of Elk Hair Caddis patterns in cinnamon, yellow, olive, gray, brown, and black is also very handy to have. Plus, my Six-Color Imitator System can also be applied to nymphs by including a Light Cahill nymph, a Pheasant Tail Sulphur nymph, a green Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph, an Adams nymph, a March Brown nymph, and a black Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph.

By observing the family, genus, size, and color of the flies that are hatching on the rare occasions that I actually run across a hatch, I can usually select a fly from my Six-Color Imitator System that resembles the hatching insects closely enough to fool the trout without having to resort to carrying enough specific fly patterns to supply a whole horde of fly fishermen.

Terrestrial and Streamer Fly Selection

It has also been my experience that despite the plethora of May Fly nymphs, Stone Fly nymphs, Dobson Fly nymphs, and Caddis Fly larva I see inhabiting the substrate in our local trout streams, I very seldom see a hatch of any insect coming off during the day on our local waters.

In fact, on the rare occasions that I do see a hatch coming off, it’s usually either just after dawn or just before dusk. In addition, when I seine the current during the day, I very seldom capture either May Fly, Stone Fly, or Dobson Fly nymphs or Caddis Fly larvae.

Consequently, this leads me to believe that there is commonly very little nymphal drift present in southern Appalachian trout streams during the day and thus, terrestrial insects, forage fish, crustaceans, and even mollusks are an important food source for trout in our local waters.

So it is also a wise idea to carry a small fly box containing grasshopper, cricket, yellow jacket, cicada, beetle, ant, and inchworm patterns in addition to the Three-Color Attractor System and the Six-Color Imitator System mentioned above.

It should also be noted that both the Black Gnat and black Humpy patterns serve as a passable imitation of a common House Fly which seems to be present everywhere.

In addition, trout also feed avidly on forage fish such as Darters, Dace, Sculpins, and even juvenile Trout. I would suggest that you carry Black Nosed Dace patterns to imitate Dace and Darters, Conehead Muddler Minnows to imitate Sculpins, Royal Wulffs and/or Spruce Flies to imitate juvenile Chubs, Enrico’s Trout Streamer to imitate juvenile Smallmouth Bass, and both Dark and Light Edison Yellow Tigers as well as Black Ghosts and Mickey Finns for use as attractor flies.

Last, it should also be noted that trout tend to view crayfish in the same way that humans view steak and thus, carrying a selection of small crayfish flies is also an excellent idea.

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Conclusion

So, if you are a novice just now entering the sport of fly fishing and are confused by the myriad of fly patterns available or, if you are simply one of those fly fishermen who has more flies than you know what to do with, then you might want to give my simple approach to trout fly selection a try.

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The entire dry fly system can be contained in a single 18 compartment box for the larger flies and a single 12 compartment box for the smaller flies. Also, by applying this system to nymphs and steamers as well, you can drastically reduce your fly selection to a simple, compact, system that occupies far less room in you fly vest than the traditional approach of carrying specific fly patterns to imitate specific species of aquatic insects.

 

 

Amazon Basin, Ecuador

December 9-11, 2016

A baby Capuchin Monkey i shot while waiting for a river taxi (by pango)

A baby Capuchin Monkey I shot while waiting for a river taxi (by pango)

This trip was an adventure I’ll remember forever; mostly because I’m so lucky to be able to have visited the Ecuadorian Amazon.  And since there was a little bit of fly fishing and some guiding I say it qualifies for my fly fishing blog.  I was coming off a great weekend of fly fishing at Campuchoca Lodge near Quito and a successful business week with my developer team at Logic Studio in Quito.  The Founder of Logic Studio is a good friend of mine I have known for almost 20 years, Edgar Sanchez.  When I told him I’d be looking for adventure the weekend before and after the business trip, he immediately said, “You are coming with Carmiñia and me to the Amazon Basin for the weekend.”  So I was excited to spend a long weekend below the Equator.  I also immediately asked, “Will we see Capuchins?”  Every one said, “Absolutely yes.”  But, I had heard that before.  In Costa Rica.  And we saw lots of monkeys, but we didn’t see any Capuchins.  The Capuchin monkey is that smart one you see on documentaries that has learned to clean its food along with a number of many other ingenious hunting techniques.

The only bummer about this trip was that Kelly was not with me.   She loved the Costa Rica trip and would have absolutely loved most of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  I really missed her at many points of this adventure and yet a handful of times I said to myself, “God, Kelly would hate this.”   But, I must have told Edgar and Carmiñia 20 times during the trip: “Kelly would love this.”

So, we set out Friday morning from Quito in Edgar’s Ford SUV.  Edgar warned me that it would be at least four hours to the confluence of the Napo and Misahuallí (also called Tena) rivers where we’d catch a boat to the Misahuallí lodge.  And after we plowed through the morning Quito traffic he told me it would be a beautiful drive East, over the Andes, past the volcanoes, by numerous waterfalls, and into the Amazon Basin on the other side; it was.

Carmiñia and me on the Quijos River

After a few hours of driving we made a sack lunch stop Carmiñia had prepared before the trip at Pena Pivico Park on the Quijos river.  After lunch we checked out the river….and I was jonesing hard to fish because it looked like the perfect trout habitat – cold, fast water running down from the Andes.

Edgar and Carmiñia found each other later in life.  Edgar is my age and they have only been married a year or so.  So, it was like being with newlyweds.  That really made me miss Kelly although she won’t even hold my hand because “It’s sweaty”.  And Edgar and Carmiñia found each other through running.  They are totally fit.  In fact, they both just completed a marathon in Brazil.  So, in that respect, as couples we are really similar and in terms of fitness, but, I’d be the weak link of the four of us, which is motivating.

When we finally got to the small city of Misahuallí we got out of the car so we could figure out how we arrange the boat across the confluence of the Napo and Misahuallí rivers to get to the Misahuallí lodge.  And sure enough, there they were right in the town!  Capuchins!

Mother and baby Capuchins just walking the town of Misahuallí looking for mischief (food)

Mother and baby Capuchins just walking the town of Misahuallí looking for mischief (food)

In Spanish too fast for me to understand Edgar talked to the locals and got everything figured out.  Carmiñia and I waited down by the river while Edgar navigated the car down to the “beach” to drop off the luggage.  And we were surrounded by Capuchin Monkeys in the trees.  There had to be 30 of them.  It was awesome.  We hadn’t even got to the lodge yet and my number one goal was accomplished.

Three Capuchin Monkeys playing in the trees

Three Capuchin Monkeys playing in the trees

Jonas was to pilot his long skinny panga boat with an outboard motor that are native to the amazon basin.  And Edgar not only found out that Jonas was the “great fisherman of the town”, but soon we had arranged a full day of fishing and exploration with Jonas the following day.  And I didn’t feel guilty at the time because it was going to be ~ a half day of fishing and the rest a touristy boat ride with adventures.  I wanted to do an adventure where all 3 of us could have fun.  Jonas said in Spanish – You will see a lot of animals.  That was good enough for me.

Jonas loading the Pango with Edgar. Notice my 60 lb duffel bag filled with fly fishing equipment

Jonas loading the Pango with Edgar. Notice my 60 lb duffel bag filled with fly fishing equipment

The boat ride was only 5 minutes or so across the river to the Misahuallí lodge.  And the lodge is awesome…beautiful… on an island up high with a great view surrounded by 3 rivers.  As we walked up the stairs I was shocked to see a wild Scarlet Macaw hanging out at the lodge.  Well, we were to learn quickly that Paco the Parrot was wild…but, he wasn’t a parrot and he didn’t really enjoy the wild.

Paco the Scarlet Macaw after sneaking into the restaurant with the Napo River in the background

Paco the Scarlet Macaw after sneaking into the restaurant with the Napo River in the background

Our rooms were bungalows on stilts.  No TV; no A/C; no internet in the room; great by me.  It wasn’t long before we were having a snack and the local beer, Pilsener, while enjoying the view of the river from above.  After that we got a boat ride back to town to have a few beers and watch the Capuchins.

The bungalos at Misahuallí lodge

The bungalos at Misahuallí lodge

We were watching the Capuchins again standing in the town square.  They were up in the trees.  And we were talking to Jonas arranging the big adventure in the morning.  Everything was going perfect.  I took sunglasses off to see the Capuchins up in the tree better and that is when it happened: like it was in slow motion, this big ass bug flew out of nowhere right into my left eye and clamped on.  It took me 3 attempts to get it out of there and it stung really badly.  Jonas was fairly panicked and told Edgar to get me water to flush my eye immediately.  We walked briskly across the street and I started flushing.  My eye stinged like hell.  Jonas explained to Edgar that it was the “Choncherro”.  A flying beetle which lays it’s eggs in your eye and if successful it could be bad.  You can imagine me thinking, “ok, I have been in the Amazon 3 hours and I’m going blind because of a bug laying its eggs in my eye.”  Well, long story short it took 3 days, but my eye finally stopped hurting and the redness went away.  Beers really helped the pain that night, though.

A big male Capuchin just hanging out in town

A big male Capuchin just hanging out in town

We were really exhausted and went to sleep early.  Which means I rose around six AM, with the sun, left eye slight red, swollen and stinging.  And what was seemingly with thousands of birds doing their thing around my bungalow.  I walked the property with my camera, but the birds are so fast and so high it’s hard, if not impossible to get shots of them.

The view of the Napo River from my bungalo at Misahuallí Lodge

The view of the Napo River from my bungalo at Misahuallí Lodge

I met Edgar and Carmiñia for breakfast at the lodge (eggs, bread, fruit) and soon Jonas moved his boat across the river and we were ready for the adventure.  We took off down the Napo River.  The Napo is huge and it’s a feeder to the Amazon River.  What surprised me about the Napo was how much current and rapids the Napo had.  And this was the lower river point.  It must rage in spring.  And it must be a very dangerous river in Spring.

Our first stop was to arrange lunch for later in the day.  Honestly, I thought we wouldn’t see anything civilized on the boat journey, but we arrived at a ferry crossing where cars are shuttled across.  At the ferry crossing there was a small open air restaurant.  The owner of the restaurant came running out to take our order.  In Spanish he said, “Tilapia, Chicken or meat”.  It’s not the nasty farmed tilapia that we get in the states; the ones that live on the bottom of the salmon pens and eat the salmon pellet leftovers and excrement.  In Ecuador it’s the real fish caught by nets in the rivers and lakes so the tilapia is pretty good.

Edgar and Carmiñia at the beginning of our big boat adventure

Edgar and Carmiñia at the beginning of our big boat adventure.  Notice the official Timex Iron-man hat that Carmiñia is wearing.  That hat was worn in Ironman Kona by “legendary” triathlete Will Garratt.  i ended up having to give that hat to Carmiñia she liked it so much.

Anyways after making the order and agreement to return around 2pm we cruised on to the first fishing stop.  It was a really deep froggy pool on the inside of a bend in the river.  This is where I learned our fishing guide, Jonas the great fisherman of the village was targeting catfish in hugely deep water with bait.  And he was hand lining instead of using a rod.  As you well know that is the exact opposite type of water that a fly fisherman would fish in for predators.   No problem.  I’d just hop out of the boat and walk up river to find some decent water and it wasn’t far.  So, I did and fished my way back to the boat with no takes. Carmiñia and Edgar did a little exploring.  Well, I decided to fish near Jonas and the boat waiting for Edgar and Carmenia to come back and I stepped in what appeared to be quick sand.  I sunk to my thighs.  I didn’t really panic because Jonas was within site.  But, I lost my sandal to the amazon in the process.  It was over 3 feet down and there was no way to find/retrieve it.  If I was alone that was have been a bit scary.

My lone remaining sandal along with my fly fishing bag on the ponga.

My lone remaining sandal along with my fly fishing bag on the ponga.

The real problem was that Jonas was not guiding.  He was simply fishing.  I assumed he was going to teach Edgar and Carmiñia how to hand-line fish.  But, no, we were paying Jonas to fish by himself.  That bugged me.  And of course he got skunked.  So, I intended to teach Carmiñia how to cast a fly rod anyways so I called her over and that is what I did for the balance of the fishing day: worked on Carmiñia and her cast.  Which really pleased me because at this stage in my fly fishing life, I would rather teach beginners to fly fish than to fish myself anyways.  We wandered a few miles downriver and into a different river called the Arujiuna where the fishing was supposed to be better. The trick was that Jonas kept picking really deep froggy water backed up against a cliff and parking the boat in it – the exact wrong type of water for a 4 wt and a floating line.  But, Carmiñia and I kept trying.  And her cast was getting better and better and she was really loving it.  And guess what?!  She hooked two fish!  I even hooked a fish that I had on for a few seconds that looked like a piranha.

Carmiñia stripping back a streamer after another decent 30 foot reach cast. She's a natural.

Carmiñia stripping back a streamer after another decent 30 foot reach cast. She’s a natural.

One of our stops was an animal sanctuary (not a zoo) right on the Napo river.  That was a pleasant surprise and explained the “you are going to see a lot of animals” thing.  The sanctuary had 3 types of animals:

  • Wild animals that had been domesticated and then abandoned or confiscated, unable to return to the wild.
  • Injured animals on the rehab to be released back into the wild.
  • Wild animals whose offspring are released into the wild.

Our guide, Camilla, was a Danish scientist doing a 3 week volunteering effort at the sanctuary.  I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of mosquito bites she had.  She took us through an 1.5 hour tour of the sanctuary and it was pretty interesting.  I also got a number of good pictures.

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Another one of our stops was to a Kichwa viliage to see how the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian jungle lived.  We saw the genius natural traps made by the native people for catching animals.  The Shaman who did our tour did a crazy ritual on Carmiñia to rid her of evil spirits or something like that.  Right after that he told us for a dollar we could take a picture with his Caymen – so depressing.  The poor thing was put in a narrow deep hole of muddy water with his mouth bound.  No thank you.

Overall it was a really fun day of adventures.  We covered about 5 river miles.

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We didn’t pull back into the lodge until after 6pm, showered up, took the “boat taxi” across the river, had dinner, beers, “boat taxi” back and crashed early again.

It was now Sunday morning and like the day before I woke up with the sun and the sound of all the birds….and Paco

But, I was staring at a red eye that night.  and the six hour drive back to the Quito airport.  the trip went so fast because I had so much fun.  Little did I know my biggest adventure in Ecuador was still ahead of me…

We ate breakfast at the lodge again.  Took the boat back across the river and Edgar retrieved his car parked right on the “beach” again.  We loaded up and off we went.

First there was another resort by way of one lane bridge across the river that Edgar wanted to check out for his next visit.  It was an awesome place with many small lakes.  And I bet Carminia and I could catch a lot of fish on the fly rod in those lakes.  There is no river view, though… which explains why it’s $20/night.

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We were told that the resort held a giant special fish.  Called a Paiche in the Amazon, we call it an Arapaima.  Anyways the lodge owners clapped their hands and splashed the lake and sure enough a seven foot Arapaima swam up.  Amazing.

a seven foot Arapaima acknowledging the call of it's owners

a seven foot Arapaima acknowledging the call of it’s owners

Somehow Edgar got a hold of a map that had identification of caves he had never been to in the province.  And somehow on the way out he called the town and got us a “guide” and after 3 or so hours in the car navigating back a different way to Quito we met Robinson Sanchez in Mera.  Mera is a tiny town in the eastern foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes.  Before we knew it Robinson was in Edgar’s car sitting next to me and we were on a nasty dirt mountain road headed for the caves called Cavernas Rio Anzu; a mountain road that demanded 4-wheel drive, which Edgar’s car did not have.  We finally made it to a gravel parking lot with an official government sign for the caves.  That was somewhat comforting because there are many caves in the US in the state and national parks that you can visit and do guided tours in.  But, what I was quickly to learn is that is the US where everything is indemnified and made easy on the tourist.  This is the Andes in Ecuador; I was to find out quickly you were at your own risk and surprises are just part of the deal.  I have a weakness in my personality in that I’m an ultra-planner that needs his expectations set.  Robinson did not speak English and I could tell that in Spanish with Edgar and Carmiñia that it was like pulling teeth getting information out of him.  I was dressed in the clothes I intended to wear on the airplane home.  What I gleaned was that there was a short hike to the cave entrance.  And that I should change to long pants because our legs might touch the plants on the hike.  Ok, fair enough.  It was a pain to dig my jungle pants out of my bag for a short hike, but ok.

Surprise #1: It wasn’t a short hike.  It was a 3-mile downhill death hike through the jungle, often sweltering on swampy ground; steep and slippery.  By the time we got to the cave we were already sweaty and dirty.

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Surprise #2: At the cave entrance Robinson handed both Edgar and me a flashlight.  Mine was a 50 cent Chinese piece of crap flashlight that was cracked to the point pieces were falling out of it with the batteries barely working – Useless.  And I left a high end professional backpacking head lamp in my bag at the car!  Uggg….  No problem, I’ll use the flashlight on my phone.

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We entered the cave and within 10 yards we had to climb and duck because there was no head room.  That just wouldn’t happen in the US.  In the US you’d walk with defined paths surrounded on both sides with ropes or guide rails.  I assumed it would just open up after that so we could walk around and explore in the cave after that.  Well, that first little climb took some agility so that was cool.  And you had to use your hands on the climb; it was dirty.  And since we only had one flashlight with Robinson carrying two candles the climb was mostly in the dark.

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Surprise #3: As we entered the first chamber I was looking forward to standing up and looking around.  Not a chance.  It was 4 feet in height at most.  I injured by back falling in the Upper Kern River just two weeks prior and sure enough I aggravated it again.  Now, my back was killing me and I was hunched over because there wasn’t enough room to stand up.  Yet, the stalagmites and stalactites were pretty awesome.  But, the cave was really muddy and wet.  My hands were already muddy so taking pictures with my phone or camera were out of the question.  The good news was that Robinson brought a camera and was willing to get his muddy.

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Surprise #4: I assumed that was it.  We’d take pictures and head out. Because there wasn’t any clear path large enough to go any farther.  Oh, was I wrong.  Robinson, in Spanish, said, “we keep going.”  And I said to myself, “you have to be kidding.”   Those who know me know I have done some crazy ass climbing just to get to the good fly fishing so I wasn’t going to be the one that said no.  At the same time Carmiñia (“Carmiñia Extrema”) was good with it so I was not going to be the guy that said no with her willing to keep going.  So we kept going.  And it kept getting harder and harder and the entrances kept getting skinnier and skinnier and required more and more effort to get through.  I turned to Edgar and said, “Do you see the irony of me being the tallest of the four of us in a place where it is advantageous to be short?”  he laughed.

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At one point I had to pull myself up through an entrance just big enough to squeeze my hips through…sideways.  In fact, I was stuck for a few seconds.  And it kept getting muddier and muddier.  And I kept thinking we must be getting to the large chamber where we can stand up.  But, no, the space kept getting smaller and smaller.   The cave was lined with a thick clay that at points that grabbed your shoes too.  So, I figured we were about 100-200 meters into the bowels of the mountain and we were completely muddy head to toe.  Finally, we could go no further and started the long process of heading back to the cave entrance.  At one point Robinson took a wrong turn!  I could help but think, “we are the first people he has ever taken in here.”

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Upon exiting the cave we were all smiles because it was a crazy adventure we’d remember for the rest of our lives.  It’s now 4pm and I’m sure that we are going to hike all the way back to the car.

Surprise #5: There’s another cave.   You have to be kidding me.  So, we hike another ½ mile down a treacherous and slippery “trail” to its entrance and do it all over again.

That's not a trail; that's a climb

That’s not a trail; that’s a climb

The 3 mile uphill jungle hike back to the car seemed simple compared to what we had just been through.  On the way I washed my hands, arms and watch in filthy puddles of rainwater.  My shoes and clothes were covered in mud.  Upon reaching the car I stripped down and put clean clothes on my dirty body…. Fully knowing I was going to have to fly from Quito to Houston like this.  My sole relief was knowing there was a shower at the United Club in Houston after the 5-hour flight.

You know the trail is treacherous when everyone has their heads down

You know the trail is treacherous when everyone has their heads down

On the long car journey to the Quito airport I fell asleep a number of times I was so exhausted.  On the plane I was in the row all by myself so I laid down over 3 seats and slept the entire way.  I slept right through the flight attendants coming with food and drinks.   As I showered in the club I smiled…until I felt my back killing me…noticed the hundreds of mosquito bites, and the big welt on my head from bonking it in the cave – totally worth it.dsc00079

 

 

 

 

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador

December 4th & 5th, 2016

The Rise of the Andean Rainbow Trout

The Rise of the Andean Rainbow Trout

Check off another bucket-lister: The Andean Rainbow Trout.  My fly fishing adventure above 13K feet in the Andes Mountains outside Quito, Ecuador has to be one of the top ten most interesting, physically challenging and adventurous I have ever done.  And those who know me, know that is a bold statement.

Eduardo Campuzano, leading me to a spot at Campuchoca

Eduardo Campuzano, leading me to a spot at Campuchoca

Through an internet search I found the Campuchoca Lodge and I now have a friend for life in its owner, Eduardo Campuzano.  Eduardo is a super smart, 69 year old stud; almost retired civil engineer with a water resources specialty from Quito.   And he is a genuinely great guy.  And he has built quite a lodge and trout ecosystem for C&R fly fishing in the mountains above Quito.  The Andean Trout is not native to Ecuador.  It was brought in some 100+ years ago and thrived in the cold mountain rivers.  Since there is no fish above 10k in South American rivers there is no significant environmental impact, if any, to having trout there.  And thrive they have – these fish fight like hell; they are wild and they jump…a lot.

Campuchoca Rainbow Trout are jumpers when hooked

Campuchoca Rainbow Trout are jumpers when hooked

I have to tell you I had an absolute blast in the 2 full days I got to stay at Campuchoca.  And it wasn’t all about the spectacular fly fishing.  The food is awesome and the lodge is shockingly nice; certainly much nicer than my hotel in Quito.   The late night discussions of politics, religion and sports with Eduardo were so fun.  But, what is so fantastic about Campuchoca is the miles and miles of private wilderness and trout water.  And the specular scenery of the Andes above 12 thousand feet.

Eduardo Campuzano behind his bar at the Campuchoca Lodge

Eduardo Campuzano behind his bar at the Campuchoca Lodge

Eduardo and I talked a number of times in email and Whatsapp before I arrived in Quito, Ecuador where he picked me up at the airport.  With only 4 hours of sleep I was in a daze as we drove out of Quito up into the mountains where Campuchocha is located.  Once on property it’s a series of rain torn dirt roads on Eduardo’s expansive property, going at least 10 square miles in my estimate.  There are waterfalls in all directions. Eduardo’s biggest and most prolific problem is the poachers that sneak on to his property at night to bait fish, kill and sell the trout to local shops.

There are hundreds of waterfalls, large and small, at Campuchoca

There are hundreds of waterfalls, large and small, at Campuchoca

Some of my fly fishing was done in Cayambe-Coca National Park, only 30-40 or so miles outside of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.  Some of Eduardo’s property lies in the national park.  Cayambe-Coca National Park is an Ecological Reserve / nature reserve in Ecuador located along the Equator.   When the clouds clear, the world famous, snow-topped Cayambe volcano is within view.

Cayambe-Coca National Park, some of which is on Eduardo's Campuchoca Property

Cayambe-Coca National Park, some of which is on Eduardo’s Campuchoca Property

After a great handmade breakfast at the lodge, my fishing day started out in the lower streams on his property.  Eduardo warned me it would be a poor fishing day.  He uses an app on his phone to predict the fishing success based on the solunar tables and the barometer, etc.  Well, within 10 casts I hooked up 3 times and landed a nice trout.  That is how Eduardo defines poor fishing: You don’t catch a trout on a dry every cast.

Another football sized Andean Rainbow caught at Campuchoca

Another football sized Andean Rainbow caught at Campuchoca

That first day, even though I was on 4 hours sleep and at 12.5K I was excited and doing well.  But, man could I feel that altitude.  As we hiked I was having trouble keeping up and getting my ass kicked by a 69-year-old.  Eduardo knows his rivers and lakes.  He told me where to throw it and how to fish in every spot.  And he was always right.  BTW, I did not fish with an indicator the entire time.  Eduardo would have nothing to do with that.  Most of the time I nymphed the traditional way without an indicator: on a dead drift in the current or little strips in the frog water.  I need to do that a lot more often; if not always.

Lunch time was a tuna sandwich, coffee and water.  There were a couple beers available, but I felt so horrible because of the altitude I just couldn’t do it.  I know, I know…. So not like me.

Eduardo Campuzano, owner of Campuchoca Lodge showing off one of the Andean Rainbows i caught

Eduardo Campuzano, owner of Campuchoca Lodge showing off one of the Andean Rainbows i caught

We saw sporadic rises throughout that first day, but not enough for Eduardo to command the switch.  But, at the end of the day the rises picked up and I picked up a few Andean Rainbows on the dry.  What a great first day!  We sundered back to the lodge at dusk to watch the hundreds of hummingbirds do their thing.  And it got cold quickly at 12,500 feet.

The Long-tailed sylph, a huge hummingbird with a hugely long tail. tons of these bad boys and more hummers hang out at Campuchocan

The Long-tailed sylph, a huge hummingbird with a hugely long tail. tons of these bad boys and more hummers hang out at Campuchocan

Dinner at the lodge that night started with a light soup that you put popcorn into.  I guess that is common in Ecuador.  It hit the spot. After dinner Eduardo made a cocktail I now have to try at home.  I have forgot the name and can’t find it on the internet, but it’s equal parts of fine Spanish Brandy and Absinthe.  As you’d imagine there was a lot of “Trump talk” after that cocktail.

Eduardo with the Campuchoca Lodge in the background

Eduardo with the Campuchoca Lodge in the background

The Campuchoco lodge is really nice.  The bed was awesome and it had electric blankets.  Yes, two of them.  And my god it was cold that night.  just getting up to pee in the middle of the night sent my body into shivers.

Day 2:

On day two Eduardo and the young guides (that had showed up to take another couple from Melbourne fishing) told me it was going to be a lot tougher fishing.  We were to fish higher locations and they said you have to work harder for hook ups up there.  They were right.  It’s not like I wasn’t catching fish, but I sure was working really hard for not a lot in the first part of the day.  And unlike the first day we saw no rises at all.  I wasn’t getting frustrated; the altitude was sucking the life out of me and I was getting my ass kicked by a 69 yr old again.

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One of the many lakes above 13k feet at Campuchoca where Eduardo has stocked rainbow trout fry and they have reproduced and thrived.

After another quick tuna sandwich lunch Eduardo made the call: “We are going up to the lakes.”.   This was not part of the plan; we did this because the fishing was slow.  I really didn’t know what I was in for at the time, but this was one of the adventures of the trip I will always remember.  My guess is it took 45 minutes to climb another 1000 feet on the washed out / crazy ass dirt roads up to 13,500 feet where the lake was that eduardo was targeting.  I learned later that Eduardo and his ~26 year old friend Daniel (“like a son to me.”) stocked that lake with rainbow trout fry they actually caught with fly rods on size 22 nymphs!  Then, with an aerator and a cooler full of cold Andes Mountain water they transported the baby trout to the lakes…where they thrived.

Looking down from 13,500 feet into the valley and the Campuchoca Lodge

Looking down from 13,500 feet into the many lakes and rivers in valley and the Campuchoca Lodge

Well the small lake was overgrown with chaparral and steep on all sides and the wind was blowing.  I only had my 4wt (my “Tommy”; a custom made TFO BVK made for me by my buddy Tom Young in Colorado Springs) with a floating line with me; I really needed a 6 with an intermediate sink.  And I was giving it all I had trying to double haul into the wind and casting over the wrong shoulder to avoid my weighted black wollly bugger from hitting me in the head.  After 20 or 25 casts and strips back, which included 2 or 3 fouled casts stuck in the chaparral behind me, Eduardo said, “You need more weight to get down.”.  I had become accustomed to Eduardo always being right, I just knew I had to make a change to pull it off.  Prior in the day I had lengthened my leader with 5x to 10 feet so I knew I couldn’t add weight and still cast.  Since I was just streamer fishing I decided to cut off that extra 7 feet and go with a stout 3 foot leader.  That was a godsend for casting.  And sure enough boom!  I got struck hard by a big fish.  I strip set on him and he jumped high.  I knew I didn’t have to dainty him so I muscled him 10 yards or so with him jumping like crazy to a place on the lake I could land him.  After the trophy shot, I said to Eduardo with a smile on my face, “We earned that one.”  He shot back with a smile on his face, “I told you, you needed more weight.”   I was really pleased.solely to make Eduardo pleased.  I’ve caught a lot of big trout in my time, but some of them are special.  That one was special.

the burly little left hander at 13.5k feet with a big football sized Andean Rainbow

the burly little left hander at 13.5k feet with a big football sized Andean Rainbow

We ended the day in some really small lakes right by the lodge I had not fished yet.  I hooked and landed a few before the late afternoon rain set in (just like the rockies) and we retired to the lodge for an awesome dinner of wild deer killed and caught by Eduardo on his property.  Yes, they have deer, cougars, bears, wild dogs, rabbits; everything but moose.

Another big Andean Rainbow Trout caught and released

Another big Andean Rainbow Trout caught and released

If you are a C&R trout fisherman and find yourself in the Quito, Ecuador area I strongly recommend the Campuchoco lodge.  It’s only 45 minutes from the Quito Airport.  Eduardo will take care of you.  Contact him at:  ecampuzano@andinanet.net

Cascade River, Marblemount, WA

November 10th, 2016

Huck holding his first Coho

Huck holding his first Coho

The reality is that most of my experience is fly fishing for trout; just a lowly fly fisherman that mostly gets to fly fish for trout; catching them and releasing them.  And that is the point in this post: because of my business travel I get to do some “exotic” fly fishing every once and a while.  But, when I wander outside of trout I’m a beginner.  And for me, and I realize this doesn’t apply to all fly fisherman, I just love being the beginner again.  I love being the beginner yet having the wisdom of “figuring it out”.  In this mode, the successes are so much more joyful; the failures are insignificant.  And that is where this story starts…

My buddy Joe is a big time strategic exec at Microsoft.  I lean on him (and others at msft) to explain the technical strategy to me and I have done that for years.  But, Joe is not a “Dork”.  Joe is not a “Geek”.  I hate those terms to start with because in the board room the word Geek is still a negative.   My point: Joe is a guide level fisherman.  He’s a God of steelhead.  He “owns” the pacific northwest in terms of fly fishing.  So, when I get to fish with Joe I cherish the moments and what I learn from him.

Joe and I planned to “play hooky” and fish a Thursday while I was up in Redmond at Microsoft months in advance.  I sent Joe an email: “Hey, I’m going to be in town and am going to fish on Thursday, November 10th.  What do I throw and where?”  He said, “You are fishing with me.”  Totally pleased… and now excited.   But to make a long story short, Joe has young twins.  He’s 15 years my junior.  His life is crazy.  He was just back from a business trip and he mixed up the dates.  At 530am I got the txt from him with the sobering reality I was on my own.

Fine.  Easy.  It’s not about catching anyways, right?  I don’t mind getting skunked as long as I get a good hike in the wilderness, right?  Then joe’s txts of guidance started coming, fast and furious.  He gave me a detailed plan.  As I headed north from Redmond in my rental car on the 5, I was re-excited.  Because Joe gave me enough of the “where and what” to instill my confidence of success.  His guidance was: head for the Cascade River near Marblemount and fish the stretch from where it enters the Skagit up to the hatchery.  That was enough info for me to use the interweb to figure out how to get there.  The next piece of guidance was invaluable: “you are fishing for dollies.” (Dolly Vardon; it’s a char.  It’s big and mean and it fights like hell).  “You may see some coho.  Cast at them and around them.  You may be able to catch them and the dollies are hanging around the cohos to eat them and their eggs.”

Check out that big ass articulated streamer i tied in this Coho's face

Check out that big ass articulated streamer i tied in this Coho’s face

Fishing for spawning salmon has always been a challenge for me and frankly for everyone.  They travel hundreds of miles from the ocean to a two-inch radius of where they were born (still unexplained by science) to spawn and die.  They don’t eat on the way and don’t eat period.  Their job is to spawn and die.  As fisherman (not just fly guys) we try to piss them off to make a primal response by fishing for them.

It took me 20 minutes to figure out where to park because of all the private property.  When I finally did figure it out if was staring at a bait fisherman across the river…well, a conventional guy…hammering a pool under the bridge.  I have to admit I was bummed at the time.  I really thought I could have the river to myself.  But, on the other hand I said to myself, “if he conventional guys are fishing, maybe I am in luck”.   And the river was crystal clear and wadable.  That pleased me intensely.  So, I geared up.  And when I was ready to fish the conventional guy was gone.  That was great!  These guys tend to sit in the hole all day cast after cast.  That is not me.  That is not fly fishing.  We cast and move.  So I moved towards the river where he was fishing on the opposite side of the river.

See those dark shadows right off the bank?  those are Cohos

See those dark shadows right off the bank? those are Cohos

And that is the point in the story where my stereotype of a gear guy changes.  He was on top of the bridge looking where the coho salmon where staging so he could figure out where to cast to them.  I didn’t notice him until I got down to the river.  He saw me and immediately engaged.  The first words out of my mouth. “I’m sorry.  I thought you moved on.  It’s your hole I’ll move down river.”  His answer, “absolutely not.  Cast at these ones” as he pointed down from the bridge into the river.   Nicest guy in the world.  So, I did.  But they were deep and I couldn’t get a drift down to them.  I gave that 10 minutes and crossed the river over the bridge to talk to him.

He was a wealth of knowledge.  But, I was streamer fishing.  He was fishing conventional with a typical bobber and eggs set up.  I told him I was going to move down river and he said he’d join me in a bit.  Great.

Because I could see the cohos I picked a fly that I tied a couple of.  They took me 20 minute each to tie: a 3 inch, purple, nasty, articulated, 3 red beads in between fly solely designed to piss off salmon and steelhead.  Good choice by me.  It worked all day.

One of the few pictures i successfully took by myself.  these big fish are hard to hold with one had.

One of the few pictures i successfully took by myself. these big fish are hard to hold with one hand.

So, here is where the fun started; just about 20 minutes after starting to fish.  I bushwhacked down river past him to some flat skinny water. On the hike I could see a handful of cohos “in love”.  Staging themselves, fighting, moving.  I entered the water as quietly I could below them and worked my way up to where I could make the 40 foot cast.  I could see the salmon.  I was hunting.  I was not fishing blind.  That is a really fun way to fish.  My first casts were awful.  My 10 foot 8 wt helios 2 is still at Orvis getting fixed.  I was fishing an 8 wt sage fli.  It’s an older medium action rod given to me by a buddy.  If you can cast you know that medium action rods and heavy sink lines are hard to cast.  When you add a 3” weighted streamer you realize you are not as good at casting as you think you are.  Well, it was really clear that I need to put it on their nose; the perfect cast.  At the same time, I was spooking them and when I wasn’t they still were moving around.  So, there was a little luck still involved.  Me talking to myself, “good cast…moving in…right there…he’s eating…SET!  And I was on.  And it was a big fish.  But, these poor salmon are “cashing in the chips”.  As I was to learn during the day, most of them just don’t have a lot of fight left in them.  But, they are huge…up to 20 pounds… so it’s still a fight.  Well, it was my first fish of many that day and I fought him way too long.  And I was calling my new friend up stream because I was convinced he would want to keep this one.  Once landed…and I really didn’t land him… my net needed to be 3 times the size.  But, I did have my landing hand so I could grab the fish by the tail and still be able to hold on.  He ran down and showed me why that fish wasn’t fresh enough to keep; I really wanted to give it to him.  It looked great on top, but you could see the degradation on the bottom of this coho.  But, he did take a couple pictures of me with it.  Taking pictures of 10-20 pound fish all by myself was very challenging all day long.

And that is how it went all day long.  There were points where I was hooking a salmon on every cast (they are really hard to keep on to land them).  I probably hooked ~25 cohos.  I never saw the gear guys staring at the bobber catching anything.  They were fishing the deep pools.  I was fishing the cohos staged in shallow water.  I had action all day long.  I landed around a dozen coho salmon and nailed a huge dolly varden right at the end.  And yes, I let them all go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After working my way all the way down the river it followed the salmon to where the hatchery is.  I fished up the inlet to the hatchery and it got silly.  Thousands of salmon…just sitting there waiting for the hatchery door to open so they could do their thing.  It was silly because I was hooking up on every cast.  The problem was I was foul hooking some of them.  And that was a big turn off.  except for one foul hooked fresh salmon I got in the tail.  It ran 200 feet with my reel screaming.  It took me forever to land that fish.  But, once I learned what happened I was bummed so I stopped fishing there.  That is when I met another gear guy.  And older guy from the area with a cane.  Great guy; old man of the river.  We seemed to talk forever.  He gave me a ton of info.  Then told me he’d take to me his favorite hole on the river.  So, we walked by the hatchery and I got in his truck and we went.  I had about 30 minutes to fish because I had to make an event in Bellevue so he sat up on a 10 foot cliff in his favorite hole and I hiked down river.  But, I couldn’t find any fly fishable water.  It was all deep holes and fallen trees with a cliff above and no room to cast in back.  Clearly this was a gear guys place. So, I hiked back to my new friend and stared at the water around him.  I said, “I wonder if that soft stuff up stream hold fish.”  He wasn’t confident.  And it was a tricky wade.  There were fallen trees everywhere.  I had to walk through very deep silty water through the trees to get there.  I’m sure that intimidated most folks.  Anyways once I punched out there were a bunch of cohos to target so I told myself, “one more fish and I’ll call it a day and head south.”

So, I casted and swung, two steps, casted and swung, two steps.  I was putting them in the zone, but the salmon were darting around everywhere and it was just deep enough that I was only seeing their shadows.  I was getting toward the end of the run; it ended in a huge tree that fell perpendicular to the river.  Since I was targeting the salmon I totally forgot about the Dolly Varden.  And that is when I saw it race like a lightning, strike me and almost pull the rod out of my hand.  I set and it jumped 2 feet in the air!  At first I thought it was a steelhead.  But I could tell by the fight it was a big dolly varden.  It seemed to take me forever to land that thing.  It kept headed for the log and I kept pulling him hard away from it.  I finally landed it; curled in a ball it barely fit my net.  I quickly released it and it swam away fast and pissed off.  My friend yelled in congrats and I screamed, “Dolly!”.

I really wanted a good shot of this big Dolly Varden, but it was really hard by myself in 2 feet of water

I really wanted a good shot of this big Dolly Varden, but it was really hard by myself in 2 feet of water

As I navigated back through the trees to the shore, I silently thanked the lord and my fly fishing buddy ken.  I waved goodbye, hiked through the wilderness out to the road, un-wadered and broke down my rod at the rental car with a smile on my face and headed back south.

 

Upper Kern River – Forks of the Kern Trailhead

August 25-28, 2016

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

I met Mike Gilroy at the June 2016 meeting of the San Diego Fly Fishers Group.  He was a new member of the group and it was his first meeting.  We immediately became friends.  He’s a lifelong hunter and fly fisherman.  His story was that he just retired and moved to the seemingly barren fly fishing opportunities of San Diego from the plentiful fly fishing opportunities of Seattle area.  My takeaway was that his wife wanted to retire to a warmer climate.  You can’t fault her for that.  I did my penance up in Redmond, WA for a year serving Microsoft.  The sun never came out that year (97/98); Never.  It is true.  There is an abundance of fly fishing opportunities up in the Seattle area year round.  I always carry a fly rod up there when I visit Microsoft.  Mike was a little bummed when he described having to move away from all the fly fishing opportunities in Washington.  That is when I told him about the Upper Kern River.

One of the many Kern River Rainbow's that MIke battled to hand

One of the many Kern River Rainbow’s that MIke battled to hand

I told Mike about battling the “badest”, biggest trout in the world.  That the Kern River Rainbow is its own species and we’d have a chance at Goldens and “Gold-bows” too.  And I told Mike how you have to earn it by backpacking in to them.  Well, Mike is like me.  He took that to heart and committed immediately.  Because of my travel schedule I set dates more than 2 months in the future.  But, I had always wanted to fish the upper Kern in August and never afforded the chance because it gets hot in August; really hot.  And I could never get anyone to go with me at that time of year.  And Mike did commit.  He started training immediately with hikes.  He trained the entire time.  I trained too, but at one point I was a bit worried about a 6’5” guy north of 65 kicking my ass on the trail.  So I trained pretty hard too and although I didn’t drop that 15 I need to, I did get in really good cardio shape.  As you’ll read later I needed it.

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

I had already been to the Upper Kern over the Forks of the Kern trail twice this summer so I knew we’d see really good river conditions (low).  And that meant the chance at good Huck-Hopper fishing.  I cannot tell you how many pictures I have taken over the years of a big Kern River Rainbow with a Huck Hopper hanging out of its face.

We did a lot of planning.  Mike came over to the house and I showed him all the stuff I was putting in my backpack and told him how I hoped to be under 45 pounds.  I should have emphasized it.  I told Mike that it usually takes me less than 45 minutes to lose the 1100 feet in 2 miles to get to the crossing of the Little Kern River.   Mike set expectations with me that he would take a lot longer than that; not a problem.

Mike and I were going to meet at the Lower Peppermint Campground which is just 15 minutes short of the trailhead.  I have painstakingly created detailed directions and guidance to the Forks of the Kern that I provide to anyone who emails me.  And they do quite a bit after internet searching and stumbling into this blog.  Mike was going to travel north to fish the Kings river a couple days early and camp out of his truck.  The plan was that he’d find and camp at the Lower Peppermint campground during the day Thursday and I’d drive Thursday night hoping to get there before 12AM.  But, I got the panicked call from Mike early Thursday, “They closed the road because of the Cedar Fire.”   I told him not to give up just yet.  Mike was trying to get to the campground from the western entrance which goes right though the fire.  I called the Kern River Ranger station and they told me the roads from the south were still open…”…for now.”.  So, Mike did the long detour all the way down to Bakersfield and back up through Kernville.  But, he called me again from Kernville.  “The fire is bad here.”  I had been tracking the fire all day on CalFire.org and the other governmental fire tracking sites.  It wasn’t really close, but it was pushing towards Kernville.  Mike was seeing the smoke.  I told Mike to go on in.  It’s another 1.5 hours to the campground/trailhead from Kernville in a Northern Direction.   Way North of the fire.   I knew he’d be fine.  The problem is there is no cell signal North of Kernville so I knew we wouldn’t be able to communicate.  What I didn’t realize was what I’d run into a good 12 hours later when I got to Kernville that night.

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

I left Carlsbad at 7pm as planned to avoid the traffic when plowing through LA.  As I drove up the Kern Canyon from Bakersfield I had to pull over numerous times for fire trucks to pass me.  “hmmm…” I said to myself.  I wasn’t as worried about them not letting me through as I was leaving Mike stranded in a place he never had been before with the thought of him backpacking by himself.  As I pulled into Kernville it was Armageddon.  I could see flames at least 30 feet high to the West.  I said to myself, “My God.”.  But, I was still more worried about the road closing and stranding Mike.  Thank God I made it through.  I learned later they closed the road behind me the following day.  But, only for 24 hours.  That was long enough to prevent my buddy Grant from making it through, though.  He never did join us.  We didn’t know then we practically had the Upper Kern River to ourselves.  I pulled in just after 12am and found Mike’s truck in my favorite site easily.  I was asleep within 15 minutes of turning off my ignition.

Friday morning Mike and I said hellos, described our journey and soon our trucks were headed for the trailhead.  At the trailhead I couldn’t smell any smoke, but there was a haze in the air.  Mike weighed his pack at the trailhead and it was over 50 pounds.  “Hmmm…”  I told him there had to be something he could offload.  He maintained there was not.  That ultimately turned out to be a mistake, but much of the most important things I have learned about backpacking were from my many mistakes.

The Little Kern River Crossing

The Little Kern River Crossing – with a rope tied across to help

We hit the trail together by 830AM and it was nice and cool.  It did take a while for us to get to the Little Kern crossing; longer than I had ever done it.  but, Mike’s a big guy and a stud at 65.  I kept telling myself (and Mike), “I hope I’m still doing this at 65.”   After the little Kern crossing Mike needed a rest.  This is where I made my first mistake.  I should have emphasized (instead of just giving him the option) of finding the closest primitive camp site right there.  But, Mike was hell bent on making it to the Huckaby site that day.  And that next 2.2 miles in the heat was very physical for Mike.  With ¾ mile to go I told Mike I was going to charge forward to make sure the Huckaby site was open and double back.  Thank God it was open.  Upon doubling back I offloaded a few things from Mike to make him lighter and we made it to the site after 4+ hour very physical journey for him.  Finally at the site he took his shirt off to cool off.  “What the hell is that sticking out of your chest?” I asked.  “My defibulator.” He joked.  “What?!”.  He had a pacemaker and had by-passes and heart surgeries in his past.  Now, I was feeling really badly for almost killing him on that hike!

Half of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern RiverHalf of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern River

Mike rested a bit and I partially set up camp.  But, I was dying to fish, so I rigged up a huck-hopper dropper, walked up 100 feet to the tail out that is at the top of the site and within 5 casts hooked up with a nice 14” Kern River Rainbow that battled me all the way down to Mike.  We kept that one and ate it for dinner.

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me.  To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me. To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

My battle sent the adrenaline through Mike, causing him to rig up.  He soon landed a really nice Kern River Rainbow right in front of the site.

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the "infamous" Huckaby primitive camp site

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the “infamous” Huckaby primitive camp site

Right after that is when Mike found the best treasure in the history of my hiking in there: Two Coors nestled nicely in the river.  Since Mike doesn’t drink I got them both!  How awesome is a cold Coors on a hot day on the Upper Kern?!

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

We continued fishing and setting up camp never wandering far from the site and we did well.  We turned in early; I mean really early both because of exhaustion and because the rangers invalidated my fire permit.  No fires in the golden trout wilderness on this trip.  Which is a total drag because having a campfire riverside is one of the best parts of this trip.  It’s a shame us responsible folks have to suffer for the ways of the ignorant.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

The next day (Saturday) we fished up river for the first half of the day.  We did well too.  It wasn’t crazy good; I was having trouble getting fish to rise to my hopper and there were no bugs of significance in the air.  But, we were catching fish regularly on nymphs.  And the best part was that the river was tame enough for me to cross in a few places.  That meant Mike and I could fish together, him on the “right handed side” of the river and me on the “left handed side” as we marched up river a mile and a half or so.

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

It was getting hot and we waded all the way up to rattlesnake creek before we determined it was too dangerous to go on.  That is also where I lost a really nice big rainbow on my hopper.  I hated having to turn back after that.  But, I Did.

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever.  and i have been going there a long time

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever. and i have been going there a long time

We made the mile and a half back to camp, ate and watered up a bit and fished downriver from the site for the balance of the day.  Mike found a great run and really killed in it.  That pleased me.  We ended the fishing day by dry flying at camp as the sun went down.  We kept one of Mike’s trout this time and ate it along with the backpacking food.  But, without a campfire and the sun down it was in bed early again.

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Sunday we did a really smart thing.  We broke camp in the morning and backpacked all the way back to the Little Kern, crossed it, then followed it downriver to a site at the confluence of the North Fork (main) of the Kern and the Little Kern River I had always wanted to camp at.  I knew the fishing was really good down there.  This cut in half the big hike out of the canyon the next morning.  But, I was still a bit worried about Mike’s hike out because it is very physical hiking out of that canyon; especially in the heat.  Without setting up my tent or unpacking in any way I hit the run in front of the new site at the confluence and did really well as I worked up stream.  I walked back to camp, gathered up Mike and we worked downstream and I had battle after battle with big fish.  So fun.

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Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

As the sun set and we ate our dehydrated back packing food I had accomplished something I had never successfully managed before: We had eaten all the food; we wouldn’t have to carry any out.  But, because of not being able to have a campfire I had to pack out all the trash.  Monday morning came way too soon and I have to admit I was worried about Mike and the hike out.  Without telling him the plan I had already decided I was going to plow out of that canyon as fast as I could unload my pack, and head back down empty to offload some of his stuff into my pack.  I let him get a 15 minute jump on me because he was ready as I scrambled to pack up all my toys.  I was very pleased when I didn’t catch him until he was about 1/3rd of the way up the mountain.  That is when I unveiled my plan to him.  He probably didn’t believe me.  I made it to the truck in 50 minutes, emptied my backpack and headed back down.

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was.  It fought like crazy and it's huge.  But, alas, it's just a lowly sucker

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was. It fought like crazy and it’s huge. But, alas, it’s just a lowly sucker

I reached him about 2/3rds up the mountain and we offloaded some of his stuff into mine.  He assured me he was fine.  So I told him I’d was going to plow back up, sun shower, then have a beer while waiting for him.  And that plan would have went great until as I was enjoying my beer I heard a gun shot.  Mike was carrying a gun.  “Damnit!” I said to myself.  So without a pack and a beer in my hand I headed back down again.  I didn’t have to go far before running into him, exhausted.  It wasn’t his gun.  He made it.  What a stud.  Again I hope I’m still doing it at his age.  Great trip; great friend.

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River