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Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report – August 25-28, 2017

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report

Forks of the Kern Trail Head

August 25-28

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The Upper Kern River 3 miles upstream from the confluence of the Little Kern River

Upper Kern River Upstream from the Confluence of the Little Kern River

Well, the Fishing under 600 CFS on the Upper Kern is better than it was at 800 earlier in the month.  But it’s the simple fact that you still have to be a good, advanced or expert fly fisher to do well there right now.  In all my experience of fishing the Upper Kern from the Confluence of the Little Kern up river from the Forks of the Kern trailhead I’d saying it’s fishing at a 3 of 10 right now…. understand a 3 at the Forks is a 9 in most eastern sierras waters.  It’s that good.  And it’s my prediction that this upper stretch of the river will not fish well for everyone until it gets below 350 CFS.

You’ll do well if:

  • You are a good or better fly fisherman who can get a tough cast to soft water with a good drift.
  • You know how to and have the skills to drift a big deep hole and eddy.
  • You are fit enough and are willing to bush whack and rock hop and climb to precarious places to get that perfect cast, risking flies to overhanging trees
  • You are willing to hike the 3.5 miles upstream from the confluence over the mtn and up stream of rattlesnake creek.

You’ll do poorly if:

  • You are not an experienced fly fisher: Intermediates or beginners are still going to struggle in the high water
  • Losing flies pisses you off
  • You do not take risky casts…which ultimately means you will lose flies to overhanging trees.
  • You aren’t good at reading the water
  • You can’t get a drift in the seams of fast current
  • you don’t have a handful of casts in your arsenal
  • you don’t know what “soft water” means.

I hooked up about 20-40 times a day in the upper kern depending on the hours I put in and the hiking I was willing to do to find the soft water.  I had a dozen or so rises to my Huck hopper.  I landed a good amount of small to medium sized fish.  I lost a bunch of big fish.  Anyone who says fishing with barbless hooks doesn’t matter is fishing stockies.  When you fish barbless in the upper kern you will get shook  on multiple jumps or you will simply lose fish that bolt straight straight down stream through rapids into your backing where you have no resort but to tighten and lose them.  In this high water there is no way to chase them downstream.  You’d have to swim.  And only brad pitt does that well in movies.

I hooked a lot of these....landing them was rare. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

I hooked a lot of these….landing them is special. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it's face

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it’s face

I did, though, catch something very rare at “the site”.  I caught a 20” brown.  Browns are rare in the upper kern.   I have never caught a big one.  It was after dinner and a couple whiskeys.  It was almost dark.  I made a couple casts w’ my hopper / dropper in the big hole and my hopper went down slow.  I tightened and felt weight.  But, there was no jump.  8 times out of ten the kern rainbows jump.  It was dead weight…no head shake.  My buddy mike and I both said, “it has to be a sucker.”  When I got it in we were shocked.  I big male brown with many years behind it.  It took a flashy rainbow warrior I tie which is weird.  I must have totally lucked out and drifted it right into his face.  Clearly this was a rainbow eater to get that big.  Mike wanted me to kill it because it’s not native, but I couldn’t.

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

 

The Little Kern River Upstream from the Confluence

The Little Kern River is fishing really well right now; really well.  And it’s no wonder since it has been a trickle for over 4 years of drought.  I pulled multiple fish out of the tailout just 200 feet up from the Forks of the Kern crossing.  Quality fish too.  not just little ones. But, I did not and still have not caught any goldens out of the little Kern above the confluence.  They have all been rainbows.  I wonder how far you have to bushwhack to get to the goldens from there.  I’d love to talk to someone who knows.

But, in fishing the little Kern right now, all the bullets from above apply…. Even more.  There is no little kern river trail.  It’s a complete bushwhack, frequently requiring river travel as the only means to get up stream.  It’s small water, but raging and deep in spots.  The rocks are much more slippery than in the main fork of the Kern so fishing your way up stream is slow even for the most agile and fit.  And because of the canopy it can be dark…great for fishing, but not so much for walking upstream in current in 2+ feet of water.  I went down….water to my neck….almost broke it and my Winston rod in the process.  Was it worth it?  totally….  But, I was alone.   That is not a place to be alone.  No river trail.  No humans.  No nothing.  A bad accident there could really be bad.

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I don’t have a lot of success or experience in this section of the Little Kern River because I chose not to fish it, on guidance and common sense during the 4 years of drought: warm and low and too stressful on the fish.  But, I spent 2.5 hours fishing it and absolutely killed.  I fished about 1.5 miles up from the confluence.  I had takes in almost every stretch of castable water.   There are a lot of tailouts, pools and pocket water.  I had multiple fish runs (which I did not have on the Kern).  And I hooked some big fish in that little river.  notice I said hooked.  i am no beginner.  I have caught thousands of trout on a fly rod in my close to 30 years of fly fishing and I have never found harder fish to land than the kern river rainbows.  I hooked 4-5 big fish in that little river and landed zero.  The behavior is pretty much the same: set the hook.  The fish jumps.  Then the fish either jumps multiple times going ballistic until the barbless hook gets shook or bolts downriver into the backing.  I even had a big rainbow go so fast so far down that little stream that after snapping off, I had to walk it backwards untangling most of the 100 feet of my fly line from all the rocks and willows it tangled on it’s run.  One day I’ll hike the Forks trail and dedicate a full day or more to the little kern.  It’s not safe to do that alone.  It takes a unique fisherman to want to do the bushwhacking in small water that I love so much.

Gunpowder River, Hunt Valley MD

July 11-13, 2017

Through the years I have had so much east coast business travel.  I had totally given up on finding a river within driving distance of DC that support wild trout and is fishable year round.  The area gets hot and the rivers that are within striking distance like the Rose and those in West Virginia flow low and warm in the summer and many of them close.

Another nice brown from the Gunpowder River....with a bullethead skwalla sticking out of his face.

Another nice brown from the Gunpowder River….with a bullethead skwalla sticking out of his face.

Well, when the world famous Harmon Cabins on the North Fork South Branch Potomac River told me no way in July I almost gave up.  That would have been a 2.5 hour minimum drive from DC.  I just couldn’t look outside that radius.  It would have been too much.  2 months before my trip, I totally lucked out on an internet search and found the Gunpowder River in Maryland.  The Gunpowder River is a tail water that supports reproducing trout (Browns, Rainbows, Brooks).  Most of the river is not stocked; it doesn’t need to be.  The Gunpowder runs cool all summer long because of a “below dam” release.  The river is small, but even in low flow there are many spots where the river is not crossable.

It’s located in Gunpowder Fall State Park, which is a public recreation area comprising six non-contiguous areas covering 18,000 acres in northeastern Baltimore County and western Harford County, Maryland.  The area is absolutely beautiful.  And low flows of summer means easy wading, but a stealthy approach and long casts will reward you.

After finding the Gunpowder River on the internet, another targeted internet search yielded Backwater Anglers fly shop located just outside the park border.  I immediately contacted them and arranged for a guide for me alone on Wednesday and then for my buddies Tom and Loren on Thursday.  I got a reservation at a cheap local hotel in the Hunt Valley and started to get excited.  I was going to play hookie from work for a couple days and fly fish.  It was an 11 day business trip so, I wasn’t feeling too guilty about doing it since I work the early mornings, nights and both weekends anyways.

The Gunpowder River

The Gunpowder River

Well in DC, on Tuesday my keynote demo went really well and my afternoon meeting postponed.  I looked at my watch, 2pm.  And that is when I decided to try to beat the traffic out of DC and make it to the river for a couple hours to catch the evening hatch.  It was slightly tricky figuring out where to park my rental car, but with a little research, I found the closest place to the fly shop.  It was a huge paved parking lot and the State Park signs identified it.  But, there was no guard shack to take my money.  I wondered if I was in the right place.   It was.  I walked the trail down to the river and was the only sole there.  I stepped into the river and as I was slowly getting into position I saw a rise.  My first cast produced a 8” brown.  I knew it was going to be a good evening session.  When I staggered out of the river a couple hours later I had landed ~15 fish and easily lost twice that.  It was getting dark by the time I exited the river; the fireflies let my path back up the trail. “Tomorrow, guided, “ I said to myself, “was going to be a good day.”

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My guide, Gene Howson from Backwater Anglers is a 27 year old Scotsman.  With that Scottish accent he sounded so old on the phone.  I was a bit surprised he is so young.  Gene suggested an early start, 630am because of the weather; hot and humid.  I’m glad he did.  We did well.  Gene took me to a lot of places.  When we first entered the river there was a mist that gave it kind of an eerie feel.  I had not fished in the East in so long I forgot about that mist.  We didn’t see a single other angler.  We caught a lot of fish, but it definitely shut down mid day just like Gene predicted.

Gene Howson, Backwater Anglers Crossing the river through the mist

Gene Howson, Backwater Anglers Crossing the river through the mist

The next day Gene took all four of us to another new spot on the river.  This place was the most beautiful of all.  It was in a canyon and took a hike down to the water.  I took my high school buddy Dan Cerniglia with me.  I hadn’t seen dan in a couple years.  We got into a habit of fishing at least once a year together, but when he went back to American Airlines to fly 737s his schedule became unpredictable.  I totally lucked out that my trip to DC was on a couple days when dan was off.  Gene lead Tom and Loren, my buddies from the msft .net partner advisory council.  It was such awesome trout water.  But it was slow.  Still a totally fun day.  and we did burn some calories.

Dan Cerniglia, keeping that tight loop while smoking a cigar

Dan Cerniglia, keeping that tight loop while smoking a cigar

I have been studying solunar theory for over a year.  I have disproven it numerous times by getting skunked on good solunar days…and the exact opposite, killing on days that should have been poor fishing.  http://fly-fishing-blog.timhuckaby.com/solunar-theory-as-applied-to-fly-fishing/   Solunar theory basically says animals are more active when the sun and moon are closest to the earth.  Anyways, I did look at the scoring (I used an app called “Fishing and Hunting Solunar Time” )  and the scoring for Tuesday (out of 100) was 64, Wednesday was 33, And Thursday was 13.  That would explain why Tuesday afternoon / night I did so well.  And it was slower Wednesday and really slow Thursday.

The gang: me, Dan Cerniglia, Tom O'Connell and Loren Goodman

The gang: me, Dan Cerniglia, Tom O’Connell and Loren Goodman

All in all I fished 4 different locations on the Gunpowder and found every type of water: runs, pocket water, pools, riffles, tail-outs, heads, steep canyon water and water falls.  The fishing was really good at times and challenging at times.  I caught a lot of brown trout.   I even had a sucker rise on me.  Nothing huge….although I bet the Gunpowder has some exceptions.  Most of the fish I caught went 4” to 14”.

It’s a beautiful place.  I can’t wait to get back.

If you are on a trip in the DC area I strongly suggest you contact Gene Howson of Backwaters anglers.  He’s a great guide and a great kid.  Contact Gene by phone at 410-357-9557 or by email

 

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