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Category Archive:   Trout


Steelheading’s patron saint has got to be Sisyphus, the ancient king of Ephyra who was punished for his vanity and deceitfulness by being forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it come rolling down the hill again, an action that he would repeat for all of eternity. Lamenting his struggle and the obvious connection, i cast, raising the tip abruptly, tracing the outline of the “D” with the 12′ rod, followed the imaginary rim of the sombrero, and set my anchor before launching the streamer halfway across the Deschutes. After the tell tale splash i watched the line like a hawk, making sure to keep all of the bends out of the line, just as my brother had instructed me. It was an action i repeated over and over ad-nauseum like Sisyphus, the only change in pattern being that i worked my way downstream a few feet after every cast, in hopes of covering every last bit of roaring water between me and the next riffle or bend.

It’s an extraordinary thing, fishing for steelhead. It’s about the polar opposite of fishing in Texas where you can usually avoid a “skunk” just by tying on a smaller fly and targeting a panfish, Rio, or what have you. Steel head fishing is all or nothing…period, there is no hedging your bets, you either get one or you don’t.My brother David, a first class steel-header who also happened to be our local guide had informed me on the drive in that the fishing was at an all time record low. Up until this trip he’d fished 10 days in a row without a bite, and he knows what he’s doing. Upon hearing this i immediately tossed any chance of catching a steelhead right out the window, it’s hard enough when things are perfect, and apparently conditions were far from that.

Strangely enough i managed to hook into one of the quarry midway through the first day, but was foolish enough to allow it the luxury of the deep water and fast current. Breaking it off and glancing at my brother who had been trying to wave me to shore i suddenly had the sinking feeling that i had royally screwed up. Reeling in the taut-less line with ease all i could think was “Ten days of nothing leading up to this and i let that one slip away.”

Fortunately our luck turned around the next day, starting with my father hooking into a 40+ pound salmon that quickly let him know that it wasn’t in the mood to play by breaking him off. Encouraged by the simple act of a hook up, we scoured all the best spots for the rest of the day, eventually making our way back to the parking lot as the sun retreated to the other side of the hills. Making our way back after a long day and within minutes of the parking lot i scurried down into one of the more popular runs, spey rod in hand and quietly hoping to at least feel a tug after a day of nothingness. Shooting the line half way across the river i felt like a matador, constantly leading the line to the left in a graceful arc of posibility. I worked it out of the main current, fleetingly along the seam and towards the submerged rock. As it passed through the cushion in front of the submerged boulder the line shot out of my guides, the surprised reel humming and my knuckles getting smacked relentlessly by the blur of a knob.

My eyes scanning the implied direction of my line, i was surprised to see my steelhead jumping like a madman 50 yards upstream from where i thought it was. Panicked and wary of repeating the previous days mistakes i called to brother for guidance. Like a pro he delivered, walking me through the steps to help land a fish that was easily eight times the size of anything i ever catch around here. A memory to be sure.

Fortunately my brothers generosity was repaid on the third and following day when he landed a steelhead minutes after we hit the water, and a second shortly before leaving. It was incredibly gratifying to see all his work in making this trip possible for my dad and i come to fruition in front of our eyes. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful brother / steelhead guide.

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It’s hard to explain to non-anglers how one fish in three days can be seen as a success, but that’s the world of steel-heading. It’s a universe where the odds are inherently stacked against you, every failure or success is exaggerated, and where days can be compressed into minutes.

On the flight back, after a couple of complimentary Chardonnays loosened the gears, i put pen to paper as i ruminated on the experience. There were pages of thoughts, but this one seemed to sum it up best.

“Hundreds of meaningful but empty casts for one fish. One muscular, wild, screaming fish that felt the connection and tore the water asunder.”

Thank you David, dad, and the Deschutes.

 

A new short one by the man, the legend, Yukon Goes Fishing. Small water, small rods, small fish, BIG FUN!

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Colorado is amazing, there is no doubt. It is truly a land of extremes, laden as it is with low lying desserts, and expansive meadows, as well as snow capped mountains hovering high overhead. It has endless tiny spring creeks many of which could almost be stepped across, but also roaring, frothing waters, both of which trout call home. There are towns that have embraced the strip mall march of progress which will have everything you need, but also towns that rely entirely on small businesses and the community to keep the town afloat (oddly, these towns also have everything you need.)

All of these various excesses wind and weave their way through Colorado, creating a dynamic and scenic state that any nature seeker would call home, but when you add in the fact that 35% of Colorado is public land you can easily understand why a wanderer such as i feel the tug to return to this state annually.

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I obviously have a healthy dose of contrition in me, because as much as i love spending time in Colorado, i’ve always gone to great lengths to try and keep myself from falling hard for its waters mostly because they are exactly the waters that a fly-fisherman like me is SUPPOSED to daydream about. This is the same condition (defect?) by the way, that has kept me from enjoying many bands, books, movies, etc. over the years simply because somebody else suggested it, meaning i didn’t find it and therefore any possibility of it being attractive to me was highly suspect. Luckily i’m now in my mid forties and able to laugh at internal idiosyncrasies like this and even enjoy things that may brain tells me i shouldn’t.

I love New Mexico and was thankful to spend days fishing the ever challenging Cimarron, but as i piloted the Element across vast grasslands and started working my way into the snow capped San Juan mountains around Creede i had this intense and unmistakable feeling that this was where i belonged. This was where my heart felt at ease. Where i felt i came from and where i might be headed. Where my my molecules blended indiscernibly into those of the water, hills, and trees around me. Where my stars aligned and where i truly felt the absolute bliss that seems so hard to find otherwise. It was a comforting feeling to say the least.

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Pulling into the Williams Creek campground outside of Lake City i was ecstatic to find that only three of the 23 campsites were occupied and with tents, a major change from the generator fueled RV infested campground along the Cimarron that was so claustrophobic in comparison. Not only were neighbors so distant as to be virtually non-existent, but stepping into the small meadow at the center of the campgrounds enabled one to take in the grandeur of the 14,000 foot mountains that framed it on all sides during the day while also granting one a front seat at night to a truly mesmerizing display of celestial grandeur that could sufficiently put one in their cosmic place with just a glance.

The few days spent at the campgrounds were beyond reproach in both the kindness of the camp hosts and the healthy supply of fish caught in the long, winding “Lake Fork of the Gunnison” a river that collects many snow fed creeks into a Tour de Force before blustering through Lake City and on to the Gunnison river proper. In a nod to the regions past as a mineral gold mine (literally) many parts of the river are private property due to mining claims from many, many years ago. While this can be annoying to a populist like me, there are many stretches in between these private waters that feel as wild as the scenery that surrounds them.

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It was bliss to be sure, waking up with the sun, brewing coffee and cooking a calorie heavy breakfast to get me by until dinner, and forgoing the waders (despite the ice cold water) in an effort to simplify the process of hooking into trout. The Lake Fork can be a challenge to be sure, but it’s also thick in many stretches with brown trout that seem almost naive when it comes to certain flies. Nymph rigs worked their usual magic, but it was the Amy’s Ant (easily my confidence fly for New Mexico and Colorado) that once again took the majority of the trout caught on these high and steady waters.

After a few days of amazing luck on these bigger waters, that were night and day from the trickle that was the Cimarron, i decided to find a good compromise, and headed high into the mountains to work my way down Cebolla creek from top to bottom.

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It’s a strange thing to see where a river or creek begins, as it’s usually no more than a trickle, especially in these mountain creeks. Yet, as it winds its way down the mountain, taking the path of least resistance, its invigorated and encouraged on by smaller contributing creeks. On the Cebolla you can see this all play out as the dirt road bobs and weaves along side the creek, allowing you to witness its gaining momentum.

Finding a fishing spot was incredibly simple since all you had to do was drive a bit, spot a good stretch, pull over and then wander your way up or down the creek until you found some fishy water that agreed with you. Since this option goes on for miles so you can imagine how easy it would be spend a few heavenly days along this creek spotting only the occasional other angler. In short, it’s a great destination for those that want to feel remote and isolated, but also might be operating on a limited amount of time.

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This being my last full day to fish before heading back, it was the perfect way to end the trip. I’d love to offer you a play by play but honestly i was so lost in a state of bliss on that final day i couldn’t do it anyway. What i do remember though is this…

  • Waking up in the cool mountain air to the distinct feeling of inner peace and calm.
  • Sautéing the grill cheese / salmi sandwich in to much butter / knowing i needed the calories. Yum.
  • Stopping the car quickly when i spotted a female moose towering above the rush and grass, and staring in awe.
  • The first cast on the creek (Amy’s Ant on the end of the tippet) and the 13″ brown that inhaled it.
  • The rain storms that would creep over the mountains and spook me every now and then with shimmering lightning and bombastic thunder.
  • The aggressiveness with which every trout attacked a fly and the insane fights they would consequently put up.
  • Stopping the car again at the sight of a male moose, getting out to snap a photo and getting that inspiring / scary feeling you get when you are looking at 1,500 plus pounds of wild…with horns.

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Later that night, back at camp, after a day full of so magic and wonder that it felt a dream, lying horizontal in my hammock, a lo-fi charcuterie board and boxed wine at my side, and the headlamp illuminating the three hundred year old text of “Don Quixote” i dimmed the lamp and stared up into the crazy carousel of celestial activity. As the stars and memories of the day flitted just out of reach, the curtains of the universe were pulled back and i experienced a kind of ecstasy that was the culmination of all around me.

Needless to say, i’ll be back soon Colorado.

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Want to go?

Resources:

Lake City Tourism Page – seasonal information for fishing the Lake City area.

The travel  guide “Colorado Camping” by Moon books which offers a wealth of information including fishing advice for hundreds of campsites. Invaluable.

Accommodations:

Groceries – Country Store is the place to find everything you’ll need. Plus, they don’t need a website to get your business, they’re that good.

Camping – There are a few options in the Lake City area, but i highly recommend the Williams Creek Campground. The hosts here are incredibly kind and helpful and the fact that ATV’s can’t unload here means it’s much quite than nearby campgrounds.

Showers / Laundry – I was tipped off to the Highlander RV Campground by my awesome camp host. The shower facilities / bathrooms are super clean and charming for a flat $5 fee. Apparently the laundry rates are the best deal in town, so wash away your troubles.

Local Fly Shops:

The Sportsman Outdoor and Fly Shop – This is a great shop that has only what you need for fly fishing this area, plus guides and fly fishing equipment rentals and a super friendly staff.

Dan’s Fly Shop – I didn’t get a chance to catch them open (since i was fishing dawn to dusk), but it looks like a pretty great setup.

Fishing License:

Of course you can pick up a Colorado license at the above fly shops, but if you’d like to pick one up before heading there go here to purchase one online.

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The news was sad indeed. My grandmother had encountered increasing health problems and finally passed to the other side of the veil early last week. A wonderful  grandmother in many ways, one of my favorite things about her was the way she actually got my teenage, offbeat and ironic sense of humor in the early eighties long before sarcasm was mainstream (yeah i’m looking at you hipsters!) In addition she also had AMAZING cooking skills, and somehow managed to find a way to live with a die hard fisherman for decades without visibly (to me at least) being upset with his constant desire to be on the water.

The day after the news i was driving alone through the north half of Texas, all of Oklahoma and the vast majority of Kansas. It was a fourteen hour trip (one way) of reflection that only allowed me time to cement the obvious, namely that all life is transient, loved ones should never be taken for granted, and any time spent with children (even if they think they’re not enjoying it at the time) will probably provide them with cherished moments that they will take to their grave. (For example, my aversion of fishing in my youth that turned into an addiction many years later.)

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After a whirlwind 24 hour stay that felt like a waking dream, seeing extended family i hadn’t seen in many, many years and a small town that has changed dramatically in the decade since i’d been there last, i spun the Element southward, leaving the Land of Frozen Water, planning to return home, but feeling an increasing need to pause somewhere along the way for some quick down time to process the onslaught of emotions i’d been bombarded with.

Hours later, i was propped up in a hotel bed in Tulsa, Oklahoma and locked into their WI-FI searching for information on Broken Bow in southeast Oklahoma, a trout fishing destination that i’d heard many people rave about over the years. It took no time to find reviews and pinpoint directions to Broken Bow, but the generated enthusiasm was short lived when i read that floods in December had wiped out fishing spots and fishing shops along the Bow, shutting the entire park down for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately in my research something else did pop up, although with far less fanfare and information, the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area in south central Oklahoma. For whatever reason, information on the Blue River fishery is almost non existent, though i was eventually able to discern that there were healthy flows and they did indeed stock the river with trout on a fairly regular basis which was more than enough reason to invite myself to her strange and unfamiliar waters.

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The backwoods drive in had me worried i’d made a huge mistake, especially when i pulled into the local convenience store to find that they no longer sold fishing licenses as the internet had purported. Grabbing a gallon of water i strolled the grounds looking for a cell phone signal in hopes i could register for my license (very, very slowly) online since the nearest physical license would require a one hour (each way) drive that i simply didn’t have time for.

Eventually i found  a signal, paid my nominal fishing fee, and wandered along a trail into one of the most magical fishing experiences i’ve ever had. The Blue River was truly unlike any body of water i’ve ever seen. Not really your basic contained river, it’s more like an endless network of massive creeks flowing in and out of each other, with falls and plunge pools punctuation the beginning and end of every aquatic sentence along the many miles of trout stocked water.

Hiking and fishing as many of the miles of trails that i could manage in my painfully brief stay i was constantly shocked by the seemingly endless cavalcade of falls and whitewater that were not only scenic post cards in the making, but also full of energetic rainbows that got more naive the further you traveled along the trail and away from the highway.

The best part of the experience? There was not a soul in sight. It was exactly what i needed, hours spent among the trees and open waters, with nothing but the calm stillness of nature. Falls, clear water, conifers, ducks, hawks and trout seemed to offer their respects, keeping chatter to a minimum.

With the memories coming on heavily in the silence, i cried, as much out of sadness that my grandma was gone as out of the happiness of knowing that she was back with her husband, the mad hatter that somehow imparted in me the love of fishing decades before it would become so much to me.

I love you both. Thank you for all the memories.

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Want to go and experience trout fishing in Oklahoma?

Websites:

Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area – The official state run Facebook page with a wealth of information on stocking dates, stocking sites, directions and more.

www.blueriverok.com – One of the very few sites with information on what is otherwise a difficult to research trout fishing haven.

Camping: 

Camping sites are on a first come, first serve basis and are shockingly (to those of us from Texas) FREE! More details on camping can be found at the www.blueriverok,com site mentioned above.

Oklahoma Fishing Licenses:

www.wildlifedepartment.com/license.htm – There is no spot anywhere close that sells Oklahoma licenses, so we recommend buying and printing them up before setting out.

Distance:

From Austin it’s a five hour drive, which isn’t that much if you think that northern New Mexico and the Cimarron are 14 hours away. For those in north Texas (Dallas and Fort Worth) it’s so close that you need to make it happen, if you haven’t already.

 

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