Mexico Continued

The day after Thanksgiving began like all post Thanksgiving days, lazily. A combination of too much sleep and too much food (odd that should make one feel tired). Luckily a lazy morning is the perfect pace for Rocky Point. I began the day with some sweet green corn tamales from the vendor walking down the road (delicious).

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Tamale breakfast

Shortly after I moved out to the shore and began casting. Today I was hoping to add a few species to my list I had caught this trip and maybe add a little size. My first few cast brought some cabrilla and a few needle fish to hand.

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Needle fish showing of its camouflage and chewing on the net.
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Kayla’s ambitious cabrilla latched on to the large, orange clouser

The needle fish continued to intrigue me with their long jaws and seemingly voracious appetite. A word to the wise, stay well away from their jaws, they don’t break skin but they are hard to get to let go of fingers! The cabrilla continued to feed hungrily on just about any pattern we threw (bugger, nymph, clouser, anything with a hook that moves). Kayla hooked into a large fish that sent her reel screaming. After a short fight we saw the large, dark sharp dart out towards open water minus the fly. Oh well, next time!

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Ben’s Cleanup Popper

After seeing some surface action and small minnows jumping I decided to tie on a popper, just to see what happened. I reached for a size 8 Ben’s Cleanup Popper. These poppers are a fun and easy tie and have worked really well for me!

The action on the popper was fairly fast, however I was having a hard time hooking what I believed to be needlefish. After multiple passes through and no hookups (and a little bit too much attention from passing birds), I decided to switch back to the clouser.

After a few more small fish we moved down the beach towards a rocky out cropping that hopefully held a few more fish. Along the way we saw a dried up eel sitting on the shore.

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That would be interesting to hook into!

We also saw a baby sea turtle make its way into the ocean. This was the first time I had seen a turtle in Mexico! We watched it make the last five feet of its overland journey to the sea and off it swam!

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Turtle makes it to the ocean!

The next spot allowed us to wade a bit further out and fish in a sandy pocket between two spurs of the reef. We began fishing, both of us pulling clousers through the gap in the reef. A few cabrilla showed interest immediately and we seemed to have escaped the needle fish schools (a relief). My line went taunt and a larger weight than usual was attached to the end of it! This fish did not immediately run for cover like the cabrilla and grouper we had caught before. I could see the shape of the fish but it continued to elude capture with three or four strong runs. After a short (but hard) fight Kayla managed to get the fish into the net! The fish had a stunning color combination of a sea-green body with a black stripe and yellow dot near its gills. The fins were an orange color tipped in a neon blue and the scales were separated by more neon spots.

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Colorful clouser eater

The fish had some significant teeth and did its best to destroy the pliers as I extracted the hook from its bony mouth. After a few photos we set this stunningly colored fish free and it darted back to the edge of the reef.

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Toothy
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Tailspots

We continued fishing the same area until the needle fish reappeared (they are everywhere). “Ten more good casts and we are going in.” Was the decision as the tide was coming in and the water getting rougher. On one of my final cast I felt the strongest fish of the trip! This fish ran me around every rock and piece of reef it could find. It was all I could do to pull it away from one rock and it would change directions into the way I was pulling and head for another! I was slowly gaining ground on the fish and the 5 weight fiberglass rod was handling it beautifully, when the fish pulled another direction change and the line went dead… Not no fish dead, but stuck dead. Did it get my hook stuck on a rock? Did the fish get stuck in a rock? Luckily for us my dad was snorkling a hundred feet or so away and we were able to get his attention.

He swam his way over and we explained our situation. He dove down about 5 or 6 feet to the fish. It had gotten in a small pocket in the rocks and puffed its fins up to be well and truly wedged in the reef. Luckily the presence of a really big fish (my dad) seemed to scare it out of its hiding spot and we were able to net the fish! My first trigger fish on the fly! I see why people target these hard fighting and wily ocean fish! Not only are they a lot of fun to catch, but they are quite pretty. A dark bodied fish with blue edges to its fins. Their jaws are also quite toothy and make an impressive clacking sound when the bite down!

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First trigger fish on the fly!
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Dried out trigger fish on the beach showing off its teeth

My introduction to salt water fishing was a lot of fun and I will definitely be coming back to try my hand at it again! A final evening of bocce ball and Tecates and back to the States, not a bad way to end a trip eh?

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A Trip to Old Mexico: Part 1

Rocky Point has been an almost annual fall trip for my family since I can remember. However, this is the first trip I have been able make since I have started fly fishing or fishing at all. I began preparing for this trip by procrastinating all week on fly making (like usual) until the night before it was time to go. I had a few patterns that would work for salt but I had wanted to make quite a few more clousers before I headed down. Luckily I was able to get a few hours at the vice to start whipping up some minnows. The clouser is an elegant and simple way to mimic baitfish. One of the hardest things for me is remembering less is more and a little bit of color and flash go a long way! My experience using this versatile little fly on bass, trout and now in the sea has been that the more sparse a fly is, the better. I am so often tempted to add rubber legs or make a more beefy body to a fly that is better suited to simplicity.

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A collection of clousers, a popper and some simi seals after a few hours of frantic tying
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Simple and flashy, one of the more productive flies of the trip

It’s always easy to forget that it takes just about as long to get to Rocky Point as it does to get to the San Juan Mountains around Durango from my home. I don’t know why for these past few years I forget about heading down to the salt but rest assured that will no longer be the case! Leaving early in the morning put us at the border around 11 and on the beach by noon. Shortly after passing through the border we were into the rugged desert that surround Puerto Penasco. It is one of the relatively uncommon places where the desert meets the ocean directly.

Upon arriving and unpacking it was time to explore the beach and maybe cast a fly or two with the incoming tide. I was unsure of what to tie on (I have never fished or researched salt water fishing) and figured I’d give the chartreuse clouser a chance. Sure enough it began producing a few hits and a couple of chases. I began to slow my stripping speed down and it was fish on! My first fish on the fly in the salt water was no giant, but it did have some pretty awesome colors and I’d never seen one before!

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A small cabrilla, first fish on the fly in the salt

I continued fishing for an hour or so and brought in a few more small cabrilla, but bocce ball and cold Tecates were calling, so who was I to say no?

Thanksgiving day dawned clear and calm, with temperatures in the mid 80’s and glassy water. I started fishing early in the morning on the ebbing tide (not the best time I found out). The action was near constant, however the hook set eluded me. The fish were right on the surface and I could see their splashing, but no fish. Confused I continued casting and varied my speeds and tried pausing before the set, still no luck. Finally one of them must have hooked them self because on one of my pauses the line went taunt. The fish that came in was about a foot long but no thicker than a quarter. It had a blue-green back, slivery belly and a long, narrow jaw filled with teeth. It was a needlefish, no wonder I couldn’t see what was hitting my line because the fish was nearly invisible even in my net!

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First needle fish
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Toothy!

I was surprised to see what fish had been haunting me for the past two hours and I couldn’t believe that these foot long fish had been within 10 feet of me and I had not yet seen one!

I continued fishing and began to let the line sit so my flies could sink beyond the upper part of the water and the seemingly voracious needlefish schools. The action was definitely slower at this depth, however it did allow for a few more cabrilla and another reef fish I do not know the name of.

 

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Small cabrilla with a mouthful of orange leech
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Blue eyes

The reef fish (if you know the name please let me know if you do!) didn’t have sharp teeth, but instead what looked like flat molars to grind and crunch up their food. I’m guessing it mistook the orange simi seal leech for a type of crab or shrimp, but who knows! This was the “largest” fish I had caught so far on the trip. The fish made itself feel much larger when it would manage to wedge itself in the reef (a reoccurring theme for the fish in this area..).

After a mid-afternoon turkey dinner (it was Thanksgiving after all) we returned to the surf and fished for a half hour or so as the sun set. Kayla managed to hook into her largest fish of the trip. This fish became well and truly wedged in the rocks for around 5 minutes. We sat there and waited, wondering if her line caught and the fish had swam off. Suddenly her line regained tension and she quickly brought the fish to shore. It appeared to be a young gulf grouper (?) and had row of some nasty looking teeth (almost like a walleye).

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Orange clouser eater

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Sunset bocce ball games

It was a good beginning to my novice salt water fishing career. I learned 1X line is about perfect and that sink tip is key! Also there are enough fish on this reef that it seems any fly (within reason) will drum up some interest. More to come in part 2!

Desert Rainbows

I have spent many hours combing google earth for the hint of a possible creek. Rarely do I find something and think there may actually be water, even more rarely do I decide to take a trip to find out. The alleged creek was marked by a narrow band of trees clinging to a narrow valley bottom. Further research (a forest service map) revealed there were springs present, but that it was the dotted line of an ephemeral stream and a few photos showed there may be a large pool there. On the assumption (hope) there would be a pool that held fish we drove south. It was a cold night in Flagstaff but the promise of warmer southern weather and some water (hopefully) with trout (really hopefully) seemed like a better plan than staying in the cold.

We turned off the interstate a little closer to Phoenix than I ever thought to look for trout and began our way along winding dirt roads. We snaked our way through grassy hills covered in big prickly pears and the occasional scrubby tree. As we moved away from the interstate the roads followed suit, getting steadily worse. Our speed corresponded with the roads and the final 9 miles took an agonizing hour to bounce our way down.

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If the road doesn’t look like this does it count as Arizona fishing? Probably not.

The “creek” started as all good Arizona creeks do, dry. This had us second guessing the decision to go to this dotted blue line (not even a solid one) instead of going up to Lees Ferry (definitely a solid blue line).

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First view of the creek.

Luckily in Arizona a dry stream bed does not mean there will not be flowing water around, it just means there will be a walk to it. Some of my favorite streams in the state are only above ground for a brief period, hopefully this would be the same. A few hundred yards from the parking area we came to the wilderness boundary and slipped through the gate. We walked under huge sycamore, elm, oak and pine trees. This canyon seemed to house an incredible array of old growth riparian trees. Definitely a little gem even if the water remained below the surface. We moved our way up the trail and came upon the beginnings of surface water, the problem is that it was covered in a thick coat of leaves. I get stuck in enough leaves without the surface of the water being coated as well, hopefully there would be a clear pool ahead!

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First views of flowing water

The first pool we came upon was a deep, dark run which seemed devoid of any life other than a couple of small bugs bouncing off the water surface. The next pool up ran deep next to a boulder with half the pool hidden under a double thick coating of leaf debris. But in this pool there were signs of life, 3 or 4 dark shapes circled above the bottom of the pool! There were fish here after all!. We rigged our rods up, Kayla choosing the royal wulff and me the AZ mini hopper. A few looks but all we really achieved was scaring the fish in the pool. We moved our way up with new found confidence that there was the possibility of catching some sort of fish, at this point we had not gotten a good enough look to figure out if they were trout, or chub or something else entirely.

The dry flies did not seem to be getting any sort of attention but when a fly sunk, the follows began. I switched to a mini simi leech and began jigging it along the undercut bank of a tiny pool. Bam! A small fish rocketed out from under the bank and slammed the fly!I quickly had the fish to the waters edge and it turned out to be a very darkly colored rainbow!

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A mouthful of leech

This little fish gave us quite a surprise and we were determined to see if the other fish in the creek were a similar dark color. Moving upstream we saw a few fish rising and switched back to the royal wulff. A few pools up I could see 5 or 6 trout lined up and sipping bugs off the surface. My first cast fell short (not that it mattered) and all the fish turned and ran at the fly. They all missed, the next cast and it was another jump ball that they seemed to knock the fly away from each other again. Yet another cast and this one lifted a fish out of the water but then it slipped the hook again! A fourth cast had another hit but my hook set was far too early and that was the end of the action in that pool. At least we knew the fish were hungry!

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Pocket water

The next fish that went for my fly I was ready for. This was the lightest colored fish of the day and quite pretty!

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Wulff eater

This pocket of Arizona definitely held some unique and very pretty trout. As near as I could tell this area hadn’t been stocked since sometime in the 70’s or 80’s (but don’t quote me I don’t have access to all the data). It was awesome these rainbows had been able to hold on so long in this remote canyon. The fact that it is at the end of a terrible road and up in a wilderness area probably helps!

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A few trees still thinking it was fall along the creek edge.

We moved our way up stream and little trickles of water seemed to be feeding this creek from all over the valley walls. As we moved up the water got smaller and smaller and we wondered if any fish were around. In one small pool we saw the biggest fish of the day, after multiple drifts of the dry and bouncing a leech off of its nose the fish seemed tired of our games and went under a rock. The next pool up was so covered in leaves you could only see fish when the rose up through the leaves after the little bugs that walked across the leafy top. In one of these pools Kayla got multiple rises to the dry but no hook ups. She switched to the leech and dropped it through a gap in the leafs and BANG! Fish on! She managed to hook into a pretty and dark colored little rainbow. This one had finer spots than the others and pretty red/gold sides.

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Another leech eater

Shortly after this fish we came to the upper end of the creek. If you were to walk the trail I think this creek would be a short 10 or 15 minute walk top to bottom with probably less than a mile of surface water. Which made it all the more incredible these fish had persisted here for so many years without help. The colors on these fish made you wish more areas were allowed to exist on their own and not constantly diluted with hatchery stock.

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Upstream of the last pool
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Upstream end of the creek hidden under thick leaf cover

We began moving back downstream and looking for a good spot to grab some lunch at and maybe cast to one or two more rising fish. While we ate lunch a cowboy from the ranch on the edge of the wilderness boundary came through on his way to find a few stray cows. He was wearing the biggest pair of chaps I had ever seen but when you look at the prevalence huge prickly pears and honey locust I can see why!

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Honey locust guarded by its 3 inch spines

The honey locust is an interesting story, while it is considered a native plant it was believed to be transferred from the Mississippi valley by native Americans. This is an interesting take on native vs. exotic plants. It seems that if the people that brought the species with them lived long enough ago the species will be considered a native. I wonder if someday many years from now some of the introduced trout will begin falling into this category? Seems strange to think now but I guess you never know!

While sitting at lunch we noticed a few rises and I decided to tie on a little caddis pattern made of cdc and tied by my friend Ryan. The first couple of drifts through the little pool there yielded no strikes.

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When I was beginning to think maybe these fish aren’t feeling like caddis today a small splash heralded the disappearance of the fly. The fish turned out to be a tiny and almost all black rainbow trout, definitely one of the oddest fish I have ever caught but pretty none the less!

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A very dark rainbow

The next pool above this also showed a few slight rises and on the second cast one of these sipped the fly. Up to that point the fish had been small enough I hadn’t had to hold the line on my click-pawl reel. When I set the hook on this fish the reel let out a short buzzing sound as line left and the fish ran upstream! This was my fish of the day due to its brilliant coloration in which no photo I took could fully do it justice (but they rarely do).

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After this pool we moved our way back to the car, fishing one or two pools along the way but generally enjoying the massive old growth sycamores that grew skyward in maze-like fashion.

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Kayla managed one more fish in the pool that had defeated her at the beginning of the day and we decided that was a good way to end the day fishing. While she managed to catch the fish my ability to catch a picture of it was not quite there

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Dark fish against a dark bottom
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A hatch of red beetles

As we made our way down the dry creek bed we were shadowed by a group of noisy Pinyon Jays. The drive out takes you through some fairly stunning desert grassland scenery and a few cool little riparian areas shaded by massive trees. Returning to county maintained roads was a definite relief for the car. What the creek lacked in size it made up for in fish and solitude. It is definitely a spot you can go to and wonder if you were the only person to cast a fly into its waters that year.

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A good sign to see if you want a spot to yourself

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Wet Wading in November

Fall is always a little bit tough to call in Flagstaff, some years the leaves change and temperatures drop and it all makes sense, other years it skips fall and goes straight to winter, from warm to bitter cold. This year however, summer never really seemed to leave, the only difference being the days have gotten shorter and the temperatures only a little bit cooler. This has been a blessing and a curse for me, there’s something to be said for wet wading and fishing foam grasshoppers in November, however some snow would be incredible at this point!

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A not so fishless trickle

This fall has held some fun trips and given me time to explore some new spots. Some of the new spots are just new stretches of familiar creeks, while others are totally new to me. Fishing new areas always seems to be very rewarding if a little nervous to begin with. It is all too easy to return to the same stretch of creek you know will always  produce good fish rather than explore a new stretch or little blue line on the map. Even when those lines turn out to hold no fish or are dry (we are in Arizona), the trip to a new area is always worth it. Even if that area is a fishless trickle of water surrounded by black berries and locust trees.

If I had stuck to the familiar this fall there is no way I would have been able to get into two of my favorite fish of the fall. The first came from XXXXX Lake outside of XXXXX (sorry I promised not to spill the beans on this spot). I had been told the area held some nice brown trout, however due to the relatively small size of the lake when I arrived I had my doubts the water had stayed cold enough all summer to support trout. With no surface activity I began stripping woolly buggers and nymphs along the reeds and felt a few fish halfheartedly nibble on the tails of the bugger. I continued fishing for the next few hours without any other success and got into the “I’ll tie this fly on because I like it” mode rather than try and match what fish were eating. On this rare occasion it worked. Despite not seeing a single sign of crawdads I tied on a crawbugger and began trying different retrieve rates.

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Crawbugger on glass

Finally a fish hit while I was stripping in quickly! The fish jumped once or twice and I saw what I believed at a distance to be a rainbow, or at least for sure not a brown trout. As it got closer I realized it definitely was not a rainbow but something else. Finally I got the fish into the net and realized it was a silvery colored brook trout! Not what I had expected at all! The fish was not huge, however it is the biggest brook trout I have caught so far in Arizona!

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Surprise brook trout!
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Headed home!

After a few quick photos the fish darted back into the mud cloud we had created. That was the only fish of the day but it was definitely a nice surprise!


Part 2

My other two scouting trips involve familiar creeks, but new areas. Both had their rewards in larger fish, if not necessarily high numbers of fish caught. I checked the first of the two areas out in the beginning of October on a 70 degree weekend (not much to complain about there). I began the day as I usually do on small creeks in October, with a grasshopper of course! The familiar pools and runs at the bottom held a few fish and my two friends I was with and I pulled a few small fish out as we moved up the creek. The fishing was consistent but not every cast like I know this area can be.

 

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Somehow a fish smaller than pine needles managed to get hooked on a grasshopper fly (yet I missed multiple large fish in the same pool with much larger mouths..)

As we moved up creek the water began to flow both above, and below the rocks. It was wild having the creek lose and regain half of its flow every couple hundred feet! This section had beautiful pools and there was a crazy hatch going on at one point where the cloud of midges was so thick it looked unpleasant to walk through. Naturally the fish were not rising at all but would come up for the grasshopper.. match the hatch? I guess these ones really don’t care about that kind of thing.

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The swarm!
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And not a single rise was seen until the hopper hit the water.. Who woulda guessed??

In this section of water the size of the fish began to increase, and when I say size I don’t mean monsters, but far larger and more wily fish than lower down. The 3 weight rod and 6X tippet was never truly put to the test, however every once in a while one of these browns would take you on a journey around every stick, rock and log in their little homes.

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A hard charging little brown landed by Ryan

After switching to a smaller fly (not catching anything) and back to the hopper (worked immediately) we moved into a section with a beautiful plunge pool colored a light bluish color. Unfortunately the fish in this pool seemed wise to our tricks, but just downstream of pools outlet Sean managed to hook a beautiful lightly colored brown that was almost all gold in color. We stopped just upstream of this pool but not before I snuck up to one last little pool. Without much hope I cast blindly around the corner of a rock and saw a splash. A hard fighting little brown went speeding under the rock it came out of, seemingly trying to bury itself in the bank. After a short but spirited fight the fish came to hand and after a few brief pictures it swam back under its rock home. Despite it being a small fish with only a 5 foot pool to run in, this little brown had gotten my hands shaking!

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Surprise brown!
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The little pool the fish dragged me all around

All in all an amazing little creek to fish and very glad I headed into some new spots in familiar water!


Part 3

The middle of November seems an odd time to wet wade a trout stream, but when it is 70 degrees outside why not? Oak Creek is probably where I have spent the most time fishing in Arizona, however there are many reaches I have not yet explored. Luckily Ryan talked me out of lake fishing and we headed to the lower end of the creek and began moving our way up. The day was overcast and there were glorious hatches of caddis and mayflies out on the water. Naturally we only saw one riser all day. It seemed the fish were munching on so many emergering bugs that they had no need to go all the way to the surface. Every rock we turned over did not really seem to narrow down our search for the right bug, it seemed every stone had mayflies, caddis, worms, some stones and Ryan even found a hellgrammite ( a terrifying insect). . All these bugs spoke to health of the creek, however did not necessarily help us find a bug to use. There were a few reds in the gravel beds and we steered well clear of these but fish seemed to be holding mainly in the usual feeding lanes (warm weather delaying the spawn?)

Finally a beadhead copper john managed to bring a fish to hand. The fish had a beautiful, buttery belly and gave a good account of himself with two jumps and a strong run across current. Thankfully Ryan was able to get him in the net before he was gone!

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Golden sided

Despite the day being slow it is always nice to get a nice walk in along the creek. This fishery is a fickle one and a spot a may never truly master, but it sure is fun trying!

Grandest of Canyons

As October begins to turn towards November and the air in Flagstaff gets crisp and cold my thoughts begin to turn towards the canyon. With temperatures in the mid 70’s and the low angle sun protecting hikes, this is the time to scramble down into the canyon and see what can be seen. I was finally able to get a permit to one of the more popular spots in the upper canyon after the area was full last spring. You have to keep in mind that popular is a very relative term in Marble Canyon. This path is seldom taken by more than one or two groups a week during the peak season and big horn sheep tracks far outnumber the human prints we saw in the canyon bottom. This is one of my favorite reasons to do Marble Canyon trips, the area is relatively undeveloped and most ways into the canyon are little more than cairns leading the way down jumbled piles of rock.

Even the approach to Marble Canyon is something of a journey. A drive to Lees Ferry is followed by a night time trek along the Vermillion Cliffs looking for the proper dirt road to turn on to. This is followed by the inevitable u-turn in the middle of the highway and back tracking to hopefully the right road. Eventually we turned on to the correct BLM road and began driving into the empty landscape of sagebrush and scattered grasses. The road is covered in jack rabbits who dart in and out of the lights of the car and into the brush, it was a small miracle none were hit! As we hit mile 10 or so we begin looking for the appropriate two track road and are startled when we spook a Great Horned Owl out of the sage brush next to the road! Turning on to the two track feels almost an act of faith at night as we have no land marks to guide us and we begin heading towards our next turn, allegedly marked by a tank. The area around the tank sends jack rabbits flying in all directions and we make our turn. The road becomes more up and down and the hills get taller, we must be close. We know we have made it when the headlights no longer hit any ground ahead of us and a black void opens up out of the grass land. We have found the canyon! After a few beers the group bundles into sleeping bags for a cold and windy night.

Dawn comes clear and calm the next morning, beneath where we slept the canyon opens up. The sun accentuates the the multicolored hues of the canyon layers I can never quite get the names of straight. Behind us the conifer forest of the north rim sit in contrast to the red, desert canyon laid out before us.

After a little searching around for the cairn marking the trail (more of a route) into the canyon we begin to descend. The first section of trail dives off near vertically into the canyon. More of a scramble than a trail, we get through the first cliff band and have over a thousand feet of scree separating us from the canyon bottom. Picking our way slowly through the graveyard of rock we find ourselves at the bottom. The canyon bottom offers far easier walking and we make good time walking around pour offs and over the chock stones of the lower narrows. We are finally only a few hundred feet above the river. Below us a river trip enjoys lunch on the beach and the water tumbles by emerald-blue and cold. We arrive on the beach and exchange a quick greeting with the river trip (and a shameless ask for cold beers, but so early for a river trip it is a little bit of a long shot). After a quick and refreshing dip in the river some of the group starts rigging up rods while others head out to explore the area.

IMG_8244.jpgHalfway down

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Approaching the canyon bottom

Lance ties on a huge articulated streamer and gets a few promising follows. I try the opposite and tie on a size 18 midge and begin nymphing a deep eddy. Before too long I see a flash of silver under my line and lift my rod. Fish on! This first fish was small and flopped up onto the shore and managed to release itself during its brief time on land. I continued moving up to the head of the rapid and cast into a strong eddy. I saw silver flashing but had too much slack out.. Luckily four of the next five cast resulted in a tug and run on the line. The fish were healthy and even the small ones were fat, apparently a lot of food comes through these eddies! The next fish hit hard on the tiny midge and began jumping, this fish was larger than the others and proving to be quite a wily fighter! Four consecutive jumps took him over a foot clear of the water and he followed this up by running up the strong eddy. The line was zipping out of my reel before I got a lucky break and the fish decided to come back at me. After a few more small jumps in close to shore Tanner was able to grab a hold of the fish. The large fish (around 15″-16″, he wasn’t around long to measure) was missing a gill plate on its right side but still had brilliant silver, pink and green coloration. Before we could get a camera though the fish managed to muscle its way out of our hands and in to the river. No photo but the memory will stick with me for some time.

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First fish landed of the day
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Midge eater
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Lance with a fish on

How hard the fish in this area fought seemed only right, the canyon they lived in is a harsh landscape. Vertical walls leading right into the river and topped by scree and more cliffs in series. Visually it is stunning, to see 150 feet of redwall limestone rise vertically out of the blue, green waters of the Colorado River. The harshness of the landscape was highlighted by a dead Big Horn ram laying in the waters below the cliff walls downstream of our camp. The large sheep did not look sick, did it die falling off a cliff? Fighting another ram? The answer eludes us but a wild sight to see before the waters carried the ram further downstream.

Lance hooked the fish of the trip which gave him a good run downstream in the main current and then back up in the eddy! When he finally got the fish to hand it was a strong and fat 16 inch fish with a silver and green coloration.

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Trying to catch up!
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Still running
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Finally into the shallows!

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A break from fishing gave us the chance to check out some of the surrounding area. We hiked up to a cave that is barred off by the park service as bat habitat.The cave was impressive and it appeared as though long ago miners had tried to burrow into the redwall using dynamite and drills in search of some unknown mineral. The level of effort to try to mine here was staggering and the park services gate was no joke either! We saw a few bats clinging to the ceiling of the cave and they paid us no mind.

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Some serious bars
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Bat house views

Sun began to leave the canyon floor and the light show of fading light began to play out as a sunset for each layer of rock as the sun moved below the horizon. We started fishing again (to hopefully catch some dinner) as the sunlight left the river.

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Last of the sun

Midges were no longer the ticket, but small streamers or dark woolly buggers allowed to swing and then stripped against the current seemed to be the ticket. Catching fish on the swing or the strip is always a blast and they were smacking the fly as hard as they were able! A few rises later and I had switch to a royal wulff and after a few hits on it the dry fly action seemed to die down. Fortunately the buggers and streamers were still producing! Upriver in the slower water our buddy Mark pulled in his first Grand Canyon trout on the spin rod using Tanners secret canyon combo for spin fishing!

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The light began fading and we set up camp on the sand with old Anasazi stone structures on the cliffs above us. The trout was my best cooked to date and with only foil! A few lemon slices and some pepper definitely helped it out though. The milky way was on full display and a good nights sleep was in order after a long day in the sun. Unfortunately for those that slept on the downstream side of the camp, sleep would be often interrupted, even if hilariously. A group of 3 or 4 Ring Tailed Cats decided it would become their mission to disrupt our sleep no matter where you kept you bag or how well the food was sealed. Crawling across ropes to suspended food bags and under peoples legs or head to try and pull food from the bags! If they weren’t so entertaining it would definitely have made you angry (at 2 in the morning some people were a little unhappy though).

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Morning light

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The next day began with a short time fishing in which only one fish was caught by Tanner. And before the sun became too intense we began our route out of the canyon and back to the cars.

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Hair of the dog? More like didn’t wanna carry any extra weight!

Steep seems to be an understatement for the last few hundred vertical feet of this trail, the vertical distance covered is far greater than the horizontal. As we climbed to broken cliff out of the canyon a group of 8 migrating hawks circled over our heads, riding the thermals out of the canyon we were leaving. A golden eagle circled off in the distance, it was a pretty incredible display from the raptors as we left the canyon!

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Super sweet trail..
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Lunch stop, views were above average
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Nearing the top
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The final push, there is a blue dot around the center of the picture that is someone higher on the route.

Topping out of the canyon and reaching the cars was a definite relief. Looking forward to ice cream from Marble Canyon we packed up and headed down the twisting dirt roads.

 

 

Fall Fishing in the Colorado

My initial plans for the weekend were to stay home and get some work done and maybe head down to Oak Creek for a couple of casts, if I was lucky catch a small brown or two. That all changed when my roommate said he had to go up to Marble Canyon for the day and asked if I wanted to fish a little bit while he was up there. I can pretty much never say no to an opportunity to fish the Colorado so when Saturday rolled around I was driving up through the desert to the canyon!

We pulled up to the parking lot a little later than we intended, to but no matter, the water was going to be low all day and the fish would hopefully keep eating through the middle of the day. October is an awesome time to be up there because the flows are so much more steady than summertime flows. It also doesn’t hurt that it is 75 degrees under bright blue skies.

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Blue skies, red walls, clear waters

We all rushed to the water and spread out downstream of the fishermen that beat us to the river that morning. My fourth cast into shallow water brought the first tug of the day! A short fight lead to me hooked on to something far larger than I could reel in on 5X tippet! Only problem was I was now hooked onto a rock that the fish had managed to drag me around..

Over the next 30 minutes two more fish tightened my line, however I did not have the good luck of landing either of them. Apparently today the fourth time was the charm and a hard fighting rainbow slammed my fly in less than a foot of water! After a spirited fight the long, but skinny rainbow was brought to hand and rocketed back into the river after a few quick pictures.

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White tipped rainbow

I continued working deeper and deeper into the riffle from the shore and into a good looking patch of water. Luckily for me the current from the shore to about 50 feet out was all moving about the same speed, otherwise I wouldn’t ever have the chance to cast so far. I cast far more times than I normally would into this run, but there is something fun about finally being able to get some line out of the reel! Most of my cast in AZ are only a couple of feet past the tippet, so I had to take my chance to get a good cast in! Finally the yarn on my line dove underwater and began pulling line from my reel. I had hooked onto a strong rainbow that had managed to get into the main river current! The fish quickly had me into my backing and running down the shoreline! What a sight it must have been for the raft trip going past, a fisherman in waders hollering at his friend to bring the net and running downstream while still trying to reel at the same time! Luckily I managed to keep my feet as I got downstream and into some slower water. At this point I got my fly line back into my reel (always a relief). After what seemed like a long time (probably a minute or two) I got the fish into and eddy and to shore. The fish was not quite the size I initially thought, but was thicker bodied than the first and in far stronger current!

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The fish that took me for a run!
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Rosy cheeks

After this fish I decided to go up and see how the others were doing. As I walked upstream I could see Kayla was hooked up!

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Right after the fish dodged the first attempt at netting

After Kayla landed this fish she quickly hooked into a far larger fish than the others we had started on for the day! The fish was not longer than the others but had a large head and shoulders! After a prolonged fight that briefly had her into her backing I managed to net the fish around 30 feet downstream from where she was standing!

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Big jawed rainbow
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Sending ’em home!

The fish of the day for sure had proportions more similar to a brown than most of the rainbows I have seen at the ferry! It is awesome to see some big, old rainbows hanging around the ferry.

We continued fishing through the early afternoon and got into a few more hard fighting, jumping rainbows.

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Golden rainbow!
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Headed home
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Unfortunately the fish didn’t seem to wanna eat these hoppers..
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Pink sided bow

These fish are incredible fighters and as soon as you pull your line tight you had better hang on because they will take you on a ride! Jumping like crazy and zig zagging across the river it is always incredible to hook into one of these hard fighting rainbows. Theres not much better than jumping fish in a deep red walled canyon in some cold, clear water!

Fall Fishing and New Waters: Day 2

Day two dawned cold and clear. Getting out of the sleeping bag felt like a monumental task. The night before, the moon had been almost full and the elk were bugling all night long. A few came close enough to where we were sleeping to wake us up as they called to each other. Once or twice I almost thought I could hear them moving through the woods around us.

We began driving to the creek, with a few access points to the canyon floor of this creek sure to be occupied by others, we decided to park along the ridge and take a game trail down. This trail actually turned out to be fairly substantial and we were at the bottom after a short while. With no idea at all what was hatching I tied on a mini hopper and started casting into likely looking spots. The first pool was fishless for me. The second I came to was filled with fish, the only problem is as soon as the fly fell into the pool they all started trying to find hiding spots..

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Fuzzy looking caterpillar we first thought was someones lost fly

Upstream I heard Kayla shout and saw a splash! As soon as it was on, it was off though.. But a sign of good things to come I’m sure! I moved into the head of the pool I had spooked and one fish came up for a half-hearted take, which I missed. The good thing was I knew the mini hopper was gonna work!

The first fish of the day came from a likely looking run and my fly was inhaled in a flash. The small brown I brought in had good coloration and was back on its way after a photo or two.

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White mountain gold

As we moved upstream the three of us leap-frogged each other and seemed to alternate catching fish as we moved up. Some pools the fishing was good enough get four or five takes as we worked the tail of the pool to the head!

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Fall colors on the fish and the trees

I was very impressed by the quality of the fish in the water and it appeared to be bouncing back well from the fire that had torched both of its banks. It is good to see water in Arizona with no stocked fish and a strong wild population!

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Swimming home

The valley seemed to be coming alive as the fall set in. We moved through tall grassed made flat from elk beds and underneath groups of migrating red tail hawks. The hawks piercing calls bouncing off the canyon walls. Not a bad place to spend a morning!

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The feisty takes continued as we moved upstream and the fish seemed to be living in every spot they could fit in throughout the creek.

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Some fishing looking water along the bank

I could have spent a whole weekend trying my best to fish everywhere along this cool mountain stream. But it was time to head back to Flag. We walked back up that steep trail that had brought us in underneath spiraling hawks. A good way to end a fun weekend checking out some new spots. A whole weekend catching wild trout and not a single other fisherman seen, not bad for Arizona trout fishing eh?