Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Day Five: Rio Grande Cutts

June 26,2019
Having failed at documenting my first Rio Grande Cutthroat we planned a return to the small tiny water the following morning.  This time we would pass the landmark that Curtis told us about and begin fishing from there.
We got up and drove to the water with the intention of only fishing a couple hours before we started to head north to the San Juan River.  This water is tiny and at the widest section maybe three feet in length.  Most of it maybe only 18 inches in some areas.  Despite the narrowness of it Curtis did tell us there are sections that were deep.  Several feet deep.  So there are opportunities for fish in the 18 inch range but most would be dinks with a 12 incher being a very special fish.
I really wanted the small fish stage of the trip to end but since this was the closest and most convenient area to get a cuttie I would just have to suck it up.  We started hiking down the trail past the landmark and began fishing almost immediately.  It wasn't long before we were on some Rio Grandes. For the next few hours a combination of cutts and browns would take our dries.  Fishing wasn't hard but it was challenging to make some of the casts when the wind began picking up.  Most of the time the fly would land along the bank in the grass and all you would do is slowly yank it out so it would land in the water.  Kelly would get the biggest fish out of the both of us in the 10 inch range.
By around lunchtime we started to head out and make our way to the truck.  We  would make our way northwest toward the San Juan River.

We drove from elevation to the desert watching the landscape change as we past it by 75 miles an hour.  After a pitstop in Farmington we headed toward the Navajo Dam to Abe's fly shop for so supplies and intel. 
I picked up some flies and the shop suggested we fish the BLM section of the river to avoid some of the crowds.  To do so though required a $6 fee which we gladly paid.  Afterwards we went to the campgrounds along the way to secure a site before heading to the parking lot to rig up.  We would only have a couple hours or less of light to fish.  I got on the river and almost instantly I was attacked by mosquitoes.  I was trying Euro-Indicator nymphing.  Not Euro nymphing.  Euro-Indicator nymphing uses a dacron section as the indicator and is primarily used to fish in the shallow waters of the San Juan although it can be set up for deeper water as well.  This is a fishing technique I saw on YouTube and decided to try it out.  It wasn't long before I got a hit but lost it after the first run.  Not sure if the micro hook was at fault of what but I lost my first chance at getting my first San Juan fish.  I moved up with no luck and started to see fish rise but had no luck in getting any of them interested in my fly. 
Just before dark I quit and headed back to the truck.  Kelly had given up early frustrated by all the mossies eating him alive.  I was wearing insect repellent clothing from head to ankles which included a buff but still got hammered on the hands where I was unprotected.  We made camp and dinner before calling it a day.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Day Four: Fishing in a Volcano

June 25, 2019
With Apache and Gila trout checked off the agenda and both fish added to the species caught list, my priorities moved on to catching a Rio Grande cutthroat.  While I planned and researched very diligently for the first two days in order to catch those two rare natives, the next leg of the trip I did not put as much thought into.  I figured that there were enough fly shops in the next areas that we could wing it.  We did have a vague outline of what and where we wanted to fish but no concrete plans.  Also coinciding with a late runoff season any plans we made would most likely be changed once we got up there.
So I was glad to connect with Curtis who gave us the 411 on all the stream conditions.  Many of the planned New Mexico waters we wished to fish were scrapped particularly those north of Santa Fe.  One on the agenda was entering the Valles Caldera National Preserve.  This wasn't a priority for me but was a priority fishing location for my buddy Kelly as he is a geologist and wanted to see the  place.  I'm glad we went.  It's a spectacular backdrop when wetting a line.  Unfortunately some of the roads to the prime waters he wanted to fish were closed.

The night before we made our way out of the Gila Wilderness and took the long drive north.  With spotty at best cell reception I was in contact with Curtis on and off who gave us some camping options and let us know of the idiosyncrasies of New Mexico dining.  Restaurants usually close on Mondays or they close early so we needed to high tail it to Albuquerque to make dinner.  There would not be too many options along the way.  New Mexico food was on the agenda and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about these New Mexico chilies.    Curtis gave us some local eats we should check out unfortunately either they were closing early before our ETA or they were closed.  I did a quick google search for some options and choose one.  We weren't impressed.  After a long drive we decided against camping and just got a motel.
In the morning Curtis met us at the motel.  After brief introductions we took off to the Indian gas station for fuel and breakfast burritos.  I'd ride with Curtis and Kelly followed behind.  The drive to the preserve would be about an hour and in that time Curtis played travel guide let me know of the all interesting facts of New Mexico life from Indian history to politics to the fishing.  We'd stop at the Indian Information Center so Kelly could park his car safely for the day before jumping on board Curtis' truck.

It wasn't long after that we were parked alongside the road rigging up our gear.  Once finished Curtis lead us down the canyon to the water.  After one or two casts I was already on fish.  Small salmonflies and two types of cicadas were on the menu this day.  I was fishing my favorite black dry fly this time in a size 10 and in a NeverSink version.  It would be a good representation for the smaller of the two cicadas present.  According to Curtis the bigger of the two cicadas makes the buzzing noise we are all accustomed to hearing while the smaller one (pictured above) had more a cricket sound.
The first section was canopied somewhat with trees but it didn't impede casting.  It would open up the further upstream we went.  I would be given the honors of fishing the first hole.  I managed a rise on one of the first few casts but it popped off before landing him.  Within a few more casts I got my first to hand.  A dink brown.  "That's the smallest you'll see.  That's a rarity" said Curtis.  Quite a grand accomplishment but not really what I was looking for.  We were assured that the fish get bigger the further we go.

We moved up to the next hole for Kelly to take over.  Fish are plentiful here we spooked several just moving from spot to spot. It wasn't long before Kelly would get his first brown.   Much of the day it would be like this.  Fishing here is stress-less and easy.  It's good fun.  All fish were taken on dry flies for Kelly and me.  Curtis was using a dry dropper combo. 
Curtis was up next and he took his brown after a few good drifts.  Much of the day would be use hopscotching each other taking turns fishing upstream. 
For relatively small water this river has some nice fish.  Most were in the 8-12 inch range but a few were in the 14 range.  There are fish even larger Curtis told us.
While mostly a brown trout fishery I did managed a rainbow which according to Curtis is a rarity.  These rainbows are actually stockers that swam downstream from a lake 7 or so miles north.  Accustomed to our ugly DFG stockers, this fish was actually quite nice despite it slightly mangled tail fin. 
We'd fish upstream and on one section we'd help Curtis look for his custom made net that he lost his last outing.  When he told me that he lost it I was heartbroken for him as it was a special net made from a black walnut tree from his late grandmother's land.  The water was still too high to see if it was in particular hole he thought it may have dropped into.  He said he'd come back again when the water lowered and look again.  Hopefully he'll find it.
Not long after that I realized Kelly was missing his net!  At least his net had no significant emotional value.  It was only a Bass Pro Shop cheapie.  Little concerned I checked for mine.  Thankfully the foliage had yet to eaten mine.  Never did either.  I would have been pissed as I had just replaced the string net for a eco ghost bag not long ago as Brodin finally made available replacement bags in that smaller size.
After hours of fishing eventually we reached the end of the line for us unless we wanted to swim.  It was a big long deep hole.  Kelly made a few casts in it and came up short.  I decided to take over and stripped out 80-90% of my line and started double hauling hail mary casts.  On the first I managed a very nice brown along the right side cliff.  I would catch two or three more at this hole all very good size before we backtracked slightly and made our way up the cliff side. 
Once above we looked down on the hole and the areas that I caught those fish.  I got my first fish at the indentation at the left side of this picture while stand on the submerged boulder which is slightly shaded on the very right of the photo.
There is a waterfall just past this hole and we took pics and headed out for a streamside lunch. 
On the way out Curtis gave us the tour of the Caldera and let us know where we should camp and where to fish nearby if we wanted to catch a Rio Grande.  This was one of the other places Curtis thought to take us but decided against it.
After being dropped off to our truck, we headed back up the mountain to the fish for cutties.  Curtis left us with detailed instructions on how to get there and where we should start fishing.  He said walk about a mile or so and once you hit a particular landmark begin fishing. That's where the cutthroats will be he told us.
We had a maximum of a couple hours before the sun was to set.  Half way down the trail I asked Kelly if he'd brought his headlamp.  No he said.  Neither did I even though I was thinking about it just before leaving the truck.  In my haste to get to the water I forgot to grab it.  So we'd have to make sure we'd give us enough light to make it back to the truck.
After about what I thought was a mile I started fishing having forgot about the landmark.  I'd get fish after fish on my size 10 dry fly but none were cutthroat.  I was starting to get irritated.  I finally managed a cuttie but choose not to net it.  It would eventually pop off my fly when I tried to get a pic of it.  Now I was pissed.  The plan was for us to fish here and get my cuttie and leave the next morning for the San Juan.  After losing the fish, I caught up to Kelly and told him somewhat angrily "we are coming back tomorrow morning!"  We continued upstream and discovered the landmark.  I was now even more pissed.  No wonder we weren't getting Rio Grandes.  We weren't even fishing in the right area.
With light waning, I bolted past the landmark and started fishing trying to get at least one to rise but with no luck.  I managed to get about 300 yards before heading back as we were quickly losing light.
Finding the campsite was a bit of a cluster and by the time we made camp I was beat.  I did manage to make us a simple dinner of mentaiko pasta before we crashed into our sleeping bags.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Day Three: Gila Trout

June 24, 2019
When nightfall arrived we were amazed on how bright the stars were.  All the constellations could be seen quite vividly.  We later found out that we actually camped in a site that was considered one of the darkest places in the states.  It's a common site for those interested in astronomy.  There are even telescope platforms installed for stargazing.  I had no clue about this when I looked for suitable campgrounds in fact we debated even camping here at all since there was a closer campsite to the fishing destination but decided to stay here as we were tired of driving and still had over an hour away from the water.
I awoke early around 2 or 3am thinking someone was snooping around my tent.  My hand instinctively reached for my snubnose and I groggily looked through the mesh panels of my tent to see if anyone was near but there was nothing.  I couldn't go back to sleep after that and stayed up watching the sunrise from my foam sleeping pad.  After breakfast it was time to make our journey to our next fishing destination.
We looked in to Gila Trout fishing in Arizona but after communicating with Ben from AZ Wanderings, he let us know that despite an initial successful restocking of Gilas, the fish did not survive a massive fire a few years ago.  So we looked in New Mexico.  Originally when we planned the Gila portion of the trip I had us at another location, one that we would fish later in the day, but after contacting Curtis and under hiss advise we checked out another.  I'm sure glad we did.  Not only were the fish bigger but the scenery was simply stunning.  Also it is was much easier to get to which we later learned.  I had totally forgotten that Curtis had retired in New Mexico so I'm glad I remembered and also glad he was willing to help us out.
When we got to the parking lot, a park ranger was doing his chores and we chatted him up.  He let us know about the fishing and how there were fish up to 18 inches in this water but he doubted that any were left.  New Mexico allows you to harvest two Gilas in this water and many people do come here and take fish home.  It's a shame but as I'm learning the culture of catch and release in New Mexico is not very prevalent.  After our conversation while rigging our gear, a fly fishermen was coming out and heading toward his car.  We asked him how he did and he said he got a few on a bunny leech under the banks.
After rigging up we hiked in and not long after I took the first sizable hole and threw my fly out.  Again fishing my favorite dry fly.  On the very first cast I had a take and as set the hook and felt the fish he came off as easily as he came on.  I'd get four more rises before I'd get my first Gila trout to hand.   It would turn out to be the largest of the day, though not very large, and the least colorful.  It's blue parr marks now fading and little terms of spots.  I'd catch a few more in this hole all more vivid that the first before I took to the trail again looking for my buddy Kelly.
I'd stop at a few holes before I reached him though and each produced fish.  One run was in slot just wide enough for me to slip in if I wanted.  I would have crossed if it weren't for the fact that it was deep.  Beyond the slot was a big pool feed by a small waterfall.  There must have been big fish in there I thought.  Not only was it an ideal feeding location but also somewhat difficult to get into.   It also required you to get wet up to your chest which means those fish were likely unbothered by anglers.  I chose to stay dry and just fish the slot and caught several fish there but my mind kept thinking of the fish that likely awaited for any angler willing to go for  a swim.  I figured I'd try again on the way out as getting wet would keep me cool in the afternoon heat.  Unfortunately when I returned the small pool in front of the boulders were taken by a group of women and so I didn't even bother.
I finally reached Kelly he fishing a "big" pool in front of a small waterfall.  He'd caught a few and was rigging tippet as he'd just broken off.  As a typical A-Hole I took that to mean I could fish his hole.  I caught a few on my dry fly.  On one instance I caught a 6-7 incher and it was chased by a fish at least 15 inches.  Once Kelly was rerigged I gave him his hole back and he proceeded to catch a few more.
The hole died after that and we moved on upstream after climbing up some large boulders and squeezing through a small tunnel.  We'd catch a few more fish here and there hop scotching one another looking for the next fish.
At this point there was no trail and to get any further required some navigating through some nasty terrain and boulder hopping.  So we called it at one hole after it proved very fruitful.  I seemed to get a fish on every cast.  No longer wanting to fight our way upstream we started our way out.  On the way we would return to the hole with the big fish.  After getting a couple with my dry I decided to tie on a chartreuse balanced leech.  It was no long before that hog returned and hit my fly.  I set the hook felt his heft but came unglued not long after that.  Not sure why though. 
After eating our lunch at the parking lot we began our way to the next Gila spot.  In terms of mileage it wasn't far but the ranger had told us that it would be at least an hour and half drive to get there.  It may have actually been longer and we'd have to climb over the crest to the other side.  The road was not only windy but also narrow.  It was actually quite annoying and even more so when we had to navigate past a UPS truck coming the opposite direction.  We eventually made it to the little creek and fished it for an hour or so before heading out.  The water was skinny and so were the fish.  Most were so small we launched them out of the water as we set the hook.
We made our way out and toward Albuquerque.  One thing I discovered is very little cell phone coverage exists in New Mexico and Siri's directions are less than stellar.  I guess whoever does the mapping software for Apple hasn't put New Mexico as a priority.   When we reached a small town I was able to reach Curtis to see if he were free to fish the next day.  Luckily we were able to get a hold of each other as cell reception from there was hit or miss.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Day One/Two: Cowboy Country Apache Trout

 June 22-23, 2019
A year ago my buddy Joel invited Kelly and I to fish with him for a week in his home state of Pennsylvania while his boy was away at skateboard camp there.  It was such a success we planned to do the same the following year.  So for past year we researched new waters, tied flies and waited for the day to return. With a month away til our trip and tickets bought and anticipating growing, we got some distressing news that Joel may put an end to the trip as his boy wasn't doing well in school.  The boy was given an ultimatum get his act together or he wouldn't be going to camp.  Within a couple weeks Joel gave us the bad news and said he and his boy won't be making the trip and we were more than welcome to use his deposit for the Feathered Hook if we so chose.  We decided against it and went ahead with our own plans for an alternative trip.  Kelly had always wanted to check out Ouray, Colorado after seeing some pics on the internet five years ago.  So a road trip was planned around making it to the town.  In addition to Ouray Kelly wanted to fish New Mexico.  I looked into want I wanted and for me I wanted to try and get as many unique species as possible.  Size was not a primary consideration.  As we would have to pass through Arizona I looked into what fishing possibilities existed in the Grand Canyon state.  After looking into it I decided I wanted to get an Apache and Gila Trout, two native fish that only are found within these two states.  In addition, the Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroats were going to be my primary targets. 
Day one was always intended to be a travel day. With plans changing last minute for a slightly earlier departure time there was a small chance to wet our lines in Arizona.  I arrived at Kelly's place to start packing his truck with our gear.  When Kelly said just throw my stuff willy-nilly in the bed, I instantly shut that down.  When it comes to car camping I am a bit OCD.  I need things somewhat organized as we'll be spending alot of time trying to access things as we go.  After loading the truck we were off and along the way we needed to stop by for lunch El Mexicali Cafe in Indio for some fish tacos.
At around 5pm we made it Phoenix to stop in at Cabela's for our license, intel and other supplies.  We asked the fly shop how the Apache fishing is and he gave us some info and told us to use small dries an dropper system.  I asked if there were any good fishing on the way to the destination, he said it wasn't worth a stop and we should just head to the campground.  We still had another four and half hours before we made it to our destination.  After a few hours of driving we were still a hour or so away from our goal before we hit a wall and needed to stop for the night.  I checked Siri for any nearby stops and found one.  We drove up to it in pitch darkness and made camp.

Day Two
When we awoke the next morning, we were pleasantly surprised and how nice a campground we selected.  It even had some old relics from the early 1900s, this barn and a nearby ranger station are preserved nicely.
The drive out and toward our fishery provided two separate sightings of cow elk pairs.  On the way we passed another watershed that was known to hold Apaches so we stopped an took a look.  It was small and brushy but looked promising so we rigged up and took to the stream. 
We didn't get too far before deciding to head back to the truck and fish our original destination.  We still had about an hour before we would reach it though.  Along the way more elk sightings and some stunning scenery.
In time we made it to our river.  I still wasn't quite sure if we were in the right spot for apaches though.  I was going on some vague info on a website so I had to make my best educated guess as to where and what part of the river we should start.  The river looked much like a smaller version of the Upper Owens.
At first we decided against putting on wading boots as the river didn't look very wide.  After we hiked and fished a bit we came to the conclusion to go back to the truck and put them so we could access better fishing angles and cross the stream when needed.  I saw my first rise very early near log jam at the end a large pool.  It never rose again and I couldn't get a good drift on it.  Going on the advice of the Cabela's employee, I started small with a size 18 dry and a similar sized nymph both which one I've already forgotten.
It wasn't long before I gave up on the small flies as I had trouble seeing them and put on my favorite local mountain fly.  I hiked up the meadow maybe a mile from the truck did I finally get my first rise and preceded to miss it.  I let out a few choice curse words.  Not knowing how selective or difficult these fish were I worried I may have missed my chance.  If the morning quick session was any indication of things to come I slightly began to stress about perhaps missing my only opportunity.  I moved up further upstream to a similar looking water and casted where I thought best.
It was not long before my drift induced a splashy take.  This time it was one.  Finally my first Apache trout.  I managed it to hand it was a good 8 or 9 inches.  I forgot my net and I regretted almost instantly as I reached for my camera for a pic.  While doing so the little trout bucked off the hook and I missed my opportunity to document my very first.  I wasn't too heart broken though as I had my gopro running through the whole incident.  As I reached toward action cam to turn it off, I realized that the camera shifted and was no longer pointed in the proper direction but pointing down toward the bill of the cap.  Did I really just lose both chances to capture my first fish?  Filled with both anger and panic now I fished on looking for another willing fish.  A few bends up I got another to take.  This time when I reached for the camera to take a photo I soon realized it wasn't an Apache but rather a brook trout.  It was cruel joke.  The next fish was also a brookie.
My worry of not documenting an Apache was unfounded though as throughout the day there were more than enough willing fish to take my size 12 fly.  Fishing for these Apaches, at least in this area, is no more difficult than fishing any one of our local creeks.  They are plentiful and behaved liked any small creek trout would, opportunistic and aggressive.
For the next few hours we fished catching more than we can remember.  We reached the end of the meadow and into the tree line.  Casting room now came at a premium and navigating through the brush more difficult.  We decided to end it here and head back fishing along the way back.  I had noticed a particular smell in the air throughout the day.  It had a faint smell of skunk but not in a bad way.  It was pleasant and slightly sweet.  I had no clue what it was and I asked if Kelly had smelt it throughout the day as well.  He had but he too had no clue what it was.  I tried to find a brush or plant that it could have come from but could not locate it whatsoever.  We got to the truck chatted with a Phoenix couple that had just finished their hike before we made our way to New Mexico for our next campground.