Monthly Archives: March 2015

Brush Creek – 03/28/2015

Time: 3:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: Private water up to Sylvan Lake Road bridge

Fish Landed: 2

Brush Creek 03/28/2015 Photo Album

Tom, Dave G. and I returned to the Gaboury house in Eagle Ranch and relaxed for a bit after eating our lunches. It was a gorgeous spring day in the Rocky Mountains and the temperature reached the low 70’s. By 2:30 we were sufficiently rested to embark on another fishing expedition, and this time we chose the convenient nearby Brush Creek. As we crossed the stream on our way back from the Eagle River, I glanced down and noted that Brush Creek was crystal clear.

We climbed back into our waders and jumped in my car and drove to the bridge where Brush Creek flows under Sylvan Lake Road. Our first move was to try the deep run just upstream from the bridge. Dave G. and Tom advanced to the sweet spot and began casting a dry/dropper, while I converted from deep nymphing to the dry/dropper technique. The flows were higher than during my visits in late summer and September, but still quite ideal as it was easy to read the likely fishing holding locations. Slapping a thingamabobber and split shot would have disturbed the water excessively, and snags and hang ups would have been frequent and frustrating.

Dave G. and Tom Stake a Nice Run on Brush Creek

I elected to tie on a small Chernobyl ant and added an ultra zug bug below it and then attached a beadhead soft hackle emerger. I was hoping that blue winged olives were present in Brush Creek, and fish had a long memory as we were a bit late in the afternoon to expect an emergence. Finally I was ready and began casting to some small marginal pockets below the long juicy run being prospected by Dave G. and Tom. No fish were evident, so I moved below the point of a tiny island and tossed a couple casts to a small deep run on the north side of the island. Nothing showed in the bottom half of the run, so I decided to go for broke and fired a cast to the very top. Unfortunately there was a small log protruding along the upper edge, and I wrapped my flies around it. I waded to the location of my tangle, and as I approached a nice trout bolted from cover and shot downstream. Disappointment reigned.

Dave G. extracted three browns from the premium run, and now we climbed back to the road, crossed, and walked across the grassy flat to the end of the private water. At this point we played hopscotch and alternated from one attractive hole to the next. Tom and Dave G. moved as a team, and Dave G. was assisting Tom in casting and reading the water. I made one jump when I reached a long narrow run next to a high undercut bank. I was just above Tom and Dave G. who were thoroughly and expertly covering the tail of the long run just below me.

I actually saw a small brown rise, so I I began drifting my three flies through the general area where the fish appeared, but my flies were ignored until on perhaps the fifth drift closer to the undercut, the Chernobyl dodged sideways. I executed a solid hook set and felt some significant weight, but it was only momentary, and the line went limp. When I reeled up my flies I discovered that the soft hackle emerger was missing so indeed my hook set was apparently more than solid.

Rainbow Rose Three Feet to the Left of the Log

On I moved leapfrogging the fishing tandem a few more times until I came to another twenty foot long run next to another protruding log. This log however was right in front of me, and I had no problem drifting my flies several feet to the left. On the second drift I spotted the flash of a fish refusing the Chernobyl, and usually this means I will have no success, but I ignored the norm and tossed another cast upstream so the flies drifted back along the current seam a foot or two to the left of the previous lane. Near the end of the drift I observed a fish slowly shifting to the left, and then it sipped the Chernobyl ant. This fish was a rainbow, and it put up a brief battle before I subdued it in my net and snapped a couple photos. This was my first fish caught on a dry fly in the new season, and the exhilaration of a surface take remains one of the highlights of fly fishing.

The Rainbow Extended

For the next hour I continued to skip around Tom and Dave G., but I was having no success. When the water is low and clear, I suspect that this method of fishing spooks a lot of fish as it is difficult to skirt the stream during the upstream detours. At any rate, my flies were no longer producing, and we finally reached the Sylvan Lake Bridge close to 5PM. Tom and Dave G. returned to the juicy run where they had begun their afternoon venture, and I once again worked some marginal spots below the bridge and then just above. I was wading to the bottom tip of the small island, when I saw Dave G. waving his arms. Clearly they wanted my presence, so I advanced to the base of the run and discovered a gorgeous brown trout in excess of 15 inches in Dave’s net. They were motioning me as Tom had landed this big boy, and they wanted to capture it in digital form. I snapped a photo of Tom holding the net and then a shot of the wild brown in the net and finally a couple shots of Tom gripping the brown with two hands.

A Beauty of a Brown Trout

Once my photography chores were complete, Dave G. suggested I take one last shot at the fish that I spooked on the other side of the small island, so I obliged. I did not require much encouragement. I cautiously positioned myself at the tip of the island and once again made a few short casts at the tail to no avail. It was now time to go for all the marbles so I lofted a cast to the top of the run, but learned from my past mistake and avoided the log. As the Chernobyl drifted back along the small current seam a fish nosed the surface and sucked in the fraudulent ant. I reacted and played a 13 inch brown to my net. Again I snapped photos and then gently nudged the catch back into the stream.

Deep Golden Color on this Fish

It was an exciting end to a pleasant afternoon on Brush Creek. After an enjoyable morning on the Eagle River, two nice trout landed on Brush Creek were nice additions to a successful early spring day of fishing.

Eagle River – 03/28/2015

Time: 11:00AM – 1:00PM

Location: Red cliff area below the route six bridge downstream from BLM campground area near Wolcott

Fish Landed: 4

Eagle River 03/28/2015 Photo Album

Early in each new season I am torn between experimenting with new flies I constructed over the winter or going with my old productive standbys. It is fun baptizing new flies, but at the same time I am anxious to catch fish, and I reserve the most confidence for flies that served me well in the past.

Our friends the Gaboury’s invited Jane and I to join them at their new home in Eagle Ranch over the last weekend of March, and naturally we jumped on this opportunity. The weekend projected as a fly fish and ski adventure, so I packed skiing equipment and fishing equipment and in a streak of foolish judgment, I loaded our mountain bikes to the rack as well. When would I have time for all of this over two days?

Jane and I had just returned from Big Bend National Park, so we busied ourselves with unpacking and repacking on Thursday morning before departing at 3PM. We were on the go since Friday March 20, and we were both feeling mentally fatigued with travel and the associated disruption to our routines.

Skiing conditions were spring-like on Friday with afternoon temperatures touching sixty degrees, and this translates to slushy sticky snow. The morning was decent, but Saturday’s weather projected to be even warmer, so Dave Gaboury and I decided to trade our ski poles for fly rods. Dave G.’s friend Tom Buchanan was visiting as well from Kansas City, so three of us made plans for a fun early season outing. Dave G. always prefers to fish Brush Creek, and the stream did in fact look quite attractive with clear water and ideal flows, but we opted for the Eagle River as it afforded more space for three fishermen to spread out.

After a stop at the Vail Valley Outfitters in Edwards where Tom and Dave G. purchased fishing licenses, we reversed our tracks to a downstream area of the Eagle River below Wolcott and then below the route six bridge. A tributary was dumping stained snowmelt above our position rendering the river a light pea green color with around 18 inches of visibility along the edges. Dave G. and I decided that this was good enough for hungry fish, and the young gentleman at the fly shop suggested that we could expect a blue winged olive hatch between 11AM and 2PM.

Typical Water Fished on the Eagle River

The three of us rigged our rods and pulled on our waders, and Dave G. and Tom preferred to fish downstream, so I grabbed the chance to fish some nice deep side pockets just below the car. After I carefully descended the steep bank and arrived at the river, I spent a fair amount of time rigging with a thingamabobber, pine squirrel leech, and ultra zug bug. This is where the decision described in the first paragraph became reality. I was anxious to break in the pine squirrel leeches that I produced during the winter, but I did not have extensive experience with them in Colorado. They certainly delivered a lot of rainbows on the North Platte River in Wyoming, but would they be favored by Eagle River trout during the early spring season?

I decided to give one of the conehead varieties a try, as I hoped this would act in lieu of a split shot, and the dark color of the natural leech fur would contrast nicely with the green off color water. I began lofting the flies upstream and allowed them to dead drift back toward me, and as I lifted to make each cast, I marveled at the pulsing lifelike movement of the pine squirrel strip. Surely this would attract the attention of any fish present in the Eagle River.

Nice Shot of 13″ Rainbow

Sure enough as I moved to the second attractive section of soft water between the bank and the swift current seam, I felt a jolt and set the hook and fought a feisty 13 inch rainbow to my net. I was thrilled with this early success and paused to photograph the iridescent rainbow trout that vindicated my fly tying efforts.

I moved on and went through a bit of a dry spell, and I observed a few blue winged olives fluttering up from the stream. The ultra zug bug was proving to be an irrelevant trailing dropper, so I swapped it for a RS2. This proved to be a solid move, and as I jigged the large leech and the tiny RS2 in front of a set of large boulders, a fish latched on to one of my offerings. Again I intuitively set the hook, and this time I felt more weight and battled a strong fighter for a minute or two. Eventually I slid my net beneath a fifteen inch rainbow and noted the tiny RS2 in the lip. Apparently fishing the fly actively with a lifting motion fooled my catch into mistaking the RS2 for an emerging BWO.

Here Is the Entire Fish

Again I moved upstream along the bank, and in a more shallow area at the tail of a long run, the indicator paused and I hooked and landed a small brown trout. This fish chose the meaty leech over the tiny RS2, so now I counted two rewards for tying and selecting the pine squirrel leech.

Unfortunately the hot action waned, and I covered quite a bit of water with no additional action when I reached a nice tail out below some riffles. The pine squirrel leech had ceased to produce, and the number of blue winged olives in the air increased, so I decided to move the ultra zug bug to the top position and jettison the leech. Because I removed my weighted conehead fly, I crimped a split shot above the ultra zug bug. I did not experience immediate action, but after I worked the deep riffle with a number of casts, I resumed the jigging action by lifting my rod repetitively and also by introducing bad downstream mends that accelerated the flies periodically. Finally this approach paid dividends and I landed a twelve inch rainbow that responded to the movement and gulped the RS2.

By now it was approaching 1PM so I decided to exit the river and find a path to the road so I could check the fortunes of my fishing friends, but before I could execute this plan, I heard Dave G.’s voice below me. I waded downstream to his position, and he informed me that he landed one rainbow, and he and Tom were ready to return to the house. We found a reasonably clear path through the brush to the road and returned to the car and subsequently to Eagle Ranch.

Four fish in two hours including a fifteen inch rainbow and two others over a foot was a nice result for early spring fishing in a mountain freestone stream. Two fish gulping my pine squirrel leech was icing on the cake.

Big Bend National Park Day 3 – 03/24/2015

Big Bend National Park Day 3 03/24/2015 Photo Album

We delayed our trip to the Santa Elena Canyon section of Big Bend in order to allow the area to dry out after the heavy rainfall on Saturday, but the last day of our visit arrived on Tuesday, so it was time to make the trip. Santa Elena Canyon is in the southwest corner of Big Bend National Park, and it required a 65 mile drive from Rio Grande Village. The weather continued to heat up, and we barely needed to wear a layer in the early morning on Tuesday. In anticipation of summer-like temperatures Jane and I assembled our canopy, and this provided some relief during the afternoon.

As we planned our long trip for Tuesday, we decided to do the hike to Mule Ears Spring as It was along the way. The distance was long enough to raise our heart beats but short enough to preserve energy for the remainder of the day. As we traveled south toward Castolon, we stopped at Sotol Vista and read about the unique sotol plant that thrived in this portion the desert. The sotol looks like a yucca plant with an extremely long flower stalk. Apparently the native Americans ate the heart of the sotol plant, and when I read this sort of thing, I always wonder who the first person was that conceived the idea of consuming such a plant?

Jane Inspects a Sotol Plant

We next detoured on a short side road to the Burro Mesa Pour-off trailhead. This was a short 1 mile hike, but we elected to simply snap a photo or two and moved on to the Mule Ears Spring parking lot. Here we applied sun screen and hitched our hydration packs to our backs and began the 3.8 mile round trip hike across the southwestern desert. This was the hottest hike of our trip to Big Bend, and as we rolled from hill to dry wash repeatedly, I conjured images from the many westerns I watched when I was a kid. Among these were injured cowboy heroes desperately crawling to a water hole only to discover that it was a mirage. Or how about the abandoned horseback rider lying in the desert while a scorpion creeps ever closer? I gazed at the rocky ridges and expected to see an Indian war party appear.

Mule Ears

In order to take my mind off these fictitious scenes, I began to count the lizards that scurried off the path as we approached. By the end of our round trip trek, I registered twenty small slithering reptiles. They seemed to be most prevalent in the low dry wash areas, and I could only attribute this to the slight increase in vegetation, and perhaps that engendered more insect life as a food source.  At roughly the half way point of our outbound leg we crested a short uphill, and a ridge appeared to our right, and perched at the high point were two rock formations that looked like mule ears. To the right was a small slope in the ridge, and my imagination interpreted this to be the saddle on the back of the mule. Was I also experiencing mirages?

Mule Ears Spring

An Ocatillo in Bloom!

Finally after an hour of absorbing the intense rays of the sun we reached Mule Ears Spring. I expected a tiny trickle, but we were surprised to see a flow equivalent to the output of a garden hose. We hoped to find a shaded spot to eat our lunches, but the trees and shrubs were quite small, so we reversed our direction and hiked back to the parking lot. We were now only three miles from Castolon and the store and visitor center there, so we covered the short distance and parked by the store. The national park service conveniently placed picnic tables outside the store, and there was a primitive overhead canopy to provide some sought after shade. The overhead roof consisted of a frame with dead stalks stacked in parallel to fill in the open spaces between the man-made structure.

Our Lunch Spot-the Store Near Santa Elena Canyon

We downed our lunch and then proceeded on to the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. I snapped a photo from this high point, and then we drove a short distance to the parking lot at the entrance to the canyon. There were quite a few tourists at this location, and Jane and I did a short hike to the edge of the Rio Grande River to survey the situation. Terlingua Creek entered the Rio Grande just east of the entrance to the canyon, and it was clear that crossing the creek was necessary to embark on the 1.6 mile round trip into the gap formed by the Rio Grande River. It was also clear that Terlinqua Creek had some residual water, and where the water was not present, the stream bed consisted of red muck.

The Wellers at the Canyon Entrance

Jane and I put on our Chacos and found a path to the creek bed. Just as we were about to pick a crossing point, our new friends Cheri and Howard appeared, and they described a crossing strategy that involved the junction of Terlingua Creek and the Rio Grande River. Because the water was quite muddy, it was impossible to see how deep this route was, so we decided to cross farther up the creek where there was less water. Unfortunately we traded off murky deeper water for sticky squishy mud. Despite these hazards we managed to make it to the west bank of the creek and then covered the .8 mile distance to the end of the trail. This was probably our favorite hike of the trip, and we enjoyed progressing beyond the canyon entrance.

Jane Climbs in the Afternoon Sun

The steep canyon walls created some welcome relief from the intense afternoon sun that was nearly directly overhead, although we faced several steep climbs in the direct sun over man-made steps against steep rock canyon walls. Once we descended back to edge of the river, we were surrounded by huge boulders and the trail converted into dark wet sand. Jane was intent on wading in the river, and she found a place where the wet sand sloped somewhat gently into the dark brown opaque flow. She carefully took a step or two while I watched, and then she began to wobble and made a motion with her arms like she was trying to roll down the windows on the car. Not good. I envisioned her falling forward or backward in the muddy water and soft muck, but she somehow recovered and gained her balance. I extended my trekking pole to her, and she snatched it and immediately used the support to balance herself and climbed up the slippery bank.

Cooling Off in the Mucky Rio Grande

On the return trip we chose to ford the creek at the confluence with the Rio Grande just as our friends had suggested, and this proved to be far superior, as we avoided most of the mucky soft mud. Santa Elena Canyon was our favorite hike as it combined beauty with several moments of wilderness adventure. Once we reached the Santa Fe, we drove back to Castolon where we stopped at the store for liquid refreshment. I purchased a bottle of Topo Chico, and it was the most refreshing sparkling water I ever had. The ninety degree heat probably had something to do with this assessment.

Topo Chico Mineral Water Was Welcome Refreshment

Big Bend National Park Day 2 – 03/23/2015

Big Bend National Park Day 2 03/23/2015 Photo Album

Chisos Basin was our destination on Monday March 23. This area is characterized by jagged mountains, and it rises to 7,832 feet at Emory Peak. Because of the higher elevation, temperatures in Chisos Basin can be twenty degrees different than the lower desert areas of the park. For this reason the vegetation shifts to more shrubs and small evergreens.

Once again we enjoyed a fine outdoor breakfast prepared by Jane and then departed for Chisos Basin. It was nearly a 30 mile drive until we pulled into a parking lot at the Emory Peak trailhead. On Sunday we surveyed the hiking trail options in the area and chose the Window hike, as it was a moderate distance of 4.4 miles round trip. The trail began near campsite 51 within the Chisos Basin Campground, but we were uncertain about the parking availability, so we snagged an open spot at the Emory Peak lot across from the campground.

The Window in the Distance

The Window hike turned out to be one of our favorites in Big Bend. It was unusual as we began at a higher elevation than our turnaround point, thus our return hike was a gradual uphill. Normally in Colorado we climb on the outbound segment, and descend on the return. Monday was the second day since the Saturday storm, and temperatures continued on an upward trajectory. We covered ourselves with a liberal dose of sunscreen and carried plenty of water. Roughly half way through our outbound segment, the canyon narrowed, and this created more shade. In addition a spring brought some water to the surface in the gully along the trail, and we noticed more taller trees and shrubs which supplemented the shade.

Camera Shy Lizard Ready to Hide

Agave Plants

One plant that was very prevalent in this area was the agave. I recognized them since they are succulents that display a large cluster of thick fleshy leaves that typically bend and taper to a point. All the leaves originate near the center of the plant and just above the ground. The most striking aspect of these plants was the periodic appearance of dead agave plants with a huge flower stalk arising from the center. The stalk was typically eight to ten feet tall, and the flower heads branched in a ninety degree direction from the main stem near the tip. When I first saw them, I thought they were small trees similar to a sumac. Later we visited the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, and the helpful ranger there told us that the agave plants bloom after fifteen years of growth and then die. Apparently they are the botanic equivalent to salmon, and reproduction causes death.

A Dead Agave Bloom

As we approached the Window, the canyon narrowed and a small volume of water trickled through the rocky gully. Trail construction experts built a series of steps that allowed us to safely climb up and down the large rocks that angled steeply to the narrow canyon floor. Finally we reached the Window which was a 20′ X 30′ opening at the end of the canyon where one could look westward at a vast panorama of west Texas desert. The Big Bend newspaper guide referred to this geologic phenomenon as a pour-off, and a park ranger explained this to be a dry waterfall.

Steps on the Return

The Window is Open

On our return hike we paused by a large log in a shaded spot to eat our lunches. As we enjoyed our snacks and the momentary rest, Cheri and Howard approached. They told us they were planning to hike the Lost Mine trail, but apparently the parking lot was full, so they elected to do the Window. We chatted for a bit, and Howard pointed out some small birds with a black crest and allowed us to use his binoculars to observe. Unlike the brightly colored birds we observed on Sunday, this species sported a black crest and deep gray body feathers. Clearly these feathered creatures favored the more classy formal wear of the bird kingdom.

We stopped at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and asked the ranger some questions, and then we departed for Rio Grande Village. On the morning drive, Jane spotted folks just outside Panther Junction holding their mobile phones to their ears, so we stopped there to check email and retrieve messages. Jane caught up on March Madness results and as we were driving away, her phone rang, and it was Amy checking in from Portland. I executed a U-turn, and we returned to the parking lot where we knew we could sustain a strong signal.

The remainder of Monday was spent relaxing at the campsite and avoiding the strong rays of the sun. Monday was a fun day as we experienced a different part of the park that exhibited different plants and a distinct micro climate.

Big Bend National Park Day 1 – 03/22/2015

Big Bend National Park 03/22/2015 Photo Album

Jane and I woke up on Sunday morning to a damp and cool campsite after the late heavy rain on Saturday, although we were confident that things would dry out rapidly once the sun peeked over the hills on the eastern horizon. For some reason breakfasts cooked outside on a camp stove always taste better than a comparable meal prepared in the home kitchen. This was the case on Sunday as Jane produced delicious fried eggs and bacon.

Bacon and Eggs Outdoors Taste Better

We were both extremely excited to begin our Big Bend adventure, so we decided to pay a visit to the small Rio Grande Village visitor center first. A park service ranger manned the counter, and we began assaulting him with questions. The Persimmon Gap entrance station was closed when we passed through on Saturday, so we discovered that we needed a park pass. Fortunately I possess a Senior Pass, so we avoided a fee and received a sticker to display on the windshield. Next we peppered the ranger with numerous questions about Big Bend. There are three main areas to explore; Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Santa Elena Canyon, and we were attempting to plan what days to visit each.

Quickly the ranger explained that the Santa Elena Canyon area was closed as a result of the heavy rain on Saturday. Terlingua Creek enters the Rio Grande at the mouth of the canyon, and normally this is a dry creek bed, but it was now a muddy torrent, and flooding turned sections of the paved road into small ponds. With this information we decided to defer Santa Elena until our last day in the park, Tuesday. By process of elimination we elected to explore the sites near Rio Grande Village on Sunday, travel west to Chisos Basin on Monday, and then hopefully visit Santa Elena on Tuesday after the environment had an opportunity to dry out.

We now queried the helpful gentleman on what activities were available to us in the vicinity of Rio Grande Village. He began by suggesting a Rio Grande crossing as apparently a small ferry transported visitors across the Rio Grande to Mexico. Once upon the opposite shore a mule ride or taxi service could be purchased for a small fee, and these modes of transportation allowed one to visit the small Mexican village of Boquillas. He suggested we could purchase lunch or drinks in the village before returning to the U.S. Since I have never set foot in Mexico, I was quite excited about this prospect until we realized that we did not have our passports with us. Naturally this was a deal breaker so we moved on to the other options.

Scorpion Art at the Boquillas River Crossing

Other possibilities included hiking the trail to Boquillas Canyon, a nature trail that began at our campground, a visit to the hot springs along the Rio Grande, a bike ride on Old Ore Road, and a visit to the Daniels Ranch. This sounded like a day’s worth of activities so we thanked the ranger and departed for the Boquillas Canyon trailhead. On the way we drove a short distance down a side road and checked out the federal port of entry for the ferry crossing. It looked rather secure, so we were convinced that a crossing was impossible without a passport. Next we reached the parking lot at the Boquillas Canyon trail.

The Trailhead

An Illegal Alien I Suspect

We lathered up with sun screen and changed to hiking boots and began a short .7 mile hike that led to the Rio Grande River. As we crested a short hill, we encountered a young Mexican man standing next to his horse. He greeted us, and we guessed that for a small donation he was available for photo poses with the river and Mexico in the background. Also there were several places along the path where residents of Boquillas placed crafts such as decorated walking sticks and wire sculpture on rocks with signs suggesting dollar donations. We guessed that the gentleman with the horse may have crossed the river illegally to display these wares that tourists might purchase.

The End of the Trail

Near the end of the path we descended to a sandy area, and as we made our way down the wet trail, another Mexican serenaded us in Spanish from a rock cliff on the other side of the river. We were not sure how this gentleman expected to make money from his performance, but it gave our venture a Latin aura. The trail ended at the sand dune slide, but no signs informed us of this, so we attempted to penetrate the canyon via a narrow path that cut through some willows and brush, but we only managed a short distance before the trail faded, and we were blocked from farther progress by a high vertical rock wall.

The return hike was uneventful, and when we reached the car we reversed our direction and returned to the campground where we found the beginning of the Rio Grande Village nature trail a short distance from our campsite. The Boquillas Canyon hike was relatively short, so we decided to explore the nature trail before lunch. Initially the trail crossed some metal floating bridges that spanned a wetland area. I spotted pods of fish in the murky water, and these fish rose occasionally for some sort of aquatic insect. We later asked a ranger what sort of fish they were, and he informed us that they were non-native tilapia.

The Start of the Rio Grande Nature Trail from the Campground

After crossing the pond we ascended a bit and then were faced with a split in the trail. Left took us on a short loop around the hill, and right led to the edge of the Rio Grande. We had already been to the shores of the muddy river, but we elected to repeat the experience and chose the right branch. Sure enough after a short hike we were next to the river, and it was still muddy and no more impressive than it was at the canyon mouth. We attempted to find the official trail to loop back to the hill, but we ended up confused by numerous unofficial spurs that eventually led to dead ends. Eventually we found a better defined trail and circled behind the hill and ascended the northeast slope until we were perched on a nice overlook. From this vantage point we could see the wetland area, the river and the Rio Grande campground.

Rio Grande, Wetlands, and Campground

After lunch we jumped in the car and drove to the parking area for the hot spring pool. The dirt road was a bit precarious, as we crossed two large puddles, and we were not certain how deep they were. After .5 mile however we reached a small parking lot and began another short hike to the hot springs. Apparently a family settled at this spot and built the concrete pool and also constructed a motel of sorts that was now abandoned. The owner marketed the area as a health spa and touted the recuperative powers of the hot springs. Jane and I peered into the rooms in the abandoned motel and noticed the remaining murals on the side walls of each room.

The Hot Springs Next to the Chocolate Rio Grande

The trail to the pool was less than half a mile, and we arrived there rather quickly and discovered a group of ten to fifteen tourists wading and floating in the natural pool. The Rio Grande River was a thick chocolate color, and it churned by within five feet of the pool. The pool itself was a bit murky, but much clearer and inviting than its source of cool water – the river. Jane and I had our Chacos on, so we waded into the edge of the pool, and the water was indeed quite warm and probably registered 105 degrees as mentioned in the park guide.

More Blue Bonnets

After our soak we returned to the campsite, but we were not yet ready to rest, so we jumped on our mountain bikes and set out to explore the area on two wheels. We left the campground and pedaled out the access road until we reached the main two lane road that linked Panther Junction with Boquillas Canyon. We turned left and climbed a fairly steep hill toward the tunnel, and then turned into the Rio Grande Overlook parking lot and hiked a short distance to the viewing area. After a few minutes we enjoyed a downhill cruise back to the campground area, but his time we turned right at the T intersection across from the store and cycled past the RV parking lot to a small grassy picnic area. The trees and green grass in this location indicated that the irrigation system built by early settlers was still in use.

We found a nice grassy spot and rested when we spotted a pretty red bird perched on a dead branch, and as we marveled at the bird’s bright colors, a couple strolled along from the path that led to Daniels Ranch. We pointed out the “cardinal” on the branch, and they informed us that it was a vermillion fly catcher. We chatted a bit and discovered that their names were Cheri and Howard Ferguson, and they lived in Spokane, WA until nine months ago when they sold everything and bought a Mercedes camper van and embarked on a journey across North America. Howard was a wildlife biologist who worked for the state of Washington with a focus on….birds. As luck would have it, they reserved the campsite next to us back at Rio Grande Village.

It was a busy day, and we were happy to return to our campsite to enjoy a beer and another delicious meal. We enjoyed quite a few adventures on our first day in the park, but we both felt that the warm March weather and the desert plants were the true attractions. Tomorrow we would be off to the high country of Chisos Basin where the highest point in the park towered at 7,832 feet.

Carlsbad Caverns – 03/21/2015

Carlsbad Caverns 03/21/2015 Photo Album

Jane and I woke up on Saturday morning in Roswell, NM to slate gray skies. We planned to spend the morning exploring Carlsbad Caverns, so rain would not impact our agenda. We reserved a campsite at Rio Grande Village in the southeast corner of Big Bend National Park for Saturday night, so we could only afford to spend three or four hours at Carlsbad Caverns.

A Closer Look at the Totem Pole

By the time we pulled into the visitor center a steady rain was falling from the overcast sky, and we welcomed the shelter of the visitor center and the cave. Since we had limited time, we elected to take the elevator 750 feet below the surface to the level of the Big Room, and there we followed the well marked path that circled the floor of the the cavern with stops at all the well known formations. We rented an audio tour guide and stopped at each numbered station to listen to the narration. In our opinion the lighting was well done as the best formations were spotlighted in a subtle way, but we never felt like the lighting overwhelmed the pervading sense of being in a dark underground environment. I snapped quite a few photos of stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, columns and subterranean ponds. Visiting a large cave was certainly very different from our many other experiences with national parks.

An Intricate Column

Park rangers roamed the Big Room and made themselves available for questions. At one stop we approached a young lady wearing the national park uniform and asked her if the natural air was supplemented with oxygen. She replied that it was all natural and then mentioned that it takes 18 hours for air to move from the entrance to the Big Room. I was curious how she knew that, so she went on to explain that she has a very acute sense of smell, and the park service recently executed a controlled burn just outside the entrance. Her super sensitive olfactory gland enabled her to smell traces of smoke in the Big Room 18 hours after the smoke from the burn was created. I suggested that she could get a job working for a perfume company, but she stressed to us her love for Carlsbad Caverns, and her desire to remain an employee of the national park service.

Haunted House Like

There are two ways to enter the Big Room, and we chose the quickest and easiest route by taking the elevator. With some time remaining before our scheduled departure, we decided to try the walk-in approach. As we left the visitor center, we realized that the rain continued and in fact was heavier than when we arrived. The hike from the visitor center to the gate to the walking entrance was longer than we expected, and the rain was beginning to soak into our coats. A park ranger was standing under a canopy with a group of visitors, and he hooked a chain across the trail just before we arrived. We were left standing in the rain while he delivered the safety speech to the group under the small shelter, so Jane exercised some initiative and unhooked the chain. This prompted an instant reprimand from the young ranger, Ross, but Jane replied that we were simply trying to stay dry, and he relented and allowed us to join the gathering.

A Steep Descent

After the safety speech was completed, Ross opened the next chain gate, and we along with the herd of visitors began the switchback descent to the cave entrance. The steep path to the dark entrance was interesting, but we quickly discovered that the .8 mile walk to the Big Room was largely devoid of interest since we had already seen the more spectacular attractions and formations. We essentially power walked the narrow path until we once again reached the base of the elevator, and then we ascended to the visitor center and left Carlsbad Caverns.

The rain continued as we returned to the town of Carlsbad and then turned on to route 285 and continued south through southern New Mexico and then into west Texas. The stretch of highway from the New Mexico border to the northern entrance to Big Bend National Park was two lanes, and it would be an understatement to call the terrain desolate. The land was relatively flat with sparse vegetation, and oil pumps, piping and gas reservoirs dotted the landscape. Every mile or so a dirt side road branched to the east and west, and we were constantly behind large slow moving oil field services vehicles. The frequent traffic that moved from the side roads to the paved two lane highway tracked dirt on the asphalt, and the steady rain of Saturday converted this coating to mud. The oil industry vehicles splashed spray from their over-sized tires and generated a steady wall of muddy water on to our windshield. I counted at least three occasions when a pebble or small piece of gravel catapulted from one of the muddy trailers and struck our windshield creating yet more chips that eventually grow into cracks.

It was a miserable drive, and the rain intensified as we moved south. We attempted to stop for lunch in Pecos, but the establishments were rather basic so we moved on until we found a Subway sandwich outlet at a truck stop. Pecos and Fort Stockton were clearly oil and gas outposts, and the truck stop was populated with numerous oil field workers attired in one piece uniforms. Apparently the trucking hub also served as a locker room for the workers, and a voice periodically announced that shower number 60 was available for John or Rex or Javier.

A Rainbow Greets Us as We Enter Big Bend

Finally after some tense driving through heavy rain, we reached the northern Persimmon Gap entrance to Big Bend National Park. By now the sky was clearing, and we were dazzled by a huge rainbow in the eastern sky. The northern segment of Big Bend was clearly a desert as a variety of cactus plants covered the barren earth. I’m sure we were rare visitors that saw the landscape after heavy rain, and we crossed many gullies that were normally dry washes, but on this day a muddy torrent of water rushed downhill to join the Rio Grande River.

Sierra del Carmen in Mexico

As we traveled closer to Rio Grande Village the dark clouds that shrouded the mountains to the east disappeared, and we were treated to spectacular views of the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico. These tall rock mountains were distinguished by alternating layers of blue-gray and white rock. At last we entered the Rio Grande Campground and skirted the perimeter until we found campsite number 25 which was situated along the outside road near the trailhead for the nature trail. Huge muddy puddles of water swamped many of the campsites along with mounds of small hail balls, but much to our amazement, we selected a campsite that was devoid of accumulated water.

Hail Remains at the Campsite

We quickly read the javalina warning that was affixed to our picnic table and then unpacked the Santa Fe and set up our tent. Saturday evening was quite cool and wet, but we prepared a quick meal and then kicked back and rested after a long eventful journey.We both anticipated warm dry weather for Sunday, and anxiously awaited the opportunity to explore this vast remote national park on the southern border of the United States.

Roswell, NM – 03/20/2015

While the kids attended Rock Ridge Elementary School, they were on a year round class schedule, and this gave us the opportunity to take vacations during off seasons. Jane and I often discussed a trip to Big Bend National Park during the February or November break, but for various reasons, we never made it happen.

2015, however, would be different. We used the online reservation system to reserve a campsite from March 21- 24 and committed to make the trip. On March 20 we embarked on our long awaited journey to west Texas. We anxiously anticipated warm temperatures with typical highs in the seventies and lows in the fifties, and of course our trip coincided with a period of unseasonably warm spring weather in Denver, but we looked forward to it nonetheless.

Aliens Greet Us in Roswell

The first day was rather uneventful as we drove south on interstate 25 and exited the highway below Las Vegas, NM. We reserved a room at the Hampton Inn in Roswell for Friday night, and we vaguely knew that Roswell was associated with aliens. While I drove, Jane Googled Roswell on her phone and read me the history. Apparently a rancher discovered some materials north of Roswell that he assumed were remnants of a flying disc. Stories spread until the army made a press release on July 8, 1947 that the materials resulted from a weather balloon that crashed in the area. The story died until UFO enthusiasts resurrected it in the seventies and constructed goverment conspiracy theories that involved a cover up.

The Aliens Welcome Us Back to Roswell on the Return Trip

Just as Forks, WA has latched on to the Twilight saga to attract tourists, Roswell attempts to capitalize on the alien connection. As we entered the town from the north nearly every hotel had some variation of a little green alien positioned near the entrance way. This was actually the highlight of Friday and our time in Roswell. We found the Hampton Inn on the north side of town and checked into our room, and then we drove south on the main 285 strip to a restaurant where we enjoyed barbecue. Jane and I slept soundly on Friday evening and never encountered an extraterrestrial being of any sort.

Arkansas River – 03/15/2015

Location: Fremont – Chafee County Line
Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Fish Landed: 11

Arkansas River 03/15/2015 Photo Album

When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, the second most anticipated day of the year was the opening day of trout season. In my estimation it trailed only Christmas and easily trumped Easter and Halloween. My grandfather, father, brother and I would rise early on a Saturday morning around the middle of April and head to our favorite spot on Manatawny Creek to secure a prime location. My grandfather was retired, and he assisted with the trout stocking in order to know where the highest quantities of fish were dumped. Of course many other locals possessed the same knowledge, so getting up before dawn was essential to have a shot at the best holes. Aggressive late arrivals bumped us youngsters from the best places, but I have now come to realize it was more about spending time with my Pop Pop and Dad, and less about catching my limit of fish. Of course catching a stringer of fish was still an acceptable result should it occur, but rarely was that the outcome.

Sunday March 15 had many similarities to the opening days of my youth. I contacted my fishing pal, Danny Ryan, and he agreed to join me on a trip to the Arkansas River. The weather forecast predicted highs in the 70’s, and that is bonus time for fishing in the Rocky Mountains during the middle of March. I anxiously anticipated the arrival of Sunday and spent an hour or two on Saturday making sure I had all the necessary accessories in my front pack. I also transferred reasonable quantities of my newly tied flies from the storage bins to my Montana Fly Company boat box. This step initiated my plan to use the boat box as an intermediate storage space that could easily be moved to the back of the car. When I deplete key flies from my front pack, they will be replaced from flies tucked in the boat box.

When Sunday morning arrived, I jumped out of bed early and gathered all the essentials that I prepared the night before. I fished once in 2015 on Valentine’s Day on the South Platte River, but I did not land a fish and in fact only spotted one fleeing trout during my entire 2.5 hour outing. It did not count as an official opener, but March 15 had that feel. I spent extra time preparing, I arose early in the morning similar to the days of my youth, the weather was expected to be unseasonably warm, and my young friend Danny Ryan was joining me in one of my favorite spots on a quality river. I stopped at Danny’s apartment at 6:30AM, and he was just as excited to be on the way as he tossed his gear in the back of the Santa Fe.

We arrived at the Fremont – Chafee County line pullout by 9:30AM, and the temperature on the dashboard registered 38 degrees. Seventies? What was I to believe? I pulled on a fleece and my New Zealand brimmed hat with ear flaps, and Danny and I descended the steep bank to the river. Danny was following my lead, and we waded across the river at the tail of the long pool below the parking area. The flows were around 390 cfs, and the water was very clear. We could not have asked for better conditions, and my heart was racing with the anticipation of finally feeling a throb on my Sage five weight after a long winter.

Danny Drifts Nymphs

We walked west along the north bank a bit, and then I directed Danny to a spot where the river fanned out a bit and created some nice deep lanes between submerged rocks. Danny was already rigged with a small copper john and juju baetis that he tied over the winter. I on the other hand had not attached any flies to my leader, so I wandered farther upstream and attended to this detail. I elected to knot an ultra zug bug to my line as the top fly and then added a chartreuse marabare as the point fly. Because of the cold early season water temperatures I assumed that I would be nymphing the entire day, so I attached a strike indicator and crimped a split shot to my line above the ultra zug bug.

The County Line Section

As I began to cast to some nice water of moderate depth similar to Danny’s location, I heard a shout and smiled as I looked down the river and watched Danny reel in a decent brown trout. He reported that the trout consumed his juju baetis. I continued prospecting with my nymphs, and it wasn’t long before I landed a twelve inch brown that chowed down on the ultra zug bug. Since this was my first fish of the season, I paused to snap a photo and then moved on upstream.

Ultra Zug Bug Secure in Lip

In a short amount of time I reached a nice piece of water where the river widened a bit and ahead of me was some slow moving water flowing over a sand and rock bottom. The depth was probably three feet maximum. I began casting directly upstream in this area, and much to my surprise three brown trout found my net over the next half hour. Needless to say, I was rather pleased with this favorable turn of events.

After landing the fourth fish, I waved Danny upstream and positioned him to fish the remaining half of the flats of moderate depth. As I looked on, he connected momentarily with a decent fish, and I could see the escapee resume a position in a deeper depression in front of a large submerged rock. With Danny now back in action, I moved up the river again and began prospecting some interesting deeper holes below large rocks that jutted from the bank into the river. The marabare was not producing results, and Danny was having success with the juju baetis, so I exchanged the new chartreuse fly for a RS2. Over the remainder of the morning I landed two more brown trout of medium size on the RS2.

A Pretty Spot

At 11:30 we decided to return to the car for lunch, so we walked back along the bank and then crossed the river at the tail of the long pool. We mounted the steep bank and gathered our lunches and then munched them from a high rock bluff above the south side of the river. Here we could see at least 6-8 trout holding several feet below the surface. They were obviously feeding on something subsurface, and occasionally the inertia of chasing food took them to the top of the water.

Changing Flies

Danny was quite excited to stalk these visible targets, so he retrieved his rod and began casting from the high platform to the deep pool with his nymphs. I finished my lunch and returned from the car with my rod and net. I volunteered to be the netter and took a position above the end of the rock ledge, but I stayed seven feet back so that I would not disturb the feeding fish. It was not long before Danny shouted that he had a hookup, so I moved to the edge of the river and scooped a fish with my net. But what a surprise! The fish appeared to be in the char family but was not a brook trout or lake trout. I was not aware of any other fish in the char family in Colorado, but the fish looked strangely like the Dolly Varden that I caught in Alaska. We snapped quite a few photos to show fish identification experts, and then Danny resumed his position high above the river.

Unknown Species of Trout from the Arkansas River

Once again he shouted that he had a fish on, and I once again assisted by swooping my net beneath the struggling captive. This fish was a 10-12 inch brown trout and an expected species for the Arkansas River. Danny gave me his rod for a bit while he attended to something else, and I made a few casts. On the fifth cast I was surprised to feel some weight so I set the hook and stripped in another char. Again we snapped documenting photos.

I handed the rod back to Danny and gave him the remainder of the pool while I moved upstream to a very attractive deep hole along the bank. This spot was not as large as the lunch rock spot I just vacated, but it looked quite juicy nonetheless. By now I spotted a couple blue winged olives, so I was optimistic that I might attract a few fish with my RS2. Sure enough over the next hour I landed four more browns as I moved along the south bank and flicked my nymphs into all the likely fish holding locations. Several of the fish smacked the RS2 when I lifted the nymphs or jerked them with excessive downstream mends.

Another Brown Trout for Dave

I wanted to return to the north and less pressured bank, so I found Danny and informed him that I was once again going to cross. By this time another fisherman had arrived, and he was casting directly across from the high ledge lunch rock where Danny continued to fish with enthusiasm after experiencing the post-lunch success. I crossed and moved above the other fisherman, and I fished aggressively along the north bank for quite a distance. There were some very attractive pools and pockets, but the sun was now quite high in the sky, and the air temperature was now in the seventies. This combination of weather characteristics apparently caused the trout to have lock jaw, as I landed only one additional small brown in the mid-afternoon time period.

Ready to Test the Peanut Envy

By 3:15 I grew weary of the lack of action and returned to the car where I disassembled my Sage four piece and pulled out my Scott six weight. I attached my Orvis reel with a sinking tip line and hiked a short distance to the rock bluff where I found Danny who was pretty much finished for the day. I pulled one of my freshly tied peanut envies from my fleece pouch and knotted it to my line and began to fling the two inch long streamer into the depths beneath the rock. The peanut envy was amazing as it pulsed and moved in every conceivable way as I stripped it across and sometimes upstream. I began lobbing the ugly marabou monstrosity three quarters downstream and allowed it to swing to the edge of the shadow of the rock, and then began stripping it back toward me, and on one of these presentations, Danny shouted that a huge brown trout swam up behind the streamer and nosed it but failed to chomp!

Danny was more excited than me because I never saw anything, but I was pleased to learn that my new fly created interest from a large brown trout. After 45 minutes of fruitless casting, I reeled up my sinking line, and we returned to the car. The three hour return trip seemed to fly by as we speculated on the species of the mystery trout landed.

Bighorns Appear Across the River

We had much more space compared to opening day in Pennsylvania, and we were fishing with flies rather than live bait, yet the anxious anticipation of a satisfying day on the river brought back memories.The tug of a fish and the bend of the supple long rod satisfied our needs after a long winter of tying flies and waiting for warmer temperatures. Let the 2015 fishing season begin.

Cathy’s Super Bugger – 03/12/2015

Cathy’s Super Bugger

While searching for tying instructions on YouTube for Cathy’s Super Beetle, I encountered a video showing the tying steps for Cathy’s Super Bugger. As I was looking for ideas to augment my supply of streamers, this caught my attention. I possessed all the materials required to produce this variation on the ever popular woolly bugger, so I scheduled it for my next tie.

The woolly bugger is one of the simplest yet most effective flies ever created. It is typically the first fly that beginners attempt as only a few materials are attached to the hook, and it introduces the novice tier to wrapping chenille and hackle.

Four Completed

I made one modification to the YouTube video instructions by substituting a cone shaped bead for barbell eyes, but everything else followed the script. I added crystal flash to the tail, and wrapped a very webby hackle from my grizzly cape. The other enhancement over a traditional woolly bugger was the addition of long speckled silicone legs dangling just behind the cone head. I think that the reader will agree that these flies look like certain fish attractors. The combination of the marabou tail, oversized grizzly hackle and wiggling legs should create constant movement in the water and attract any fish in the vicinity. I made six with grizzly hackle and two with brown hackle. One never knows what color the fish will prefer.

A Brown Hackle Version Featured

Cathy’s Super Beetle – 03/08/2015

Terrestrials are top producers among my dry fly collection, and in fact I love to use them as visible surface attractors while I probe the more shallow parts of the river with one or two nymph droppers. I frequently prospect the rivers of Colorado with four different grasshopper imitations: the Letort hopper, a parachute hopper, the Charlie Boy hopper, and the increasingly popular pool toy. A Chernobyl ant is a mainstay attractor and supporter of beadhead nymphs, while small parachute ants have worked for me when sight fishing to selective risers.

Side View

The main category of terrestrials missing from my fly inventory is coleoptera or beetles. I suspect that contrary to its name, the Chernobyl ant actually imitates a large beetle, so the frequent usage of a large foam ant probably fills the beetle void. There are frustrating times, however, when fish rise to inspect my Chernobyl ant, but then turn away and drop back to the depths of the river. Once the trout refuse my Chernobyl ant, I am usually unable to induce a take from the trailing nymph. I’ve often wondered if a smaller beetle imitation that more closely resembles naturals might be a strong second option when fish reject the Chernobyl ant.

A Better View

As I browsed through my notebook of flies that I copied from the various fly fishing magazines, I spotted a pattern named Cathy’s Super Beetle. This foam terrestrial was designed by Cathy Beck, and I liked the simplicity of it, so I decided to tie a few to test during the upcoming season. The fly did in fact prove to be quite easy to tie, although I never like dealing with super glue. Nevertheless I produced eight super beetles and placed them in my new boat box. They feature black foam bodies over under bodies of black peacock. I made five with white antron yarn as an indicator, and then I created two with a pink poly indicator wing and one with a visible orange poly tuft. Speckled silicone legs add life-like movement and the final step involves folding the foam back over the front of the fly to create a beetle head.

Pretty in Pink

Perhaps these super beetles will thwart the selective trout that refuse my normally productive Chernobyl ants. I’m quite excited to toss them on local waters during the approaching spring season in Colorado.