Archive for the ‘The Fly- for those who love to fly fish’ Category
Date: November 25th, 2013
It’s late November now at Vista Verde Ranch. As I gaze through the window of the fly shop out across the open pasture snow is falling slowly…almost hypnotically. The occasional whinny of a horse stands out in stark contrast to the otherwise still and silent ranch-scape. While the winter-white scenery and tranquility never seem to lose their luster, these can be cold and lonely times for a fishing guide. Okay, I’m being a bit melodramatic here, but even though I will soon be joyfully touring the backcountry on skis with our beloved winter guests, I find it hard to say goodbye to the warm summer days spent standing in the cool waters of the Elk River with guests casting to shy cutthroat trout. So, here’s the segue into my intended topic… As the snow grows deeper and temperatures fall and ice begins to form along the edges of the river, where do the trout go? What do they eat? Can they still be fooled with a fly? If you were hoping for a shorter blog post, I’ll sum it up succinctly for you.
1) Not terribly far
2) Certain types of aquatic invertebrates, and
3) Yes (albeit with a somewhat more tedious approach).
For those still interested, please read on.
To properly understand a trout’s wintertime behavior, we must consider a few things. Water temperature, water levels and flow rate, and insect activity all play into what trout are doing and where they go during winter months. Allow me to first describe two different types of river systems found here and across the country; Freestone and Tail Water rivers. Freestone rivers are classified as those which flow freely from source to confluence or termination without impediment from dams, reservoirs or other obstacles. The Elk River, for example, is a “freestoner” as it flows unhindered from its genesis below the Zirkel Mountains to its confluence with the Yampa River. The Yampa River, through Steamboat Springs, however, is a tail water since its flows and temperature are largely determined by releases beneath dams at both Stagecoach and Catamount Reservoirs. Classic tail waters will generally experience less wintertime fluctuation in water temperature and flows due to the fact that they draw water from the bottom of a reservoir where the water is less affected by air temps and in a more consistent supply. This creates a more consistent and stable aquatic environment for both the fish and the insects they eat. Conversely, a freestone river is very much affected by ambient conditions and can often fluctuate broadly based on air temps, ground water supply, snowmelt and freezing. For the sake of this blog, we’ll focus on how fish behave in a freestone river system.
For any of you with whom I’ve had the pleasure of fishing, we likely spoke about some of the key requirements of trout in order to better determine where they “hang out”. Food concentration, protection, water temperature, and resting places are some of the most important. The same needs hold true in the winter as in the spring, summer and fall with some changes to the individual importance of these requirements.
Food: As I often say, “It all begins with the bugs”. As water temps decrease, so do the activity levels of aquatic insects. Where, in warmer months, we experience bountiful hatches of caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies and midges, the winter months can seem almost devoid of any real “bug life”. While this isn’t exactly the case, most species of aquatic insects do tend to hunker down a bit and await warmer water temperatures to pupate and eventually morph into winged adults. With the exception of chironomids (midges), some small stoneflies, and even smaller mayfly species, much of the insect world takes a noted break during the winter. So where does that leave our hungry fish? Not to worry. Trout, in particular, have a biological response to these conditions. As water temperatures near the point where insect activity drops off, trout experience a sharp decrease in their metabolic rate, therefore requiring much less food to sustain life. While they won’t likely experience much growth during this time, it allows them to hold out until the feeding season resumes in the spring.
Protection: Just as in the summer, trout must be hyper vigilant of predation. Larger fish, eagles, and predatory mammals are typically more than willing to make a meal out of vulnerable trout, especially in the winter when other food sources are less accessible. Overhanging rocks and logs, ice shelves, submerged brush and vegetation all provide a level of protection for fish; however, deeper water often provides the best safeguard from overhead danger. As water levels drop throughout the winter due to freezing and lack of runoff, trout may find it more difficult to locate deeper water and thus will need to relocate to sections with deeper pools. This is often a reason for fish migrating downstream during the frozen months.
Water Temps: Fish are cold blooded animals and therefore lack the internal mechanism to self-regulate their body temps. They require their environment to be within a certain sustainable temperature range. Trout thrive in water that is typically too cold for many other fish species, but they still have their limits. The general temperature range for rainbow trout survivability is 35 – 75 degrees F. however, optimum temps are somewhere between 50 and 68 degrees (cutthroat and brook trout prefer water slightly cooler and brown trout are comfortable in slightly warmer water). While these numbers are a good guideline, it’s interesting to note that trout will often become conditioned to their home environment. For example, it’s not uncommon to find fish doing quite well in the Elk River when the water temperature is only a degree or two above freezing. When targeting trout in the winter, an excellent starting point to be on the lookout for is where a groundwater seep or spring enters the river. Because spring water maintains consistent temperatures independent of the seasons, it can often be just the few degrees of warmth the trout are looking for.
Rest: While resting places aren’t often included in the “must haves” section of a trout’s house hunting criteria, they become paramount to a trout’s survival during the winter. As mentioned before, when a trout’s metabolic rate is greatly reduced it becomes crucial that the minimum amount of calories be expended in its day-to-day efforts. Expending energy fighting the current in shallow and swift sections of river is far from a trout’s agenda during these cold times. While in the summer fish can be found broadly distributed feeding across many areas of the current, it’s more common in the winter for fish to congregate in greater numbers in slower deeper water where the velocity of the current is diminished. They are more concerned about conserving energy together than competing for food.
So, now that we understand just what it is that trout are seeking during this time of year we can better determine where they are, what they’re doing and whether or not they’re being forced elsewhere in the river system. And, if still bound and determined, as I am, to brave the elements and cast a fly in the winter around here, just fish where the fish are and be accurate with your drift because trout will be far less willing to expend the energy to move toward your fly. Also, if you’re fly fishing from atop the ice please check it first for stability. Better yet, let us fit you for some skis and join in on an epic Colorado backcountry ski adventure!
Whether in the backcountry or on the icy river, I hope to see you soon up here at VVR!
Date: September 24th, 2013
Howdy friends! Brandon here with another installment of The Fly Blog. To the loyal fans of this humble periodical (both of you), I apologize for the time that has passed since my last posting. I can only imagine the lengths to which you must have gone to fill your time in the absence of my musings. I suppose my best excuse is that we’ve just been so busy having a blast with our ranch guests on the water that I’ve neglected to share it with everyone.
As I now type, a raucous late-summer storm is pelting the fly shop’s roof with hail and raindrops that appear large enough to each fill a shot glass. It’s another in a string of rather refreshing storms we’ve been getting over the past couple weeks here. Not enough to slow us down or dampen spirits, but enough to keep both dude ranchers and fish happy.
So let’s get caught up on the fishing… As some of the nearby lakes and early-season hot spots began to taper off by late June, the Elk River heated up right on cue; and if I’m being honest I’d admit that I was sweating it a little bit. Springtime rapids mellowed nicely into summer flows and fish began showing up in their predictable places. While we waited for many of the fish to work their way back up to us – after last year’s drought conditions – Bubba and I had the opportunity to hunt out some lesser utilized fishing spots near the ranch. Initially this was carried out to bridge the gap while awaiting the Elk River to turn on, but we came across some really good water that made for great trips and some wonderful memories along the way. Stalking wary brook trout and cutthroats with two and three weight rods in the smaller waters of the South Fork of The Elk and the Middle Fork of the Little Snake became staple trips for us that guests looking for an adventure really enjoyed. By mid July the Elk River was in full swing with fish feeding readily on well presented grasshopper and stonefly patterns. In addition to The Elk and its tributaries, we’ve had a blast with some of our guests who booked private water on the Yampa River and the North Fork of the North Platte through our association with The Rocky Mountain Angling Club. Some truly exceptional trips and a chance to get out on some of Colorado’s best fly fishing properties!
Terrestrial patterns (hoppers, crickets, ants and beetles) are continuing to produce for us now, well into September, but will soon give way to late season mayfly hatches as we march our way into fall. Brown trout and brook trout are our two species that are fall spawners, as opposed to rainbows and cutthroats which spawn in the spring. I’m looking forward to targeting some larger-than-average brookies in the high mountain lakes this fall; their spawning colorations are really something to see!
We still have about a month left of fishing this season before turning things over into a snowy vacation destination. If the season thus far is any indicator of the remainder…bring it on! Hope to see you soon.
Date: June 20th, 2013
Greetings friends! It’s June and we’re now a few weeks into our anticipated summer guest season! While we still wait for the rivers to shape up a bit from spring runoff, the fishing couldn’t be much better on some of our nearby lakes and smaller creeks. Hahn’s Peak Lake, Pearl Lake, and Steamboat Lake are offering some great early season action with fish beginning to feed hungrily on or near the surface after a winter spent beneath the ice. Some nearby smaller creeks have been producing, as well, while our beloved Elk River and its tributaries slowly return to their normal summertime flows. In addition to getting on the water with some of our wonderful guests, my wife, Rachelle and I had the pleasure of hosting Nate and Jamie Bennett from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and were able to show them some of our favorite early season fishing spots. Nate owns and operates Teton Fly Fishing in Jackson and is a long time friend and fishing partner. For a great day on some Wyoming water be sure to give Nate a call if you’re ever up in their neck of the woods.
We got the chance to christen Vista Verde’s newly-acquired float tubes on Pearl Lake and were fortunate enough to land a number of Cutthroat Trout and Grayling we found cruising the shallows. The action has kept up through our first couple of weeks and it’s been an absolute joy spending time stalking fish and swapping stories with our guests. The highlights and have been many thus far, but we’ve especially enjoyed creating some memorable family fly fishing trips for our guests. Getting parents and the kids on the water is what it’s all about and there’s no better place to do it than the high mountain lakes and creeks that surround Vista Verde Ranch. For those of you who we’ve had the opportunity to get out with already this season, thanks for spending some time with Bubba and I. And, if you’ve already booked your western family dude ranch vacation with us for this summer, we very much look forward to spending some time with you!
Date: May 21st, 2013
Howdy folks! Let me start off by telling you what I’d like to be blogging about right now… Steady and clear flows on the Elk River, wild and fat trout rising recklessly to whatever dry fly I gently lay across the water’s placid surface, and a right elbow and shoulder sore from battling a few more fish than deserved in a day. Alas, it’s May here in northern Routt County and, while the weather doesn’t get much sweeter, the Elk and its tributaries are flowing at a rate approximately four times greater than summer time averages. The water is the color of English tea with milk, and the trout seem to be bunkering down for cover against the onslaught of springtime runoff from high above us in the Zirkel Mountains. As a comparison I’ve included a recent picture taken from the same location as last month’s Fly Blog photo.
I attempted an outing last week with fellow VVR guide and trusty fishing partner Stephen “Bubba” Vateto. We hit the North Fork of the Elk, more so out of a desperate need to cast a line and an inability to wait until more sensible anglers typically venture into the river. We managed to hook one fish but quickly executed an LDR. For the unenlightened, an LDR is a Long Distance Release. In appearance it’s almost identical to “the fish getting off” but I assure you it’s an advanced skill carried out by only the most seasoned professionals. A few of you may buy into my advanced techniques, and for you I’ve got a great line on a population of yellowfin tuna in Steamboat Lake that readily take a size 14 dry fly. Yes, after a couple hours of searching for trout it felt a bit like returning with our collective tails between our legs; though, what’s that cliché saying? …A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work? Well, I guess for us a bad day of fishing is a bad day of work; which, when I think about it, sounds like a decent line of work. Okay, sob story complete! Now, take heart my friends for this too shall pass. Yes, the rivers which now gorge themselves on this spring snowmelt will surely return to their former splendor and these last few weeks of longing and heartache will give way to yet another season of fantastic sport on the water!
While we await the ebb of the roaring rivers we’ll likely focus our preseason efforts on some nearby lakes, which are rapidly shedding their ice. The narrow tail waters of Willow Creek below Hahn’s Peak Lake and Steamboat Lake seem to be shaping up quite nicely, as well. An exciting addition this year to the VVR fishing program are float tubes (AKA belly boats) which will allow much greater access on and around the lakes that we often fish (think fancy inner-tubes complete with seats, armrests and drink holders). We think it’ll be a fantastic way to enjoy a day on the water!
Well, I suppose that’s about all for now. On behalf of Bubba and the rest of the VVR staff, we can’t wait for you to get out here! Whether it’s your first time visiting us for a family vacation in the coming months, or you are waiting out our adult only vacation times in September, or your return to what we hope feels like home, we anxiously await your arrival!
Date: April 11th, 2013
Well, there’s no doubt that spring is here at Vista Verde; the snow is making its rapid retreat, green grass is beginning to emerge and birds’ songs are punctuating the warming air. Yes, aside from the random spring snow squall, all signs point toward the end of winter. For me, however, nothing marks spring’s arrival like the disappearance of ice on the Elk River and trout feeding hungrily on emerging flies.
For those of you whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this past season, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Brandon Martin and I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to serve as manager of the fly fishing program here at Vista Verde Ranch. Some of you coming this summer may be looking for a bit of variety during your dude ranch vacation, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season and the opportunity to spend time on the water with you!
I jumped on the chance to take the afternoon on Monday to get a little fishing in now that the Elk River is running freely and the water level has not yet risen from the inevitable snow melt that will occur high in the Zirkel Range in the upcoming weeks. It may be true that I still have some tackle orders to complete, some flies to tie and some projects to finish up around the ranch but the sun was shining, the water was running clear and my opportunistic spirit bet on the fish being hungry. I justified and rationalized this as a “scouting trip” to get a jump on the springtime fishing; you know, part of the job that somebody has to do.
The afternoon started just across the road from the ranch where the Elk River parallels Seedhouse Road. Access only required a short trudge through some remnant snow before stepping into the cold rushing water. There’s always a moment of calming relief after entering 37-degree water and realizing that your waders haven’t formed any leaks since their last use. I spent several minutes first doing a little in-stream investigation to determine what the fish might be dining on now that their metabolic rates are on the rise with the warming temps. After examining some rocks from beneath the current it was clear to see that small stonefly nymphs were abundant and were likely on the trout’s menu. This is great news for both the feeding trout and the angler attempting to fool them. However, when I put myself in the stoneflies’ shoes it seems altogether like bad news. But alas, I’m here to fish and stoneflies don’t wear shoes, anyway. Earlier I had tied up some imitations that I hoped would be passable and made my first casts into tight pockets where I presumed trout would be holding in the slower water behind some of the large rocks that give the Elk its wild and tumbling character. An up-close and tight line technique proved to be just the trick as my first two fish came to the net within ten minutes, or so.
The first, a small rainbow still sporting adolescent par marks and the second a healthy cutthroat that put up a surprisingly sporty fight for having just recently shaken off the winter blues. While the rate of success didn’t quite hold up throughout the afternoon, I did manage to land a couple more – both rainbows – before getting off the river under the threat of an advancing storm. Before making my way up the bank and back to my truck I stopped to clip off my flies – the true unsung heroes of any successful outing – and took a minute to take in my surroundings. The low and static roar of the tumbling water, the faint smell of pine, the majestic view of white mountains heaving skyward and the way that energy courses through the air as the land awakens from its winter slumber all served to remind me of my fortune in where I call home and what I call “my job”.
So here’s to new beginnings and what I know will be a season full of good times and lasting memories made with some of the finest folks we’re honored to call “our guests”. Until next time, take care and come see us soon, or check out our fly fishing information as you dream of your next vacation.