Author: Isaac Ness

Spring for Fly Fishing Guides

It’s funny that I’m writing about spring fishing right now as snow is falling here in Clark. With about 5 feet on the ground, and no end in sight, I’m starting to wonder about the remaining existence of any of the fences on the ranch. It’s starting to seem like spring might never actually happen. However, as unlikely as it seems right now, it is EVENTUALLY going to happen… I mean it has to by at least July, right? Ok now I’m just being pessimistic. Really, we should be thankful for the abundance (what some may call OVER abundance) of snow we have received this winter.

Snow is one of those weird things that as an angler you wish to have, and simultaneously not have. As in, I want us to have 400 inches of it sitting in the mountains, ready to feed our rivers all summer; I just don’t want it to fall on any of the days I want to go fishing, which just happens to be every day. That’s not too much to ask for right? Since I have yet to hear about 400 inches falling overnight in any one place, and since I don’t know about any great trout rivers that exist without winter snowfall, I guess I’ll just put up with shoveling my deck every morning for now. Sigh.

When all this snow finally starts melting, it creates a phenomenon that anybody who lives in the west knows as run off, and any fishing guide who lives in the west knows as fly tying and beer drinking season. Ok, really, it’s just beer drinking season, but I felt that I should include the first part because the two seem correlated, at least inversely. The more and more empty my fridge gets, the more and more full my fly boxes get. It’s the craziest thing, but other guides that I’ve asked about it have confirmed that they have experienced the same strange relationship between the two. So, I think it’s at least worth acknowledging.

Anyways, while I’m busy squinting at practically microscopic hooks, the nearly 400 inches of snow that we DIDN’T get all at once is going to melt at a much faster rate than it fell. This will effectively turn our crystal clear, mountain trout stream into a raging torrent of chocolate milk for the next, oh, let’s say 300 flies or so. During that time, our beautiful winter wonderland will go through a not so beautiful transition into what you know of it in the early summer, green pastures and wildflowers. Like if a butterfly somehow became a caterpillar then morphed back into a butterfly–ok bad analogy. After the dust has settled and we’re back into butterfly mode then I should have fly boxes bursting at the seams alongside a mild case of carpal tunnel. If everything goes as planned, the only contents left in my fridge by then will be condiments, and the trout in the again clear mountain stream will be biting.

Until then, bring on the melt. – September 2018

‘Tis the season for planning winter honeymoons and romantic getaways, and the folks at must be thinking the same thing as they put together an article about Romantic Colorado Cabins Perfect for Honeymoons and included Vista Verde as an option for either a honeymoon or romantic getaway in Colorado.  Cue the snow and read the article….

What a low water year has taught me

With last year’s lower than average snowpack and a serious lack of rain this summer we’ve been left with lower than average water levels and higher than average temps. For us anglers this has meant more challenging fishing conditions. The higher stream temperatures make the fish more stressed. This means not only are they eating less, but being caught and released can create just enough additional stress that they die. With that in mind we have been fishing a lot more of the smaller tributaries that feed in to the main river, where the water is much cooler due to it being closer to the snowmelt and springs that it originates from.

Smaller water usually means smaller fish which is something that a lot of people, myself previously included, aren’t exactly hoping for when they go fishing. Most people if given a choice would tell you they’d rather go try to catch bigger fish if there’s an option, and I’ve spent much of my time angling with the same mindset. Catch the most fish and the biggest fish you can has always been the goal.  Not having the option to do that as often has made me so much more appreciative of the simple act of going fishing, and has helped me rediscover why I fish and what it means to give a guest a great experience on the river.

Now instead of judging my day in a number of fish caught, I’m judging my days in how few other people I see. The way they ate the fly and the colors of the fish have replaced the idea of catching a trophy fish of a certain size. As a result, crystal clear, remote mountain streams have replaced more crowded stretches of tinted water. Though my days have been filled with smaller brookies rather than large brown trout, I’ve started to enjoy my time fishing more than ever.

It’s great to get back to what fishing is all about, stepping into a piece of water and feeling the world melt away as I’m surrounded by wilderness. Enjoying the simple act of interacting with an ecosystem and becoming a part of it. Slowing down and taking the time to watch as the natural world unfolds before your eyes.  And it’s been great to share that enjoyment with the guests I guide here at the ranch.

No matter what conditions we experience next year, you can find me on the most remote stretch of river I can find, enjoying the simple act of trying to convince a trout to eat a fly.

Fishing Report September 9-15

Flows: very low and clear
Hatches: Trico’s, BWO’s, Midges, October caddis, Terrestrials
Water temps: 50-60
Hot flies: Pheasant tail, Hares ear, Baetis, Flashback midge, RS2, stimulators, Pats rubber legs, Elk hair caddis, Parachute adams, Foam hoppers, san jaun worm, foamulators, parachute madam X, juju baetis, zebra midge,
Fishing has been good despite low flows and high temps. There are a good amount of whitefish around and some good trout mixed in with them. Lots of smaller streams have been fishing well.

Fishing Report- July 29-August 6

From the VVR fly shop, here’s the fishing report for July 31- August 6

Flows: very low and clear
Hatches: Caddis, Yellow sallies, tiny green stones, Golden stones
Water temps: 58-68
Hot flies: Pheasant tail, Hares ear, Baetis, Flashback midge, RS2, stimulators, Pats rubber legs, Elk hair caddis, Parachute adams, Foam hoppers, san jaun worm, foamulators, parachute madam X
Fishing has been good despite low flows and high temps. There are a good amount of whitefish around and some good trout mixed in with them. Lots of smaller streams have been fishing well.

Fishing Report- July 15-22

Are you looking to come on a fishing trip to Colorado?  Well, even if you’re not staying at the ranch, here are some tips from our guides on how the waters around Vista Verde are fishing.

Flows: low and clear
Hatches: Caddis, PMD’s, Flavs, yellow sallies, midges, hoppers
Water temps: 55-65
Hot flies: pheasant tail nymphs, baetis nymphs, flash back midge, hares ears, elk hair caddis, parachute adams, Hoppers, amys ant, stimulators, copper johns, foam terrestrials
Fishing has been good, the main stem of the elk, in addition to its forks have been fishing well.

Stream Report July 1-8

Fishing report: July 1-8
Flows: Normal and very clear
Hatches: Caddis, Mahogany duns, Yellow sallies, tiny green stones, Golden stones, March browns
Water temps: 52-62
Hot flies: Pheasant tail, Hares ear, Baetis, Flashback midge, RS2, stimulators, Pats rubber legs, Elk hair caddis, Parachute adams, Foam hoppers,
Fishing is heating up here along with the temps. Flows are very normal and fish are being found throughout the river. Both nymphing deep in the bigger pools and a hopper dropper rig in the shallower water have been producing fish.

advice from your fly fishing guide

So, you loved your fly fishing vacation, and now you’re ready to shop for a rod?

If you’re looking to purchase your first fly rod, you’ll likely be met with a question very early on; What weight rod do you want? Answering something like “ I don’t know, a light one”, might earn you a few laughs from the guy behind the counter, but it won’t get you very far. Fly rods, like golf clubs, have a plethora of different sizes or “weights” that are all meant to do different jobs. Unfortunately, there’s no one rod that does it all, and if you’re looking to pursue more than one type of fish, or fish in a large variety of ways, you may be looking at buying a few different rods. But let’s focus on your first rod.

Fly rods care classified in sizes ranging from 0 to 15. Smaller weight means a thinner, more delicate rod, while something like a 15 weight may feel more like a broomstick than a precision instrument. All of these rods are designed perfectly for different jobs, unfortunately there is no one weight that’s perfect for everything (this is how we can justify buying that 27th rod that we need to have.) We can however, often get away with using one weight for a variety of different jobs.

In addition to each rod’s weight, it also has a specific type of action. The action of a fly rod is essentially how noodly or stiff that certain size is. It is measured on a scale of slow to fast. A slow action rod will feel very noodly and will bend very deeply into the rod while casting. A fast action rod will feel very stiff and only bend closer to the tip. While both of these actions of the same weight will have the same strength, they each have pros and cons. A slower action rod will be less accurate casting but is often less likely to break and will be more forgiving when playing a fish. Faster action rods are more accurate, have better feel, and can be easier to cast for some, but they are more likely to break and don’t absorb as much of the shock when fighting a fish. Despite these differences, rod action is ultimately a personal preference; there’s not a right or wrong answer. So, Isaac, just tell me what rod to buy is likely what you’re thinking right now!

The first thing to ask yourself is what type of fish you plan to spend the most time going after. Rod weights 0-3 are great for pan fish or very small trout, fish weighing up to a pound or two. Weights between 4 and 6 are very versatile; they could work well for trout, bass, walleye, carp, and fish weighing from one to 6 pounds. Weights 7-10 are great for bigger or stronger fish, redfish, pike/musky, bonefish, permit, salmon, pretty much anything between 5 and 20 lbs. if you are looking to pursue a fish that could probably eat a small child or the annoying neighbor’s pet, you’ll be looking at 10 weights and above. Fish size is your primary factor in choosing your fly rod’s weight, however, what type of flies your casting is important as well.

Fly consideration is really the fine-tuning in selecting your first rod. A smaller rod is going to have a hard time throwing a bigger fly. A bigger rod is going to present a small fly about as gracefully as a fishing guide doing the two-step (excluding Miller). If you plan on fishing small flies (one inch or less) for trout and bass, a 5 weight will probably be your best bet. If you plan on fishing flies bigger than an inch, for primarily bass and maybe some trout, you’ll probably want a 6 weight.

Overall, I would suggest if you’re looking for a fly rod for trout, get a 9 foot, 5 weight, fast action rod. It will handle 90% of the trout fishing situations you encounter and will be terrific to learn on.

If you plan to primarily fly fish for bass, get a 9 foot, 6 weight, fast action rod.

If you’re looking for a more specialized fishing pursuit such as saltwater or very small freshwater fish, consult with a local fly shop for a local, expert opinion.

No matter what you are pursuing, don’t buy a high-end rod for your first, you’re likely to break it in your first few years, and its quality won’t be appreciated until you’re more experienced. The entry-level rods available today are incredible compared to what fly rods were only a decade ago, and they will more than serve your purpose.

Stream Report June 15

For you avid anglers, we’re trying to keep you up to date on how the fishing conditions are each week at the ranch.

Flows: water is clearing up, Elk is lowering big time – still fast, but it is getting fishable very soon

Hatches: Blue Wing Olives, Stoneflies, Green Drake mayflies, Pale Morning Dun mayflies, Caddis flies

Water Temp: Morning – 45-55 degrees; afternoon – 55-65 degrees

Hot Flies: san juan worms, pats rubber legs stonefly, beadhead hares ear, pheasant tails, flashback midges, RS2 flies

See you on the river!

Leaving dude ranch life behind to fish the Green River

Set the hook” I heard Zach yell from upstream, “that’s a monster”. I looked up and saw Cholly tight on what was either a log floating downstream or a large green river rainbow trout. As it turned I saw that the latter was true. Zach stood just down stream from him, net in hand. You don’t land a fish like that without a friend. The look on Cholly’s face was pure focus. Any Angler knows that a big fish has a way of pulling a Houdini escape, given the slightest lapse of attention. As the fish came closer I could see the brilliant red, olive, and white coloration along its side. “I’m not going to try netting it until it’s completely tired” Zach said. Cholly did his best to steer the fish into the shallow slow water, despite the fish’s attempts to run out in the fast current. Finally the fish started to tire. The first chance he came close Zach scooped him up in one smooth motion. “Whoo!” cue the handshakes and high fives.

As I came up river to get a better look at the catch, I could see smiles from ear to ear on both their faces. Its not everyday you get to interact with a wild fish of this caliber and it has a way of making the rest of the world melt away. Even from a distance I could sense how special the moment was for Cholly. A busy work schedule and family life have a way of reducing time spent fishing, so each opportunity for him is that much more cherished. After a few quick pictures the fish slipped back into the turquoise depths of the pristine river. Despite being a fantastic chef (as many of you know) Cholly is also an avid conservationist, and would rather allow a fish to swim free for others to enjoy, than cook it for dinner. I couldn’t help but feeling content with my own day.

We had driven out the day before and despite the only directions being “turn left 5 miles from the Utah border” everyone had found the unmarked camp site. The group consisted of HR manager Zach, chefs Cholly and Jason (pictured here with me), adventure center manager Ben, former dining room manager Bubba, Steph’s husband Todd, Home Ranch chef Jonathan, and myself. The weekend was going to be one of our last chances to all camp and spend time together before the season picked up, and free-time no longer aligned. More importantly, it was our chance to celebrate Cholly and Todd’s birthdays. The campsite was one Cholly had been staying at for nearly 20 years and it was obviously special to him. The site was a hidden gem surrounded by cottonwoods right on the banks of the magnificent green river, an oasis in the middle of the Utah desert. Each night the cool river air carried the smell of sage through the valley. The soft sound of the river flowing by was occasionally disturbed by the honking of geese, searching for a mate. The setting sun lit the whole valley on fire as we cooked. Camping with three chefs guarantees camp food that could be served in a 5-star restaurant. Add in great fishing, perfect weather, and good friends–you can’t go wrong.

After each meal we sat around the crackling fire, watching the smoke rise into the dry desert air. We talked and laughed about our day on the water, recounting the fish that we had fooled and the ones that had gotten the better of us. After discussing our plans for the next day, the conversation usually shifted more philosophical (Put any passionate group of outdoorsmen around a fire and its bound to happen). We listened as Cholly told us some of his favorite memories from his 50 years on earth. They ranged from great meals to weeklong rafting trips through the Grand Canyon. Todd Wilson recounted his days as an Olympic ski jumper, travelling and competing. One common theme was that most of their stories involved time spent with family. Spending time with such incredible people has a way of putting things in perspective. As the flames receded into glowing coals I found myself trying to absorb as much of what they were saying as I could.

Leaving was hard. As we drove away I tried to remember as much as I could about every detail. All the jokes, the great meals, and the ultra selective green river trout. I thought about the upcoming season at the ranch and all the new staff members we were about to meet. I know that this core group is going to be there to lead and mentor them, I know as long as they’re at Vista Verde the community’s values are safe. I feel honored to be a part of that group. I know one thing for sure; we will all be back to fish the Green River again.

Fishing Report June 3-10, 2018

Spring fishing report: June 3-9
Flows: high and dirty in the rivers, receding quickly.
Hatches: blue wing olives, golden stones, green drakes, pale morning duns, grannom caddis, march browns
Water temps: 45-55
Hot flies: san juan worm, pats rubber legs, pheasant tail nymphs, baetis nymphs, flash back midge, large hares ears, elk hair caddis, parachute adams
Fishing has been good, small creeks are starting to fish well. The elk is still high but is dropping quickly; all of the lakes have been fishing well.

spring fly fishing in Colorado

The Fly: Spring Fly Fishing in Northwest Colorado

“Miller! Miller! I need a hand with this one,” I yelled. My rod was doubled over. I knew I had the fish hooked on a size 12 San Juan worm, a good sized hook. Still its funny how a large fish in fast water tends to make you question the strength of your line or how well you tied your knots. Better play this one safe. I started following the brute downstream. I could feel the fish shaking his head to get the fly out. He ran for a submerged bush across the river. I put tension sideways to pull him away. Just then, Miller came busting through the willows. “Whatchya got man?” he asked. “Not sure yet, I think a big rainbow” I replied. All of a sudden all 18” of brilliantly colored red and olive fury went airborne and gave us the middle fin as he spit the hook. I saw him splash down and felt my line go slack. I picked my jaw up off the ground and looked at Miller… whhhaaat? As I reeled my line up, Miller said something along the lines of “Sorry bud, you’ll get the next one”.

I looked out across the lush, green meadow. A cool breeze blew by my face. In the background stood magnificent Hahn’s peak, still tipped in white snow. Birds chirped as they searched the moist ground for insects and worms; the fresh smell of spring filled my lungs as the warm sun brought everything to life. Zach, Miller, and myself had been planning and tying flies for this all week, well, actually; we had been talking about these conditions all winter. When the smaller no name creeks come back to life all the townies mope and drink beer while the bigger rivers are blown out from snow melt. For us however, this is as good as it gets. The murky water hides large, hungry trout ready to eat anything that looks remotely like food. Getting them to eat is one thing, landing them is another story. Despite missing the big one I couldn’t be mad. It’s all part of the experience.

Spring is one of my favorite times to fish in Colorado. Maybe because I’ve spent the entire winter going slowly crazy as the rivers are iced over but I want to believe it’s for other reasons as well. Spring can offer a diversity of fishing experiences. In addition to the unique smaller creek fishing, this time of year can be some of the best stillwater fishing. After the ice melts on the lake, fish move towards the shallows to feed. Typically a roll cast of no more than 15’ is required and the fish are willing to try any type of fly that comes their way. Add in some vibrant post spawning colors and you’d be hard pressed to have a bad time. Spring stillwater lake fishing is a great opportunity for beginning anglers who want to experience some success without the challenges of fishing moving water. Whether you are a total novice who wants to learn the ropes or an advanced angler who has fished all over the globe, spring offers something for everyone.

colorado fly fishing news

So, you fish for flies?

We have a new guest blogger!  Isaac Ness, who runs our fly fishing program has agreed to pick up the reins of the category of our blog dedicated to anglers.  I say dedicated, but it’s been a bit quiet for a while, so we’re excited to start getting some fly fishing content up again.  For those of you who have been to the ranch in the past several years, you know Isaac is a bit single minded and has the ability to turn every conversation to revolve around fishing.  I guess that means he’s in the correct role here at the ranch.  With no further ado, I give you Isaac’s intro to fly fishing….more to come soon with tidbits for the novice angler to those who dream of big trout!

So you think you want to try fly fishing? That’s that thing from “A River Runs Through It” right? Sure, we’ve all seen the movie but what really is fly fishing? What makes it different from fishing with a “normal” (conventional) fishing rod? Honestly, probably not as much as you think. I’ve heard the definition of fishing as a jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other. This definitely applies to fly fishing as well as conventional fishing. What really sets it apart is the type of line and the lures or flies used.

When you break it down, line is the biggest difference. With a conventional rod, the lure or bait on the end has weight to it. When it’s casted, that weight pulls the nearly weightless line off the reel. This is a great way to be able to whip your lure nearly half way across the lake. The down side is that we need a lure that has enough weight to pull our line off, meaning that when it lands there’s going to be a splash like a fat kid cannonballing off a diving board. We might not get too many bites after that. It also means we can’t cast anything that’s small or light enough to float on the surface.

With fly fishing, we’re generally trying to imitate the food trout eat. Which often is bugs so small you must squint with your reading glasses on to see them at all. Realistic imitations of these bugs would be hard to throw on a conventional rod because they wouldn’t have enough weight to pull out your line. Fly fishing solves this problem by using a weighted line that pulls your weightless lure or fly out to where the fish are. This system accounts for the different cast you saw brad pit doing in “A River Runs Through It” where the line goes back and forth through the air like he’s Harry Potter trying to cast a spell. While this method doesn’t get our flies or lures out quite as far, it results in a more delicate presentation and more accurate cast (once the technique is mastered). But where does the “fly” part come in?

The other part to this story, and one of the hallmarks of fly fishing, is the use of artificial lures called flies. The name comes from traditional anglers imitating an insect called a mayfly that lives in and around streams. Today flies can be any artificial imitation of a fish’s diet that is tied with thread onto a hook. Most of them are imitations of various bugs that trout eat, but they could represent anything. I’ve even seen a fly tied like a cigarette butt. The fish that take that bait obviously haven’t read the surgeon general’s warnings! Some people have even tied flies that don’t end up looking like anything besides a hunk of fur on a hook despite their best efforts (we all have a few flies that match that description). One key feature to all flies is that they’re light enough to be cast by our weighted line. Because flies are so light they can be presented very delicately and quietly to fish. The down side to a lighter fly however, is a heck of a time trying to get them to go down deep in the water. Ever try diving with a lifejacket on? Parallels could be drawn. These Factors make fly fishing very effective for targeting shallow water fish.

Ultimately fly fishing is just another way to present your lure to a fish. Lots of people have gotten caught up in this purist mentality that they’re somehow better than the guy throwing a night crawler under a bobber. Everyone must decide for themselves how they want to fish. If you’re trying to catch bottom feeding fish in 200 feet of water, fly fishing may not be for you. If you want to catch a skittish trout in a crystal-clear mountain stream, fly fishing is probably your best chance. But just remember, however we choose to fish, we’re all just a jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other.