The Fly- for those who love to fly fish

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.

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.

Fly Fishing Report for Vista Verde Ranch

Fishing report: August 19-26
Flows: very low and clear
Hatches: Caddis, mahogany duns, terrestrials, starting to see some BWO nymphs
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
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.

Meet VVR Fishing Guide Andrew

As this is my first season here at Vista Verde many of you may not know me yet, so I will start by introducing myself. My name is Andrew Behrend, and until just over two months ago I have lived most of my life in Michigan. I was born and raised in southeastern Michigan, in the metro Detroit area. If you haven’t spent any time in the state you may not know it, but Michigan is absolutely littered with fantastic fishing statewide. From trout fishing pristine rivers, to trolling at depths of 100ft or more in Lake Michigan for salmon, and much more in between, Michigan offers an incredibly diverse fishery. As far back as I can remember I have been exploring all that Michigan has to offer with a fishing rod in my hand. As I entered my teenage years I was introduced to fly fishing and have not looked back since. As some of you may know, it can become an addiction and no matter what you do, the desire cannot be satisfied.

In the spring of 2014 I took a leap of faith and decided to take my passion and attempt to turn it into a career. That spring I started working for Boyne Outfitters located in Boyne Falls in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula. That job only fueled the fire, and drove me to spend every waking second eating and breathing fly fishing. After a great four years guiding in Michigan I decided that it was time to expand my skills and knowledge by guiding elsewhere in the county, on waters that were completely foreign to me. So here I am now, two months into guiding for Vista Verde.
I knew that fishing the waters of northern Michigan would vary greatly from the mountain streams of northern Colorado, which is exactly why I moved. Wherever they are found, trout are trout, and generally behave the same. However the types of water that they are found in can vary greatly. The rivers that I was used to fishing in MI are a much lower gradient than the rivers here in the Steamboat area, as they are not flowing down out of mountains. This also means that on those rivers you do not have to deal with a significant spring runoff event as well. When it comes to river structure, the streams in northern MI are generally a sand or fine gravel bottom with a ton of wood structure. Common areas to target for fish are slower, deep bend pools and log jams. The high gradient mountain streams in CO have quite a different make up. Rather than the sand and fine gravel, these river bottoms are made up of medium to large size rocks and littered with large boulders throughout. The water is moving much quicker, and overall a bit shallower. Instead of looking for that big deep pool to target, you are looking for any piece of river that has deeper water than everything else around it. Any any large rock or boulder that creates a soft spot in the current is a perfect spot for a trout to sit, and wait for food to come floating by. Compared to MI, here in CO we are generally fishing more pocket water, which is an area within the river where a large rock or boulder disrupts the general flow of the water, with shorter drifts and casts.

When it comes to techniques used for catching these fish in CO, it is very similar to MI; however certain techniques are focused on more heavily in each place. From my experiences in MI, there is a heavy focus placed on dry fly fishing. I believe there are a multitude of factors that play into that. For one, there are incredible and very prolific mayfly hatches that occur for most of the summer season. There is usually a steady diet of bugs available on the rivers surface. It is true that the majority of a trout’s diet is consumed sub-surface, but the style and flow of the rivers in MI set themselves up nicely for presenting a dry fly to a fish. The amount of wood on the river bottoms in MI, makes it very difficult to fish nymph rigs. To be effective nymphing you generally need to fish your flies just off the bottom of the river. Nymphing is not impossible, but it becomes very difficult to do so when the river bottom is scattered with deadfall. Here in CO there is a big emphasis on nymphing. With the rivers bottoms being mostly rock, drifting a nymph rig just along the bottom of the river is very effective, since the fish seem to be sitting as deep as possible, in order to stay out of the fast current above. Getting a nymph rig right down to where these fish are sitting is often more effective than making them actively move to eat a fly. Now don’t get me wrong, I have still been dry fly fishing out here in CO as well. In my experience you just have to find the appropriate water on which to do it. It is hard for a fish to decide to eat a fly off of the surface in very fast moving water. But if you can find slower pockets and pools, you can still tempt them to the surface. I have found however, that you do not need to be quite as specific matching your flies to the natural bugs that are present. With the generally faster moving water, the fish do not seem to have as much time to decide if the fly is real or not, and must make a very quick decision. A good presentation is what really seems to be the key to catching fish.

When it comes to the type of trout that are being targeted, it is pretty much the same in both MI and CO with only a few differences. In MI the main focus was usually placed on fishing for brown trout. Brook trout are also very prevalent as well as resident rainbow trout. Here in CO browns, brookies, and rainbows are also present with the addition of cutthroat trout, and rocky mountain whitefish. So far there seems to be a heavy emphasis on rainbow trout here in CO, as they seem to be the most prevalent species in our area. As you move upstream on the Elk River and into its forks, the brook trout become most common, and can fill your day with tight lines and dry fly eats. I have not personally caught a large number of brown trout yet here in CO, but most of those that I have caught have been quality fish. Cutthroat trout are a nice surprise to here, as their numbers are not as great as they once were. Personally I have only caught one myself so far, and I was very elated to do so.

Like I mentioned earlier, when it comes down to it, trout fishing is trout fishing, wherever you may be. In order to be successful, you really have to be observant to the environment that you are in, and adjust to the changes you find in the river, and where trout are likely to be holding. It has been awesome to be in a new place, learning new waters, and continuing to build my skills as a guide and an angler. No matter where you are fishing, there is always something new to learn, or something that you can improve at. That is exactly why I decided to make the move here to Vista Verde and CO, and I have not been disappointed. The area itself is incredible and the fishing is amazing. Every day I’m learning more and more, and plan to continue to do so. If you ever find yourself complacent in your angling pursuits, and feel like you have figured it all out then you are truly not pushing yourself as an angler. Whether you are on your home waters, or somewhere completely foreign, there is always more to learn and something else to figure out. You just have to push yourself to be willing to do it.

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!

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.

What Kind Of Fish Is That?!?!

When it comes to fish, there are a multitude of species that can be targeted with a fly rod. There are species all over the world that will readily and eagerly go after flies. In Colorado, many species of fish are available to target, however trout seem to be the most popular. People travel from around the world to fish in Colorado to take advantage of the incredible trout fishing and water spread throughout the state.

At Vista Verde, we have an opportunity to fish on the Elk River as well as other rivers around the area. In the Elk, you will find trout and a native fish to the area called Whitefish. Both of these species are extremely fun to catch.  A popular question that fishing guides are asked on the river is, “What kind of trout is that?” or “what kind of fish is that?” This blog post is here to clear up any confusion and is here to help those who would like to go out for a day of fishing and know what they’re catching.

Rainbow Trout: 
Rainbow trout are native to the cold water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in the United States and also parts of Northern Russia along the Pacific Ocean. These fish have been stocked in numerous countries around the globe. You can identify rainbow trout because of their red/pink stripe along the sides of their bodies. Other identifiers are red/pink gill plates, small black spots covering their bodies, and their silver body color. Rainbows are some of the most beautiful fish out there.

Cutthroat Trout:
Cutthroat trout are native to the cold water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean, Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Great Basin area of the United States. The reason they are called “Cutthroats” is because of the red/orange coloration under the lower jaw of their mouths. Other identifiers are reddish colored gill plates and lower body fins, green/yellowish colored bodies, and small black spots over their bodies–but most spots are
concentrated towards their tails. Colorado’s state fish is the Greenback Cutthroat which is endangered.

Cutbow Trout:
Cutbow trout are a hybrid trout containing rainbow and cutthroat genetics. This hybridization can occur naturally if there are rainbows and cutthroats in the same water system. Cutbows are hard to identify because they look extremely similar to rainbows, but they have red/orange coloration under their jaws just like cutthroats. Cutbow trout are immune to certain diseases that other trout aren’t so they are able to survive in prevalent numbers in many rivers.

Brown Trout:
Brown trout hail from Europe. They were stocked in the United States around the late 1800s. These stocking efforts used brown trout taken from Scotland and Germany. Many people will refer to brown trout as “German Browns” for this reason. You can identify brown trout by their dark yellowish/golden color, and red and small black spots on their bodies. Brown trout can be very aggressive when it comes to eating flies. They
can make for an extremely fun day of fishing on the river.

Brook Trout:
Brook trout are native to the Eastern United States and Canada. Today natives can be found along rivers in the Appalachian Mountains. You will often hear brook trout referred to as “brookies”, not to be mistaken with the cookie/brownie combo. They are identified by their dark green body, a lighter marbled pattern within the green, red spots all throughout their body, with blue halos around the spots. Their belly and lower fins are reddish in color with white edges on each fin. They are very eager to take well presented flies.

Whitefish are native to northern parts of the Northern Hemipshere. There is a good population size throughout the Yampa and Elk rivers in Steamboat and Clark.  They readily take flies and are very fun to fight and catch. They are identified by their silver/shiny bodies and extremely small mouths.

Let’s go catch some fish!

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.

The Fly: Enjoying a family fishing vacation

This week we welcome guest blogger Jon Sutton from Outdoor Empire, which is a great website for fishing and hunting enthusiasts.

Most people associate dude ranches in Colorado with riding horses, campfires, and beautiful vistas. But that’s only the start of the story at Vista Verde Ranch: Summers at Vista Verde offer a litany of outdoor recreational opportunities, including paddle boarding, yoga, mountain biking and hiking.

And while these activities are all great ways to enjoy the great outdoors alongside your family, if you ask our fly fishing guides they’ll say fishing may very well be the most fun. Fishing allows you to teach your child a variety of life lessons, and you’ll have a blast while doing so. Most kids love to learn how to fish, even if they normally prefer sitting inside playing video games and watching TV.

However, to make the most of your day on the water, you’ll have to follow a few key tips to maximize your fun and success on the water. Five of the most important things to remember include the following:
1. Select a good location. There are a number of lakes within a few minutes of Vista Verde, many of which offer great opportunities for your kids to learn how to fish. Hahn’s Peak Lake, Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake are three of the most popular local fishing holes, and they are full of various trout species and grayling. There are also a number of local mountain streams and rivers in our area, but it will be easier for your kids to fish in still, rather than moving, water.
2. Teach your kids to use simple fishing equipment at the outset. Most adults who venture to Vista Verde love to get out with our fly fishing guides and see if they can tempt a trout with a delicate fly. However, fly fishing on a river is a bit too difficult for very young kids (most kids will struggle to wield a fly rod until they reach 10 to 12 years of age). Instead, the ranch guides will take families to a lake and help simplify the activity as much as needed—typically with favorable results.
3. Prepare for the weather. You want to keep your kids comfortable to ensure they have the best possible time while fishing, and this means making sure they are dressed for the weather. Summer temperatures high in the Rocky Mountains never reach unbearable levels, but you’ll want to wear lightweight clothing to stay comfortable. Additionally, the sun’s rays can be rather strong this high above sea level, so make sure you bring hats, sunglasses and sunscreen for everyone.
4. Allow your kids to take plenty of breaks. Kids often become bored after fishing for a half-hour or so – particularly if they aren’t catching anything. So, you’ll want to allow them to take little breaks to keep their interest level high. After allowing your youngsters to explore the shoreline, go for a brief nature walk or simply run and play with their siblings, you’ll likely notice they regain their interest and want to start fishing again.
5. Always pass off your rod if you hook a fish. Let’s face it: You are more likely to hook a fish than your kids are, and reeling in the catch is the most enjoyable part of fishing. So, you’ll want to pass off your rod to one of your youngsters once you hook something (be sure you have a good hookset first), and allow him or her to reel in the fish. And always allow your kid to take full credit for the catch – even if you did the hard part.
If you’d like to learn more about introducing your children to fish, check out Outdoor Empire’s comprehensive review of the subject. There, you will learn more about the equipment and techniques that will give your youngsters the best chance to enjoy a day of fishing with you!

Getting Buggy

By Goose

Bugs, bugs, bugs, we love scotch, wait I mean bugs.  The opening of the ranch, or as I call it the fly fishing ranch went pretty much as usual. Junior and I spent our best pre-season hours pulling last fall’s leafs out of the pond.  Now this may sound like a boring task, but to Isaac and me this is almost as much fun as fishing.  At any given time during that time you would have seen one of us digging though a pile of half decomposed leafs, with a big smile.  While new staff members looked at us like we had some serious issues, in our defense we are not crazy.  Ok that part is still open to debate. Whatever–bugs rule our world.  Why?  No bugs = no trout.  The amount of aquatic life in our little pond was overwhelmingly exciting.  Note to self; not everyone is excited to see a leach, and I next year I probably shouldn’t take them into the Great Room.

We found leaches by the pound, enough scuds to feed a small army, damsels, dragon flies, and several bugs yet to be identified. We did accomplish our ultimate goal.  Yes we have goals other than hooking bucket-loads of fish on the line (although that one is at the top of the list).  I had heard about a specific bug–a bug I had never seen.  And we found one, actually we found two.  So at this time I would like to announce the fly shops pet and new mascot King George.  George is a mammoth diving beetle, and he is cooler than a polar bear’s toe nails.  They are considered to have one of the most painful insect bites, and have been known to chew through aluminum cans.  They feed on snakes, frogs, fish, well anything that gets too close.  As mentioned earlier we had two, but King George got hungry.  Finding George went something like this, “We #%!@#&! found one!”  A nanosecond of a fishing guide victory dance, and then we began the domestication process.  We built him a habitat and started to work on basic commands like sit and stay, but he seems rather independent.  So, at this point, he just spends his idle time floating around in a jar, watching our anglers come and go throughout the day.  Because every fly shop needs a pet mammoth diving beetle, and now we have King George.

Well the sun is out, the birds are chirping, who am I trying to fool–we all know that I have other priorities than writing a blog for Steph.  The fish are eating I gotta go. Peace, love and bent rods.

Goose Out

What’s a Trout to do?

By Brandon

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!

Summer fly-fishing adventures

By Brandon

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.

June Fly-Fishing report

 By Brandon

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!

Spring fishing in Colorado

By Brandon

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!

The Fly- the appearance of spring

By Brandon

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.