Sunday, October 25, 2009

Southern Utah trout, Part 1, May 2009

Utah is not always the first state that comes to mind for people that spend time fly fishing for trout. The Green and Provo rivers are well-known fisheries to the north, but much of the rest of the state receives little attention, at least from anglers outside of the region. This is especially true of southern Utah, which is more often associated with deserts and spectacular national parks, such as the towering sandstone cliff walls of Zion.

Even in the desert, springs and other pockets of water provide havens for wildflowers and other life, such as this vivid columbine, found not far from the image above.

The multicolored hoodoos and stone sculptures of Bryce Canyon are also deservedly well-known and evocative.

Regan and I traveled through this part of the country and explored some of these awe-inspiring landscapes. I would highly recommend taking some time out to appreciate these natural wonders, even to those in search of trout.

In fact, southern Utah contains a number of fine wild trout streams, and some of these even possess native cutthroat adapted to demanding desert conditions. One such destination is the East Fork of the Sevier River, which holds populations of Browns, Rainbows, and Bonneville cutthroat.

Here is a picture of a stretch through Kingston canyon, marked by scenic cliffs and surrounding ranchland. This part of the river is known to hold some large Brown trout, although the best fish I found on this visit was a Bonneville cutt, a trout native to Utah (and the state fish), as shown below.

Note the reddish purple ventral fins on this specimen--one of the identifying features of this subspecies. Somehow, even with competition from introduced Brown and Rainbow trout (and potential hybridization with the latter), some of these cutthroat persist, and by all appearances seem to still remain relatively pure-strain.

The best fishing on the East Fork occurred upstream, in a section called the Black Canyon. A state highway parallels this stretch, but it is still rugged, and characterized by frequent boulders, plunge pools, and at times treacherous wading and rock-hopping conditions. The water was running a bit high and off-color, and this seemed to invigorate the trout. I managed to catch numerous beautiful Browns, a few Bonneville cutthroat, and several cuttbows, primarily on #10 BH brown Girdle bugs, as stonefly nymphs were abundant in the healthy currents--prime spring fly fishing.

My wife Regan does not often fly fish (although she has the potential to be a very good angler), but she was determined to fish here, picked up the nymphing techniques quickly, and succeeded in hooking a number of trout, including this 12-13" Brown.

It was as much of a joy to watch her high stick the currents and find some willing fish as it was to fish myself. I consider myself fortunate indeed to have a partner that shares my love of the outdoors, accepts my passion (obsession) for fly fishing, and at times enjoys participating in the activity herself.

Here are some more photos from the East Fork of the Sevier, as the pictures can probably do more justice to describing the fine fishing than my words can. A scrappy 14" Brown is shown below, one of the first really good fish I caught here (anything over a foot seemed to be a nice one).

And here is a colorful, large male Bonneville cutthroat that I caught, a good 15", the best native and one of my favorites caught on this outing.

A close-up of the cutt's head is shown below, and the namesake bright orange throat slashes are evident.

The East Fork was filled with pocketwater through the Black Canyon, and each lie seemed to hold a hungry trout in the turbid water--fast and fun fishing.

A few more trout are pictured below, including a head shot of a 13" Brown.

One of the largest fish caught here was this 16" Brown, from a waist deep pool.

The Bonneville cutthroat were not overly abundant, but always a welcome surprise when caught. Another classic-looking specimen is pictured below, a good foot-long fish.

Yet another strong wild Brown, this one just under 16", poses with an open jaw and sharp teeth.

Here is a representative shot of canyon water, with plunge pools and pockets everywhere, one of my favorite types of water to cast a fly.

And finally, I included one last picture of Regan, holding a fine foot-long Brown, hooked through overhanging brush and considerable woody debris in a small pool (not an easy trout to fool, like most Browns). She played the fish quite expertly, managed to weave it through snag-filled structure, and then brought the fish to hand--success!

Plentiful and willing wild trout, good scenery, and sharing time along the stream with Regan--I couldn't have asked for much more from a great couple days of fly fishing.

A number of intriguing and under-visited trout streams exist in southern Utah, and I would recommend the area to any angler seeking solitude, wild fish, and landscapes stretching across ranchland and open scenic country.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nevada cutthroat, May 2009

Wild trout are finicky creatures, and invariably demand clean, oxygenated streams to survive, often in places of sublime natural beauty. It always strikes me as something of a miracle, given these demands, and the imperiled state that watersheds face across the country, that wild trout can nonetheless thrive in unlikely places, such as the pure strain population of Mcloud Redband Rainbow trout that live in Crane Creek, right amidst the small urban landscape of Crane, mentioned in the previous post. Perhaps even more remarkable is the chance to cast over a fragile population of native trout, that somehow persist on the edge of harsh conditions.

Such was the case when I made a day trip to a small stream I know of near Las Vegas, that contains a small but healthy population of native Lahontan cutthroat trout (the state fish of Nevada). These fish live in a short stretch of creek that flows off the slopes of Mt. Charleston, before disappearing into the Mojave desert. The landscape changes dramatically from yucca, joshua trees, cacti, and other desert-adapted plants, to conifers and vegetation more often associated with country farther north, in the distance of only a few miles.

The creek flows cold and clear, primarily the result of springs at the headwaters I suspect, making the existence of trout in this usually dry land possible. Sights such as the one below greeted me in the crystalline runs and pools.

The Lahontan cutthroat found in the stream were small by some standards, but fit perfectly in their miniature environment. Moreover, catching and admiring these little gems, and knowing they evolved in the currents where I found them, provided a quality that had less to do with size, and more to do with part of the heritage of a landscape, and the joy of accessing it through fly fishing. Here is an image of a beautifully colored cutt below, and the nicest fish of the day, right at 11", a relative beast for the size of the creek.

This trout rose to a #16 yellow-bodied Neversink caddis I tied, a great dry fly pattern, combining floatability and a profile that is both realistic and suggestive. Here's a close-up of the same fish (and the Neversink caddis), before being returned to its watery home.

All in all, a great way to spend an afternoon, along one of those streams that in my mind embody much of what is best about fly fishing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crane Creek, MO, May 2009

I made a trip through SW Missouri to sample some of the fishing opportunities in that corner of the state, on the way towards Kansas City to pick up my wife at the airport, and continue west. I had heard stories of excellent wild Rainbow trout populations in the North Fork of the White (in addition to stocked Browns that sometimes reach prodigious sizes), and Crane Creek, one of the most well-known spring creeks in the state. Here is the North Fork pictured below.

While it may be difficult to surmise from this photo, the river was in flood stage at this time, much higher than regular flows, and fishing was difficult at best. I managed to hook a single fish while nymphing, a beautiful, heavy 17-18" Rainbow that charged through the heavy currents for some time before I could at last land and briefly admire it--a good fish for this river, from what I've heard.

The colors of the trout are a bit washed out in the picture, and do not do it justice. I was using an automatic film camera at the time, and I was not able to get the richness of hues that I would have liked. This issue resurfaces in some of the images below, and also in many of the photos from the previous post. Fortunately, I started using my wife's digital camera exclusively beyond this trip, and an improvement in picture quality is noticeable in future posts.

At any rate, I moved on to Crane Creek, a clear, spring-fed gem populated with pure-strain Mcloud Rainbows (originating from northern California, and one of the last known streams to contain a genetically pure population of these redband trout). I've heard this creek has suffered from low water in recent years, but has a reputation for incredibly spooky and sometimes big, strong fish. As luck would have it, the heavy rain and flooding on the North Fork and throughout the Midwest at this time raised the levels on Crane Creek, but to still-fishable levels, and stained the usually clear water, making the larger trout a bit less cautious. I have found nymphing and streamer fishing to be especially effective on these occasions, and this time was no exception. In short, I experienced some spectacular fishing for supercharged wild Rainbows, and caught a number of fish in the upper teens, that fought and often looked like miniature steelhead. Here is a 16-17" male (again, the colors were much more brilliant than the photo suggests), that repeatedly went airborne and raced about a jade pool.

Note the #10 Marabugger protruding from the mouth--the bows hammered this pattern in olive and black throughout the 3 days I fished here. The creek flowed through a jungle of vegetation, with different shades of green seemingly everywhere.

Another view of Crane Creek, with rain falling heavily, including on the camera lens...

Many of the runs in this stream were characterized by riffles pouring into deeper pools, and the best fish often seemed to hold right where these features shifted from one to the other, such as this impressively fat 21" female bow, which must have weighed 4 lbs or more, proved to be a tireless fighter, and turned out to be the largest fish of the trip.

Crane Creek lived up to its reputation, and far exceeded my hopes in terms of large wild trout caught and released. I would highly recommend this lovely stream to anyone passing through SW Missouri. It holds a precious strain of Rainbows, and the wild beauty of the fish and the creek itself, flowing right through the backyard of its namesake town, is nothing short of miraculous.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Smokies and Doe River, TN, April 2009

Here is my first post, and while I will try to keep future entries as up-to-date as possible, and mostly focused around Oak Creek, AZ and other parts of the state, I thought I would recall my fly fishing experiences from the past handful of months. My wife and I traveled a lot from April into August, before settling in Flagstaff, AZ. Along the way, I was able to fish in a number of states, see some beautiful country, and catch and release more trout than I probably deserved. So without further ado, here are some fly fishing highlights from the spring and summer of this year, starting in this post with April, in Tennessee...

Here is a photo of my wonderful wife, Regan, when we camped at Elkmont, along the Little River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She grew up near the Smokies, and I have had the good fortune of going with her to see family, and also explore some of the streams in this beautiful area. I didn't fish here much on this visit, although I still managed to catch a few wild Browns and Rainbows, and some precious native Brookies in higher elevation streams (no good photos of these unfortunately). Wildflowers were bursting from the forest floor on this spring visit, and we hiked to some lovely waterfalls, such as Ramsey Cascades, pictured below.

The best fishing on this visit occurred up in NE Tennessee, along the Doe River, a new destination for me, and a freestone stream noted for healthy populations of wild Browns, along with wild and stocked Rainbows, and even some native Brook trout in the headwaters. I ended up exploring upper and lower stretches of the Doe, in some of the more rugged country in the state, and caught a number of fine fish, with some larger Browns in particular.

Here is a chunky 15" Brown that grabbed a #10 BH Girdle Bug.

And this 17" Brown grabbed a #10 Crawbugger (one of my inventions, a brown Wooly Bugger with rubber legs and weighted hourglass eyes), fished like a wounded baitfish (or crawdad...).

The Doe River flows through some scenic country, with pocketwater stretches sometimes concealing surprisingly nice fish.

And other reaches can be wild and remote, as shown in the sheer canyon walls thrusting above the water below.

Dogwoods provided some spectacular white blooms along the river banks.

I came across a hellbender, a salamander capable of reaching lengths of 2 feet and more, while wandering streamside--this one was about 15 or 16" long.

I also managed to hook another Brown while nymphing through a deep run, that charged up and downstream, and swam right between 2 partially submerged boulders, and up into the next pool--somehow my tippet held, and I was eventually able to land the brute, a 22" male that I measured against my rod.

One more look at the fish before I returned him to the golden green currents, to grow and perhaps be caught another day--big wild trout are too valuable to keep (in my opinion), except in photographs and memories.

And a final glimpse of the Doe, a wonderful river I hope to revisit in the near future.