Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Road Trip...Headed West

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Contrary to popular belief , I havn't fallen off the face of the earth or anything quite so dramatic. It's true that the blog has been dormant for an unusually long period of time so I can definitely understand the thinking. Truth is that other than the trip I'm about to tell you about, fishing has been on the back burner for me lately. The rain and high water events that have been rolling through my neck of the woods almost every weekend have taken a major toll on my Spring/Early Summer smallmouth trips to say the least. Now that we're moving out of the rainy season (hopefully) we head right into probably my least favorite season of the year to hit my local streams...Summer. I don't deal with crowds of people well when I'm trying to relax so floating and fishing our Ozark streams can be an interesting experience this time of year. I don't let it bother me too much though , it's a great time to spend a few weekends hanging out at the lake with the wife and doing things like scuba diving and just soaking your skin in the cool water on a blistering hot day. In the meantime it may be a little slow around here for awhile. Summer crowds or not though , a guy can only refrain from fishing for so long before the jones just gets too strong...and I'm guessing my limits are on the lower end of the scale!
The main reason I've been absent from the interwebs recently is a 10 day vacation and a road trip to New Mexico for the majority of that time. Between the two weekends I was away and the one on either side of it that I was trying to make it up to my wife for having to stay home and take care of pet/household duties, the whole month of June pretty much came and went.
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Earlier this Spring my good friend Sean had invited me out to the mountains to spend a week fishing and relaxing on the small trout stream that flows right in front of their family cabin.
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This particular stream has a good stonefly hatch in early Summer and the trip was planned for his best guess at that event. Having never experienced it before, to say that I was excited would have been an understatement. Obviously I couldn't pass up an offer like that and as soon as I had a hall pass from my better half and time approved off work we started making plans. This place is not one of the more well known fisheries that you always read about in New Mexico, just a nice small tailwater that averages about 15 feet across in most places and in some areas no wider than a walking path.
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It's nestled into a beautiful valley surrounded by some of the tallest peaks in New Mexico on three sides. Wildlife is seemingly more prevalent than humans and I saw elk, mule deer, wild turkey, antelope, eagles and talked to another angler who had seen a black bear that morning while hiking in to fish.
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The day after I left another member of Seans family even saw a mountain lion walking the game trail behind the cabin , as we had seen several cow elk using this same path during the week it was probably after it's next meal. Needless to say I was hooked as soon as I pulled the truck off the interstate and could see the mountains rising up in the distance.
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From the open prairies and tall flat topped mesas to the mountain ranges and red-rock canyons, new Mexico seemingly has a vista for every eye (especially when that eye is used to staring at the open expanses of Kansas) .
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As for the fishing, we didn't hit the stonefly hatch like we had hoped for. Late season runoff and water releases from the dam still had the river a little off-colored and according to Sean, not quite at normal levels for this time of year. The fishing was still good as far as I was concerned, it just wasn't stupid-silly like it is when the hatch is really happening. Without a doubt I could have caught more fish by nymphing under an indicator or even throwing small streamers for these fish, I'm a stubborn cuss though. I had grand visions of catching fish on big dry flies and come hell or high water that's what I was going to do. At times I did resort to using a dropper under a big stonefly dry, mostly early morning or late evening when fish didn't seem to be looking up, but I always had some sort of big bushy point fly tied on.
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There were several afternoons where a decent number of bugs were coming off, and when they did the fish took notice. After watching a small, wild brown launch himself clear of the river in pursuit of your stonefly imitation before it even has time to settle on the water, fishing with an indicator doesn't even seem like a viable option.
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Besides, hiking up a small mountain stream and plopping a big, bushy dry in every likely looking pocket has to be one of the most enjoyable types of fly fishing I can imagine. It's the perfect fishing for a guy like me as it takes very little casting skill...just pull out ten feet of flyline and lob the fly into every little seam and pothole, the fish take care of the rest. We caught both rainbows and browns throughout the week but the wild browns were our true target.
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Beautiful little butter colored fish that hid themselves away in places on that small stream that you couldn't imagine holding a fish.
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The only thing that I had problems with was keeping myself from gawking around at the surrounding scenery and keeping my eyes on the fly, needless to say more than one fish came and went while I was staring up at the rocky mountain tops oblivious to everything else. Luckily for me there always seemed to be another willing participant around the next river bend.
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Along about the middle of our stay we decided to try a change of scenery and a different style of fishing. This was pretty much the polar opposite of what we had been doing up until this point. Instead of a two weight and a dry fly we went in search of our new quarry with a 16 foot jon boat, ten weights and a half chicken strapped to a hook. We drove 9 hours round-trip and spent the better part of a day and a half giving it our best shot at hooking a musky on a little lake sitting at the base of a mountain range.
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Sean hadn't ever fished for musky before and my few trips chasing them in the Ozarks had left me with a sore shoulder and not much else to show for it. While this expedition didn't pan out much better for me in the catching department I have to say that I'm now hellbent on catching my first musky on the fly (or at least seeing that big, ugly mug
appear out of nowhere again as I'm trying to figure eight with a nine foot flyrod!). In our limited time on the water over two days we had 5 fish follow the fly back to the boat and show themselves while we were doing a very ungraceful display of a figure eight. One of those fish ate and ended up in the bottom of a landing net (Seans fish), one of them ate and ended up missing the fly because some jack-knife pulled it away from him at the very last minute (yours truly) and 3 of them just couldn't be convinced to eat that fly no matter how many times we paraded it around in front of them.
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If you havn't ever been on the stick end of a confrontation like that I can't even describe it. Every time a fish made an appearance boatside we were both left shaking and when one actually decided to eat, well, luckily I had a change of shorts handy. By the time we had to pull out and head back to the cabin we were sunburnt, our shoulders were sore from casting flies with the aerodynamics of a wet tube sock, hell my eyes even hurt from concentrating on the fly so hard from the time it touched the water until it made it back into the boat. Every one of those a by product of the hard fishing that I'd endure all over again ten-fold for the chance at another one of those fish.
At this point I'm starting my second week back at work after the trip and I still find myself daydreaming about the picturesque mountains with beautiful little wild browns and that big mouth full of teeth behind my fly. Here's to the next Road Trip....
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  1. Wow. Worth the wait. Love that little stream, and you know the perfect way to fish it. Bet Joe would have loved it there.

    1. Thanks a bunch Jim... it was a beautiful area and the trip was one of those where you hate to see it end. Yep, the only thing that would have made it better would have been my buddy Joe!

  2. Sounds like you found the perfect location to escape the crowds and enjoy some awesome fishing. Stunning scenery and beautiful browns. Someone would of had to drug me and shipped me back home if I had been there...not sure I could have left on my own!

    1. Thanks Drew...this place is actually only about a two hour longer drive from my house than the Driftless. I'll be doing it again for sure and may be taking a couple of friends along with me...I'll let you know.

  3. OMG! You died and went to heaven. Great photos and story Jeff. One day it will have to be Colorado.

    1. Thanks Howard...I may still make it out to Colorado this year if the wife wants to go. Won't be a fishing (only) trip but I'd still have to sample a little of that wonderful fishing you have out there.

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  5. Great pics and scenery as usual. When i just think there are fish willing to take a dry i don't consider nymph fishing. On the other hand when times are slow i'll go to streamers. It's got to be pretty cold water and rainy/wet weather for me to nymph fish most of the time. Glad you enjoyed those smaller waters! :-)

    1. Appreciate it man. I'm not much of a dry fly guy myself, although I'm not a nympher either. I'd about as soon throw streamers as anything else...except when you can throw a big stone or hopper dry. I love throwing the big stuff!!

  6. Great trip and pics. Great diversity with the fishing! Keeps it interesting.

    1. Thanks Lynn...The musky thing was definitely an experience for sure. I've got another itch to scratch now after giving that a serious try!