South Platte

November 27th, 2006

Tributary Four
The Secret of the Depths
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

...it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. Hebrews 5:11

I had been anxious to quiz the knowledgeable Fisherman in the Fedora for sometime on how he was able to catch so many fish in a section of the river where I have never had any success. His tales to this point were description and adventure. I really was curious about the fly he had on, and the way he was fishing it. All of the rookie questions were passing through my mind, but I did not want to interrupt the Gentleman of the South Platte, his tales were interesting and insightful. I did not want to miss a word, so I sat patiently listening to yarn after yarn, soaking everything in like a dry sponge...

"My first cast was up and across stream. I let the nymph drift in the swift current of a meadow section of the South Platte. As the nymph drifted downstream, I gathered the slack of the fly line. The stream seemed wider and the casts longer since I was standing on the bank three feet above the surface of the water. The rocks across the stream were visible only a few inches under the surface. The spring runoff, just past its peak, had left the water high and discolored. The conditioner applied to the fly line kept it on the surface. I watched intently for any subtle movement in the line. I detected a slight twitch, one barely noticeable. I lifted the rod tip with enough vigor to set the hook, but not hard enough to pull the submerged fly out of the water. The resulting tugs on the other end delighted me. It was a small brown, about ten inches long. I released the fish and presented the nymph again, just slightly downstream from the previous cast. To my enjoyment, the line twitched again. After a short fight, I released another ten-inch brown trout. This was fun and interesting. I was really beginning to get the hang of fishing a nymph. After a few more unsuccessful casts, I pitched the nymph to a rock just downstream and across the current. Another odd twitch and I set the hook on a third trout. In five-minutes I had caught three trout using a nymph! I was delighted. Fishing with nymphs interested me immensely, especially after I started successfully landing some trout.

Many years ago, I read a book that gave me some very practical advice on trout fishing. I cannot recall the book or the author, but I learned two pieces of valuable information on the eating habits of trout. The first revelation the book related is the fact that ninety percent of a trout's diet is obtained from under the surface of the water. The second revelation is the fact that trout find their food through three main senses, smell, sight, and sound.

After I read this, I thought back to my first days of trout fishing with nothing in my fly box but dry flies. Back then to me dry fly-fishing was the only type of fly-fishing. I was a dry fly purist, a snob! I remember running into a fisherman on a stream who described fly-fishing with anything other than dry flies as 'sacrilegious'. I slowly learned the error of my ways.

I soon realized when fishing with nothing but fur and feathers; smell and sound have little to do with attracting a wily trout to a fly. I was convinced that fishing clear water would be more productive than discolored water. I also theorized that I should rarely be fishing dry flies. I repeatedly tested my theories on the South Platte River. I do not know if my theories are correct or not, but I do know I have found the fishing better with clear water, and with underwater flies. Fishing in clear water is much more challenging. With clear water, I could see rather far ahead of where I was casting, and I could see deeper into the holes I was fishing. I also realized the trout could see me much more readily than I could see the trout. The advantage definitely belongs to the trout.

Having discovered ninety percent of a trout's diet is under the surface, I started fishing with patterns I had never used before, wet flies, streamers, and the dreaded nymph. I say dreaded nymph because I had read that fishing a nymph was difficult, but once mastered, very productive. I had been fishing almost exclusively with streamers for many years. I finally decided a few years ago to 'expand my horizons,' 'try the untried,' 'take a risk,' 'try something new,' 'take the plunge,' and 'dare to be different.' I am the type of person that settles into a pattern and refuses to change. People have accused me of being dull, boring, stiff, stubborn, hard-nosed, and unbending. Learning something new would be different and difficult. I am a slow learner. However, I do have one redeeming quality (or imperfection), when I do embrace something new and I enjoy it, I will work at it to the exclusion of all else until I am a master.

Colorado has a fishing season that lasts twelve months. The only time fishing is closed is if the stream is ice covered, which is uncommon. With the ability to fish twelve months of the year, I had to search for ways to catch fish during those months when the trout tend toward sluggish feeding habits. I had occasionally tried to fish streamers during the winter months, without any significant results. An occasional small trout would flash at the streamer, but never would there be a consistency that kept me fishing regularly during the winter months. I imprisoned myself to a self-inflicted sentence of no fishing during the 'off' months, the winter months. Then I read an article on fishing the nymph. The article opened my eyes to a new way of fishing; a way of fishing that would expand the season! I began to read any article on fishing the nymph. I would pour over many web sites containing any information on nymph fishing. I delved into the nymph with an unmatched fervor and excitement. Nymph fishing would be the answer to those months of boredom at home; those months of waiting for warm weather and active fish, or would it?

As with any new endeavor for me, saying and doing are two very different and disparate actions. It took me quite awhile to learn to tie a nymph and even longer to try to fish a nymph. My first attempts at tying a nymph were nothing more than wasted material. As I got better, I finally was able to get a nymph I could actually fish. The first few tries at nymph fishing were less successful than tying a nymph. At least with tying a nymph, I had a finished product, albeit an ugly finished product. Fishing the nymph was frustrating. Monotony set in. I would endlessly cast upstream and patiently wait for the nymph to return. I would never see the break of the water; I would never feel the tug of a trout. I re-read articles, I re-tied files, and I re-fished promising water. It finally came down to a do or die situation. I was determined to fish nothing else but nymphs until success would follow. It was a long road, but it was worth the effort.

While re-reading articles on nymph fishing, it finally registered with me; the nymph needs to be fished deep. I investigated ways to get the nymph deep in the water quickly. I used yarns in the nymph pattern, hoping the waterlogged yarn would submerge the nymph quickly. I tied weighted nymphs. Finally, I had some success. I would occasionally catch a small trout. The fishing experiences described in the articles I had read were still nothing but fantasy to me. I must have been doing something wrong. Then I found another fishing article on the bead head nymph, another revelation that might make fishing the nymph more successful. I tied many flies with bead heads. I used many different hook sizes. It was time to try the new nymph design, the bead-head, and see if things would change for the better.

Several times, I have fished with nymphs in an area of the South Platte River we named 'the Confluence'. We nicknamed the area 'the Confluence' because there, the Tarryall River joins the South Platte. Getting to 'the Confluence' is no easy task. Along the way, a driver encounters ten-miles of a winding, gravel road, a road that climbs almost fifteen hundred feet after leaving the paved Tarryall Road. The entire ten-miles consist of a rather steady incline, bordered by Ponderosa Pine, and deep ravines. Upon reaching the higher elevations, the road hugs the mountainside with heart-stopping precipices on the downhill side and a neck-wrenching slope on the uphill side. On the uphill side with the southern exposure, countless bushes, separated by several feet, cover the sloping landmass. The tops of the pine trees appear as small Christmas trees while looking down toward the river valley hundreds of feet below the road. The drive seems endless. The main dirt road turns off to the last three-mile stretch of four-wheel drive road. The first mile or two is navigable with two wheel drive vehicles if the driver persists in patience and care. The last mile becomes treacherous. I have driven it with a two-wheel drive truck on several occasions. It always leaves a knot in my stomach since I am never sure I will be able to make the traverse back uphill to the main road. Washouts, deep ruts, shallow ruts, rocks, soft sand, dry sand, wet sand, sharp curves, steep inclines, and even a small creek are all encountered along the last mile to the river below.

To be continued... ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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