Winter Fishing in the Rockies
It was yet another frigid winter evening last week here
in the northern Colorado rocky mountains, and I was headed
home, back up the mountain from town. Getting safely out of
town without being run over by dummies in SUVs talking on
the cell phone while driving always cheers me up, but what
a depressing winter we've had. Cold and windy, little snow.
Gets everyone worried about the snow pack, rivers, and fire
danger for the next year. And, no fishing possible --- the
home waters here are quite 'stiff' as they say, a euphemism
for 'froze plumb solid, with ice two feet thick.'
By Dan Fink (DanBob)
I passed the local watering hole (they don't serve much water
there, though), and spotted both Ralph's and Vern's trucks in
the parking lot, so I dropped in for a pint. I noticed Vern
actually had his belly boat loaded up in the back of his pickup!
The tube also had a weird conglomeration of gear attached with
duct tape and baling wire–two plywood sheets on the front mounted
in a V like a snowplow, and a plywood deck wired and taped onto
the back. A crude motor mount? Considering that Vern is a master
woodworker, it looked like something installed after a 3-day drunk.
There was a 10-horse Evinrude outboard motor in the back of his
pickup too. Uh oh!
I went inside and ordered my pint, admiring the big tropical
saltwater aquarium that bar owner Jeff maintains. He has yellow
tangs, a bunch more tropical fish I'd never heard of, a 7-inch-long
puffer fish named Frankie, and a big menacing lionfish with sharp,
poisonous spines. Other aquariums are all around the bar too--freshwater
setups with mollies, loaches, catfish, crawdads, clownfish and more,
all meticulously maintained, and far more interesting to watch than
the television. As usual, Vern and Ralph were arguing loudly, and
the waitress had already moved them to the back table.
"Vern, ya can't do it! You'll drown for sure. Don't be an
idiot!" Ralph was yelling. Vern looked really grouchy. "I'd rather
drown than spend 3 more months not fishing. I've got to go fishing.
Now, or real soon. And I'm gonna patent my invention!" Vern hollered.
I sat down and said, "Howdy boys. Vern, what happened to your
belly boat? Looks like someone let the local Poverty Flats Junior
High 7 th. grade wood shop class loose on it."
Vern explained, "That, my friend, is my new invention for winter
lake fishing in Colorado. I got the idea after a 3-day drunk
during that last blizzard. You just saw the first-ever icebreaker
attachment for a belly boat! I didn't think I could get enough
power from my flippers, hence the Evinrude."
"Vern, you're crazy," I replied. "You'll puncture the boat and
drown, or chop your feet off in the propeller!"
Vern went into another tirade, but we finally managed to convince
him not to try out his icebreaker attachment on the local
reservoir that day. He was petulant, and mumbled "Look, boys, I've
got to go fishing soon or I'll go crazy. I tried ice fishing,
but I'm not a very good flycaster, and I only rarely hit that little
hole in the ice with my dry flies. How do those guys get a good
backcast inside those little ice shelter houses anyway?"
I then noticed Ralph was sneaking something out of his wallet.
His emergency handline, 6 lb. test with a hook attached. I knew
exactly what was coming and checked around for potential witnesses.
The bar owner had left on an errand, and only Heidi the waitress
remained. Ralph called her over. "Howdy thar toots. I'd like to
order dinner. Can I get a big bowl of corn with butter?"
She scowled and squinted suspiciously--obviously she knew all
of us much too well. "It's not on the menu. No way. And the next
time you call me toots, the only food I'll cook for you is a
knuckle sandwich. Got it?"
"Oh, c'mon, Heidi," Ralph pleaded. "I know you have cans of corn
back there for making your beef stew. I'm begging you. I really
have a hankerin' for corn and butter right now."
"OK," she replied hesitantly, "but that'll cost you five bucks
extra, payable to me."
"No problem, toots."
Only me and Ralph knew it was really all a ploy to have her
leave us alone after she served up the corn.
After the hot buttered corn was delivered and Heidi was
purposely avoiding us, Ralph took a kernel and put it on
the hook from his handline. I snuck over and took the top
off the aquarium, and nabbed a plastic dowel out of the
Budweiser/NASCAR banner on the wall. Ralph had it strung
up in 30 seconds.
"Here, Vern, give it a shot," he said, handing him the new
field-expedient bar fly rod. "Bet you can't even hit the
tank, much less catch a fish."
Vern was up to the challenge, made a few false casts, and
landed the corn kernel right in front of the cruising puffer
fish. Frankie nudged it and rejected it. The lionfish looked
uninterested. Three more casts, all perfectly placed, and the
puffer ignored them all. Ralph grabbed the rod from Vern and
hid it under the table, then called for Heidi again. "I'm
still hungry, toots! How 'bout that yummy shrimp salad?"
After it arrived, he baited the hook with a nice little shrimp
and gave it to Vern, who started casting again. Unfortunately
the bar owner chose just that time to arrive back, and caught
Vern with his shrimp in the water, and the puffer and lionfish
fighting each other to nab it first. Ralph and I had spotted
him coming and had already wisely went off to the men's room,
soon exiting via the side window.
As we jumped in our trucks, Vern ran out the front door of
the bar, yelling, "But I have my fishing license, see, it's
right here!" while being chased by Heidi with a broom and
Jeff the owner with a 2x4. Vern cursed us, but at least he
pointed his truck and icebreaker belly boat up the hill
towards home, not down towards the reservoir.
So what else does a Colorado flyfisherman do during winter
with all the home water froze up, and after being banned
from the local bar for 30 days for fishing in their aquarium?
Here' s a list of suggestions from me and all my fishin' buddies
up here on Fish Crick. Fly tying is a given, of course -- though
the quality of the flies changes drastically as the blizzard
progresses and more bourbon is consumed.
My personal favorite is Cat Fishing. Not fishing for catfish,
but Cat Fishing. All it takes is one or more cats, and a calm
day outside or a high ceiling inside. If you can place a good
cast right in front of them, they'll always go for it, especially
if you rub your fly in tuna fish juice before casting. I like
my cats, and they perform essential duties around the homestead
like lounging around sleeping, pooping, and spreading hair
everywhere, plus occasionally catching mice and packrats. So
I always just tie on a piece of yarn or hackle, or a clump of
deer hair--no hook. People who hate cats are advised to please
use only barbless hooks! Cats are too valuable to catch only once.
Ralph and I gave rod building a shot this winter, too, but
it didn't quite work out. I've switched to building rods at
the local fly shop in town -- much less dangerous. You see,
Ralph is a skilled "Southern Engineer" and can build anything
(drift boats, motor scooters, kitchen cabinets, generators,
outhouses) out of only junked car parts and dead trees. On
a very limited income, he couldn't stand the idea of paying
60 bucks for a rod drying rig and another 60 bucks for a
cork lathe. So he built a sort of two-in-one unit from an
old washing machine motor, a belt and pulley set 'borrowed'
from Vern's drill press, and a bunch of scrap lumber.
"You're sure this thing spins at the right RPM, Ralph?" I
asked him as I put my new rod on the motor seat (made from
an old wheelbarrow tire) with fresh epoxy on the thread wraps.
"You bet," Ralph assured me. "I did the math for the gear
ratios and chose the pulleys myself, and checked it with a
tachometer. Put the lever to the left for drying rods at 18
RPM , put it to the right for turning cork handles at 1800 RPM."
I set it for 18 RPM, and hit the power switch. As my rod spun
up to 1800 RPM, it came off the motor seat and speared shattered
graphite pieces into the shop ceiling at high speed. Ralph said
"Or was that 18 RPM on the right, and 1800 on the left?"
Anyway, that's why I've been building my rods down at the fly
shop recently. Ralph has always been really bad at math.
Vern, on the other hand, is disgustingly well-organized and
well-educated. His main winter fishing activity is indexing
his fly boxes and the hackle in his tying kit on his fishing
Palm Pilot PDA.
"You really need to get more organized, Danbob," he told me
while we were fishing Fish Crick last fall. "Film cans stuffed
full of shaggy flies just don't cut it anymore, as the trout
are becoming increasingly selective. A good fisherman has to
react rapidly to changing conditions on the river."
I have to admit that I was suitably impressed that time I
fished with Vern. A hatch started coming off the river, and
he whipped out a bug net and caught some of the teeming duns.
He'd written a computer program on the PDA to quickly identify
insects by entering some basic observation data, and his program
already knew what to expect by the date, time, moon cycle, and
calculated GPS position coordinates. After going about 6
questions deep into his program, he had the answer. "This
is unequivocally an Ephemerella grandis," he lectured, "which
calls for fishing a red quill. The PDA says that's in fly box
12, row 72, column 15." He started to dig out that box, but
since box 12 was on his back, he twisted around a bit too
much and the PDA fell into the river. It washed downstream
quickly into a deep pool. Not a big deal, since the case was
waterproof, but the hatch was coming off right now--no time
to lose, and the trout were rising.
Not wanting to miss the chance to get Vern's goat, I yelled
"That was box 11, row 16, column 43, right Vern?"
"No, it was......" Vern was really confused now.
Soon he was dumping box after box of neatly-sorted flies
into a dirty old styrofoam coffee cup, frantically poking
around for a red quill.
I couldn't resist the obvious comment. "I highly recommend
filing your flies in some old film canisters, Vern. You can
keep one for dries, one for nymphs, and one for streamers.
No batteries required."
After Vern recovered from his apoplectic fit, I sold him a
red quill from my dry fly film can for only five bucks--a
bargain, considering the situation! We both caught fish, too.
That's the winter fishing wrap-up for January 2006, coming
to you from frozen Fish Crick, high in the northern Colorado
Rocky Mountains, courtesy of Fly Anglers Online. ~ DANBOB
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