Friday, August 3, 2018

Fly Fishing Southwest Colorado - The Conejos Drainage



It was three miles to the lake.  A trail along the creek led to and from our goal of catching native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout.  All we had to do was follow the trail.  We didn’t follow the trail.  We did what guys do and improvised.  I like to call it “blazing our own path.”  It wasn’t long before we knew we needed to find the trail.  If we continued on our journey, it would have been off a cliff, which concluded with a 50-foot fall.  If we went any further there would be blood, pain, and absolutely a broken fly rod.



We found the lake and it indeed held plenty of natives.  It was a great afternoon that ended too quickly.  Suddenly, a rumble grabbed our attention.  In the mountains, such rumbles echo for a few seconds longer as they bounce off the cliffs.  This allows the situation to really sink in.  The clouds were getting darker and building but the mountains masked them until they were on top of us.





We had been in Colorado three days and each afternoon were greeted with Thunderstorms.  It was these storms that made our trip possible.  A few weeks prior the Rio Grande National Forest was closed due to the Spring Creek fire, the 3rd largest wildfire in Colorado history.  Our wives reminded us of this as we left because they had no clue where we would be over the next week. In honesty, I had no clue either.  I had just gotten back from the Wisconsin Driftless area.  I was just happy to be on another fly fishing road trip.




Now I was wondering how long it would take us to get back to the vehicle.  We all had the same though, fish the creek leading to the lake on the way out and catch a few more cutty's.  Yeah that was probably a bad idea. The first thing I ran into was, what we all considered bear scat.  I had never seen any in person but every door in the area had signs warning of black bears so we just assumed that’s what it was.  Whatever left this gift did it while we were at the lake.  It wasn’t on the trail that morning.  


The cliff that almost broke our fly rods



Then the sky started to flash and you could feel the buzz of lightening in the air.  At 10,000 feet you are actually in it!  The booming thunder shook the trees.  Thankfully the vehicle was in sight.  We threw our stuff in and got moving down the mountain just when the hail started to fall.  Then Brad said, “you’re not going to believe this, we’re about to have a flat.”  The tire sensor was saying, “the mountain ate your tire bro.” 




In reality, the sensor was misinformed.  As Brad opened the door, the hiss of air was immediate, which was expected.  What none of us expected was, “we’re going to have two flats.”  Both tires on the driver side had been eaten by the mountain.  No worries we have a spare and some fix-a-flat.  We sprang to action like a NASCAR pit crew.  Then the fix-a-flat lost its mind.  Rather than spraying its magic solution into the tire it just oozed all over itself.  It was 7 years old…dude replace the can every few years.  The only thing left was to break out the air pump and fill the tire up every 15 minutes as we limped back to camp. 

River down below - required a hike in


26 days later we arrived back at the dispersed camping area along the Conejos river.  For the first time in a few days, I was thankful to see people walking near our camp.  We all jumped up and flash mobbed them as they passed our camp.  It went like this and I have no idea who said what or in what order.  “how was the, did you sit through the, been down there long, we got caught on the, fix-a-flat.”  We waited for their response.  They offered us the broken net they found on the trail.  



The next morning, we woke up bright and early expecting to spend the day hobbling to Antonito to get the tires fixed.   We hadn’t even made it out of camp before the psi started dropping quickly.  It was going to be a long day.  Then the two guys from the night before were standing in the road waving us down.  With big smiles on their faces and something that looked like a can of “you just saved our vacation” in their hands.  Score, you guys rock, lets go fish!  
The Video from the trip...

Photo Dump from the rest of the trip.  Read the captions!
When one guy forgets to purchase his fishing license.

We threw attractor and dry with droppers all week.



Dispersed camping along Conejos River

Low water in some areas meant hiking to find pools


Brad and Tom getting dinner ready

We ate well
Saddle Creek

Saddle Creek near headwaters...this was nearly a 7 mile RT hike...we might have blazed our own path

High altitude cutties take your breath away
Lots of browns

hoppers got looks, stimi's got eats










Monday, July 9, 2018

Fly Fishing The Wisconsin Driftless

This was one of those trips that was literally planned two weeks ago.  My family and I were driving to Russellville, AR for our daughters 8U softball tournament when we realized, it's almost the middle of summer and we haven't planned a family vacation.  The last few weeks have been really hectic with practices and camps.   I didn't think my wife would actually find my idea attractive but I presented her the possibility of road tripping to Wisconsin, where her and the girls would fly home.  Leaving me to explore the "Driftless" area in Wisconsin.  It doesn't happened very often but she actually liked one of my ideas and the plane tickets were purchased in the next 30 minutes.  The plan was to start driving on June 30th and make our way to Minneapolis, MN for their flight on July 3rd.






There were no more plans from that point.  We decided on our route each morning and just went where it felt right.  The first stop was at Mammoth Springs State Park in Northeast Arkansas.  I couldn't remember if I had ever seen Arkansas' largest spring but I knew my girls had not.  We arrived just in time for lunch out of the minivan and then walked around the park for an hour.




My wife asked our oldest daughter if she liked the waterfall, to which she replied, "it was a mill, waterfalls are natural."  In spite of her informative Webster 's awareness we could tell she was having a good time.  We loaded up and started driving, destination unknown, only that we would be taking the scenic route.  We made a quick stop in Jefferson City, MO but decided to push on the Columbia, MO for the night.  We ended the evening letting the kids swim for an hour or more.






We made it to Dubuque, IA and spent the afternoon touring the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.  After some ice cream in the historic area we loaded up and continued to Madison, WI. We ended the 2nd day of our road trip eating dinner near the Capital and more swimming at the hotel.





Tuesday we kept to our "no plan" is our plan and left Madison in a general direction of Minneapolis, MN.  My wife insists on navigating with an old Rand McNally road atlas we purchased in 1998 on our very first road trip from Little Rock, AR to San Diego, CA.  It's only slightly embarrassing because it's the size of a pizza box and her windows aren't tinted.  However, no kidding it's still more accurate than our Garmin "recalculating" GPS unit.





Full disclosure, I had no idea what route we were taking but as we drove in to Viroqua, WI around lunch I knew where we'd stop next, the Driftless Angler.  I had every intention of visiting the fly shop after they flew home but couldn't drive past without stopping.  I picked up a sticker and some flies in exchange for fishing intel.  We were in and out of the shop in under 15 minutes!  Not far from the shop was a shaded park that was perfect for lunch.  After an hour we continued on our way to Minneapolis, MN, where we ended our family road trip.  Their flights left at 10:30 am the following morning.  I get to stay behind and fish the "Driftless".





This would be my first trip to the Wisconsin Driftless.  I have made three trips to the Iowa side, Click here for Iowa Trip, and find it stunning.  After three days I can tell you the Wisconsin side doesn't disappoint.  I brought camping gear and planned to camp but with severe weather in the forecast the next day I opted for the cheap accommodations suggested while I was at the fly shop.  I figured I'd camp after the storm but was almost killed by black flies (watch the video and you'll see) and decided to keep the room.




After securing my room, I ventured out to my first spring feed stream in Wisconsin.  I drove past it twice before I located the small public parking area.  If it weren't for the bridge that crossed the water, I would have never believed it existed.  The fun begins...





In truth, the more I explored the easier it became to locate the public areas.  Some of the water, like the Coon and West Fork of the Kickapoo were not difficult and they fished well.  A dry-dropper rig took many fish.  The browns would readily rise to the dry when the clouds were out and eat the dropper when the sun was high.





However, my favorite creek was a no-name that I stumbled across while looking for another access.  I'm not 100% certain I wasn't trespassing but there was a sign and boot cleaning station beside the bridge which leads be to believe I wasn't.  This stream was tiny and the only way to fish it was to stand in the cold water.  The browns were everywhere and I saw several that might have been over 20".  It would be a real treat to visit it again with a better approach and more options.  The dry flies I had were just slightly too large.  Those mature browns spooked so easily.  It was super cool seeing those large predators in such a tiny creek. You know they are the real property owners and impose their will on all that trespass.  They were just too intelligent for me on this trip.

And here is the video from the trip.  Now time to prep for Colorado...