Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stunted Brown on the South Fork

I haven't written anything in the last two weeks even though I've been out on the river a couple of times. Went up to the bathtubs with Scott and Dan two weekends ago but the big fish still weren't in (though Scott did shoot the nice pic which I am now using for my title), and hit the SF last week for an afternoon at the railroad bridge area below Heise, but as I didn't take any photos, no blog postings.

So when Daryl called me yesterday morning calling due a favor (he gave me a desk this spring for my office on the condition that I take his father and him fishing later in the year) I had to say yes.

The day was beautiful, sunny and mild and the foliage has fairly much all changed color. The valley is very pretty right now. I can't remember the last time we had weather this nice for Halloween. We got into a few small cutthroats and rainbows in the first hole we stopped in a hundred yards below our put in at Spring Creek and I thought that we might have a good day, but it really slowed down after that.

We saw a bald eagle with a fish in his claws winging down river, and he did better than we did for the most part the rest of the day. Which is not to say we didn't catch fish, but by Dan's reckoning white fish count negatively against your tally for the day and so I was well into the negatives, approaching double digits. At our third stop I picked a medium brown on nymphs, but outside of that it was whitefish city.

We continued down the river and hit a small side channel maybe 15 feet across. It was a good drop into a deep channel and it looked very fishy. I picked up two white fish and moved down a bit when wham. My indicator screamed up stream quickly followed by something huge and dark that came about half way out of the water and powered away. At first I thought I had some how hooked into a muskrat but saw as it tailwalked across the channel that it was a BIG fish. I couldn't tell if it was a brown or a cutthroat. We fought for a bit and I finally got the fish under control and into a slow spot of water that afforded me a good look at it. Turned out to be a large brown.

For all my friends from Utah who read this blog and talk about the stunted fish on the Lower and Middle Provo here is what a stunted South Fork Brown looks like. This fish went about 23 inches.

Stunted South Fork Brown (the big ones weigh in the double digits)

I took the pictures while Daryl held the fish. I still need to work on my photo skills as my composition leaves much to be desired.

Daryl managed to drop the fish on it's head, which seemed to stun it a bit but it revived fairly nicely after about 1/2 a minute of resuscitation in the river's current, and hunkered down on the bottom a bit before taking off.

I picked up one more whitefish, so by Dan's fish tallying system I was still in negative territory even though the brown could have eaten the better part of all the whites I caught at one sitting without feeling like it had over eaten.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

3 Days Difference

Snuck out to the South Fork for a couple of hours of fishing with a buddy. We first hit the same spot I did so well on Saturday. The first few casts quickly saw me into a whitefish and the next 20 minutes produced bupkis, except for about 15 snags on the snarls at the top of the hole. It is amazing the difference 3 days can make.

The water has dropped another 1000 some-odd cfs, and was a good foot lower in the side channel where this hole was located. The day was mild, sunny and bright. No snow was falling, in fact all the snow from the weekend had melted off. We passed an area with a lot of great looking structure, about 1/2 mile below on our drive up to fish, and decided to return to this highly inviting area.

We drove down, dropped into the river and started fishing the numerous drop holes and braids. I quickly tied into a fat little rainbow. John (fishing buddy) leapfrogged me, up to the next hole and really started to get into the fish. He still had his nymphs on but the number of risers he was seeing convinced him to switch to dries so he tied on a parachute adams.

I continued up through the next hole, picking up a pair of whitefish and then moved on to right above where the braid separated from the main channel. I started with nymphs and in rapid order picked up a 16 inch brown, a tailwalking, tumbling rainbow and then a fat, heavy shouldered 18 or so inch cut that fought so hard that I swore it was a brown. This cutt made a number of powerful, deep runs typical of a brown, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that it was a cutt.

John was a hooting and a hollering so I walked back downstream to see what all the fuss was about. He had picked up a number of cutts from his little pool on dries and was releasing a nice fish.

I walked back up to the main river and as I entered the water noticed several large rise forms. The hatch was on! I took a couple of minutes to change my rigging and tied on a grumpy and a bwo comparadun. The fish were jumping everywhere in front of me. I picked up a couple of mid sized cutts on the comparadun, and it got pretty beat up, so I switched to a small parachute bwo.

I yelled at John to move up to where I was, and he wandered over informing me that it was time to head back home. I convinced him to stay for at least one fish on the bwos. He promptly burned 4 or 5 fish ;) pulling the fly right out of their mouths.

I tossed my line back out and the second drift saw me fighting a medium sized brown. I continued to fish for about 5 more minutes and managed to burn 3 decent hits. The fish were still rising...... I hate to have to leave when the fishing is hot and the fish are rising. Especially when the number of good dry fly days dwindles.

Idaho Rock Dwelling Brown Trout caught on a BWO
Note the Cat Puke Grumpy by his tail.

Two more cars had pulled into the area making two more groups of fisherman below us on the river. They didn't seem to be using dries but one of them was hooked up as we left.

I think the next time I get out it will be hog hunting on the North Fork. Hopefully before the end of the week.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

FIshing without a camera.

Well my little boy dropped our digital camera last week and somehow jammed up the lens mechanism. So I bought a new Cannon SD1100 is and was a little afraid to take it out during the first snowstorm of the year. Besides I was only going out for 1.5 hours. What could I catch in that amount of time that would mandate a photo?

I fished the South Fork. Parking at the Cress Creek nature area, I crossed the bridge across the canal and hiked down a couple hundred yards. The river has dropped significantly the last week. From 7k cfs to 4.2k cfs, which is still actually fairly high for this time of year. Access was easy as where there was previously fairly deep and swift water, was no water.

I saw some rise forms in a hole behind a drop riffle and having the rigging on from my last outing on the Portneuf, a pair of Frumpy Grumpies, I decided to try dries. The Grumpies produced a couple of hits but no hook ups, proving that grumpies will attract fish even in the middle of a snowstorm. I switched to a size 14 bead head pheasant tail and a size 18 zebra with a small sinker.

A few minutes in the hole saw me tied into 1 fish that spit the hook and landing a white fish on the zebra. I suspected that the hole was entirely populated with whitefish and decided to move up stream. The best decision of the day.

I hiked upstream about 100 yards and found a deep hole below a drop riffle, fairly tight against the bank, with some deadfall at the top of the hole. A fishy place if I ever saw one, and on my second drift my indicator stopped dead and then changed direction. I never did see this fish but from the way it fought and the power in its pull I can only surmise it was a large brown. We fought for about a minute when he headed for the snarls of the deadfall at the top of the hole and I put some pressure on him to turn his head. Well it didn't work.

The next 10 drifts saw me into a 14 inch brown, a 20 something inch brown, a whitefish a 14 inch rainbow and another whitefish. I was hoping to pick up a cut and complete the trifecta of trout species in the SF.

Oh did you see the inclusion of a 20 something inch brown....... There is one redeeming feature about fishing without a camera in the middle of a snowstorm. My cell phone takes ok pictures. He didn't fight as hard as I would have thought a fish his size could have fought, but he was in full fall colors. Picked him up on the PT.

Bad cell phone photo composure, but hey the fish wasn't in the mood to pose.

In all it was a good day on the water. Would of been nice to be able to spend more time in the second hole, but as I had a commitment for later in the evening..... When you are catching fish every other cast it is hard to leave.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

There's no fish in the Portneuf.....?

Having grown up with this river a mile from my house (where it flows through town in cement walls) you would have thought I new better. But this is not the river of my youth, it is a river reborn. Last time I was up on the headwaters of the Portneuf, on the backside of Pebble Creek, it was over half my lifetime ago. Approaching 20 years ago. Back then the river was highly impacted from cattle and fertilizes. The locals would always talk about how good the fishing was in its heyday, but during the mid 80s the river was pretty dead.

Backside of Bonneville Peak poking up above the foothills as seen from Kings Creek.
(Is this Bonneville, SnowPeak or Haystack? I think it is Haystack)

The conservation work that has been done on the river is nothing short of amazing, and those involved should be proud. There are now miles of cattle fencing to keep the banks from deteriorating. The banks are full of plant life, sedimentation is way down, the river runs gin clear and fairly cool. In most stretches it resembles a nice spring creek.

As I haven't been up that way in about 20 years, yesterday's trip was more of a scouting effort than anything, getting aquatinted with the river. The first placed I stopped was fairly far up the river and off of Topance Road. I believe it is called the Kings Creek access. Here the river is in pretty good shape and definitely resembles a spiring creek especially at the low flows of mid Autumn. The river here was pretty shallow, slow and slick. I hiked in along the access path to the footings of an old bridge. There were tons of insects on the water, mainly midges with a few small BWOs and there were a ton of small fish rising to the bugs.

Wanting something a little larger than 8" I started moving downstream with an eye on the water for risers. There were some more risers about 20 yards below the bridge, in a small riffle but the rise forms seemed fairly small. 15 feet below the bridge I had to stop. There was a pod of about 20 large fish in a deep slow hole. I thought that can't be trout, but looked into the hole and saw the magenta fins of cutthroats and the red lateral lines of rainbow. The hole was chuck full of trout, some looking to exceed 20 inches.

I drifted a grumpy over them a few times. They were skittish as all get out. The shadow from the line would send them running, but they would return after about 15 seconds. Not a one of them looked up at my frumpy grumpy. I drifted it over their heads dozens of times. This required a change of tactics. 2 zebra midges, a sinker and about 10 casts saw me into a nice fat rainbow of about 16 inches. I drifted my midges through the hole for another 20 minutes, these fish weren't having anything to do with me, and didn't even appear to be feeding. I decided to move on.

I drove a few miles downstream to the access that is now called "Mike's Place." Political correctness has renamed this spot from its old name of "Whiskey Mikes," the old bar on the side of the road. This access puts you on the driveway of a farm house on the river. Some ones private paradise (I may have to look for some land up there as it was very scenic). The water below there bridge was slow, slick and deep. I could see fish in the deep slow water but doubted my ability to catch any fish that has all day to examine my fly. I moved up along the banks to the wooden pylons of a bridge long gone. The farmer had an access point to the river here so I climbed up the fence poles and onto the old pylons to navigate the obstruction. Looking down into the hole created at the foot of the next set of pylons I saw some nice cutts and a pair of massive fish with deep blue backs that I can only surmise were some type of sucker or chub. They were huge..... could they have been 10 lb rainbows :0 ?

I moved up beyond the footings about 5 yards and started casting upstream along the bank. The fish were interested and a couple of my drifts saw some large upwellings below the fly. A sure sign of a fish coming up for a look. I moved up a little more and cast the grumpy across the river into an area with a little chop and WHAM a big fish nailed it. It took me quite by surprise but I remembered to set the hook.

Biggest fish of the day about 18 inches.
Looking at the pronounced lateral line, this may be a CuttBow.

This fish helped me meet one of my goals for the day, namely a large cutthroat on a dry fly. As I was on a bank about a foot above the river and the river was a good 5 feet deep right off the bank, and the bank was covered with weeds behind which I was hiding, landing this fish was an interesting proposition and involved along reach with the net. I am trying more and more to capture photos of the fish without taking them out of the water but this setting did not allow for it.

I spent a little more time working the river above this hole as there were some regular risers in a little riffle a little ways up. I number of little guys would molest my fly every drift but they were too small to take. I did catch a couple of more rainbows here in the 14 inch range.

Those of you who regularly fish this stretch, and whose postings inspired me to revisit the Portneuf have my admiration. Any one who can catch large fish on dry flies out of the spring creek like conditions and on this slow clear water where the fish have all day to examine a drifting fly, well you know your business. I was fishing my grumpies on a 12 foot leader and did ok... This is not the freestone type fishing that I am accustomed to. I usually fish fast moving freestone rivers and roiling alpine creeks, not this slow moving meandering slick water. It is much more of a challenge.

I had heard about a stretch called "The Canyon" and decided to investigate. I pulled off the road a bit below Whiskey Mikes at the bottom of said canyon along the side of the railroad track. I hiked over the track, and hopped a fence. I didn't see any "no trespassing" signs so I hope I didn't offend any local farmers.

Nice Colors!

I hopped down a small rockfall gully and found myself at the foot of a little waterfall. There were deep holes (over 10 feet deep in places) between large rock at the bottom of this little drop, and as soon as I got set a big fish jumped a foot out of the water at the base of the falls. I cast where he jumped hoping he would rise only to have my fly viciously attacked about 10 feet down stream. I cast at the aggressive attacker again and whamo. This fish promptly ran into a crevice between some rocks and was gone, leaving me stuck on the rocks and weeds. I fished this hole for a bit more but was getting snarled up on way too much greenery so I decide to move upstream.

I moved up to the next little drop area and started casting. I had tied a adams comparadun on as a dropper and picked a nice rainbow up after a couple of drifts. I must admit he hit when I wasn't paying attention and was pleasantly surprised to find him on the end of my line when I went to pick up my line to recast. This hole rewarded me with a couple of more nice cutthroats.

Portnuef Cutthroat

I ended up hiking the canyon from bottom to top and decided that I liked it a little more than the slower and slicker water above. It is a little faster moving and has more structure through the canyon so the fish have to react faster and don't have the seeming hours to examine a fly.

As I approached the top end of the canyon I heard thunder, the wind picked up and I decided it was time to get out of Dodge. The rain started to fall as I hiked down the canyon and the hike out seemed incredibly long on my tired legs. Hiking up and down a weed filled river with a soft bottom in areas really wears you out, not helped by the fact that I missed the rock fall that I hopped down and ended up a 1/4 mile further downstream wondering where the waterfall that was my landmark went and wandered circles a couple of times looking for the area where I left my car. The river around the fall looked completely different from the other bank ;)

All in all it was a very pleasant day. I will return to the Portneuf again. It is fishing very nicely and has some large fish inhabiting its depths. As the largest of the fish I saw (outside of the big bluebacks) were all cutts I would have to say the river is in great shape. Thanks to all of the volunteers who have put in time and materials protecting the banks! Kudos to the South East Idaho Fly Fishers and all the hard work they have done!