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On the Fly column: The next step is tying your own flies

Scott Spooner ties some flies.
Jake Muse

Thinking of taking that next step and tying your own flies? For most, this phase comes later in their fly fishing career, but it’s never too early to start. You would think tying your own would save you a little money, but I’m not too sure about that. The dividends are paid in a real sense of satisfaction and an entomological education.

The best part is that you really start to pay attention to the size, shape and color of your offerings, and why the fish key in on a certain insect, or more specifically, the life cycle stage of that insect. One caution — many people who are starting to tie try to bite off more than they can chew, attempting the most difficult flies before learning the basics, which ultimately leads to frustration on the vise.

We recommend starting with the basics: San Juan Worms, midge larva, brassies and simple streamers. Learning how to throw consistent thread wraps on a hook and how to whip finish without giving it a lot of thought pays off down the road. We also steer folks away from buying a “kit,” and suggest that they simply build up their selection with materials they’ll actually use, versus a bunch of stuff that they won’t.

It doesn’t take much to get started; all you really need is a good pair of scissors, a comfortable chair and table, a basic vise and a few other oddball tools to get going. No one ever forgets the first fish that they caught on a fly they tied themselves. I know I never will. It may have just been a simple San Juan Worm, but my heart leapt out of my chest when that fish was successfully in the net. Be sure to ask your local fly shop how to get started. Tying your own gives you an entirely new perspective on fly fishing.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

Primary hunting draw applications, park visitation up statewide

Primary draw applications in Colorado are up by 74,593 applications from last year, according to data from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“What I can tell you is hunting applications were up, hunting license sales last year were up,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.

“Everything in the COVID era, from a wildlife standpoint, is up.”

Hampton said the state is also seeing a 30% increase in park visitations over the last year.

“We continue to set a record for the number of people applying for licenses,” Hampton said, noting that what those applications translate to for the actual number of hunters in the field won’t be known until for several months.

Hampton surmised that some of the increases in primary draw applications could be due to Colorado hunters applying in-state versus going to hunt in other states with family due to COVID-19.

“Some of these increases could be due to other states restricting access for hunters,” Hampton said. “Hard to say if one thing is pushing the numbers or if all factors are driving it.”

In a more localized update, Hampton explained the impacts the Grizzly Creek Fire could potentially have on Glenwood Canyon’s wildlife.

“Fires have an impact, but the impact of fire in terms of big game hunting tends to be access not animal mortality,” Hampton said.

Hampton explained how wildlife in the western United States has evolved a resiliency to wildfires.

Hampton said the state was able to track collared elk during the Cameron Peak Fire.

“We were able to work with the firefighting groups and forest service and (Bureau of Land Management) to bring in their mapping and overlay the fire progression maps with the elk movement data from these collars,” Hampton said. “It was fascinating to watch. But these animals move out of the way of the fire and move right back behind it.”

During the Grizzly Creek Fire, Hampton said Glenwood Canyon’s bighorn sheep hung out along closed sections of Interstate 70 during the fire, in addition to seeking refuge in the Colorado River.

The burned areas left behind by the Grizzly Creek Fire may seem scorched, but Hampton said fire left behind an ideal setting for vegetation growth in those areas.

“If people go up in that burn area there’s a lot of green up,” Hampton said. “The canopy is gone, the sun is hitting those areas and what grows there is extremely nutritious for those big game animals that work their way back in there. There’s some long term benefits for big game.”

However, there are negative implications for the canyon’s aquatic life.

“There are some very big concerns for fisheries in areas where that ash drains into rivers and streams,” Hampton said.

Depending on how quickly the snow melts, ash can either absorb into the ground or run into the drainages, creeks and streams.

“Ash can contain both toxic chemicals, especially in areas where homes and outbuildings may have burned,” Hampton said.

“Anything with chemical composition, or even some bushes when they burn will have toxic elements in terms of being a fish.”

Hampton explained how fine ash particles in heavy quantities can cement in water beds, killing off the invertebrates and insects in the rocks that fish rely on for food.

“If it’s thick enough, if the water becomes muddy, the fish can suffocate from it,” Hampton said.

The ash’s impacts on the rivers and streams in Glenwood Canyon are something the CPW is watching very closely.

Hampton said the CPW is working closely with a team that includes area water managers, utility providers and federal agencies that’s monitoring the aftermath of the fire and making sure water sources are being protected as much as possible.

“That muck can clog diversion structures and irrigation structures,” Hampton said.

“It can be a real problem for municipal water supplies. We’re king of working to take care of all those things too.”

Primary Draw Applications
2020 2021 Percent Increase
Pronghorn 86,913 91,540 5.32%
Elk 215,207 246,602 14.5%
Deer 211,968 228,087 7.6%
Goat 23,388 27,338 16.88%
Sheep 31,192 35,919 15.15%
Moose 45,412 52,823 16.3%
Desert Bighorn 4,398 4,917 11.8%
Fall Bear 30,873 36,718 18.93%
Overall 649,351 723,944 11.48%

Reporter Shannon Marvel can be reached at 605-350-8355 or smarvel@postindependent.com.

On the Fly: April showers? Fishing power hours

Gifford Maytham on the Colorado River. Photo Courtesy Scott Spooner

April means many things to fly fishers. For most, it rings in the fair-weather fishing season, as the first waves of blue winged olives and caddis arrive with those April showers. If you’ve ever experienced one of our blizzard caddis hatches on the Colorado or Roaring Fork rivers, you know what I’m talking about. This is a true “breathe through your teeth” hatch, complete with bugs crawling up your nose and between your eyes and polarized lenses. And it’s all starting right now.

Afternoons and early evenings can be magical, as adult female caddis come back to the water to lay their eggs on the water’s surface. Good patterns to carry are Missing Links, Pearl and Elks, and the E/C Caddis. Suggested caddis nymphs are the Z-Wing, soft hackle Hare’s Ears, and the ever-popular beaded Prince Nymph. Remember this — sunny days should favor caddis, while overcast days result in heavier mayfly hatches.

Blue wing olives, or baetis, are the most prolific mayfly in our valley, even though they get second billing behind our world-famous green drake hatch. BWOs are already hatching in good numbers along the lower Roaring Fork up to Basalt, and your best bet to catch this hatch is in the afternoon. Carry a few different patterns, and determine which fly the fish want on that particular day. We strongly suggest the Perfect Baetis, No-Hackle BWOs, Parachute Adams and Roy’s Fryingpan Emergers in sizes 20-22.

BWOs will be slightly larger on the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, (size 18-20) and are smaller on the Fryingpan (size 20-22). Many of us fish a dry fly followed by an emerger or nymph, as many of the naturals get caught in or below the film. The preferred emergers for the Fryingpan are Mayhems, Chocolate Thunders and black RS2s, in addition to Roy Palm’s Biot Baetis, Sparklewing RS2s and Jerome Baetis for the Fork and Colorado. These hatches are directly related to water and air temperatures, and with the warming trends of April, the fishing action only gets better.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

On the Fly: Skinny water days

This time of year brings our lowest and clearest fishing water, and this can cause trout to become more “spooky” than selective. Stealth and accuracy become quite important during low-flow months, as the fish can see and feel more than they will in the high water levels of summer. The insect menu in late winter and early spring is dramatically downsized from the summer buffet of caddis, stoneflies, mayflies, hoppers, craneflies and so on. This doesn’t mean the fish go on hunger strike, but feeding behaviors change, and sensitivity to predators takes center stage. There are a few tricks you can employ during these skinny water days to increase your success.

First off, lengthening and downsizing your leader and tippet (especially on dry flies) will increase your chances on spooky fish. Most trout, regardless of time of year, don’t tolerate fly lines slapping the water anywhere near them, so a longer leader will help out in these cases. A longer leader takes a while to unfurl in the current, so in turn you will get longer drifts with your fly. Downsizing your tippet and even the weight of your rod adds a bit of finesse also. A four weight rod will land flies on the water more softly than your six weight.

Being on the right side of the river really pays off in winter and spring. Keeping your shadow away from the water is a great way to sneak up on wary trout, and walking quietly as possible is important also. False casting should be kept to a minimum in winter. Find your fish, see if it has a feeding rhythm, and present your fly once in a while at the appropriate moment. Casting over and over tends to put fish off their tea. Cast rarely, and when you do, make it count. The fishing here in the Roaring Fork Valley is superb right now, especially if you get a little sneaky.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

On the Fly: Signs of Spring

Guide Kevin Sullivan and a Colorado River rainbow trout. Courtesy of Taylor Creek Fly Shop

Currently it’s a beautiful, sunny day at 60 degrees in downtown Basalt. Spring is starting to show a little early around here, and our rivers are taking note as well. Most all of the ice shelves are subsiding, and our favorite runs are there for the picking. With the early warm temperatures, we have been seeing consistent hatches on all rivers. Dry fly enthusiasts: It’s time to crawl away from the tying desk, grab your favorite dry fly rod and hit the water.

Midges have been hatching in significant numbers, with loads of hungry trout piercing the surface. Not all these midges are microscopic. On both the Roaring Fork and Colorado we have seen some of what we like to call midgezillas, which are a beefy size 16 or so. A small parachute Adams with an #18 to #20 midge dry trailer has been a great combo as of late. Seeing all these bugs is a sure sign of what is to come. Blue wing olives are knocking at our doorstep and should be seen on our local waters in the coming weeks.

When targeting these hatches, avoid faster moving current and look for the soft water. If you find a good foam line you know you’re in the right spot — the foam is home, people. Midges are sitting ducks when they get trapped in these bubbly graves. One helpful tip is to let the fish eat the fly. Our local trout like to delicately sip these smaller bugs, so giving that extra second will result in either hooking your target or sending the flies into the tree behind you. During challenging times, I find feeding a few fish some dry flies is exponentially good for your well-being. Get out there and welcome the first sign of spring — excellent dry fly hatches.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

On the Fly: Fryingpan River wanderings

The tailwater section of the Fryingpan River. Photo courtesy Scott Spooner

Recently I decided to drive up the Fryingpan River. Although I always have several rods rigged and ready to go, there was no real intention to fish this day. Even though I secretly had hopes of finding some rising fish at some point to make a few casts, we really were headed up towards Ruedi to walk the dogs along the river. Along our way up the canyon a good group of bighorn sheep crossed the road in front of us, and some impressive rams were among them. Of course the camera was at home.

Surprisingly, for as warm as it was, and with snow lightly falling, we did not encounter any anglers until “Old Faithful.” Turning into the Rocky Fork day use area, we got the dogs out and headed towards the dam. Several anglers were on the river, and since it was midafternoon (the most productive time of day right now), we witnessed several anglers hooking up and landing fish. Although the light was fairly flat, if you looked hard enough with good polarized glasses you could see actively feeding fish. There were a few rising fish, but the most active fish were feeding on nymphs sub-surface. Sometimes spending a few hours just walking and watching what goes on along the river can be both entertaining and educational.

Driving downriver back to Basalt a bald eagle cruised upriver, the bighorns were still grazing the same hillside, and we crossed paths with a few of our guides headed up river to fish. They reported good fishing the next morning. Flies of choice were foam topped RS2s, Medallion midges, Bill’s midges and House of Harrop midges.

Good fishing abounds throughout the Roaring Fork valley right now; the warming weather has been the key factor. This is “bonus season” (fit neatly between winter and spring), and hatches are improving daily. Whether you need to know where to go, what to use, or hire a guide, stop by your local fly shop and check out what’s happening.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

On the Fly column: Set the hook

a Roaring Fork River brown trout

Why is it that 10% of fly fishers catch 90% of the fish? We all know that jerk who seemingly outperforms everyone else, especially when it comes to nymphing. If you’ve been in the game for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard that the difference between a so-so nymph fisherman and a pro is usually one split shot. It sounds ludicrous, but it is so very true. Proper mending, fly selection and watching everything like a hawk are factors too, but weight trumps all other concerns, usually.

When fishing subsurface, you will find me adding depth and weight after every few drifts if my flies are not down in the zone. Usually if there are no hook ups in an obviously prime nymphing spot, the flies are simply too light and sailing over the heads of fish. There comes a point when your rig can get too heavy and snag bottom over and over again, as well. Finding that perfect depth and weight requires adjustments, and once you’re in the zone, you’ll see the difference. When I am confident in my weight and depth but am still getting blanked, then it’s time to consider changing flies.

When guiding, the No. 1 problem I see is a lack of confident hook setting. There must be absolutely no hesitation when setting the hook on fish. Yes, there are other factors in moving water besides fish that can cause your strike indicator to dip or hesitate, but we need to set the hook every single time, without fail. You just don’t know if you snagged bottom until you set the hook. There is a bit of lag time between when the fish eats the fly and your indicator tells you, so being on point with the hook set is paramount. Every single time.

At the end of your drift, be sure to strip in the slack line and bring your rod tip low to the water. This allows your flies to swing and slightly rise at the end of your presentation, which can drive fish crazy on those days they are looking for emerging insects rising to the surface. When you boil it all down, get your flies in the zone, pay attention to the indicator (and especially the fish), set on absolutely everything, and wiggle those bugs as they swing at the end of the drift. A nice fish in your net will hopefully follow!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.


On the Fly: What is that guy using?

Cameron and Allyson Weathers show off a local rainbow trout, caught on a hand-tied fly.

When speaking of fly-fishing and targeting trout, Rene Harrop said it best by simply saying “to fish is to hunt.”

To be a successful hunter you have to have the correct tools to gain the edge over the critter you are targeting. And just like an archer might build their own arrows and a big game hunter might pack their own rounds, we as fishermen and women are able to tie our own “ammunition.”

The basic reason that all of us hunters do this is because there is a certain satisfaction that comes from getting the job done with one of our own products. For anglers it’s a fly that you tied. But not only a fly that you tied, but a fly that is the product of your own imagination, knowledge of the waters you fish, and the bugs the trout eat in those particular waters.

Creative fly tying gives you the opportunity to try and learn new things and get that “edge” over the fish. And let’s face it; sometimes the flies at the shops may be grossly over dressed or possibly much too sparse for your taste and more importantly the trout’s taste. There is an unlimited amount of materials, colors and variations of the two to choose from and work with.

For me, the best thing about tying my own flies is being out on the water, catching fish when no one else is, and having everyone wondering, “What is that guy using?”

When you really get it right, it can be one of the most amazing feelings you might ever have while fishing. Whatever you did to tie that fly was right from start to finish. From the hook that you chose to tie it on, to the color of the thread you used, to the color combination you decided to go with. Days like that will make you feel like the ultimate predator, and before you know it you will be spending more time behind a vise then you do in your own bed.

Just don’t let your tying time interrupt your time on the water… after all, that’s what we live for, right?

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

On the Fly: Finding your magic

David Burgher and Brandon Soucie have a good ol' time on a guide’s day off on the Roaring Fork River.

Fly fishing serves different people in different ways. For many, getting out on the river and being immersed in nature is all one needs, using the time as a meditation, and landing a fish is just a bonus. Others are addicted to the tug, and will drive miles on end for a chance to tangle with a trophy fish. It is hard to deny that fly fishing holds magic, but where one sees it differs from person to person.

Floating down the Roaring Fork as the sun slowly drops below the mountains while our famous green drakes pour off the river is nirvana for some. Other anglers might say floating is a little too fast-paced and prefer the beauty of what they find while wading: appreciating the stillness, the sound of the river and listening to the wildlife sing their sweet song.

Some anglers might find our local rivers a little too crowded for their liking and resort to using their feet to go the extra mile, where they can find paradise in the high country. Catching trophy fish is not a concern to those who search for the magic above tree line. Throwing hoppers in crystal clear streams or pristine mountain lakes for eager cutthroats and brook trout can be as good as it gets.

When it comes down to it, fly fishing is a little more than just fishing. For all of us who call the Roaring Fork Valley home, we are doubly blessed with the amount of public land and water we are able to explore. For instance, if we have the opportunity to ski our world-famous mountains in the morning and fish gold medal waters in the afternoon, let’s just say we are pretty darn lucky. Wouldn’t you agree?

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.


On the Fly: Pick your poison

a Colorado River rainbow trout

How many places can boast having an incredible medium-sized tail water, a world class larger freestone, and big, brawling mix of both; all within 30 minutes of each other? The Roaring Fork Valley, which spans from Aspen downstream to Glenwood Springs, represents a trout fisherman’s paradise, float or wade. Small creeks, the massive Colorado River and technical Fryingpan River trout make for year-round fishing at its finest.

There is something here for any type of trout bum, no matter his or her preference. Dry fly purists are treated to the entire gamut of western hatches, without exception. Technical nymph fishers can fish light rigs to tough tail water trout on the Pan, hone their big water skills on the Fork or go industrial strength on the Colorado. Streamer junkies have two fantastic rivers to float and pound the banks on. For the small stream and high mountain lake trekker, there are thousands of acres of national forest lands to explore.

One of the byproducts of having all of these venues so close together is that fishing on any given day is bound to be good somewhere. Regardless of the time of year, weather, runoff, low flows or other tough conditions, there are few times when all of the rivers are affected simultaneously. The end product is a valley where fishing is as close to fail-safe as it is anywhere. In the same day, an angler may find difficult fishing on one river, drive a couple of miles to try another, and then finish up on a third.

To the destination fisherman, the Roaring Fork Valley is a no-brainer. So long as the decision of “where to fish” is left up to a capable local guide, or resourceful fly shop, the opportunity for productive fishing always exists. Any angler who has travelled to fish understands the risk of blowouts or unpredictable dam releases. Booking a trip here comes with its own form of travel insurance. Plan your trip as convenience and circumstance allow, and let the rivers provide the fishing.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.