Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fish Camp 2009

It will be the first of many “Fish Camps” for years to come. This trip included my good fishing buddy Nate Green, his neighbor and overall great guy Aaron Brown, my old friend and new fishing buddy Mike Pierson and myself. I got Mike into fly fishing about a month ago and now he is “hooked”. Anyway, this trip we decided to head to Pacheta Lake in the White Mountain area and stay for about 3 or 4 days. We chose this area because of the numerous lakes and streams and reported great fishing. So here are some of the events and memories created throughout our time there. (This was a much longer trip than normal so the story is long as well. Relax, grab a drink and enjoy)

DAY 1: The plan was to leave around 4pm due to some work schedules, etc. With a 5 hour drive to camp I was a little concerned about leaving that late because none of us had been to Pacheta Lake. By 10am I already had the truck loaded and was pacing back and forth. Nate called and said that he and Aaron were running late and suggested that Mike and I head out and they would find us. Great idea! So after some late minute details and loading Mikes gear we headed out around noon.

We hit the dirt roads to the lake about 4 ½ hours later. Right of the bat we see elk and antelope. We meander our way back into the hills to some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen. About an hour later we finally find Pacheta Lake and a perfect campsite. We didn’t fish this day because it was dusk and we still had to set up camp and eat. Nate and Aaron finally arrived at camp around 11pm. We were excited to see them and get our weekend started. I eventually went to bed around midnight or so, however, I quickly learned that I should have place my tent a little farther from Mike’s (and Aaron’s) tent as they both snore something ferociously. I didn’t get much, or any, sleep that night. The last time I checked my watch it was 3:14 am. The next thing I know it’s 4:55am and Nate is up and ready to go. Huh.

DAY 2: After a quick breakfast we all geared up and walked down to the lake with our float tubes. The fishing started out pretty slow. Actually, it was non-existent for the first hour or so. I had eventually kicked over to a small cove where Mike was working some fish that were rising. Then it happened….he caught his first fish in a float tube. It was only about 5 inches long but you woulda thought it was 25 inches by the smile on his face. After a while Mike decided to head back to camp and as he was getting out of the water he quickly learned that the soft mud and fins don’t like each other. I heard this huge splash and looked back as Mike was fighting the elements. And then I heard him say some curse words that would make a sailor blush. You had to have been there but that was pretty funny watching that. Anyway, I caught a few of those little guys there and then worked the shoreline heading towards Nate. Nate had found an area that we dubbed “Brown Alley”. He was catching a ton of fish here but they were all pretty small. Earlier he had caught a 16 incher along the shore. I caught a bunch of browns in the alley but like Nate, they were all small.

We all headed in about mid-day. Back at camp we learned that Aaron didn’t catch a lot of fish but the one’s he did catch were of decent size (15” to 18”). Aaron didn’t bring a camera so we had to raz him a little because there was no evidence. He is an attorney…he should know all about evidence!

After a quick lunch we decided to try to find the “Black River”. It was only about a ½ inch away on the map but I think it took us almost 2 hours to get there. The roads on the Indian Reservation aren’t marked very well. Throughout our journey to “The Black” we saw some elk and mule deer. We finally find this river and it looks great. We all jump out of the truck, suit up and head down. Unfortunately there was a little rain we had to contend with but nothing too bad. I was more sleep deprived than anything. Nonetheless, Nate and Aaron headed upstream, Mike stayed near the truck and I went downstream. This river was absolutely gorgeous. I caught four browns there but they were only in the 10 inch range. Nate caught three small browns there too. But…Aaron ends up catching the monster. Apparently, he saw a fish rooting around the shoreline. He cast in a fly and ends up catching a huge 21 inch brown. The coloring on this fish was gorgeous. Eventually we all made it back to the truck and headed back to camp.

At camp, I was exhausted. With minimal sleep under my belt I was in need for a power nap. Mike hung out around camp and Nate and Aaron hit the lake again. I finally woke up around dusk and missed my fishing opportunity but sleep was well needed. Nate ended up catching a few that night (some in the 15”+ range if I remember). That night we cooked up some great dinners, talked about the days catch(es) and told some jokes and stories. Hit the hay around 10pm.

DAY 3: We actually slept in ‘til about 6am. On the water at 7am. Again, the fishing started out slow. I was so tired of catching those really small browns that I changed my set up to only catch bigger fish. Ya, that didn’t work either. My plan was to work the shoreline around the entire lake. About ½ way around the lake Nate and Aaron had moved a few hundred yards in front of me and ended up catching some nice fish on dry flies. I put on an orange stimulator and started getting some hits. A lot of strikes but nothing hooked. I eventually worked my way around the whole lake and made it back to camp around 12:30.

We ate some lunch and made our plans for the rest of the day. I just spent 5 ½ hours on the water and was ready for a break. However, them young whipper snappers, Nate and Aaron, were ready to hit “The Black” again. A few hours later they returned with Nate catching about 13 small ones and Aaron…zip. That happens.

About 5pm or so we all decided to hit the lake again. Nate and I worked the north shore while Mike and Aaron worked the east shore. We were catching the usual 5 inchers while moving toward “brown alley”. I was using a grey “hopper” with no dropper. As I was working the reeds near that area I ended up getting a nice surface strike and hook set on something a little more substantial. I was pretty excited because for the past two days I was catching nothing but small ones. Anyway, this fish came close to the surface and it appeared to be about 12 inches or so. However, it headed back down to the bottom and I was concerned about snapping a line and loosing it. Of course, Nate it razing me and telling me that I was “show boating” and to hurry up and land it. The fish just decided to hang out for a while. Eventually I got him to the surface and netted him. He ended up being a 17 inch, female brown. Absolutely gorgeous. That made the entire weekend for me! Almost…..

It was starting to get darker now and I slowly worked my way back along the shoreline. As I was working the shoreline I would occasionally hear a rise or two behind me. So, with nothing else to do, I cast my hopper behind me and bam! Ended up landing a nice 13” rainbow. And then something amazing happened. Within just minutes there were hundreds of rising fish all around me. I was getting a strike with most casts. Between the beauty of the lake, the trees, the great weather, the enormous amount of fish activity and the fact the I just landed my largest trout ever…I was in heaven. I ended up landing about 7or 8 rainbows during this time with 3 of them being between 12 inches and 14 inches. After a while the rising activity continued but the strike level decreased so I kicked my way back to shore where I met up with Nate and Aaron.

Back at camp I learned that Mike had also landed a good sized one. He was using a nymph with a midge dropper. He had caught a small rainbow on the midge and as he got it to the surface a larger brown either tried to eat the smaller rainbow or was going after the nymph. Nonetheless, at one point he had two fish on at the same time! The rainbow ended up getting free of the hook but the larger brown was hooked well. After the net it measured out at 16 inches.

The excitement at camp was pretty cool. Especially from Mike and I. Mike couldn’t stop grinning and talking about his first big fish. It was pretty cool just listening to him recap the even. Throughout dinner we rehashed some of the catches, told some good stories and pondered the thoughts of future Fish Camps. We all hit the sack around 10 or so with Nate and I prepared for another night of snoring.

DAY 4: The plan for today was to wake up early, pack everything up and leave. Nate and Aaron were going to go scout the West Fork of the Black for an upcoming backpack trip while Mike and I were going to check out Lee Valley Reservoir on our way home. During our drive out we found a gorgeous meandering creek through a meadow. I think it was called Thompson Creek but can’t remember. Anyway, we all fished this little waterway for an hour or so with little to no luck. It really didn’t matter though, it was gorgeous and just fun the be there.

From there we split ways. After checking out Lee Valley, Mike and I decided to call it a trip and head home. The drive home was typical. Hungry, tired and the silent rehashing of the weekend. As we approached the valley the temperature raised about 30 degrees and the reminder of Mondays work hit us. Overall it was a great weekend. The fishing was a little odd for Pacheta Lake as the normal rainbow stockers were not biting. We did well though, with 3 out of the 4 of us catching the biggest trout we’ve ever caught. The next Fish Camp will be even better, if that’s possible.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bear Flats - Cinco De Mayo

I took a trip back up to Bear Flats on May 5th. I was joined by a friend of mine, Mike Pierson, who’s not a fisherman but wanted to get out of the city and see a part of Arizona he’s never seen before. Plus I figured if he went out there, caught some fish and had some fun he might find more interest in the sport. So, I picked Mike up about 5:45 am. He loads his gear up in the truck including his telescoping “pen” fishing pole and the famous “pocket fisherman”. I knew he had those gadgets, I just didn’t think he’d actually use them!

So we start heading north, telling old stories and having a good time. We finally hit the creek about 8:30 or so. I was concerned about taking him here because I really wanted to put him in an area that was easy to fish so he would have some success and fun. The last time I was at Bear Flats I took the kids and we found fish right away. So when we finally get to the water I was pleased to see fish…..and lots of fish. The water was extremely clear and running slow. We fished the first pool for probably 1 ½ to 2 hours. I think Mike caught 2 fish here and lost one or two more before getting them all the way in. In Mike’s defense, his equipment wasn’t easy to fish with. I think I caught about 8 and lost an additional 2 or 3 before the net. I even caught one with the “pocket fisherman” just to see if it was possible. I have no more comments about the “pocket fisherman”.

From there we moved upstream and found a nice little run. Again the water was so clear you could see fish everywhere. There was probably 10 or 12 fish in this run with one really big one that probably would have measured 17 to 18 inches easily. I waded downstream to cast over the fish and Mike worked them from shoreline. I caught 2 or 3 of the smaller ones from that spot. Mike didn’t catch any trout there but ended landed this monster sunfish. Boy did this little guy put up a fight! It had to have lasted a good 10 or 12 seconds and Mike’s arms were burning! I didn't even know these little guys were in this creek. Check out the picture to the right.

A little ways up further we stopped at a rather large pool that was just loaded with fish. Mike was really having trouble with his set up. I think he did catch a few and seemed to be pretty excited. I caught quite a few here, probably 6 or 7. I lose count after a while. All of them were the average stocker size, around 10 to 12 inches. What I did notice was that even though it was a nice sunny day that would be perfect for dry flies, there was no bugs on the surface and the fish were not rising. So I stuck with dead drift nymphing and it was working. I was using Beaded Pheasant Tails and Copper Johns with different various midges behind them. The fish were hitting on both the larger and the smaller flies.

My end goal was to hike back to what I call “The 2nd Road” to catch this big fish that has been eluding me for the past few trips. As we were hiking in that direction I could see fish in runs everywhere. We would stop at various runs and I’d catch 1 or 2 here and there. We finally made it to my spot. I only fished it for a short time because there was a lot of moss and the water was low but I did end up catching 2 or 3 fish there but not the big one. My plan was to put Mike in the pool above this area which had been productive in the past. However, it didn’t look good today.

At this point I think Mike was getting tired of messing with his micro rod set up so we started heading back downstream. I found a few more runs to fish with one of them holding a very large rainbow. I seemed like I caught every fish in that run except the big one. I guess that’s why he’s big. Mike and I had got split up at this point. He was off whittling a stick and messing with some snake he found. I stayed back and fished some different areas and had some pretty good luck. I eventually made it back to truck. I think I caught somewhere over 25 fish for the day. All of them were rainbows except one was a nice brown. Most of them were in the 10 to 12 inch range with 2 of them pushing a whopping 13 inches and a little fatter. Mike seemed to enjoy himself out there and I'm looking forward to some more trips with him. Overall it was a great day on the creek.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Canyon Creek - April 28, 2009

I decided to check out Canyon Creek today. I had heard some good things about this area. I left the house about 5:30 am and finally arrived there around 8:00 am. It’s way the heck back in the hills. I noticed another truck was parked where I was which I was surprised to see anyone there on a Tuesday. Anyway, I geared up and headed down to the creek and started working my way south, down stream. The creek was pretty shallow with an occasional pool here and there. After about 20 minutes of hiking I finally caught my first brown of the day. It was a typical 10 incher but it always puts you in a good mood. I continued on, stopping at a few pools but didn’t catch anything. As I was hiking I saw a guy in a blue shirt down the creek a few hundred yards. I didn’t pay much attention to him as I was interested in fishing this small run. I was seeing fish at the bottom. As I was wading and casting I could see more fish swirling around. Then I heard this, “Hey Steve!”. The dude in the blue shirt was a fellow blogger named Brennon (check out his blog at ). He and I have communicated back and forth through our blogs but have never met. What a great way to meet. Anyway, we chatted for a bit, he gave me some pointers and we went our separate ways.

One of the things Brennon was telling me about were these “sucker fish”. That’s what I was seeing in that run. Here’s a picture of one. This has to be the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen. And they were everywhere. I’m not sure what good they do but they can go in my opinion. I probably caught 4 to 6 of them throughout the day and dealing with them was more of a pain in the ass than anything.

I worked my way down this creek for probably about 3+/- miles. It was a long damn way. I was told that the fishing wouldn’t get good until about 1.5 miles in. That’s where the pools started getting bigger and deeper. I was absolutely gorgeous back there but I only caught a few small browns in that area. By this time it was in the afternoon, the wind was picking up and my back was killing me so I started heading back upstream. I fished my way back for about a mile with no luck. I finally found a small run under a downed willow tree that produced two more small browns.

I headed back another ¼ mile or so and found a small plunge pool. I dropped in a single Copper John and after just a few casts I got a strike. I set the hook strong but thought I was on a rock or something because there was no movement. Then my line moved to the right about 5 feet. I had hooked up with a huge fish that didn’t want to play my game. All it wanted to do was sit on the bottom. I was scared to death that I would loose this guy with a snapped line or lost hook so I let him just sit on the bottom while keeping constant tension on the line. Over the past few weeks I’ve lost several large fish by not playing them right. It wasn’t a very big pool so he couldn’t run very far. He would go to the bottom, raise up a little and move around but that was it. Eventually I tired him out and he started to loosen up. It took me about 12 minutes or so to get this guy to the net. I want to apologize to my friend Nate for telling him he squeals like a little girl every time he catches a big one because that’s what I did. You would have thought I was seven years old and wearing a skirt! He ended up measuring 16 ¼ inches and had some girth! After getting this brut to the net I quickly snapped some bragging photos, gave him a sincere thank you and put him back in the water. It took him a good 2 or 3 minutes to recover enough to swim back under the waterfall.

It was getting late in the afternoon now and I needed to get moving before darkness became a problem. While heading back I saw the biggest bald eagle that I have ever seen in my life. It was flying from treetop to treetop going upstream. I never could get close enough for a picture until he circled back and flew right over my head. It happened so fast I couldn’t get the camera ready but it was something to remember. Overall Canyon Creek was good. The hike was not difficult but it was very long. I’ll definitely come back to this area.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It Doesn't Get Better Than This!

So it’s Easter Sunday. Church is done and Lindie, Raegan, Ryan and myself are at the park walking the dog. The weather is absolutely beautiful and none of us are looking forward to being inside so we decide to pack up the truck and head north to the high country. Of course I maneuver this little trip into a fishing trip for the kids and direct us up to one of my favorite little fishing holes, Bear Flats on Tonto Creek.

We didn’t get there until about 1pm. Parked the truck and basically ran down to the creek. I didn’t even take a fly rod for myself, just a couple of poles for the kids. This was the first time the kids had the opportunity to really fish. We let Ryan go first and within just a few minutes he had one on the line. You should have seen the look on his face and how excited he was. Raegan was next and the same thing. In only a minute or two she was reeling one in too. These kids were so excited. We were dancing around and high-fiving each other like a bunch of hillbillies. Then Lindie got in on the action and the same thing. She had one on in no time. The kids took turns by one catching the fish and the other netting the fish. They caught about 4 or 5 rainbows each. They learned a little bit about how to handle the fish, take the hooks out and place the fish back in the water so we can catch them again. All in all we had a blast and I was exceptionally proud of both of them.
(<--Lindie's Fish!!!) And then….it happened. I could see a huge fish in the creek but was unable to do anything with it earlier. Lindie and Raegan walked back to the truck and Ryan and I stayed there because I really wanted that big fish. This may have been the same fish I hooked two days earlier but couldn’t get to the net. Anyway, Ryan and I messed around with this dude for about 15 or 20 minutes and finally he took the bait. He put up a great fight and I hurried him to the net. Just at that time Raegan was walking down the road and we yelled at her to bring the camera. She ran the camera down to us and we got a few pics for the scrapebook. It ended up being about 15.5 inches and was FAT! Absolutely beautiful rainbow. We placed him back in the water, gave him a little time and off he went. I don’t know who was more excited about this one. I think it was me.

After that we headed back up to the truck to have a late lunch, talk about our fish catchin’ and hide some Easter eggs. Yes, my thoughtful wife brought eggs for the kids to hide and find. I brought salmon eggs – she brought Easter eggs. Huh. So we ended up taking turns hiding and finding Easter eggs for a while in the forest and it was a blast. Except, Lindie and I kept forgetting where we hid some of the eggs and had a hard time finding them. It was a great day fishing with the kids, a great Easter and a great big ol’ fish I caught.

Here are some other photos from the day....

The End.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Red Zebra Midge Frenzy

I had a few appointments cancel on me for Friday so I decided to take a trip back up to Bear Flats. Since I planned the trip so late nobody was available to tag along with me but that was ok. A little peace and quiet by myself would be nice. I left my house right at 6am and by the time I arrived at Tonto Creek and geared up it was almost 8:30am. The weather was about 42 degrees with expected showers and wind in the evening. I figured I’d fish most of the day and head out when the weather turned bad.

I walked down to the creek and noticed that it looked completely different than it did just 2 weeks ago. The water level was really low, it was crystal clear and there was a layer of moss/algae that covered everything. This made a significant difference in the way I was planning to fish this creek. The long runs and larger pools were no longer there and the fishing spots were a considerable distance from one another.

I rigged up a black bead head pheasant tail with a red zebra midge (see photo) trailing about 8 or 9 inches behind it. I worked my way back to a pool with a good sized waterfall flowing into it. I hooked up two rainbows right off the bat and was feeling pretty good about my start. I then moved up creek about 100 yards and as I was walking next to the creek I saw something move in the water. It was a small rainbow and I thought, what the heck…flip a line out there see what happens. After getting myself into position I started seeing more fish. And then more… and more. With the help of my polarized sunglasses I found a pocket of fish that had probably 30 or 40 in it. So I flip my flies out there and boom! I was catching a fish on probably every other cast. They absolutely loved the red zebra midge. Most of these fish were in the 9 to 12 inch range but I did hook up on one that took me for a ride. It was probably 15 or 16 inches and put up a good fight. But don’t get too excited….I didn’t play the drag right and he got loose. Oh well. Actually I lost a lot of fish in that hole, but caught a lot too.

So after an hour or so of that I got bored reeling in fish after fish. (I know that may sound weird but it was too easy) Anyway, I started working my way up creek but there were few places to fish because of the water levels. So after about 30 or 40 minutes of walking I came to an area that Nate had caught a monster rainbow at 2 weeks ago (see photo on right). I flipped my line out to the same rock he caught his at and the same monster fish jumped at my strike indicator. He actually came out of the water about 4 inches or so. As my line drifted down stream I reloaded and shot at the same spot and boom! He was on. He put up a pretty good fight and I was squealin’ like a 10 year old school girl. But then….I got him to about 2 feet from my net and he took off again eventually coming free from the hook. It was definitely the same fish Nate landed 2 weeks ago. I think we measured it at about 16.5 inches. I was pretty bummed about that scenario as I still am due to catch a huge trout in an AZ creek.

After getting back to reality and saying every curse word I could think of (and made up some new ones!) I decided to move up stream about 20 yards to another pool. I caught 2 small rainbows there and then kept moving back and forth between the two areas in an effort to land that big rainbow that just got away. With another cast to the same area I got a hit and set the hook great. I was hoping this was it. This one put up a nice little fight but after getting him to the net it wasn’t the brut I was hoping. Nice fish though…. it was a brown trout about 13 inches or so. I stayed there for another 15 minutes or so with no luck. The wind was picking up so I decided to start heading back toward the truck just in case a storm came in fast. On the way back I fished a few small runs and ended up catching a few more. With the water being so low and so clear it really made fishing these runs tough.

I made my way back to the honey hole I started at earlier in the day but things went a little different this time. The water was pretty deep on my side of the creek so I couldn't wade and there was also a lot of tree branches and brush along the bank. So standing on the creek bank and leaning over the brush and roll casting was the ticket. Earlier in the day everything went great but for some reason in the afternoon, every time I hooked a fish I would get it almost to the net and then the hook would come off, my rod would fling the flies up in the air and my flies would end up in the tree branches. I retrieved many of them with no problem but I only had two red zebra midges on me and ended up loosing both of them. That was my secret weapon for the day and I was out. I tried many other flies and midges and did catch fish on them but nothing like the response I had with the red zebra midges. Oh well again. I ended up catching about 25 or 30 fish for the day and had another 10 or 15 that I couldn’t get in the net. That’s actually a great day on the creek for me. I just wish someone was there to enjoy it with me. How about you? Maybe next time.