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Small Creeks and Streams | Fish New Water this Summer
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Fly Fishing Colorado Rivers

Explore the Small Water this Summer

Max W.

Getting time out on the water amidst our bustling, busy lives can be somewhat of a struggle for some. Whether you’re a full time college student who wishes he was a full time fly tyer and fisherman like me, or have a career out there in the real world; we all have that fly fishing bug. A yearning to spend more time than we already do out on the water. When you finally catch a break and get a chunk of time to yourself to pull on your waders, tie on that fly you have been obsessing over at the vise for a week, and clear your head; chances are big fish and iconic water are on your mind. Now, as much as we all get stoked about a colored up 20in brown finding a resting place in the bottom of our nets on a historic piece of water like the Colorado or the Eagle, I encourage you to try something new. Give some careful thought and attention to that creek you saw on Google Earth last week or a buddy graciously told you about. Small water carries a special kind of release through its riffles and runs. At the right time of year most of the natives that inhabit these delicate waterways can be fooled by your favorite dry, and are always eager. You don’t have to worry about your 3 fly rig clad with an indicator and split shot getting tangled, and sometimes you don’t even need your waders!

Finding it: In the Vail Valley there are numerous options in the realm of small water, and most have a good amount of access. Options like Gore Creek, Brush Creek, and Homestake Creek are all exceptional options, as well as the lesser known or talked about tributaries of the larger water in the area.

BackTracking

Google Earth is a priceless tool when looking for new water or exploring water you already know. There are a couple of strategies to utilize when looking for a small creek or identifying a new stretch of water you may already know. The first strategy is backtracking. What I mean by this is finding your favorite local river on the map, preferably one with plenty of public access and public land on at least one side of the river, and then looking at the various tributaries that flow into said river. Once you’ve found a good candidate, start backtracking. Follow the twists and turns paying careful attention to the features both of the creek itself and the surrounding land. The water is obviously what we’re all interested in, but making sure to look at the land surrounding the water is just as important. The water is only fishable if you can get to it!

Access

The second strategy is looking for access. At one time or another, we have all struggled with finding access on an piece of water we think will turn out to be unbelievable to fish (which is probably why it’s so rad in the first place). Look for roads and trailheads, they are your friends! Remember, you can’t wet a fly if you can’t even get to the water. Always be aware of public and private land boundaries so you don’t find yourself in a sticky situation with a land owner. Not everyone understands that you’re “just fishing and not doing any harm”, trust me, I speak from experience. Once you find the water and the access to it print out a copy of what you see on the computer screen, mark your way in and where you want to fish. Taking the time to use these strategies before you hit the water can be crucial to getting the most out of your day.

Taking Something Home From Your Day on the Water, And I’m Not Talking About Fish: Not only is it a good time, but creek fishing hones skills that can be overlooked on a larger piece of water such as presentation and watching where you wade.

Presentation

Presentation is arguably the most vital skill in your fly fishing arsenal, and when you’re looking at a gin clear pool filled with skittish residents, it IS the most important thing, that’s a fact. Sharpening the skill of fly presentation will help you get that eat wherever you may wind up trying to fool a picky fish. You want the fish to be genuinely fooled by your fly, and the first step to achieving that is to be sure that your fly is the first thing that fish sees. Make sure you’re managing your fly line, and mending or high sticking when necessary. The next thing you want to be mindful of is setting your fly down delicately to begin the drift. Slapping it down on the water with a large footprint will most likely spook the fish.

Wading

Watching where you step while wading is, more often than not, neglected when fishing a larger piece of water. The truth is that the water you’re dredging through to get to that “perfect run” up the river probably has fish in it too, and you should give your fly or flies a few drifts before disturbing it. Fishing a smaller piece of water can make you much more sensitive the where your boot is going to land next. Most of the time just a little critical thinking and observation is required to take that next step in a productive direction, and spook less fish. Take the time to think about how you’re going to approach fishing a certain run, read the water, decide where you think the fish are, decide how you’d like to present the fly, and don’t walk through water that may be productive. Being keen on details like these, and heeding the tips on presentation will give you a better chance of getting a fish to hand.

Clear, Cold, Public

Not everyone can say they’re a landowner, but here in the United States we are fortunate enough to have vast, expansive public lands that every citizen can go out and use. We are so lucky that we live in a country that sees these lands as a right to their citizens. These lands are crucial to the lifestyle we live, as well as so many people’s careers. Not to mention that they hold some of the best fishing, and most beautiful scenery in the country, so let’s keep our public lands public! It’s up to us, as stewards of these lands, to be aware of keeping them pristine and accessible. So next time you get the day off work...or maybe even decide to skip class on Friday to disappear early for the weekend, log some time looking into the small water options in the Vail Valley area, or in your home area. You just may find yourself taking a day off from that technical tailwater to catch 10in native trout, and really enjoying it! Head over to the shop to stock up on flies, gear, and advice before your outing, and if you’re not in the Vail Valley area check out our online store! Get out there, fish it, and leave it better than you found it.

By: Max Westheimer, @troutwest

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Tailwater Tour | How to Escape Runoff
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Fly Fishing Colorado Rivers

Tailwater Tour | How to Escape Runoff

Max W.

Sitting inside tying big foam bugs during runoff is great and all, but at some point you have to get on the water to satisfy that itch!

Break out the size 22’s and 6x, but be prepared for some serious studs. The Vail Valley area is in a perfect central location to get to some of the state’s best tailwaters. To the south/west you’ve got the Frying Pan and Taylor, and to the north/east you have your choice between the Blue and Williams Fork. There are a few others, but those four are my favorites. Spring runoff doesn’t have to cramp your fishing time thanks to these year-round trout sanctuaries.

The Scoop

If you’re confused on the difference between a tailwater and a freestone; a tailwater any part of a river that is impounded by a reservoir then flowing out the other side via a dam, while a freestone is a natural free flowing piece of water. Tailwaters have a knack for growing large, but weary fish. The nutrient rich water exiting the dam into the river provides those fish with a constant supply of food. That is part of the reason they are spoiled, choosy brats. The water quality/clarity in tailwaters is beautiful, but also makes for some super selective fish. Although the name of the game is small flouro tippet, small bugs, and stealth don't be surprised if you get a cloudy afternoon with a solid BWO hatch and a chance at some awesome dry fly action. That being said, don’t be too quick to rule streamers out either. If you have a cloudy day, the fishing is slow, and you’re tired of untangling 6x pull out some meat treats and huck those guys at some promising water.

Where to Fish

So we have four pieces of water to focus on at the moment; Frying Pan, Taylor, Blue, and Williams Fork.

Let’s take a glance at the Frying Pan. Located right outside of Basalt, CO, The river and it’s surrounding are stunning. There is plenty of public water to choose from along Frying Pan River Rd. The most famous stretch is the Toilet Bowl, located directly underneath the dam. If you are ok with fishing shoulder to shoulder to some of the pickiest fish in the state you can put it in park right there, which I sometimes do. I usually prefer to go down river a few pull offs to where I have a some more water to myself. A few of those toads from the toilet bowl still lurk in the water down river, so be prepared.

Next let's hop on over to the Taylor. The Taylor is the place I had my first truly memorable tailwater experience, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. There is a plethora of public access along County Rd. 742 just outside of Almont, CO. Again, the most talked about stretch is the C&R right below the Taylor Park Reservoir Dam. The fishing can be lights out if you get there early enough to claim a spot that hasn’t been fished through heavily already. I prefer to go a little ways below the Co. Rd. 742 bridge and fish the riffle runs, or pocket water as opposed to the slow, deep runs. A decent amount of very large fish seem to find their way down the river, so always be ready for a fish that will give you an O-face. Don’t discount the water much further down river toward Almont either, it is less technical and has proved to produce.

Now let's take a drive to the other side of town. The good ole Blue. I’ll have to admit, it took me a very long time to admire the Blue and its fish. It frustrated me more times than I can count, but when I somewhat figured it out I knew that if I could be successful on that river I could catch fish anywhere else in the state. The access on the Blue is no problem. Between Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, just a short trip down I-70 is Silverthrone, CO. In town weaving through the outlet malls there is promising water, but to be successful you need to pull out all the stops. These fish are indicator shy, tippet shy, split shot shy, etc. If these fish were people they would be that kid that was in all of your classes for years, but sat in the back and never said a word even though they may have been the smartest kid in the class. It is, however, Gold Medal water in town so the the fish are there. They also happen to be quite large on a regular basis. Up Highway 9 toward Kremmling there is numerous public access points with some pretty rad water. To get away from the crowds, but still get the Blue River experience that is what I would recommend.

Last, but absolutely not least, we will take a hike down to the Williams Fork. Conveniently located right outside of Parshall, CO it’s just a short trip. To get to the river it requires about a 20 minute walk, so it can be a great place to find some solitude from Saturday Denver crowds. It’s a short 2 miles from the dam to the confluence with the Colorado River. Although the fish aren’t always of monumental size like they can be in some of the other rivers we’ve talked about, they are wily, come with a solid fight, and can prove hard to fool. There is a parking area along County Rd. 3 that will dump you onto the trail to the river. I like to walk toward the confluence a ways and then work my way back up through the bends.

As always, be aware of public and private property as it can switch from one to the other quickly on and of these river.

What to Fish

These four have their similarities, but also quite a few differences. I have a go to tailwater search rig for this time of year. Start with a 5x mono leader, clip off 6 inches, add about 10 inches of 5x flouro tippet, tie on your first bug which should be a semi natural looking bug with some attractor qualities like flash or a hot spot (I’ve been liking an Evil Olive or Higa’s SOS in sz.18 lately), attach a 12 inch piece of 6x flouro tippet to the hook shank of the first fly, then add on your second bug (my first bug of choice in midge rich water is usually a sz.22 red/black jujubee midge). I can’t stress enough the importance of changing flies. The flies mentioned above are some tailwater confidence flies for me, but I’m not afraid to change them out after drifting through a few run likely holding fish without an eat. Split shot is important to the rig as well, I like to put it above the knot I tied to attach the 5x flouro tippet to the 5x mono leader. The reason I do it that way is so it doesn’t slide down unknowingly. Your indicator choice can also make or break your day when dealing with picky fish. I have stated using a small New Zealand indicator, but the key to making it float all day long is to put floatant on it the night before. As far as dry flies go, you’ll just have to play it by ear and see what bugs are coming off. This time of year BWO’s are really prevalent, so it’s always good to have a few of those in the box. I love and Extended Body Parachute Adams, that fly always seems to get the job done for a variety of small dries. Natural is what you should be thinking when picking bugs, but the most important aspect is matching the size of the bugs coming off and fishing to actively feeding trout. Sometimes not the most effective on tailwaters, but still something I carry, and use at least once a day, is a variety of streamers. Sometimes these picky fish will move a great distance out of the way to inhale a fly that moves a lot of water. Color is going to be your deciding factor on these guys. Dark for overcast, bright for sunny is the old rule and it absolutely applies. White/tan, yellow, olive, and black are my four go to colors. It’s not unusual to use all 3 methods (nymphing, dries, and streamers) in one day, so always hit the river prepared.

When to fish

Year-round! That is one of the beauties of tailwaters! They are always a good option, but become irreplaceable during times like runoff.

Head over to the shop to stock up on flies, gear, and advice before your outing, and if you’re not in the Vail Valley area check out our online store! Get out there, fish it, and leave it better than you found it.

By: Max Westheimer, @troutwest

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Public Lands | Continuing the Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt
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Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks

Public Lands | Continuing the Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt

Max W.

The Public Legacy

A legacy of conservation left behind by a President who cared about our lands, water and the wildlife and fish that inhabit them.

Today, President’s Day, we want to pay tribute and thanks to a man who dedicated much of his time in office (and life) to our lands, water and the fish and wildlife that inhabit them. Theodore Roosevelt, fondly considered the conservation president, holds a special place in my heart, and the hearts of many, for creating some of our most vast expanses of public land all over the West.

The Man

Teddy Roosevelt was an avid fisherman, hunter, horseman, rancher, and lover of the western lifestyle he adopted when he ventured out to live in the Dakota Badlands all the way from New York City. When he returned to politics and later became President he made our numerous, wonderful natural resources a priority. Throughout his presidency, Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments, consisting of around 230 million acres of public land, mostly concentrated in the West. What he did way back when still shines like a beacon of hope today. Those public lands, as well as the public land that came later on, are ours.  We are all landowners because we are citizens of this great nation. Roosevelt cherished these lands so much that he made it his duty to make them accessible to everyone, and because of his efforts we can utilize the land just as he did. It is our duty to care for these lands just as he did, protect them, improve them, and most importantly: keep them public! His contributions during his presidency and his conservation mindedness were unheard of at the time, but he blazed the trail because he deeply cared about it, and rightly so. We all have places to get out and enjoy the fish, waters, wildlife, and land largely due to his efforts and the efforts of like-minded individuals.

Be Aware

Fighting to keep these lands public is a battle in and of itself, one we will face in our lifetime. The stresses of public land transfer are very real right now. Transferring these lands to the states would almost definitely result in a large scale sell off - putting our heritage, lifestyle, and environment in grave danger. We must stay focused on conserving, growing, and caring for our public places and natural resources.

Possible Repercussions

Sitting stagnant on this issue could easily prove to be detrimental to the fly fishing and outdoor lifestyle so many of us love, the plethora of jobs these lands provide within the fly fishing, outdoor industries, and most importantly our environment as a whole. Headwaters, tributaries, surrounding land, and the list goes on, all need protection and stewardship to keep our waterways and land out of harm's way.

Let Others Know

Speak up to your representatives, and let them know how you feel! Let them know that you’d like to keep your access to your favorite river, creek, or lake. We, as one, can make a difference in this fight. Tell your group of fishing buddies to get involved, or anyone that enjoys the outdoors and relies on public lands for that matter! This is going to be a numbers game, the more voices speaking out in defense of our land the better! Carry on Teddy’s legacy, go out and use our public lands, fight for them, and leave them better than you found them.

Own It

Being active in not only the struggle to keep public land public, but also the stewardship is important. We need to take action showing how much we care about the access and opportunity these lands provide to so many people. Doing things like river cleanups, volunteer work, and educating the next generation are all key components that play an integral role. Stewardship and fly fishing are a combination that can make a difference. Fish your local water, but also think about and act on what’s best for it, best for the fish, and best for the guy or gal fishing it a few hours behind you.

Timeless Advice

Here’s a wise word from the man himself, There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” Use #publiclandsproud to show your support, and visit http://sportsmensaccess.org/ for more information on how to take action. Next time you get a chance to go enjoy our public lands make sure and head over to the shop to stock up on flies, gear, and advice before your outing, and if you’re not in the Vail Valley area check out our online store!

What’s a piece of public land you couldn't live without in the Vail area? For me, it’s definitely all of the BLM land along the Colorado River. Talk about a river that’s got a little bit of everything, including great access!

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Destination Trout Fishing | Texas Guadalupe River
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Fly Fishing Travel

Destination Trout | Guadalupe River

Max W.

The Guadalupe River is the tailwater below Canyon Lake Dam in the Texas hill country, the southernmost trout fishery in the United States.

When you think of Texas chances are your first thought is not rainbows in cold, clear water. Even being from San Antonio, Texas (only 45 minutes away from the river), it was never on the forefront of my mind. About 2 years ago I fished the Guadalupe for the first time. I immediately began realizing what I had overlooked for so long. Having the Colorado Rocky Mountains look down on you while casting a fly gives a special feeling that I’m lucky enough to get many months out of the year. I yearn for that feeling when I’m back home in San Antonio. Before I discovered the Guadalupe for myself, I would try and satisfy my need for that feeling by sitting at my tying desk for hours on end, going through the social media of the fly fishing world, watching videos about bucket list destinations, and writing. I still do all of those things when I’m home, the difference now is I do them after I spend most of my day on the water in search of Texas rainbows.

History

The Guadalupe was stopped up by Canyon Lake dam in the 1960’s. The cold water being released from the dam into the tailwater pushed the warm water species that are native to the river much further downstream. Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) decided that rainbow trout would be the best fit to take over the newly created cold water habitat. Now that flow agreements have been reached, there is a year round population of self sustaining fish in about 10 miles of the Guadalupe below the dam. Stocking still takes place throughout every winter thanks to TPWD and Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited. These efforts have created the southernmost freshwater trout fishery in the country. The river has also worked its way up to being ranked in the top 100 trout streams in the United States.

Where to Fish

The first 10 miles below the dam boast many access points. One thing to be aware of is that in Texas the river bottom is public, so as long as you are in the water, you’re safe. Most of the land along the river is private, so make sure you pay close attention to where you’re walking. To be safe I always stay in the water. This can make for a long haul to and from the car. I highly recommend bringing water, food, and appropriate gear. With all of that being said, visit this link to a map of access points provided by TPWD. Lazy L&L Campground also offers a great deal of access for a small cost.

What to Fish

The Guad, as it’s fondly referred to by locals, has plentiful bug life, and is mostly a nymph rig type of river. Hatches can be profound, but are also unpredictable. This river will test your bug identification skills, as the fish can key in on different bugs in a split second. Midges are always a safe bet because they are the most prolific insect in the tailwater. Tricos and Blue-Wing Olives can also be steady producers if you catch them right. Caddis have been great this year as well. The chance at a fish on a dry fly is possible, but opportunities are few and far between. Two nymphs under an indicator, with split shot if necessary usually does the trick. My preferred setup is a 9ft 5wt rod, floating line, 9ft 4x leader to the first fly, 5x tippet to the second fly, and the right amount of split shot for the depth and quickness of the water. Patterns I lean toward on my lead fly are: Pat’s Rubber Legs (8-12), San Juan Worm (12-14), BH Hare’s Ear/Rubber Leg Hare’s Ear (14-18), and BH Pheasant Tail/Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail (14-18). As for the trailing fly some of my favorites include: Black Zebra Midge (18-22), Blood Midge (18-22), JuJuBee Midge (18-22), WD-40 (18-22), and Rainbow Warrior (18-22). Although the Guadalupe is primarily a nymphing dominated fishery, you can still turn up some aggressive fish who like a heartier meal. If you plan to try fishing a streamer, be warned it isn’t a numbers game. It won’t entice many fish, but the few it does will probably be larger than average. Streamers I’ve had success with include a few different variations of Wooly Buggers like the Autumn Splendor, Rubber Bugger, and the good old fashioned Wooly Bugger all in dark colors, and all in sizes 6-10. All of these bugs can be found at Vail Valley Anglers, and on the online store.

When to Fish

Due to Texas having a mild winter, the best months to fish are late-November through late-February. These times are weather pending, of course. Stockings by TPWD and Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited usually begin in late November or early December. They begin when the water hits the right temperature and persists throughout the winter. You won’t just be hooking up small stockers, there are fish of all sizes now that there is an established population in the tailwater. Fishing after the weather warms up is not good for the fish, and will not be very productive. Too much stress and water that isn’t cold enough can be detrimental for the fish, so try and limit fishing to the winter.

Whether you’re traveling to Texas for a business meeting, visiting family, or just driving through make sure to pack your gear, and give the Guad a chance! It’s also a great way for all of you summertime Colorado folks that call Texas home to keep your skills sharp. I always look forward to trips home, for my parents cooking, seeing old friends, and Texas trout in the Guadalupe River. Head over to the shop to stock up on flies, gear, and advice before your outing, and if you’re not in the Vail Valley area check out our online store!

Get out there, fish it, and leave it better than you found it.

By: Max Westheimer, @mjwestheimer, Vail Valley Anglers' Guest Writer

Did you know? Vail Valley Anglers'  summer guide, Alvin Dedeaux, is the go-to guide resource on the Guadalupe River. With over 20 years of experience as a professional guide, no one is more knowledgeable or enjoyable to help you experience the best of what Texas Rivers have to offer than Alvin. Learn more about his trips and book today at All Water Guides

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