Don’t Fish White Flies in the Winter

2020 Week 7:

More open water than I’ve seen in months

Sunday was one of those days. I woke up at 4 am and hit the road with the plan of being on the river at sunrise for a full day bender. I left Winter Park in the midst of a blizzard and on the drive to the river I saw more elk and mule deer than cars and people. It was awesome. I pulled over at my starting location just as the warm glow of day was just beginning to become detectable. It was overcast with intermediate snow flurries and about 36 degrees – dreamy conditions for a winter streamer day. By the time I geared up and hiked into the short canyon section of river I was about to fish, it was just before the sunrise time of 7 am.

I was rigged up and ready to chuck and duck with a black/chartreuse dungeon attached to a 7wt sink tip line. Within the first few casts I moved a number of fish and right at 7 am I hooked into the first fish of the day. I could tell right away that this was a thick fish by its head shakes and the bend of my 7wt. It had been some time since I had felt a tug like this. I got the net out and after a commendable fight by the lunker brown I finally got him in the bag. It was by far the biggest trout I had landed in 2020.

It didn’t take long to figure out that today was going to be a stellar day. I landed 5 browns in the first half hour of fishing (all in the same 50-75 yard stretch) and within an hour and a half of starting I had netted 10 fish. The best part was that almost every one of these fish were in the 14-17″ range and were absolutely crushing my streamers.

Around 8:30 I noticed a definite slowing of the bite. It was hard to tell whether the bite had actually slowed or if I was just fishing the wrong type of water. The dry spell lasted about an hour until I got to another sweet looking pool. I started moving fish on nearly every cast and hooking up with fish frequently. At this point I had switched to a white and gold streamer called a goldie. The fish were all over it and being a white fly, the eats were super visual as I could easily see the streamer as I was fishing it.

After I moved on from the pool I hit another long time span before running into anymore fish. I was fishing a number of pools where I had caught fish during the winter in the past so I wasn’t sure what the deal was. Maybe there were a few bite windows going on during this outing?

Around 2 pm I got to the tailout of a long, slower moving pool. I started getting into a couple fish at the bottom end of the pool and the bite was on again. About midway up the pool I made a cast straight across the river, started to swing the fly and tossed in an upstream mend when I felt the fly stop abruptly. I strip-set into the fish and felt the head shakes of another thick brown on the end of my line. Like the first fish of the day, this guy put up a great fight. When I got him in the net I could tell that he was just a little bigger than the first fish of the day. A solid 19″ stud and a new biggest fish of 2020.

As the day progressed into early evening I started to find fish lined up along the ice shelves more than in the middle of pools. A cast quartering downstream followed by letting the sink tip line drag the fly into the depths and then swinging the fly until it was downstream at the edge of the ice shelf before finally slowly stripping and twitching the fly upstream began driving fish nuts. These were some of the most aggressive hits of the day. I could kind of anticipate when a hit would come but because I couldn’t see the fish until it was basically already on the fly, every hit surprised the hell out of me. Watching this kind of eat was a blast. I probably caught a dozen fish with this tactic and missed at least that many.

Early evening turned into late evening and before I knew it I found myself hiking out around 6 pm, completing the end of a great day on the water. It was probably the best big fish day that I have ever had. I didn’t crack the 20″ mark on this outing but I landed 4 fish over 18″ with the biggest fish of the day going 19″. Not to mention the countless other fish in the mid to upper teens range. Unreal. I look forward to coming back to this stretch of river in the summer.

On my drive home the weather turned pretty nasty. The temps went from topping out around 40 degrees mid day to dropping below freezing, causing the road to become very icy. The wind also picked up and it began snowing hard. I was the second vehicle in a 4 car group driving the winding gravel mountain road when we came up to a notoriously tight turn that I knew to be cautious of. On the approach to the turn I tried to be proactive and started slowing down but my Blazer had other plans. I began to slide and I slid straight for a long ways before driving right off of the road and into the snowbank of the curve. I didn’t go into the snowbank very fast but went in far enough for my front driver tire to be on the edge of the road and my passenger tire to drop off of the steep embankment of the road.

I promptly got out of my car, assessed the situation, and tried to get out on my own. I tried to use my car mats for traction (which didn’t do crap on the ice) and tried to rock back and forth to get out. It was a fruitless effort. After a few cars passed without having the capability of pulling me out, a white pickup truck from Arizona pulled over and a guy named Kent offered to help me out of the ditch with his chain. He quickly positioned his truck and we started getting the chains set up. All of a sudden I heard him let out a yell and run into the snowbank. I looked up the road and bearing down on us was a Subaru in a full slide, fishtailing back and forth on the icy curve in the road. I promptly made the same call as Kent and ran into the snowbank as fast as I could.

We both watched as somehow that Subie missed Kents white pickup by what had to have been just a foot or two. I couldn’t believe it. Kent got back up on the road and yelled out something in the order of, “Hop in your car, once the chain gets tight I’m going to floor it and I’m not going to stop until you’re out!” He started pulling and I floored the Blazer into reverse. The Blazer spun sideways and both front tires went over the edge of the road and into the ditch. The blazer flew through the ditch sideways like this for a good 30-40 yards until the front end finally got out of the ditch and popped up on the road. Kent and I slowed to a stop and we unhooked the chain. After a quick handshake Kent took off, probably wanting to get the heck off of this road before he came upon another helpless fly fisherman in the ditch.

I drove to a safe spot before pulling over to check my front passenger door. As the Blazer was sliding through the ditch sideways I could hear the door taking a heck of a beating from hard packed snow. Sure enough there was a little more character added to the Blazer. It’s nice being a broke trout bum sometimes as I will just leave this damage. What’s another couple door dings and broken plastic bumper parts to this ole Blazer?

I’m thankful for all the “Kents” in this world willing to pull over in the middle of a snowstorm and pull out a Minnesota kid stuck in a snowbank.

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