Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Down in the Canyon

While we're still young, and maybe a little reckless, there aren't many topographical restrictions on our fly fishing. We'll ride, walk, hike, pack or descend to where the fish are without a problem. That willingness has taken us to some unforgettable spots, none more surprisingly awesome than a little canyon tailwater we targeted during a recent trip out west.

While dead-drifting tiny tricos to fat trout our gaze was pulled from the dimpled surface to a hazy canyon beckoning downstream in the middle distance, parting the mountains. Sheer cliffs were all we could really see as the gradient and an oxbow pulled the water out of sight, down and away.

Just inside the canyon entrance we found a wonderland of massive boulders, plunge pools and pocket water. This was our wheelhouse and we were about to put on a hopper-dropper clinic.

By this point in our trip, we'd refined our everyday carry to 4 rods. A 6wt switch with an indicator nymph rig and a 6wt with a gnarly streamer were in our back pockets as we primarily used a 9ft 5wt and a 10ft 4wt rigged with hopper-droppers. This setup allowed us to probe every seam, rifle, pool and pocket regardless of depth, speed or current, and it paid off big time.

There was no walking path amidst the scree, and the talus slopes on each side of the water made escape all but impossible. We scrambled, waded and swam from pool to pool, knowing that one false step could turn things ugly and desperate in a heartbeat.

But, places like this are why we fish. Places like force you to employ every tactic and technique in your arsenal. Places like this, with fish like these, are the reward for the countless fishless hours spent honing your craft. This, indeed, is what it's all about.

Almost immediately upon entering the canyon walls, Mark hooked up with a stunning rainbow and I missed a few slabs on the streamer. This day was going to be something special, indeed.

Mark slotted the hopper-dropper into a tight seam along a sheer rock face and was rewarded with a leaping fish we both called as a brown before it splashed down. Browns were very few and very far between. This was, in fact, only the 2nd one hooked all week, so we were desperate to land it.

The fish of the trip, at this point in the morning.

No wrong steps allowed.

Every boulder presented a unique and interesting challenge. We knew there were big fish everywhere and it was incredibly fun to work to get each drift right.

Climbing up and over to get to the next pool.

Smooth and waterworn boulders provided nooks and feeding lanes for big, big fish.

These bigger fish often made us chase them downstream, considerably upping the intensity and danger by having to wade quickly.

I went for an unplanned swim more than once.

Mark hooked this fish in a plunge pool above and behind him. I slid off the rock and into the water with the net, making the scoop before we were taken down a series of small falls. Teamwork.

Getting into position often involved a chest-deep wade and a scramble onto a boulder.

One of my most memorable fish.


Tricos died en mass, and little black midges took trout en mass.

B e a u tiful.

A smaller but still gorgeous brown.

This amazing fish took Mark for a ride twice around and under a boulder the size of an SUV in a ripping current. 

Another fatty.

Surely one of Mark's most memorable, this fish slowly rose from its lair in the shade along an overhanging boulder to sip a size 4 stimulator. A scene that we'll both never forget.

More scrambling.

Chasing a fish downstream while trying hard not to break a femur.

Backing down on it.

Got 'em.
Some make you work harder than others. I was legitimately out of breath after netting this fish.

Tricos in the morning light.

Every fish was an acrobat.

And every fish took your breath away.

Imagine the biomass necessary to support this fishery...

Mark landed four or five very nice brown trout to my two smaller browns. It would have been almost too much to have also caught a slammer brown, but it was not to be. I am more than happy to have been a part of his fish, though.

Blue Halo

I fought this thick rainbow in deep current and I wasn't broken off as it swam under and around boulders. The frayed leader was changed out after miraculously netting my largest fish from this section of river.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I landed this smaller brown as my last fish of the day, and Mark bested it with an absolute gator of a brown, caught from a seam he first offered to me.

The fish of the trip, at this point in the afternoon.
Hell, make that the Brown of a Lifetime.

We'll never forget this stretch of water for how it both challenged and rewarded us. Someday we'll make it back to this part of the US and, maybe, if we're still young and foolish enough, we'll get to fish it again. For now, it's back to honing our craft in case we're ever fortunate enough to find ourselves down in the canyon again.


HighPlainsFlyFisher said...

That's the kind of day (and place) we all dream about when we take up this passion. Damn, that was just stellar!

Matt said...

Thanks! It was a truly amazing spot. Tight lines!