Discover North Park with Colorado's Fly Fishing Specialists

Rubber Nets and Barbless Hooks

I caught a trout! What do I do now?

You’ve got a trout in the bag, so how do you handle it to ensure a safe release?

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Effective catch and release starts before you’ve ever made a cast and a great start would be to invest in a net with a rubber bag. Not only does a rubber net bag protect the fish but it also is resistant to hooks.  A hook buried in a cloth net is almost useless by the time you get it out.

Barbless hooks are by far the best way to go.  We fish barbless hooks every day at NPA and we find them to be just as effective at holding fish as a barbed version, given the line is kept tight. Barbless flies generally last longer than barbed flies because you rarely need to use forceps to remove them.  In addition to being easier to remove from fish, they’re a lot easier to remove from yourself or your buddy if someone happens to get hooked.  No one wants to leave a hot bite to have a hook removed at the hospital.  Unfortunately, we’re not able to give fish medical attention.  If a fish is hooked deep, its best to clip the line as close as possible and allow the hook to rust out or work its way out slowly, rather than pulling or prying, doing more damage.

 

 

hook in eye

So the fish you just bagged is big, possibly the biggest fish you’ve ever landed.  We need a photo of this one.  First things first, we’ll remove the hooks so they’re out of the way. We need to handle this fish gently so we, or another angler, might get another shot sometime down the road.  Fish are nearly weightless under water and need to be fully supported when lifting them up for a photo to make sure we don’t do any unnecessary damage.  The best way to lift a fish out of the net is to get a firm grip on the tail with your dominate hand, and then cradle the fish between the pectoral and dorsal fins with your other hand.  It is very important that we’re cradling the fish and not squeezing its vital organs.  Fish don’t have a rigid rib cage like we do, so we need to be very careful.  Another thing to remember: Fish can’t breathe when we’re holding them out of the water.  If you need extra time to get a photo, make sure the fish is fully submerged in between shots so they can catch their breath.

 

 

 

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If you’d like to have your fish replicated as a mount, there are a few things you need to do for the artist:  You’ll want to measure overall length as well as girth.  Take your girth measurement from in between the pectoral and dorsal fins. Take close-up photos of the head, side, and tail so the artist can replicate the markings and color of the fish. We prefer fiberglass reproductions over actual skin mounts.  Fiberglass mounts are more durable and longer lasting than skin mounts.  Fiberglass replicas are also much easier to repair if they ever get damaged.

The photos and measurements have been taken and now it’s time for big mama to go back home.  We need to revive the fish by using the same cradling hold as we did while taking photos and getting some oxygen flowing over her gills.  In a stream, all you need to do is hold the fish upstream, facing the current, until she has enough energy to swim away on her own.  In a lake, we need to gently move the fish forward (not back and forth) so water enters the gills through the mouth helping oxygen enter the gills.

Hopefully this post helps ease the practice of successful catch and release.  It’s always good to have a plan when you do get that monster in the bag.  If you follow these steps, you can have confidence that your trophy will live to see another day!

Guide Safety Course

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Just last week we put our guide staff through an intense River Rescue Course.  We feel it’s very important for our guides to keep up on safety training and to be familiar with different rescue methods while out with clients.  The course we took was performed by Bill Dvorak of Dvorak Expeditions in Nathrop, Colorado.  They have been outfitting whitewater adventure trips in the Southwestern USA on 8 different rivers and over 28 canyons for the past 45 years.  Bill’s knowledge of river safety is second to none.  Our staff was exposed to many different scenarios that could come into play while out on a float or walk wade trip.  We feel this course was very beneficial to our team and hope that when we run into a slippery situation we’ll have the knowledge and experience to make good judgment calls with quick action to diffuse the situation.

 

 

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Pre Run-Off Fishing in North Park

Every spring anglers get the itch to start fishing and it’s generally an itch that cannot be fully scratched until you catch a few trout, then it’s an itch that doesn’t go away until winter. No matter what the weather brings, just a few days of sun “kicks in” our fish senses and the urge to put the waders on and string a rod. Here in North Park it’s amazing these fish survive the brutal winters and suddenly switch from lying dormant to actively feeding. As anglers it’s fascinating to fish a freshly thawed river that’s temped at 32 to 38 degrees and have success. Usually finding open water is just a good excuse to put the gear on and cast a rod but to catch a few fish, well that’s a bonus. The simple truth is, here in North Park our river’s produce much like lakes do at ice off, and the pre-run off fishing can be every bit as good as our prime time fishing season

Conditions
River Ice Off
On a trip out to explore the park and throw some line, our conversation about where to fish tends to encompass what’s recently opened. More times than not, if you catch a river only a few days after ice off, you have a great opportunity to not only fish to trout which have not seen a fly yet, but to hone in on some of the larger fish who have to feed aggressively and more often. Yes, the river’s will tend to fish better as they warm and the early season progresses, but keep in mind, these fish have not seen daylight in 4 months and are generally pretty damn hungry right out of the gates. Along with catching the river’s as they ice off, it is also key to keep an eye on the one’s which have been open the longest. Fish are explorers and survivalists, and as temps rise in one tributary so will the fish count. For instance, if a particular tributary to the North Platte has been open for a few weeks and the North Platte itself is still frozen, we find that fish will navigate according to their senses up these tributaries to join resident fish for early spring feeding. Some of which can be very large and aggressive feeders looking for smaller fish as a meal.

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As Temperature’s Rise

After initial ice off of the parks rivers we’ll start to see our first push in flows to the streams from the valley melt. In North Park we generally experience two runoff periods, the first being the subtle valley melt, and the second being the big push in water from the melt up high. The window between melts (Valley and High Country) is one of our favorite times of the year to be on the water. This is a time when the fish have everything going for them. By this time they have already been exposed to open water for a while and have been aggressively feeding. As the rivers and air temps slowly start to rise the fish kick into another gear and truly start to fatten up. With increased flows from the melting snow fish are awarded with a trough of food. Increased flows will scrub the river bottoms and chisel away at the banks exposing and washing food items downstream. Fish take advantage of this by sticking their nose in the heads of riffles and pools and wait for the food to come to them. It is also a great time for the bigger more elusive fish to explore the river in search of food. With a slight rise in water levels these larger fish feel more protected because there is simply more places to hide along the banks and in the structure, a perfect ambush spot. Along with the fish feeding well and getting comfortable in the streams, the snow will continue to dwindle on the valley floor. This means the water temperatures will also see a significant rise because there is not as much cold melt entering the system. This window right after valley runoff and before high mountain runoff can also be some of the best fishing the park has to offer.

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Tips and Tactics
In the early season there are definitely some tips and tactics we use to search out and find where the fish will be feeding after a long winter. With the ice just coming off of the rivers it is more of an explorative trip out than catching lots of fish. There are fish to be caught, but finding they’re wintering holes is key. Low water temps along with the occasional snowy winter day will generally keep the fish holding in the deeper slack pools and runs. Our first trips out are mostly spent moving through water quickly and keying in on these deeper runs with streamers. A good rule of thumb is to make just a few casts and move on, if there is one in there, more than likely he’s hungry and will chase on the first or second cast. If you are fishing on an unseasonably warm sunny day, look for fish to move out of the deeper pools and position themselves just above. Here the sun can penetrate the shallow water and warm the rocks and the fish as well. As the early season progresses and we start to see our initial valley runoff, look for fish to really start spreading out and claiming their own spots. Now is the time to slow down a little more and pick the water apart. Fish can be located almost anywhere when they feel protected. From deep pools to riffles, and big log jams to beaver dams, these are all prime lies during this period. When this happens it’s also time to get out the bug box. Because of a push in flows, bugs will be dis-lodged from the rocks and banks and will become readily available to the fish. Stoneflies, aquatic worms, baetis nymphs, and midges are all good choices.

This is how we typically approach pre-run off every year, and every year is different. If you follow the advice given above and approach the water with patience and effort, you will be rewarded. Please feel free to stop by the shop and we would be happy to help you with anything you need. We realize people drive a long ways to get here and we want people to experience the beauty and solitude of this area as much as we do, and we want you to catch fish while you’re here of course.

Tight Lines, NPA Guide Tim Drummond

Blue Wing Olive’s

It’s a pretty good sign that spring’s here when we start thinking about Blue Winged Olives. The BWO (Blue Winged Olive) is one of our favorite bugs. BWO’s are many species that are squeezed into three mayfly genera, Baetis, Pseudocloeon, and Diphetor. Snooty fly fishermen and wise entomologist are very particular about this but for the simple reason that tactics and appearance for the different species are nearly the same, we’ll lump them all into one group and call it BWO.IMG_0694

The BWO’s are tiny mayflies that are rarely absent from the stream and can’t be found in lakes. Hatches in North Park along the North Platte River and some of its tributaries can begin as early as March and continue through May, then start up again in September and last until the end of October or early November.

Nymphs live in all sections of the stream and seem to hatch in riffles and runs but the slower moving water holds the largest populations of nymphs. Because these nymphs like to eat “all day, every day” they often drift short distances in the current trying to find a new homes making subsurface fishing a very effective tactic even while the hatch is not happening. Most nymphs will do this early and late in the day or anytime there in cloud cover and tough weather.

Hatches generally start early in the afternoon around 1-2pm and are best on cloudy/ rainy days. If conditions are right hatches can last for 3-4 hours. Wind can be tough on the bugs making it hard for them to get back to the water to lay eggs thus hard for fish to eat them. A cool cloudy/rainy day with light winds is the recipe for an epic BWO hatch.

After mating the female spinners will return to the water to lay eggs. The different species have different methods of laying eggs making a plethora of fishing tactics work. The most common forms of BWO’s laying eggs can be described in two simple ways. The first form of BWO will dive into the water like a Caddis swimming to the bottom of the stream to clinch onto rocks and deposit eggs. Before entering the water they will fill their wings with gasses that will propel them back to the surface after they lay eggs. The second form of BWO crawls just below the surface and deposit their eggs on the downstream side of rocks, sticks, or logs. Both forms stimulate great subsurface fishing that can best be imitated by swinging a wet fly either just under the surface or weighted a few feet below.

During a BWO hatch it’s definitely most fun to fish a Dun or cripple high on the water giving the angler a super cool visual when the fish takes. However, as the hatch gets into full swing a wet fly imitation will probably always put more fish in the net.

A few Patterns we like:

Duns: BWO Ext Body#16-20, Para BWO #16-20
Cripple: Last Chance BWO #16-20, BWO Cripple #16-20
Soft Hackles: Hare’s Ear #16-20, Ph Tail #16-20

Salmon Flies

 

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Salmon Flies on the North Platte

Every year Diehard fly fishermen flock to the Rocky Mountains from far and wide to get a crack at this hatch.  Whether they’re luck is good or bad, any angler who gets the chance to witness this hatch in its pure form will be changed forever?

The Salmon fly hatch on any river, not just the North Platte is fairly predictable.  It always seems to show up in late May or early June.  Depending on who you talk to, the hatch is stimulated by; time of day, length of day, water temp, water flow, air temp, moon phase, length of day, etc…  Whatever or whichever it is that gets these bugs out of the river and flying around like B52 Bombers is a mystery to me, but what I do know is that when they’re out it doesn’t matter how big the water flow is, how cold, or what time of day it is, every damn fish in the river knows it, and all they want to do is EAT.

 

Salmon Flies (Pteronarcy’s, Californica)

Salmon Flies (Pteronarcy’s, Californica) are in the Stonefly family and the King of their species.  Salmon flies have a life span of four years from nymph stage to a hatched Adult.  Salmonfly nymphs develop for three years before emerging. This means that in the months prior to the hatch, there are three sizes in the river. After the hatch, there are only two.   The nymphs congregate to the deep darker boulder sections of the rivers and live under large boulders and in deep crevices.  As their emergence date approaches, they migrate into the shallows at preferred locations.   Anglers can cover long sections without seeing any signs of the nymphs then turn one corner and see thousands of them.  It’s very wise for anglers to identify these areas and fish them prior to the hatch when the brood nymphs are very active.  The best way to locate brood nymphs ready to hatch is to kick rocks around within the first three feet of the bank and collect the bugs with a seine net.  If you happen to find a honey hole you’ll know it and be in luck because it’s some of the best nymph fishing of the year.   When they are ready, they crawl out of the water onto exposed cobble or riparian plant life to split their husks and emerge. This usually takes place in the early morning hours but can also take place in the evening or midday under cloud cover.  The Adults will fly around high in the sky in search of their mates.  Once a mate is found they will spend time in the high trees and willows mating. It is the egg laying females that cause the bulk of the dry fly action. Though some are known to land and lay their eggs, most females fly low over the water in a lumbering flight path and drop their large pea sized olive black egg sacks from above. They aren’t the best fliers and North Park’s ever present breezes often knock them to the water. Sometimes they flop around on the surface for awhile and in softer water they will ride docilely with their wings folded. This is when the trout are really fired up and eating them off the surface.

Living and working in North Park, I’ve been fascinated with this hatch for 10 years and have witnessed everything from all out blizzard hatches that lasted a week to 10 days to very short hatches that only last 1-2 days.  Every year is different and that’s what’s interesting.  For me, trying to time this hatch every season has become a never-ending obsession and a more important role in managing a guide service on the river. I’ve developed my own theories and all though not perfect they have been very consistent the past 4-6 years.  Instead of looking closely at the weather pattern, water flows, water temps, and length of day, I like to look back at my journal and see what date it was 3 ½ years ago when these bugs hatched and guess that the brood nymphs ready to hatch the coming year should be somewhat close to when they were dropped into the river.  This has proven to be a very good tool for us.  By knowing the time-frame they were dropped in the river 3 ½ years ago we can expect to see the upcoming hatch to be somewhat close to that of their parents.  Trying to time this hatch can be discouraging but if you hit it right it’s very rewarding and insanely fun.

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The North Platte is a freestone system and solely relies on winter’s snow-pack for the upcoming stream flows.  Usually the river is in a run-off stage in late May and early June but due to upstream irrigation the river is lower and clearer than it normally would be at that time.  The upper valley acts like a giant filter while ranchers are pulling out water for hayfield’s during May and June.  Essentially all the muddy runoff water is filtered through the hayfield’s and returned back to the river clearer and warmer before entering the canyon stretch where this hatch occurs.  This provides anglers an amazing opportunity to fish the prolific salmonfly hatch with success.  Managing a guide service on this river has awarded us the opportunity to get very intimate with the bugs that thrive in it.  A few of our favorites include Green Drakes, PMD’s, and Tricos, but none of them demand quite the same respect as the Salmonfly.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve witnessed 5 extremely good hatches that had every fish in the river feeding on giant salmonflies. Whether by myself or with clients each hatch was so incredible that you actually get tired of casting and just want to crack a cold PBR and enjoy the scene.  When it’s really good you don’t have to see a rise to know where the fish are, you’ll hear the GULP.   In 2009 the bugs came off intensely but we harbored a 48 hour downpour that raised the river by 1500 cfs and killed the hatch, just as soon as the fish knew they were around the bugs were gone.  In 2011 we had a 400 year record high snow pack, the Salmon fly hatch was the largest we’ve seen to date and it lasted for 8-10 days but no one except the fish were able to enjoy it because of the size of the river.  Conversely, in 2012 the river was at a 100 year low.  The hatch was good, I’d give it 6 out of 10 in comparison to all the hatches I’ve fished on this particular river.  The difference was that the river was so low that we could wade the river like it was September.  I was literally able to put a back pack on and follow the hatch upstream which on any other year was never possible due to the size of the river.  In general the only way to get a crack at this hatch is by floating.  But last year I was able to walk up the middle of the river casting to every fish that showed his face.  I can’t tell you how many fish I caught but what I can tell you is that it was the highlight of my fishing days and a fabulous way to celebrate a 10 year reunion with this outstanding creature.  It was 10 out of 10 and I don’t expect to get that lucky again for some time!

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Looking forward to 2014 we expect to have another great hatch.  With heavier snow-pack than last year we expect to get a nice run off that should clean the system with ease.  In my experience the best years for the Salmon fly hatch when thinking in terms of fish-ability, has always come on the heels of snow-pack from 100-120% of average.  The river always seems to have perfect flows and clarity making it easy for the fish to find cover and get a good look at the bugs which in turn is great for us as anglers.

Welcome to the NPA Blog

Welcome to the new North Park Anglers Blog.  Here at our North Park fly fishing shop we’re excited to launch our new web site and optimistic that it will give us a better foot hold on keeping up with the dynamic and ever-changing web world.  Everyday new technologies and communication platforms appear and evolve.  Following the rush of the modern world has been a real struggle and we’re trying to keep up with the game.  We will continue to provide a North Park Colorado fishing report as well as a North Platte River fishing report that is up-to-date and informative.  We like to think fly fishermen/women fit well in the social world and quick information, alluring pictures, and good content drive the hunger to get out and fish.  The addition of this blog to our site will hopefully be a gateway for us to communicate fresh content, tips and tactics, great photos, and educational series about our sport.  Thanks for tuning in, we look forward to a great season in North Park…hope to see you soon at our North Platte fly fishing shop.         Fish On! Your fishing buddies at North Park Anglers.