Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
January 16th, 2005

Winter Fishing in the Rockies
By Dan Fink (DanBob)

It was yet another frigid winter evening last week here in the northern Colorado rocky mountains, and I was headed home, back up the mountain from town. Getting safely out of town without being run over by dummies in SUVs talking on the cell phone while driving always cheers me up, but what a depressing winter we've had. Cold and windy, little snow. Gets everyone worried about the snow pack, rivers, and fire danger for the next year. And, no fishing possible --- the home waters here are quite 'stiff' as they say, a euphemism for 'froze plumb solid, with ice two feet thick.'

I passed the local watering hole (they don't serve much water there, though), and spotted both Ralph's and Vern's trucks in the parking lot, so I dropped in for a pint. I noticed Vern actually had his belly boat loaded up in the back of his pickup! The tube also had a weird conglomeration of gear attached with duct tape and baling wire–two plywood sheets on the front mounted in a V like a snowplow, and a plywood deck wired and taped onto the back. A crude motor mount? Considering that Vern is a master woodworker, it looked like something installed after a 3-day drunk. There was a 10-horse Evinrude outboard motor in the back of his pickup too. Uh oh!

I went inside and ordered my pint, admiring the big tropical saltwater aquarium that bar owner Jeff maintains. He has yellow tangs, a bunch more tropical fish I'd never heard of, a 7-inch-long puffer fish named Frankie, and a big menacing lionfish with sharp, poisonous spines. Other aquariums are all around the bar too--freshwater setups with mollies, loaches, catfish, crawdads, clownfish and more, all meticulously maintained, and far more interesting to watch than the television. As usual, Vern and Ralph were arguing loudly, and the waitress had already moved them to the back table.

"Vern, ya can't do it! You'll drown for sure. Don't be an idiot!" Ralph was yelling. Vern looked really grouchy. "I'd rather drown than spend 3 more months not fishing. I've got to go fishing. Now, or real soon. And I'm gonna patent my invention!" Vern hollered.

I sat down and said, "Howdy boys. Vern, what happened to your belly boat? Looks like someone let the local Poverty Flats Junior High 7 th. grade wood shop class loose on it."

Vern explained, "That, my friend, is my new invention for winter lake fishing in Colorado. I got the idea after a 3-day drunk during that last blizzard. You just saw the first-ever icebreaker attachment for a belly boat! I didn't think I could get enough power from my flippers, hence the Evinrude."

"Vern, you're crazy," I replied. "You'll puncture the boat and drown, or chop your feet off in the propeller!"

Vern went into another tirade, but we finally managed to convince him not to try out his icebreaker attachment on the local reservoir that day. He was petulant, and mumbled "Look, boys, I've got to go fishing soon or I'll go crazy. I tried ice fishing, but I'm not a very good flycaster, and I only rarely hit that little hole in the ice with my dry flies. How do those guys get a good backcast inside those little ice shelter houses anyway?"

I then noticed Ralph was sneaking something out of his wallet. His emergency handline, 6 lb. test with a hook attached. I knew exactly what was coming and checked around for potential witnesses. The bar owner had left on an errand, and only Heidi the waitress remained. Ralph called her over. "Howdy thar toots. I'd like to order dinner. Can I get a big bowl of corn with butter?"

She scowled and squinted suspiciously--obviously she knew all of us much too well. "It's not on the menu. No way. And the next time you call me toots, the only food I'll cook for you is a knuckle sandwich. Got it?"

"Oh, c'mon, Heidi," Ralph pleaded. "I know you have cans of corn back there for making your beef stew. I'm begging you. I really have a hankerin' for corn and butter right now."

"OK," she replied hesitantly, "but that'll cost you five bucks extra, payable to me."

"No problem, toots."

Only me and Ralph knew it was really all a ploy to have her leave us alone after she served up the corn.

After the hot buttered corn was delivered and Heidi was purposely avoiding us, Ralph took a kernel and put it on the hook from his handline. I snuck over and took the top off the aquarium, and nabbed a plastic dowel out of the Budweiser/NASCAR banner on the wall. Ralph had it strung up in 30 seconds.

"Here, Vern, give it a shot," he said, handing him the new field-expedient bar fly rod. "Bet you can't even hit the tank, much less catch a fish."

Vern was up to the challenge, made a few false casts, and landed the corn kernel right in front of the cruising puffer fish. Frankie nudged it and rejected it. The lionfish looked uninterested. Three more casts, all perfectly placed, and the puffer ignored them all. Ralph grabbed the rod from Vern and hid it under the table, then called for Heidi again. "I'm still hungry, toots! How 'bout that yummy shrimp salad?"

After it arrived, he baited the hook with a nice little shrimp and gave it to Vern, who started casting again. Unfortunately the bar owner chose just that time to arrive back, and caught Vern with his shrimp in the water, and the puffer and lionfish fighting each other to nab it first. Ralph and I had spotted him coming and had already wisely went off to the men's room, soon exiting via the side window.

As we jumped in our trucks, Vern ran out the front door of the bar, yelling, "But I have my fishing license, see, it's right here!" while being chased by Heidi with a broom and Jeff the owner with a 2x4. Vern cursed us, but at least he pointed his truck and icebreaker belly boat up the hill towards home, not down towards the reservoir.

So what else does a Colorado flyfisherman do during winter with all the home water froze up, and after being banned from the local bar for 30 days for fishing in their aquarium?

Here' s a list of suggestions from me and all my fishin' buddies up here on Fish Crick. Fly tying is a given, of course -- though the quality of the flies changes drastically as the blizzard progresses and more bourbon is consumed.

My personal favorite is Cat Fishing. Not fishing for catfish, but Cat Fishing. All it takes is one or more cats, and a calm day outside or a high ceiling inside. If you can place a good cast right in front of them, they'll always go for it, especially if you rub your fly in tuna fish juice before casting. I like my cats, and they perform essential duties around the homestead like lounging around sleeping, pooping, and spreading hair everywhere, plus occasionally catching mice and packrats. So I always just tie on a piece of yarn or hackle, or a clump of deer hair--no hook. People who hate cats are advised to please use only barbless hooks! Cats are too valuable to catch only once.

Ralph and I gave rod building a shot this winter, too, but it didn't quite work out. I've switched to building rods at the local fly shop in town -- much less dangerous. You see, Ralph is a skilled "Southern Engineer" and can build anything (drift boats, motor scooters, kitchen cabinets, generators, outhouses) out of only junked car parts and dead trees. On a very limited income, he couldn't stand the idea of paying 60 bucks for a rod drying rig and another 60 bucks for a cork lathe. So he built a sort of two-in-one unit from an old washing machine motor, a belt and pulley set 'borrowed' from Vern's drill press, and a bunch of scrap lumber.

"You're sure this thing spins at the right RPM, Ralph?" I asked him as I put my new rod on the motor seat (made from an old wheelbarrow tire) with fresh epoxy on the thread wraps.

"You bet," Ralph assured me. "I did the math for the gear ratios and chose the pulleys myself, and checked it with a tachometer. Put the lever to the left for drying rods at 18 RPM , put it to the right for turning cork handles at 1800 RPM."

I set it for 18 RPM, and hit the power switch. As my rod spun up to 1800 RPM, it came off the motor seat and speared shattered graphite pieces into the shop ceiling at high speed. Ralph said "Or was that 18 RPM on the right, and 1800 on the left?"

Anyway, that's why I've been building my rods down at the fly shop recently. Ralph has always been really bad at math.

Vern, on the other hand, is disgustingly well-organized and well-educated. His main winter fishing activity is indexing his fly boxes and the hackle in his tying kit on his fishing Palm Pilot PDA.

"You really need to get more organized, Danbob," he told me while we were fishing Fish Crick last fall. "Film cans stuffed full of shaggy flies just don't cut it anymore, as the trout are becoming increasingly selective. A good fisherman has to react rapidly to changing conditions on the river."

I have to admit that I was suitably impressed that time I fished with Vern. A hatch started coming off the river, and he whipped out a bug net and caught some of the teeming duns. He'd written a computer program on the PDA to quickly identify insects by entering some basic observation data, and his program already knew what to expect by the date, time, moon cycle, and calculated GPS position coordinates. After going about 6 questions deep into his program, he had the answer. "This is unequivocally an Ephemerella grandis," he lectured, "which calls for fishing a red quill. The PDA says that's in fly box 12, row 72, column 15." He started to dig out that box, but since box 12 was on his back, he twisted around a bit too much and the PDA fell into the river. It washed downstream quickly into a deep pool. Not a big deal, since the case was waterproof, but the hatch was coming off right now--no time to lose, and the trout were rising.

Not wanting to miss the chance to get Vern's goat, I yelled "That was box 11, row 16, column 43, right Vern?"

"No, it was......" Vern was really confused now.

Soon he was dumping box after box of neatly-sorted flies into a dirty old styrofoam coffee cup, frantically poking around for a red quill.

I couldn't resist the obvious comment. "I highly recommend filing your flies in some old film canisters, Vern. You can keep one for dries, one for nymphs, and one for streamers. No batteries required."

After Vern recovered from his apoplectic fit, I sold him a red quill from my dry fly film can for only five bucks--a bargain, considering the situation! We both caught fish, too.

That's the winter fishing wrap-up for January 2006, coming to you from frozen Fish Crick, high in the northern Colorado Rocky Mountains, courtesy of Fly Anglers Online. ~ DANBOB

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