I had close to 100 days on the water in 2016. That’s a record for me in several ways.
To begin with, it’s the first time I ever remember actually keeping track of my days on the water when I wasn’t running guide trips. I think my most guide trips in a year were 70 days. At the time that was a pretty big number. Nowadays, the South Platte River guides I know routinely guide 100 days or more.
The Fly Fishing Show comes to the Denver Mart Pavilion Building from Friday through Sunday. Admission is $15 for one day, $25 for two days and $35 three days. The show is all about fly fishing and features seminars, fly tying, casting, manufacturer’s booths, books, Destination Theater and outfitter booths. In-depth classes with experts A. K. Best, Ed Engle, Landon Mayer, Jason Randall, Phil Rowley, Alice Owsley, George Daniel, Gary Borger, Joe Humphreys and Wendy Gunn are available for an extra fee. For more information and to sign up for classes go to: flyfishingshow.com
All I can say about 2016 is that at some point I realized that I was spending a lot more time fishing than usual, and I went back through my fishing logs and counted the days I’d fished up to that point. I think it occurred to me then that if I kept fishing at the same pace I could end up with 100 days on the water. As it turns out I didn’t quite make the 100 days. I think the final count will be in the 80s, but I’ll admit that toward the end when I realized I wouldn’t make the 100 days I quit keeping track and more importantly wondered why was I keeping track at all.
Of those days on the water I can say that the majority of them were Colorado days. The most exotic out-of-state excursion I made was what’s become a fairly regular trip to Painter Creek Lodge on the Alaska Peninsula. I’ve known Jon Kent, the lodge owner, for more than 20 years, and I try to meet up with him at the lodge whenever I can. This past year we had some memorable days fishing the king salmon run.
I also met up with friends in Oregon to fish the Metolius and Owyhee rivers, but even with that I only spent 20 days out of state. The rest of my time was all Colorado.
I spent my usual time on the South Platte River, but also spent time on high country streams and lakes, a small spring creek, the Williams Fork, the Colorado River, the Frying Pan, the Eagle, the Blue and the Arkansas. For most of the out-of-town trips, I made bivouac style camps where I just slept in the back of my truck and cooked on a Coleman stove on the tailgate. On a few I actually backpacked. I landed on the couch at a few friends places along the way, too.
In the parlance of travel journalism and pop psychology all of this is called the “journey.” You know the drill. The point isn’t the destination, but has more to do with getting to that destination. I pretty much go along with that, although I could have done without the wet sleeping bag in the Sangre de Cristos, aching back on Rough & Tumbling Creek and all those other infirmities of older age that pop up when I find myself trying to relive my youth.
However, there’s also something to be said for the destination itself, which in my case is most likely to be a good day’s fishing. By that I mean you hit a good hatch, figure out how to match it and the trout affirm your choice of flies. You end up catching a bunch of them. If you don’t figure out the hatch and get skunked, you always have the journey to fall back on.
I noticed how often I recall a memorable day of fishing, but how few memorable fish come to mind. It’s easy enough to recall a monster trout I’ve caught or maybe a very large northern pike or largemouth bass, but what about those average days. Surely, there must be a few memorable fish. Maybe the abundance of trout in our tailwater fisheries or fee-based private fisheries make it possible to catch so many fish and so many larger fish in a day that any individual fish just blends into that “good” day of fishing. Nonetheless, it is a new year, and it seems fitting to recall some of last year’s fish.
My memorable fish of 2016 were all unique. There was a rainbow trout on the Williams Fork I ended up calling “old black head.” It’s a 20-inch plus trout that was rising steadily along the bank of a back eddy. I figured it was eating Red Quills, and I had a perfect match to the natural in my fly box. The rest was execution. I had to make a lot of casts to get the right drift, but when I did the trout took the imitation in an uninhibited, beautiful way. That’s the journey part of the story.
The trout itself was gorgeous on one side. If you flipped it over, its entire head to the gill plate was black. I made a special effort to just photograph the trout’s good side. I actually published one of those photos in my column this past summer. At the time, I thought no one would want to see an imperfect black headed trout.
Later that summer I caught old black head again and thought why not photograph the trout’s other side. Unfortunately, he flipped out of the net when I was getting my camera focused. I’ve since learned that sometimes a trout releases melanin in response to an injury or infection. I wish you could have seen old black head’s darker side.
I brought another memorable fish to net in Alaska during the best day of king salmon fishing I’ve ever had. Among fly fishers, the most coveted kings are the “chromers.” These are the dime bright silver fish that typically are fresh from the saltwater. I’d hooked and landed a few, and they were fast and hot and everything a chromer should be, but it was another king salmon I remember. This fish was already getting a little color, meaning that it was transforming into its red spawning colors. The salmon wasn’t brick red yet, but just pink, and it was a brute. It dragged, spun and dogged me. I followed it downstream. I battled it. That fight made that salmon memorable. It wasn’t a classic chromer, but it was a classic catch.
That’s a few of my memorable fish for 2016. Happy New Year and here’s to our memorable fish in 2017.
Check EdEngleFlyFishing.com to see Ed Engle’s blog, “The Lone Angler Journal.”