Tag: Cheesman Canyon

Fish sighted New Year’s Day, but the air smelled not so faintly of skunk

It’s a tradition amongst the losers with no date for New Year’s Eve hardcore flyfishing set, starting off the year on the water. Venturing out on January 1st is the means to prove thy mettle, braving ice and snow and wind to hook otherwise lethargic fish with singular tiny flies and tippet of thickness more akin to a human hair.

As you well know, I love the delicate scenario. That bit I’ve sold about slapping fat pieces of meat on the water, invoking territorial responses with saltwater fighting butts and three-foot pieces of 20# Maxima leader? It is bunk! Who in their right mind would do such a thing, experience the sight of a fish’s dorsal fin breaking the surface in chase, thrashing at a fly that otherwise hangs over the palm of the hand, when you can drift #22 UV-winged emergers through water devoid of snag-prone vegetation and watch trout after trout move calmly over to it and…


In the midst of a heck of a midge hatch to boot.


Tallying the score for my fly-fishing year (2009)

I’d planned on fishing Christmas day, but with high temps expected to climb no higher than the teens I’m likely to bag it. Hence, my fly-fishing year is over, and this year-in-review comes a few days early.

The learning curve

I spent 30 minutes talking one-on-one with Lefty Kreh, in the second week of January. I should have quit while I was ahead. (+30)

Creating infamy

The Wall Street Journal showed up in Denver after I guaranteed them some carp on the fly footage, and Tom Teasdale got front page billing in the print edition, nationally. I know self-made entrepreneurs with $250 million net worths that never made the front page of the WSJ. So I take all the credit for this one. (+250)

Time spent fishing is better than time spent working

I had 22 days on the Blue River, 21 days on suburban lakes, 13 days on the urban South Platte, 10 days on the Dream Stream, 4 days on the Williams Fork, 3 days on the North Platte, 3 days on the salt, 1 day in Cheesman Canyon, 1 day on the Colorado, and a few minutes on Gore Creek and Ten Mile Creek. (+78.5) ALMOST FORGOT: 2 days on the Eagle, and a day on “Moose Creek” – so +81.5

Worth a mention

I caught this fish and this fish using 5X tippets and tiny flies (+2). I used a San Juan Worm one day this year – this fish was the result (+1). I almost died from dehydration in the Carp Slam, but thank my lucky stars Barry Reynolds was my partner (+10).

Some gear runs through it

I acquired five fly rods and four fly reels this year (+9). I dumped one 2009 rod for another (+0), gave one rod up as a going away present (+1), and passed on three reels to folks that really needed them (-3). At least two rods will get ejected in the spring, and I’m on the hunt for another reel (-1).

I retired some waders, and waited patiently for some others (+0). I booted three pairs of wading boots, and wound up with two pairs in their place (-1). I gave away two wading belts (+2), and I found my socks (+20).

I bought seven fly lines, was given one fly line, sold two fly lines, and gave seven fly lines away (+13). I ruined one fly line, and one fly line just plain fell apart on me (-2). Two fly lines are still in the boxes (-2). I gave away a tippet dispenser, six spools of tippet, 250 yards of gelspun backing, and spooled/rigged four reels for newbies (+261).

Fly boxes are for civilians

I purchased 780 flies, tied ten flies, bent four hooks, popped 28 leaders with two-fly rigs, and snagged 2,462 flies on tree branches. (-1,732)

Liar liar pants on fire

I caught 225 brown, rainbow and/or cutthroat trout over ten pounds, 150 carp over forty pounds, 90 largemouth bass over eleven pounds, and one state record brook trout (at twelve pounds) that I didn’t get a picture of since I was by myself in a desolate location with no food, water, or camera. (225 X 10) + (150 X 40) + (90 X 12) + (1 X 12 X 11,500 foot elevation) = +147,330

High note

I acquired a king’s hoard of new friends, but unlike royalty throughout history I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And I spent some precious time fishing with some dear old friends too. ((7382 + 6) X 1014 = 7.382e+17) (Note: score arrived at by adding total friends, new and old, to the number of beers consumed in their company, individually, post-outing, then multiplying by the ACTUAL VALUE of time spent fishing and/or drinking with them)

Final tally

I want to say I lost count, but the reality is I’m an accountant, which means I don’t know how to count it was just a darn good year.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, What-Have-You, and a Happy New Year to all.

MG signing off (until 2010)

Collecting chips at Cheesman

We can haz packsI heed the call. A Yampa River trip has gone bust, and a young-ling is headed home distraught, dismayed…downright dejected. “I had a really bad day, and I need a good one,” he says. Ego is at play. And ego can cost you chips.

I can spin a simple fishing story into uncommon philosophical diatribe

I’m sitting at my desk, thinking of anything and everything but fly fishing. Numbers are in the midst of tumbling, plans are being made in writing, and the rain is pouring down, if momentarily, in Denver (as is always the case). It seems there is a lesson to be taught, one in dealing with adversity. Fly fishing, like every other fancy, is no more than a series of bets made, subsequent wins and losses, and a tally. Like chips in a bucket – some days you take some out and some days you put some in. The key to success is not kicking over your pail when things get rough – you’re out of chips immediately and the game ends. If you’re really good, the chips overflow early and often, yet you’ve also become wise enough along the way to double up when the going’s good and cut your losses early. You’ll never run out of chips that way.


Cheesman: Stay for the Fish – Just Don’t Go for the Hike

cheesman-canyonRight up front – I’m declaring for the record a few rules of thumb worth following when you venture into the upper section of Cheesman Canyon. First, if you are addicted to cookies and milk, don’t attempt to put even moderate mileage on your freshened mountain cycle the day before you make the trip. And even if you are in really good shape, try not to run a half -marathon within the previous 24 hours either. In other words you need your legs, both of them, running without a hint of lactic acid having burned within. Unfortunately, I’m a day late in pointing this out, and the subjects at hand suffered as a result.

The hike in sucks. Unless you are a world class mountaineer, you should not attempt this journey under any circumstances. Don’t even think about this trip – it isn’t worth it so stay away! Ok…the hike in is a challenge, but the fishing has the potential to be world class, so wear good boots and bring plenty of water.

Onward to fishing

We were pretty darn excited when we arrived. Reason: a quick stop into a local shop on the way had us thinking the flows were in the upper 200s. I thought this a bit strange, being as the flow was in the mid-300s and climbing just a day before, and this isn’t exactly late summer we’re talking about here. We parked and trekked in, using llamas to carry our gear, which can be rented from an nearby outfitter for about the price of a tanker full of crude donning backpacks. When we arrived four days later, low and behold (you can skip the low) the flow was running at what appeared to be in the mid-400s. Dreams of 3X tippets danced through my head, but these fish are brilliant and they visit their optometrists regularly – tricky battles lay ahead.

I started the morning on fire – with a football shaped rainbow in the net roughly a minute after wetting my line. Two more hookups and some pulled hooks convinced me to venture downstream a little further, and Corey did the same. We repeated this process for the better part of the day – a hookup here and there, a quick struggle with the heavier flow and tight quarters, and then onto boulder scaling and more hole picking. By two o’clock we decided to move back upstream, after realizing that we had forgotten our rappelling harnesses – an absolute necessity in this rugged and desolate land trudging around in felt soles and/or water shoes more suitable for the beach were making our lives difficult. And as the sun moved over and afternoon clouds passed by things picked up.

Corey had been fish-less all morning, so we set up shop in the run that had produced for me early on. My colleague was in prime position, and the tone quickly changed – with a couple of spincast-laden onlookers peering from the far side of the river, we got into hungry trout every fourth or fifth cast.

coreys-rainbowNot long into the afternoon foray, I had just finished securing digital proof of Corey’s fishing prowess (to end once and for all his wife’s suspicion that we were spending our time in sports bars when we said we were fishing), when he proclaimed he had another on. I was getting tired of playing net boy, and told the discoverer of the now infamous Corey’s Slough that he was on his own. This defiance lasted about a minute, as I quickly grew more weary of my colleague’s cries for assistance combined with the view of his rod perpetually doubled over. The take wound up being a 20+ inch rainbow that Corey proclaimed was his biggest ever (the guy has been fly fishing precisely four times in his life). The fish, however, had put up quite a struggle, so rather than memorializing said Oncorhynchus mykiss in flash memory while she gasped for breath, we unhooked her while in net and in water and gently rolled her out. At first she looked like she was in trouble, first dropping to the bottom and then briefly turning on her side. I thought I was going in head first to play doctor, but the moment I gestured for a full-wet wade she got her bearings straight and scurried into a deep pool. Aquatic crisis averted.

For the day we managed four apiece, netted – taking into account the arduous twelve day expedition that only a team of well trained sherpas should consider how spoiled some of us (i.e. me and the mice in my pockets) have become with the fishing on the South Platte, I personally would have considered making a sacrificial lamb out of my gear. But we also lost roughly twenty to pulled hooks and popped tippets on downstream runs, meaning the action was good so we thought ourselves quite lucky. The general fly selection and “great drift” pattings on the backs ensued instead.

Flies of the day were…
– Mercury RS2s in green/black and gray, sizes 18 and 20
– Foambacks in black and brown, sizes 16 to 20
– UV-winged emergers, black, sizes 18 and 20
– Flashback pheasant tails, size 18
– Discos in green and white, size 18

I also found quite a few larger tan larva in the grass – I suspect thread midges in whites and tans, up to size 16, as well as smaller tan San Juans, would have done the trick as well. A few caddis fluttered by every now and then, but nothing like I saw a few weeks back – and there was no top-water action (even in the warmer back-eddies) to confirm a switch to dries.

As we changed socks and put on the walking slippers, a sense of foreboding overcame us both. What were the chances a friendly helicopter pilot/fly fishing fanatic might happen by and pluck us out in exchange for a few good stories?

No chance at all. Did I mention the hike out is even worse than the hike in?

First winter visit to Cheesman Canyon

There are a few things everyone knows about the Cheesman Canyon tailwater fishery:

1) It’s a short drive from Denver;
2) The fish have Ph.D.’s in entomology; and
3) You don’t trespass on Wigwam Club grounds.

What many don’t know is that the upper canyon (i.e. closest to the dam) is stellar water, and much less crowded than that accessed via the more popular Gill Trail head. They also don’t know that said hike in begins and ends with sections that will make you think you are climbing a thousand flights of stairs made of quicksand (although having the ground frozen is a help). But you will have to deal with it, along with frozen fingertips and blocks of ice constantly forming on the bottom of your boots, if you want to fly fish the upper Cheesman Canyon in December.

Despite the slight adversity, which included zero fish landed in roughly four hours of attempts, it was a good time. There were plenty of hookups to be had – you just had to have a sense of humor because each time a bite came, the fish were bolting for the closest four inch wide gap between rocks and bound to snap you off. Landing is always an issue here, but it’s even more pronounced when the water is flowing at winter lows. Breakoffs happened all day, which was fine by me – regardless of losing a half-dozen WD-40s, flashback pheasant tails, and zebra midges, I was cringing at the thought of getting my hands wet. The action alone was enough to satisfy, and you’ll know why I felt this way the moment you go down there…

The sun absolutely does not shine on this water during the winter!


ADDITIONAL NOTES: 6X tippets carrying Black Beauties, brown WD-40s, and Pheasant Tails produced the most strikes – stay small. Copper Johns in blacks, silvers and whites were used as attractors, although we’re not sure if that really helped. Leading with an orange or pink egg did help, at least as far as seeing flies in the water against dark bottoms and consistent shadow. A little grease on the line keeps water from beading and freezing up on it – I generally wipe with a little Armor All for this purpose. And don’t hike in ready to fish – it’s a workout, and you don’t want to be standing around in sweaty waders once you arrive. Last but not least, bring food, plenty of water, and watch your step (ice is slippery, don’t ya’ know)!

MORE: The flow was 51 cfs. That’s very low for Cheesman, although not out of the norm for this time of year.

Cheesman gets friendlier

Birthing ground of Cheesman – beautiful!

I just couldn’t let Cheesman beat me, and I am glad to say it didn’t. We packed in for a full day trip, donning several full Nalgene bottles, leaving pickup vehicles at both ends, and exploring the whole river (with emphasis on the upper canyon). Didn’t get a lot of pics, as most of the time our gear was hundreds of feet away hiding under boulders, but we did score some cute little browns – very healthy, brightly colored fish. And I am not going to say I have it dialed in – I really don’t, and Mr. Todd Pepin warned against making such claims on this place as it can come back to haunt you.

I’ll send a big thanks to Todd for hauling me in there. I won’t thank him for the soreness I feel today – we really slogged down that canyon, covering many miles with packs in tow. I’ll also thank Zoka’s Restaurant and Bar in Pine Grove, CO for pouring a great Heff (lemon or orange – your choice) and cooking a great gourmet burger, after the fact. I won’t thank them for forcing that chocolate truffle with rasberry glaze on me – I need to cut some poundage if I am going to continue doing trips like this!

Flies of the day were tan and red San Juans, trailed by RS-2s and Pheasant Tails (both smallish 18-) – best production between us was on the latter. One was taken on a 16 Prince, followed by a reddish caddis emerger, but I’m not counting it. The fish took me downstream and wrapped himself around the rig as Todd screamed from behind…”Where the hell’s your net!!!???” (it was in the pack, along with the camera). By the time I scrambled down three granite boulders the size of semi-tractors for a landing (all the while thinking that any second I was going to slip and tumble in), he had spit out the Prince (which was now snagged on the top of his head) and the emerger was stuck to his belly. No harm done (with barbless), and he scrambled off just fine – but we’re calling this one a double-foul hook just to keep things honest.

Oh Cheesman, Why Art Thou…

So stinking difficult!!!

I’ve been skunked for the first time this season. Cheesman Canyon got the best of me – I think that’s an “again” too, since I’ve been held to zero there before.

FYI – the water is flowing strong, but still crystal, and the crossings weren’t particularly tricky either (even for a guy who is well known for face plants). Fish are, as expected, hugging the banks. And they’re spooky as usual.

Some BWOs came by as the clouds moved in. I threw them, along with WD-40s and assorted other midges. Stripped baby beadhead woolies as dusk set in – no luck there either.

However, I still had some luck – on the way home a call came in – there were several single malts which required my attention (I think that meant before the bottles were emptied). I took those folks up on the offer, and all is good (well kinda good).

I am now hell bent on getting dialed into Cheesman – I mean really wiring the place. Any tips/tricks are appreciated.

PS: My camera got soaked when my chestpack, lying quitely on a rock, took it upon itself to roll off said rock and into the river. By the time I got over to it, the whole thing was drenched, camera included. So I am also looking for camera recommendations, as while I’m drying this one out and keeping my fingers crossed, I suspect it is toast.

UPDATE: Ode to precision screwdrivers and patience. Completely dismantled the Olympus 435, and found a few water droplets here and there. Reassembled and now working, although I have an extra screw and a little clip of some type (that always happens – extra parts!).