It was an especially cold and windy spring day on one of Colorado’s famous and productive tail water fisheries known as the South Platte River in Elevenmile Canyon. This was the type of day when even the most committed angler would stay at home with his cup of hot tea spending quality time at the tying bench preparing for more comfortable days to fish. Steady thirty to forty mile per hour winds and freezing temperatures make it all but impossible to tie on a fly or fix knots in your leader.
The river was typically low and clear with ice on its banks, and we could see fish in their feeding lanes fattening up for the spawn. My fishing partner who was risking life and limb with me that day is a grizzly bear of a man whom I call the Dizzle, but has recently been dubbed the sucker man because of his uncanny ability to locate the only sucker in a trout river thats willing to be landed on a fly rod. As I predicted we did great. After only a few hours fishing we landed roughly 15 respectable rainbows, and one sucker.
As we were breaking down for the day we came across two other fishermen walking towards a beautiful Porche Cayenne SUV. Instead of asking the typical questions like how did you do? or what were you using? The first question the tallest of the two men asked me in a snobbish tone was, “Did you measure the water temperature?” to which I said the water temp was cold. Its 27 degrees outside the man said. Upon taking a closer look at him I noticed he had on over a thousand dollars worth of gear to keep him warm not including his rod and reel, and a thermometer used for taking the air temp. hanging from his jacket zipper.
Now the question the man asked was a completely unexpected and off putting though valid question, but approaching another peace and quiet seeking angler is like stalking a large crafty trout. Presentation is everything and I was'nt biting. Mostly because I am the stereotypical trout bum with my three year old leaky waders, and the felt sole missing from my left wading boot. I have always had a sense of pride in being one of the only guys on the water catching fish while others relentlessly swat the water all day. Not to say that I wouldn’t love to have all the high end gear I could get my hands on, or that Porche Cayenne for that matter. So I sat back quietly while Dizzle and the other two fisherman went back and forth for a couple of minutes with more typical fishing banter.
While we were leaving with me being totally jealous of the other anglers gorgeous SUV, and high end and very cozy looking gear, I started cracking jokes in the truck with the half frozen river creeping along the side of the road and the fierce wind howling. In the best impression I could muster, “hey Diz what do you think the water temp is right there?”, and both of us began laughing hysterically which of course had nothing to do with spending all day in a mind numbing wind whipped stupor complete with blue tinted feet.
That same day we also spent some time chatting about a website we had heard of called extreme fly fishing. The concept behind it being that this group of anglers go around the world fishing in often times harsh conditions for the biggest fish they can find. Dizzle knowing full well how cold it was outside would say, “now this is extreme fly fishing!”, to which I would laugh and agree. In spite of the freezing conditions we made plans to be on the water for a second day in winter… I mean “spring” paradise.
In order to try and “hide” from the extreme weather in Elevenmile Canyon we decided to try out another tail water fishery that has been gaining popularity which is the Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir. The Arkansas in this particular stretch of the river is lower in elevation and therefore the climate is suppose to be warmer, and reports suggested decent midge and bwo hatches with the average trout landed being about 14 inches. This time instead of freezing winds we came across a light breeze and light snow which can be ideal conditions for both hatches.
As is our luck the hatch could have been a whole lot better, and for a while we were starting to feel like fish out of water trying to find some success on a part of the river that was mostly new to us. Finally I was getting takes and even had the rod bent a few times on what felt like really solid fish before they escaped, but with so much foam on the waters surface I was having trouble spotting my very small white colored yarn strike indicator so I asked Dizzle if I could borrow one of his in a larger variety. After I put on the very large and wind resistant indicator I started to struggle with my cast, and with all the distraction and excitement on a back cast I heard a loud pop followed by an even louder scream.
I looked back to see Dizzle had been standing 10 feet behind me while setting up his rig, “you got me!” he said, and panicked I asked if he was ok. He turned to look at me while holding the side of his head and said, “I think you pierced my ear?“. Approaching to see what damage had been done I saw that he had my size 18 tan scud nestled in his right ear like a scud hearing aid. Fearing the worst, like getting my trout bum kicked by Dizzle who is a stout six foot, two hundred forty pound man I immediately did the right thing and apologized. Thankfully he started laughing, which was a huge relief because I almost couldn’t contain myself.
So there we were two trout extremist standing in the middle of the Arkansas River with the snow flying laughing beyond the point of tears. Me with my leaky waders, and Dizzle with the flyfishing version of a CIA operative style ear piece and my size 24 red midge dropper hanging not far off. When we regained control I came to the stark realization that I was going to have to take my hemostats and unhook one of my friend like so many trout before him. After a quick release Dizzle went up river as far away from me as possible and who could blame him?
I stayed and managed to land a few nice rainbows before deciding to set the rod down and go help my very forgiving friend who was still new to fly fishing and struggling. After a quick lesson on mending I let him be and walked about 40 yards up river. Just minutes later with his rod bent Dizzle yelled in my direction, “GOT ONE!”. “How big?” I said while excited for my buddy who had started his day off with some miserable luck no thanks to me. Dizzle played the fish for a while and said, “you’ll never guess what?”, I exploaded into a roar of laughter knowing what he was going to say, and after again having to regain control of myself I asked anyway, “it’s a sucker!” Dizzle yelled, “I got him with a scud!”.
After such an eventful start to our day we decided that it was time to head back to the car to warm up as we fill our stomachs. While we were walking back with me on one side of the river, and the sucker man walking along the opposite bank my pace began to quicken. As I said I was sporting the leaky waders, and had already acquired some of the before mentioned icy cold water which after exiting the river settles right to my feet sending a chilly shockwave up my spine. I gained about a 20 yard lead and turned to see that my friend decided to cross at a deeper spot in the river. I continue further and as I turn again to see where he was at I saw nothing but a half submerged rod and the very top of his head.
Every inch of Dizzles body completely submerged underwater I threw my gear down and made a mad dash to save him. Once he regained his footing and was able to stand the first question I asked was are you ready to leave yet? “I shouldn’t have called in from work today” he said, but I knew that was just the possible hypothermia talking, because we are extreme fly fishers right? Extreme fly fishing would have been staying after everything that had conspired on this fateful day, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what Diz was still contemplating doing with a few gallons of ice water in his waders and a fresh hole in his ear but I insisted we leave. During the long drive home with a half frozen, half asleep, and totally soaked fishing buddy warming up in the passenger seat I couldn’t help myself so I turned and smiled, “hey Diz what was the water temperature?”, he said, “about 27 degrees”.