Gazette Article - How To Properly Handle Trout!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Barr's Bouface

I was tying these in the shop yesterday and was proud of my work so I felt inspired to take this pic.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tailwater Fly Fishing

When I think of tailwater fly fishing I picture rocky canyons, big fish, small flies and cold winters.  A tailwater is anywhere a river comes out beneath a bottom-release dam.  Rivers like the South Platte can have several lakes or reservoirs along its drainage, all of which can provide very different fly fishing experiences. 

  Photo by Jon Kleis
During the peak of winter, most lakes and reservoirs only have a few feet of ice on the surface. This means that the water coming out below the dam can be a few degrees above freezing, even during Janurary. The water conditions this time of year are low and clear, but the fishing can be very productive if you manage to get on the water during a warm day with a good hatch.  Colder temperatures limit the type of bugs that can hatch, which makes fly selection simple.  Fly selection is limited to small baetis (bwos) on the overcast days from October-December and March-June, and extremely small midges.

Good winter patterns are: Kleis's Mid-Drift Midge size 22, gray RS-2s size 22-24, Dorsey's Top Secret midge size 22-24, Black Beauties size 22-26, Parachute Adams size 24-26, Apricot Glow Bugs size 16, San Juan worms size 16, and for some tailwaters, Mysis Shrimp patterns like Sand's Epoxy Mysis size's 16-18.   

Kleis's Mid-Drift Midge in Olive

Tailwaters also provide great fishing opportunities in the summer months, and in states that normally would'nt have water cold enough to hold trout. During the summer, water at the bottom of these reservoirs stays cooler because of the lack of exposure to sunlight.  Rest assured, if there is a bottom-release reservoir -even in states as hot as Texas- the odds are good that at least part of the year the river below holds trout.

As far as insects go, the bugs that can be found are as diverse as the types of tailwaters they live in.  Even during winter there are more than just midges and baetis available.  There are also stonefly nymphs, caddis larvae, annelids, crane fly larvae, leeches, and terrestrials such as scuds and crawfish. Baetis, midges, and small stoneflies are typically the only two insects that are comfortable hatching in temps associated with winter fishing, so that is what the trout focus on. Stonefly nymphs don't go through an emergence stage like a mayfly nymph, so unless there are a ton of stonefly nymphs on the move, trout might not be conditioned to seeing and eating them. Trout have to see the bug in order to eat the bug. Try using a small stonefly pattern as your lead fly on a 2 fly nymph rig, but if you see it spooking trout, or that it's not producing, switch to 22's-26's. 

Stonefly found during winter photo by Jon Kleis

In the spring fish are looking up for caddis and baetis that are either emerging, or resting on the surface as adults. Fish also move into shallower and faster feeding lanes as a result of run-off, and the rainbow/cutthroat spawn. 

Avoid casting to fish that you can tell are actively spawning on a gravel bed. Instead, target the back of spawning beds in an attempt to pick up fish that are feeding on eggs. Because trout spawn, or stage in shallow and well oxygenated water, my strike indicator is set shallow so I don't drag on the bottom. This increases my chances of detecting a strike sooner, and reduces my chances of foul hooking fish. 

You will know after a few casts if a fish is feeding, or has something else on its mind. Land the fish as quickly as possible and handle the fish as little as possible. Always keep the fish and the net in the water after landing your catch. Another great way to fish the spawn is to find fish as they migrate.  Migrating fish are eager takers and are still exposed in fast, and shallow water.

Starting in late-spring/early-summer a good all around PMD nymph imitation to use is the Pheasant Tail nymph.  A good way to fish when trout aren't actively feeding on the surface is to use a tandem nymph rig under a strike indicator.  I like to use a Pheasant Tail as my first fly, and with 5x tippet tie about a 15 inch section of leader material from the bend of the Pheasant Tail hook to a size 22 or smaller gray RS-2.  Roughly 8-10 inches in front of the Pheasant Tail clamp a #1 or #4 split shot to help your flies get down.  

Adjust your indicator according to the depth of the water your fishing in, so you're presenting your flies to the fish in their feeding zone where they can see it.  Now you're covering two bases (PMDs and BWOs) which doubles your odds of fooling different fish that could be focusing on two completely different hatches.  Make sure to check with your states regulations before you fish tandem rigs because its illegal in some states.

Photo by Daniel Zimmerman

Early Summer means fish are now looking up for sparse caddis hatches along with stoneflies such as the Yellow Sally Stonefly, as well as emerging and adult PMDs.  Good dry fly imitations for stonefly hatches are the Headlight Yellow Sally, and Stimulators.  Fish are also looking for terrestrials like hoppers, ants, and beatles.  As far as nymphs are concerned, try a Lafontaine's Sparkle Pupa behind a tan-colored San Juan worm.  Late summer signals the start of the Trico mayfly hatch in many tailwaters.  Depending on the river and it's biomass, the trico hatch itself can be huge, and trout feed like ravenous sharks as the bugs die and fall to the water in what's called a "spinner fall."

Late summer and fall is by far my favorite time of year to fish.  In the morning, anglers are casting small trico dry flies.  Midday, have on some form of bouyant hopper with a drowned trico or small black RS-2 as a dropper.  During the afternoon/evening, caddis and sparse baetis hatches are back on the menu.  In my humble opinion, outside of the Mother's Day Caddis hatch, fall is the best time of year to fish with dry flies.

As the water cools and the days shorten, brown trout are staging to spawn, making them accessible to anglers.  Land-locked Sockeye salmon called Kokanee start their spawning migration, also.  Egg patterns, Copper Johns, and small olive baetis droppers are great flies to use in tandem if you decide to fish close to the bottom.

Tailwaters are so loaded with bugs and nutrients trout can grow up to 2-6 inches per year depending on the amount of fishing pressure, size of the river, and how much protein-rich food they have access to.  Some rivers have an abundance of shrimp such as the Mysis or Scud Shrimp and when trout key in on these two freshwater crustaceans they grow even faster, and have the most amazingly vibrant colors found on trout anywhere in the world.


Elevenmile Canyon photo by Daniel Zimmerman
Huge trout and scenery like this are what keeps most anglers coming back to these fisheries.  If I had to choose one type of water to spend my entire life fishing, forsaking all others, it would be a tailwater.  This is a place where you can challenge yourself to become a better angler, and have a chance to land the fish of a lifetime.  To request a guided trip with me on the South Platte shoot me an email to




Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Breath Of Fresh Water Part 2

Pat's Rubber leg photo by Jon Kleis
Large stoneflies are in the river system year around and good nymph imitations are Prince nymphs or a Pat's Rubber Leg nymph.  Again when Im fishing these patterns it is usually during the warmer months or higher flows and Im typically looking for actively feeding fish in faster pocket water or I am dredging the bottom of deeper pools with a lot of weight on my leader in order to get down to bigger fish.  I haven't personally seen an actual stonefly hatch but it doesn't hurt to have adult imitations of the bug.  Good Patterns for adult "stone's" are Amy's Ants or Stimulator's.
Yellow Stimulator photo by Jon Kleis

The warmer months are great for wet wading.  Waders are awesome for keeping you warm and dry, but when the high temperature for the day is in the nineties it feels great to walk around in a pair of shorts with an old pair of tennis shoes or a good pair of wet wading shoes and stand in the river to keep cool.  When your wading be careful during higher flows.  Last year during spring run-off Deckers got well over a thousand c.f.s. (cubic feet per second) which is a very dangerous flow to wade and makes fishing a lot tougher as well.  Fish tend to stay close to the banks or they hang out in front of boulders where there is breaking water during high flows and playing a fish in fast water under those conditions with light leaders and tippet and small flies doesn't usually spell success.

Cheesman Canyon above Decker's photo by Daniel Zimmerman
Ideal flows for this region are from 150 c.f.s. to 250 c.f.s.  For stream flow reports go to the Colorado Division of Water Resources at  As for gear during chilly conditions when its important to stay dry Simms sells quality breathable waders made with layered Gore-Tex that come with a great warranty and are extremely durable.  Orvis also has a new boot foot wader that has a cleated Bog boot that will keep winter anglers warm and dry.  Bring a 9 ft. 5 weight fly rod and 9 ft. 5x and 6x leaders and tippet and some split shot.

Flies to have in your box are: Elk Hair caddis size 14-18, Barr's Graphic caddis size 16-18, Buckskin's size 18-20, Pat's rubber leg size 10, various Stimulator's, Prince nymphs size 12-16, Apricot eggs size 16-18, San juan worms size12-16, Pheasant tail's size 18-22,  RS-2's in black and gray size 20-24, South Platte Brassie's size 20-24, Murphy's Bubbleback Midge size 22, Kleis's Mojo midge size 22, Parachute adam's size 20-26, Olive and Black Slumpbusters.

If you have any questions on this stretch of river or you need directions email me at jonkleisflyfishing@yahoo or go to or stop by the Anglers Covey fly shop and talk to myself (Jon Kleis) or any one of our knowledgeable staff.  We are located on the corner of highway 24 and 21st street on the right hand side if your heading towards the mountain.  Tight lines!  

Jon Kleis



Monday, January 10, 2011

A Breath Of Fresh Water Part 1

Photo by Kristen Patrocky
 The South Platte River is an amazing fishery with great variety and abundant challenges that keep anglers coming back.  One particular stretch of this river was devastated by a massive fire in 2002.  The Hayman fire was the largest and most destructive fire ever recorded in Colorado history. The debris and sediment from the fire that washed into the South Platte from Cheesman Reservoir down past the town of Deckers laid waste to what was once a healthy trout population that called this stretch home.  After the fire came flooding which added insult to injury by spilling tons more sediment into the river from Deckers down stream and fishermen of all types began to wonder if the once legendary fishing in this region would ever recover. 

Ask anybody fortunate enough to fish Deckers before all that destruction and they will tell you about the glory days when abundant plant life produced great beatis and trico hatches and the fishing was epic. Most experienced guides and fishermen like Colorado Springs resident and professional guide Rick Murphy who has seen Deckers in its prime agree that quote "it will never be the same river".  Anglers Covey shop manager Steve Gossage told me that he talked to a fishery biologist that said it would take at least 25 years for Decker's to make a complete recovery.  

Photo by Kristen Patrocky
 Every single person that said Deckers will never be the same is still right.  Years later it isn't the same river but It has made some semblance of a recovery.  The water is a lot cleaner than it used to be and a lot of the vegetation and bug life that was prevalent before the Hayman fire has been replaced by gravel and wood debris.  The same gravel and wood debris that several different caddis flies use to make cases. 

In-fact the caddis hatch has become so thick above the town of Deckers in the spring that it rivals the famous "Mother's Day" hatch on the Arkansas River.  If your fishing a nymph rig and you hit bottom you have my 100 percent guarantee that you will come up with a caddis case every time... Just kidding.  Never trust a fishermen that claims he is good with numbers.  Especially when it comes to the measurement of inches and pounds.   You will notice that a good portion of the times your rig scrapes bottom you'll have either an empty or full caddis case attached to your hook.  In other words there is still great dry fly fishing to be had here if you fish in the spring or during a calm late summer/fall evening.

There are still sparse beatis hatches as well, however I haven't seen a single trico hatch anywhere lower than the family hole in lower Cheesman Canyon which is a few miles up river from Deckers past the Wigwam club.  The Wigwam club owns a private stretch of the S. Platte which is located between Decker's and Cheesman and is known for holding large browns and rainbows that will occasionally stray down or up river where there is public access.  Fish like this lit up rainbow landed is a common occurrence!

Photo by Jon Kleis


Jon Easdon owner of Blindside Ski and
Snowboards taking a break from the
Slopes to play in slightly less frozen
I recently went on a winter trip to Deckers and found beatis and midges with eager and respectable trout.  It was a gorgeous 45 degree day with no wind and lots of sun.  The kind of day most winter warriors dream of.  We put in at the first parking area above the bridge and worked our way up stream while throwing a combination of either a red SanJuan worm or an apricot Bling Bug followed by small red midges or a gray RS-2. 

Jon E. and I are not the only people aware of the fact that this place is still fishing great and due to it's close proximity to Denver Deckers receives a lot of pressure from anglers, and even though there is a lot of fishable water most of these trout have first and last names and zip codes.  One of the things I have never minded as long as other anglers demonstrate proper fishing etiquette is the crowds.  Pressure on the fish means they will be tougher to catch and I enjoy the challenge.  As Jon Easdon said when I met up with him soon after he released a fish "I forgot how much fricken fun this is!".

A client of mine with a nice rainbow that fell for a red midge.

It is common practice by guides and fishermen that live within reasonable driving distance during the peak of summer to not take trips or fish in the area if flows are low and water temps are high so as to give the trout the best possible chance for survival.  If the flows and temps are adequate casting a nymph rig with some form of PMD (like a pheasant tail nymph) with a midge dropper behind it (such as Murphy's Bubbleback midge) in faster pocket water can be deadly.  If your one of those guys that just wants to throw big beefy streamers looking for bigger fish then the summer months can be a great time for that as well.
Murphy's Bubbleback Midge

To be continued...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My latest story in the Colorado Springs gazette newspaper about winter fly fishing!

The above link is a story I did about winter flyfishing while spending a day on the water with Springs reporters.  It made it as the main and only story on the outthere section of the paper!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Lion Hair Caddis

Predators in the wild provide an interesting dynamic in the sport of fly fishing because they can change the role of an angler for one obvious reason: You become the bait! Crazy thought isn't it? One minute you're hunting for fishy lips to bruise and the next you could potentially be bruised or worse by a hungry man eater's lips.

My good buddy Chris Holman and I were fishing a stretch of our favorite river in Colorado when we had such an experience. This particular spot on the river is surrounded by nothing but hills and fields as far as the eye can see and is known for producing giant trout in the spring and fall when the rainbow's and brown's migrate for the spawn. This is a place where an angler can find total solitude and let his mind and imagination wonder.

That afternoon we got our butt's handed to us. Between the two of us we landed maybe three small trout, but as the sun started to set we began to see signs of large feeding fish; and it seemed for a brief moment that there were goliath fish rising everywhere. What they were rising to Im not sure which wouldn't matter because we would soon get a rise ourselves.

Photo by Daniel Zimmerman

With barely enough light to see my fishing partner pointed down stream to a bush, "Do you see that?" he said. Of course I could only see rising fish. Ironically these trout were feeding on the surface next to muddy banks covered with giant cat prints that my subconscious chose to ignore. It's funny how easy it is to stamp out the voice of that little guy sitting on your shoulder when fish are on the rise. Chris repeats what he said with more urgency and as I follow the tip of his rod to see what he's pointing at, I see the head of a mountain lion the size of my chest eagerly peeking over some bushes some twenty feet down stream from where we were standing.

You know those surreal moments when time seems to stand still and everything becomes a blur like you are in some twisted dream? This was that and a pair of crap filled waders all rolled into one. For the first time in my life my fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. Leaning towards flight myself, my buddy stopped me and told my 6'5" petrified boney frame to try to look really big and start waving my fly rod around while making as much noise as possible. After a few seconds the predator realized he was made and walked slowly out from behind his point of ambush. It was then that I could see that this lion was truly a man eater in size. We were nothing more than really loud flies drifting on spaceship Earth ignorantly going about our lives much like a caddis fly before its own life comes to an abrupt end at the fins of another kind of opportunistic freshwater predator.

Photo by Kristen Patrocky
This fierce king of Colorado's wilderness walked ten feet in the opposite direction and in the nights coming darkness I could still see the definition in the cats muscles as he stopped and turned to look. Not just any look, but the look of death is what he cast in our direction. Behind those blood-thirsty eyes a blind person could see that he was deciding whether or not to eat us. Eat us like his cousins in Africa would eat a giraffe. I was the giraffe and my fishing partner the faster and more graceful gazelle.

It was then that I felt a feeling of helplessness that only a skydiver with a chute that won't open could feel. Screaming as loud and as fiercely as possible we managed to throw a wrench in the carnivore's mind. Lucky for us he turned around and jogged up the hill where it's assumed he lives. Using mostly moonlight we high-tailed it in the direction of the car which was now easily 5 football fields length in distance. Armed with a headlamp and rocks we took the straightest path we could all while continuing to scream fiercly for fear of a return visit, or a visit from one of the lions friends. "We made it!" said the extremely relieved giraffe, and the first thing the gazelle did was turn on the car's head lights and blast the stereo.

Under the warm glow of a machine that reminded us of mans so-called dominion over this planet and drenched in a nervous sweat we shed our gear. It is only after such experienecs when your safe that your mind switches from flight to rational thought. Thoughts like "I wonder how long the lion was stalking us before we spotted him?" Even worse the death and chaos that surely would have erupted if we blindly kept walking towards the lion like we were.

Fly fishers are elusive, often showing brief signs of intelligence followed by hours of repetition displaying a lack thereof. Needless to say the lessons learned that night only needed to be taught once, and every return visit to this magic spot by "Lion Hill" I bring a spotter (and I don't mean for the fish), a glock 40 caliber S&W, and a healthy respect for daylight. I can honestly tell you that with all the talk of fear and death I love that lion, and not just because he didn't make a meal of me, but because he gave us an adventure. I'm greatful for the outdoor's and for fly fishing without which I would not have these amazing experiences. These are the things that keep us coming back and thankfully for once, I can be happy to tell a believable fishing story about the one that got away.

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