Pheasants….Forever

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Upland bird hunting is about the dogs, the landscape, the pursuit, and the friendship. The birds have had a rough go of it over the last couple of years. The drought across the west has decimated habitat required for the species’ survival. Recent moisture in Colorado has brought back some of the vegetation that had been nonexistent in 2013. It will take a few more years before we see the bird population recuperate.

Realizing the hunting would be challenging in Colorado, my friends and I decided to spend our annual upland hunting trip in McCook, Nebraska. Bird reports throughout the fall were positive, and we were willing to make the longer drive out of state in order to get some more opportunities.

Day 1

I picked up my friend Jeremy and his Brittany, Kessler early Friday morning. The plan was to hunt the day in Colorado, and make our way to Nebraska after sundown. The drive to bird country is always filled with anticipation. When you pass a shelterbelt or a grain elevator, you scan the ground for any sign of life. The first turn onto a county road, makes the heart begin to race as you realize you’re minutes away from entering the first field. My dog, Pride, is 11 years old and I realize his days as my hunting partner are numbered. I was apprehensive since our 2013 season ended with my carrying an injured Pride to the truck. Our first spot is a WIA where I try to start every trip. Picked corn fields abut lush CRP on all four sides. There is a long, pronounced draw perpendicular to a deep ditch filled with tumbleweeds.   A hard, cold, and consistent wind blew from the west. This would allow a stealthy approach to the area where the cover thickens. As we neared the historically prime area, I moved north with Pride, allowing Jeremy and Kessler to man the southern flank. The plan was to pinch the middle and hope any birds flushed close. Unlike last season, the weeds are tall and the grass was dense. As I walked the edge of the draw a rooster busted, and started to fly into the corn. Startled, my first shot missed badly, but the second HEVI-Shot shell shattered the bird’s right wing. I fired a third time and the bird dropped to the ground. Pride was already running around the corn stalks, searching for the downed bird. He was struggling, so I joined in the search. It took us almost ½ an hour to locate the lifeless pheasant.

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Our second stop would be at a small field containing an old, empty home and other interesting structure. Foolishly, I pulled my truck just across the road from the entrance. Despite our efforts to work silently, three roosters flushed as we loaded our shotguns. My shoulders sagged when I realized I made a rookie mistake. I brought Pride up through the middle of the field, and Jeremy worked Kessler on the northern edge. As I reached the adjoining corn, I moved quickly towards Jeremy when a rooster flushed from the deep grass. I shot the bird at 15 yards, then another rooster jumped at 25 yards. My follow up HEVI-Shot shell knocked him down as well. Pride went to locate the first bird, and Kessler grabbed the second in the corn field. I boastfully exclaimed “my day is done”. Despite my proclamation, we could not locate the initial pheasant after an extensive, and ultimately disappointing search.

Jeremy, Bob and I hunted both public and private lands throughout the afternoon. We saw a lot of hens and a few more roosters. Unfortunately, no shots were fired.

Day 2

All of the guys were ready to hunt Nebraska early. Thanks to a detailed conversation with Pheasants Forever’s Bob St. Pierre the night before, we had 5 Walk in Areas that we would hunt throughout the day. The morning was a cold 20 degrees, and the wind was not a factor. It was opening day of Nebraska’s rifle deer season, so the county roads were filled with trucks trying to spot a whitetail or muley.  Our efforts resulted in very little action. We did see 5 roosters and a hen moving from private land to public. The 60 minute stalk of those birds only had a single hen take flight. We worked a few other fields, but failed to produce any results. Some lunch, a few beers and we got ready for the afternoon hunt. It was almost 3 pm, and the golden hour was fast approaching. We drove for a while before locating a large CRP field. I left an exhausted Pride in the motel room, so I was hunting over Jeremy’s dog, Kessler. As I approached a plum thicket a covey of bobwhite exploded from the gnarly tree line. Startled, I fired three quick rounds at the evading birds. The action was so fast and furious that I could not be certain if I had made fatal contact with the quail. Minutes later, I turned to my left to see Kessler on point about 60 yards away. Moving hastily, we charged toward the Brittany when the covey flushed. Three quail moved to our right, and I took the first one at about twenty yards. The second was lined up, but when I pulled the trigger, the gun did not fire. Angrily, I stared at the chamber of my Beretta A400 XPLOR Light. The bolt failed to cycle, thus rendering the weapon useless. I am confident with this shotgun, but all of a sudden I was a bit anxious. While I was upset about the shotgun malfunction, I was pretty excited to have shot my first bobwhite. As we approached the trucks, the rest of the guys told me that they wanted to hunt an area northeast of our position. It took less than 10 minutes to reach the public access, but we were running out of daylight. We lined up with the dogs and moved into the wind. Otis suddenly became obviously birdy. He was chasing a pheasant so we all started to jog. I was walked the edge of the field, actually traveling through the scattered corn remnants. Our relentless pressure forced the running rooster into the air. He flew low and left, presenting me with an easy right to left crossing shot. My first shell missed behind him, and I when I went to press the trigger for the follow up shot, my shotgun jammed again. I shouted in anger as the unscathed bird sailed to the south. A few humiliating “no bird” calls had the dogs all back working the last 250 yards of the field. It did not take them long to force up another rooster that narrowly escaped a flurry of shotgun blasts. We all gathered to discuss our approach to the eastern edge of the field. Shooting light was diminishing, and we knew we needed to pick up the pace if we were to make it back to the trucks before complete darkness.  Chad and Jeff scaled the backside of a ditch in order to get a better vantage point of our area. I decided to climb up the hill as well. As soon as I stood up I yelled “rooster” as a pheasant glided in about 30 yards in front of us. Chad and Jeff turned and fired at the floating bird. The first shots missed, but Chad’s follow up round hit its mark. We did not have a dog near our specific position, so we both sprinted to see if we could locate the downed bird. Amazingly, I guessed correctly, and recovered the mortally wounded bird under some brush. It became dark quickly, and the cover was thick, so seeing my friends was difficult. To that point, I made the decision to move directly to the trucks. Without a dog, I did not anticipate locating a bird in the heavy cover. I had just flipped my shotgun over my shoulder when a rooster busted from his concealed position just 10 yards in front of me. Shocked, I managed to get my A400 into a shooting position, and took aim. The first shot was poor, and missed behind and to the right. Unfortunately, the second and third shots also missed. While I was bummed out at my failure to execute, I was thankful that my Beretta fired three successive times.

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Day 3

The early morning of our final day had the crew heading to a public field a Nebraska Game Warden recommended. As we drove north, I looked left as we passed the corner of the large CRP field. There is a long and deep draw that moved to the west. Small trees and deep brush lined both sides of the draw. The cover looked ideal so I drove 500 yards past and pulled over. I told the guys to enter the field from the north, while Jeremy and I would double back, and work the land from the south. Once we saw the men and their dogs move into the field, we allowed Pride and Kessler to move ahead of us toward the shallow valley. Suddenly, shots erupted from the north. I watched an evading rooster take the full impact of a HEVI-Shot shell, and tumble out of the sky. Seconds later, another rooster took flight aiming to make it across the ravine in my direction. I re-positioned my feet in order to solidify my balance, while tracking the bird with the barrel of my shotgun. Moving at about 30 yards from my right, I squeezed off a round, and the pheasant dropped to the ground. Pride, already at the base of the gully, sprinted up the hill toward the fallen bird. We were able to make an easy retrieve, and celebrate our success. Upon inspection, the rooster had a red band on his left leg indicating he was a part of a Nebraska Game & Parks study on pheasant behavior and needs. Excited with the early action, I sprinted in the direction of my friends in order to see their birds. When I arrived, Dave told me that they could not locate the bird he had shot. I told Pride to hunt dead, and we began the search in the dense thicket. I witnessed the bird summersault out of the sky so I was confident we were searching in the right area. We put all five dogs on the one hour job, but failed to locate the rooster. Disappointed, we gathered back at the truck to determine the plan. Bob also had success in that field, and revealed that his rooster had a gold band that was worth $100!

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We decided to head to Colorado, to see if we could hunt my buddy’s property in Holyoke. Dusty and I connected on the phone, and he provided me the coordinates to his land.  He described 4 distinct pivots south of a specific county road. As I approached what I believed was his land, I pulled over in order to formulate a strategy with the guys. Pinching a pivot can be very effective with 8 guns and 5 dogs. We surrounded the CRP, and marched inward toward the attractive shelterbelt. As we neared the middle, hens started to rise. Unacceptably, we had left a gap in our southeastern flank, and two roosters bolted unharmed. wpid-img_323293908030.jpeg

Realizing our mistake, we ensured the appropriate coverage on the next pivot. As we walked to the middle, hens began to fly. Once we all were within 50 yards of one another, a lone rooster exploded from the tall grass. He was subsequently hit with barrage of rounds, and was dead before he hit the ground.

As we were deciding on our approach to the next pivot, Dusty called my mobile phone to check in. He was making his way to our location, but could not see us. It did not take us long to realize we were hunting his neighbor’s land. A bit embarrassed, we jumped in our trucks and headed to meet Dusty. We were given a tour of the property, and given permission to hunt anywhere we wanted. We passed a wheat stubble field that had accumulated a significant amount of cover running along the edge. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw Chad out of his truck taking shots at evading birds. Realizing this location could be a special, I picked up speed, and headed to the end of the field. Greg, Scott, Jeremy and I all jumped out and walked east as the others walked west. The dogs weaved their way along the 10 yard strip of tumble weeds and assorted grasses. As we neared the middle, a rooster jumped and flew south with a strong wind at his back. Avoiding the center pivot irrigation machine, I took aim and fired. The pheasant dropped immediately to the ground. After an easy retrieval, we made the trek back to the truck, and headed home. I made a final stop at the home of my rancher friend, and handed him a case of Bud.

The initial foray into pheasant country is always full of anticipation and promise. All of us knew that the hunting would be challenging, but we were prepared to work hard to find birds. We were able to locate pheasants, and even knock some down. I will venture east with Pride a few more times over the next couple of months. My gundog is showing his age, and hunting all day just isn’t in the cards anymore. Hopefully, we will have some memorable moments before season’s end.

 

Equipment Type Comments
Shotgun Beretta A400 Xplor Light Talked to Beretta and my gunsmith – I over lubricated the weapon. My bad.
Shells HEVI-SHOT Other shells get more press. None are more effective than HEVI-SHOT.
E-Collar SportDOG UplandHunter 1875 Works flawlessly.
Pack Badlands Birdvest I have yet to find a better pack.   They need to adjust the shell holders. 12 gauge shells don’t fit correctly.

 

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Not This Year

In July, I found out that I drew an antlered deer tag for the Cage Ranch. Almost immediately, I started to envision a big buck making the fatal mistake of walking into my crosshairs. Where on the creek would I hunt? Would I pursue the deer from a stand or on the ground? What new equipment would I need? What is the longest shot I am comfortable taking? Preparation would be critical if I was going to successfully execute in 2014.

In early September, Bob and I set up stands and a trail camera in a seemingly prime spot just off the dry creek. We used the flatbed truck and a heavy chain to tear down two big limbs that prohibited a clean line of sight to the left/right of the shooting platform.  Once the job was complete, we took a few doves that were buzzing through the trees.

The trail camera pictures over the next six weeks were revealing. The photographs displayed numerous bucks frequently patrolling the area that I would eventually hunt. Some of the deer had large bodies and displayed magnificent racks. In 2013, I took a respectable 113 inch, 5×5 3 ½ year old muley. Many of the deer we were looking at were larger and that was exciting.

At noon October 24th, I started my two hour journey to the ranch. Bob informed me that some personal reasons would prohibit him from joining me on my hunt.   Admittedly, I was a bit anxious as Bob has been mentoring me over the last few years. His big game tutelage has been essential in transforming me into a better sportsman. Furthermore, Bob is a good guy and I would miss the friendship.

The ride to the ranch allowed me to think out my strategy for the weekend. The weather forecast promised highs in the upper eighties. These were unseasonably warm temperatures for eastern Colorado. I theorized the heat would have deer moving when it was dark, and bedding down only a short time after the sun rose. To that point, I would be in my stand before 5:00 am and wait. If I did not have a positive encounter, I would walk the Shipping Trap pasture and employ a spot/stalk approach.

When I arrived at the ranch, I immediately drove to my trail camera to review the pictures taken over the last three weeks. Sitting in my running truck, I opened the files. Unlike the September pictures, there were only two photographs taken. One picture was that of a young buck moving at dawn, and the other of a coyote. I was not discouraged or deterred, and was committed to my plan.

Day 1

The excitement of the forthcoming day had me up and ready to go at 3:00 am. I was by myself and that provided me the freedom to quickly have my coffee, and make my final preparations to head to the creek. The walk from the pasture gate to the creek was one mile, and my Garmin GPS loaded with onXmaps, guided me to the stand. The temperature was forty two degrees, and my pace along with my Under Armour Ridge Reaper clothing kept me warm.  Once in the stand, I removed my Badlands Stealth pack and took out the essential equipment that included my Vortex Diamondback binoculars and my Leupold RX-1000i TBR rangefinder. Despite the bright stars in the sky, I could not see much of anything. At about 6:15 am, I thought I picked up movement near the trees in front of me. Putting my binoculars to my eyes, I observed a big bodied deer at fifty yards moving east. He actually slowed down when he got to my right, and methodically turned toward my position. Because he was so close, I was able to hone in on his rack. He was a symmetrical 5×5, with wide main beams and prominent eye guards. He was absolutely bigger than the deer I shot last season. I contemplated if he was what I was looking for this year. It was 6:40 am and the legal shooting time was minutes away. The buck moved back to the southwest actually walking twenty two yards in front of me; exposing his entire left flank. I gripped my Tikka T3 Lite, but did not chamber a round. I watched the deer plod along, eventually disappearing in the high grass beyond the property line. I immediately second guessed my decision to let him go, but hoped I would be rewarded with a bigger animal.

Later in the morning, I witnessed a small buck quickly moving north as well as a few does making their way to the adjacent property. At 9:00 am, the temperature was seventy eight degrees, and my gut told me the deer had stopped moving. I got out of the stand and prepared to conduct a systematic spot/stalk strategy. From my position, the Shipping Trap pasture extends two miles to the northeast. The dense tree line would provide me the necessary cover to keep a low profile as I glassed every fifty yards. As I approached the last ¼ mile, I made my way across the creek. An unfavorable wind had picked up, and I was afraid it would reveal my position to any deer in the vicinity. Realizing I was making noise due to the dry tumbleweeds I was stepping on, I decided to stop and glass. A doe popped up and looked back at me at about one hundred and twenty five yards. She was joined by a small buck with ½ his rack missing. They both simultaneously turned away from me, and headed toward the east end of the property. I waited a few minutes to see if they had company, but there was no movement. As I approached the next clearing, three does jumped to their feet at thirty yards. A magnificent buck then unfolded from the tall grass and stood staring right at me. All of the blood in my body rushed to my head as I dropped to my knee, put my rifle in my bipod and chambered a round. While I was attempting to engage, four additional does rose up, and immediately ran to the west. The buck quickly followed them. I put my crosshairs on him at about seventy five yards, but he was so fast I was unable to make an ethical shot. I sat down to collect myself, and watched the three original does follow the rest of the herd to the west. Realizing I was ill prepared for that type of encounter, I began to curse myself for not having a round chambered. I am confident with my Tikka, and I know I could have pulled an accurate freehand shot at thirty yards. I stared my buck in the eyes, and failed to execute on a phenomenal opportunity.

I made my way back to the stand at 3:00 pm. With temperatures nearing ninety degrees, I was not hopeful for the late afternoon hunt. I stayed with it until dark, but did not witness a single deer.

Day 2

I was absolutely amped for the morning hunt. The daytime temperature would force the deer to be on the move early in the morning. If I was to have a chance at a big buck, it would have to come at first light. At 6:00 am, even though it was very dark out, I started to frequently glass my surroundings. At about ten after, I picked up a big deer at about eighty yards moving quickly to the west. He was a buck but I could not determine the rack size, and he was not sticking around. At about 6:45 am, I was able to clearly see my surroundings. Kneeling on my stand, I looked straight behind the platform to the south. I saw some slight movement and witnessed a lone buck feeding in the grass. My Leupold rangefinder had him at one hundred and fifty yards, and I put my binoculars on him to get an idea of size. He was another 5×5, but was smaller than the one I passed up Saturday morning. While his size was disappointing, I was excited at the early action. I spent the next hour watching two bucks and three does feeding in the neighbors pasture. They were too far to estimate their size, but I would have liked to see them up close. A lone doe ran down the middle of the creek heading west so I prepared for additional deer but it did not happen. Minutes before I was going to exit the stand, I picked up movement in the trees to my east. It was a young buck making his way right to me. I snapped a couple of pictures when he was just twenty feet away.

My late morning stalk had me taking an alternate route to the clearing where I saw the big stud and his ladies. Unfortunately, they picked me up early and scattered before I could get a clean look. I still pursued them, but they seemingly disappeared on me. The temperature was in the upper eighties and I realized that any chance of success would have to come late Sunday. To that point, I laid out a plan for the late afternoon hunt. I would bisect the pasture and glass for activity. With a little luck, I would spot a buck and then begin my pursuit. I sat on a hill that provides a great vantage point of the Shipping Trap pasture and started to glass the area. Admittedly my patience is limited, so I decided to see if I could create movement by moving myself. Three hours of walking brought me to the realization that I would not take a deer in 2014.

Whether you are hunting or fishing, all you ask for is an opportunity. That occurred Saturday at about 10:15 am. Unfortunately, my inexperience negated my chance in achieving the stated goal. The ride home was filled with vivid memories of a fantastic hunting weekend at the Cage Ranch. Like any competitor, I wish for a future encounter with the buck that managed to evade me.

Deer on the trail camera.
Deer on the trail camera.
Big Deer 2014 Color
Deer I passed up.

It’s about the Friendship

About ten days before opening day of pronghorn rifle season, Bob told me that a couple of his hunters had not redeemed their landowner vouchers. He asked me if I would like to exchange one of the vouchers for a tag, and hunt opening day weekend. Realizing that his question was rhetorical, I started my preparation for the unanticipated adventure to his ranch. Our friends, Dave and Chad, had tags of their own, and they were equally as excited to pursue the elusive “speed goat”.

Opening day coincided with both of my sons’ state soccer tournament. To that point, my departure from Parker would come in the early evening on Saturday. During the boys’ soccer games, I received regular texts of videos of Bob and Chad’s hunt. Having personally taken part in similar stalks last season, I became anxious, even though I was 130 miles from the ranch.

The early evening drive to the eastern plains was interrupted by a flurry of text messages. After pulling over to fill up the tank on my Ram 1500, I read the texts. Chad had taken an enormous pronghorn buck! I was so excited, I stopped filling up the tank jumped in my truck, and rocketed down route 86.

Upon arriving in pronghorn camp, stories of the day’s events unfolded. Bob and Chad described multiple pursuits throughout the morning that resulted in fleeing animals. Finally, late in the afternoon, they were able to get on a herd of goats that contained a big buck. The chase pushed the group of pronghorn to the edge of Chad’s shooting comfort range. Setting up at about a three hundred and twenty yards, Chad was able to knock down the animal with a shot from his 7mm Mag. The reminiscing continued until complete exhaustion forced us all into our beds.

The game plan in the morning centered on getting Dave on his first big game animal. He worked on sighting in his new Tikka T3 Lite late in the afternoon on Saturday.   He even was able to chase a few animals prior to the hunting day concluding. I was excited to help Dave get on a buck. At first light, I ventured to the range with Chad in order to ensure I was still shooting my Tikka T3 Lite 30-06 accurately. It only took four rounds to reassure me that my rifle, and Bushnell Elite scope were operating flawlessly.

At about 7 am we all grabbed our coffee and piled into Bob’s truck. It did not take long to spot a few pronghorn making their way east. A few minutes of glassing confirmed that the male was young and we would not pursue him. We worked hard to spot and stalk a few amazing bucks throughout the day. Unfortunately, we could not close the deal on a pronghorn with antlers. At about 4 pm, Dave declared he wanted to take a break, and directed me to take part in the next hunt. The day’s events already had my blood racing through my veins. With the rifle now in my hands, I got focused on the task at hand.

Bob’s brother-in-law, Brent, reported that he spotted a large group of pronghorn just to the southwest of headquarters. We were driving east when we spotted eight females about 100 yards off the road. They immediately picked their heads up and gazed at us. We realized that the buck was not present but was probably close by. As we continued to drive east, we saw the big buck about 150 yards away on a hill. He was chasing off a young male when we startled him. We stared at one another for about five minutes until he moved speedily off the hill in order to round up his ladies. There is a draw that moves to the south, and we assumed the herd was moving away from us. Protected by a number of hills on the back side of the depression, Bob and I jogged to where we last saw the buck. Realizing they were gone, we looked at one another and pointed to the east. With my rifle in my right hand, and my BOG-POD in my left, I started to sprint, using the ridge as cover. At about the five hundred yard mark, I was able to discreetly glance at the herd. I did not have my range finder, but I guessed they were 300 yards ahead of me. Acknowledging the distance was out of my range, I sprinted to the top of the next ridge. As I approached the crest, I attempted to slow my breathing. The adrenaline was flowing but I felt composed. I knew the shot would be far so I cranked up the power of my scope. I inched forward trying to be quiet. With the rifle already in the bipod, I took a knee, and quickly captured the buck in my crosshairs at about two hundred yards. I could see a few of the females turn, look up and take notice of my presence on top of the hill. To that point, I knew I had to act with purpose. As the buck moved left, he exposed his left shoulder, and I took the shot. The Barnes VOR-TX 168 grain bullet entered just below the neck and dropped him to the ground.   I shouted with elation as I knew I had accomplished my objective. We made our way down the hill and congratulated one another. My successful hunt was the result of a total team effort. I thanked everyone for their help, and told them to get in the truck in order to find a buck for Dave.

Just before they departed, Bob gave me a quick gutting refresher. This pronghorn was only my third big game animal, so my cleaning techniques are rudimentary at best. It took me about forty five minutes to finish the process, and get him hung in the barn. I asked my friend John to drive me back to the boys so I could participate in Dave’s search for his animal. We managed to find a few sizable pronghorn, but could not complete the harvest.

As we sat on the tailgate of Bob’s truck, we admired the full moon overhead. The sun had dipped, but the air temperature was still in the 60s. Bob stated that this was his favorite time on the ranch. I understood why. While Dave was visibly disappointed, he recognized that the quest had been invigorating for his soul. He is committed to getting back into the field, and finishing the job next season.

Equipment Used

Elegance No, Execution Yes

I am not a fly fisherman. I am a fisherman who elects to fish with a fly. If you watched me pursue my quarry you would quickly dismiss my abilities, as there is not natural rhythm to my motion. Not dissimilar to my golf game, there is little elegance associated with the required technique. I have as much in common with Tiger Woods as I do with Lefty Kreh. We share similar tools, but that’s where the comparisons end.

Despite my lack of expertise, I have worked hard to learn to catch fish on the fly. I watch television shows, instructional videos as well as leaning hard on friends who seemingly cast a perfect loop. In six years, I have become confident when I step into a body of water. I am able to formulate a basic strategy that provides me an opportunity to frequently hook up. Admittedly, I still forget the name of popular flies, and I rarely deliver the perfect presentation. That said, I have and continue to catch fish; the ultimate objective of the chase.

Over the last four years, I ensure that I take one day in the summer, and venture to Spinney Mountain Reservoir for the callibaetis hatch. Callibaetis mayflies in their nymph stage are easy prey for cruising trout. The hatch comes off when the air and water temperature are conducive for the nymphs to start moving to the surface of the water. At that time, trout begin to feed voraciously on the bugs. Their activity can be easily monitored as the fish begin to roll on the evading insects. The feeding frenzy can last for hours or be over as fast as it started.

In mid-July of 2014, my day provided seemingly perfect conditions; no wind, warming temperatures, and an actively growing weed line. We arrived at the Spinney inlet just before 8 am. A number of fishermen already had made their way into the water, and were positioning around the bay. I rigged up quickly and started my walk west. I had hoped that I could locate an area where the water dropped from three feet to something significantly deeper.   I assumed that the trout would start to feed in deeper water. Unable to locate a radical depth break, I decided to scan the water until I witnessed a fish roll. At about 9:15 a.m., the first fish appeared with a slight splash about thirty yards to my left. He remained on the surface foraging on helpless callibaetis.   I moved in the direction of the ripples, and started to make sloppy false casts. When I determined I had enough line out, I made a final and accurate cast. I offered an Amy’s Ant and a #12 hare’s ear as my trailer. My heart was pounding as I believed my flies were in the vicinity of the fish. Within seconds the trout engulfed the ant, and I reacted with a strong strip set. Unfortunately, I did not feel the weight of the fish, realizing in seconds that he was gone. Upon inspection, I noticed my 3x tippet had snapped below the knot.

Undeterred, I began to quickly re-rig as fish were obviously active. Incorporating the same set up, I started to make casts at not-so-subtle movements in the water. Once the flies had settled on the surface, I made slight line strips in order to make the artificials realistic.   Like a crocodile taking down a wildebeest, the hit was violent and unyielding. The rainbow ripped line at an extreme pace, only pausing to breach multiple times.   As soon as I felt that I had her under control, she surprised me with another long run. She finally succumbed to my efforts, and I eased her into my net.

Over the next few hours, I managed to hook six more fish and land five. The callibaetis hatch at Spinney is an extraordinary experience, and it will always be a part of my Colorado summers.

2014 Callibaetis Hatch Video

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One Pretty Hen

Whether you’re fishing or hunting, public land access is competitive and often challenging. The philosophy is usually first come, first served”. Additionally, the hottest spots are hotly contested. An abundance of fishermen means that the fish see many flies. By definition, they’re challenging to hook. To that point, when you have located a secluded spot that holds an abundance of big fish, it becomes a well-guarded secret.   

My friend, Chad, had told me that his dad recently discovered a barely touched fishery holding a plethora of world-class rainbow trout. Joe had fished the area in late April, and had landed a few bows over ten pounds. With that in mind, we blocked off an afternoon in mid-May to fish the spot. The drive was two hundred and twenty miles, and it had us traversing through some gnarly country. Upon arrival, we noticed a single fisherman making his way around the waterway. A powerful westerly wind forced him to demonstrate his casting prowess. It was not long before we witnessed him skillfully hook and land a few fish. As he made his way to the shore, we asked him a series of questions regarding his success that day. He told us that the morning bite was strong; landing over fifteen fish with sizes ranging from 18” to 22” inches. Double hare’s ears stripped aggressively were the flies of choice.   We thanked the man for sharing valuable intelligence. Then, Chad, Joe and I made our way into the water. It did not take but a few minutes before Chad noticed three enormous shadows cruising just in front of us. As fast as they appeared, they were gone. Chad and I tied on a custom designed crayfish pattern, and Joe decided to throw an olive damsel fly. Given the twenty mile an hour northwesterly wind, I worked hard to make mediocre casts on a forty five degree angle. On my tenth cast my fly was hit hard, but my hook set was late. The fish rolled high in the water column, then disappeared.

By mid-afternoon, the three of us had fished hard, but had no results. The wind proved a challenge, and the morning action had obviously shut off. As Joe was telling me that he was going to take a break, a fish slammed his damsel imitation. A long fight ensued.   Eventually, Joe brought the stout fish to the shore. She was not over ten pounds, but was still very impressive. There was another lull in the action, so all of us made repeated fly changes. Not surprisingly, Joe found a pattern that started to produce intense and repeated action. Utilizing a #12 bead head hare’s ear, and a custom designed nymph dropper, Joe methodically stripped his line. As the flies neared his standing position, he gently raised his rod tip. It was at that point, the trout ate the caddis imitation. Given Joe’s success, I tied on the same hare’s ear with a flashback pheasant tail trailer. I carefully observed Joe’s movements, and I began employing the technique. On my fourth cast I slowly raised my rod tip as the flies neared me, and I felt dead weight, so I set the hook. The fish, only a few yards from my position in the water, moved with purpose to my right. I was able to see her side as she passed me, so I knew she was big. The headshakes became increasingly violent, and I feared the fish would break off. My friend Slade told me to not mess around with big fish, and get them to the net quickly. With his sage advice in mind, I reeled hard, and walked back toward shore. When I saw the leader, I grabbed my net and leaned back, guiding the massive rainbow into my net. The fish was so big, she would not fit into my 26” Brodin. My largest trout on a fly measured twenty six and three quarter inches, and weighed nine pounds. We took a few pictures, and I carefully released her.

We fished for another few hours with limited success. I did manage to hook up with a beautiful twenty one inch Yellowstone cutthroat. A Monster Rehab Green Tea energy drink, along with frequent memories of my trout, made the two hundred and twenty mile drive back seem like teleportation. The secret spot produces, and my Garmin now has the coordinates.                                                                             

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Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf