Desert Trout

Fly fishing in Utah can be a unique experience.  Much of the state is arid desert, with lots of sand, sandstone, and sagebrush.  With extremely hot summer temperatures, and barren surroundings, these desert regions wouldn’t seem like a good place to go fishing.  However, a combination of cold mountain snow-melt and cold water springs can create creeks that support trout year round.

When the topography and location is right, you can end up with decent fishing opportunities in the middle of rather inhospitable deserts.  A small creek can provide a flowing ribbon-like oasis through the desert, bringing cool water and trout to an otherwise hot and dry landscape.

Doesn’t look very much like trout country

Fishing in the desert can be challenging.  In this country, fishable water is the exception, so you may have to do a bit of exploring to find water that actually holds trout.  Often, you won’t find any fish at all.  I look at desert fishing as “hiking with a fly rod” and figure that if I actually do end up finding fish, it’s a bonus.

When conditions are right, however, desert fishing can be a lot of fun.  The soft pink desert sand and the grandeur of soaring sandstone cliffs contrasts heavily with the strip of green along the path of a desert creek, and imbues the experience with an added sense of beauty.

Besides the hit or miss difficulties of locating places that actually will sustain trout, desert fishing can provide technical challenges as well.  The water levels are often quite low, and the trout very skittish.  Long casts and delicate presentation may be necessary so as not to spook the fish.  However, vegetation on these small streams can be pretty heavy and brush often extends well over the banks, creating a real casting nightmare.  Quite often, I’ve found myself in a situation where I can see fish holding in shallow water, but I can’t cast to them because of all of the vegetation covering their holding spots.  Trying to get close more often than not leads to the fish scattering in fear at my approach.

Low water, spooky fish, stealth is essential. Luckily, there is actually room to cast here.

Desert brown trout.

Nice open area for casting. We pulled some beautiful brown trout from this creek.

One of the real benefits of fishing in desert areas is solitude.  Not too many people get excited about the prospects of hiking several miles into inhospitable areas carrying a fishing pole not knowing if there will even be any fish.  Most folks would rather just fish the Provo (again.)  That’s fine with me.  I enjoy the challenge and exploratory nature of desert fishing, and not having to share the water with other fishermen is a bonus.

 

A spring creek creates this beautiful fishing spot beneath soaring sandstone cliffs

When conditions are right, desert trout can grow healthy and big.

Michael D. Clark (South Creek) Bamboo Fly Rod

Mike Clark “Uinta” rod and a beautiful Uinta brook trout

 Michael D. Clark (South Creek Ltd.) 

8 foot, 5 weight, 3 piece, 2 tip, Ruby taper  “Uinta”

South Creek web site.

I love bamboo fly rods.  I have a web page devoted to that infatuation HERE.

Over the last decade, I’ve collected and fished a number of bamboo fly rods.  This rod represents the culmination of my bamboo fly rod collecting.  It was the first custom rod I ordered, and the last custom rod I received.  This is due to Mike’s very long wait list.

I was lucky enough to live very close to Mike’s shop when I ordered the rod.  His shop is in Lyons, Colorado, which was just a 15 minute drive from where I lived for almost 16 years.  Because of this, when I ordered my rod, I was able to make very sure that I was getting exactly what I wanted.   Mike took me out to a grassy field near his shop and let me lawn cast a bunch of different tapers and configurations of rod.  Ultimately, I ended up choosing a rod in what Mike refers to as his “Ruby” taper.  It’s a softer, somewhat slower action 5 weight taper that gives terrific feedback and control.

After I chose the taper I wanted, we went back to his shop and I picked out the specifc piece of wood that I wanted for the reel seat.  He put my name on it and set it aside for the day when he would finally make my rod.

I worked with Mike’s terrific assistant, Kathy, to choose the colors for wraps, agate guide, etc.  I pretty much just followed her advice on these issues, figuring that she probably has a better eye than I do for what makes a beautiful rod.   I commission my custom rods with a specific piece of water or area in mind.  This rod was going to be my Flat Tops rod, for the Flat Tops Wilderness, one of my favorite places to fish in Colorado.

After that, there was nothing left to do but wait.  So I waited.  And waited, and waited.   Mike’s rods are in extremely high demand, and he only makes about 40 rods a year.  Because of this, his waiting list is long indeed.  It requires a fair amount of patience to acquire a custom rod him.  I’m normally not the patient type.  I’m pretty much a poster boy for instant gratification.  In this case, however, I really had no choice.

Years later, when I finally received the email from Mike that he was getting ready to start work on my rod, my situation had changed quite a bit.  I had moved from Colorado to Utah, and was no longer fishing in the Flat Tops regularly.  Instead, I was close to the Uintas, which is a beautiful mountain wilderness area full of great fishing opportunities.  Like the Flat Tops, the Uintas has great fishing in both lakes, rivers, and small streams, so a 5 weight rod would provide the versatility needed to fish all of these conditions.

A couple of months after I got my e-mail, the rod arrived.  It was beautiful, and I would have been really happy, except that it arrived in the dead of winter, when most of my favorite fishing venues were covered with snow and ice.  I took it out to fish the Provo tailwaters a couple of times, but I had to wait for summer to give the rod a real test in its namesake Uinta Wilderness waters.

After numerous days of use, both close to home and in the Uintas, on lakes, creeks, and rivers, I can say with conviction that I love this rod.  The softer action is terrific for the fishing I do.   The rod has enough backbone to cast a good distance out on a lake when necessary.  However, where the rod really shines is in short to mid-distance dry fly presentations.  It’s great at helping me control the line for getting around weird obstacles and odd casting angles, trying to get the fly in under brush at just the right position to avoid branches that are blocking my cast.   It’s great for mid-cast corrections which keep me out of troublesome spots.

With this rod, my bamboo collecting days have drawn to a close, and I’m no longer a bamboo collector, just a bamboo fisher.  I’ve got eight bamboo rods I love to fish ranging from a 3 weight to a couple of 6 weights.  These rods pretty much cover all the bases for me, and I can find a rod in my quiver to match any trout fishing that I want to do.  Now, I’m just trying to make more time to fish so I can use all of these rods like they were meant to be used.

Fish on in the High Uintas Wilderness

Backcountry Fishing Kit

Fly fishing pouch

I love backcountry fly fishing.  When I’m fishing the backcountry, I typically have to do a fair amount of hiking to get to the waters I’m going to fish.  Weight and space are at a premium.  Many roadside fishermen carry a lot of fishing paraphernalia; enough to fill a fishing vest.  If you’re fishing close to the road, why not?   However, on a backpacking trip, where weight is the enemy, it pays to cut your fly fishing gear down to the bare minimum.

For this, I really like to use a small fly fishing pouch.  My fishing pouch was made by Backpackflyfishing.com and they called it the “trico”.    However, they are no longer in business.   A virtually identical fishing pouch is currently made by Elemental Horizons under the name of Dragonfly Fishing Pouch.

The total weight of the pouch and everything in it is 7.9 ounces.  It will get me through multi-day trips of backcountry fly fishing, using both Tenkara and/or a traditional Western rig.  

Pouch and contents

Here’s what I have in the pouch (starting top left, moving clockwise)

Small lighter with a couple of tinder tabs (for making a fire in case of emergency.)
Baladeo 22g knife (for cleaning fish and other small cutting tasks.)
5X Froghair fluoro tippet
Wader repair material
Pouch with small LED flashlight, and Frogs Fanny floatant
Titanium scissor clamps
Loon Aquel floatant
Shimazaki dry shake
Fly box with dry flies and tungsten weighted nymphs

That’s really all I need for fly fishing in the backcountry.  If I’m out on a really long trip, or I anticipate that I might need a broader assortment of flies, I might take a lightweight foam fly box with some extra flies in it.  Otherwise, I’m good with the basic assortment that I carry in the pouch.  There’s even a little room left over in the pouch for other small necessities such as a fishing license, or a blister dressing.

The pouch is very convenient.  I keep the Aquel floatant in the front elasticized pocket, and the Frog’s Fanny in the dedicated floatant pocket on the side.  The scissor clamps are held at the ready in a couple of loops.  These are the things I use the most, and they are no harder to get at than when using my fishing vest.  

For a little additional comfort, I added a bit of tubular webbing as padding for the thin cord neck strap.  This keeps the cord from digging into my neck when I’m wearing a shirt without a collar.   

Patagonia River Crampons

Patagonia River Crampons

It’s been a while since I have reviewed any fly fishing gear.   This isn’t because I haven’t been fishing (I fish a couple times a week when conditions are good,) but rather because I haven’t bought any fishing gear in a long time.  I’ve been pretty happy with the gear I’ve been using.

However, when I got the chance to test the new Patagonia River Crampons, I couldn’t resist.  They’re new and kind of odd and very unlike anything else on the market.  That definitely piqued my interest.  They seemed like a good idea for mossy rock.  However, I was kind of skeptical about these river crampons for general use.

I have to admit that as I was strapping on the crampons for the first time, I was already pre-forming my opinion in my head:   “fine for shuffling along snotty, slick, mossy river beds, but insecure for fast hopping around on large boulders.”    It’s a good thing, that I actually try stuff out however, because I was wrong in my assumptions.

In actual use, the river crampons are very secure on just about every surface.  They grab on wet rock covered with lichen, dry rock, gravely rock, small cobbles covered with moss, dead logs, dirt, and pretty much every other surface I have encountered.   My skepticism about the river crampons was colored by my experience with traditional steel or carbide studded rubber soles, which tend to skid and scrape insecurely on hard rock surfaces.  I figured that these crampons would perform in much the same manner.  This is not the case.  The aluminum bars have a lot more bite and grip than studded soles and I can scramble up and down boulders with excellent traction.  I like to move fast when I wade, hopping from rock to rock, and wading quickly past unproductive water.  These crampons made me more efficient.  Wading and boulder hopping was a lot faster and less tentative than the studded rubber or felt that I’m used to using.

The crampons worked very well for boulder hopping

The crampons adjust easily and the straps are secure.  The straps are made from a durable neoprene covered nylon that  gave me nostalgia for my 1980’s vintage Chouinard Scottish Crampon Straps.  The crampons stay on my feet and don’t slip around.  They fit well on both my traditional wading boots, and also on my lightweight water shoes.

My only real complaint about the crampons is that they are kind of heavy.  At first I was intrigued with the thought of using these crampons with lightweight water shoes for backcountry fishing.  However, the crampons weigh 17 ounces each, which makes them kind of heavy for backcountry use.  Combined with my lightweight Columbia Drainmaker shoes, the crampon/shoe combination is  26.6 ounces per foot.  Compare that with these other lightweight options, and the river crampons start to look less useful for backpacking, however, given their exceptional performance, I may just take them along anyway, coupled with some lightweight shoes.  When I’m in the backcountry, having the extra wading traction and security could save me from getting hurt while wading, plus the experience of fishing is more fun with better traction, so perhaps 2 pounds is not that bad a weight penalty to pay.   Here are some weights of various backcountry options for comparison:

LL Bean “Ultralight II” wading boots, studded rubber soles 23.4 ounces
Orvis “Pack and Travel II” wading boots, felt soles 19.8 ounces
Simms “L2” wading boot, rubber soles 23.8 ounces
Bite “Portatge” wading shoe, rubber/felt soles 17.1 ounces
Cloudveil “8x” wading shoe felt soles 18.2 ounces
Korkers “Cross Current” wading boot felt soles 19.1 ounces (With rubber hiking soles, 20.2 ounces) (felt soles alone are 3.8 ounces each)
Hodgman “Stream King” wading boot felt sole 21.7

The weight of the crampons was their only real drawback for roadside use as well.  After a long day of wading, I could feel the extra weight on my feet.  I haven’t tried the Patagonia rock grip wading boots, but if they provide the same grip in a light-weight form, they could be a real winner.

Patagonia River Crampons.

So, what’s the bottom line for these crampons?   Well, using these crampons has made me really want to try out the Patagonia Rock Grip boots with the aluminum traction bars on their soles. If the Rock Grip boots can provide me with the same traction as these crampons with less of a weight penalty, I may have found the perfect all-around boot.  Until then, I will keep using the river crampons, at least for roadside fishing, as the traction and security they provide is better than anything else I’ve used and is worth the extra weight, at least if I’m not hiking in a long ways.  I’m going back and forth on whether to bring these along on backpacking trips.  I have a week-long trip in the Uintas coming up soon.  I’ve been adding and removing the crampons to my pile of gear.  Still don’t know whether I will take them or not, but if I do, I will update this review with a backcountry-centered update.

A word on sizing:  I wear size 10 or size 11 wading boots and shoes.   The size small crampons fit my lightweight shoes the best and fit my size 11 Simms L2 boots too.  I don’t know if the size small would fit some of the really bulky wading boots that are out there in a size 11, but they seemed well suited for the more streamlined, lightweight hiking boot type of wading footwear.