It becomes difficult to tie knots with 5x tippet when the temperature drops to near freezing and your fingers refuse to work. This is the dilemma that I found myself in yesterday morning. While everyone else was clocking in bright and early on a Monday morning, I was looking at an ice cold creek attempting to will my numb fingers to submit and listen to my brain. By some miracle, I was successful in tying on a small dry fly to my brand new TFO rod. After logging many hours of painting these past two weeks, I convinced my fiance and ultimately myself that I had earned a new fly fishing rig. With a few months of researching, reading reviews, and trying then retrying different rods, I settled on a Temple Fork Outfitters Finesse 3 wt. My patience and deliberation payed off yesterday with the enjoyment that I experienced on Oak Creek. I actually had a bit of a scare with my new setup. By the second or third pool I noticed that something was wrong. The rod was either not casting or the line was not shooting correctly. After careful inspection I observed that the guides of the rod were starting to ice over. This was my first experience with ice (because who expects ice in Arizona) and for the first few hours in the morning I spent a good portion of time picking ice out of the guides.
Fishing was very slow with only two fish landed all day. I took my time and was able to spot several pods of fish before they were aware of me, but nothing that I was casting was appealing to them. I fished all day and found myself in a large still pool about the time the sun was leaving the canyon. In this large pool, trout were rising to what appeared to be caddis flies. I tied on several different flies to try and “match the hatch” but again had no luck. The size of my #16 flies seemed to be a tad larger then the flies they were feeding on, but the experience of actually seeing a hatch was very inspiring. Hunger, the cold, and a desire to see my fiance (and Budder) drove me back to the truck. Roaring off to the valley, I realize I am hopelessly addicted to fishing.
Words and pictures fail to describe the beauty of the Arizona desert at sunrise. My buddy, Travis, and I arrived while it was still dark to one of our usually productive quail spots. This year has been a difficult year for the quail coveys with a drastic lack of water, but we have been successful in bagging a few birds each time we head out. The morning started out on a bad note when, as we were gearing up and drinking the last of the coffee, a large pickup truck passed and could be heard parking just a 100 yards down the wash that we were getting ready to hunt. Apparently, “our” spot is not as hush-hush as we have hoped. So instead of hunting the wash and the adjacent hillside, we headed off at an angle that would take us away from the other hunters. The brisk 45 degrees quickly disappeared as the sun warmed the hillsides. On our way into a tangle of mesquite, saguaros, and jumping cactus, we busted a few small coveys, but most of the birds in this area were pretty keen on what we were there for and kept at least a 70 to 80 yard distance from us. No matter how hard we tried to be quiet on the crunchy desert floor, it always sounds as if you are walking on bubble-wrap. We hiked farther than usual and looked at some different country, but were unable to capitalize on the quail that were in the area. We were on the other hand successful in bringing down several doves, whose season just opened Friday.
The morning ended on a festive note as we stopped by Campbell Mercantile Store, a cornerstone of the Peoria community, and feasted on the morning’s special of biscuits and gravy while drinking copious amounts of coffee. Without a doubt, the morning was a successful way to start of my week long Thanksgiving break. The rest of the week should hold some more wanderings, perhaps into the water. Did I mention I love being a school teacher?
Several weeks have passed since I have strung up my fly rod and I have been getting restless to get outside. I seriously thought twice about my decision when my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., but I forced myself to roll out of bed instead of hitting the snooze for an indefinite amount of time. I had heard rumors that Tonto Creek near Payson was a decent place to fish so I bit the bullet and took the mountainous drive there. My little S-10 struggled up and down those hills through low and high deserts and finally entering my destination in the ponderosa pines. I was wading by 7:30 and catching stockies on my first couple of casts. Most of the fish I caught were between 4-8 inches but a few measured at 11-12. I lost count of how many fish I caught and had a fantastic day. Most of the fish were rainbows stocked by game and fish, but there were several brown trout in the mix too. Unfortunately due to the fact that I’m a lummox and was not taking my time, I spooked several large browns into the pools ahead of me which made me feel like a fool. All of the fish I have been catching have been off of parachute adams and other dry flies. I have tried tying on small droppers to my dry flies and have only had success in getting tangled and frustrated. Everything I read is telling me to fish subsurface but I feel like I’m being successful using dries. One thing I am 100% sure of is that I need some sort of camera. The cell phone camera is not cutting it…
Since moving to Arizona, I had yet to bag a big game animal. Hunting in the open desert and hills of Arizona is much different than the well worn game trails of Pennsylvania and New York. I had been able to buy over the counter archery tags to get out on the weekends in late August and early September, but have been unsuccessful with a bow and arrow. This last weekend was the first opportunity that I had to venture out with a rifle and chase around desert mule deer.
I was accompanied by my good friends Austin and Travis. Travis and I both had a tag for a unit about an hour and a half outside of the city near the town of Yarnell. This would be my first time out with a rifle in Arizona and a first time for Travis to ever be hunting deer. Waking up early for opening morning, the sun found us hiking up a hillside to begin glassing the surrounding canyons. We jumped several different deer, of which a couple sported smaller racks, but no shots were had the first day. All three of us headed back into town for the evening to spend with our respective wives or fiance (in my case). On our way out of our hunting area, we spotted a heard of 30 deer moving through a stretch of private property which naturally raised our blood pressure more than a little.
The next morning (Saturday), we decided to hunt the same area and while we made our way silently up the hillside, one of our party spotted movement across the valley. After glassing the herd for several minutes, we confirmed that there was a small buck in the group. The first shot of the day was mine and even though we could tell the buck was not a monster, I ventured out with the mindset of “bird in hand.” I hiked about a mile around and up to keep the wind in my face. As I topped the opposite hill I could see several hunters moving adjescent from me. Fearing they would spook the herd they could not see, I moved into position quicker than was advisable. I found myself looking at a gathering of deer all attentive to my every move. I made an offhand shot at roughly 100 yards and lost sight of my buck. Austin and Travis on the other hillside watched the scene unfold and saw the male deer drop 50 yards from the shot. Excitement and adrenaline coursed through my veins as I found my fork horn deer, downed with a decent shot through the shoulder. I sat down and drank my celebratory coffee as I watched my good friends struggle through an impenatrable maze of cat claw to my position.
The day was not over. After field dressing and butchering the deer, we ran into town and put him on ice and were back in the field by 3. By 5:30 Travis too had a deer on the ground that could have been a twin of the one taken earlier in the day. Saturday was a success with a double deer day. My first Arizona mule deer, with many more to come…
The layover for our summer adventure was in Schroon Lake, New York where Michelle and I spent a little over 3 weeks with my mom and younger brother. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly in fine east coast fashion seeing friends and family while taking advantage of all that summer has to offer in the Adirondack mountains. Even though temporarily distracted from fly fishing, my thoughts often found their way to plans of buying equipment and triumphant trips to thousands of rivers and lakes. By a stroke of luck, I was recounting my adventures of our trip through the west with my uncle and I explained how exciting it had been fishing in the mountains of Wyoming and of my schemes to invest in fly fishing equipment. He informed me that my grandfather had a complete setup that he did not use and it was currently collecting dust in my uncle’s garage. Before the week was out, I found in my possession a beautiful 5 weight Fenwick rod, a couple of antique reels, a vest, and an assortment of flies. I could not have been more thrilled and looked forward to putting my inheritance to work on the Ausable river in the Adirondack mountains.
I turned to my good friend and former employer, Tony Tenda, who has spent much of his life scouring over the landscape of the Adirondacks and chasing fish and all assortments of four legged creatures.I twisted his arm and convinced him to spend the day explaining the delicate nature of fly fishing to me. At the end of the day, I found myself cold, wet, and fishless, but grinning ear to ear because of the beauty and tranquility of God’s creation. I had never had such a slow day of fishing be so rewarding. I learned much and thank Tony for taking the time to show me the ropes.
I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state and was left to explore the great outdoors. While most of my time was spent turning over rocks to see what was underneath or fashioning bows and arrows out of simple stick and string, I also found another addiction that I am still battling today. Whether it was fishing with friends from school on Schroon Lake or visiting my grandma’s cottage in Pennsylvania, if there was water, I was throwing a line into it. No fish was safe. Largemouth Bass, bluegills, walleyes, pike, and trout all sooner or later ended up in my hands. My passion has ebbed and flowed over the past years as I went to college, found a job, moved, and found another job. This past summer I found the perfect opportunity to reignite the flickering flame of fishing. My brother, his wife, my girlfriend (who was soon to be my fiance, but due to my sneakiness had no idea), and I decided to head back to New York on a road trip. Living in Texas, my brother and his wife met us at the Grand Canyon to commence our three week adventure back to New York. Before I left Arizona, I grabbed my lady’s and my spinning rods in hopes of getting a few days to spend fishing some streams in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. The rain on our trip did nothing to dampen our spirits and we enjoyed a meandering journey through Utah, rock climbing and seeing some of our friends and family. When we reached the Tetons, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of our surroundings. My soon-to-be-fiance and I wasted no time in buying a Wyoming license and heading down to Jackson Lake. Jackson lake did not produce for us and the next day found us at the base of Jackson dam. We were having the same luck until we discovered a discarded white rubber worm left by some other fisherman. Having run through every other piece of bait in my box, I tied it on and threw it in the water. Off the first cast I was reeling in a nice fat lake trout. By the end of the next day we had caught over a dozen fish, most of which were over 20″.
As any fisherman knows, catching fish leads to a desire to catch more fish. So on our next stop in Yellowstone, I decided to make a day to get out on one of the rivers. The closest river to us was the Madison and the section that was closest to us was fly fishing only. After stopping in and talking to a local shop, they set me up with the “poor man’s fly fishing set up”, which is a bubble tied to the end of my spin rod, a tippet run from that to my fly. Not real fly fishing, but close enough. I can still remember the shop owner’s words as I left, “it won’t be long till you have a real fly rod.” My, how he was right. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure my lovely fiance would have taken a different course that day if she knew where it was going to lead. So I spent half the day “fly fishing” the Madison in Yellowstone. While there, I only saw one other fisherman who gave me the “stink eye” when he saw me. Now I know that he was probably showing disdain for my spinning rod, but it did not ruin my day. The climax of the experience was when a small rainbow snuck to the surface and sucked down my Elk Hair Caddis dry fly. After playing him to shore and releasing him…I knew. I was a hooked…
I am beginning this log to keep track of my different wanderings here in Arizona. Most weekends find me sitting patiently in a blind waiting for a deer or turkey that will never walk past or, as in these past few weekends, fly fishing. Last Monday, Columbus Day, I spent the day on a small creek on the Mogollon Rim chasing wild trout. It is tough to beat an 80 degree day, knee deep in crystal clear water, with not a soul in sight. By the end of the day I had landed 5 fish, one about 12 inches. It’s tough to go back to work after a day of fishing like that…