Wednesday, April 13, 2011

spring caddis on the rio

Taos Box

With all signs pointing to a major caddis emergence this week on the Rio Grande, I borrowed some time Tuesday to head on back out there.

Traffic jam on I25 had me arriving at Embudo Station later than wanted.  Hate that!
ne'erdowells looking for some action
Thankfully I found a fair amount of bugs hanging around in the willows and junipers along the bank, in the lee of streamside boulders.  Water temp measured 48 at 11am, too cold for caddis, brrr, it better warm up!

I stopped a coupla more times on the way up to Pilar- @ the county line, and swinging bridge.  Each time I noted a fair amount of caddis representing, turns out the hatch has already spread out from Velarde to Taos Junction Bridge- whoa that was quick!
In an attempt to get ahead of the hatch a bit, I elected to hike into the lower part of the Taos box, into an area offering equal parts new water and adventure alike.

ansel adams landscape

typical 'beach'
Viewed from above, it takes a bit of commitment to begin that mad scramble down, as there is absolutely no-one around to haul your ashes out in case of accident or emergency.

Mid descent, I wonder again if I shouldn't just invest in one of those skater/climbing helmets as insurance against the foolhardiness of the whole affair.  If not for vanity, I just might do it.  Ever see an angler sporting a hard lid? Me neither, not sure I'm to be the first either!

Once safely grounded at the bottom, I breathe a sigh of relief, for the safe landing and streamside caddis both.  Whew, sure would be a bummer to have made that scramble to find a gorge devoid of life, huh?

I begin to rig up for the day.  Hopper-dropper combination jumps immediately to mind: one of Ben's mini-hoppers trailing golden stone (thx for the tip BCFN!) + pulsating caddis.  Almost immediately I begin to get some looks on the hopper, am soon hooked up, noice!
mini-hopper par-tay

No interest in the droppers, so I remove the hopper and go deep.  But man I couldn't buy a strike!  The indicator itself received enuf follows and flashes (oh for godssakes, it's a fluorescent pink ball you guys!) that I transitioned back to the mini-hopper, flying solo for a while.  Which worked well enuf, for an Arizona fly in New Mexico. ;-)

AZ fly rolls another NM victim
Most all the fish proved of middling size, making up for it with the unbridled enthusiasm of youth.  I eventually migrated to my favorite catch-all, the Root Beer Float, in an attempt to lure something bigger to the surface.  Not gonna happen, and I would be remiss if I did not report I landed more fish on the mini than the RBF.   So thx Ben!  As for quality over quantity, I'll let you all be the judge ;-)

Early afternoon, under the constant assault of middlings and dinks, I began to worry I had over-run 'the action' better found back downstream with the bulk of the hatch.  I guess the perception the grass is always greener applies to fly fishing as well, huh?
on the swing!
So mid afternoon finds me eyeballing some of that schweet water downstream of the racecourse below Pilar, smack-dab in the middle of the hatch.  I'm munching a late lunch, monitoring water temps and caddis, slowly realize the sporadic hatch activity is heating up.  No risers though.  Huh.  No action on the dry, I get back to swinging the pupa.  Just a coupla grabs, one landed (middling!) for the better part of an hour.  In the middle of the hatch!  Darnit!

Dejected, I sit the bank and stew a bit, mulling my options in the face of such obstinacy.  Too late, tired to head back into the Box, guess I can wait it out til sundown and the golden hour.   For those in the know, the Rio's fishing almost always turns on when the sun leaves the water, the fish moving towards the shallows to prey upon the more clumsy caddis swarming the bank.

Determined to stick it out, if not to fish blindly, I settle in for a little daydreaming.  Am awakened by a friendly local prowling the bank- he reports no better luck, mostly dinks too.  A lifelong Rio angler, 'Fisher' offers his opinion the water wolves in the Rio are beginning to crash the trout population.  Quite possible as I was just as disappointed by the average size of my victims as dejected by the lack of cooperation.  Man, I'm old enuf to reference the good ole days myself, sure hate to think they remain in the past where the Rio's concerned.

Fisher proved a bit curious as to this fancy-pants fly flinging angler's intent lolling bankside in the midst of the famous caddis hatch.  I fill him in on my planned intent to stalk the bank towards dusk, figuring the last light of day just might turn my luck.  A bit skeptical, Fisher wishes me luck nonetheless, and we part ways, my confidence left sounding a bit hollow in his wake.

Conflicted, I prowl the bank myself for a bit, desperately seeking for signs of rising fish.  None, nada, zip.  I stroll downstream to where the shadows are finally creeping across the canyon, settle in on nice perch to watch for the beginnings of the evening rise.  Nope, not a thing, upstream or down.  Huh. 
golden hour on the Rio

Eventually, I'm bathed in the encroaching shadow, realizing it's now or never.  Dusting my spent caddis adult one more time for luck, I begin casting into the gathering gloom.  Alpenglow from the surrounding rock walls continues to light the canyon, lighting my way.   I make my way slowly upstream, and begin to flick out to likely slicks and eddies around the bankside boulders.

Second cast has another dink nipping at the heels of my fly, sixth cast has me tight to biggest fish of the day- a bonafide 13incher.  Coupla casts later I prick a nice bow and send him rocketing up to spit the fly, schweet!  Later as the light fades, I miss a slurp and bubble, send the caddis back in there to seal the deal. Fish on! and he's tail-tumbling his way out of the pocket, stripping line as he goes.  A bit of bull-dogging, head shaking, the Rio Grande born-and-bred wild brown eventually bows to the inevitability of the moment. 

Sixteen inches of early season snakiness

Thinking patience remains a virtue when chasing fins, huh?  A lesson that never gets old~

Epilogue: Taos Fly Shop is rating the fishing Epic on the Epic-fishometer,  even if not so much for this particular angler, this day.  The caddis will be working their way up the Gorge, there might be as much as a coupla weeks left to fish it.  So get on out there before it's gone for another year! Or seven! 


  1. love that last photo. I am confused when wild fish chase indicators. I had one hit the indicator in the middle of december, when nothing that is pink and/or ball-like is hatching.

  2. confused and befuddled....and amused.

  3. RE: indicator hits: ya know, I've gone so far as to tie up a guide saver using nothing but orange materials, elk and all. Works on cutthroat, but then so does just about everything, amirite?

  4. Great looking scenery Mike and I'm glad the minis did not disappoint. Thanks for giving them a little love and face time. Nice work on that last beauty. Tight lines.


  5. Sounds like you had quite the tense day out there! Looks like that brown bowed to the man. Good work! Where the heck have all of the older fish gone?

  6. yo Ben! Those mini's are good ties, fish well, float like a cork. Thx for the batch!

    @BCFN: yep a day of extremes: a lil hair-raising parachute drop into unknown waters. Pricked some fish, even plenty of same, but smallish. Coupla hours of bewildered boredom swapping flies, waiting for things to change. Then whammo: all the action in last 2 hours of daylight. That's the Rio for ya- it defies mastery. Why do I subject myself to continued punishment? ;-)

  7. I love the gorge. Landed my biggest fish ever down there, and also had a larger one break a new leader in half. Also got my first case of poison ivy down there......!

  8. my biggest fish ever too! Big, big hookjawed brown landed many a year ago, from the gorge well between Wild Rivers and Ute Mountain. Fish too big for net! thx for checking in Chris! mike