Ray Krouscup

Anyone who has fished Crane Creek over the last fifty odd years is certain to have encountered a local character sporting a battered fishing hat, a walking stick and a huge .357 Magnum strapped to his hip!

This was Ray Krouscup who died unexpectedly last week.

Ray Krouscup taken by Willoughby Johnson

Ray Krouscup – photo taken by Willoughby Johnson

Ray worked as a meat cutter for fifty years and only retired about a year ago.  He was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish, particularly if it involved the company of dogs and fellow fly fishers (especially dogs!).  He tied flies commercially and always carried a box with him to hand to fly fishers who were new to the stream.  He would happily pass the time of day with anybody he met and nobody was a stranger to Ray.

He is probably best remember because he was always “packing” some great firearm on his hip accompanied by a couple of speed loaders.  To my knowledge nobody ever asked him what he was afraid of although I am sure his reply would have been “absolutely no body”!

Contrary to this cowboy image, if you took the time to visit with him you would find he was the most gentle and caring person you could wish to meet.

Ray even has his own chapter in a wonderful book called Crosscut Creek: A Year of Fly Fishing on an Ozark Trout Stream by my dear friend Willoughby Johnson.

I am really sorry that future visits to world famous Crane Creek won’t include a chat with Ray and I hope he is strolling along some heavenly creek in the company of other fly fishing heroes like Lee Wulff or Sylvester Nemes.  RIP old chap, I’m going to miss you.

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Posted in Fly Fishing | 6 Comments

A Common Bond

Some years ago I wrote a short story based on my time in the Falkland Islands and recently a friend reminded me of it.  I decided to post it on my Blog because it encompasses a lot of things dear to me, family, fly fishing, friendship, remote landscapes and big fish!

Enjoy my story – A Common Bond

It was the middle of August as I climbed off the aging Royal Air Force Tristar, and prepared to descend the stairs to the asphalt of the Falkland Islands airport.

I had arrived on these remote islands, nearly 8,000 miles from my home in England because I was about to start my new posting.  My home for the next six months would be Her Majesty’s Ship Dumbarton, the Falkland Island Patrol Vessel.

A guidebook I had bought back in England informed me that the Falklands apparently consist of two large and almost 700 smaller islands.  Until 1982 it had been a sleepy place where the locals raised sheep, drove Landrovers, posted letters in red mail boxes and flew the Union Jack.

For hundreds of years the islands remote, windswept and forbidding nature had not encouraged much population increase except from passing seal hunters tired of their wandering life.  The islands proximity to the tip of South America made them the final resting place of the occasional sailing ship exhausted from trying to beat round Cape Horn.  As hulks slowly decayed on nearby beaches, unwanted crew found a new home in the town of Stanley.  In this way the population had slowly increased

The future of the islands seemed secure with a population of hardy, sheep raising islanders who loved the rugged loneliness of the place.  It seemed this utopian life would continue forever, except the islands where being watched by other eyes.

Only 300 miles to the west was Argentina, whose people had long considered the islands to be part of their country.

In 1982 the British Government had become focused on home affairs, and not what was happening 8,000 miles away in the south Atlantic.  While their attention was filled with striking miners and defense cuts a small group of Argentine scrap metal dealers began a chain of events that would plunge the two countries into a bloody dispute.

The small Falkland Island Garrison of Royal Marines was no match for the thousands of Argentine conscripts who poured ashore on East Falkland.  The Union Flag was unceremoniously hauled down and replaced by a pale blue flag.

Although the conflict only lasted a short time, hundreds of young men from both nations died on land and sea until finally the Union Jack was once again flying over the islands.

Life however, had changed forever and although peace had returned, along with it came an influx of new faces.

I had just arrived to become one of those faces and to be part of the British Garrison.

The walk across to the arrivals building was short and cold, with snow flurries sending frigid flakes into my English summer clothing.  I had left home during a beautiful warm summer, and arrived in the middle of the Falkland winter.

My luggage tumbled out onto the carrousel, and I was pleased to see that my fly rod cases were intact.  Although I had been posted to this remote spot, I had no intention of being away from my beloved rods.

Depositing the bags onto a trolley, I made my way out to the parking lot where I hoped my transport would be waiting.  A young Naval Rating was standing besides a waiting Landrover and he gave me a friendly wave, easily recognizing me from the ubiquitous tan holdall which distinguishing me from all the Soldiers and Airmen.  Having thrown my gear into the back, we turned out of the parking lot and headed for the harbor.

In all directions the landscape appeared to be the same, with bleak tundra and the occasional flock of sheep.  Windblown sleet angled across the road from the south bringing with it a chill of Antarctica only a few thousand miles away.

During the drive, I was somewhat withdrawn although my jolly driver chatted beside me, filling me with local tidbits of information.  I was trying to convince myself that I was here for a purpose although the bleak landscape was not helping.

After about ten miles, we crossed a metal bridge, beneath which flowed a peat-stained stream tumbling over granite boulders strewn across its width.  In the distance I could make out the coastline, and although the snow almost obscured the view, the stream raised my dark mood as it meandered across the landscape.

A couple of miles further we drove past some deserted buildings with piles of military detritus and rounding a final corner we arrived at our destination.

“Here we are Sir, home sweet home,” my driver said brightly as we approached the jetty.

There on the other side of the wooden planking was my home for the next six months.  She was gray and business like, with the Union Flag proudly fluttering from the Jack Staff and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy at the stern.

“Don’t worry about the bags Sir, just get yourself aboard,” the young driver said.

As I reached the far end of the gangway, a familiar smiling face appeared, it was Ken, an old friend and the person who I was there to replace.

“Let’s get below and out of the weather,” Ken said without preamble.

We descended a flight of stairs and entered a cozy compartment with a few occupants watching a small television in the corner.  After introductions Ken headed for the bar and reaching for a glass said “Tea or something stronger?”

I opted for tea, and gripping the mug in my slowly warming hands, sank into a welcoming armchair.

We spent the next hour catching up on old times until there was a knock at the door.  Two young Ratings were stood with my luggage and Ken said “Just heave it in here for now,”

As the bags were unceremoniously deposited in the lounge, one of the Ratings handed me my rod cases.

“So you think you might get time for some of the local Sea Trout, eh!” Ken laughed.

“You never change, I hope you get the chance, it might keep you from going round the bend,” Ken grinned.

“Well you started it when you sent me that copy of the Falkland Islands News”!  I retorted, “You probably didn’t spot it, but there was a story about a 20Ib Brown trout being caught”!

“So you think you might catch one yourself then eh” laughed Ken.

I finished my tea and Ken showed me to my cabin.  It was small, although I had been used to more cramped living spaces, and there was plenty of storage space.

“I’ll leave you to unpack,” said Ken as he headed for the door.

“Thanks Ken.” I called as the door clicked shut.

I opened the first of my suitcases and began to extract my things.  As I reached in my hand touched something familiar.  Wrapped carefully inside some towels was a picture.  It was of my son and I with fly rods, and standing up to our thighs in the bright clear waters of the River Spey.  The picture had been taken back in June, just before my departure.  As an Eighteenth birthday present for my son, I had arranged a five-day trip to Scotland.  I gazed at the picture for a few moments, lost in warm thoughts, and then placed it on the desk to keep those memories alive.

Over the next few days, Ken explained my duties as I became familiar with the shipboard routines before he returned to England.  The ship had mechanical problems and we spent many hours deep in the bowels of the engine room, or pouring over schematic drawings.

The time seemed to fly by and suddenly it was the day Ken was due to fly home.  I drove him to the airport for his flight and it was strange standing in the departure lounge, watching the plane taxi for takeoff.  With a roar the Tristar hurtled down the runway, and as the wheels left the ground, it began its climb away from the islands.  Ken had started his journey home, and I had just started my Falkland experience.

During the drive back to the ship, I crossed the same metal bridge, and stopped the Rover just past it.  On impulse, I decided to check out the stream that had lightened my spirits that first day.

Slipping and sliding down the stream bank, I arrived beside a beautiful free stone stream winding its way down to the Southern Sea.

Reaching down into the water I felt the cool flow of it through my fingers and that peaty smell assailed my nostrils just like I had experience a few weeks ago in Scotland.  A small creature dashed from under the first rock I lifted, although it was too swift for me to identity.  The water was a golden brown having been colored by its passage through the peat bogs miles inland.

I stared down into the turbid water, and at first I couldn’t see any signs of life, although the bottom seemed to be rocky, with numerous holding spots.

Then in the corner of my eye something moved and my heart seemed to skip a beat.  A bright torpedo like shape moved quickly into the pocket water below a large rock.  The huge tail gently swept gracefully from side to side as the fish held its position.  I estimated the fish to be about 36 inches long, with a large gaping mouth and a bright shining eye which seemed focused completely on me.

It was a fresh-run Sea Trout, straight from the South Atlantic and heading upstream on an early run to the spawning beds.  I tried to estimate its weight, although the dark water made it virtually impossible.  This bright male trout lay behind the rock regaining some energy after the initial run from the sea.  I stood completely still and the military clothing must have helped camouflage my shape.  After about five minutes a swift beat of that huge tail and a slight movement of pectoral fins took the fish around the rock, under the bridge, and out of sight.

My heart was still pounding as I regained the roadway and headed for the Rover.  First sighting of a large fish in a strange stream always had the same effect, and my mind was racing with thoughts of fly choices, leaders and rod sizes.

I was just about to climb in the vehicle, when something caught my eye.  There on the hill just off the road, stood a large white stone.  It was about five feet high and looked to have been carved from white granite.  Surrounding the pillar was a neat picket fence, with an entrance giving access.  Going closer I could see that it had been inscribed with writing in a language that was vaguely familiar.  The writing was Spanish, and with difficulty I translated “Rest in peace you sons of Argentina”.  Beneath the inscription was a list of names and the date, June 1982.  It was a small Argentine memorial, tucked away on this lonely hillside.  I spent a few minutes in quiet contemplation and letting my eye move over the names.

I drove the last few miles to my ship deep in thought.  My mind was full of thoughts about battles, both between men, and with large trout.

As I reached the gangway, I was greeted by the noticeboard asking me to contact the Captain.   It seemed that we had received orders to begin our patrol and any thoughts of trout disappeared.

The next few weeks were spent cruising along the rugged coastline of East Falkland and visiting the lonely settlements on the smaller outlying islands.  I made new friends both within Dumbarton’s crew and among those hardy folk who eked a life among the heather and solitude of the Falklands.

Two weeks later we arrived back alongside our berth.  It had been a successful patrol and with all our machinery running smoothly, there would be a chance for some time off.

My mind immediately brought thoughts of flashing tails and straining leaders, and I was almost running by the time I left the gangway.  Sliding into the Rover, which I had booked for the day, I spewed gravel from the tires as I headed for the gate and the road west.

It was only a few minutes drive to the stream, and once the vehicle was safely parked, I followed a vague sheep trail towards the mouth of the river.  Winter was drawing to a close and all around me were signs of that the brief Falkland spring was almost upon me.

A tiny Plover noisily defended her nest that I almost stepped on, and a flotilla of Upland Geese was moving upstream against the current.  Fifteen goslings trailed a snowy white female, with the camouflaged male bringing up the rear.

A thirty-minute hike brought me to the coast where an Atlantic swell moved the Kelp offshore and a colony of Rockhopper penguins was noisy going about the daily rituals on the western side of the inlet.  A large group was just returning from fishing and athletically leaping from the surging waters to begin the laborious climb to the rookery.  Sitting on a rock I watched these endearing creatures until my eye was drawn to a shape moving among the Kelp fronds.  As I watched, a huge head appeared from the depths, and clutched in its mouth was a struggling sea trout.  It was a bull Sea lion who had been taking advantage of the returning trout.  The seal bit off the fishes’ head and with one quick swallow he devoured it.  Loosing interest in the remaining morsel he suddenly disappeared from sight, only to reappear moments later clutching yet another glistening trout.

This was sufficient to break my reverie and picking up my rod I headed back up river.  Seeing those fresh-run fish had reminded me why I was here and I began to survey the stream with a different eye.

Only fifty yards from the mouth was a sudden change in the streambed, and below a rocky barrier was a pod of holding trout.  Reaching into my pocket I retrieved my streamer box and selected one of the Silver Stoat flies that had worked so well on those Spey Salmon.

After carefully tying it to the leader I moved cautiously upstream until I could get a downstream drift to the fish.  Glancing behind me I realized that back casting would be no problem, because with the constant wind no trees grew on the islands.

Stripping out enough line to reach the holding fish I took two false casts upstream and then directed the fly to the water above the falls.  The fly landed soundlessly and immediately sunk into the golden water.  I followed the drift and calculated that it was approaching the fish, trying desperately to bring the fly close to a large female.  I saw the big female’s mouth open briefly revealing a flash white and there was a slight change in the drift.  I lifted the rod quickly to set the hook and immediately felt the tension come on.  Out of the water and into the air flew a 30 inch Sea Trout, glowing a slight yellowish brown and hopping mad.

My reel screamed as the fish headed back downstream trying desperately to rid itself of this thing it was attached to.  Laying the rod over to relieve the pressure and very slightly tightening the drag, I started to fight this monster.  She had almost made it to the safety of the sea before I managed to turn her.  Slowly I took line back as she swam upstream before another burst of power sent her running for the sea.  This scenario was repeated three more times before I managed to bring the fish to the stream’s edge and the security of my net.

There, lying with her tail hanging well over the edge of the net was my first Falkland Sea Trout, a beautiful female, burgeoning with eggs.  Carefully removing the barbless hook, I lifted this beauty and laid her in the current.  Her gill covers moved rapidly trying to regain some of the lost oxygen as she lay passively in my hands.  Suddenly I felt the muscles in her body surge with power and she gave one massive sweep of her tail to take her back into the stream.

I stood there laughing and covered in cool stream water that the fish had so kindly sprayed me with when she took off.  All the tensions and pressures from my arrival here were swept away by those few short moments.  Memories of my time on the River Spey with my son also flooded back into my mind bringing with them a longing to share this moment with someone.

The weather stayed kind to me and I slowly fished all the pocket water as I moved upstream.

Fish after fish strained my rod to breaking point, and slowly sapped my casting strength.

I had almost reached the bridge when I looked up to see a solitary figure standing by the stream bank.  My wave was returned and then I concentrated on yet another cast.  After a few minutes I felt a sensation that someone was close to me.

Glancing behind I saw a man standing respectfully out of my casting arc, although still close enough to watch my antics.  This was the first person I had seen all day, and retrieving my line, I decided that courtesy demanded I acknowledge his presence.

He appeared to be about my own age, with dark black hair and an olive complexion.  I nodded and greeted him with a friendly “Hello”

The man seemed bemused by my greeting, and frowning in concentration, he replied with a heavily accented “Good Morning”.

As he came closer I noticed he was wearing a nametag that declared that he was Miguel Santiago.

“Do you fish?” I asked

“Se Senor,” he said.

“Are you a local?” I queried.

Again his face was swept by a frown, and he replied, “No Senor, I am Argentinean!”

I felt the blood rush to my face as I realized the implication of this simple statement, and quickly tried to cover my confusion by offering him my fly rod.

“Would you like to make a few casts?” I asked.

A huge smile washed over the man’s face, and he eagerly reached for the rod.  I watched as he tested the balance and felt strange satisfaction as he nodded in appreciation.  He then inspected the fly and after another nod, moved towards the stream.  Suddenly he crouched and shifted his position slightly downstream using a crab like shuffle that I had used myself so often in the past.

When he began to cast it was the leisurely stroke of a practiced fly fisherman, and I realized that I was in the company of a seasoned angler.

The line unfurled neatly behind him, and the forward stroke took the fly to a point upstream from a large rock.  He gazed intently at the line as it started to belly and draw the lure across the face of the rock.  I saw him tense and swiftly lift the rod.  Immediately the line began to leap off the reel, and a huge wake was formed as a fish flew downstream.

I was amazed, his first cast had been rewarded with a huge fish, and as he climbed to his feet I joined him at the stream edge.

He played the fish expertly, and about fifteen minutes later it was almost at his feet.

When I offered him my net he shook his head and reaching down, carefully tailed the fish.  It was well over 30 inches and with practiced movements he removed the fly.  After holding it in the flow for a few moments he released it, and we watched as it moved to the shelter of a rock.

When he turned to me there was an amazing glow on his face, he smiled broadly and extended his hand.  Taking his hand in mine I felt the comradely grip of a fellow fly fisherman that I had experienced so many times before.

He passed me my rod and nodded when I asked if he would like some coffee.  From my backpack I extracted a vacuum flask, and as we sat on a streamside rock I poured some of the steaming fluid into a cup.  He took the offered cup and after a few sips he passed it back to me.

“Where did you learn to fly fish?” I asked.

“My home is in the mountains not far from Buenos Aires, and we have many streams and lakes to fish,” he replied.

For a while we compared experiences of fish and streams just like any two fishermen would do having met for the first time.  We both had a love for lightweight rods and it appeared that we shared many other similarities.

Then, from his wallet he took a crumpled photograph and handed it too me.  It was of two men in fly-fishing clothing, complete with rods.  I recognized the older of the two as my new fishing friend.

“Who is this?” I asked, pointing at the younger of the two men.

“My son Carlos,” he answered.

From my wallet I extracted a small copy of the photograph that I had so recently placed on my desk.  I passed him the photograph and explained where it was taken.

“Is this your son?” he asked.

“Yes, it was taken on his Eighteenth birthday,” I said, “He’s back in England with his Mother,” I added.

“Is your son here?” I asked.

A cloud seemed to pass over his face, and he said, “Yes, he is over there” pointing towards the road.

I turned and looked for another figure.  There was nobody in sight and when I realized he was pointing at the memorial, I understood what he meant.

My mind took me back to that occasion when I had stopped to inspect the stone, and mentally my eye moved down the list of names until it stopped at the name Carlos Santiago.

We sat in silence for what seemed an eternity, both lost in thought and not knowing what to say.

Miguel broke the silence by explaining that his son had been conscripted into the Army for the 1982 conflict and had been killed during a brief action close to here.  Although relations between the two countries were still fragile, relatives were allowed to visit their lost ones every six months.

We continued to talk and the tension seemed to evaporate.  Our conversation would invariably turn to fly-fishing and the happy memories of time spent with our sons.

Eventually he said that it was time for him to leave, and standing offered his hand.  I took it in mine and once again the grip seemed to last forever.  We looked into each other’s eyes, and despite our origins, recognized that we shared a common bond.

I walked him to his car and watched as it disappeared in the direction of the airport, realizing that my appreciation of this lonely place had been changed forever.

Posted in Fly Fishing | 2 Comments

3 Days Dry Fly Fishing for $300 – Is it possible?

My fishing partner recently renewed his subscription to a particularly well known Fly Fishing publication and mentioned how disappointing it was to find the majority of articles focused on exotic locations where fly fishing came at a premium.

So we talked about finding some good quality fly fishing on a shoestring budget and the possibility of three days dry fly fishing on a World Class trout river for around $300 each.

We didn’t want just any old river, what we wanted was fly fishing on a Western Freestone River for $300!

So which destination to choose?

The nearest Western State to our portion of Missouri is Colorado and a river that fits our requirements for its Freestone nature and insect populations is the Arkansas.  We had previously fished the Arkansas in both May and September finding it provided good dry fly fishing before and after run-off.  Those occasions on the water had provided knowledge of the stream and would eliminate the need for “exploration” thereby maximizing our fishing time.

A check of a Salida Fly Shop’s website showed that the fishing was “picking up” and run-off flows had not increased to unacceptable levels.  BWO’s had been sighted throughout the river system and rising water temperatures gave the hope of Caddis.  The fact that the fabled “Mother’s Day Hatch” takes place in early May (the month of our trip) was also influencing our decision.

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Destination decided the next decision was transportation.

Flying from our local airport to Denver is direct and relatively inexpensive at around $200 per person round trip.  Of course there would still be the need to rent a car which would bump our expenses up by something in the region of $200-300.  The problem was that our budget would be eaten up by transportation alone if we chose that method!

So what about driving out and back in our own vehicle?  A quick check of “Google Maps” showed it to be roughly 770 miles to Salida with a driving time of slightly less than 14 hours (non-stop).  Were we up to sitting in a car for that amount of time – twice?

It just so happened that my fishing partner had recently purchased a fairly new Toyota Corolla which returns a pretty good gas mileage.  He was happy to take it on the trip and we estimated about $150 in gas for the round trip.  A heck of a lot cheaper than the combined air fare and car rental!

To maximize the trip and cut down on hotels we decided that outward and return journeys would be accomplished in one day each with three full days of fishing in between giving a total of five days away.

The next decision was accommodation and that proved to be easy.  Having stayed in Salida before and we knew of a reasonable motel with rates of $60 per night for a double room.  We thought it would ease the strain if we stayed the first and last night on the eastern side of the Rockies.  This would allow us to drive upstream on our first morning to see if the Caddis had made an appearance at the lower elevations and also give us a jump on our journey home.  A couple of phone calls secured two more hotels, one in Cañon City ($70) and one in Pueblo ($60).

Of course there would be a need to eat!  Breakfast was included at all the hotels and lunch would be our old standby of a Subway sandwich from the shop in Salida.  Dinner was quickly solved by an authentic Mexican restaurant in Salida having great food at low prices.  So eating was going to run us about $20 a day each.

Incidentals like bottled water, granola bars and a three day fishing license was estimated at about $40.

So how did our budget shape up?  It looked like it was going to cost each of us $75 for gas, $125 for hotels, $100 for food and $40 for incidentals giving a grand total of $340.

We were close enough to our budget so the trip was on!

Long drives across country can be awfully boring and we usually solve this by taking a “Talking Books”.  For this journey the choice was a swashbuckling novel about 19th century soldier fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.

The 14 hour drive necessitated an early start to ensure we didn’t arrive so late at our destination that the following day would be a “recovery” day.  We decided to leave home at 6am with a planned arrival of around 9pm providing a good night’s sleep before hitting the stream the following day.

The journey across the mid-west section of the USA went very smoothly with “Sharpe’s” exploits helping the miles pass quickly on un-crowded roads.  A change of drivers every couple of hundred miles ensured we stayed alert and even the Feed Lots didn’t bother us too much although I swore to avoid red meat in future!

Arrival at Cañon City was roughly on schedule and having already eaten, we only needed to pick up a few supplies and purchase our fishing licenses.

Breakfast the next morning was at 6am and we then began our drive along the Arkansas following my river map.  Our plan was to work the section above Royal Gorge known as Big Horn Sheep Canyon which provides about 17 miles of fishable water.

Thirty minutes drive found a nice section that provided some good runs and a couple of flats we located a pull-out and began to tog up.

We were just pulling on our wading boots when the sound of boulders crashing down the mountainside grabbed our attention.  Thankfully our parking area was across the highway from the mountain so we felt reasonably safe but it was still rather startling.  To our amazement the cause of our localized landslide was a herd (not flock) of Big Horn Sheep making their way along the canyon rim.  The rocks tumbling down the mountain were being dislodged by the sheep as they nimbly negotiated the terrain.  A fishing trip is never complete without maybe an Eagle perched in a tree or possibly deer crossing the stream, although this was a first for both of us and certainly added that extra element we always hope for.

The water was running at its pre run-off rate of around 270cfs giving fairly easy wading and the ability to cross the stream with care.  Water temperature was sitting at 52 degrees so a little cool at that time of morning for the Caddis.  The sun was shining so we expected the temperature to rise giving the possibility of a mid afternoon or early evening hatch.  Clarity of the water was our biggest concern and a quick discussion had us back in the car and heading upstream to reach an area above the two main streams that enter the Arkansas.

A few miles south of Salida are some nice sections of public water giving plenty of opportunities for us to work the river across from each other as we fished our way upstream.  Along this section we did find better water clarity above the two side streams although the temperature was still a little chilly for Caddis.

It didn’t take long for us to see that BWO’s were on the water, albeit in small numbers, and that the fish were taking them in the back eddies and slower runs.  So fly selection was determined and with shorter casts being the order of the day we selected 4 weight rods.  We decided on 9 foot 5X leaders with a 12 inch section of 5x Fluorocarbon tippet to provide a “predator” tip for protection from those Brown Trout teeth.

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So began the first of what turned out to be three amazing days of dry fly fishing on one of the longest Western Freestone Rivers.  The Caddis never did make an appearance although the BWO’s certainly made up for this.  It did take some time for our eyes to acclimatize to spotting our #2o foam post BWO dries bobbing around in the foam flecked water of the Arkansas.

The Arkansas River is not renowned for its large Brown Trout although it does make up for this in the number of fish per mile and the strength of the fish.  An average Brown will be about 14 inches although the occasional “monster” will stretch the tape to 18 inches.  Rainbows are also in the river and these do err on the larger side.  On this occasion the Arkansas did yield a 24 inch Rainbow which I took from its holding lie under an overhanging rock in a back eddy where it thought it was secure.

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Fishing pressure was average with other wading fly fishers to be found and some guided raft trips passing us fairly quickly.  We never felt crowded and most of the time we only saw other waders in the parking areas as we kitted up.

The ability to make short casts and often in windy conditions is of primary importance on the Arkansas.  In my case I chose a Double Taper line to provide accurate casts and the ability to turn over flies at these short distances.

Indicator dry flies like foam post are particularly helpful with those smaller flies although we found the “takes” to be positive and recognizing this will yield plenty of fish.

A word of warning about the Arkansas!  The rocks are treacherous and a wading staff is essential if you are planning on covering the water on foot.  Studded boots help although some rocks appear to be “glazed” and studs actually make wading more difficult.  One day I will try aluminum cleats which have a better gripping ability on granite boulders.

During our three days on the river we encountered BWO’s almost the whole time and although we didn’t always see feeding fish, a well placed fly would generally produce an eager fish.  Sight fishing was always possible and often produced the best fish including that 24 inch Rainbow.

While you are stumbling around in the Arkansas (and any river for that matter) take the time to pause and look around.  The scenery is beautiful and the chance of seeing such creatures as Elk and Big Horn Sheep is always possible.  On previous visits to the Arkansas we have even seen paw prints of Mountain Lions and Bears!

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When the time came to leave we were suitably pleased with our success in catching numerous fish on dry flies throughout the three days we spent on the Arkansas.  During the same period we witnessed and heard from other fly fishers who had less luck although it would appear they didn’t recognize the subtle presence of our little BWO friends and concentrated their efforts in casting streamer flies.

The drive back across Eastern Colorado and Kansas passed by fairly quickly aided by further exploits of our good friend “Sharpe” and we arrived back in Missouri by early evening on our fifth day.

We both agreed that a 14 hour drive was “doable” and it would figure in our future plans although more distant destinations may still require a plane ride.

Total expenditure for the trip actually turned out to be $320 each, so very close to our budget and making the option of repeated trips more likely.

Of course experience and some luck played a part in our success.  Foreknowledge of the stream was a big help in deciding places to access the water although one can aid this by purchasing a river map and paying a visit to a reputable fly shop with experienced staff.  The weather was also on our side giving us good fishing conditions.  We found out later that following our departure the higher daytime temperatures had precipitated the annual run-off taking the flow and clarity to less than desirable levels so our timing was impeccable.

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So who needs Chile or Kamchatka when your bank balance is going to drop by thousands of dollars!  Pull out the map and see what rivers are within a 14 hour driving range, you might be pleasantly surprised what a little planning can achieve!

Posted in Fly Fishing, Fly Fishing Equipment, Stream Report | 2 Comments

Crane Creek Update – 18 April, 2013

A report was recently released by the Missouri Department of Conservation on the current state of Crane Creek, Missouri and I will endeavor to précis’ it below although you may access the complete report by clicking on this link:

CRANE CREEK 2012 SUMMARY

In July 2012 Missouri declared all 114 Counties “Primary Natural Disaster Areas” following the worst drought in 30 years.  The report quotes “Numerous portions of the state experienced severe to extreme drought resulting low water conditions in many lakes and streams, including Crane Creek. Overall, the trout population fared well and appeared to be healthy despite the harsh conditions in 2012”.

The last sentence should bring on a smile but not necessarily allow us to cheer too loud!

It would seem that the Upper WRCA has suffered the most due to low precipitation as one would expect, while the Lower WRCA seems to have fared better.

In 1994 a visual survey reported 606 trout per mile in the Upper WRCA which declined to an estimated 95 trout per mile in 1999 and 2005.  Contributing factors were obviously the low water situation and a high level of predation from piscivores (I love that word!) like otter and heron (+ poaching?).  The population improved in 2009 with 271 fish per mile possibly due to increased stream flows and reduced otter population (licensed trapping).  An abundant population has been observed in the Lower WRCA during 2005, 2009 and 2012 possibly because of the better water conditions.

What is most pleasing about the report is the section concerning private land, particularly the property on which I have permission to guide.

The report quotes “Historically, the population of rainbow trout in Crane Creek has remained strong possibly due to private ownership, low harvest rates, and adequate habitat”.

Some in the fishing fraternity would wish that Crane Creek be opened to public access along its whole length in the mistaken belief that it is a “navigable stream”.  It would seem that the experts believe that having sections in private hands provides a nursery for the “beats” which do allow public access.  As the report further states, “Reports from fishermen suggest that trout may inhabit portions of Crane Creek all the way downstream to the confluence of the James River during the winter months when water temperatures are cooler”.  So assumedly they move!

The owner of the private land to which I have access is very keen on seeing the stream improve for fishing and has expended a large amount of personal labor and money into seeing this happen.  He is a true “River Keeper” and endeavors to maintain the “Blue Ribbon” status of the stream for future generations.  He even has plans to incorporate “Lunker Structures” into any bank stabilization which will provide further support to the trout population and improve the general fishing situation.  While the MDC supports this kind of improvement, it does not necessarily fund it, so anyone undertaking it does so at their own expense.

Although this landowner often has cattle on his land he has made a great effort to prevent them accessing the stream, thereby causing further erosion and increased nitrogen due to “droppings”!  In addition he is endeavoring to encourage his neighboring landowners in similar practices which can only have a positive effect on the stream.

So without this kind of ownership the other areas of Crane Creek would certainly suffer and I would hope that users of the stream would appreciate this fact and respect it.

Below is an extract from the report covering Private Land:

Objective 2 – Collect Trout Density Estimates on Private Land

Thirteen individual P/R sites were identified and marked along a section of private land upstream of lower WRCA and downstream of the City of Crane.

This particular section of private land has been the site of recent NRCS and MDC cost share based riparian plantings and streambank stabilization.  The landowner has been a great cooperator with MDC and was more than willing to allow us to snorkel the section of Crane Creek that runs through his land.

Direct counts were conducted on October 3, 2012. A total of 423 rainbow trout were counted in a 0.6 mile reach of stream which extrapolates to 705 trout/mile.

This section of Crane Creek had higher densities of rainbow trout in all size ranges, and we observed five times as many rainbow trout greater than 18” than on either section of WRCA.  This is likely due to better trout habitat in this reach and decreased fishing pressure. Siepker (2008) documented that better quality riffle habitat existed within the private land section versus the lower WRCA.  Using a classification system of 1, 2, and 3 with 1 being the best quality habitat, 78 percent of riffle habitat on the private land was classified as a 2, with only 42 percent classified as 2 on lower WRCA.  In addition, the landowner allows very little fishing and only fishes with dry flies with barbless hooks in this reach.  The highest number of rainbow trout < 8” was observed in P/R J06, which corresponds with the section of stream recently reconstructed as part of a streambank stabilization.

This area was once a series of slow moving pools and is now characterized as a long, shallow riffle with a rip-rap bank.

Furthermore, the landowner observed several nest sites in this section of creek in January of 2013

My conclusion is that the report shows Crane Creek’s current trout population in a positive light despite all that nature (and humans) has thrown at it.  I also believe that the balance of public and private land is an aid to this, thereby improving the fishing throughout the steam.

Anyone who accesses the public areas could assist in improving the overall fishing situation but simple means.  Examples of this would be trash removal (take a trash sack when you fish and haul out a few items your find), ensuring that they don’t bring invasive species into the stream like Didymo (Didymosphenia geminata, see my Blog entry: Norfork Fishing Report), avoid wading if possible, not to mention reporting infringements of the law.

It would be nice if we could reduce actual fishing pressure in the public areas so the stream is not “over fished” and thereby reduce the impact on the stream and its fish. Of course this would be difficult to control and somewhat unfair on those who have travelled distances to fish. So maybe the approach could be to only fish during “low traffic” periods if you’re a local and allow the “out of towners” to fish the weekends. Maybe if you live locally and arrive to find the parking lot with four or five vehicles, the best approach would be to come back another day rather than add to the pressure.  Of course after doing this a number of times one is going to say “the hell with it!” and join the crowds!

Another option is the possibility of operating a “reservation” system on WRCA’s something like what has been used in the past at some MDC Quail Project areas.

Everyone seems to agree that increased fishing pressure on the stream has a detrimental effect but nobody has a complete answer to that issue but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m suggesting.

The town of Crane has seen better days but still retains the old world charm of a Midwestern farming community.  It also provides a stretch of water for people to fish and last time I walked it I spotted a fish of at least 15 inches!  So if you fish this section of stream then it would be nice if you could put something back into the local economy by utilizing some of the local conveniences as shown on this link: Local Services

Crane Creek is a National Treasure and we should be proud that it is in our back yard.  An anecdote I would relate about this stream involves a fly fisherman who was in a major Fly Fishing Supplier’s store in London, England.  On the wall was a chart giving trout species of North America and one of the smartly dressed sales associates pointed to the McCloud Rainbow trout picture and said “You know that one of the only remaining self -sustaining populations of that specie are found in Crane Creek, Missouri”.  The fisherman replied “I know; I live there”!  So even in Jolly Old England they have heard of Crane Creek, Missouri!

This is what all the fuss is about!         Crane Creek Rainbow 2 (Large)

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White River Fishing Report

White River stream report 15 April, 2013

Having decided that the mid week weather was looking rather dodgy we ignored the proposed generation forecast and headed for the White at Rim Shoals.

Generation had been roughly 1100cfs throughout the night giving a level of 452 which is very wadable and in fact opens up some nice riffles to the bigger fish.  Unfortunately this increased to 3000cfs at 7am giving 453 and then gave a blip of 6000cfs at about 10am which meant we would have rising water from about midday.

The only benefit of that unfortunate schedule was nobody else wanted to share the water with us!

Oh well!  We had fishable water so let’s go for it!

The water registered 60 degrees and there was some floating debris (actually a log nearly took my fishing partner out later on!) from the generation.

The Dogwoods had begun blooming and the Redbuds were almost over but still made a pleasant addition to the river view.  Most of the trees and bushes had started “greening up” and I even saw masses of Paw Paw blooms.

IMG_2407 (Large)                    IMG_2430 (Large)

A few tan caddis were on the water and just the occasional rise drove me to the caddis box and a #18 tan caddis.  This didn’t excite my “trouty” friends but a change to a #14 olive caddis did.

Over the next couple of hours I worked my way round the lower riffle and caught about 15 rainbows all in the 10 – 12 inch range.  All the fish were healthy and strong.

Towards noon the water began to rise to an extent where I was considerably more careful where I waded and I decided to head to the drop-off and fish from the ledge.

By this time there was considerably more flotsam which tended to snag on the hook so I decided to switch to a soft hackle and work some rises I had seen downstream of the drop-off.

The first cast produced a positive take and I thought I was into a good fish.  Of course all those doubts go through your mind; foul hooked, lots of weed to add drag!  The fish took about three long runs and went deep a couple of times so I was thinking Brown.  After the third run its tail broke surface and I knew I had a good fish.  I was using my little Superfine 4 weight 7’ 6” rod and this beauty was giving it a work out.  After what seemed an age I had the fish ready to net and once it plopped into the net my first reaction was “I need a bigger net”!  What a beauty, it was a 22 inch (maybe 23) Brown with a marvelously big tail and wonderful markings.  She had a few battle scars and what looked like fishing line damage to her upper jaw causing it to be slightly shorter.  To me though she was just beautiful and became the largest Brown I have caught on the White.  After a quick yell to my fishing partner for photographic assistance I headed for the shoreline for the photo shoot.  Here are the results:

IMG_0025 (Large)      IMG_0028 (Large)      IMG_2422 (Large)

Well after that I couldn’t care less what the water did!  But being dedicated to this sport I joined my partner and we headed downstream to fish a run that works when the upper reaches are out of bounds.

I managed a few more fish on caddis but there seemed to be very little interest and even my trusty soft hackles didn’t produce any fish.  My believe was that there was so much food being blasted down the river that the fish couldn’t be bothered to come up for a dry or “near” dry.  Maybe I should have listened to my Guest Blogger and brought my nymph box!

One other thing that made that day even more special was a reappearance of our friend the Midwest Salomonfly.  We saw two more during the day both of which flew off the water and passed over our heads like a couple of large helicopters!

After a final few casts to some fish that were midging in a back eddy (without luck) we decided to head for home.

Considering the water level had been more than desirable for most of the day, we still had a great time and the memory of that large Brown testing my knot tying will be with me forever.

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Guest Blog – Are you missing an opportunity? By William St Clair

Recently I was fishing on the White River during a marvelous caddis hatch.  Bugs were all over the water and there were splashy caddis rises visible as Rainbow and Brown trout rose consistently for nearly the whole day.  Fishing with a foam caddis dry fly was just great!  During the course of the day I saw several other fishermen using a dry fly – presumably a caddis pattern – but I also saw (and heard) several folks using an indicator with a scud.  They were not catching fish and I heard one of them say “Let’s go to Norfork” as they headed off for the parking lot.

This experience got me thinking about my own “history” as a fly fisherman and the fact that I am sure that I have missed opportunities like this wonderful dry fly day.  I can think of two reasons why I might have gone back to the parking lot, in days gone by …

William St Clair 1984 - Green River, Utah

William St Clair 1984 – Green River, Utah (spot the indicator)

First, I “came of age” as a fly fisherman during a resurgence of the popularity of nymph fishing.  The biologists told us that most of the trout’s diet was taken under the water.  As I soon learned, fishing a nymph under an indicator was a good way to catch fish!  The indicator solved the two major “problems” of nymph fishing:  getting a natural drift and detecting the strike.  I recall some wonderful Rainbows caught and released on the Green with a scud drifted under an indicator … as well as many fine days on Taneycomo.  For many years I was quite happy catching a decent number of fish using this technique.  Why introduce change?  So, during my early trout fishing career inertia might well have pointed me towards the parking lot on that marvelous caddis day, as well.

Second, I had an “attitude” about dry fly fishing:  the dry fly was for “purists”, like the Englishman (not my English author friend Keith) I met on the Green who was dressed in tweeds and sitting on a river side boulder.  When I asked him about the fishing he sniffed, “Well, it’s hardly world class if there are no rising fish, is it?”  Good heavens, if fishing a dry fly “properly” required waiting for a rising fish before making a cast then why would I consider the dry fly an important part of my fishing?  I do enjoy the scenery, but if I can view it from under the arc of a bent rod so much the better!

Fortunately, I was able to enjoy my foam caddis day despite these two early prejudices.   Again, I can think of two reasons why that opportunity was available to me.  First, despite my inertia and my attitude, I did carry some dry fly patterns in my box … and I was learning to be observant when on the stream.  So, there was an afternoon on the South Platte when the blue winged olives were hatching, I had the right pattern, and several nice Rainbow trout were brought to hand.  Later, I happened to be on the Cache La Poudre when there was a blizzard hatch of pale evening dun. Earlier in the afternoon I had begun to think that there were few fish in the river … but when that hatch got underway there were rise forms everywhere!  What followed was an enchanted hour casting  a cripple PMD pattern and taking a fish on nearly every cast.  Later still, I used a caddis pattern  on the North Platte after observing the bugs in the air … and learned that a decent sized Brown trout can straighten out a light wire dry fly hook if you are using a heavy tippet and are a bit heavy handed.  So, nature was sending a message … the dry fly can produce marvelous and exciting fishing …

Second, I had fishing friends who fished with different techniques than were in my own repertoire and I was willing to learn. From my friend Mark I learned that I could fish the nymph without the indicator.  From my friend Keith (the author of this blog) I learned that lots of fish can be caught higher in the water column using the soft hackle or a dry fly.

Now, back to that foam caddis day:  there is nothing more exciting than a splashy caddis rise to your dry, setting the hook, and landing a feisty White River Brown.  Why limit yourself to one technique when the limitation may rob you of the opportunity to enjoy that experience?  Don’t sit on a rock and wait for the river to provide fishing that meets your “requirements”, fish with an open mind and a fly box that is capable of addressing the contingencies!

William St Clair 2011 - Green River, Utah

William St Clair 2011 – Green River, Utah (using a hopper)

Will St. Clair, Springfield, Missouri

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White River Fishing Report

White River stream report 8-9 April, 2013

After our experience on the Norfork River last week we were pleased to find that generation was going to be in our favor for another trip down to see if our Caddis friends were still active on the White River.

The weather forecasters were predicting high winds during the first part of the week and severe storms mid week so we decided the winds were the lesser of two evils.

Rim Shoals was our choice of destination although there was some thought of taking the boat and maybe seeing if the Caddis were showing themselves at Wildcat or The Narrows.  Rim got the vote as water levels were going to be good for accessing the whole area.

The parking lot showed that a number of others had the same idea so we expected some company on the stream.

Water was low having not received any generation overnight and it was running at almost 60 degrees near the surface on the riffles.  The southerly wind had brought the air temperature up and we were feeling toasty with a high of about 75 degrees.  Spring was definitely in the air and even the Dogwoods were almost ready to pop.  A walk along the bank showed the Mayapples were getting tall but not a single Morel came into my vision range!

IMG_2375 (Large)

Only the occasional Caddis was in the air and the first long run had fish working a midge hatch and not showing any interest in a Caddis dry.  I decided to swing a few micro soft hackles and these brought some nice rainbows to the net.

I moved to the more agitated water in the riffles and changed to my #18 tan caddis which soon brought eager mouths to the surface.  The fish appear to have become acclimatized to Caddis being on the water and the arrival of a dry fly was all that was needed to get them up and working.

The wind steadily increased as the morning progressed with gusts coming from the south at about 25 mph.

At one point there were about 10 or 12 other fly fishers on the main riffle and although some were working with dries the vast majority appeared to working the bottom with nymphs or scud under an indicator.  These folks did not seem to be taking many fish and this coupled with the strong winds soon had them heading back to their vehicles with overheard comments of “maybe it will be better at Norfork”!

So once again I found myself with the stream almost to myself!

The wind continued to blow and gave me more slack line misses than I would have preferred although the fish continued to take my Caddis offering.

Caddis did make a minor appearance during the day, once again it was the tan winged with a few of the white winged scattered among them.  Takes were subtle and it was easy to miss them.  Quite often the fly would just disappear and if you lifted the rod you had a fish on.

Although the fish this week didn’t reach the proportions that we had come to expect, they were very healthy and my best of the day was a 16 inch brown.

As we changed out of our waders a quick check of the generation forecast showed that the water would be off for Tuesday although the other forecast showed winds in the 30mph region!  What to do?  Well not being ones to let the weather dictate our activities we decide a night in Mountain Home was in order for a second visit to the water without the 2 hour drive.

Tuesday dawned cold and bright with hardly a breath of wind!  The parking lot showed that most people had heeded the “Lake Wind Advisory” and stayed away.

The first part of the day was a repeat of Monday although this time we had the water completely to ourselves until early afternoon when some folks began to arrive.

The wind did make its presence know during the day and we did have gusts that were similar to Monday but they really weren’t a problem in comparison.

This time we worked our way down the full length of the Catch and Release area and even fished below for a short time.

Towards the middle of the section I took a break for lunch and while munching on my Subway delicacy I noticed something floating in the water near me.  It turned out to be a young mouse (dead of course) and a little staging with my mouse pattern (always have one on me) I took this photograph.

IMG_2379 (Large)

You can see why some of the bigger browns caught on the White are taken on this pattern!

White Caddis were on the water so it was the #16 furry foam Caddis that became the fly of choice today.

So it was another successful day and we felt quite pleased that we had made the decision to stay overnight and fish the second day.

Over the years of fishing the White I had heard mention of there being large Black Stoneflies in this water and occasionally I would find a discarded shuck attached to a rock.  I had only ever seen the little Black Stoneflies in the air and never one of their big brothers.  As we were changing out of our waders though, I felt something crawling up my leg and looking down was surprised to find a Large Black Stonefly!

IMG_2391 (Large)

This chap was about 3 inches long with orange coloration around his thorax.  I did a bit of research when I got home and found that this was probably the species known as Pteronarcys Pictetii which is otherwise known as the “Midwest Salmonfly.”  Here is a link to a website giving more details of the species: Midwest Salmonfly  You may notice that this chap resembles the one that is sitting atop my rod in the page header.  That is a true Salmonfly and I shot that photograph on Slough Creek in Yellowstone.  Nice to think we have something in common with that wonderful place eh!

They say “One swallow doesn’t make a summer” and I suppose one Stonefly doesn’t make a hatch but it nice to know that our White River supports this species because they are known to prefer un-polluted water so hopefully this bodes well for our “little ol stream”!

Here’s hoping the Caddis are still playing next week.

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