scenes: brief road trip south

rainbow on size 18 BWO dry

Cold at home. In fact snow hit the ground. So I headed south across the border to a Trout Town on a wide tailwater river. The weather was slightly better but still behind schedule for May. Most days it was fairly cool. My dog’s water bowl was frozen most mornings.

I camped in a section called Mid-Canyon to try an avoid the ever present wind. The dry fly fishing was for the most part poor. I rarely saw a head/nose break the surface in spite of some good hatches. Most surface disturbances were trout displacing water when feeding on emergers an inch or two below: BWO’s. I still managed to catch several on dries: Klinkhammers and Parachutes while sight fishing.

There were no sipping trout on the banks or even in collector areas, or on the flats. And there were few fish feeding in some of my favorite side channels. The water was as low as I have ever seen it. That’s a ongoing condition out West. There was high wind and a lot of sun. Not the best conditions to find large rising trout.

side channel

Trout would bulge (emerger feeding) in the riffles when clouds rolled in, then disappeared when direct sun light returned. It was a yo yo (fish up, fish down) event on days with a mix of sun and cloud. Fun to watch as it became so predictable.

3 feet of shucks and spent insects against shore
main river
fly shop
another fly shop
side channel

early season

SPRING. It has been slow in coming. Insect activity has also been slow to develop. Hatches have been weak. I haven’t been able to check river temperatures as my thermometer was tucked in a shirt pocket and went through a Wash and Spin cycle. It’s certainly clean now and shiny looking but unfortunately it is stuck at 10c. Not a bad temperature but inaccurate at this time of year. The water is much colder. Warmer weather and water will bring out the bugs and trout.

On cloudy days I’ve seen some midges, some Olives (size 18), March Browns (size12) on one river, and a few Skwala stoneflies. There simply hasn’t been enough bugs to get a lot of the bigger fish “looking up” on the tailwater rivers that I’ve spent some time on. The window of opportunity in my region for quality Spring dry fly angling is brief as just when the fish start to rise, mountain runoff ( high water) begins to threaten. Hopefully a few good days will come. Here are some photos from recent outings. Some early season trout caught on dries…..the start of a new season.

goose eggs
deceased goose


“LISTEN TO THE RIVER and you will catch a trout” – Irish Proverb

THERE ARE A COUPLE OF RIVERS in my region that produce Skwala stoneflies early in the season. It’s not a significant hatch but sometimes there are enough of them to get the attention of a few good trout. I usually start noticing them while I’m waiting on an afternoon Blue Winged Olive hatch.

Skwalas are relatively big (hook size 10 or 12) and easy to spot in comparison to other early season insects such as Midges and Olives. They are also dark (dark olive sometimes almost black) in color and therefore contrast well on days when a river surface is a silvery-grey which is common on broad, wide open water.

When Skwalas appear I often position myself ankle deep on a large slow moving shallow flat below a riffle. I can usually spot them just as they exit the riffle and begin their long journey over the flat. Due to their size I can follow them for 30, 40, sometimes 50 yards or more before I lose sight. The key is to focus and not take your eyes off of one during its long slow drift. Occasionally one will disappear. This means a shallow water fish has “tipped up” and consumed it. These rises are rarely aggressive such as when trout are focused on the much bigger fluttering stoneflies (Salmon and Golden) later in the season. The feeding is a little more subtle. Sometimes I hear the rise before spotting it. This often happens on a slow moving flat.

Once a rise has occurred I try to mentally mark the location of the trout using the shoreline as a reference point and also estimate its distance from shore. This is easier said than done when one spots a fish 40 yards downstream on a broad river with a somewhat featureless bank and flat featureless water. Once I have an estimated location then I quickly “rock hop” along the freestone shoreline to the approximate location. If there are no other Skwala in the drift then I will prospect the location where I believe the trout was feeding. If there are more Skwala in the flow then I’ll patiently wait for another rise so that I can more accurately pinpoint the fish before making a cast.

In the rivers that I frequent the trout aren’t selective when feeding on this stonefly. Exacting fly patterns aren’t needed. Anything resembling a Skwala is usually taken. I’ve even fished a large, oversized black ant and had a response.

If some Skwalas are around but I don’t see any rises on my favorite shallow flats then I hike to a “collector” area on the river such as back eddy or bay, or a long seam or bubble line where they can get captured. Sometimes I’ll find a good trout feeding there.

Sometimes a Blue Winged Olive hatch never develops and early season Skwala save the day.


Some midge dry flies. Some tied with a trailing shuck. Some with a wire segmentation to pull body below surface (emerger). Black and white/light grey wings for visibility on broad rivers: size 18-20. Quick ties…


I played around with a recent photo of a Redfish I caught fly fishing. It reminds me of a Water Color Fish Print. I’m attracted to the detail. I wish I would have captured the tail in the photo as Redfish have a big dark/ black spot on their tail. In some regions they are called Spot-tail. Photographing a fish way out in a Bay while wading and angling alone is not easy as you are trying to manage the fish and keep your equipment (reel) out of the sand and saltwater, and I had my dog with me who always likes to get up-close to what is on the end of the line. At the same time I’m also trying to release the fish as quickly and as safely as possible…

the sand flats

road to the flats

Each night I listen to the surf. I’m camping a mere 60 yards away. Sand dunes separate us. Fireflies hover over the dunes and sea grass on warm nights. I haven’t seen them since I was a child. We used to capture them and place them in clear glass jars. That was a long time ago. They still fascinate me. There is also a chorus of Crickets on warm nights. A soothing sound. Then there’s howling Coyotes during storms which there have been many since I arrived. The Coyotes travel and scavenge the dunes. I saw three together the other day after an violent nighttime storm where the temperature dropped to freezing. They were wet and miserable looking. They eyed me as I drove by. They were big and lean. As big, maybe bigger, than my retriever. I wouldn’t have survived the storm without shelter. Hypothermia would have taken me. They survived. Resilient creatures.

sand flats
beautiful redfish, caught and released on 5wt

I’m on a barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico. I made the long journey here to fly fish the shallow bayside sand flats for Redfish. The conditions were ideal when I arrived. It was summerlike and calm. I walked the sand flats and spotted a few fish. Some close and some tailing in the distance. Then the weather changed. A series of cold fronts passed through, along with heavy rain and high wind. The storms bent the island Palm trees, flooded low areas and caused Power outages. In between storms there have been some fair days and heat but it is short lived.

bay was always clear

I’ve been patiently waiting for the weather to stabilize. I’ve been waiting for it to heat up so that the shallow saltwater bay/ Laguna warms. But it’s not happening. I saw Redfish (Red Drum) when the water temperature was in the high 60s, low 70s F. The bay is presently ranging from 43F to 59F. It’s too cold. I go out every day in all conditions and search but the fish have left the sand for deeper more comfortable temperatures. I’ve walked several areas often venturing out a half mile or so but there is no sign of them. I came upon some Black Drum when the cool weather first struck but they also appear to have fled the shallows. A number of consecutive warm weather days are needed to boost the bay temperature and bring the fish back but that’s not happening. The sand flats have become lifeless.

structure far out on flats I called the “chair”
standing on the “chair” watching the flats

I have a few remaining days left before I drive home. I don’t think the Redfish will return before I leave. There is disappointment in that I haven’t seen a fish in awhile and I have to remind myself that early on when the conditions were favorable, I spotted and caught several wonderful saltwater fish in the shallowest of water on a fly rod. On those first few days I witnessed what the sand flats have to offer. I witnessed their potential.

Tonight I’ll listen to the surf and the Crickets, and watch for Fireflies. Maybe I’ll even hear the call of a Coyote.

I’ll return to the barrier island along the Gulf coast and walk the sand flats again…

large black drum
smaller drum
can’t drink saltwater, floating water bowl out on flats


windy some days
black drum
deceased turtle bayide
nearby port town
turtle shell
t-shirt shop
shrimp fly…fished my own flies
food trucks-closed off season
calm morning looking back to shore
favorite coffee shop
wading sand flats

rooster fly with eye

A hollow-head saltwater streamer with dark spot suggesting an eye. More realistic (hard) glued on eyes take a beating when angling on a beach with abrasive sand and stones, and often come off. A soft eye impression is a more durable/permanent trigger point…

hollow-head roosterfish fly

A streamer pattern. I only tie them when I’m planning a saltwater trip and such trips are infrequent/rare, and therefore I’m not very good at it. Most of my limited saltwater experience has been spent sight-fishing the Sea of Cortez for Roosterfish on foot. I made four trips several years ago. Each trip of two weeks duration. That adds up to about two months experience pursuing Roosters which are the most challenging species I have ever cast a fly to and the most physically demanding and thrilling angling that I have ever done. Although I learned a lot about the Sea of Cortez and Roosterfish while walking the sand dunes and surf line of Baja, my time there in the grand scheme of things was brief. If North American Borders stay open I’d like to return, pick-up where I left-off, learn more and hopefully get the opportunity to entice a large roosterfish to take a fly that I tied. I’ve been practicing tying streamers on 3/0 and 4/0 hooks. Here’s one tied during the Winter Solstice that I’m pleased with…