Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Difference Between Pros and Amateurs

Finally! I've got my hands on an HP 35 calcula...Image via Wikipedia

I read a wonderful piece over at Mouthful of Feathers by Bruce Smithhammer last evening, Trapped.  The experience inspired me to share a few observations.

My father is a retired Statistics Professor.  He is a literal man, hardened over the decades by facts, scientific process, graduate students, and predictions based on probability.  Shortly after the Worldwide Web was first introduced to the masses many years ago, I recall a conversation in which he asked me what purpose the internet would serve.  With only amateur interest in technology, but being a frequent and enthusiastic user of the internet, my hackles were raised as I prepared for intellectual battle to bestow upon him the virtues of this invaluable new business tool.

It's important that I put my father's inquiry in context.  This would be the same man who waited until 1980, nearly seven years after Hewlitt-Packard first introduced their HP-35 scientific calculator, before buying one or allowing his students to use them.  He was convinced the machines would turn people into idiots by virtue of the fact that they would lose a connection with how to actually do the math.

In any case, being a naive youngster in business and suffering from a lack of depth in making intellectual banter, I believe my answer to dad's question evolved into some sort of commentary on how easy it would be to find information and compare prices that would generally open up more markets and keep macro prices low for public consumption.  My response was scientifically broken down, processed, and theoretically appraised.  In only a brief moment, the internet was summarized to be a convenient catalog for shopping and instantly dismissed.  He's never owned a computer.  My apologies to Bill Gates, IBM, Apple, and the like.

For most, it is not a difficult undertaking to accept the notion that there is a profound difference between professional writers and amateurs.  The internet and the evolution of blogs has never more accurately highlighted this distinction to a greater degree than it does today.

I read all manner of blogs, many beyond the scope of what I list in my blogroll.  From ridiculously stupid funny, creative, rooted in technical know how, artfully eloquent and emotionally moving, or just damn good fishing and hunting, I savor the freedom to exchange one for another as my mood changes.  It gives me the ability to migrate hither and thither based on an impulse of variety to satisfy a craving for different entertainment appetites.  Had I known at the time what would evolve, I might have incorporated what I have learned by reading these works in my earlier conversation with my father.  It's the capacity to engage in these written exercises that provides a new dimension to my leisure pursuits.  Adding a fresh dynamic of how I will illustrate my adventures after the event has transpired has forever altered my attention to wildlife, my appreciation for the outdoors, and most importantly, magnified how the experiences I've shared with my cohorts is enhanced - those from my hunting and fishing posse that have been uniformly relegated to the "girlfriend list" by my wife.

From time to time, I come across a piece of written work that alters my conscience, literally changing my perspective, correcting a foul mood, energizing my gusto for an upcoming excursion, or purposefully bringing into full view refined raw talent.  Sadly, these works can level a serious evaluation of my own anecdotes as child's play.  But I don't care.  I admire them too much to ignore them.

As I'm sure many of you would agree Mouthful of Feathers is such a place where one can find a fine collection of literary storytelling brilliance for the outdoor experience.  Perhaps the greatest compliment I have observed is in the unanimous account of comments that tender so little substance.  Substantially guilty of offering such quips myself, quite often I have read remarks to posts where very little is said other than perhaps, "wow, great work, bravo, loved this post, or my all time favorite, Damn dude, I'll bet your keyboard is smokin!"  Gentlemen, you have my admiration and I genuinely appreciate your effort, for your words enrich my life.

Over the holiday's, my father had occasion to read some of my offerings while visiting my sister and brother-in-law.  My brother-in-law is a very accomplished and talented computer programmer whose life's work has been spent refining the use of computers in the workplace as well as incorporating the internet as a daily tool.  It's a safe bet he owns a computer or two for my father's exclusive use and enjoyment.  One can only imagine the vigorous substance of conversation between these two over the years.

I called Christmas day to convey my good wishes as sadly I couldn't be with them this year for a variety of reasons.  I was immediately put on a speaker phone, whereupon I was told the family, and particularly my father, had been reading my blog.  Without hesitation my father asked me, "To what purpose does this project serve?"  You could have heard a pin drop as my hackles began to raise.  Taking a deep breath and gathering my thoughts, I responded, "Did you ever have a pen pal as a young man?"  He affirmed that he did and that the experience was rewarding.  "Well, it's kind of the same thing, only with a lot more electronic bells and whistles," I said.  He replied, "Oh, that makes perfect sense.  I've enjoyed reading your stories.  You're quite the writer.  I had no idea you had this talent."

Finally.  Progress!

I love you dad.
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Earth Mover

Frozen boots.  Mmm, fun stuff!
About the middle of January, I begin to consider the inevitable tilt of the earth as it begins to align its axis toward warmer days.  It's Earth Mover Day.  On this day, I start dealing with the reality that I'll have to at least contemplate the approaching end of the bird hunting season.  It's a foul day for sure and one I lament every year.  I have a few more days in the uplands that will occupy my time before the 31st, but since my dog is still on the IR for a couple of days, I thought I'd take in a winter fishing trip to Elevenmile Canyon to see how the river was doing and how the fish were getting along.

Winter fishing is among one of my favorite things to do.  I particularly like to visit the major rivers systems that are so heavily pressured during the warmer months as the angler traffic is almost certain to be low.  These are the sacrificial lambs that are served up by fly shops, big box sporting goods stores and the DOW as quintessential fishing experiences for an angling public largely unwilling to move more than a few yards from a road in order to catch trout.  It's a fine tradition and one I hope continues in order to keep demands off the secondary tributaries.  These major angling destinations are indeed beautiful places to fish and are teeming with an awesome variety of trout.

Cathy bringing in a nice rainbow
Yesterday, I paid a visit to Elevenmile Canyon along with Cathy Houser, a friend from my Trout Unlimited Chapter.  A past chapter President, she's definitely a women steeped in trout lore, and her fierce enthusiasm for fly fishing is infectious, rivaling that of the best anglers I know.

Our day was pretty character defining.  It was damn cold and breezy, but the flow of the river was perfect.  So we strapped on our moxie, strung up our lines with microscopic sized flies, faced the wind, and stepped in.

snow shower in sunshine
We spent our day fishing during the "heat" of the day from 10:00 -2:30.  One good thing about trout fishing in winter is that you don't have to get out at the crack of dawn to enjoy success.  Our efforts were concentrated on sight-fishing at the head of the canyon, in the tailwater below Elevenmile Reservoir.  Fish will pour into this stretch as they migrate upstream in search of warmer water to survive winter's harsh grip.

We spent the morning hours alternating our patterns and colors using a combination of size 18 and 20 Copper Johns in red and copper trailed by a size 24 Grey Loopwing RS2 and size 18 Barr's Emerger.  The most productive pattern of the day was the RS2.

As the water temperature warmed, Cathy and I both witnessed a midge hatch and even a few noses looking up in the crystal clear water.  A little later in the morning, I saw a few rainbows attempting to spawn, no doubt brought on by the high unusually springlike flow.  That prompted me to tie on a couple of egg patterns that proved productive as an attractor for both Cathy and I.

With numb toes and a few fish in the net, it was time for us to take a break and enjoy some hot soup, cheese and a sandwich.  We spent most of the day talking about some of the water challenges facing some of our rivers in Colorado, admiring the health of the river and fish in the Canyon, and generally enjoying each others company.  Cathy has spent a number of years learning how to fish the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Idaho and shared with me a few pearls of wisdom and secrets to figuring out this famous piece of tough water.  I'm anxious to put her advice to the test!

After a nice lunch warm up we fished for a little while longer.  But with the day getting cloudy, the temperatures beginning to fall, and the hook ups beginning to slow, we opted to break down and begin the journey back to Denver.  We enjoyed a terrific day on the river, and with only two exceptions had the entire canyon to ourselves.

Bluffs by Spillway Campground

Come to Poppa

Is there any other better nymph in CO than the RS2

Go eat some more!

Rainbow release

This guy and one other were our only companions

Time to pack it in

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Delicate Condition - The Upper Colorado River

Back Country Tributary to the Colorado
I moved to Colorado in 2001.  The draw of a mountain environment and lifestyle is primarily one of the reasons I choose to live here.  Recreation and tourism, largely headquartered in the center of our state, provides a huge percentage of Colorado's revenue, exceeding that which is generated by both mining and agriculture combined.

Western slope water accounts for most of our tourism dollars.  Snowmaking for skiing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping, or simply soaking in the mountain atmosphere are all economically dependent on winter snowpack.  On the other hand, it also provides for most of the drinking water,  irrigation, domestic and commercial activities necessary to keep our urban economy thriving along the Front Range.  Snowfall in the Upper Colorado Watershed is the source for most of this water.

The appetite for water from providers for the Front Range continues to grow.  Increasing amounts continue to be diverted from the Upper Colorado headwaters to support its growing population.  At the same time,  mountain communities continue to struggle just to keep enough water to provide for its citizens and tourists that are so vital to their economy, and that of the rest of the state.  It's easy to understand why the conviction on each side of this debate is so intense.  Both have very real problems.  Stuck in the middle of this push and pull is the Colorado River and its finite resource.

After much debate, and based on the severity of the problem, finally Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District have elected to start collaborating with one another.  They have devised a proposal to take the edge off the impact their two projects will have on the Upper Colorado Watershed.  The proposal has received a big cheer from Grand County and other private river advocates as it represents a comprehensive approach to managing the resource.

More than 60% of the natural water in the Upper Colorado Watershed is currently diverted to the Front Range.  Between recently proposed Northern's Windy Gap Project and Denver's Moffat Expansion, at peak usage, these two proposals could leave as little as 15% of the natural flow in the Colorado River.  This could have a devastating impact on the riparian habitat, increase water temperatures and ultimately diminish the quality of the water.  This would obviously have hugely negative consequences for trout and other aquatic species that call the Upper Colorado home, not to mention severely influencing the tourism use of the area which contributes so much to our state economy.

On the surface, we appear to be making progress concerning the responsible use of the watershed.  However, as with many things in life, it's not what people say that matters, it's what they do that counts.  History being the guide, I still worry for the fish.  The next step is for concerned citizens and organizations to meet over the coming months to flesh out the details of a responsible plan to knock the ball out of the park.  Our water consumption, recreational use of the Upper Colorado River, and a vibrant aquatic ecosystem depend on it.  According to Trout Unlimited's Colorado Water Project, the next set of questions we need to focus on during this important project planning phase are:
  1. What measures will there be to maintain and measure water quality?
  2. What steps might be taken if river temperatures reach dangerous levels for fish?
  3. Will the volumes of water mentioned in the proposal meet the needs of the stream?
  4. How will monitoring be implemented to measure the potential impact of these new diversions?
  5. What will be done if the fishery declines?
I'd ask that all those reading this get involved with your local Trout Unlimited Chapter.  Volunteer your time and make sure to attend public hearings concerning the use of natural water resources.  If you care about the Upper Colorado and the seriousness of its current plight, contact Trout Unlimited Nationally and lend a hand. If you don't, like many river systems that suffer at the hands of public commerce, the Colorado River could become another statistic. Who knows, your home water could be next.

I would like to credit Colorado Trout Unlimited and the Northwest Counsel of Governments for many of the facts and storyline included within the content of this post. 

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Always Bet on Bob

Snow never lies.   It's a commonly accepted notion that when the white stuff falls, late season bird hunting will improve.  In some circles, this might even be accepted as gospel.  I can count many days in my bird hunting memory that include a fond association with bitter cold temperatures, frozen snot-cycles hanging from my beard, and hands so cold that my fingers managed to find both triggers at once.  There's an important outcome that's typically brought on by the alliance between cold snowy weather and bird hunting - a plump game bag filled to satisfaction.... or so I thought.

Kansas is a wonderful place to pursue birds.  I can't say it's the easiest place to fill a limit, nor is it even the most visually stunning location to chase game.  But, it does have a charm that's unique to the small towns that fill its landscape, indifferent to the pace of life that circles its boarders.  It has a robust and well managed walk-in-access program that gives the foot hunter limitless opportunities to pursue a wide variety of game birds, giving you a sense of freedom that only comes from abundant options.  And for the pointing breed man, there is perhaps no other place on earth that quenches a passionate commitment to quietly observe the methodical purpose of a Pointer, Setter or other such staunch creature exercising their birthright.

Earlier this week, I spent three splendid days wrestling plum thickets, rooting through weed choked brushy draws and creek bottoms in pursuit of quail.  With a good amount of snow on the ground from a recent winter storm, I was confident my pursuits would be rewarded with a few birds, maybe even a limit.

I learned a few things about the search for quail in a vast landscape.  They're magicians, here one minute and faint memories the next, leaving only frustrating reminders that they are indeed close by.  A few tracks, an occasional snow melted roost, maybe even a feeding scrape here or there, but count on being able to reliably locate them based on the evidence and you'll be painted a fool.

When my hunt concluded, I managed exactly what I originally expected - only a few birds.  We moved five coveys on our first day and I witnessed some truly spectacular dog work.  An untimely spell of poor shooting on my part left the birds in good condition and free to concern themselves with more ruthless predators.  I managed only two birds among a bevy of opportunities.  Our second day resulted in only one covey, but a double taken by my cohort made the best of the challenging conditions.   Bird sign was abundant.  Hopes ran high.  Yet at the end of the day, we were left scratching our heads and kicking the dirt, completely bewildered.  The third day provided a small amount of redemption on my part with two coveys moved and my being able to connect with three birds, all singles after a covey flush - the last shots of the day.

Of all the riches I encountered on this trip, there are two things that occurred repeatedly during the hunt that warrant additional discussion.  One, why is it that after a five mile hike in snow filled crop edges the quail erupt fifteen feet from the truck?  Two, why is the most illusive creature on earth the rooster that gets up when you're expecting a covey of quail?

Cold first day. Plenty of birds eased the chill though.

Mack busting through cover

My little heartthrob Gretchen and Big Mack Daddy honoring a covey
"A bird hunter must walk" - Havilah Babcock

After the dust settled.... yes, by the truck

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TU January 22nd Fishing Trip

Let's hope that mother nature is a little more cooperative for this month's Trout Unlimited fly fishing trip.  With weather being such a variable this time of year, I decided it was best to rely upon as many constants as possible when selecting a destination for our trip.  For Colorado winter fishing, that is usually spelled T-A-I-L-W-A-T-E-R.  Consequently, we'll be heading down to beautiful Eleven Mile Canyon this Saturday to enjoy some wonderful winter scenery and hopefully a few tugs on the line.  Most likely we'll be concentrating our efforts on the upper section of the river very near Spillway campground and moving downstream until we bump into ice problems.

The stream flow in the canyon has been holding very steady between 100-140 cfs for the past week.  This is historically a little higher than the average winter flow, and if it remains so, should make for some excellent winter fishing.  Right now, the extended forecast shows a warming trend for the weekend with high temperature reaching 49 degrees this Saturday.  That should make for one heck of a day!  With playoff football in full swing we should also be rewarded with lower crowding.  Don't forget to set your DVR!

Plan for typical winter tailwater nymph fishing.  The fly sizes will be small 18-26.  Flies that have worked pretty well for me in the past are Top Secret Midge, Grey Sparkle Wing RS2, Miricle and Mercury Midges, Buckskins, Rojo Midge, and of course a variety of small Copper Johns as a lead fly.  The conditions in the canyon will include swirling winds so a 9' #5 rod is advisable.  If we get a warming trend that will be a bonus, but plan for it to be cold in the morning and dress accordinly.  Layers are a good idea so you can adjust to the conditions as it warms.  Once the sun hits the river, it should warm up nicely. 

Everyone think positive thoughts!  Repeat to yourself, warm, fish, warm, fish!  We'll leave from the Board of Realtors Parking lot at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning.  I'll be there a little early with some coffee and donuts.  Plan for a 2 hour caravan drive.  The prime fishing time in Eleven Mile Canyon this time of year is between 10:30 a.m.- 2:00 p.m. There is a $5.00 charge per vehicle to get into the Canyon park, so make sure you have a little extra cash if you're driving.  I am more than happy to take a few people with me.

It would be great if we could enjoy a shared lunch together later in the fishing day, after prime time.  If everyone could bring a little something that would be awesome.  I'm bringing a stove and some homemade chicken noodle soup, plus a big coffee pot.  It might be a good idea to bring a folding chair along. Please contact me directly if you'd like to sign up, or I'll have a sign up at the monthly meeting tonight.  It should be a great time!  I hope we have a good sized group and don't forget to bring a new friend.

Not winter, but it's a warm thought to hold onto!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Eastern Colorado Pheasant Rodeo

Abby's on the mend, chasing tails and taking names!
I had a chance to get together with some friends yesterday to do a little late season pheasant hunting.  I've not had a chance to hunt this section of Colorado much before.  With a considerably large amount of dry crop land, the scope and size of the CRP and other hunting areas we had access to was a welcome change of pace from the irrigated crop circle country I typically hunt.  This gave the hounds a chance to really stretch their legs.

The dog work throughout the day was impressive.  We had all manner of dogs on the ground at one time or another, Springers, GSP, French Brittany, and Lab.  Gaining an opportunity to see each breed exercise their individual birthright was heartwarming and really a lot of fun.  Finding pheasants was initially challenging, but we were rewarded with plenty of birds when we finally figured out where they were hiding.

I didn't spend a lot of time with the camera in hand this time out but did manage to capture a few images from the day.  It was simply too much fun watching the dogs and witnessing some pretty amazing gunwork.  The time spent with hunting friends enjoying a late season comedy was awesome.

Bucket full of feathers!

Elsie doing her best to earn a shared lunch

Lunchtime breather

Cold front pouring in from the mountains at the end of a perfect day