Wednesday, October 21, 2009

McCloud Rainbows in Missouri!

Well, with all the rain that we've been having the last few chances to fish have been few and far between. This past week we really got hammered by rain which left all the tailwaters at full generation, rivers and streams blown out, etc. This scenario doesn't really work out too well for a guy who's on the edge of going crazy if he doesn't get to cast a fly.

Well, I'd been kicking around the idea of going to Missouri all last week if ANY river or stream came down enough to make for fishable conditions. I watched the USGS site all weekend and it wasn't looking promising. I'd pretty much given up hope when I got a message on Facebook from Joey Cloer saying that they were going to hit up Crane Creek on Saturday and Sunday. I checked with Tim and he even said that Crane should be good, if not great by Sunday. That was enough for me! Which this decision was made at about 10:30 at night and I had nothing packed or organized. At midnight, I loaded up the last piece of my small pile of gear into the truck. I was set to head off to Crane after work on Saturday.

I left work and pointed the ol' Dodge for Roaring River State Park. The plan was to setup basecamp there and do some fishing saturday evening if the river was fishable. I arrived at RRSP to find the river up still a bit and just a touch off color. I set up camp and just decided to walk around the river for a while, waiting on Joey to meet me there. Joey got there shortly afterwards and we finished setting up camp, then headed into Cassville for some dinner. It was a cold night for camping, easily down into the 30s. We woke up at 7:00 to frost on our tents, it was a chilly night to say the least.

To give you a rundown on Crane Creek...its a small stream just outside of Crane, Missouri that has 2 conservation area access points that allow you to access the stream to fish for pure strain McCloud rainbows. The fish were originally stocked in the late 1800s and, I believe, the last supplemental stocking was in the early 1920s. So basically these fish have been here for over a 100 years, reproducing naturally in this little stream. They have been through everything...drought, flood, poaching, and still they survive! And are surviving in good numbers from what we found!

We arrived at the lower access on Crane just after 8:00am and geared up. We hiked downstream just a bit and put in a nice hole that had a lot of water running through it from the previous weeks rains. This created several nice seams that we fished out but didn't get any strikes. I came into this trip with an open mind on fishing Crane as I'd heard many stories about how tough this lil' creek is to fish but also how rewarding it can be when you catch one of these beautiful wild fish. We moved down to the next hole and Joey put in just below it, trying to be as stealthy as possible. On the 3rd cast, he got a hook-up with a nice McCloud. We didn't get a good look at the fish for sometime as he kept himself in the main current, down deep! These fish are VERY strong and scrappy fighters, especially on a 3wt! We finally got him to the net and he was definitely an awesome fish! The fish was easily pushing 18 inches...a real toad of a fish for this stream.

The fish was released un-harmed and dove right back into the run he came from. A few casts later, Joey was hooked up again with another McCloud! This fish was a little smaller but had a lot more color to 'em. Just a beautiful fish. We continued making our way downstream, fishing all the primo water that we found. The lower section looked awesome with tons of little holes and nice runs provide plenty of habitat for these trout. I was really amazed at how pretty this little creek is.

You really second-guess the fact that you're in Missouri, chasing wild trout! Joey made the comment several times that Crane reminded him of chasing brooke trout in Tennessee with how the way Crane is laid out. You get that feeling with the wildness of the place and the solitude you can get with fishing this little creek.

Oddly enough, we didn't catch a single fish after Joey caught those 1st couple fish after we made the trek down the creek to where it widens out, gets very deep, and you reall can't wade anymore. We were really stumped to say the least. We worked all the quality water over with our fly rods like a fine-toothed comb. My thought was that we made the mistake of fishing our way downstream which could of very well spooked the fish before we even got a fly in their face. Who knows. We packed up and headed back to town for some lunch.

After a quick stop at the local choke n' puke for some groceries, we laid a game plan and headed for the upper access of Crane. As we were pulling in, the access road runs right next to a section of the creek and you get a peak at what your in for. The stream is very different in the upper stretches. Lots of skinny water with loads of little holes and pocket water for fish to hang out in along with the odd log-jam that creates a moderately deep hole. We geared up and took the hiking trail upstream just a little ways before we put in just below a couple of nice looking holes. Stealth was going to be a huge factor here, no doubt about it.

Joey took a shot first at a small little run and on the 2nd drift, plucked a little 8 inch McCloud from the water. This fish was amazing in color. Lots of par marks, beautifully red and white tipped fins, and just a very clean fish. Healthy too! I couldn't believe how fat this little fish was...this high water musta really put some bugs in the water for these guys. After a quick release, I moved up to the next hole and crouched down behind a tree to make a cast next to a small undercut bank. On the 1st drift, wam! Pulled a little McCloud out that was basically the same size as Joeys. Same color and just as healthy, a great sign for generations of trout to come.

We moved our way on upstream, picking up trout just about out of every likely looking piece of quality water. The stream just seemed to get better and better the further we went. We found deep runs, pocket water, log jams, etc...and they all held trout. It was really amazing to see after hearing all the stories about how tough this fishery is. In 2 particular runs, we pulled 4 trout out of each run...ranging from 8-12 inches.

We spotted a nice fish that was probably pushing 18" in a deep hole just in front of a log jam. I re-rigged with more split shot and tied on a tungsten bead san juan worm to get the fly down quick to where the fish was because there was no room to make any kind of cast hardly at all. On the 3rd drift, the fish ate and I set the hook but I pulled the fly from the fish. It didn't spook so we waited a few minutes before making another cast. I bombed anothe cast up ahead of him and he ate it again! I set the hook and had him...for about 3 seconds and the tippet broke! My heart broke just above the split shot so who knows what happened. The fish was definitely spooked so we continued our trek upstream.

Like I said, this stream just seemed to get better and better. I was very impressed with this little creek. We spooked out several fish, a couple more probably in the 18-20" class! This little stream has so much character. We finally hiked up far enough that we figured we were getting pretty close to the conservation area boundary so we started our way back down. We hit a few spots that we'd skipped over and literally caught fish out of potholes that I woulda never dreamed a fish woulda been hiding in.

We ended the day with a nice fish that Joey caught out of a random hole that had just enough depth and cover to hold 1 trout! This fish put up an awesome fight...its amazing how scrappy these lil' wild fish are. I definitely can't wait to get back to Crane. This past sunday was easily a day you could describe as "epic" in my books. It really is a little gem in the middle of the Ozarks of Missouri...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gear Review: Albright GPX 3/4 Fly Reel

I was recently on OzarkAnglers, reading a post on suggestions on where to get your first fly rod. All the normal suggestions like Bass Pro, Cabelas, you local fly shop, EBay, etc were all being mentioned but then a member posted something about a company called Albright who always has a HUGE closeout sale in October. He gave the link to the page so I figured it'd be worth a shot to at least check out, never know what kind of deal you might find.

And what a deal I did find. Albright is a fly fishing equipment company based out of New York. They build rods, reels, fly lines, waders, wading boots, and even conventional spinning rods. The core of their company is made up of several individuals who helped start Redington along with having Lou Tabory (renowned saltwater fisherman and outdoor writer) as a rod designer. So I'd like to say that they've got the background to build quality products. The only hitch in the company is that everything is manufactured over-seas in Asia, which makes you wonder but on the flip side of things, that keeps the cost down on their products.

Anyways, I had been hunting around for a reel to either put on my 3wt or put my Ross Vexsis that was on my 4wt on the 3wt while putting the new reel on the 4wt. The GPX large arbor reel caught my eye. It had all the functions of any modern high quality reel and also looked really nice with the polished bar stock aluminum spool with the black frame on the back. Another thing was that it was marked down to $87.50 from $250! Well, I decided I wanted the reel but found out the other hitch in Albrights system. If you don't spend $$$ to get the free freight, you really take a hit on the cost of even UPS Ground!! So I put in a call to some fishing buddies who I knew were needing a pair of waders and a new rod/reel combo. Well we met the $150 minimum for free freight and the gear arrived at my shop in 4 days, not too bad.

Upon initial inspection, I was really impressed with the reel. It looked great and everything felt smooth as far as the drag and the reel action. It looked to be built right with no short-cuts in manufacturing that I could really tell. I also tried on the Albright waders which seemed to be as same quality as other waders in the $150 range (on sale for $70!). The rod/reel combo that my other buddy got looked decent. You can tell the reel is the cheap one, but it looks like it will be fine. The rod itself feels pretty good with just giving it the ol' "wiggle test" but the reel seat is pretty cheap. I imagine it casts good enough for a beginner though.

I spooled my reel up with Cortland 444 Lazer Line and decided to put in on my 8' 4wt Scott while putting the Vexis on my 3wt. It was a good match as everything still felt very balanced and light even with the GPX reel being a touch wider and heavier than the Vexsis. I tested it out this weekend on Crane Creek in Missouri. The drag worked very well on the scrappy lil' McCloud rainbows, lots of adjustment to be had which was nice when you really wanted to tune the drag in. The reeling action was smooth and it really picked up the line quickly with the large arbor design.

I'm very happy with the reel and would recommend Albrights products to anyone, especially when they're having their October sale. Tons of good deals to be had!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cast n' Blast!

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to go on a Cast n' Blast trip to Missouri with my ol' college buddies, Derek and Joey. The plan was to head to Branson and meet some Missouri friends of ours, Chris and Nathan, for a goose hunt on Table Rock Lake and then some trout fishing on Lake Taneycomo. We left Tulsa friday afternoon from my work and headed for Springfield to make a pit-stop at Bass Pro Shops for licenses, shotgun shells, and anything else we felt we "needed".

After the stop at Bass Pro, we headed south to Branson. We meet Nathan at the hotel in town, unloaded our gear into our rooms, and discussed the plan for in the morning. We left shortly afterwards and hit up the Lonestar steakhouse for some dinner after the long drive. We made our way back to the hotel and hit the sack early to be ready for the next morning. The alarm went off at 4:45 and it was the normal grumpy and groggy routine of getting a shower, making coffee, sorting gear, and trying to squeeze into neoprene waders you havent worn for almost a year. Always a fun time! We met up with everyone at the boat ramp at Table Rock Lake State Park. The plan was to hunt from Chris's blind boat with decoys on an island across the lake where the birds had been coming in to feed in the morning. We loaded up and headed for the island.

It was a fantastic morning as far as the weather goes. It was clear and mild so we didn't even need any jackets or anything, even going across the lake in the open boat. Chris and Nathan had already set up the decoys earlier in the morning so we just settled in for the mornings hunt.

The morning went pretty slow as the birds seemed to be working and feeding on the island to the south of us about a 1/4 mile as we could hear them honking all morning. We seen a ton of wood ducks and teal which was really cool, especially the woodys. After a few hours, we sent Nathan in his boat over to the other island to get the birds on the move. That also proved useless as the birds wouldn't swing around to our side of the island, instead the headed away from us. So we moved the blind-boat around to the other side of the island and just as we were coming around, several birds came flying by. Nathan and his other buddy were able to get some shots off and bring some birds down. A few of the them were banded so we were content with that. Shortly afterwards, we loaded up the gear and headed for the marina to try our luck on Taneycomo below the dam.

We put in the boat at the landing and headed up the river towards the dam. The plan was to setup and hopefully catch some birds moving upstream or downstream, depending on the boat-traffic. We setup on a spot against the bank and waited. Luckily, we had a couple small groups of birds come downstream and we were able to bring them down. Got 4 birds that were banded so we were excited about that. None of us Oklahoma boys had ever got a banded bird, just don't get them in Oklahoma, ducks or geese. We headed back shortly after because it was getting late and Chris had spun a prop on his boat.

We headed back to the hotel, changed clothes, and grabbed our fishing gear. After a quick spot at Anglers n' Archery, we arrived at the dam parking lot. They had a few generators going, probably a light 2 generators. The flow was low enough that you could fish the edges pretty easily around the outlets and in-between, still being able to cover a lot of water. Joey had never fly fished before so I got him rigged up with one of rods and sent him on this way. Fishing was pretty slow. We fished the edges between outlet #1 and #2, getting a few strikes here and there. I was able to bring a couple fish to hand on a zebra midge and then a soft hackle. Joey got his 1st trout ever just below outlet #1. He was pretty excited and it was cool to see another guy get bit by the fly fishing bug.

The next morning we slept in a little bit and took our time loading up all our gear. After getting loaded up, we headed back down to the dam to do some fishing before we headed for Oklahoma. We put in between outlet #3 and #2, just fishing the edges in the seams where the fish were working up and down the river. Derek landed a nice rainbow early on a scud that put up an awesome fight. I got the assist on that one with the net, which took a few tries to get the fish. It was somewhat of an adventure landing that fish in waist-deep water with a small net.

We moved up closer to outlet #2 throughout the morning and started picking up more fish. I caught several fish on a Y2K bug, soft hackle, and a grey scud while Derek picked up a few fish on a tan scud. Lots of nice fish in the river. The big browns are making their way upriver. Seen a few nice fish working their way back and forth between the outlets, they were in the 5-8lb range. They had no interest in anything we threw at them when they actually would hold in 1 spot. We also got Joey into a couple more rainbows, including a nice fat 16" fish with nice colors. He was pretty excited.

All in all, it was a good weekend. Got into some birds and trout, not much else a man could ask for! Also had some good times with old friends that I don't get to see very often which is always a good thing. The trip got me really excited and anxious about duck season here in Oklahoma which is still a few weeks away. Can't wait to get out in the blind with my buddies with a hot cup of coffee and listen to the sounds of whistling wings!