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Fish / August 14, 2016

Fish and Boating in the Yampa Valley: Part 2

Written by: Eric Jackson

Editor’s note: This piece is the second part of a four-part narrative published in weekly installments. The first part of the series can be found here.

We continued sliding down the shoreline, still full of joy from our catch. We knew it would take something pretty great to beat that high, but we were on water that could provide that and more. Our lures found a couple of pike and a smallie (smallmouth bass), but we went a while without any fish that really blew us away.

As the drift kept pushing us, Andy spotted a possible fish lying right where a bedded-up smallmouth would be. Smallies prefer rocky areas with drop or slope to the bottom. This particular spot fit that description, and it had one major advantage. An overhanging bush behind the bed provided a safe hiding space for quick escapes.

Our excitement level crept back up as we eased toward the fish. It was a big fish that needed to be caught, if only just so we could see her up close.

For our first attempt, we used a large crayfish pattern to tease her into a mistake. A couple of strips put the fly in her zone, but without a take. I picked it up and put it back.

This time the fish moved, but didn’t eat. She was at least curious. Another cast put the pattern closer to her bed and drew a more aggressive response.

In the boat, we were two grown men acting like kids throwing crickets at bluegill. We hooted and hollered every time the fish reacted.

Third time’s the charm? Yes sir! WHAM!!

She was definitely tired of that thing being close to her bed. With a strip set, I felt her tighten up on my line. Then nothing.

DAGNABBIT! The hook had pulled out.

Andy handed over the five weight with a leech tied on to try. That leech swam by and she bum rushed it. The fish was too fast, so we could only watch as as she ate and spit out the fly in one fluid motion.

Next we showed the fish a with a very unorthodox jig setup. The first cast fell a bit wide. I drew it out of the zone and cast again.

This time, with a better feel for the casting on this rig, I was able to drop it right in front of the fish’s face. She attacked. The take was so quick that my reaction was rushed and too strong.

The fly  broke off, and I was left with line, leader, and tippet only. We’d had three different strikes on one fish. It was time to move on.

Slipping along the shore again, it was impossible not to pause and soak in our surroundings. Steamboat Springs is like heaven on Earth; it’s the sort of place that’s very hard to leave.

The scenery soon drifted from my thoughts, though, and was replaced by my desire to catch more fish. I cast the flies tight the shore and tripped quicker; the water had warmed, and the fish were eagerly rushing the fly. Few things get my heart pounding like watching a pike appear from the depths to explode on a fly.

We spotted a clump of bushes handing over the edge of the shoreline. It looked like a great hideout for fish of all species.

A cast toward the base brought a smaller but much more aggressive fish. It chased the fly for about 20 feet before its jaws opened wide to crush the fly.

Sights like this are one of the joys of sight fishing. There’s something very special about watching a fish come out and react to one’s efforts—it invokes the feelings of gratitude and awe that make people come back again and again.

The sun was high in the sky, and its light illuminated the depth of the pond. We could see for the first time the steep drop-off between the boat and the shore. We watched the fly slide along slowly, then drop almost straight down after it crossed the edge of the drop. Then, just like that, the line tightened and another smallmouth charged away against the tension of the line. The guilty pleasure we felt catching fish after fish didn’t change as we reeled in more and more.


We soon found another long flat with a rocky bottom—the sort of place that screams smallmouth. It looked very, very similar to the spot where our gal ate the fly three times and escaped. This bed had another good smallie in it.

Andy was quick to suggest that one bite and a hook up would be fine. No need to try and impress by getting her to eat three times again.

The first cast landed between the fish and the bank. We didn’t see it, but the fish turned 180 degrees to attack the fly. This flummoxed me and I missed her, only realizing it when the line thumped once and the fly jumped away from her spot.

She ate that pattern once, I figured, so why not try again? A better-placed cast found her ready, and she jumped on it once more. It slipped from her mouth before really getting her hooked. No way!

Andy offered a jig setup again while my back cast was lifting from the water, but I felt like trying the dark leech pattern for a couple more casts. The first few tries drew no reaction, but one last shot put the leech right where she wanted it and drew an attacking strike.

Fish on! She gave everything one might expect from a fish like this: thumping head shakes and strong turns followed by hard runs. Even on the strong five-weight rod, she was a hoss to fight. More runs and charges slowed her efforts, though; fatigue eventually took its toll. She could no longer dive straight down, and her head high became easier.

That fish fought me right to the net, but finally slid into it and came over the side of the boat. Andy and I exchanged high fives and “hell yeas” at the sight of the beautiful specimen. She was dark bronze, highlighted by gold and black.

After we took several photos, the time came to slide the fish back into the water. I held her gently in the water to recover, and her gills pulsed slowly as precious H2O filled her with life and energy. She gave a strong, sudden tail kick and slid into the deep water again.

As we drifted back to the ramp, I already knew how special the day had been. It was a spiritual, uplifting time that I would never, ever forget.

Like the story so far? Come back next week for the third installment. 

about the author

Eric Jackson

From the time a nine pound catfish nearly pulled three-year-old Eric Jackson in the water to the time he waded the flats of the Texas coast for redfish, all of these experiences have led Eric to share and guide others in fishing.

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