Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rocky Ford Creek Report: The Purple Glow

It's time to fish. I climb out of the snowy Okanogan valley and up onto the foggy flats. It feels like being on top of the world with your head in the clouds.

On the other side I pass out of the clouds and descend toward the Grand Coulee.

Following the route of the glaciers, and passing the lakes and potholes left over from the great flood of ten thousand years ago, I traverse the coulee to its southern end where it opens up on a rolling plain strewn with glacial rubble. Through this plain flows Rocky Ford Creek.

It's snowless here, and around 40 degrees. But the creek doesn't care about the ordinary winter weather. Being a spring creek, it flows at a constant temperature ideal for trout. That keeps its trout fat and sassy throughout the year, and that in turn, and the year-round open season, attracts fly fishers from all over the west and beyond.

It must be one of those days. The parking lots are full, and the banks are studded with bundled up figures casting in nearly synchronized rhythm. Since wading is forbidden, finding a good spot in the cattails along the bank is essential to success.

Someone is in my usual spot, so I set up a little closer to the parking area than I like.

It's a nice spot, though, and there is plenty of room for casting. Fish are active, waking and rising all up and down the waterway. But there doesn't seem to be very much catching going on. That's true for me, too, at first.

I start with a big Callibaetis dry that was still on the line from the last trip. No interest on the part of the fish. So I try a flashy little bead head woolly bugger. There are days when that's the hot item. But not today. So I go back on top with a medium muddler. Still nothing. But now I'm committed to fishing dries, so I tie on a stimulator and begin to work it in a wide arc.

While I fish, a beautiful little long-billed marsh wren keeps me company.

After awhile the fish seem to get more active, and I discover that a fast strip of the stimulator will evoke follows and bumps. Pretty soon I have my first hookup, and bring the first fish of 2015 to hand. As Rocky Ford Rainbows go, this one is a baby, but, like the New Year's Baby, it comes in with lots of promise for a good year.

I catch several more on the stimulator, all on the small side. Then I bring one in that's just heavy enough to require the net. At the least, the net gives me a full view of its beautiful form and coloration.

I look downstream and see that, in the ongoing game of musical chairs, the fisher below me has gone somewhere else. So I pick up and move on down.

I have come to know this stretch. The channel is a little deeper here, and there's a slight bend that creates a seam that can hold fish. I'm hoping to find some of the bigger variety.

I stay on top. I enjoy staying active and working flies that I can see. I enjoy just as much cracking the fly boxes and putting several different patterns through their paces.

While I fish the sun breaks out for one brief shining moment.

It's like an omen. Moments later a fish turns on a little muddler and is hooked. While still not one of the fabled Rocky Ford bruisers, this is a good fish. He acquits himself well in the ensuing struggle.

Many of the other fishers are making their way to the lot and pulling out for home. I stay and fish.

I'm casting another pretty stimulator, this one with natural deer hair, a dark body, and grizzly hackle. My kind of fly. The fast strip isn't working here, so I'm trying a variety of presentations. I get some follows and bumps, but no takes. Then I get nothing.

The sky begins to light up with what promises to be a beautiful sunset. I keep fishing--this time of evening can always be prime time for big flies on top--but I also keep my eyes on the sky and my camera close at hand.

A chilly breeze picks up. I cast the stimulator out into the main channel where it bobs on the riffles, then turn, pull out the camera, and get ready to take a final shot of the sunset at the height of its color. I cradle the rod in my left arm and snap this picture--and the rod jerks like a dowsing rod.

I whirl around, shove the camera back in my pocket, and get a grip on the rod all in the same movement. I'm just in time to see a big Rainbow come clean out of the water and hang in the air like a purple neon sign before crashing down and churning away upstream.

And then he's off.

I grieve for a second, like we do, then strip in line, determined to keep fishing with that lucky stimulator. That's when I see the bare tippet.

That was the one. The one who takes your fly and your self respect. The one who keeps you coming back for more. The one who lights up the darkness of an unknown future with the purple glow of Possibility.


  1. Looking forward to see what a bruiser looks like. Those are some nice Bow's, although a bit skinny.

  2. Nice outing! Spring creeks are the place to cast at times like this. Especially like the marsh wren and sunset photos.

  3. Very nice Jim. The sunset pics are worth a thousand words , those are the types of things we get to witness while spending time on the water that make all of the time and effort worthwhile.

  4. What a great post, Jim! I mentioned once before that I had a trip scheduled to fish Rocky Ford, but, had to cancel when I got sick. Your beautiful pictures and story of the Rainbows on the surface made me feel as if I were there in spirit. Thanks for that..........................