Monday, August 6, 2012

When You Find Yourself Up Lard Creek Without a Paddle

Lard Creek...........where is it you might ask, the answer requires a little story.

Many years ago my Aunt Penny and Uncle Irv had a neighbor who wanted to hunt elk here in Oregon and my dad was the chosen guide.  The story explaining where Lard Creek is located was told by the man, Ed, that came to hunt that one year.  He was hunting Mule Deer in Washington's Okanogan Valley with his son and some friends.  They had shot a few and a passerby came into their camp to look at the bucks they'd shot and to do some digging to find out their "secret spot".  When he finally asked where they killed the bucks the man's son immediately answered, "up Lard Creek".  The answer was so quick, so nonchalant, and so WRONG it surprised most everyone in camp because non of them had ever heard of Lard Creek.......especially the newcomer.  He eagerly asked where Lard Creek was at, to which the son answered, "up a pig's a**". 

Well, this gem of a trout stream is called "Lard Creek" to me and my son.  It was featured in Fly Fisherman Magazine a dozen years ago and its popularity has grown, unfortunately.  We have caught hundreds of browns, rainbows, cut-bows, and a smattering of brookies on this wild little stream.  They average a little better than 10-inches, fight hard, taste great, and rise easily to dries; I personally have seen fish (browns) in the 18-inch range and my brother-in-law, who I have spent countless hours fishing with up Lard Creek, has seen one (also a brown) over 20.

Amazingly its not that wide, typically not too deep, but holds a solid pH in the lower 8's, keeps a decent flow throughout the critical summer time, maintains good O2 levels,  and has a healthy population of stoneflies, mayflies, and lots and lots of caddis.  The only negative is the sediment load.

Geologically the limestone based mountains are capped with Rhyolite.  There are huge landslide deposits sandwiched between the old oceanic floor and newer volcanic materials.  The canyon is so steep, the vegetation so sparse in the high-desert environment, and the run-off so intense from thunderstorms and spring run-off that landslides are common.  They build natural dams on the creek that cause pooling in the upper reaches.  These pools are typically filled with brook trout.  The deluges of spring break these dams down in a few years and the pools disappear.  The excess sediment is deposited down stream, covering the spawning gravels.  The following spring's high flows wash them clean again and the trout population doesn't seem to notice; its a constantly changing free-stoner and probably my favorite trout stream!

Lard Creek fish don't have too much preference when it comes to flies.  If its subsurface an egg is deadly year round with red-copper johns and hare's ears, sporting a peacock herl wingcase, running close seconds.  I don't fish subsurface during the dry fly season becoming a purist around the end of run off into the brown trout spawn.  When it ices over I fish the slots between ice blocks in deeper pools with egg patterns and nymphs.  It's difficult to discern the take on frigid winter days, but very rewarding when you finally realize the pause of your line was a take.

During the dry fly season, Lard Creek is forgiving in that match-the-hatch fishing isn't too critical; its an attractor pattern paradise.   But fishing a pattern relatively close in size, outline, and color is very productive.  Casting accurately, keeping a low profile, and presenting your fly well (without drag) is necessary.  Some sections of the stream, like the one you see here today, see so few anglers that even some pretty sloppy casts work out pretty well.  The sections along the road require more stealth, smooth, delicate presentations, and a good eye; fish lay in the shaded shallows and at the lips of the pools, spooking easily and spoiling good water with their frantic escapes.  Today the fly of preference was my creation, the PG Chernobyl Adams; yes, its that ugly, that big, and the fish up Lard Creek LOVE IT!

I developed it last summer on our annual pilgrimage to the in-laws when water was unseasonably high, water was a little turbid, and I was tying flies for 6 people; most of them kids.  I wanted a high-floating, easy-to-see fly in a fish-catching, time-proven color, without all the steps required to tie a stimulator and that was wulff/humpy in appearance.  I started with a #10-12 hook, tied in a wide, bushy tail of elk, immediately dubbed a female adams body, then, using the butt-ends of the tail, I made upright and divided wings.  I have an older, brown neck cape (Metz) that I have picked through well.  I was down to mostly #18 and smaller feathers or #12 and larger so I used up a bunch of larger sized hackle; it worked perfectly.  Tyler and I had only 4 or 5 today that we wore out on sharp trout teeth, but I had tied up some H & L variants and a few floating fools to round out the fly selection.  We tried stimulators but the fish weren't interested.  We found a few pteronarcys exoskeletons on bank side vegetation and boulders in the stream but the hatch was well past.  Oh well, we hit it big with the peacock bodied flies and my pregnant mutant wulffy adams. 

Tyler has been fly fishing with his own gear since he was 12.   He has caught steelhead and all western species of trout on a fly rod and has amassed a decent collection of rods for a 16-year old; a 5-weight, a 5/6-weight glass rod, a 6/7-weight, his 8-weight steelhead rod, and a recently acquired 6-weight switch rod with which he can jack out an 80-foot bomb to a small lie against the far bank of our local steelhead stream.

He actually started fishing with me the spring before he was 2.  I'd put him in the backpack, give him a bottle, and wade up the lower reaches of the Provo River.  I carried diapers in my vest next to my fly boxes along with other necessary items, like a change of clothes and a plastic bag for the major blow-outs babies/toddlers are known to have, and extra formula.  When I kept fish for dinner Tyler always wanted to hold them, so I'd kill them, hand them back to him and he'd basically suck the slime off them; I called it his organic binky!  He would fall asleep to the sound of fly line cutting the air over his head.  I fished almost daily my first semester getting straight A's in reading water, fly selection and tying, and I got extra credit due to my high catch rates.  My fly boxes were stuffed and my waders were wearing thin.  My other classes, like Calculus, Chemistry, Statics, those grades didn't fair so well!  When Corey was born the following spring, I put him on my chest, Tyler in the back, and we fished for hours together, as well as all four seasons, to my wife's dismay, catching lots of browns.   

I grew up in Eastern Oregon and fished some good water, but I hadn't fished the match-the-hatch tail waters of the Rockies where my skills would be refined.  I'm to the point now that I just really like a good challenge.  I like a difficult fish in a hard to reach lie, I like catching big fish on small hooks, and anymore I really don't care if I land one, I just want to see it rise confidently to my fly or see the dip of my indicator, raise the rod tip confidently and feel the pull.  Unless its a steelhead, things get pretty serious when my spey rod is in my hands and I know fish are in the river.  But what really floats my boat is watching my kids love it.  Tyler reminds me a lot of myself on the Provo; you just can't catch too many fish, there aren't enough angling hours in a day, and he could honestly become a certified trout bum without feeling too much guilt.  He is eager to fish any water, try his skills on any fish, and most importantly, he wants success.  He reads all he can; he has subscriptions to magazines, has purchased books, watches videos on line and is always "checking out Sage's new rod", drooling over the Beulah Platinum Series Switch Rod he wants, or reading the historical account of the Lamson company; basically he is showing symptoms of an honest to goodness addiction. 

The little turd is almost as tall as I am, now and is beginning his junior year of high school.  He just past the written part of his drivers license, went to Japan on a cultural exchange wrestling trip this summer, and will be off to college and on a mission in 3 VERY SHORT years.  I just don't know what I am going to do without my fishing partner!  Thankfully Kim and I had 6 kids, so I'll have to brainwash some of the next 5 so I have someone to go out with.

Corey doesn't quite love it like Ty.  Ty will go fishing over just about EVERYTHING.  Corey has other interests he spends time on.  I think my best bet is Cole, he got his first fly caught steelhead at the age of 7 and fishes as much or more than Ty.  I can probably con him into a few trips.  Jared is definitely addicted, but is only 7.  I have to spend most of the time helping him, not fishing with him, so he has some work to do before he becomes a fishing partner.   Abbie will go sometimes but has other things she likes WAY more (Kim has one she can rely on) but Lyndie is fishing crazy!  I need to get her catching bluegills on a fly rod, that would definitely seal the deal.  

Today was not a great day of fishing, it was a good day.  We landed somewhere between 30 and 40 fish total and had half that many more rises between us.  The big one was broke off at the hook set by yours truly and we didn't make it all the way back to the highway; we had to climb out on some really nasty deer trails that were made for things with four legs NOT carrying a 8-foot-9-inch fly rod with felt soled boots on!  And the other boys and girls opted to swim at the local pool rather than brave the truck sized boulders and fast runs of Lard Creeks upper reaches.  Family events are WAY better than the solo excursions!  What fun is fishing without someone you love to share it with.


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