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Fly-fishing for alternative species in the Rocky Mountains, with Davis James

Description: It's no secret that the more popular trout rivers in the Rocky Mountains have gotten more crowded in the past few years. Yet there are so many species of fish that are fun with a fly rod, closer to home, and that live in places that are far less crowded. Davis James shares his experience with the "25 On the Fly" event, where anglers in the Front Range try to catch 25 different species of fish on the fly rod in two days (no one has ever done it). He share his tips for what species are available, how to find them, what tackle to use, and what fly patterns to try. We all need to embrace these wonderful fish to have fun closer to home and to take pressure off our more productive trout streams.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and my guest this week is Davis James of Denver, Colorado. Davis is the community leader for Orvis in the Front Range of Colorado. The topic today is [00:00:30] alternative species in the Rocky Mountain West.
It's no secret that Colorado's, particularly Colorado's trout streams, but to a lesser extent Montana's and Utah's trout streams are getting more and more crowded, and people are complaining about being able to find a place to fish. It's unfortunate because there are so many other species in that part [00:01:00] of the world to chase with a fly rod where you have virtually no competition and uncrowded waters and fish that are a lot of fun with a fly rod.
There's a huge world out there beyond trout, and if we're gonna try to lessen the crowding on our more popular trout streams, we're gonna need to pursue alternative species. And Davis is gonna tell us how to do it, how to find them, what flies to use, [00:01:30] what rod to use. And I'm sure that if you live in this area, you're gonna be able to find lots and lots of fun fly fishing outside of trout streams.
Davis is also gonna talk about an event he runs called 25 On The Fly, which is where teams of anglers try to catch the 25 different species of fish you can catch on a fly rod in [00:02:00] Colorado and in the Rocky Mountain West in general. And I hope it encourages you to branch out in your fly fishing interests and have fun on the water, many times, a lot closer to home than a trout stream. Before we get into the fly box, just a quick product tip.
The Jackson Quick-Dry Pants, which Orvis has had for many years, have been recently redesigned, and they're available, in, I think, four or five different colors. [00:02:30] And these pants are some of the greatest warm weather fishing pants I've ever worn. They dry quickly, obviously. They're sun-resistant, and they have a little bit of stretch to them, which is nice because they're a lot more tapered than they used to be.
For wet-wading, I love these pants for wet-wading. There's nothing worse than having floppy pants around your ankle, and [00:03:00] the cut on these is very nice. It's slim, but yet with the stretch, you're not constricted or bound-up, so to speak. I wear these on local trout streams when I'm fishing small trout. I wear them when I'm out in the Western United States, and it's warm. I wet wade in these, and I just spent a week in the Bahamas, and I wore the same pair of every day, both [00:03:30] in the boat and wet-wading, and they were supremely comfortable.
So no matter where you're going, we got warm weather coming in a lot of parts of the country, and wet wading has become more and more popular. You don't need to wear a pair of bulky waders when the air temperature is 80 degrees and the water temperature is 60 degrees. Wet wading is fun, and these pants will make it even more fun. [00:04:00]
All right, let's do the fly box. I still need some good phone calls, some good questions on phone calls. I only had one that I could use this week. So if you've got a mind to record a voice file, you can send it to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or if you don't wanna hear your voice on the air, you can just type your question into your email, and I read them all, but I don't answer them all. I [00:04:30] read the ones that provide either a useful tip that hasn't been mentioned before or has a good question that I think will benefit other listeners.
And the first question this week is an email from Cody. "My question for you is what percentage of the time are you using the dry dropper rig or a double dry fly rig while fishing? I [00:05:00] hope to hear your response on the podcast. Thank you for all you do." Well, Cody, if there are no fish rising...if there are fish rising, if there are fish feeding on the surface, then I will stick to a single dry.
I think I can be more accurate and more precise and a little more fun with a single dry fly. If there are no fish or few fish rising and the water temperature is 50 degrees or above, I'm [00:05:30] most likely going to be using a dry dropper rig. I just like the idea of being able to catch a fish either on the surface or down below. It allows me to find out which fly they're more interested in. Sometimes the dry fly is a lot more effective than the nymph.
And some days, the dry fly just acts as an indicator, but if you pick the right dry fly like a good high floating PMX, or Chubby Chernobyl or Stimulator, [00:06:00] or a big parachute Adams, it makes one of the best indicators you can have. So as far as double dry, I typically don't fish double dry unless the fish just are not responding at all to the nymph. If I catch all of my fish on the dry fly on a dry dropper rig, then yeah, I might switch to a double dry, but that's rare. There are times when I've done it, but it's rare for me. So [00:06:30] I hope that helps, Cody.
Next email is from Patrick. "I would like to get into fly fishing for panfish, bluegill, crappie, and perch. What weight fly rod would work best? Other than small poppers, what fly should I use? I live in western Wisconsin." Well, Patrick, you can fish for panfish with almost any rod that you want. It all depends on how much you want [00:07:00] the rod to bend when you're playing them.
How much fun do you wanna have? I've fished for panfish with a nine-weight rod, and it's fun. It bends it a little bit. But the lighter you get, the better the experience, I think. And I think that, probably, you don't wanna go any lighter than a three or a four-weight because sometimes you're [00:07:30] fishing a little bit bigger flies for panfish. You might fish a little popper, and you can cast a little popper with a three-weight line.
But sometimes you might wanna fish a dry dropper rig or a popper dropper where you have a small popper and then you hang a lightly weighted nymph on that, just like you would for trout fishing. And a four or five is a little bit better for that. But you can really fish nearly any weight fly rod you want. [00:08:00] Other than small poppers, one of the best flies for catching panfish is a small nymph.
Most people use a flashback hare's ear or a hare's ear nymph, but any of your standard nymphs in a size 10 or 12 or even 14, a prince nymph, hare's ear, pheasant tail, even something like a rubber-legged stone fly in a smaller size will work for panfish. They're not really picky. The [00:08:31] one fly that you probably want for both crappie and perch is a very small baitfish imitation, a small streamer in a size 10 or 12. Both of these fish will eat insects and crustaceans, but they will also eat small baitfish.
So small streamer, any kind of streamer. I typically like a little white zonker for crappie and perch, but probably any small streamer is gonna work for those [00:09:00] fish. Or a small clauser minnow, a freshwater clauser minnow will work quite well for those guys.
Here's an email from Clayton from a small town in wild and wonderful West Virginia. "I would like to extend my gratitude to you and your team for the podcast. It has become a necessity for the completion of my honeydew lists that my wife would also like to say thank you. [00:09:30] Your verbal tutelage has decreased my learning curve and simultaneously increased my joy on the water.
I enjoy the more geeky podcasts. Whether scientific or conservation-based, I believe a deeper understanding allows us to have a more intimate relationship with the animals we admire. I have listened to the podcast for many years and never felt as if I had something to say. However, I am improving as a fly tire and now lean more towards traditional flies. I was [00:10:00] wondering what your thoughts are on modernism. It seems as if we have stripped away flies to their bare bones materials and have lost, as Kelly Gallup would say, the soul of the fly.
We have become extremely effective anglers, but in my case, the tying of flies is as much a part of the process as is catching the fish. Now, I'm not saying we need to switch back to silk fly line while wearing full tweed outfits, but in your opinion, how do we ensure the traditions are passed on to the next generation? [00:10:30]
Do you believe there is more value learning the process of catching a fish rather than the number of fish captured? If so, how would you instill that mentality in the younger generation? Lastly, I would like to make a suggestion for the podcast. I enjoy reading and listening to seasoned fly fishers regaling their most coveted stories. I think an episode of you and some of your best friends talking about a lifetime in the sport would be a wonderful addition." [00:11:00]
Well, thank you for your wonderful letter, Clayton. And you know, I have talked about, in the past, with some of the older fly fishers. I remember one that you can look up in the archive with Paul Bruhn talking about kind of the old days in fly fishing, which was a very popular one. But yeah, I'll consider telling [00:11:31] more stories on the podcast if you all would enjoy that. Regarding losing the soul of the fly, I'm not particularly worried about that because we still use a lot of older patterns, things like the Adams and the Quill Gordon and the Hendrickson.
And, you know, people, once they get into fly tying and fly fishing, I think they look back at the older patterns with interest. [00:12:00] I'm not really concerned about ensuring traditions are passed on to the next generation. Younger fly fishers, I've found, are really open minded and they look both at the modern ways of fly fishing and the more modern flies. And also, once they get into it, they have an interest in the traditional patterns and traditional ways of fishing, I've found.
So I'm not terribly concerned about that. And [00:12:30] of course, you can't force the younger generation to do anything. You can't lecture them. And we shouldn't. So it's not something I'm particularly worried about. You know, there are aspects of the sport that we don't embrace much anymore, and maybe that's a good thing. And there are other aspects of the sport that we still embrace. And those are, I think the more positive aspects.
I think that your [00:13:00] question about more value, learning the process of catching the fish rather than the number of fish captured is just something that I think comes along with experience. You know, when we kind of all go through the stages of just wanna catch a fish, we're wanting to catch a lot of fish, and then catch a big fish, and then catch the more difficult fish, or catch a fish the way you [00:13:30] wanna catch it. And I think that comes as a natural process.
So again, I'm not terribly worried about the future of fly fishing. You see more and more people fishing for alternative species other than the fish. And I think that's a great thing. And I'm optimistic about the future of fly fishing and not terribly worried about it.
Here's an email from David. "I was recently fishing a narrow trout stream using a dry dropper setup. The dropper was 2 to 3 feet [00:14:00] below the dry. I was casting across the stream and wanted to drift very close to the far bank. I have some proficiency with the tuck-tip. I'm not a big fan of the tuck-tip. I'm not a big fan of the dry-dropper setup.
I have some proficiency with the tuck-cast, but inevitably, the nymph would tuck under the dry farther from the bank than I wanted, or the nymph would get caught in streamside vegetation as it tucked. Had a similar challenge with a nymph under an indicator. Is there anything I could have done to get that nymph and dry indicator to both drift close to that far bank?"
Yeah, there is, [00:14:30] David, actually. The way I would do it would be to get above the spot that you wanna fish, get upstream of the spot you wanna fish, and cast either indicator rig or your dry dropper rig with an upstream reach cast along that bank. And by doing that, casting it upstream of the place where you think the trout [00:15:00] are lying, the dry and the nymph will drift closer to the bank.
Trying to cast directly to that spot, yeah, it's gonna be difficult. You're not gonna be able to get it. So I would get above it... Still use the tuck-cast, I would get above it with a reach cast or a slack line cast and let it drift down along the bank. And that way you should be able to get both your nymph and your dry a lot tighter to the bank.
Here's an email from Ruben. "Greetings from Colorado. I have [00:15:30] a question of curiosity about fly fishing for carp. I'm currently reading Barry Reynolds' book 'Carp on the Fly' and learning about the history of carp being spread across the western states by European settlers in the 1800s. It's a very impressive book from the 1990s that helped shape carp fishing to become a thing as well as other visionaries in our sport like the great Dave Whitlock, Brian Fleishing, and Brad Befus, and yourself.
So if most of the common carp [00:16:00] in America came from Europe, what's up with European fly anglers, and has carp on the fly caught on in Europe? Maybe I missed the carp craze with European anglers, but everything I've seen online seems to be around targeting traditional game fish like trout, pike, and grayling. What are your thoughts about carp fishing in Europe? Do Europeans see carp as sacred or below the worth of traditional game fish? If my observations are correct, do European anglers need help understanding how awesome [00:16:30] carp are on the fly? Does Orvis need a 'Carp on the Fly' ambassador for your new Helios rods to go on a European mission? If so, I am here. Please send me. Haha."
So Ruben, carp are actually not native to Europe either. They're native to Asia and were introduced into Europe a long time ago. And carp fishing in Europe is extremely popular with really light [00:17:00] bait fishing rigs. They have a thing called match fishing where I think there's a lot of betting going on in this discipline. But they fish for them with very light weights and small baits. And it's quite popular in the UK and in Europe in general.
As far as fly fishing for carp, it's still catching on there. I was just talking to a [00:17:30] noted UK angler the other day and I asked him about this because I had read your question prior to talking to him on the phone. He said that yeah, it's starting, but it's not as popular as it is in the States. It's interesting, I was fishing on the Connecticut River for carp in April and the guy that I was with said that there are a bunch of European [00:18:00] anglers that come over to fish the Connecticut River for carp.
They come over from Europe to fish for carp in the Connecticut River. But they don't fly fish for them. They use these match fishing or bait fishing-type rigs. So it's still not a big thing in Europe, but they certainly have a lot of carp and some public waters with carp. So I expect that people will catch on to it. And as far as you [00:18:30] being an ambassador to go on a European mission, you're gonna have to wait in line because I'm gonna cut in front of you.
Here's an email from Eric in Fair Oaks, California. "First off, thanks for your podcast and all the learning resources you and Orvis provide. My question revolves around how to organize and carry your flies while on the stream. I've been tying flies for about 10 years and I'm at the point where I can reproduce almost any fly I like, and that's a problem.
I [00:19:00] get convinced every year that I must add new fly pattern discoveries to my repertoire. And I'm at the point now where I wanna carry all those variations with me wherever I go. Obviously, there's a limited number of fly boxes I can carry and I'm sure I don't need five variations of a caddis nymph in three different sizes.
While I do customize the fly selection, I bring based on the stream, fish, species, bugs, I'm at a point where I've created almost too many choices to [00:19:30] carry. And the many choices can make your head spin when stumped on a stream. There's always a better option to try next. I know you're capable of tying hundreds of fly variations, so how do you keep the variations manageable while out on the stream? How many fly boxes and variations do you typically bring with you?"
Well, Eric, if you've seen some of my videos on social media, you'll see that I get [00:20:00] ...people ask me why I carry such a large sling bag with me wherever I go. And I do carry, when I'm trout fishing on a bigger river where there's gonna be hatches and I really don't know what conditions to expect, let's say I'm on a trip to the Rocky Mountains somewhere and I don't know what I'm gonna run into, I carry them all.
And here's how I do it, not necessarily the way you should [00:20:30] do it because everybody has a different way of organizing things. But here's how I carry all my trout flies. And I literally, when I'm traveling, carry almost every trout fly I've tied over the years. So, first of all, for nymphs and wet flies, I love the Orvis Super Slim [00:21:00] fly boxes. And I carry three of these Super Slim fly boxes, which take up very little space in my sling bag.
One for big nymphs and junk, as George Daniel calls them, so that's worms, eggs, big stone flies, big hare's ears, damselfly nymphs, stuff like that that's bigger and more of a kind of attractor patterns or imitations of large bugs. Then I carry a medium-sized nymph box, and [00:21:30] this has my 12, 14, and 16 nymphs in it, which is the box I use the most, obviously.
And that's got all my Frenchies and pheasant tails and prince nymphs and all that stuff, beadheads and non-beadheads. Again, I can carry a lot of flies in one of those Super Slim boxes. And then I have a nymph or kind of a spring creek midge nymph box. And in that box, [00:22:00] I have all my scuds and my smaller mayflies, size 18 and smaller mayflies and midge larvae and things like that. That's gonna be mainly used on spring creeks or tailwaters. But you never know when you're gonna need them, right? You sound like you have a similar philosophy to me.
And then for dry flies, I have two compartment boxes. And I'm a firm believer that the only [00:22:30] way to carry dry flies is in a compartment box. If you put your dry flies in one of these super slim boxes or one of these slotted foam boxes, you're either gonna crush the hackle underneath the fly or you're gonna crush the wings on most of the bigger flies when you close the box.
By using a compartment box, I can stuff a whole bunch of dry flies in a compartment. And yes, it's difficult for me to poke through and find the right [00:23:00] ones when I need them, but I can carry nearly every dry fly I own. I have two boxes. I have the bigger compartment box, the fulling mill compartment box. I use the bigger one for bigger dries, 14 and larger. And then I have a box for the smaller dries, 16 and smaller. So there's two dry fly boxes.
The other box I carry is the smaller super slim box. And in that, I put my soft tackles, [00:23:30] wet flies, and unweighted nymphs. I don't carry that many of those, but I do have that in the smaller, shorter super slim box. Then, finally, I have a streamer box. And again, I'm typically weighting, or I want everything in my sling bag.
So I use a compartment box for my streamers. I take out the dividers so that the compartments are long and slim. And I just stuff all my streamers in that [00:24:00] compartment box. So sounds like a lot of boxes, but I can carry them all in a sling bag. And if I'm in a spot where I know I'm not gonna use streamers or I know I'm not gonna use the spring creek flies, I will take them out of the sling bag.
Now, if I'm fishing for small stream trout or carp, I carry one small waste bag. And in that, I have one fly box. [00:24:30] I have all my carp flies in one fly box. And I have all my small stream dries and nymphs in one small fly box. You don't need a lot of different flies for small stream trout. You don't need a ton of flies for carp either. So that's how I carry them.
And if I'm fishing for bass, or pike, or something like that, I'm invariably [00:25:00] fishing from a boat, and there, I'll carry a couple more fly boxes, bass flies or pike flies, in a large compartment box. And I might have three or four of those. So I hope that helps. I don't know. Everybody has a different system and you need to figure out what works for you. But you ask what I do, and that's what I do. And I do carry a lot of flies with me.
Here's an email from [00:25:30] Brad. "I've been fly fishing for about three years and I live in the southern part of lower Michigan. I mostly fly fish on still waters for panfish and largemouth bass. The closest lake to me was an old gravel pit, so it drops off really fast. I use a 9-foot 5-weight for everything. I wanna keep presentations as natural as possible. With that in mind, could I use a bigger conehead fly to get down quicker and deeper, or should I stick to more average-size flies and use some split shot? As [00:26:00] others have said before, thank you for all you and Orvis do for outdoor enthusiasts and conservation. Hope to hear from you soon."
Well, Brad, yeah, you can certainly either use a bigger conehead or a split shot. Whatever works for you. I don't like split shots, so I prefer to use, you know, a heavier streamer. The one thing you wanna do if you're gonna stick with a floating line is to make sure you use a long leader, 9 or 12 feet, [00:26:30] because, otherwise, that fly just isn't gonna get down deep enough.
But it sounds like, in your situation, what might help you is to use either a full sinking line or a sink tip line, or perhaps a 150-grain depth charge line on your 5-weight. And that'll get your fly down into those deeper areas and keep it down. The problem with a floating line in a lake like that is [00:27:00] that once you start retrieving, you're gonna start to pull your fly close to the surface. So sinking line might be in order for that kind of fishing.
Here's an email from Justin in Rapid City, South Dakota. "I have a tip for tying that squishy realistic egg material. Generally, it seems that specific material's not known for being durable. I agreed until I came up with the following. Once a bead, if I'm using one, is, on the hook, I add the egg material by piercing [00:27:30] it with the hook and sliding it up about a quarter of the shank. From here, I secure it in the jaws of my tying vise.
After that, I take lead-free wire and give it about five wraps right in front of the egg material before snipping it off. This is where I notice a difference. Instead of making sure the bitter end of the wire is flush with the wraps, I let it stick out just a bit. From here, I add some gloss head cement to the shank behind the bead or eye, slide the wire wraps up tight, [00:28:00] and then add some more gloss head cement to the wraps. A little goes a long way.
Once a head cement is on, I push with a bit of force the soft egg material over the wraps. The wraps seem to give it a little more surface area to cling to than the thread, and the bitter ends of the wire wrap work like a barb inside the egg material to keep it in place. I transfer these to a place to dry. They hold up better than any other iterations I've tried. The gloss head cement also [00:28:30] prevents that hideous super glue white film that I didn't care about until you mentioned it. Haha, thanks for it all. Stay fresh." Well, thank you, Justin. That's a great tip. I'm gonna try that when I'm tying my own egg flies.
Hey. And here's an email from Riker from Southwest Colorado. "So I got to the river this morning and noticed a ton of trout feeding [00:29:00] on the surface. So, of course, I looked in the water to see what was going on and saw a lot of tiny betus in the water. So I tied on a rig with a number 16 stimulator at the front and a size 22 blue wing olive off the back.
And I did get two rainbows in the net, one eating the stimulator and one eating the blue wing olive. But I definitely could have had more. There were fish that would eat right next to my flies but not take them. And my blue wing olive should have worked because [00:29:30] it was a phenomenal match. But I don't know. I just need a more educated look at this. Thank you."
Riker, you know, first of all, what looks like a perfect imitation to us might not look like a perfect imitation to the trout. We don't know exactly what they're keying in when they're on a particular insect. So first thing I would do, I would have tried a couple different patterns for your blue wing olive because you never know how the trout [00:30:00] see it or what induces them to take your fly.
The other thing is that it's often a matter of presentation and not the fly pattern you have on there. So maybe sometimes when you fish two dry flies, and I think you were fishing...sounds like you were fishing two dry flies. Sometimes when you're fishing two dry flies, you know, it does help to have that bigger fly on so you can see where your smaller fly is. But [00:30:30] sometimes that bigger fly causes the smaller fly to drag. The smaller fly swings around behind the bigger fly.
So what I would have done, I think, in this case, knowing that the fish were eating those blue wing olives would have been to throw caution to the wind, take the stimulator off, and just use your size 22 blue wing olive on a long light tippet. Now, it's gonna be harder to see, but the fish are rising. So you should be able to strike when you see [00:31:00] a rise in the general vicinity of where your fly is.
So those are a couple things that I would have done. But not being there with you, I don't know exactly what the problem was. And even if I was there with you, I might not have figured it out either. And finally, we have our sole phone call from this week. Again, I could use some more phone calls. If you wanna listen to phone calls, you need to send me a few.
Jonathan: Hi, Tom. I've been fly fishing for about 50 [00:31:30] or 60 years now. My question is, now that I'm a little older and my eyes and my fingers don't work as well, is it okay to tie a small dry fly by the tail of the hook as we sometimes do with droppers? Fishing in the Deschutes River in eastern Oregon, the red side trout can be pretty big, but they're often eating very, very tiny flies like size 20, 22, or 24, either on top or in the thin film.
I have to use a strong tippet that [00:32:00] will not even fit through the eye of the tiny fly if I can even see it. Anyway, seems to me that we tie some flies on the bend of the hook when nymphing, and it doesn't spoil the catch. So can we do that with the tiny dry flies as well? I also have one tip for all of us. Carry your rod pointing behind you. Stops us from walking the tip into a tree. Thanks again for all you do. Bye for now.
Tom: Well, Jonathan, thank [00:32:30] you very much. Yeah, carrying the rod with your rod tip behind you is sometimes a good idea. I kind of go back and forth, depending on what the brush looks like when I'm going through heavy brush. Sometimes I wanna be able to see the tip in front of me, keep an eye on it. But you're right, sometimes carrying the tip behind you is going to prevent you from breaking your rod in the brush.
However, when you got the tip behind you, you can't see what it might [00:33:00] be catching on. So there's benefits to doing it both ways. And again, sometimes I'll switch back and forth, depending on what the brush looks like. Regarding tying a small dry fly at the tail of the hook, I don't think it's gonna work. You know, hooks are meant to apply force at the eye, and they've been developed over centuries to hold on to a fish.
If you tie your tip to the bend of the fly, I think it's gonna pull [00:33:30] it out of the fish's mouth. Honestly, I've never tried it with a dry fly, but I don't think it's gonna work very well. You can try it, but I wouldn't advise it. However, you can thread a smaller fly relatively easily. First of all, you've got to have good light, and you've got to have close-up glasses, and you've got to have something that's probably 3x or 4x for those smaller flies, not [00:34:00] the standard readers in your progressive glasses or bifocals. You need something stronger to be able to thread those smaller flies.
I'm 70 years old, and I can thread a size 24 if I need to. It might take me a couple tries, but I can do it. My eyesight isn't exactly superb. So magnifying glass. And as far as getting a bigger tip through the eye of the fly, there [00:34:30] is a hook called the big-eye hook, and that's what I tie all my flies on. My small flies, 16 and smaller, are on a big eye hook. All Orvis Dry Flies, size 16 and smaller are tied on these big eye hooks.
And I just checked, and you can thread a 3x tip through a size 26 hook, which is something you'd probably never do. But obviously, if you're fishing [00:35:00] 4x or 5x on those size 22s, you'll be able to thread it quite well. As long as you got good magnification, and as long as there's no fly tying materials blocking the eye of the fly, make sure you poke the eye of the fly with the end of another hook or the little doodad that's on most snips, a little pin that clears the eye of the fly. But you should be able to thread those with a little practice. [00:35:30]
All right. That is the fly box for this week. Let's go talk to Davis about all those cool alternative species you can catch in the West.
Well, my guest today is Davis James. Davis is a good friend. Davis is also the Orvis community leader for Colorado, I guess for the Front Range, right, Davis? That's what we call it?
Davis: That's right. Yeah. Denver's cities along the [00:36:00] Front Range of the mountain are effectively called the Front Range.
Tom: And there's probably more fly anglers per square mile in your area than maybe any place in the world.
Davis: I think that's right.
Tom: And you know, the rivers close to Denver, the trout streams get crowded. No secret to anyone. And the thing is, there's so much other cool, interesting trout fishing in [00:36:30] the greater Denver area and other places in the West United States. People think they got to drive an hour or two or three to fish with a fly rod. And there's just so much fun to be had a lot closer to home and fewer crowds, right?
Davis: Absolutely. Denver and our surrounding area, trout streams are famously overcrowded at times. And it's really a great skill to have to know [00:37:00] where you can duck in and dive in and find some cool fish to catch without going too far from home.
Tom: Yeah. You actually started out fly fishing, not for trout, right?
Davis: That's correct. That's correct. I started fly fishing for bass and panfish in Texas. I kind of stumbled into fly fishing in college. And I was living in the Texas Hill Country. I would just find a spot on the map and go explore and had a lot of fun doing [00:37:30] that. That's what got me going.
Tom: It's a great way to start. I know you do love trout because I've trout-fished with you, but we've also carp-fished together and sucker-fished together. What else did we chase?
Davis: There was catfish probably swimming around in the places we were catching carp and suckers, but I think we caught one that day.
Tom: No, we didn't catch any catfish that day. I remember it was a miserable day. It was snowing and [00:38:00] had more fun than I've had in a long time with a fly rod in my hand. We had a great day. So I think that part of the problem with people finding urban fishing or fishing closer to home, fishing for alternative species, is, first of all, finding a place and then knowing what to do once you get there because there's lots and lots of information [00:38:30] on trout streams and how to read the water, and entomology, and all that stuff. But what do you do to find a place to go fly fishing that's close to home? Where do you start?
Davis: Well, I would say what got me started was just a never-ending curiosity. I was really interested, and really, all throughout my teens and 20s in BMX bike riding. And that would kind of constantly have me looking [00:39:00] on the map, looking for places, looking behind grocery stores and alleys. And I kind of took that mentality into fly fishing. And I would just get on the map and look for any sort of small stream creek. Really in Texas, even bayous would have strains of largemouth and kind of hybrid bass.
And I would go there and just kind of get eyes on it. And that was kind of my first way of finding new places to fish. I [00:39:31] definitely struck out a ton. I found places that I walked into, probably shouldn't have, golf course ponds, and things like that. But eventually, I started to develop a list of cool places in my area that I could go fish after work or fish after school and really started to just kind of take that curiosity and use that as my fuel to find more new places to fish.
Tom: So what would you suggest? Somebody [00:40:00] lives in Denver in the Denver area, and they wanna go fly fishing, but they're tired of the crowds on the trout streams and they're tired of the difficult trout and they just wanna go and bend a rod somewhere. Where would you suggest that they start? What should they look at first?
Davis: Well, you know, these days, there's a lot of great mapping kind of tools that you can use. Google Maps is really an easy one to start with. You start looking for... [00:40:30] It can be difficult in satellite mode because you don't really get an idea of what's a park and maybe what's public. If you put it in that normal default mode, you can scan your area very easily and you can find parks that have access to ponds, and small and even large lakes.
You can see blue lines on the map and really start kind of narrowing it down from there, starting to maybe get eyes on some of those places that you found on a map. And there's also [00:41:00] a lot of tools now, you know, smartphone apps that can assist with finding new water. Some of them have done some work to even narrow down what fish might be there. And those are some pretty good resources as well to find new places.
Tom: Yeah, I haven't found any of those apps that helpful, but I think a lot of them are crowd-sourced, and I think that the quality of the information is questionable, but maybe in your area, it's better. And I agree with [00:41:30] you. I've found that the default or even the terrain map on Google Earth or Google Maps is a lot better. I usually go into this satellite after I've identified a place just to see what the terrain looks like around it, right, if it's not full of houses or whatever.
Davis: Absolutely, yeah. I think there's... And if you could do this on a computer screen, you typically get a better view of what all's around you. And I think something that you [00:42:00] alluded to earlier was fly shops will typically be relatively trout-oriented. However, we've got a lot of great shops here in the Denver area and a lot of really fishy fly shop employees that spend their off days fishing for carp, and pike, and bass, you name it.
You could typically identify who in the shop really spends their time fishing the more areas versus some people, maybe their escape is getting up into the mountains and [00:42:30] trout fishing. But if you spend some time in the fly shop getting to know some of the people, you can start to pick out the ones that spend more time than others really pursuing the carp and bass and things like that.
Tom: Right. So let's say you've identified a place that looks promising. What are you gonna look for along the shoreline? What kind of flies are you gonna take? What kind of rod are you gonna take? You have no idea what's [00:43:00] in there. So what are you gonna do next?
Davis: Well, if you can, on the map, try to identify the shallow, you're probably not gonna have a great idea of how deep it is, but you'll have an idea of, okay, this side of the pond or this side of the lake is shallow. This might be where carp would come up and feed. This side is a little deeper. And so, those areas that have those transition water depths are typically what I would look for, [00:43:30] a place where a fish can come up and feed, but also a place where they can go and hide out and start to just kind of catalog a general idea of depth and structure. Structure's a really great thing to key in on, particularly for warm water species. And same for trout. That's kind of a pretty consistent rule of thumb across all kinds of species, I think, is sort of variety of depth and structure.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. What [00:44:00] rod are you gonna take? Not having any idea what species of fish are in this body of water, what rod are you gonna be pulling out?
Davis: I think a good five weights are really that all-purpose rod for a reason. They're sort of designed to cast variety of different-size flies. Nothing on the super big side, but they'll also be delicate enough that you can have fun presenting flies to panfish and things like that. You know, [00:44:30] I found, when I got into fly fishing, I went up from five, particularly getting into bass, the more and more I did it, the more I wanted to throw kind of some of the heavier stuff that would drop a little quicker. And so, you know, if maybe a six-weight is what you have, that's also a great rod as well. Somewhere in the five, six, though, is kind of the sweet spot.
Tom: Okay. I'm gonna take a seven, just throw my own. I'm gonna take a seven [00:45:00] because a seven is fun on panfish. They'll bend a seven weight and if there's carp or there's pike or there's big bass around, I'm gonna have to throw a bigger fly. You know, I don't know until I get there. So I'm gonna take a seven, but you can go with your five and six.
Davis: I wouldn't disagree with you. You're showing up overprepared. I'm showing up prepared just enough.
Tom: Yeah, right. Yeah, right. I guess that's my problem, I'm overprepared. [00:45:30] Okay, so you don't see anything in the water. You don't see any fish. What fly are you gonna start out with? What's the first thing you're gonna use?
Davis: You know, a beadhead wooly bugger is absolutely gonna be the first place. Maybe a tungsten thin mint, more specifically. Really like that fly for a searching pattern. It'll work for carp. Panfish will eat it. I think it's a great [00:46:00] starting point.
Tom: Yup, yup. And if that doesn't work, then what are you gonna try?
Davis: I might move to like a white baitfish. Kind of go with the rule of opposites a little bit, you know, tarting with something that's a little bit more neutral, a neutral tone to something that's a little bright and flashy to see. Now, if I'm carp fishing, I'll probably just continue to stick with that thin mint or something similar. But if I'm sort [00:46:30] of just looking for any fish that'll eat, I may go from that more neutral color to a brighter flashier fly.
Tom: Okay. Do you ever start out with a surface fly like a little popper?
Davis: This is that time of year, absolutely. In Colorado, we're just now starting to see really consistent warm weather. I was out fishing yesterday and there was all types of surface activity. So I was specifically trout fishing yesterday. However, in the ponds around Denver [00:47:00] right now, there's a lot of life on the surface. So small kind of bugle bug type of popper would be a great starting point for bass and panfish.
Tom: Yeah, especially if you see some swirls or something on the surface. Okay. And what time of day, what's the best time of day to target these places? Do you have a favorite time?
Davis: Definitely in the morning, you know? [00:47:30] And that's something I learned pretty early on, having started down in Texas where the temps really get very hot during the middle of the day. Those fish are a little harder to get to. They'll go to those six and eight-foot depths and deeper during the day when it warms up. And I think the same is true here in Colorado.
While the ambient air temps aren't as hot, the sun is just absolutely, you know, penetrates the water here in Colorado with the UV rays [00:48:00] really warm things up. So starting in the morning when things are a little cooler, I think there's just a lot more activity in the morning and then also in the evening as well.
Tom: Yeah. It's unfished sometimes during the middle of the day, but most of the other species are probably better in morning or evening. So... Sorry, go ahead.
Davis: I was gonna say, I mean, you know, as kind of anything, that can change from day to day. The one sort of, I guess, exception to [00:48:30] that rule is sometimes it's tough to sightfish to carp, you know, early in the morning and early in the evening. So sometimes it's that, you know, late morning, early afternoon is the time. But if you're kind of just searching for any fish that will eat, I think it's a great place to start by starting early, giving yourself more time as well. You get more time to figure out what the fish are doing if you spend more time out there. So you can kind of make your mistakes in the morning and start to figure it out and still have plenty of day to [00:49:00] fish.
Tom: Yeah, that's a good point. That's a good point. Because you don't know what you're in store for, right? You're on a new body of water and you have no idea what you're gonna find. So you have a really cool event that you run for multiple species, and it's probably mostly urban fishing that's done, right? Because that's where you're gonna find this variety of species.
Davis: Yeah, [00:49:30] yeah. So happy to tell you all about it. So when I moved from Texas to Colorado, I started working at one of our local Orvis dealers and a friend of mine there wanted to kick off an event called the Mile-High 25. And it's an event really geared towards pursuing up to 25 different species in two days. It happens right around runoff when a lot of our freestone rivers and creeks are [00:50:00] really flowing high.
And it was kind of just an excuse really in the beginning to start pursuing some of these alternate species and really give us a lot more excitement during a time of year that a lot of people kind of pack their rods away for a few weeks. And it just has grown ever since we started it in 2016. And so this year will be our ninth year hosting this event through a fly shop called Anglers All.
And it's just a's a [00:50:30] really fun community. A lot of people have really latched on and it really made it one of their key events that they participate in each year. And so what you do is you get with your best fishing buddy, you pick a teammate and you go after, you create a route through the Front Range and kind of greater area of Colorado that would give you the best chance of catching as many of the 25 species on the fly as you can in two days. [00:51:00]
Tom: Has anybody ever caught 25 species?
Davis: No. In 9 years, no one's caught 25. I think right now the highest scoring team in 2017 caught 19 of the 25 species in two days.
Tom: Now, what do you call a pumpkin seed bluegill hybrid? Do you call that a different species? Because you see a lot of that.
Davis: We've learned our lessons over the years, and I think in [00:51:30] 2018, we moved to just calling it panfish. So a bluegill or a pumpkin seed or a long ear, a red ear, all of those would fall into that kind of panfish category. Excuse me. Sunfish is the name of the category.
Tom: Oh, you mean you can't like catch a red ear and a long ear and a pumpkin seed and a bluegill and call that four species?
Davis: No, you can't. In the first couple of years, you could do that. We [00:52:00] had bluegill separated from pumpkin seed and long ear, I believe, sunfish. We had three different sunfish categories. But each year, there's usually a species that falls off and a new one that comes on. And we'll kind of rotate through a little bit just to keep it fresh. But from a judging and scoring perspective, we're relying on, so these teams go out on their own and they use their phones to document the fish. And if they [00:52:30] submit a blurry, shaky video, then it could be really difficult to delineate one species from the other. So we've kind of learned our lesson there. And right now, most of those panfish are all gonna fall into one category. The one exception would be crappie. Crappie are its own species on the list as well.
Tom: Yeah, they're pretty easy to distinguish from a bluegill. Yeah.
Davis: I mean, you'd be, you know, there's all skill levels participate [00:53:00] in this event. So it's a fun, you know, some people are going out there and really competing and trying to catch as many as possible and win the prizes. A lot of people are doing this as a fun kind of scavenger hunt weekend with their best fishing buddy.
Tom: Yeah, it sounds like a great time. What's the most unusual fish that's ever been entered?
Davis: Great question. You know, we haven't had that many spleek caught [00:53:30] in the years we've been doing this. However, that particular fish remains on the list. And so that's a hybrid between a lake trout and a brook trout. That one's pretty interesting. You'll get like, you know, there's been some creek chubs caught. There's been some, you know, razorback suckers. There's been a lot of different fish that don't even fall on the list.
One of the [00:54:00] more difficult fish to catch in June in Colorado would be, you know, a kokanee salmon. That's also on the list. So I'm just kind of thinking of the ones that are caught the least often. And that would be those would be kind of the ones I would highlight.
Tom: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. So you're worried about bluegills and pumpkin seeds hybridizing and not calling them two species. Yet you're including spleek, which is an artificial cross between a lake trout [00:54:30] and a brook trout. Oh, Davis. I don't know about these rules.
Davis: Well, that's a result of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife After Year Stocking program. You know, some of these Alpine lakes that we have across the state, and really, this is true all across the Rockies, there are really some lakes that maybe never had fish in them, but they were stocked either by hikers with backpacks or even by planes and helicopters. And they've created a fishery, you know, in an area where there [00:55:00] was really not much going on. And spleek is one of the fish that have traditionally been stocked over the years in some of these. There's even been golden trout, which has been on our list as well.
Tom: You mean that that ugly hatchery albino rainbow is a separate one?
Davis: We've never included the palomino or the albino rainbow fish or [crosstalk 00:55:30].
Tom: Oh, this is a true golden trout that was stocked.
Davis: Yeah, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they made a trade with California some years ago and actually put a true Kern River golden trout in a few places in Colorado. I don't think they've done that well, but they are still out there.
Tom: Has anyone ever entered one in the in the contest?
Davis: They have. They have, actually. The last few years, we've had golden trout on the list. [00:56:00] There's a lake that I would say is not much more than two hours from Denver. And it was pretty accessible to the event. But as a result, we've removed them because they started to hybridize with cutthroat and really became a little bit of a judging nightmare.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. So when does this event take place this year?
Davis: So typically, it's the third weekend in June every year. So this year, it's gonna be June 22nd and [00:56:30] 23rd. There'll be a mandatory captains meeting on June 20th at the fly shop at Anglers All. And that's where they'll get their control item. So each team will have a wristband, kind of like a like a Livestrong type wristband that they'll wear so that when they're holding and releasing these fish, we know that this occurred during the time frame of the event. And then the day before the official time kicks off, there's a travel day. [00:57:00]
So there's a day for people to, you know, drive out to their first starting location, which could be a fair amount away from Denver. And then they'll work their way back. With that being said, and kind of staying on the theme of really, this conversation, most of the fish on the list are within, you know, 45 minutes to an hour of Denver. Really, the front range of Colorado, the teams that do the best, they know all their local urban fisheries the best.
So they know all [00:57:30] the little ponds. They know where they can quickly and easily catch, you know, a common carp and not spend a half day trying to land a common carp. And so that's a little bit of the trick there, is putting together a really sensible route that keeps you pretty close to town so that you're able to, you know, spend the least amount of time driving the most amount of time fishing.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. Didn't you open it up somehow to people all across the country at one point? [00:58:00]
Davis: Yeah, we teamed up. This is really kind of inspired by COVID era. You know, the Mayfly Project was looking for an event to kind of be a fundraiser and a fun event to do when they couldn't bring people physically together. So we actually hosted, for two years, we did an event with the Mayfly Project and we create a species list that was pretty uniform. You could catch these all across the country. And we had a blast doing that with [00:58:30] the Mayfly Project with Jess over there. And we hope to do it again sometime.
Tom: Oh, so you're not doing it this year?
Davis: Yeah, it won't be happening this year. We've kind of had a lot of interest in some other areas. And so, I don't know, Tom, maybe we'll put our heads together and figure out how we can host one in other areas.
Tom: Yeah. And for people that don't know what the Mayfly Project is, it's a great organization, a terrific organization. I'm a member of it. And it's an organization [00:59:00] where an angler will take a foster child under their wing and teach them fly fishing and take them fly fishing. So it's a really great program for kids who might not have a mentor or any other way to get into fly fishing.
Davis: Yeah, the current nonprofit we're working with in Colorado for our event here is Denver Trout Unlimited. The [00:59:30] Denver Trout Unlimited folks, they're really focused on water quality and access on the Denver South Platte and really in the Denver area. And they do a lot of great work. You know, all of their funding goes directly towards science and research on water quality. And we've actually teamed up with them.
So the team that wins in the 25 On The Fly, the Mile-High 25 On The Fly in the spring, has an opportunity to enter the Carp Slam event that [01:00:00] happens in Denver fall.
So what we've done is really create a kind of a fun way to create a relationship between the two events, kind of like a series. And then each angler that registers for our Mile-High 25 event in the spring, big chunk of their registration fees goes directly towards Denver Trout Unlimited so they can continue to do some great work on our home water here in Denver.
Tom: And if people want more information on [01:00:30] this, if they're in the area, where should they direct their search, or what website should they go to?
Davis: They can go to our website, That's the number two and the number five on the And there, it has our list of events. It's got kind of our rules, our current species list, and our contact information there as well if they are curious about it or maybe you wanna, [01:01:00] you know, think about doing one in their area.
Tom: Okay. Now, what's your plan gonna be? Well, first of all, kind of list, if you can remember, the available species in the greater Denver area. Maybe you can pull it up because I guess you have an official list, right? Maybe you can pull it up and read off the species.
Davis: Yeah, we've got an official list. You know, what's really cool is that Colorado [01:01:30] is just so well-known for trout, but because we're, you know, the front range is really out on the plains. You know, it's a pretty diverse place to fish. There's a lot of different fish out there. So at the top of the list and the most difficult to catch is the tiger musky. You know, that is a sterile musky that's worth 500 points. We've only seen one or two caught in nine years of doing this, doing the event.
Tom: Oh, different species have different points awarded [01:02:00] to them?
Davis: Exactly. So say you catch 11 species and, you know, they're all gonna have a different point value, and what we do is we total up the points that you've accrued during the event to get your placement on the leaderboard. If there's at any point a tie, then it goes down to the number of species you've caught.
So if some two teams, you know, score 2,500 [01:02:30] points, we would go down to then how many species you've caught. So what's really cool is it sort of takes the weight off of the higher scoring fish like tiger musky and really encourages people to, you know, not ignore the little, the lowly sucker at the bottom of the list, you know, or the bluegill at the bottom of the list. So I'll just rattle off a few of our...I'll rattle off the 25 species if you're along.
Tom: Yeah, that'd be great. Yeah, it'd be interesting. Yeah.
Davis: So tiger musky, freshwater drum, lake [01:03:00] trout, walleye and saw guy fall in one category, grass carp, mirror carp, wiper, which is a hybrid white bass striper. Koi is actually on the list this year. We still have golden trout on the list and we've got it specifically listed as a mature golden trout.
So we wanna see those really easily identifiable features of a golden trout for it to count. Common carp, northern pike, [01:03:30] catfish, grayling, whitefish, tiger trout, large and small mouth bass, two separate categories there. Yellow perch, sucker, crappie. That'll be both a white crappie and a black crappie. Brooks trout.
Tom: Two separate entries for white and black or just one?
Davis: No, that's under one.
Tom: Okay.
Davis: Brook trout, cutthroat, brown trout, rainbow trout and sunfish, [01:04:00] which includes bluegill as one category. So that's the 25 categories that we have in the event.
Tom: I don't know about this, Davis. You got mirror carp and common carp, are the same thing. I think you need to split those sunfish up, man.
Davis: We always are taking advice and mixing things up. We had, a few years ago, it was a big conversation around koi because it is technically a common carp and whether or not we were gonna, you [01:04:30] know, include that as a common carp. But in order to kind of change things up a little bit, we decided to make it a separate species category. We don't have kokanee on the list this year, for example. So that we can have koi and kind of keep having fun with it, keep people on their toes.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, it's a fun event. I mean, I don't particularly care for competitive fly fishing, but I would definitely, if I was gonna be in the area, I would definitely [01:05:00] compete in that because it sounds... Well, I wouldn't compete, but I'd go out and do it.
Davis: Well, we, you know, kind of our sort of tagline for the event is fly fishing tournament meets scavenger hunt. So it's just as much as a scavenger hunt with your best fishing buddy as it is a tournament. We wanna encourage people. And honestly, the teams that do the best in this the last few years have been younger individuals who were maybe teenagers who just got their driver's license.
Here they've had years of experience [01:05:30] riding their bikes and skateboarding to local ponds. And now, all of a sudden, you arm them with a vehicle and they can get themselves all around town. And the last two years, we've had some pretty, you know, young, youthful teams that have won the event or been in the top three.
Tom: That's pretty cool. That's pretty cool. So yeah, it's just so great to see that there's people looking at [01:06:00] diversity in fly fishing, both the people that compete and the species they chase.
Davis: Yeah, you know, and in Denver, it's commonly just assumed that everyone goes into the mountains every weekend, but not everyone has that accessibility and opportunity to, you know, get caught in traffic on I-70 heading up the mountain. And, you know, we really wanted to highlight, particularly during runoff, that it's [01:06:30] also the perfect time.
You know, springtime is just such an incredible time. So many different watersheds and ponds and lakes are coming to life. And it's a great time of year to be not necessarily just caught up on your regular trout streams, but exploring a little bit more, you know, right under your nose here in town.
Tom: Yup. And if you use that five-way, you can use your trout rod to do that.
Davis: Yeah, absolutely.
Tom: I'm still taking a seven. [01:07:00]
Davis: Well, there's some...yeah, definitely some fish on the list that, you know, you'd have a hard time catching with a five-weight.
Tom: Yeah, I mean, you could catch a big carp or a northern pike on a five-weight, but it would be, you know, it would be a struggle.
Davis: Yeah, that reminds me of that carp you caught a couple of years ago here in Denver. Definitely. I think you want a five-weight, and it took a whole team to get that fish into the net.
Tom: People falling in the [01:07:30] water and... Yeah.
Davis: Yeah, people falling in the water. We had rescue mission.
Tom: Yeah, it was a fun day.
Davis: Sometimes it's fun to see what a five-weight will do.
Tom: Yeah, it is. Yeah. Those new helios, that was one of the new helios prototypes, and it held up to that big carp and that heavy current.
Davis: Yeah, that was wild.
Tom: All right, Davis. Well, I wanna thank you for [01:08:00] giving us some tips for chasing urban fish and information on 25 On The Fly. And again, I wish I was gonna be out there then because it sounds like a fun event, but maybe we can, when I come out there in July, we can do our own 25 On The Fly.
Davis: I think we should. I think we should. And, you know, I think that if people kind of get lost on the map and don't know where to start, absolutely, check out your local fly shop. All [01:08:30] of the ones here in town, really, there's someone in there that spends time catching carp or bass and they can kind of start to point you in the right direction. But there's nothing like just kind of being curious, finding something on the map, and then when you go there and you have success all on your own accord, it's a ton of fun. It's definitely a thrill.
Tom: It's like being a 12-year-old again, right?
Davis: Absolutely.
Tom: And oh, by the way, Davis and I are gonna be doing a grand tour of Orvis [01:09:00] stores and a bunch of fly shops in the greater Denver area in July. So watch social media or, I don't know, emails from the stores or the fly shops for that. We're gonna be doing some presentations and having raffles and having a good time. So looking forward to that.
Davis: Yeah, we'll be all over the place from July 12th to July 21st.
Tom: Wow.
Davis: So we'll be...if you're in Denver, we'll be gonna your local fly shop [01:09:30] more than likely.
Tom: Yeah, it's gonna be fun. Looking forward to it. All right, Davis, thanks for your time.
Davis: Well, thank you, Tom.
Tom: And I will talk to you soon.
Davis: Thank you, Tom. I appreciate it.
Tom: All right. Bye-bye.
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