Bucket list blues

Make sure your list of things to do includes fishing in plenty of different rivers

n the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the shadow of Mount Rushmore and presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, one can find a blue line to fish. Teddy Roosevelt is known to have frequented the Black Hills, maybe he also fished Spearfish Creek.

As a weighted nymph, or as a dropper under a dry fly, the Red Head Prince, below, effectively attracts trout. Best tied on a long shank hook, the white wings stand out to the trout as a meal. With a bead head and weight on the shank, it quickly sinks to the trout’s eye level.

Some things in life are backwards. If you have a bucket list — many people do — then you probably started making your list later in life. Or else you are too young to think about it much yet. Seems like we should make our list when we are young. That way, one has time to get it done rather than it being a more urgent matter in our senior years.

A bucket list could be long — very long. Why wouldn’t everyone want to do everything? So really, for an idea to actually make the list, it has to have a high priority. I recently checked one item off my list.

Sherri and I go camping regularly in the summer. Mostly to western Colorado locations within one day’s drive for a weekend, maybe farther with a longer holiday weekend. This summer we took a week and pulled the camper northeast to South Dakota, the Black Hills, and Mount Rushmore.

And did I mention fishing? I did not.

Which is what I mean by bucket list blues. Not blue as in sad, but blue as in blue lines. The kind of blue lines one sees on a map that indicates a river. I have a wall-size map in my fly tying room of all the waters in Colorado. It is a contorted squiggle of blue lines. The central mountains and western Colorado are very busy, which is one reason why I live here.

Blue lines in South Dakota were not on the bucket list. The bucket list item was indeed Mount Rushmore. Very spectacular. Mount Rushmore is a national monument. Not a large geographic area compared to the scenic variety of national parks, but similar to our Colorado National Monument or Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, an amazing place in a small package.

And did I mention fishing? Well, I got started, so back to that. Although blue lines in the Black Hills were not the priority, I most certainly wanted a taste of them while I was there.

The Black Hills are very nice. In a relative sense, hills is the correct description compared to our mountains. Rising from the plains, an oasis of mountains and rock outcroppings, heavily forested, with wonderful towns to visit and places to camp. Although the fishable blue lines are not abundant, I did find a few.

I spent a day in Spearfish Canyon on Spearfish Creek. Spearfish Canyon is similar to many Colorado small river canyons, where the road winds lazily along as it follows the winding creek. Some places are tight and it is just you, the road, the canyon walls and the creek. Occasionally it opens up and there may be private property and houses or ranches.

Seeking out the more isolated portions, I found a pulloff that had a significant distance upstream before a house appeared. That gave me the chance, alone, to experience a new water but a familiar setting.

Immediately I was catching fish. No different than a similar size Colorado creek, a good flow but wadeable, with bends and rocks and fallen trees, I was in a setting far from home but very homey. Rainbows and browns, mostly under 10 inches. But colorful, fat, and not giving in before a run or two.

I used a dry dropper. Trout are trout, and as is true in Colorado, there can be places where fly selection can matter greatly as to the catching. But also as in Colorado, most mountain stream trout are not overly picky. I used my go-to small stream dry fly, an Orange Ruffy, and had great success. For a dropper, I used a bead head Red Head Prince.

The Orange Ruffy is a tie originated by a friend, Bill Eaton. It is similar to an elk hair caddis, with an elk wing, an elk tail, but with a hackle at the head instead of palmered, and bright orange or red micro chenille for a body. The elk hair is bleached so it is light colored and much easier for me to see on the water, catching the sunlight to track its movement.

The Red Head Prince is the normal Prince pattern, but instead of the standard black thread, I tie it with red thread at the tail and head as an attractive hotspot. I also add a third white wing as I believe the white goose biot wings are the key to the Prince’s universal success, so if two are good, then three are better. This creates more of a “pattern in the round” effect so fish are more likely to see the white wings from different angles. Adding micro rubber legs make it buggy.

South Dakota non-resident fishing licenses are $16 for one day, $37 for three days, and $67 for an annual pass. The Black Hills and Spearfish Creek are a special fish management area, so fish take is limited. I didn’t care what the harvest regulations were as I was there for the fun and returned all my catch to their blue line home.

One special note is that in an effort to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, felt soled wading boots are prohibited. I didn’t know that ahead of time — I suppose I should have. I do use felt sole boots, but luckily for me I had my rubber sole boots with cleats, so I was good.

On our travels home, we diverted to Rocky Mountain National Park, where we camped and I fished both the east side in Glacier Creek and the west side in the Colorado River headwaters. That is a story for another time. I will say I did manage a grand slam in the Colorado.

So many blue lines, so little time!


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