‘To catch a cure’ tourney hooks a new angler in Silt outdoorswoman
Special to The Citizen Telegram
Seldom do you find a cousin who lives close to you, is a transplant from Louisiana like you, who fell in love with the Colorado outdoors like you, who you never knew, who has been a professional fly fishing guide for 21 years, who invites you to fish a fly fishing tournament to benefit cystic fibrosis and learn the art of fly fishing.
Recently, I had the great opportunity to be invited to fish this amazing tournament with my cousin, Ivan Perrin, who has participated as an angler and supporter of the Rocky Mountain Fly Fishing Classic tournament nine times. This year was the tenth annual tourney, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, hosted by former Denver Bronco Mark Cooper. The tournament was founded by Gary Ellis when his daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and is part of the Red Bone Fishing series.
The two-day “To Catch the Cure” tournament includes anglers from across all destinations floating the beautiful Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, alternating each day. The competition is a strict catch-and-release of two brown trout, two rainbow trout and one “wild card” fish per day. Each angler is required to call each fish as a “tournament-counted fish” before he or she continues to compete, so you just can’t count your biggest at the end of the day.
Our first morning started off a wee bit chilly. Our guide, Gifford Maytham (AKA Gilligan), prepared us for the weather and we knew it was going to be a tough day. This tourney is for a great cause, so the weather didn’t matter to us.
Ivan took the back of the boat and I took the front. This was literally the third time I’d had a fly rod in my hand EVER, so it was a little difficult at first, fighting the wind and the cold air. But that didn’t matter, because less than an hour into our float, I landed a 17-inch rainbow.
I was hollering at my cousin, “Get the net, get the net, we can’t lose him!” Gilligan kept saying, “Calm down, it’s OK!” The excitement was overwhelming; not only was this the first catch of the day, it was the biggest fish I had caught on a fly rod. Must have a great teacher. This big rainbow ate a white streamer close to the boat within view of all of us. I was ecstatic. I landed the fish by keeping constant pressure while giving line to the fish during the fight.
The day continued with Gilligan coaching me on the techniques of fly fishing. Each river run and feeding lane had its individual characteristics, not to mention there were different methods we used to trigger a strike. For example, just after my big rainbow, less than 600 yards down the river, Ivan had a brown eat his streamer by coming completely out of the water, showing his girth, 18 or so inches. But Ivan never got the fish. Yes, some got away.
As we would come into a run, Gilligan would instruct me, “OK, fish to the left.” The next instruction was usually “lift the rod” or “mend” or “strip” or “hit it,” his words for “Hey, set the hook, that’s a fish!” Ivan and I both missed some. Such is the way of fly fishing; the fish seemingly has an advantage over the angler.
We used three methods of fly fishing to fill our card the first day. The first fish carded was Ivan’s rainbow, using a nymph fly called “FKA,.” or “formerly known as.” He caught it under the bridge at Carbondale on the Roaring Fork. Nymphing is basically using subsurface flies that represent the natural insects in the river when they are subsurface. The “FKA” is considered an attractor fly. It looks a lot like either a small stone, a caddis, a large mayfly; well, you get the picture. It doesn’t look exactly like either one of them, but has the shape of all of them and looks really “buggie.”
The second method we used was streamer fishing. Our flies were made mostly of bunny hair and about an inch and a half long, sometimes two. We would cast usually to the edge of the bank and strip, or move the fly about one foot at a time before pausing. Then, after the pause, I would twitch my rod tip or strip the line to move the fly. It’s a little like spin fishing.
The third method was “hopper dropper.” At about 1 p.m., we had three fish left to fill our card. Just past the Westbank launch, Gilligan tied on a large hopper with a nymph dropper about 14 inches back.
Ivan was doing well and I was so excited for him, he was landing big fish and filling his card. I had landed my browns early on and was just waiting for another rainbow and my wild card fish. I was getting cold but gritting my teeth because I knew Gilligan had some good honey holes for us to try. Gilligan gave me his favorite fly and told me to get ready, not only was it a few rainbows, but some BIG rainbows.
Ivan landed one first, then we switched rods and it was my turn to try to catch a big one. I was grinning and just knew that I had to do this. I landed Gilligan’s special fly in the river really soft and then, BAM, fish on. I was trying to be so calm and not get too excited; I didn’t want to lose this fish. After a fight that felt like forever, he was finally in the boat. This rainbow had such a majestic look, and he measured 17 inches. I was smiling so big, I was so happy; I even gave my guide a big ol’ hug. At this point, Ivan’s card was full and I just needed one more fish, it didn’t matter what kind, but one big one for sure.
We could see at a distance the first cold front was coming our way. I was already chilly, but I didn’t want to give up. Gilligan said “Let’s give it one more shot with my special fly and go after another rainbow for you.” With a big grin, I said, “Let’s do it!” Gilligan rowed us back up into his little honey-hole and, after numerous casts, another big rainbow was on! Ivan and Gilligan were telling me exactly what to do. “Jackie, strip, wait, let ‘em go, strip, strip.” I was trying to be as fragile as I could so he wouldn’t spit out the fly. I was like, “Get the net, we can’t lose him,” grinning ear-to-ear. Gilligan finally netted him and we measured him at more than 17.5 inches. We took a quick picture, then he was back in the water.
We proceeded to card our last three rainbows from the same group. As Ivan says, 90 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water. I was so excited; my card was full and I just had the excitement of catching five gorgeous fish out of the Roaring Fork River. It looked like we had hellacious weather coming our way, so all three of us suited up in our rain gear with beanies and gloves and prepared for the rest of the float downriver to the dock. We laughed and joked and smiled and were so proud of our first successful day of fishing. After all of the scores came in, Ivan and I were in first place on the Roaring Fork and second place overall in the tournament. With the rain/snow storm that came in, we were a bit worried about fishing the Colorado the next day.
We got up at sunrise and when we got to the river, we knew it was going to be a much harder day of fishing. The Colorado was very muddy and flowing pretty fast. The whole day was so tough to fish. The Colorado is a much larger river than the Roaring Fork, so I needed to be able to cast further and quicker than I did the previous day. I knew it was going to be all fishing, no breaks.
Gilligan was great, trying to show me how to cast, strip and land the fish. Ivan, on the other hand, being the pro that he is, was landing big fish and filling his card. My cousin is the one who turned me on to fly fishing and asked me to fish the tournament with him, so I wanted to make sure to do well.
The day persisted with heavy winds and I persisted with throwing hundreds of casts. I did land a pretty nice rainbow and caught some smaller fish, but most important, we were having lots of fun. Ivan and Gilligan were satisfied, so that was all that mattered.
We turned in our cards and at the end of the night we were announced as the second place overall winners of the tournament. I was the only woman participant and finished seventh as an angler. I have to say, not too shabby for a girl! LOL. I was so excited and so proud. All three of us had worked so hard, freezing our butts off, but we still managed to finish in second place.
It was an amazing experience to be able to fish such a great tournament, for a great cause, with – most of all – great people. I would like to say thank you to Mark Cooper for having the tournament. I would also like to thank Gifford Maytham (Gilligan) for putting up with me. I am sure his stress level was over the top with my jibber jabber, but I had a blast. And most of all I would like to say thank you to my cousin, Ivan Perrin, who gave me an opportunity of a lifetime, which I will never forget. The thought of the outdoors, the sound of the river flowing, the excitement I felt each time I landed a fish, will never be forgotten.
Jackie Gross Guccini of Silt is an avoid outdoorswoman and 2012 winner of the Extreme Huntress contest. For information on the Redbone Fishing Tournament series, visit redbone.org.
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