by Jamie Roth
I remember hearing about the Frostbite Fish-Off in Pueblo Colorado just before the 2012 event. It was either too late for registration or I was too chicken to sign up so I didn’t get to fish but I did show up the day of the tournament and walked a few beats. The tournament looked great. Unfortunately walking along beautiful trout water without a fly rod in your hands is not natural. In fact it is as wrong as….. well I won’t finish that thought but it’s wrong!
The Frostbite Fish-Off is run by the Southern Colorado Greenback Chapter 509 of Trout Unlimited. An entire Army of volunteers make this tournament happen. Ben Wurster and Lou McCullough from Steel City Anglers walk point in this effort and they have done an outstanding job to make this event a fun but competitive event that raises a good amount of money for Chapter 509. All of the proceeds from the event go directly to improving the fishery and many stream improvements have happened and continue to happen due in part to the money raised by this event. Lou McCullough provided a little history on the event.
“Ben and I started the FFO after Ben was a controller in the Carp Slam in downtown Denver organized by the Denver Chapter of TU. I knew a lot of guides and people in the business and we had the support of Team USA, Rob Kolanda and company. I sent out hundreds of e-mails and we had 23 teams the first year. It was an insane experience, with over 100 people at Garlic and Onions, the venue for the first year. The money we netted over the first 2 years went into a total contribution from Cheyenne Mountain Chapter of $11,100.00 which was doubled by a GOCO grant. Coupled with a Packard Grant and $100,000.00 from CPW and other sources we totaled $340,000.00 for the Arkansas River Legacy Project Phase II. It has been a real adventure, meeting new friends and spreading the word about the Arkansas River tail water. Now the river is one of the top ten tail water fisheries in the country, thanks to Pete Gallagher of Fin-Up Habitat Consultants and his incredible design for the structures”.
Ben Lewis and I joined “forces” and created Team Chuck and Duck for the 2013 tournament. At that time, neither one of us had fished in a tournament before so we didn’t really know what to expect. Ben and I had drawn two good beats the night before (a fun event in itself) that we had both fished before so we were feeling pretty confident the morning of the tourney. As we walked to our first beat with a dozen tangled rods however, I began to question my confidence in two dudes with way too many rods who could only come up with “Chuck and Duck”.
When it was all said and done fish were caught, old friends were caught up with, new friends were met, and Ben and I had an absolute blast. We endured paparazzi, mobs of crazed female spectators, fish that ignored us the entire morning save our last THREE MINUTES of morning fishing, and a last hour of the day, buzzer beating, jaw dropping, ROD BREAKING fish hook up! Fun was to be had each step of the way. 2014 had big shoes to fill.
The 2014 Frostbite Fish-Off did not disappoint! The tournament this year started off with the news that we were going to fish two outstanding beats. We were going to fish beat 4 in the morning which had recently been worked on through the ongoing stream improvements and featured several beautiful weirs, a long deep run with large submerged boulders, and a run fed by the hatchery outlet. In the afternoon we had beat 2 on tap that featured a long riffle that tails out into a deep pool with a gradual drop off toward the north bank along the entire run. We would not be able to blame our beats if we didn’t post some respectable numbers. The pressure was on!
Ben got us off to a great start with a 19″ rainbow within the first 10 minutes of the morning session. I was able to post 17″ of rainbow trout about 45 minutes later. We had two fish on the board and needed two more to max out our morning session. We needed to keep up the momentum. At that point Ben stepped in and turned it to 11.
Ben is starting to make a habit out of pulling absolute slabs out of Pueblo on the biggest nastiest flies that have survived since his Alaska days in the deepest recesses of long forgotten fly boxes. Good for Team Chuck and Duck that Ben sticks to what works! I don’t want to give away his secrets but I’ll say that he was chucking a purple leach type pattern that almost looked as though it was sucking on a hot pink trout egg. Almost as if a leach was swimming around sucking on a leach. I’d probably call it a huge purple egg sucking leach….. and it’s awesome.
This awesome. When combined with the correct retrieve of course. This fatty could not resist the purple nightmare dangling in front of its face. Getting to net this thing was a treat enough. When it kicks in that you get 21″ out if this beauty since you are fishing in a tournament, the world is yours. But it got better.
While I was dinking around with midges and leaches, Ben was dredging away to seal the deal. And it turns out our 21″ slabba had a friend that also had an eye for purple. He held out as long as he could but not long enough. With 10 minutes left in the morning session, his glutinous Prince loving friend (the trout’s not Ben’s) let loose and bit down hard on the purple dancing dream that had been swimming around his head for the last 20 minutes. No way! Catching two trout over 21″ in that short period of time is no small accomplishment folks. There was no way we weren’t winning.
And we were! This was crazy considering our main goal going in was to not finish last. Lunch was fun and all but it took an eternity. We were looking to get back in the water. Our normal lunches on fishing trips take about 4 minutes. We were winning a fishing tournament! Crazy…
After a quick wardrobe change, we kicked off the afternoon session. Ben hooked up quick and landed a 16″ bow. We were on the board in the first half hour. So far so go. Then I was lucky enough to hook and land a 17″ bow about a half hour after that. On a good pace! 20 minutes or so later I hooked up but felt the dreaded release and hook. I knew he came unbuttoned and my second fly found his tail. Foul hooked trout don’t count so after a quick net and release Ben was fishing again.
We needed one more fish! We got down to two minutes when Ben hooked up! I told Ben that I would get in position while he netted. I tied on the nastiest egg cluster pattern I had and threw a slab of mojo mud on the line. I told Ben that as soon as the fish was landed I would cast. I kid you not, with less than a minute left I saw a nudge and set the hook to a solid pull. Jim Good gave me a heads up that I had 10 minutes to land it. A nice 10-15 yard run of line and I was living the dream. Then my monster trout started coming right in.
No…… please no…… not now…. please not now. I’ve felt this fight before. I’ve been burned by this fight before. Yes, it was……………a sucker. A beefy egg faced sucker! Last year I broke a rod on a huge last minute bow…. And now a sucker burn with the clock at zero…… terrible 1st world problem to have.
BUT,…… we had put three descent fish on the board. We knew not posting four fish in the afternoon would make it very hard to place but we also knew that the conditions on the water were tough.
I think both of us figured we’d done well but didn’t know if we did well enough to place. I couldn’t believe that we were even considering the thought of placing. We have a LOT of REALLY good fisherpeeps (cannot forget our ladies) teaching our trout lessons year round in our great state of Colorado. Just to be close was a great feeling.
I’ve never won an award for fishing before. This was sweet! Bringing home hardware from a hard days fishing. Life is really good. I’m making Ben Most Valuable Fisher (MVF) for the 2014 FBFO. Thanks buddy! Can’t wait for next year.
On a very personal note, I would like to thank my Dad who introduced me to fishing at a young age. I learned from the get go that fishing isn’t all about catching fish. Thanks Dad! Looking forward to many more write ups.
For more information on fishing the Arkansas River Tailwater in Pueblo Colorado check out my blog at http://jamiesfishingjournal.blogspot.com . To book a trip to this great fishery head over to http://www.steelcityanglers.com and talk to Ben and Lou.