Tom Ross: Spillane hooks ‘monster’ rainbows |

Tom Ross: Spillane hooks ‘monster’ rainbows

Steamboat Springs fishing season officially is under way

Fishing guide Mike Wallisch, right, helped a pair of clients from Winnetka, Ill., catch and release a large rainbow trout from the Yampa River south of town March 2.

— To say that Johnny Spillane is on a roll would be an understatement. The guy has a baby on the way and a trio of newly minted Olympic medals in the trophy cabinet. But that's not all.

Now, Spillane is reporting on his Facebook page that he went fishing at midweek on a ranch outside Steamboat Springs and caught a couple of really big fish on the Yampa River.

I consulted my secret source in the fishing world, Deep Trout, and learned that Spillane caught a 25-inch rainbow trout in the morning and a slightly bigger rainbow in the afternoon.

Just two big trout, Johnny? Nah, there had to be more than that.

"We caught tons of fish including two monsters," Spillane wrote on his Facebook page.

Personally, I think Johnny was exaggerating. Do you realize how many trout it would take to add up to "tons of fish"?

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I don't sound jealous, do I? Hey, at least they weren't golden trout.

So, many of you are dying to know what fly pattern a triple Olympic medalist uses to catch a trout of Olympic proportions. In early March, the stoneflies are becoming active in the river, and Deep Trout tells me that Spillane was using a size 8 or 10 Pat's Rubber Legged Stonefly almost exclusively.

The location was private water on Whispering Willow Ranch (known to old-timers as the old Hudspeth Ranch) just downstream from the Colorado Highway 131 bridge.

The good news for everyone is that all of a sudden, the river has warmed up slightly and the ice has thawed all the way through town. Fishing season is on.

"March is going to be fantastic," Tim Kirkpatrick, of Steamboat Flyfisher, said. "Even a three-degree change in water temperature makes a difference this time of year. We've begun to see a little discoloration in the water in the afternoons" from low-level snowmelt.

This year is unusual in that 2009 fishing licenses are good through March 31. If you bought an annual license last year, you can continue to fish with it through the end of this important month, when the fish begin feeding more actively and full runoff hasn't shut things down until June.

March offers the added advantage that trout are easier to find than they will be the rest of the season. Brian Jarrell, a fishing guide at Steamboat Flyfisher, said the fish remain congregated in the deepest, slowest holes in the river. Once anglers have identified one of these spots, they won't have to search much farther for action.

You can stick with Spillane's fly pattern of choice, but Jarrell suggests that you can increase your odds by tying a second, smaller stonefly in black beneath Pat's Rubber Legged.

If you've always been curious about fly-fishing but all this talk of stoneflies sounds like mumbo jumbo, mark your calendar for March 19 to 21, when Steamboat Flyfisher will host a Spring Fly Fishing Rendezvous at the shop (35 Fifth St.) right next to the river.

There will be ample seminars designed for never-ever fly-fishers, including mini casting lessons and pointers about how to read water and recognize the places where trout hang out.

If someone close to you has no interest in catching slimy fish, bring them along for painting classes, wildlife photography pointers and even some streamside cooking lessons involving the art of the Dutch oven.

If you're a veteran fly-fisher who has worn out his casting arm, there will even be a clinic titled "Physical Therapy for Anglers."

You can pick up a full calendar of events at the fly shop.

Here's one more thing for Johnny and Hilary to think about. A well-fed 25-inch trout is bigger than most newborn babies.