FORT COLLINS - Help. Stop Matt Snider before my casting arm falls off.
In the dim, cold evening, Snider kept one eye on the tip of his fly rod and one eye on the arcs that depicted fish traveling across his sonar screen.
"Tell me when you want to leave because I'll stay here forever," he said. And he would have.
Snider, 33, is a fish explorer, one of those incurable thinkers whose every waking moment seems focused on natural and ethereal signs that might indicate a good bite is coming.
"Like the birds and animals," he said. "When they are active, I believe the fish will be, too."
He confessed that the birds and animals had been quiet at Horsetooth Reservoir on Wednesday. But they might start chirping and scurrying any time now.
How would you know if you aren't there, blowing on your frozen knuckles and keeping your flies wet?
The sonar had been speckled with fish almost everywhere we went. But most of those fish had been in no mood to bite. The water temperature bounced around 40 degrees, a little chilly to activate warm-water fish.
"I told you fishing would be slow," Snider said.
But here's the miracle. Even with cold water in mid-December and no chirping birds, the fish explorer snookered some surprising finned denizens into biting his flies.
Flies. No night crawlers, no hardware, no trolling, no bottom-bouncers or planer boards.
Snider likes Clouser-style bucktail minnows with dumbbell eyes to suggest the emerald shiners that swim in Horsetooth. He fishes gray, white and silver ones slowly, with sink-tip lines on a 7-weight fly rod. And he catches walleyes, of all things.
He's not what you'd call a fly-fishing snob.
"I'm just not very good with spinning gear," he says. "I've fished with guys using hardware, and we come out about even."
You aren't supposed to catch walleyes on flies. Who even thinks to fish for walleyes with flies? But Snider catches them all the time. He did it again Wednesday, from the fore casting deck of his Boston Whaler.
He also catches perch, crappie and bass when he isn't off somewhere psychoanalyzing surly tiger muskies. A few weeks ago, his Clouser fly also raised a brute of a 32-inch splake at Horsetooth.
"It's all about the puzzle pieces," Snider said.
He pointed to humps and ridges that scrolled across the sonar screen and to numerals that indicated subtle temperature changes in the water stream.
"I like to fish structure," he said.
In that arena, Horsetooth comes well-endowed, especially when it is 30 feet below full.
"When it gets low like this, you have so many more options," he said.
He twitched his minnow fly near bottom and set the hook. It wasn't a huge walleye, but it was a good walleye. And his next fish was a walleye. Then up came a yellow perch. For an off-bite, things were shaping up.
All this, of course, was research for his Web site, FishExplorer.com. Aspiring to learn, teach others and share the fishing puzzle, Snider, a professional Web designer, devotes much of his life to the science of fishing, in particular on lakes and reservoirs in Colorado.
He communicates with anglers and fish biologists. He compiles weather and water data. And he communes with his Boston Whaler in hopes his wife, Amy, also an angler, will understand that this is, after all, work.
The Web site includes lake conditions, fishing reports from correspondents, a fishing forum, maps, articles, links and tips on camping and access at lakes from the plains west to Vallecito Reservoir.
Snider also plans to add some pieces of the puzzle that might have slipped past the average angler, such as recent wind and weather history, which determine where the fish will be.
The site debuted in April and is a work in progress. Snider says he hopes fishermen will share some serious condition reports and make the project grow.
"We want people to help," he said.
Please help. But it's OK to quit before your casting arm falls off. View Slide Show