Friday, June 27, 2014

I'm Back...Finally!

I know it's been a while since my last entry but I have way too much time invested in this blog to let it slide.

The first half of 2014 has been CRAZY! I have made it out on the water a few times but work and my personal life have made it difficult to find time to update the blog. I believe work may be the main reason - at least that is where I'm placing the blame. The company I have worked for over 21 years sold the business sector I have been in for 6 of the last 8 years. The transition to the new company occurred on June 1 and things are finally starting to return to "normal".

My trips this year started with a day trip, then an overnighter, then a pack trip...I like how this is progressing!

My first entry will be of the day trip I took on Good Friday and it turned out to be a good Friday. I took another coworker to my favorite stream in order to give a one-day lesson in fly fishing.

The temperatures at night had been dropping into the upper thirties but the day temps were climbing into the lower sixties, so I knew there would be no need to get up there early. My coworker is also a Texas A&M Aggie, so I didn't know what to expect from him. : ) Texans are a different breed.

We arrived on the water about 9:00 and it was still pretty chilly. My partner didn't have waders and I hang mine up in March so we were both wet-wading. I could feel a little sting on my feet so I'm positive it was brutally cold for him.

For the first 2-3 hours I stood over his shoulder, working with him on reading the water, fly placement, drift, and tending the fly line...the basics. The water was just too cold, the fish weren't looking up for dries yet and I wasn't about to put him on nymphs.

We stopped for lunch and dug a few ramps before moving further upstream, all while waiting on the water temperatures to raise. After lunch, I basically turned him loose and I was fishing a few runs myself. When we reached a spot where the trail was well above the stream we spotted a couple of nice, wild rainbows.

We dropped down over the bank and split up. He was still working the dries and I had tied on a small, olive woolybugger. In the first small run, I hooked a very nice rainbow under the large rock where I was standing. I played it downstream to where I could land it but he got off at my feet before I could get a photo. It was a solid 14" wild rainbow and I didn't get a photo. I guess it's true what people say, the big one always gets away (stay tuned because it doesn't ALWAYS get away).

From this point on the stream, we decided to start fishing back toward the vehicle as we were about two miles upstream by this point.

Our luck would change in our next pool and my partner caught his first trout - on a fly rod and a nice, native West Virginia brook trout to boot!



He seemed to have the technique of the drift down and was reading the water good, so I left him to fend for himself and I went to check out a few runs for myself.

By this time it had warmed up nicely and the fish were starting to look up. I was fishing my normal early season rig of a small caddis with a beadhead dropper. The size 16 black stones were popping off, so I tied on a black stonefly nymph. Some wanted the nymph...


...and some wanted the dry.


And then...I walked up on a nice pool with a root ball just below the head of the hole. Remember, the big one doesn't ALWAYS get away.

This may be my biggest brook trout out of this stream.


It was a nice male, with a well defined kipe.


I don't know that there was anything else that stood out after this fish. I picked up several smaller rainbows and brookies. My partner may have not landed another fish but this was another memorable fishing experience, both for the big brookie and getting another fisherman started on the water.

With the fishing behind us, we had enough time left in the day to show him around the area and what beauty West Virginia has to offer.

Seneca Rocks, dinner at Hellbenders in Davis, and Blackwater Falls.


We were also treated to an amazing sunset as we left Thomas and drove past the windmills. The end to a nearly perfect day.


Chris

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day Trippin' Renewed

After fishing the trib where I caught my first native brook trout during my WV Trout Bum adventure in early June, this stream has been on my mind since.

The weekend before, I spent a day hiking the extreme headwaters of this watershed; taking in the fall colors and catching brookies above the lake named after the main stem stream. Here are a couple of shots from the hike and a couple of brookies:


The above shot is from the Snowshoe Resort fire tower, looking down the Shavers Fork watershed toward Spruce.

 
The beginning of Shavers Fork below Shavers Lake.

 
Shavers Lake and couple of small brookies from tiny Shavers Fork above the lake.
 

 
That day hike did two things for me: One, remind me I need to update my hiking blog and two, put the Upper Shavers bug back in my brain.
 
So...with vacation days to burn and work driving me to GET AWAY, I made a day trip to where it all started for me.
 
I had planned on doing the trip solo but I got a text from a young friend whom I haven't fished with since our mega-roadtrip in 2010. Three years, where has the time gone?!
 
The day started well before daylight and 3-1/2 hours later we were at the end of an 11-mile, dead-end, dirt road. It was 37 degrees when we got out of the vehicle - a great day to wet wade!
 
After two miles of railroad it was time to hit the water. What a beautiful fall day!

 
As I strung up the rod and tied on my dry/dropper rig, I reflected on the beauty of the Upper Savers area.

 
The air was brisk, the water was cool, and the "catching" was slow. We did manage a few small brookies and Nathan landed the first small, wild rainbow of the day.

 
Shortly after he landed his first wild rainbow, I landed my one (and only) rainbow of the day.

 
I know the camera never captures the true colors of the real experience and the photo of that rainbow was no different. That rainbow had a golden tint to it - it reminded me of the Kern River rainbows Nathan and I caught on that small trib of the Kern during our California Heritage Trout Challenge expedition.
 
As I catch wild rainbows in my explorations of blue lines, I often wonder the origin of the hatchery strains from which they came. This is why I do what I do!
 
As I mentioned the fishing was slow and I was disappointed to not see any paired up brookies doing their fall dance. Maybe in this "connected" trib they return to the main stem to do their dance??
 
As the temperatures (water and air) warmed up we started picking up small brookies on top - but no size.


 
I'm not sure where all of the larger brookies were hiding on this day, but that's OK, in the name of Henry David Thoreau:
 
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after".
 
I did have a goal for this day, which is something I don't typically do. I wanted to make it to a feeder trib that a friend had told me about over a glass of home-made wine.
 
We made it to the small trib and found small brook trout hanging out in nearly every small pool. The stream was high gradient - I love fishing like this!
 

 
After scrambling up this small trib a short distance, I knew time on the stream and the day was winding to a close.
 
It was 2-hour hike back to the vehicle, with the first 1-1/2 being bushwhacking...there's no trail here!
 
When we got back to the car, I was beat, but it was a good beat down. The refreshing feeling of being miles from nowhere, and adding another blue line to my personal life list is what it's all about!
 
I may not get another opportunity to get out this fall, if not, this was as good as any to end the season with.
 
Chris






Sunday, September 1, 2013

Colorado 2013 - Rocky Mountain National Park Backcountry

Earlier this year I received an amazing invitation from a fellow backcountry blogger. Keith is a resident of Colorado and maintains the blog Colorado Alpine Angler. He sent me an invitation I couldn't possibly turn down - a long weekend in the RMNP backcounry.

I've fished all over the park but I've never taken the time (as Keith did) to secure a backcountry campsite permit, so I was all over this opportunity! In addition, our location is known as one of the best greenback cutthroat fisheries in the park.

I got a message a few weeks before the trip date that he had his other party members back out and he asked if I knew of anybody that was interested - and capable. I have only two friends here in the east that have the highcountry experience to pull off a 10-mile backpack trip to 11,000 feet. One declined and the other received the trip from his wife as a surprise birthday gift. My traveling partner would be my annual Brookiebum partner and a 2008 "Colorado Cuttslam" partner, Phil.

Now we were set, the plan was to hike part way in the first day, get acclimated, then finish off the remaining distance (and altitude gain) the second day. The trailhead sits at ~7,600 feet and the first three miles, to night one camp was uneventful with only 1,000 feet of elevation gain in three miles.

We set up camp in the Comanche Peaks Wilderness Area.



It is nice when your host, and experienced backcountry adventurer, pulls out the exact same tent - MSR Zoid. All three of us were packing the same model tent, although Phil's is a 2-man version. It's a shame these are no longer manufactured.




Having been up since 5:00 AM (EST), it was an early night - before sunset. We also had seven miles and nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain waiting on us the next morning.

As typical on my backcountry adventures, when it starts getting light out, I'm up. I had "breakfast", packed up camp, and was ready to roll by 6:30 AM.

The first couple of miles went by easily but when we entered the park and made it to this campsite, reality started to sink in. Only halfway through the elevation gain?!



It's a good thing we were following the North Fork of the Big Thompson to take my mind off the climb. I would have loved to drop my pack and wet a line.

 
I didn't break my camera out for any more of the journey and I'm ashamed to admit it took me five hours to hike that seven miles...note to self: get in shape!

We finally made it to our destination and I gladly dropped my pack. I recovered for probably thirty minutes before I even thought about setting up camp.

I quickly recovered from my fatigue (probably 80% mental) as I set up camp and thought: this is the view from my front porch for the next three nights.


With camp set up, it was time to get down to business...chasing greenbacks!

Phil landed the first greenback of the trip from directly in front of camp.


I soon landed my first greenback of the trip on a big fuzzy yellow caddis...


...I could tell this was going to be an above average trip - no average 6" stream resident greenbacks here!

There were fish rising everywhere! I quickly landed three greenbacks that all probably average 12"! Unfortunately, as quick as the "catching" started, it ended the same way. With the fishing slowing down, it was time to relax in camp and make dinner.

It was a nice relaxing evening in camp, talking fishing and backcountry locations. Keith is quite a reference for these Colorado adventures. I could listen to his trip reports for days - I am green with envy of some of his trips.

I was in the tent before dark again and up again early with anticipation of my favorite high country event. I love the alpenglow! There is nothing more amazing than the colors you see on the high peaks before the sun hits them directly.

Pictures don't do the reality justice, these high peaks were glowing with an orange hue!


The plan for day two was a hike to the lake in the extreme head of the watershed. It was about a mile from camp with additional elevation gain. Our destination was over the ridge and to the back of the cirque in the above photo. We were headed to the edge of treeline and a lake that was supposed to hold larger than average greenbacks.

The initial climb wasn't too bad. I had obviously fully recovered from the hike in - I had also dropped my 50-pound pack! As we climbed toward our destination the view back toward camp was very nice.


As we crested the final ridge, we caught a first glimpse of the lake - BEAUTIFUL!


As we stood on the ridge, something caught my eye below us. Something big and black...

 
I quickly dropped my day pack to dig out my telephoto lens.



Even though he had to be 400 yards away, we had him spooked and this very nice bull moose was making tracks.

The moose at 11,000' was an added bonus but that's not what we were after. We quickly dropped down to the lake, slogged through the outlet to make our way around to the deep side of the lake. I've only fished an alpine lake one other time so I was following Keith's lead.

Keith picked out a promising looking spot and I dropped my pack to rig up my rod. I'm usually pretty quick at getting rigged up and getting a fly on the water but I couldn't help but notice all of the cruising greenbacks in front of me.

 
While I was busy snapping off photos of cruising greenbacks, Keith was busy landing them. He caught three before I ever got a line on the water - including this beauty!



It started off on fire and it never slowed down! The average size fish was about 14" and at times it was every cast! Here are a few of the many...






 
 
...and finally this guy. I've caught California Golden trout in their native watershed and I've seen photos of lake goldens introduced to Wyoming. This guy looks as if he had some lake golden in him - although I knew he didn't. Regardless, another beautiful specimen!

 
 
I sometimes get bored with catching fish and I sometimes found myself just sitting on a rock, taking in the amazing scenery and watching my partners land fish after fish. This lake is now in the top 5 adventures I've had chasing native salmonids.
 
We fished to mid-afternoon when we made the decision to fish another lake on the way back to camp. Lake number three of the trip:


 
As with the first lake of the day, Keith was on fish quickly. We didn't fish long at this lake but I had to work hard for my one greenback from this lake.

 
After landing greenbacks in both lakes, it was time for the hike back down to camp for dinner and a little resting of the casting arm. I used a 9' 4wt rod that I hadn't used in years and when you're accustomed to throwing a 1wt bamboo of a 000wt graphite rod, this was like casting a telephone pole. You also have to like it when your arm is tired from catching fish!
 
As with previous nights, it was early to bed and early to rise. Again I was up in time to catch the  alpenglow.




 
Day three would put us back in my comfort zone, small stream brookie fishing. We hiked downstream on the North Fork and jumped in at a nice meadow section. The fishing was tight and tough in the early morning...
 

 
...then the sun came up and the water temps rose just enough.



 
The stream eventually picked up gradient and it was pocket water fishing at it's best - my favorite type of small stream fishing.


 
 
When you are fishing small streams with a partner (or two), you take your turn. As I gave up the lead I was able to catch Phil doing what he does best - photography and videography.


 
It has been a couple of weeks since I have returned from this trip and Phil has had time to put together a nice little video.
 
There were even a few surprises as we fished the North Fork, from brook trout in the 10"-12" class to the occasional greenback.



 
We fished our way upstream, through a high gradient small canyon, to the point we were parallel to camp. We decided if we continued upstream further, the bushwhack back to trail would only get longer, so we called it a day on the small stream. 
 
When we made it back to camp, we had a quick lunch, then relaxed on the rocks along the lake until afternoon storms drove us into the tents. I had forgotten the sound of thunder in the high altitude. Phil was with my brother and I the first time I got caught above 10,000' during a thunderstorm and I'll never forget the feeling of the thunder when you are that close to it's origin. You can actually feel the thunder in your chest and I'm just glad the storm passed to the north of us, behind the mountain that was our camp backdrop.
 
The storm soon passed and we were back out and fishing the lake in front of camp again. The fishing was slow (for some of us) and I caught my last greenback of the trip.

 
 Phil and I decided to relax on the rocks again while Keith moved down to the lake inlet where he had very good luck. As we watched, Keith landed the biggest greenback of the trip - a very nice 18" fish!

 
Keith didn't stop there. Shortly after Phil and I returned to our rock, Keith's rod was bent again. I commented that he was fighting this fish for a long time, then he got out his net (he only did this on large fish). After he landed it, he looked our way, I gave him a "thumbs up", and he gave us an urgent arm wave to get down there NOW!
 
In this lake where we had landed several greenbacks, Keith had enticed this leviathan up to a dry fly.

 
This was the largest wild brook trout I have ever seen, a true 20" male with a very impressive lower jaw - as if the entire fish wasn't impressive enough. Keith agreed this was the perfect fish to end this adventure on.
 
We packed up our rods for the day and I boiled water for my final freeze-dried meal. Just as the water came to a boil, the storms rolled in again and I was forced to have my final dinner in the tent.
 
The storms forced us into the tents twice that last day and I ended up taking a couple of cat naps. Those naps made for a very long night. I don't know if it was the naps or the thought of the 10-mile hike out the next morning but it made for a very restless night.
 
I finally crawled out of my tent as it was getting light and walked to the edge of the lake. Phil had also gotten up by then, he walked toward the lake, then quickly ran back to the camp. My first thought was bear (we had to carry bear canisters in the park), but I soon found out we had other visitors in camp to see us off.

 
 We watched from the edge of the trees as this young moose nursed. That is something you don't see every day.
 
I hated to break camp, it's one of the most beautiful places I have ever pitched a tent.





As with all good things, they must come to an end, and by 7:30 AM we were on the trail with a 10-mile hike ahead of us.

During the hike down, and out, it was easy to see why I struggled on the way in - it was a steep climb. When you are not struggling, it's easier to snap off a few more shots of the trail.




 
We made it out in 4:45, quicker than the final seven miles going in, but it was a relief (again) to drop that pack!
 
We went straight from the trailhead to Estes Park for some real food. The pizza was some of the best I have ever had, but after four days of freeze-dried meals anything would have hit the spot.
 
This was one of the best backcountry adventures I have had, I hope Keith and I get an opportunity to do it again some day.
 
Chris