Sunday, March 29, 2009

Colorado 2008 - The Cuttslam

This trip started at 3:00AM in Parkersburg, WV with a 2-hour car ride to Akron and a three-hour flight to Denver. My partner on this adventure was a good friend, a fellow-native salmanoid lover, bamboo rodmaker, and a very good photographer.

After picking my younger brother up just outside Denver, we were in Rocky Mountain National Park catching those beautiful greenback cutthroat by 1:30PM MST.

This was waiting for me at my brother's place (Thanks Becca!):
The fishing was just as it has been the previous two trips into this stream - beautiful greenbacks in every pocket and all more than willing to take a small elk hair caddis. Phil caught his first greenback in short order - my brother and I had caught them on previous adventures into this stream - Stage 1 of the "slam" was then complete.

Phil's First Greenback:
After a few hours of fishing, we happened upon another pair of fishermen. We had no idea we were fishing used water and you couldn't have proven it by the numbers. Between the three of us, we were well over 50 fish in a few hours.

It was a good thing we were successful in a short period because I noticed the altitude was starting to affect Phil. When the natives are active, you typically have difficulty keeping up with him but he was sitting with his head in his hands - time to get down from altitude (9,500 feet).
Day two put us north of the park in search of greyling and fishing with one of Phil's fellow bamboo rodmakers. This adventure would start near the 10,000 feet barrier and it started slow. It must have taken well over an hour (wet wading in 45 degree water) before we even moved/spooked a fish.

Phil and I usually fish close to each other for the photo op's but we split up for a short period of time When we got back together he showed me the first greyling of the trip on the LCD panel of his camera. I am not a competitve fisherman but I don't like finishing last - even it is just out of two!

That one fish must have been a good omen because after that it was lights out (until the storms pushed us off the water). We had to have been near the 50 fish mark again with just two of us today. My guess would be 70-80% of those fish were greyling with the remainder being greenbacks - I did break off a very nice greenback trying to keep it out of a root ball.

This was everything I wanted on my little 1wt boo!

It was a hoot sight-fishing for those guys! That fluorescent aqua dorsal fin stands out like a sore thumb in that crystal clear water.

Caught a few more greenbacks:

When the storms pushed us off the water, we hiked back to the vehicle, where we ran into Phil's rodmaker acquaintence. We also ran into a couple of the biggest bull moose I have ever seen. On the way home that evening we also ran into a group of immature and ewe bighorns.

Day three of the adventure had us fishing with my brother on the west side of the national park chasing brookies. A short two-mile hike put us in the meadow section of what I have affectionately termed brookie heaven. This stream has slow moving holes with pods of up to 20 brookies.

I usually stop counting fish before I hit five, but this is a stream you can easily hit triple digits. I started with a small hopper but they seemed to just swat at the fly. I switched to my "go-to" fly, a size 18 EHC and again it was game on. I had one hole I caught seven brookies before putting the remaining fish down and one other hole I caught fish on three consecutive casts.

There was a trend that developed on the west side of the divide. At about 2:30-3:00 every day the skies would cloud up, the storms would roll in, and the skies would open up. On this day we spent over an hour under the cover of an overhanging rock while the thunder and lightning boomed through the high meadow - along with a little sleet and hail.

Let me tell you thunder sounds much different when you are in the clouds that create it!
Once the storms rolled through, we tried to fish in the rain but the temps had dropped significantly. Even in raingear I was cold, so we made the decision to head off the mountain. I didn't hit triple digits, but 57 in a little over three hours wasn't too bad.

We set up camp in Timber Creek campground, which we had to share with the resident herd of elk. They were present for dinner that evening and again for breakfast the following day.

Day four would be the ultimate test of my brother's endurance. The trailhead is 9,000 feet and it is 3.5 miles to the stream. If successful, this would be the final piece to his Colorado Cuttslam - the Colorado River cutthroat.

Once hitting the water, the fishing was slow but it was still early and the temps were still low. Once the temps start rising the fish count did the same. Phil and Matt both landed numerous Colorado River cutts, completing phase two for Phil and phase three for Matt.

Matt had caught the third and final cutt, the Rio Grande, on a September 2006 trip to the lower part of the state.

After "checking the box" on this day, we continued to push upstream. We fished some of the highest gradient water I have ever fished - it was like fishing in a stairwell!

Fishing Straight Up!
We pushed on to a very interesting section of this stream - the meadow section.
This meadow section is quite different than the meadow section of the previous day. This water is only two feet wide and in most places it is deeper than it is wide. If you can thread the needle and get a fly on the water, something will take a swipe at it.

After playing in the meadow section for a little while, I recommended we head out before the storms roll in and we would be hiking five miles in the rain.

Day five had Phil and I headed to the southern border of the state after the Rio Grande cutthroat, with a stop at a bristlecone pine stand.

Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pines
This stand of bristlecones contains trees that are over 800 year-old! It was humbling to stand among those ancient beings - some of those trees were 300 years old when Christopher Columbus stepped on the new continent!

After a brief tour of the bristlecones, it was on to the stream I had identified for the last leg of the slam.

After arriving on the stream and setting up camp, it was a quick trip to the stream as the storms brewed in the head of the valley. We fished some very nice looking water and did not move a fish. We ran into an older gentleman (from Ohio) who did not move a fish in five hours. He told us he didn't know what was wrong as he put it "this stream used to be lights out". As we were talking, another angler stopped by and expressed the same sentiment. We asked this guy for another alternative, he gave us a name with a wink, and we were off.

This stream would put us over 11,500 feet (the campsite was 10,700). Phil was able to complete his slam while landing a very nicely colored cutt. I caught what appeared to be a cutt-mix of some type and another that appeared to be a Snake River fine spot???

NOT a Rio Grande Cutthroat:
Day six would put us on another headwater stream that I had tried to find on a previous trip. We were unsuccessful finding either of two trails into this stream, so we made the decision to bushwhack into the headwaters.

Conejos River Valley
Let me tell you, bushwacking over 10,500 feet in Colorado is MUCH different than 2,000 feet through the hardwoods of West Virginia!

Our Destination Below!
We were able to find water and we did catch a few Rio Grande cutthroat, but with the treacherous hike ahead of us we made a short day of it....and it wasn't easy!

TRUE Rio Grande Cutthroat!

Day seven put us heading a little further north with a change in plans. I had gotten word the kokanee salmon were starting to gather in preparation for the fall spawn. I had never caught/seen one and we had a day to spare, so what the heck.
With some good internet bulletin board assistance and advice from Devin at Conejos River Anglers we had directions on exactly where to go and how to fish.

Upon arrival to the stream, it was easy to see the salmon pooled up b the hundreds. These fish were still "green" and neither of us knew what we were in store for.

Deep drifting red copper John's and red pheasant tails, we were able to hook up with a few. When you hooked up....HANG ON! Now I have caught decent size smallmouth bass and even a few nice trout, but nothing I have ever hooked in over thirty years of fishing has EVER fought like that.
A 16-18" fish on a 4wt and 4X tippet was everything you wanted. After three hours, multiple hook-ups, and a few landed we called it a day. We didn't quit because we were tired of catching fish, we quit because it was all our forearms and hands could handle - mine felt like rubber!

From this stream it was up and over the divide to another trailhead and the challenge of another 14er.

Campsite at Mt. Elbert Trailhead
(that's our destination in the background)

Our Route:

Day eight started in the dark with a temperature of 36 degrees. Ahead of us was 4.5 miles straight up with a destination over 14,400 feet - the second highest peak in the lower 48.
Nearly four and a half hours later we were standing on the summitt in the presence of another Mountaineer. About 100 yards from the summit, at the junction with Mt. Elbert's southeast trail, we ran into a fellow hiker wearing a WVU hat - what a small world.

On Top of the World!

Mt. Elbert's Neighbors
Mt. Massive (14,421 feet)
La Plata Peak (14,336 feet)

We spent about thirty minutes on the summit before starting our hike down. You would think the hike down would be easy - NOT! The trail was so steep, it made even the downhill an adventure. The trip down took well over two hours, but when completed it was one of the most satisfying adventures I have ever taken on.

Relief & Satisfaction!
After a nice big burger in Leadville, it was back to Denver with everything on our task list checked off.....greenbacks, greyling, brookies, Colorado River cutts, bristlecone pines, Rio Grande cutts, kokanee salmon, and Mt. Elbert.

With one day remaining, we decided to simply be tourists. We decided to head back into Rocky Mountain National Park to see a few areas I have yet to visit, mainly Old Fall River Road.

But first, we had a pilgrimage of sorts to make. We had to find Mike Clark's shop in Lyons. Mike is a very accomplished bamboo rodmaker, but probably more famous as a fishing partner of John Gierach.

I had been through Lyons several times but had no idea where his shop was located, and it is located on Main Street.

We found the shop and it was everything we thought it would be. There were Mike Clark rods, Bob White prints, AK Best-tied flies, and autographed Gierach books. I could have spent several thousand dollars in there, but I would not have survived when I got home. I did make out with an autographed 20th Anniversary of Trout Bum, an autographed Fly Fishing With AK Best, and a half-dozen of AK's flies.

Trout Bum
AK's PMD, St. Vrain Caddis, Western Green Drake, & Mellon Quill:

From there we made a loop through the east side of the park, back to Estes Park, then back to Matt's to catch the WVU game. I decided to take an alternate route from Estes Park to Lyons along "Gierach's St. Vrain" and I'm so glad I did!

We had great views of RMNP's only 14er (Long's Peak), Mt. Meeker (13,995 feet) and the canyon of the South Fork of the St. Vrain - and I'm sure at some point we had to have driven past John Gierach's home....and WVU won too.

RMNP - Old Fall River Road

RMNP - Trail Ridge Road
Long's Peak (14,255 feet) & Mt. Meeker (13,995 feet)

Gierach's St. Vrain Canyon (w/ crazy people included)

What a trip!

The link to the video:
Colorado 2008 - "The Cuttslam"

Also, check out Phil's photo collections:
Vandalia Image Works


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Passing It On

With the girls of the house planning a Twilight slumber party, my son and I decided it would be a good time to take our first fishing trip to the mountains with "just the boys".

I had inquired with a friend about a new watershed I had been planning on exploring. As I was about to head south on the interstate, I had a quick change of plans and instead pointed the vehicle east. I could explore anytime but today I wanted the boy to just catch it was off to familiar waters. I had briefly fished this stream last August when I was teaching a friend to fly fish.

On the ride over, while he wasn't sleeping, we had a quick conversation on what we were going to catch. He wanted to know if we were going to catch the fish we had stocked a couple of years ago and he wanted to know if we were going to catch a rainbow trout. I explained that we may catch a rainbow trout and that the brook trout were not stocked and had been there since the ice age. He seemed fine with that and then he went back to sleep.

The weather forecast was for mid-50's but when we left the vehicle the temperature was a chilly 26.

A short hike put us on very nice water. The fishing started out slow but we picked up a nice brookie in one of the pools below a man-made structure. Ross was happy to see the first brookie of the day.

Once we had that first fish under the belt, I started explaining the water and where the fish like to hide. I explained that with the low water temperatures the brookies were holding in the dead water just off the main current.

With that information, I now had a scout moving ahead of me looking for the next good spot. We picked up one more little brookie in holding water Ross had picked out.

Things were off to a good start, so I put the rod in his hands hoping he could hook into his own brookie. Without much practice on the fly rod, I put him fishing a small olive woolybugger downstream.

We took turns on the rod, actually it was mostly me fishing to water he picked out. He scouted ahead of and probably put most of the fish down, but I didn't care as long as he was staying interested.

We fished a short distance upstream before he decided it was time to eat. Looking back, I should have had something in my pack for him to snack on to keep us on the water longer. I gave him a couple of opportunities to continue fishing but it was finally time to head back to the car.

He was concerned that I didn't know how to get back to the vehicle, so I pointed out the blue diamond trail markers and explained they would lead us back to the car. Now it was a challenge to him to spot the next trail marker. This photo was taken on the trail a short distance from the vehicle.
After a quick lunch, he decided he would rather try a different stream as opposed to fishing the same stream again...that's my boy! Before we were off to our next stream, he asked if these streams were catch and release. My first thought was: where did he hear catch and release? I'm sure he has heard me talk about it to someone else and he had remembered it. I told him the streams were not catch and release and his response was "if those brook trout have been there since the ice age, they should stay there". The things kids will say!

We drove downstream then up and over the eastern divide to another stream I know that produces nice brookies. The first section I planned to fish was already taken, so we drove to the bottom end of the stream. We went up a smaller feeder stream but had no luck - only one miss and a lot of scrambling.

I had another stream in mind that produced well a couple of weeks ago. As I was changing out my setup, from the olive woolybugger to the dry/dropper rig that produced a couple of weeks prior. While I was rigging up he went to the bridge to check out the water. I had told him on the other streams that just because we could not see the fish, didn't mean they weren't there and that they hid very well.

While standing on the bridge with him, he looked at the water and asked what would happen if everyone caught all of fish out of the water. I told him that's why I turn everything back, so that someone else can catch the fish too. He said "everyone should turn all the fish back". I like how this kid thinks!

We hit the water and picked up another fish shortly thereafter. Now Ross was ready to give it a try again. He thought he had the casting down and then I explained at the same time you have to watch your fly and tend your line. It didn't sound that easy now but he was willing to give it a try.

The fishing was great, the catching not so good. We fished hard and could not pick up another brookie and Ross was getting hungry AGAIN. This section of stream was in a deep canyon, and nearly straight up to the stream. I gave him the option of following the stream back to the car or climbing the steep hillside to the road...he chose the road. We scrambled up the hill and through the loose scree just below the road. All I could think as I looked back was: there's a junior mountain goat in the family.

I explained that we were very close to Seneca Rocks and we could eat there. He was very interested in seeing this giant rock, so off we went.

Once he saw how big Seneca Rocks was and he could make out the figures on top, he decided he was going to climb it. I had to tell him he was going to climb it by himself because dad is not crazy like the rest of those people stuck to the rock walls.

Before we went back to the stream, we stopped back at the general store so we could put a couple of quarters in the spotting scope and get a better look at those "crazy people" climbing the Rocks. We could count over twenty people either on top or on their way up. He told me one more time that he was going to climb Seneca Rocks and I told him again that it would be without me and that I would be more than happy to meet him at the top (I would hike to the top).

We had time for one more stop, so we went back to the stream just on the east side of the divide. We fished downstream with woolybuggers again but only moved one brookie. When we got to this point, I put the rod in his hands while I took a few photos.

When I had finished snapping off a couple of shots, he was standing on the bank with rod in hand but no bugger. He said the fly "must have come off", afraid to tell me he had probably snagged it in a tree and broke it off. I told him that was OK, I had plenty more.

We walked up another little feeder, just to check it out for future reference. He said this was the most beautiful place he had ever seen.

To get back to the car we had to scramble up another high, steep bank to the road. Again, I thought this kid has a lot of mountain goat in him!

Before we crossed the divide, we stopped so I could show him where the stream comes right out of the ground. The picture is not the greatest, it's quite a distance across the field and even with a telephoto lens it is a difficult shot without a tripod.

We brought the camping gear but with a forecast of temperatures in the low 30's, we opted for a hotel room with a pool and hot tub. What a way to finish the perfect father/son day than with a dip in a pool and a nice long soak in the hot tub.

It was a great day!

Not fishing related, but another moment when I was so proud of my 3rd grader. My wife sent us a text message on the way home that said "good morning boys". I saw the text my son responded with, it said "you too" - with two "o's". I know quite a few adults that don't know the to/too grammar rules, but my 3rd grader does. I think I was more proud of this than I was of the way he performed on the water.

That's my boy!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Knocking the Rust Off.....In Style

The stars finally aligned and I made it out to the stream for the first time since October, 2008.

I had originally planned a solo, "mental cleansing" trip but a last minute call from a good friend gave me a great fishing partner for my first trip of 2009.

I had planned to fish a few tribs of one of my favorite WV wild trout streams. I scouted these streams out last fall but low water conditions prevented me from doing anything but camera fishing.

I wasn't sure what to expect after a five month layoff and mid-winter stream water conditions. The early March weather forecast called for temps in the upper sixties - NICE!

Once on the stream, I started with my typical low water temperature pattern, a small beadhead olive woolybugger. I fished a couple of nicer pools without moving a fish and then it happened - my first fish of 2009.

Talk about starting the year off right, a beautiful 12" wild rainbow!

The same pool yielded another small, wild rainbow but the rainbows were not what I had been searching for. This was section of water where I had underwater video footage of probably 30+ brookies pooled up last fall.

We fished up through the larger pools without moving another fish, which was actually not much distance but should have yielded something. Above the point where another feeder trib dumped in, the water got smaller and the large pools changed to pocket water. Fishing the small wooly bugger is not practical (or easy) in this small pocket water so I switched to a dry dropper rig.

I put a small royal wulff up top with an 18 bh pheasant tail dropped 6-8" below it. Little did I know this would turn out to be "the ticket" for the day. It wasn't too long after switching up I picked up my first brookie of 2009 - and I caught him on top!

As we moved upstream, I picked up a few more brookies on the dropper. One of the little jewels I picked up was this little guy. He wasn't the biggest or the prettiest, but for his size he was definitely the fattest. For a little guy, he had quite the gut on him:

With plans to fish two other tribs, we decided to wrap things up on this little trib. Things were looking very good so far. The fish were active and the air temps were climbing.

Before the next trib, we decided to grab a bite to eat down at "The Rocks". I also decided it was a nice enough day to shed the waders and do a little wet wading. The water temps were still pretty chilly, but I wasn't planning on wading above calf-level in these little tribs.

It appeared the day would continue to be productive as I caught this guy in the first pocket of the net trib. Again, on top in early March:

We fished a short section of this steam, then jumped back in the vehicle and headed to the top. Instead of the headwaters, we found private property so we returned down to the lower stretches.

We found a nice little high gradient section and scrambled down over the "cliff" to the stream. It's funny, my partner compared my scrambling abilities to that of a mountain goat - I compared his to that of a giraffe. The road was above right in this photo:

What's the big deal? It wasn't that far down. I told him I wouldn't make fun of his (lack of) fishing abilities, so I guess I'll poke fun at his (lack of) scrambling abilities.

As we fished up this little section, I continued to pick up one after another on the little pheasant tail dropper.

This was a beautiful little stream.....

but, with one more stream that I had to check out on the day, we decided to move on.

The last stream I had on the list for the day had purpose. I got word a couple of weeks back that the US Bureau of Land Management had plans to lease the oil and gas rights under this stream. I am not sure what damage the deep well mining will create for this stream, but I am quite sure this little stream can not handle the required water draw needed for hydro-fracturing.

The mission was quick and easy, simply prove this stream had a reproducing population of brook trout. It didn't take long to prove this, in less than fifty yards of stream I caught what appeared to be two or three generations of brook trout - and it only took about fifteen minutes.

Here's the proof (3 generations?):

I sure hope nothing comes from the oil and gas lease, I would sure hate to see anything detrimental happen to a stream of the caliber.....stay tuned.

With another box checked on the day, we had just enough time to hit one more trib. I have fished this stream multiple times but my partner for the day had yet to fish it. This stream is capable of putting up triple-digit days, but it wasn't to be today. The steep slopes along this stream hide it from the early season sun and it still had quite a bit of ice.

I did manage two more brookies in the short period of time we were on the stream, including this nice specimen in one of the first couple of pools.

What a way to begin a new fishing season! I checked off three more WV blue lines on my personal list, the air temps and the fish count were what I would expect for late spring, the brookies were feeding on top, and I was able to wet wade for the better part of the day.

I would say that is kicking the fishing year off in style!