Sunday, May 31, 2009

One of the Guys - Blennerhassett TU Campout

Our local Trout Unlimited chapter has an annual campout on the East Fork of the Greenbrier River just outside of Durbin, West Virginia. This year's campout would be the first for my 9-year-old son.
We hadn't been out together since our Easter weekend trip to the Smokies. We didn't catch a fish that weekend, but the end of May in West Virginia would most definitely be different!

We decided to go to camp early Friday, hoping to meet a couple of fellow chapter members. With nobody in camp we decided to do a little exploring. This particular watershed is fairly new to me. I've backpacked fingerling browns into the extreme headwaters but I've haven't explored many of the tributaries.
By the time we had reached stream number one, it was well past lunch time so first order was to have a bite to eat. While we were gearing up and having lunch, one of our chapter members pulled up on this narrow dirt road. He was headed to the main branch but I thought it was quite a coincidence.
It didn't take long to pick up our first fish of the trip - a beautiful little brookie in the very first pool.
After quickly picking up a few more of these little guys I put the fly rod in Ross' hands. I helped him roll cast into small pockets on this little stream you could jump across. After spooking a couple of brookies, he finally got a hook set. I was standing immediately behind him when he set the hook and he must have been pretty excited. That little brook trout went completely over his shoulder and had I not ducked, I probably would have eaten that one.
Ross' first solo brook trout, wearing my waders and wading boots:

With positive confirmation this stream had a healthy population of brook trout, it was time to head to stream number two. By this time Ross had decided to lose the waders for a pair of shorts and water moccasins.
It was a short quarter-mile hike to this stream behind a locked USFS gate. The lower end of this stream was very similar to the first stream, low gradient. Also like the first stream, it didn't take long to start picking up brookies. I caught several brookies but none were bigger than this guy.
As I fished upstream, Ross was happy to follow along checking out the rocks. I turned once to see him stripping off his shirt, apparently he had taken "a dip". The water and air temperatures were moderate, but with no sign of larger fish I decided to call it quits on this stream. Again, confirmation of a good brook trout population.
Once back to the vehicle Ross was anxious to get back to camp to meet some of the fellow campers. We called it a day on the water and headed for camp.
We arrived at camp in the early evening and we were still the first in camp. While we were waiting, we unloaded our gear in the bunkhouse and I grabbed the rod again. There is a very small stream running right through the camp and I had a few minutes to kill.
I missed the first two small fish but picked a couple more of these little guys.
Three new streams, three confirmed brook trout populations.
Soon after, folks started arriving in camp for the night. It was a great evening with a campfire, a nice steak dinner, and great fish stories. Ross made several new friends but the long day of driving and fishing had him ready for an early night's sleep.
Ross was the first to bed that night and even though the night involved falling out his bunk, he was still the last to wake. He would have slept longer had I not rolled him out of his sleeping bag.
Day two would put us on the lower end of my favorite wild rainbow stream. Ross had seen enough brook trout, he wanted to see rainbows. This stream is "polluted" with wild rainbows and native brook trout, but it would be the rainbows we were after this day.
Once on the stream, again it didn't take long to complete this simple task. It wasn't the largest wild rainbow I have caught in this stream but it was Ross' first wild rainbow - complete with par marks.
Unfortunately for this stretch of this stream, it is also choked with the invasive didymo algae. For this reason I wear Aquastealth soles on my wading boots and Ross wore his rubber-soled water moccasins.
I was interested in seeing how far upstream this invasive had spread, so we jumped on the trail and hiked upstream for a while.
The limestone cobble trail was difficult for Ross to walk on in his mocs and after about a half-mile we headed for water. I was shocked at the amount of didymo in the stream, but it hadn't affected the fish population - YET!
I was attempting to pick up a little bigger rainbow for Ross to see and I thought I had done so when I hooked this guy.
It is very unusual to catch more brookies than rainbows in this stream, but that's exactly what I did as I picked up three more of these nice brookies.
We had developed quite a process: I would hook, land, and photograph the fish while Ross would release it.

I did pick up one nice, little rainbow but he was a bit camera shy. Having seen enough of the didymo and picking up some very nice brook trout, we called it a quits on this stream.
Having waded in the didymo stream, we had no immediate plans to "stream hop", even though we both wore rubber-soled shoes .
Ross and I visited Seneca Rocks during our March fishing trip. This photo was taken during our earlier visit.
Ross told me during the early visit that he wanted to climb the Rocks. What he wanted to do was rock climb, but he would have to settle for a hike to the top of the Rocks. This would allow our wading shoes time to dry out in the heat of the vehicle while we made the hike to the top.

Shortly into the hike, we found this guy on a trailside boulder.
When we found him he was minding his own business but that was the pose he gave us when Ross decided to grab him by the tail. These black rat snakes are harmless and even make good pets but they sure don't like to have their tail tugged.
We left him to go about his business, but a little further up the trail we ran into his twin bother.

This guy was directly above the trail on the steep hillside rubble. There would have been no place to go had he decided to strike, so after a couple of quick photos we continued on our separate ways.
Before long we were at the overlook, looking down on the specks that would be the vehicles in the parking lot where our car was parked.

The overlook is on the far edge of the Rocks themselves and just above the overlook we found this sign - we would go no further!

It was an uneventful hike back to the vehicle but even with that we were not done exploring some of the area attractions. In the area we also had Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

Another sixty minutes in the vehicle would allow our shoes to dry further; it would also put us on top of Spruce Knob.

The temperature was much cooler up here and the wind was absolutely ripping. We put on another layer of clothing and made the short walk to the observation tower. From the observation tower you had a magnificent view of the extreme headwaters of the beloved wild rainbow stream.

With the wind cutting through us, we didn't stay on the tower long and we made a hasty retreat to the vehicle. On the way back we stopped to snap a shot on the highest landmass in West Virginia.

Already this year Ross has been to the highest point in Tennessee (Clingman's Dome - 6,643 feet) and now the highest point in West Virginia (Spruce Knob - 4,861 feet ).

On the way down from Spruce Knob, headed back for camp, Ross decided to take a nap. While he was napping, I stopped to take some shots of the columbine in bloom.

While not particularly unusual in West Virginia, what is amazing is that this flower was blooming in Tennessee nearly six weeks earlier during our trip to the Smokies.

With time to quickly hit one more stream on the way back to camp, I pulled off the side of the highway and jumped over the bank to one more new stream. Again, I picked up a fat little brookie in one of the first pools in this high gradient section of stream.

I picked up one more equally fat brookie in the five minutes I fished and "stung" a very solid fish.

Arriving back on the camp side of the divide with time to hit the main branch, we stopped in a USFS campground and geared up with one more task at hand. I typically only target brown trout during the Elkhorn clean-up but I would make an exception this time. Ross had seen a brook trout and a rainbow trout - why not a brown trout? This section of stream receives an annual stocking of brown trout fingerlings so I thought I would try to pick up one of the fingerling stockers.

I picked up a nice little silvery brown on top and another on the small pheasant tail dropper, unfortunately they were both camera shy. No big deal, they were just brown trout!

We returned to camp for another evening of campfire, nice meal, good company, and good fish tales. And again, it was early to bed for Ross and myself and late to rise for Ross.

We decided not to fish our last day, simply a long car ride home. It did not matter as we have two more weekend camping trips planned over the next three weeks.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Turning 40 Over 14,000 Feet

In an effort to recreate some of my blog entries from my previous blog site, I offer this entry report of how I celebrated my 40th birthday in September 2007.

I have always been fascinated by Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks but I had never wanted to give up a day of fishing to climb one. I wasn't (and still) getting any younger so in August of 2007, on the 10-hour car ride home from the family vacation, I made my sales pitch to the wife. I told her I only turn 40 once and I would really like to celebrate on top of one of those 14,000-foot peaks. In my mind it was a pipe dream when I made the pitch as I had already spent two weeks in the Rockies in July. To my surprise she said "go ahead". WOW!
I made my last minute airline and rental car reservations and scoped out which 14er would be my goal - I wanted short and easy. I also scoped out an acclimation hike in Rocky Mountain National Park and I would also try to catch the elusive Colorado River cutthroat. I had yet to catch the Colorado River species in Colorado, so hopefully I could kill two birds with one stone.
On Friday September 7, 2007 I was on my way to Denver and my younger brother's place in Westminster.
Before dawn on September 8, I was headed to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Timber Lake trailhead.
I was relatively new to the alpine lake trout fishing, but how hard could it be as they're easy quarry in the streams. The 5.3-mile hike to the Timber Lake, just above the 11,000 foot barrier, was more difficult than what I had imagined. After I passed the intersection with Long Meadows trail, Timber Lake trail turned straight up for about the next half mile.
I made the hike in just under two hours and when I crested the cirque, this was my view.

I was expecting crystal blue but what I found was a pale green. Apparently the lake had just "turned over". I am not exactly sure what happens, physically, when a lake turns but what I do know is the only fish I saw was a dead cutthroat - and I walked completely around the lake.
I thought the Colorado River cutt was going to elude me again. I had a bite to eat and decided to lick my wounds and head out. As I dropped out of the lake cirque, the stream that drains from the lake runs through a nice little meadow...what the heck, I'm here.
The stream was about two feet wide and about two feet deep, so getting a fly on the water was like threading a needle. The first pocket I placed the little caddis in produced exactly what I was looking for. My first Colorado, Colorado River cutthroat!

Every little pocket I could "thread the needle" produced one of these little beauties.

I fished this little meadow section for about an hour and nearly every pocket produced. These little guys were nearly as beautiful as their Greenback cousins on the east side of the park.

Considering the size of the water I was fishing some of these little guys had decent size.

I fished through the small meadow to where the stream entered the tree line and gradient increased significantly (along with the trail).

Once the trail returned to the stream at the intersection of Long Meadows trail, I decided to make a few more drifts before I packed up the rod to hit the trail out. The cutts were still there and they were still just as colorful.

With 3.5 miles of hiking and two hours of driving ahead of me, I pushed the pace on the way out. My younger brother had a great birthday prize lined up for me!

We were going to see my first Colorado Rockies baseball game. It just so happened that they were playing the San Diego Padres and it just so happened the starting pitcher for the Padres was none other than future first-ballot Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

I also got to watch another first ballot Hall of Famer and all time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. What a great birthday present from my younger brother!

I couldn't celebrate long because I had to be at the Gray's Peak trailhead the next morning shortly after dawn. So, in the early AM of Sunday September 9, 2007 (my 40th birthday) I was sitting at 11,200 feet of elevation at the trailhead of my first 14er...and my younger brother was going to join me.

The trail started in a series of stair steps for about the first half-mile. The first half-mile would be about all my brother could handle. The elevation was already getting the best of him, he was already bent over sucking air. With over 3 miles remaining, I made the decision to send him home as there was no way he could make this hike. I told him to just come back later and pick me up in a few hours - I figured four hours to the top and three more to get back down.

This was my first view of my goal, Gray's Peak (14,270 feet), the ninth highest peak in Colorado.

At about 12,000 feet you can see Grays and it's twin brother to the right, fellow 14er Torreys Peak (14,267 feet).

Shortly after gaining the ridge above the small summit in the forefront of that photo, the pace slowed drastically as the incline increased proportionately. The last 1.5 miles would be completed in increments of 50-100 yards at a time.

For perspective of the incline, I took this shot within sight of the summit, looking back down on where I had traveled. From about 13,000 feet to the summit, it is a series of switchbacks.

I gained the summit in just under three hours! Celebrating 40 years over 14,000 feet!

I rested, had a bite to eat, and snapped some shots of the incredible views. I wished I had brought a cell phone as the other hikers were making celebratory phone calls from the summit.

A shot looking across the saddle to Torreys Peak to the north.

Looking down to the northwest at this beautiful crystal blue alpine lake.

Another wonderful view, looking down at the clouds to the southwest.

After about thirty minutes on the summit the crowd started to grow, so I made the decision to head down. I did meet another climber who was celebrating his birthday on the peak.

Most of the other hikers were headed down the saddle to bag Torrey's in the same trip. Not me, the single 14er was all I wanted! I ran distance all throughout junior high, high school, and college. I have also completed 3 half-marathons and to that date that was the most physically challenging task I had ever completed.

I passed several other hikers heading up as I was heading down. All told, there were probably 50 people climbing on this beautiful September day.

I reached the trailhead about two hours before I told my brother to pick me up. I had summitted in an hour sooner than I had anticipated and descended another hour quicker. With two hours to kill, I found a nice pine tree to curl up under and I took a nice nap.

Early the next morning I would again be on a plane, but I had a few more "notches on my belt" than when I had flown out. First Colorado River cutthroat in Colorado, watch 2 first ballot Hall of Famers, and my first 14er!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Year in the Making

This particular backcountry adventure has been nearly a year in the making. Attempting to mesh my busy schedule and my friend's equally busy schedule has been quite a task.

We finally found a window that worked for both of us and it just happened to be Memorial Day weekend. Knowing the streams get crowded on holiday weekends, we figured the 3.5-mile hike would thin out the herd a little.
My Friday ended at the ball fields at midnight and when the alarm went off at 3:30 AM, I thought to myself this is going to be a looong day!
I met my friend at 5:00 AM and we headed for the trailhead. I have made this trek a couple of other times but this would be the first for him. It's 2.5 miles to the top of Allegheny Mountain (the eastern continental divide) and another mile straight down to the water. Once at the stream, we geared up and hiked on downstream with plans to fish back to the trail.
These are typical sights in the rugged, canyon section of this stream.
By the time we decided to start fishing, the sun still had not hit the water in the deep canyon - and I'm not sure the sun EVER hits some of this water.
You have to love it when you start the day off with these two in the same pocket:
They were diggin' the 18 BH pheasant tail dropper!
Shortly after I caught what would be my biggest brookie of the day:
I continued to pick up fish, a good mixture of wild bows and native brookies.
I caught my friend checking out the cruisers in the pool below, it also gives perspective to the falls.
I think this may be one of the sections that never see direct sunlight. It's also a good "Where's Waldo" shot.

After fishing for a couple of hours, we stopped at one of the several nice campsites for lunch. My friend parked his rod on a streamside snag while we ate. For some reason I was impressed with the balance of the rod.
Shortly after lunch he picked up what would probably be the biggest fish of the day - a trophy brook trout anywhere.
As we fished back to the trail, the fishing did not slow all morning. It was probably 70/30 mixture of rainbows to brookies and probably 80/20 dropper to dry. I had pockets of water where I caught three fish, two pockets I caught four, and one pocket just below this set of falls that I caught SEVEN.
My friend nicknamed the small pocket the "clinic hole" as I put on a clinic, pulling seven rainbows of multiple age classes out of it.
Following that display, I finally convinced him to add a dropper.
The gradient drops after you move above that set of falls - the largest on the entire length of the stream.
I had also never caught a brookie above those falls (that I can recall). I did, however, pick up a couple of brookies above the falls including this nice little specimen:
Knowing we had a grueling 4-mile hike back to the vehicle we called it a day when the mid-afternoon sun started heating up. But before we headed back up and over Allegheny Mountain, I always like to try to catch one more before hitting the trail.
What a way to end the day of fishing, the same way I started it, with a beautiful brookie!
The journey out wasn't bad as we stopped several times along the stream that follows the trail on the west side of the divide. We were stopping to check out the brilliantly colored brookies in the tiny pools of the small stream. In one small pool we counted five nice brook trout!
During our day in the backcountry on the holiday weekend, we saw over twenty other people (3.5 miles from the closest trailhead) but not a single other fisherman. All of these individuals were hikers enjoying the beautiful scenery and the great weather.
I must be getting old or I'm getting out of shape because I'm a little sore today (and it was only about ten miles of hiking). Even a little sore, I would do it all again in a heartbeat!