Friday, August 6, 2010

The Epic 2010 Native Road Trip Part 1 - The Southern Swing

I have to begin this series of entries by thanking a few people for making this trip of a lifetime possible. First, I have the best wife in the entire world! After all we've been through in the last year, with the transfer and all of the headaches that go with it, she told me I needed this vacation!

Second I would like to thank a few of my native angler brethren: Dave Balducci of The Native Trout Angler, Gary Marsten of Native Trout Fly Fishing, and Ned Morris whom I met on the Native Trout website: The Angler's Life List. All three provided detailed information on where to obtain 15 different species/sub-species in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Nevada. Dave even made the trip from the San Francisco bay area to help us search for paiute cutthroat.

Now to the road trip of a lifetime...After 28 hours of driving, we left West Virginia at 8:30 PM on July 22, we found ourselves at the trailhead for the first adventure: New Mexico's Gila trout (Oncorhynchus gilae gilae). New Mexico has done an outstanding job restoring these fish from the Endangered Species List and in 2007 they opened a few streams to angling.

This particular stream is 7 1/2 miles from the trailhead, across some of the most rugged terrain I have hiked across.

From the trailhead sign, there is a high peak immediately to the right. We passed through the saddle to the right of the peak and two more ridges beyond.

The photo above was taken from the top of the first ridge. There are four ridges in this photo; our stream would be beyond the second ridge and straight down from there.

We finally made it to the final ridge, where the downhill would begin. It is also the location where the West Fork canyon drops in - the West Fork is also the lower end of the open, fishable water.

Once we hit water, it didn't take long to land my first Gila trout.

They are a beautiful little fish in a very rugged landscape. However, they are thriving in this rugged area! My partner and I probably caught 50 fish each in the three hours we fished, including a Gila double.

It's hard to explain the appearance of the gila: maybe a cross between a brown, a rainbow, and a Snake River cutt.

The lower end of the open water was a series of waterfalls and crystal clear plunge pools.

It was hard not to tie on a woolybugger and dredge it through the pools. This method produced my largest gila of the day.

As I said, the gila trout are doing quite well in this stream!

With the long hike out still ahead of us, we fished only for three hours. The hike up and out was brutal, and I ran out of water about a mile from the trailhead in the afternoon New Mexico sun. Between the cobble-filled trails and the heat, it was one of the toughest hikes I have ever completed. Six hours of hiking and three hours of fishing, and I'd do it all again in a second.

After re-hydrating and briefly recovering at the trailhead, it was off to Arizona's Apache Sitgreaves National Forest - about 100 miles to the northwest.

This National Forest was unusually crowded. I had never been in the area before and I didn't expect this type of crowding in the Arizona backcountry. We finally found an empty campsite and set up camp in a light rain. After a long first day, it was a quick dinner of a bowl "college" noodles and an early turn in.

We awoke to the sound of a pack of coyotes yipping as the raced across the nearby fields. Dave had recommended we fish the Apache stream early to avoid the thunderstorms. With that in mind, we were on the stream before 8:00 AM. We prospected up the meadow until we reached the first feeder stream, where I picked up my first Apache trout (Oncorhynchus gilae apache) - just as Dave had predicted.

I didn't pick up any Apache trout of size but I did catch this little guy that appeared to have eaten something his own size - his stomach was quite large.

Unlike me, my partner for the trip, Nathan landed a decent Apache at the entrance to the tree line.

We had only fished for a couple of hours when the rumble of thunder ran us off the stream. I would liked to have had more time to try to land something a little bigger than six inches, but this storm was serious.

From this stream it was north to I-40, then west into California and the southern Sierras, where we would attempt to complete the California Heritage Trout Challenge.


1 comment:

Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) said...

Atta boy Chris - sounds like a serious start to your trip. can't wait for the next installment. That southwest route was supposed to be what I did this summer, but that brookie trip unexpectedly popped up. Hopefully I'll follow your footsteps next year.

-scott c