Friday, August 13, 2010

The Epic 2010 Native Road Trip Part 5 - Heading Back East

I had no idea the last three sub-species in California would be so easy to capture. Just in case, though, I had a contingency plan for southeast Oregon. Again, Gary Marsten was able to set me up with four more sub-species in southeast Oregon.

Since we were nearly in Oregon when we caught the Warner Lakes redband, why not hop across the border and pick up a couple more?

We stopped in Lakeview, Oregon to buy license and a gazetteer. The license was no problem at all, but when I asked for a gazetteer at the True Value they didn’t know what I was talking about. Luckily, another customer pointed me to a gas station on our way out of town.

We stopped to get gas, which by the way, you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. How strange! Regardless, when I asked the gas station attendant if they had a gazetteer his response was exactly: “A gaza what?”. I probably should look elsewhere, and I did with no luck. We decided to press on without the aid of a gazetteer. I had my GPS and I had made very good notes on how to get to the streams.

Turns out we didn’t need the gazetteer. We drove right to the first stream – across 20 miles of washboard gravel road. I strung up the rod first and had my first Catlow Valley redband from the first open pocket.

When I say “open”, I mean in the sense that you can get a fly on the water through the extremely dense trees. Nathan struggled a bit but also managed to pick up his Catlow Valley redband. I was lucky enough to pick one out of the first open pocket and it’s a good thing. This was some of the toughest fishing conditions I have ever encountered. You couldn’t get into the stream, it was that tight and there were very few openings in the brush. It was amazing to even find water, as the only thing we saw going into the stream was sage – NOTHING ELSE!

One of the locals, at the hot springs, told us we could get into larger trout on upstream around the corral. We started to check it out but we wanted to get to the next stream, so we passed.

We managed, again, to drive right to the next stream too. This was a special stream and one we were both looking forward to. This stream happens to contain the only (genotypical) population of the Alvord cutthroat, which up until a couple of years ago was thought to be extinct. I believe Gary is the first individual to validate the existence of the Alvord in this stream.

Gary gave us the exact location of the stream to fish and we immediately started picking up fish, but they were introduced Lahontan cutthroat. I caught a couple of very nice Lahontans, but that was not what I was after.

Nathan did finally pick up one fish that displayed the external characteristics of the Alvord but all I caught was more Lahontans. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to catch those fish but that’s not what I was after.

I had never caught a Lahontan cutthroat until this year and now I have caught them in three different states (NV, CA, OR).

I fished the stream hard but it just wasn’t meant to be and, besides, we still had 40 miles of rough, gravel road ahead of us to get out of there. At this point I had caught five different sub-species this day and I was then 10 of 12 on my trip list. Nathan had also caught five different sub-species for the day but he was now 11 for 12 on the trip list.

As we got about two miles from where we planned to camp on the Donner & Blitzen River my low tire indicator light came on. I pulled over and sure enough one of the rear tires was flat. Like a veteran NASCAR pit crew we changed the tire with enough time to get camp set up by dark.

The next morning it was up the Donner & Blitzen above the campground for the Harney-Mahleur Basin redband.

I had the worst night sleep of the trip, worrying about another 60 miles of gravel road, only this time without a spare. I was, as normal, up before the sun for a cup of coffee and a granola before attempting to bring another sub-species to hand.

This stream was the largest water w fished the entire trip, and it was probably only ten yards across. We would have to adapt our fishing style for the larger water; I did, and picked up my Harney-Mahleur in a small pocket next to the bank.

I picked up another in a nice little pool, which was covered on both sides by overhanging trees.

Nathan fished hard and finally picked up a couple of decent fish. The count for me was now 11 for 13 (10 new species) and Nathan was up to 12 for 13 (all new).

From the Donner & Blitzen it was off to Whitehorse cutthroat water, which was 30 miles from hardtop.

Without a spare, I was "puckered" the entire drive across Whitehorse Ranch Road. From Whitehorse Ranch Road it was another five miles of first gear crawling - without a spare!

We finally made it to water, not far enough upstream according to Gary's directions, but I wasn't going any further in without a spare.

Nathan picked up a Whitehorse cutthroat almost immediately, but I struggled. My head wasn't in it and it was extremely tough fishing. Just like the Catlow Valley stream, we drove past miles of nothing but sage until we found water. Where there was water there were trees tight to it. Where we could get to the pools we were fishing ten feet above the water. I missed a couple and spooked a couple due to being directly above the water.

My only concern was getting back to civilization and getting that tire repaired, so I left without the Whitehorse cutthroat. I even drove right through Whitehorse Ranch and didn't even slow down.
Typically, I like to add a few photos of the scenery but southeast Oregon had nothing to offer but sage brush. That area of Oregon had to be the most desolate location I have ever been.

We finally made our way to Elko, NV where we got a motel room for the night. After the stress of the previous day it was nice to have a hot shower (#3 of the trip) and a soft bed (#2 of the trip).

The next morning we went to Walmart to have the tire plugged. This is where it gets interesting!

The conversation with the technician went something like this:
Technician: "What tire did you say needed plugged?"
Me: "The spare is on the passenger side rear."
Technician (pointing at the driver's side rear): "Well that tire is the one with the nail in it."

I couldn't believe I had driven over 60 miles through the middle of nowhere the day before with no spare and a nail in another tire! Talk about lucky!

After they pulled the first tire off the rim they told me the hole was too big for them to patch, due to Walmart liability rules, so they sent me to another local tire shop.

After plugging two tires we were on the road again, headed for Humboldt cutthroat water. We got about 30 miles out of town when the low tire light came on again. I pulled over and sure enough (again) the tire was flat. We changed the tire even quicker this time (we had practice) and headed back to the tire shop.

They plugged the tire again and gave me a lame excuse that the tire had another hole in it. I don't think so, they pressure test the tire after they plug it.

By this time it was 1:30 PM but we were headed back to Humboldt water. We fished two streams in multiple location but both came up empty on the Humboldt cutthroat. The problem we found when we could locate fishable water were beavers. There were numerous beaver dams on both streams and they created major siltation problems. Some of the pools created by the beaver dams had 2-3' of sediment in them.

After dealing with the tires and the tire shops, we readily admitted defeat on the Humboldts and packed up. We set up the vehicle to drive through the night with the final destination of northern Colorado for greenbacks and grayling.

Eleven hours later we were sitting at the parking lot for the greenback and grayling stream at 5:30 AM. When we crossed the pass from Wyoming into North Park, Colorado the thermometer read 37 degrees and it was still chilly at over 10,000 feet. We decided to take a little nap and wait for it to warm up a bit - two hours later we woke up and strung up.

We fished the exact same section of water I was successful on two years earlier, but caught/saw nothing. We fished probably a half-mile of stream before making the decision to head back to the vehicle.

I decided to continue my nap while Nathan decided to head further downstream in search of the grayling. The reasoning was: when I fished it last time it was two weeks later in the month and they possibly had not yet moved upstream.

Two hours later I woke up, about the same time Nathan was returning to the vehicle. He had found the grayling and was having quite the time catching/photographing them. With the information he had found the fish, I grabbed my rod and headed downstream to pick up a couple.

The first grayling, out of the first pocket, was probably my largest grayling ever.

It is so much fun sight fishing to these guys, as they stick out like a sore thumb.

I picked up another very nice grayling, definitely my largest ever. My hand measure 8" from fingertip to watch band. This fish is about 2" past my fingertip and another 4" past my watch, so I'm guessing somewhere around 16"!

The Colorado state record for grayling is 17"!

After releasing the grayling, my very next drift produced this greenback - my largest greenback to date!
I didn't fish long, I just wanted Nathan to catch some grayling. I know he wanted to get some good photos of grayling and his bamboo rod...and he did.

Following a snack at the vehicle, it was a short hike up to a reservoir the Colorado uses for greenback brood stock. We had hoped to get into more large greenbacks, but it was not in the cards. We walked almost halfway around the lake and all we saw was a moose.

It had been two years since I had been in this area and it was depressing to see the bark beetle had made it north of RMNP.
It is normal in August for Colorado's high country to produce some very nice thunderstorms during the midday hours. The skies were getting pretty dark so we decided to call it a day and call an end to our fishing for this epic road trip.

We made one last stop in Westminster, CO to visit my brother and his family. For dinner, he served bison steaks as big as my head. It was nice to visit with my brother, I wish I had more time...we had a long haul ahead of us!

By the time we made it back to West Virginia we had put in 7,500 miles of driving (through 17 states), over 60 miles of hiking, we had caught 17 species/sub-species of salmonids (10 new sub-species for me), 12 in their native watershed, repaired 2 flats, and had three plugs put in tires.

I have nicknamed this trip the road trip of a lifetime!



Terry said...

One word, amazing! Great job catching so many new species and sub-species. The whole trip sounded like it was an adventure.

Cutthroat Stalker said...

Chris, Nicely done! The Willow/Whitehore kicked my butt last year too. I headed back to the truck and my fishing buddy headed upriver to catch a handful of nice specimens though. Definitely a road trip worth remembering. Thanks for sharing.

-scott c

Steve said...

Awesome blog Chris. Just found it.
Steve (From WVAngler and southern WV)

Anonymous said...

Really well done. I enjoyed following your epic journey across the States and I was happy to see that you were able to stop in AZ. Beautiful pictures and extremely inspiring. Thanks again for sharing.