Sunday, November 27, 2011

Colorado 2011 - Part 3 - Wrapping it Up

It's been over three months since I have returned from my trip to Colorado and I have not wet a line since. Between my personal life, professional career, and an unusually wet fall; it has been a long drought.

Picking up where I left off in Part 2...After fishing what may have been one of my favorite western streams anywhere, I took a couple of days off from fishing. I dropped my partner off at the Denver airport and my younger brother and I took in a Rockies game. I wanted a day of rest before taking another day off from fishing to hike a 7.5-mile Colorado 14er loop which included Mt. Democrat (14,148'), Mt. Cameron (14,238'), and Mt. Lincoln (14,286'). I will try to get that entry on my other neglected blog - Terra firma.

Following successfully adding three new 14ers to my personal list, I met my younger brother in Silverthorne for the drive west to Flat Tops Wilderness Area. This area has been on my radar for a while now and this trip was all about searching for big cutties.

There's no easy (or short) way to get to Trappers Lake but it was well worth the drive! Once arriving we set up camp with just enough daylight to catch the evening hatch at the Trappers Lake tail out. I immediately spotted a riser, gave my younger brother an 18 EHC to tie on, and watched him land this beautiful male Colorado River cuttie on the first or second drift.

I watched my younger brother pick up a couple more nice Colorado River cutties while I left the water smelling of skunk. What makes this worse is that he only fishes when I come out.

We had a nice fire and a nice (freeze-dried) dinner before turning in for a cold August night in the Flat Tops.

I woke up before the sun started peaking over the eastern peaks and I awoke to frost. When I checked the temperature readout in the vehicle it read 32 degrees. I slept fine in multiple layers with 35-degree sleeping bag and a silk bag liner. I'm not quite sure how my brother slept, he had on only shorts and a hoodie in his 50-degree bag! I offered the silk bag liner but he refused - that's tough!

After a nice, hot cup of java it was off toward Coffin Lake and Little Trappers Lake. The early morning made for calm water as we rounded Trappers.

We made our way to Coffin Lake with anticipation and intel there were cutties in there over 20". We walked all the way around the small lake and we saw zero cruisers. I am new to this flat water stuff and  didn't feel like prospecting for deeper fish, so we checked the GPS, and made the decision to head on up to Little Trappers.

We fished the tail out of Little Trappers and we both missed a few fish in the small stream. Once we fished our way to the lake we decided to hike around to the feeder stream - neither of us care for the flat water.

We both struck out in Little Trappers, so we made another executive decision to head back down to Trappers Lake tail out stream. The late runoff also made for a late "spring" in the high country. I was amazed at the number of colors around Little Trappers.

I really like moving water! Over the next hour or so, I picked up several of the largest Colorado River cutts I have ever landed.

After a quick flurry of nice Colorado River cutties, it was time to pack up camp and a 5-hour drive back to Denver. I would spend the night at my brother's place with plans to get up at 4:30 AM and be at Roaring River trailhead by sunrise.

I've fished the Roaring River several times, up to 10K feet, and have always wanted to make it up to Lawn Lake in search of bigger greenbacks. After reading a report from my friend at Native Trout Angler when he visited Big Crystal Lake in 2010, I knew I had to go even higher!

I was at the trailhead and heading up solo by 6:15 AM. I passed several familiar sections of stream before I finally hit a a switchback and started climbing away from the stream. The stream makes a sharp westward turn here:

At a little over six miles, I arrived at Lawn Lake.

Although Lawn Lake looked very appealing, my destination was another two miles up - just below the saddle in the above photo.

Just above Lawn Lake I found more evidence of the heavy snow pack for the year.

After about eight miles and about three hours of hiking, I made it to Little Crystal (dead?)...

...then a short distance later I found myself at the tail-out of Big Crystal.

What I found there was exactly what DaveB had told me and what he reported in his blog - greenbacks easily over 20+ "!  Unfortunately, they were still spawning so I put the rod down and spent the next hour photographing and filming these guys.

This pair of spawning greenbacks were easily over 20"!

The colors on some of these fish were absolutely amazing - blaze red, fluorescent orange, and the photos do not do these fish justice. This guy was an amazing red!

How many 16", 18", and 20" greenbacks can you see in this photo?

I also took several video clips of this amazing scene:

This pair (the same pair in the first photo above) may not appear that large, but I was almost ten feet directly above them. Again, they were both easily over 20".

Finally, before I packed it in for the eight mile hike out, I snapped a few shots of these future 20" geenbacks.

I decided I wasn't willing to hike over 16 miles and come up smelling like a skunk, so I would make a quick stop at Lawn Lake. This is a shot of Lawn Lake from the Crystal Lakes area:

By the time I had made it back down to Lawn Lake, the early calm winds had been replaced by the howling strong winds of high, flat water - making casting difficult. When the winds would die down, I could see cruising cutties and I could see that they were not spawning.

I finally picked up a nicely colored (appeared to be recently spawned out) greenback.

And finally, this smaller greenback, which may have been the most beautiful greenback I have ever caught.

After removing the stench of the skunk, I made the decision to pack it in for the remaining six-mile hike out. I made it back to the trailhead a little over eight hours after I started; with over 16 miles hiked, and only two greenbacks landed - but this day hike was much more than that.

I had 2-3 more days planned, but when I set up camp later that evening on the west side of the park I called to check in, and got the most devastating news of my life! Needless to say, I didn't finish the trip I had planned but I finished the 2011 Colorado adventure with an amazing fish and an amazing hike!

P.S. Although I have not picked up a rod since I left Colorado (almost four months) my life is in a much better place than when I visited Colorado. I look forward to sharing my Search for Native Salmonids in 2012 with a very special person!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Colorado 2011 - Part 2 - Cuthroat Heaven

Well it's been a while since my last entry on my 2011 Colorado adventure, ttransferring back to West Virginia has been very time consuming - but worth every minute.

I was disappointed after stopping at a stream that I had good luck on in 2006. The tail water stream was nearly dry and the reservoir above was only half full. After waiting out a massive storm we headed further south to a Rio Grande cutthroat stream that I had fished in 2008. I did not do well in 2008 but later learned I had fished it too high. I fished in the high meadow section when I should have went lower, into the canyon section.

Arriving late, we found a hotel room in Alamosa, had dinner and early to bed again. We were up and on the road before daylight, but thirty miles of gut-busting gravel roads made for slow travel.

Once at the destination, we set up camp, and made the mile or so hike down into the canyon. The canyon was absolutely amazing and we were quickly into fish. As normal, I let my partner catch the Rio Grande cutthroat, and thus completing his Colorado Cuttslam.

After watching him catch a few more, I jumped in and was quickly into cutties.

I picked up several cutties in the 10" - 12" class and thought this was just another typical cutthroat stream, until we got deep into the canyon. Moving up into the canyon meant larger, deeper pools.

Deeper pools meant larger fish, and they were plentiful.

At one point in the canyon we had to backtrack as there was no (safe) way to progress upstream....

...but before we turned around my partner landed this very nice cutthroat!

As we returned to the stream, it was more of the same - high walls and deep pools....

...and better than average Rio Grande cutthroat!

There were plenty of nice cutthroat landed, including my partner's 18" and one I caught that was 20"+. Neither of us had a net (we didn't expect this!) so there were no pictures of either large fish. We were separated when he caught his and I couldn't hold on to the big hen long enough to get a photo. I tailed my big fish and could not wrap my hand around the base of my big fish's tail.

It was an incredible day: large cutthroat, large foam flies (size 12 Chernobyl hopper), and bamboo!

After waiting out the typical afternoon thunderstorm and an early dinner it was another early evening. The night was a bit chilly and I slept in multiple layers and completely utilizing my mummy bag. When I woke the next morning the thermometer in the vehicle registered 38 degrees...great wet wading weather.

We decided to hike into the canyon again this morning, but not so deep. It took quite a while this morning for the sun to make it into the canyon.

The cold air temperatures made wet-wading a challenge but we braved it. The fishing started out slow but when I finally landed my first fish, it was another beautiful 14" Rio Grande cutt.

My second fish of the day was a 16" cutty....

...and finally, the third fish of the day, an amazing 18" male Rio Grande cutthroat!

With this series of fish, and the final being the most amazing cutthroat I have ever caught, I decided to call it an early day. I figured I couldn't top it so I turned the water over to my partner and I just took photos.

This entry is not my typical entry, more photos and less writing, but I figured I couldn't describe the fish or the scenery any better. Other than Golden Trout Creek in Big Whitney Meadow, I have not fished a better native salmonid stream anywhere! AMAZING!!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Colorado 2011 - Part 1 - The Normal Haunts

It's been over a month since I returned from my trip to Colorado and it has been the most devastating month in my entire life! I won't go into details (this is a fishing blog) but I am just now getting into feeling normal. I have been working on photos of my trip to keep my mind busy....on to the report.

I took another "newbie" with me again this year, as I have done every year. I love to be the guide when my friends get their first Rocky Mountain adventure and this year would be no different.

The plan was to start out at a lower elevation stream with easy access and little hiking. I had never fished it and I love to explore, so I chose the Middle Fork of the St. Vrain.

The stream was beautiful unfortunately, with the large amount of snow they received in the high country, the stream was still in runoff on July 30! You can see by the small tree on the right side of the pool my younger brother is fishing that is was quite high.

With the raging currents the fishing was tough but I still managed a couple of brookies in the dead water.

It was a beautiful stream and a beautiful area (could have done without the heavy off-road vehicles) but I don't know if I will ever make it back to fish it during normal flows....there's just too much water to fish.

After 18 hours of driving through the night and a full day of fishing, it was an early dinner and early to bed.

After seeing no ill effects of the altitude, the plan for the next day would be RMNP and the easy hike into Roaring River. As usual on the east side of the park there is always some type of welcoming committee. This year would be no different as our committee consisted of four very nice mulies.

I like this stream to put the newbies on greenbacks because after the first half-mile of the hike it is a very gentle trail....and the fish are plentiful and willing.

As I always do, I put my guests on the first fish. This stream lived up to it's name, with runoff it was roaring! We would need to target the dead water again this day and it didn't take long for my partner to land his first greenback in the first pocket.

After watching him catch a couple of cutties, and knowing my brother knows his way around this stream too, I was off on my own. The fishing was still outstanding, even with the raging conditions, and I was able to pick up greenbacks in every "fishy" looking pocket.

Again, we fished the better part of the day and we all landed several beautiful greenbacks but my brother had to get back home this evening, so we called it an early day.

I love the view at the trailhead, up the Fall River valley.

We dropped my brother off at his vehicle in Estes Park, then we headed to Kirks Fly Shop in search of a new pair of wading shoes. I found the shoes I had been looking for - Simms Rip Rap. They turned out to be an incredible shoe and if I find time I will write a review on them.

From Estes Park it was across the divide to Timber Creek campground, where we would set up camp for the next two nights. On the way across the divide we ran into what appeared to be the entire RMNP elk herd. I'm not sure how many elk were in this group but they were on both sides of the road -it looked like some of the bison herds I have seen in Yellowstone.

After setting up camp and dodging a rain shower, it was time to put my partner on his first Colorado River cutthroat, and we would do this directly across the road from the campground. It didn't take long for him to add his second species of cutthroat in this small, high gradient section of stream.

As with the greenbacks, after he caught a couple of these cutties I picked up a couple of little guys myself.

I also picked up a couple more cutties and a couple of brookies in the large culvert pool below the road.

Another early evening (we had been hitting the sack about 7:00 PM every day), the next day would be a longer hike into another must fish stream that I affectionately call "brookie heaven".

With an early evening it is always an early morning - usually sunrise. This morning would be a foggy one on the Colorado River and Neversummer Range.

After a cup of java and a granola bar it was off to the Green Mountain trailhead and the hike into Big Meadow. This would be my first outing in my Simms Rip Raps and they did not disappoint - they felt more like a hiking shoe than a wading shoe.

The early morning lighting in Big Meadow was amazing!

This stream would be up and ripping just as all of the others. The long, slow pools that usually produce several brookies produced nada. We would have to target back eddies and dead spots caused by braided currents - also big, heavy nymphs (for brookies?).

Once we patterned the brookies, it was incredible fishing.

At one point I found a large back eddy that had an incredible pod of fish. I was fishing my a stimulator downstream and stripping it back to me and I landed 16 brookies out of this pool. What does a stimulator look like after catching 16 brookies out of one pool?

My partner said he could stay in Big Meadows the rest of our trip and be completely satisfied!

With the population of brookies in this stream it only made sense to have this for dinner that evening.

Sunflower oil, cornbread mix, and Cajun seasoning made for one of the best meals I had eaten in a very long time.

Day four of our trip would find us hooking up with my younger brother again then heading north in search of grayling. He has caught all of the native cutthroat species in Colorado but has yet to catch a grayling. I wanted to be with him when he caught his (and my partner's) first grayling.

We found a KOA, set up camp, then headed across the divide in search of the grayling.

We prospected the entire stream but could not locate a single grayling. Apparently the runoff had also delayed the grayling migration from the lake. Disappointed, we headed back across the divide to fish the extreme headwaters of the North Platte.

Having never fished this stream and fishing heavy runoff, I had no idea what to expect. We split up and fished for a couple of hours. All I landed was two small cutts - no photos.

Checking the topos again, we found a high lake nearby to check out.

The hike in was only about a mile but it was straight up. Once at the lake everyone forgot about the hike as the lake was absolutely amazing!

The scenery was amazing but the fishing not so much. There were plenty of cutthroat in the lake, and plenty of large cutthroat, but they were all in spawn mode.

These guys were all in the 16"-18" range, with some larger, but they only had one thing on their mind!

With everyone dealing with the skunk, it didn't feel so bad to leave this beautiful location empty handed.

Once back at camp we actually lasted past 7:00 PM. It felt nice to take a hot shower and do some laundry so we celebrated the trip so far with a nice campfire. We also had a visitor join us around the fire when a coyote decided he wanted to check out my chair - a close encounter for sure.

The next morning we would pack in camp and head back south to drop off my younger brother so my partner and I could head to the bottom of the state for his Rio Grande cutthroat.

We stopped by a roadside stream but again, with runoff we all struck out again. The remainder of the day would be spent in the vehicle driving but the next entry will be one of the most amazing yet...stay tuned.