Saturday, October 27, 2012

Brook Trout Therapy

For the past three months I have been absolutely buried at work! I even cut my California trip in half due to my workload. I'm sure that my situation is not much different than many folks and this is a fishing blog, not a forum to whine about my lack of time on the stream.

When a break in my schedule coincided with a late-October forecast for near eighty degree temperatures, I knew it was time for a day trip! I was due too! I had not fished in my home state of West Virginia in almost five months. That might be acceptable over the long winter months, it is not acceptable during the summer/fall months.

A few months earlier I had been reviewing the topo maps of a stream I had fished on a few other occasions and I noticed there was quite a bit of water I had not touched. With that thought in mind, after I dropped the kids off at school, I was headed east with plans to explore deeper into that particular stream.

By about 10:00 AM I was wet wading (in late October) on a familiar stream. The leaves had already dropped so I had missed the peak of the fall foliage, but that wasn't the purpose of this trip. I hiked in along the trail-less stream to the point which I recognized as the deepest I had gone on previous trips.

The water was not cold and the flows were great for late October.

I tied on a fuzzy dry fly and started prospecting the small pockets. It wasn't long before I landed a long lost friend. He wasn't large but he was exactly what I needed - a native West Virginia brook trout.

Shortly after that little guy, I caught a slightly larger little brookie. Both were too young to be doing what they need to be doing in late October.

Then, I caught what I was looking for, a brookie in those wonderful fall colors!

I started to realize, with each advance into the unknown, that this was a special stream. What is a small stream of runs and riffles where I had fished previously, soon turned into a stream of nice pools and higher gradient.

With each pool (like the one above) came multiple brookies. The warm air/water temps and the post spawn made for very active fish. I was in for an amazing day on the stream!
By the time I made it to this large, deep plunge pool my stomach was telling me it was time to eat and I couldn't have picked a better place to have lunch on this day.

Before lunch, I spent a few minutes dissecting the hole. I fished the tail - right, center, then left. I fished the middle of the pool - right, center, then left. Finally; I fished the head of the pool - right, center, then left. This pool provided me with double digit (numbers) in beautiful little brookies!

After a quick lunch overlooking that wonderful pool, I pushed on into the unknown. As I moved upstream, it was more of the same - beautiful little brookies.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have caught so many fish that I just decided to walk along the stream and just observe the brookies. It has been a few years since this has happened in West Virginia.
What I noticed was 10-15 brook trout in nearly every pool. When I walked up on this couple, I decided to hind behind a tree and just observe.
It was very relaxing just sitting stream side and reflecting how lucky we are in West Virginia to have resources like this that can cleanse the soul when you are in need...and with the situation at work, I needed that therapy.
After observing the happy couple for a few minutes, I continued my trek upstream. It was nice to see several other couples and it was also nice to see the high number of brookies in this stream.
When I came upon this next large, deep pool I decided to dissect it just as I did the "lunch pool". 
The method was the same and the results were the same - double digit (numbers) brookies from one pool...a rare occurrence!

Finally, one last brookie from the pool and I was satisfied with my day on the stream.

I called it a day (fishing), and it was a very satisfying day, but I did walk a bit further upstream. Everyone always wonders what's around that next bend but eventually you need to turn for home.
I'm glad I decided to explore deeper into this stream. I can't remember the last day I had like this on a West Virginia brookie stream. Numbers, size, and colors - it would be hard to beat!
I felt very refreshed! Exploring and brook trout - GREAT THERAPY!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

California 2012 - There's Gold in Them There Hills

The main reason for my trip to California this year was to climb Mt. Whitney on my 45th birthday. I did and you can find that report at this link: Mt. Whitney.

My secondary goal was to add the elusive Paiute cutthroat to my personal life list - I did that too!

While I was filling in the time between those two objectives, I made a couple of trips into the Golden Trout Wilderness.

The first short trip occurred when I came down out of the Schulman Grove of bristlecone pines to check on my Mt. Whitney permit at the United States Forest Service headquarters in Lone Pine, California. I was a two days early to pick up my permit but when you look out the west end of the visitor's center and see this...

...the wicked set of switchbacks up and into Golden Trout Wilderness, it's tough to not make a quick trip!

So, after a quick (white knuckle) drive up the switchbacks I found myself back in Cottonwood Meadows and the eastern trailheads of the Golden Trout Wilderness. I made my first and only visit here when I visited in 2010 to complete the California Heritage Trout Challenge. It was good to be back!

I didn't plan to do a long hike today, simply to check out the local goldens in Cottonwood Creek. Cottonwood Creek is a non-native stream for the California golden trout, but I didn't care, I just wanted to see those beautiful salmonids again.

Cottonwood Creek isn't the easiest stream to fish, most likely due to the pressure it sees being right next to the trailhead campground. I did manage to pick up a couple of small goldens, but the colors here do not compare to the colors on the fish in the native waters. They were very thin too.

After landing a few more goldens, I satisfied my urgent need to see these little guys again, so I packed up my gear and headed north to search for my white whale - the Paiute cutthroat.
I successfully added the Paiute cutthroat to my list but it was one of the most brutal hikes I have ever done to add a species! I had planned to add another 14,000' peak (White Mountain Peak) to my list after the Paiutes but I was in no condition to do 14 miles on this day. Instead, I drove back to the Golden Trout Wilderness trailhead with plans to do a slightly shorter hike.
Instead of going up and over Cottonwood Pass,  I would make the hike up and over Trail Pass - a much shorter route into the native waters of the California golden trout. The destination would be Mulkey Creek in Mulkey Meadows and the California golden trout of the South Fork of the Kern drainage.
Just a short distance from the trailhead, the trail splits - right to Cottonwood Pass and left to Trail Pass.

Even though I was still struggling from the brutal hike a day earlier, in what felt like no time at all I found myself standing at the top of Trail Pass looking into the native drainage of the California golden trout.

Shortly after starting the descent into Mulkey Meadows, I caught my first glimpse of my final destination.

Again, after what seemed like no time at all I found myself standing on the trail at the edge of Mulkey Meadows.

Considering the condition my feet were in from the previous day, the 4+ mile hike (1 hour and 45 minutes) seemed to heal me - I felt great!

I took a break and had lunch on what seemed like the only rock in the meadow. While chasing my lunch and trying to string up my rod, I couldn't help but notice how strong the wind was.

After chasing down all of my lunch wrappers and getting the rod strung up, I was headed for the water. The fish seemed to be much more easily spooked than what I remembered from Golden Trout Creek. Regardless of the wind and the spooky fish, I soon had my first California golden trout from the South Fork of the Kern drainage.

These little guys were much more colorful than the Cottonwood Creek goldens I had caught a couple of days earlier. As usual, pictures do not do these fish justice! No camera can capture the bright, fluorescent yellows and oranges!

One difference I did notice between the Mulkey Creek (South Fork of the Kern drainage) and the Golden Trout Creek (Kern River drainage), was the blood red lateral stripe. These fish were absolutely beautiful!

I continued to "fish" through the wind. I was glad I brought my Sage 000wt versus my bamboo, I don't know that I could have loaded the bamboo rod in that wind. Between the wind and the narrow pocket of a stream, about one out of every five casts hit the water. You can see in the next photo what I had to hit in the wind.

The forecast was for 0% chance of rain but the wind was blowing in some dark clouds. I didn't want to get caught in a thunderstorm in a high, open meadow or even the hike back over the pass. I caught a few more small goldens then packed up my gear for the hike out.
It was nice to add the California golden trout from a new watershed to my life list - one of these days I will make it all the way into Volcano Creek!
On weary legs and beat up feet, I made the 4+ mile hike up and over Trail Pass in 1 hour and 45 minutes again. I didn't want to do a 14-mile hike this day but nine miles felt pretty good for a day hike.
One last photo, a panorama of Mulkey Meadow with my iPhone.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

California 2012 - My "White Whale"

It's been a while since I have added a blog entry. There is a very good reason for that - I haven't been fishing since my Brookiebum trip to Shenandoah National Park in June.

After I hiked my first 14er for my 40th birthday in 2007, I had been dreaming of the highest 14er in the lower 48 for my 45th. This trip to California was to climb Mt. Whitney (14,508 feet) on my 45th birthday but I figured, I'm here, I might as well fish.

I made a trip to California in 2010 to (successfully) complete  the California Heritage Trout Challenge. The only salmonid I struck out on in California was the Paiute cutthroat when I went into the Silver King Creek watershed. After the California golden trout, this was the species I most wanted to catch. I caught several beautiful, invasive rainbow trout in Silver King but I was unable to add the fish I most wanted to catch. I remember when I left California I was extremely disappointed because I didn't know if I would ever make a return trip.

When I won the Mt. Whitney lottery earlier this year, the first day trip to plan was to catch the Paiute cutthroat. This time I would take the chance out of it and hike into a stream I new contained the elusive Paiute. It is a stream outside of their native watershed but I knew this stream contained only Paiute cutthroat.

So the day came and I found myself in the campground at Devil's Postpile National Monument. Working on only three hours of sleep from the drive from Las Vegas, I got a late start on the trail - an hour later than I planned. The hike would be seven miles in on trail, then another 1+ miles of off-trail bushwhacking. An early start was much needed.

After crossing the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin, it was a short climb to the top of the first ridge. While climbing, I crossed the John Muir Trail...

...before entrering the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
It was obvious this area had previously been hit with forest fires but, this June, it wa also hit with a major wind storm. There were downed trees the entire length of the seven miles of trail. The United States Forest Service personnel had done an outstanding job clearing miles of trails! These were not small trees they had to clear, some were four or five feet in diameter!
Regardless, the trail was in excellent shape and the views of this rugged area were amazing.

After crossing the first (low) ridge, I crossed a stream then sarted a nearly two mile climb to the top of the second ridge. The effective use of switchbacks made this climb much easier than it would have been otherwise.
After descending from the pass, I started looking for my first off-trail GPS waypoint. After seven miles (2.5 hours of hiking) it was time to leave the trail. Solo, off-trail hiking in a rugged wilderness is not something I was too keen about doing but I was prepared. I had my GPS (with SPOT communicator), extra batteries, water filter, head lamp, and plenty of food.
The next mile (plus) of hiking was a simple matter of following the GPS waypoints into the mini-canyon section of this stream. It was a fairly uneventful descent until I got to the second from last waypoint, at that point it was clear why my friend had marked this waypoint.
If you look closely at the photo, you can see that the next fifty feet or so was straight down over the rocky point I found myself standing on. Did I mention I was hiking solo? When I hike alone, I try not to take unneccesary risks - this one was necessary! There were Paiute cutthroat down there somewhere and I had gone too far to turn back.
I took my time descending this wall, being very careful with every foot placement.
I successfully descended this obstacle but the reality of it was I would eventually need to climb it to get out!
I put that thought out of my mind because I had one more waypoint to hit and that was where the Paiute cutthroat were located.
I found the last waypoint and, sure enough, I got my first look at my "white whale" - the Paiute cutthroat.
After watching the cutties swim about in every little pocket and pool, it was time to string up the rod and try to add this species to my life list.
With the obvious healthy population in this stream, the first pool I decided to cast a fly produced my first Paiute cutthroat.
Fishing in this stream was much like fishing in Golden Trout Creek - overpopulated. I landed 3-4 cutts in every pool or pocket of water. The population is doing great!
In the short time I fished, I landed probably close to 30 little Paiute cutthroat.

After catching my share of Paiutes, I decided to have lunch before I started the climb out. What a great place to have lunch!
With the daunting hike out ahead of me; I topped off my hydration bladder, packed my rod, and started heading up/out.

I climbed up the rock wall and continued the mile plus climb up to the trail. The bushwhacking was a simple matter of backtracking the GPS waypoints because (as you can see) there was NO trail.
 The first two hours of the hike out was a continuous climb. Finally I reached the pass and could see my final destination in the distance. If you can see the small granite knob about halfway up the right side of this photo, the trailhead was down the back side of that small ridge.

If I had remembered my spool of tippet material I would have stopped to wet a line in this stream as it was absolutely teaming with little rainbows.

It was probably for the better though as my legs were quite fatigued and I still had one more small climb to make.
Finally, nearing the trailhead I could see the area namesake, Devil's Postpile (just because I was there).
When I finally reached the trailhead, my feet were quite sore and my hydration bladder was empty again - I was glad to be back to the campground!
Of all of the native species and sub-species I have chased all over the west, this species (although not in the native watershed) has to be the most difficult to catch. A very difficult solo hike of over 16 miles, including over two miles of off-trail bushwhacking. This, and the fact it has always been one of my most sought after species, also makes this one of my most rewarding adventures.
Now that I have addded my "white whale" to my life list, I now have only three cutthroat species to complete the list: Coastal, Whitehorse basin, and the "Alvord".