Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Glacier Day Five: The Goat on the Trail to Sperry Glacier

Wildlife is a major highlight of any trip for my wife and me. Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, not to mention fish of course, all are interesting to us. I'm interested in bugs as well although my wife might draw the line a little there. Anyway, on our trip to Glacier, we were excited to see some wildlife. As it turns out, there weren't as many critters around as we expected. Or, more accurately, we didn't see them. One thing that kept popping up was mountain goats. 

On the big hike to Sperry Glacier, we expected to find something interesting and weren't disappointed when the first goat appeared far off in the distance. Eventually, of course, we found one up close. This poor mountain goat seemed a little lonesome. As a young male, it was likely that he had been banished from the larger family group we had noticed in the distance. It seemed that he appreciated our company. 

Sperry Lake Trail Mountain Goat

The best part about this goat happened after I had moved on. Both my wife and myself were carrying cameras and moving rather slowly. There was so much to take in and so much to photograph. I'll share some of that in the next post, but this post is all about the goat. Anyway, I had moved a couple of switchbacks up and was looking back out over the vast scene below. My wife Leah was engrossed in photographing the mountain goat, and it appeared that he was enamored with her. By the way, notice that she is kneeling on some rocks. As far as possible in this fragile ecosystem, we tried to stick to durable surfaces for any off-trail movement. That isn't always entirely possible, but should be practiced as much as can be accomplished. 

The only downside to the sequence below is that I didn't have my larger zoom lens on to get more details. Still, the pictures turned out pretty well. Leah just about didn't move except to keep taking pictures. The curious goat kept coming closer and closer. Apparently she was on his path. He moved around her just enough to avoid her, then kept going. This was probably the closest either of us will ever be to a wild mountain goat. Thankfully he didn't have any ill intentions, just curiosity. After their brief interaction, he went on his way again. Here is the sequence of pictures. You might have to look pretty close in the first couple of pictures, but you should get the idea soon...








With one last glance, the mountain goat headed on up towards the notch in the headwall that featured some rather steep stairs leading to Comeau Pass. We would see this little fella again soon, but in the meantime, we were back to photographing the scenery and wildflowers for a bit. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Winter Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River

During my college years, I spent a lot of time on the water, probably too much in fact. The Hiwassee was my closest good trout water although I also spent time on warm water such as the Tennessee River below Chickamauga dam. Still, the Hiwassee will always hold a special place in my memory and requires an occasional return. If I lived closer, then I would fish there much more often. 

My favorite time of year to fish the Hiwassee is January through early May. After that, the river gets crowded and the recreational schedules for boaters become a hassle for wading anglers. Some of my best winter fishing has been on the Hiwassee in January and February with winter stoneflies and midges providing a ton of action. The spring hatches can be as intense here as anywhere also.

Fly Fishing the Hiwassee River With My Wife

This past Sunday, my wife and I took a little trip down to the Hiwassee River. We haven't had a fishing trip together for several months so it was nice to get out. The day started nice and warm, but quickly transitioned to cloudy and breezy. We started in on a section that I have always liked that had just been vacated by another angler. There were quite a few other anglers out and about, so we drove up and down the river a couple of times before deciding on a place to fish.

I took some time to rig up a rod for my wife while she was getting her wading gear on. One of my favorite setups also works really well for her. The 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon is a joy to fish and the length makes mending easier. This rod fishes very well up to 30-40 feet out unless it is really windy. A nymph and a midge hung under a strike indicator seemed about right. I already had a rod rigged up from my battle with a monster rainbow trout on the Clinch last Friday. The double midge combo seemed reasonable so I left it intact to start the day.

Hiwassee River Morning Session

We worked our way down through a big shoal where the water formed numerous small pockets and short runs. This section often produces a lot of fish as things warm up in the spring, but on this day it appeared that most fish were still down in the slightly slower and deeper run at the bottom of the shoal. As soon as we got into position, my wife proceeded to put on a clinic. She was catching fish so fast and furious that I couldn't even back off long enough to start filming at first. Every time I would turn my back to walk back far enough to film, she had another fish on. Finally, I told her to wait to cast for just a couple of seconds so I could get in position, and then we recorded a little of the madness.

fly fishing the Hiwassee River rainbow trout

 

After she had caught ten fish, she relented and allowed me to fish her pool a little as well. She was getting just a little chilly and wanted to get out of the water for a few minutes to warm up. I worked my setup for a bit, but soon asked to switch to the rod she had been using. It clearly had what the fish wanted on this day. It didn't take long for me to catch up to her with ten trout of my own and we started thinking about moving on to another spot. 

Right before we did, I made one last cast well across the current and threw several big mends to obtain a long drift. Right before the flies started to swing well downstream, the indicator dove, and I set the hook. Immediately I knew this was a larger fish. The trout swam out of the current and things were looking up. I worked to steer it around a big rock that threatened to prematurely end our connection. Finally, it turned towards me and my hand started to go towards the net. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the fish came unbuttoned. When I got my line back, I realized why. The little midge was gone. Somehow the line had broken. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. 

Lunch Break and Afternoon Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River

With one of the generation pulses bearing down on us, we decided to break for lunch. We worked back to shore and walked back up the road to where we had parked. Driving up and down the river yet again, we finally found a nice pullout that would make a good lunch spot. We had brought the fixings for veggie hummus wraps including spinach wraps, hummus, chopped cucumber, tomato, and bell pepper, and feta cheese. In the morning excitement, I had forgot to pack the spinach which we didn't notice until one of our last bites. Some delicious healthy homemade oatmeal raisin cookies my wife made finished the meal. 

I jumped in and caught a quick trout or two before deciding this pool probably wouldn't work as well for my wife. We headed back upriver because I wanted to fish some favorite water near the powerhouse. This section produced several fish but not as many as on some trips. We were soon moving yet again in search of a few more fish. Finally, we found a run that had already been fished by someone else, but we had high hopes. Again, my wife started to hammer fish while I was keeping up as best I could. I had finally changed the flies on my rod so I could catch a few as well.

Light sprinkles started to threaten heavier rain, but we were closing in on 50 fish. I was fishing just above her and left the net with her so she could land her own fish. We were starting to hurry not wanting to get soaked. We were both doubling up about as fast as we could get flies in the water. Then it happened. As I was about to land a small eleven inch rainbow, the tip on my Orvis Clearwater 9' 5 weight snapped. This was one of my guide rods that had been already rigged the previous Friday, and I had just kept it ready to go for Sunday's outing. The interesting thing is that it was the same rod I had landed that big Clinch rainbow trout on. I'm guessing the rod was already stressed. Perhaps a client had dinged it with a split shot or bead head on a cast. However, I'll never know why it didn't break on that big rainbow trout on Friday, instead waiting until I had a small eleven incher on the line. The good news in the whole deal was the Orvis warranty. The rod is already headed back to the rod repair shop and should be back soon good as new.

I moved down to help my wife try to get us to 50 but it just wasn't meant to be. I caught one or two more on her rod and she caught a couple, but we finally decided to call it at 48 trout between us (24 apiece) as rain was threatening even more. Those last two could have been found and caught, but its not all about numbers. In fact, I rarely count. Somehow we had kept track through the day, but that is unusual for me most of the time. 

Video of Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River

The fun result of this day was the video footage we had shot on my phone. It wasn't as good of quality as if we had shot it with the DSLR, but still made for a fun quick edit. You can see quick video I finished today on YouTube or below. Best viewed directly on YouTube I'll add. I hope you enjoy!



Other Hiwassee River Posts You Might Enjoy

Below are some articles from the Trout Zone archives on fly fishing the Hiwassee River. If you enjoy the Hiwassee River, then you'll enjoy coming along on these adventures with me. 





Monday, January 25, 2021

Glacier Day Five: Hiking to Sperry Glacier Part One

The adventure for day five had started months earlier. When planning our trip to Glacier National Park, I had planned on doing several hikes. A large portion of these hikes were impossible due to the closure of the Many Glacier area of the Park. Thus having jettisoned many of our plans, we had been developing a game plan as we went. So far, we had already experienced several amazing hikes in Glacier National Park, but we were ready for more than the usual short popular routes like Avalanche Lake or Hidden Lake. Our longest day at this point was almost ten miles but our legs were feeling fresh and we were ready to go. It was time to get back to some of my original plans.

Sperry Glacier is one of the more accessible glaciers in Glacier National Park, provided of course that you are willing to walk the nearly ten miles up there to see it. With everything going on because of COVID, I did not even look into any of the backcountry chalets in the Park. If I ever have it to do again, however, I would definitely explore the possibility of spending a night or two at the Sperry Chalet. This enables you to more comfortably explore the Sperry Glacier vicinity and also maybe take a walk over the pass to Lake Ellen Wilson which is rumored to harbor some very nice brook trout. 

The Big Hike

On our trip, we were looking at doing the nearly twenty mile hike as a day trip. Thus, it was time for another early start. We got going even earlier than any other day and were well up the trail by the time the sun started breaking over the ridges. Walking the Gunsight Pass trail uphill from Lake McDonald, we started out on the same route that had taken us to Snyder Lake just a few days before. As on the hike to Snyder Lake, we pushed hard through the first miles. The steep section just above Lake McDonald flew by and we were soon on new to us trail. 

The Gunsight Pass trail generally follows Sprague Creek starting just a little beyond the Snyder Creek crossing. In the early morning air, sound travelled well and we usually heard other hikers ahead before actually spotting them. Sprague Creek was down in a little canyon to our right as we hiked. The surrounding landscape opened up more and more. The landscape throughout this portion of the hike was affected by the Sprague Fire, meaning if you hike during the midday hours, be prepared for lots of sun exposure. I was starting to get a little winded by the time we approached Beaver Medicine Falls, but my wife was just starting to get warmed up. Interestingly, on this day, she was easily the stronger hiker and I struggled a little. Some days you have it while other days you don't. On this day, I had to push harder than I normally do during a hike.

Hiking to Sperry Chalet, Almost

The trail was fairly congested with hikers heading up to Sperry Chalet. Thus, resting always brought the awkward problem of potentially being passed by hikers that you knew you would fly by again shortly. Our rest breaks were accordingly very short, just enough time to swig some water in fact. I would catch my breath while my lovely wife waited on me, and then away we would go again. Just above Beaver Medicine Falls, the trail begins to switchback on the final push up to the junction of the Gunsight Pass and Sperry Lake trails. The trail never gets close enough to Beaver Medicine Falls for good pictures, but I was enjoying the wildflowers that were growing in ever greater numbers the higher we went. They gave me an excuse to slow down albeit briefly. I was sticking with cellphone pictures at this point. We had a long enough day that I didn't want to get slowed down with my big camera quite yet.

I was having a difficult time not only with the hike, but also identifying flowers. Some of these I'm still trying to figure out. Both of the flowers in the two shots below are in the penstemon family but beyond that I'm not certain. If you have any ideas I would like to hear about them!






We began to spot a famous Glacier National Park wildflower as well. Bear-grass is a spectacularly beautiful wildflower that can be abundant in parts of Glacier. Because this flower does not bloom every year, it can be hit or miss to find even if the overall distribution is fairly widespread. We noticed a few blooming, but most were not particularly close to the trail. As we ascended into the subalpine and then alpine habitats, we were increasingly careful to try and stick to the trail as far as possible. These are fragile environments, and I strongly recommend sticking to trails in this type of terrain to limit the impact on these beautiful places. Eventually, we did find a few blooming close enough to the trail that I was able to get some shots without trampling everywhere. 

Bear grass blooming on the trail to Sperry Glacier

Sperry Lake Trail Through Glacier Basin

Thankfully, we would see this one again on future hikes, so there were more opportunities for pictures. After snapping just a few, we were again on the move. The sun was still behind the great bulk of Gunsight Mountain to our east and northeast as we ascended through Glacier Basin. The shade was a welcome reprieve from what we knew would be intense sun later in the day. It also left us with some interesting lighting as the rich morning light reflected through the valley below.

Glacier Basin viewed from the Sperry Lake Trail

Morning light in Glacier Basin hiking on the Sperry Lake Trail


We were soon winding up towards a rushing torrent that had a small metal footbridge to help us cross. Feather Woman Falls just above the creek crossing provided beautiful views as we hiked this section.

Looking up towards Feather Woman Falls

Metal Bridge over Sprague Creek below Feather Woman Falls

Selfie below Feather Woman Falls on the Sperry Lake Trail to Sperry Glacier


Just beyond this stream crossing, we began to encounter more and more wildflowers. One of my absolute favorites from this whole trip was the yellow Columbine. Here we began to find these flowers in good numbers. I took a picture or two on my cellphone and then finally caved in. My "good" camera had been riding securely in my backpack all morning. I knew if I didn't take it out now, then I probably wouldn't. If I was going to carry all that weight up the mountain and back down, then I was going to use the camera. The first picture is from a cellphone, while the others are from the good camera. This first one was particularly amazing because of the color variation it exhibited. The others were more standard yellow as one would expect. 

Incredibly colorful yellow columbine


Yellow Columbine in Glacier Basin on the trail to Sperry Glacier

Yellow Columbine closeup along the trail to Sperry Glacier

As the trail wound around the headwall of Glacier Basin, it soon emerged into the morning sunlight along the flanks of Edwards Mountain. An intense climb commenced and we quickly gained elevation as we approached Akaiyan Falls. This section of trail reminded me of the Devil's Corkscrew on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. Looking back, I was impressed with myself for making such good time through this section! I was finally starting to feel better and the workout had me warmed up. 

Steep switchbacks on the Sperry Lake Trail

Of course, we had to take some pictures of Akaiyan Falls also. This falls is a series of plunges coming down from The portion we photographed was one of several plunges. This was one of the shorter plunges. This falls is basically a section of big drops below Feather Woman Lake and plunging down into Glacier Basin. The trail crosses the lower end of these cascades along the headwall of Glacier Basin and again approaches the upper portions below Feather Woman Lake. 

Upper reaches of Akaiyan Falls below Feather Woman Lake


A Lunch Spot With A View

About this time, I began to think about lunch. When we are on these big adventures and burning lots of calories, I tend to think about food more than usual. Those who know me know that I already like food a lot. It was only 10:30 am local time, but we began to discuss eating an early lunch. Now we just needed to find the right spot.

The switchbacks continued up and we began winding around past Feather Woman Lake and then began climbing yet again. The trail covers flat basins with short steep sections at the head of each one. The bottom was Glacier Basin. The next contains Feather Woman Lake, and the last contains Akaiyan Lake. Above Akaiyan Lake, we would find another bench just below the final climb to Comeau Pass.

Large snowfields began to block our progress between Feather Woman and Akaiyan Lakes. The trekking poles we had brought were finally put to good use. Thankfully, the snow wasn't too slick. The strong summer sun had created a layer of slush on top, but if you stepped carefully, hiking was mostly safe. Finally, as we passed yet another big snowfield, some large boulders beside the trail overlooking Akaiyan Lake required a stop. We had found a lunch spot with a view. 

Akaiyan Lake and Feather Woman Lake in Glacier National Park

Sperry Glacier Trail Feather Woman Lake and Akaiyan Lake in Glacier National Park


Sperry Lake Trail Akaiyan Lake and Feather Woman Lake

Seriously, a lunch spot doesn't get any better than this. We took an early lunch around 11:00 am local time. This is about our usual practice, especially on such big hikes. The energy from lunch would help push us up over Comeau Pass and on to Sperry Glacier we hoped. That is a story I'll save for another day...

Enjoy the rest of this hike with these two stories.











Sunday, January 24, 2021

All It Takes Is One

Most anglers I know like to catch fish when they go fishing. There are more than a few I know that like to catch a lot of fish or even better, a lot of big fish. Then there are the anglers that are content with just a fish. On hard days of fishing, one fish can make or break a trip. As a guide, you generally hope to knock a fish out early because it helps everyone loosen up. When anglers get uptight, they don't fish as well. In fact, I've had at least a few tough days on the water where I knew it was just time to give it up and quit. Not guiding, rather just fishing for myself that is.

I've had many great days in terms of numbers. Occasionally I've even been blessed to enjoy days with good numbers of big fish. Most days, however, tend to feature either one or the other. Head hunting is something that I rather enjoy, but it also comes with the general understanding that there probably won't be a lot of fish caught. Some of the best days are the ones that kind of sneak up on you, however.

Cinch or Grinch?

Last week, I was fishing with my friend and fellow guide, Travis Williams. We had already been on the water a while and things were generally slow. Travis had managed a handful of tugs early on a streamer. We had also seen an indicator dive a handful of times, but we're never sure if it was on fish or the bottom. By mid afternoon, things were starting to look like a typical Grinch day. If you've fished the Clinch very much, you know what I'm talking about. 

The wind had picked up even though the forecast had promised calm winds. One given on the Clinch is wind. In fact, my general rule of thumb is to take whatever wind forecast the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Morristown gives for the vicinity of the Clinch and double it. That will get you at least in the rough ball park of the expected winds. Still, I haven't figured out a rule for a calm wind forecast. Based on our experience Friday, you can probably still count on at least ten mile per hour breezes.

With the wind blowing, I was no longer able to both row and fish. We had spotted a couple of fish rising over a shoal so I dropped the anchor. With the boat stabilized in the falling water, I moved to the back of the boat and we both fished for a while. In fact, I even caught a fish. This typical Clinch rainbow ate a small #22 midge pattern I had been drowning under a slightly larger midge with a New Zealand Indicator holding everything up. The fish pulled hard and generally gave a full account of itself, and I was content. All it takes is one, right? On a Grinch day that is definitely the case. 

Glad to not be skunked, I was about to pull the anchor to row Travis on down the river in search of a fish for him. Right before I pulled it up, Travis said, "There's another rise!" This fish was just barely within casting range. Travis was fishing a new 10' 5 weight Orvis Recon and that thing could really lay it out there. With him in the front of the boat raining casts down on the working trout, I moved back to the rear brace again and threw my flies well upstream of where he was fishing as an afterthought. On the second cast, the indicator dove but I was late to the party. With no resistance, I slung the flies back thinking there was no way the fish would eat again. 

A Big Trophy Clinch River Rainbow Trout Encounter

I guess we'll never know if it was the same fish, a different fish, or if the first plunge of the indicator was even a trout. Either way, when I set this time, there was actually a fish on the end of the line. As I quickly gained line, I expected the usual Clinch slot fish in the 16" range. Not too far out from the boat, the fish got a touch heavier. By the time it got really close and finally realized it was actually hooked, I still hadn't gotten a good look. The fish was staying too deep. That should have been a clue.

The increasingly heavy trout made a u-turn and headed back out to sea, er, the river bank. Mere feet from the bank in the same vicinity as the trout Travis had been hoping to catch, the fish finally came up and broke water. As it rolled, I suddenly realized I was dealing with something a lot larger than my previous guess. Things got pretty serious at that point. Travis rolled up his line to get out of the way and also grabbed the net. 

Somewhere in all the commotion, the fish rubbed me around either a rock or a stick or log. Not much later, it did the same thing again. Each time, I was certain the fish would be gone. You see, I was expecting most of my fish on the smaller midge. That fly was tethered to the other fly via a small section of 6x fluorocarbon. Great for fooling fish, mind you, but not so good for landing them if they get smart. However, once the fish finally came to hand, we discovered it was actually on the larger midge on much more secure 5x fluorocarbon.

The fish absolutely did not want anything to do with the boat, but eventually I got the head up  and Travis made quick work of him with the big boat net. We took a couple of pictures. This might have been my largest Clinch River rainbow trout. Measuring in at 22", the big kype jawed male was a stunner and a true Clinch River trophy. Eventually, with luck, I'll probably find one bigger yet. But for now, I was happy to have landed such a special fish and was done fishing for the day. Really, all it takes is one, but it helps when that one is such a special fish.

Trophy Clinch River rainbow trout

Big rainbow trout on the Clinch River
Pictures courtesy of Travis Williams, ©2021


A Word On Catch and Release on the Clinch River

A big reason this fish was so special is that the protected length range in effect on this river does wonders at protecting fish in the 14-20" range. However, as soon as fish eclipse the 20" mark, they often leave the river on a stringer. While we see lots of fish in the 16-19" range as a result, we don't see fish over 20" nearly as often. Unfortunately, many people don't realize that this is a limited resource and thus choose to harvest these beautiful big fish. While not illegal, it is incredibly short sighted. 

All of our tailwaters here in Tennessee could greatly benefit from more anglers releasing their catch. If you enjoy catching lots of fish and especially lots of big fish, consider that a trophy like that has been in the river for a minimum of 5 or 6 years. Every fish you harvest is one more fish that will never grow to be a monster. I've seen people wishing that our rivers produced 15 or 20 pound brown trout. They can and would, but only if people keep releasing everything they catch under that size. These big trout are a product of several years of growing in our rivers, but they must be released to swim and grow another day. 

Please, if you enjoy fishing our rivers and streams here in Tennessee for trout, consider practicing strict catch and release. It is not worth killing a big beautiful wild or holdover trout. Yes, it is your right, but better fishing starts with anglers making better choices. With increasing numbers of anglers on our rivers creating pressure like never before, it will be up to us anglers to self regulate and do what is best for the river and the fish. 


Recent Articles From the Trout Zone You Might Enjoy


Glacier Day Four: Hiking to Avalanche Lake and Going Back to Polebridge


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Winter Is For Fly Tying

During the cold months, when I'm not out fishing, I'm usually getting caught up on my tying for the year. That doesn't mean I won't tie throughout the season as well. Normally I have to tie at least weekly and sometimes more. If I'm fortunate, however, I can get far enough ahead now that I won't have to tie large quantities until next winter. That opens up more time for fishing and of course doing other important things.

I like to pursue my winter fly tying in an orderly fashion. Typically, I focus on the flies that I go through the most in a normal season. That means lots of midges for the tailwaters and the usual nymphs, dry flies, and terrestrials for the mountains. As a guide, I tie the vast majority of the flies I guide with. There are some exceptions though. While I really enjoy tying stimulator and parachute style flies, I will often buy a good supply of those in bulk because of how many I go through in a season. Nymphs and midges, on the other hand, are flies that I can produce quickly in bulk and make sense to tie my own. This is especially true because I tie some patterns that you cannot purchase commercially. 

And that is at the root of my fly tying. I like to experiment. Tweaking existing patterns and also coming up with my own flies is part of the excitement of the sport of fly fishing. It is said that there is nothing new under the sun. Thus, most of my supposed inventions are ones that someone else is tying somewhere else. In fact, most of my inventions were motivated by flies that I've already seen or been told about. However, when there are more and more anglers out on the water than ever before, sometimes the difference between a slow day and a good day is just a subtle variation on a standard pattern. The fish see the same "shop flies" over and over again every day on some rivers. Sometimes, those shop flies work great, but you have to think outside the proverbial box.

This last year in the Smokies, I had a late season epiphany that really changed the success we had one day on a brook trout stream. The common wisdom is to fish yellow well into the fall. That is because of the availability of a vast array of yellow bugs in the warm months, perhaps the most important of which are the little yellow stoneflies found so plentifully on our southern Appalachian streams. In other words, the conventional wisdom is there for a reason and usually yellow works. However, when you are on a fairly pressured stream, never mind that you're fishing for brook trout, there comes a point in the season when the fish start to get finicky. That's a good thing and just means that the vast majority of anglers are releasing their catch which is as it should be with these native jewels.

Anyway, back to my story, there we were on this brook trout stream and the fish are only half-heartedly inspecting our standard yellow dry flies. Going smaller in size got a bit more interest, but it was clear that the fish were onto the game at this late point in the season. So what did we do? Small, dark, and subtle. I didn't notice any dark bugs on the water, although in the Smokies anything is possible at almost any time of the year. What I did notice, though, was that the brook trout were no longer shy. Even with brook trout, showing them something they aren't used to seeing can be the ticket. 

On the tailwaters, that means carrying a large variety of color schemes on my midges. In particular, I carry a wide variety of colors with my Zebra Midges. It is no coincidence that my old article on fishing the Zebra Midge is one of the all time favorites on this blog. This is one of the most fish catching flies that I know of. I mostly use it on the tailwaters, but it also catches fish in the Smokies. There are so many possible combinations of bead color, wire color, and thread color, that I couldn't begin to list them all here. I will say that some of my favorites include black and silver, black and copper, olive and copper, and chocolate and copper. Most of my most successful midge patterns are darker, but sometimes lighter colors are the ticket.

Recently, I decided to share a quick video of tying the Zebra Midge over on YouTube. If you haven't already, check out my channel there. My goal is to share a lot more content via video in addition to the usual blog posts here. While you're there, make sure and subscribe to the Trout Zone Anglers channel. There is another midge pattern that I have shared there that I probably fish even more than the Zebra Midge these days. It has accounted for more fish over the last few years than any other fly and also plenty of big fish. For those of you who are experienced fly tiers, these videos probably won't provide much new info, but I'm mostly trying to help out those who are just getting into fly tying. 

The recent explosion in popularity of fly fishing is bringing more and more people into the sport. Not everyone will decide to also take up fly tying, but the satisfaction it brings is well worth considering. Because our good friends at Little River Outfitters are not able to do tying classes right now because of COVID, I'm going to try and share tying videos more often over the next couple of months. If you have a specific pattern you would like to see (or other content), please let me know in the comments below OR send me an email.

Back to my fly tying, I'll work on midges and streamers for now. I have several tailwater guide trips lined up and those are the most likely to be needed over the next couple of months. As we get closer to spring in the mountains, I'll be tying quill gordon and blue quill imitations in anticipation of the first hatches of spring. I also need to replenish my little black caddis imitations. This is an overlooked hatch that can provide surprisingly good fishing.

Before late spring, I also need to replenish my terrestrial box. Mostly that means making sure I have plenty of green weenies and barbie bugs along with some beetles and ants. What I really need to do is get out all my fly boxes and start working on refilling them in an orderly fashion. This guarantees that I won't forget something important. One of the worst feelings is getting out on the stream only to discover you don't have the right pattern.

If you carry a tying kit with you, then you could quickly spin up a couple. That doesn't work very well when you're guiding unfortunately. To be fair, who carries a tying kit with them on regular fishing trips? I take one with me on big trips. I have many good memories of sitting at a picnic table in the evening in Yellowstone or Colorado and whipping up some bugs for the next day. Nowadays, I try to prevent this from being necessary by planning ahead though. If you haven't gotten into fly tying yet, consider giving it a try so you can be prepared as well. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

When the Fish Are Where They Should Be

A big part of guiding is knowing where to find fish. Of course, it also helps to know what those fish will eat once you find them. However, if you can't find fish, then it won't do you any good to have the right flies. Some days are easier than others, of course. On those days, the fish are where they should be. You know what I mean. Those obvious spots that hold fish more often than not are popular with lots of anglers for a good reason. Sometimes, those spots aren't quite as obvious. Nevertheless, if you know the water well, the fish are still where they should be. 

Yesterday, I was able to get out and fish a river that I haven't been on as much as I would like lately. This lack of fishing is mostly because I've been busy with non fishing things. This is the time of year that I'm able to catch up on things that get neglected through a long and busy guiding season after all. Still, it was good to get out and the weather was about as pleasant as you can ask for this time of year.

My buddy John came along to fish and help rowing a little. We started while the generators were still running. John wanted to try his streamer setup with some newly tied streamers. Those proved enticing to some skipjack but at this point, the trout eluded us. As soon as the water cut off, we started slowly drifting down the river with what we thought were the right flies fished in the right places. And we drifted, and drifted, and so on and so forth. Fish were occasionally rising so we knew there were some around. We weren't sure how many, but some fish is better than no fish. Amazingly, we were much farther down than we had wanted to be without a bite and it was time to change. I suggested a possible fly I was considering, and John said he was thinking the same thing.

I anchored for a minute while he changed his rig and then started drifting again. Not too far down the river, we were coming into a run that has historically held plenty of fish but has been slow the last few years. I positioned the boat and suggested he switch to the right side of the boat. A short drift later, his indicator went down and we were into our first trout of the day. When he almost immediately got another bite in the same spot, I started thinking that I should probably change flies as well. 

By the time we got to the next big run, I had switched up flies as well. With the boat in the perfect spot, I decided to anchor for a bit so we could both fish. The wind was blowing strong so we had to work a little at casting and mending. Once the drift was started, we could extend it by throwing more line into the drift with the rod tip. Keeping just enough slack is tricky in this situation. If you get too much, then setting the hook is nearly impossible. Not enough and you'll end up with immediate drag. 

Finally, after several solid drifts, my indicator shot under and when I set the hook, I knew it wasn't a little stocker rainbow. After a strong fight, a healthy brown trout can to hand in the 14 inch range. I took a couple of closeups because the fish had incredible blue spotting behind the eye. After a few more drifts without another bite, I pulled the anchor and we started down the river. A few bites came as we moved through the tailout of the pool, and then we moved on down to the next spot.



The next little run was where things started to look predictable. I again maneuvered the boat into position and suggested John try a spot to our left. After a short drift, just when I was thinking that maybe there weren't fish there, the indicator shot down. We quickly netted the rainbow and on the very next cast, he had another bite. The fish were where they should be.

That pattern then continued on down the river. In fact, several of his fish came after I said something like, "You should have a hit any second." Those are the sorts of things guides love. This wasn't a paid trip, of course, but it always gives you confidence. Clients always think you're a magician when you predict bites a second before it happens. There really is no magic here, though. The fish are simply where they should be.

To learn where the fish should be, it is necessary that you spend a ridiculous amount of time on the water. This knowledge is not something that happens overnight. Often, these things can change year by year. Yesterday, I was noticing how much the river has changed over the last few months and also how it is similar to the usual river we all know and enjoy. Features change, fish move, but they also are where you would expect.

The best fish of the day was near the end of a stretch that had produced a few fish already. We were nearing the end of one of the better pools. I suggested to John to get a little closer to the far bank. He dropped his fly into position. The mend set up the right drift and soon the indicator was diving. When he set the hook, the fish seemed a little more solid. It came mostly right to the boat though. When he lifted its head, the fish saw the boat and went ballistic. We came close to losing this beauty in the resulting fight, but somehow everything held. We had to pull over for a quick picture of this fish before heading on down the river towards the takeout ramp.



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Glacier Day Four: Hiking to Avalanche Lake and Going Back to Polebridge

This was our last short day before we attempted a big hike. When I say short, some people might disagree as we put about 7 miles on our boots. We were starting to get in a good hiking rhythm, though, and were about ready for much bigger things. To obtain parking, we did our usual early start and caught yet another amazing sunrise. Probably we should have been up another hour earlier and tried to catch the sunrise from Logan Pass, but getting up at 5:00 am seemed reasonably early to both of us but 4:00 am not so much.

Glacier National Park Sunrise on the way to Avalanche Lake


Parking and Hiking to Avalanche Lake

As we approached the Avalanche Lake parking area, I could see tons of vehicles already there. Glancing back in the "exit" from the main parking area to the left,  I noticed a couple of parking spots. Ignoring what appeared to be full parking ahead and to the right, I quickly swung in and drove around. Coming around the curve in the parking area close to McDonald Creek, I spotted a couple of parking spots still available! We quickly grabbed one. Almost immediately, someone else grabbed the other one. As we ate our breakfast, other cars took up the circling routine like hungry vultures. We had yet again barely made it. 

The trail begins across the road from the main parking area. We quickly got across and entered one of the most beautiful cedar groves we saw in Glacier. This portion of the trail is absolutely enchanting. Before long, the trail reached the hillside. Gushing out from a small canyon was Avalanche Creek which the trail roughly follows all the way to the lake. The stream stays out of sight much of the time. However, at the beginning of the climb, it gets close to the little slot canyon where the stream pours out into the flat cedar grove just above McDonald Creek.

Avalanche Creek slot canyon


If the Hidden Lake Trail was the busiest we hiked, this one was not noticeably behind. People were everywhere. As this was a narrower trail, people were being just a little funny about COVID. We tried to be careful and stay respectful which is tricky when your hiking pace is significantly faster than probably 98% of the other hikers. Thankfully, everyone else was being nice as well, and soon we were finally approaching the lake.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park

Avalanche Lake is stunningly beautiful. The glacial snowmelt contributes to one of the most incredible colors I've seen anywhere. I've been trying to decide what color this is, but so far I don't have a good description. Maybe I need to buy a box of Crayola crayons to help. What color do you see peeking through the trees here?

Avalanche Lake color

The trail basically runs into the bottom end of the lake. We stumbled out amongst the rocks and boulders just like everyone else. The sun was rising higher and threatening to burst over the ridges at the head of the lake. The perfectly calm lake surface produced a remarkable mirror effect. The surrounding hillsides and waterfalls were reproduced in the tranquil lake surface. 

Avalanche Lake mirror effect

At this point in our hike, I actually wished we had gotten an earlier start. This didn't happen often during our time in Glacier. However, the lighting, while dramatic, would have been better much earlier before the sun started striking the opposite ridges. If I ever have this to do again, I would like to hike both earlier and later when the sun is straight overhead. There are different advantages to each light situation and we enjoyed the one we were gifted with to the utmost. As the sun continued to creep closer and closer to cresting the ridge, dazzling shafts of sunlight moved ever lower down the ridges and evergreens. 

Morning hiking at Avalanche Lake

Eventually, we worked our way all the way to the head of the lake and took in the views looking back the other way.

Looking down Avalanche Lake from the head

Hiking Avalanche Lake selfie

At this point, I came close to fishing a bit. As you'll recall from adventures of previous days, I was carrying a Tenkara rod with me on most of our hikes. You just never know what you might find. There were occasional fish rising, and I was itching to catch some more cutthroat. These beautiful fish are always a treat since we don't have them in Tennessee. Unfortunately, it was not to be on this particular hike. We had ample time, but the fish were rising just a little too far out. Thus the limitations of Tenkara eventually came back to haunt me. I still greatly enjoy fishing this way, but at least once on our trip, I wished I had carried a regular fly rod.

We were enjoying the lake, but decided to try and get some more done on this day. We had a lot of exploring that we could still do in the Polebridge vicinity so we started back down the trail. One last selfie was in order as the sun finally burst over the ridge. 

Avalanche Lake morning rays

Down at the bottom, we wandered through the cedar grove and stopped long enough for a picture of Avalanche Creek. The colors of the rocks and water were almost like a painting. 

Avalanche Creek colorful rocks

When we got back near the car, we discovered something interesting. At this point in our visit to Glacier National Park, we were getting serious about keeping track of our hiking mileage. We were still a 1/4 mile short of seven miles and were wanting to push the numbers up a little. Instead of getting in and leaving immediately, we instead wandered down to McDonald Creek and took in the scenery there. A little walking up and down the shoreline along with taking some pictures increased our total mileage to just over seven miles for the day. 

My wife was keeping meticulous record of our distances with her Garmin Forerunner 235. I was starting to get into the spirit of things and wanted to see how far we could push our total mileage. After four days, we were sitting at 24.08 miles. We needed to seriously pick up the pace if we wanted to hit any big numbers. The next day was the first push for big miles. Our legs were feeling fresh and ready to go.

Back to Polebridge and Visiting Bowman Lake

We were beginning to enjoy our daily drives up to Polebridge. While I wasn't getting anymore fishing in up there, I knew it was available if the urge struck. There were still lots of places to explore, however, and we were wanting to see what we could find. When we reached the Polebridge entrance, we pulled up to the small entrance station and were surprised to find it occupied. The ranger there was nice and advised us that we probably couldn't make it to Kintla Lake but that Bowman Lake would probably work with our Toyota Corolla. Naturally, we headed towards Kintla Lake. 

Our assumption was that the ranger was probably recommending Bowman Lake to all visitors, so perhaps there would be more wildlife towards Kintla. If and when the road got too bad, we would just turn around. We never did figure out if our assumption was bad or if there were just a lot of visitors. Either way, we hadn't made more than a couple of miles before deciding to turn around. There was a ton of traffic and we assumed that it would scare off any wildlife that might have been otherwise around. We did find a few wildflowers including the harebells (first picture) and sticky purple geranium (second picture) below. There were also nice views of the distant mountains, but otherwise this was a wasted drive.

Harebells in Glacier National Park

Stick Purple Geranium in Glacier National Park



The turnoff to Bowman Lake was back near Polebridge and we decided to try and make the drive. Our little car was great for gas mileage, but the rough roads made me slightly uneasy. In my younger days, I've taken sedans down some truly ridiculous jeep trails roads. However, we were in my wife's car, and I didn't want to mess it up too badly. The road to Bowman Lake wasn't bad thankfully. There were a few rough spots, but nothing that simply slowing down wouldn't help. We arrived at the lake and quickly found parking before strolling down to the shoreline. 

Bowman Lake near Polebridge in Glacier National Park


Like most of the west side lower elevation lakes, Bowman was huge with the headwaters back near the mountains of Glacier National Park. We briefly contemplated a hike, but instead just wandered briefly around and then headed out. The next day we were hoping for a new hiking personal best and wanted to get a good night's rest. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

Glacier Day Three: Hiking to Hidden Lake, Pole Bridge, and Fly Fishing the North Fork Flathead River

After pushing close to ten miles on our second day in Glacier National Park, we were not sure how our energy would be for day three. Accordingly, we planned an easy day that involved hiking to Hidden Lake. This trail starts at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. From a previous morning, we already knew that the parking lot would be completely full by 7:00 am. That meant an early start.

One advantage of the early starts we were getting every day was the chance to enjoy sunrise every morning. This is something I always enjoy as a fishing guide since I’m often on the road by five or six each morning. For this day of hiking, we hit the road by about 5:30 am and were none too early. We got one of the last parking spots when we arrived at the Logan Pass Visitor Center around 6:30 am.

Our plan was to wander down to Hidden Lake and maybe even enjoy some fishing. This lake is supposed to contain Yellowstone cutthroat trout that are relatively easy to catch. The Tenkara rod was packed accordingly along with snacks, bear spray, water, and of course our cameras. We had our quick breakfast of fruit, granola, yogurt, and nuts and noticed quite a few other people doing the same thing. Soon we were done and ready to start moving.

Views on the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


Hiking to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park  

As we walked across the parking lot and up the stairs to find the beginning of the trail behind the visitor center, we were excited for what the day might hold. This excitement was quickly tempered when we found a sign at the beginning of the trail announcing a closure from the overlook onward. Apparently, the trail was closed because the cutthroat were spawning, and the bears were concentrated in area of the outlet stream looking fish to eat. Another bummer, but also another reason we need to return to Glacier National Park for another try. Still, we were already there and ready to walk. Up to the overlook we went.

This was the most crowded trail we hiked in Glacier with only the Avalanche Lake Trail being anywhere close. The reason for these trails’ popularity becomes obvious when you realize that they are two of the shortest trails and also two of the more scenic. Soon, we would be looking for longer hikes that would offer more solitude. At this moment, though, we were just happy to be tourists and see the sights.

The trail is a boardwalk for quite a distance. This helps protect the fragile alpine environment (please stay on the trail!!!) and also inadvertently provided some type of structure for marmots to live under. We found one of my favorite creatures of the Rockies early in our hike, and I had to stop for some pictures before moving on.

Marmot near Logan Pass Visitor Center on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook


The trail heads slowly uphill towards the southeast flank of Clements Mountain. Wildflowers were abundant here. While I was tempted to pull out my good camera, I kept using my cellphone and snapped a few quick shots of the glacier lilies which reminded me a lot of the trout lilies back home in Tennessee. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time photographing them as we wouldn't find many more during our time in Glacier National Park. I didn't realize it at the time, but we were already late in the season to be finding them. Most of the specimens we saw were already starting to fade and wilt. 

Up high, large snow fields were still blocking the trail. We joined the throng of hikers slipping and sliding our way across the snow. As you hike, you are surrounded by big views everywhere you look. We could easily have spent our entire day wandering along this short section of trail with our cameras, but we had other plans. 

Mountain Goats Near Hidden Lake Overlook

Approaching the overlook, we noticed some mountain goats off to the north side of the boardwalk. They were really close to the trail. It was time to get out the “good” cameras instead of our cellphones we were using for quick pictures. One thing that both myself and my lovely wife enjoy is wildlife photography. Seeing animals that we don’t have in Tennessee is a highlight of our trips out west. We both turned our backs to the incredible scene of Hidden Lake and started photographing the mountain goats. The pictures were not anything fancy, but we were nice and close which made for good crisp pictures. 

Mountain Goat at Hidden Lake Overlook


Soon enough, the mountain goats wandered off and we turned back to the scene before us. Hidden Lake is spectacularly beautiful. I hate that we didn’t get to hike on down to the lake, but we enjoyed the views we had and the extra time it saved allowed us to enjoy some other portions of the park.

Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park


Finishing the Hidden Lake Overlook Hike


Snowfields on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook

With our cameras already out, we sauntered back towards the trailhead rather slowly. Taking lots of pictures along the way, we eventually were back near the beginning. 

Views along the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


I finally slowed down long enough to enjoy some of the wildflowers before continuing on to the car. The spring beauties (second picture) were the first that I actually recognized although all the wildflowers were beautiful. The coiled lousewort (first picture) was one I had to look up later. I found out it is closely related to one of my favorites, elephant head lousewort. Seriously, they look like tiny pink elephant heads!


Spring Beauties on the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


Searching for Wildlife on Going to the Sun Road

Back in the parking lot, we made someone very happy when they discovered we were about to leave. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes were circling continuously in search of a place to park. Access is definitely an issue at this park, and with the shuttle system shut down because of COVID along with the entire eastern side of the park, this problem was exacerbated. As we exited the parking lot, I turned the car east.

We decided to drive as far as possible and look for bears and other wildlife. This would become another daily ritual. Whenever we finished a hike with time to spare, we would drive along the Going to the Sun Road in search of wildlife. The road was open all the way to a roadblock along Saint Mary Lake. With the east side of Glacier National Park completely shut down due to COVID, people had to turn around at this point. 

We stopped at the Wild Goose Island Lookout and took a few pictures before continuing onward. We were lucky to find the lake calm as glass and reflecting the mountainous background like a mirror. This side of Glacier tends to be windy, so this was quite the treat. 

Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary Lake


On this day, the wildlife managed to elude us except for some glorious views. As we headed back west, a stop at camp sounded like a plan along with a trip to town. We wanted to pick up a few groceries in town and check out a different section of Glacier National Park. 


Fly Fishing the North Fork Flathead River near Polebridge, Montana

After the town stop, we headed north to Pole Bridge. This area of the park does not see as much visitation as the famous Going to the Sun Road, but there were still plenty of people around. One bonus of this portion of Glacier National Park lies in the fishing regulations. The North Fork of the Flathead River can be fished without a fishing license, provided that you are accessing it from Glacier National Park and not from Montana state lands. My good friend Bryan Allison had given me a tip on fishing that area, so I was anxious to give it a try. Thankfully, some reasonable access was not too hard to figure out. 

The warm afternoon breeze had me thinking hoppers. I quickly rigged a fly rod with a big foam bug and was soon wading in my sandals. Surprisingly, the fish would at least check out my offering but were being a little shy. I’m guessing they got at least some pressure based on both the fishermen’s trail from where we parked and also the constant parade of boats going by. At least a few of the passing boats contained anglers.

Finally, after switching flies a few times, I settled on a small yellow stimulator and was soon catching plenty of fish. They weren’t really picky exactly, but they did want something a little more natural. Despite my hopes, there wasn’t a massive grasshopper hatch in progress and the fish were looking for aquatic insects hatching. The bright sunny day had some caddis popping along with a few smaller stoneflies. Interestingly, they weren't as interested in nymphs or pupa patterns as they were in dry flies. Cutthroat trout just really like dry flies!


The fish here are not big, or at least I didn’t find any large ones. They were larger than the small fish at Snyder Lake the day before though. They were also reasonably willing to eat a fly, at least once the correct fly was tied on. I caught a few and offered the rod to my wife, but she declined. I got the idea that she might prefer to continue our search for animals, so before long we were back on the road. It was getting later in the day now, and we hoped to find some wildlife moving about.

North Fork Flathead River cutthroat trout near Pole Bridge
  


Back to Camp For the Night

Apparently it was not meant to be. We made the drive back down to the Glacier Campground via the Camas Road through Glacier National Park. There were some nice meadows but no wildlife feeding in them. The hot weather probably had most of the wildlife either in the woods or at higher elevations. We made it back to camp in time for a leisurely evening. We had another very early start ahead of us to find parking at one of the most popular trailheads in Glacier National Park. Back in camp, we found one last bit of wildlife for the day...

Spider Web at Glacier Campground