Photo of the Month: Moonrise on the River

Photo of the Month: Moonrise on the River

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. 


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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





Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Winter Light Moods

Last week, I was driving home from a quick exploratory trip to the Caney Fork. The day had been perfect with relatively warm temperatures for this time of year. We had even found a few fish which means the river isn't completely barren. Anyway, I got fed up with the traffic on the interstate and decided to take the scenic route home to bypass any potential slowdowns on the mountain at Monterey. The alternative route I chose was highway 70N which more or less parallels the interstate.

The magic happened as I crested the top of the Cumberland Plateau. The late day sun broke through the clouds to illuminate the trees ahead of me. The rich warm glow was too much for my cellphone although I snapped a quick picture to share with my wife. This time of year, with a low sun angle, we got lots of light magic. With an extended golden hour, the sunsets last longer and are often more dramatic than at any other time of year. However, that isn't the only benefit of low sun angles. 

Yesterday, while we are shooting some other unrelated pictures, I happened to glance at the sky as we were wrapping things up. The low sun angle at midday resulted in bright rays slanting through the clouds. Most of the year, there is only a narrow window early and late in the day when this can happen. In the winter, it is possible pretty much all day making it more likely to encounter. 

My camera was already in hand. Almost without thinking, I snapped a few quick shots. Once I got the pictures on my computer, I realized that some editing might be in order. In the end, I like the black and white look as it accentuates the play of light across the heavens and minimizes other distractions. The only thing I can't decide between is whether I like a lighter or darker foreground. These are two edited versions of the same original. Which do you like best?




Monday, January 04, 2021

New Year Trip Planning

Every winter, in between fishing trips, I begin planning my fishing for the next twelve months. I also tie flies, clean gear, and make sure everything is ready for another season. This is the slow time, but also the time to start planning for the next adventure. Excitement and anticipation builds as we head towards the first spring hatches in February or early March, and before I know it, we'll be right in the middle of summer with plenty of fishing. 

This year might be a little different for me. For those of you who subscribe to the newsletter, you probably already know where this is going. If not, then here is a picture that sums it up perfectly. 


We are super excited for Baby Knapp, due this May. Of course, that changes the situation for fishing trips. I doubt we'll be pursuing any major adventures this year. Cross country road trips with a newborn sound like a terrible headache. If I'm lucky, I might sneak out a few times between now and when the little one makes the grand entry. After May, I doubt I'll be out on the water much outside of guiding. I'll probably aim to start getting out occasionally again once things start to cool off. Fall is always my favorite time to get out anyway.

Since I'm not planning any fishing trips for this year, I will be hoping to inspire YOU to get out and travel this year by sharing stories from years past. The current series on Glacier National Park still has a lot more articles. I really haven't even begun to share everything from our Yellowstone trip in 2018 and haven't touched Colorado 2019 either. There are lots of good stories I can share from both. 

For those who aren't sure about taking a trip this year, then at least make a plan to get out more locally. For me, I include approximately a three hour radius as my local area. That allows me to take day trips all the way up to the South Holston and Watauga Rivers or down to the Hiwassee. Closer to home, I've got plenty of good trout fishing on the Caney Fork River, Clinch River, and of course my favorite fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains. Even closer to home, I've got smallmouth bass and musky. We are blessed with an incredible amount of water. I hope you are able to get out and enjoy fishing more in 2021. This is going to be a great year for fishing!

If you don't subscribe to the Trout Zone Anglers email newsletter and would like to, please enter your contact info in the signup below. I try to send out an email about once a month. Typical emails will include current fishing reports, links to blog articles, and normally some articles on bugs or techniques that will help you become a better angler. You can unsubscribe at any time of course and we won't sell or otherwise provide your email to anyone else. If you choose to subscribe, I HIGHLY recommend adding TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com AND david_knapp@troutzoneanglers.com to your contacts and safe contacts lists. Quite a few of our subscribers have found our emails in their spam folders for whatever reason. Thanks!


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Sunday, January 03, 2021

Glacier Day Two: Hiking and Fishing at Snyder Lake

Hitting Our Stride on the Trail to Snyder Lake 

On our first full day in Glacier National Park, we had learned some valuable lessons. Looking to put those lessons into practice, we began a routine on day two that would stick with us the rest of our time in Glacier with one notable exception. The first part of this routine involved getting up rather early. Since we had just come from Tennessee, our bodies were still wired to get up on Tennessee time so this wasn't as hard as you might think. On the other hand, neither me nor my wife are naturally morning people, so there was a strong urge to sleep just a little longer the first few mornings. As we began to reap the benefits of our early mornings, this urge was easier and easier to fight. 

The second part of this routine was to immediately leave camp for the trailhead as soon as we got out of bed. Breakfast and lunch prep could happen at the trailhead since our cooler and other meal items were always in the trunk of the car. We learned early on that getting to the trailhead first was of paramount importance, and we could do other parts of our morning routine once we got there. Parking was at a premium and we simply could not do hikes we had planned on if we didn't get an early start.

The plan for day two came together quickly. We wanted a medium length hike that would feature some elevation gain and loss to start warming up for bigger hikes ahead. The trail to Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park is supposed to be 4.4 miles from the trailhead to the backcountry campsite at the lake. We expected to cover a bit more ground than that with some extra exploring while we were there. 

Snyder Lake Trail Map

The hike to Snyder Lake actually begins on the Gunsight Pass Trail. This trail connects the east and west sides of Glacier National Park, but on this day, we would only be covering a small portion of it. The first mile and a half or a little more of our day was on the Gunsight Pass Trail before the Snyder Lake Trail took off to the northeast. The trail climbed rapidly from Lake McDonald to the trail junction before continuing up to Snyder Lake. As far as climbs went, the steepest part was the early portion of the Gunsight Pass trail. While the Snyder Lake Trail is still climbing, it is a steady but gentle climb compared to others we would do in Glacier.

Early on in our hike, I was quickly distracted by the majestic forest we were traveling through. The hemlocks were recognizable to a traveler from East Tennessee although these were the western variety. Other evergreens grew in abundance as well. There is something magical about any forest, but to someone who is used to mostly deciduous forests, I always revel in evergreen forests more than any other.

Forest near Lake McDonald on the way to Snyder Lake


On the forest floor, I was finding enough flowers to get quickly distracted. In fact, we were still almost within sight of the car when I was down on my knees taking pictures. The wintergreen or Pipsissewa was blooming profusely. Quickly realizing I couldn't photograph all of the flowers, I got back up and tried to stay focused on the uphill climb. There would be plenty more flowers ahead. 

Pipsissewa along the Gunsight Pass trail on the way to Snyder Lake

Wintergreen or pipsissewa on the way to Snyder Lake


Right around the trail junction where the Snyder Lake Trail took off from the Gunsight Pass Trail, we met some backpackers and exchanged pleasantries. They were heading out after a few days in the backcountry and warned us strongly about bears. I think I may have been too enthusiastic with my inquiries on the topic. As we were walking away, I heard one of them say something muffled to which another replied, "At least they have some bear spray." Needless to say, I think they were concerned for our safety. 

Bear Safety in Glacier National Park

Let's just take a moment now to cover some important information. First, if you ever meet me in the woods, I may come across as though I'm out looking for wildlife. That's not exactly true, but I'm definitely always interested in seeing it. Spotting wildlife is a highlight of every trip we take. You might even deduce that I'm a little too interested in finding grizzly bears. However, I probably respect them more than 99.9% of other people do. Yes, I would love to see one while out on the trail sometime, but I'm totally okay when that doesn't happen. In fact, I actively take measures to make sure they know I'm around which probably means I'm eliminating most opportunities to see one. 

While in the woods in grizzly country, I highly recommend keeping bear spray close and easy to hand. I also recommend making LOTS of noise, and I don't mean timid quiet noise. This is noise that alerts anything and everything around to your presence. You'll hear me talking loudly both to myself, my wife, and of course the bears. My favorite is the traditional "hey bear!!!" but I mix it up a lot as well. That gets boring after a little while. 

Some people choose to wear bear bells (say that five times fast). You've probably even heard the old joke about those bear bells. The first time I ever heard the joke was right before my first trip to Yellowstone. I wasn't sure how serious the joke was, but when I hit my first trail in Yellowstone solo and ran into other hikers with bells, it really hit me that I was out in the woods with something a little bigger and badder than me. Ever since, I've hiked a lot in grizzly country, and I've always made a lot of noise. I've even wore a bell a time or two, but honestly they don't make enough noise if you ask me. Your own voice is much better, you just need to remember to constantly use it.

I've never been attacked by a grizzly and hope never to have it happen. That's why I go to so much trouble to avoid any close encounters. If it did happen though, I hope I would follow the advice everyone should follow. In a nutshell, with a black bear, fight back. With a grizzly, play dead and try to cover your neck and the back of your head while you're at it. Grizzly bears will often come back when you start to "wake" up, so don't go that route too soon. Again, I can't overstate the importance of bear spray while hiking in bear country. Some people choose firearms as well, but that sounds like way more hassle than its worth, and if you don't hit the bear perfectly, it will still come get you. The bear spray is much more reliable. Anyway, enough about bears. Lets' get back to the hike...

Snyder Lake Trail in Glacier National Park

Shortly after turning onto the Snyder Lake Trail, I made the most amazing discovery. Before our trip, I had been hoping to find some huckleberries somewhere in Glacier or on part two of our trip in northern Idaho. Lots of research had me fairly comfortable with identifying them, but so far we had found some of the look alike plants but not the real thing. We had barely started onto the actual Snyder Lake Trail when I noticed some berries on low bushes along the trail. My first taste had me sold. Huckleberries are delicious! 

You might remember that I really like huckleberry ice cream and it is always a highlight of my trips to Yellowstone National Park. We were not sure if we would try any ice cream on this trip for a variety of reasons but mostly due to COVID. So, as a consolation, I had prepared for huckleberry pancakes. Unfortunately, when we discovered our first huckleberries, I wasn't ready to collect them. We would have to hope for another opportunity. After this first discovery, I would make sure I was prepared for huckleberries anytime I thought I might want to collect a few.

As you hike the Snyder Lake Trail, you will begin passing through areas affected by the Sprague Fire. This wildfire happened just a few years ago so the landscape still has that raw look. Because of how recently the landscape has been affected by fire, the trail begins to open up a bit sooner than it otherwise might. Through here, you will definitely be feeling the summer sun. Shade became more and more infrequent until we had mostly given up on finding it. Water breaks became more important as we were still adjusting to the dry western air. However, the sunlight was also helping many wildflowers grow that might otherwise not be there. I soon found some new ones for me including the streambank globemallow and the green false hellebore. 

Streambank Globemallow in Glacier National Park on Snyder Lake Trail

green false hellebore on the Snyder Lake Trail

Tall green false hellebore trailside on the way to Snyder Lake


In fact, I was finding so many flowers that I quickly decided I couldn't waste my whole day on them if we were going to enjoy Snyder Lake. We did manage to get a couple of selfies on the trail. I also took a few of my wife walking through wildflowers that were taller than she was! Glacier is extremely lush with lots of moisture coming off the hillsides to water the various wildflowers.

On trail heading towards Snyder Lake

Lush wildflowers growing tall on Snyder Lake Trail


Eventually, the trail began to level out and we could sense that the lake was just ahead. Snyder Lake is nestled in a high basin at just under a mile in elevation. The lake is surrounded by Mt. Brown to the northwest, Edwards Mountain to the east, and the Little Matterhorn to the northeast. Just beyond Edwards Mountain lies the beautiful Sperry glacier and Comeau Pass, but we'll save that story for another day. The views at Snyder Lake are impressive, but not so much as when you get a bit higher in elevation. However, the reasonable distance from the trailhead and lovely hike make this a definite must for anyone who is serious about hiking in Glacier National Park. It is also a good fallback option when other parking lots have filled up as there is a decent amount of parking at the Sperry Chaley/Gunsight Pass trailhead.

Mount Brown over Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park


The terrain is wide open leading up to the lake, but there are plenty of trees in the immediate vicinity of the lake that survived the Sprague Fire. Nestled among the trees on the east side of the lake is a backcountry campsite. While we often wished we could have been spending the night on some of our hikes, the bugs made you second guess whether that would actually be a good idea. Snyder Lake was nowhere close to being the worst for bugs though and we were able to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Here we found some wildlife beyond the birds we had spotted on the hike in. 

Ground squirrels and chipmunks are always some of our favorites when out hiking. Snyder Lake was no different. These bold little critters had clearly been fed from time to time by unscrupulous hikers. We had to keep a close eye on them and our backpacks. The golden mantled ground squirrels there would try climbing into our packs in search of edibles given the opportunity. My wife in particular enjoyed photographing them although I got a few pictures as well. It was good fun for her while I got in my first fishing in Glacier National Park. 

Golden mantled ground squirrel at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Fly Fishing Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Cutthroat trout at Snyder Lake


You know I would eventually get around to doing some fly fishing. While the Glacier National Park portion of our trip was not really about fishing, I could not completely ignore the fishing either. The good news about fishing in Glacier National Park is that you do not need a fishing license with just a few small exceptions. Make sure to check the current fishing regulations to make sure you are familiar with those exceptions, but the lack of a license requirement actually made fishing here a no brainer. 

The waters of Glacier are largely very low on nutrients leading to rather small fish. There are definitely some exceptions, but as a whole, the fishing is not noteworthy in the least. Thus, the Park does not require a fishing license, but there are still some special regulations you should check into. Certain streams and lakes are permanently closed to fishing to protect native species. Others have seasonal closures. With only one or two exceptions, the Park requires fishing to be done with artificial flies or lures only. Anglers are limited to one rod in use. 

While the fishing in Glacier National Park might not normally produce the same trophy sized fish that anglers are accustomed to elsewhere in Montana, the fish are still hungry, willing, and plentiful if you find the right place. Snyder Lake is one of those places. The fish here are quite small, however. For someone used to fly fishing and guiding in the Smokies, this wasn't a problem. 

I had begun a habit that I would continue throughout our time in Glacier National Park. A Tenkara USA rod would accompany me on nearly every hike. For the most part, I did not do any fishing on our hikes. However, I was always prepared just in case. If you have ever found yourself miles from your vehicle without fishing gear and discovered lots of trout, you know how frustrating it is. I decided I wasn't going to find myself in that position. If the opportunity arose, I was prepared to fish. The rod that I brought on this trip was the Rhodo. This is the rod I reach for most often in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it proved to be excellent for my purposes in Glacier National Park as well. It is lightweight, so I don't really notice it in my pack. 

My Osprey Backpack with a Tenkara USA Rhodo


The small cutthroat trout of Snyder Lake were not at all picky. A small Parachute Adams seemed to be all I needed. Even my wife got in on the action and caught a few fish! The trout were cruising around looking for something to eat. If you got a good presentation without throwing a shadow over the fish, they would generally eat. Fly fishing with a Tenkara rod is interesting since you have a fixed length line. We would wait until a cutthroat trout would cruise into range and then present the fly. Here are a few of the fish we caught. 

Tenkara caught cutthroat trout at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Closeup of a Snyder Lake cutthroat trout on a Parachute Adams

My wife's cutthroat trout on Snyder Lake

A closeup of my wife's catch fly fishing Snyder Lake

Snyder Lake cutthroat trout caught fly fishing with a Tenkara rod

A nicer cutthroat trout caught while fly fishing Snyder Lake

Fly Fishing Snyder Lake Video

While fly fishing at Snyder lake with my Tenkara rod, I asked my wife to take a quick video. Here is the result. Oh, and while you're at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel please!


Hiking Back Out From Snyder Lake

All good things must come to an end. On this day in particular, we were changing campsites and needed to get settled in to our new place. The original trip plan was to spend a large chunk of our time at Many Glacier. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the entire east side of the Park was closed. We were left scrambling for alternative camping arrangements and stumbled upon the wonderful Glacier Campground in West Glacier. We wanted to be back before dark to get our campsite arranged and supper made. 

Before the hike back out, we made one side detour. There were some small waterfalls at the head of Snyder Lake. Water surges down a steep but short canyon from Upper Snyder Lake to Snyder Lake and we wanted to explore a bit. We worked our way across the rocks around the north side of Snyder Lake and to the inlet creek. On our way, we spotted a golden eagle soaring above but didn't get any decent pictures. Climbing up the hill, we eventually gained a good view of the first waterfall. Looking on up the canyon, I could see a fairly good route continuing towards Upper Snyder Lake, but it was getting late and we really needed to be going. A trip to Upper Snyder Lake will be in my future, but on this day we needed to head on. 

Waterfall at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Selfie at waterfall at Snyder Lake

I also paused long enough to take some pictures of Snyder Lake from another angle. This day was amazingly calm which offered some beautiful reflections in the lake. Calm winds are a rarity out west, so we greatly enjoyed this fine summer day. 

Snyder Lake as viewed from the head of the lake

Looking down towards Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Not too far down the trail, I began to get distracted by wildflowers again. Glacier National Park has incredible displays of wildflowers, and I was enjoying every new discovery and some old favorites. The colors of some of the flowers were almost fake they were so brilliant. The first is Alberta beardtongue (I think, please let me know if you have a better idea!) or some other penstemon and the second is one of my favorites from our trip, the purple monkeyflower. I'm a bit unclear on why it is the purple monkeyflower when the color is obviously pink, but then I'm not the one naming these things. 



The late day sunlight was filtering through the trees as we descended back towards Lake McDonald. When we arrived back at the car, we had covered 9.75 miles according to my wife's watch. We were tired but not sore. A good supper and a well deserved night's rest was all we needed or wanted. The next day's adventure would arrive soon enough and we wanted to be ready. 

Snyder Lake Trail in the late day sun