Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Monday, February 15, 2021

How Much Is Too Much?

Sitting around this evening, my wife told me that her mom had inquired about a hike we had recently done. When I asked my wife why her mom was suddenly interested, I found out something interesting. Apparently my mother-in-law had seen something about it on TV. Some news piece or something similar was done to highlight different out of the way hikes in the area. My first thought was oh great, another one ruined. 

One of my favorite local hikes and one of the best hikes on the Cumberland Plateau, Virgin Falls used to be an out of the way spot visited by just a few. Same thing with a few others I can think of both in our immediate area and beyond. Now, if you visit Virgin Falls on a weekend, be prepared to share the trail with anywhere from 50-200 of your new best friends and maybe even more. I've seen cars parked down the side of the road in both directions, damaging the shoulder, creating ruts, oh, and of course completely ruining the feeling of solitude that originally brought me to this amazing place.

I've seen the same problem explode in the Smokies. Last year was particularly bad, of course, as COVID sent many people into the outdoors where recreation was not only safer but often free or very low cost. That trend will continue for at least another year it would appear. But COVID really isn't the only one to blame for this problem. The issue of overcrowding was already a thing with Virgin Falls. In fact, it motivated Tennessee State Parks who oversees the area to institute a backpacking fee and permit process. The backcountry campsites were seeing horrendous overcrowding and the surrounding areas were getting trammeled by unconscientious, unlearned, and occasionally unscrupulous adventurers. 

The amount of trash both in the backcountry and also roadside has grown a lot as well. The sad thing with the increase in traffic is that not everyone has the same ideals of leave no trace. In fact, many people ignore it either purposefully or because they don't know any better. Piles of poo and tissue paper abound in the woods near backcountry campsites, while people let their dogs go right in the trail without bothering to clean up after their furry friends. Don't even get me started on the intentional garbage people leave because they don't want to carry out the wrappers their food came in or in extreme circumstances, that heavy tent. 

Yes, the great outdoors is being rapidly loved to death. Yet, during the discussion that motivated all of this, there was something nagging in the back of my mind. Even I am at least partially responsible for this. You see, I tell anyone and everyone about my favorite hikes, just the same as many tell people about their favorite fishing spots. I am always shocked at how many people will ask complete strangers on the internet about the best places to fish and will usually get back incredibly detailed responses on small out of the way trout streams. Yes, technology ultimately is to blame here, but we need to use more than a little self control and common sense.

The free flow of information has allowed people who would never set foot into the Smoky Mountain backcountry to learn about the glorious brook trout fishing found there and head off in search of their own photo op. Blogs like mine don't help. Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time have probably noticed a trend. Older posts contain more information than newer ones. I, along with many others who love wild places, noticed a little too late what all that free information was doing to the previously pristine places we treasure. Yet, information continues to get out.

A few years ago, the internet message boards were all the rage, and woe unto anyone who foolishly decided to hot spot. Never mind, of course, that this was usually done innocently. Some kind person really wanted to help someone else out. People quickly figured out the effects of doing so, and would chase the unfortunate person right off the board who dared to speak of such secret things. Now, all a person needs to do is join the right Facebook group, ask where to go, and some person who has been to stream X once with their cousin's best friend's uncle will pipe up with all the details. Never mind that they probably couldn't catch a cold once they got there. Still, the damage is done as armies of adventurers roam throughout previously untrammeled and untamed wilderness. 

Now, with the rise of click bait, large companies create websites with no more purpose than to answer the specific queries people enter into Google. They go and find some expert to write an article, pay them a little to kiss and tell, make sure the search engine optimization is done correctly, and sit back and enjoy the advertising revenue from all those people clicking their article. Yet, we all do it. And that is the trouble. How much is too much these days? Where do we draw the line in sharing information in a world awash in more information than anyone knows what to do with? Nowadays, we have facts and alternative facts, but in all the mess, wild places continue to suffer from overuse.

It is easy to go down the rabbit hole of asking how dare people fish my stream and hike my trail, but in reality I'm just another person out there adding to the congestion. At what point do we need to step back and add self imposed limits to lessen crowding issues? 

Yet, in it all, there exists much hope as well. With the massive influx of new interest in the outdoors comes the opportunity to convince that many more people that wild places are worth preserving. For fly fishing, we have huge issues with crowding that still have to sort themselves out. At the same time, all of these new converts are more people to advocate for clean air and clean water. Ultimately, all of us suffer if those things are gone. As earth's population continues to soar, it is becoming more and more crucial that we figure out how to balance our desire for wilderness with the footprints we leave. With more people becoming interested, we have an even greater opportunity for positive change.

The one thing we can all do now is, admittedly, somewhat selfish. We can go back to the days when hot spotting was a huge taboo. One of the greatest joys of nature is to explore. When you find your own hidden paradise, you can imagine at least briefly that you have your own secret. When a spot comes to you through a social media tag and you're just there to get your own selfie, it really isn't yours. The hidden spots, the ones you've worked diligently for, those are your spots. The only way they'll stay that way is if you keep them to yourself. 

In fly fishing, as with other parts of life, there is always the tendency to tell one close friend or family member. Of course, they share with just one close friend or family member as well, but eventually the secret leaks out. I have fishing buddies that I share lots of general info with, then I have a very small handful of friends who I share the true secrets with. Those are the ones who I know really will keep it under their hat. Nowadays, there really aren't that many secrets left. And this brings us back to the question: how much is too much? At what point do we draw the line, or should we even draw one, when it comes to sharing about the great outdoors? 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Nymph Variation

The pheasant tail nymph is perhaps one of the best flies of all time. It can catch trout in a ton of different situations and is extremely versatile. It probably has more variation than most other flies combined. All of these variations are still pheasant tail nymphs at least in that they utilize pheasant tail fibers for the tail and abdomen if not more. One simple variation that we use a lot is pheasant for the tail and abdomen with a traditional wire rib, and a dubbed thorax. You can include the wing case and legs or not. I've found that most of the time that isn't necessary. 

Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Nymph Video

Below is the video of me tying this fly in a hot spot version. At the end of the video, I share some brief but important observations about the hot spot. I hope that part will get your mind searching for new possibilities if it is something you hadn't considered before. I'm going to do a longer post and/or another video soon just on UV materials in your fly tying. Note that not all bright thread will be UV reactive so consider that if it is important to you when tying and fishing a particular pattern. I don't tie all of my flies with this feature by a long shot, but it is nice to have at least a few handy just in case.

Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Nymph Basic Recipe

  • Hook: Firehole Outdoors 516 jig hook #12-#18
  • Bead: Slotted tungsten bead, color of choice, size to match hook
  • Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0 for #18
  • Tail: Pheasant tail fiber
  • Rib: Small copper Ultra-wire
  • Abdomen: Pheasant Tail fibers
  • Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub
  • Optional wing case and legs: Pheasant Tail Fibers
  • Hot Spot: Fire Orange 6/0 0r 8/0 UNI-thread OR Globrite Floss

Directions: Basically, tie this fly like a normal pheasant tail nymph, dubbing the thorax instead of using peacock herl. At the end, tie off and finish. Then start some fire orange UNI-thread and give 4-6 wraps and then tie off and finish again. Alternatively, tie a regular pheasant tail nymph and just add the hot spot. This is an excellent pattern particularly for nymphing on higher flows like we experience in the spring. In lower water, I generally recommend more subtle patterns without the hot spot. 

Let me know if the hot spot pheasant tail works well for you!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Glacier Day Six: Huckleberry Pancakes Finally!!! Vegan Huckleberry Pancake Recipe Included

One thing I look forward to on all trips to the Northern Rockies is huckleberry ice cream. I first discovered this delicacy in Yellowstone. Ever since that first taste, my trips to Yellowstone National Park usually feature as much huckleberry ice cream as I can reasonably consume. Hint: It is a lot!!! Anyway, on our trip to Glacier National Park this past summer, a debate was ongoing even before we left. We were trying to decide if joining the masses pursuing huckleberry ice cream was smart in this age of COVID. The funny thing is, we never completely answered that question, but we did generally steer clear of people. Getting exceptionally sick on a big vacation we had been planning for years just didn't sound fun. We were willing to forego some of our usual trip activities, such as eating out, in exchange for a healthy trip. But what about those huckleberries? 

As our trip drew nearer and nearer, we were still trying to figure out how to get in on that huckleberry goodness when inspiration struck. My wife and I greatly enjoy pancakes and specifically blueberry pancakes. What if we premixed some pancakes so that we only needed to add liquid ingredients and hopefully some huckleberries to try a new variation on one of our favorite delicacies? So, the night before our trip, I quickly mixed up threw separate batches of pancake mix. We have developed a small variation on the recipe in one of our cookbooks to make these pancakes healthier and also vegan. Not that we always skip the eggs in general, but in a lot of our baking we prefer things that way. So, here is the recipe I use for both blueberry and huckleberry pancakes. And no, I'm not fancy enough to even began to know about the nutrition information so don't bother to ask. I just know these things are delicious!

Vegan Huckleberry Pancakes Recipe

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour 
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1 1/2 cups unsweet almond milk + a little more to reach desired consistency
3 tablespoons of cooking oil
Fresh huckleberries stirred into batter (as many as you want!!!)

After mixing each batch of dry ingredients, I placed them in a quart ziplock bag. We would add the almond milk and oil when we mixed them to cook.

Huckleberry Pancakes in Glacier National Park

Once we got our trip started, I more or less forgot about the huckleberry pancakes, until we moved to Glacier Campground that is. During our first couple of days in Glacier staying at Fish Creek, we casually looked for huckleberries on one of our drives but kept striking out. Our luck changed when we moved to Glacier Campground. There were numerous huckleberry bushes throughout the woods beside and behind our campsite. We were very fortunate with our campsite location as this wouldn't have been possible with many of the campsites that were in the middle of the campground. Our campsite was on the edge of the campground with lots of woods behind and to one side, however.

As we were getting close to finishing our epic 20+ mile hike to Sperry Glacier, we began to think seriously about food and also the next day. Neither of us knew how we would feel the next morning. There was at least a chance we would barely be able to move. So, we did something that we hadn't done during our whole time at Glacier: we decided to sleep in. The funny thing is that we were so used to waking up that we were still up at a ridiculously early hour. Part of that could have been excitement. We were going to finally try huckleberry pancakes!

A quick trip through the woods by our campsite produced more huckleberries than we needed. We probably went a little overboard on the huckleberries as we often do on the blueberries when we make those pancakes. I'm a firm believer that more is better, at least when it comes to fruit filled pancakes. We washed the huckleberries and then stirred them into the batter. It was hard to tell if there was more batter or more huckleberries. In other words, these were going to be epic huckleberry pancakes. 

I fired up my camp stove and got to work cooking the pancakes. We were ravenous after the previous day's big hike and those pancakes sure hit the spot. Cooking them seemed like an eternity, but eventually they were done and we were ready to dig in.

Cooking huckleberry pancakes in Glacier National Park

We finally sat down to a big pile of hot huckleberry pancakes and soon devoured every last one. I mostly did peanut butter and honey on mine while my wife stuck with just the honey. Maple syrup would have been good as well, but of course that would be just another thing to keep in the cooler. I am probably strange in that I usually do peanut butter (natural) and raw honey on my pancakes almost exclusively although my wife probably missed her usual maple syrup. Still, they were absolutely perfect. These were by far the best huckleberry pancakes I've ever had (okay, they were the only ones I've ever had) and in fact the best pancakes in general I've ever had. I think I have a new favorite for those trips out west. I'll still look forward to my huckleberry ice cream, but now I'll look forward to huckleberry pancakes at least as much and probably even more!
Fresh vegan huckleberry pancakes at Glacier

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Blackburn Style Tellico Nymph Variation

Last night, I put together a video for YouTube on tying the Blackburn Tellico nymph the way I do. Most of it is standard with a couple of quick modifications I like to use. Check it out and let me know what you think. My variation is not 100% true to the original version, but it catches a lot of fish including those big Smoky Mountain brown trout

As I forgot one small detail in the recipe at the end of the video, here is the complete recipe for this fly as I tie it. 

  • Hook: TMC 5262 or similar. Video is a #10 but I tie it from #4 down to #16 
  • Underbody: Lead Free Wire .020 for #14-#16, .025 for #8-#12, .030 or .035 for #4-#6
  • Thread: Tan or yellow 6/0 UNI-thread
  • Tail: Black or brown hackle fibers
  • Shellback: Turkey tail
  • Rib: 2 strands of peacock herl
  • Body: Lifecycle dubbing stonefly yellow or golden stonefly
  • Legs: Brown hackle
  • Optional Reinforcement: Loon UV Flow Fly Finish

I'm not sure if it will display correctly here, so try it through YouTube if you need to. Don't forget to subscribe to my channel while you're at it. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Fly Fishing At A Crossroads

Recently, my friend and fellow guide, Travis Williams, sent me a link to an article from Kirk Deeter over at Angling Trade Media. The article asks "Is fly fishing going to "implode" as a result of the pandemic?" In the article (which really resonated with me and which you should read), Deeter explores the current explosion of interest in the sport of fly fishing. Much like the "A River Runs Through It" craze back in the '90s, the current pandemic fueled an explosion in the sport unlike anything we've seen before. This is much bigger than the explosion in the '90s and most likely bigger than anything we'll see in our lifetimes.

At first glance, growth in the sport seems like a positive. After years of hearing about declining fishing and hunting license sales and declining interest in outdoor pursuits, we suddenly have a huge influx of new interest. This has been of huge benefit to those who produce and sell gear and equipment and also for guides to an extent. However, all of this new interest comes at a price. In his article, Deeter says that "We’re in a spot where some lovers of this sport are ready to throw their hands up and walk away, and the newbies are also having gag-reactions to their first impressions, because of the circus atmosphere." 

As a guide, I've seen this first hand. In fact, probably I and my fellow guides are even partly responsible. If we weren't out there taking people fishing, many of them would never have tried a sport that is often viewed as difficult and even elitist. In the Smokies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find open water to fish, either on your own or with clients. In many places, there are increasing calls to limit guides and outfitters as ordinary anglers feel squeezed out of the water they have always fished. This moment is both an opportunity and a danger for our sport. 

Guides like myself will need to take a long hard look at how we do business. For our part at Trout Zone Anglers, we have been intentional about keeping our business small. Most of our friends in the business are doing the same. We also seek to keep rates rising to balance demand. Instead of maximizing the number of clients through cheap trips, we focus instead on quality of both guides and trips and hope our clients appreciate those efforts. Still, we have to recognize that we are yet another one or two of those guides on the water that are adding to the crowding and over utilization of some of our waterways.

Moving forward, our sport will have to take a long hard look at how we do or don't do business. As I've argued before, a piece of the puzzle moving forward will be better management of our fisheries. In some cases, this might be setting and following our own higher standards instead of the ones put in place by the regulating authorities. Catch and release has worked in many of our country's greatest fisheries as a management strategy to promote more and better fish, but it will take time to shift the public opinion in areas such as ours. This is where guides, outfitters and fly shops should come in. 

While we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to screw up our sport, perhaps permanently, we also have a once in a lifetime opportunity to help grow lifelong practitioners of the sport who do things the right way. One unintended consequence of guides in outdoor sports is the notion that if you just pay enough, any inexperienced individual can go and have a once in a lifetime moment or day on the water. Unfortunately, we as guides and outfitters have pushed this notion by filling our social media feeds with tales and pictures of big numbers days, trophy fish, and hero shots. These help sell things, but at what price?

Maybe we need to turn back the clock on our sport at least in some areas. This could happen in a lot of ways, but it is important to consider that the idea of catching lots of big fish has always been a goal yet rarely attained...until now that is. Modern advances in materials, design, and yes, the actual techniques and tactics have allowed us to catch fish more than ever. Euro nymphing, modern streamer techniques, drift boat fishing and more all allow us the opportunity to catch fish regularly that were once just a dream. As a guide in the Smokies, I gravitate towards giving anglers a nymph and an indicator. Even beginners catch start catching fish quickly this way. 

And here is an important point: that is all well and good. These techniques have nothing wrong with them in and of themselves, but they do create one dimensional anglers. Anglers who can successfully catch fish high sticking nymphs under an indicator in the Smokies might struggle wading on low water on the Clinch River. Those who have mastered streamer fishing for big fish on tailwaters might struggle to crack the code during a rare thick hatch in the mountains. As guides, we need to be creating lifelong learners and practitioners of the sport, not just fish mongers. Instead of emphasizing how many or big of fish a client has caught, we need to be celebrating their good execution of a new technique or cast. We need to be teaching them how to decipher what trout want under all scenarios.

But, and this is even more important, we need to teach people to be satisfied sooner rather than later. When you have hit twenty trout in the first two hours on nymphs, it is time to experiment. Teach people to have that same experimental interest that drives us to tie on a dry fly even when we're killing it on nymphs. When the fish are really biting is the time to experiment, not necessarily when the fish have lockjaw. While it is fun to sometimes catch 100 fish in a day, if everyone out there was doing so, our fisheries would really begin to suffer quickly. 

Back in the purist days, anglers would sit by the stream to wait for the hatch. In fact, there are still anglers who prefer to fish this way. I've seen them sitting on the banks of the Firehole River in Yellowstone and resting pools in the Smokies. Setting yourself the goal of catching fish on a dry fly adds a level of difficulty that gives the fish some refuge. Instead of probing every inch of the water column, perhaps we need to be giving them a chance. Those modern techniques and materials have made it ever easier to catch fish. Flies like the squirmy worm are dangerously close to fishing with lures instead of flies, yet we keep on pushing the envelope when it comes to fly development. At what point do we realize we have sold out our sport? At what point do we have too great an advantage over the fish we seek?

Does this mean we need to return to the days of fishing with bamboo and dry flies fished upstream only? No, or at least, not for everyone. However, we do need to be encouraging our fellow anglers to progress. For some, that might mean learning to nymph with a strike indicator. For others, that might mean graduating to high sticking without an indicator. Others yet might be ready to progress to limiting themselves to dry flies on occasion or perhaps learning the bugs so they can match the hatch when it happens. In other words, instead of glorifying the result of many large fish caught, we need to promote the process. That is what makes our sport so interesting and is what will bring lasting enjoyment to all the new anglers in the sport. If we all slow down and enjoy the process, we might not be running around as fast as possible, running over each other in the process.

Part of this process has historically been rooted in a lot of tradition. Many of those traditions are good or even great. Some not so much. The elitist attitude that has long encumbered our sport should be left behind. The idea of harvesting your catch also needs to be left behind, and instead, we need to teach good catch and release techniques. We also need to leave behind the outdated idea that fly fishing is for well heeled gentlemen only. Fly fishing is for everyone.

Some old traditions need to return, however. The often unspoken ideas of stream etiquette probably need to be broadcast louder than ever. One byproduct of the huge influx of new participants has been a rapid distancing from our polite past. Often, anglers view each other as competitors or worse. I can't begin to count all the times I've started to generally wander towards a piece of water only to have someone else go running to make sure they get there first. The telltale signs are all too obvious when someone is trying to win a footrace to their chosen water. Not too long ago, many anglers would stop to chat with each other and get an idea of where everyone wanted to fish. People would make concessions and everyone would be satisfied with their own bit of water.

As a guide, I greatly appreciate and respect my amazing so called competition. In my own sphere, at least, there is a level of respect and courtesy among the various guides. Rob Fightmaster and Ian and Charity Rutter immediately come to mind as guides who regularly go out of their way to ask where I'm planning to fish with my clients. I've also received the same courtesy from guides like CJ Stancil of Smoky Mountain Angler. I always try to return the favor and even extend that to other anglers I meet out on the water. Unfortunately, I know this level of professional kindness and respect is not universal. At least in some places, guiding is rumored to be a cutthroat business. As guides, we need to be modeling the behavior we hope our clients will develop, and it is crucial that we teach etiquette to our clients.

I'll never forget when I had a couple of newbies out on the water one day in the Smokies a few years back. We were fishing some favorite roadside water on a less than crowded day. There were plenty of empty pullouts along Little River Road. In other words, it was a great day to be out fishing. We had been fishing for about 10 minutes and were just about to start working upstream towards the next run when another vehicle pulled into our pullout. An angler jumped out, grabbed all his equipment, and started hustling up the road. He looked like he had just stepped out of an Orvis catalogue if you know what I mean. As soon as he got to the next run 20 yards upstream, he jumped into the stream and started to fish. The anglers with me looked shocked. One of them turned to me and said, "He really isn't supposed to do that, is he?" Even a beginner with minimal experience knew better than to act the way this guy did. Yet, there is at least the possibility that this guy really didn't have a clue. Maybe no one ever told him.

As guides, we are in an excellent place to educate the next generation of anglers, but it can't be left just to us. While many anglers choose to use a guide to get started or progress in the sport, there are plenty of others who choose not to or cannot afford to. That is where fly shops and outfitters come in. If you work in the fly fishing industry, cut back a little on the focus of helping people catch tons of fish. Yes, you want them to find success, because a successful angler will come back to purchase more flies, equipment, tackle, and all the other necessary stuff, but we need to instill in new anglers the love of the process. Part of the process is slowing down, and taking things as they come. We should only take what the stream offers. We should show courtesy to fellow anglers. We should bring back the days of stream side chats with other anglers to ask where they want to fish and then making every effort to give them the water they were hoping for. 

We have the opportunity almost every time we get out on the water to teach someone whether we are guiding or not. If it is done in kindness, then it is much more likely to make a difference. The health of our sport needs this. The health of our fisheries needs us to be satisfied with not just catching fish but in enjoying the process itself. Learn good fish handling techniques if you must handle them at all. Keep fish in the water. Skip harvesting any fish, always. Even with more people than ever out there fly fishing, we have the ability to improve the fishing, but it will take all of us working together to make it happen.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Glacier Day Five: Hiking to Sperry Glacier Part Two

After we had a nice lunch break on our Sperry Glacier hike, it was time to hit the trail again. We still needed to climb a bit higher to get to Comeau Pass and Sperry Glacier beyond. The daylight would get away from us if we didn't keep moving. Not only did we need to still reach the glacier, we also had a long return hike ahead of us. 

As we were wrapping up lunch, I noticed a large clump of flowers overlooking Akaiyan Lake. Since I had my pack open already for lunch, it was easy to grab my camera and take a picture. As with many of the other flowers I encountered in Glacier National Park, I'm still having a hard time with identification. That said, I believe this one is rocky ledge penstemon. If anyone has any better identification, please let me know!

Rocky Ledge Penstemon above Lake Akaiyan

The next wildflower was one I recognized without the need for an identification guide. Spring beauty is a wildflower we have here in Tennessee. In fact, I even have them in my yard. They are one of the earliest wildflowers in the spring around here, so I was surprised to find them still blooming at the end of July here in Glacier National Park. Of course, with the huge snow fields everywhere and a large glacier lurking just over the pass, the wildflowers probably still thought it was early spring. 

Spring beauty along the Sperry Lake trail above Akaiyan Lake

Shortly above our lunch stop, the trail reached yet another bench that followed the headwall above Akaiyan Lake towards the base of Gunsight Mountain. At the far end of the bench, the trail turned and started a series of switchbacks up to Comeau Pass. We were getting close. 

At this point, both of us had our cameras out. The scenery was the same that we had enjoyed during lunch, but the perspective was constantly shifting as we moved along. Our cameras were kept busy with the occasional wildlife as well. We both enjoy the marmots, ground squirrels, and other critters. My wife stalked a marmot while I found a willing golden mantled grand squirrel. 

Photographing a marmot along the Sperry Lake trail

Golden mantled ground squirrel along the Sperry Lake trail near Sperry Glacier

Oh, and we didn't forget to photograph the views either. 

Headwall above Akaiyan Lake on Sperry Lake trail

Akaiyan Lake view on Sperry Lake trail near Sperry Glacier

Speaking of wildlife, if you haven't read about the mountain goat, go back and do so now. This was one of the hiking highlights of Glacier National Park for both of us but especially for my wife. Here is a teaser picture of the goat along with the story. 

The Goat on the Trail to Sperry Glacier

Sperry Lake trail to Sperry Glacier Mountain goat

After the mountain goat encounter, we were excited for the final push up to Comeau Pass and Sperry Glacier beyond. The trail finally turned and made a beeline to a gash in the final headwall below the pass. This passage has been vastly improved by the park service with some stairs cut into the rock to make climbing easier. It is a little sketchy, but overall not a bad final climb to breathtaking Comeau Pass. When we got to the top, the views were incredible. The Sperry Glacier was lurking out of sight, however. With a bit of research, I found this interesting comparison of what it looked like back in the 1930s with today. Unfortunately, Sperry Glacier has retreated a LOT since then. 

Here is the view towards Sperry Glacier from Comeau Pass. Note the mountain goat in the lower left side of the first picture. This mountain goat came up the stairs just after we did and continued on across the landscape. The bulk of Gunsight Mountain is just out of view to the right. 

Looking towards Sperry Glacier from Comeau Pass

This second view from Comeau Pass is looking generally west towards Edwards Mountain. There were still huge snowfields, probably semi-permanent. You can see the rugged layers in the rock that makes up Edwards Mountain. The geology here in Glacier National Park was incredible.

Edwards Mountain from Comeau Pass

After gaining the pass and pausing for a few pictures, we pushed on towards Sperry Glacier itself. This was our main objective after all. The trail crossed rocks and many large snowfields. We had to be a bit careful on some of the snow bridges. Streams were running underneath and we didn't want to have one collapse and dump us into the icy water. All of this water was rushing downhill towards Avalanche Lake for the most part. 

Finally, after what seemed much farther than we anticipated, Sperry Glacier finally came into view. We simply stood still and took it all in before remembering to snap a few pictures as well. We felt incredibly fortunate to be able to experience this place while a glacier is still present. At the rate things are going, this opportunity won't last long so see it soon while you can.

Sperry Glacier

My wife in front of Sperry Glacier

Sperry Glacier Panorama

We were getting low on water at this point and decided to filter some water from the glacial runoff before heading too far back towards Comeau Pass and the trail downhill. As we were heading that general direction, we had a couple more awesome wildlife encounters. The first happened as I came over a jumbled pile of boulders and stepped down. Out on the white snow, something moved. I quickly froze and realized I had almost run over a ptarmigan. Since I love birds, this was a big treat. I'm not a hard core birder, but I do enjoy seeing new to me species. This was one that I hadn't found when I lived in Colorado or on any other trips out west. I quickly switched out lenses on my camera and thankfully the bird didn't run off too fast. Here are a couple of pictures. 

Ptarmigan near Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park

Ptarmigan near Sperry Glacier

The second encounter was better for my wife. We saw a good sized group of mountain goats resting on the snowfields below Gunsight Mountain. My wife decided to move in for a closer look and better pictures. I'll share her post so you can see her pictures if and when she gets around to it, but the neat thing about this group is that it had a big billy goat. When I say big, he made all the other goats look small.

After these two wildlife encounters, we decided it was time to make haste. According to my wife's watch, we were over 10 miles for the day and still had nearly that to get back to the car. Our extra wandering around to see things was adding up to a big day.

On the trail down, we got serious about walking. Both of us put our cameras up and got our trekking poles back out. The trekking poles are really useful for when you have big elevation changes up or down. On the downhill, they really take a lot of the pressure off of your knees. This was what I had brought them for. I can do uphill although on this day I had struggled a bit with the heavy cardio. The downhill usually gets my knees aching, though, and we had a lot of trip left. I didn't want to get gimpy now!

Back down the trail a ways, we ran into some more mountain goats. These things are everywhere but it takes at least some luck to cross paths with them. These were pawing and eating at the trail itself. Apparently, the goats like to eat the minerals and salts from where people urinate. Yep, the goats eat pee or at least the remnants of it. This is a really good reason to do your business on durable surfaces. There were huge gaping holes in the trail where the goats had pawed and otherwise dug into the trail to get at the minerals. Regardless of why they were there, the goats did offer some good photo opportunities and we dug our cameras back out. 

After this, the wildflowers were distracting, but I was getting tired enough that I didn't bother to photograph any until we stopped for water. At that point, there was a clump of some of my favorites, the purple monkey flowers. I snapped a picture, filtered water, and then we kept trucking on down the long trail back.

Purple monkey flowers along the Sperry Lake trail

From that break on, we really made haste. The miles flew by on increasingly tired feet. We were both starting to look forward to the end of the hike, something that doesn't happen too often. Thankfully, nature had one more surprise to perk us up. We were on the steep downhill section just above Lake McDonald. As we came around one switchback, we noticed a deer. Seriously, normally we wouldn't be too excited about deer, but we hadn't been seeing tons of larger wildlife on this trip. This was another photo opportunity that couldn't be missed. This curious buck was not worried about us in the least.

After this picture, we quickly finished our hike and were back to the car ready to go back to camp and rest. According to my wife's watch, including our small side trips for different things, we had put in a little over 20 miles. This was a new record for each of us. We have been close but never broke 20 miles in the Smokies. We were tired but also very satisfied from a day well spent in the most glorious surroundings. 

In many ways, day five was the pinnacle of our trip to Glacier National Park. This was our longest hike for the trip and also one of my favorites. The only hike that came close was our last day in Glacier, but I'll save that for another day. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Newsletter for February

For those of you who don't subscribe to my Trout Zone Anglers newsletter but are interested, here is a link to the current issue. If you are interested in receiving this newsletter, it comes via email generally once a month. Very rarely you might get 2-3 emails in a month if something really big is going on that I think people would find interesting or valuable. Occasionally in the busy season I might miss a month also. We won't share your email address with others so it should not result in spam. 

Spring Hatches Are Almost Here: February 2021 Newsletter

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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.