Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown

Monday, February 12, 2024

Choosing the Best Fly Rod for Smoky Mountains Fly Fishing

If you're like me and have been around the inter webs for a long time, you've seen some variation of the question. What is the best fly rod for.....? You name it. Best fly rod for streamer fishing. Best fly rod for nymph fishing. Best fly rod for brook trout. Best fly rod for brown trout. Best fly rod for Yellowstone. In other words, people are always looking for an edge when it comes to their piscatorial pursuits. This question has been asked via online message boards, in person and on the phone when I worked at a fly shop, and nowadays on Facebook groups. The problem is, they are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. The title for this short piece is clear enough, but I probably should have called it, "How To Ask the Right Questions About Fly Rods."

The real solution here that very few people actually seem to seriously want is to work hard at becoming a better angler. That could include investing money into some guided fly fishing trips or it could be as simple as just getting out on the water more. Investing a lot of time goes a long ways towards making someone proficient. If you have invested that kind of time, you've probably already figured out the answer to the question of best fly rod. If you haven't been fly fishing long enough or don't have the time to get out more, I'll address one specific version of this question. What is the best fly rod for Smoky Mountains fly fishing?

Before I get too far into my own personal opinions on the matter, I'll share some background. First, this is not the first, and probably won't be the last time I deal with some form of this question. I've covered How To Select the Perfect Fly Rod before. This is a little different from that post as you'll see. Go back and read it first just to be sure.  Second, I've been fly fishing for close to 30 years now or nearly 3/4 of my life. In other words, I have a little experience that has led me on a circutuous journey that has brought me nearly full circle on rod selection. I'll explain more shortly. Finally, note the first sentence of this paragraph. No matter how much I or any other angler may have learned a thing or two along the way, anything we might suggest is simply our own opinion. No matter what anyone else says, there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions.

When I first started fly fishing, I got a Walmart special. In retrospect, I'm not sure it is even a fly rod. At the time, however, it was perfect. Everything about that rod looks like a fly rod except for how clunky it is and how terribly it casts. I'm suspicious it is actually some sort of crappie rod, and yes, I do still have it floating around somewhere. Still, and this is the important part, I learned to cast with the rod. In fact, I was hauling and even double hauling without knowing that was a thing. The darn rod wouldn't cast worth a flip without a good haul. Necessity is the mother of invention. At the time, I didn't know that hauling was an actual technique, so I made it up as I went. As time went on, I yearned for a better rod. Now I know better. That is a slippery slope, but at the time I was convinced that a better rod would help. 

The next rod wasn't half bad, but still not the right rod for the job. It was a 6 weight, too heavy for what I was doing, but better than my current setup. Of all the rods I've ever owned, I actually have probably used it the least or pretty close to it. Not that anything was especially wrong with the rod, but it wasn't too long after getting this rod that I got my first "nice" rod. That 6 weight did come in handy years later, but that's another story for another day. My first nice rod was an Orvis Superfine 8' 4 weight, known as the Tight Loop. To this day, it is still one of my absolute favorite fly rods. So much so, in fact, that I eventually picked up a second to have as a backup. Orvis doesn't make these rods and hasn't for more than 20 years I believe, so you can't just get a new one made unfortunately.

That rod really molded me as an angler. Because it was the nicest rod I had for several years, it became all I fished. I learned to do a LOT with that 8' 4 weight rod, but what it really excels at is dry or dry/dropper fishing on small to medium sized mountain streams. When I learned to high stick nymphs for the legendary Walter Babb, he kindly suggested that I might want a slightly longer and faster rod. The soft Superfine is just too flexible to be a great tight line rod although it works in a pinch. In fact, I learned to be deadly with that rod, but it is not the most efficient rod I could use for that method. Thus it was that I found myself looking for yet another fly rod. The next rod would be my 4th in case you're counting. Don't worry, the numbers will get really blurry quickly. 

My next "nice" rod was a 9' 5 weight St. Croix Legend Ultra. When I first got the rod, I was in college and had it shipped to my dorm. When it arrived, I hurried to string it up and cast it on the lawn. I was almost convinced the rod was broken. Yet, upon examination, the rod looked intact. You see, my casting stroke had evolved through the prior three rods and settled into something that made the SUPER SLOW Superfine (Say that 10 times fast!) work magic. It was far from fitted for a super fast St. Croix (Try that one also!). It took me quite a bit of work to make that fast action rod work correctly, but I got the hang of it and soon found myself fishing it far more than the Superfine. I had evolved as an angler and was more interested in the most effective fishing tool. The Legend Ultra was an amazing high sticking rod. Being so fast, you could stick most fish that ate instead of missing many like I did on the Superfine. Setting the rod hard enough was no longer my limiting factor.

After the 5 weight Legend Ultra, my next rod was a 9' 7 weight Temple Fork Outfitters TiCr-X. Even though I've had that rod for probably close to 20 years now, it is still one of my favorite streamer rods. I've caught big trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, drum, carp, stripers, musky and many other fish on that rod. Since then, I've picked up just a few more rods. Short rods, long rods, 1 weight rods, 2 weight rods, 3 weight rods, 4 weight rods, 5 weight rods, 6 weight rods, 7 weight rods, 8 weight rods, 10 weight rods, 11 weight rods, well, you get the picture. Some rods have stayed and kept a place in my gear closet, while others have been sold to make room for more pressing needs. The important part here, however, is that I have plenty of options to choose from when I go fishing in the Smokies. In general, I find myself reaching for one of 4 or 5 rods depending on where I am fishing.

If I'm fishing Little River, Abrams Creek, the Oconaluftee, Deep Creek, Cataloochee Creek, or any of the other larger Park streams, I'm probably reaching for my 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon, or a 10' 2 weight Echo Shadow X. The Echo is an incredible rod, but the main reason I don't reach for it every single time is that it is a little light for jigging heavier streamers. I find that my Orvis 10' 3 weight Recon can do anything (for me) from jigging heavier jig streamers, to throwing dry flies, to high stick nymphing. In other words, it can cover any possible situation that might arise on the medium to large streams of the Smokies. It isn't the best rod for beginners because it is a little stiff. That makes it tough to get the hang of for someone new to fly fishing and trying to cast dry flies, but if you have been doing it a while, you can make this rod do everything. The Echo Shadow X is probably more fun to fish, and a nice Smokies fish feels incredible on the 2 weight. I'm just nervous casting super heavy jig streamers on a rod with such a delicate tip. There was a point where I thought you couldn't go too long on fly rods, but for me the 10' rod is the sweet spot. I have an 11' 3 weight Echo Shadow X that is just a little too much rod for me in many situations. If all you're doing is high stick nymphing, however, it is hard to beat as well.

If I'm going fishing for brook trout, then I'm likely reaching for a slightly shorter rod. I've fished 10' and longer rods on brook trout streams, and they are actually pretty useful. However, I like a deeper flexing rod for brook trout, and find myself reaching for the old Orvis Superfine rods or a fiberglass rod more often than not. If I know I'm only fishing dry flies or maybe a dry/dropper, then something between a one and four weight is perfect, and I hope it has a nice slow action. When you hook a 10 inch fish on a rod like this, you'll double the rod up and think you've hung the biggest fish in the Park. Lots of fun! 

At this point, you might be asking yourself, which of these is the best fly rod for Smoky Mountains fishing? And that is the wrong question. What you need to be asking is what rod will I enjoy the most? Or maybe, what rod will help me catch the most fish? Or what rod is most effective for method XYZ? The answers to those questions are not necessarily the same. 

I have long held that many people's recommendations for shorter rods for Park fishing is the furthest thing from the right rod for the job, and I still stand by that belief. However, that only applies for the question of what rod is the most effective rod in the Smokies. I can only think of two or three brook trout streams I've fished where I shorter rod is better suited for the job. For probably 90% or 95% of Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing, a rod ranging from 8'6" to 10" (or even longer) is ideal. This is because we find ourselves high sticking more often than not (for dry flies, nymphs, and streamers even on occasion). Longer rods equals longer reach. The farther you can reach towards the fish without spooking them the better, at least up to a point. There is a point of diminishing returns, however, based on rod swing weight and if it starts getting tip heavy, you've probably gone too long. That said, high sticking can be a mask for a deeper problem. Some high stick anglers continue to only fish that way because they find much less success utilizing other methods. 

And that brings us to the next point. Shorter rods are fine if you just like to cast and don't fish as much pocket water. However, longer rods will still help you mend better because a longer rod can pick up more line off of the water. So now the question becomes clearer. Do you want the most effective rod, or do you want the rod you will enjoy most? If you measure enjoyment by how many fish you catch, then probably go for the longer rod most of the time (and not one that is too soft). Even on brook trout streams, fish the absolute longest rod you can manage without getting in the bushes and trees all day. If you measure enjoyment as a function of the joy of casting the rod combined with the total experience of catching fish in a pristine mountain stream, then a shorter deeper flexing rod might be the ticket. This is especially true if you enjoy playing the fish and not just yanking them in one after another. A true sporting gentleman might take this one step further and make sure the rod is made of split bamboo by a fine rod maker.

Deciding which rod you'll enjoy the most comes down to just casting a bunch of rods. Go to your nearest fly shop and cast a bunch of rods or ask your favorite guide to bring a selection to sample on the next guided trip. Ask questions of your local fly shop employees such as what rod will help me catch more brook trout? Or what rod will make me a better dry fly angler? Or what rod is best for high sticking/euro nymphing/tight lining/whatever else you want to call it? Or what rod brings YOU the most joy to fish? Ask 100 shop employees that last question and you'll get a TON of different answers, just like in that Facebook group.

Most of the best anglers I know aren't hanging out on online forums answering and asking questions about the best fly rods. So just know that your answers on places like a Facebook group will be wildly inaccurate, or at best will be rooted in that person's favorite (and in some cases only) rods. Make sure to ask the correct question, and it will go a long ways towards helping you select your next fly rod. If you need help figuring out what rod you need, don't hesitate to reach out to me. I won't necessarily have the right answer, but I'll definitely have some opinions, and I don't mind sharing those. The best discussion will probably happen on the phone or in person, because there isn't usually a simple answer. I'll work through the question with you to make sure we are asking and answering the intended question to get you the right rod. 


Want to read more? Check out this story of a Smokies autumn fishing trip.

Big Browns in the Smokies in Fall

Sunday, February 11, 2024

From the Rower's Seat

Musky fishing is always a team sport. There is a TON of hard work involved and everyone has a part to play. I have been obsessed from time to time with fishing for muskellunge. Unfortunately I have also found myself not getting out as much as I would like due to other obligations during what I consider musky season. Thus, when a couple of buddies had an epic couple of days back in January, it got me fired up to get back out there. 

My original goal had been to spend quite a few days on the musky streams this winter. In fact, I set myself two specific goals for this winter. First, catch a musky as it has been a while since I have personally caught one (despite lots in my boat from friends and clients), and second, catch a big brown trout on the Clinch on a streamer. My favorite musky system has several different sections that I like to fish with more begging to be explored. The only way to explore them is to simply get out there and spend time on the water. When it got to early February and I still hadn't made any musky trips happen yet this winter, I knew it was time to make a change.

Musky Fly Fishing in Tennessee

I checked in with my buddies Pat and Chris and a plan was made. We would float a favorite section with more than enough water to fish in a day. Between us, we had rods ranging from 7 through 11 weight. The heavier rods were for "real" musky flies, and the lighter rods were for when our arms got tired and we needed to throw smaller stuff. I've seen plenty of musky caught on 3-6 inch flies, so I know it can be done even if the big stuff is more exciting.

We all met up at the takeout first thing and piled all the gear into my truck and boat. Soon, we were headed up to the put in. After a quick pause at the top of the ramp to unbuckle boat straps and rig the anchor, I backed the boat down and it was quickly launched. Parking the truck didn't take long, and soon I was at the oars maneuvering Pat and Chris into position to fish the first narrow pool.

Floating a Small Musky River in Tennessee

We drifted slowly down the river. Several incredible looking holes slid by without any excitement. Then we turned the corner into a big pool that has always looked fishing but never produced. With excitement running high, we got a couple of good casts into some structure and.....promptly hung a log. Oh well, that is streamer fishing. As I was backing in to free the fly, Pat suddenly spoke up excitedly, "There's a musky!" Sure enough, I had finally seen a musky in this pool that just looks too good to not have a fish. We interacted with this fish for a while, getting a couple of half hearted follows, but something clearly wasn't right with our presentation. We changed flies and otherwise worked the fish, but with so far to go in our float, we didn't have time to seriously target this fish. 

Before long, we were drifting on down the river looking for the next fish. It didn't take long. We were entering the major feeding period based on the solunar fishing tables. In the next couple of hours, we moved several great fish. At one point, I had yielded the oars to one of the other guys. As I was doing a figure eight over a deep pot, a fish came out of nowhere and worked through the eights with me for several passes before just disappearing. We backed up and got a slightly less enthusiastic response before coming to the same conclusion that we did on the first encounter: we simply had too far to go to play too long with any one fish. 

Not long after, I switched back onto the oars. Our number of encounters was excellent by musky fishing standards, but we were still looking for that first eat. On our first encounter, I had remembered a fly that I wanted to experiment with and quickly rigged it up. I had kept it sitting to the side and waiting for another opportunity to try it. That moment would come soon. 

Video of My Musky on the Fly in Tennessee

Want to see some awesome footage from this musky? Check out the video my buddy Chris put up on YouTube HERE. While you are there, please give him a follow! Now, for the full story below...

Catching a Tennessee Musky on the Fly

We were coming into yet another amazing looking hole (aren't they all?!?!) when Pat again announced, "There's a musky!" The fish slid off of a shallower sand bottom and slunk into the deep pool. Musky often will "soft spook," meaning they will be uncomfortable with the boat in shallow water or otherwise, but will also lay down nearby and even interact with you again if you are careful. I slowly maneuvered the boat back up until we could clearly see the fish laying on the bottom and then slipped the anchor down ever so slowly. Then the guys started going through both flies and presentations. By the time they were running out of ideas, I was ready to reach for my rod with the experimental fly. Asking permission to target the fish, the guys readily agreed, and I stood at the edge of the middle of the boat where I could see the fish. 

On the first cast, the fish quickly engaged with my fly. Bingo! Sure enough, it followed all the way back to the boat and then seemingly ate. When I set, there was nothing there. I slammed the fly back in the water. Last winter, I was fishing with my buddy Jeff when he had something similar happen. Getting the fly immediately back in the water gave us a second opportunity and he landed the fish. Remembering that moment, I got the fly in front of the fish as quick as I could. Sure enough, the fish seemed to be looking for the fly still. Immediately, the fish turned, put its nose right on the fly before the gills flared and it hammered my fly. Game on!

The excitement in the boat reached fever pitch as I worked the fish back and forth. The guys were excitedly taking turns running video and waiting with the net depending on which end of the boat the fish was on. Finally, after several almost there net attempts, we slid the fish into the net. With several whoops and hollers, we moved the boat over to a shallow spot where I could properly spend time getting the fish healthy and back in the pool it came from. After taping the fish out at just under 40" (a new personal best), I cradled it in the water for a while before it suddenly jetted. 


Tennessee river musky on the fly
Photo courtesy Pat Tully ©2024

Releasing a fly caught musky in Tennessee
Photo courtesy Pat Tully ©2024


Our Day of Musky Fishing 

Goal number one for the winter season accomplished, I jumped back on the oars for a large portion of the day. The agreement early had been that whoever got a fish would be rowing. I was more than happy to spend the rest of the day on the oars. Only when it started to get late and we had a long ways ago did I ask for help on the oars. We took turns to get on down the river. The day ended with ten encounters, 9 follows, and one landed fish. Not a bad day of musky fishing.

Even with the winter fishing season winding down, I'm hoping to get back out there sometime soon. In the meantime, I'll be out on the Clinch looking for that other goal for my winter season...

Video of My Musky on the Fly in Tennessee

Want to see some awesome footage from this musky? Check out the video my buddy Chris put up on YouTube HERE. While you are there, please give him a follow!



Thursday, January 18, 2024

Autumn Getaway

Don't ever become a guide so you can fish more. If you've never heard that saying before, now you have. As a guide, you are on the water every day, fishing in a sense. You just aren't actually holding the rod. In many ways, you actually become a better angler by not fishing all the time, because you spend all day describing how to do it right. On the other hand, it would assumedly be easy to lose the passion if you're doing something every day. That is one thing for which I count myself very fortunate. I still love both my job (guiding) and fishing on my days off. Still, I have to find some way to keep things interesting. If I've already floated the Caney Fork River 75 times for the calendar year, I probably won't float the exact same section doing the exact same thing on my off day. 

There are many solutions to keeping it interesting. Most of them revolve around pushing myself into new experiences as an angler. One is to experiment with flies and presentation, something I constantly do on my days off. On a recent guides' day off, I ripped streamers so hard all day that my stripping arm was my tired than my casting arm. Seriously. I saw some really big fish too and will be back to do it again. Another solution is to chase new species, explore new water, or fish rarely fished waters that still have that "shiny new toy" feel.

This past fall, in early October, a calendar anomaly opened up a short window to camp and fish in early October. Every year, I take a trip in early to mid November, so this was going to be a bonus trip. It is exceedingly rare that I get multiple days in a row off in October without scheduling it that way on purpose. As one of my busiest months, I tend to guide my way through my favorite time of year, with very little "me" time to go fishing for myself. And that's okay. My bank account appreciates it come the middle of January. Still, when back to back days opened up, I jumped at the opportunity. Wonder of wonders, one of my favorite campsites was available at Smokemont Campground, and it was booked just as fast as I could enter my payment information.

Shortly before the trip, I checked with some fishing buddies to see if anyone wanted to join. I've noticed that is much harder once all your fishing friends have young families, a point I'm also at. Still, I finally got one bite and we made plans to hit a favorite piece of water, albeit one I've only hit once or twice. This would be my first time through in the fall. 

We started hiking in fairly early. It was cool enough out that I kind of wanted a jacket but knew the hike would warm me up too much. So, I just trusted my long sleeves to be enough and we headed up the trail. I did wear my Patagonia ultralight wading pants that I bought several years ago. It was too warm for hiking in full chest waders, but I didn't want to get hypothermia either. These were originally bought for backpacking waders, but I occasionally wear them for non backpacking scenarios as well. They kept me from completely overheating, but I was still glad to finally step into the cool stream at the end of our hike. There is always a transition in spring and fall where wet wading is most comfortable mid and late in the day, but the morning hours are just a little on the cool side. That isn't a problem for front country trips, but when you hike in, it is a pain in the rear to carry multiple wading setups for different times of the day. So you just make do as much as possible.


When we got in the stream, I was rigged with a dry/dropper and had high expectations. With a quick rainbow and then a brown, I thought the day was about to bust wide open. Instead, however, the fish were about like what I normally expect on Deep Creek. In other words, they would eat if you did everything just right, but any misstep or bad cast sent them running. The ultra low water didn't help. The ongoing drought conditions in the area had flows even lower than usual for an already dry time of year. Still, we found just enough fish to keep things interesting. Then, finally, as the day warmed a little, the fish really started to turn on.

Wild Smoky Mountain brown trout on a dry fly

Wild rainbow trout in the Smokies


A high overcast delayed the best bite later than we had expected, but things eventually got going. At this point, we were both catching fish. Dry flies and nymphs were both producing. Eventually, some streamers were even tossed to great effect. It was one of those magical days in the mountains. The autumn colors while not quite peak, were good enough to add significant value to the trip for me.

Autumn colors in the Great Smoky Mountains

A couple of the rainbows were more memorable than the rest. While all fish are beautiful, some just stick out in my memory for one reason or another. The first one that really caught my attention had nothing to do with size. In fact, it was on the smaller end of the spectrum for the day. The neat thing about this fish was how dark it was. Occasionally, I catch fish that are super dark. Invariable, and this fish was no exception, they come out of very dark holes or from underneath rocks. I have edited this picture to actually lighten things up a little if that tells you anything. 

Dark wild rainbow trout in the Smokies


The other memorable rainbow was a big surprise because it ate the dry fly. Not that fish on dries is surprising, of course, but when you've caught the vast majority of fish on the dropper for hours, and then a quality fish slurps the dry, it surprises you each time. The fish fought very well, but upon landing it, I can't say with 100% confidence that it is a wild fish. It might be, of course, and that is even likely. However, the line between stocked and wild on this drainage is hazy at best. Most of the fish are small enough and vibrant enough to tell, but with larger fish, I definitely start to have some questions. 

Backcountry rainbow trout in the Smokies


Late in the trip, as we were getting ready to hike out, we found some nicer fish. Not the true monsters that we knew inhabited the stream, but solid brown trout that would make anyone's day. Then, just after catching back to back brown trout, I found one more gorgeous rainbow trout on a dry fly. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nothing could beat this day in the mountains, or so I thought. 

Wild brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beautiful wild rainbow trout on a dry fly in the Smokies

More wild brown trout in the Smokies

Day one fish of the day quality wild brown trout in the Smokies


We got out fairly late, and eventually I made it back to camp and got some supper together. I was missing my family a little and almost drove home that evening. I decided it would be foolish to take down camp just to get home near midnight. I would be much happier and feel better if I got up and headed home in the morning. Such decisions can make or break a fishing trip, I just didn't realize it at the time. After eating chili and tortillas, I hit the sack. I slept well in the cool autumn night air and woke up refreshed.

I got camp broken down quickly and had my thoughts set on home when I thought of a favorite pool nearby. Deciding that it would be silly to drive this far without fishing it, I decided for a quick stop. No more than an hour, I thought to myself. 

Wow! What an hour. In that hour, I caught several fish in the 16-19 inch range and a 22.5 inch fish as the largest of the session. It was easily my best hour long fishing experience in the Smokies for brown trout ever. Not necessarily my best day ever, but right up there in that category as well. All of which just goes to show, you don't know if you don't go. Best of all, I still got home much earlier than originally planned or anticipated. Talk about the best of both worlds!

Big wild hen brown trout in the fall in the Great Smoky Mountains


As a guide, we are often faced with less than stellar conditions. Only rarely are things bad enough that we have to cancel a trip. On some borderline days, I'll find myself saying to the client that exact some phrase, or they'll say it to me when we decide to stick to our plans. If you aren't getting out there, you'll never know how fishing might have been. In 2024, focus on getting out more often. You never know what you might be missing out on by skipping a day on the water.

Sorry for the heavy editing on these pictures, but some of my favorite spots are pretty recognizable. I hope you'll understand that I don't want a bunch of people in "my" spot next time I'm there...

Big wild buck brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

Big wild brown trout in the Smokies in October during prespawn fishing


Monday, January 15, 2024

Consider Sink Time

This is a relatively short post that would fall in the category of fly fishing tips for success. It applies to both streamers and nymphs, but the main thing I want to talk about is nymph fishing. I do a lot of both short/tight line nymphing without a strike indicator and also longer line nymphing. One of the most common mistakes I see people make is to not cast far enough above the spot they think the fish is. Remember to consider sink time when throwing flies that are supposed to be fished subsurface. 

In very slow water, this doesn't matter as much. Flies will sink almost vertically, especially in lake situations. However, most trout fishing is done in faster moving water. Even if you are using tungsten (which I highly recommend for the faster sink times) or split shot or both, the flies will still have some downstream drift before getting down into the strike zone. However, if you are using a suspension device (strike indicator), not only will that time take longer, but the suspension device will pull your flies back up in the water column if you aren't careful. 

This is why I emphasize big slack line mends when floating flatter water in the drift boat. After your mend, the flies take some time to get down into the strike zone. Any subsequent mending will pull the flies back up in the water column as the indicator drags them up in the water column. On the other hand, you have to consider obstacles on the bottom of the river as part of your equation. If you have a shallow obstacle and then need the flies to get deep quickly behind the obstacle, we'll often throw our flies directly on top of the obstacle or even slightly above it. This applies a lot more in the Smokies. 

In the Smokies, when you are working around pocket water, rocks, and even some logs, you have to be even more careful about both avoiding snagging the bottom, but also getting your flies deep enough. Add multiple currents, both upwelling and downwelling, into the mixture and it can be downright tricky. As a general rule, in the Smokies, I don't like my flies going through pour overs or tailouts of any kind. The reason is that they tend to have sticks wedged into the rocks in those slots that will eat flies. However, those are also some times the best place to throw your fly to get maximum sink time going into the next run. In other words, sometimes you take some chances when throwing nymph rigs in the mountains. 

The same issue with strike indicators applies in mountain streams and is often even exacerbated. The fastest water is nearly always on the surface, so a strike indicator suspension device will usually  have a tendency to drag flies upwards in the water column. This is one reason among many why veteran Smokies anglers usually gravitate towards high sticking without indicators as much as possible. However, there are times that some type of indicator is highly recommended. In those cases, just remember to add plenty of weight to get down. 

Finally, using the lightest possible tippet will help immensely in obtaining good sink times. Thinner tippets have less surface area and result in less drag. Thus, flies are able to sink faster without that extra drag. 

If all of this sounds like more than you have ever thought about while fly fishing, then consider it next time you are out on the water. Putting more thought into presentation than simply just chucking it out there will help your success sky rocket. If you want some on the water coaching, then consider booking a guided fly fishing trip with us at Trout Zone Anglers!

Oh, and about those streamers, if you are using a sinking line, this process can be simplified by understanding your line's sink rate. If it averages 5-6 inches per second, then you can count down until you reach whatever depth you want. For example, 5 feet would be about 10 to 12 seconds. If your streamer is weighted, take that into account so you don't get too deep if you're fishing over structure. 

Good luck and I hope considering sink time will help your fishing!

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Sixteen and Seventeen, Great Sand Dunes and the Trip Home

After the last few days of misery, we were glad to finally be heading home. The last leg of our trip was supposed to be a return to Great Sand Dunes National Park. We had stopped there before, but just a quick drive through and continuing on our trip. For this trip, we had reserved a campsite at Pinon Flats for two nights. The hope was to do some hiking, hopefully including a trip out upon the dunes, and also maybe some night time astrophotography. Due to the ongoing rainy weather and clouds, I hadn't spent much time behind the lens at night since early in the trip at Rocky Mountain National Park.

By some miracle, when we woke up on our last morning at Gateview Campground, it wasn't raining. The air was chilly, but the sky had hints of nicer weather ahead. The only thing keeping the day from being better was that Little Bit was still miserable from having a cold. That lingering cold would be just one of several motivating factors sending us hurrying on our homeward way.

After packing up camp, we headed out to highway 149 and headed south towards Lake City. Still hoping for some great fall colors, we pushed higher and higher towards Slumgullion Pass. The best colors of the day were between Lake City and that pass, although we saw plenty of beautiful golden aspen further along our drive as well. Here are just a few pictures from our frequent stops. 


Highway 149 winds through golden aspen south of Lake City Colorado

San Juan Mountains and golden aspen


As you can see, the clouds were really breaking up nicely and the fresh snow on the higher peaks added a nice touch to the autumn scenery. We had packed some damp gear upon leaving Gateview. As we descended the Rio Grande Valley, we eventually stopped for lunch at a roadside pullout just beyond Creede. Wagon Wheel Gap had some interesting history, but we were also thankful for the bright sun and dry conditions. The various pieces of our tent dried quickly in the low relative humidity and gusty winds. Before long, we were fed and headed down the road towards our goal for the night. 

We had been actively discussing if we even wanted to stop. Little Bit was running a fever and seemed genuinely miserable. We wanted to get home quickly in case it developed into something requiring a trip to the doctor. However, as the day was beginning to grow late and we had to drive right past the Great Sand Dunes National Park anyway, we decided to go ahead and stop for the night. That turned out to be the right call, or at least I think it was. We were all tired, and driving deep into the growing dusk was probably a bad idea. Lots of critters were liable to be out wandering the roads at night, so getting some good rest before traveling further made sense.

In the dying light, I snapped a few pictures of the sand dunes. Under the circumstances, I didn't get to do all the photography I had hoped for. Yet another trip will have to be planned for sometime in the future. However, I did have some reasonably good light for the little photography I got to do. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park at sunset

The next morning, it was obvious that we should go ahead and pack up to head home. Even though our reservation had one more night, Little Bit was miserable. We hiked briefly out on the dunes, but strong down sloping winds off of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains made it miserable. With sand stinging our faces, we quickly retreated after climbing the first prominent high point or ridge. After getting in our car, we decided it was time to go home. I pointed the car homeward, and we started making haste. 



Leah at Great Sand Dunes


Making good time, we arrived in Amarillo that night and the next morning, decided to make it home in one big push. Traveling with a sick toddler isn't a recipe for quick trips, but we just wanted to get home. We arrived in the wee hours of the morning, worn out but having had a great trip. 

Even though the last few days were rough, the overall trip had been a big success. We had also learned some important things. First and foremost, toddlers don't like being cooped up in a kid carrier for hours at a time. Before this trip, we had tentatively planned on another big Glacier National Park trip for 2023. By the end of this trip, both Leah and I had come to the conclusion that another big road trip with a toddler wasn't a great idea. So, we'll wait until we can all enjoy hiking the trails of that amazing park. If you're curious why we are dying to get back to Glacier, check out this post from our last trip there. 

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Fourteen and Fifteen, From Bad To Worse and Our Last Fish of the Trip

Yes, it is hard to imagine, but things can get worse. If you haven't read it already, find the backstory HERE. When we woke up the next morning, we hadn't caught many more mice. They had learned fast. But, they had exacted revenge for their lost friends. Our car was destroyed. Even worse, it was raining again. And it was cold. Very, very chilly. Little Bit had developed a cold. Probably a result of one of our stops for breakfast, eating out was easy, but also was exposing her to germs that she hadn't been exposed to. She was definitely miserable, and with the cold weather and rain, it seemed like a logical day to travel to one of my all time favorite places: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

First, we had to clean the car as best as possible. Mouse turds were everywhere along with lots of chewed up stuff. Paper towels, napkins, our food would have been destroyed except I've developed a system when I camp out west. All food is stored in rodent proof containers. That usually means coolers. I have one that is for cold stuff, and one that is for everything else. The key is that mice can't get in. 

They had a heyday in Little Bit's carseat. I'm sure there were lots of tantalizing smells there, but it seemed like the mice had tried extra hard to mark it as their territory if that's a thing. Either way, they had spent lots of time in it. Cleaning it out with Lysol wipes while the rain poured down was something I hope to never have to do again. We carefully sorted through everything and wiped it all down, hoping all the while that Little Bit wouldn't contract any deadly viruses or other diseases. I was at a loss for any other solutions to the problem. Never had I had mice figure out the glue traps so fast. Our defenses had been solved far too quickly. Not only were there lots of mice, they were also smart mice. 

Determined to leave the cold, soggy campsite behind, even if for a few hours, we packed into the car and started heading up towards the Blue Mesa Cutoff. I knew it would cut an easy hour out of our trip, but what I hadn't planned on was how bad the road was. The snow level had been just a few hundred feet above our camp apparently. No wonder the rain felt so cold. We started slipping and sliding across the muddy dirty road, our small Toyota Corolla looking out of place compared to the few trucks and 4wd SUVs we saw. By some miracle, we made it through deep mud, snow and ice. 

On the far end, we found highway 50 to be in very similar condition. Our trip had apparently been timed to coincide with some intense roadwork going on between Montrose and Gunnison on highway 50. Dirt and gravel lanes stretched on for a while. It wasn't until we were finally zipping up Blue Mesa Summit that a now familiar stench hit us. With rain pouring down, we had our third blowout in four days. Seriously. It is funny now, and probably funny to anyone reading, but at the time we were completely over everything. The rain, the mice, the blowouts, everything. The best camping trips are usually the ones that leave you wanting more. This was probably the first time I've ever seriously been ready for a trip to end. 

Thankfully, there was a NPS picnic pavilion at Cimarron. We were able to get out of the rain to change this diaper and clothing. Now, our day's plans were significantly changed. I probably should have seen this whole thing coming. Little Bit had decided the most comfortable place to do the morning business was in the car seat. At this point, I knew the drill. Ever since, I've always expected these bad things to happen. One silver lining was that we had been keeping a changing pad in the car seat, so cleanup was easier than it could have been. Still, we needed another town trip. I wasn't going to unnecessarily haul poopy clothing around stinking up the car. Imagine how the mice would have liked that!

We headed on into Montrose. That was probably a good idea anyway. Showers continued rolling through the area, and with Little Bit obviously fighting a bad cold, I couldn't get out and fish the Gunnison anyway. The last thing she needed was to get soaked and chilled. 

The best part about our plan change was lunch. While I sat at the laundromat for what felt like the umpteenth time, Leach ran over to Qdoba. By the time she got lunch and brought it back, we were almost ready to roll again. A quick trip to Walmart for more mouse traps and a couple of food items, and we were on the road again. 

The clouds were starting to break, and we got a pleasant hour or two at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Surprisingly, the fishing was very tough. I've always had an exceptional time on this stream, but I've never hit it late in the season with low flows and clear water. After a few smaller fish, it was obvious that I wasn't going to find any monsters. With a few more hours to experiment......maybe??? But it was getting late and we either had an extra hour of driving OR and to drive over the Blue Mesa Cutoff again. We also needed time to fight mice. So, back we headed.

Back in camp, the rain was setting in again in earnest. We sat in the car for a while, debating what to do. Finally, it was determined that we were there for the night. A peanut butter sandwich for Little Bit and then we crawled into the tent. That night, the mice had their biggest hurrah yet. The car was destroyed yet again. Leah was not happy about it either. 

Normally, I sleep like a rock. Even when we go camping, I generally get a lot more sleep than she does. Somewhere in the middle of the night, she insistently woke me up. I don't remember much, except seeing a mouse run across the top of the mesh on our tent as she said, "There are mice running on our tent" with lots of exasperation in her voice. The next morning, when confronted with questions about it, I just asked, "What did you want me to do about it?" In the end, it was clear that while I couldn't do much, it was important that I know just how bad things had gotten. Yes, things had gotten miserable. 

So, what to do? It was cold and damp out. Low clouds were hanging on and we didn't know if it would clear out or not. "Let's drive in to Gunnison and get breakfast somewhere warm," I suggested. That was a big winner with everyone. Little Bit, while sick, was still enjoying having someone else bring us food. A warm environment out of the rain and cold would cheer us all up. With luck, the weather might even change by afternoon and let me fish one last time. 

We drove into town and somehow avoided the now expected blowout on the drive in. The Back Country Cafe was our destination. Over the years, we have eaten there twice and enjoyed it immensely both times. While menu prices were higher than ever, it was still worth it to get out of the cold and eat something we didn't have to cook on the camp stove back in camp. The food was still just as delicious as we remembered. We'll definitely be back again when in the area.

Sitting in the warmth, we noticed the clouds starting to break. I had checked the weather, and it looked like we might avoid rain for the afternoon. The storm system was starting to move out, and while the rain was ending, it also meant colder air at night. After a brief discussion, we decided to tough it out one last night. After all, we had one other part of our trip that we wanted to include if at all possible. So, we headed back out to camp and have one more day of fishing. 

Canyon walls at Gateview Campground

The sky looked surprisingly clear when we got back to camp. Maybe, by some miracle, we'll avoid any more rain I thought. No such luck, but we did have a nice afternoon. Little Bit wasn't feeling good, so resting in the pack on my back wasn't terrible. We bundled her up more than normal, and donned our waders, then headed down the trail to try our luck once more. We took lunch just in case we stayed out longer than expected. That turned out to be a good choice. We wandered far downstream towards the lake. Eventually, things got too rough and we turned around, but I had explored further than I had ever been before. 

Lower Unit along Lake Fork Gunnison


Behind one large rock, we found evidence of other visitors. Someone had lost a lower unit from a boat engine. It was about that point that the clouds started to gather again. By the time it was spitting on us, the best idea seemed to be to hang out under a slightly overhanging boulder and have lunch. Thankfully, this shower didn't last long, but it was obvious that the rain was returning for one more night. 

We got a decent amount of fishing in. The afternoon was highlighted by Leah standing in one spot and catching eight or ten fish in a row while Little Bit shouted her delight louder with every catch. Mama is a real good angler!!! Thankfully, Daddy found a couple for himself, finally finding some nice rainbow trout to compete with the big one that Mama had caught the day before. By the time I got my second big rainbow, it was clear that Little Bit's patience for the pack was wearing thin and rain was starting to seriously threaten again. 

Lake Fork Gunnison Rainbow trout for me

Quality Lake Fork Gunnison Rainbow trout


We wandered back towards camp to spend one last cold, damp night under assault by rodents. I think we were all glad to have moving day the next day. I was more than a little sad that this part of the trip to my favorite part of the state had gone so lousy, but now it just gives me a reason to come back. It might have to be a non family trip, however. I don't know if Leah will ever willingly camp anywhere we suspect there might be mice ever again. Somehow, I'll have to figure out a better game plan for dealing with them in the future.

Thankfully, while the mice were as thick as ever, it seemed that our car was getting boring for them. They didn't destroy it as badly as previous nights, although there was still plenty of cleanup the next morning. As we drifted off to sleep, the sound of rain pattering on the tent started in earnest yet again. I fell asleep hoping it would quit long enough to pack up our camp at least.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Thirteen, Fishing One Last Nice Day and Battling Rodents

While the overall Colorado trip was great, the end was definitely a slog. This was because the weather turned sour for an extended amount of time. I had made the mistake of bragging to my wife about how, while it might rain, it would be nice a few hours later and definitely no later than the next day. This set us up for the obvious result: days and days of dreary weather that was increasingly colder by the day. And yes, I'm still reminded about how much fun that part of the trip was. Deservedly I might add...

When we woke up, it was fairly chilly. That was to be expected. The canyon we were camping in was sheltered by high walls to the east and west. That meant the sun wouldn't hit the campsite until at least 9:30 or 10 in the morning. With the late season, we were already pushing our luck by camping, so we hoped it wouldn't snow. After sleeping late to stay warm, we finally got up and fixed breakfast. While Leah and Little Bit were busy in camp, I grabbed a rod and fished just a few steps away. The camp pool had been kind to me before, and I was hoping that might be the case now. Sure enough, a couple of good brown trout were ready to play. Nothing huge, but it got me excited by the prospects. 

Lake Fork Gunnison Brown trout at Gateview Campground


Lake run fish ascend this system from the large reservoir below. Kokanee and large brown trout move up in the fall. I was hoping for both. Unfortunately, there were no signs of the salmon, and we saw very few brown trout over the next couple of days. I'll have to return another time to try again. What we did find were rainbow trout and plenty of them. 

After breakfast, we all got ready and wandered down the trail to fish. Naturally, the day progressed as one would expect. Leah caught the big fish and Little Bit got bored quickly. That meant back to camp to play and enjoy what would feel like our last glimpses of sunlight for the trip. 

Lake Fork Gunnison rainbow trout at Gateview Campground


As the sun dropped below the canyon walls for the day, the temperature started dropping quickly. We bundled back up, and I hit the camp pool once more. One more brown trout came to hand. While I expected to find fresh fish in this pool every day, that wasn't meant to be. This would be the last fish I would find in the camp pool, although we would find more fish downstream on future days. 

Late Day on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison at Gateview Campground


lake fork gunnison streamer eating brown trout


As the shadows lengthened, we started getting supper ready. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the scope of our problems became abundantly clear. I had never had problems with mice at this campsite, but it had become obvious the night before that at least a couple of the critters were around. Not to worry, I had come prepared with lots of sticky glue traps. I had deployed them effectively around and throughout our car. When I had found two that morning, I had hoped the problem was solved. Apparently I just made them all mad. 

It got darker and darker. While we were eating supper, mice were running around everywhere. It appeared that this campground shared the fate of some of my other favorites in Colorado. I'm unclear on how these things get around, probably in people's cars. The fact remains that they are almost EVERYWHERE in Colorado now. I've had big time problems in Elevenmile Canyon and the Black Canyon. Now I can add Gateview to the list of campgrounds I'm paranoid of staying at.

The worst part about the mice (other than the fact they absolutely destroyed our car every night in all ways imaginable) was having a toddler along. In an environment that already wasn't super sanitary, trying to keep Little Bit safe from rodent borne disease suddenly became priority number one. Leah was less than thrilled about the whole deal. I deployed more sticky traps, hoping for the best. As we crawled into our tent for the night, mice were running all over. I knew we already had some in the car. I had seen them through the rear windshield. Not knowing what else to do, I finally crawled into the tent. It was too late in the day to pack up and start home, so we would spend another night and hope for the best. We had plans to stay two more nights, so time would tell how that would work out. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day 12, Moving Day Again

While we didn't know it yet, our trip was seriously starting to wind down. There were still some great moments, but things were headed in a negative direction. First and foremost, the Crystal Mill hike was going to be hard to beat no matter what. Unfortunately, one of our group was set on trying to beat the happenings from the morning of that big hike, as you'll begin to find out in a moment. Even further, we woke up to yet another round of rain, and the weather wasn't going to get any better until it was time to go home. 

We were still optimistic, however, as we broke camp at Bogan Flats Campground and headed out to enjoy another day of fall colors we hoped. Our goal for that evening was to find a camping place within an hour or so of Gunnison. That is one of my favorite areas of Colorado, and I had high hopes to finish the trip doing a little fishing on the Gunnison and some of its tributaries. To get there, we planned to drive over one of my favorites, Kebler Pass.

We made the quick jump over McClure Pass from the Crystal River Valley, and were soon approaching the turn onto County Road 12. This unassuming gravel road winding back through the hills towards Crested Butte features some of the most stunning fall scenery I've seen in Colorado. When the aspen are at their peak, this drive is very hard to beat. We were just a week or ten days early on our trip, at least for the best colors. However, as you'll see, we still saw some very nice golden aspen.

Golden aspen fall colors Colorado


Not far along County Road 12, a now familiar stench hit us. Looking at my wife with concern, I asked if we should pull over. "We probably better," was her reply. Sure enough, we had our second blowout in two days. This was a full mess requiring professional help and cleaning. We cleaned up as best we could, then continued on our way. The nearest laundry facilities were far off and we had a long ways to go.

The clouds were mesmerizing, looking like it was about to storm at times, with the sun trying to come out at others. Against the dramatic sky backdrop, the fall colors were special even if not at peak. 

Golden aspen near Kebler Pass


Driving along our route, I remembered another road that I had enjoyed in the past. We turned off on County Road 730 to enjoy Ohio Pass. Unfortunately, we were now in too much of a hurry for another favorite along this route. The short hike up to the beaver ponds just south of Ohio Pass can net some gorgeous brook trout, not to mention a hike through a phenomenal aspen forest. On this day, we were already short on time with the need for an unplanned pit stop ahead, so we kept pushing on. The brook trout would have to wait until another trip. 

Golden Aspen near Ohio Pass


It was probably somewhere on this drive that we started to realize that our trip was winding down even if none of us admitted it or voiced it. There were too many things starting to conspire against us. If we had been smart, we would have called it a trip and headed home right then and there, but we still had almost a week of adventuring left and persisted in our plans.

As we hit the lowlands, I pushed the little car harder to get into Gunnison as fast as possible. Leah started searching for laundromats on Google maps. Thankfully, we found something quickly. I grabbed everything that had been soiled yet again and raced in for a quick cleaning. An hour later, we were debating whether to grab food in town or race on out to camp before dark. 

The pull of one of our favorite Italian restaurants was too much, so we stopped at Mario's Pizza and Pasta in Gunnison. Little Bit was really starting to enjoy the concept of eating out, and the waitresses all loved her to death. We enjoyed a hot meal in a warm dry place, and then hit the road in the gathering shadows. 

Our goal was the Gateview Campground. I had experienced some incredible fishing there many years before. Even better, I had the tiny campground to myself. I was hoping to replicate that great time with my family. Unfortunately, yet another complication was about to rear its head, but at the time, we were tired and just wanted to get to camp. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Fishing Around the Brown Trout Spawn

There are tons of opinions on whether you should be fishing during the spawn. Some states solve the problem by having closed seasons for trout fishing. Many other states do not, leaving anglers to come to terms with their own set of ethics. Here in Tennessee and in the Great Smoky Mountains, we are fortunate to be able to fish year round. That helps keep the cabin fever at bay during the cold months, but also makes it important to figure out your own set of ethics when it comes to fishing or not fishing the spawn and the time periods around it. 

Often, it seems irrelevant as to whether it is "okay" to fish during the spawn or not, but a variety of factors the last few years has led to a huge decrease in the number of large trout on many area waters. From the Clinch River wild rainbows and big brown trout, to the big browns on the Caney Fork, to the wild browns in the Great Smoky Mountains, numbers of larger fish are down across the board. While the overall reasons behind that decrease may or may not be angler driven, the fact remains that we have lower numbers of fish. Thus, it is more important than ever that the fish be allowed to procreate in peace. That is the place I'm at. You may arrive at something different. That is okay, but if you want to do what's best for the fish, read on. 

Choosing to fish (or even guide) around the spawn immediately brings a new set of challenges. How do you fish water that fish are spawning in without interrupting that process? To some extent, interruptions will happen no matter how careful you are. In my opinion, other than not fishing to actively spawning fish, the most important thing you can do is to watch your step. The precious eggs, once distributed into the gravel, are vulnerable to a misstep. In fact, just once misstep could kill nearly all the eggs in one redd. Thus, you now have a couple of options. Either avoid fishing and wading altogether during the spawn, OR learn what to look for and avoid redds at all costs. 

If you choose the latter, here is what you should look for. Brown trout redds are usually depressions and accompanying mounds in the gravel in riffles and tailouts of pools. I've seen redds in all kinds of water, but most will be in the riffles and tailouts. However, the most important thing is gravel. On some streams, good spawnable (did I make up a word?!?!) gravel is hard to find. It appears easiest to learn what kind of gravel is good for spawning and simply avoid walking on all gravel that is similar. In actual practice, it is helpful to be able to identify redds and walk on gravel when possible, because gravel is often going to be your best traction in the stream.

To understand what a redd looks like, first you should understand how the redd is built. First, the female finds the perfect site for her nest. Next, she begins to fan with her tail to dig out a depression. That depression is where she will lay her eggs. Once she has prepared the nest, she lays some or all of her eggs while a dominant male delivers milt to fertilize the eggs. Then, she will move just upstream and stir the gravel again, allowing the current to filter the gravel down onto the eggs to protect them. This small mound that forms is where the actual eggs are stored. Some fish may repeat this procedure several times leaving an area well stirred up, while others may make a single redd and call it quits. This process applies to rainbows and brook trout as well. Once those eggs are laid in the gravel, it is crucial for anglers to avoid stepping on the nests. Each generation will often see a fairly low success rate, so we need every nest to stay viable if possible. 

The incubation periods can vary wildly depending on water temperatures. Long periods of 4-5 months at a constant 35 degrees Fahrenheit down to a very short 30 days at 57 degrees Fahrenheit mean that it depends on the weather and stream as to how long it takes for the eggs to hatch. In the Smokies, most of our eggs will typically hatch sometime in January into February in a normal year and depending on exactly when they were laid. For fish that spawn in late October or early November, it is possible that same hatch by early January, while late spawning fish in late November into December may not have eggs hatching until closer to March. 

Other than anglers, extreme cold and anchor ice can disrupt the viability of the spawn. Extreme flow events with high water can also disrupt the process. Finally, on our tailwaters, low dissolved oxygen is also a major limiting factor to successful brown trout spawning. 

If you have read this far, then you clearly care deeply about the health of our wild fisheries. While everyone needs to make their own decisions as to whether to fish the spawn or not, I hope you will at least be very careful as to where you walk during the fall through spring period. The health of our fisheries depends on anglers being careful. Here are several examples of brown trout redds in the Smokies from the past few weeks. Note how redds often appear as bright patches in an otherwise darker bottom. 


brown trout redd

brown trout nest

wide stream view including redds

closeup of brown trout redd

One last redd

If you have any questions or want some better pictures, feel free to contact me using the information from the contact link above. I'm always glad to help promote the health of our fisheries. 

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day 11, Hiking from Marble to Crystal Mill

When I was a youngster just learning to fly fish, I subscribed to Fly Fisherman magazine. An article one month was on the Roaring Fork valley in Colorado. While I don't remember many of the details of the article, one thing has always stayed with me: a picture of the Crystal Mill near Marble, Colorado that was included in the article. Mind you, it wasn't labeled as such. It was just a scenic piece to add interest to the article otherwise convincing anglers to head for the Fork or Frying Pan to fish at all costs. At the time, I didn't know exactly where it was, just that I wanted to see that scene someday. 

Fast forward just a few years, and I eventually discovered the location of the scene that had stuck with me for so many years. When we started planning a trip to Colorado for last fall, I determined that we had to visit the Crystal Mill. There are lots of places I want to visit, and I don't know how many more Colorado trips will happen. There are other places to go and see after all. So, I wanted to hit the one thing in the state that was still on my must see list, or dare I even say, my bucket list. My bucket list, if you want to call it that, is a loose collection of places I want to see someday. Nothing written on paper, and some are more definitive than others, but I'm to the point where I'm trying to check a few off of the list nowadays.

After we had travelled from State Forest State Park to Dillon and then on towards Bogan Flats Campground, we were ready to get back into the woods. Our town stay had been a nice reprieve, but we didn't travel all the way to Colorado to stay in a hotel in town.

Unfortunately, before we could enjoy a trek to the Crystal Mill which was just up the road from our campground, we had to take a detour. We didn't know it at the time, but a distinct trend had started in more ways than one. The first trend actually started during the night. Light rain showers whispered on top of our tent. When we got up in the morning, the clouds were breaking some, but we also didn't want to get caught in a storm or downpour while out hiking with a toddler. 

Camping at Bogan Flats near Marble Colorado


Cell service was at least a few miles back down the road towards Carbondale, so we decided to head that direction and get an updated weather report before venturing out for the day. This was both a good and bad decision. Good because, well, things were about to happen that I REALLY didn't want to happen in the kid carrier pack. Bad because, well, it should be self explanatory. 

Little Bit was riding along comfortably in the back when it apparently became time to do her morning business. We were almost to cell service when the aroma stench hit us. I pulled over into a large gravel pullout that would double as a bathroom/changing room and also had enough cell signal to help us in other ways. As it turns out, we needed that cell signal for directions to the nearest laundromat. Things had gotten out of control, so to speak, and we needed more cleanup ability than we could carry in our little car. 

At the sketchy little laundromat, I did laundry next to a homeless guy while Leah made some bagels and cream cheese for our breakfast. After an hour of doing laundry, we were headed back towards camp and then on to Marble, hoping that this would be a one time event and the rest of our trip would go smoothly. The forecast looked to turn a little more rainy over the next few days, but still suggested a good mix of sun and clouds. The forecast for our hike that day was mostly good with just a small chance of a shower. 

We found Marble and a parking area where we could leave the car for a few hours. The road up to the historic Crystal Mill was a rough 4WD road that our little Corolla wouldn't even begin to negotiate. Unfortunately the jeep tours that operate in the area have a strict "no car seats" policy that effectively weeds out younger kids. I don't blame them, but I will say that it would have been a much easier day for us. 

Beaver Lake near Marble


We loaded Little Bit up in her pack and began the grueling hike up to the Crystal Mill. It is only about 4.5 miles or so, but the first mile was brutal with probably 1000 feet of vertical gain. The rest of the hike was actually fairly easy other than the 30 pounds or so in the pack on my back. At the time we visited, you could pay a little money and then access the bottom of the falls. From things I have read, I believe that is sadly no longer an option. 

The trail/road is fairly busy or at least was when we visited. Lots of jeeps and trucks were driving up to see the same place we were as well as some others scenic places in the area. Thankfully, they were all considerate and we never felt in danger despite the road being quite narrow at times. We got tired quickly, some of us more so than others. Little Bit was needing a snack, so we stopped by Lizard Lake for a quick break and some snacks.

Lizard Lake on the Road to Crystal Mill


The timing of our trip was largely in hopes of catching the fall colors. Sections of our hike were about perfect with golden aspen everywhere, while other sections still had mostly green. With the nice mix of color, the hike was interesting throughout. One of the most interesting things, I thought, was the constant avalanche chutes and debris fans from past avalanches. The ridge to the south, just across the Crystal River (which the road/trail follows) apparently gets a LOT of big snow in the winter. The avalanches then roar down the north facing slope and often up and across the road on the other side. I can only imagine how treacherous this area would be in the winter. 

Avalanche chute full of fall colors on the road to Crystal Mill

The Crystal River itself was beautiful and truly crystal clear as its name suggested. I kept wishing that I had brought at least a tenkara rod with me, but because we started the hike late, I had left all fishing gear in the car. We didn't have as much time as we wanted, but thankfully our timing was perfect from one perspective. Once we made it up to the Crystal Mill, it quickly became apparent that afternoon was the best time to visit this scene, at least in late September and early October. 

Crystal River along the road to Crystal Mill

The early autumn light was angling in just right to light the scene for our cameras. We took more photos on this day than any other on our trip. Since we were able to go to the bottom of the falls, we had our picnic lunch down there. Little Bit played amongst the rocks along the stream (one of her favorite things to do!) while we took pictures of her having a good time.

Crystal Mill on Crystal River

View of Crystal Mill


Eventually, we knew that it was time to head back down. Carrying a heavy pack was starting to wear me out after more than a week of camping. While the hike out was mostly downhill, I still wanted to get it over with. On our way out, we experienced a very light shower that was perfectly brief. We put up the rain cover on the kid carrier, but otherwise didn't worry about the rain. If only the rain showers had stayed that brief for the rest of our trip...

Fall colors on the road to Crystal Mill