Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Glacier Day Seven: Late Day Bonus

After completing a 14.5 mile hike, you might assume we would be tired and done for the day. Part of that assumption is correct: we were tired. However, we were not so tired that the day was over. The big hike to Gunsight Lake and Florence Falls had been a lot of fun, but we finished early enough in the afternoon that we still had many hours of daylight left. Before any further adventuring though, we wanted to eat some more. Lunch had been completed on the return hike from Gunsight Lake, and we were starting to get hungry again. 

Relaxing in Camp and Eating Yet Again

The drive back to camp was completed as quickly as one can under the conditions, and we were soon devouring another delicious meal featuring burritos. This had become a big favorite for us on this trip. We eat a lot of them anyway, but they had turned into a quick and easy but delicious meal with good nutrition after the big hikes we had been doing. An ample amount of black beans, lettuce, tomato, a little shredded cheese, avocado, and either salsa or Taco Bell sauce provided plenty of calories.

While we were relaxing in camp, I decided to try and get some pictures of the wildlife around camp. I was particularly interested in a little oven bird that had been hanging around. While I got a picture or two, they didn't turn out nearly as well as that of a robin that was hanging around. Here is what that one looked like.

American robin at Glacier Campground
American Robin ©2020 David Knapp

Late Day Drive to Polebridge

After lunch and a little time to sit and enjoy the birds, we started thinking about an evening adventure. With nothing better to do, we headed back up to Polebridge. We drove up there far more than was probably necessary, but we enjoyed the late day drives and the scenery was beautiful. The first trip had produced some good fishing, but in subsequent trips I simply enjoyed the drive.

On this evening, we again struck out on wildlife. This trip produced less wildlife encounters than we had hoped, but the scenery more than made up for that. Being there in the middle of the heat of summer probably didn't help. Without any wildlife to keep us occupied, the highlight of the evening ended up being the sunset. 

Sunset at Polebridge

The evening was beautiful even before the sunset. We drove south along Inside North Fork road, hoping for some critters. The one bit of excitement happened when the road passed Winona Lake. We thought for sure a moose had to be feeding there, but it wasn't our day apparently. The waterfowl there were interesting, though, and kept us occupied for a bit. With darkness approaching, we didn't really want to drive all the way back in the dark. After turning around at the Quartz Creek Campground, we were soon back to the bridge over the North Fork of the Flathead. Looking upstream and downstream, we saw one of the best sunsets we enjoyed on this trip. The camera didn't come close to capturing the beauty of the moment, but we and some others on the bridge tried anyway. Distant thunderstorms up over Canada were on the horizon to the north, while the moon was coming up over the river to the south.

Sunset on North Fork Flathead River at Polebridge looking north
North Fork Flathead River at Sunset ©2020 David Knapp

Looking south at moonrise over North Fork Flathead River at Polebridge
Moonrise and Sunset on North Fork Flathead River ©2020 David Knapp

After enjoying this beautiful scenery, we turned towards camp. We had one full day left and wanted to get well-rested so we could make the most of it. The next day would be tied for my favorite hike in Glacier National Park with the Sperry Glacier day we had already completed. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Time For a New Tennessee Fishing License

This is just a friendly reminder that it is license time again in Tennessee. Annual hunting and fishing licenses are good through February of each year, which means your old license is about to expire. You can purchase a new one online. Just don't forget before your next fishing trip!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Glacier Day Seven: Hiking to Gunsight Lake and Florence Falls

Our trip to Glacier was definitely winding down, but we still had to great adventures. Thankfully, the best was saved for last although not intentionally. The next to last day was pretty good also. 

When we had first started planning this trip, my good friend Roger told me about an epic day hike he had done in Glacier National Park. The Gunsight Pass Trail is around 20 miles from end to end and connects the east and west side of the park. That sounded like a worthwhile goal to aim for while we were there, but then COVID hit. With the shuttle system shut down, we needed to stick to the same or at least close trailheads. Thus, we chose to do Sperry Glacier which followed part of that original route from the west end. Late in our trip, we decided to head up to Gunsight Lake to do part of the other end. Sometime, eventually, we want to do the rest of this hike. I have some fishing I want to do right about in the middle.

The early start routine got us to the trailhead at a good time, but then I needed to take a pitstop. We headed down the hill to find a convenient place for my much needed "break," then quickly drove back up. Thankfully, there were still a few parking spots even with the detour. We were in luck. The plan was to hike out to Gunsight Lake, take a quick detour to Florence Falls, and back. The trail elevation profile looked manageable, and if we did everything, would be over 14 miles for the day. In other words, we had a good solid day of hiking ahead of us. At 14 miles, I figured there might be some time to fish. My Tenkara rod was stashed in my pack along with camera and a couple of lenses. Lunches were packed as well as water and a filter.

Starting Our Hike to Gunsight Lake

Even with the extra events and longer drive, we were still hiking well before 8:00 am. Soon, our pace slowed down significantly. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere. I wanted to document as many as possible although I wasn't taking the time to try and identify them on the spot for the most part. Cellphone pictures sufficed since we were still trying to move along at least a little. 

Streambank Globemallow on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Streambank Globemallow ©2020 David Knapp

Cow Parsnip on Gunsight Pass Trail
Cow Parsnip ©2020 David Knapp

Thimbleberry flowers on Gunsight Pass Trail
Thimbleberry ©2020 David Knapp

Down at the lowest elevation of the trail, we had to cross Reynolds Creek. Shortly before the crossing, Deadwood Falls provided our first real stop. We hadn't made it very far, but the scene was beautiful. Both my wife and myself wanted to document things with our "good" cameras instead of just cellphone pictures. 

Deadwood Falls on Gunsight Pass Trail
Deadwood Falls ©2020 David Knapp

Selfie at Deadwood Falls
Yep, we were there! ©2020 David Knapp

Deadwood Falls Panorama on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Cellphone Panorama of Deadwood Falls ©2020 David Knapp

Closer look at Deadwood Falls
Closeup of the falls ©2020 David Knapp

Finally, after a little water to drink and more pictures than necessary, we hit the trail again. Shortly after the falls, we crossed Reynolds Creek itself. This was a really nice suspension style swinging bridge that was super stable. It was one of the nicest bridges like this I've been on in fact. 

Reynolds Creek Bridge on Gunsight Pass Trail
The Bridge ©2020 David Knapp

Crossing Reynolds Creek on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Crossing Over ©2020 David Knapp

In the early morning sunlight, we found some other interesting details. Often, the details are what makes things interesting. When light is added, you get magic. Unless you have arachnophobia that is...

Spider Web on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Spider web on Gunsight Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp

Scenery on the Gunsight Pass Trail

After crossing the creek, the trail wound through the woods but started trending slowly uphill. The keyword here is slowly. This trail is a long slow climb for the first few miles. In fact, you barely even notice that you are climbing. It really isn't much work. Occasional meadow views give glimpses of the high country ahead. The trail parallels the Saint Mary River. One particularly stunning view is at Mirror Pond, but great views become more and more prevalent as you trek ever higher. 

Mountain views on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Mountain and Meadow Views ©2020 David Knapp

Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson
Reflection of Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson ©2020 David Knapp

By this point in the hike, a theme began to develop. We weren't spending very long on breaks because the mosquitoes and biting flies found us. Up until this point on our trip, the bugs had been present but generally manageable and bearable. This hike would seriously put us to the test, however.

Florence Falls Trail

Not too much farther up the valley, we came to a trail junction by a small bridge over a creek. The trail sign said Florence Falls. After a quick discussion, we agreed it made sense to run up there quickly. It really wasn't too far out of the way, but the thick growth almost made us turn back. This was an extremely lush area, and we were talking loudly and making plenty of noise. Thankfully, no bears surprised us nor we them, and we soon found ourselves enjoying a beautiful waterfall. 

Thick growth on the trail to Florence Falls
A brushy section of trail! ©2020 David Knapp

Florence Falls was larger than I expected and difficult to photograph completely from the rather close overlook. Finally, I resorted to taking a series of pictures that could later be stitched together in Photoshop. I think it turned out well!

Florence Falls Overlook
Florence Falls ©2020 David Knap

Back on the Gunsight Pass Trail to Gunsight Lake

We soon headed back down the trail and continued towards our main goal, Gunsight Lake. The trail began ascending through increasingly open terrain. Fire had burned much of the forest through this hike and the warm summer sun had us wishing for shade. We both had hats on by this point to protect our heads a little.  The views were getting better and better. This trip was just whetting our appetite for more Glacier National Park trips sometime in the future. Seriously, this was some of the best hiking I've ever enjoyed. The scenery and wildflowers were spectacular. I could have spent a lot more time on just the wildflowers, but at some point you have to keep walking. 

Red berries and Mount Jackson
Red Berries, Fireweed and Mount Jackson ©2020 David Knapp

Hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail
Hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp

Fireweed and Mount Jackson
Fireweed ©2020 David Knapp

Larkspur on Gunsight Pass Trail
Larkspur, but which one? ©2020 David Knapp

The trail really began to climb, finally. We were making good headway towards the lake but this last ascent up to Gunsight Lake was narrow. The terrain was steep and brush both above and below. In other words, this was yet another good area to keep up the noise and let the bears know you were around. Finally, things began to open up and level off and we figured the lake was just over the next rise. That was more or less accurate. 
Taking Pictures on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Enjoying the Views ©2020 David Knapp

Wildflowers were all around, but at this point I was beginning to have a problem that kept me from going too crazy with the camera. Bugs. You see, the bugs were about as bad as anything on our trip. Okay, they actually were the worst of our whole trip, easily. The original plan was to enjoy our lunch on the shores of Gunsight Lake before adventuring around a little more, taking some pictures, and otherwise enjoying our time in this beautiful place. Unfortunately, the biting flies in particular as well as mosquitoes had other plans for us. We decided to basically look at the lake and turn around. I only shot a handful of pictures of this gorgeous scene. This is definitely one we'll be back to. I might actually take a bug head net with me though. 

Gunsight Lake Outlet Stream
Gunsight Lake Outlet ©2020 David Knapp

Gunsight Lake
Cellphone Picture of Gunsight Lake Outlet ©2020 David Knapp

On the last short approach to the lake, there had been some flowers that I found interesting. Clintonia uniflora or bride's bonnet was a new one for me, but I recognized it as Clintonia. We have Clintonia borealis here in the Smokies and the similarities were strong. 

Clintonia uniflora or bride's bonnet near Gunsight Lake

Heading Back to the Trailhead

After a quick picture, we hit the downhill trail hard. I was getting really hungry, but neither of us wanted to sit down long enough to eat our sandwiches in this fly infested environment. On the way back down the steep section, we met a pair of backpackers. It appeared to be a boy and his grandmother. The boy innocently asked if the bugs were bad at the campsite. I honestly replied that I didn't know because we hadn't gone there. However, I hate to think of how miserable it was at that campsite because it was close enough to the lake that it almost had to be bad. I would have been spending the afternoon, evening, night, and early morning all in my tent or kept on hiking. Seriously, it was some of the worst bugs I've ever experienced. Ah the price we pay for outdoor adventures.

Finally, well back down the trail, we stopped just long enough for a quick lunch. Huckleberries were blooming alongside the small stream we stopped at. I ate more than I probably should have and washed it down with freshly filtered cold water. It was one of the most satisfying lunches I've ever enjoyed. 

We continued on down the trail, looking forward to finishing yet another great hike. However, there were still a couple of highlights to enjoy. The birds had been fairly quiet on our way in that morning. Now, in the warmth of the afternoon, we saw and heard quite a few. I even got a picture of one that I had been trying to photograph for several days of our trip. The western tanager was an extremely beautiful bird. Unfortunately, the closest I ever got wasn't close enough, even with my nice zoom lens. This is the best I got. 

Western Tanager on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Western Tanager ©2020 David Knapp

Gray Jay on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Canada Jay ©2020 David Knapp

After the tanager, I decided to just carry my big camera and zoom lens. The best opportunity on the tanager had been missed because I wasn't ready. While I was glad for my consolation prize of a picture, I intended to be ready when the next moment struck. That is how I happened to be ready when this Canada jay happened by in a family group. This was the best of the few pictures I snapped before they were moving on. We were almost back at the car at this point, and the sun was still high in the sky. I started to relax a little, knowing we wouldn't be pushing daylight to get back. Looking around, I noticed a western red cedar. Again, the details were what intrigued me...

Western Red Cedar along the Gunsight Pass Trail
Western Red Cedar ©2020 David Knapp

Other Stories from Glacier National Park You May Be Interested In

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Glacier Day Six: Photography, Marias Pass, and Relaxation

Our trip in Glacier National Park was definitely getting into the home stretch. After our big hike, we wanted a breather before hitting it hard for a couple more days. We had discussed taking the day completely off from hiking but ultimately decided to not waste any of our vacation with sitting around. However, wanting to make sure we had the energy without too many aching muscles for the last couple of days, we decided to spend more time sight seeing than hiking. 

Our day started off with a relaxing morning of sleeping in, if you can call getting up at 7:00 am sleeping in. Compared to our recent 5:00 am mornings, this was definitely a luxury. Once we finally got ourselves up, both my wife and I were presently surprised to discover we weren't too sore. Our main reason for a slow day is we simply didn't know if we'd be able to move that morning. We were both feeling pretty good and started second guessing whether we should have just done another big hike after all. However, we had some other plans we wanted to see about. That included a big breakfast of huckleberry pancakes which you can read all about HERE.

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail at Marias Pass

After breakfast and doing the dishes, time was already starting to get away from us. We decided to take a drive and see some areas we hadn't visited yet. I wanted to follow the Middle Fork of the Flathead east and see the scenery in that area. After consulting our maps, a short hike was settled upon at Marias Pass. Once we finished all of that, we'd just see what time it was and go from there. 

As we drove up the beautiful canyon, it quickly became apparent that my poor wife was more tired than we originally thought. She was quickly asleep as we drove up towards Marias Pass. It was a long enough drive that she was able to enjoy some rest before our short hike. When we got up to the actual pass, there were a couple of other cars parked at the trailhead which was helpful. It was not obvious where to park for this trailhead. The actual trailhead was not immediately obvious either but a group of hikers coming out helped clear that up as well. 

We grabbed our packs and cameras and headed north across the railroad tracks and were soon enveloped in a beautiful forest full of wildflowers and tranquility. The trail was supposed to approach and pass Three Bears Lake. We were hoping for maybe a good view or some wildlife but otherwise just glad to be out stretching our legs a little. 

Continental Divide Trail at Marias Pass

Soon, the trail approached the lake. As the forest opened up, more wildflowers appeared. We would have spent quite a bit of time here enjoying the flowers blooming in the summer sun, but the lake also provided a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. They weren't as bad as some spots, but just bad enough that we didn't linger beyond a quick picture or two. The fireweed in particular was eye catching. 

Fireweed along Three Bears Lake

After briefly skirting the lake, the trail returned to the forest. We had hoped to spot a moose or some other interesting critters on the lake, but all we noticed were some waterfowl well off in the distance. Not far beyond the lake, we reached a trail junction. We had already gone a little more than a mile with no real destination in mind beyond the lake. While we were happy to be out walking, we also wanted to see some more things, so we turned around and headed back. 

On the way back, I noticed another flower. This one was much more interesting and was a new one for me. Woodland pinedrops are apparently related to Indian-pipe and is a root parasite and produces minimal chlorophyl. I was intrigued by how tall these were, with several approaching three feet in height. After a few quick pictures, we moved on again.

Woodland Pinedrops near Marias Pass

By the time we got back to the car, the huckleberry pancakes were starting to wear off and we began to consider food. Not wanting to stop our adventures, we decided to see what was across the road. An interesting obelisk was there along with some other markers and statues. Here is what we found.

Theodore Roosevelt and John Stevens Memorial at Marias Pass

The obelisk was a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt for his work on conservation which has greatly benefited this particular area. The statue was of John F. Stevens who, along with a native guide, is responsible for the discovery of Marias Pass which allowed the Great Northern Railway to build a route through the Northern Rockies. Some other interesting signs told about the history of the area, both natural and modern. If you are passing through the area, it is well worth the stop.

Evening in Glacier National Park

We soon turned back towards West Glacier, planning to eat lunch back at camp. By the time all of that was completed, it was getting later than we expected. The evening hours were a prime time for wildlife and we were still looking for that grizzly bear. So, back into Glacier National Park we went. The long drive up the Going to the Sun Road never got old and we enjoyed the evening light as we went. It wasn't until we got all the way to Logan Pass that we found our first creatures of interest. A large group of male bighorn sheep were grazing near the visitor center parking area. We joined everyone else to take some pictures. This was one species we hadn't got any real good pictures of yet. 

Bighorn sheep ram at Logan Pass

Ram bighorn sheep at Logan Pass

Bighorn Sheep Rams at Logan Pass Parking Lot

The herd of rams moved all over the parking lot. They were looking for snacks and other goodies that tourists had dropped. They were mostly unconcerned about everyone standing around taking pictures and that is a good thing. They had some serious headwear that could probably do damage if you were on the wrong end of it. 

As the sun sank lower, the moon began rising in the east, providing still another excellent photo opportunity for us. 

Moonrise in Glacier National Park

Moon over Heavy Runner Mountain

On the other side of Logan Pass, the sun was quickly sinking to the horizon. The light got warmer and warmer, lighting up the Garden Wall as it sank out of sight. We enjoyed the last few moments of that rich evening light before making the long drive back down to camp. We had another longer hike planned for the next day and needed to get to bed. 

Garden Wall panorama at sunset

Clouds over the Garden Wall at Sunset

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.