Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Camping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camping. Show all posts

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Hunt For Bull Trout Day Three: More Disappointment and a Glimmer of Hope

By morning on the third day of my bull trout pursuit, I was becoming resigned to the distinct possibility of not finding one of these amazing fish. Or, more accurately, I was resigned to not finding one in the bottom of my net. The previous day had seriously deflated my hopes and expectations. While I still believed there were bull trout around, I was beginning to doubt I would find one. Still, I knew where at least one had been from my brief connection on day one. On this third day, I wasn't feeling like hiking 5 or 6 miles into the backcountry again, and we settled on another day of roadside fishing. My logic was fairly good. If there had been a bull trout near camp a couple of days prior, then there had to be some around on this day as well.

The morning started on a high note despite my creeping disappointment. On our hike out the previous day, we had harvested more huckleberries than we needed for another round of huckleberry pancakes. If you've read along on this trip with me, then you know how we started this up while in Glacier. Thankfully Idaho has plenty of huckleberries as well and we were determined to take full advantage. Due to the big harvest from the day before, these pancakes would be LOADED!!! See what I mean?



After making and consuming a large quantity of huckleberries with a little pancake, er, I mean huckleberry pancakes, we were ready for another day on the water. Driving slowly down the canyon from our camp, my bull trout pool was already occupied. Things were still not looking promising apparently.

A little farther down the canyon, we finally found a promising stretch of water. There was even a rise or two. At this point, while not entirely giving up on bull trout, I was ready to just catch a few fish. The beautiful westslope cutthroat trout that call this area home would be my main goal at least for a while. A big hopper with a nymph dropper seemed appropriate, and I set up rods for both me and my wife. I also carried the streamer rod. Some of these holes begged to be probed by a big juicy streamer. It didn't take very long to get things going. The cutthroat were willing although not complete pushovers. If you did everything just right, the fish would eat. I struck first before my wife even got a line wet. She politely took a picture for me then went to find some fish of her own. 


It didn't take very long before I glanced upstream and saw her rod bent as well. The fishing was excellent as we both caught fish after fish although nothing was too large. 


After thoroughly working this pool, we headed upstream through the riffle you can see in the above picture. Working our way across to the right bank, we were now on the inside bend of a large pool with some amazing water. My wife picked right up where she left off in the previous pool. Of course, she had to go and catch the daily big fish as well. This pool screamed big trout so I wasn't shocked when she landed this fine specimen. This is one of my favorite fish pictures from our trip.


We worked a little farther upstream. Of course, before doing so, I had to run my streamer through that beautiful pool. While several quality cutthroat trout slashed at the streamer, no bull trout made an appearance. Nymphing at the very top of the pool where the gravel shelf dropped into deeper water, my wife picked up another first for us on this trip. A mountain whitefish! While I know these are looked down on by many anglers who prefer catching trout, they are always an enjoyable unique experience to me on my trips out west. They are indicative of a healthy ecosystem with clean cold water, so from that perspective they are also good to see. 


Moving on upstream, I saw some nice pockets and decided to change tactics when it came to the bull trout. Maybe, just maybe, one might be laying along an undercut bank of in the shadow of a boulder. If they are as opportunistic as I've read, why not try a mouse? This seemed like a better idea than a streamer on this bright sunny day. The streamer had been fished hard through two large deep pools with no results. Out came my fly box, and I quickly changed to a floating line and mouse pattern. The very first spot was perfect with a large boulder and an undercut bank all creating some excellent habitat. I cast just upstream and started swimming the mouse back through the pocket when an explosion rocked my fly. I started yelling in excitement while my wife was trying to figure out what in the world was going on. My first clue should have been how quick I whipped this fish on the 1x tippet. It was in the net in mere seconds. Definitely not a bull trout. However, the take and fight were so violent, that until the fish hit the net I thought maybe, just maybe it was a smaller bull trout. No luck. This chunky cutthroat was pretty cool to land, however, especially on a mouse. 


This seemed like the time to transition to a new spot. We were working upstream into a long stretch without good road access. That is great for fishing, of course, but we were interested in seeing some new sections and also getting lunch together. This timing turned out to be important. 

As we were climbing back up to the road, these two guys that had pulled in near our car were coming down. They were in wetsuits and had snorkels and masks. My curiosity got the best of me, so I asked them what they were doing. As it turns out, they were from the Idaho Game and Fish and were doing visual fish surveys. Talk about a neat job! I briefly asked about bull trout in the area, then we headed on. Not more than a half mile down the road, I turned to my wife and said, "I'm an idiot! I should have asked them where to go for bull trout!!!" I had just inquired in general about them and left it at that. I don't know what I didn't ask for more info, but a golden opportunity appeared to have passed. Thankfully, our hunger would provide a second chance. 

At the next spot, we still hadn't had lunch. The plan was to drive back the quick 10 minutes to camp and eat. I wanted to hit one more hole though. This pool would provide me with my own whitefish, but otherwise didn't do much. Oh well, it was nice to get another species for the trip.


By this time, I was hungry and knew my wife was also. We turned our car back up the canyon towards camp. Rolling slowly along to take in the scenery, I noticed a vehicle approaching and eased over to give them as much room as possible. Suddenly, I recognized it as the truck for the game and fish biologists. I stopped and put my hand out to flag them down. I wasn't missing this opportunity again! I asked if they had found anything interesting, then quickly pivoted to more important topics like bull trout. One of the guys was fairly reticent and probably rightfully so. Bull trout are a very special fish and need all the protection they can get. The other guy started talking plenty so it worked out thankfully.

I told them about our experience so far and my hope to catch a bull trout. When I mentioned the upper roadless area, the guy said that yes, that was probably the place to find bull trout at this point in the summer. In fact, they seemed a little surprised that I had found one down in the canyon close to camp. As they were pulling away, my wife turned to me and said, "We probably should hike again tomorrow shouldn't we?" 

I didn't want to wear her out and sour her on fishing. "I wasn't going to say it, but if you are willing then I would definitely like to," was my reply. She was game, and even though we hadn't had lunch yet, we began planning the fourth day of our trip. The rest of day three was fairly benign. We explored all over, fished some different places, saw more wildflowers and amazing scenery, and otherwise enjoyed our time. 



While I enjoyed all of the exploring immensely, I was already getting excited about the possibilities of the next day. Would I find my bull trout? Or would I have to chalk this trip up to a learning experience and try again someday? 



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


Monday, October 19, 2015

Welcome to Yellowstone

Mt. Haynes in Yellowstone National Park

Arriving late to Yellowstone can be a risky thing. I always forget how incredibly far it is and how long the drive is across Wyoming. The original goal was to be in the Park by midday on Sunday, but between stopping to sleep a few hours in the car on Saturday night and buying some groceries on Sunday, I arrived in the Park late in the day. The sign at the South Entrance informed me that all of the campgrounds were already full except for at Lewis Lake. Luckily that was the closest so I had a chance to claim a site.

Sure enough, I snagged a site but none too early as lots of forlorn looking travelers were doing the drive around the campground routine looking for a nonexistent available site shortly after my arrival. With an hour or two until sundown, I walked down to the lakeshore and enjoyed the sunset before heading back for an early bedtime. The drive had me tired out, and I needed plenty of energy for the next few days of fishing. 

That night I was reminded how cold it can get in the high country, especially late in the season. However, being tired has its advantages so I slept quite well. The next morning, I was up and packed before sunrise and made it to West Thumb Geyser Basin for an early morning photo opportunity. The early morning sun lit up the steam creating some beautiful views. A big bull elk surprised me on the way. He was wandering in the road and bugling, his breath condensing into vapor in the cold morning air. 

Elk bugling in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Moving on down the road, I decided to take the scenic route over to Norris by way of Hayden Valley and Canyon. The idea seemed even better when I found a delicious breakfast at Canyon and a place to buy a fishing license. Full and content, I hurried on towards Norris and grabbed one of only a handful of available campsites. Clearly the crowds were still on the high side considering how late in the season it was. 

Camping in Norris Campground

In no time I had my camp set up, and soon I had a rod strung up headed to the meadow stretch on the Gibbon right by the campground. Shortly after starting, that first Yellowstone trout graced the end of my line, a gorgeous Gibbon River brown trout. 

Gibbon River Brown Trout

Releasing a Gibbon River brown trout

I continued up through the meadow, catching fish here and there, and as the sun was starting to drop in the western sky I decided to head for West Yellowstone. The sky over the Madison was worth a stop for pictures. By the time I got back to camp, I was already completely satisfied with my Yellowstone trip and the adventure had only begun!

Madison River in Yellowstone National Park

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Strange Happenings or Cataloochee: Part 2

On most of my camping trips I like to document the camp a little with my camera.  Sometimes I just snap a few shots of the overall setup and other times I go to great lengths to get shots of everything that makes up camp life.  Fire shots in particular seem to get me snapping more pictures than I intend.  Fire is just so mesmerizing that I'll often shoot 50 or more pictures before I think, "Oh man I can't fill up my memory card with fire pictures!"

Last month in Cataloochee, I found myself taking the obligatory camp shots but not really dealing with the fire thing on the first evening.  My cousin would not show up until the next day and a campfire is generally best when it is shared with someone else.  My fishing plans for the next day included a stream I had never fished but wanted to give a fair shot so I did a quick supper before hurrying to bed.

While I was still thinking about supper, I got the camera out and, as light was quickly dwindling, quickly got a few shots that included my tent and the overall setup.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at the pictures on the computer that I realized that something was a little off.  The first one seemed fine, but then something strange appeared in the next couple of images...




Monday, July 28, 2014

The Gorge

When my cousin Nathan came up for several days of fly fishing, I knew we would have a great time.  The first day of smallmouth fishing was fun and the Caney Fork float produced that nice brown I'm always looking for.  Next up on our list was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hopefully a mid to high elevation stream that had good numbers of rainbow and brook trout.


Arriving in the afternoon at our campsite, we hurried to set up the tent and stash our sleeping pads and sleeping bags before hitting the water.  Not wanting to fish too long, we stayed close to camp, walking no more than a mile before we started fishing.  We each caught a few fish, and I took some pictures before heading out to go try out a new restaurant in Townsend for supper, the Monte Real Mexican Restaurant.  Turns out the food was good! We enjoyed it knowing that the menu was camp food for the next day and a half.

After a good night's sleep, we were up and ready to fish hard all day.  Our goal was to return to a gorge we had fished together a few years ago.  Sure enough, it was just as amazing as we remembered.  This particular stretch of water has both rainbows and brookies and is among the most rugged stretches of water in the Park.  Numerous times we reached places where continuing on meant boosting each other to climb over the huge boulders.  Not for the faint of heart nor for the weak, this stretch of water should never be tackled solo for obvious safety reasons, but the fishing is so worth it.

The rainbows here are thick and never vanish completely, but the higher you go the more brook trout you can find.  I caught a nice one early on, and on a dry fly at that!


Nathan has a soft spot for brookies and was doing his share to catch a bunch.  After catching one fish in particular and shooting a couple of quick pictures, he gently released it in the shallows at the stream's edge.  We watched it rest on the bottom for probably 30 seconds before it took off again.  Naturally I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to shoot a few pictures...


In between the brookies, the rainbows kept us more than busy.  While none were large, they were plentiful and eager to hit our flies.  Enough fish kept hitting the dry to keep us from going to straight nymphs but most were hitting the dropper.  In the low clear water we could often watch the fish materialize off of the bottom to come up and swirl on the little bead head trailing behind the dry fly.


The stream is beautiful which is part of the reason I keep coming back.  The fish are the other part of course.  Between those two things, the visiting angler most be extremely careful.  To spend too much time on one section means getting stranded in this long gorge overnight, not a fun idea.


Since there were two of us, I spent quite a bit of time with my camera.  This is something that is harder to do when you are the only one fishing.  I tend to get so focused on my fishing that I forgot to enjoy the sights around me, but when I'm sitting back to watch a friend fish, getting out the camera just makes sense.  In this case, it allowed me to get two back to back shots that I think turned out well.



The fish just kept coming to hand and the farther we went the better the fishing got.


Photo by Nathan Stanaway

Not too far from where we would climb out and hit the trail back, I had a very nice fish hit and somehow managed to keep it on the line.  My best fish of the day turned out to be a brookie, and I couldn't have been happier!

Photo by Nathan Stanaway

The hike out was all down hill so we made good time and were soon back at camp for a relaxing evening around the fire.  This trip will be one that I remember for a long time. It's always great to get out with my cousin Nathan!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Native Brook Trout

Several days of adventure are behind me after my cousin came up to visit and do some fishing.  We waded Cumberland Plateau streams for smallmouth (forgot our cameras), floated the Caney (remembered cameras and nailed a nice brown on a hopper), and then camped for a couple of nights in the Smokies.  While in the Park, we caught a ridiculous number of trout but no monsters.  The highlight of the camping trip was fishing a steep stream full of rainbows and brook trout.  Here's a sample...


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Smokies Adventure

Adventure is a huge part of fly fishing for me.  During a conversation on our camping trip, I was telling my buddy Joe how I enjoy exploring almost as much as the actual fishing.  Thankfully I was able to enjoy both on this trip.

On Sunday, I arrived a bit later than Joe.  Coming from Central time into Eastern time always makes it hard to get up and on the river as early as my friends.  Getting there at first light means being up to leave around 3 or 3:30 a.m.  No thanks...  Anyway, so eventually I did make it over there and when if found Joe he was already hard at work fishing a likely run.  He reported good early morning action on the usual nymphs and we decided to continue fishing up through a nice mix of pools and pocket water.


Not too far upstream, I came across Mountain Laurel and stopped to play with the camera a bit.



Just above the blooms, Joe worked a really nice run.  When he finished and headed down to the truck for some lunch, I noticed a few rises and moved up into the run.  Tying on dry flies, I worked the fish hard but in the end was humbled.  If I had known how spooky those fish would be I probably would have brought a 3 weight and also used a longer leader.  Dry fly fishing is excellent on Little River right now, but the long still flats on the roadside stretches may produce some challenging conditions.  It was every bit as tough if not more so than chasing a picky riser on a tailwater.


Anyway, eventually we had lunch, set up camp, and headed back out for an afternoon of catching fish.  We both caught a lot of nice trout on nymphs and eventually made it back to camp to rest up for the next day's action.

We fished on both sides of the mountain and hit up some stretches that were new to both of us.  One of my favorite parts of the trip was exploring a stream known as having the ability to produce the Smoky Mountain Hat Trick.  After a fairly early start, we made it over to the stream on day 2 and started fishing by looking for nice browns in the larger holes.

While Joe worked the pools, I fished the pocket water.  A double nymph rig seemed appropriate early in the day.  Wet wading was a little chilly with the temperature hovering right around 50 degrees in the early morning shade.  Hatches were pretty much nonexistent but the rainbows were feeding well subsurface.  This is where I picked up my better rainbows on this stream.  Strangely, neither of us caught a brown trout in this stretch.  By the time things had warmed and the sun was triggering some hatch activity, we decided to head upstream and look for the slam.


Both of us had fished just a little bit of this section before but we had no idea of the challenges awaiting us.  Huge piles of debris from a semi recent flash flood made stream navigation a challenge to say the least.  The fish population seemed to be on the low side but we both caught trout.  The pools were beautiful flat runs that were mostly shallow to medium depth, perfect dry fly water if you ask me.  Of course on water that pretty we both fished dry flies.  I choose a new Yellow Sally imitation I've started tying and Joe went with the standard for brookies, a Yellow Stimulator.  Betchya can't guess what color of bugs were hatching...


I found the brookie before I found the brown.  Both came out of fairly fast but large pockets.  The nice dry fly runs were not producing for the most part.



After a ton of effort to fish maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of a mile of water, we got tired at the lack of fish and decided to head out and hit up another brook trout stream.  That was a good choice as we caught a lot of trout although the number of rainbows was a concern.

That evening, we had a good fire as it was our last night.  Staying up late, talking about trips from past years, we reminisced about our Yellowstone Trip (here and here also) as well as the epic one day fishing trip in Colorado last year.  Good days fishing the Smokies, large fish caught, and lots of other topics kept us up late but not too late to be up early the next morning.


Joe didn't have long to fish the next morning, so after fishing just a little together, he took off, and I decided to hit up a favorite stretch of Little River.  The water here is a nice mix of pools and pocket water, classic Little River water if you know what I mean.  In the first pool, I caught 4-5 trout and probably could have caught more if I had chosen to.  Best of all, most of them were browns.


I continued fishing until around 2 in the afternoon when hunger started to gain the upper hand over my desire to fish.  On the way out, I found a hat hung on a rock in Little River.  If you happen to have lost one while fishing, it is now over at Little River Outfitters in Townsend.  For this last day, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.






Tips and hints: The best action was in the faster deep pockets...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Smokemont

While it requires a bit more of a drive then the Tennessee side of the Smokies, I always enjoy my trips over to places like Smokemont and Deep Creek.  Perhaps this is because the vast majority of my trips to the North Carolina side of the Park have happened with friends.  Outdoor adventures are almost always better when you can share them with someone else.

Some of my friends who are still in the education field were on Spring Break.  After a few phone calls and text messages, everyone agreed that a camping trip would be nice for a couple of nights.  It's not the same epic type of trip as our Spring Break trips of old, such as to the Everglades or Grand Canyon, but sometimes a couple of days to relax are better for the soul.

Naturally I took along my two favorite toys, a camera and a fly rod.  The fishing was just starting to heat up over on that side of the Park.  I did not exactly catch a ton of fish, but all were nice healthy brown trout so I wasn't complaining.  The hatches were still nonexistent there the first week of March other than the Little Black Caddis.  Things should be much different by now with the fish starting to respond to the increase in available food.



While I did enjoy the fishing, the trip was mostly about time with friends.  We went on a short hike up the trail above Smokemont along the Bradley Fork which was the first time I've walked up above the campground.  The water is beautiful up there! I'll definitely have to return later in the year for another adventure over there to fish the Bradley Fork a bit more.  I've fished the majority of the major streams on the North Carolina side as well as some smaller tributaries at least a few times each, but for some reason I keep ignoring this stream.  Doesn't this water just beg to be fished though?


All in all it was a great chance to catch up with friends, spend a bunch of time nursing a campfire, and even take a few pictures.



Interested in learning to fish in the Smokies and looking for a guide?  Contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com to discuss setting up a trip.