Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth
Showing posts with label Dry Fly Fishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dry Fly Fishing. Show all posts

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Good Hatch

Smoky Mountain Rainbow Trout


Fly fishing is a science or an art form depending on who you talk to. Many, including myself, will even gladly label it as both. The true pinnacle of both the science and the art is found in match the hatch dry fly fishing. Most good fly anglers have a favorite hatch, especially those who are blessed to reside in a region with rich trout waters supporting a variety of quality hatches to fish.

Many anglers here in east Tennessee have a favorite hatch, but just as many don't want to hem themselves in. This is a product of our relatively infertile mountain streams where a truly memorable blanket hatch is rare although not impossible. Local anglers often gravitate towards generic patterns that resemble of variety of currently hatching bugs. Our hatches tend to be sparse but complex, with sometimes as many as 5 species of mayflies hatching, not to mention the caddis and stoneflies that the fish also love to eat.

I'll never forget the first time I got on a real hatch. Back in 2005 I was blessed to spend time fly fishing in Yellowstone for the first time. I arrived in early June for a week or two of exploring and fishing. My timing could not have been better. The Firehole was just about perfect while the Gibbon was still a tad high but readily fishable.

The first day I headed to the Firehole, I did not really know what to expect. The week or so prior to my trip had been spent tying Blue-winged Olive and Pale Morning Dun Sparkle Duns, two simply elegant flies that still find an honored place in my boxes. I wasn't sure if the hatch would come off, but all of the guide books recommended being prepared for these hatches and the Sparkle Duns were high on the list of accepted patterns for matching the hatches. The Firehole had rising trout in the first place I stopped, somewhere in the first 2-3 miles above the canyon stretch. I quickly tied on a PMD Sparkle Dun and began targeting risers. As it turned out, catching the fish proved relatively easy so long as I could make an accurate cast and prevent drag. That last item was not as easy.

I caught more quality brown trout than is probably fair for anyone to enjoy. At the time, I was thrilled to be catching 8-14 inch browns all day. For that matter, I would still take that kind of fishing now. That trip to Yellowstone quickly fell into an easy routine. Breakfast every morning would be attended by a family of ground squirrels who were hoping for some of the Honey Nut Cheerios I enjoyed. Then it was off for fishing, mostly on the Firehole or Gibbon, but I also explored some of the hike in lakes. Getting spoiled without knowing it, I eventually found it necessary to head for home. Although a piece of me would have preferred to stay in Yellowstone indefinitely, duty called, and I had to get a summer job to help pay for college in the fall.

Arriving back in Tennessee, I soon found myself missing the daily hatches and rising trout on the Firehole. It wasn't until several years later, perhaps four or five, that I enjoyed a great hatch on my home waters in the Smokies. That is not to say that I never experienced hatches or rising trout because I enjoyed both, but a heavy hatch is somewhat unusual around here.

Despite my appreciation for heavy blanket hatches of mayflies, I think I've come to prefer those that are sparse instead of those rare events where the water is covered in bugs. The fish seem to be much more willing to rise to most anything during these hatches we normally experience here in southern Appalachia. That is part of the charm. Each year, my favorite dry fly seems to vary a bit. Some years it will be a Yellow Stimulator in size #14 or #16. Other years it may be a Parachute Adams. This year, I've been on a yellow Parachute Adams kick.


Early on, of course, I stayed with the darker colors of a standard Parachute Adams, sometime switching out for a Spundun or even a tiny Blue-winged Olive Parachute for particularly picky trout. Yes, difficult fish do exist here, but they tend to be easier to figure out than the fish on streams like the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks where anglers have been known to reach madness or the next thing to it while trying to figure out a difficult trout.

Lately, with the transition to the lighter colored bugs of late spring and summer, I kept it a bit more simple than I sometimes do. Instead of elaborate bugs with perfect hair wings and shucks of Zelon, I've kept the Parachute Adams theme going but changed the body color to yellow. The fish approve heartily, but have also rose just as convincingly to a Parachute Sulfur and a Parachute Light Cahill. Like I said, the general idea is more important than the exact bug.

The best days for bugs happen to be the same days that most anglers prefer to not go fishing. Rain or high water keeps the streams open, and if you are adventurous like me, expect some great fishing. Last week, I enjoyed one evening after work where I stood in one spot and caught 8 or 10 fine trout before deciding that it was time to quit. Most were rainbows, but a few of the fish that got away flashed golden brown. One little brown couldn't quite throw the hook before I landed it, but otherwise all the fish were feisty rainbows from 8-11 inches in length. There were just enough natural bugs on the water to get the fish looking up, but not so many that they would miss my imitation as it bobbed downstream in the choppy current. That is a good hatch if you ask me.





Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Successful Smokies Fly Fishing Tips: Temperature Trends

A couple of weeks ago, I addressed the current El Nino as well as what effects it might have on winter fishing in the Smokies and across our region. One of the points I emphasized was the idea of temperature trends. Just last week, on one of my guide trips, I experienced a new example that just confirmed, at least in my mind, the importance of the general temperature trend.

We had been fishing several different sections of the Park. I did not expect particularly good fishing, especially early in the day, because water temperatures were between 39 and 41 degrees. Generally that signals poor fishing in the mountains. However, the cold snap was about done and the trend in water temperature was up. Our day was pleasant with plenty of sun early and the water temperature rose accordingly. Not only did we catch fish early, but we caught a good number of fish.

Late in the day, the guy that I had out fishing wanted to see some different places to fish. This is normal on days when I have anglers who want to be introduced to fishing in the Smokies. I explained that I could show him some brook trout water but that we shouldn't have our expectations set too high. Ice on the rocks did not give us any extra hope, but this was more about learning how to fish so he could come back under better conditions.

Brook trout stream in winter in the Smokies

Surprisingly, we missed some nice fish including a colorful brook trout and got a decent rainbow trout on a dry fly. The water was 39.5 degrees when I checked.

A Smokies rainbow trout caught in the winter on a dry fly

It is very important to remember that trout across the mountainous areas of the western US are routinely caught in very cold water during the winter. I'm talking about water full of slush and ice floes cold. Here in the southeast we are spoiled to be able to fish year round and generally do so on ice free streams, but remember that even when it is cold, the fish still have to eat.

You can do at least a little to stack the odds in your favor. Pick that first warm day after it has been cold, or even better the 3rd or 4th warm day after it has been cold. You might just be surprised at how good winter fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be when the water temperatures start to creep upwards. Sometimes you'll even catch fish on dry flies...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big Creek

While I generally feel like I know the Smokies pretty well, there are still several places in the Park I haven't fished.  Okay, there are a lot of places I haven't fished.  After all, with hundreds of miles of fishable water, the problem is one of time and accessibility.  The more accessible water is what I normally fish because I am usually low on time.  One place that takes a bit of effort to get to is Big Creek.


I chose the "miles of gravel road" route for my recent exploration.  Having only passed that entrance of the Smokies once before, I was in for a treat.  The stream reminded me a lot of other Smokies streams like the Middle Prong of Little River or perhaps even Little River proper above Elkmont, but what a wonderful little stream!  No, I didn't catch any monsters or for that matter even all that many fish, but fishing a new stream is always a great experience.  Each pocket, pool, and run provides the little surprises that always come with discovery.


One large pool had a deep section off to the side with a gentle current running through.  The surprising lack of conflicting currents meant that the cast was actually pretty straight forward.  The trout were obviously holding just under the surface and were rising consistently.  My third cast resulted in a fish.  In another pool, I surprised myself by setting the hook.  The dry had slowly sunk and I'm still not sure if I actually saw the fish or perhaps subconsciously my brain registered the swirl that was the fish taking right in the heavy current.  Either way, when I set the hook the fish was as surprised as I was.  Of course, these little surprises happen on my home waters as well, but there it lacks that new feeling.


Most surprising of all perhaps were the large pools.  Having never been there but always hoping to see it, I climbed out of the gorge right where the stream tumbles out, climbing straight up the side of what felt an awful lot like a cliff, and hit the trail upstream to the Midnight Hole.  It was as beautiful as the pictures I had seen and even larger than I realized.  My last fishing memory for the day was made on this pool.


Trout are everywhere in that pool, but were relatively tough to fool.  It wasn't until I noticed some rises against the far bank that things began to work out.  Checking for trees behind me, I was soon casting the big orange Elk Hair Caddis to the boulders across from me.  A nice trout ate and I managed to keep it on throughout the fight.


As much as I enjoyed fishing at Big Creek, I was actually on my way over to Cataloochee for 2 nights of camping and with luck would make it over there before dark to fish a little more.  Soon I was hustling back down the trail, but already knew that I would be back again, even if it is a little out of the way.




Saturday, May 03, 2014

Availability

The spring fishing is finally settling into a predictable pattern and this next week is looking perfect.  Trout are active and looking up for a good number of their meals although fishing subsurface will sometimes be best for overall numbers.  May is the one month of the year where anglers will likely catch more fish on dries than on nymphs.  In fact, my best day on Little River ever was in May, and I caught all my fish on dries.

If you are visiting in the area and would like to set up a day to get out on the water, I still have a couple of days available this week, specifically Monday and Tuesday.  Please head over to Trout Zone Anglers or email me if you want to set up a trip.  If you are willing to hike, the Smoky Mountain backcountry is at its best right now.  An easy 3-4 mile hike (easy meaning no major elevation gains/losses) can put us on lots of willing fish or if you want to hit up some brookie streams we can do that as well.


Monday, December 02, 2013

Finding the Rhythm

One of the highlights of fall fishing, at least for me, is finding reliable emergences of Blue-winged Olives.  Back in Tennessee, the small mayflies would show up on occasion, but here in Colorado it is not an if or a when but rather a given.  The little BWOs are so reliable on some waters that you can tell when the hatch is about to start based on when all the fishermen show up.  In other places, the hatch is a guarantee, but the timing might be a bit more unpredictable.

My first memory of hitting this hatch in Colorado is from Clear Creek last September.  The little browns were rising with abandon in the shaded pool where the stream hugged the cliff on the south bank.  Every now and again, a larger specimen would rise, leaving a subtle rise that was clearly the work of a more experienced trout than most of the splashy efforts I was seeing.  I fished a little Sparkle Dun, a #18 if my memory is correct, and the trout would eat if I showed them a clean drift.

Last spring, one particularly drizzly day found me torn between the BWOs and throwing streamers.  Most people who know me can guess that streamers won.  I'm still not sure whether or not that was the right choice.  Every single pool had numerous fish rising to bugs struggling to get off the water into the chilly mountain air.  The meadow stream eventually yielded a fine brown to my streamer, but I still wonder how the day would have been if I had fished a BWO the whole time.

Most recently, on a trip to the Arkansas River tailwater in Pueblo, I stumbled into one of the more epic hatches I've been blessed to fish.  Deciding to put my Colorado State Parks sticker to good use, I parked at the Valco parking lot.  An early morning departure had me rigging up in air temperatures that had just edged above the freezing point.  A fleece kept me warm while I started working my way down the river to explore new water.  The number of fishermen out was impressive, but finally I started to find water I could call my own.

Deep water nymphing was turning up very few fish, and I began to wonder if the decision to get up ridiculously early and drive all the way to Pueblo was a sound one.  The occasional tug on the line from small to average stockers was not really helping my mindset.  Once it warmed up, my mood gradually improved however.  I stumbled upon a family of deer in the brush along the river and was reminded to look for the little things that make a trip great.  It wasn't before I had finally wandered down close to the bridge that I noticed a few fish rising in the slack water along the far bank.


Refusing to acknowledge the possibility that it was time to change tactics, I stumbled on down the river.  Crossing at a point of shallow riffles to search for that deep run that I just knew had to exist and would be loaded with big trout, I saw a few BWO duns floating along.  That's what they were eating back there.  Still stubborn, I found a pool perfectly suited to my nymph rig.  Running the flies through time after time, I saw a few rise rings just downstream, then another a bit closer.  Not wishing to ignore the obvious for too long, I walked a few yards down to a nice long flat with several rising trout.

Digging through my fly boxes, I chose a #20 Parachute BWO with a hi-vis post that I tied a few months ago.  Extending my leader to end in 6x tippet, I was now ready to go head-to-head with these annoying trout.  Since when does any self-respecting trout ignore my delicious sub-surface offering of midges and BWO nymphs anyway?  After a few casts that did not produce a hit, I paused to observe.  Suddenly it was obvious:  the fish were rising in a consistent rhythm.  Somehow I was drifting my fly past in between each rise.

I waited for a trout to rise, then waited for the next rise.  Finding the rhythm, I waited until just before  the next rise and then made the cast.  The little fly floated for all of 3 feet before a chunky rainbow nailed it.  The next couple of hours proceeded about the same until I started to get hungry.


Wandering back upstream, I came across the same little flat where I initially spotted rising fish.  A huge wake from the back indicated that I had moved just a little too quickly for at least one large rainbow's liking.  Slowing things down, I decided to retie.  I had lost the Parachute pattern some time before.  Several other patterns had fooled trout, but I wanted something extra for the large risers I was now stalking.  A #20 Comparadun seemed appropriate.  Testing the knot and checking the drag was the last step before beginning to cast.

Several casts later, another wake quickly exited the exposed shallows.  Slow down, find the rhythm.  Refocused, I waited.  There, right against the bank.  The drift was particularly difficult since I was casting 35 feet across 2 different current seams and trying to drift the fly in the calm water outside the last current seam.  Again and again I expected to spook the trout, but somehow luck was on my side, and it just moved up a couple of feet before rising again.  Finally, the stars aligned.  The fly dropped just outside the main current, drifted a foot and a half, and was inhaled.  Six more inches and it would have started to drag.  Knowing my luck had turned gave me more confidence.  The beautiful 14 inch fish was not the owner of one of the large heads I had been watching another 20 feet upstream.

Releasing the fish, I again paused and observed.  Two large trout, the kind that are big enough to get your pulse racing, were rising a good 45 feet up and across.  To get a good drift, I took 2 steps forward...and saw yet another wake zigzagging frantically away.  One more chance.  Finding the rhythm, I waited for the trout to rise once more, paused, then made one solid backcast before sending the fly on its way.  The fish ate a natural 6 inches to the left of my fly.  After a short pause to avoid spooking the fish, I lifted the line off the water, bought time with two false casts, and presented the fly again.  This time the fish rose a foot below my fly.  This went on for probably 30 casts.  Every cast I expected to spook the fish, but apparently it was a day for fishing miracles.

Finally, the fly settled in 12 inches above the fish.  My adrenaline shot through the roof as that big head I had been watching slowly appeared below my fly.  As I lifted the rod, I knew that this trout was mine to lose.  The fish was smart, but it was also stuck on that shallow flat.  Once, it made a heart-stopping run towards the fast riffles below, but somehow I got its head turned.  When I finally slipped the net under the fish my day was complete.  I released the gorgeous rainbow trout after getting a good picture, cradling it gently until it slipped off to battle another day.


Continuing upstream, I discovered that fishermen had been fishing hard with nymph rigs the whole day.  The bugs only made it another 75 yards or so above that last hole.  Sometimes, a fishing day's success is measured strictly on whether you go upstream or downstream.  Thankfully, I went downstream...


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Drenched

I was there when the floods started.  At the time it was not clear that floods were on the way.  Where I was fishing, I got a firsthand look at what a Colorado cloudburst could do, not in the same way that we would see destruction over the next few days of course but still pretty impressive.  The forecast called for a chance of rain, but as the day wore on the clouds thinned.  As a good fisherman I hoped that the clouds would return.  When I arrived at South Boulder Creek at Walker Ranch, the sky was again starting to lower.  Off to the south it was darker and more threatening.  Perfect fishing weather.  It was Tuesday evening, September 10, 2013.

On the creek, I was surprised when streamers did not give me any results.  We are quickly approaching fall and the brown trout should be aggressive now or soon.  Fish were rising though.  It started to drizzle.  Quickly I changed leaders and added some 6x tippet. BWO weather.  I dug out my box of dries and scrounged around in the one compartment where I keep my small patterns.  A few #20 BWO Sparkle Duns were there from my tying spree last fall that came as a result of a fantastic experience fishing the little dries on Clear Creek.  By now the drizzle was falling harder.  Adding floatant was a challenge.  I leaned forward to protect the dry fly with my hat brim and body as I rubbed the Aquel into the body of the little fly.  Pulling out a bottle of Frogs Fanny, I put it conveniently into my pocket.  I would need a lot to keep that fly afloat.

Finding one of the best pools empty, I quickly moved in.  Rain was steady and my camera bag was getting wet.  Looking around, I noticed a small boulder with an overhang under a bush.  I shoved the camera bag underneath the overhang and hoped it would stay dry enough.  Fish were almost causing the water to boil with rises by now.  Every once in a while a larger mayfly would make an appearance as it labored upstream just above the water, all the while getting pelted with raindrops...or was it dodging them?

I settled into a nice rhythm. Cast, cast, set, land fish, release, repeat.  Some nicer rainbows started mixing into the catch.  The little rainbows looked a lot like the little 'bows I used to catch in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  It was raining, making it feel even more like home.  I could get used to this.

A gully washer moved in, pelting the water so hard that every 3 or 4 casts I was applying Frogs Fanny with the same procedure as the original floatant.  Still the fish were eating.  A guy from somewhere back east came down the canyon as he headed for the bridge and a quick hike out.  We chatted in the pouring rain and then he continued on his soggy way.  Even with my rain coat on I was getting drenched.  What a day to wet wade.  Yet another wallet drying experience loomed in my immediate future.  I checked under the rock to see how my camera was doing.  The bag was pretty damp.  Maybe it's time to hike out.  Fish were still rising though so I kept fishing.

The runoff hit the stream pretty hard just a couple of fish later.  I noticed the murky torrent along the edge of the clear water.  With the dam just upstream, I felt fairly safe from flash floods.  The road was another story though.  I've been bogged down in mud before and didn't want a repeat performance.  Hiking upstream, the real mud hit. I had left at just the right time.  The fish were still biting but the clarity would have changed that inside of 2 minutes.

Despite the wet conditions, the rain nearly stopped as I hiked out.  I was still soaking in the experience, literally and figuratively I might add.  The fishing experience was one of the best I've had since moving to Colorado, and it had been too wet to photograph any of it.  Apparently leaving your camera safely under a rock to keep dry is as good as leaving it at home to guarantee a great time of fishing.

That night, I reflected on the amazing trip I had just had.  With growing concern I noted that the rain was continuing and forecast to become heavy the next day.  I still had no idea what that would actually mean though.

Now I have no clue when I'll fish some of my favorite streams here on the Front Range.  Thus, it seems fitting that my last and best memory might just be of getting drenched...

Friday, September 06, 2013

New Water

Having lived here in Colorado for more than a year now, I'm still exploring new water.  Some places are obviously way out of the way such as high alpine lakes.  Others are quite accessible, I just haven't tried them out yet.  South Boulder Creek was one such destination.  Close to Boulder, the tailwater section receives a lot of pressure.  Finding open water can be challenging.  The hatches are worth it though.

I arrived right in the middle of the day.  Sleeping in is always attractive on my days off so I had a leisurely morning.  By the time I arrived, I considered myself fortunate to grab the last open parking space.  Armed with my favorite 5 weight and ready to do combat with the anticipated crowds, I started walking downstream.

Whenever I fish tailwaters, be it here in the west or back east, I always notice people standing right in the middle of the better runs.  This day was no different.  Some of the best holes had people right on top of where they should be fishing.  So much for stealth.  Meandering down the river, I found some nice spots, but each time I was nearly ready to jump in, I would notice another angler already working the water.

A rough canyon stretch that was better left to the wild critters was finally free of any other fisher folk.  Carefully working my way down a boulder field, I pushed through the tangle of willows lining the stream only to discover that I wouldn't be wading far.  The water was deep and swift.


Very carefully I worked the edges.  Then I waded as far out as I dared and worked the far current seam.  Sure enough, tight to the boulder providing a break in the current, my first fish rose energetically.



After a few more casts, I noticed the water just upstream had been vacated.  Hating to fish used water but preferring it over swimming, I somehow slithered and stumbled my way upstream over rocks, through willows....and found a paradise.


The section I was now gazing over was a bit wider meaning I could wade all the way across if I was careful.  By this time, drakes, PMDs, rusty spinners, caddis, and a few stoneflies were all making an appearance.  I love fishing big dries and dug out a big Parachute Adams that was close in size to the drakes I was seeing.  Fish started to hammer the big dry as soon as I tossed it out.

Working the closer water first, I slowly started fanning out with my casting to cover the water meticulously.  On just the other side of the main current, I noticed a couple of rises.  Casting over, a better fish took the fly and promptly headed for fast water.  For a couple of minutes it was touch and go.  Then the fish went over the rapids below, and I just knew I had lost it.  Incredibly, the 5x tippet held, and slowly I regained control.  It wasn't until I slipped the net under the fish that I looked up and noticed several spectators giving me the thumps up.  Glad I landed that fish!



By now the hatch was getting heavier and fish were rising everywhere.  Proceeding slowly upstream, I caught fish after fish, missing as many or more than I was landing.  Most were small to medium sized rainbows and browns although every once in a while a better fish would eat.


Taking time to look at the scenery, I noticed signs of fall on the far bank and took time to take pictures. The heat is still holding on here on the plains, but it will be no time at all before the nights are cool and crisp and the browns and brookies are spawning.  The elk are already bugling up in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The best time of year has arrived!!!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

High Country Cutthroat

A couple of weeks ago I decided that it was past time that I headed for a high country stillwater.  The sheer volume of great places to fish means that some get overlooked.  Having fished rivers and streams all summer, I wanted to try something different.  Deciding where to fish was difficult since I have numerous lakes to choose from within about an hour of where I live.  Just in Rocky Mountain NP alone there are enough options to keep me busy for several years.

A bit closer, the Indian Peaks Wilderness also offers many choices and that is where I decided to go.  The particular area actually had a few lakes somewhat close to each other allowing me to hit more than one if the fishing turned out to be poor in my first choice.

At the lake, caddis where periodically landing on the surface and then skittering around for anywhere from a couple of seconds to maybe half a minute before disappearing in large boils.  Some of the takes were downright violent and with building excitement I rigged up with a #14 Elk Hair Caddis in black.

Maneuvering carefully around the lake while avoiding the low wet spots, I was finally in position.  On the second cast, a small cutthroat of perhaps 11 inches torpedoed out of the stained water to hammer the fly.  I promptly ripped it out of its mouth.  Bummer.

The next several minutes quickly showed me that the fish were spooky.  The rises soon ended, and I wondered if I had just blown my only shot at a fish.  The scenery was great though, so nice in fact that I  started looking around to take it all in.


I'm sure you all can guess what happens next.  I have a theory that fish have sentinels designated to spy on fishermen and whenever our attention is distracted the fish will spread the word that it is time to feed.  I heard the take rather than saw it.  After getting too excited on the first fish that was probably a good thing.  I reared back on the fly rod.  The full-flex 4 weight (say that 10 times fast) bent to a heavy cutthroat and the battle was on.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Using every trick it knew, the fish took more and more line until I was seriously contemplating whether I would be able to land it.  Thankfully, the fly rod's soft tip protected the 5x tippet just fine, and slowly I regained control.  The fish made several powerful runs, something I'm not really used to seeing from cutthroat.  More often they just roll over and give up.  Finally, I got it close enough to see it clearly the next time it rolled, and I got excited.  It was really colorful, looking almost like a giant goldfish swimming around out in the lake.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Not wanting to beach such a magnificent fish on a dry bank, I jumped in (I was wearing sandals) to land the trout.  A quick picture was captured before it gave a mighty thrash.  The look on my face in the second picture says it all.  It snapped the line on its way down and was gone.  I hated leaving a fly in the fishes mouth.  Next time I'm carrying my big net, even if it is a long hike.

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

Catherine McGrath Photograph

I'm developing a collection of awesome fish "escape" photos.  One of these days I'll share a post of "Escapes Over the Years."  Until then, rest assured, this fish fell straight into the water (which was really cold by the way) and other than some new jewelry escaped unscathed.  If you happen to catch a nice cutthroat in a high country lake that has a Black EHC, let me know!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Beginning

Warm nights are still the norm here on the plains.  High in the mountains the trees are hinting at the cool nights ahead.  Pockets of aspen in the highest elevations are turning golden yellow, splashing their brilliant colors across the slopes just below tree line.  Back in Tennessee, colors would start changing by late September, but even here on the plains I'm higher above sea level than everything except the highest elevations in the Smokies.  Winter comes earlier here, and I'm intent on enjoying the mountains before the snow flies.

The beginning of fall is here, never mind that it does not officially start for another couple of weeks.  Last Sunday I hit a high country trail.  In addition to the brook trout coloring up for the spawn and heading upstream, the trees were proclaiming the changing seasons as well.  The streams are low and clear and the late afternoon storms are definitely on the decline as the monsoon slowly winds down.  Fish are hungry, putting on as much weight as possible before ice takes over the streams and lakes.  As a fisherman, I love this time of year, likely because I feel like quite the pro when fishing for such hungry and aggressive fish.

On Sunday, I only made minimal progress up the trail before the stream was calling me.  That's one benefit of exploring a new area.  Instead of doing the smart thing and heading far upstream, you can ignorantly fish wherever there is water.  In my case, ignorance was bliss.  The brook trout were hungry and coloring up for the spawn.  Brook trout are probably not more beautiful at any other time of year.  The next two months is the time to catch them, not to mention all the other hungry fish out there.

As the trail and stream nearly merged into one, I had a front row seat and soon decided to jump in instead of carrying on as a specter.  The first thing I saw was a nice 8 inch brook trout that casually refused just about everything I tossed at it.  In faster water, a fish rose to the buggy Parachute Adams, and I was soon admiring my first fish of the day.  I snapped a picture and then remembered a fishtail picture for my buddy David Perry.



Moving up through the steep pocket water, I managed a fish from nearly every deep pocket and some of the smaller less obvious spots as well.  In one wide pool a chunky and colored up male rose from the deepest water to inhale my fly.  My excitement level shot through the roof as I saw the colors.  I dug out the camera and snapped a couple of pictures.  Another picture documented the little non-descript run that the big brookie rose from.  I suspect it had moved up from the deeper pool immediately downstream, but maybe it lives in the flat run year round.





Glancing up, I saw the beginning of fall broadcasting on the stream bank.  Eight years ago, I was in Arizona for the fall and while exploring the White Mountains, I fell in love with aspen dressed up in their fall colors.  My camera was still out, and after finishing with the aspen picture, I looked upstream and decided to continue taking pictures.  Every corner turned begged for another picture.  The beauty of this place was just incredible.



Moving upstream, I found some more willing brook trout.  The average size continued to be excellent and I found two more larger males sporting their spawning colors and some intimidating teeth.





Like a kid in a candy store, I was excited to discover what each new pocket and pool held.  The brookies seemed to just grow in size as I progressed upstream.  The lower portion of this stream follows a road and the average size of the fish I caught there was probably a couple of inches shorter than it was along the trail.  Finally, I decided to scratch my wandering itch and climbed out of the stream to hit the trail.  Looking up I spotted large patches of aspen turning gold high above.  After snapping a couple of pictures of the stream I had just left as well as the colors on the mountain, I was ready to head upstream.

Crossing the first bridge over the creek, I stopped to photograph the brook trout jumping the falls.  Another half mile up the trail I discovered a sign suggesting that I might find Greenback cutthroat nearby.  Glancing around, I saw a little pool beside the trail with a fish finning that looked different from the brookies I had been finding.  On the first cast the fish rose and I soon had my first Greenback!!!

Catherine McGrath Photograph

A nearby cascade suggested pristine Greenback water above so up the high I went.  Before long, however, I became more interested in the scenery than catching fish.  The views opened up quickly and  the cascades itself was stunning.






Absorbed in taking pictures, I didn't forget to catch another Greenback.  After following gravity back down hill, I found a few more willing cutts before deciding it was time to head back to the car for lunch.  By three in the afternoon, I get pretty hungry even when thoroughly distracted by the spectacular fishing and great scenery.