Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown
Showing posts with label Fall Colors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fall Colors. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day 12, Moving Day Again

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

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

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

Golden aspen fall colors Colorado


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

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

Golden aspen near Kebler Pass


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

Golden Aspen near Ohio Pass


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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Camping at Bogan Flats near Marble Colorado


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

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

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

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

Beaver Lake near Marble


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

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

Lizard Lake on the Road to Crystal Mill


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

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

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

Crystal River along the road to Crystal Mill

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

Crystal Mill on Crystal River

View of Crystal Mill


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

Fall colors on the road to Crystal Mill


Sunday, October 01, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Nine and Ten, Moving Days

Not every day of a big trip can be exciting. Thus it was that we found ourselves transitioning from northern Colorado to more central and southern portions of the state. On trips as long as this one, we tend to try and mix in a laundry day. Little did we know what still lay ahead in that regard, but at the time we just enjoyed the chance to get into town, get showers, stay at a hotel, and let someone else cook our food for a couple of meals. 

From State Forest State Park, we travelled down to Dillon which was part of the way towards our next destination. Without the toddler, I would have been tempted to make it through a town day and all the way to our next campsite in one day, but we had already discovered that trips were slower with her along. It was best to spend the night in a hotel and then travel the rest of the way on the second day. 

Doing it that way, we hoped to possibly even get an extra hike in. The route from Dillon that we wanted to follow included Independence Pass and down through Aspen. The fall colors were the main motivation for this route choice, but it also was close to the most direct route. Our next camping spot was at Bogan Flats near Marble, Colorado. I wanted to hike to the Crystal Mill, so this was the closest campground option as it was just down the road from Marble. 

Independence Pass is always a treat. We hoped to do a hike from near the top of the pass to some high elevation lakes. On our way up, we stopped at Twin Lakes and took in the beauty of the fall colors reflecting in the water. The dramatic scene was incredible for pictures, but a bit foreboding and foreshadowed the weather we would find on top of the pass. We wouldn't be hiking on this day as it turned out.



This ended up being the highlight of our 10th day in Colorado. While the scenery was incredible the rest of this day, the fall colors weren't quite as far progressed as we had hoped. We enjoyed driving down through Aspen and were soon headed south towards Bogan Flats on the banks of the Crystal River. The next day would be a big hiking day, and we needed to get rested up for the adventure. Little did we know what was in store for the next few days...


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day 8: Moose, Fall Colors, and Hiking and Fishing Lake Agnes in State Forest State Park

After a moving day, we were ready to get out and move again. Our best rewards on these trips involve medium to long hikes, not to mention that we had a toddler along that wants nothing more than to keep moving. Long days in the car wear on all of us accordingly. After a night spent listening to the camp deer munching shrubbery just outside the tent, we were up and ready for adventure. 

Because of the issues with water, we developed a new routine for our two nights at State Forest State Park. Mornings were chilly enough, that it was nice to get up and head straight for the vehicle. Cranking the heat a little got us all warmed up and ready for the day. Our goal was to do a short drive while it was cold, then stop for breakfast at a different campground that had water. Thankfully, it had very few people in it, so we could just pick a table and set up for breakfast. Nobody ever bothered us either, and while I know most places are funny about you picnicking in campgrounds, I was annoyed enough that I didn't care. 

Moose in State Forest State Park

Our goal that morning was to find some moose. That is always high on my agenda on trips to Colorado. On this trip, it didn't take long. We were still creeping along the rough gravel road away from camp when we spotted a cow and half grown calf. Lighting wasn't great, so after a few half hearted attempts at pictures, we kept going. That proved to be the right decision. Shortly after getting on the main road and heading further down the mountain, we found a magnificent bull moose foraging in the early morning glow.

 

Bull moose in State Forest State Park


Fall Colors, Scenery, and Wildlife at State Forest State Park

After spending a decent amount of time with him via our cameras, we headed on down the hill to drive into a part of State Forest State Park that I've always enjoyed for fall colors. The early morning sun was slanting over the mountains now, illuminating trees that were exploding in gold. While much of the foliage was still a week or two out from peak colors, there were enough trees turning to make the trip worthwhile. 


Fall colors in State Forest State Park


Winding further into the Park on dirt roads, we soon approached North Michigan Creek Reservoir. I have fished the North Michigan upstream from this small lake, but have always been intrigued by the lake itself. Fish rising everywhere didn't help that, but we were on a mission. So, after a couple of pictures of the lake, we headed on. 


North Michigan Creek Reservoir in State Forest State Park


We hadn't even finished passing the lake yet when we noticed something else of interest. Three quality bucks were running along a ridge above us. Something off over the ridge had them concerned, but they stopped long enough for us to take a couple of pictures. Not the moose we were looking for, but still a treat!


Nice buck in State Forest State Park

Three bucks on a ridge in State Forest State Park


The deer were one of our last big game sightings of the day. We would see another moose not long after, but he was running full speed across the road in some fairly heavy brush, so we only got a quick glimpse before he had vanished. Still, the fall colors did not disappoint. A few more pictures, and then it was time to switch gears and go fix breakfast. 



The Road to Lake Agnes

After breakfast, it was time for our real adventure of the day. I had done some research and wanted to hike to at least one lake and possibly two. By the time we finished, however, the one hike would end up being plenty. We debated trying to do the hike all the way from camp, but a much closer starting point appealed since it would greatly shorten the hike and leave us the option of more hikes, or so we thought. 

Driving up the dirt road towards Lake Agnes, things were supposed to be rough. They have all the usual signs about recommending 4 wheel drive and high clearance. I learned a long time ago that those signs are often not really accurate, and figured this time would be the same. We poked slowly up the hill in my wife's little Corolla, dodging a few larger tire popper rocks but generally making good headway. 

The problem came when we approached a sharp curve that switch backed up the hill. There were lots of ruts and plenty of deep soft dirt. In other words, we were in trouble. I got out to look things over, knowing that I still had the option of turning around before I got us stuck. Upon closer inspection, I could see a vague line that just might work. I've done these crazy (stupid?!?!) things a few times over the years and found that generally you could make it through in a sedan. 

I'll pause to say right now that we should have videoed this whole thing. The line that might work without completely burying the car was low on the downhill outside edge of the curve. I got a good start but quickly bogged down since we were trying to make the turn. Then things went from bad to worse. Every time I backed up a little and tried again, we slid downhill a little more. 

Before things were over, the back end of the car was in a good sized evergreen tree on the side of the road with the toddler screaming her delight. She thought it was the most hilarious event of the whole trip. My wife wasn't as amused. The poor car put up a valiant fight, but seemed to be in danger of losing this round. Since I didn't have any shovels or other tools, it was going to be a pain in the rear to dig it out and retreat down the hill. Finally, after a silent prayer and another try, we were somehow on our way, skidding and spinning our tires up and around the curve. It was a true miracle, but I'll definitely take it. 

After the bad curve, things were anticlimactic. As I expected, the road was fine as long as you paid attention. If it wasn't for that one curve, this road would definitely be fine for 2 wheel drive sedans if the drivers know how to negotiate rougher roads. In the back of my mind, I had the nagging thought that we still needed to get back down the hill, but for the time being, I was just glad to be hiking up to Lake Agnes.

Hiking and Tenkara Fishing at Lake Agnes

This hike is a short one at under a mile from the parking lot to the lake. Once you add in the loop around the lake, it is still probably under 2.5 miles. We assumed that since it was such a short hike and we had just had breakfast, that we wouldn't need to take a lunch. That was a mistake! We enjoyed our time so much that we could easily have spent the rest of the day up there. In the end, we felt rushed because it was important to get back to our vehicle for lunch for the little one (and ourselves!). 

Lake Agnes itself is absolutely gorgeous. The towering Nokhu Crags along with Mt. Mahler and Mt. Richthoven surround this beautiful basin. We kept stopping and taking pictures, although as always seems to be the case, pictures simply do not do this place justice. The time of day wasn't great for pictures either with bright sunlight. Still, we had to have some memories.

Lake Agnes and Nokhu Crags in State Forest State Park

Island in Lake Agnes below the Nokhu Crags


Wildlife abounds. One of our favorites is the pika, and we constantly heard their calls on the surrounding slopes. My wife snuck off to try and capture some pictures of them while I poked around with the tenkara rod. Little bit was riding on my back, mostly happily, although we also let her down in a couple of spots to burn some energy. Here are a couple of the better pika pictures. 


Pika at Lake Agnes in State Forest State Park Colorado

Pika at Lake Agnes


While Leah was photographing wildlife, I was plying the waters of Lake Agnes using my Tenkara USA Rhodo and what was quickly becoming my preferred high country lake rig: a parachute Adams on top and a pheasant tail nymph on the bottom. Fish were cruising, often just out of casting range. This is the downside of fishing Tenkara on bigger water. Still, I eventually found some in close enough to shore on the south end of the lake. 


Hooked up on Lake Agnes

Gorgeous cutthroat trout at Lake Agnes in State Forest State Park


We continued our circuit of the lake, but time was running out. We were all getting hungry, but this was especially true of the toddler. It was time to head back down the hill to our car and try to negotiate that horrendous curve back down to camp. After one or two last pictures, we quickly descended to the trailhead. The drive back down was anticlimactic. My concerns were groundless. With gravity behind us instead of against us, the curve was a piece of cake and we were soon back at camp having lunch. 

Afternoon Drive Through State Forest State Park

Our morning adventures concluded rather late, so after lunch, we needed to find a way to get a nap in for the little one. The hike had been too interesting for her to get a good nap in, so we decided on the old trick of going for a drive. It always works for her although sometimes better than other times. On this day, she was tired and knocked out quickly. We drove back to some of the same scenes from the morning. The fall colors were beautiful although not as nice as they would be another week or two after our visit. 

Medicine Bow Mountains at State Forest State Park

Golden Aspen in State Forest State Park


The day got away from us rather quickly. After our drive, we got water from Ranger Lakes Campground, had supper, and headed back to camp for our last night in this beautiful place. While the water situation was frustrating, we'll definitely be back to this area. I wouldn't mind doing some overnight backpacking into some other high country lakes someday as well. The sunset that evening gave us one last gift before out time at State Forest State Park ran out. 

Sunset in State Forest State Park from the Crags Campground


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Small Details

For some people, this will be a boring blog post. If you are here for fishing info, you can skip this one. Hopefully this will resonate with someone other than myself when I say this, but I don't go fishing just to catch fish. There is the old cliche story about first you want to catch a fish, then a lot of fish, then a big fish, then a lot of big fish, then you come full circle and just want to go fishing. Well, this is similar to that concept, sort of. 

It is probably the photographer in me, but patterns, shapes, colors, light or the lack thereof, and interesting flora and fauna all interest me. In fact, that is one reason you are just about as likely to find me roaming the woods with a camera (or even just my cellphone) as with a fly rod. However, it is the small details that often greatly enrich my fishing trips, adding immense value to what is already a special experience. 

Sometimes, those small details are the fish themselves. A closeup of a native southern Appalachian brook trout never gets old and why I have way more fish pictures on my phone and computer than necessary. Even after seeing thousands of wild and native fish, I still have to snap a picture because they are so pretty. 

©2020 David Knapp Photography

Still, it is often more about things other than fish. In other words, it is easy for a fish to catch your eye. That is what you are targeting after all. But how about that interesting mushroom? How about stream side wildflowers and other plants? Or maybe spiders? Seriously. All of these are things I tried to take pictures of on my recent backpacking trip in the Smokies. 

Near camp, these ferns growing off a bridge caught my eye. The contrast of bright green against the watery background kept me coming back again and again. In the end, I settled for what my cellphone could do, but left wishing for my "good" camera. 

©2022 David Knapp Photography

Sometimes, my efforts aren't particularly successful. I found some neat pink turtleheads, but my cellphone pictures were less than stellar. They didn't make the cut to share. Maybe next time I'll have a "good" camera. The few bright leaves around also drew my eye and at least a couple of them weren't half bad. Can you find the angler in the background on this one?

Fall colors in the Smokies
©2022 David Knapp Photography

This next one was one of my favorites. I'll call it the "Cat's Eye" for obvious reasons. No joke, this is exactly how I found these leaves. Nature never ceases to amaze me. What are the odds that these two leaves just happened to link up so perfectly? 

The cat's eye made of leaves
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Even the smaller details near camp were interesting. I found jack in the pulpit seeds, bursting bright red and ready to grow the next generation of these interesting flowers. I found spider webs with spiders who weren't camera shy. This was another one that begged for a better camera, but the cellphone did not do too badly either. 

Great Smoky Mountains spider
©2022 David Knapp Photography 

One of my favorites from the trip was also one of the plainest. Something about the meeting of deciduous and evergreen here made me happy when I saw it. Of course, with so many evergreens in the Smokies eliminated by things like woolly adelgid, I'm just happy to discover one that is happy and healthy along a trout stream. 

©2022 David Knapp Photography

I like to eat, so every time I see some type of mushroom, I always wonder if it is edible. This one was no different, although I wasn't really prepared on this backpacking trip to cook a mushroom. It would have been a fun task back in camp if I was. There are only a very few wild mushrooms I feel comfortable with. If you are versed in wild mushrooms, let me know what this one is and if it is good to eat! 


©2022 David Knapp Photography

By now, you are probably beginning to get an inkling of the types of things that catch my eye while on a trout stream. Often it is birds or other wildlife, but they are usually too quick for me to catch with my cellphone. On these backpacking trips, that is usually all I carry. Too much weight with the other options. Even on day trips, it is all the extras that bring completeness to my experience. Without the small details, it would just be a fish catching excursion, and those aren't always super successful. Fishing trips, however, are always successful. Catching a fish is just icing on the cake...

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Dull and Bright: Thinking About Color and Light in Your Scenic Shots

As a followup to my last short photography piece on light and dark in your fish pictures, here is another quick photography tip to help you think more broadly about framing your pictures. This will apply whether you are shooting quick cellphone pictures or taking more time with some quality camera gear. No matter what you are shooting with, you should always consider your subject, framing, and the light. In these particular examples, I was just snapping quick pictures with my cellphone while out fishing for hiking. 

In this first example, I want to point out something that is so obvious as to be often overlooked. First, let's look at the picture. 

Fall Color and Light on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As you can see, the peak fall colors made my job as the photographer easy. This is an unedited picture straight from my cellphone. What really makes this picture work is the golden reflections on the surface of the water. You can see more pictures from this day from my friend and client Simone Lipscomb via her blog post about it. It was an incredible day with the mountains showing off in their fall finest. 

Still, a couple of small details bring this picture together. In addition to the aforementioned golden reflections on the water, also note I more or less considered the simple and ever popular rule of thirds with Little River disappearing around the next bend about where the intersection of one of those lines of thirds is. The golden light was also crucial. Positioning myself in such a way to see those reflections made this shot much more than it would have been otherwise. If I was on the wrong side of the creek, those reflections would have been nonexistent. 

So, what about when the fall colors are past their peak? How do you draw a picture together when the subject isn't showing off as well? Here is another example to examine. 

Lingering color on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains

In this picture, the one bright burst of gold really sets an otherwise somber scene off. Furthermore, instead of finding the reflections, I framed the picture from an angle that shows the clarity of the low water of autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains. Rocks alongside Little River add texture and pleasing shapes to an already interesting scene while the main subject, the golden leaves, are positioned approximately following the rule of thirds. 

Hiking in Pickett State Park on the Hidden Passage Trail

In this last picture, an otherwise drab scene draws your eye in because of the bursts of bright green. These magnolia trees were somehow still green while almost everything else was well past the peak colors. With so much brown and rust around us, these green explosions made me stop and snap a quick picture on my phone. The large rock bluff/outcropping on the left bring another interesting element into the picture as the trail curls off in the distance around the bend. I don't know about you, but looking at this scene makes me want to see what is around the next corner, kind of the same as when I'm looking up a trout stream.

I hope these tips help you take better pictures. All of these were taken with a cellphone, so remember you don't need a fancy camera to take great pictures these days. The fancy camera opens up some further possibilities, especially in post processing, but a cellphone does much better than the first point and shoot camera I took with me on fishing trips back around 2005 or 2006 or so when this blog was just getting started...

Monday, September 09, 2019

My Favorite Season

This post could be all pictures and my point would be sufficiently made. I'm going to make a feeble effort to put some of it into words, however. As a fly fishing guide, my perspective on seasons has changed over the years. If you asked me when the best time to fish was seven or eight years ago, my answer would have been quick and to the point: fall. Now, I will usually get around to answering fall, but sometimes by a circuitous route full of explanations. That is because, for me, the best time of the year to fish is also my favorite time to fish.

Now, not to wax too philosophical or anything, but everyone's definition of the best fishing of the year differs quite widely. This probably all goes back to the rather old explanation of the stages of becoming a fisherman. It goes something like this. First you want to catch a fish, then you want to catch a lot of fish. Next you want to catch a big fish, then you want to catch a lot of big fish. When the whole process comes full circle, an angler should like going fishing for the sake of going fishing or something like that. As a guide, I quickly figured out that people who wanted to know when the best time to fish were generally sincere. The problem with the question of "when is the best time to go fishing?" lies within the perspective of the one asking the question.

Afraid of rambling too much and people getting bored of listening, I've attempted to put my answer into a concise few words. Still, I'm afraid I haven't done a very good job. What starts as "well, spring is probably the best time on most area waters based on overall flows, consistent daily insect emergences, and the fact that fish haven't been pounded all year, but I personally like fall because I like the fall colors," usually quickly descends into lots of side explanations.

The proper answer to the question of "when is the best time to go fishing in Tennessee?" or "when is the best time to fly fish in the Smokies?" is probably more along the lines of a return question. I like to ask people what they view as good fishing. Is it lots of fish or some big fish? Is it having the stream to yourself? Many times, we quickly determine that they don't even know what good fishing consists of. This isn't to knock the people asking the question, it just means that most of us have some vague idea of what fly fishing nirvana would be, but when it comes down to it, we really can't put it into words.

At some point, I'll return and explain why I think winter is the best season, why I think spring is the best season, and why I think summer is the best season. And it's true, all of those seasons are the best, depending on your perspective.

Where you live might influence your opinion a bit, so let's make sure and establish the fact that I live in Tennessee and regularly fish both the wild streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which also happens to be my favorite place to fish) as well as the great tailwater trout streams found in middle and east Tennessee. You should also know that solitude on the stream is very important to me and factors into my preferences in ranking my favorite season to fish. Although smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, stripers, musky, and a few other species are fun and I fish and guide for them from time to time, trout are what led me to fly fishing and trout are what keeps me interested in the sport. Thus, colorful fish and clean cold water with plenty of oxygen are important to me as well. Finally, if you asked me what my favorite season is, never mind whether the fishing was good or not, my answer would be fall. The fall colors are my favorite thing about fall, so really I'm looking at a rather narrow window for the peak of my favorite season.

All of that said, let's define fall more broadly. I don't care if we stick with astronomical fall which begins at the fall equinox and ends at the winter solstice, or if we go with meteorological fall which runs September 1st through the end of November. Good fishing occurs throughout these time periods for those who know where to look. Since things are still usually hot right now, let's go with astronomical fall which this years runs from September 23 to December 21. That encompasses some of my favorite fishing of the year. Here's why.

First of all, as already mentioned, is the fall colors. Every year, I eagerly watch for the first colorful leaves. This usually happen in June, not because fall is imminent, but because some leaf got too dried out somehow and fell off the tree. As summer continues, these early hints of the coming change of season become more frequent. By late October and early November, the colors are peaking. While this can lead to much frustration for anglers if you are on stream during a windy day, the colors provide a glorious backdrop for what I already view as a rather artistic sport.

Speaking of fall colors, late September through the first two weeks of October will feature brook and brown trout getting colored up and fired up for the spawn. Both of these species are becoming more aggressive and eating heartily in preparation for the rigors of the spawning season. Brook trout in the Smokies are normally spawning by mid October although you can probably find some spawning well into November depending on where you look. Brown trout usually start around the same time although you can often find a few stragglers spawning in the mountains even in early December. These fish should be strictly left alone during the spawn and anglers should avoid walking through areas where they are active. The next generation of trout depends on good stream side manners from anglers during this time of year. Fish staging to spawn can still be caught, and fish that have finished spawning can also be caught.

Since the dry fly fishing is usually great in fall, this leaves open a lot of possibilities. I generally gravitate towards streams with some browns but more rainbows. The rainbows are usually vibrantly colored this time of year and are feeding as hard as ever with winter coming on. Brook trout are especially gorgeous this time of year. If you can catch them before or just after the spawn, you will see arguably the most stunning colors of any fish in the southern Appalachians. Of course, brook trout love dry flies which doesn't hurt my opinion of them at all.

Another reason I appreciate fishing in the fall is that I don't appreciate the summer heat. Fall brings cool relief as well as a welcome drop in humidity. Tennessee can get miserably humid any time of the year, but fall is most likely to be dry with pleasant sunny days and crisp nights. This makes it perfect for another favorite activity, camping, which I generally try to do at least a few times every year but almost always every fall. A good campfire on a chilly fall evening is one of the great pleasures of life.

One small side note here, fall is also a great time for catching stripers, rock fish, whatever you want to call them. I don't do it often, but this is probably my most consistent season for finding large ones on the fly, mostly because I haven't had time the rest of the year, but also because there are some advantages to this season which I won't go into here. Regardless of the reasons, a great big tug on the end of the line is fun on occasion.

Interestingly, my favorite fishing season and my favorite season in general evolved almost in unison. That could be because of the early success I had fishing in the fall. I remember one trip early in my fly fishing career. Just a couple of months prior, I had learned how to high stick nymphs without a strike indicator from the legendary Walter Babb on a half day guided trip. To this day that remains some of the best money I've ever spent on this sport. Anyway, I had been applying my lessons. It was November and I had hiked well upstream above Elkmont. I still remember very clearly that I was fishing a #16 Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear nymph and a couple of split shot on my still favorite old Orvis Superfine Tight Loop. I didn't catch any big fish, but I did catch lots of fish. At that point in my fly fishing career, it was a big deal. The rainbows were all where they should have been and they would all eat a well presented fly. In the years since, other great moments on the water have come and gone, but my love for fall fishing definitely got a big boost on that day in November.

By this point, you might have noticed that I still haven't said that the fishing is the best in the fall. I said it's my favorite. Some people will want a straight answer and my answer is this; for me, the best fishing is in the fall, because there is more to fishing than catching fish. That said, the fishing is usually anywhere from good to excellent as well. Low water can add a wrinkle to this equation, but for experienced anglers, low water isn't all bad either. Later, I'll elaborate on why the other seasons are the best, but for now, let's finish with saying that fall is my favorite. So what's your favorite and why?

If you need a few more reasons why fall is the best, here is a small selection. If you want to fish with me during the fall or any other time of year, feel free to visit Trout Zone Anglers to learn more about guided trips.





Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Before the Big Burn

The wildfire that affected portions of the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg is already receding into memory for most people. Unfortunately, for those more directly affected, it will take a lot longer for things to be normal again. While the people who tragically lost homes and businesses and even loved ones have suffered the most, the landscape also suffered in the short term.

Portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park above Gatlinburg will probably be quite different for some time to come. These are the areas where the fire burned the hottest on exposed ridge tops where the wind conspired to do the most damage. Thankfully, portions of the streams that we all know and love, while affected, are mostly not as damaged. There is damage, and the hardest part will simply be in waiting to see when we'll be allowed to fish these waters again, but overall it appears that the streams were spared the brunt of this fire. Until then, we can only remember the good times that once were.

One of the more popular brook trout streams in the Park is near the fire's origin. This is a stream that I had the good fortune of fishing with my cousins back in early November. The air was already hazy from the burns over in North Carolina, but we still enjoyed the opportunity to get out on the water and enjoy the late season warmth. Some of the most beautiful fish you will ever find are brook trout in their fall dress. Here are a few photos from our day on the water. Hopefully these jewels survived and will continue to do so as they have for many years. For more on this trip, check out this full trip report I did over on the Little River Outfitters message board.