Photo of the Month: Evening Light in Dog Cove

Photo of the Month: Evening Light in Dog Cove
Showing posts with label Fly Fishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fly Fishing. Show all posts

Monday, January 23, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Three: Rain, Sight Seeing at Sprague Lake, and Fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park

While this was only our third full day in Colorado, a theme would begin to emerge that would eventually really become a serious problem. Rain. Still, we were early enough into our trip that we weren't concerned, other than trying to figure out how to keep the little one entertained and happy. There was plenty of time for the weather to return to the clear sunny days with seasonably warm temperatures we were hoping for. 

Morning In Camp

Thankfully, our morning started out pleasant enough. The clouds were spilling over the divide, suggesting that the majority of Trail Ridge Road was probably socked in with fog, clouds, and perhaps even rain. Still, some early sun slanted in to camp and warmed things just enough that a light jacket was all we needed. 

Little bit enjoyed exploring around camp a little more than she had been able to thus far. We examined rocks, sticks, flowers, and of course any wild critters brave enough to stick around. This meant mostly small things like birds, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. While these smaller versions of the pictures don't do the scene justice, one of my favorite pictures from this day was of her interacting with a group of magpies. 

Black-billed magpie in Rocky Mountain National Park at Moraine Park Campground
"Black-billed Magpie at Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park" 2022 David Knapp Photography


We had been walking slowly down the road from our campsite, learning to identify flowers and other goodies, when this flock of magpies flew in. Notorious for foraging anywhere people have been dropping things, these birds were constantly around the campground along with the jays. In other words, when getting ready to eat, we had to keep a close eye on both the little rodents (chipmunks, etc) and also the sky for potential robbers. The little one began walking slowly towards the nearest bird. Ultimately, she got much closer than I would ever have been able to before they finally flew off. It is amazing to me how wild critters seem to know that small children are not a threat. 

Approaching a black-billed magpie in Moraine Park Campground
"Approaching a Black-billed Magpie" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Taking flight when the little human gets too close
"Taking Flight" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Back at our campsite, we also enjoyed some other wild critters. These little guys were pretty bold, but not so bold as at some future campsites. Still, we had to keep a general eye on them to make sure they didn't get in our car, tent, or food.


Chipmunk in Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Chipmunk" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel in Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Nap Time and Lunch

Not long after this exploring episode, light rain began to move in. Not wanting to all get chilled down and sick this early in our trip, we decided some car time might be appropriate. After driving clear across the country, this wasn't the plan little bit wanted to hear about. However, with assurances of some interesting things to see, she relented to a drive. We had some ulterior motives as it was about nap time. A longer drive seemed appropriate, so we set off up the Old Fall River Road. That was quite the experience in our small Toyota Corolla. The potholes and ruts were worse than I remembered, but of course it had been a long time ago. 

We hit fog and clouds partway up, so there were NO views to be had up high. Eventually, we made it to the top and started driving back down towards camp on Trail Ridge Road. The fog was impressive, but we were glad to have additional days ahead of us to return and enjoy the views that were absent on this day. Thankfully, light rain and fog seemed the perfect recipe to help the little one sleep. 

Eventually, we headed in to Estes Park were I wanted to enjoy some pizza that I remembered being excellent. Poppy's Pizza and Grill still had some great offerings. The hot pizza was way better than trying to picnic out in the cold rain. 

Fly Fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park

After a delicious lunch, we needed to figure out how to kill some time in the afternoon. One of the big treats for me on trips out west involves fishing water types that I don't have back home here in Tennessee. At the very top of my list of places to experience on these trips is meadow streams that contain brown trout. Not only do these meadow streams provide ideal habitat for one of my favorite fish, but they contain structure that is very different from our mountain streams and lowland tailwaters here in Tennessee. Undercut banks are a joy to fish, so I was hoping to hit at least two streams in Rocky Mountain National Park that contained this type of water.

Both the Big Thompson River flowing through Moraine Park and the headwaters of the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley offer meandering meadow sections with undercut banks. Both of these streams are chock full of wild brown trout along with the occasional brook trout among other possible species. My target is brown trout, of course. 

My preferred method to fish these streams involves looking for reaction bites from the resident trout. While my tactics are a bit unusual, the results are normally stellar. On this rainy day, I knew that my usual techniques were not necessarily perfect, but sometimes you just want to fish how you want to fish. 

As it turns out, with the weather that was moving in and out, I would have been better off with a light rod and some blue-winged olive imitations. I started off well enough, catching several fine brown trout on my unorthodox methods. However, once the bugs started, the fish really just wanted the little olives and I started wishing I had brought more flies with me. The large flies I was using still picked up the occasional fish, but I also knew I was missing a lot of fish.

Big Thompson River Moraine Park brown trout
"Big Thompson River in Moraine Park brown trout" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Two bend pools in particular convinced me that my methods were about through for the day. I saw the first couple of rises as I crept up towards the pool. By the time I was in position, 4-5 fish were rising steadily and my large fly briefly put them down. However, the draw of so much food soon brought them back up. They were rising amongst the splashes from my larger fly, simultaneously dodging my offerings while also feeding on the natural olives. The next pool was even crazier with 8-10 fish rising. 

Big Thompson River Moraine Park
"Big Thompson River in Moraine Park Meadow Stream" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


I had already fished about an hour and the rain was starting again, so I decided it was time to head back to the car. The family had been out enjoying the meadow as well, but with the rain starting, they had already started back. It was in everyone's best interest to call it on fishing this day. I had found a few great fish before the hatch really got going. Time to head on to the next adventure...

Sprague Lake Scenery and Brook Trout

With a steady drizzle setting in, we didn't want to head back to camp yet. Our only option there for staying dry was to crawl into our small tent. It was way too early in the day to do that. So we turned the car towards Sprague Lake on the Bear Lake Road. I remembered something from a previous trip I hoped would still be accurate.

When we arrived, the rain had eased off to just some very light mist. With a full winter snowsuit to put on the little one and rain coats for ourselves, we decided to brave the weather for a few minutes. I grabbed my camera, hoping my memory was accurate. 

Fog and clouds at Sprague Lake
"Foggy Day at Sprague Lake" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Sure enough. In the inlet stream to Sprague Lake were numerous large brook trout. They were there to spawn, and while I wasn't interested in targeting these fish with a fly rod, I was interested in getting some neat pictures if possible. I generally recommend leaving spawning fish alone from an angling perspective. While I won't get into all the reasons here, let's just say that a camera feels a lot more sporting. Here are a couple of the better shots I got.

Brook trout at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Spawning brook trout at Sprague Lake
©2022 David Knapp Photography


It didn't take long for the drizzle to start again. We decided to head back to camp and get supper early. A huge benefit of our particular campsite were the thick pine trees growing over our picnic table area. They were keeping a large portion of our table dry, so we were able to enjoy supper while staying dry. With everything so damp, we headed to bed early. The next day was moving day and we needed some energy! We hoped for clear skies and moderating temperatures on the morrow...

Friday, January 06, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Two: Fishing and Hiking to Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

This was a hiking day that I had been looking forward to more than almost any other on our trip. However, it was not just excitement. A small element of trepidation had also snuck in. So why was I feeling so conflicted about this hike?

Preparing for Our Hike to Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond

First, you should know that this is a hike I have wanted to do for a long time. While I should have knocked it out when I actually lived an hour away, those days are long gone, and you can't live on shoulda coulda. Fast forward to early 2022 when I first floated the idea of a Colorado trip to my wife. As I was researching different hikes to include on our trip, this one just seemed like a natural fit. Based on our prior adventures in Glacier National Park, I knew that some longer high elevation hikes were ideal for us. This is the type of hiking we love and largely why we enjoy traveling. Even for local hikes, we are just as likely to knock out a bunch of miles as we are to go for a short stroll. But, and this was the important part, the elevation difference between Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Park was significant. 

In Glacier, our highest hike was just over 8,000 feet above sea level while this particular hike in Colorado would start out above 9,000 feet and end just a touch shy of 11,000 feet above sea level. Leah had dealt with elevation sickness at the Medicine Wheel and this hike would get significantly higher than that. I had previously dealt with it as well at high altitude in Colorado some years ago on multiple occasions. On each occasion for both of us, the main common denominator had been that we had tried hiking at altitude too soon after arriving from the lowlands of the eastern US. As this was precisely what we would be doing on this trip, I was a little nervous. Oh, and did I mention I would be carrying a one year old and everything else that goes along with a baby, plus my camera, water and some Tenkara equipment? 

The actual distance didn't worry us. I've lugged the toddler around in her pack out to 15 or so miles. While tired afterwards, I could have gone more no problem. We have done 20 mile days, so something half of that or less isn't bad at all. The thin air would be our primary nemesis. Living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee is slightly better than sea level, but we are still just a touch over 1,800 feet in elevation, much too low to have any benefit once we hit the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The absolute highest elevation hikes we can do in the Smokies are still essentially like hiking in the foothills in Colorado. When I say foothills, I mean at the foot of the foothills or nearly so.

Before our trip, we had both put in a little extra effort. This mostly involved doing everything in our power to boost our cardiovascular capacity. That is, we did some running, including mixing in at least a little interval training, and I had been backpacking on my now annual brook trout trip. Of course, we also spent some time out on the trails around home, particularly carrying the toddler around on my back at least occasionally to get my body used to the abuse. Thus, we were about as prepared as could be considering that we literally arrived in Colorado and then immediately headed out on one of the hardest hikes of our entire trip. In the end, that might have actually been a good idea for more reasons than we would realize for a while. 

The Morning of Our Hike to Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond

Fast forward just a bit and we are in Colorado. We woke up to an absolutely perfect day. Knowing the chance of foul weather would sneak up on us the next day, we were intent on making the most of this day. After all, these big hikes are always the highlight of any trip we do. The sun was warm and the air promised a perfect day. I had to snap a quick picture of our Big Agnes tent nestled amongst the pines at the Moraine Park campground where we camped for our first three nights on this trip.

Big Agnes Tent at Moraine Park
"Camping in our Big Agnes Tent in Moraine Park Campground" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


I think we had slightly underestimated the amount of work that it would be to care for a toddler on an extended camping trip. However, on this day, we mostly got going smoothly. Not quite early enough, unfortunately, but early enough to get this hike done during daylight hours. As with most particularly scenic and well known National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park has a problem of being loved to death. On the east side of the Park, this manifests itself as jam packed parking lots, much the same as we experienced in Glacier National Park. Thankfully, with COVID becoming more and more a thing of the past, the National Park Service operated hiker shuttle was operating. Once we determined that there was no parking at the Glacier Gorge trailhead, we quickly headed back down to the Park and Ride to have breakfast (a tradition we started in Glacier) and get ready for our hike.

The routine we established in Glacier National Park again served us well, although since we ended up on the shuttle it was probably not necessary. This ended up being the only time we used this routine on the Colorado trip, but for reasons you'll find out more on later. We had breakfast at our car at the Park and Ride and also fixed our lunch sandwiches and packed our backpacks. For me, that meant a DSLR camera, Tenkara gear, baby diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes, water, water filter, and a few "emergency" type items such as a couple of ways to start fire, bandaids, ace bandage, and don't forget some extra bags for carrying dirty diapers. Thankfully, my wife agreed to carry my lunch in addition to hers and the baby's since I would be carrying the little one. 

Once all of these tasks were complete and we changed diapers a time or two, we finally boarded the shuttle bus and headed up the mountain towards the Glacier Gorge trailhead. 

Glacier Gorge Trailhead map
"Glacier Gorge trailhead map" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Hiking to Alberta Falls From the Glacier Gorge Trailhead

A bonus on this hike to Sky Pond would be catching a glimpse of Alberta Falls. This beautiful waterfall is right alongside the trail and impossible to miss.

Timing for our trip largely centered around what we hoped would be a good amount of fall foliage. On this day, we started seeing some early signs of fall with plenty of golden aspen, but most trees were still either green or just barely starting to turn. We snapped a few pictures while we hiked, but mostly just kept our heads down and cranked out the miles. We hoped to eat lunch up at one of the high lakes that were our main goals for the hike.

Hiking the Loch Vale Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Hiking the Trail to Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Alberta Falls was gorgeous, but the lighting was simply never good when we happened to be hiking by. With a heavy toddler that was starting to feel even chunkier than I remembered, keeping our rhythm hiking was more important than forcing some shots that I knew wouldn't turn out the way I wanted. Many people appeared to be stopping at the falls. We were just getting warmed up and set our sights higher.

Hiking to Loch Vale from Glacier Gorge Trailhead

The hike to Loch Vale (also known as The Loch) is fairly simple overall. There was really only one steeper section of switchbacks not too far below the lake itself. We made good time up to this point with the baby thankfully taking a morning nap. We enjoyed the occasional yellow aspen and kept cranking out the steps. If you start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead as we did, it is between 2.5 and 3 miles to Loch Vale. While the trail is well travelled, it is still an easy trail if you ask me.

Thankfully we got there in good time and were able to relax, take pictures, let the little one down to run around and play, and of course, I got to do some fishing! I'll cover the fishing part later in this blog, but when we first came up to the lake, I saw fish everywhere which is always a good sign.

Native cutthroat trout in Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Rising Trout" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

The scenery was the main draw of this hike and Loch Vale did not disappoint. Lying in a basin with two lakes up higher near the divide, we enjoyed the views and the sun was out as well. It was nice and warm. Little did we know that this would be one of the last truly warm days we would experience on the trip. All of us enjoyed this stop immensely! Notice the nice clear blue skies...

Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Looking up the lake, you can see the higher basin above that continues another couple of lakes. The forbidding nearly vertical rock wall that separates you from these lakes is quite the scramble as we would find out shortly. While we were enjoying all of this, little bit was enjoying exploring and playing in the dirt. In fact, I think playing in the dirt was the highlight of the trip for her. At minimum, she made plenty of time every day to do so and we had quite the challenge on our hands to try and keep her semi clean.

Playing in the dirt at Loch Vale
"Why enjoy the scenery when you can play in the dirt?" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography

After a good break that also allowed time to filter some water (a filter is much lighter than 4 liters of water!), we were ready to continue on our hike. The trail follows the edge of Loch Vale all the way up to the inlet stream where it begins to slowly climb again. The inlet stream was FULL of fish as well. I was seriously wishing we had started just a little earlier, but at this point we needed to keep moving to finish before it was too late. My goal was to fish each of the lakes, and I would only accomplish this if we stayed more or less on schedule. 

Continuing On To Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park

The trail beyond Loch Vale continues upward, gently at first through a beautiful evergreen forest alongside a babbling brook. Icy Brook begins high in this drainage and feeds through each lake in turn. After initially being a gentle climb, the trail began to get steeper around the trail junction for Andrews Glacier. We didn't have time to climb up to that point on this day, so we continued on towards Lake of Glass. 

Shortly beyond the trail split, the climb increased significantly. We soon emerged from the forest into increasingly open terrain as we were closing in on treelined. This portion of the hike was easily the most intense as far as the climb goes. Ahead, we could see the bulk of rock that we had seen from Loch Vale. Up close, we could see Timberline Falls cascading down approximately 100 feet and the trail seemingly disappeared into the rock wall to the right of the falls. 

This was the make or break part of our hike. Having done some rock climbing in the past, I wasn't too worried about moving up and over the rock. Having a baby on my back would make me significantly slower and more cautious though. Leah had a slightly different perspective. In fact, I think each time the story is told she reports being slightly more frightened. If this story is told another few years, she'll probably be scared to death during this climb. She is not a fan of heights, so this part was one of the most challenging things she has ever done on any of our hikes. The situation was made worse because I couldn't help her much. Instead, I had to make sure I got the baby safely up the steep climb. Thankfully, we were soon up. The view looking back down towards Loch Vale was impressive. Do you see Loch Vale here?

Looking down from the top of Timberline Falls towards Loch Vale
"Looking Down To Loch Vale From Timberline Falls" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

We didn't linger at this view for long. I was hungry and Leah was hungry, so you know for sure that someone else was hungry. We quickly made our way up the last short climb to the Lake of Glass. On this day, we didn't see how in the world it had gotten that name. I think it would be amazing to be here when it is perfectly calm. The reflection of the surrounding mountains would be incredible. Still, the views were amazing even if the lake was a little choppy from the wind. Note the blue sky but with a hint of clouds just over the top of the ridge.

Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

We wanted to eat lunch. The wind was worse than it looks in this picture and we hoped to find some semblance of shelter. We turned to the left and crossed the lake's outlet to get into the semi shelter of a large rock outcropping along the left shore of the lake. Here, we got our packs off, the little one out to play and eat, and of course, I grabbed my fishing gear again. Our lunch spot view was perfect.

Lake of Glass with gathering clouds in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Lunch with a few on Lake of Glass" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Not long after this picture was taken, the clouds snuck over the ridge and the warm sun was gone just like that. We were thankful that we had enjoyed lunch with such nice conditions, but knew that we better hurry if we wanted to make it the last half mile or so to Sky Pond. The weather was clearly beginning to shift, and it doesn't pay to take the weather lightly at this high elevation. 

Finally, Sky Pond!

So, why hike all the way to Sky Pond? First of all, this is the last lake as you go up this particular gorge/basin. Sitting immediately below the peaks, it is an incredibly impressive setting. Second, if you have already climbed Timberline Falls, you have done all of the hard work. Since we were at Lake of Glass, it made sense to hike the last short distance onwards to Sky Pond.

I could easily say this whole hike was a hike to Sky Pond, but ultimately it is three different hikes to three different lakes that just happen to all be on the same route. Each lake is unique and beautiful enough to be a destination on its own. We were blessed to be able to snag three of these lakes on one trip. 

Surveying Sky Pond
"Little Bit looking over her domains at Sky Pond" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography


As an angler, the fishing was one of the main draws for me at Sky Pond as you'll see in a bit. Still, the fishing wasn't such a draw that I forgot to take some pictures. I didn't have my tripod with me to do things right, but I did take enough pictures to stitch together a reasonably decent panorama of the lake with the Sharkstooth on the right. 

Sky Pond and the Sharkstooth under dramatic skies
"Sky Pond and the Sharkstooth" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Notice the dramatic clouds that were swirling above the massive cliffs above the lake. We had a significant weather system due into the area overnight, and it was obvious that the leading edge was already approaching. We needed to finish enjoying Sky Pond and then start hiking down before any rain (or snow?!?!) caught up with us.

Fishing at Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning the fishing or the fact that I caught fish at each lake. The cutthroat trout at Loch Vale were the most beautiful fish I caught on this hike, but the other lakes produced some memorable moments as well. 

When we first arrived at Loch Vale, I saw fish cruising everywhere. Of course, by the time I got my Tenkara rod out and rigged, they had seemingly disappeared. Never fear, however, because with cruising fish it won't be long before some more fish come along.

I was using my Tenkara USA Rhodo. This is an excellent packable rod option when I want different lengths that the rod can fish at. Most importantly, it was the lightest option since I was hauling a toddler on my back with all my other gear. I still don't know what I would have done with an actual fly rod. There were times on this hike that I wished for a full fly rod, but this wasn't specifically a fishing trip. I would more than gladly take whatever fishing I could scrounge up.

While a couple of fish quickly came over to look at my Parachute Adams, it quickly become apparent that they were too smart to eat it. Before long, I went to a small midge under the surface and that proved to be the ticket. For the rest of the entire trip, small midges or pheasant tails caught fish in mountain lakes when nothing else was working. I caught a few on dry flies from time to time as well, but definitely more and better fish subsurface.

After a fish or two, I was ready to put my gear away and head to the next lake. As I mentioned above, we were on a bit of a schedule, and that didn't allow for lingering too long with my rod to catch more fish. Here is one of the Loch Vale cutthroat. Talk about a beautiful fish!

Cutthroat Trout at Loch Vale
"Cutthroat trout at Loch Vale" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

And another angle...I just couldn't get enough of those beautiful red cheeks!

Native cutthroat trout at the Loch
"Another perspective of a native cutthroat trout at The Loch" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Of course, I need some type of proof that I was really the one fishing and catching these fish! Thanks to my lovely wife Leah for running over to snap a picture or two in between wrangling a baby and taking pictures of her own. 

Happy to catch a trout at Loch Vale
"Happy angler at Loch Vale" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography

Not long after this picture, I was reminded that we probably should be moving on. I could have sat at this little spot all day trying to catch the beautiful cutthroat trout that swam in The Loch, but we had bigger goals for the day. We were soon packed and heading up the trail towards our next goal at Lake of Glass.

This was probably my shortest fishing experiment of the day. Lake of Glass was a great lunch spot, and I took at least a few moments to fish, but in between chasing a toddler over the landscape and eating, there just wasn't much time to fish. Thankfully, I met my goal of catching at least a fish at each lake. The cutthroat here were beautiful, but very different in coloration from their relatives below. My Tenkara rod continued to be the perfect solution that I could put together or break down in seconds. That meant more fishing time for me.

Cutthroat trout at Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Cutthroat trout caught at Lake of Glass" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

The neat part about this fish in particular is that I got it on the dry fly. In fact, there was a small hatch coming off. I saw some smaller dark stoneflies plus some mayflies that I didn't get a good look at. The fish were rising every time the wind died down a little. Our little corner of the lake was just sheltered enough to see fish coming to the surface every few minutes. It gave me hope for catching brook trout on dry flies at Sky Pond. Supposedly Lake of Glass has some brook trout as well, but all I caught here were cutthroat trout.

Sky Pond, on the other hand, only has brook trout from what I have gathered. That was definitely my experience. There are some really nice fish in this lake as well. I had the first issue with losing fish on the Tenkara rod here at Sky Pond. The light tippet I was using just didn't hold up to the ferocious hits the brook trout were producing. Finally, however, I got one to eat and stay hooked long enough to land. These high elevation brook trout are mighty hunters. Check out the mouth on this guy!

Brook trout at Sky Pond
"Brook trout at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Perhaps the best part of fishing at Sky Pond is that the little one had been watching me the whole time, taking it all in. Eventually, she came over and wanted to climb into my lap from where she proceeded to take over the operation of the Tenkara rod. As it turns out, she was a natural caster, but didn't have the patience to leave the flies on the water long enough to catch anything. She loved the casting. It kept her occupied, and I'm not sure she really understood that there was more to it than casting. 

Fly fishing Tenkara at Sky Pond
"Teaching the next generation to fly fish at Sky Pond" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography

Hiking Back Down From Sky Pond 

Shortly after this, with the clouds getting darker and darker, we turned around and headed back down the trail. By now, you have probably noticed something that is noticeably absent. For all my worry about elevation sickness, we were doing great. Thankfully we never ended up dealing with this problem at all on our trip. As it turns out, we had done sufficient preparation to avoid the problem altogether other than just getting tired from the long hikes at high elevation.

Hiking back down was mostly routine with one notable exception. As we approached the big drop alongside Timberline Falls, my foot slipped a little on one of the wet rocks. Knowing that this was a warning, I decided to take things very slowly. Going down is always harder to me than going up, and this was doubly so with a heavy pack that had to get down the mountain in one piece with me. 

We worked our way carefully down, but finally reached a narrow ledge that requires a 4-5 foot drop to get to the next level near the bottom. I was trying to figure out how to get down without getting pushed off by the pack. Thankfully, at just the right moment, another group of hikers overtook us. I think they were wanting to go faster, but they were super gracious about the whole thing. In fact, the guy in the lead worked his way down the water course to our right and was soon below me where he offered to let me pass the little one down to him in the pack. It couldn't have been offered at a better time. Poor Leah was even more nervous than she was going up, so it enabled me to jump down, help her, and then get the baby carrier back on without risking the baby.

After getting below this drop, we really cruised. Our normal hiking speed, even with the kid carrier and a toddler, is usually somewhere around 3 miles an hour and level ground and often even more. In other words, it didn't take us too long to get back down. Sky Pond is probably 4.5 miles from the trailhead. With the extra looking around we did, we were still stretching it to get to 10 miles on the day.

The downhill miles flew by, and soon we were back waiting on the shuttle bus. It didn't take more than a few minutes before a bus stopped, and we were soon headed back to our car. From there, it was just a few more minutes down to our camp at Moraine Park. By this time, the weather was really starting to threaten, so we hurried with supper and got in our tent before the rain really got going. The next day would be damp, however. And thus would begin a trend that would just get stronger throughout our trip...






Friday, December 23, 2022

Lucky Buckeyes

Luck. Some people have it. The rest of us try to obtain it. Some through fancy rituals, others by mere chance. Most anglers I know will tell you they aren't superstitious. I know I'm not. But I also know that once a hat loses its luck, mojo, charm, whatever you want to call it, I switch it out for a new one. On some days, I'll pick up a lucky buckeye from along the stream and throw it in my pocket for good luck. Just in case, you know. 

As a guide, I see all kinds of luck and skill on a daily basis. There was the one guy who was fishing the Smokies with me for the first time and caught a twenty two inch brown trout within the first few hours. At the time, he immediately tied me for fish over twenty inches caught in the Park. I've since gone on to break that number several times over. At the time, however, I only had one to my name. That goes to show you how uncommon those big ones are. 

Another time, a lady who wasn't very experienced was fishing in the front of the boat while her significant other was in the back. At one point, she turned around in the casting brace and was having a full blown conversation with us while her flies and strike indicator dangled under the rod tip in front of the boat. Not only did she hook a twenty inch rainbow trout that way, she also somehow managed to land the fish. Most experienced anglers would have blown that fight. 

Then there was the time that a friend/client brought a new guy on the boat. The new guy proceeded to catch two huge brown trout in addition to big numbers and lots of big rainbow trout. The largest brown put him in the running for the Trout Zone Anglers guide trip Fish of the Year. It held up through the rest of the year also. He has since become a good friend and regular client as he keeps trying to recapture the magic from that first lucky trip. 

Of course, most anglers are like me and have at least as much heartbreak as they do luck. One of my favorite heartbreak stories happened along the Gunnison River below Blue Mesa Reservoir. My buddy Trevor and I were on a long camping and fishing trip. This was in my college years and we were on one of many grand adventures I had back then. We had stopped there because of the rumor that large trout were sometimes present just below the dam. After an hour or two of fishing with just a couple average trout to show for our efforts, we were ready to head out. 

As we walked back up the trail, two cute college age girls came down walking the other direction. As young guys who hadn't seen a good looking girl in a couple of weeks, we both were more than intrigued at these lovelies out in the middle of nowhere Colorado, but the brief encounter was forgotten when I spotted a huge rainbow trout just a few yards further up the trail. Looking down the hill to the water, I was certain this was the largest rainbow trout I had ever seen. At least, it was the largest one that I could get to. Anyway, I informed Trevor that I was going to romp down that bank and catch said fish. "Yeah, okay..." was his reply.

Hooking the fish turned out to be rather easy, but I hadn't accounted for what would happen next. When you're hooked up with 15+ pounds of trout on 5x, you're along for the ride. This is the moment you need a healthy dose of luck. Some skill definitely won't hurt, but you need more than skill at these moments. The rest of the experience was mostly a blur. I do remember jumping from rock to rock, running downstream at breakneck speeds trying to stay with that fish. I also remember watching the backing feeding off my Orvis Battenkill reel while it screamed in protest. Seeing my backing on a fish was a new phenomenon at the time. 

What I really remember, however, was screaming at the top of my lungs incoherently in a high shrill voice while I chased the behemoth. Right as the line went limp, I looked up and sitting on a bench above me were the two cute girls watching the screaming idiot spectacle. Trevor was just grinning like the cat that ate the canary. I could only hang my head in shame and head back up the trail, this time making a beeline for the car without looking further for more giant trout.

With background stories like that, you can't blame me for looking for the lucky edge. Thus, once a hat starts to look ragged and a streak of bad luck rears its ugly head, the hat usually gets the blame. With a new hat on my head, my luck usually turns. Occasionally, other items get blamed for bad luck, however. 

There was the one time that I was fishing with my wife where I lost two or three really nice brown trout. I started thinking it had to do with the rods. I won't mention which ones, as I have others by the same manufacturer that I love and don't want to throw anyone under the bus. However, I was convinced that the rod tip was getting too much vibration while playing the fish and allowing the hook to work loose. Needless to say, I quit using that rod. Funny thing is, I've lost plenty of other fish over the years on different rods. Clearly, the operator has at least a little responsibility, but as an angler, you always look for something else to explain things away. At the same time, you continue searching for that little edge.

Some people try avoiding certain things that are presumed to bring bad luck. For example, if you've been fly fishing any length of time, you probably know that a banana in the boat is bad luck. Some guides are so serious about this that they question their clients at the beginning of the day to make sure no one has a banana. Of course, then there was that time that my good friend Gary caught a monster brown trout on the Caney. After the required pictures were completed, we sat a few minutes to calm back down. What did Gary do? Pull out a banana, of course, and proceeded to eat it as part of his victory celebration. Seriously.


 

Other people aren't looking to remove bad luck as much as bring good luck. For many anglers, that comes down to the never ending search for a magic bullet fly. As a fly tier and designer, I continually tweak my patterns, trying to find the perfect combination of ingredients that fish cannot resist. A few flies have come close some of the time but never all of the time. Other things, like new fishing hats, are probably mostly desperate grasping at straws, but I still maintain that a lucky buckeye is always worth having in your pocket. 

I've shown these to many friends and clients over the years with varying levels of acceptance. Some people quickly go searching for their own lucky buckeye. Just in case, you know. Others chuckle, but are probably secretly thinking I'm crazy. Then there are the ones that throw you off a little. 

One of my favorite times was with a husband/wife set of clients/friends that were fishing with me in the Smokies. We were walking alongside the road to a secret stream access point I knew about. I was feeling good about the location choice, I figured we would find some good success. As a guide, however, I was still looking for any additional edge we could find. 

You can only imagine my delight when I spied a lucky buckeye laying practically at me feet. Here was the perfect good luck charm that we could carry with us for a while, then return to the woods when we were done fishing. I picked it up and started explaining the significance of my find. The husband and wife nodded seriously and he almost reverently took it from me to examine this mysterious hunk of good fortune. His wife was also intrigued, and being the kind and devoted husband he was, he decided to give her the good luck for the day. He carefully handed the treasure to her. She looked at it carefully, and appeared to appreciate its significance. We walked a few feet, when out of nowhere, she chucked it off into an impossible tangle of rhododendron while her husband, and I both nearly wept at the loss. 

To this day, that is one of our favorite stories that must be recounted anytime we fish together. Oh, and we did find a few fish that day. However, each time we missed a fish, or didn't get a bite from a particularly juicy spot, we lamented the lost buckeye. By the end of the trip, I think all of us were ready to go crawling through the rhododendron to find it. 

So, what do you do for good luck when fishing?

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 3

If you haven't read about the first couple of days of my fall backpacking and fly fishing trip adventure, you might enjoy reading those first. If you are already caught up, then skip these two stories and continue on with day 3!

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 1

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 2

During the lead up to this backpacking trip, my friend Buddy and I had many detailed conversations about gear. As a retired engineer, Buddy is more diligent than most about counting every ounce of weight in his pack. I got to reap some of the benefits, because it motivated me to pay more attention to pack weight than usual. One of the things Buddy had decided to do to limit his overall weight was eliminating his fly rod and just fishing Tenkara rods on this trip. While I enjoy casting and wanted a "regular" fly rod, I often carry a Tenkara rod as backup and decided this would be the perfect excuse to finally fish this rod for a whole day, something I hadn't done in a good long while. 

The rod I usually take on brook trout trips is a Suntech Kurenai HM 30. It is an excellent choice for a backup rod because it weighs under 1 ounce. In other words, I'm not adding much extra weight by taking it. This rod was gifted to me by a good friend and quickly become one of my absolute favorite rods. I also have some nice Tenkara USA rods which are fantastic fishing tools themselves, but this rod is by far and away one of the nicer rods I own. Anyway, if you have any questions about this rod, don't hesitate to ask. 

The morning of our second full day in the backcountry and third day out overall dawned just about perfectly. Skies were partly cloudy, and there was just enough cool air at this high altitude to remind me that fall was on its way. I was excited about the day of fishing and ready to get going. After a quick breakfast, Buddy and I hit the trail. My favorite fly rod was stashed back in camp, and I was going for a Tenkara only experience. 

To complete my setup, I had a size 3.5 level line and 6x tippet. While we wanted to fish dry flies, I had got started on a bad trend the day before fishing a Barbie Bug. It had worked so well, I knew it wouldn't take me long to put one back on. Sure enough, after not finding any fish willing to rise early in the day, I went to the Barbie bug and never really looked back. I was fishing the whole setup like a high stick nymph rig. The Kurenai rod enabled me to place the fly wherever I wanted and was so delicate that even the smaller brook trout felt like monsters. 

Small native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


While the numbers were incredible, the overall size seemed smaller on this stretch of water. Buddy prefers a stretch just a little higher than where I fished on day two with Russell. For me, in addition to the insane numbers of fish, the highlight of the day was fishing a little higher up this drainage than I have ever been. I also took the opportunity late in the day to scout further up the trail and look for additional new access points to that upper end of the drainage. I don't know about the whole way up, but I did find an access point that could be used to enter or exit the stream far enough up to open up almost another whole day of fishing. 

Next time, I intend to explore this stretch. That said, with the overall average size being down compared to further downstream, I don't expect to find too many monsters. Of course, around here, we don't go fishing for brook trout with the expectation of catching big fish. The trip is about so much more than the size of the catch. Otherwise I would have quit these excursions long ago. Here is one of our better fish size wise this day.

Nice native brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography

The majority of fish in this section didn't seem to be as bright with their colors either. I don't know why that is, but it has tended to be the same on other trips as well. Either way, this was probably one of the prettier fish of the day.

Gorgeous native brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography

By the time we had fished up into new to me water, the day was getting late. I wanted to snag one more to reach a nice round number for the day. I rarely count, but very occasionally on these highly productive small streams I do. This is mostly just a curiosity. For example, when it feels like you caught a ton of fish, was it 40? 50? 70? 100? Most days I don't have the first clue, but occasionally it is fun to keep track. On the other hand, I don't want to take things too seriously, so I also tend to forget as soon as possible. I have good memories of days spent on the water with friends, and pictures of gorgeous native char or wild trout. What more do I need?

After reaching the trail, I hustled up to look for new/additional access points. One likely spot that I had originally located from the stream bed turned out to be even better than I had hoped for. It will be the entry point for a future expedition to push ever farther up this favorite drainage. I'm still eyeing some spots MUCH further up the drainage for possible entry/exit points, but so far haven't turned anything else up. 

Buddy had started back towards camp when I headed up the mountain, but I caught him nearly back at camp on the way down. We got back and enjoyed one last evening in the mountains before hiking out the next day. There is always a bit of a letdown as the end of the trip approaches. Yet, at the same time, there is also excitement to get home and see my family, eat home cooked food, and sleep in my own bed. My backpacking setup has gotten pretty cushy thanks to a Big Agnes Q Core deluxe sleeping pad, but it is still sleeping on the ground no matter how comfortable the setup gets. Still, there is nothing better than spending the night in the woods next to a rushing mountain stream, so it is always best to end a trip soon enough to leave you wanting a little more. This trip was just a warmup for an epic adventure merely a few days later, but I'll save that story for another time...

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

This year, I am thankful for so many things. Good friends, family, health, and of course, the great outdoors that always gives me more than I deserve. Of course, I am thankful for trout, char, and all those other fishy favorites. I'm thankful for the blessings God has showered upon me and my family, and that includes each and every one of you. Thank you for your friendship and thank you for supporting me as a fly fishing guide. Every day I feel so blessed to be out in nature doing what I love. Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Thanksgiving brook trout


Saturday, November 12, 2022

After the Sun Goes Down

No, I'm not talking about nighttime fishing, although I have covered that topic some before and found great success fishing through the night. In this instance, I'm actually referring to the late afternoon and early evening hours on bright sunny days. As the sun sinks below hills and ridges, fish that were almost impossibly shy just minutes earlier begin to feed. 

Interestingly, this is not always consistent, but when it happens the results are striking. The difficulty of bright sunny days is exacerbated in the Smokies in particular early and late in the season. This is due to the lack of leaves on the trees. This year, we lost all of the leaves earlier than has been usual the last few seasons. Thus, we have been dealing with bright sunny days since the last week of October. Last year, I was still enjoying a reasonably decent canopy on Veteran's Day week for my annual fall camping trip. For this year's camping trip, the leaves were all down.

I drove over to the Smokies on Wednesday to camp and fish the Oconaluftee River with my buddy and fellow fly fishing guide, Pat Tully. We had a great time fishing, but the catching was slow. This isn't entirely unheard of this time of year, but the super low water from our recent drought conditions along with the sunny day was making things more difficult than usual for fall fishing. Eventually, Pat had to leave to make it back home at a reasonable hour.

Since I was spending the night at Smokemont campground, I headed over to set up camp. By the time this task was finished, the sun was beginning to sink below the hills above camp. This time of year that happens early each day. I had enjoyed a late lunch, so instead of proceeding to supper, I decided to get back on the water for another couple of hours. That proved to be a great decision.

In the first small run I fished, I had numerous strikes on a small parachute Adams. Best of all, the fish were hitting it within just a few feet of where I was standing. They weren't spooky any more. As I always like to say, fish have to eat eventually. I was about to be rewarded for hanging in there after a long tough day. 

Over the next hour or two, I caught double digit numbers of trout. Two were very nice brown trout for in the Smokies while the majority were rainbows. Often, I was catching what was probably the "best" rainbow trout in each little run and pocket. These fish would have run from their own shadow just hours before. Now, they needed to get those calories in. Winter is coming soon after all.

Great Smoky Mountains brown trout near Smokemont Campground North Carolina

By the time I decided to call it an evening, I had caught more than enough fish to make up for the slow day. As I headed back to camp, I was reminded why it is worth fishing as long as possible. On some days, responsibilities back home or otherwise mean I quit before the end of legal fishing hours. In fact, it is rare that I have the luxury of fishing as long as I want. Still, it is always good to be reminded to keep after it even when I'm having a difficult day.

And isn't that what drives us on as anglers? The chance of a new superlative, be it a monster fish, a big numbers day, or maybe just an incredibly unique experience on the water. Perhaps a particular hatch keeps bringing you back or even a particular fish. 

I have a brown trout on Little River that I've been keeping tabs on for about a month now. It is built like a torpedo. A super fat torpedo. I'm still not certain it would break 20", but it will be extremely heavy for its size if I can ever get my hands on it, that I'm convinced of. When I go after it again, I'll stay out as long as possible, hopefully after the sun goes down behind the nearby ridge...

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 1

The last few years has seen me return to backpacking at least once or twice a year. I've developed a habit of visiting my favorite brook trout streams in September. The spring or early summer trip is a revolving trip that visits different streams each time for the most part. This year's September trip was scheduled a little early. Normally I wait until closer to the end of the month, but this year it had to happen a couple of weeks sooner due to a family Colorado trip. Regardless, the brook trout were beginning to color up in their finest fall apparel and were feeding with the abandon that one expects of trout in the fall.

I loosely planned the trip in conjunction with a couple of friends. In other words, we intended to arrive at the same campsite around the same time and hopefully fish together, maybe some or maybe the whole time. Keeping things casual left open more options than if we had a rigid game plan. 

As with most campsites I stay at on these types of trips, this one is right on a stream. That makes things like meal prep and water gathering easy, but you do deal with a lot of condensation. Once things get damp, the high humidity along the creek keeps them that way. Still, the benefits far outweigh any small negative aspect, especially walking out of my tent and immediately starting to catch trout.

Ready to start hiking on my backpacking trip
David Knapp heading out on a backpacking adventure. ©2022 David Knapp

The first day, our goal was to arrive at camp early enough to maybe catch a few fish. When I saw the forecast, I almost bailed on the trip entirely, but since I had friends expecting to see me, I decided to slog it out, literally.

Things started out nice and dry as I got my pre hike selfie in. I got about a mile up the trail before it started raining. In the next couple of miles, I walked through one of the worst downpours I've ever experienced while backpacking. The only one that compares was a cloudburst while hiking up Clingmans Dome out of Forney Creek. That hike wasn't as bad as this one, mainly because I knew I had a change of dry clothes waiting in my car along with climate control. 

When I arrived at camp, I told Buddy that I knew exactly when he arrived to set up camp because the sky had opened up on me. His camp was up although damp. Thankfully the rain eased off and gave me time to get my stuff set up without the massive downpour. Having a dry retreat during a wet backpacking trip can really make things seem much better. 

After setting up camp, I decided I might as well go fishing. I certainly wasn't going to get any wetter in the creek than I already was. The water was up a little and stained with the dark tea color. The tannins in the leaves and pine needles more or less makes tea out of the water. Hoping that a flood wasn't imminent, we worked our way up the stream catching fish here and there. 


Fishing a backcountry stream
Buddy working his Tenkara USA rod on this Smoky Mountain stream. ©2022 David Knapp


I was pleasantly surprised to find myself catching more brook trout than rainbows. While I usually catch some brook trout, I usually catch a lot more rainbows. On this evening, that script was flipped. It reminded me of my first trip to this drainage where I caught several beautifully colored brook trout.


Great Smoky Mountains backcountry brook trout
Closeup of a native southern Appalachian brook trout. ©2022 David Knapp


Native southern Appalachian brook trout
Native brook trout are absolutely incredible. ©2022 David Knapp


Eventually, things started to revert back to normal and the rainbows began to dominate as we worked out way upstream. We each found a few fish with some coming from surprisingly skinny water. The fish were still largely in summer mode. The riffles were producing at least as well as the pools and deeper runs.

Wild rainbow trout in the Great Smoky Mountain backcountry
Wild Smoky Mountain rainbow trout. ©2022 David Knapp


With the threat for more rain and potentially rising water, we soon decided to head back down to camp and start supper. That task was completed before more rain caught us and I was able to enjoy getting into a dry tent and dry clothes for the night. I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the creek charging past just to my left. My dreams were of brook trout attacking dry flies that I would hopefully find on the morrow...


Sunday, May 01, 2022

Great Smoky Mountains Grand Slam Challenge 2022

One of the fun challenges for anglers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is to catch all three species of trout the Park has to offer. Known by a variety of names including a grand slam, slam, hat trick, and others, this challenge is to simply catch a rainbow, brown and brook trout with some set of specified limitations sometimes imposed. These can include catching the fish all on the same day or from the same stream or on the same trip. Having accomplished a slam many times over the years, I now enjoy helping other anglers achieve this challenge through my work as a fly fishing guide. Still, I'm always happy for new motivation to go and enjoy the bounty of the mountains on my own. 

When I heard about the 2022 Grand Slam Challenge from Little River Outfitters, I knew that my motivation was back. LRO has graciously created a pin to commemorate catching the slam this year. All you have to do is stop by the shop, find out the "rules" and let Daniel know you are about to embark upon the challenge, and bring back photo evidence. Of course, you need to keep in mind excellent fish handling techniques in all of your picture documentation. 

I first heard about this challenge from my friend, client, and fellow angler Buddy Randolph. Somehow he had gotten wind of the idea early on and was keen to complete the challenge. Since we already had a trip scheduled for April, we decided to make an effort to incorporate this challenge into the guide trip. I intended to do some fishing for myself outside of the guide trip, so we planned a camping trip that would take us to where this challenge could reasonably be accomplished. 

Cataloochee Valley is one of my favorite places in the Smokies. This quiet and out of the way valley gets more than its fair share of traffic thanks to the good fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. This was one of the first places that elk were reintroduced inside the Park, and late summer into the fall offers an excellent chance to see these magnificent creatures during the yearly rut. While the elk are a fun bonus, I'm nearly alway there for the fishing. With lots of tributary creeks plus the main stem of Cataloochee Creek, there are plenty of good options for fishing. Even better, brook trout show up throughout the valley along with rainbow and brown trout, so catching the Smoky Mountain slam is usually relatively easy. 

While I'll let Buddy share the details his own story, I will say that we eventually found the slam for him. I got lucky and managed the trick my first evening in camp, fishing within walking distance of my campsite. The brook and brown trout are usually the ones you have to work for and for very different reasons, but I had good balance in numbers between each of the three species. 

A dry fly with a caddis pupa dropper seemed appropriate, and I never really deviated from that approach for my own personal fishing throughout the trip. The fish ate a large Parachute Adams at least as well as the caddis pupa dropper, probably because of all the March brown mayflies that I observed. Both duns and spinners were on the water at different times. Yellow sallies, some other mayflies, and of course caddis were all hatching, but never in particularly big numbers. 

rainbow trout for the Great Smoky Mountain grand slam

Great Smoky Mountain brook trout for the grand slam

brown trout from grand slam in the Great Smoky Mountains 

Upon completing the challenge, I knew there would be a few days until I could claim my prize. The wait was well worth it, however! On Friday, I had a guide trip in the Smokies which allowed me to stop in and see Daniel at Little River Outfitters. Soon, I had my pin in hand. I hope that LRO will continue this challenge or perhaps even expand to include some other challenges in the future. What a fun motivation to get out on the water! 

Smokies grand slam pin