Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fighting For Food

As fishermen, we dream of the ultimate fishing experience which is probably different for everyone.  Most likely each has a common denominator however.  Large numbers of quality fish is the stuff dreams are made of, and the best is when the fish are fighting over the opportunity to inhale your fly.  In the Grand Canyon, I was able to have such an experience. 

Our second full day in the bottom of the canyon found most of us in better shape and ready to venture further afield in search of the hidden wonders of our surroundings.  Myself and three others decided to make the hike up to Ribbon Falls.  I wanted to enjoy using my camera and of course wanted to explore Bright Angel Creek further in search of the beautiful trout that inhabit its waters. 

After a hearty breakfast, four of us began the hike up the canyon towards the falls.  As we hiked, I forced myself to keep moving past all the beautiful water.  Our goal was to reach the falls before the sun moved behind the canyon wall.  Ribbon Falls is beautiful regardless of your perspective, but I wanted pictures with the sun on the water.  This meant that I had to skip every spot where I saw nice trout hanging suspended in the clear water of Bright Angel Creek. 

The fast hike was worth it in the end as was denying myself the time to stop and fish.  I would still have the whole afternoon ahead to fish my way back down the creek.  Ribbon Falls was beautiful with the sun creating a rainbow in the spray of the falls.  Just 45 minutes after arriving at the falls, the sun moved behind the canyon walls and the now shaded falls did not have the warm ambiance it had upon arrival.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

I climbed up behind the falls to enjoy the view through the spray, taking pictures at every step along the way.  After enjoying the scene, I moved a short distance back down the canyon to cook up some lunch.  The delicious spinach ziti gave me the energy to hike back to camp and do some fishing along the way.

Strolling back down the canyon, I started seeing spots I had promised myself I would fish on the way back down.  A large rock by the trail provided the perfect spot to sit down and change into sandals to wade the cold waters of the creek.  Rigging up my rod with a wooly bugger and pheasant tail, I moved down the steep slope to a deep run that just looked fishy.  As I moved slowly along the edge of the stream, I started seeing trout holding everywhere in the calmer water near current seams.  The crystal clear stream made finding trout the easy part of the equation.  I still had to make the cast and correctly present the fly though. 

My first cast was a little sloppy and not very accurate, it splashed just behind the trout I was targeting.  To my surprise, the fish turned and chased the flies downstream, turning as it took the pheasant tail.  I set the hook and was soon admiring a beautiful resident rainbow. 

Moving another step up, I repeated the process and caught another trout.  Thinking to myself that I might be experiencing the easiest catching I would ever enjoy, my next cast was made to the deepest part of the pool.  In awe, my eyes beheld dark shadows racing from every direction as the rainbows were nearly fighting for the opportunity to inhale my offerings. 

Small stream trout are absolutely a blast.  Bright Angel Creek is now high on my list of best small trout streams.  The overall quality of the experience makes a trip well worth the effort required.  The trout did not seem particularly spooky, probably because the flows were a little high due to the recent winter storm.  Fish that "spooked" would still often take a fly. 

Finally, after catching more than my share of fish, I headed back down the trail.  Just before Phantom Ranch, I made the turn onto the Clear Creek trail.  A short distance up, I settled down at an overlook of the river to watch the sunset.  Nothing could make the experience better except to have a few more nights scheduled at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Someday I will go back, but until then I have great memories of the best backpacking trip yet!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photoblog Update

The Trout Zone Photoblog has been suffering from a lack of attention, but I have added a picture from the Grand Canyon and will be adding more from that trip over the next couple of weeks.  Additionally, as spring progresses, I hope to document the change of seasons and some of those pictures will exlusively end up on the photoblog.  The best part is that the images are larger on the photoblog so if you want to get a better look at any pictures, check out the photoblog and see if your favorites have been posted there...

Wet Weather

Periods of high water may be the norm this spring and early summer.  So far, the tailwaters have all been pushing a lot of water and that doesn't seem likely to change any time soon.  Streams in the Smokies have all seen flows spike up, and they have been slow to fall out indicating that the ground is well saturated. 

This past Sunday, I passed up the opportunity to drive to the Smokies for the day, mostly because the flows were up and had been for a few days.  Generally I have not experience good fishing in similar conditions.  I'm sure I could have found fish, just not sure how many and if it would be worth it. 

Instead, I headed down to Cookeville with some friends to see Burgess Falls.  We were hoping that all the recent rain had the Falling Water River flowing high and we weren't disappointed.  The river was much higher than it was during my last visit.  My camera stayed busy recording the differences.  Here are a few of the results...

Monday, March 14, 2011


Our first full day in the bottom of the canyon was a day to relax and recover.  Everyone had varying degrees of soreness in their knees so a slow day sounded good to most everyone.  Three people opted to take a long day hike up to Ribbon Falls which was close to 14 miles round trip from the Bright Angel Campground.  The rest of us lounged around camp, took short walks up or down the creek to some fairly close overlooks, and to the river.  One particularly nice walk took us a half mile or so up the Clear Creek Trail to fantastic overlooks of the Colorado River as well as its tributary we were staying on, Bright Angel Creek. 

An early morning walk to the Black Bridge provided some nice scenery for my camera as the sun peeked around canyon walls and lit up the now chocolate milk colored river.  The tunnel on the south side of the river gave me some interesting ideas for pictures and made me wish I had brought some type of tripod with me.


After breakfast, we walked up towards Phantom Ranch and beyond, eventually making it up the Clear Creek Trail for the views before descending back to camp for lunch.  In the afternoon, we hung out near the river, soaking up the sun, and of course I did a little fishing.  My first opportunity to catch a fish came as we headed up towards Phantom Ranch.  In camp, prior to the hike, I tied on a wooly bugger with a BHPT as  dropper.  The water was cold, and I wasn't going to bother with dries unless I found rising trout.

Despite the lack of rising fish, I found plenty of insects.  Clouds of mayfly spinners could be found above the trail in the middle to late parts of the day.  Midges and a few caddis and stoneflies were seen from time to time along the stream.  There was obviously lots of food available to the trout which explained why all the fish I caught during the trip were very healthy for such a small stream.

As we headed up the trail towards Phantom Ranch, I saw the upper bridge into Bright Angel Campground and went over to take a look at the creek.  On the hike down, I lost my polarized sunglasses, but the water was so clear that I didn't have any trouble spotting fish.  As I stared at a nice run just above the bridge, a fish soon materialized below.  I quickly moved down below the bridge, and, having carefully noticed exactly where the fish was, picked it out again once I was at the level of the stream.  Stripping out enough line to make the cast, I made one backcast and dropped the flies just upstream of the feeding rainbow.  The trout chased the bugger downstream, turning as it took the fly.  Immediately I lifted the rod tip and the fight was on.  Some friends came over to see my first Grand Canyon trout, and were kind enough to also take pictures for me.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Catherine McGrath Photograph

I moved up to fish 2 other runs above the bridge before rejoining my friends.  More fish came to hand, all exhibiting the pale, silvery color that the Colorado River run-up fish all sported.  The fish were all strong, accustomed to living their life in the heavy flow of the big river.  About this time, my lens cap went in the drink marking the second time I've lost one in the act of documenting a catch.


I didn't have much time to feel sorry for myself though because my friends had all wandered well up the trail towards the Clear Creek Trail.  I followed along, stopping just long enough to photograph an agave that clung precariously to the canyon wall.  On the way up the Clear Creek trail, I received a few funny looks and comments from hikers coming down from the heights above.  "Long ways until a place to fish," one person said.  I just grinned, not mentioning the nice fish I had just caught or the dark pool I was able to spot on Bright Angel from my now high vantage point.

We all soaked in the sun and the views, drinking in the beauty of the canyon, wishing we could stay forever but knowing we had to absorb as many memories as possible since that wasn't realistic.  My eyes were recording the scene in my mind while my camera was doing the same.  Between the two, I might be able to remember the trip fairly well.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Back down along the creek, I caught a few more fish before heading back to camp for lunch.  After satisfying my hunger, it was down to the confluence of Bright Angel with the Colorado River.  Along the way, I picked up a couple of small rainbows.  After hanging out with friends along the river, I headed back up the creek and found my first honey hole.  Up until this point, I only caught 1-2 fish per pool or pocket.  The sweet spot yielded 5 fish ranging from a small streamborn fish to 14 inch run-up fish.  This was just a foretaste of things to come.

By this time, it was getting towards evening and time to call it a day.  I talked to a couple of fisherman from New York state about fishing their home waters as well as streams we knew in common in the Yellowstone vicinity.  After we had talked for awhile, my three friends that had walked to Ribbon Falls came trekking by, reminding me that it was about time to head back to camp and join everyone for supper. 

The descriptions of the beauty of Ribbon Falls convinced some more of us that we better try to make it up there the next day sore or not.  I was just hoping that my knee would make it there and back.  Any serious knee trouble would severely hinder me on the journey back to the South Rim in 2 more days.  Still, I made plans to hike the next day, having no idea how amazing the next day would be...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Suppressing the Pain

Training began to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon a few months ago.  Our group did several long hikes together, including a few with as much elevation gain and loss as you can come up with here in Tennessee.  Nothing here in this part of the country can prepare you for the grueling hike into the Grand Canyon however.

We started out the hike fresh and excited to reach our destination.  The deep snow at the top cloaked the rim and upper canyon walls in a blanket of white, giving us views that many people don't get the opportunity to see when they visit the Grand Canyon.  The various shades of sandstone contrasted beautifully with the gleaming snow.  As we reached the edge of the rim to begin hiking, the clouds were slowly breaking up to reveal the icy blue sky behind, adding more color to the scene.  Shafts of sunlight split the air above the canyon illuminating our destination below and then fading again as the clouds moved by.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The upper trail was in great shape due to the fresh snowfall.  Instead of layers of filthy mud where the mules had been trampling the trail, the fresh blanket of snow provided the perfect hiking surface.  By the time we had descended to Indian Garden however, we had dropped below the snow line.  The first three miles or so of trail soon gave way to mud in abundance.  Below Indian Garden the trail was in great shape again though.  The trail was firm instead of muddy. 

As we descended the Devil's Corkscrew, quickly losing altitude as we closed in on the river, our muscles began to burn with the unaccustomed hiking.  By the time we reached the river, everyone was sore to some degree.  Thankfully, my heavy pack never really bothered me too much.  Occasional adjustments kept my hips and shoulders comfortable for the most part.  Finally, after several twists and turns along a small creek, the trail emerged at the Colorado River.  Our excitement was soon tempered by the realization that we still had to hike a mile or so before reaching camp.  Still, the worst of the trail was behind us and we closed in on camp as the light was fading. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

We reached camp before dark and quickly pitched tents and got settled in before full dark came on.  Soon members of our group were spotting various animals running around in the deepening shadows including foxes and even a ringtail.  Our food was safely secured in the ammo boxes provided for that purpose.  While hiking we didn't have time to be sore.  The views did a magnificent job of suppressing the pain, or at least distracting us enough so we didn't notice.  However, once in camp, we took Ibuprofen to ease the pain in our legs, and after a good supper, we all went to bed to sleep the sleep of exhaustion.  The next two days would be packed with adventure, and we needed plenty of rest to prepare for the good times ahead...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Decision Time

When planning for spring break in the Grand Canyon, one thing we hoped to avoid was mountains of snow and bitter cold temperatures.  The average high this time of year in the bottom of the canyon is in the low 60s, and we figured it would be better than Tennessee has been all winter.

On the drive out, we heard more details on the possible winter storm that would be moving in at the same time we wanted to be heading down the trail to the bottom.  Snowfall forecasts were for anywhere from 1-2 feet of the white stuff on the South Rim.  Worse still, the bulk of the storm would move through Saturday afternoon into the overnight (February 26).  Our hike was scheduled to begin on Sunday the 27th and we were concerned about being able to even access the trails if the forecast materialized.  Friday evening we held a powwow and the consensus was to get up early Saturday and drive up to the Canyon to make the best of a potentially bad situation.  At least we would be on the Rim and could work out the other details as necessary. 

Waking up Saturday morning, the sky was foreboding.  Outdoor enthusiasts know that a red sky in the morning warns of impending trouble.  Despite our concerns, the beauty of the sunrise was still something to be enjoyed.

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

As we approached the South Rim, the clouds lowered and flurries started to fly.  By the time we reached the backcountry office to make a last minute change to our permit, the canyon was completely shrouded by fog and clouds.  Next stop was the Visitor Center.  We were seeking information on how well the Park Service would clean up the roads after the storm.

  Catherine McGrath Photograph

Finally, knowing that we needed a good night's rest before hiking in, we headed to Mather Campground to set up tents.  By this time, moderate snowfall was occuring and we were unsure of how things would work out the next day.  Around the campground, deer were wandering in a last effort to forage before the storm buried everything. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The tents pitched and secured for the night, we headed back out to try and figure out a route for the next day.  Finally, after driving several different roads, we found one that we thought would work.  We also stopped by the Bright Angel trailhead to make sure we knew were it was the next day if the snow was piled too deeply.

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

The snow was falling heavily and driving was becoming difficult for some. As we headed back towards the campground, we passed a park shuttle bus in the ditch.  Clearly no one would be doing much driving during the night.

After eating a hot supper, we all hit the sack early to conserve warmth and energy.  Outside the storm continued to dump snow and we had no idea what to expect when we woke up the next morning.  The heavy clouds kept the light dim but slowly we realized that morning had arrived and started to stir.  Finally everyone started getting up, the cold air motivating us all to hurry in taking down the tents and doing any last minute packing in our backpacks.  When we opened the tent, we found a winter wonderland complete with a foot or more of new snow.

About the time we were getting everything securely packed, something awesome happened.  A Park road grader came by on the main campground road clearing snow.  I hurried out to see if he was coming our way and sure enough, when I waved at him he pulled into our loop, most likely shocked at discovering people crazy enough to be camping there in that kind of weather.  With the roads reasonably clear, we made it to a cafe for breakfast and then the Visitor Center to leave the van and catch a shuttle to the trailhead.  Our decision to head up and camp Saturday night proved the correct one.  All roads leading into the Park were closed down.  Even I-40 was shut down due to the storm according to people we talked to before heading to the bottom. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Finallly!!!! The moment that I had been waiting months for had arrived. Our shuttle bus pulled up, and we all piled on for the short ride to the Bright Angel trailhead.  When the bus stopped, we all hopped off and immediately sat down to put on our trail crampons.  In the end, the crampons were not absolutely necessarily, but the ease of trekking was improved immensely.  The other key piece of equipment was our trekking poles.  Hiking downhill for longer distances is brutal and can cause serious knee problems without proper planning.  The trekking poles remove a large quantity of stress off the knees meaning we weren't too sore when we arrived at the bottom. 

The hike down was beautiful with the fresh snowfall at higher elevations.  I will share more on that later as well as lots of pictures and stories from the bottom.  The fishing was excellent so stay tuned!!!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Where Have I Been?

Everywhere, or at least that is what it seems like.  I just got back from a loooonnnng road trip to Arizona to backpack in the Grand Canyon for Spring Break.  Naturally there was fishing involved as well as many pictures taken.  I'll have more on that trip shortly. 

Additionally, it seems that the bugs are starting to hatch in earnest in the Smokies.  The hatches haven't hit full swing yet but should be there shortly.  I'll be investigating that situation as soon as possible.  Hopefully that small detail otherwise known as work won't get in the way too much...  While you are waiting for further updates, here's a little teaser showing our first view of the Grand Canyon at Mather Point behind the main South Rim Visitor Center...