Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Monday, October 15, 2012

Welcome Winter

The high country continues to pick up more and more moisture.  The view from my classroom is gorgeous with a great perspective of Longs Peak as well as the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  Looking towards the mountains always reminds me of my mostly weekend adventures.  In fact, a week ago from this past Saturday I took a pretty cool hike (actually it was freezing), and also saw my first Colorado moose (and second).

The destination was Lake Isabelle and on the way we would also pass Long Lake.  Driving up from the high plains was an adventure.  A new route kept things interesting, but the frosty coating on the trees had me driving carefully in case some of the ice had formed on the road as well.  The new frosty coat became much heavier as we ascended to Brainard Lake from the Peak-to-Peak highway.

Brainard Lake looked mysterious in the fog, reminding me of the foggy days I've experienced so often in Tennessee.  I'm going out on a limb here and guessing I won't see as much fog here in Colorado but time will only tell.

Interestingly, as we hiked further upwards, the clouds thinned and so did the ice on the trees.  Upslope flow was keeping the clouds entrenched against the mountains, but at the very top, downsloping flow was keeping the clouds evaporating and the views spectacular.  The moist air was constantly flowing up the valley towards us creating some very interesting clouds that would blow this way and that before  vanishing into thin air (Really, it was thin. We were huffing and puffing our way along...).

Long Lake was still firmly socked in with fog providing some great photo opportunities.  After freezing ourselves in an attempt to take pictures of the ghostly scene, we quickly put gloves and hats back on and commenced hiking in earnest.

Watching for moose, we progressed up the valley, occasionally wondering why we were apparently the only people dedicated enough (or is it crazy?) to be out hiking on this day.  We finally crested the last rise and our destination lay before us.  The glaciers above the lake had a fresh coat of snow, covering the dirty color they had taken on over the summer.

Unfortunately the wind picked up abruptly in this high alpine environment.  Even with the layers we wore it was chilly.  A few pictures later, we were on our way back down into the relative calm amongst the trees.

We found that Long Lake was now much more visible although moisture was still flowing in thin wispy clouds towards the high peaks.  The scenery provided a new perspective so the cameras came back out and were pressed into service documenting this new mood of the high country.

I discovered brook trout spawning in the stream below the lake and enjoyed watching them.  They were just a bit too spooky for good photography although I was tempted to attempt some video.  In the end, the car's heater was just a little more inviting.

Slowly descending the road to Brainard Lake, we again discussed how nice it would be to see a moose.  I also was thinking about the snowshoe hares and suggested how it would be nice to see one of those also.  Driving slowly past the lake, nothing showed itself and we were already starting to talk about what we should do for supper when we made it back to town.  My focus thus broken, I was thoroughly shocked when something approaching the size of a barn bolted mere feet from my car.

Scaring my friend Catherine, I managed to get the car stopped without wrecking in excitement.  The apparently giant moose was actually the smaller of the two.  Mom was a few yards away and once both calmed down (along with my own nerves), we got some pictures.  The low light and fog meant the pictures were not as crisp as they could have been but of course, the foggy day was the perfect setting for seeing our first moose!!!

Oh yeah, we saw our snowshoe hares also.  Lots and lots of them.  They seemed to be running all over on the way out.  I guess they all got hungry at once and were out having supper...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exploring the South Platte

Now almost a week and a half ago, my break is quickly becoming a receding memory.  Still, the pictures provide great entertainment and take me away to some of the most beautiful scenery Colorado has to offer.  After Thursday's trip to chase big browns, I had some exploring planned.  It would be off to check out the South Platte with a couple of different goals.  First and foremost, this was a scouting trip, and my goal was to check out the Dream Stream for big lake-run browns.  Second, I wanted to see some new to me scenery as well as figure out how long I could count on the trip to the Dream Stream taking me.

In the end, the scenery won out over the fishing.  I shot several pictures over the course of the day and was quite impressed with the beauty of the area.

The scouting was, well, scouting.  Lots and lots of walking and looking and walking some more.  The crowds were huge but fish really weren't being caught except for one very nice brown I saw landed that looked to be in the 22-24 inch range.  In fact, I spent far more time looking than fishing and was glad to finally call it quits.

Only rarely am I glad to stop fishing but much more challenging than a lack of large fish was the brutal wind.  It was howling (literally) out of the west to the point where I was exhausted just from walking through the wind.  Still, it had been a good day and if I stopped completely at this point I would have been happy.  Instead, I went searching for redemption.

I just wanted to catch a fish, any fish.  Eleven Mile Canyon contains some beautiful water, and I remembered doing well there during my previous visit to the area.  On the way, I found some aspen at what I would consider to be peak colors.

Finishing my descent into the canyon, I started upriver and soon came to a big pool I remembered quite well.  Fish were lined up sipping something small off the surface.  The wind was much better in the shelter of the canyon walls.  Parking the car and changing my rig for small dry flies, I was soon casting.  However, the five weight line slapping the gentle autumn flows was too much for the trout and I watched as one by one, they disappeared to wherever fish hide when some crazy fisherman is flogging the water.  Changing to 6x and smaller flies, I continued looking for feeding trout.

In the pocket water, lots of fish were feeding. and I suspected that I might have better luck in the faster flows.  Nice fish kept spooking, reminding me that I was definitely NOT on top of my game.  Finally, starting back down towards the car, I was ready to call it a day.  Then I saw one more fish.

Three casts later, I saw it move towards where I suspected my fly was.  It turned abruptly so I set the hook.  Finally, a trout.  Even better, it turned out to be a brown trout!  On most days I would be unhappy to catch just one fish, but on this day of minimal fishing and lots of scouting, I was glad to finally hook one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Return

Trout streams have a way of drawing me back again and again.  Sometimes I go back to the same spot again and again and usually for different reasons ranging from a big fish I've spotted to just nostalgia.  Other times I return to the same stream but desire a new stretch of water, something still vaguely familiar and comfortable yet refreshingly different all at once.

Last week, after spotting a big brown on Sunday, I started plotting my return.  With fall break looming, I originally planned on fishing with Juan of Hopper Juan Fame.  As a hard working guide and tier, he could only get away one day so I planned to camp somewhere near the South Platte or Arkansas and "pre-fish" on Thursday before meeting up with him on Friday.  The phenomenal fishing on Sunday changed my plans however.  I figured I would just fish on Rocky Mountain National Park on Thursday and take a day trip down to the South Platte or Arkansas on Friday.  About the time I decided to adjust my plans, other circumstances intervened to cancel our fishing trip this time so I was now fully committed to making a day of it on Thursday.  If I had energy left, I might still explore solo down along the South Platte on Friday.

Arriving at the first stream, I quickly rigged up and began fishing.  A short time and a few fish later, I decided to head to the other stream and look for that big brown.  As always, driving around in the Park is a great experience.  Elk were everywhere although when I'm heading off to fish, the wildlife are just a nuisance that slow drivers in front of me down.  Its hard to complain about being in the wild though and I thoroughly enjoyed the drive to my next fishing hole.

Finding no one where I wanted to fish at the next spot, I changed flies to something that a big brown would probably enjoy.  I cast into the pool, once, twice...the big brown hit like a freight train, appearing almost magically from wherever he had been lurking.  My eyes had been glued to the rock he shot out from other the previous trip so I know he had been hiding in a new spot.  Whatever the case, I was now VERY glad for the heavy 1x tippet I was fishing and quickly fought the fish into the shallows.  Time should never be wasted in fighting a fish you plan to release and this fish was no exception.

I posed for a couple of quick pictures which my friend Catherine graciously took for me so I could keep the fish in the water as much as possible.  It was a beautiful brown and definitely made my day!

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Despite fishing some more, and even catching some more nice fish, nothing would surpass returning to catch a big brown I had spotted previously.  The rest of the day was spent exploring some new areas which included driving the long way home.  As always here in Colorado, the scenery impressed but I was already considering my next day's adventure...

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Lest I Forget

One of my original and ongoing purposes for this blog is to help me remember past trips, a digital journal that I just happen to make public.  Accordingly, its not good to wait too long before recounting my trips.  I'm finding that as life becomes busier, the likelihood of remembering every trip detail months later is definitely diminishing.  Thus I find myself thinking back a whole week to last Sunday when I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park to check out new water.

Well, at least some new water.  I had a BIG fish that I still needed to catch so a stop by the big brown's lair was in order early in the trip.  Arriving stream side, it was obvious that someone had beat me to my spot, or nearly so, and I'm not one to jump in front of another angler.  There are plenty of fish to go around so I journeyed a bit further afield, quite literally I might add, into a beautiful meadow with a winding stream full of presumably hungry trout.

The first undercut bank I stopped by just looked fishy, and I tossed my fly into the stream, full of eager anticipation for what would hopefully happen next.    Peeking over the side, I saw a nice brown examining the fly.  I quickly leaned back before I spooked the fish and couldn't resist adding just a little twitch to the fly.  The twitch was just the ticket and a nice brown was soon tugging on the other end of my line.  Catching a fish on the first cast can be a sign of terrible luck to come so I photographed the fish in case it was not only the first but also the last of the day.

Moving up the creek, I continued until reaching water that another angler had just finished with.  In fact, I fished quickly up through a couple of used pools before convincing myself that it was truly wasted effort.  The fish were spooked and nothing I could do would fix that.  Still, in an hour or so of fishing, I had caught several very nice browns with an average size of 13-15 inches.  A few small 8 inchers kept me from getting too full of myself, but some of the larger ones posed for a second before the release.

Trekking back across the fields to my car, I almost thought about quitting early, but new water has a way of beckoning.  Adventures should never be kept waiting too long so off I went to try another stream.  This one also had a meadow section but before trying the new water I stopped to heat up some chili for lunch.  This has become one of my favorite cool-cold weather fishing foods.  It takes a bit longer to do a meal since I bring out the camp stove, but there's something about a hearty warm meal that is so amazing in the middle of a long day on the water.

Finishing lunch, I decided on just the spot I wanted to hit.  The first two pools were not very reassuring but then a small brown flashed my streamer.  Where there are small browns there are also normally large browns.  Moving upstream, I hit a prime spot where a large pool with some cover shouted "BIG FISH!!!" at me.  Sure enough, on the second cast a big brown shot out from under the rocks to chase my streamer.  Right at the last second it gave up on the fly, and I was left staring at the spot it materialized from and vanished back to.

Moving upstream, I continued to find a few nice fish.  Finally it happened.  I found one out looking for a meal and presented a small streamer.  Carefully bouncing the streamer along the bottom, I saw the fish come over and inhale it.  Soon I was taking pictures of a beautiful brown and was convinced that this was a stream worth returning to.

The big brown in one of the early pools still didn't want to play on my second foray through the pool.  Probably I scared it badly enough the first time through.  Still, there was always next time, and next time it would be!!!  Stay tuned for my further adventures on this stream...

Busy Fishing

This past week was fall break, so while there was a fair amount of fishing, I didn't make time for recounting those experiences on here.  Now I'm trying to play catch up.  Some nice fish were caught including a nice one last Sunday that I also have yet to tell about.  Better yet, the colors in the mountains were spectacular.  In the high elevations, snow has been falling.  Some of the ski resorts are busy making snow in their attempt to be the first to open.  The browns are spawning in some places but are barely even showing in some of the famous waters like the Dream Stream.  Still, good times were had and even a few fish were caught.  More to come soon...very very soon!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Colored Up

The leaves are turning many different shades of red, orange, and especially yellow.  Right on schedule, the brown trout are getting a lot more aggressive and colored up in their own fall best.  Yesterday was a good day of exploring on two different streams.  I fished a meadow stretch in both and saw more than enough nice browns to keep me interested.  Never saw any monsters but did see one fish that would have been pushing 21-22 inches.  More to come later once I have time to digest the trip.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Future Trout Stream

On Wednesday I was in Rocky Mountain National Park.  There we found the first snow of the season in the higher elevations above treeline.  Hopefully this snow will contribute to some of the excellent trout waters in that area, and hopefully we will get many more inches before next spring.  The ongoing drought here in Colorado has benefited from rainfall recently but needs a moist winter to really solve.  I guess the best thing to do is just wait and see...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Clear Water

With yet another day of exploration and yes, maybe even some fishing, I planned to explore a new area, stop by an outdoor store I wanted to check out, and drive up a canyon looking for trout.  There are numerous fishing opportunities along the front range here in Colorado that also happen to be a reasonable distance away for me.  Boulder and South Boulder Creeks, the various forks of the St. Vrain, the Big Thompson, the Cache la Poudre, and Clear Creek.  Now, with a name like "Clear Creek," you would assume that the water would be,well, clear.  Since my destination was indeed Clear Creek above Golden, I was able to do a first-hand investigation into Clear Creek and what I found was  intriguing on many levels.

The day started with a leisurely breakfast of biscuits and gravy and scrambled eggs.  Fresh raspberries and strawberries added color and flavor not to mention the feeling that I was at least somewhat healthy. After eating as well as much debate, we headed west to catch high 93 south to Golden.  I wanted to visit a cool outdoor store, called the Bent Gate, owned by a new friend out here in Colorado.  They carry a nice selection of outdoor gear including climbing, backpacking, skiing and snowboarding equipment and all in a store with a great personality.  I'll definitely be back when I need new gear!

Leaving Bent Gate, we headed up Clear Creek Canyon.  The majority of the river is public land which is great as a fisherman since I could fish just about anywhere on the river.  Not too far into the canyon, I noticed a deep run cutting up against a rock face.  Visions of big trout brought the car to a quick stop and soon I was tossing a #10 Crawbugger with a #14 Mustard John trailer.  Noticing a nice fish rising in the shade of the far bank, I tossed the rig over that way.  Carefully working the water brought no sign of the trout, convincing me that my first instinct of tying on a BWO was probably the correct one.

By this time, I was noticing fairly good numbers of BWOs both sailing downstream and flying around as well.  The rising trout were remarkably absent however.  Deciding that perhaps a BWO nymph would produce better, I switched my rig around with a hot wire caddis pupa soft hackle I tie with a little dark #18 BWO nymph dropped behind that is a cross between the RS2 and a Barr Emerger.

Working upstream, I soon found a deep pocket that just looked fishy.  On the second drift, my line stopped and I set the hook into a leaping trout.  It turned out to be a beautiful little rainbow that was nice to catch since my research indicated that rainbows were not very common through this stretch of river.

Deciding to explore some more, I guided the car on up the canyon.  There were large numbers of people out enjoying the day.  Some were fishing, but many were picnicking, climbing, and even panning or sluicing for gold!  That's right, apparently Clear Creek is open to prospecting for the most part and many people were out enjoying the day while looking for gold.  This explained the slightly cloudy water I encountered at my first stop downstream because the water higher in the creek was truly clear as is fitting.

Reaching the upstream limit of my exploration goal, I turned around and began to drive slowly back down the river while carefully examining the water for that one spot that I hoped would produce a memorable fishing experience.  Finally, I noticed two large pools in a steep section with difficult access.  Immediately downstream, a nice pullout offered stream access.  I just needed to rock hop a hundred yards upstream to be on some prime water.

I warmed up right by the car and finally added a little brown on the caddis pattern.  It was tucked up under a rock and came out to hammer the fly.

Pictures of the fish led to pictures of the stream.  The water almost had an aqua tint although that may have been my imagination.  Probing a deep plunge pool resulted in two missed strikes and a spooked 6 inch brown.  Looking upstream, I realized that if I was going to fish the water I wanted to, I had best make my way to the pool.

Approaching the pool while hitting only the prime pockets on the way up, I remembered something important.  Back in Tennessee, nice fish are often in the first riffle or run immediately below and above the prime hole as those places are prime feeding zones for fish that normally reside in the safety of the deeper water nearby.  I carefully approached a small non-descript run that had one dark hole near the back with large rocks around it.  Perfect ambush spot for a brown.  

Tossing the two fly rig just above a small brown came out of the very back of the run to take the caddis pattern.  A holding lie that good must have a better fish.  Tossing my flies back in to the very top of the riffle so they could drift through the deep slot, I felt a satisfying jolt.  Attached to the best fish of the afternoon, I carefully guided it into the shallows where I could corral it for a quick picture.

After watching the fish disappear, I glanced upstream.  A rise.  Then I saw another and another.  This pool was shaded by the high canyon walls and BWOs were hatching surprisingly well for this early in the fall, but it is fall now.  Lengthening my leader to end in 6x tippet, I found a sparsely tied #18 BWO Sparkle dun, left over from a trip long ago.  You know what I'm talking about; one of those flies you really don't remember when it was placed in your fly box but you do know it will catch fish.

Soon I was casting to rising brown trout.  In the shadow of that canyon, along a busy highway, I found fly fishing paradise if only for 30 minutes.  Trout would willing rise, just as long as the fly did not drag, and there were enough tricky micro currents to keep things interesting.  Some fish would rise soooo slowly only to refuse at the last second.  Others would appear out of nowhere to smash the fly before something larger got to it.

Finally the bite seemed to be winding down.  I had either stung, landed, or spooked somewhere north of 15 trout.  Not bad for a little local river.  Heading back down the canyon, I was tempted to explore further, but after fishing to rising trout in my own pool, I figured it might be a little greedy to push my luck any further.  Satisfied with a great afternoon, I headed home to find something for supper.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Spring Panfish

Fall is my favorite fishing season with spring a close second.  Late February through May brings some of the year's best fishing for panfish in Tennessee.  Here is a short video I put together using footage from this past spring's fishing.  For best viewing and those with fast connections, make sure you are watching in full 1080p HD.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remembering Home

While fairly settled in my new residence and enjoying everything Colorado has to offer, I still remember what I will always consider home.  Looking through my pictures I came across this one taken on an evening walk earlier this summer.  The storm clouds were catching the last bit of sunlight and exploding in brilliance that no photo can do justice to.  This picture reminds me of at least one reason why I like Tennessee so much.