Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good Weather

My trip last weekend was the fishing version of making hay while the sun shines or something like that.  I had tentatively planned, or perhaps considered is a better word, a couple of camping trips this fall.  Every time something came up though so when last weekend was looking like good weather, I figured it was high time I headed for the hills before the snow started to fly in earnest.  The long range forecast was already hinting at our current cold and snowy weather so I had extra motivation to get out and fish before things became too miserable.

The thought of sleeping in my own comfortable bed kept me home for one night to rest up for the next two days of bliss in nature.  When I finally headed out, it was after a leisurely breakfast and all around relaxing morning.  As a fisherman, I know how to get up early to get to the good water ahead of everyone else, but for this particular trip, I was not too worried about fighting any crowds.  Some waters are thankfully overlooked.

On the way, I was continuously in awe at the beauty of the mountains surrounding me.  When I finally arrived at my destination, I took the time to figure out where I would be pitching my tent for the night and then headed out with the fly rod to look for some fish.  The perfect fall weather allowed me to simply wear Chacos instead of messing with waders and boots.  I soon found myself patrolling a likely meadow stretch and probing the undercuts and log jams with a nice yellow streamer.

Less than stellar results soon led to a fly change and then I started locating fish consistently.  The fish would flash out from a deep cutbank or weedbed in a pool or a mass of logs that just screamed "brown trout castle!"  For some reason, I was still having a difficult time connecting though.  One particularly nice 18-19 incher surged out of a huge weedbed and when I threw back after missing him the first time, nailed the streamer but unexplainably still missed the hook.  Dejected, I continued exploring until I happened to look over my shoulder.  This would be the theme of the week.  Great scenery surrounded me but it seems I only noticed when I slowed down enough to glance around and actually enjoy it.


Realizing its never just about the fishing, I decided to try a new stretch of stream and began fresh with a new mindset.  Moving with stealth, I was soon spotting fish.  However, I didn't catch many and definitely nothing too large.  It was one of those days where I was just enjoying the experience and never bothered to pull out the camera until the last fish of the day.  It was a chunky brown and I was content to call it a day after landing the colored up beauty.  Glancing over my shoulder, I was again reminded that I needed to slow down.  Time away from nature tends to speed life up and complicate things.



Staring at the sunset transforming the sky above, I was mesmerized into remembering why I actually bother to head out into the wilds.  The rest of weekend proceeded at a much slower pace as I began to actually enjoy the experience instead of just making the experience.  Things were now right, and I knew that the next day I would fish much more efficiently.  Mindset is important even in fishing.  My best days fishing have always come once I was relaxed and not trying too hard...I had reached that point and knew that the fish better watch out the next day.




After taking in the sunset and remembering that I did have a camera with me, I headed back to camp to fix some food and maybe even see some shooting stars.  Having accidentally left my fleece, I layered on the long sleeved shirts and topped it off with my raincoat as a windbreaker.  Camp chair set up in the now dark camping facing the mountains, I sank down to enjoy the stillness of the night.  Overhead, the stars were shining brightly and it was only a couple of minutes before the show started.  The Orionid meteor shower was supposed to be happening, and seeing one so quickly suggested it might be a good night to try and photograph some.  Digging out the camera along with gloves as the cold was starting to take a toll, I started taking pictures.  Sadly, other than two more shooting stars, the show was pretty much a bust.  The night sky was awesome though including the moon.  I enjoyed shooting until the cold was too piercing, and I headed for the warmth of my sleeping bag for the night.




The long night was made longer by the fact that the "forecast" low was reached probably by 9:30 p.m. and quickly passed as the mercury dipped lower.  My sleeping bag was still within its acceptable rating temperature wise but I definitely could have slept warmer.  Thus, when it became light the next morning I was excited for the sun to hit my tent and warm things up.  After going for an extended period without the light getting significantly brighter, I made myself squirm out of the sleeping bag and back into my long sleeve shirt layers.

A thick band of clouds was blocking the sun to the east although it had risen above the ridge at this point.  Deciding to try and get some good shots in, I drove down the valley searching for the perfect light and angle to photograph the mountains to my west.  Experimenting several times, I found several nice shots although not the one I had originally envisioned and hoped for.  What a perfect excuse to go back sometime!!!



Just about the time the sun burst from behind the clouds, I realized that since the stream was so close, I should probably fish a little before heading back to camp for breakfast.  I was soon into fish including a nice 15 incher that shot out from a dark undercut bank next to a back eddy.  Happy with the experience, I didn't even bother to take out the camera.  Not far upstream, I would decide the camera was a good idea.

I was walking slowly just looking when I spotted two browns laying out on the far side of a deep hole watching for a meal.  When I spotted the fish I was already too close but decided there was nothing to do but attempt a cast.  With the sun almost directly behind me, they may have been blinded and not able to see me.  Whatever the reason, when my fly splashed just upstream, the larger of the two nosed over and decided to see if it was good to eat.  After a brief fight on 2x tippet, I horsed the beautiful fish into the shallows for a couple quick photographs.



Releasing the fish, I made sure it was ready to go but kept the camera ready.  As it swam purposefully away, I shot three quick photos and the first one turned out great.


Looking up, the reflection of the forest called for a photo as well so I just kept on shooting.


After working upstream a bit further, my stomach reminded me that I still had not eaten breakfast (unless you call chocolate chip cookies breakfast), so I found myself headed back to the car and then camp to take down the tent and also eat something.  Along the way, I found more photo worthy scenery but was hungry enough that I was satisfied with just a shot or two.


Fueled up with some awesome pomegranate and dried cherry granola, it was back to the hunt for fish.  Lots of fish were out feeding by this time of the afternoon.  One nice trout in particular was in an almost impossible spot with heavy brush both above and around.  I finally managed to drop a fly in but only after spooking the fish so my efforts were futile.

Not far upstream, a different story emerged.  I found a nice female brown hanging out watching for food.  She followed my fly on the first cast but missed the hook.  The second cast was right on target and I watched as she turned and ate.  Carefully taking a picture, I had her back in the water in no time and she rocketed back to the sanctuary of deep water.


The rest of the afternoon became more and more focused on pictures.




Eventually, I realized that more fishing would probably be greedy and it was time to head towards home.  Starting the week exhausted was not in my plans and I didn't want to get home too late.  My sudden urge to travel coincided with the elk's late day trip back to the meadows to feed.  The zoom lens I had been lugging around all weekend suddenly seemed awfully necessary as I quickly changed it out with the lens I normally leave on the camera.

During my drive out of the area, I came across at least 5 separate herds of elk.  The males were still bugling at least occasionally which is always great entertainment for a Tennessee boy who only saw such things on National Geographic growing up.













After tearing myself away from the last photo opportunities, I headed home content.  The mountains fill my soul with such tranquility that it is always a little sad to leave, but I realize that the greatest impact I can have on society is probably where people actually live so it was not entirely reluctantly that I travelled back over the mountains.  I was rested and rejuvenated to teach for another week.  


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Lunge

While reviewing pictures from my recent trip, I came across one that needs its own post.  The elk were out in force and the pictures I took were rather extensive in number.  There were so many great shots that I really like but this one is just great.

The herds were a bit more integrated than they were even a couple of weeks ago.  However, the dominant alpha males from each group were still chasing off any interloping young bulls when they got too close to the harems.  I was shooting a large herd when one youngster got a bit too close to some of the cows.  A big bull was keeping an eye on him and I snapped the picture right as the big guy lunged to chase the young punk.  Here is the result.


I'm not entirely sure why but this pose reminded me of a bull in a bullfight.  The young bull clearly understood his place and took off in a hurry without daring to risk a confrontation.  It would have been cool to watch them fight it out but probably that happened a couple of weeks ago or even more.  Lots more elk pictures to come and even more of the mountain scenery and trout that were caught.  I'm already contemplating another trip although to a different destination.  Time will tell how that idea plays out...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Elk, Sunsets, and Brown Trout

I'm in the recovery phase right now.  My weekend was spent camping near a winding meadow stream. The browns were hungry, the sunsets were spectacular, and yes, the elk are still around and even bugling occasionally.  More to come once I make it through a day of work and get a little rest!!!




Friday, October 19, 2012

Wrong Way!!!

That's what I feel like every morning during the week.  When I walk out to my car, the mountains are lit up by the rich light emanating from the rising sun.  As I head east toward school, the view in my rearview and sideview mirrors can be a little distracting to say the least.  The mountains, they call to me...


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moose!!!

After the previous success in finding moose a couple of weeks ago, it was back for another shot, this time with some friends who hoped to see moose for themselves.  Our goal?  To find some moose without freezing.  Surprisingly, despite the recent storm and new snowfall, the temperatures were actually more mild than our previous trip.

Expectations were set extremely high when one of the small kids with us decided he wanted to see a moose and prayed that Jesus would show him a moose on the drive up.  My stress level immediately shot up because who wants to disappoint a little kid?  Determined to find moose, we picked one of the area trails and started hiking.  Returning hikers suggested that moose were recently spotted on the north side of Long Lake so off we hustled.


Keeping moving to stay warm, we were making good time around the lake when something interesting was spotted.  Moose tracks?  Nothing else in the woods is that big...


Where do they lead?


Following the tracks carefully off trail while moving very slowly so as not to surprise a moose at close range, I carefully moved closer to the clearing alongside the lake.  Emerging from the trees, I froze and carefully looked around.


About to proceed, I heard a commotion and saw three moose charging about. One turned in our direction, and I was just about to look for a tree to duck behind when it abruptly turned and galloped in the opposite direction.

Carefully bringing the kids down to show them the moose, I was glad when the big animals froze near the edge of the woods.  Everyone was awed at the size of these beautiful animals.  Before long, the moose moved on into the woods.  We followed the trail further and inadvertently intercepted the now spooked animals.  Can you find the moose in this picture?


It was actually standing right on the trail.  In this next picture, you can see the moose clearly through the magnification of my zoom lens.  Notice the color immediately behind the moose.  A pair of hikers were coming the other direction and were probably no more than 30 feet from the moose when they rounded the rock to see it standing in the middle of the trail.  They took a broad detour far up the hill above the trail while the moose alternately laid its ears back only to perk them up to listen better again.  These signs had me a bit uneasy again and our group kept a very respectful distance.  No use to precipitate a confrontation with one of these wild creatures.


Later, on our drive out, we found 4 more moose! Yes, you read that correctly, FOUR more!!!  This brought our total to seven and one of the last 4 had a nice set of antlers which was another Colorado first for me in the moose department.


Now that I'm quickly becoming a moose expert, I'll probably have to start charging for tours... Three options available.  The leisure package will consist of a lazy drive through the mountains were you can spot these animals from the comfort of the Trout Mobile, now converted into an elegant Moose Wagon!!!  The beginner adventure package will allow you to get off the roads and hike into the wilderness in search of these beautiful creatures.  Safety will be emphasized and we will always stay at a reasonable distance from these massive animals.  Finally, the interactive adventure package will include stalking moose at close range through heavy brush.  Surprised animals will likely charge at this range meaning you will need to have professional training in moose wrestling.  I'll demonstrate the proper method to take down a moose with your bare hands during our first encounter and give you the option of trying it for yourself thereafter!!!  For any clients who survive, a hot meal and beverages will be provided after we return to the Moose Wagon.

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...