Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown

Monday, May 29, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day 6: Hiking and Fly Fishing Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

This was another of our favorite days on this trip. Our original hiking plans had been put on hold, mostly because I had forgotten entirely about the East Troublesome Fire. This massive inferno had roasted large swaths of the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park in 2020. North Inlet Trail had been severely impacted by this fire, meaning large sections of the trail would be out in the hot sun instead of winding through the shaded forest. I still hope to eventually hike some or all of this trail, but for our purposes on this trip, we looked for other alternatives.

Timber Lake is one of the most easily accessible high lakes on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. When I saw most easily accessible, all I'm saying is that some of the lakes on this side involve hiking 10-15 or more miles one way. This is still a relatively strenuous hike, with over 2000 feet of vertical gain AND a little over 5 miles of hiking one way. Our National Geographic Trails Illustrated map suggested that the trail slowly contoured up the steeper terrain. However, once we got there, it turns out there were some intense switchbacks. It is fairly rare in my experience for these maps to be off, but this time it seemed to not be the most accurate portrayal of actual conditions. Still, even with the intensity, this was an excellent hike and one we'll probably do again someday. Oh, and the fishing was pretty good...

Hiking to Timber Lake: The First Half

The hike to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park starts at a trailhead in the northern part of Kawuneeche Valley, shortly before the road starts switchbacking up the side of the mountain on its way to the top. Just across the road is the trailhead for the Colorado River trail. The trailhead is around 9,000 feet in elevation, so we had a touch over 2,000 vertical feet and a little more than 5 miles between us and our destination. However, much of the elevation gain happens in bursts. The first half mile or so was gently rolling through a beautiful mix of evergreens and aspen which were beginning to turn gold. From looking at the trail map, we knew this wouldn't last long. 

Map of Trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


Sure enough, the trail began climbing in earnest as it angled up the mountain. With a toddler strapped onto my back via the kid carrier, the trail seemed harder than it probably was. I probably had somewhere around 25-30 pounds on my back. In addition to the baby and her things, I had water, a water filter, fishing equipment (Tenkara USA Rhodo rod), and of course some camera gear, a good solid load any day.

While not quite at peak for the most part, there were just enough golden aspen to make us reach for the phones for a quick picture from time to time. Our trip had been timed with the hope of seeing some good fall colors while not experiencing too much extreme cold. That is a fine line and one that is easy to mess up. On this trip, we mostly succeeded the first half or so of our time there.

Golden aspen along the trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

View of aspen on trail to Timber Lake


At the trailhead, we had noticed a sign warning us of a landslide. The rangers at the Kawuneeche Valley Ranger station had also warned us of the landslide. We figured it was no big deal, but were also intrigued. When we finally discovered it approximately 2.5 miles in, we realized it really was quite a landslide! The slide was a decent obstacle on the trail. While something like this wasn't normally worth mentioning, I will say that it was slightly more challenging with a toddler in a pack on my back. The main difficulty came in having to duck/crawl under huge logs (or crawl over them). I had to be extra cautious not to hurt the little one. Otherwise it wasn't a big deal. 

Hiking to Timber Lake: The Second Half

If the first half had been relatively easy, the second half was much more challenging. The trail itself was still easy to negotiate, but was also much steeper than we had surmised based on a glance at our National Geographic Trails Illustrated map. The trail looks like a straight run angling up the hillside, but we discovered there were some rather intense switchbacks made all the more intense by the 25-30 pounds on my back. We were starting to get hungry, and lunch seemed like a good choice part way up one of the switchback sections. 

While we were stopped, I decided to dig out the camera. Some thistle growing nearby was perfectly illuminated with a nice dark background. I didn't play with the camera long because I was hungry, but I was happy with the pictures I managed to get. 

Thistle on the trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


After eating, we were rejuvenated for the final push to the top, or at least the top of our hike for the day. Timber Lake is in a beautiful high basin surrounded by towering cliffs. On our way up, we passed through numerous small meadows, each time looking carefully for elk or moose. We weren't destined to find any on this hike, but the bright sunny hours of midday were probably not ideal for seeing these critters.

Open meadow view on the trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


Leah did spend a fair amount of time searching out some pika. These are one of our favorites, and she really wanted to get a good picture. While I plodded on up the hill, slowly putting one foot in front of the other on the last push to Timber Lake, she chased these little rodents with her camera. She got a few, but alas none of the pika would allow her to get close enough for a very clear shot. These things are hard to sneak up on!

As we broke out of the woods and into the basin with the lake in front of us, a sign informed us that we were now indeed over 11,000 feet. My lowland lung capacity had already suggested that to me, but the gorgeous lake in front of us made up for any small inconvenience or suffering experienced along the way. 

Timber Lake sign and elevation information


Fishing Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of course, since I had hauled my fishing equipment up, I was definitely intent on at least getting a fly wet. When I walked along the banks and saw fish cruising just off shore, I knew that the chances of catching a fish were pretty high. I still had everything rigged from our hike to Sky Pond. That meant a parachute Adams which always seems to be a good choice on these high elevation lakes. 

Rocky Mountain National Park Timber Lake panorama


Before getting serious about the fishing, I did take some time with the camera. Timber Lake is incredibly beautiful, made even better by the lack of crowds compared to high elevation lakes on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. While we did see another group or two, it felt relatively deserted after our hike to Sky Pond. 

Pictures completed, I began to hurry as the urge to fish grew. The toddler with me was interested in throwing rocks in the lake, so we made sure to do that a little in between our preparations to fish and even in between casts. The casting was exciting enough that we both participated in that activity as well. Eventually, one of the native residents graced the end of our line and we enjoyed our first Timber Lake cutthroat trout. 

Colorado River cutthroat in Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


We managed a few of the beautiful cutthroat before getting anxious to start back. With a little one to get ready in addition to ourselves, we have found our hikes to start later than in the past. Thus, we are usually pushing our time late in the day. With 5 or so miles to get back and the sun already dropping in the western sky, we knew it was time to say farewell to Timber Lake until next time. 

Hiking Back From Timber Lake 

I hung back a little and snapped a picture as Leah started down the trail. Then it was time to start hustling to catch up. We still had some adventures to enjoy on the way back out. 

Hiking the Trail to Timber Lake


Back down the trail, in the vicinity of the landslide, I had noticed wild raspberries growing in several spots. While we didn't want to gather any for later, it was a welcome treat for our little one. She had already discovered these on a previous hike and had even found a couple at camp. We were having to keep an eye on her since she had discovered where the raspberries came from. We couldn't risk having her eat every brightly colored berry she found, but when we did find actual raspberries, she was having a ball. I might have sampled one or two, but most that we found went to little bit. It was worth finding them just to see her enjoy them!

The shadows were getting longer and longer and the hues of fall around us reminded us how cold it would get once the sun set. It was time to get back to camp.

Fall color along the Timber Lake trail

 
We got back as the shadows of the surrounding mountains deepened over the valley. With just enough time for a quick supper, we hurried with our evening routine and then hit the sack. All of us were tired, but the pack mule (ME!) was probably the most tired. It had been a great day. Even as tired as I was, I had one more goal. 

Star Gazing at Timber Creek Campground


Star Gazing at Timber Creek Campground was one of the things I remembered most from my past trips to this campground. While a lot had changed since my last visit, the incredible night sky was still just as good as I remembered. We hoped for some other good night sky views on our trip, but little did we know that our clear starry nights were numbered. In the meantime, I had a good time with my camera. This Big Agnes Manzanares tent, like all of my others, has served me well through many amazing adventures. If you're looking for a tent, I recommend checking them out!

Night sky and Big Agnes tent at Timber Creek Campground





Sunday, April 23, 2023

Fly Box Winner

Our latest fly box winner is.....Charlie Barton!!! Congrats Charlie and I hope you enjoy your new fly box. 

If you didn't win this time, please keep an eye on this blog. We'll be doing another giveaway again sometime soon. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Five: A Wonderful Afternoon on a Favorite Meadow Stream

One of the best afternoon's of the whole trip snuck up on me. That is, I really didn't expect it or see it coming. Some of the best adventures are unplanned, however. The trick is to take advantage of those small kindnesses that sometimes happen. I am still full of gratitude over this particular one, because my wife took on the exhausting task of wrangling a toddler while I lazied around and fished. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Morning Routine in Camp at Timber Creek Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park

The day dawned cold but bright. With frost everywhere and air temperatures around freezing, we weren't dying to sit around eating breakfast, but when the little one wakes up, we all wake up. So, we began what became a morning routine for the next couple of days. Get up, drive around to see the sights and look for wildlife, then have breakfast. This isn't absolutely necessary if you have a high cold tolerance, but we just weren't used to cold weather yet. 

Because Timber Creek Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park lies at the base of a mountain range, the sun is blocked for the first hours of daylight and camp remains shaded. As soon as the sun peaks over the ridge, things warm up quickly. The trick for us was to stay busy until the sun crested the ridge. Then we were warm enough to fix breakfast and not freeze ourselves or the toddler.

Fall color Aspen in Rocky Mountain National Park


Our driving was partly to look for wildlife and partly to look for fall colors. We had attempted to time our trip late enough to have some decent colors, but early enough that it wouldn't be too frigid. In the end, we won some and lost some. More on that later, but let's say for now that we would have gladly traded cold mornings for warm sunny afternoons later in the trip.

A fun part of our daily routine that we didn't see coming was washing the dishes. Let me explain a little more. I don't know about you, but I never get excited about washing dishes in freezing cold water at a little dishwashing station behind the restroom in National Park Service campgrounds. It is a necessary annoyance to an otherwise great time, of course, but a little hot water would make things much more enjoyable. What made dishwashing fun here was the little table next to the sink. It had a lower shelf that was perfect for a toddler exploring. In fact, the little one enjoyed dishwashing enough to make up for any discomfort the rest of us experienced.

Washing dishes at Timber Creek campground


The other fun part of this camp in general was the wild raspberries. These had been introduced to little bit on a previous day's hike and she LOVED them. I can't say I blame her. The only downside here is that there weren't enough left to go around. She was happy to eat as many as Ma Ma and Da Da could find. We had to keep a close eye on her, however, to make sure she didn't sample any and every red colored berry or seed pod.

By the time things had really warmed and we had played some around camp, it was time to make some decisions on what to do that day. We had one or two hikes that we wanted to accomplish while camping at Timber Creek, but had already decided that the next day was a hiking day. That was when my wife gave me an amazing opportunity. She would drop me off at one access point, drive a short distance up the road, and let the little one explore and play and otherwise move around while I fished my way up the meadow to meet them.

We made one small error in the planning process. Knowing that a toddler might not want to look at historical buildings for too long, we decided that if they got bored and didn't see me, then they should drive back down to the start point and start walking the meadow to look for me. Thankfully they didn't get that far, but it would prove to be a small problem. 

The Afternoon Fly Fishing the North Fork of the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley


North Fork Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley Fly Fishing


I was heading in to a favorite piece of water, albeit one I hadn't fished in probably 10 years or close to it. This stream is every bit as good as the more famous meadow stream on the other side of the mountain, or maybe I should say more fished meadow stream on the other side of the mountain. This stream is famous enough as the headwaters of one of the most famous rivers in the country. It just happens to be farther from major population centers than the stream I fished earlier on this trip.

This meadow stream winds through an amazingly beautiful valley. Wildlife abounds with elk and moose both likely. As you maneuver your way through the occasional evergreen thickets, watch out for these big critters. You also need to watch out for random holes in the stream bank as is the case on most meadow streams. 

I started hustling out of the gate, er, car door. I wanted to see a long stretch of meadow and only had 2-3 hours at best. Traveling light, I had my rod, a spool of tippet, a small cup of my favorite flies for late summer meadow streams, and scissor forceps. That's it. I hiked upstream to one of my favorite runs and started there. Per the usual, I spooked a couple of nice browns from the tailout. This was a good reminder to slow down just enough as to not alert the browns to my presence.

Brown trout from North Fork Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley Rocky Mountain National Park


The first fish didn't take long. But as usual with fishing slow meadow water with my favorite fly and method, I missed a lot more than I caught. Still, I was seeing, and catching, enough fish to keep me both entertained and focused. Thus, when I had a big brown rush the fly, I was ready with a hard hookset. Nothing. I didn't even feel the fish. Maybe I misjudged and the fish never ate. Who knows. Needless to say, I wanted to go back in the worst way, but it just wasn't meant to be.

Continuing up river, I found nice fish after nice fish. The largest was a heavy female that was in the mid to high teens lengthwise. The two or three big fish I saw never quite found the hook. At least one of them was really big, as in, the kind you dream about. But that was what keeps me going back to these meadow streams. Seeing a brown blur rocket out from under the slightest undercut bank never gets old.

Brown trout in Kawuneeche Valley North Fork Colorado River Rocky Mountain National Park


Reminder To Fish The Whole Spot

One of my favorite fish was also a good reminder for an old lesson. Never give up until you fish the WHOLE spot. All the way to the top. I was coming into a picture perfect bend. Undercut banks farther bank in the run looked fishy but didn't produce. I kept moving up to the top. Finally, I through to what I thought was the top, close to some downed wood. Nothing. 

When you fish through a perfect pool and don't catch anything or even see anything, it always leaves you wondering what if. With the technique I was employing, fish usually react from great distances, so if I'm in the neighborhood, I usually feel confident that I'm close enough. Still, I apparently had missed something here. Moving up another step, I sent a final cast above the drop into the pool. Immediately, a fish that apparently had its noise literally on the drop-off came rocketing up from the bottom to nail the fly. Never mind that I had placed a cast probably 1.5-2 feet behind it and PLENTY close enough to get its attention. That fish wasn't moving unless the fly was where it wanted it.

Reminder brown trout in Rocky Mountain National Park Kawuneeche Valley


North Fork Colorado River meadow stream in Kawuneeche Valley Rocky Mountain National Park


Finishing My Fishing 

After that fish, I realized I was seriously running low on time and needed to start hustling. I still tossed my flies in a spot or two, but mostly my trip was running down. That point was reinforced when I thought I saw our car drive slowly by on the road. If Mama and the Baby were looking for me, then I was probably running a little late. I waved and otherwise tried to get their attention, but I also knew I was dressed to blend in. It was time to just move. Hoping they would drive back up the road to look again, I started really hustling. 


By the time I hit an official "trail" at the next access point, I found that I had cut it even closer than I intended. The fields were "closed" at 5:00 pm due to the elk rut that was ongoing. I was a few minutes over, but thankfully the ranger driving by didn't seem to mind. I hustled out to the parking lot only to discover no ride. That wasn't a problem. I just started walking down the road back towards my start point. Eventually I saw a familiar car come driving towards me and they pulled over so I could jump in. 

It had been a glorious afternoon of fishing, one of the last nice warm days of our trip although I didn't know that at the time. I can't say I got enough meadow stream fishing, but then it is better to leave wanting more than to exhaust yourself entirely. Meadow streams are always a huge treat, mostly because I just don't have this water type here in Tennessee. I love guiding and fishing on my home tailwaters and the streams in the Smokies, but seeing different water types is always fun. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Another Fly Box Giveaway

We are going to give away another fly box. Make sure you follow the instructions to enter, found below.  This is just another small way to say "Thank you!" for supporting both my blog and also my guide service, Trout Zone Anglers. The box is shown below and is courtesy of my good friend David over at River Traditions. Check out what he has and order your own customized box if you can't wait to see if you won this one. 

This giveaway will be a little different. First, you must be a subscriber of the Trout Zone Anglers newsletter to enter. If you are not subscribing already, then visit my guide site, Trout Zone Anglers, and you will see a signup form on the home page for the website. If you have followed this blog any length of time, you probably know some of the types of fishing I enjoy doing. To enter, send me an email to TheTroutZoneContests@gmail.com and give me your name and a suggestion of a new place I might want to add to my list of destinations to check out someday. No need to offer any secrets or honey holes, although I will be glad to keep it under my hat if you so request. Just let me know if you want me to keep your suggestions "secret." 

The winner will be selected using a random number generator sometime in early to mid April. We'll let this contest run for approximately a month again, and I'll send a reminder to enter in my next email newsletter. Thanks again for supporting my blog!




Sunday, February 12, 2023

Fly Box Winner

Thank you to everyone who participated in the fly box giveaway contest! We had some great entries. To be completely fair and unbiased, I utilized a random number generator. Entries were assigned a number based on the order they were received. With this method, the winner is Alonzo Holbrook. I'll be reaching out with an email to see what the best way to get your new fly box to you is! Congratulations! 

If you didn't win but are interested in trying again, keep an eye out both here and on the Trout Zone Anglers newsletter. I'll start another giveaway soon. Don't forget, if you can't wait, you can visit www.rivertraditions.com and customize your own box. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Four: Our First Moving Day

By the end, we would realize that the whole trip was probably a little optimistic with a one year old toddler. However it also worked out more or less. We had only spent three nights in our tent and were ready to move to the next campground. This was a short move, just over the ridge in fact. 

For me, no trip to Rocky Mountain National Park would be complete without fishing the headwaters of the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley. You might remember my love of fishing meadow streams that I mentioned in the very last Colorado trip post. If you haven't read that one yet, check it out here:

Colorado Day Three

The stream meandering through Kawuneeche Valley is very similar to many of the other meadow streams I fish, right down to the undercut banks and brown trout. Of course, each one has its own unique flavor. Best of all, this one flies a little under the radar. It isn't super easy to fish these streams, so most anglers skip over this type of water in favor of more "famous" nearby destinations. That's just fine with me. 

Our move was partly made to enable me to fish this favorite stream, but we also wanted to get some hiking in on new terrain. We had been eying two particular hikes. Eventually, a chat with a Park ranger would help us nail down which hike to do. More on that another day. 


Anyway, we woke up to a soggy world. Water was dripping off of all the trees, but the sky was promising a nice day. The clouds were breaking in dramatic fashion as the Continental Divide just above came in and out of view. We enjoyed breakfast, and finally the sun started to come out. We were able to get things put up mostly dry thankfully


Before driving over Trail Ridge Road to the Timber Creek Campground, we needed a few groceries. Timing is everything on these trips. With a few days in between town stops, we tried to plan our meals 3-4 days out at a time and buy food accordingly. It would have been a lot easier to bring more with us and eliminate some of the town trips, but we were crammed into my wife's Corolla like sardines. At some point on this trip, we decided that any future long distance road trips with little ones would require a bigger car if we were camping. However, those cost money both on the front end and on the operating end with increased gas costs. We can do these trips on the cheap with the gas mileage her little car gets. So, you win some and lose some. 

After the quick trip into Estes Park and the local Safeway, we were off over the mountain. The drive was much more scenic than the previous day's drive up the Old Fall River road in the fog. We enjoyed the big views, but were also glad to get to our next destination. These moving days are never as quick as you expect, and a toddler increases the time at every step. 

We arrived later in the day than we had hoped, so we immediately started putting up camp and getting settled in. After all our chores and supper, I walked down to the stream flowing behind the camp. The North Fork of the Colorado River meanders through this beautiful valley. The rain from the last couple of days had stained the stream more than I expected, but brown trout don't mind. In fact, it might actually benefit me! More on that over the next couple of days worth of posts...



Monday, January 23, 2023

Fly Tying Demo at Little River Outfitters February 5, 2023

For those of you in the area who are interested, I will be doing a fly tying demo at Little River Outfitters in Townsend on February 5, 2023. I'm still debating what flies to tie, so if you have any requests, let me know in the comments below, email me, or shoot me a text. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

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...

Monday, January 09, 2023

Fly Box Giveaway (Closed)

Giveaway is closed. Watch for the next one soon!

As promised in my recent email newsletter, here is the first of several fly box giveaways. I might add some other goodies along the way also. I just want to say thanks for supporting both this blog and my guide service via the email newsletter.

There are a couple of things you need to do to enter. First, send an email to TheTroutZoneContests@gmail.com and tell me where you plan to take the new fly box fishing. Second, you must be subscribed to the Trout Zone Anglers email newsletter to win. If you are already subscribed, you're good to go. If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do so in one of a few different ways. First, the easiest way is to use the signup form below. You can also tell me in the email to subscribe you, and I'll add you manually. Finally, you can also visit my guide site, Trout Zone Anglers, and find the sign up form there as well.

This fly box is engraved by my good friend David over at River Traditions. If you haven't seen his stuff and can't wait until you win this box, you can order your own box HERE. You can personalize the box however you like when you order from him. The box in this giveaway features an angler casting and has "Trout Zone Anglers" engraved on it. 


The inside is perfect for a variety of standard trout flies with slotted foam inserts that work great for nymphs, midges, or even some dry flies. This box will hold up to 282 flies. If you are using larger sized flies, you'll probably want to skip every other slot like I do so I can still grab flies without knocking others out, but it will still hold a LOT of flies. Best of all, this is light weight aluminum. A lot of the premium boxes on the market today are VERY tough, but that comes with a significant weight tradeoff. I like lighter aluminum boxes for my wading pack so I'm not lugging around many pounds of fly boxes. 



This contest will run for about a month. I'll use a random number generator to select a winner sometime during the first couple of weeks in February. I'll announce the winner here on the blog and will also reach out via email. If you see a post here announcing you're the winner but haven't received an email, please reach out to me. 

Again, to enter, send me an email at the above address AND make sure you are signed up for the Trout Zone Anglers newsletter. See the signup form in the sidebar OR find it at www.troutzoneanglers.com


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...