Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown

Thursday, August 03, 2023

At Long Last, the Water Control Manual Update for Center Hill Dam

Almost a year late but better late than never, the proposed water control manual (WCM) update is here from the Corps of Engineers. Find out more HERE. In short, it looks like they will continue the pattern they have been running (one hour of generation every 8 hours) to provide a minimum flow on the Caney Fork River. 

Unfortunately, as of right now, they are not going to provide a continuous minimum flow which would work wonders for this river. 2016, our last significant drought year, had a continuous minimum flow of 250 cfs and the trout population was better than it has been since the leaks in the dam were mitigated. Things quickly went downhill after that as they returned to long periods of dewatering the riverbed. 

At the link above, find a link to the proposed updated manual along with instructions on how to comment if you have something to say about it. In addition, the Corps of Engineers will be hosting a public meeting to update the WCM. If you're at all interested, below are my thoughts that I emailed to the Corps of Engineers. 



Hello,

I am writing to give my feedback on the water control manual (WCM) update proposal.

First, I would like to say that the preferred alternative of one unit every 8 hours is a vast improvement over the prior WCM. However, it unfortunately does not address the portion of the river that most needs a minimum flow. In your document, you acknowledge that the majority of fishing pressure is focused on the upper 5 miles of river. However, the preferred alternative regularly dewaters too much of the streambed in this section.

I would strongly urge you to consider alternative 10 which features one unit every 8 hours along with a 250 cfs continuous minimum flow. I'm not sure how you came to a value/ranking of "2" for the recreation category on alternative 10, but that doesn't really fit your own criteria. In fact, under the recreation category, alternative 10 should receive a rating of "4" due to frequent safe conditions for wading and swimming (I don't know if anyone swimming in the Caney and haven't seen this happening myself) AND even more importantly, it would "provide enough flow to support recreational boating and fishing at most locations downstream of Center Hill Dam."
During 2007-2010, I regularly waded at Happy Hollow and while some sections of riverbed are less accessible at these higher flows, the fish thrive and spread out to become more accessible with less wading. In fact, I caught one of my all time best fish on the Caney Fork ever, a brown trout, at Happy Hollow during this time period. The fish was sitting and feeding on a section of gravel bar that is now regularly completely dewatered. Fish were regularly feeding along the edges where they were very accessible. Now, they look for the little deep water they can find and concentrate into those spots. This requires MORE wading, even though flows are lower. In fact, back in 2007-2010, I would walk the gravel edges at Happy Hollow and catch fish in water that was a foot or two deep. Now, those fish are nowhere close to those locations. During higher flow times before the dam repairs, I could regularly find many large brown trout in very accessible locations, because the extra water in the streambed provided the habitat for those fish to live in shallower water. Now, they are left with only a few deep holes as their only retreat.

Lower flows are harder on fish because they are more easily located, meaning that harvest rates increase. These fish do not have any sanctuary in the upper river at these very low flows, meaning holdover fish (larger trout) have a harder time surviving. Unless stocking rates are going to significantly rise, fish need more opportunity for sanctuary. I've seen anglers wading sections of river FAR from any access point and harvesting large numbers of trout. This is because they are able to walk up or down the river to get there, often from a mile or more away. At slightly higher flows, this process is more difficult and gives the fish more chances to grow. Water management is important to fisheries management, and the Caney Fork can produce many more quality fish than it currently is. However, the fish must be given a chance to stay in the river for this outcome to happen.

Because the upper Caney Fork receives the most fishing pressure, I would suggest a continuous minimum flow to provide better habitat and conditions for the resident trout. I will add that the one hour of generation every 8 hours has done wonders for the middle to lower river and should be maintained as such. Because there is a distinct lack of wade access in this lower section, these flows strongly favor anglers with boats instead of wade anglers. While I have a boat and this doesn't directly impact me as much, it will be better for the entire river if we get a continuous minimum flow to not only keep the trout healthy, but also to spread out users on the upper river and reduce conflict between user groups. At current low minimum flows, I have to get out of my drift boat and drag it over several gravel shoals between the dam and Happy Hollow. This can easily be fixed with a continuous minimum flow and benefit the trout and macroinvertebrates they rely on in the process.

One thing I am interested in is a smaller minimum flow of 150-200 cfs. It has the potential to provide a better outcome for upper river fish and recreational users AND improve the amount of potential generation capacity from the 250 cfs constant minimum flow. I noticed that you eliminated the lower constant minimum flow alternative due to cost, but it was never actually stated what the cost would be to modify the existing orifice gate. Do you have those numbers? Or did I just miss it somewhere? I'm wondering if that is something that TU or some other organizations could get involved with in terms of fundraising. Are we talking thousands of dollars or millions?

Finally, I am disappointed that more is not being done to address dissolved oxygen (DO) issues. We are already seeing the results with stressed fish on the upper river over the last week. The big rain event a couple of weeks ago that necessitated higher releases has significantly impacted DO numbers and the fish have been showing the resulting stress. Has there been any discussion to run liquid oxygen into the forebay? I know this is done on TVA dams like Norris in the fall as necessary and has worked very well in mitigating dissolved oxygen issues. If not oxygenating the forebay, then how about mandating the use of the sluice as soon as DO readings start to drop below state mandated water quality standards? I would prefer that instead of just leaving it up to the discretion of the operators, since this can vary widely from one operator to the next.

In short, we need more done to help with both the trout, their food sources (macroinvertebrates), and recreational users of the river with more water and better water quality.

Thank you for considering my comments.

Sincerely,

David Knapp

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day 8: Moose, Fall Colors, and Hiking and Fishing Lake Agnes in State Forest State Park

After a moving day, we were ready to get out and move again. Our best rewards on these trips involve medium to long hikes, not to mention that we had a toddler along that wants nothing more than to keep moving. Long days in the car wear on all of us accordingly. After a night spent listening to the camp deer munching shrubbery just outside the tent, we were up and ready for adventure. 

Because of the issues with water, we developed a new routine for our two nights at State Forest State Park. Mornings were chilly enough, that it was nice to get up and head straight for the vehicle. Cranking the heat a little got us all warmed up and ready for the day. Our goal was to do a short drive while it was cold, then stop for breakfast at a different campground that had water. Thankfully, it had very few people in it, so we could just pick a table and set up for breakfast. Nobody ever bothered us either, and while I know most places are funny about you picnicking in campgrounds, I was annoyed enough that I didn't care. 

Moose in State Forest State Park

Our goal that morning was to find some moose. That is always high on my agenda on trips to Colorado. On this trip, it didn't take long. We were still creeping along the rough gravel road away from camp when we spotted a cow and half grown calf. Lighting wasn't great, so after a few half hearted attempts at pictures, we kept going. That proved to be the right decision. Shortly after getting on the main road and heading further down the mountain, we found a magnificent bull moose foraging in the early morning glow.

 

Bull moose in State Forest State Park


Fall Colors, Scenery, and Wildlife at State Forest State Park

After spending a decent amount of time with him via our cameras, we headed on down the hill to drive into a part of State Forest State Park that I've always enjoyed for fall colors. The early morning sun was slanting over the mountains now, illuminating trees that were exploding in gold. While much of the foliage was still a week or two out from peak colors, there were enough trees turning to make the trip worthwhile. 


Fall colors in State Forest State Park


Winding further into the Park on dirt roads, we soon approached North Michigan Creek Reservoir. I have fished the North Michigan upstream from this small lake, but have always been intrigued by the lake itself. Fish rising everywhere didn't help that, but we were on a mission. So, after a couple of pictures of the lake, we headed on. 


North Michigan Creek Reservoir in State Forest State Park


We hadn't even finished passing the lake yet when we noticed something else of interest. Three quality bucks were running along a ridge above us. Something off over the ridge had them concerned, but they stopped long enough for us to take a couple of pictures. Not the moose we were looking for, but still a treat!


Nice buck in State Forest State Park

Three bucks on a ridge in State Forest State Park


The deer were one of our last big game sightings of the day. We would see another moose not long after, but he was running full speed across the road in some fairly heavy brush, so we only got a quick glimpse before he had vanished. Still, the fall colors did not disappoint. A few more pictures, and then it was time to switch gears and go fix breakfast. 



The Road to Lake Agnes

After breakfast, it was time for our real adventure of the day. I had done some research and wanted to hike to at least one lake and possibly two. By the time we finished, however, the one hike would end up being plenty. We debated trying to do the hike all the way from camp, but a much closer starting point appealed since it would greatly shorten the hike and leave us the option of more hikes, or so we thought. 

Driving up the dirt road towards Lake Agnes, things were supposed to be rough. They have all the usual signs about recommending 4 wheel drive and high clearance. I learned a long time ago that those signs are often not really accurate, and figured this time would be the same. We poked slowly up the hill in my wife's little Corolla, dodging a few larger tire popper rocks but generally making good headway. 

The problem came when we approached a sharp curve that switch backed up the hill. There were lots of ruts and plenty of deep soft dirt. In other words, we were in trouble. I got out to look things over, knowing that I still had the option of turning around before I got us stuck. Upon closer inspection, I could see a vague line that just might work. I've done these crazy (stupid?!?!) things a few times over the years and found that generally you could make it through in a sedan. 

I'll pause to say right now that we should have videoed this whole thing. The line that might work without completely burying the car was low on the downhill outside edge of the curve. I got a good start but quickly bogged down since we were trying to make the turn. Then things went from bad to worse. Every time I backed up a little and tried again, we slid downhill a little more. 

Before things were over, the back end of the car was in a good sized evergreen tree on the side of the road with the toddler screaming her delight. She thought it was the most hilarious event of the whole trip. My wife wasn't as amused. The poor car put up a valiant fight, but seemed to be in danger of losing this round. Since I didn't have any shovels or other tools, it was going to be a pain in the rear to dig it out and retreat down the hill. Finally, after a silent prayer and another try, we were somehow on our way, skidding and spinning our tires up and around the curve. It was a true miracle, but I'll definitely take it. 

After the bad curve, things were anticlimactic. As I expected, the road was fine as long as you paid attention. If it wasn't for that one curve, this road would definitely be fine for 2 wheel drive sedans if the drivers know how to negotiate rougher roads. In the back of my mind, I had the nagging thought that we still needed to get back down the hill, but for the time being, I was just glad to be hiking up to Lake Agnes.

Hiking and Tenkara Fishing at Lake Agnes

This hike is a short one at under a mile from the parking lot to the lake. Once you add in the loop around the lake, it is still probably under 2.5 miles. We assumed that since it was such a short hike and we had just had breakfast, that we wouldn't need to take a lunch. That was a mistake! We enjoyed our time so much that we could easily have spent the rest of the day up there. In the end, we felt rushed because it was important to get back to our vehicle for lunch for the little one (and ourselves!). 

Lake Agnes itself is absolutely gorgeous. The towering Nokhu Crags along with Mt. Mahler and Mt. Richthoven surround this beautiful basin. We kept stopping and taking pictures, although as always seems to be the case, pictures simply do not do this place justice. The time of day wasn't great for pictures either with bright sunlight. Still, we had to have some memories.

Lake Agnes and Nokhu Crags in State Forest State Park

Island in Lake Agnes below the Nokhu Crags


Wildlife abounds. One of our favorites is the pika, and we constantly heard their calls on the surrounding slopes. My wife snuck off to try and capture some pictures of them while I poked around with the tenkara rod. Little bit was riding on my back, mostly happily, although we also let her down in a couple of spots to burn some energy. Here are a couple of the better pika pictures. 


Pika at Lake Agnes in State Forest State Park Colorado

Pika at Lake Agnes


While Leah was photographing wildlife, I was plying the waters of Lake Agnes using my Tenkara USA Rhodo and what was quickly becoming my preferred high country lake rig: a parachute Adams on top and a pheasant tail nymph on the bottom. Fish were cruising, often just out of casting range. This is the downside of fishing Tenkara on bigger water. Still, I eventually found some in close enough to shore on the south end of the lake. 


Hooked up on Lake Agnes

Gorgeous cutthroat trout at Lake Agnes in State Forest State Park


We continued our circuit of the lake, but time was running out. We were all getting hungry, but this was especially true of the toddler. It was time to head back down the hill to our car and try to negotiate that horrendous curve back down to camp. After one or two last pictures, we quickly descended to the trailhead. The drive back down was anticlimactic. My concerns were groundless. With gravity behind us instead of against us, the curve was a piece of cake and we were soon back at camp having lunch. 

Afternoon Drive Through State Forest State Park

Our morning adventures concluded rather late, so after lunch, we needed to find a way to get a nap in for the little one. The hike had been too interesting for her to get a good nap in, so we decided on the old trick of going for a drive. It always works for her although sometimes better than other times. On this day, she was tired and knocked out quickly. We drove back to some of the same scenes from the morning. The fall colors were beautiful although not as nice as they would be another week or two after our visit. 

Medicine Bow Mountains at State Forest State Park

Golden Aspen in State Forest State Park


The day got away from us rather quickly. After our drive, we got water from Ranger Lakes Campground, had supper, and headed back to camp for our last night in this beautiful place. While the water situation was frustrating, we'll definitely be back to this area. I wouldn't mind doing some overnight backpacking into some other high country lakes someday as well. The sunset that evening gave us one last gift before out time at State Forest State Park ran out. 

Sunset in State Forest State Park from the Crags Campground


Thursday, July 20, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day 7: Moving to State Forest State Park

Our time in Rocky Mountain National Park had finally come to an end. We had enjoyed our time there and had some of the best hikes of our whole trip. We still had two excellent hikes, one shorter and one longer, but we were headed towards more fishing (or so we thought) on the rest of the trip. 

State Forest State Park was our next destination. Part of our goal on this trip was to enjoy the autumn colors, and from past experience I knew that it offered some incredible potential. The only downside is that we were visiting a bit earlier than my previous experience. Still, we hoped that would mean nice weather and a good time out camping.

After packing up everything at Timber Creek Campground, we headed out on a long circuitous route that would see us just a few miles from where we started, but on the other side of the mountain. Such is life out west. The trip went by uneventfully. We had a quick picnic lunch at a roadside picnic table and grabbed some groceries, but otherwise were anxious to get to our next destination.

As we got close to our campground, we started to find some cause for worry. A sign on the road in warned that the water was out in our campground. We had reservations to stay at the Crags Campground. I was hoping to hike to at least one more high elevation lake on this trip, and that campground was close to the hikes I wanted to do. I was NOT impressed with the fact that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife had not informed us about the water being out. With a toddler along it proved to be a real pain, but something we figured we could manage for the two nights of our reservation. I almost simply moved to an unoccupied site at another campground, but in the end we decided to just go with it. Of course the Park office was already closed, so we couldn't really do anything but figure it out for ourselves. 

Needless to say, I don't recommend staying at CPW campgrounds if it can be avoided. On the other hand, I will also say the campground at Elevenmile State Park that I've stayed at before was very nice and we had no problems. So, your mileage may vary. I was mainly just really aggravated that we were already working hard to take a toddler camping, then they made it harder and didn't bother telling us.

Our evening drew to a close with a beautiful sunset that lit up the mountain behind us with a warm glow. Best of all, we discovered that we had camp deer! Our little one loved every minute that the camp deer were wandering through snacking on the greenery around us and that made it all worth the trouble. The next day was going to come before we knew it, so after a quick supper, we went to bed. As we drifted off, we heard large creatures walking around chomping, presumably our camp deer or moose, but we were too tired to investigate...

Mule Deer at The Crags in State Forest State Park



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!