Wednesday, May 27, 2020

on not catching cutthroat trout 2014

This started life as a post on The images vanished with time.
2014 is history now, so I remember the past in the hope of repeating it. As Max Beerbohm said, history doesn't repeat itself, historians repeat each other.

If not catching fish, might as well do it somewhere high and handsome..

5 miles hike into Rocky Mountain National Park, up from 8500ft to 10 000ft. On the way up we met an 83-year-old man turning around at the creek where the bridge had been washed out by last years' floods. He said he didn't want to take his old bones hopping across those rocks anymore, but he could still get up and down the trails, so he did. My role model for getting older.

Ken did get two cutts, here is one.

This is what we used to think was the native Colorado greenback cutthroat trout. Following DNA analysis, turns out to be just a subspecies of the Colorado River cutt, finely adapted to its life in the high country. See the article by Erin Block in the TU Trout magazine Fall 2014.

Ten years ago this lake and drainage was full of these beautiful cutts, 8-12" long on average, with the occasional 15" monster. We had not been up here in years and found the cutts have been outcompeted by the brook trout, which tend to overpopulate and get stunted in this environment. So we caught about 60 fish between us, 58 of them small brook trout 4-6", pretty little fish but not the outrageous beauty of the natives. I did not take any pictures of them, being haunted by the ghosts of the vanished cutthroat and too sad to photograph the meager brookies.

We spent a couple of hours bushwhacking down along the stream, in case the cutts were holding out in some remote pool or riffle. Here I am trying to look as inconspicuous as a tree.

Shortly after this I fell backwards into another tree and ripped my ancient Red Ball waders apart. That began a five year quest to find a pair of waders as good, detouring through a lot of cheap wet waders and damp feet, before culminating in $400 Simms. The Red Balls cost $20 and lasted over twenty years. I'm suspending judgement on the Simms until then, I should live so long. So far they've outperformed. That means staying dry - waders have one job. Apparently it's no longer possible to make dry waders at the sub-$400 price point.

All down the stream, nothing but shoals of desperate brook trout. 

Here's my Fibatube (Hardy) 3 1/2 weight, dragged off the dusty back shelf. This doesn't get much exercise in the mountain West, as I prefer a longer rod for the open streams and lakes and winds we usually encounter. However it's perfectly suited to the tree tunnels of the small high streams, had forgotten how it will happily cast nothing more than a tapered leader accurately and easily.

The original 6'1" was too short for me, so added a butt extension and built the handle over that, to make a 6'10" rod. The first time I took it out on a backpack trip in the Drakensberg, it ran into a big rainbow on one of the low lakes, a shock for all concerned. Next trip found a 19" brown in a tiny stream at dusk, after catching little rainbows all day - nearly fell flat on my back as the fish rushed off three pools upstream. The luck tapered off after that unfortunately. Still it catches fish to the full extent of its powers, hindered only by the fisherman.

Here's the brown, dead. Catch and kill in those days. Them's good eating. 

The reel is an Argus 56LT. At first thought it was a copy of the Orvis CFO, but after looking at the Abel in Ken's picture, maybe it's copying that ?  Either way it's a nice little reel, a good copy and well sized for a DT 4wt and some backing. It has a devilish small elbow spring in the retaining clip, which I lost twice and found once. Now it has an artisanal spring handmade from safety pin wire.

Five miles back out and down in the gloaming, to a fine burger and beer at Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons - highly recommended.

Next day we tried a big Wyoming river. On the drive in a big old moose crossed the road, stopped in the middle to glare at us, and took his time shambling across. This was supposed to be an easier hike, into the canyon from the plains,

Unfortunately we got a mite confused (as Dan'l Boone used to call getting lost) and wound up going up and down the canyon sides a couple of times, without benefit of trails. It was real pretty though, and we walked up on another moose resting in the shade on top. He was a young fellow, a fine glossy black beast, who looked at us in horror and ran off, all elbows and knees. Here we are about to clamber down the 500ft back to the river again.

The fishing was awful slow, so we slogged out and hiked in to a different creek further down the drainage. This is the first time in 15 years of fishing together that Ken and I didn't have good catching. Ken was grumbling that his good-luck charm (me) had stopped working, I grumbled right back that my WY guide (him) wasn't up to snuff anymore.. 

One nice brown in the new creek as consolation, and a smattering of smaller ones. Pretty anyway.

On the drive out there was a family group of moose (meeses ? mice ?), papa, mama, and baby, browsing next to the road. These were quite unperturbed by us but the light was low, so no good pictures. Here's a fuzzy pic of papa.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

high country 2019

The snows of yesteryear await the snows of September.

The last few years between family, work and etceteras, once a year in the high country is about the best I can do. Last year was October, this year I made it up early, in September. It took me some time to write it up, thinking slowly and moving even slower.

It was supposed to be a trail run on the way up. Between the rocks, steepness, and my getting old, there was much more walking than running. Expected 5 miles and a bit over an hour, turned out to be 6.5 miles (2500 ft climbing) and nearly two hours. Here's a brief runnable bit of trail.

I was puzzled by the presence of a couple of hefty guys in waders setting up on Betty lake as I arrived, stringing up fish (illegally). They did not sound or look like backpackers, and certainly didn't hike in ahead of me unless they started in the deepest dark. Alpacas ? Llamas ? dudes dropped off by horsepackers ?  Later research shows there is a 4wd road from Winter Park side up to Rollins pass, from where there is an easy mile downhill walk to get to Betty. Oh well I enjoyed it more with the sweat crusting on my shirt. Also, in terms of elapsed time from home, it's just as quick to run up, as drive around the mountains to sneak in from the backside, and way pleasanter than dealing with traffic.

Numbers of pretty little cutts like this, fast action but I couldn't hook them for some reason. I'd try to tighten on 15-20yds of line blown by the wind, and get a heap of flyline at my feet with only a distant swirl for entertainment. The rod is built on a cheap Chinese 4wt fiberglass blank, somehow always seem to pick it for these excursions. It's slower than I prefer but once I can relax, it will lay out long casts with minimal false casting. The 9' 3wt graphite would be a much better wind rod in these high lakes but not as much fun on the smaller fish.

As much of paradise as I expect to see.

Went up to the little stream between the lakes. It was full of fish, no easier but I like sneaking the little pools. Dropped the flies in there and he sailed out from under the bank.

Crawled up to the end of the trail, leaving the (relatively) easy lake.

Bob is a deep rocky lake, with not much evidence of life. One good fish cruising the shallows.


As I was catching this fish, four guys skied down from the Divide on that dirty patch of snow. One of them is standing just at the edge of the lower patch of snow in the picture. Saw them later and said it seemed like a lot of walking for a little skiing. They probably thought the same thing about my fishing.

Thunder rolled in and it was time to beat feet. Usually September in CO is calm, mild and reliably sunny through the day. Now we broke the weather, anything can happen.

Down to the little stream to see what lives there.

It always amazes me, even after many such experiences, to find the size of cutt that can grow up in these tiny creeks. I looked at this run and thought, 'no cover there, can't be a fish' then saw a slim brown shape working in the current. The hardest part of casting in these streams, is keeping the flies from hanging up on the bankside vegetation.

The first brook trout of the day was also the last fish, as I ran out of time.


I'd hoped to fish one of the bigger creeks below for its mix of little brooks and bows. By the time I got there we'd had a couple inches of rain and hail. The stream was running high and colored brown.  Also I was cold and wet and old, no longer up for gnawing the last thirty minutes of fishing out of the day.

Another year redeemed by a day outside. As Dead Horses sing,
I just wanna go where the soft wind blows
And the mountains are covered in the cloud shadows

Monday, December 9, 2019

the triple luck GT

Way out in the Dampier islands, brother Charles knows a good place. Andrew and I peppered the shoreline surf with a variety of lures and caught a small Giant Trevally apiece. A small Giant ? it's a proper name for the fish best identified as Caranx Ignobilis, not ignoble but in Latin obscure or unknown. This tag was presumably given for its relative obscurity to the Swedish naturalist who first saw a specimen, in the fine frenzy of naming following Linnaeus.

We took a break to snorkel in a quiet bay. Andrew swam ashore with lures in his hat and a rod in one hand, to try luck from there. He's out of sight on the far shore, where the waves become silver as the big GTs flash in their turning hunts.

The waves surged around the point that is just out of view to the right of this picture.  It seemed to me the best use of my time would be to pound the eddies with repeated casts, hoping for a marauding stray. The GTs tend to prowl the reef edges. A few casts to an eddy for trout would either spook the fish or catch them, but here the hopeful repetition might even work. There is a sort of zen satisfaction to be had anyway, in putting the cast exactly where needed, over and over though nothing happens but the changing water.

The lure is a GT Ice Cream Needlenose, looks like not much, until retrieving at a good speed. Then it dances across the water much like an escaping lunch of tasty fishlet.

A heavy swirl missed the first strike, then made no mistake on the second attempt. By the time I'd recovered my wits the fish was a good hundred yards away and moving well.

This is my triple-luck GT -
luck 1, was using a rod borrowed from Andrew, with way more power than my little travel inshore reed;
luck 2, the fish ran straight out some 200 yards instead of out and around the corner into the coral;
luck 3, my good guide Charles got the boat moving to follow it out, not sure I'd have won back those 200yds without getting reefed on the way.

This shows how far off the island we went in pursuit.

The fish looks distinctly annoyed. I was perfectly happy. 

In a sense this fish was wasted on me. As Roderick Haig-Brown wrote about pike, 
To create a legend, time is needed. There must be time for stories to grow and men’s minds to work upon them and build them larger yet, time for eyes and minds made receptive by tales already told to collect and magnify new fragments of evidence, time for partisans of the growing myth to raise about its essential points a hedge of protecting dogma. These fish have every necessary quality - size, strength, ferocity, a cruel cold eye, a wicked head and a love of dark waters.
Andrew has been thinking about a good GT for years, investing time money and imagination into preparing: the right lure, rod, line, practicing the knots to hold in the terminal tackle. 
I had not put the dreaming time in to be ready. 

On the other hand - in 2003 I'd hooked a smaller GT of 10 pounds or so on a fly rod, which fish wrapped the line around two different coral bommies in short order. Charles swam out and freed the line from the first. The second was in twenty feet of water with a strong tide ripping over it and sharks circling. We broke the leader so the fish could escape. That fish I'll remember while memory remains. 

Thanks to niece Dr. Exceptional Jessica, for the pictures.. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Rocky Mountain trout

We go hopefully down to a famous river. Usually I avoid famous rivers with their sophisticated fish and crowds. Today @_andy_man is here from Australia and keen on some famous Rocky Mountain trout, plus friend Greg is a habitue on this stream who can guide us.

Greg seined the top of the run above the pool, came up with expected midges, caddis, and also two stonefly nymphs, a golden and a black.

These are basically trout candy, like Snickers bars or cheeseburgers and fries. The golden was passive, the black crawled around vigorously, lifting its head to look around. I was reminded of Patrick O'Brian's line, "like an intelligent spaniel that thinks he just heard someone taking down a shotgun".

Cold morning and nothing seen in the clear green waters.

I fish sitting down, which does not deserve a response.

 Standing up didn't change the luck though.

Eventually a couple good ones showed up in the big lazy eddy at the head of the pool. They were mostly loafing though and swam oblivious past our offerings. This is what I'm used to from famous fish though, am mostly inured to being ignored.

Niece Dr. Exceptional Jessica was along for the excitement of watching us catch nothing. Luckily she had Trevor Noah's autobiography to read on the cold island.

After some time a couple of fish showed up deep, mouthing something. A nice frisky 15" brown took the pheasant-tail nymph about 3 feet down.

A few rises started to appear in a flurry of light snow, then saw the blue-winged olive mayflies coming off.. a veritable hatch of mayfly, never actually fished one of those before. Fortunately I had bought a number of BWO tiny flies based on the assumption that Greg would drag me out to one of these famous places. Thanks Greg.

A #22 parachute BWO (see pic below) worked beautifully as long as it got a drag-free drift, which seemed to need a leader terminating in four feet of a lighter line than I'd usually fish, 6x. The actual flies looked to be more an #18 to me but that size didn't work nearly as well. The fish would wise up after a couple of drifts and move over to the far side of the current, fall back, move up, etc, so it was necessary to change up occasionally or rest them. I lost count of fish landed, though it is true I can't count very high, deliberately forgetting numbers after a hand or so.

Andrew is a fine saltwater and bass fisherman (here with a queenfish) but had not attempted finicky tailwater trout before.

He hooked and lost one on a #22, then switched to a #6 beadhead green woolly bugger, and caught two good fish on that. So much for selective tailwater trout.

 Here's a #22 fly on a quarter, and a #6 woolly bugger to contrast.

My best fish was a brown trout about 18" in one of the snow flurries. He rocketed up from the green deeps, turned back down across the pool and ran up, into a sort of fold in space/time. The line arrowed into the water, extending clear to the other side, a white curve in the clear green: yet the fish was still running, apparently through rock.

Charmed and a little astonished to land it. A couple of fish later hooked a strong 18-19" rainbow which popped the knot on his second run. That was entirely my fault for not retying. Here's another picture of the brown, to salve the memory of the broken-off fish.

Interestingly I could see the #22 fly on the water often enough to keep track of it, even when the vitreous detachment blurries came sweeping over my vision. It was a pleasant surprise to find this and fish without any strike indicator. It's likely I could have caught more fish with a trailing pheasant-tail nymph, but was getting a good deal of fun out of the simplicity of a single dry and the challenge of getting it to drift free. The water was clear enough to be able to distinguish browns from rainbows as they hung in the feeding lanes.

The hatch tailed off in the later afternoon, but still had the odd riser rolling up in the slacker water. I tried a number of drifts downstream to what I thought was a big brown, taking flies all around mine but not it. Sneaked around to get a different drift and retied with a longer leader and smaller fly. By this time I was cold enough that thinking wasn't going too well and the fingers had turned into bunches of sausages. The retying took about 15min by which time I fully expected the trout to have stopped rising. On the fourth drift he sailed up and took the fly down with just the same rise form as all the others, how delightful. Ran strongly for the rapids out of the pool, surprised that the 6x held, landed him an 18” rainbow, and called it a day.

My apologies to Greg and Andrew as I think I got a little over-focused there. It's that fish lust problem again - fishing as if my dinner depended on it, emitting the occasional half-crazed monomaniacal cackle when a fish takes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

at odds with the fall

what is the fall ?
almost at odds with the summer, which is which 
Each new autumn I get antsy because of insufficient trips up to the high country. Have to get there before the snow flies..

It gets worse each year. There is the constant awareness that at best I have another ten years of being physically capable of hiking the miles of rocky trails up to 11 000 feet and above. Baled on going to church this Sunday and took off to worship in another way, to climb the mountains and get their good tidings, as John Muir wrote.

A bit over five miles in and 2000 feet up, from the trailhead shuttle bus.

Strong wind blowing cold up around the treeline. Casting into the wind was nearly impossible with a light 4wt line, a brief lull allowed reaching the edge of rocky shallows. The idea of wading didn't survive first contact with the bitter chill of the water.

Walked around to get out of the wind but it followed me, shifting as the day warmed. At the inlet fish were rising past the dropoff, some 20 yards out, which is the limit of my abilities with a mild-mannered 4wt glass rod in a gusty swirling wind. About one cast in five made it, then the wind would blow line into a curve and drag the fly under after a few minutes. The fish wouldn't take a sunken fly, or a moving fly. This provided sufficient amusement until lunchtime, broken by the occasional success.

This fish wasn't ready for its closeup.

Wandered off up the stream to look for the next lake up. On the way there was a little pool which I estimated to be large enough to hold a fish, and there he was, most gratifying.

The game path along the stream petered out in a thicket of willow shrub and mud pockmarked by moose hoofprints. Thrashed through this to emerge bleeding only lightly, to the saddle with a glimpse of the next lake.

This lake was low, walked to edge and sank knee deep into mud between one step and another. Fell, got another bang on the shin, luckily it was a new shin this time and didn't reopen any of the old scars.

The lake isn't natural, or is natural but got a little help to deepen it. The notched dam wall at the end of the bleak forbidding rocky bowl gave the scene a desolate air, which oddly is missing from natural lakes.

Dour grey water with no signs of life. Fished all the way around, one little one, another missed, then a big one 18" rose up through the waves. I was overeager and took the fly away from him. Tut.

Krummholz at the treeline, blown by the winds and short growing season into strange shapes.

It was time to leave, had to make it back to trailhead by 6pm to catch the last shuttle bus. This was a considerable crimp to my usual style of battering out of the backcountry in the dark with a headlamp glowing weakly, as I'd forgotten to change the batteries since last year's desperate run for the hills. Still it was a pleasant novelty to walk out in the light. Found the trail again, ate an apple and took a picture of the lower lake.

The pool below these falls is again certain to hold a fish, unless someone caught it out recently. It was steep, I was late, and my bum knee wasn't happy with me: so that fish didn't get pestered today.

Ran a bit on the flatter sections of trail, to get ahead of the clock. The book on fishing Indian Peaks mentioned a nice bit of stream lower down. With the minutes earned by running I gave it a try, but started too early, in a beaver pond morass. Several fish moving in flat calm pool in a side trickle, spooked as I came up.  Got a little 6" brookie out of another pond and quit.

Down in Nederland at 8000 feet, the forecast:

At 11 000 ft it will be bleak: sneaked in under the snowline, for this year. Nine left.