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.

damply through the Driftless

Camped in the Minnesota rainforest, at Whitewater State Park. I hoped the fish had not swum up from the streams into the air, heaven knows it was wet enough.

The Driftless is a region that was not scoured by glaciers. The term of art in geology for the remnants of retreating glaciers is 'drift', and thus Driftless. It's also a karst topography, limestone and sinkholes with rivers vanishing into caves and emerging as cold rich trout water. In England these are known as chalk streams, famous and famously expensive trout streams: in the US, as limestone spring creeks. I can't afford a beat on an English stream or a spring creek, instead went looking for fish in the land of Colleges, Cows and Contentment.

That first afternoon/evening fished the north branch, a rugged wild stream with no paths I could see. That is unprecedented in my experience: every other trout stream I know has at least informal fisherman trails wandering around it. It may be the rainforest outgrows the foot traffic. Raining hard, mist, light rain, more rain, varieties of rain. Corn too, as well as the cows etcetera.

First fish quickly, took a swung Invicta with such a trusting little nibble and pull. Generally they were not shy, got a couple whacks that moved the fly line 6" or more. That's the advantage of off-color water, none of your shy fish, it's eat quick or go hungry for them.

This was the clearest water I saw the whole trip.

Switched to a dry fly just because I'd rather fish that. The beetle got no response for several pools, then suddenly five or six in one pool and another in the riffle at the head.

Getting late and dark and spooky out in the woods, quit for the day.

Dinner at Johnny's Whitewater Saloon, 8:30pm on Labor day evening and it was full of people shouting and cussing at the tops of their voices. Wut. Nice barwoman was apologetic, "sorry it gets loud in here". Draft beer was all drunk up, only bottled left, been a long weekend I guess. An unexpectedly good pizza and beer then left before trouble could start.

Rained all night.  In the morning tried for Trout Run, pretty stream at Hardwood access, park-like lawns and trees. I could tell this would be a good trout stream, given water a bit less like chocolate milk with visibility 2-3".

Got one on a black leech, then a nice 13" in an eddy. He refused to pose for me.

Nothing after that for an hour or more, quit and went to look for clearer water. Pretty stream though.

Drove through the corn to a Trout Unlimited signpost for access to creek. Some farmer graffiti written on white plastic wrapping haybales, "without farmers you'd be hungry, naked, and sober". Fair enough.

Lots of cows staring blankly at me. Access on the ground did not match that on the map - good clear path in to the trees, then unclear, turns out need to go straight on through the trees downhill. Map said access went on upstream, signs said no. Went down for a bit planning to go to the confluence with a larger river, but hit another fenced non-access section. There might have been a path around that section ? but not at all clear if just cowpath, gave up.

DNR says big browns in this tiny creek, suspect these are spawners running up from main river - didn't look like a very rich stream itself, though I did get four fish in the 10-11" range out of the liquid mud. Too thick to drink, too thin to plough, as they used to say of the Platte river.

Tailgate lunch back at the car, excellent Wisconsin sharp cheddar and Canadian (?) tomatoes.

Lost Creek a jungle around many deadfalls. Hot by now, lots of stinging nettles and tangling creeper, no path, gave up - need long pants or heavy-duty waders to thrash through there. No sign of fish in 30min, some decent pools. DNR says high biomass but couldn't prove it by me.

South branch Root River just upstream from Lanesboro looked like a catfish river, big muddy with high banks. Floundered around for a bit, caught a few small chub, no signs of other life. Difficult to move on river and implausible habitat, gave up and went into town.

Found an unexpectedly good inexpensive single malt from Granny's Liquors, Tomatin Dualchas. Granny warned me of flooding and tornadoes in the forecast. Well that's why I went in there to get the whisky. Wandered into Root River Rods Inc, wasted Steve's time with my aimless chitchat. I'd have backed off if a real customer with actual money had appeared. He told me the wild parsnips were even worse than the nettles. Ferocious vegetables stalk the MN rainforests I find.

An hour or two of daylight left, so left to try a creek in state forest, hoping the forest would provide less muddy runoff than agricultural land. It was running strong but had visibility.

Very small water, expectations low, then got six fish in 45min up to 14", golly.

That was the best fishing of the trip, though the north branch had been fine too.

By now it was a dark and stormy night, baled.

Nice pub in Lanesboro but very busy, could not figure out how to get food, quit and went next door to sandwich place, excellent cheeseburger and fries for $10. Drove back to camp in whiteout rain which was a new experience, have driven in whiteout snow but not yet rain. Tent was utterly saturated, pools of water on top of inner and on floor of tent. The groundsheet under the floor was dry, the only dry part of the tent. Rearranged all my luggage in the car and slid seats around until I could lie crossways. It was fairly comfortable but intensely hot with the windows closed. Rain poured in the windows even at the slightest crack open, lay there and panted.

Tornado sirens went off but I couldn't think of anything useful to do about it. Drank another glass of whisky so the sirens wouldn't keep me awake, and lay down again. The kindly neighbours checked on me in the morning and said the right place is the bathrooms. I'd wondered why the bathrooms were such thick-walled robust structures. Their canvas wall tent didn't do any better than my mountaineering tent in the rain. There was an old Eureka A-frame tent pitched a few campsites away, with a tarp pitched over the tent. I think that's about the only solution for high rain high humidity: a tarp to deflect most of the downpour, then a very well-ventilated if not particularly waterproof tent under the tarp. Next morning shook out the flysheet and dried up the floor with a towel, hoped for better days. It stayed grey all day but didn't actually start downpouring.

Forestville state park has a tiny little old office, very public-works Depression era. The ranger suggested Canfield to start as it is a spring creek. The park likes to keep you on your toes - no trail markers, and the maps at the trailheads worn to obscurity by years of tourist fingers stabbing at and squirming around the 'You are Here' marker. Take the obvious trail from the angler parking, and you'll have an invigorating 1.5mile out-and-back on the Maple Ridge trail which has no streams. Found my way down the road to the right unmarked trail, at the end of which the creek was running the color of cappucino, complete with white foam.

There is a spring up there, but also several feeders that run through cow country. Oh well. Further upstream it didn't improve.

The main river here was relatively clear though, wandered up and had slow but fair fishing. A nice 12" to finish after nearly an hour of nothing, quit and went over to Forestville creek in case it was springing eternal. Nope, more muddy cold water. The smallest trout of the trip some 8" was caught hiding below one of the new islands in the creek.

Back to the office to provide a stream report as requested by the lady ranger, then went upriver to find another bit of water. A beautiful spotted brown from under a scumline and briar bush, then nothing for an hour of good-looking water.

The sun came out ! I was so excited, I took a picture.

Late again, got one more 12" and called it a day. The first fish from this stretch less than a mile upstream was well spotted, this one barely had a spot.

Went into Preston hoping for dinner but the only place open was a bowling alley. I wasn't strong enough for that so had a gas station dinner, ech. Whisky for dessert at the campsite, reading on my Kindle by solar lantern light. The caddis flies flocked to the lantern and crawled on the Kindle, turning pages for me, though not always at the right time or in the right direction. Slept well in a tent only slightly damp.

Last morning came up misty but quickly cleared to a fine cool sunny day. Of course.

I was cold camping with no stove, had to drive 5min to get morning coffee. The first morning it was the worst gas station coffee I've ever drunk. The other mornings I waited in line at Cabin Coffee, the 5min wait was worth it not to drink that tepid insipid brew from the gas station.

Did that and went on to the upper reaches of Trout Run which was now colored but not impenetrable. Second cast got a handsome brown from under the weeds, lost another good one in the weed a couple of minutes later, then an hour of nothing more.

The downside of cows on the stream is cows, the upside is cow pastures, which are much easier to navigate than thickets of MN rainforest with stinging nettles, wild brier, tangled creepers, and so on. This stretch had both. Decided to spend the last 30min fishing a dry fly anyway, after days of dredging leeches, carp flies etc. The fish were rising in runs after I'd fished the fly over them, bit of a hint that I was getting it wrong. There was a good riser under the bridge. Covered him with twenty casts or more and finally persuaded a 8" to take my beetle. I thought it would be bigger. Maybe the good riser sent up a sacrificial friend to check if all those beetles were real.

Packed up hastily, hurtled back to Northfield, washed and vacuumed son's car, caught the bus to Minneapolis terminal one, caught the train to terminal two, caught the plane back home, met dear wife at Arrivals Denver, followed by total collapse of stout party.

A good trip, but I'd really like to see the streams on a fair day with hatches coming off..