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The next day dawned without any frost glazing my tent, which surprised me considering how high up I was. I climbed up on a rocky overlook searching for any signs of the fabled golden trout - not so much as a dimple. Ah well. Since the trout didn't want to play, I put away my fly rod and broke camp, chowing on some trail mix for breakfast.

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I had slept well in my Kelty Dualist 22 sleeping bag, although as the temperatures dropped during the night I was glad that I had both a warm sleeping bag liner and a knit cap. I'll take time and detail my whole gear list in a later article, to let you know what worked and what didn't.

Backpack cinched in place, rod tube firmly strapped and game face grim, I headed up the talus slope on course to break over the top of the promontory and get a view of my destination from on high. I think it was here that I first heard the signature calls of the high altitude rodents known as pica. Their warning calls often preceded ahead of me, and then popped up again behind me as I wound my way through the treeless areas of my hike. It was the first time I had ever actually seen them in real life, which I considered quite the treat. I tried to take pictures, but not only are those critters wary and fast, they're perfectly colored to blend in with their rocky surroundings. So, thanks to Google, I give you a pica. Cute, huh.

I bet that would make some lovely dubbing.
I bet that would make some lovely dubbing.

So anyway, there I was, scrambling up the slope, occasionally trying to fall, and generally loving life. Making it to the top of the outcrop, I was treated to a unobstructed view of my goal.

Thar she blows!
Thar she blows!

I sat for a while, ate some more trail mix, and considered life. I decided if I didn't catch a trout that day, I would try to make it to another one of the nearby lakes and see if fortune favored me more there.

As I moved around the edge of the lake, I walked through an area that seemed to have remained aloof from the human disturbances down by the water's edge. It was pine trees and trickling rivulets, thick moss and the smell of growing things. The sound of running water followed me everywhere, a soft counterpoint to the wind shushing through the pines. As I rounded a blind turn at the base of a huge boulder, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't being loud enough. This was griz country after all. Ah, what the heck. I wanted to see if I could sneak up on some of the elk that left the tracks I was following, and besides, the wind was blowing from my back. Any bear worth his salt would smell me long before I got anywhere near them... right? Maybe.

As I moved through the trees, boggy patches of soil sprouted beautiful flowers of different shapes and sizes. This one was my favorite - the Colorado Columbine.

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I also stumbled across this - I was thrilled, in a totally unashamed, nerd-out kind of way. Because I had stumped across...

 

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A slime mold! They're so cool. Seriously. Check them out - they're essentially aliens. Wikipedia link for slime molds. I had never found one in the wild.

And since this is apparently 'geek out about all the cool stuff I found' time, I also happened to come around the corner and see this beautiful scene.

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So, the water coming down at this spot was roaring, and I was walking slowly towards the log but still a few yards off to the side. Poof! Out of nowhere, a Boone and Crocket sized pine marten springs up on the log and lopes across with that funny-looking run that all cousins of the weasel seem to have. I had never expected to get to see one in the wild - it was a great moment. He never saw me, or ever figured out that I was there.

I wanted to finish this series today, but 5:30 comes early. Tomorrow, I finish this.

As good things must, our trip was drawing to an end. We were reluctantly headed back down the road towards Denver, determined to stop a few times to fish along the way. I was looking forward to getting some dry fly action in, which you might think is a little funny after catching several great streamer browns. I just love a topwater bite over any other. I think it might have to do with tempting a fish to enter my world, the world above water, if just for a little bit, if only with the tip of his nose.

I was planning on throwing a hopper all day.

We put the pavement behind us, already rehashing stories of the fish we had caught in the previous days.

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A couple hours later the truck was rumbling down gravel, then bouncing through potholes, and then resting in the shade of a riverside tree grove.

We wadered up as Brian filled me in on stories of fishing the water in years past. Rigging quickly as we talked, we smelled the river-smell and listened to the gentle chuckle of the riffle only a few yards away. Determined to get the dry fly eat that I was hankering for ...continue reading "Fishing our way home"

After my morning success, the guys decided to get serious about looking for large brown trout in the winding creek behind the house. Brian and I, along with our host, wadered up and set off to do a little bushwhacking.

Our host had explored a lot of the available territory, so he was able to point us in the direction of a few likely big fish haunts. In the warm, liquid light of a fall Colorado afternoon, we explored, fished, and enjoyed life.

 

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We didn't see any hatches come off during the couple days we were there. The sand-silt bottom made for fairly murky visibility, so streamers were the name of the game. Brian had a fly box full of meaty goodness tied up by Fly Geek's Matt Bennett, while I stuck with the battle-proven black Smullett that had coaxed many strikes already.

It's easy to get frustrated when you're sure that fish are around but none of them want to play. I figured I should move and cover as much of the stream as possible ...continue reading "Rainbrowns – Afternoon trophy trouting"

The next morning dawned cool and quiet, with the excitement from the nocturnal fish wrangling still lingering. I was just as ready to throw on waders as the previous morning, but Brian wanted to spend some time chatting with his buddy over coffee so they hung back at the house. I headed for a section of the creek that I had looked over but hadn't given a proper chance to produce the big fish it looked capable of holding.

I felt confident in what I had learned about this new water, and I figured that I would be able to do a little headhunting for the bigger browns I knew had to be hanging in tight to the tangled cover. I had figured out that the browns were behaving a lot like snook, demanding a pinpoint accurate cast tight in next to cover to elicit a strike.

The creek bank was solidly lined on each side with willows, with only a few moose trails creating open paths. These trails had been enhanced in some areas with chainsaw and elbow grease, but the places I wanted to go were pretty darn thick. The close-quarters nature of the vegetation made casting a real headache, but I relished the challenge, the antithesis of throwing bomb casts over open water like I was used to.

It was extremely technical, close quarters fishing. Steeple casts and bow-and-arrow casts were my primary tools I moved from spot to spot. I made it to a shallow sandy riffle area that dropped off quickly, with an undercut bank on the far side. There just had to be a fish in there, but in order to land a fly on target I had to cast through a foot wide slot in the willows behind me and lay in on the backcast, making accuracy a real challenge. Not only that, but getting the rod to load with only the leader and a couple feet of flyline out the tip was quite the challenge.

My first cast fell a little short of the tiny gap in the willow branches that I was aiming for, but the second dropped right in. I actually couldn't believe that I had managed it, to be honest with you. I let the black streamer sink down into the tannin-murk for a one count, and immediately began the retrieve. Well, I tried to begin the retrieve, but immediately came tight onto a branch. A branch that moved... not a branch!

A thrumming headshake and a quick turn downstream had my heart racing as I grudgingly gave line to the unseen fish. It immediately headed for the nearest tangle, but I had an 8lb (3x) fluoro leader on. I was able to apply some serious pressure to put the brakes on, and used the long lever of the fly rod to turn the fish. A few tense moments more, and a beautiful buck was in hand, my largest fish for the trip.

Brown trout giving me the crazy eye
Whutchew lookin' at?

 

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I had a huge grin plastered across my face as I positioned the tired fish for a couple quick photos and then watched him slip from my hands back into the slow current. Mission accomplished... but let's do that again!

Working downstream through another set of moose trails, I hit the creek again. I spotted a tempting brushpile downstream a bit and headed that way. My second step found me suddenly wading through knee-deep muck. Trying to be stealthy, I squelched my way into position. Using the creek as a casting lane this time, I laid out a cast parallel to the waterlogged limbs and began to retrieve.

This time, the thump! of the take reverberated with unquestionable fishiness. Then, quicker than I could think, the fish darted for the safety of the branches. Aww... crap.

 

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Ohhhh... beaver.

To the bottom left of the picture you can see the flyline and amnesia mono to which my leader is looped. The situation seemed grim, but I could feel the fish down there, thrashing. My leader held, so I was left with a choice; Break the fish off and let it perhaps die of starvation while tied to the brush pile, or go in after it. I sighed and started removing layers, down to t-shirt and waders.

Working my hand down the mono, freeing as I went, I ended up nearly to my shoulder in the frigid water. I had a great view of my wavering reflection, since my face practically rested on the surface film. I was almost as busy making sure I didn't dip water into my waders as I was with untangling the fish, cussing quietly the whole time.

Eventually, I was able to drag the fish back up and out of the bottom of the pile, and a nice hen rose into the light.

 

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I snapped a picture and eased the trout back in the water. Since I was already wet, cold, and in the middle of the stream, I figured I might as well use the good casting lane to hit a couple points down the way that I couldn't get at while on the bank.

Two casts later, a thump!

To my amazement, I was hooked up again. I was surprised all the commotion hadn't turned off the pool.

Soon, another pretty fish was in hand, red bespeckled sides gleaming in the gathering morning brightness.

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After she swam off, it was time to head back to breakfast. We had a day of fishing to discuss, and I was sure that the guys had cooked up a great plan along with the scrambled eggs and taters.

After a delicious evening meal constructed around the fresh trout caught earlier in the day, we relaxed with a couple fingers of slow-burning scotch. Full bellies and the warmth of the living room dimmed our desire for heading back out in the evening chill, but tales of massive eruptions under mouse flies had us strapping into waders once again.

Quietly easing down to the beaver dam where I had gotten a bump the day before, Brian and I spread out and started casting.  I was chunking the same black streamer that had worked for me the evening before, while Brian was determined to experience a mousing strike. The water was cloudy, so I doubted that he would be successful, but I could definitely appreciate the goal.

The night was dead calm, and the coyotes sang from a nearby ridge as the Milky Way sprawled across the bejeweled velvet of the night sky. Long minutes of nothing ensued. The quiet shushing sounds of casting mingled with the rustling of small rodents going about their night-business. Casting at the far bank was a tricky endeavor; a wall of willow limbs waited for a fly cast just too far. Casting down the grassy near bank was much easier. I heard the plop of Brian's mouse fly down the bank a ways to my right as he too fished the grassy shore. Suddenly, a surface commotion, followed quickly by the terse call - "Fish!" I hurriedly reeled in and moved down the bank to his position to see if I could assist.

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A couple pictures later, the fish was once again a top predator lurking in the inky blackness. High fives all around - time to hit the sack and see what the morrow would bring.

 

 

After a night of waking up every couple hours to check the clock - "Is it time to fish yet?!...No... Now?!... No..." - I finally woke up the last time to the giddy sight of a thin line of light on the eastern horizon. Time to fish! I hopped out of bed, crawled from my den of fly fishing tackle, and headed for my waders.

 

The air was still as I stepped out into the coolness of the morning. Walking to my fly rod ...continue reading "Rainbrowns, Day 2"

I have a confession to make:

I don't fish for freshwater trout very much.

I flyfish in areas that earn me googley-eyed looks and somewhat bewildered queries, often along the lines of "I didn't think you could fly fish in saltwater/on the jetty/in the surf/offshore?"

On the jetty, I often get asked "Ever catch anything on that out here?", with a nod towards my fly rod; so often, in fact, that I have started using it as an inside joke greeting with my fellow jetty flyfishers.

I mean, heck, this blog's name illustrates my point - this isn't Fresh396, or Coldwater396...

Anyway, I digress. My point is that I was given the chance to join a good buddy of mine in his native state of Colorado, fishing for freshwater trout with little rods and wimpy leaders. I expected it to be a blast. ...continue reading "Rainbrowns, Day 1"

There is a Yakima Indian legend that tells how salmon were given as a gift to the People from the Creator. Sitting on the banks of rivers darkened with the returning salmon run, grandfathers would tell the story to their grandsons and granddaughters. If the salmon were mistreated, said the legend, they would disappear forever. In this way, respect of the resource was taught and handed down from generation to generation.

As if heeding the warning in the legend, Trout Unlimited is stepping to the fore in a conservation effort designed to protect some of the best remaining salmon habitat in the world. TU, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, used intensive GIS mapping techniques and on-the-ground evaluation to identify key watersheds in the region. After careful consideration, 77 critically important watersheds for salmon and trout habitat were listed – the Tongass 77. All-told, an impressive 1.9 million acres was included in the encompassed area.

While the entire Tongass National Forest makes up an area of nearly 17 million acres (surrounding such urban centers as the Alaskan capitol of Juneau), only 40 percent of that is forested. Nonetheless, this area comprises the largest temperate rainforest on the planet. This reiterates the point that Trout Unlimited is trying to make – save the best to protect the rest. By meticulously researching and listing the Tongass 77, TU and their partners are trying to create a safe zone within the larger forest – a ‘Salmon Forest’, to ensure the continuation of these incredible fish. Shuttling precious nutrients from the open ocean to far inland, salmon create an ecosystem all their own. More than just a fascinating annual phenomenon, salmon are the Tongass’ soul. Salmon Forest, indeed.

The Tongass region of Alaska was made a national park in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt. Though much has changed since then, the area’s economic dependence on salmon has changed very little. In fact, it is estimated that 97% of Alaskans consider salmon to be essential to their economy. When Trout Unlimited fights for the future of the Salmon Forest, they are also fighting for the stability of the local economy.

I have been enthralled by salmon for as long as I can remember. In 2001, I found myself living just down the lane from the Stillaguamish River in Washington state. What an opportunity! I spent hours wandering through a large chunk of forested land that literally bordered my back yard. I can still vividly remember the greenness of everything – verdant mosses, ferns, blackberry brambles, algae on every surface. The rivers were the most beautiful though; to this day my favorite color is “steelhead green”, a color used by fishermen in that area to describe the perfect green-clear-blue that rivers would turn after just enough runoff to stimulate fresh fish to enter the river.

The wildness of Alaska has always fascinated me. The vast tracts of land, thinly populated, appeal to me in a primal way that is hard to explain. My training in biology has only deepened my adoration for that landscape, and my fisherman soul practically drools at the prospect of spending time on such hallowed water. To fish in the Salmon Forest would truly be awe-inspiring. More important, though, is passing along the truth in the heart of that Yakima legend. The salmon runs are ours to protect. Trout Unlimited and their partners are working to leave a legacy of strongly protected habitat – the legacy of the Salmon Forest.

 

This is my submission to the Trout Unlimited 2013 Blogger Tour sponsored by Fishpond, Tenkara USA and RIO, and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

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There are times when fly fishing - and blogging - can seem a lonely pursuit. Hey, most of the time I kinda prefer it that way. Sometimes though, we need solidarity; we need one voice. These are the times when we need to all be in the same room at once, finally getting to put names to faces and enjoy the company of people who share our mindset. Such was the occasion on January 8, when I joined many of my fellow fly fishers and conservation enthusiasts in gathering to help support the Bristol Bay protection effort. If you are just hearing about this topic, you can visit these resources, or watch the documentary Red Gold that outlines the impact not only felt by, but to be dealt to, the local ecology and the local people. My position is a little biased of course but I feel like the guys at Felt Soul Media did a great job of trying to portray both sides of the story.

 

It was great to finally meet Christine Warren, aka Fly Fish Chick and once again run into fly slingers like Amanda of Red's Cottage photography and custom fly tying, Gabriel Langley, Matt Bennet and Chris Johnson of Living Waters Fly Shop, and a host of other comrades who love the woods and water. A special thanks goes to Banning Collins of Class V Outfitters for helping organize and promote this important event.

 

The raffles were great, the venue was warm and dry on a wet, chilly day, and the networking was fast and furious. A great cause was supported, and even as the specter of utter doom and disaster hangs over one of the most prolific and beautiful areas in the world... a ray of hope shines. We can help, and I ask you now, learn about this issue. Please. If not for yourself, for your grandchildren, and their children's grandchildren. We only get one chance to do this right.

 

Sportsmen are standing up and drawing a line in the sand, and you and I and all of us can make a difference here. We are in this together - you are not alone.

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