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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 I pushed onward and upward, the obvious choice seemed to be to closely follow the creek as it wended down through a narrow slot that water had carved over the millennium.

Picking my way through even more deadfall, I finally gained my first glimpse of the lake. Victory!

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I eagerly began moving along the shoreline, looking for good places to scan the lake for trout activity. However, I was immediately confronted by a freshly vacated campsite. I checked the ash in the fire ring - still warm. Someone had just left the area, probably this morning. And there, sitting on top of the ashes at the edge of the ring, was a Jolly Rancher candy wrapper. I picked it up, feeling thoroughly annoyed.

Trying to keep my spirits up, I headed on around the lake, searching for my own spot to set up camp that would be far enough - 200 feet or more - from the water, as per the wilderness area guidelines. As I walked, I noticed first one additional campsite, then another, then another. They were in varying degrees of freshness. What was this, Yellowstone?!

I was practically stomping along by this point as I rounded the lake and came smack up against a large vertical thrust of rock. My fatigue was really starting to catch up with me, and I made the decision that I wasn't going to climb the scree up and over the prominence. It would've been too easy to take a misstep and get hurt.

I found a flat area at the base of the scree in a clump of pines that - no surprise, at this point - had another old camp site in evidence. I set up my Kelty Tempest 2, a great little tent, and prepared my air mattress and sleeping bag. I gotta tell you, reader, that at this point I was in a serious funk. Melancholy was the mood as I halfheartedly fly fished for a bit (no trout anywhere to be seen or felt), and snapped a picture of the beautiful sunset over the lake.

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Tomorrow I would climb the scree slope, top the promontory, and go to the head of the lake where the creek fed in. There had to be fish there. In the meantime, I was exhausted, in a bad mood, and ready to give up on my day. I clicked on my headlamp for a bit of journaling, plugged my phone into my external battery, and I slept.

 

 

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.

 

 

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