Friday, August 1, 2014

Bluelining Heaven

This summer I have put a pretty big emphasis on learning something new - flyfishing for trout in lakes and ponds. Though it has been fun testing the waters, my lack of experience has resulted in fewer fish than I would like. It's been a pretty tough pill to swallow!

So, I was really looking forward to getting back to bluelining - hiking away from the crowds to fish small, crystal-clear streams that hold wild and/or native trout. My dad and I made the trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park. He was headed to an optometry conference and I was lucky enough to tag along. "Wow!" is all I can say. I had never traveled west to fish before and I haven't been out that way since I was 4 years old. What a difference hiking is in the Rocky Mountains from the Hills of Pennsylvania!

Rocky Mountains
The first two days, my dad and I fished together on lower elevation streams so we could adjust to the elevation - I had the worst headache of my life the first day we were there! This meant shorter hikes, more people, and mostly brown trout. As we acclimated to our new surroundings, we hiked a little bit farther and got into more brook, rainbow, and ONE greenback cutthroat trout the second day. It was clear though, that if we were going to catch more greenbacks, we would have to wear out some shoe leather to do so.

Fly fishing

A greenback and a landlocked salmon in the same month for a PA guy... It's ok, I hate me too.

My dad was with a group at the conference that was also fly fishing. So, the last two days while he was in class and fishing with a guide, I was going to be making solo treks into the mountains. Since my altitude issues had subsided, I decided to swing for the fences the first day and hike back to a lake 5 miles in. The fishing was beyond worth it.

I love backcountry infrastructure

I was content with the day of fishing after a few short hours! However, this trip was partially about exploration for future trips. There was another lake 1.5 miles above the one I was already at that reportedly had bigger, less educated greenbacks in it. Let's be honest, I HAD to check it out and see if the fishing was as good.

Alpine Lake

At the lake 6.5 miles from the trailhead, if you could make your fly float, fish would eat it. Unfortunately, the fish I got into there were certainly smaller (but not less gorgeous!) than the ones I had found below. Oh well! You never hit homeruns if you don't swing hard - but sometimes it's a big whiff! (Just ask my Phillies!)

After the 13 mile round-trip hike, I was beat to say the least (my quarter sized blisters on each heel served as proof). Overall, I had caught enough fish and seen enough scenery that the trip was already a success. Damn, I still had 1 full free day of fishing in some of the fishiest, most beautiful country I've ever laid eyes on. What was I to do?

While I was exploring on my own, my dad was fishing a lake with a guide that I had read about before the trip. By his reports, it was fishing fantastic and it was only 3 miles from the trailhead! I laced up my tattered boots and decided to go for it. The hike in started out sunny and 90 degrees but soon turned into a thunderstorm with hail. It had subsided before I reached the lake and conditions were quite good. After I had time to scope out a few quality spots and nabbed a few trout, the storms were back; this time packing cold, blustery winds.

I tried to wait out the storm under a nearby thicket of pines and chowed down a sammich. 30 minutes of standing around in storms and seeing the high winds reduce all visibility in the lake and make casting a complete nightmare had me feeling pretty restless. Prior to traveling to Colorado I had read about the creek that flowed into this particular lake and how it was probably one of the most scenic and fishiest creeks in the park. So I decided it was time to dodge the weather and check this little drainage out.

Alpine Lake

Man, was it worth the extra hike and clouds of mosquitos. I can honestly say this was bluelining heaven. Flat glassy pools interrupted by braided riffles and plunges with mountains peeking over your shoulder. The kicker? These fish were really only interested in size 22 and 24 flies! What a blast. After plying this creek for a couple hours, severe lightning storms returned and I was forced to head out. Along the trail, I was hiking out right on the edge of the lake the earlier storms made unfishable. At this point, with lightning flashing overhead, there were fish rising about 5 feet off the shore. I made a couple cast and ended up with another beautiful greenback on my very last casts to cap off a fantastic trip.

We explored some fantastic new water and found some of the best fishing I've ever seen. Every pool held good sized, hungry, wild trout. For the most part big, buoyant stimulators were the ticket. It was so much fun to get back to bluelining. Why don't I do more fishing?

Out Take

If you fish bluelines, eventually you end up in the trees... with me hiding in the bushes chuckling.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Running Down the Rise

Abol Falls
Mt. Katahdin
Maine, Native Brook Trout, Ponds, Hex Hatch. To a devout fanatic of the most beautiful fish in existence (Strong words, I know, but seriously - nothing compares in my eyes.) this list of things, when tied together, gives me the shakes. My dad and I set out on a journey that would include all of these things.

Brook Trout
Future Trophy
My Uncle, Barry Burgason, has lived in Maine since before I was born. Yet, I have only traveled to see him once in my entire life. I was 4, and I was in his wedding. Meaning, I have not been to see him or his family, since my cousins were born. What a jerk, I know! The only time our families get together is once a year, when they have to do all the traveling. So it's safe to say, a trip north was long overdue. It was great to see my Aunt Caroline, and my cousins Emma and Johanna.

Maine Fishing
Uncle Barry, In his Element
Being a resident of Maine for quite some time, and being very well respected in the forestry industry, my uncle has some great connections. So, when it was mentioned we might be able to stay in his friend's camp on the banks of the West Branch of the Penobscot River in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin, who hesitates at that? So off we went.

"Hey what's that our your window?" "Oh, that's just Mt. Katahdin."
Bacon Double Cheeseburger for Trout
The first night of our quest to catch big brook trout rising to Hex's (Hex's or Hexagenia Limbata are mayflies that are almost 2" long. Typically, mayflies that trout eat are generally 1/4" to 1/2" long. To find native brook trout eating bugs this big is pretty rare!), we drove some pretty sketchy dirt roads though the North Maine Woods and paddled out on an absolutely gorgeous lake. We began casting sinking lines attached to Hex nymphs and small attractor leech and streamer patterns... nothing. Then, like a shot in the arm, Hex's started hatching - dotting the glassy surface of the lake. It wasn't to be our night, however, and the only thing eating the nearly 2" long bugs were seagulls. Total Bummer. We loaded up our boats amidst the clouds of starving mosquitos in the dark (Seriously - Clouds! I will never complain about mosquitos in PA again!).

It's commonly said by fly fishers that, "It's not about the fish." This is something that people who are catching fish say. When you are getting skunked, it's all about the fish! Think about it: You drive twelve hours to go on a fishing trip, and the only thing that's missing are the fish! The first night was pretty hard to swallow.

The view did not suck.
The second night, we had gotten a tip about a small lake we should try. So off we went with high hopes. We found huge spotted sedges (#10's) hatching and trout sporadically rising to eat them. A great start! As the sun started retreating behind the mountains and trees, once again, we welcomed the appearance of the Hexagenias. Trout rose, but still only here and there. My uncle got into a few, including what I consider an absolute trophy brook trout. My dad and I missed a few rises and I hooked and fought the second largest brookie of my life (only second to the trout from the Hungry Trout Twin Ponds Preserve - see previous post) to the canoe where he released himself a few inches out of hands reach. I vow to never leave my net in the truck again!

Brook Trout
Those fins though!
We were getting closer, but we still weren't content with how we'd done. I quizzed my Uncle Barry on what he was doing to connect with so many more trout than us? Having fished these ponds before, and it being our first time targeting rising trout in stillwater, he enlightened me on how to specifically target the rising fish. We were basically paddling into general areas where we saw rises and waiting for the trout to come closer to us as they cruised (how naive and foolish).  What we needed to do, he instructed, was get within reach of each rise and put the fly into the ring left by the breaching brookies. Essentially, "Running Down the Rise."

Night three, our new tactic in mind (and a net!), we went back to the same pond as the night before. We met blustery winds and pretty good sized waves for such a small body of water. The anchor we had been using, made of a few feet of rope and a tied up rock we found on the shore, just couldn't hold us. Extremely frustrated, we beached the canoe and I trekked back up the quarter mile swampy, mosquito-laden trail through the woods and got a mushroom anchor out of the truck and brought it back. It wasn't looking good.

Maine Ponds
Perseverance! (and a net!)

Finally, I dredged up a pretty nice brookie in about 10' of water using the tactics I had learned at the stillwater clinic. A fly called the mini humungous, steadily twitched just over the weedy bottom did the trick. (Honestly, had I not gained so much confidence in this technique at the flatwater clinic, I wouldn't have stuck with it. It totally paid off.) It was just about dusk and we'd only seen a few bugs and only a handful of rises all evening. With our heads hanging low, we paddled back toward the takeout.

As a last resort, we decided to check out a shady shoreline we hadn't visited yet. At this point, why not? This decision was like trading a friend's '85 Mutt Cutts sheep dog van, for a moped - we TOTALLY redeemed ourselves. There were Hex's everywhere! There were so many rises, it was like this side of the lake was boiling! We'd spot a rise, shout "There's one! ten o'clock!", I'd paddle over and my dad would lay down a cast. Nearly every cast drew a rise (whether we hooked the fish or not was another story). It was so action packed, my dad would have a fish on and I would be casting to a different riser! Make fun of me all you want, I was visibly shaking at this point. Was it the fishing or sitting in a canoe for several hours? Probably both - It didn't matter. (I'm kind of shaking reliving it - or is that the coffee?)

This probably only lasted twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. I don't know. We boated more fish than we could photograph, and with the lack of light only a few of the pictures turned out anyway. I have no idea what numbers we caught versus how many we missed - it was that good. Funny how a few fish can totally change your attitude. I think I could have carried all the boats up the trail by myself that night.

Carrying out the boats with headlamps and reflective tape to guide us.

The next morning we decided to try our luck in the river. After all, it was the first time it had been fishable all week due to high water. We got into some very spunky Landlocked Salmon. These little fish were a lot of fun. Multiple jumps, tailwalking, flipping and flopping in and out of the boat the whole time they were hooked. Icing on the cake in my eyes.

This would be our last night on the ponds and we decided to hike back in to a more remote pond - 1.6 miles almost all uphill from the trailhead. My uncle had scouted this pond a few weeks beforehand and found a few beat up canoes that weren't chained down that we could use. So, instead of carrying boats in, we fortunately only had to carry paddles in. This was by far the prettiest pond we found. My uncle, yet again, got into some pretty nice fish and my dad and I found a bunch of fish eating Hex's, but tonight, they were a bit smaller. Oh well, it was still a blast. We made the 1.6 mile hike back out, this time in complete darkness. Fortunately it was mostly downhill and the trail out was blazed with reflective tape on the trees. It made it pretty doable.

Mosquitoes Suck
We fished a section of the river the next morning that was new to all of us. Mostly just to pass time before we had to pack up camp and begin trudging south. There's nothing more bittersweet than the end of a fishing trip. All the hours of planning (that in most cases goes out the window when you actually arrive), all the packing, all the flies tied specifically for this trip - now to be stowed away with the hope you can make the same trip over again. That's not possible though. As the old saying goes, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he's not the same man."

So, my education in stillwater fishing continues and my love for this new style of fishing grows. It can be maddening at times, but it's a new challenge and every time I'm on the water I learn a lot more about it.

Other Photos

Tan man

Hex! It's what's for dinner!
A Maine staple I'm told

Out Takes

All tuckered out from the hike in.
Trophy Chub