The Flat Tops Wilderness is one of my all-time favorite places to camp and fly-fish. Its remote, rugged, wild, and less visited than most. This year there has been abundant rainfall - it has rained almost every day this spring. The trails are muddy and sometimes a bit difficult. The plus side of mud is good tracks - you can see who (or what) has been on the trail before and after you, assuming one knows his or her's own boot print. The usual critters where there again this year (deer, elk, bear, coons, skunks, etc) with one exception - I never saw a mountain lion print this year. However, rumour has it that the large "dog" prints on the trail were actually wolf prints. The old lady up at the cabins swears she had wolves round her house on a couple of occaisions early this spring. I googled "wolf print" and gave them a good look in comparison to dog prints, and I am still not convinced the prints on the trail were wolf, That said, I am not convinced otherwise either. Regardless, I never saw a wolf.
I realize now that I never take pictures of the trails into my favorite river. I take lots of river pictures, but in truth, the trail makes just as big an impression on me. It's the trail that must be hiked in to the real good fishing - the farther you hike away from the campground, the better the fishing. Two miles..OK...three miles...pretty decent...four miles in - fabulous fishing. Anyhow, the trail is always on your mind - what to pack-in, what not to pack, how much time to hike in/out, and at some point every year the question comes up - do I give up catching nice fish to beat the storm that is brewing, or, do I keep fishing and risk getting caught on the wrong side of the "boulders" at sundown. The "boulders" is a term some of us use to refer to the mountain top full of big boulders and rock that must be negotiated to get back to the campground. If the storm has lightnin, and they usually do, you don't want to be caught on the "boulders" with an aluminum frame backpack (like mine) and a fly-rod tube sticking up in the air (not to mention a bald head). I got caught on the wrong side of the boulders once. The lightening show was spectacular - actually striking some of the rocks on top of the mountain. I was wet cold and it was after dark when I stumbled back into the campground where Alan and crew were already organizing a search party. Amazingly cool since I had only met them a couple days before.
Anyhow next year, I am going to take many pictures of the trail to document its various sections: up hill to deep pools, narrow/muddy/buggy/flat, nice meadow, open aspen meadow, uphill to boulders, "the shoots", uphill again, straight and narrow, open meadows, and finally the cabins (at 5mi in). After four or five days hiking this trail, it leaves its imprint on you and you get to know it well. This year, the wild flowers were amazingly bright and colorful.
One man gathers what another man spills. So far I have found a Henckles knife at MeadownLake CG (very nice!) and a book on Colorado wildfires which I found on the trail.
The river was high this year but I found some good fishing including one day that was nothing less than inspirational. Here are some pictures from that day.
The river was high and fast due to all the rain. It was hard to get good drifts with the dry flies I like to use. Also quite difficult to land a big trout as they usually run straight for the current. So, you have a choice - use 4 or 5 lb tippet and catch many fewer fish (fly doesn't drift as naturally), or use the lighter 3lb tippet and hook more fish, but lose some flies when the big ones take off on you. I lost quite a few flies...
Of special note this day was "the log". As I worked my way up the river I saw a big tree which I was too lazy to negotiate. On the other side of the tree was a real nice piece of water where I knew some trout would be hanging out.
Casting into this sweet draw from below the log, it became apparent that hooking a nice sized fish would be difficult if not impossible to land. About the time that thought went through my mind, I got a powerful strike from a medium sized rainbow. He of course headed into the current and downstream. I thought I'd lose him and my fly, but I worked him as best I could and eventually, with my rod and on the upstream side of the log, actually netted the fish underneath the log on the downstream side. I hope you can visualize this. Anyhow, after netting the fish for some reason I started laughing out loud as I was quite amazed I pulled it off. I ended up catching 3 more the same way until a whopper didn't feel like playing my game, took me downstream, and popped the orange stimulator off my line. So, I eventually got what I deserved, but it sure was great fun for awhile!