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Thursday, July 9, 2015

In Search of Trout: Summer 2015

Starting off in the Flat Tops Wilderness' Trappers Lake, it was good to be back casting small dry flies for the native Colorado Cutthroat trout that inhabit the lake. Not sure I know of a more beautiful trout than a native Colorado CT in its full spawning regalia.
Colorado Cutthroat Trout From Trappers Lake
The brook trout in high country lakes of the Flat Tops are also quite beautiful:

A Flat Tops Brook Trout - a personal best.

On the hike back from this lake, I was struggling to open an energy bar and in a bout of frustration finally just ripped it open. The noise startled an animal in the brambles next to me. All I could see was that the animal was quite large and black. I took a few steps forward to get a better view and peaked over the brambles to see a moose staring right at me. At that moment, the moose began to urinate profusely. I wanted to get a picture but my camera was in my fishing vest which was in the lower compartment of my backpack. That fact, combined with the rather threatening and intimidating attitude of the moose, along with a steep trail with dead trees on both sides (from the fire years ago), and I decided the prudent move would be to break eye contact and head down the trail slowly and carefully. I was asked later if it was a cow or bull, and I said cow based on the fact that there were no paddles visible. However, after some thought, and realizing the urine came out like a firehose as opposed to a squirt, it was most likely a male yearling.

Back at Trappers I hooked up with my buddy Scott for our long awaited canoe trip for a great day of dry-fly fishing. However, the day was not to be auspicious for us as we found all canoes were already spoken for and we ended up in a row boat - something we'll never do again. On top of that, the weather changed, high pressure moved in, the wind was exactly opposite of normal. Long story short: the dry-fly hatches never came off, there were no fish rising, and the larger fished we had hoped to bag were elusive. So we nymphed our way around the lake. I caught a dozen or so and Scott caught ~15. Scott had considerable success with a black chironomid while I was getting many strikes on my zug-bug and 'Fitz special' dropper, yet failed to hook many of the hits. Later I inspected the 'Fitz special' fly I was using and realized I had wound too many turns of orange thread leaving less of the rather small (#18) hook exposed. I look forward to fishing with Scott again next summer (from a canoe!) and perhaps gaining an advantage with a slimmed down 'Fitz Special'!
Scott with one of the many trout he took on Trappers despite tough conditions.

The author with a native CT taken on the 'Fitz Special'. Although a small fish, you get an idea of the spectacular coloring of these trout during the spawn.
After a few days of lake fishing I was anxious to do what I love best: river fishing with dry flies. I spent three days doing so and had considerable success. Although the numbers were down in comparison with the recent past, I don't think I landed one fish under 14" and most were in the 16-18" range. So the quality was definitely there. Some examples:
The Fitzman in heaven. Look at that beautiful trout water.

An average Flat Tops Cut-bow - 6-8 of these in a day make for an exciting time.
Another beautiful cut-bow - this guy went completely airborne three times. A very strong fish.


On my last day in the Flat Tops I was having a terrible time - I could not get my fly to drift naturally (largely due to my fly-line being waterlogged after all the nymphing in Trappers), was constantly getting hung up, and just couldn't seem to do a damn thing right. I found myself faced with a deep hole in the river and crossed to the other side in hopes of continuing upstream but got hung up in some briers. As I pondered my situation I looked up and saw my second moose of the trip - he was staring right at me. There was no doubt this was a young bull as he had some nice paddles already out. It could well be the same moose Al and Tina saw last year as a yearling. I quickly dropped down to me knees to get the camera out of my FF vest, and snapped this picture:

Yes, he is hard to see but at least I got him on film even it if was with my crappy old camera. After taking this picture, the moose moved quickly and walked directly toward me to the opposite bank. I was quite surprised with his aggressiveness. I figured it was because I had made myself small by getting down on my knees to get out the camera. So, I stood up and made myself "big" by spreading my arms and legs apart and holding up my fly rod and moving it slowly back-n-forth. This worked as the moose stopped moving toward me. He then simply stared curiously at me for a few seconds before moving downstream at a leisurely pace. I got another picture of him as he crossed a small tributary:

This was a good sized animal and I was very glad he was on the opposite side of the river. Packman once said that he was more concerned about meeting up with a moose as opposed to a bear. I understand now where he was coming from. When I told old man Jones, Al's father, about how curious the moose was about me and how he walked directly toward me, Duane said "Heck, he probably thought he was gonna get him a lil' bit before lunch". That man cracks me up! Duane and Nancy also make fine wines and gave me a bottle of their Strawberry Margarita "Twisted Mist", which I treasure and am saving for a special occasion. Speaking of Al, a man who prefers to catch (and eat) whitefish, here he is with a nice rainbow caught on his multiple nymph rig:
At this point I had been in the bush for 9 days and needed to restock the cooler and hit a hotel for a much needed hot shower. So I headed down the dirt road from Buford to New Castle ... ~30 miles of dirt road through beautiful country. I typically drive about 20 mph because of the bumps and towing the Teardrop trailer, so every summer it seems this drive is time for much contemplation about life in general. This year, out of nowhere and while driving down this old dirt road, I had a rather cathartic experience related to the passing of my father this past Halloween. Looking back, I simply never had the time to really come to grips with his death. Well, I dealt with it on this day, and I needed to.
RIP MDF.

The Fryingpan River

After a hot shower at the hotel it was on to the "Pan" where I planned to camp over the July 4th weekend (ya gotta stay somewhere!). As usual, it was quite crowed but luckily, at least for me, the weather worked in my favor as every late afternoon there were thunderstorms with lightening that chased anglers off the river. Since I was camping nearby at the Reservoir, I would simply wait out the storms and go down to the river around 5-6pm and have it more-or-less all to myself. And the fishing was fantastic! What was strange though was that I was catching nothing but brown trout in the Pan this year, when usually I catch mostly rainbows. Perhaps it was how I was fishing - with a streamer and zebra midge dropper. Here is a brown typical of what I was catching:

On one trip to the river, it was quite crowded and I was hoping for a storm and sure enough it came and ran everyone off. I found shelter in the truck (pea sized hail was falling along with the rain) and drank a Stella Artois beer while I waited for the lightening to stop. I figured the fishing would be pretty good and decided if I caught a decent fish I would name it "Stella". The fishing was great and I fished til dark. I did catch a couple fat and quite beautiful Fryingpan brown trout:

"Stella" hit a zebra midge tied by yours truly.


Before you guys write in and criticize me for these fish laying on the ground for pix, it was night time, quite chilly, and since I was alone I had to remove the fish from my net, with the dropper or attractor usually getting snagged in the net, so it was quite difficult to manage while trying to calm down a flopping trout. But let me assure you, all of these fish were released unharmed and very healthy. Despite some good success at catching browns, I realized that I had not yet caught a rainbow and I only had one day to go. So just to round out the trip, sure enough the very last fish I caught before leaving for home was a nice rainbow that just clobbered my streamer and put up quite a nice fight. Here he is:


Thanks to Ethan for this last picture.
What a trip! But I did have some challenges...5 minutes after seeing moose #1, the Vibram sole on the heel of my left 10-year old Lowa hiking boot decided to come off. So I had to hike the last ~2 miles back to the truck with a hitch in my giddy-up to keep the sole from coming off the toe and completely falling off. I managed to do so, but suffered a helluva blister on my left big-toe and my moleskin was woefully old (from the Grand Canyon hike way back in my Phoenix days!). Also for two years in a row I forgot my beer coozies and this year, a major blow-it when I left my bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey behind. This caused particular suffering on those cold and wet night when my feet were frozen and didn't have a couple shots of Jamey's to warm the soul. But the biggest foobar was my 5-day cooler...somehow the plug had come undone and the backseat of my truck was wet for some days before I figured this out. I kept thinking - this shirt or these socks should not be wet....likewise, the odors emanating from the backseat were a lil stronger than normal...I kept washing off my net ... but it was only part of the problem ;)

The Bear

On my next to the last day on the Pan, I was alone on the river and kept hearing a loud crunches and crashes seemingly coming from the area where my truck was parked, which was hidden behind the willows. The noise kept happening until finally I got concerned and started to leave the river and walk to my truck to check it out. But then I saw what it was - on the side of the very steep mountain behind my truck was a bear knocking over dead trees and tearing through the stumps - for grubs or something. This was a large and very powerful bear that was negotiating the steep and rocky incline as though it was nothing at all. You would never know this was a black bear as it was a beautifully blonde color and I am wondering if it is the same bear that I saw last fall on the bank of the river with two cubs (Paul, an artist painting on the bank of the river saw 3 cubs). It was a beautiful cinnamon color at that time. Sure wish I had had my Canon so as to have taken a video of this bear but alas, it was back at the trailer. I guess I'll have to start bringing the Canon (with a 50x zoom) with me regardless of its size and weight and the risk of it falling in the water (with me...) and getting it wet. After all, what good is a nice camera if you never have it with you when you need it? Would have loved to have gotten a video of that moose as well. Next year!

Elk Story

Late edition - I forgot to relay the elk story told to me by Rich who is working at the Trappers Lake Lodge this summer. Last fall he said he heard two elk buggling back-n-forth and he and a buddy set out for the hunt. They pretty quickly came upon a 4x that presented himself nicely and Rich put an arrow through him just above the heart. He said the elk was stunned and had a look on his face like "what the hell is happening" and eventually dropped to down to his front knees while he tried to figure out what to do. The next thing Rich says the other bull comes running over and rams the half-fallen bull in the ass and puts him down for good. He then started to urinate on the downed bull and spent the next few minutes marking the entire territory around the downed animal.

I have met women that I would do just about anything for ... and I suppose for an entire heard of cows the motivation may be even stronger ... but man, talking about hitting a man while he's down! Then again, as the old saying goes, to the victor belongs the spoils.