Curiosity and Research

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

It’s a catch 22, I am itching to get into the Rocky Mountains to start hiking and fly fishing my favorite lakes and streams but I also realize that all the water is a welcome problem (and that the fishing in the state will be all that much better once the levels get back to normal). Of course you can still go out and fish these swollen bodies of water, the fish are still there and are eating to stay alive, but it takes a different approach to fish faster moving water. It is more difficult and sometimes dangerous to be out in those conditions.

Not to be outdone by the local rain, the high mountain lakes I frequently hike to stayed frozen much longer into the year than normal, so hiking to 12,000 feet to fish was out of the question. Still in need of an adventure,  I turned to the internets and started researching, trying to find some fishable water. My interest was piqued by a short video that really gave no hint as to where it was shot –  river or state. I had a feeling I could find the place,  it had the look of Colorado and was vaguely familiar. With this video and a hunch, I reached out to some friends and we began to do our research and soon discovered it was an area that I had driven by many times but never knew was fishable. I checked the Colorado surface water information for all the rivers in the state. I looked at this particular river and noticed it was one of the few rivers that was flowing at normal levels. Yahtzee!

Meandering through a picturesque valley, the river had the perfect amount of undercut banks, deep pools, and shallow riffles. We walked downstream from the parking lot, which only had one other car in its lot, and Tom jumped down into the water to start fishing, while I started just downstream from him. Within a half a dozen casts I had my first fish on, a big, beautiful brown trout. I was astounded at the size of the fish that came out of the small river and was more amazed as the day went on. Tom and I caught multiple fish, both brown and rainbow trout and all ranging in size from 10 to 18 inches. As I stepped back and looked around the area, it dawned on me how lucky we were to be fishing this spot! It made me realize how a little bit of curiosity coupled with research can come together to create an unprecedented day of fishing.

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Opening Weekend

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

Picked up and re-posted @ Elevation Outdoors

Here in Colorado we are extremely lucky, we get to fish every day of the year. Although some of the water is frozen in the winter, and some roads that lead to amazing fisheries are closed for the winter, but you can fish open water whenever you feel the urge. Pikes Peak Highway is one of the roads that is closed during the winter months. Last weekend it opened for the season so myself, Tom, Shawn and Tim headed out to one of the reservoirs.

Shawn and Tim hiked their float tubes in, while Tom and I were planned on wading around the lake. We hiked a mile or so up the reservoir and then went down to the lake and started fishing. With my fly fishing and camera gear packed into my Mountainsmith Mayhem 35, it was easy to hike around the edge of the lake with everything I needed for the day packed into the Mayhem.

The reservoir is very deep, 130 feet at its deepest. The shoreline that Tom and I were wading was shallow enough to walk around, with about a foot and a half before it dropped off into the abyss. With snow on the steep banks, and not a lot of room to walk, we had to be careful when hiking around. We stopped at one point and decided to fish an area that had a nice 5 foot shelf coming off the bank before it headed down deep into the lake. With the bank right behind me, roll casting was the only way to get my streamer out into the lake. Before long I had my first fish of the day on the line and I didn’t realize it was a lake trout until it was in my net. This just happened to be the first lake trout that I have ever caught. After releasing the fish, I roll casted back out into the water, waited for my line to sink deep and bam, fish on again. And again it was a nice lake trout on the line.

As Tom and I were skirting the edge of the lake, Shawn and Tim were kicking and fishing their way up to the inlet. After a couple of hours all four of us met up and hung out near a cove and fished that and a nice peninsula that jutted out into the lake – all of us catching a nice amount of fish for the rest of the afternoon.

The Pikes Peak Highway was opened from 9-4 that day, so around 3:30 we started our hike back to the car. With a little bit of hiking, and a lot of fish caught by everyone, it was a great opening weekend for all of us.

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Another 24 Hours

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

A few years ago my friend Ryan and I took a trip that lasted only 24 hours, bushwhacking into a remote set of lakes. Not to be outdone by myself, I decided to try this 24 hour backpacking/camping/fly fishing event again. This time my friend Daniel was crazy enough to join me, even though I was headed to a lake that I had never been to before and with just the vague knowledge that there might be some big trout.

Backpacking during monsoon season in Colorado is always a gamble and this particular weekend was no exception. We set out on a Saturday and got to the trailhead around 3 in the afternoon. Hiking to the first lake would take a little over three hours, traveling five miles with an altitude gain of roughly 3,000 feet. The beginning of the hike the weather was perfect – a little bit of sun with mostly cloudy skies makes for a great hike. The last third of the hike however was all above treeline and the fog and rain moved in quickly. Battling a little bit of hail and a lot of rain, we made it to our destination in time for the skies to clear – giving us a chance to set up the tents and get a little bit of fishing in. After making some dinner the rain came again and would continue for most of the night.

The next morning we awoke to clear skies and the most amazing sunrise I have ever seen. We had our coffee and started to pack up for our trek over to the unnamed lake approximately 2 1/2 miles away. I brought along my Mountainsmith Scream 25 pack to use for the off trail hike. By far my favorite pack, the Scream 25 is perfect to bring along and use as a day pack. It’s super lightweight and easily stuffs into my larger pack, yet it is large enough to carry everything I need for a day of hiking and fishing.

Taking a little over an hour, we reached our lake and were excited to see the fish feeding on the glassy surface of the water. Finding solitude like this is why we hike for hours and hunt for new destinations. The lakes are seemingly untouched, as if no other human has stepped foot in the place. Hiking to and fly fishing lakes like these is the most gratifying feeling. Being able to catch my first splake and a few cutthroats made the trip even that much more enjoyable.

We ended up only fishing the lake for a couple of hours, as we needed to get back to camp and pack up and head out. Storms during the monsoon season usually start up after lunch so we wanted to get out before having to worry about any thunderstorms rolling above us. Thankfully the hike out was uneventful, with a quick stop for a burger and a couple of beers on the way home.

Needless to say that it was an adventure packed 24 hours of backpacking and fly fishing!

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The Timing of Ice Out

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

All of my favorite locations to fly fish in Colorado are well over 10,000 feet above sea level.   That’s actually a good thing, because when fishing these areas, you do not see many anglers and the solitude and scenery are unmatched. The bad news is that since these lakes and streams are at such high altitudes, it’s hard to determine when the snow and ice has melted enough to get to them. Some years you can get to lakes that are ice-free by the end of May, other years you have to wait until July to find the open water.

This year was one of those years where the itch to go hiking and fly fishing had to be put on hold because of all of the snow and ice the high country received in the winter months. I did all the online research, I contacted fellow hiking/fly fishing friends, I searched the internets for any and all information I could find about the possibility of the ice and snow melting and I still had to wait longer than I wanted to. Finally, around the end of June, I decided to hike to a set of lakes that I thought  might be free of ice. Tom, Daniel and Conan (Daniel’s dog) decided to go along,  even though the odds were 50/50 that we would actually be able to fish the lakes if the ice was out.

For my first hike of the season, I packed my Mayhem 35 full of everything I could possibly need –  rain gear, water bladder, extra clothing, lunch, camera equipment, and my fly fishing essentials. With everything easily fitting inside my pack, it was a perfect morning for the two hour hike to the first lake.Overcast skies with temps in the lower 50’s made for great  hiking weather. Once we got to the first lake it was a relief to see that it was indeed free of ice. We set our packs down and got our fly gear out and started fishing.

At this point I have to make clear another issue that arises when fishing the high country. Not only do you have to worry about a lake being ice free but you also have to worry about the water temperature. Once the ice comes off a lake it of course is fishable, but if you hit it too soon after the ice, the water temperature is still too cold for the fish to be very active. There’s the sweet spot when the ice is off, the lake is warmed up just perfectly, and the trout are voracious. This was not one of those days.

After a couple of hours of fishing without even seeing a trout, we decided to try our luck at another lake in the vicinity. This particular lake is unnamed and has no trail or signs of its location. Going on some information I got from a friend a couple of years ago, we decided to bushwhack up to the lake and see if it was fishable. After a half hour or so of bushwhacking over boulder fields and downed trees, we came over a ridge and got our first look at the lake. We noticed a lot of fish eating off the surface and were thrilled at the chance to catch some of these trout.

Even with all of the action we were seeing, Tom was the only one of us to catch anything, netting three nice cutthroat trout. Then the clouds started rolling in and we were getting hit with a bit of snow/sleet/rain so we packed up and headed back to find the trail out, which involved another half hour of bushwhacking to get back to our original trail.

I would have to continue to wait for my first fish in the high country, , but it was still a perfect day for hiking and fishing!

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Around Town

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

Vests, chest packs, lanyards, sling packs and lumbar packs – I have them all. As a fly fisherman for over ten years, I have used just about every product on the market – starting with the original fly fishing vest all the way to the latest in the lumbar selection of packs. I carry more than I need to every time I head out to go fishing, so a pack that can hold everything and also be comfortable is essential. Up until this last year my favorite pack to use was my sling pack, then I became a firm believer in the lumbar pack.

Fishing in and around Denver is a ton of fun. In early spring the little streams warm up and the ice thaws off of the lakes and the fish are ready to bite – the perfect time to take my son to the various fishing holes around town. When taking a five year old fishing I have to remember that it is all about him having fun, so it is important to bring the essentials along. Luckily, everything fits in my Tour lumbar pack  – Matchbox cars, legos, apples, PB&J, animal crackers, water bottles, crayons and coloring books, along with the fly fishing tools I need – all fit neatly into the Tour pack.

In between the trips where I take my son exploring, I get to show some friends around town. On one occasion I took my friend Jason Getzel to a local creek in the hopes of finding some brown trout. We were also hoping to get Jay on his first fish of the year, which was accomplished. The fish might not have been anything to write home about, but being able to use the Tour pack and wet wading in the creek for an afternoon is what exploring and fly fishing is all about.

The most enjoyable part of being able to fish around town is when I get off work early and am able to head to the creek or the lake and have time to relax for an evening. I realize not many people can get off of work and drive 15 minutes up the road and catch a 12″ brown trout, so I do not take it for granted and am thankful that I’m able to live in a place where I can enjoy my hobbies so easily.

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A Canoe and a Camera

Originally posted at Mountainsmith.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota is a beautiful place. If you have not had the opportunity to visit I highly recommend going at least once. But I warn you, once you do, you will want to keep going back – at least my good friend Randy Wilson and I have found that to be true.

Packing all the essentials for a weeklong trip into the boundary waters is a challenging task. For this most recent trip – my fifth into the north country of Minnesota – I packed and repacked at least six times. Everything you will need to use for the trip has to fit inside a canoe. Not only that, you also have to take into consideration the portages and the water that inevitably makes its way into the canoe. One pack however was an easy choice – the Spectrum camera bag by Mountainsmith. Designed in Colorado by professional photographer Andy Mann, the Spectrum was the perfect camera pack for a week on the water.

Taking an expensive camera and a couple of lenses on a trip like this can be nerve wracking. Throwing things in and out of a canoe and of course the possibility of getting everything soaking wet, is always in the back of your mind. The Spectrum pack has just the right amount of padding and space and even its own rain jacket so you don’t have to worry when the weather turns wet on you. The pack held its own, as it was dropped and/or placed heavily into the wet canoe at least 50 times.

Another nice aspect of the pack is its size. I mentioned it is perfect for a camera and couple of lenses but it also held a handful of batteries, maps, knifes, lunch, a compass, a cutting board, bear spray and a few other things that most people would normally not put into it. Even with everything packed away, it felt light and sturdy on our backs, even while carrying a canoe.

After six days of portaging, paddling and fishing we headed back to the lodge and put up the canoe and put on the hiking boots. We had an afternoon to do a little hiking and fishing the scenic Brule River. Again, the Spectrum was in tow – packed this time with only the camera equipment and a water bottle. The afternoon was spent catching rainbow trout and snapping more great photos.

Lucky for us that Randy is a professional photographer and was able to capture some amazing images from our weeklong adventure.  You can view more of his work at www.rhwilsonphoto.com. You can also find more information about the Spectrum pack and all the other great products that Mountainsmith creates at www.mountainsmith.com.

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