About this blog

This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gotta make the best with what you have

After our last trip out to the Olympic Peninsula, Chris and I have been itching to get back out there. After several days of watching flows, when we both finally had a day off again and while river levels weren't ideal, we decided to go for it anyway. With that we met up at 4:00 AM and were on our way for another day of steelheading.

The river - high and off color

Upon arriving at the river it quickly became clear that the flow and clarity were going to be an issue. In fact when we forded a tail out to get to one of our favorite holes there was only about eight inches of visibility. This meant that bright flies were likely bring us the best chances of success, so I rigged up with a nymph that I came up that has a copious amount of pink UV flash in it, followed by a glue egg. This step up definitely made a good dirty water nymphing rig as Chris noted that all he could see an orb of pink as it drifted by.

Covering the water

We pounded the water in the stretch for several hours, but didn't see any signs of fish and it seemed like the water was just to high, so we decided to move downstream a bit further. We covered the entire next several hundred yard stretch downstream and Chris got one take down, but that was it. It was at this point that Chris pointed out that he had yet to drink his Red Bull and that this fact was putting a crux on our fishing. Sure enough, I had only made a couple of casts after he cracked his Red Bull open and made a drift into a slot between a couple of boulders when my indicator went down. I set on it and at first thought that it was just bottom as it didn't budge, then the fish realized it was hooked and took off.

Red Bull = steelhead???

The first thing that I noticed was that this fish was was much bigger than the one that I had gotten on our last trip. It also seemed to be quite a bit stronger. The fish ran me up and down the tail out a couple of times before I got it close enough to see that it was a nice about 9 lb chrome wild buck Steelhead!! Wild Steelhead are a very special fish and with the dwindling populations of these fish across the Pacific Northwest all of them should be released unharmed. Due to this fact Chris and I were extra careful with this fish and that meant that when the fish decided that it didn't want a photograph take it got its way. I was thrilled to have a had the opportunity to catch a fish a wild Stelhead and watch it swim away again to hopefully continue on to the spawning grounds.

I made a few more casts while Chris finished up his Red Bull and hooked into another fish just in front of where other one had been holding. However, I only got a couple of head shakes out of that fish before it tossed my fly.

With that it was Chris' turn. Chris was fishing his new switch rod and while I could only reach the middle of the river with my single hander he was able to get to the seam on the far side. After a couple of casts his indicator went down and for a second I thought that had a good hookup, but like my last fish this one too was able to toss his fly. However, a few casts later Chris found another fish and this time got a solid hook up on it.

Chris hooked up

Chris fought his fish for a while, but while mine had decided to simply stay in the tail out, his decided to head downstream. Chris followed the fish down and had to work to keep the fish out of the rocks and snags along the bank, but brought the 6lb wild buck Steelhead within tailing range before long. Once again we were being very careful with this fish since it was wild and just as Chris went to tail it the hook popped out and the fish slipped back into the current.

After the short distance release of Chris' fish, we covered the pool for another a couple of hours, but it seemed that the effects of the Red Bull had worn off so we decided to go try some new water.

The first spot we went to was a deep hole with a big eddy one our side of the river. We had only been here a couple of minutes when a fish rolled in the eddy. Chris tried a few casts but didn't get any grabs on the inside of the eddy so he started working the seam on the edge. With that I took the inside and watched as the unknown fish rolled again. The current was pretty slow here so I was giving my fly some sporadic twitches downstream followed by a dead drift to give it a little extra action. I was in the dead drift part of this routine when my indicator started to move slowly upstream. I set on it and the water erupted as about a 10lb Coho broke the surface. After a short battle (very short compared to the Steelhead) I brought the fish in, pulled the UV Bomber fly out of its jaw and turned it loose. We spent a little more time fishing this stretch after I released the Coho, but we still wanted to check out a hike in section of the river, so before long we headed out again.

The culprit - a wild hen Coho

We picked a stretch of river about a 1/2 mile from the road and found a nice hole were a tributary dumped in. While we saw a couple of fish roll in this stretch the only thing that we got out of it was some lost flies so we kept moving downstream.

Chris working some of the hike in water

We covered a few nice runs downstream with no luck before the banks became to steep to continue and we had to turn around. While there was some nice water down in this section it would definitely fish better with less water, like most of the river.

The hike out was a bit steep...

After checking out the hike in water, we still had a little bit of daylight so we decided to head downstream and try out one more spot. However, while we did see a few fish roll, the amount of daylight just didn't allow us enough time to properly cover the water and we had to call it a day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter Steelhead Time

While the Puget Sound has been fishing quite well for sea-run Cutthroat lately, it has been hard to not start thinking about winter steelhead. The only problem has been that November was an exceptionally wet month and virtually all of Washington's coastal rivers have been blown out for the last three weeks. Since the season started, Chris Ringlee (a fellow guide and co-worker at the fly shop) and I have been monitoring the river flows looking for a break and we finally got one this last week. With the rivers finally dropping back into shape, we decided to make the run out to one of my favorite Olympic Peninsula streams.

As with most steelhead trips, we got off to an early start and were on the road by 4:15 AM, which placed us on the water just as the sun was rising. The air was crisp when we hit the water and the water had just about the right amount of color too it. Being that we were fishing a smaller stream, Chris and I both decided to toss nymphs although he was using his switch rod and I was stuck with my single hander. We both had a couple of takes in the first few runs, but no hook-ups so we went searching for better water. I had fished this river last year and hooked a fish not far below where we were fishing, so we decided to see if we could find any fish in that spot.

The river

Once we got to this spot, it didn't take all of that long to see that there some fish around as one rolled right in front of us in the first five minutes. With proof that there were fish around, Chris and I started pounding the water and before long he hooked into a good sized fish. This fish was extremely active and seemed to be bent on spending as much time out of the water as possible. The coloration of the fish looked a bit strange and at first we thought that it was just a dark steelhead, but after the fifth jump we got a good look at it and could see that it was about a 13lb Chum Salmon that had grabbed Chris' egg imitation.

Chris' Chum taking flight

This Chum put up a heck of a fight, but before long Chris won out, then set it free to continue upstream. After this we hit a lull and for the next hour we fruitlessly covered the water and started donating flies to the snags in the river like they were going out of style. However, the lull didn't last and Chris got a good take but missed it. Now that we knew that there was a fish holding in this section of the river we decided to rest it for a little while and cover the pools just upstream. I covered the pool just above where Chris had the grab, while Chris opted to grab lunch. It was here that we saw one of the worst displays of low-holing fishing ethics that I have ever seen. Although I am not going to name the culprit a certain Olympic Peninsula guide snuck into the spot that we were resting, not thirty feet below me, made one cast and caught a steelhead (probably the one Chris was resting...), bonked it, made a comment about that being a "good spot" then headed off downstream. I am not one to get to upset about sharing the water, but this was just something else. If I want to fish a spot were somebody else is, it is common practice to ask permission first, not to just barge right in. I might be able to excuse this with the average fisherman, but for a guide to do this it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Covering the water

After the incident we had to once again rest the hole, but this time kept a much better eye one it. When it did come time to fish it again, I got the first shot at it and had a good take but missed it. However, before I could make too many more tries at running my nymph rig through the hole again, Chris hooked into a fish in the hole above me.

Chris putting the hurt on his fish

This fish didn't seem to interested in jumping like the Chum, but instead tried to go deep. It didn't take Chris too long to get the fish in and we were surprised to see that it was a 10 lb chrome bright wild hen Coho Salmon.

Chris' native Coho Salmon

After the Coho, fishing seemed to turn on for a while and Chris hooked up with a nice chrome Steelhead that ran across the pool a couple of times before taking him right into a rock and coming off. Within about five casts of this, Chris hooked into a second larger Steelhead that he had on for a few seconds but it also came unbuttoned. We worked the pool for another hour after this but before long decided that we wanted to try out some new water so we continued downstream. We covered a good 1/3 of a mile downstream and although it looked like good water, we didn't see any sign of fish, so made the decision try out another stretch on the lower river while we still had some day light.

Working the way back upstream

When we got to our next spot, we figured that we only had about another hour to fish before dark so we quickly found ourselves a nice run and got to it. Chris covered the pool first, while I came up behind him now using a pink and purple nymph trailed by an egg imitation. I was about half way through the run and had tossed my flies into a seam behind a log when my indicator shot under the surface. I set the hook and instead of feeling the dead weight of a snag, there was the clear throb of a head shake. The fish immediately took off down stream, but proved to be no match for my 8 WT and I was able to keep it fairly well under control. Before long I got the fish in close enough to get a good look at it and could see that I had a nice about 4-5lb chrome steelhead on the end of my line.

Me hooked up with some steel

The fish made a couple more runs and did a bit of thrashing on the surface before I pulled it into the shallows. I still couldn't tell if the fish was wild or hatchery and didn't want to drag it up on shore just in case it was wild so instead I pulled it up onto a shallow shelf so Chris could check. This is where things went wrong. The fish was lying on its side in the water and Chris was making the check, when the fish decided to thrash and threw the hook. It sat on the shelf for a second, but before either of us could react, it slowly slide back into the current and out of sight. So technically I "landed" (it was on land at one point) my first steelhead on the fly, although I didn't get the honor of touching it or to get a photo as I would have liked to.

After my very short distance release of the steelhead, we covered the rest of the run without any further signs of fish. We didn't have a whole lot of day light left at this point, but fished through the next run before a lack of light forced us off of the water. All and all it was a great day on the water. We caught some fish and hooked a few others, which is more than I could ask for. I can definitely say that I will be back out there again the first chance that I can get!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gila Trout restored in Frye Creek, AZ

With the Gila Trout restoration in New Mexico being largely successful, the state of Arizona is starting to follow suit and has recently reintroduced Gila Trout in Frye Creek. Frye Creek is a small stream flowing from the Penaleno Mountains of southeastern Arizona and like some many other Gila Trout waters these desert natives have been absent since the introduction of non-native Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout.

Gila Trout

With the recent down-listing of the Gila Trout to threatened and opening to fishing in New Mexico, Arizona is hoping to meet the same success and plans to open up some limited catch and release options in the future. For full details: http://sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/fishing/news/story?id=4663995

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

End of one thing, begining of another

Each year the end of October marks the end of small stream fishing for trout in Washington State. With the long wait until the June opener, I always try to make at least one last trip at the end of the month before the closure. For the last couple of years I have kept my end of the season trip close to home and this year was no exception. As with the past two years I headed down to a small sea-run Cutthroat stream a few miles from my house to give my 2wt one last work out before the winter. The small stream in question is exceptionally brushy so it is not the world's most friendly fly water, but it does hold some decent fish. During this time of the year the lower portion of the creek near tidal influence is always best as the Coastal Cutthroat follow salmon upstream on each tide looking to feed on salmon eggs.

In the first run I came to, there were about eight 6-10lb Coho Salmon holding and as usual there were several decent Cutthroat just behind them. The only problem was that the Coho seemed just as interested in my Glo Bug as the Cutthroat. I kept having to pull my fly away from the Coho, as hooking a large salmon, skinny snagging water on a 2wt does not typically work out too well. I ended up getting a couple of hook ups with the Cutthroat and a couple of very close calls with the Coho, before I decided that I better not push my luck and headed downstream. It didn't take to long to find some Cutthroat downstream and in a small pocket just behind a snag I caught my first fish of the day.

A small but beautiful native Coastal Cutthroat Trout

I kept working my way downstream catching a couple of Cutthroat here and there, but nothing too sizable. When I came to one of my favorite holes I did hook up with a decent about 12" Cutthroat, which gave me one good jump before tossing the hook.  After this hookup I covered the rest of the pool, but couldn't dredge up anything else, so it was time to get on the move again.

Some great Cutthroat holding water

Fishing was unusually slow through the remainder of the stretch I was working until I came to the last hole. In this spot the creek gets slightly narrower, but the depth goes from the usual 1 foot deep to around waste deep. On my first cast, my indicator shot under, but when I set the hook there was nothing. I figured this had to be a fish and not bottom, so I continued to make cast after cast until finally the indicator went down again and this time my hookset was answered with a nice head shake from a decent Cutthroat. The Cutthroat put up a good fight and almost pulled me into a snag a few times, but before long my little 2wt over powered it and I was able to bring the nice 12" fish to hand. I felt that this a good note to end the stream trout season on and called it quits for the day.

My end of the season Coastal Cutthroat

With small streams closed, it is time to start thinking about the saltwater and steelhead. However, heavy rains have had the coastal rivers blown out more often than not and work hasn't offered the flexibility to take advantage of the few gaps in the weather. As such steelheading hasn't been an option for me yet, so Chum Salmon in the saltwater are the next best thing. This past week I called up my buddy Bob to go looking for some Chum, as they are usually holding off some of the local estuaries in good numbers at this time of the year. Bob was in, so we headed out to the Hood Canal to check things out. 

The first spot that we went to was a bust, with only a couple of pods of fish moving through and definitely not enough Chum around to justify fishing for very long. We headed down to another spot that has treated me well in the past, only to find some brand new no trespassing signs had been posted. However, the third time was the charm and upon pulling up at this spot, Chum could be seen jumping and boiling all around.

Luckily, we had all of our gear rigged up still from our first two failed attempts and we were casting within a couple of minutes. Within a few more minutes that casting turned to catching and we were in business! I had my first hookup about ten casts in, but fish made one quick run and then tossed the hook. However, after that fish spit my fly I only had to strip it back in a couple of times before another Chum grabbed. This fish also managed to elude me, but on the next cast I got another grab and this time got a good hookset. As soon as I hooked into this fish it was heading for my backing and put up a pretty good display of acrobatics while it was at it. When I had the fish about half way in I looked over and saw Bob hook into a nice fish as well. I managed to land my fish while Bob was fighting his fish and quickly released the ~8lb chrome female fish before going to help Bob get his fish in.

A beautiful bright native Chum Salmon

Bob's fish ended up being a being a nice buck and ran him into his backing a couple of more times before he could get it back in close enough for me to tail it for him.

Bob's Chum

For the next hour and a half, the fishing was amazing, with us doubling up three more times and each of us get 6 or 7 Chum up to 15lbs. After that the bite died off and while we were still able to hook into a few more fish the fading daylight finally forced us from the water.

A perfect end to a great day of fishing
- note that those ripples on the left side of the picture are from Chum...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Defying expections

If there is one thing that I have learned about sea-run Coastal Cutthroat it is that as soon as I think that I have them figured out, they will go and do something completely out of the ordinary and catch me off guard. This was one of those days.

Since I hadn't fished with Zach since July, he decided to join me on a day of scouting out new beaches in search of Coastal Cutthroat and possibly some Coho Salmon. With a high tide for most of the day, tidal conditions weren't too favorable for checking out standard beaches, so we decided to concentrate our efforts on some local estuaries. We started our day at a local estuary that is rather well known, but just doesn't seem to get any fishing attention. Usually there is a reason for a publicly accessible beach not getting fished, but I thought that this one might be an exception to the rule.

I beat Zach to the estuary and upon walking down to the water a school of about 40 Coho and another 5 or so Pinks swam by about fifteen feet from shore. A very good sign!! I hurried back to the car to grab my rods (6wt & 8wt) and rigged one up with a Hot Wire Comet (a great waiting period salmon fly) and the other with a small attractor pattern. Zach arrived not too long after I started fishing and although the salmon would show up in front of us about every 10 minutes or so, we could only get a few fish to even look at our flies and none to bite. Then the Cutthroat showed up. I spotted the first Cutthroat off to my left about 20 feet away, tossed my fly a few feet in front of it. At first the fly seemed to spook this fish, but then it noticed that the fly appeared to be edible and charged forward to get its "meal". I set the hook and after a quick battle I brought the little Cutthroat to hand. Over the next half hour we got a few more Cutthroat including one nice 15" fish that Zach caught, but before long the bite slowed off and we decided that it was time to go check out the next spot.

My little Cutthroat - note the high level of Argulid parasites on it

The second estuary that we fished was a bit more off the beaten path, but unlike the first one the Coho Salmon just didn't seem to be around yet and without the Salmon the Cutthroat didn't seem to be around either. We only spent about an hour at this spot and never once saw any sign of fish so we hit the road to another spot that was just as fish deprived as the second estuary.

A beautiful fishing spot, just missing the key ingredient... the fish...

Since we had met at the first beach, upon arriving back there decided to check things out again. Walking out to the water we immediately saw a small Cutthroat cruising the shallows. After a couple more minutes of scanning the water we spotted several other much larger fish between 15" and 20", all just sitting in one to two feet of water, something that I rarely see sea-run Cutthroat do. The prospect of sight fishing to these Cutthroat had us running back to the car to grab our fly rods. On his first cast Zach caught one of the smaller Cutthroat, but I had bigger fish to fry so I set my sights on the largest Cutthroat. This was sight fishing at its best and I tossed my Hot Wire Comet right next to the 20" fish that I had spotted. While my fly landed within a couple feet of the 20" fish, there was also a 17" Cutthroat holding behind this fish and it wanted my fly more than larger fish. As soon as the Comet hit the water, this Cutthroat charged over and inhaled hit. Like most sea-run Cutthroat that I have caught, this fish put up an exceptional fight for its size, making several strong runs and jumping a number of times before coming to the net.

The 17" Coastal Cutthroat

Zach and I spent the next half hour sight casting to number of Cutthroat and although we didn't catch any more as large as the 17"er we did get a number of smaller fish before the fish followed the tide out of the estuary.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eastside Redbands

Last week I headed out to a small stream on the eastern slope of the Cascades, which I have been meaning to check out for the last several years. The research that I had done on this drainage showed that it was rather rugged and home to populations of native Columbia Basin Redbands, Westslope Cutthroat and a few Bull Trout. Being that creek the was located a little further east in the rain shadow of the Cascades, it took on a little be more of an arid Rocky Mountain feel. Also due to being a bit further east summer still had a stronger hold on the region and it was already in the low 80's when I arrived. Perfect wet wading conditions. Like usual I rigged up my 2wt with an attractor dry and a small size 16 bi-color prince nymph dropper. Being early fall the creek was low, but working my way upstream I quickly found and nice pool with fish rising along the basalt cliff edge.

A productive pool on the creek

Most of these fish ended up being juvenile salmon, which are slowly starting to repopulate the streams of the Yakima River watershed. These little fish were extremely aggressive and made it difficult to get my fly in front of any trout, but after a handful of casts my dropper went under with a little to much force to be a salmon fry and sure enough I hooked into a nice Redband. For their size these Redbands are exceptional fighters seemed to be bent on spending as much time out of the water as in.

A picture perfect Columbia Basin Redband

Each pool seemed to have several decent Redbands in it and the creek had just the right combination of pools and deeper pocket water to keep me occupied. At the head of one of the may basalt rimmed pools I placed a cast right along a perfect looking seem and was caught off guard when a solid 18" Redband cruised up and grabbed my dry fly. I got a good hook up, but the combination of the swift current at the head of the pool and my light rod gave the fish the advantage and within short order it was able to shake me loose. After combing the pool for any other unusually large fish, which of course there weren't any of, I continued upstream and continued to catch the more standard sized 8-10" Redbands.

A rugged section of the creek

Finally I got to the point where the shallow to deep water ratio got to low and the creek was too shallow to fish for an exceptionally long stretch so I decided to head back downstream. As I started to work my way back toward the car a nice October Caddis hatch kicked into gear and the Redbands started looking up a bit more. I put a size 8 Stimulator on and started catching a few fish out of each of the pools that I had thought were already fished out. I never did see any of the Westslope Cutthroat, but the feisty little Redbands continued to keep me occupied until I found my way back to the car.

An October Caddis eating Redband

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

September in the Southwest: Part 4 Rio Grande Cutthroat

Day 9: Wednesday September 9th 2009: The weather was clear once again when we left Santa Fe, headed for a small creek in the headwaters of the Pecos River drainage. It took us a little over an hour to reach the trailhead that would provide us with access to a small stream that was said to hold a population of large spotted Rio Grande Cutthroat.

The view of the valley from the trailhead

After rigging up, we made our way down to the creek which was smaller and brushier than what I had expected. We decided to head upstream hoping that maybe the vegetation would thin out a bit or that we could find some decent pockets to fish. Within the first five minutes I found a little pocket along an undercut bank and watched a nice looking fish grab my dropper. The fish didn't have anywhere to go, but as I went to net him my size 18 Copper John came loose and it darted off downstream. For the next half mile I only spotted a handful of fish, all of which were either holding in impossible to fish spots or spooked before I could get close enough to cast to them. Derek faired no better, but I was dead set on catching one of these fish so we continued to work our way upstream. The further upstream we got the more fish we saw, and I did manage to rise a few but couldn't get any solid hookups.

A brushy run on the creek

I finally came to a pool that had an open angle to cast from, some good cover to allow for a stealthy approach and most importantly two good-sized Cutthroat holding in the tail out. I didn't want to take any chances here so I sized up my cast and tried to aim for the larger of the two fish. My first cast was a little short but my next cast was right on target, upstream and slightly to the right of the larger fish. The larger Cutthroat slowly cruised over to my fly, took a quick look and changed its mind. I was thinking that the fish had found something wrong with my fly, but before I decided to pick up my fly up to make another cast the fish turned back around, swam over to my fly and nipped at it before changing its mind again. However, just as quickly as this fish decided to refuse my offering it changed its mind for a third time and finally confidently slurped my dry fly. I allowed a second of pause before setting the hook and was tied into the fish. This time my hook up was solid and after a short battle I was able to bring the beautiful Rio Grande Cutthroat to my net.

A large spotted Pecos strain Rio Grande Cutthroat

While photographing this Cutthroat, I noticed that the clear blue sky that we had started out with was now blanketed with scattered clouds, but I really didn't pay too much attention to it at the moment. Instead, I continued upstream and found a nice deep pool where I caught another slightly smaller Rio Grande Cutthroat and hooked a couple of others, before the now all too familiar sound of thunder told us that it was time to head back to the car.

Another Rio Grande Cutthroat

A pool on the Pecos River tributary

Stormy weather once again

It was impressive to watch how fast this storm built up, as by the time that we got back to the car and put the gear away it was right on top of us. When we hit the road, it was just beginning to pour, but a few minutes down the road we were able to leave bad weather behind us. The rest of the day was spent in the car getting to Denver, Colorado where I would be picking Blake up to head to Fly Fishing Retailers Show.

Day 10: Thursday September 10th 2009: I picked Blake up at the airport in Denver at 9:30AM for a full day at the FF Retailers Show. Our goal for the show was to look for some new products that would fit in well with the line up of gear at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop.  We were most impressed with Scott the S4S, a faster action saltwater version of the Scott S4, which would go on to win the 2009 FF Retailers Choice Award. The rod that personally caught my eye though was the Scott F series 6' 1wt rod. With my day on the brushy little Rio Grande Cutthroat stream in New Mexico still fresh in my mind, this short but durable little fiberglass rod was looking VERY appealing, and is likely to find its way into my rod line up in the near future. 

After the show, Blake and I walked back to our hotel a couple miles away and Derek and I discussed our plans for the rest of the trip. Since Blake and I hadn't finished looking at everything, we decided that I would join him at the show till around 10:00 AM and then Derek and I would hit the road, since we had over 20 hours of driving ahead of us. Derek and I had decided to make a side trip through Yellowstone on the way back, since he had never been there which would make for a longer drive but gave us something to look forward to.

Day 11: Friday September 11th 2009: After a quick morning at the Fly Fishing Retailers Show, it was time for Derek and I to hit the road again for our long drive. Our drive getting out of Denver was a slow due to a nasty car wreck, but once we got past that we started making good timing. The drive really wasn't all that eventful until we got within a couple of hours of Jackson Wyoming, where the combination of the Wind River Range on the horizon and Pronghorn Antelope on their annual migration through the Green River valley made things a bit more interesting. While we didn't see nearly as many antelope as I had seen last October, but the front edge of the migration had definitely reached the valley and we spotted close to a hundred antelope before we crossed the pass into the Hoback River drainage. We pulled into Jackson, WY at around 7:00 PM wandered around town for a bit before heading up the Gros Ventre valley to camp for the night.

Day 12: Saturday September 12th 2009: This was our day to see the sights of Yellowstone and the Tetons before cutting the distance between us and home down by as much as possible. The only catch to our time in Yellowstone was that with our remaining drive there wouldn't be anytime to fish. Something that I always struggle with when surrounded by so many amazing trout streams. Our first stop of the trip was Grand Teton National Park, which we more or less just cruised through on our way north, although we did have to stop for a couple of photos.

The Tetons

After getting out of the Tetons, we headed up to Old Faithful so that Derek could see the most famous feature in Yellowstone. When we pulled into the parking lot, the board walk around the geyser, it was already filled with people, which usually means that the geyser is about to go off. I didn't want Derek to miss the eruption and have to wait another hour, so I dropped him off before going to search for parking myself. By the time the I parked the car and got within a hundred feet of Old Faithful, it finally went off. This is the second year in a row that I have had such good timing. After getting to experience Old Faithful, Derek and I did a quick hike around the Geyser basin then headed over to the lodge to grab an early lunch.

The Firehole River in the Geyser basin

From Old Faithful, we headed over to the Yellowstone River valley with hopes of getting to see some more of the park's abundant wildlife. Between Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone we only saw around ten bison and one deer, certainly less wildlife than I have come to expect. We did make up for this a little bit by getting out of the car to do some hiking and sight seeing.

One of the park's many thermal features

Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Even after covering the drive between Yellowstone Falls and Tower Junction we hadn't seen anymore wildlife, so I decided to make a quick side trip up the Lamar Valley to Soda Butte Creek. This was a good call, as we saw numerous herds of Bison and Pronghorn Antelope up and down the valley. Although it was tough for me to pass through this near perfect valley without sampling its waters, Soda Butte Creek and the upper Lamar were both crawling with way too many anglers, which  eased my pain a bit. I amazes me the increase in pressure that these streams have seen just since I have been visiting the park. Another reason that I favor the small out of the way waters that the average angler will never see.

A Lamar Valley Bison

After heading back down the Lamar Valley, we made one more quick stop at Mammoth Hot Springs where the typical several dozen Elk were lounging in the grass, before we finally headed out of the park. While I had intended on driving to the Missoula area at the furthest, but I really didn't feel all that tired when we drove through town at around 9:00 PM so we decided to keep going. After having gone this far, we decided that we might as well try to get back to Derek's place in Yakima, WA and by the time that we finally pulled into the driveway at 2:00 AM I was tired enough to be happy to be out of the car.

Day 13: Sunday September 13th 2009: I got up early in the morning, or at least as early as I could manage with the combination of 18 hours in the car and transitioning back to Pacific Time and finished the drive home in a mere two and a half hours that flew by. Even though this was my longest native trout adventure to date, it flew by so fast that I hardly noticed it. I have to say that I really couldn't have asked for more out of this trip as all of the pieces seemed to just fall into place perfectly and I managed to accomplish exactly what I set out to do. However, after driving nearly 4500 miles I was definitely glad to be back home.

Monday, October 5, 2009

September in the Southwest: Part 3 Gila Trout

Day 6: Sunday September 6th 2009: The storm that we had seen hovering over the mountains yesterday had spread out across the valley overnight, making for cold wet conditions when we woke up in the morning. In the distance I could see some pretty gnarly rain clouds headed our way, but just beyond that was a vast expanse of blue sky. With the way that the wind was blowing it looked like both the rain and sun were going to find us, so Derek and I had the decision to either wait out the weather or to start right away and likely get soaked on the trail. We decided to wait and by 9:00 AM the rain finally hit us and for the next 45 minutes it poured in buckets. Then the rain finally died off and was replaced by dazzling sunlight and it was time to start hiking!

Off to a rainy start

The hike started out relatively flat, traveling through a land of Prickly Pear Cactus and scrub brush thickets, but before long we reached the ridge and started the long uphill climb. Given the terrain we were hiking through, there was very little in the way of shade on the climb up the countless switchbacks to the top of the ridge. However, around mid-day we made it to the "top" of the ridge, where pine trees seemed to have a better hold and provided us with a little protection from the sun.

The Gila Wilderness Area

The "top" of the ridge was most definitely not the end of out uphill climb, as the trail wound along the backside of the ridge for several miles before beginning its decent into the canyon on the far side. The terrain up in the high country of the Mogollon Mountains made it easy to see why this region was designated as the first wilderness area in the nation. The combination of pine trees, cacti and rugged peaks made this some of the wildest country that I have ever encountered. The weather seemed to match the wild character of the land and where we were worrying about the unforgiving sun one minute, the boom of thunder in the distance gave us something else to worry about the next . As we rounded a bend a it became apparent that a thunderstorm was building in the distance and from what it looked like, we were heading straight into it. With a massive storm standing right in our path, we were a bit anxious to get to the creek, but the trail seemed to meander along on the top of the ridge for much longer than what we had hoped.

Ominous clouds... A great sight when you are miles into the back country

Finally we reached the rim of the canyon and started our decent to the creek. It was quickly evident that this side of the peak received much more precipitation, as the cacti started fading away and pines and oaks dominated. A little over half way down to the bottom of the canyon the storm finally caught up with us, but only long enough for us to get all of our gear waterproofed before the sun took over again. However, the clouds overhead made it evident that this was just a short break from the rain and that we should get the move on. When we reached the creek, the sun was still out and we quickly scrambled to find a decent place to set up camp. The tent had probably only been up for about ten minutes when the main storm front hit us and the down pour started. While the storm raged we took refuge in the tent and I prepped the fishing gear for when things finally calmed down.

After half an hour of rain, the sun finally won out again and this time it appeared that the worst had passed. As such, we grabbed an early dinner, got the fishing gear ready and headed down to the creek. It was immediately clear that we were in the right place, as after a quick scan of the creek, I had already spotted a couple dozen fish.

Can you spot the Gila trout??

With the high numbers of fish visible I wasn't too surprise to be rewarded with my first Gila Trout on my first cast, or when my second cast was equally rewarding. All that I knew was that this was more then what I had been hoping for over the past six months of careful planning.

The reward for months of planning - the Gila Trout

With good numbers of trout in the creek I had Derek cover the first stretch, while I headed a few hundred yards upstream to look for fish. Once again it didn't take long to find the fish as the creek seemed if anything to be slightly overpopulated with Gila Trout ranging from 5" to 8". The water in the creek was fairly low and most of the pools seemed shallower than expected making a stealthy approach difficult at times. While I wouldn't quite go as far as calling these fish overly spooky, they definitely were on the cautious side and spooking the small fish that held in the shallow tail outs would put the larger fish at the head of a pool down or at least make them more difficult to catch. Before long Derek caught back up to me and we decided to just take turns fishing each pool as we headed upstream. Derek had no trouble getting into a few trout as we made our way up the creek, although all of the fish seemed to fall into the same 5" to 8" range.

Derek with a Gila Trout

I kept hoping that we would run into a few deeper pools that might hold some larger trout as we headed upstream, but the creek seemed to just maintain its character of pocket water and shallow pools. About 3/4 mile above our campsite we came across a log laying across the creek with a sizeable trout holding under it. I got a decent cast in just above the log and a nice 10" Gila Trout cruised out from under the cover and grabbed my fly. I got a good hook up on the fish, but as I went to net it, it tossed my fly. While I wasn't happy about losing this fish I made a mental note that I would have to return to try for it again in the morning. We continued working our way upstream, catching Gilas in just about every likely looking spot before the sun finally started to sink behind the ridge and it was time to head back to camp. We made it back to camp just before dark and grabbed a quick bite to eat before turning in for the night on what had been a long day of fishing and hiking.

Evening on the creek

Day 7: Monday September 7th 2009: We awoke to clear blue skies and a full day of exploring the canyon. After a quick breakfast, I had already made up my mind to head back upstream to get another shot at the 10" Gila that had managed to shake free. Derek decided that he wanted to check out the creek downstream of camp, so I started to make my way towards the spot where I lost the trout. Along the way I caught a few more Gilas in the 6-8" range, but nothing larger. Finally I arrived at the log and while I couldn't see any trout holding near it I knew that there had to be something there so I placed a cast right along the side of it and the "big" Gila came out and grabbed my fly again. I had it on for a couple of seconds before it got a good head shake and once again threw my fly. I was a bit frustrated at this point, but figured that the might have some neighbors and as it turned out I was right. While they weren't as big as the fish that I was to be unable to catch, I did get two trout at around 8" each, with one on my dry and the other taking my nymph dropper.

Not the big fish that I had hoped for but a none the less beautiful Gila Trout

The creek near our campsite

After once again failing to catch the "big" Gila Trout, I decided to head downstream to see what Derek was up to. I found Derek not to far from our campsite and he was pretty excited about a couple of deep pools that he had found further downstream. About a quarter mile below our campsite the canyon walls closed in and sure enough formed a couple great looking about 10 foot deep pools that appeared to be loaded with trout.

The head of the upper pool - note the waterfall was about 8 feet tall.

Not only did these pools look like good fishing water, but they also looked perfect for some swimming. Of course fishing would have to come first though. I started out fishing my dry and dropper and caught a handful of fish, before I decided to try one of my favorite large pool/ beaver pond techniques of stripping a Zug Bug. This method proved to be just as effective as ever and on each cast a group of Gila Trout would appear behind my fly and follow it for a ways before one got brave enough to race forward and grab it. The fishing in the pools was great, but the only problem was that both pools had nearly shear cliffs dropping into them, which made getting down to the edge of the water to land fish very difficult. In the upper pool the best option was to lift the fish into a small pool above the waterfall to land them, but there were a couple of spots that I could get down to the water if necessary. In the lower pool it was lift the fish over the falls or nothing. I fished the pools for about a half an hour managed to catch a couple of fish in the 10" range, but both of these fish proved photo shy and got released a little quicker than planned.

After fishing it was time for a bit of swimming and relaxing to recover from the long trek into the creek. We didn't get to spend nearly as much time at the pool as I would have liked though, as after about a half hour of swimming the not so distant rumbling sound of thunder caught our attention and we had to head back to camp to make sure everything was rain proofed.

A rain ready camp

We hung around camp for a couple of hours to make sure that the storm was going to pass us over before I decided that I could safely head back down to the pools. I started out using the Zug Bug again, but only the smaller fish seemed to take notice of it. As such I decided to switch tactics a bit and put on a size 8 Jumbo John, which I figured should look like a bit more of a substantial meal to the bigger fish. Apparently it did, because on one of my first casts with it, two nice 12" Gilas raced out from under the rock ledge to grab my fly. One of the fish just barely out paced the other and absolutely crushed my fly. This fish fought rather hard for its size and put quite a bend in my 2wt. The only problem was landing it as this was the lower pool and there was no option but lifting the fish over the falls. This fish didn't want any of this and with one good headshake it tossed the hook when it was about half way up and disappeared back into the depths. I worked both pools with the Jumbo John for some time, but no matter what I did I couldn't get any of the bigger fish to take again.

As the sun started to fall a little lower in the sky I moved back up to the top pool and gave a dry fly a try again. Upon arriving at the pool I spotted a decent 10" Gila holding on the bottom and sporadically rising to take something off the surface. The question was what fly should I go with. I first tried one of my old standbys, the Royal PMX, but I had already harassed these fish with that fly plenty and they really didn't seem too interested. Next I tried a stimulator, BC Hopper, Elk Hair Caddis and a few may fly patterns, but only the smaller fish seemed to be willing to look at them. I looked through my fly box a few times and finally landed on a small beetle pattern that I had come up with about four years ago and never gotten around to testing out. I figured it was better late than never and tossed it in front of the 10"er. Sure enough it slowly rose to sip it off the surface. I held off of a second before setting the hook and got a solid connection. The fish jumped a few times, but there were only so many places that it could run in the pool and soon it was ready to bring to the net. Unlike the lower pool there was a nice ledge along the water where I was able to land and photograph this Gila Trout. At this point I figured that I had caught more than my fair share of these rare trout and as it was dinnertime I headed back to camp.

An underwater Gila Trout

Day 8: Tuesday September 8th 2009: Once again we awoke to clear skies and what looked like perfect weather for the hike out of the canyon. After breakfast and quickly breaking down camp, we were back on the trail. The hike out of the canyon was rather steep, but was much shorter than the climb to the top of the ridge on the other side so we made pretty good timing. Once at the top of the ridge we noticed that like each of the previous days a thunderstorm was brewing over the mountains and with the way that the wind was blowing it was clearly heading our direction fast.

Me at the top of the canyon on the hike out - note the dark clouds in the corner...

With a thunderstorm on our heels, we were now in of a hurry to get off of the ridge, as we didn't want to be caught in the middle of a storm with no shelter. Given our pace and the storm on our heels, I wasn't paying as much attention to the trail as I should have been and almost made a serious mistake. I was in front of Derek when all of a sudden I heard a buzzing rattling noise right next to me. I could see that the route in front of me was clear, so I ran forward as fast as I could while Derek froze where he was. When I looked back I could see a huge Rattlesnake (at least four feet long) was coiled up within a foot of where I had just been. Derek gave the snake a wide breadth and after this close call we were a bit more cautious and jumpy for the rest of the hike, although luckily this would be our only encounter with a snake on the way out.

The big rattler - I walked just past him on the other side of the big rock - WAY TO CLOSE!!!

By the time that we reached the other side other side other ridge, it was evident that it was raining where we had been camping and the storm was still headed our way. As such we were quite happy to beat the storm to the car a get on the road again.

The storm rolling over the ridge

After hitting the road, we made the six-hour drive to Sante Fe, NM where we grabbed a great dinner and hotel for the night to recoup from the long hike and get ready to target the last fish of the trip the next day.