Tag Archives: Backpacking

The Suggestion Box

There are some new ideas bubbling around these parts, strictly in the world of this blog. The debate is on, wondering if I should be posting Sunday evenings. Not actually moving the posting day, but have an additional short posting. About what? Well, I’m not exactly sure yet. I was checking over my stats and found that Survival 101: Water was a complete flop. On the flip side of that, This is a Tasty Burger and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane were the top 2. Burgers are read about twice as much as fishing. I do not want to turn this into a food blog. What about some fish science? Light refraction and dissipation in water, guanine crystals on fish skin, schreckstoff, UV qualities of different tying materials, fish perception of polarization? Any interest there? I’m not looking to gain extra readers (that is a great side effect though), I just don’t want to lose them. You guys are my virtual fishing buddies and I enjoy that. July marks month number 5 of writing and so far it’s going good. I would like to thank the people that read the blog, you guys keep me going. If you have any suggestions or likes and dislikes, feel free to sound off in a comment below.

Onward! To the fish! In the previous post, John and I did some hiking in the RMNP to fish some clean water. This time, I wanted to continue that and explore more of the area. If you were up there, you know that there are some trails that are buried beneath 10′ of snow. My destination was beyond that. Bridges were out and flooded, and with the amount of snow, we were forced back into the same water. After catching a couple fish, we decided that the drainage would have to suffice. The wind was awful and the pressure on the lake was growing. Because of the wind and the right time of year, the pollen from the local pine trees did the work of dusting for fingerprints at a crime scene.

Fishing on the creeks was amazing. So many people have walked along these places that the fish are not spooky and don’t react when you accidentally slap the water. Mostly small, yet feisty browns. Are there bigger fish in here? Sure! Check it out! The only fish we were into were 6″-9″ and too miswired to have their mugshots taken. We had to make one more stop for the day at the Big Thompson. The river was very high and as far as I could tell, it has been that way for a while. Undaunted, we fished. Nothing, not a twitch. We had stopped here on our way up and John caught this…

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there are tons of fisherman in Colorado. Even more than them are the hikers, bikers, and tourists. My search in the coming weeks will be for the unpopular areas of this state. The rougher turf, and maybe the nearly impossible. The rivers will begin coming down in the Platte watershed soon, and that means some water will be opening up to spread us fly fisherman out of one another’s turf. I’m sure it will be bringing some out of the woodworks as well. After yesterday’s heat, I’m sure that this weekend will be busy. After all, it is the weekend of the 4th.

Also, if you glance over to the left, you’ll see a list of writers that you will find enjoyable. Go have a read!

Battle of the Buggers

Saturday night was the plan. Camp, then fish the morning session in some of Colorado’s most pristine water. Shrouded in darkness, the trip up canyon was tugging at dream strings that conjured giant fish in a slightly swelling river. Leviathans hiding in plain sight, seeking shelter from the increased volume of water, choosing pools to sip insects from the foam and catch monster insects zooming by in the current. The night was spent sleeping on uncomfortable stones, dreaming of the day to come.

Leave it to light to shed light upon what is really happening. The sun dashed all hopes of catching fish. Has anyone ever tickled you or pretended to punch you in the gut while you attempt your morning stretch? This was the reaction upon my sun greeting stretch. Dreams destroyed, dashed by photons and radiant heat from the sun. I cursed the sun for both ruining the fishing and my stretch. Without a second thought, the tent was packed into the back of the car as the car and I traveled out of the twisting canyon with determination. Sure, the river was fishable and fish concentrated in the eddies, more than likely aggressively eating washed down cranefly larva and huge uprooted stoneflies. In order to get to these fish, one would have to cast over 30′ across 2800 cfs of wild river and time casts between the hordes of rafters. Not my cup of tea. Heck, I don’t even drink tea. Time to go home, tie some flies, and come up with a new plan.

While t wisting feathers around a hook, thoughts of tailwaters crossed my mind. Great idea! Controlled water, low sediment, big fish… Wait, why am I tying buggers? I need to be tying UFO’s, RS2’s, WD40’s, C3P0’s, R2D2’s and other assorted minuscule patterns. Admittedly, the last 2 are Star Wars droids.

There is some back story involved that didn’t make it into the last post completely. When John flew down to NM for the fishing trip, his transportation back to Denver was my car. Long story short, I moved to Denver with John inviting me into his home as a roomie. Am I too old to be or have a roomie? Yes. I needed a new start on life. You could consider it running away from the fires of hell. I mean, all 4 good places to fish in NM are on fire, or at least they will be at one point. Now, I’m a White Sucker in a pond full of Tiger Muskies. In a place where everyone is a guide and I’m just a guy fishing someone else’s secret turf. I apologize in advance to anyone that comes across some NM license plates in their favorite place. I’ll try not to make much of an impact. Because of this, I will not mention where I go anymore out of respect for other bloggers and guides. Unless it is an obviously busy stretch of river.

Back to the story at hand. After finishing tying, John had arrived, expecting to fish. For trips into unknown water, the shotgun approach works very well. Just pick an area with a lot of water and explore. Easier said than done here in Colorado. There is fishable water EVERYWHERE! Digging through my wallet, I found a card for the RMNP. Still good until September and the ultimate shotgun approach. John asked where we were going. I replied by pointing to a map. “Somewhere here. There has to be camping somewhere.” Off we went to find fish. Directly after setting up camp, the downpour began. Lightening touched down closely and abruptly boomed and the tent showed it’s weakness. The leaks. We needed pots and pans. After securing the 2 driest places in the tent, the rain and thunder did it’s job of lulling me to sleep. Again, I had dreams of fishing. This time, nightmares of raging waters.

I naturally sprang to attention at 5am and put on my shoe. Yes, 1 shoe. The other of my recently purchased shoes acted as a catch pool to a leak. 36° outside. 1 wet shoe, 1 wading boot. Why not both wading boots? Have you ever worn wading boots without waders before? It is like those shoes they give you when you break your ankle.

We stopped early and close, and lingered too long at a lake full of actively spawning fish after a rainstorm during a moon that said no way. Sure, we had plenty of strikes, but subtlety ruled the day and the wind did a great job of masking the subtlety. Not a fish to hand. Maybe after the spawn. During my slow approach to a skunking, it dawned on me. If the run off is bad here, it isn’t bad where there is still snow. The back country. You would assume that I would naturally gravitate toward it, but it wan’t really an idea until that moment. Then, after slipping into the lake with my other dry shoe, we left.

Glacier water is clear right?

A 20 minute drive turned into an hour due to amateur photographers parking dead-center in the road taking 400 photos of each individual elk for which there were thousands. I’ve never seen an elk in full velvet before, but wasn’t about to clog traffic to get a better look at an elk that was standing 5 feet from the road. It really loses its magic when they don’t want to run away. There was fishing to be done, and not much day left to do so.

We lost the trail in the snow and tourists experts without fishing gear along the way commented, “There aren’t any fish up there.” There was still a lot of snow. The temps had plummeted overnight and stayed that way. The mountains unleashed wind and rain to further increase the cold, but we pressed on.  Both John and I driven by the feeling of setting a hook. Over the last hill, there it was. Crystal clear and perfect, begging to be fished. John was the first to entice a fish with the bugger that he left tied on. I thought I could get the one-up by running a midge. I was denied.

My hands, John's fish

After John brought 3 fish to hand, I was forced to change to what was working. A Woolly Bugger. The cutthroat killer. The water was so clear that we couldn’t tell how deep it was. We could see the bottom and the contours and sometimes the fish when the sun was out. No natural thing attracted attention and I was stumped at the buggers yet again. The water couldn’t have been over 40°F, absolutely clear, and perfect for midges of any kind. Big dumb buggers though? For lethargic fish. Ok… I’m going with that. After taking a spill that almost landed me in the freezing lake, I was finally onto the fish.

Persistance pays.

We only fished for 2 hours and the day was winding to an end. The sun, although mostly unseen, was finding a resting place behind the mountain peak, prompting us to put an end to the trip. Freezing weather was coming. John, the student, became the master that day.

On the way down, I was thinking about the fish I’ve caught this year. So far, 7 species of trout. I guess my next trip will have to be somewhere along the Colorado river to become more familiar with the cutthroats around these parts. Fish shown are supposed to be Greenbacks, but there was a mix up in the late 70’s where Colorado River Cutts were restored into Greenback territory. Therefore, I have no idea. Two very similar fish.

Lesson #11: Even in the middle of June, Snow is still slippery.

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

The headline is something both Mike and I should have used as a greeting when meeting up before our expedition into The Wild. Mike runs the blog “of Dry Flies & Fat Tires” and has done his fair share of inspiring me to go galavanting around the state through his blog. This time, I ride with him, not living vicariously through his tales of grandeur.

The day started off strange, smoke filled the sky and painted the sun a dim red-orange. Maybe it was a sign of things to come. Slightly awestruck, I didn’t realize that the road trip had come to an end. It was a day of vibrant colors, even the grass was an exceptional hue of green that shouldn’t be this time of year. After a short talk of things and the state of the day, we were off into some water that Mike knew and I may or may not have been. The local mosquito population seemed to be focused on me, and again, no repellent. During our hike up the skinny water, we noticed that something was wrong. No fish in really fishy holes and a general lack of fish. I even tested the spooking theory by casting across shoreline and over grass to no avail. A short discussion later and the trip turned from pristine meadow fishing on a simple back country hike to an expedition worthy of Livingstone’s search for middle Africa.

The steep canyon hike was difficult enough without the thousands of dead trees slowing us even further.  Or as Mike put it, “scramble over deadfalls, around rockpiles, through thickets, rattlesnake dens, landmine fields, broken glass, and finally, legions of TSA screeners”

The terrain shifted and below us lay the river. I’m not really used to fishing meadows and open water, the cascades and pools were more my turf. I was home.

Mike showed his expert skills and hooked up with the first fish on this section of water while I was down river and the lack of life in the last river was easily offset by the abundance of life in this one.

Mike's mad skills

The hike was well worth every step with the river filled to the brim with cutthroats that seemed fairly pure. In fact, not a single Rainbow was pulled from this section by either mike or myself. Crazy talk you say? It was!

A strange RGCT color, but unique!

Lightning fast!

We were easily into fish from this point on, but the fishing wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I was losing more fish than I landed for some reason and it seemed that the fish going for my flies were fired from a crossbow, darting out at full speed from 5 feet away.

There was a point where I stood on a log jam watching Mike’s fly drift downstream when 2 fish locked on target and slowly moved in for the kill when out of nowhere, the largest fish of the day attacked his fly.

How Mike attains hero status

Note: The can on my back are my batteries, not cashews. Photo by Mike at of Dry Flies & Fat Tires

The rest of the days fishing was rather eventful with I would say 20-30 fish for each of us (my guess would put Mike a bit higher on the number). The trip was incredibly timed, arriving back at what some might consider a trail in enough time to get back before dark. Quite frankly, I think I speak for both of us when I say that we were also spent.

It didn’t end there either. This trail looked like the rest of the forest. There was no real path back, forcing Mike to use his “Keen Map Reading Skills” to lead us back to where we dropped in. Thank goodness we made it back with me still in tact. I was a guest on the expedition, making me the food source in the case of becoming stranded.

Again, a very special thanks to Mike for the trip! Great guy and excellent fisherman. If you want to read about this trip through his eyes, go here. Enjoy!

For me, this was the highlight of the day... and week... possibly decade.

Lesson 10: When an animal looks injured, be aware, it could spring up at a moments notice. 

Friday The 13th… Where Is That Rabbit’s Foot?

No color touch up here, this is the real deal.

I was at a point this weekend where I had no idea where to go or what I wanted to target. The rivers have been very low and it has been more and more difficult to stalk my prey. I went to a local shop to buy some fly tying material and ask around about some hot spots. Well, my personal choices were the San Juan, Chama, and Jemez. It was suggested to me to go to the San Juan. I like the place and all, but it was going to be VERY nice this weekend for weather and thousands of people were going to come out of the woodworks to get the good places. It wasn’t ideal to be fishing elbow to elbow this weekend. I opted out of big fish for some mountain fish. More specifically, Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. Not those diluted ones either, some of the purest strained fish in the state.

Along the way I stopped at Fenton Lake to get my line wet and haul in some stockers and test out the ties. Success! I caught the evening session and it went very well. So well, that I came up with a stocker fish on every other cast. When it became too late to fish after the actual sunset, I packed up and headed back to my car. along the way, I was attacked by a dog while its owners just stood there watching it take place. I thought it was just sniffing my leg and it bit down. Mind you this wasn’t a brutal type thing, I just kicked the dog off of my leg and moved on. The real problem came when the owner said, “Why did you just let him bite you like that?” I just about lost it. When I got back to my car I drove closer to my target destination to camp.

The beaver ponds were full of these guys.

I woke up and the temperature was floating in the high 20’s, the grass and mud were frozen allowing me to access some beaver ponds without waders. I hate hiking in waders. The fishing was good and it motivated me to press on toward my final destination. The sun was still hiding behind the valley and I found myself stopping in slivers of sun to warm up. Still very cold. I could not wait to hook into one of the cutthroats and hiked at a speed just shy of running. There were going to be no monster fish this day, but it was possible. I made it. It took about an hour to find the right technique for catching these little guys, and another to time the strike perfectly. They only held the fly for miliseconds and they only gave me one shot. The day went well and zebra midge (that is a work in progress) worked great.

I also made a friend while fishing. A Red-tailed Hawk that looked like he was in his share of bouts with other animals as did I on this weekend. Even though it was Friday the 13th and I was attacked by a dog, the hawk and I pressed on (even though I was uninjured and only came out with some torn pants, the hawk looked in worse shape).

¡Gilae Gilae! Put On Your Ninja Shoes

Surprisingly, an almost perfect 7pH.

Hopefully it is widely known enough that Gila trout are located in the Gila Mountain range surrounded by the Gila National Forest. If you were one of the people trying to keep it a secret, I apologize for dropping the ball. You can also blame ESPN Outdoors and Field&Stream and countless other magazines and TV shows for doing it in 2008. Here I am in 2011, doing it again, stating the obvious. You can dig through countless studies on the Oncorhynchus Gilae Gilae and try to find more info on these guys (ongoing for over 50 years). Be sure to check out NMDGF to get your permit and more details on where to go. Also, if you turn to Wikipedia it will tell you that they average 11″, be sure to check that reference because it will tell you that they grew to that size on a test area in Colorado.

Isn't there supposed to be a giant snow fence?

I had been studying the crazy weather patterns and there was a window of no wind or snow down south in the Silver City area. This was my target destination. Some of the coolest landscape on the planet earth. Driving south it is almost like you are driving from New Mexico to the bad part of Wyoming to a part of Colorado that is similar to the landscape on the Blue River north of Dillon. Did I mention that I love this state? The worst part of this drive are the dirt roads coming in. I’d really suggest a small truck.

Dirt roads+Sports car=Long rough trip

Within an hour of my arrival, I had already started the back country ritual by falling off of a burned log into a pile of rocks and through a thorn bush. The largest part of the injury was to my hip (not pictured for obvious reasons). Despite the injury I pressed on. The water was extremely low and clear. Lots of feeder creeks were dry and the fish were very spooky. It is hard to lay down a 50′ cast when you have lots of vegetation covering the best holes.

It is better than being impaled...

I could even see fish darting around in the pools when I was hiking the trail. I could tell that catching the Gila was a bit more than what I bargained for. I am very adaptable in these situations and it isn’t a strange occurrence to see me crawling on my hands and knees to get to a good hole in the back country, but in a military low crawl? This was my first time laying on my belly for fish, a very humbling experience I might add. It payed off and in no time I was into the 3-5″ fish that resided in the area that I was fishing. One thing very noteworthy here, know your fish in the water. You will see some monster sucker fish, but do not confuse them with trout. It is my assumption that due to the number and size of the suckers, the trout are forced to be dedicated surface feeders and that is why they are small. This river is perfect for fish and it is only missing one thing. Water. Huge bugs everywhere! In this picture there are 3 golden stoneflies and a ton of other bugs, including some sealed caddis cases, and some other undefinable ones.

This picture is roughly 4-5" across

Average case size

Throwing a giant golden stonefly nymph was a very bad idea for these conditions, so I stuck with the caddis, a foam-back version that payed off more than a few times in Colorado and New Mexico high country. Rule: That which catches brook trout and cutthroat trout on the surface in the same day shall be added to the fly box. Let us get one thing straight, wild trout are very gullible but difficult to find and exceedingly difficult to bring to hand.

Looks gila, but I'm skeptical about purity

This monster of a fish (you can’t type sarcasm) is not actually a gila, but it represents one well as it is a hybrid, I think. Some suggest that the gila was before the evolution of the rainbow. The strain of gila also changes from the east to west. Far west=Apache, Far east=gila. Supposedly, there is a lost strain in between the 2. I’m not saying this is the lost strain, but the coloration may change based upon environment. I’m still going with hybrid. Boy do they fight like the dickens! Rainbows jump, cutthroat go deep into current, browns just… yeah, brook flail, and gila trout randomly and quickly dart around in search of cover. They are fast and strong and well worth the trip if you know where to go. Keep in mind these fish may go back to endangered status at anytime with one big fire. Be extra careful if you are allowed fire in the area and take special notice of fire danger warnings. Did I mention high country carp?

Something I didn't expect, but a good change of pace.

Lesson #7: Blow dryers come with a warning label that states, “Do not use in shower”. There are no warning labels in the wilderness that protect you from bad choices.

Survival 101: Water

I’ve been trying to find a way to squeeze in some survival tactics into the blog, and haven’t had a chance. After chasing around stockers and small browns, I figure this week was a good time.

I never thought the subject of water was controversial. Until now. Allow me to begin this with a…

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, nor do I claim to be one. Medical science is a silly matter. Because of this, I must portray both sides and take no responsibility for actions the reader may take after reading this article. If you have a question of concern, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR!

This is a general overview. I will probably have another post in the future on how to properly clean water and different ways to do so. That will more than likely contain a better list of water contaminants and ways to destroy them.

Easy stuff first. Water quality. There are a ton of hurtful things in groundwater, mostly coliforms and giardia lamblia, with some parasites and fungus tossed in there. For a full list of things (which I do not really consider complete but sufficient) look here. One very common problem in a wilderness setting is Giardiasis. It affects approximately 2,000,000 people per year in the United States (estimated). For the sake of this post and the reader, I’m going to attempt to keep the “nerdery” to a minimum.

The cause of Beaver Fever

Giardia lamblia is a tank. It is transfered through animal waste, including humans (I hope you aren’t drinking coffee right about now and if you are, I’m sorry). Beavers, in the case of the wilderness, are the main source of transfer so take extreme caution against it where you know there are beavers. Also, take that same precaution in places where you aren’t sure. It only takes around 5 of these little parasites to keep you running off into the woods to spread more of them. Giardiasis (infection of Giardia lamblia) is dangerous in a few ways, in most cases it isn’t deadly unless (as with all intestinal issues) you are immunocompromised. It has the ability to resist chlorine. Most purification tablets use chlorine to kill bacteria and it is a good idea to always check your labels. They usually mention what they do not do, and more often mention that they are for emergency use only. There are 2 ways to destroy the parasite, boiling or filtering. Quite frankly, boiling unfiltered water doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  Remember, if you are at higher elevations, water needs to boil longer or under pressure to effectively kill what it needs to kill.

Cute and cuddly or armed and dangerous?

The real danger of Giardiasis does not come from the parasite, rather your body’s reaction to it. (put down your coffee) It causes you to have diarrhea, which makes you dehydrated and leads us to our controversial subject, hydration (resume coffee). There is a rule of 8×8. drinking 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water per day, totaling 64 ounces. There is also a simple equation to follow which is half of your body weight in ounces, for example, I weigh 165 pounds, 165x.5=82.5 ounces per day. Some say 3 liters (101.4 ounces) for men, 2.2 liters (74.4 ounces) for women. As far as I have read, none of these account for the amount of water you get from food, which is about 20%. Some people drink more water than others and each person is different, therefore kidney function is also different. My advice to you to find out how much water you should drink is to actually log the amount of water you drink on a normal day and add 30% for a camping trip. The problem here comes down to dehydration and over-hydration. Articles on the subject make it seem like you will die instantly if you drink too much, or you will die instantly if you do not drink enough. These can’t be further from the truth. Hypovolemia is low blood pressure due to low blood volume and sits on the extreme side of dehydration, it takes approximately 2 days with no water to set in (shorter time if you have an open wound). Hyponatremia is the loss of sodium and other electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, etc…) from the cells. Without that protection on the cell, your cells (especially brain cells) swell causing high blood pressure and when this is tied into brain cells, you can have a stroke or other brain issues. In order for this to happen, you must have too much water for your kidneys to process, around a gallon per hour for a couple hours. This is also known as water intoxication. Giadriasis can cause either of these. If you have (coffee down) vomiting tied in with diarrhea (continue coffee), you become dehydrated and electrolytes are low. If you overcompensate with too much water, it is possible to give yourself hyponatremia.

In this case, relativity does fit.

If you are out in the back country, it is a good idea to calculate the amount of water you will need for the trip. I’ll use myself as an example here 165(weight)x.5=82.5 oz Then 20% from food 82.5x.8=66 When you plan to hike into high elevations you will notice that you urinate more often. Yes, it is triggered by high elevation. There is nothing wrong with you. You also breathe at a faster rate, thus losing a bit more water through the lungs and just standing in the New Mexico sun can wear you down. Plus you are working your body harder than normal. So, add around 30% to compensate. 66x.3=19.8 19.8+66=85.8 ounces; That should be your total water input per day of hiking. How much water would you need for a trip? I would need to pack 2 gallons of water for a 3 day trip. 3(days)x85.8(oz per day)/128(oz in a gallon)=2.01 Drink when you are thirsty and don’t overdo it. Instead of slamming down water, drink it slowly through the course of a day. Nuts, dried bananas, and other assorted dried fruits are great to have to keep your electrolytes up, they play a key role in hydration. Keep an eye out on your urine, if it is slightly yellow or clear, you are good. If it is darker or very odorous, drink a bit more water. Always keep a sports drink or Pedialyte in the case of Giardiasis. If you do catch a case of the beaver fever, go home. Aren’t you glad I didn’t explain electrolyte transfer?

If you have any kidney issues, heart problems that have you on a low sodium diet, AIDS, or any other medical issue involving a prescription medication, talk to a doctor before long trips into the wild.

  Lesson #6: The better your food and water, the better your trip. Everyone is different, maybe leave the liver and onions at home this time.