Friday, September 4, 2009

High Country Camping Trip 2009

Most people consider me the “fishing guy” in the circles that I travel but what they may not know is that I am an avid camper as well. The problem is that fishing has overshadowed most of my free time the last decade or so. That is a shame considering so much of Colorado’s natural beauty is hidden within the canyons and wooded forests of the high country.

This is a camping trip up near Woodland Park and the Florissant area. I don’t travel this way near enough so this was my chance to spend a full weekend. Packing went smoother than ever. Running things through my head a few times and making a quality checklist really seemed to help. But here’s a key to packing the rig when cargo looks really tight: Set everything outside or in the garage next to the vehicle before putting it in the truck. I know it sounds like a lot of extra work carrying, setting down and then packing into the rig but being able to see everything first helps sort out the load order. Think of it as a twisted version of Tetris or something.

With all of this extra gear the pontoon boat had to be strapped to the top. There was just enough room to see out the back. Loaded up and headed out late Friday. An hour to Colorado Springs then another 45 minutes up Hwy 24. The light was fading quickly behind the mountains while traffic controlled the rate of travel.

“Looks like I will be setting up the tent in the dark.” I mumbled. “Should have left at least an hour sooner.”

Just as the sun faded almost completely behind the mountain a magical thing happened. I turned the bend in the road and found myself on the other side of the continental divide. The sun hung in the skyline like a shimmering gold beacon of love. By crossing the mountain ridge I had gained another hour of light. It was as if I had actually gone back in time.

“Hallelujah!” My voice cried out jubilantly. “I just might make it there with some light.”

My foot pressed harder on the gas peddle as traffic picked up the pace on the downhill. Took the turn in Florissant and there was a large camper ahead of me. The driver wasn’t driving too slow or anything like that. But as we passed more and more of the side roads I started to worry that this guy was going to be camping at the same secluded semi-private camping spot as me? I know it sounds selfish but how would my truck and tent look against a 25-foot ultra deluxe camping trailer equipped with toilet, shower and satellite dish? Seriously…this was more than just a recreational RV. This was a mobile home. I would have to walk around it just to see the lake.

A few more miles and turn offs passed and we both stayed the course. I was sure he was camping there. He would be ahead of me and work the gate first. Taking the prime camping spot means the world to me in regards to view and walking distance to the water. This one single factor would change my weekend from spectacular to just mediocre. As the last turn came up I closed one eye and muttered my best plea. The turn came and he went left and I went right.

“Oh thank jeebus!” I laugh once again thanking all that is good in this world for what was nothing short of two miracles. “Two minutes out.”

Roll in and work the combo gate. The place is empty. It was a dream come true. The lake shimmered under a light breeze while birds sang a chorus of welcome. The sun had hidden itself behind the mountain that sat in front of the. There was still at least 30 minutes of indirect sunlight illuminating the surroundings. In a few minutes the tent was setup and shortly after that a fire was going. With the dim light of sun leftovers and the fire the truck was unloaded. There wasn’t enough light or energy for that matter to setup the pontooner. I simply untied it and stored the rest of the gear in the tent.

Another thing I wasn’t sure on was how cold the temps would get late at night. So rather than setting up the bedroll in the tent, the back of the pathfinder would have to do. It worked out well enough. The tent wasn’t slashed apart by bear claws by morning so it would have done just as well I guess.

Morning came and I was shore casting. There was the occasional roll of a big trout but all I could come up with was stocker bows in the 18-inch range. This lake holds a number of fish much bigger than this. Patterning these fish on this trip would be my quest. However after an hour of casting for average fish my thoughts turned to coffee.

Returning to camp a few scraps of wood were gathered and a sturdy morning fire was made. Wood that I had cut during the night while watching the fire would get me through the morning but not much further than that. Not knowing what the day held in store for me, the time was taken for breakfast. Now saying that I made delicious pancakes with syrup and butter may be some shameless bragging but I can assure you this no stretch. Eggs and bacon would have better. Maybe next time.

(Here’s me having my third cup of coffee thinking that I may never go back to civilization.)

My main focus on this trip is to fish. But scouting the area was also a primary reason for spending the weekend. Before I could do any of that however some additional wood needed to be gathered. Only enough wood was brought for one day and was just spare firewood from the old place. I do this purposely so that I have to scrounge for more wood when I get up there. Within minutes I spotted a good source of dry wood and built a pile that would easily get me through another day. (This dead, dry timber was bunched up at the corner of the property next to the road and potentially a fire hazard. I am amazed someone had not removed this stuff already.)

“Now its time to get the pontooner out there.” My voice chomped.

The boat was supposed to give me a huge leg up in regards to the fishing. I actually did worse with the boat. When I went out deeper in the lake the fish didn’t seem to want anything in my trout or bass bag (that is right folks…bass gear). The senkos that worked so well on the other lake didn’t garner any action whatsoever here. The further out I went the worse the fishing got. When I did get hits, a smaller fish would be on the end. The wind started to pick up and rather than fight gusts all day I returned to shore fishing. I picked up a few more fish but all were still in the same size slot. Numbers of fish were decent and you would get a fish just when you started to think the bite was dying down.

With some lakes you just have to put in your time and experiment. Better timing would help also in regards to getting more aggressive/less reluctant trout. These are only excuses until I figure out the right big trout pattern. (I threw a lot of stuff. Even dry fly).

With time running out the fishing was put on hold for a while.

“Now its time to explore.”

I took the truck into the hills around the area. Coming out of the wooded hills and into the grassy prairie three bucks graze and slowly walk along the roadside. Not wanting to cause too much disturbance I grab this shot out of the window. These are some magnificent antlers still in the felt stage before they polish them up for fall.

Just seeing deer run like that makes me hungry. My stomach starts growling and I pull off into this side road kinda place with a sign called “Mountain Burger”. As soon as I saw the oversized 10” buns…I knew I had to have one of those. They make their own beef patties and slap it together with all the fixings. Maybe it was just after eating bugs and sticks for two days but man that burger was awesome. Toasted the buns and everything. If you are ever in Florissant, roll into that gas station on the north side of Hwy 24 at Circle Drive (east of the main town).

Mountain Burger
2636 W Hwy 24
Florissant,Colorado, 80816
(719) 748-8646

More driving, more exploring and soaking in the sights like road construction. For some reason they decided to tear up the whole road and put in another one.

“What? Road construction!?!” My face was stunned with disbelief. “Out here?”

What can you do but wait? There is no need getting hot headed and all blown out of shape. I wanted to lay on the horn and throw a big ragin’ fit right there in front of the flag guy just to see what he would do. Most people don’t understand my humor so I just sat there.

Eventually I made it back through the gate and to the campsite. The wind had been off and on all day depending on where you were at the time. For the most part skies had been clear. As soon as I got to the camp site and got the gear ready to fish, wind gusts started hammering the shoreline. Dark clouds moved in and had to wait through a mild downpour. Once that subsided some of my gear was shook dry and I went back to shore banging. A boat would be miserable at best-suicide at worst in these conditions. Landed and released two more fish quickly. Same size slot as the others. It was like someone had a Playdoh fish factory down there and was cranking out 18’er rainbows all day long.

Storm clouds had circled instead of clearing. Lightning flashes drew closer and more frequent. In moments that same wall of darkness and high voltage would be too close for comfort. It was around 5 or 6PM. One trout had committed hara-kiri on my lure so I decided to clean, cook and eat the first trout that I had eaten in maybe 10 years or so. My plan was to lightly season the trout and grill to get the maximum flavor of the fish out. But with raindrops already starting to fall and the spices packed in the tent, I simply cooked it one side, cooked on the other and served. The meat peeled off the bones and tasted superb. With just a little butter, salt and pepper with lemon juice would have really made it over the top. By the last bite the coals were dying down and the storm was right on top of me. It was definitely time to batten down the hatches and seek refuge. To completely enjoy the light show in safety, I repositioned the truck and got a front row seat via my windshield.

The final day was spent once again fishing the early morning. Conditions were a bit soggy but otherwise beautiful.

“Just gotta get in a few casts before packing up and heading out.”

Now this post is not in the typical format that I usually write in nor does it have a lot to do with fishing. What I want readers to take most from this blog is post is this: Life is to be lived. Not watched on TV…get out there and live!

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