Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Double Gut Check Run

The trip was penciled in on Monday with clear skies and metro temps in the +60 range. The plan was to leave work Thursday after the whistle blew, drive a really long time, grab a few hotel rooms and then hit the water Friday morning. By Wednesday things had changed from a forecast of bliss to the point where I was pricing dog sleds. Getting over the divide is always a gamble in January with bad weather but the second pass would be even worse. Thursday morning rolled around and more than a few people were looking to call the whole deal off including me. The no refund situation on the accommodations pushed us all forward.

Driving up was more or less what we expected. Heavy wind on the east side of the mountain and then snow as soon as we reached the higher altitudes. Not 100% white knuckle but close. Three hours later we arrived at the far away HQ for the night. Grab some grub and a few beers and watch John tie a few flies. I tried to get as much info on the water as I could only to receive the very basics followed with “you’ll just have to see it”.

Friday morning arrives and snow is falling in big fat flakes. The back roads were snow covered and icy. The only way in was slow go under four-wheel drive. Finally Park the truck and gear up in a flurry of white. No one talked about the drive back home or even calling the whole thing off at this point. Most dialogue was based around how everyone was setting up their rods and the walk in.

(Above: You think after all of this work we would be fishing by now. Nope. We still have a two-mile hike in.)

Reaching the water was a mix of euphoria and desperate anticipation. Everyone quickly moved down the hill and then stepped into a spot as slow as their self-control would let them. I moved further downstream into a series of smaller pockets while the main trio stayed in the big slow flat. It took me a while to find a rhythm and pattern that a few fish seemed to like. The minnow pattern was the only thing getting any attention on my part.
(Above: This fish may be as gorgeous as any rainbow that I have caught. Glowing pink color and a few big dots on its face give this fish a lot of personality in my book. Stocker fish may look all alike but older, wild trout can be vastly different from one another.)

(Above: The only salvageable shot of the brook trout caught in a very dark spot. Sometimes the flash cooperates and sometimes it doesn’t. Truth be told I flubbed a lot of shots on this trip.)

Within the first few hours I had released a small brown, a decent brook and the beautiful rainbow trout in the picture above. I was feeling pretty good with the results and keeping up with the big boys in the fish count situation. Numbers are not a contest or anything because there is no prize at the end. On the other hand I don’t want to come off as a non-fish catching goober either. This was my first trip with Don’s brother in-law John and the infamous “Pauly”. These guys have been fishing Colorado for a very long time and take their fly-fishing very seriously. The fact they let me tag along at all is nothing short of a miracle in my book.

(Above: Paul with one of many gorgeous rainbows caught and released in the stretch. This was one of his smaller fish but a real beauty worthy of the photo op. Part of me wanted to just stand by him and take fish pictures most of the day.)

I rejoined the trio to watch the spectacle of fish holding in the trough and mostly laughing at my presentations. By sheer luck I get one of the bows to tackle my minnow setup. The fish was small for this section and not as colored as the rest, which saved it from the shameless photo op. But the fact that the rookie caught a fish in the midst of such prestigious company meant a lot me. A few minutes later I landed another. This one was fairly magnificent and possibly my largest fish of the day. Unfortunately this was but one of the photos that didn’t turn out well.
(Above: Oh man. Why did I turn the flash bulb back on? Some of my best shots end up at the bottom of the pile once I get back home. Good light, bad light…it is what it is.)

These fish were fairly educated and I found myself more mesmerized by watching them rather than fishing. Sure I would cast at them once in a while but the fish would just laugh at me. We were minutes away from the cut off time (which we extended two hours from the originally set time) so I decided to take in more of the sights and roll with photo support when needed.
(Above: Don with one of the darker colored rainbow trout. I am sure Don bribed his brother in-law extensively so I could go on this trip. Dude…seriously…huge thanks.)

Seconds later John gets a big bend on what I am guessing was a 4 or 5wt and a large trout makes a run for it. At first I think this is a really smart fish by running to the bottom of a deep current flow. All it needed to do was hunker down on a big rock to bust off. Instead the fish keeps moving up the current in what looked like an attempt to clear out of the stretch altogether. John stayed a steady hand and followed slowly behind the fish while it wore itself out in the heavy current. Once the fish turned its head the fight was over. Being led into a shallow pool the fish found itself in the net and going through a quick photo op

(Above: Beastie bow in the hands of John and but one of the great fish these guys caught. This was a trip we could have taken pictures all day long.)

Around noon the weather was clearing and sunshine was peaking through clouds of white in a small area of sky directly above us. Off in the distance a wall of black was slowly moving in while the surrounding mountains blocked the previous storm from escaping. The respite from falling snowflakes would help us in our exit and even brought of a decent January hatch for a moment. It sparked a flurry of action that somehow made the smile on our faces even bigger.

“RS2’s!!!” One of them would yell out after netting a decent trout. “#20 baby…RS2’s!!!”

If it were really that simple. I changed up a few more times, took a few pictures and almost wished it would start snowing again. All in all I have to say it was really good to dig into a longer trip. Just seeing fish like this makes every white-knuckle mile worth the effort. At this moment I feel very blessed on many levels. Great start on the 2012 season and I owe a lot of thanks to Don, John and the infamous Pauly.

My name is Matt and I’m a fishaholic.


Howard Levett said...

Dang! You can only know the beauty of a rainbow until you've pulled one out of ice cold water. Magnificent.

Anonymous said...

A great winter! Well, these fish! Congratulations!

Jeff Hatt said...

Ah , the trouble I have with cameras sounds similar. Its always when you want a good shot they go wrong. Mine has serious difficulty with what you'd think would be plain sailing light conditions, from time to time. Overall it's reliable enough but set on full auto you never know what you'll get and you can't mess about with fish for long enough to make sure.

Lovely trout. Just how many species do you have up there in the mountains?

FISH TALES said...

I would have loved to have been there... what a trip!

Daniel said...

Way to kick butt and go when lesser men would have canceled. For some reason I can remember very few "perfect " weather trips, but I remember a lot of crap weather trips that turned out great.
Thanks for the inspiration to get out there.

Coloradocasters said...

@Howard: Thank you so much, Howard. Tough place to reach and very difficult to leave with the fish just hanging out like they were.

@Tomek O: Thank you for the comment, Tomek! We had a thin weather window between “caution required” and “won’t make it out in one piece”.

@Jeff Hyatt: Camera issues plague me still. It is my own fault because my camera budget is small and I destroy things quickly. This area has a mixed bag of mostly rainbow, brown and brook trout. There are also some native species such as pike minnow and various chub species that get far more attention than I would like. They also told me rumors of pike and smallmouth bass but I am sure that was done to trick me into bringing an extra 10lb of gear.

@Fish Tales: I was very close to saying the same thing. The invite came on a thread of reluctance from the main trio and the weather nearly killed the whole deal. Very lucky to make this trip on many levels. Good to hear from you, my friend.

@Daniel: I was hoping someone would say that. Truth be told the long rod was the winning ticket once the clouds broke. If I ever get back there I will have more vantage.

It has been a tough start this year setting up trips. I am hoping that I can make up for the lack of posts with a bit more quality than quantity in January. Thank you for your comments. They mean a lot to me and my non-sponsored fishing blog.

TexWisGirl said...

another great adventure and well-written post! sorry some of your shots didn't come out to your liking, but those pink hues are really beautiful!

my favorite line: "as their self-control would let them."

greatness... :)

Shoreman said...

I think the coloring on those fish would be prize enough for me. Well done in the midst of some rough weather.


Bill Trussell said...

The colors on those trout are unreal. Extremely bright and vibrate, must be the extreme cold. Thanks for sharing a trip!!!!

Coloradocasters said...

@TexWisGirl: Oh thank you. Sometimes I think people barely read my posts. After not fishing for two whole weeks I was very much in need of a big trip like this despite the danger.

@Shoreman: Thank you for the comment, Mark. Gorgeous fish like this tend to be in some very tough to reach places. Next time I should try to go in by helicopter. The weather actually held a few guys back until later in the day. The head start was huge.

@Bill T: the fish in the darker areas of the canyon seemed to be a bit brighter where as the older fish that hang in the sun soaked shallow flats were a bit darker. Surely strain, diet and overall genetics play a huge part as well. We might have had some cutthroat variations bleeding into the overall bloodline as well. Wished that I could have taken pictures of them all.

Feel free to pump up the comments section for this post, as it has been a difficult January for me thus far. This trip saved me from a potential meltdown. Casting elbow is only twitching now which is a few levels up from “full on swinging”.