Sunday, July 20, 2008

High Alpine - High Reward

"Sleeping" with one rock jutting into my back and one against my hip, waking up in fits gasping for oxygen in the thin, crisp air, and loving every second of it. This is the way of the high mountain lake.

We set out on the pure vertical, scree riddled hike up to the continental divide.

The destination rests delicately along the sinuous ridge of the divide and harbors a population of cutthroat trout who are used to seeing, and avoiding, the human visitors.

The 3.5 mile hike flew by surprisingly fast and reluctantly revealed the vast sanctuary of the mountains to the West of the divide.

We scoped out the lake and broke camp. We all sat down and relaxed under the clouds that whirled around us in a spherical bend... clouds that know no tyranny of weatherman... clouds that will either permit to be admired, or strike down a wrath that is not bound by our seasons.

After a restful meditation, it's time to get down to business.

The cutts are hard to spot at first but after some determined attention they reveal themselves. They're in there all right. They're still doing their spawning dance; cruising the banks in pairs and podding up in groups in the shallows.

Someone shouts to look up in the mountains above the lake and precariously perched at the top is a mountain goat casually grazing on the snow pack.

I took this as a good omen because I've been patiently searching for one of these guys every time I'm in the back country. Sure enough, the omen makes good and I catch and release a brilliantly red cutthroat. I didn't have my camera so there is no photo.

We spend the rest of the evening watching the mountains and clouds get splashed with the ever changing pastels of the setting sun.

The sunset was only half of the show for the night. We were due for a full moon as well. It took about an hour and a half of total darkness for the moon to meander its way above the opposite mountain line, and we were there waiting for it.

A rising, full moon at altitude is something wondrous to behold. It looked as though a searchlight had flooded the mountain tops. It defiantly cast black hole shadows in the middle of the night and reflected it's pale, lonely blue off of the snow. Somewhere a mountain goat thought it was daytime again.

We awoke to find the Earth in utter stillness and repose. The mountain gazed sleepily at it's own reflection in the lake. Throughout the morning we cheered up to the couple of hikers and dogs summiting the peak.

Suddenly a ripple expanded outward on the surface of the lake in the shallows. Shortly thereafter a "V" violently raced a few feet and then fizzled out on the surface. A trout was working the area.

I grabbed my fly rod which was already strung up from the prior day and headed over to the spot. Once I was near the area I sat on my butt and slowly picked my way over the rocks like a crab to stay low and get within casting range. Now it's time to select the fly.

Black midges were the only bugs in the air the day before. Since the trout was racing just under the surface it was apparent that it was ambushing emerging nymphs on their way to the top. I tied on a tiny black nymph and on the first cast the feeding cutty swooped in and grabbed the fly in full stride.

Pull out the hook, a quick photo, and then right back to the water it goes.

Later I put on 12 feet of sinking tip line with a woolly bugger. As a cruiser comes by I draw the fly up from beneath and it gets his attention. He dives deeper and I set the hook on the turn of his head. Bingo. Another beautiful male cutty is caught, admired, and then released to swim another day.

The mountain said enough and showed us some threatening clouds so we packed up and moved out. The trip was beyond anything I could ask for, and I even got to catch a few of Colorado's cutthroats. We made our way back down the trail with smiles across our faces and enough memories to last through most of the next week at work.

**I've caught my personal best brown, rainbow and cutty this year. All three were caught with a sinking tip / woolly bugger in lakes.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

RMNP - Ouzel Creek/Lake

The trip is in Rocky Mountain National Park to Ouzel Creek and then up to the lake. We're seeking the Greenback Cutthroat, a sub-species of trout exclusive to Colorado.

The Greenback went to the brink of extinction and back thanks to efforts to save the bloodline by the Colorado Department Of Wildlife (DOW). The greenback doesn't grow very big and is on the bottom of the totem poll when it comes to competition between the other prevalent species of trout; undoubtedly playing a large part in its poor success with survival. After all, only the strong survive. Naturally, the plan is to hike up into the mountains and catch some of the little boogers.

My brother and I meet up with Jamie and his buddy, Tim, who just got back from Iraq. We set out from the Allenspark trail head around 7:30 a.m. which is hidden in the back of the Allenspark community on the southern edge of the park. Our hike begins in a deep alpine forest...

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...and then abruptly breaks into a footpath that runs across the side of a vast gorge. The sound transitions from the damp, pure silence of the woods to the faint, but recognizably powerful, roaring of water somewhere far below... or is it wind?

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We reach Ouzel creek around the 5 mile mark doing a solid clip of roughly 18 min. miles.

It felt as if we had stepped into a "Fly Fishing Destinations" centerfold.

The valley looks to have been ripped through by something powerful. Nick and I discuss the very high possibility of the culprit being wind. Car-sized boulders randomly scatter the ruggedly beautiful drainage among clusters of yellow wildflowers.

Two photos looking from left to right.

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We all catch tons of brookies on the dry and Jamie even manages to pluck a few greenbacks out of the lot.

We hop back on the trail to move the final mile up to Ouzel Lake.

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The lake is beautiful but doesn't appear to gain any depth until about 80 feet out. There are steady rises out in the middle with little action in the shallows on the edge. Tree coverage is thick on the bank making roll casts the only option. Unfortunately, earlier we had all talked each other into leaving the waders at home.

Pretty much on cue with our arrival the weather turned sour. Dark skies, thunder, and hail pass over followed by blue skies and sun, followed by more thunder and more hail - all in typical Colorado fashion.

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All the while a lone ranger stood triumphantly in the middle of the lake donning a pair of waders. He caught fish after fish. His head slowly paned left to right on a well lubricated swivel making sure that everyone was taking notice of his bent rod and splashy releases. I wasn't close enough to see the features on his face, but I could feel his $#%@-eating grin.

We decide to pack it out due to the aforementioned conditions. The dark clouds could be seen whirling around the vicinity of the lake during the whole hike back. We went from 8,900 ft. up to 10,500 ft. and then back again. According to Jamie's satellite pedometer watch we did 13 miles.


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(Yellow Bellied Marmot)
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**I apologize for the HUGE photos. I was playing with settings on the camera. Shouldn't be an issue from here on out.