Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rio Grande Cutthroats

Personal Rule : Never pass up a chance to explore somewhere new.

Case in point, when given a chance to spend some time in New Mexico, find out what lives in the rivers there and maybe say hello. I love wild trout, and it just so happens that a pretty rare and gorgeous trout lives in the clear, cold, high mountain streams of New Mexico, the Rio Grande Cutthroat.

Ash and I arrived just before a cold front was about to hit, and we learned quickly that if we wanted any chance at all of finding any of these fish, we needed to do it soon before the creeks froze over. The weather man was right, and after a couple days of clear sunny skies. the temperature plummeted and the snow fell. BUT, that was all after our hiking and time exploring some incredible canyons, alpine valleys, and small headwaters paid off with a few of these beautiful trout coming to hand.

The Rio Grande Cutt is a real success story for Trout Unlimited. With it's native habitat diminishing and hybridization with non-native trout species, the wild populations of Rio's was in serious jeopardy. Due to the years of effort of TU and others, significant habitat has been restored and the outlook for the Rio Grande Cutts is looking up. Seeing just some of this first hand was a pleasure.

On the way back to Denver, we even got to stop in and check out Great Sand Dunes National Park. Something tells me we'll be getting back to the Point of No Return!

Thanks to Helga and 'Big Al' for sharing a little taste of New Mexico!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

AK 2010: All Good Things Must Come to an End

It's been a while since my last post, so I figured I should wrap up this story, so I can catch up!

We knew it would be tough to beat Dad's monster Char, but with days left to fish and nowhere to go, the river
was still full of opportunities and entertainment. After the blitz of the first couple days, water levels dropped, the weather shifted a bit, as did the fish, and the whole scene slowed down a bit.

As the cycle of the Sockeye egg drop progressed, Char activity shifted downstream of camp, and Silver Salmon
activity at camp picked up. Grayling habits shifted a bit too, but, every day I tried to bring just one last
Grayling to hand, and just couldn't get over their quality here.

Sight fishing to dark, purple footballs hunting in packs amongst the salmon is a visual I will never forget.

I was having to hike a little further for each load of firewood, but it was a nice way to break up the day and take
a mid-day break. I had no agenda anymore, and had come to terms with this place. We understood each other. The river
had rewarded all of us for our efforts.

Some local lodges started to fly in guests for the day, but with the mornings and evenings all to ourselves, it was easy to have privacy on the water. That's one thing about Alaska fishing -- once a good spot is known, if a plane can get there, people will be there. It's ironic, but sometimes it's easier find solitude by hiking on a well known river on the road system versus flying into the middle of nowhere as it seems nobody else is willing to put in that amount of effort.

There were bear in the area, as evidenced by feeding remains on the banks, but they stayed out of sight during our visit. Our foxy friend on the other hand, got bolder and bolder. One night I awoke to what I thought was a bear tampering with the bear canisters, only to find a frustrated fox licking them and desperately looking at me for help.

Dad continued his hunt for huge Char, landing one that reminded me of a Taimen from Mongolia. Maybe one day, that's
what stream dreams are all about though, right?

John was getting into the swing of things, and despite being new to the Alaskan fly fishing game, was settling in
just fine. Silver Salmon couldn't have timed their arrival any better for our dining and entertainment purposes,
and he focused on them towards the end. The last double came to hand only minutes before our plane arrived for our
pre-determined departure time. Despite the incredible quality of the Char, Grayling and salmon here, he really
wanted to add some species to the mix. He had NO idea just how good he had it :) He did manage a legit smile for the camera though.

After an unfortunate baggage delay on our way back to the mainland via King Salmon (no thanks to Penn Air), we were
back on the road, in the rain, again, looking for fish. My first couple options for John were un-fishable due to high water, but we finally found some good fishable water for John to go after some quality Alaskan rainbows and Dolly Varden to round out his week in Alaska.

With Fall colors on the trees, on the fish, and salmon carcasses piling up, signals were there that it was time to
call this adventure done and head home. The last photo of this post with the rainbow in my hands was my last fish of the trip.

A few hours later we were on a plane. Not that I didn't try to delay my return flight, but you can only leave
momma bear alone in the den so long if you catch my drift....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

AK 2010: Dad Has His Day

With an evening like the first one behind us, there were plenty of fish dreams running through my head during the night.....much better than dreaming about bears. The next morning, the pace started just as good as it ended the night before, with Dad landing a gargantuan Grayling first thing. Not a bad way to set the tone for the day. Since we hadn't really explored more than the hundred yards or so of river right by the tents, I decided to leave a known incredible holding area and go explore a little bit. Leaving Dad and John at the tents, I headed off downstream to do some scouting.

Luckily I left a net behind too, because Dad decided to show me how it's done. I heard the fight early on, and could see him upstream and across the river making his way downstream, proclaiming he had something special. I guided the fight the best I could from across the river, and John was there to assist with the undersized net, but he did all the work. In the end, the Arctic Char of the trip came to hand, a beautiful male with a deep, strong body, and huge kyped jaw that could easily swallow a fly the size of your fist. After a few pics, off he went. Moments like those are true gifts from the river.

As the morning progressed, it was clear that the Grayling and Char here meant business, as we were all having a great morning. Camp life isn't all fun and fish games though, and eventually it was time to take a break and do some camp chores.

First on the list of things to do was to take advantage of the relatively dry weather and contemplate a fire-roasted dinner.

That means wood, and preferably dry wood. Luckily camping on the shores of remote lakes in Alaska means there's usually a supply of driftwood piled up on the banks, sometimes back pretty far the water line due to the frozen vs thawed water line and high winds that come up now and again, pushing it up into the brush.

Turns out we were in luck, and having a versatile pack like an Eberlestock Gunslinger II can make managing unruly loads like this MUCH easier. With a short hike, simply make mini piles along your way, and pick each of them back up on your way back out, adding to the bundle. The Eberle packs load straps and carry system (not to mention the rod tube/rifle scabbard system) make it very helpful and dependable tool in the Alaskan backcountry.

After a few wood runs, it was time to make sure the Grayling hadn't gone anywhere. I knew it wasn't the case, and sight fishing to blue-ish footballs is pretty entertaining.

We also started to find some new company -- of the furry and curious variety. I had found some bear sign in the area, but very limited, and we hadn't seen any out during the day. I had also seen some other tracks, probably from this Arctic Fox that decided to take an interest in what was going on at camp. No doubt also to see if he could snatch a nibble every now and again. His company was welcome though, and provided some good entertainment, watching him sneak around the tents, and lay on the sun on the hillside behind the tents, watching over things.

The other new company that started showing up were Silver Salmon -- chrome bright and full of fight. Dad stumbled onto the first one while fishing for Char. John immediately followed, bringing in a double. With a fresh pile of firewood waiting and a relatively clear evening, a relaxing night roasting fresh salmon over the fire seemed the proper thing to do. I gave Dad a quick lesson in streamside fillet techniques on his first Silver (always remember to hike downstream to keep hungry critters away from camp), and put my chef hat on.

Didn't I mention camp life would be good :)