Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Black Clouds and Rainbows

My buddy and I planned a two day banzai run to the Sierras for this past weekend. We had the dates set quite awhile ago. As the date loomed near, so did one hell of a storm system. As per our usual modus operandi, we spat in the face of mother nature and decided to go for it. Initial plans called for day one to be on the East Walker and day two to find us plying the seams of the Truckee and Little Truckee rivers.

After a three and a half hour drive into Bridgeport, we found ourselves donning waders and stringing rods in the windy parking area at the base of the dam. We initially saw only one other vehicle, and I prematurely surmised that the weather had scared off all of the fair weather fishermen, and that we would have some elbow room. Wrong. The East Walker on a weekend in October without crowds? What was I smoking. Anybody who has fished the Miracle Mile of the East Walker knows how it is with the willows. You bust your way through the leafy mass only to see angler after angler. You turn around and try another brushy tunnel to the river. After quite awhile of fishing mediocre water because of too many anglers, we finally got onto one of my favorite stretches of stream.

One of the main reasons that I had chosen the East Walker for one of our days was to get my buddy Brandon on some fish. He only had one measly little fish to his name on the fly rod leading into this trip, and I wanted to get him on some fish, and more importantly, get him trained in the art of nymph fishing.

Upon finally getting on a good stretch of water, I coach him into position quartering downstream of a very nice seam formed by a good sized rock. After only about 10 minutes of coaching him on getting far enough upstream with his cast to allow his bug to sink, and getting him the basics of mending, his indicator snapped down and he lifted into a quality EW brown. He was all grins, even after the tiny Zebra Midge pulled free of his quarry's face. His confidence well in hand, within a matter of minutes, he managed to give another Brownie a tiny piece of lip jewelry and take it all the way to the net. A solid 17 inch brown marked his first East Walker fish, first quality fly caught fish, and first nymph fish. Success, the pressure was off of me to get him on something, and he had the confidence to continue getting bit regularly.

Ok, pressure was off of me to get HIM on fish, but as of yet, 2 hours into our day, I hadnt managed to get a fish to hand, despite getting bit and hooking several fish. I had been fooling around with the normal smaller bugs that usually produce for me there, and after awhile I decided to try one of the crawdad pattern flies I had devised for the Truckee and Middle Fork American rivers. Second drift through a pretty deep and heavy seam, the indo jumped down and I lifted into a very ticked off fish. I didnt get eyes on it for a minute or two, but it came up and rolled about 30 feet from me and I realized that I had my first good size East Walker Rainbow on the line! After a very fun, drag singing fight I managed to slide her into my too small net and get a quick snapshot and send her on her way. She was way too feisty to get an exact number, but certainly over 20 inches and very fat, clean, and healthy!

Our day wore on. Getting a few fish here and there. With Brandon quite thoroughly outfishing me, although most of his fish were very small. Like 6-7 inches. Never seen that on the EW! We each caught another rainbow, both of which were around 10 inches but very very pretty. Got a couple nice browns, but nothing bigger than my rainbow. The place stayed very crowded. There were three guided groups of 4 anglers each that made finding water pretty tough. But there were no real issues with being crowded by someone and all of the guides and clients were very nice and we had some good on the water BS'ing sessions with several of them.

By the time the sun hid behind the ridge, we were on our way to the Sportsmen's bar and grill for hot food, cold beer, and the last game between the Giants and the Phillies. The whole time trying to figure out what we were gonna do with some real weather headed our way the next day. With predicted 105 MPH winds coming over Donner Pass, we decided that perhaps the Truckee just wasnt in the cards for us on Sunday. We opted to crash in the car near Bridgeport Reservoir, fish the East Walker in the morning and then hit the East Carson on our way home.

Our morning session on the EW was pretty miserable with myself getting 1 little fish to hand, and Brandon getting a couple nice Browns and dumping several others including a pretty good size one. By 11, we were on our way down 395 and jumping over Monitor Pass to the East Carson. It was already completely blown out, lookin like Yoo-Hoo, so we audibled yet again and decided to fish the West Carson for as long as we could stand the blowing rain. We fished the Hope Valley for about an hour and a half. The WC was a little off color, but perfectly fishable. I managed two little rainbows to Brandon's zero and we called it a day. Pretty fun trip. There were plenty of elements that could have been much better. But I will take a big wild 'Bow out of moving water any day.

I am guessing that my backcountry exploits are done for the year. But there is a slight chance I might be able to make a ninja run up to my big Brown lake for one last hurrah. Other than that, I'm gonna spend the winter at lower elevations or on the EW and Truckee. There is even talk of Leopard Sharks on the fly at some point before my 2011 backcountry season kicks off. I'll keep you guys posted.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Fine Art of Fly Selection

Then I irritate myself over the matter of which fly to use, finally darting my hand blindly into the fly box. I come up with one I tied myself that imitates the effect of a riot gun on a love seat.
The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Great Debacle of 2010

I have wrestled with myself on whether or not to even put this up. I consider myself fairly competent up there, but this time, I blew it. Bad.

A few years ago, when I first got back into spending time in the high country, I heard about this lake. You know, one of those really cool spots in the high country. Hard to get to, big Goldens swimming around, that sort of thing. It sits high atop this big ridge, nestled snugly down in the only bowl. I have looked at it a hundred times on Google Earth and Trail Behind. Mind you, neither of these tools show the actual trail, but it is really simple. Walk up the bottom of the valley for 6.5 miles, turn, and go straight up the side of the ridge for another 1.8 miles and a couple thousand vertical feet of elevation gain. I have talked to several guys that have gone there, and heard what a great experience it is.

So, here we are, a couple seasons later, and I finally got my shot to get up there. I talked my lovely girlfriend into making the trek with me, even though she knew it was gonna be a pretty tough march back in there. Having looked at the lake a million times on topo's and having spent a good amount of time in that valley, I decided not to drive the hour out of my way to pick up a map. That's right, backpacking without a map. You can see the bowl from the car, you've been in the valley before, there is only one turn to make, what can go wrong? Right?

We finally hit our trailhead by about 2pm and made the immediate ford of the small river.

After a couple miles, we entered the newly annexed portion of the Hoover Wilderness,

We continued on, for what seemed like a lot more than 6.5 miles without seeing our trail take off up the hill. I started to become concerned that we had passed the fork. Finally, after nearly four hours, a fork in the proper direction presented itself, and we set up camp for the night. We planned to hit the lake the next day and return to this base camp for our final night.

We awoke early the next morning, loaded my pack for the day and started up the hill. For much of this hike we paralled this nice little stream, stopping often for ice cold water.

As we made our way up, I started getting this queasy feeling. We werent gaining enough elevation. I couldnt see where we were in relationship to the target bowl, due to all the trees and the deep little cut we were in. But we persevered. After awhile I was pretty sure that we had also hiked past the prescribed 1.8 miles. Then the trail opened up to this beautiful meadow.

Unfortunately, the beauty was severely marred by the realization that I had most thoroughly boned us. No fancy dinner, no boring conversation, just a good ole fashioned prison boning. I knew immediately where we were, and I knew that with the amount of time we had left, we would never see the lake. Regardless of how we went wrong, we just would not be able to salvage the trip. Truly a disappointment.

After delivering the bad news to my companion, we ate lunch, I fished, and she found a pretty sweet lounge chair.

Instead of twenty inch Golden Trout set against the moonscape beauty of an alpine bowl, I caught half a dozen of these.

So, tails tucked, we headed back down to basecamp. We arrived, I slept, she read. The mood around camp was not what I would call jovial. I had led my poor girl on a 20 mile goose chase and she was not very pleased. Needless to say, neither was I. After briefly entertaining the idea of packing up camp and hiking out in the dark, we thought better of it and crashed.

The next morning saw lifted spirits, if for no other reason than that the torment was about to be over. We made the hike out in a very quick 3 hours despite the fact that I was carrying a much heavier pack than I am used to. The hike out was actually pretty enjoyable.

There were big bear prints on the trail for most of the way down, and we entertained ourselves by alerting the bear to our presence. I wonder if bears find satirical imitations of Christian Bale's Batman voice alarming or antagonizing. Either way, I figured if one simple voice could almost ruin an otherwise great movie, simple woodland critters would find it repulsive as well.

We made it back to the car in great time, spirits high. We had a game plan to salvage the trip. It involved Jolly Kone hamburgers, Alaskan Amber Ale, the East Walker River, and a trip to the hot springs to cap it off.

Sitting in my favorite little puddle on the planet. 105 degree water, and this view. Add a cold beer and a beautiful woman, and I was a very happy man, regardless of how crappy the trip was for awhile.

Well, here comes the diagnosis of where we went astray. We stopped in Ken's and I bought that damn map that I didnt want to make a detour for. As it turns out, we were supposed to hike up the other fork of the river, on the complete other side of the ridge. Somehow, despite all of the research I had thought I did, that most rudimentary of facts had escaped me. I felt then, and feel today, like the biggest tool on the planet. I was so confident in what I thought I knew that I broke the code and didnt bring a map. It was not a matter of safety. We always knew where we were in relationship to the car, but that didnt help us get to the lake. Take a dang map people. You dont want to waste the time, energy, money, or relationship stability that I did because you dont want to take a detour and pick up a map.

Way to go, dumbass!