As part two came to an end, I had just told you about my recent 3 day early October car camping trip, fishing the high country streams of the Creede Colorado area with my 23 year old son Rick and Bernard a rod builder and both fishing fools… … and like all of us heavy on the fool part. I believe that I had just indicated that we were all ready for and truly needed in order … a hot bath, clean clothes, a damn good store bought dinner, and a loud night in a crowd at Tommyknocker’s Tavern in Creede and most importantly a good night’s sleep in a soft bed, before we get started on the backpacking portion of our adventures. Well I woke up warm and comfortable buried under the covers, I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t stink so I was pretty sure I had accomplished all of those things. As I got out of bed, my head was a little “foggy” from all of the liquid fun at Tommyknocker’s but I had a smile on my face and lots of new friends and memories …… although a few of those memories might be a little foggy as well.
Today was the start of a three day back packing trip into one of the prettiest streams I know of, which just happens to have a ton of big fish which equally match the scenery, a truly impressive feat. This is the stream where several years earlier I had dropped my waterproof camera into some whitewater and had been unable to find it, only to have my fishing partner come back a year later and stumble on my camera still underwater in a backwater eddy. He had mailed me the camera and I for some strange reason charged the battery and was amazed when it fired right up and worked perfectly. The case was dinged and banged but still functional. So from there forward this stream will always be called “Lost Camera” Creek to me and my friends. A few shots of a camera after it has been lost for 13 months under a white water trout stream at nearly 10,000 feet.
The hike is long and almost straight down going in and likewise straight up coming out and definitely not a hike my fat, 50 year old, weak hearted self should be taking … … which is exactly why I was heading there… after all my life is proof that I don’t listen to the warnings from myself or others very well. We managed to get our backpacks stuffed with nothing hanging out unlike our current hung over personnel statuses. I had trimmed mine down significantly for this trip but it was still pretty heavy as I lifted it into the SUV for the ride to the trailhead. The ride up is pretty short but the road is as steep as can be and the sides drop off to tree tops below on the downhill side and the uphill side is solid rock. As as we rounded a curve there was a large moose standing in the middle of the road he turned and looked at us with a dismissive head shake and began an ambling jog right up the middle of the road looking from side to side for a place to bust into the brush but none seemed to appear so we drove slowly behind this lumbering hulk for almost a quarter of a mile. It was amazing to watch him that closely. The moose seemed calm and relaxed and we kept our distance but it was an experience for me to stay that close to him for that long. They are amazing animals stately and commanding but with a running style that can best be described as a gangly, awkward shamble. I would have given anything to be able to get to a camera but all of ours were already in our packs buried in the back of the SUV, so I had to commit the scene to memory and trust me that wasn’t too hard to do.
Soon enough I was struggling into my pack, and starting down the trail. We kept a slow and easy pace heading downhill. In some ways I think steep downhill hiking is actually harder on my legs than uphill hiking and my legs were definitely screaming “what the hell, you told us no more of this stuff” over and over. I got a little annoyed with Rick and Bernard trying to watch to make sure that I was doing okay. I am not sure what they expected but obviously I wasn’t dropping dead on the trail, so I sent them on ahead and just got into a rhythm of the trail. We dropped down through the open “park” with relative ease which is about half the distance but that last half is about an 1800 feet elevation drop, but I just kept my rhythm, slow as a dirge I might add, but still a rhythm and I rolled slowly and peacefully down the trail … … … I felt a little like the Moose a little gangly and awkward but making progress down the trail never the less. Soon enough we found ourselves down by the stream arguing over where everyone wanted to make our campsite but at that point I would have settled for anything that let me get the dang pack off my back. We eventually found the perfect place. I think these pictures will show that we did a pretty good job picking our camp site location even if it did cause a little discussion.
In short order we had the tents and Eagle’s Nest Outfitter Hammocks set up. Those hammocks are pretty nice and they set up in a hurry, I may be switching to one of them in the near future I have been shown the light. It was getting late in the afternoon and everyone was enjoying the view and recovering from the hike but I couldn’t stand it anymore and rigged my rod and headed down to the pool 100 feet down from the cliff top where the camp was set up. I had caught several large fish from this hole on my previous trips and looking down on it from above just didn’t seem as if it would be able to stop the twitching in my casting arm. It is a gorgeous spot even if it didn’t hold big fish … … which I was pretty sure it did. And if you look close enough you can even spot my tent in this picture. It feels kinda like a “Where’s Waldo” book for those of you with kids the right ages or who just like to be a kid themselves.
Even us much as my overheated fishing lust was driving me, I stopped and took one irresistible picture of the meadow section of the stream that I had to walk past, I think it turned out pretty well after a little creative color filtering.
I always get a little paranoid when I take my first few casts into water that I love but haven’t fished in a long time, I get worried that the fish won’t be there or they won’t be as spectacular as I remember. We have all heard stories about streams that just seemed to get fished out or just die out for some reason. So I smiled and laughed to myself when I saw several large fish holding right where I thought they should be. There were several smaller fish in the bottom feeding lies but I wanted one of the big ones and I was afraid that catching one of the little ones might spoke the hole, so for tonight only, I cheated and worked my way around into position so I could make my first cast right for a clean drift over those larger shadows. The cast dropped in cleanly and the soon the dry seemed to pause mid current and I instinctively set the hook. When I did a large cream sided cuttbow thrashed and flashed in the current, then ran heavily upstream peeling line like a runaway freight train. I was able to get my rod tip way up which brought the line out of the water and off the rocks so I just hung on softly and let the fish run. I knew there wasn’t much room up there anyway and sure enough the fish turned at the top of the hole and slid back into the deep water at the base of the cliff. I was able to get the line back on the reel and the fish under tight tension and control. A big fish on the first cast of a trip in a setting breathtakingly beautiful … … well as they say I was “happier than a pig in shit”. I glanced up and could see Rick and Bernard still standing in the campsite at the top of the cliff, chatting and having a smoke. They were lost in the beauty of the scenery and their conversation, so I started to yell up at them but backed off as I was afraid of the sudden fish god karma shift if I called up before the fish was in hand, so I played the fish for a little while longer until I had him sliding along the top of the current almost ready to land and I couldn’t stand it any longer, I wanted them to share in this first fish of the trip real bad …. … and yeah maybe to brag a little too … … so I yelled up at them and they ambled over to the cliffs edge to watch me land this beauty. And sure enough just as I had predicted as soon as they got a good look at me, the bent rod and beautiful fish still struggling in the current … … I heard a whoop from them … … and almost simultaneously that savagely disappointing feeling of a fly popping free from a good fish’s mouth. Sure enough the fishing gods had taken their karma revenge … … and it hadn’t taken but two heart beats to do it. I cussed a few times to myself and then just started laughing and smiling like an idiot … … first cast, a beauty of a fish, within a few feet of my hand, and my son and my friend standing on a cliff to watch… … in a stream I thought I would never be able to hike into again … … any way you slice it … … life is pretty damn good. I recovered eventually and put a few more casts into the same pool, landing a beautiful brookie which managed to knock the skunk of this trip officially.
I fished for about 45 more minutes catching a few more fish but not really lighting it up, but not really trying that hard either. I had caught enough fish to know that they next day’s fishing would be phenomenal.
It was nearly dark when I got back to camp. We boiled camp meals for dinner and had a sip or two of bourbon by the firelight. Bernard and I were both pretty worn out and hit the sleeping bags early while Rick sat by the fire and listened to some music. It was amazing to lie in my tent and listen to him playing his music … … because it was my music. What he was sitting up listening to by himself was the same songs and albums that I would have picked out for myself … … Jimmy Buffett, Grayson Capps, Guy Clark, Ray Wylie Hubbard and he even threw some Marty Robbins and Michael Martin Murphy in there as well.
I woke to a beautiful but cold morning. The morning sun was just peeking into the valley and it was as pretty as a picture … … so I took some.
We wolfed down breakfast and I threw some water and tuna fish into my vest and headed out for a long day of fishing and hopefully a great day of fishing … … but is there any other kind. We had split the river into three sections with Ricky taking the hike into the upper reaches, me fishing the meadow and Bernard heading down to the lake and working the canyon section. I headed back to the same hole at the cliffs right below the tent. I saw several fish and one that looked like a mirror of the cuttbow I had lost the evening before, but I forced myself to take my time and fish the whole hole like it deserved to be fished, instead of trying to cherry pick individual fish. I picked up two nice brookies out of the bottom feeding lies, in the flat water at the back of the hole. The second one spooked the shallow water and several fish moved up into the deep water at the head of the cliff, including the shadow that I thought might be “my” cuttbow or at a minimum its mirror image. I figured it would be tough to get down deep enough to get them now, but I am always willing to try and drifted cast after cast through the hole with no response. I was making one last cast and reeling up while walking forward when suddenly I came up tight to a heavy weight. I at first thought I was hung up and gave a solid rolling forward flick, instantly followed by a hard pop upward hoping it would shake free and almost wet my pants when I felt a head shake in response… … fish on… … sometimes luck beats skill … … which works for me because I have a lot more luck than skill. The fish ran and I managed to get over my shock and get some line back off the reel to feed to the fish. The fight was fast and furious and soon enough I was able to slide a beautiful cream colored slab of a cuttbow into my hand for a nice photo op.
The day was off to a great start, but as I headed up the long meadow stretch of the stream it turned really shallow and there wasn’t much holding water. It was gorgeous and I spent a lot of my time just sitting on a rock and letting the scenery soak deep into my soul and that was something I needed more than even I had known.
I was just beginning to wonder how to fish these shallows when I began to notice shadows moving past me and making their way up river. Well as I began to pay more attention it became easy to see the flame orange shinning in the water and I could clearly see brookies making their way upstream to find their spawning grounds. They were on the move and but definitely weren’t on the redd yet, so it was game on. For the rest of the day, every time I caught site of them I could catch at least one as they migrated by, which translated to lots and lots of big, and I do mean big, brookies. Even by this streams standards.
Some of you will get this and others won’t, but after several delightful fun filled hours catching and releasing more big brookies than I had even thought possible … … it got to be just “catching” and not so much fishing. Which lead me to stop and take a long lunch break and to spend some more time just admiring the world around me. I think these next pictures do it justice.
By then I was ready to go catch a fish that didn’t have sex on it’s mind, so I headed down to the canyon section where I knew some big rainbows and cuttbows would be waiting. By the time I had hiked the mile or two to the canyon section, the shadows were starting to hide the water, which was what I was hoping for and sure enough the first hole yielded a nice little cuttbow.
After the release we shared a few more moments of bonding time during the recovery process.
The next few hours were another blur of rainbows and cutts and once again in more spectacular fashion, frequency, size and coloration, than I could ever ask for. Here is another gorgeous example.
There were a few more nice brooks mixed in, but very few down here.
I was starting to run out of steam and stream and quite honestly wet wading at 10,000 feet in early October is a little chilly especially in the shade of the canyon. So I started to make my way back to camp but noticed I was on top of an old campsite that my friend and I had used on the lost camera trip. So I went over and was amazed to see that the wood for the fire was still laid in the fire ring where he had left it on his last visit, telling me it would be waiting for me when I returned next. Monte here is my proof my friend.
Well while I was down there I remember him telling me about a shallow riffle that had hollowed out a fairly deep bowl which you didn’t notice until you were nearly right on top of it and that it was right by the camp site and that he had caught a really nice fish out of it. So I stood there a minute and scanned the water… … and sure enough I saw a spot that matched the description. I clipped off my nymph rig and tied a dry on just for kicks and flipped a few casts through it without any success and decided on one last cast … the water fairly exploded with a boiling take. After nymphing all day I did a slide strike as well as a rod set and the power of the fish almost broke the line and shocked the daylights out of me, but I recovered my senses quickly enough to strip and feed some line and to get back under control. The fish ran upstream to some deep water next to a rock face cliff and just sulked at the bottom of that hole, so I was able to creep up slowly and regain my line and get in pretty good position for when the fish decided to make its last charge. After a minute or so it noticed my big self’s shadow on the water and made one last run down stream but I was ready for that move and followed the run smoothly and just a few short moments later I was posing with this beauty.
Well as I often do, I decided to end the day on a fish and clipped off my dry, I was worn out but unbelievably content with a wonderful day of fishing… … and yes the catching was pretty good too… … but as I walked back to the camp I decided it is the fishing that really turns me on… … not the catching… … but I sure as hell don’t mind a lot of catching as long as I am fishing.
I got back to camp thinking I must be one of the best fishermen of all time, which naturally meant I was going to get a “comeuppance” as we say in the south. And that came in the form of Rick and Bernard asking me if I had fished far enough up to get to the big beaver dam and the absolutely giant true cutts that were lying in wait above that. They furnished pictures to prove their points of course, well as luck, or lack of, would have it I had fished up to within a few hundred yards of the beaver ponds and turned around to eat lunch and go back down to the canyon section. That section had been wonderful but I guess it was just a small fraction of what the beaver pond and above section had been … … oh well… … if my day was bad … … I can live with it. It also gave me something to dream about for my next trip back in here.
I slept poorly that night partly because my thermarest sprung a leak, partly because I was dreaming of big fish that I just didn’t get to, but most importantly because I was worried about if I would be able to make the 5 mile hike straight up hill and back to the car in the morning. The key is I was already at the bottom so now was a little late to be worrying about if I could make it back out again. Dawn came too slow and too fast at the same time. I wasn’t sure if was sad at leaving or just scared of the walk or all of the above. And just like in school “all of the above” is always a good bet.
We had a leisurely breakfast and took our time rebuilding the packs. I snapped one last picture just to burn into my brain for future stress relief and we started up the trail. And I do mean up… straight up.
I sent everyone up the hill ahead of me as I didn’t want to feel pushed. As it was, I felt like the worlds worst football team, 9 yards and a cloud of dust, punt … … pant for a while… and wait a few minutes to try for 9 more yards uphill, over and over, repeat as needed. But somehow, some way, I rounded a bend and Bernard and Rick were standing there and I had made it up the hardest uphill part. Bernard took a picture of Rick and I, and I am the happiest guy in the world because I had made it out alive, well and even feeling good, even more important was the fact that since I could get myself out … … I get to come back next year. But perhaps the thing that made me the happiest was that I was hanging out with Family and Friends and that is a true gift. This is a picture of truly happy man.
As usual, I am late writing this up and as I finish these words the year 2012 had rung to a close. I must admit I can’t say I will be sorry to see it go. But at the same time I think I am a better, wiser and stronger person than I was when the year started and by my standards that is the definition of a successful year.
For 2013 I am starting a new job Wednesday, the divorce paperwork is coming along the right way and I am settled in my new home. The year is starting out with promise, now it is just up to me to “make it happen”.
In closing I will leave you with a couple last shots from Bernard who is far and away a much better photographer than I am…. … so I saved the best for last.
Thanks for reading