Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snook

I have not been able to fish too much this year it seems but I am certainly getting my fill right now out here in Southwest Florida. Every year we spend the holidays with my wife's parents on Marco Island, and, well, with the flats boat docked 20 feet from the back door, we tend to get some time on the water. We also make a few trips down to the Everglades to fish with Kevin Mihailoff. After 5 years of fishing with Kevin, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the best guide in the area. He always finds the fish and Monday was no exception with 30 snook to the boat - including this nice fish that my brother-in-law caught that measured 31 inches.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Place That Should Never Be Called By Its Right Name

A beautiful high altitude volcanic cirque set alone high in the wilderness. Crystal clear aquamarine water teaming with golden trout and big lahontans. Sound too good to be true? It isn't.

The scenery:









The fish:









The fish populations are interesting. There are larger lahontans and all size classes of golden. I know the lake has been planted with both over the years, but the working hypothesis presented by my fishing partner for the trip, Eric (HTC #14), is that the goldens are managing to spawn and the lahontans just seem to be getting older and fewer. After fishing the lake, I agree with Eric. The amazing thing about this lake, though, is that there is only about 10 feet of outlet stream that must only flow in the spring and early summer. I guess that is all the fish need.

Unfortunately this place is not quite the secret I wish it was. I know a lot of folks know of it and a few have even named it. I am sure it can be located by those curious enough to search it out. The gear guys are on to it as well. Also unfortunately, many people that get up there neglect the rules altogether both in regard to bag limit and camping regulations. We saw another party kill some decent fish and then cook them. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I wish the big lahontans were left alone at a minimum--I mean why not keep a few pan size goldens and leave the big fish so that this world class fishery continues to cough up the occasional 24 incher?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Native Trout Forum

For the past three or four years a small group of like-minded anglers have been chasing down native trout in their native drainages. This has included myself and:

Gary - Fly Fishing for Native Trout
Chris - The Search for Native Salmonids
Scott - Cutthroat Stalker

Thanks to the Internet and blogs we've been able to connect and form a loose network to share information, ideas and reports (most reports appear on the individual blogs). Now, thanks to the initiative of another native trout minded angler, Anders Halverson of Boulder, Colorado, a new central hub has been created and everyone is participating. I am optimistic that this will become the one-stop web destination for anyone looking for information and community regarding native trout fishing and conservation. I also know that Anders will continue to expand and improve the site, but already there is great information on native trout and some very active message boards, so those interested in fly fishing for native trout should definitely go take a look:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Greenbacks and Mountain Tops

Colorado's state fish, the Greenback Cutthroat Trout, has been notoriously absent from my species list for some time. I decided that this summer was the time to remedy this. Having done a number of solo native trout quests in my time (paiute, apache X 2, goldens, lk goldens, etc. etc.), I thought it would be more fun to spend the weekend with a friend so I called my ultra-reliable fishing buddy Steve. Per usual, he was down. A plan was hatched. Because I was dragging Steve out from Miami, I figured I needed to add a little flare to the trip beyond just catching the rare Greenbacks. This came in the form of backpacking and mountain climbing. The plan was:

  • Meet in Denver on Thursday and then drive to Estes Park and spend the night

  • Hit the trail early Friday and hike up the Roaring River to Lawn Lake while fishing along the way

  • Camp at Lawn Lake Friday night and fish the lake in the evening

  • Crack it early Saturday and climb the 13,425 foot trail-less Mummy Mountain

  • After the summit, fish Big Crystal lake for large cruising Greenbacks

  • Fish the inlet stream between Crystal Lakes and Lawn Lake on the way back to camp

  • Bust out early Sunday for the car, have a nice lunch in Estes Park, and then make for Steve's 5PM flight in Denver
The trip went off without a hitch.


Greenbacks and Mountain Tops

On the way to the trail head coming down the road to Horseshoe Park we got our first view of the area we would be hiking. Lawn Lake and the Roaring River are noteworthy as an earthen damn that was built in 1903 to increase the size of the lake failed July 15, 1982 at 6:00 in the morning. A huge amount of water was release and rushed down the Roaring River canyon spilling massive amounts of debris and water into Horseshoe Park and down into Estes Park. Three campers were lost in the flood. Twenty seven years later the alluvial fan created as the debris spilled out of the canyon is still clearly visible. The peaks in the background, from left to right, are Chiquita at 13,069 feet, Ypsilon at 13,514 feet and Fairchild at 13,502 feet.



The Lawn Lake trail starts at 8,500 feet and works its way up to 11,000 at the lake over 6.3 trail miles. Most folks that fish the river for Greenbacks don't venture too far past the first point the trail hits the river. For a small river this area gets hammered. Especially on the weekends. We saw at least a dozen rods on both our way up and down that were fishing the lower section. It is too bad they didn't walk a bit more, because once you gain some altitude, the river and the fishing experience take on a whole new character.



This is the view of Mummy Mountain from 10,000 feet elevation on the trail. We fished a bit below the high-grade river section you see in the foreground but spent most of our time above it. Once above this section the fishing improves dramatically.



The higher we went the more the Greenbacks seemed to be wearing their spawning colors.



Greenbacks are amazingly beautiful fish.



Stealth paid dividends.





For the fish too...





The upper section ends, as to be expected, at Lawn Lake. You can see the outlet of the lake and the site of the damn failure in the photo below. The 12,398 foot "Saddle" is directly in the background and Hagues Peak, 13,560 feet, is to the right.



Steve pulled this nice fish out of the outlet channel at the base of the lake.



To celebrate the end of the first day we opened up the Hudson Single Malt.



Perhaps owing to the altitude or the long hike up (or maybe the Hudson), the next morning our planned "alpine start" slipped a little bit and we did not set out on the trail until around 10AM. This is a view of the summit of Mummy Mountain, our target for the morning.



On the way up toward Mummy you pass near Crystal Lake and the small stream that connects it and Lawn Lake. We made sure to make a point to return to this spot later to fish where the creek drops off into Lawn Lake.



To climb Mummy Mountain you follow an established trail toward the saddle then head into off-trail around 12,000 feet for the scramble up to summit at 13,500 feet. This is our first good look at Big and Little Crystal lakes.



This is me partway up Mummy. You can see two things here; that the wildflowers were out in force, and that the hike up Mummy was pretty steep.



Getting closer to the summit.



The final 500 foot or so push to the summit got a little "boney". Photo below of Steve holding up a rock.



Finally, a view of the summit and a sense that you really could die up there if you fell.



We could see our camp at Lawn Lake nearly 2000 feet below.



At the summit! (In Steve's left hand is the peak register)



The views of Crystal Lakes, the Roaring River and Lawn Lake.





The climb up Mummy took about 3 hours. The trip back down to where we had stashed our fly rods at the turnoff to Crystal Lakes took just over an hour. For those unfamiliar with Big Crystal Lake, it is purportedly home to some of the largest Greenback Cutthroat trout anywhere in the world. At 12,000 feet, the lake has no real consistent insect hatches and a very short summer feeding season. Consequently, the fish cruise near the drop-off around the perimeter of the lake opportunistically eating anything they can. Or so we've been told (including on our hike in during a brief conversation with a guide from Wild Basin outfitters that was guiding a husband and wife team on the Roaring River).

It turned out that we would not catch a single fish in Big Crystal lake.

I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Here is what happened.

I can say with absolute certainty that there are large Greenback Cutthroat trout in Big Crystal lake. Little Crystal, by the way, is fishless as best we could tell. Probably because there is no good outlet stream for spawning and the two lakes are not really connected in any way. The trail to Big Crystal lake approaches the lake at the outlet stream. Before we could even see the water, we could hear big fish splashing. When we finally did see the outlet stream, what we saw there amazed us. Probably 90 percent of the fish in the lake were in the 250 yards of prime outlet stream in 6 to 24 inches of water. There were hundreds of fish (if not into the thousands) and they were all getting busy. Chasing each other, biting, flapping their tails out of the water, digging into the dirt and "shivering". The big fish were making wakes as they cruised. Some large fish were swimming in water that was so shallow their backs were exposed. The site of all of these rare fish stacked in such perfect, seemingly manicured, spawning habitat was incredible. And some of the fish were truly huge, easily over two feet in length. In order to best share this experience, below I am going to post most of the pictures Steve and I took as well as a short video that Steve took.









Steve's video.

video


A wider perspective to give you an idea of what the overall spawning habitat looked like. Honestly, it was like a Koi pond. But instead of Koi it was loaded with ornery Greenbacks.



After watching the fish do their thing for quite some time, we made our way out to the lake to see if we couldn't catch any. We didn't see a single fish rise in the larger lake and I only saw one cruiser and got a short strike on a streamer. We did see fish migrating in and out of the outlet stream. They just were not interested in eating.

A great picture of Steve fishing Crystal Lake.


Steve took this picture looking back toward me (Mummy in the background).



After spending a few hours at Crystal Lake taking it all in, we made our way back down to the spot at Lawn Lake we had noted earlier in the morning. We also fished the small inlet stream above Lawn. The inlet stream was good. The dropoff into the lake was great.



That night we did pretty well fishing till dark. Then we finished off the Hudson and hit the sack. The next morning we packed up and covered the 6.3 miles back down to the car in about two hours and made it back to DIA in time for Steve's flight back.

Great trip. Great fishing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

SAVE THE PAIUTE

UPDATE: Caltrout made it easy to contribute--CLICK HERE

I've had the pleasure of hiking into Silver King Creek at Llewelyn Falls on two occasions. The first was a solo trip that I wrote about here. The second occasion was a trip with Bernie Weston and DFG's Dave Lentz. On those trips I caught three native Paiute Trout that had come down over the falls from the pure population above.

I went back a second time because the three of us thought it would be the last chance to catch a Paiute in its native range for some time. The day after our trip Silver King was to be closed for rotenone treatment to remove the non-native rainbows to make way for the native fish. Unfortunatley, on the evening of the day before the restoration was to start, after the DFG had mobilized at the trailhead and organized supplies and volunteers, a last minute lawsuit and court order sidetracked the restoration efforts.

As part of the restoration plan and ongoing management effort, the regulations were changed effective the day the treatment was to take place. The fishing closure point on the creek was moved from the falls a ways downstream to Tamarack Creek. This new closure point has remained in effect since that day in August 2005 and has effectively wiped out any possibility of catching a Paiute in their native range. I do know of one person that went into Silver King below the new closure point and caught a Piaute at the conflunce of a tributary creek that holds Paiutes in its headwaters. To me this was remarkable. I've also spoken with a few folks that have caught Paiutes in legal waters outside of their native range. To do this requires some tough off-trail hiking, good navigation skills, and a lot of determination.

This is a Paiute that was caught just below the falls.



Four years later Dave the DFG is continuing in their efforts to restore the Paiute. They are obviously committed to doing everything they can to protect diversity and are in it for the long haul. My hat goes off to them and I stand committed to do whatever I can to help support the goal of restoring native species to their native ranges. Silver King is a beautiful creek in a spectacular high alpine setting and its beauty will only be enhanced if this rare trout is able to once again fin in the waters that drove its diversification.

Below is a letter from Dave Lentz of the DFG:

I would like to request that Sac-Sierra TU write a letter of support for the Paiute cutthroat restoration project on Silver King Creek. This would entail endorsing the alternative number 2, eradicating non-native trout below Llewellyn Falls using rotenone, from the draft EIS/EIR that is in comment period now.

Here are links to information about the restoration project. First, DFG's website which has the NEPA/CEQA documents(600+pgs, about 9MB). Comment letters can be snail mailed to DFG in Rancho Cordova or emailed, as well. Comment Deadline is May 4.--

http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Resources/WildTrout/WT_Paiute/WT_PaiuteCutRestor.asp

Also, a link to Ted Williams, Conservation writer for Fly Rod and Reel Magazine that has a lot of background on the Paiute cutthroat project and other western native trout restoration issues:

www.flyrodreel.com/node/11698

Letters from individuals (in addition to a chapter letter) that support restoring the Paiute cutthroat would be greatly appreciated--this may turn out to be "numbers game", supporters v. opponents, in certain of the approval arenas that the project must pass. There are several permitting steps that are vulnerable to opposition. Supporters should favor Alternative 2 in the EIS/EIR and support returning the Paiute to its native home. So, this would be asking a favor of you individually, as well to write.

Letters to: Stafford Lehr, Calif. DFG, 1701 Nimbus Rd., Rancho Cordova, CA 95670

or email letters: SilverKingPublicComment@dfg.ca.gov

let me know if you need more info. Have a great board meeting and keep up the good work!!

thanks, Dave Lentz


David Lentz
Threatened Trout Coordinator

California Department of Fish and Game
Fisheries Branch
830 S Street
Sacramento, CA 95811

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Upper & Lower Sac

A couple weeks back I spent the weekend up around Redding and fished the Upper Sac one day and then did an overnight float trip on the Lower Sac the next two. The reports said the Upper Sac was fishing tough with high water and that the Lower Sac was on fire. The reports were pretty accurate.

I fished the Upper around Delta at a few spots I like and have caught big fish at in the past. The lower part of the Upper Sac is a great stretch of the river with bigger water and bigger fish. It seems that there are a few larger and wild fish down low that can be difficult to catch and a lot more "cookie cutters" up top. At least that has been my experience. I managed to dredge this nice fish up not too far from Delta.



Before starting the drift on the Lower Sac we fished near the Sundial Bridge. This picture is a must have for norcal anglers.



We drifted from Bonnyview down to Jelly's Ferry and camped about half way in between. The boat was a two-man pontoon that was pretty easy to fish from. About half the fish caught came from drifting and half from wading. I'll take wade-caught fish over fish from a boat any day. There are truckloads of fish in the Lower Sac and if you drift enough water with a good drift you will catch them. On the other hand, when you are wading you can find a spot where there are likely fish and then use knowledge and experience to figure out what is going on. We had one such experience on this trip where it took about an hour to figure it out, but then once we did we yarded 'em.

Below are some representative Lower Sac rainbows.