Friday, June 1, 2012

The One that Got Away

About a year ago, the Mrs. and I dropped our little jon boat into Calligan lake.  This is one of my favorite places to fish - it is a 300 acre mountain lake, just on the border of the beautiful Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  On this morning, the sun darted in and out of the clouds and a slight, wind pushed our little boat eastward as started casting our fly-lines back toward shore.

We approached a familiar shoal.  “Be ready, I always get fish here” I told her, and sure enough, we each caught a fish; her’s was a cutthroat and mine, a brook trout.  The wind kept pushing us eastward at a nice pace, so we rarely had to adjust with the motor.  The fish became very cooperative and we caught a mix of all three types of trout in Calligan.  

She and I fell into the happy trance of anticipation, excitement, reward, and then peace that is fly-fishing when you do it right.

It felt like all the tension between us was slipping away with each fish caught.  After just 2 hours on the lake, we were a team again; our fly-lines never tangled each other as we silently and unconsciously alternated our casts.  We celebrated each other’s catches.  We talked about the trout and the scenery but mostly we just fished.

Eventually the action died away and we found ourselves bobbing in the middle of the lake.  We were both facing the peaks that border the Wilderness next door.  We sat for a while in silence, just soaking up the peace and solitude.

“Let’s not do this.  Let’s not get divorced.” she said.  Her voice was low and clear but there was a pain in it.

I kept looking at the snow-capped peaks far away.

The world seemed to stop.  The wind disappeared and the water became calm.  The sun and clouds froze in place.  The future of our lives, and that of our son, depended on this moment.  

I couldn’t look at her.  I knew that she would be too beautiful.  And, I was afraid that the pain in her voice would be showing in her eyes.  The words came out of my mouth, surprising me, I wasn’t really sure what decision I had made.

“It’s too late.” I said.  “We can’t turn back now.”

I re-engaged the motor and turned the us toward the boat launch.  I could hear her weeping softly, making those sniffling sounds one makes when they are trying to stop.  

Something about the moment made it clear that she would not offer this again, and she hasn’t. Fly-fishing had temporarily brought us close enough back together that we could have bridged the distance.  She had reached out to me and I turned away.

Now I wake up alone every day.  Life gets smaller and smaller as I give away my last few things.  Soon I will have nothing and when the house sells, no home either.  She and the boy live in another state now, they seem happy and prosperous.

Life stopped for me at that moment.  When the sun and clouds and wind stopped its almost like they never started moving again.

I constantly relive that moment on the water and each time my face gets tight and hot.

I should have looked at her.

I had everything and in that moment I let it slip away.

In better days - the one that got away

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lake Rotorua, New Zealand

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If you had read the "Saddest Fishing Report of All Time" then you might have been wondering what happened to me.  Let me catch you up.

I closed out "Act I" of my life in Washington by saying goodbye to everyone, selling my house, giving away my Jaguar and moving to Colorado to be near my son.  I took a new job (actually the greatest job, ever) as a Technical Marketing Manager with my company.  It requires that I travel about 20-30% of the time. That's fine, it means that "Act II" is starting out with something of a World Tour.
Lake Rotorua

I'm on one of those trips right now to Australia and New Zealand.  Unlike previous trips to Tel Aviv or New York, I was able to get some fishing in on this trip. I had arranged customer engagements in Sydney and Melbourne (both beautiful, modern cities) and then a day of engagements in Auckland, New Zealand.  I asked the sales guy in Melbourne "How long does it take to get to Auckland?"  He replied "Its about 3 hours and 20 years back in time."

View from the F5 office in Auckland
New Zealand is nothing like Australia.  Okay, the language is kind of the same, but the people are more laid back and the sales guy was right in that you feel like you are stepping backward in time.  In Sydney and Melbourne its all tailored suits and fancy, trendy fusion restaurants.  In Auckland its T-Shirts and flip-flops.

After finishing my business for the week, I rented a car and nervously drove the "wrong" side of the road down from Auckland for about 3 hours to Lake Rotorua, a large inland lake on the North Island with a beautiful geyser-based tourist town on the south side of the lake.  Checked into a local resort motel - everything on that side of the lake smells sulfuric from all the geysers.

Lake Rotorua is in the crater of a volcano (hence the sulfuric geysers everywhere).  As you probably know, Trout were unknown to this country before the European settlers brought them here.  Trout have done very well in New Zealand as a super-predator.  Lake Rotorua is lousy with rainbows and brown trout.  Ten pound browns are common here, and everyone who fishes here locally catches one sooner or later, sometimes from shore.

Guide Ernest Skudder picked me at 7 in the morning and minutes later we were launching into the lake.  Throughout the day we trolled (or harled, as they call it here) two flies on sinking lines on different parts of the lake.  We caught a fish or two every hour, all rainbow trout ranging from 1-4 lbs.  In the States I would say "ranging between 15-23 inches" but they never talk about fish in length here, its always pounds even though they are on the metric system.  Ernie said fishing was slow, but at the end of 8 hours we had caught about a dozen and kept eight of them.

Um, yeah, we're keeping this one
Keeping them?  In the States I'm a Catch and Release fisherman, but according to Ernie, we're encouraged to harvest them here to keep the population down.  You see, on a busy day there might be 3 boats on this large lake (80 sq km) and there are so many, many trout.  So we kept these and let an equal number free.

I'm a real tourist now

I kept two of these fish for myself, and Ernie gave the rest to some family and friends.  I shook Ernie's hand, thanked him for a great day, and took my two fish over to the local Amazing Thai restaurant.  I offered one to the chef as a gift and they cooked up the other one for me in a Panang Curry.  He ended up lookin' (and tastin') pretty good I think.

Panang Curry Trout
The next day I went exploring to some other nearby lakes that Ernie had recommended I visit.  The water was high and too calm for fishing, so I ended up going on a hike around one of them (Lake Okaro).  It is summer-time here; hot and humid.  Very different from the freezing, blizzard-like conditions of my new home in Colorado.

On that second day by myself, I only caught one small fish and lost one good one.  I wished I had brought my little Trail Boat.  Next time!

If you're a serious fly fisherman you may have imagined tromping through high mountain valleys in search of elusive ten pound browns in remote trout streams.  From what I understand, that kind of fishing is at the south end of the South Island of New Zealand, and I was nowhere near there.  However, getting to New Zealand was easier than I thought it would be, and I can tell this is someplace I'll be coming back to, maybe next year.

Black swan

If I decide to visit Lake Rotorua, well, it has an "international airport" right next to the lake.  Ernie says you that on Tuesdays and Saturdays you can take a 737 from Sydney directly to Lake Rotorua, and if you arrange it with him, he'll pick you up on shore, right next to the airport.  How cool is that!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

All Hail the Olive Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear

Rocky Ford
I stopped at Rocky Ford the other day.  It is not my favorite place to fish in the world. Getting skunked when you can see every fish in the water is frustrating.  But since I was there, I figured I'd wet a line.  I tied on a fly that I didn't think would work very well - a #12 olive Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear and fished it under a Thing-a-ma-Bobber(tm) indicator.

Four casts later, my indicator went under and I set the hook on a big fish just under the bridge.  It ran down into the main pool (first picture).  I netted the fish which was a very nice 18" rainbow.   A few more casts to the same place and I hooked another, similar fish (or maybe the same fish) but it got off quickly.  Ten more casts and I looked away for a second as another angler walked by.  When I looked back to the water, the indicator was gone.  When this happens, you set the hook!  So I did, and hooked an even bigger fish - twenty inches was my estimate.  A jump and a few splashes later and it was gone, leaving me with a bent hook.

A Beast of a Fish - 22"
I drove upstream to the dock and fished from there.  A few long casts later, the indicator dove so I set the hook on a big, fat fish.  It zoomed around the pool and when I saw the size of it I knew that netting it was going to be difficult with my little collapsible alpine-lake net.  I gave the fish some slack, hoping he'd free himself but this guy wasn't going anywhere.  A long battle later and I landed him.  You can see he just barely fit into the net!  The numbers on the net show him to be over 22".  A real beast of a fish!

Note the bead used for the body, not the head!
The lucky fly that hooked all these fish is my own version of the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear.  Actually, my version is only different from the standard in that: a) the bead is moved into the body instead of tying it above the head and b) the thread and dubbing are olive color.  I also use elk hair for the tail because its easy to work with (and I'm lazy).

Pheasant Tail for the wing-case, with more olive dubbing for the thorax
This fly uses olive dubbing for both the front and back sections, with Pheasant Tail being the wing-case.  With few exceptions, all my flies adhere to A.K. Best's philosophy of using only natural materials (hook, beads and wires excluded).  Did I tell you that I once had a long conversation with A.K. over a couple of cigarettes, back when I still smoked?

Final fly looks like a lump of nothing.  Also, guitar not included
The finished version of this particular fly looks like nothing so much as a green lump with hairs sticking out.  At least, that's what it looks like to humans.  To trout it looks like a scud.  After hooking four big fish in an hour, I went home and tied a bunch more of these, of course!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lake Caroline

Pic courtesy of Vlad Karpinskiy
As you might recall, my New Year's Resolution was to get to this lake.  Its a long way from the trailhead, and for all but the most hearty souls it should be a 3 day trip.  I was lucky enough to go with my personal alpine lake mentor, Vlad Karpinskiy.  His pack was 30 lbs, mine, 35 lbs.

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We got an early start, arriving at the Snow Lake trail head at 6:00am when it was still dark. 

We hit the trail at 6:30, hiking up the valley while the day was still cool.  
We topped that first ridge at 8:15am when the light was just hitting Snow Lake. I stand by my statement that Snow Lake is the most beautiful place you can see for just a couple hours of hiking.
The trail contours to the north side of the lake.  We saw some rises and Vlad stopped to throw a lure in the water.  No luck yet though!  I love this picture because all the angles converge at Vlad's neck.
The trail from Snow Lake to Gem lake is harder than it looks.  Its another three miles and probably another 1000 feet gain.  By now it was hot, and when we got to this beautiful gem of a lake I was so tired I had to rest for while and eat a sandwich.

On the far side of Gem, the trail becomes The High Lake trail and it plummets 1000 feet down the side of a valley over about 15 switchbacks.  Spread throughout the valley are little "pots" of water, like this one. 

On his first cast into one of the pots (not saying which), Vlad caught this very chunky 13" rainbow.  The picture doesn't do it justice, it was a great fish!  Better than I usually catch on ANY alpine lake trip.
Eventually we worked our way to the end of the High Lake Trail and our final destination for the day; Upper Wildcat Lake.   If you have a chance, DO NOT miss this lake.  Incredibly beautiful.  The far side is 2000 feet of twisted granite cliffs, dropping straight to the water.  

We set up camp and fished the rest of the afternoon from our rafts.  The fishing was good!  Lots of cutthroat and rainbow, nothing huge but fairly consistent action both on the surface and underneath.  Between the two of us we kept six fish for dinner.  Vlad's wife had supplied him with her best spices and herbs and as a result our dinner was literally the tastiest trout I'd ever, ever had.  We ate all six!

Upper Wildcat in the morning
That night, Vlad slept outside, since he didn't bring a tent.  I slept in my little 1 man $20 tent like a baby.  Fell right to sleep and keep on sleeping all night until 6AM.

When I woke up I knew that this was going to be a long day.  We ate a quick breakfast and then headed up the hillside (approx 700 feet up) in the picture above.  

Vlad, while leading up the hillside to the Ridge
 On the ridge, we wandered along a bootpath, sometimes having to do light bushwhacking for about a mile.

Looking back to Upper Wildcat
Views on either side of the ridge were incredible.  Upper Wildcat to the south of us.

Views to Derrick Lake to the north of us.  After a couple of tiring hours we descended from the ridge.

I highly doubt that I could have navigated the way to Lake Caroline by myself.  Vlad is a confident guide and he got us there around 9am.  I quickly inflated my boat and got into the water to get away from the bugs (which are bad this year).

None of our pictures captured the beauty of Lake Caroline.  It butts up against the central ridgeline that separates this valley from the Pratt Lake valley (see previous reports!).  We were, of course, the only people at the lake.

Fishing was slow, but we did catch a few trout.  Here's one of the better specimens of the day.

As in most alpine lakes, the fish hang out near shore, and the further away, the better the fish!

Now get this; while I was fishing, Vlad busted out an entire WET SUIT and went snorkeling.  You heard me right; in addition to his boat and fishing gear, he had packed 8lbs of snorkeling equipment, specifically to dive this lake 11 miles from the trailhead.  Vlad Karpinskiy is the most interesting man in the world.  Here are some of the shots from his flickr stream.

Beautiful ripples

Curious Trout
Split Shot of Me Fishing
The Frogman Himself

At 1pm, Vlad announced that it was time to go.  We'd spent four hours at the lake that I've spent years dreaming of getting to, but that was all the time we had if we were to get back to the trucks by nightfall.  So we packed up, waved goodbye to Lake Caroline, and then bushwacked our way across the ridge.

We stopped to take some pictures, and then descended to our campsite at Upper Wildcat, where Vlad had some lunch and I packed up my tent.  It was 3pm.  I was beat.  But we still had 9.5 miles to hike to get out!

We achieved the the next waypoint, Gem Lake at 5pm, after climbing that 1000 vertical feet.  Now I was REALLY tired, but still had 6 more miles to go.

Our last stop was Snow Lake again, and then finally, we made it back to the trucks, walking the last hour in the dark with our flashlights.  My shoulders were so sore from the heavy pack, and I have personally never smelled so bad in my entire life.  We stopped at a bar in North Bend anyway, and feasted on burgers and beers.

This trip was about pushing my boundaries; 
we hiked 22 miles in two days.  
We did 13.5 on the second day alone.

This trip was my new years resolution.  
This trip was the last lake on my To Do List.

This was a great trip.
Thank You Vlad!!!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Back Door to Lake Lillian, Rampart Lake #1

Years ago, while studying the amazing "Friends of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness" map, I spied a pair of lakes, Laura and Lillian, that looked very easy to get to, provided that one take the "back door," an ill-maintained, dangerous dirt road going within a mile of the lower lake.  

Steep "Cheaters Trail"

The lakes appear to be easy to get to, but the trail to them is quite steep.  A fit person can ascend to the larger, more interesting, Lake Lillian, in about an hour.  Lillian is larger than it first looks.  A trail rings the lake and would provide a great place for some family time.  There's a small, beautiful campsite on the far shore.

Yours Truly at Lake Lillian - still snow here!
Today, small fish were sipping flies from the surface.  I inflated my Trail Boat and hunted the trout but they were too smart for me.  A young man stopped by and said that the Rampart Lakes, just a mile or so away always fished better than Lillian.   Being still early in the day, I packed up, hiked to the top of the ridge, and then down to a beautiful little spot that overlooked both the popular Rachel Lake and the Rampart Lakes.  Here's a panorama.

Ramparts on the left, Rachel on the Right
A trail descends to the lake through giant granite "Ramparts".  The first lake (of many) is the largest (though smaller than Lillian and Rachel).

Rampart #1
If you've seen pictures of the Ramparts you know they are elegant with rocky shores that are uncommon to this area.  The lakes are very popular, today there were perhaps two dozen visitors while I puttered around in my boat.  Many of them came from nearby Rachel Lake.

On this day, Rampart #1 was filled with hungry Westslope Cutthroat trout.  They were not picky about fly or presentation, and I hooked and lost many.   Four of them came to the net, the largest was 11", though I lost a few that felt heavier.

Pano of ridge view East
After a few hours it was time to head back.  The hike back up to the ridge and then across and down was punishing to the knees!   Two hours later, I found myself at the truck on shaky legs, tired, but happy to have finally caught some fish after the last trip's skunking.  Lillian was on "my list" and I can cross it off now.  The Ramparts were a lucky chance; one I was fortunate enough to experience on this beautiful day.