Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Gear All Around

I swear this is coincidence, but all three of us have new gear to work with next time we go fishing.

Once, when I was visiting my parents in Montrose, Colorado, I met a friend of theirs who worked at Ross Reels (which is headquartered there). He had with him the 25th anniversary edition of the Ross Evolution reel, and I fell in love with it. I vowed to get one someday, and that day finally came. I'm the proud owner of a slate-blue Ross Evolution reel. Now I just need a slate blue spare spool and a couple of new lines and I'm good to go. I think I'll use it for all my alpine lake fishing next year.

Casey did such a great job of casting on our last trip (see here) that I figured he deserves his OWN TRUE rod. Ross makes one designed for young people, called the Ross Journey Youth rod. Its a 7'6" blue (or pink) 4-piece, 4 weight rod at a reasonable price. My friend Marc Duhamel graciously donated a lightweight reel (and spare spool) to go with it. So now Casey is all set up and ready to go next spring.

elkhorn in action

Lastly, remember Amy's famous bright Pink Elkhorn rod? The one that catches all the big fish? It broke recently -- one of the feet came unglued at the base of a section. I sent the rod back to Elkhorn for repair. When the received it they called me and explained that they were going to have trouble matching the section since she had one of the early versions of that rod. So we worked out a deal to get a brand new Pink Lady for a substantial discount. It came in the mail a few days later. The new rod has a better reel seat and a hook holder. Hopefully this rod will be just as lucky as the previous one (rest its soul).

It might be a while before we go fishing again - we are not big steel-headers and that's the only game in town right now. But when we do go again, we can all get that new gear jinx out of the way at the same time!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Okanogan Fishing Report

A Lake in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Refuge
In years past, it was Amy who accompanied me on the fall fishing trip. But this year she had a project going that she didn't want to leave. But I wasn't about to skip what has become one of my favorite traditions! So I took Casey with me; our first Father / Son Fishing Trip. We were gone five days which speaks to how much fun we had.

On our first evening, we stopped at the Hansen Ponds in Cle Elum. Those ponds are reserved for juveniles. Casey practiced casting a 'hopper to the rising fish, some of whom were impressively sized and quite willing to rise. He couldn't quite hook one but he didn't care, for him it was all about the casting.

Lake Lenore
Since Casey is 8, I figured the key to making this a successful trip would be to keep the fishing to a minimum and the fun to a maximum; I tried to keep the fishing to just 3-5 hours per day and filling the rest of the time with fun stuff. We always stayed in motel with a pool and we swam first thing in the morning and after every dinner. Casey had his iPod Touch to keep him company on the long driving segments (the Okanogan is a long way from Snoqualmie).

Lake Lenore Caves
On our first full day, we fished for about an hour on Lake Lenore -- there were plenty of other fisherman there and I think they were catching fish, but we didn't. I think we got there too late in the day, when the sun was too high on the water. So we packed the boat back into the truck and drove across the road to the Lake Lenore Caves. I'd seen the sign a million times but had never ventured over there. The Caves were pretty cool! A short walk -- only about 10 minutes to the first cave. There were three more after that, each more impressive than the last.

From 2010 Fishing
From there, we drove three+ hours to the Blue Lake just south of Oroville near the Canadian boder. This highly alkaline lake is a favorite of mine - its full of 20+ inch Lanhontan Trout. When the fish are cooperating its a GREAT time. We were lucky because this night was one of those great nights. Casey quickly caught a beast of a fish, probably 22" and 3+ lbs. I netted it for him and took this picture. And then he unceremoniously dumped it over the side.

"Casey! We should have gotten a picture of you holding that fish!" I exclaimed.

"Nah, too greasy." he said. But later when I was trying to tell people how big the fish was he started to see the logic in having a picture, so next time he'll know.

A Brown Trout, taken on a 'hopper
The next day was the best fishing yet. We visited a favorite lake of mine in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Refuge. There were fish rising everywhere. We fished for an hour, trying to figure out how to fool them. I could tell Casey was losing interest, so I dumped him on shore where he made sand castles and just enjoyed being on a lake. In the meantime, I caught this fantastic brown trout. I was fishing a little snowcone fly underneath a big foam hopper and to my surprise, the trout took the hopper! For me this was the fish of the trip. Later, I saw a bigger brown cruising in the weeds - it was 23" at least. It looked like a salmon it was so big! My hands were shaking as I cast to it, but it was far too smart for me, it took off into deeper water almost immediately.

Roger Lake in the Distance
Next we took one of the most awesome drives in the State -- up the dirt road from Conconully and over Baldy Pass (6,515 ft). We stopped at Roger Lake to look around - all the trees for far as the eye could see were burned black but still standing. We dropped down into the town of Winthrop, where we visited a friend of mine named Tim. He's a student at Liberty Bell high and stayed in my cabin at PNCC last summer. His mom served us some apple crisp she'd made and we had a great chat.

Miniature Golf in Winthrop
We spent a good part of the next day just bumming around Winthrop. Casey liked the town with its western theme. We played a round of miniature golf and ate some ice cream and looked at books. We also tried to fish Davis Lake, but it was just too windy. The fish finder said there's a bunch of big fish in there, but we couldn't catch them. We drove back up over Baldy Pass where we saw a big, slow moving porcupine crossing the road. It looked like a small bear.

Conconully Lake
We tried our hand at Conconully Reservoir and caught a few small trout. The weather and scenery were as beautiful as I'd ever seen it up there. That night we had a long drive toward home -- we were able to get as far as Leavenworth, which turned out to be Casey's favorite part of the trip.

A lovely worker in the Bavarian Village that is Leavenworth
Casey LOVED how everything in the town was Bavarian themed, even the Subway and the 76 gas station. We tried the sausage sampler at Cristof's restaurant that night, then bought and ate some chocolate from one of the many candy stores and then stayed in an alpine-themed hotel. The next day we shopped for two hours (which is an eternity for us). We got three gifts for mom, the last at a Christmas Store where the cashier posed with Casey for this picture.

In one way we didn't want to come home, but in another way, we'd been gone for five days and we were both homesick. We tried Fish Lake on the way home that day but caught nothing except a perch. Of the actual fishing, I'd say there was only about 4 good hours of fishing the whole trip, but that's okay. We had so much fun doing everything else. Casey's casting improved each day as well. On the way home he told me he wants to go with me every year from now on, and I told him we can do that for the next 40 years!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mount Catherine

This is an old favorite with a new trailhead. Amy and I used to make this hike before it got all popular back in the day. The 360 degree view from the top of Mount Catherine is amazing considering the short roundtrip and the easy climb.

Casey and I did this on just to stay in shape. Its just perfect for Casey - only 2.25 miles from the trailhead to the summit and only 1200 feet elevation gain. The rocky summit is surrounded by 80 foot drop-offs so if you are taking small kids or animals beware of that particular danger.

On this particular day, the top of the mountain was infested by a cloud of flying ants. They almost chased me clean off a cliff!

If you go, be sure you have your Northwest Forest Pass. Here are the driving directions from the Washington Trails Association.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Snow Lake II

Snow Lake, late in the day

I don't usually double-dip anymore; that is, I don't fish the same place twice in a row. In fact, last year I didn't fish the same place twice all year. That was actually a resolution I followed just for fun. But last week's trip to Snow Lake was so enchanting I made an exception and went back there today.

This time I arrived by myself and WITH my Sevylor Trail Boat. I floated the North Eastern quadrant of the lake for four hours. There was a constant wind which kept my back wet (a drawback to the fishing a large lake in a small flotation device) and required me to row constantly just to stay oriented. As a result I missed half of the strikes I got.

Throughout the afternoon I netted 7 fish, all between 2" and 7". I hooked another half-dozen fish, including some that felt like they had some heft but they all got away, to be caught again another day. As I packed my gear in the late afternoon, I decided that next time I'd start on the Western side of the lake. Or maybe just move on to Lake Caroline beyond!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bikinis at Snow Lake

Alpental's Snow Lake

Snow Lake, at Snoqualmie Pass, is the one of most beautiful places you can see in an afternoon. The last time I'd been there was over ten years ago -- I had hiked to it before I got the fishing bug. Why hadn't I been back there in 10 years? Three reasons: One, its never been known as a good fishing lake. Two, due to its southern flank it stays frozen well into June (July, this year). And three, because of its moderate difficultly, the Snow Lake trail is extremely popular. Its still well worth the visit, just go on a weekday and avoid the worst of the crowds if you can.

Casey and I arrived at the parking lot at Alpental and started hiking at 11am on a Friday. I made a mistake and didn't bring proper footgear for Casey; he started out the hike in some old sketchers sandals. We had to apply band-aids to the blisters on his heels at the two mile mark; just when the trail starts climbing the Northern wall. The climb up the wall is quite easy, to our delight.

Snow Lake

As we topped the crest we were greeted by the beautiful sight of the largest alpine lake at the pass: Snow Lake. By now the old sandals had eaten through all four of the band-aids in my first aid kit and Casey elected to go barefoot the last mile to the lake. The descent takes longer than you'd think. We ate "Strawberry D" sandwiches (Grandpa Al's jam and peanut butter) on the lake shore. Casey chased a big frog while I threw flies at rising fish. A good sized trout (12") cruised up right in front me. I tossed my fly out to it and it rose up but then refused at the last second.

a trout passes by us

Around the shore from us, a dozen young people were frolicking in the water. Some of the girls were in bikinis and the others were just in their underwear. You don't see THAT at every alpine lake you go to! I'll take that over bears and dudes with guns any day!

Bikini Model

I caught a 6" trout from shore and I waded out to my waist trying to catch another but didn't get one. There was an honest-to-goodness bikini model posing in the water nearby and a photographer with a DSLR was snapping away. I later got my own picture (above); its from far away and its grainy but it proves what I was saying for the disbelievers.

Casey walked back to the trailhead ALL FOUR MILES in bare feet. Everyone we passed commented about how tough he was and he ate it up. I was proud of the guy and I've been telling him so ever since. This 8 miles hike is his longest so far, and 5 miles of that with no shoes! When we got home he had to take a bath and his blisters hurt so bad he cried. Poor guy.

If you've never been to Snow Lake, definitely DO go, don't miss this true gem. I recommend going on a weekday in September. The crowds will have thinned significantly, and the cooler weather will keep the aggressive deer flies at bay.

Take exit 52 and go north into Alpental. Park at the large parking lot at the end of the road. Be sure that you have your North West Forest Pass, which you can get at any ranger station for $30.

I plan to go back, so maybe I'll see you on the trail!

Northest Forest Pass

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fly Fishing From Colorado

Okay, I'm feeling a little guilty. Soooo many of my blog entries this year have been not exactly in the Valley. And this one is even further away than most! Most years wewe take a vacation to visit our families back in Colorado, which is another fine fishing state.

The Gunnison

This year we were in Colorado for 9 days. My father and I drove up to Grand Mesa and fished a lake that we had "discovered" last year and we had a ridiculously good day of fishing. It was non-stop action from launch to take-out. Between us we landed maybe a dozen fish, and lost many more. We fished until the last possible moment and then high-tailed it home, with five trout for my mom (who fried them immediately).

A couple of days later, we returned to the same lake but were soon caught in a summer thunderstorm. The rain and hail were NAILING us as we motored our little boat back to the launch. I was breaking down all the gear when a flash of lighting lit everything around me. A tenth of a second later the thunder ripped the air all around, chasing me into the truck's cab. My dad, who was safe inside, said that he thought it had hit less than 500 feet away. I had no choice, I went back out and kept stowing gear. Again, lightning struck very nearby and I found myself in the cab again a second later. Finally, I had to go back out and finish stowing all the gear, knowing that we are at 11,000 feet in the middle of a lightning storm. I got it done but just barely.

We drove back down into the valley, surrendering the Mesa to the storms. Our map showed a body of water on the way home that we were unfamiliar with; the Fruit Growers Reservoir of Orchard City. The launch was decrepit, the water was murky and there were signs that said something about health hazard but they were so shot up with buckshot that we couldn't read anything else. We launched anyway, and caught Carp for a few hours using flies and worms under indicators.

I explained to my dad that Carp is the new rage in the PNW but I don't think he believed me; "Do you realize that they call these fish 'turd suckers' in Texas?" he said. I told Casey that and he thought it was hilarious. Anyway, the strong-fighting Carp were a hoot! They were chasing minnows in the shallows and we could tell when they were near us because all of the sudden the water all around our boat would boil with little fish jumping out of the water in fright. We'd put our flies and worms in the water and BOOM, carp on.

Skunked on the Gunnison

Amy and I took a morning and fished the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of our favorite places in the world to fish. But sadly on this day, the fish just weren't co-operating at ALL. We fished HARD for about 5 hours with not a single tap to show for it. The water was low and the sun was hot. It sounds like we had just missed a great stone-fly fishery by a couple of weeks. As we were driving out Amy said dejectedly "The Gunnison is no longer my favorite place to fish."

In Loveland, we tried to fish for the carp in the nearby irrigation pond (they grow HUGE there) but again, the fish weren't co-operating! I hooked one but broke my fly off in its face. Part of the problem was that almost every single day we were in Colorado we were plagued by intense afternoon rainstorms. In the photo above, the blur on the right isn't a smudge, its yet another thunderstorm coming. The rains definitely kept the temperature down but they also supressed the fishing, too. I can't remember ever getting rained on so much in August!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

East Lake, in the Newberry Crater, Oregon

Giant Brown Trout. 20 pounds or more. That's what draws many people to East Lake. A couple of years ago I landed a 22" brown trout, one of the most beautiful fish I'd ever seen, from the lake shore, right at the public camp ground. The 4000 acre lake sits in a "brand-new" volcano (only 1000 years old), just south east of Bend Oregon. Amy and I were on our way to Las Vegas, to attend DEFCON 18 (the annual hacker convention) so we made sure to stop and throw flies.

Again, Amy had the right touch. She landed over a dozen fish, mostly rainbows and browns. The largest fish was a strange brown trout with a big head and a snaky body. He was lethargic and his eyes begged us to be put out of his misery. Weird! Fishing for everyone else (including me) was tough. The blazing sun kept the bigger fish down deeper than we could reach with our fly lines.

Weird Mutant Fish

We pulled our boat up to the resort for some lunch; burgers with chilis on them, yum! Stop by there for some good grub and see the pictures of all the huge fish that were taken there.

On the way out, we spied what appeared to be a mountain of (cooled) lava coming through the trees near the road. We pulled over and found this incredible park with a trail leading up onto the Obsidian flow itself. The flow a hundred feet tall (or more?) and is coursed with massive veins of obsidian. Next time we go there we'll take the full 3 mile hike.

For me, the flow was the highlight of the day. I had no fish pictures but at least I got this cool rock picture!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Yakima in July

From 2010 Fishing
July can be tough on the Yakima. Whatever the temp is in Seattle, add 15 or 20 degrees and that's what it is on the Yakima. The hot weather keeps the fish down. Below Cle Elum, the water is very high and usually not wadable. Above Cle Elum, the water is low and the fish get pooled up in holes; they keep their heads down and don't often rise to a fly.

From 2010 Fishing

But if you work at it hard enough, or happen to be there at the right time of day, you can pick up a fish or two. And even if the fish don't cooperate, it just feels nice to be fishing dry flies in your sandals and shorts. Often you have to cover a lot of ground in between pools so you'll be getting some excercise.

First Fish Ever

The Boys and I were coming back from an interesting desert hike in Ellensburg and we stopped at the river for some water play near Ensign Ranch. There's a long run there ending in a little pool. I had Casey step out into the water with me and told him to hold the line against the rod while he flipped a stonefly into the pool. On his second cast, he had a fish on! He played it just right, working the fish back to the shore, where we got this great picture! We let the fish go and kept the fly and we'll put it in his scrapbook. This was Casey's first fish that he caught by himself. "Are you proud of me, dad?" he asked me later. Heck yeah.

From 2010 Fishing

Amy and I stopped at the same pool a week later so I could show her where it happened. We had to fish the pool again of course. Right at the same place that Casey caught his fish, I hooked another one, also on a stonefly. This is a pretty good fish for July in that part of the water!

I know that this blog is called "Fly Fishing from Snoqualmie," but for me and my family, the Yakima feels like our real home river.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rough Day at Swan Lake

From 2010 Fishing

On my two previous hikes, Mean Marten Lake Trail and Kendall Peak Lakes I put in 23+ miles, which is a lot, for me. Since then my knee's been acting up so this morning I decided to try an easy hike. I chose Swan Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. I'd never been there but I've heard the fishing was good and you could drive fairly close. I know the area a little bit (reconnaissance last year) and knew that I probably wouldn't see too much company.

View Larger Map

I have a NEW theory on hikes that start on dirt roads. I think there are two "classes" of hikes: a safe set for sandaled suburbanites and their dogs and then a rough set for camouflaged gunslingers and their bears. The latter set, is defined of course, by those dirt roads I was so proud of frequenting. If you want some solitude on a sunny weekend day, you may find them on the dirt roads, like I did at Kendall Peak Lakes last weekend. Or maybe NOT.

Dirt Road Again

Swan Lake is near Rachel Lake, which is one of the most popular hikes in the I-90 corridor. If you have a recreational gazette or you are good with Google Maps you can find your way pretty close. Use a GPS to get the rest of the way there. I parked about a mile away from the lake, just where the road gets really rough. About 5 minutes into my "hike" something emerged from the trees just as I was walking by; a bear stepped out into the sunlight only about 15 feet away from me. We stared at each other. He was about my size, had brown fur and a youthful look about him; probably a juvenile. He bolted back through the trees and was gone.

From 2010 Fishing

Unlike last summer's bear encounter, this one didn't unnerve me, so I just kept walking. Before too long, I had topped a ridge and dropped down to the shallow, 5 acre lake. A beautiful campsite was set there. I stood, looking out at the water, slapping mosquitoes, when the camper approached with his dog. He was man in his late 20's, dressed in camouflage, sweating profusely. He had just hiked up to Stonesthrow lake and back down again because the mosquitoes were too fierce and he'd forgotten to bring his DEET. He took off his coat and he was wearing a pistol on his hip. Given the bear activity up there, maybe that's a good idea. However, something about him and the firearm unnerved me. Or maybe I was having a delayed reaction to the bear. I geared up and got out on the lake, always keeping one eye on the guy as he decamped. I felt some relief when he left.

Swan Lake Rainbow

The fishing itself turned out to be pretty good. Mayflies were hatching everywhere and fish were rising all around the lake. I hooked a few small fish before finding the area where the bigger fish hung out. I was surprised to land this 12" fish in such a small, shallow lake. An underwater spring helps the fish survive the winter. At one moment there was a sound like the sky tearing in half. What could it be? An avalanche? A jet fighter blasted overhead at only about 60 feet. Scared me to death! I was getting tired of that feeling!

From 2010 Fishing

Throughout the valley I started hearing the pop-pop of gun fire. It continued as I fished for a couple of hours, picking up a sharp sunburn for my trouble. Even though the fishing was still going strong, I had explored Swan Lake to my satisfaction so decamped myself in the mid-afternoon. As I walked down to my truck, the pop-pop turned into the downright rat-tat-tat-tat of automatic gunfire. I could hear a vehicle coming down the road behind me. I stepped off the road behind a bush. An old jeep rumbled by with a couple of grizzled camo dudes and their rifles. If you go, bring a piece, I guess!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kendall Peak Lakes

3 Miles of Dirt Roads

There's something about hikes that begin on dirt roads. In parts of the Northwest you are more likely to get solitude on dirt roads than the popular maintained trails. The Kendall Peak Lakes trail is like that. Its a sunny Saturday morning and the trails all around Snoqualmie Pass will be teaming with parades of hikers, but you have a feeling you might find some solitude by choosing the dirt road less taken!

Views South to Snoqualmie Pass Area

You drive to the the Hyak Exit (54) from I-90, go north under the freeway and straight onto a dirt road over a concrete bridge and then about 1/3 mile to where cement blockades force you to park. The first three miles of hiking is wide-open, double-track dirt road.

From 2010 Fishing

As you approach the last mile you start to get significant views of the Snoqualmie Pass area below. You've brought your GPS since several of the roads fork and its not always obvious which way to go. Eventually Mt. Rainier starts to show! You place your camera on a stump, set the timer and get a cheesy self-portrait!

Three lakes between You and Kendall Peak

A cairn of rocks on the road marks the start of the off-road trail. As you enter the brush, you start getting excited because there are three lakes, each more beautiful than the last, between you and stony Kendall Peak above.

The Lower Lake

Within a minute you're standing in a meadow looking at a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by bee-filled meadows. Many people stop right here, and this would be a very nice place to hang out and just kind of look around, if it weren't for the fact that there's a much prettier lake just 10 minutes on.

The Middle Lake

You tip-toe across muddy patches and rivulets criss-crossing the mountain meadow to pick up the trail again. It rises through the forest, little more than a game trail now. You emerge from the trees by a nice campsite at the middle of the three lakes.

More Middle Lake

Of the few people who make it to the middle lake, most stop here, and that's perfectly fine. But the best fishing, and most impressive views, are at the upper lake. And you've come three and a half miles and 1500 feet. You might as well go that last little bit.

Looking backward on way to upper lake

The short trek to the upper lake is daunting. It's almost straight up on a quaint fisherman's track; about 400 vertical feet in a 1/4 mile. Half way up, you look back toward the middle lake and you see exactly HOW vertical it is! Huffing and puffing and dragging your 25lb pack, you top the saddle and into the first views of the upper lake.

the Upper Lake

A giant bowl, with steep sides all around, jealously grips the upper lake. On this particular day, the lake is two-thirds covered in ice; you've arrived to witness a one-day ice-off! You bushwhack clockwise across dangerous cliff-sides and emerge to the open water on the far side of the lake and inflate your four pound trail boat. You fish for a couple of hours, lazily drifting back and forth across across the sunlit water. The ice is retreating quickly, making a constant crackling sound as it melts, uncovering the deeper water. Like the middle lake, this water is crystal clear and you can't tell which is more unnerving, floating over giant boulders that you can see, or floating over blackness that must be fifty feet deep or more.

Upper Lake Panorama

Eventually, you hook a rainbow trout! Its a healthy, fat fish about a foot long. He's been eating well on a diet of big midges zinging across the surface and caddis too. You've walked 4 miles and bush-whacked another, up 2000 vertical feet to catch this single fish. You release it and note that the steep shoreline is making a premature sunset. You pack your boat and begin the long trek back to your car.

Getting Late

As you walk, you note to yourself that you haven't seen a single soul since you left the freeway that morning. You marvel that you're only 25 miles from millions of people in Seattle on a sunny Saturday and yet you had three beautiful alpine lakes all to yourself. Its got to be those dirt roads, keeping Eden quiet just for you!