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.

View Larger Map

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.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thompson Lake

If you look on a map, just east of North Bend is mighty Mailbox Peak.  Just on the other side lie a series of lakes.  Two Granite lakes and then, over a "hump", Thompson Lake.

None of these lakes are known as fine fishing lakes, but they are SO DANG CLOSE to North Bend that its worth making a trip, just to say you did.  And, they are beautiful, quiet and accessible.

Looking back the way you came
You park at the very crowded Mailbox Peak trail-head, where the Middle Fork road pavement ends. Ride your mountain bike about a quarter mile down the Middle Fork road and turn right onto the first dirt road - this is the Granite Lakes Road.  It used to be open, but now it is gated, meaning that there are 5.5 non-motorized miles between you and the Granite Lakes. 

Neat campsite at the end of Granite Lakes Road
Push your mountain bike three or four miles up the road and then hide it in the bushes.  Continue walking until the road forks.  Take a right toward the Granite Lakes.  At the end of the road is a neat little campsite if you decide to stay overnight.

There's a nice little trail a few hundred feed down to Upper Granite Lake.  A shallow creek connects the two lakes.  In the summer of 2011 there aren't any fish in the Upper Granite, so you rest a while, and then walk back up the road to fork, on your way to Thompson Lake.

Thompson Lake Trail
Up, Up, Up you go on more dirt roads until you reach 4000 feet (you started at 800 feet).  Now you leave the dirt roads and head on to a true forest trail, the well-marked Thompson Lake trail.  The trail tops a ridge and then plunges down to Thompson Lake.

As you descend, you see that there are several islands in lake.  You unpack your trail boat and fish the rest of the afternoon.  You might catch a 14" trout!  There are several campsites at Thompson, but you are bold, and you decide to set up camp on the main Island itself!

Camping on the main Island

To your delight, you are the only person at the lake.  You haven't seen anyone since you left the middle fork!  Sure you had to go 8 miles to get here but that just means you're going to sleep well tonight.  In the morning you fish a little bit and then pack up for the trip back.

The Road Back
The trip back is easy and gives you plenty of time to consider how lucky you are that you live so close the awesome Snoqualmie Valley.  You arrive to where you stashed your bike.  Put two hands on the brakes and hold on, you'll be back at your car in 15 minutes!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where to Stay in Snoqualmie Valley: The Roaring River B&B

I get asked this every now and then.  "If I come to Snoqualmie, where should I stay?"  First of all, there's no place to stay in Snoqualmie Proper.  No motels, no hotels, no B&Bs that I know of anyway.  The town of North Bend has a set of hotels ranging from "rustic" to "rusty". 

However, there is one diamond in the rough that you need to know about, and that's "the Roaring River" Bed & Breakfast run by Herschel and Peggy Backus.   

There are five rooms to choose from, each with its own theme.   One of the rooms is built around a giant boulder!  I haven't stayed in that room but I hear its quite interesting!

Price is roughly double the ratty motels in town but the homey atmosphere and woody surroundings more than make up for it. And, after you factor in the fantastic breakfast (brought to you by Herschel in an apron no less) you realize that you paid a great price for a great experience.

If you are coming to the Snoqualmie Valley, and especially if you are bringing a lady-friend, take her to the Roaring River B&B.  After you check in, go back into town and maybe hit the Snoqualmie Casino for drinks, dancing and buffet, then retire to your intimate room at the Roaring River for the night.  Spend the next day fishing the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River or hiking up into the Alpine Lake Wilderness a mere 20 minutes away!