Monday, December 28, 2015

A Monster In The Mountains

The wind cut through the trees like an icy dagger, piercing us right to the bone, as Bert Williams and I put together our fly rods to fish the banks of the alpine lake.

 “I may actually need my jacket today.” I said, as I dug for the fleece jacket in my backpack.

“It did get cooler after we stopped hiking.” Bert observed, as he lengthened the sleeves on his shirt.
“What fly are you tying on?” He asked.
“Little green beetle.”

“I think I have one of those.” Bert said, and after tying one on he found a rock to cast from.

There were no fish in sight, which is not a good sign when the water is as clear as it was that day; however, I have been fooled by this before. The best thing to do in these situations is to cast your fly out to the darker shaded water, because that indicates there is some kind of drop-off where a fish could feel better protected by its camouflage.

As soon as my beetle smacked down, a small shadow sprang to life. The dark oblong shape raced up to my fly and snatched it from the surface.

“Blam!” I yelled, setting the hook. Small flickers of chrome reflected in my eyes as the little fish struggled to free itself, which also caught the eye of something much more surprising. Another shadow bolted from the depths, only this one was gunning for my struggling fish, and happened to be the size of a large Hickory Farms summer sausage. The speed of the large fish took me by surprise, and it only stuck around for a second before it disappeared. I quickly brought in my little fish and unhooked it, with little goodbye, before I stood to cast back out for a chance at the bigger fish.

Small fish were smacking my fly, and I resisted setting the hook on them in hopes they would shake free and the bigger fish would steal my fly from them. That technique was only working half way: the smaller fish were shaking free from my hook, but the bigger fish were not taking the opportunity to steal the fly. After several attempts to entice the bigger fish, I decided it was time to move on. I lifted my fly rod, causing my fly to wake across the surface of the water, which got the attention of the big fish.
“Oh no, no, no!” I yelled as my fly came off of the water before the fish could take it.

I stood there far too long trying to bring that fish back up again, with no luck. I saw that Bert had moved further around the lake and thought that I better do the same.

Together, Bert and I leapfrogged each other from spot to spot in search of fish. One of the major reasons to get to the other side of the lake was to have the wind at our backs. As soon as we hit the other side, the wind switched directions and remained blowing in our faces. That’s typical, I thought as I went to cast my fly.
“There we go!” Bert yelled, and I looked over to see his rod bent with a fish.

“This is a big fish!” Bert yelled, “A very big fish!”
“Big enough for a picture?” I asked.
“Yes… And there are two more following it!” Bert’s voice cut through the wind as he kept yelling with excitement, “Get over here and cast to one of these other fish!”
I was already ahead of Bert. I had my line in and fly connected as soon as I heard there were some big followers, and was in full sprint through the thicket, headed his way. I arrived too late to see the other two fish, which was ok, but I was more surprised that my fly rod didn’t snag in a tree limb as I scrambled over. There was no need to get close to the bank to see Bert's fish; as I approached I could see the mass of it as it thrashed in the shallow water.
“Bert! It’s a monster!”

Nether Bert nor I had a net to reign the large fish, so we made sure the fish was finished fighting before Bert held it up for the camera.

“Just look at that fish, Bert!  Stop everything and just look.” I said jokingly, yet being serious. There was no need to say that to Bert, because he was right next to me looking at his fish.
“It’s a nice fish.” Bert said, as we both stood over the fish that was back in the water and rejuvenating.

“You don’t even know…” I said, trying to recall a time when I had seen a bigger fish in an alpine lake, let alone caught one.

“There it goes.”
“Yep.” Bert said, as we both watched his fish slowly swim away. The clear water allowed us to fully appreciate the release, as the fish swam deeper and deeper until its shadowy form was the only thing we could make out… And then it was gone.

I hit Bert on the shoulder and smiled after we stood up from watching the fish. My gesture was taken as a compliment, as Bert smiled back. I could tell he was purely happy about his fish, and he stuck around that spot a while longer while I continued around the lake.  

I always make a point to hike all the way around every lake I come to, and as I made my way across the northern shadow of the mountain I started to regret that decision. It was clear that this part of the shoreline didn't get much sunlight, if any at all. The ground was extremely wet and muddy, so there was no walking on it unless I wanted to sink ankle deep. Furthermore, the logs I was walking on were wet and slick from being splashed by the waves that were blowing straight at me. I could only hope that Bert was not experiencing the same as he retraced his steps to head back the way we had came. After I was through the most dangerous part of the path, I did hook into one more fish. It was nowhere near the size of Bert’s monster, so I let it go without a photo.

Bert and I managed to find our way back to the car, which is tough when the Forest Service does not maintain the path.
“That is a hell of a way to end the high mountain lake season.” I said to Bert, showing him a picture of his fish on my camera.
“You will have to get me out again next year.” Bert said, as he sat in the driver’s seat of his car.
 “On the contrary, my friend. It will be you that needs to get me out next year.” I said.
“That’s right! You’re going to be a dad by next season!”
“When is Gracy due?”
“February 20th”
“Well… It’s fun. Your life will definitely change, but it’s fun. I’ll be sure to get you back up in the mountains.” Bert said, as he kicked his car into gear.

“Here’s to that!” I said, raising my water bottle up to accept his gesture, and to solute our last alpine lake of the season.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spooky Fish

Getting our little dog, Kiwi, to get in the car in the mornings can be tough. Normally that means she is getting dropped off at the groomer, which she hates, but this morning was different. She heard us mentioned an alpine lake and she bolted for the garage. When it was time to head out we couldn’t find her, and it had turned out that when we had the doors open to pack up the car, Kiwi had snuck in to make sure she would not be left behind. 
“There you are!” I said to Kiwi, who was firmly planted in the driver's seat, ready for a hike.

Deep Lake was our destination, and when we pulled up to the trailhead Kiwi couldn’t wait to get out of the car. The distance from the carseat to the ground is a large leap for little Kiwi, but she didn’t hesitate to jump as soon as the door was opened.

The hike to Deep Lake is a short and popular one, which can mean it gets a fair amount of visitors and anglers in a season. The truth is that you never know if an alpine lake is going to fish well; whether it is an easy hike or a hard one, there are no guarantees. So hiking to some easy ones can be a nice change from the steep hike to Snow Slide Lake the previous week.  Although the path is not nearly as steep or long, it is important to have plenty of water on you. Half way to the lake, Gracy stopped to offer water to Kiwi. I wasn’t sure if Kiwi would drink from the straw, but when Gracy held it out with water dripping from it, Kiwi stood under it to lap up the falling water.

The lake was not too far up the path, and as soon as we spotted it my eyes sourced the surface for a rising fish. Gracy and Kiwi found a spot to relax as I started my hike around the lake with my fly rod in hand.

The lake was so still and the clarity was amazing, to the point where this lake almost looked fake. I could easily see over fifteen feet deep into the water, but where were the fish? I looked all around the water for any sign of movement... but could see nothing. This wouldn’t be the first time I have overlooked a sneaky trout, and the only way to bring them up is by presenting a fly. 

A small ring grew larger as my fly sat on the surface of the water, and I waited for a fish to bolt up from the shadows of a fallen tree or rock to take my fly. Just as I had feared, nothing came up, even after a few twitches of my fly. As I walked over to another opening in the trees, I zeroed in on some movement in the water like an osprey. I froze and watched an eight-inch brook trout swimming just under the surface. It was gulping food off the surface and moving fast. I unfastened my fly from the rod, pulled some line out, and made a quick cast that immediately spooked the fish. My line hadn’t even hit the water before the fish bolted, its squirming little body quickly scurried into the deep blue water and out of sight. 

After that reaction it was obvious that this particular lake gets more pressure from anglers than the average alpine lake. As fast as the fish spooked, I thought it was time to go into “stealth mode” and that means I BECOME THE FOREST. It sounds a lot cooler that what actually happens. I just become hyper aware of the fish’s cone of view, and of my approach to the water’s edge if I get a casting opportunity. Sure enough, a fish came up and started feeding on the surface. I had stepped far enough away from the water to blend in with my surroundings, but still have a clear view of the feeding fish. A large tree blocked the fish’s vision of me, and I moved slowly, using the tree to eclipse my approach. With the large tree and the surrounding shrubs, there was no way I could make a cast. Well, not your typical cast anyway, but a slingshot cast may be doable. I slowly unhooked my fly and drew back my hand, while pointing my fly rod forward to create some tension. Whoosh! I let go of my fly, and it plopped on the surface. The accuracy was way off, but it didn’t matter. The fish turned on a dime at the sound of my fly hitting the surface, and ate it without a care in the world. I set the hook in silence, and brought in the seven-inch fish quickly.

All that effort for such a small trout... It seems rather asinine, but for me it was quite the accomplishment. It was almost a shame to let it go so quickly after walking around half the lake to find it, but it was just as enjoyable to watch it swim back to its home.

Any other fish in that spot spooked from the commotion of the fish when I had brought it in, so I moved on. The lake remained still as ever as I made my way around its entirety. I was only spotting a few brook trout no bigger than the size of your pinky along the way, and their mouths wouldn’t even be able to fit around my fly.

“How was the fishing?” Gracy asked as I kneeled down to pet Kiwi, who ran over to greet me as soon as I came into her view.
“It was tough. Only one good sized fish, and others were so small they shook off before I could bring them in.” 
“That’s too bad.” Gracy said, as we packed up our gear and said goodbye to Deep Lake.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The View

“Is this going to be a hard hike? I don’t want to do a hard hike.” Gracy’s friend, Teri, announced as we neared the trailhead to Snow Slide Lake. 
“According to my book, it is considered a 'thigh burner'.” Gracy said, looking over to the back seat where her friend was sitting.
“I don’t want a thigh burner. You guys tricked me...” Teri complained, but then gave it a second thought... 
“You're lying to me...” She said, her voice getting higher in pitch as she convinced herself into thinking it was going be an easy hike.  
“You are just trying to scare me.” Teri concluded, and looked over to Callie, for reassurance, whose was also sitting in the back. 
“Don’t look at me, I’ve never been on this hike.” Callie said quickly, her eyes wide and flicking from Teri to Gracy. 
“Well I don’t want to do a hard hike today.” Teri concluded, and sat back in her seat as if the decision was final. 
“Okay, it’s an easy hike then.” Gracy said, but Teri didn’t miss the hint of sarcasm in Gracy’s voice. 
“Easy?! Easy meaning easy, or easy meaning hard?!” Teri asked Gracy, but shot Callie a look so sharp it could cut a diamond. 
“E, is this going to be a hard hike?” Callie asked me, getting herself out of the middle. 
“Yes. This is a 1.3 mile hike that is considered strenuous because of the steep trail.” I said bluntly. 
“Noooooo!” Teri hollered, making both Gracy and Callie laugh to see their friend so distraught.    

I personally didn’t know what would be worse: the steep hike up to Snow Slide Lake, or having to hear about it from three women who have no problem letting the world know how much they may dislike something. As usual my anxiety got the better of me, and the hike up was not too much of an issue. Gracy knew what she was in for from the beginning, Callie was looking forward to a strenuous hike, and Teri, despite her meltdown in the car, was looking for a fun adventure that she could share with her dog, Basil... And Basil was happy that our little dog, Kiwi, was coming along, even if Kiwi, the little brat, didn’t share Basil's enthusiasm.

When you are the only guy in a group of women that feel comfortable around you, the conversation can go south quickly. 
“I want my next hike to be on Jug Mountain.” Callie said, stepping up the steep path. 
“Our friend, Mike, said there is a big loop you can hike, and you can see a few lakes on the way.” Gracy said, slightly out of breath.  
“Whatever...” Teri said, “Callie just wants someone to climb her jug mountains.”
“Hell yeah!” Callie said, “These jugs are single right now.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Callie. You do not have jugs. You are what we would call athletic-sized.” Teri said, while I kept quiet like any sane man would do.   
“Whatever, Teri, it’s not like you have any room to talk.” Gracy blurted.
“I never said I had jugs.” Teri said, “I have...” Her voice trailing off as she thought about it.     
“Boise foothills?” I blurted out to finish Teri’s sentence, and her mouth dropped as she turned to look at me. 
“Aaaaaaaaaah ha ha!” Callie yelled, “Teri has foothills!” 
Gracy started laughing too as Teri turned my way and raised her hand, but it was not to slap me. 
“Oh my God, Erik, that was funny!” Teri said, keeping her hand up for a high five. I quickly gave her a high five, and after that we stopped to take a quick break before we headed the rest of the way to the lake. 

Gracy let out a little snicker that almost sounded like a chipmunk before she said, “Teri has foothills.”  
“I think that should be her new nickname.” Callie said, as she turned to continue hiking. 
“At least my foothills have a man. You are single.” Teri said bluntly.
“It’s true.” Callie said, then turned to me. 
“Erik, do you know any single guys that are interested in hiking and fly fishing?” Callie asked. 
“I’m sure I do.” I said.
“Hold on!” Gracy interrupted, “He also has to be over 6-feet so he is taller than her, has a good job so he is not a loser, and would eventually like to move to McCall someday.”
“I don’t know about all that, but if you want we can make a fly fishing-profile-dating video for you. I did bring my Go-Pro.” I said.
“Heck yeah, let’s do it!” Callie said with a new spring in her step. 

When walking up a steep trail, one of the best moments of the hike is getting the first glance of the lake. For me the first sight of the lake brings a whole new surge of energy, because now it is time to fish.

Both Teri and Gracy found a nice log to kick back on, as I videoed Callie putting together her fly rod. We quickly made our way to the lake and flicked out our flies, but nothing was interested. 
“Do you see all the frogs here?” I asked. 
“Yeah, they are everywhere.” Callie said. 
“I had to keep Basil from eating them.” Teri said, as her and Gracy came over to check out the lake.     

“I don’t see a single fish rising.” I said, as I flicked out my fly again.
“I’m not seeing anything either.” Callie answered back.
“Well, that means it’s time to go for a walk.” I said. 
“Like, around the lake?” Callie asked. 
“I’m down.” Callie agreed, and we took off.    

"Let me get some video of you hiking around the lake. It will look as if you are willing to go the extra effort to catch a fish."
“Hell yeah, I’m willing to go the extra effort!” Callie said with confidence, and I brought out the Go-Pro for more footage.

We came to an opening on the bank that would allow for some decent casting. Callie walked out on the fallen tree trunk, and flicked her fly into position. 
“Right there, right there!” I said quickly, as a small fish came up and took her fly. Callie had seen the take too, and had her rod lifted as I was yelling. 
“Dang!” She yelled, as her fish came unbuttoned. 
“It’s still hungry.” I encouraged, and Callie kept fishing.  

“This is going to be a sorry excuse for a video if you don’t catch a fish.” I said, as I switched off the camera and started fishing. 
“I know, right? Who would want to date me then?” Callie asked. 
“Not me.” I said, making her laugh. 
After several more attempts, and a lost fish, we decided to push on to the next spot.  

We had now almost walked the entire lake with nothing to show for it, and Gracy and Teri had walked in the opposite direction we had gone to meet us.
“Anything, Callie?” Gracy asked. 
“I had a bite, but it got away.” Callie said. 
“How about you?” Teri asked me. 
“I had one on, but it got away before I could grab it.” I said. 
“So none...” Teri said, putting her hand on her hips, “I thought you were suppose to be this great fisherman.” 
“Quiet, Foothills.” I snapped. 
“Oh snap!” Callie said with a smile.   
Just then a big gust of wind blew over the lake, making it that much harder for us to get a fly out. Callie was having trouble combating the wind, and she handed me her fly rod so that I could make a decent cast for her. WAM! A fish took, and I set the hook before I had time to hand Callie back her fly rod. 
“Here, take your rod.” I said, handing it to Callie while I grabbed the Go-Pro.      

Callie fought the fish while I filmed her bringing it in. Teri and Gracy watched with anticipation as Callie grabbed her fish and brought it up for a picture. 

“Does that really count?” Teri asked, “I mean, Erik made the cast.” 
“Yes, it counts for Callie. She would have made the cast if it wasn’t so windy out here.” I said, gesturing toward Callie. 
“Yeah!” Callie said defensively.
“We have a video!” I said happily, after Callie put her fish back into the lake. 
“Hells yeah!” She said happily, then put her rod away to hang out with Teri and Gracy. 
While the three of them stepped back and away from the water’s edge, I started casting where we had hooked into Callie’s fish, and immediately got another take.

I had looked up the stocking report for this lake before making the hike, and couldn't find any info on it. I have discovered that this usually means there are brook trout in the lake, and after another one caught, I figure that theory was sound. 

It was nice to finally find the hot spot on the lake, but a bit discouraging that not too far away was where I had started the trek around the lake; and if I had only gone left, instead of right, we would have gotten into fish much sooner.  Still, I do like hiking around every lake I go to, if I can, and catching a few fish was a nice way to end the day.

When you hike up a steep trail, you certainly get an idea of how steep the trail really is as you are heading back down. It is easy to lose your footing on the small, pebble-sized granite rocks that can sweep you off your feet in a fraction of a second. As we took our time selecting our footing down the path, Callie stepped on a larger rock she thought was secure. The rock gave way and Callie was able to catch herself from slipping as the rock slipped from under her, and started rolling towards Teri.

“Rock! Teri!” I yelled down to her, and I watched the rock slowly roll down the path. 
“If you send a rock downhill, and there is someone there, you have to yell ‘rock'.” I said to Callie but there was no real danger in this case, because the rock was slowly tumbling down like an awkward slinky. Teri stepped to the side as the rock slowly lobed its way by her feet, where it stopped and toppled awkwardly on her toe.  

“CALLIE! Your rock is crushing my toe!” Teri yelled up in disbelief that the rock had stopped on the edge of her shoe.
“That’s crazy!” Callie yelled. 
“I can’t believe it rolled the whole way down and stopped there.” Gracy said, laughing as well. 
Teri stood there patiently as we all made our way down to get a closer picture of the rock on her foot.    

“Is that thing even on your toe?” Gracy asked, after taking a closer look.
“Not really. It’s mostly on my shoe, but I can feel it a little on my toe.” Teri said, and then slipped her foot out from under the rock. Together the four of us made our way down to the car, and with no more incident to speak of.  

“Well that wasn’t so bad, huh guys?” Teri asked, as she took off her pack to place it in the back of the car. 
“What?! You bitched the whole way up!” Gracy said, as she got in the front seat of the car. 
“She bitched before we had even started hiking.” Callie reminded us. 
“What? No... I was just preparing...”  Teri said, failing to come up with a better excuse. She shut the back cab, and got in the car so we could head off the mountain. 
As we pulled into McCall, Gracy looked over into Ice Cream Alley and convinced everyone we needed to stop.  When we discovered Ice Cream Alley was out of 90% of their flavors, we crossed the street and order milkshakes from My Father’s Place. 
“Nothing like burning up lots of calories, and them packing them back on with a milkshake.” Callie said, after ordering a large
“Well, here’s to a productive day.” I said, holding my milkshake up as a salute to the day. 
“Here here.” Teri said, and the ladies lifted their milkshakes up to cheers the end of a fun day.

After a few weeks of editing, here is Callie’s fly fishing/dating video.