Sunday, September 22, 2013

Over the Hills

My wife, Gracy, and I woke up early to meet Mike and Kerri McLean at their house in McCall, Idaho, to hike up to Boulder Lake. 

To our delight, we were going to be accompanied by their next door neighbor, Doris.  Doris is not your average 73 year old; she hikes regularly on various trails and lakes in McCall that some would consider to be expert level. One glance and I was worried I was not going to be able to keep up. 

We all headed up the Boulder Lake Trail in single file.  The pathway was lush with huckleberry bushes and all kinds of green plant life.  Ferns poked behind every shadow provided by a rock or tree, adding a complimentary sight to the thick, fragrant air.  We had only walked up a little ways before we were met by a pack of horses; we moved out of the way so they could pass us.

Hiking with Mike, Kerri, and Doris is like hiking with three walking encyclopedias.  You never know what you are going to learn about the forest, or hiking terminology for that matter.  In this particular case we learned the term "road apples".  Road apples are what horses leave behind ever so neatly, blanketing the trail.  All those years playing hop-scotch as a kid paid off. 

As soon as we arrived at Boulder Lake I geared up my Helios 2 for battle and started walking along the bank.  By the time I was out of ear shot I looked back to see the rest of the clan still back where we first arrived.  In retrospect, I wonder if that was rude of me to take off the way I did.  I should have thought to invite my wife at the least!  Then I saw Mike out on a rock fishing and thought to myself, thank God there’s another fly fisherman out here that understands... So I continued to walk on. 

Gracy caught up with me as I was casting to a rising fish.  My little green beetle hit the water, and from the depth came a little rocket that snatched my fly in less than a second.  I set the hook and the little chrome rocket danced underwater.  I brought it in for this stunning picture. 

After taking my picture, Gracy lost interest in me, and started slowly creeping toward a chipmunk that was peaking over the top of a big rock.  I stopped fishing for a second, just to see how close she was going to get.  With her arms stretched out, she took this picture of the little chipmunk.  

Just as suspected, when I decided I wanted a close-up picture of the chipmunk, I moved too quickly and spooked it.  Gracy continued walking while I stayed put and caught a few more fish, and man are they camera shy!  Every fish I caught would not sit still, even for a second.  I was able to scrounge up this shot of a fish; the colors are just fantastic. 

Doris caught up with Gracy, and I was soon passed up by Mike and Kerri as they walked around the lake.  Though I was catching fish where I was, I thought I had better catch up to have lunch with everyone.  

As I walked I came across a lush, grassy portion of the lake trail, and something moving in the grass caught my eye.  “Frogs!” I yelled out loud as I saw roughly ten or so frogs crossing my path.  

The frogs were tiny little things, and I seriously had to watch every step to make sure I was not stepping on any.  I would stop to look up, and it was like watching baby turtles scour to the ocean. The grass was dotted with frogs all headed to the lake.  I had caught up with the others, and Mike had suggested we continue the hike to Anderson Lake.  “What’s another one and a half miles?” He said, adding “and it is pretty much a straight shot there.” Everyone was game as we walked into the big trees to find the path. 

For some reason when Mike mentioned Anderson Lake, I took “straight shot there” to mean that the path was flat... Boy was I ever wrong.  I discovered in a very short amount of time that he meant straight over the mountain.  The path was narrow, almost as narrow as a small runoff channel.  Mike once again lead the way, and when we finally hit the summit he quickly turned to us an yelled, “Well, we went the wrong way.”  “What?!” Doris yelled, sounding alarmed.  Mike smiled.  “That was not very funny,” Doris said.  
It was a nice relief to hit the summit, we stopped to rest and I had to take a picture of my lovely wife. 

The walk down to Anderson Lake was not bad at all.  I was practically running down and missed the “King of all mushrooms” my wife called it.  

Anderson Lake epitomizes alpine lakes.  The water is so clear that you can see the bottom.  Different shades of jade turn dark as the lake slopes deeper.  The glass-smooth surface reflects the pine trees and granite rock that tower around the bank, only to be blocked by the lily pads that blanket the inshore.  

Mike didn’t waste any time leaping on a fallen log, while I walked around the bank looking for a clear spot to cast. 

Brook trout inhabited this lake; the colors that make up their skin are brilliant.  

I saw Mike catching fish on the other side of the lake, and on my way around I found an opening where I could make a few casts.  As I walked to the opening, I noticed there were small piles of deer poop that covered my path.  I was careful not to step in any, when I noticed the small poop-like balls started to move.  FROGS!  Hundreds and hundreds of frogs piled up on top of each other right next to the water’s edge.  I have never seen so many like this before, and they were all scattering as I approached. 

Some frogs were out further in the water, and I thought I saw a fish come up to take one.  Perhaps that was why the fishing wasn’t phenomenal here; the fish could very well have been gut-stuffed with frogs.  It was about time to head back, but I couldn’t leave without catching another brook trout. 

The climb back to Boulder Lake seemed small compared to the hike up to Anderson Lake, and it was all downhill from Boulder Lake.  The sun was setting as we neared the end of the trail, and we all made it back safe and sound. 

Gracy’s big toes were hurting from all the downhill hiking. Though she bruised her big toenail, she is happy that we decided she needed new shoes... Now I want new shoes.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Wary Fish

Any body of water will turn the head of any sane fisherman. Perhaps in that split second there is a bug floating over a hungry fish, and perhaps that hungry fish will rise right at the moment you are looking.  Wouldn’t that just make your day?  Small dimples scattered about the river is what made my good buddy, Mert Burns, stop his vehicle to take a peek.  Like any great fly fisherman, Mert spent more time looking at the water than paying attention to the road out at the Owyhee.  Normally that’s not a big deal, only in this particular case he was also driving.  But I am no stranger to the occasional jerk of the wheel followed by, “Whoops, better watch the road... ha ha ha.” I opened the door to gear up, and as I stepped out, about six hoppers hopped away to hide; not a bad sign at all.  

After seeing the terrestrials flee we rigged up and tied on a fly I had never used on the Owyhee before, a Pico Spider.  Some say that it’s unwise and downright arrogant to tie a fly on before you have checked out the water. Well they’re right, but that didn’t stop me from doing it.  Sure enough, an unsuspecting trout surfaced near the overhanging shrubs.  My Pico splatted down in its feeding lane, and leisurely the trout surfaced, taking in my Pico Spider. 

Mert was just upstream from me presenting a delicious hopper.  There were fish upstream from the one I had just brought in, and Mert had zeroed in on them.  A fish came up and ate his hopper, and immediately Mert set the hook!  One bump and the hopper came out of its mouth.  The line shot back toward Mert with the fly still attached, unharmed.  Patience and persistence set in as Mert took a few steps closer, and soon hooked his first fish of the day. 

I walked upstream a ways and came to a rugged halt as my peripheral vision caught sight of a monster!  I hunkered down peaking around a bush like a meerkat checking for a cobra.  Carp!  It was a big carp cruising in a circle.  I was not geared up for carp at all, but wouldn’t that be amazing of it came up to eat the Pico Spider?!  Behind a wall of bushes I presented the Pico to the carp. The fish swam, heading right for the Pico, and... it didn’t give a damn.  The carp swam its path with not so much as a glance at my fly, so I whipped my fly rod back and shot it straight for the carps head.  With an aggressive slap, the Pico hit its target, spooking the carp, just as desired. 

A trout rose just within reach in the stagnate portion of the water.  I hurled my Pico over to it and gave it a twitch.  The fish took the Pico and I brought it in for this picture.   

I walked further upstream to the spot where I had caught my very first brown trout. Back then I had used a CDC caddis, so it only seemed right to tie on the same fly as before and cast to the spot where I had caught that fish years ago.  Sure enough, a head appeared, taking in my fly, and I set the hook! 

We moved to a new spot and greed got the better of me.  I had hooked a fish in a short amount of time, and after bringing it in I looked up stream to see that Mert hadn’t caught a fish yet at our new spot.  The fish still rose around him so I went back to fishing. 

I can honestly say I had no clue what these fish were taking.  There was such a variety of bugs on the water that I tried to match, but with no luck.  I went back to the suspended midge and caught a few more fish.

I called Mert down to where I was fishing to see if I could help him.  We switched his dropper and casted his new menu of flies to the rising fish.  A fish took his dropper, but the hook wasn’t set! “MERT!  Set the hook!” Mert’s rod went up, but with no fish attached.  He had a hopper dropper set up, “I was expecting my hopper to go under when I had a fish.” he said.  I explained that with the nature of these fish and with our current water flow, to set the hook when the hopper stops moving.  Mert did just that on his next opportunity.  He set the hook hard enough to break off his zebra midge dropper that was secured with 6X tippet.  
“Well at least the fish took,” he said with high spirits.  

The fish were starting to refuse my fly, so I switched back to the Pico.  Despite how delicately presented the Pico was, the fish seemed to spook when it landed.  I switched to a little green beetle, and that got their attention.

Even the snobby-ist of fish would hit the green beetle.  The bad thing about the fly was that it was almost impossible for me to see.  Over time I have built up my confidence in my casting ability, almost to the point where I don’t even need to see my fly to know where it is; this was developed after fishing 26- and 28-sized flies.  Every fish that took the beetle did not break the surface of the water.  Instead, there would be a slight disturbance where I thought my fly would be, then I would set the hook and would have a fish on every time. 

The fish are certainly wising up at the Owyhee, and it’s about time because I love a good challenge.  We packed up and headed back home, when on the way Mert called his wife, Roxanne.  He explained how the day went for him, and I could hear her telling him that it was ok to catch only one fish.  
“I’m not sure what’s worse, her snickering or her follow-up pity speech.” 

Roxanne also invited me to have dinner with them when we got home.  It had been a long time since I had chatted with both of them, so I accepted... I would have accepted even if I has seen them just yesterday.  It was a fun way to end the day.  Roxanne started a blog that talked about her experiences with her new hobby, hiking.   Her goal is to accomplish 60 hikes at age 60; which is AMAZING, because she doesn’t look a day over 39.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alpine Lake Fever

I couldn’t stop thinking about alpine lakes, especially after fishing Hum Lake last week.  So I coyly invited myself back to fish another lake with Mike and Kerri McLean up in McCall, ID.  After my last hike with Mike, I earned the reputation of having plenty of junk food; so much that the junk food alone took up over half of the storage in my pack.  Word of this got back to Kerri.  She was expecting dark chocolate covered toffee that we had back at the shop in Boise - Mike had stopped in the shop earlier that day and told her I was bringing some to McCall with me.  So when I arrive to their house empty handed, I was stared down by two bitterly disappointed faces.  Mike had talked up the delicious treat I was to bring and, knowing me, there was going to be plenty for all.  After a few seconds of silence, Kerri spoke.  
“There’s got to be some kind of punishment.” 

The funny thing was, I was thinking to myself that I didn’t need to bring all of this junk food.  It’s not good for me and I need to grow up and make healthier choices.  If only I had waited just one more day, these two disappointed faces would be full of joy.  The only thing I could say in my defense was, “I did bring three packs of Pop Rocks...”  This did not help. 

We woke early to start the hike up to Louie Lake.  Mike and Kerri both brought their float tubes for better access around the lake while I took the Roger Philips approach, keeping my pack light to walked the bank.  Almost immediately on the trail we came to our first obstacle: a homemade bridge made out of fallen timber.  Mike crossed first to show us how it was done, even carrying a 50-pound pack.  

The bridge was not bad at all.  The steep climb in between all of the rocks was worse.  On the Hum Lake trail there were switchbacks that helped with the climb.  Here on the Louie Lake trail we just hiked straight up.  

Mike took the lead while Kerri and I followed.  When we neared Louie Lake, both Mike and Kerri stopped to let me have the first look at the lake.  I didn’t realized how close we were, but only a few steps up and the magnificent Jug Mountain reflected in the placid Louie Lake.  All three of us stood there in awe as we took in the sight and wonderful smell of pine that surrounded us.  The splashing echo of a fish rising in the lake snapped us out of our daze, and we geared up to fish. 

Mike took a second to share one of his secrets to his success.  Here he holds up a can of Trout Slayer Wheat Ale, proving that you are what you eat, or in this case, drink. 

The fish were rising all around, and we were each set up in no time at all.  I stood at the front of the lake and casted out with a Pico Spider.  After a twitch or two a fish rose from the depths and nailed my fly.  I set the hook, and in a second the fish was off.  I saw my Pico Spider float back to the top where it was struck again by the same fish!  
“Whoa!” I set the hook again pulling the fly out of its mouth, but the fish wasn’t going to give up that easy.  A third strike by the same fish, and this time I had him.  I brought him in close, and as I went to grab the fish for a picture, it came unbuttoned and shot off. 

The morning started off a little slow, even for Mike and Kerri in their float tubes.  I decided to start my hike around the lake, and saw an enormous fish rise in the distance.  
“That's worth getting wet for.” I said as I stepped into the lake.  My foot sank into silt up to my calf, and I took another step further.  The silt was getting deeper so I looked up to see if I could get another glimpse of the fish.  Almost to my knees in silt, a duck poked its head up where I thought I had seen the fish.  
“It’s a stupid duck!” I said out loud, and looked down in disappointment to see this little frog sitting ever so still next to me.  The frog eased my frustration.

Out on the float tube, Mike was bringing in some fish.  He was able to take this picture of a nice cutthroat with none other than the purple chubby Chernobyl he had used at Hum Lake.  

Mike suggested that I head over to a rocky peninsula where the fish were rising, and where I would have plenty of room to back cast.  

The Pico was not producing fish like I had hoped so I switched to a little green beetle, which paid off dearly.  Fishing was productive in this small cove.  Though I had plenty of fish on, most slipped off right as I was about to grab them.  After many fish, I was finally able to get one in for a picture. 

Out on the float tube, Mike was nailing fish after fish with a purple haze.  I was a bit envious that he was out on the float tube and I was stuck on shore; he definitely caught more fish that way.  
“Erik, there is a fish headed your way!” Mike yelled, pointing his rod tip in the direction of the fish.  The fish rose to something out of my reach, and the commotion the fish was making suggested that it was having a hard time catching whatever it was trying to eat.  Mike made a cast with the purple haze, and WHAM! 

“Wow, this is a nice fish.” Mike yelled over to me.  
“I’m going to try and get a shot of it under water.”  Though it was difficult, due to the fish not wanting to cooperate, he managed to get this neat shot. 

After catching numerous more, he decided to head back and check on Kerri.  Kerri had gone back to shore to be with Sadie, their dog.  Poor Sadie was doing her best to be near both of them as they floated out in their tubes. Kerri thought it best if she stayed on shore with the dog.  I tried to get Sadie to hang out with me, but I must have not have been cool enough.  I continued my hike around the rest of the lake.  Switching back to a Pico Spider, I walked and casted along the shore.  It was a fantastic sight!  My Pico would hit the surface of the water, and with it being so clear, I could see the fish rocketing up from the depth to take my fly.  

The fish were ever so slippery!  I tried again and again to get a nice picture of a fish, but the darn things would squirm out of my hands!  One beautiful fish in particular I had to get a picture of.  I handled it ever so delicately, just for it to flop out of my grasp and back into the water.  It swam off slowly enough for me to snap this picture of it.  

By now I was starving, and bolted back to find Kerri and Mike ready to eat as well.  I shared my Pop Rocks and opened up a protein bar.  Mike, on the other hand, had smoked marlin brought back from his friend Vince from a recent fishing trip.  He offered me some along with some cheese he had brought, saying... “Sorry, but I forgot the crackers.” 
“Well now lunch is ruined.” I replied with a chuckle.  Time flew by while fishing, and after lunch it was already five o-clock.  

We made good time hiking back, and before we knew it, we were crossing the last obstacle of the path.  We hadn’t packed our gear in the truck before we were talking about what our next alpine adventure should be; I simply know that it won’t be soon enough.  

On a side note.  The very morning I was in McCall, my wife Gracy sent me this picture of a hot air balloon that had to make an emergency landing on our street.  I would have loved to have seen this in person, so every morning I see the hot air balloons in the sky I look out front just in case one needs to make an emergency landing.  I haven’t seen one yet, but still, one mustn’t give up hope. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Kokanee Myth

If you look over the bridge to just take a peek.
You may see Kokannee Salmon running up little Moores Creek.

For quite sometime this fish has been on my list,
A good time to see them is around mid-August.

I went to many anglers to get some advice,
And they all told me, “you better think twice.

“This time of the year these fish will not eat.
If you plan to fish for them be prepared for defeat.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, there’s nothing I can make?
There’s got to be something that these fish will take.”

“I have a few boxes of flies I have tied?”
“You can go ahead and try them, but you’ll just get denied.”

“I don’t believe it, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree,
You know what the problem is… these fish haven’t met me.”

We arrived late at Moores Creek,
And we saw something quite unique.

Crowded up in a pool near the shore
Were red Kokanee salmon… 50 or more!

Waders, rods, tippet and line were put together in haste.
After all it was nearing dusk and there was no time to waste.

Gear in hand we got to the river in somewhat of a rush,
Scampering like squirrels through the thicket and brush.

All the fish sitting there brought on a lot of tension.
I’ll tie this little red thing on, that should get their attention.

A long time has gone by, a bite was long overdue,
Perhaps I have met my match and the myth is true?

These fish won’t bite, I say with a frown.
Just as I said it, my indicator went down.

Like lightning, whip back! I set the hook,
And I knew right away a fish had took.
It exploded into action swimming and fighting.
The flashes of red made it very exciting.

It’s jumping and splashing, holy toledo!
And rocketing around like a little torpedo.

I brought it in close enough to put it in my net,
But its tail came up and splashed me and got me all wet.

It wants to keep fighting, this red fish is tough
Its been going for 10 minutes, surely it has had enough!

Onlookers are waiting with great anticipation.
And when I landed the fish there were cheers of celebration.

This fish is so slippery it’s hard to get a grip,
Look here I hooked it right in the upper lip.

What a bizarre looking fish, it has a prehistoric head
And its back has a hump that is bright cherry red.

These fish swim up the stream when the water gets cold
And they change color to spawn, or so I am told.

Then this one better get going, it has lady-fish to pursue.
Goodbye bright red fish; it was nice to meet you.