In case there aren’t enough pictures for you in this post, try the Itinerant Flyfisher’s flickr.

The Dungeness River lies mostly within the Buckhorn Wilderness Area, and drains some of the northern slopes of the Olympics. A few weeks ago we had a hankering to go fish the Dungeness, and it was so lovely that we returned for a little backpacking shortly thereafter.

We headed out there for the first time on a Friday Afternoon, along with the rest of the Seattle Metro area. This was our inaugural trip on the ferry, and we were rather nonplussed by the three hour wait. It passed pretty quickly, and soon we were driving through the mist up to the Dungeness Forks campground. This part of the peninsula is very wet and shrouded in clouds most of the time; it looks very spooky. We camped that night at the campground, right above the confluence of the Grey Wolf and Dungeness Rivers, and fished a little bit without any luck.

The rainforest by the campground

The rainforest by the campground

The next morning, we drove up to the Upper Dungeness trailhead, and decided to hike and fish down river. It was once again a very cloudy day, but it felt like the perfect weather for fishing. The river is pretty small through here, maybe a cast across at the very widest, and there is a lot of detritus  along the banks. This made it a little hard to fish, but the trout need this kind of cover. We would find a likely looking pool or riffle, scramble down to it, fish for a few minutes, and then carry on. Even though the trailhead was pretty busy almost everyone else headed up the river towards Marmot Pass, and we had the trail and the river to ourselves.

Catherine Fishing the Dungeness

Catherine fishing the Dungeness

Usually we like to fish surface flies, but we were spending more time below the water with leeches and nymphs. On the very first pool Catherine stopped at, after working it over with an olive leech, Catherine caught a lovely char– what we’ve decided was a Southern Dolly Varden. It could also have been a bull trout, WA Fish and Wildlife doesn’t distinguish the two. These fish have been extirpated from most of their range and only persist in the upper reaches of streams that haven’t been heavily logged, so it was a real treat to see these fish.

We worked our way downriver, and Catherine hooked several more Dollies. On our way back up, I finally hooked on to a feisty rainbow. All the fish we caught were nice and fat, apparently there is some good food in this little river. We had an easy trip back to Seattle, and were already planning our next trip out here.

A young Dungeness Rainbow

A young Dungeness Rainbow

We got our chance two weeks later for a one night backpacking trip. We had heard many good things about Marmot Pass, and decided to travel up the upper Dungeness trail to Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain. We left Seattle early on a Saturday, and there was no wait at all for the ferry. It was once again a day with low clouds on the peninsula, and we were headed up the Dungeness River by about ten thirty. The trail was very busy, there were trail riders, boy scouts, and families out for a hike. The first 3.5 miles of the trail is practically flat, so it is a great place to take youngsters. The trail hugs the river and there were many tempting holes, but we just stopped to fish once; we had a long way to go to our camp at Boulder Shelter, and we planned on visiting Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain that afternoon.

Catherine fishing along the upper Dungeness Trail

Catherine fishing along the upper Dungeness Trail

After 3.5 miles, the trail passes Camp Handy, which is right by the river and a lovely looking meadow. The river through here reminded me of Big Blue Creek in Colorado; it hurt my heart to not stop and fish. From Camp Handy the crowds thinned and our path headed upwards. The timber was thick for the most part, but wherever it was clear there were inviting views of the Dungeness Valley down below, the snow covered ridge and alpine bowls watching over Royal Basin across the way, and the rugged Olympics above us.

The trail up to Boulder Shelter

The trail up to Boulder Shelter

We made it to Boulder Shelter around two thirty, and got a fine campsite close to the trail and to a small creek. There were already 4 people camped there, and a family with two tents joined us after a few minutes. The crowds weren’t too bad though, and the views were absolutely amazing. The camp is below a slide on the shoulder of Warrior Peak, or perhaps the mountain right next to Warrior peak. Behind us was the wide Dungeness Valley, and to one side was the beginning of the Olympics, and to the other was an open alpine hillside. After catching our breath, we decided to head to Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain about three thirty.

The trail to Marmot Pass heads right up from Camp, and is a pretty steady climb uphill. There were nice views and wildflowers along the way, but perhaps half of the way to Marmot Pass a cloud descended on us, and we could see about two feet ahead. Even though the views weren’t quite as majestic it was a very haunting effect. The vegetation through here was very interesting. The Dungeness Valley is incredibly wet, but Marmot Pass is situated in the rain shadow of the Western part of the Olympics; the trees and grasses look like they belong in a much dryer environment, and the ground cover isn’t nearly as thick as it is in other parts of the range.

The fog was still thick when we made it to Marmot Pass, so we had no clue where Buckhorn Mountain even was. Fortunately some hikers we met at the pass pointed us in the right direction, and soon we were scrambling up Buckhorn. There was a good easy to see footpath, but the trail was very steep. We eventually made it up to the ridge, and the going was much easier. There is an alpine tundra environment up here, with some scrubby brushes and lots of moss and lichen. At some point the trail started to head down, so we figured we must be at the summit. We sat on some rocks, hoping that the clouds would eventually clear.

After sitting there a while, we began to hear voices of some other hikers. We assumed that they were resting in the saddle off to our side, but when the fog thinned for a moment we saw that they were actually on the top of Buckhorn Mountain, and that we were not! It seemed like it wasn’t that much higher though, and since there wasn’t anything to see we stayed put.

Right as we were going to head down, around six, the fog started to clear. First, we could see a meadow on the opposite of the mountain from the one that we came up. Then we could see glimpses of snowy Mount Constance and Warrior Peak across the way. Finally, we could see the Needles rising up from the opposite side of Royal Basin. It was spectacular. After spending another half an hour or so up there, we headed back to our camp.

We took our time heading back, and kept our eyes peeled for game in the meadows. We could see a muddy place that looked like an elk wallow, and at one point I was convinced I saw a deer on a sparsely covered hillside, but it might have just been a tree. I’m still kicking myself for neglecting to bring binoculars.

That night we drank hot chocolate and watched the stars. The moon surprised us as it rose from behind Warrior Peak, it looked at first like someone with a spot light was on the mountain. We decided to hike towards the national park the next morning, but as we went to sleep I was already getting sad that we had to leave so soon.

We woke up early the next morning and headed towards Constance Pass and Home Lake in the Olympic National Park. The trail there was mostly flat, but hadn’t been maintained as recently as the trail up to Boulder Shelter. The vegetation was very thick, it was evident that it rained a lot more here than it did just a few miles away. We crossed in to the national park after about a mile, this was the first time that Catherine and I visited the actual park and not just its outlying Wilderness Areas.

The entrance to the Olympic National Park

The entrance to the Olympic National Park

As we hiked, we skirted around Warrior Peak and Mount Constance and had good views of the meadows and ridges of the national park. As is so often the case, the mountains and valleys that we saw were just out of the reach of this trip; it also seems like you need one more day to see everything you want to see when you’re out in the woods. The trail was lovely though, there were lots of nice wildflowers and a little waterfall that the trail crossed.

We stopped to eat lunch on a slide below Mount Constance; we could see Constance Pass but it was probably still an hour or so hike away. I was sure that untold beauties lay just behind Constance Pass, but they would have to wait for another day.

We reluctantly headed back about noon, enjoying the views as we descended. The going was pretty easy, except that I had tweaked my Achille’s tendon on my right leg the day before and it was pretty tender. I was hobbling pretty good by the time we got back to the car, but fortunately the trail was pretty much completely downhill. There was horrible traffic leaving the peninsula and the ferries were backed up several hours; we had to head home across the Tacoma Narrows. It’s always a rude change to go from the back country to your obligations in less than twenty four hours time, but at school that week I had lots of lovely memories to think about whenever teaching was particularly tiresome. We’ll definitely be back to the Marmot Pass area soon.

Notes for future travelers:

  • Expect delays on the ferry Friday and Sunday afternoons.
  • There is good camping about 1 mile up the Dungeness River Trail, right by the turnoff to Royal Basin
  • Boulder Shelter was pretty crowded, get there as early as possible to ensure that you get a campsite.
  • We had much more luck fishing higher up on the Dungeness than in its lower reaches. Bead headed nymphs and leeches worked well.

Catherine and I have been too busy poking around Washington recently to blog very much, but I want to write about a trip we took to Myrtle Lake in the Alpine Lakes wilderness a few weeks ago before I forget anything.

Washington is known for its climbing, and a few weeks ago I had a hankering to climb some of the peaks that we are famous for. Most of the climbing around here is more advanced than anything that I’ve done on my own before, so I figured that we’d better start small.  It turns out that in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness right east of Seattle there is a peak called Big Snow Mountain that looked like a worthy goal. It isn’t climbed very often, it requires some route finding and srambling but no technical climbing, and we could practice some snow climbing with our ice axes that we bought after being stymied by the snow on Colonel Bob early in the summer. You can get to it via the Dingford Creek trail, which is a fairly short drive for us. I had been wanting to do a little backpacking along Dingford Creek ever since we moved here, so it seemed like a great trip.

Catherine doesn’t work on Fridays and I finish teaching at 1, so our plan was to leave town around two or so on Friday, hike the 5 miles to Myrtle Lake, fish a little, and climb Big Snow Mountain the next day. Our problems began when Catherine had to go to a meeting that delayed our departure until a little after three. Then we were in downtown Seattle right in the peak of traffic, and we didn’t make it to the trailhead until about 5:30. I didn’t think this was any problem, since it stays light until a little after nine and I figured we would cover the five miles to Myrtle Lake in around two and a half hours.

So, we started up the Dingford Creek Trail around 5:45. I knew that it was going to start out steep, and we weren’t disappointed in that regard. In the first mile or so the trail goes basically straight up, and there are lots of places where the rocks and roots are such that you need to scramble a bit. It probably wouldn’t be horrible if you were day hiking, but it was rough going with packs and fly rods. After we gained that first thousand feet of elevation the going got a little bit easier, but we lost some of our time. During the next two miles it was fairly level, through a pleasant forest, punctuated by a few unpleasant boggy stretches. We had to stop a one point because a bug flew a kamikaze mission into Catherine’s eye.

I knew that three miles down the trail was the turn off to Hester Lake. When we hadn’t seen this by 7:30, given that we were moving at a pretty good clip, I figured that we had missed that trail. When we passed it at 7:45, I began to be a little bit worried about getting to Myrtle Lake by nightfall. Catherine was getting pretty worried too, so we began to really hoof it up the mountain. The last two miles were a little bit steeper, and very boggy. Someone in the distant past had laid planks over the muddiest parts, but these weren’t nearly sufficient to keep us from getting muddy. The bugs were pretty bad too. There was some interesting fauna though, we saw a lot of frogs, which you don’t see in the mountains too often. At about 8:45, with light failing, we began to get more concerned. Did Myrtle Lake even exist? Why again did I think that it was 5 miles away? We tried to go even faster, but we had been hiking hard for three hours now with hardly a break, and I was not in my best hiking shape.

Fortunately, about 9:15, right when it was pretty desperate, we found Myrtle Lake. We stopped at the first campsite, and were glad to rest. The bugs were awful around the lake so I tried to make a fire to ward them off, but I couldn’t find any dry wood. Fortunately the bugs stopped after nightfall. We were too tired to cook supper, so we ate honey bars and salami and cheese. There was a little varmint interested in our food; it was hopping so we thought that it was another frog, but it turned out to be some type of mouse. I was also too tired to appropriately hang our food, but I got it off the ground so our rodent friend couldn’t get in to it. That night there was a huge full moon; it was gorgeous to behold over the lake. We hadn’t seen anyone else since we left the trailhead and there was no one else camped at the lake. Even though it was a bit harder to get there than we had expected, being alone at the lake during that  night was more than worth it, in my opinion.

After our ordeal friday evening we slept late on Saturday, and woke up too late to make a serious attempt at climbing Big Snow Mountain. We wouldn’t be ready to leave camp until after 11, and we figured we should head back down around 2 or so. However, we decided to see if we could make it up to Big Snow Lake, which was less than a mile away and is supposed to be very pretty.

I had purchased some USGS quads of the area since there aren’t any trails, but right when we were ready to set out I realized that I left our compass back at the trailhead. We looked through our stuff and in Catherine’s Jim Cameron Memorial first aid kit there was a tiny little compass, the kind that you might find in the butt of a knife. We figured that was better than nothing, so off we went.

Our plan was to cross Myrtle Lake’s outflow, head up a gully, find Big Snow Lake’s outflow, and follow that up. Whenever I’m climbing something and especially if there isn’t a much of a trail, I like to follow the “head straight up” strategy. So,  I started us off by heading straight up the wrong gully. It was very brushy and we had to really fight to make it up this hill, when I realized that we were heading too far north. We cut back south a little bit, and had to clamber over some steep boulders between the gully we were in and the one we wanted. Fortunately around the rocks it was thick with willows, so there was a lot of hold on to as we climbed down. Soon we could hear the outflow stream, and knew that we were at least on the right track.

Catherine on the hike up to Big Snow Lake

Catherine on the hike up to Big Snow Lake

The stream was running in a slide that had a lot of vegetation growing in it so it was mainly underground, but we could hear it over the rocks. The bed was pretty brushy but not as bad as what we had already busted through, so the going was comparatively easy. Farther south there was a slide that was a bit more open, but we didn’t see how to get over there through the willows in any reasonable way. We followed the stream bed straight up, and headed off to the left when it seemed like it split, since that way was supposed to lead to Big Snow Lake, and the other direction to Snowflake Lake.

Soon we came into a big boulder field. Now the going was easier since there wasn’t any brush, but scrambling up was difficult in a few places, plus sometimes the rocks moved too much. It was very pretty though, we had a good view of Myrtle Lake behind us and of some of the cliffs surrounding Big Snow Mountain ahead of us. At this point, we had been climbing for a while, and our turn around time of 1 pm was approaching. We were in a chute where the going wasn’t so bad, but it looked like it got steeper, and we weren’t sure if we would find Big Snow Lake at the top. Off to our right was a big bluff, and it was conceivable that we need to traverse around it to get to the lake. We moved off towards the bluff to eat our lunch and consult the maps.

After getting our bearings, I thought that the lake was at the top of the chute we were following. I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure though. We were in a bit of a notch and it looked like if we could climb out the top we might be able to get at the top of the chute, but I wasn’t able to climb out. We figured at this point we were out of time, so after enjoying the scenery a bit more we reluctantly decided to head down.

Navigating with our first aid kit compass.

Navigating with our first aid kit compass.

We didn’t exactly retrace our steps on the way down, since the way we came up was a bit too steep. We strayed a little bit farther north, and soon we could hear the outflow stream, which we had lost. This confirmed my thought that Big Snow Lake was at the top of the chute, and we looked and sure enough from where we were we could see a tiny bit of a waterfall that must have been the start of the outflow. It was less than 100 yards away! It would have been a hard fought 100 yards though and we were already behind schedule, so we kept heading down.

Big Snow Lake was at the top of this chute. Curses!

Big Snow Lake was at the top of this chute. Curses!

We followed the creek the whole way down, and getting down was easier than getting up since we avoided any wrong turns. The only exciting thing was one point where I thought I could slide down this 5 foot long or so little cliff, at about a 45 degree angle. I tried to lower myself down while holding on to a willow, but soon realized that I was about to go off what was a 30 foot or so big cliff. Fortunately my boots caught on a lip in the rock and I was still holding on to the willow, so I could climb back out.

We followed the outflow stream all the way down to where it meets up with the outflow from Myrtle and gives rise to Dingford creek. There was a great little boggy pond there, with lots of frogs. There  weren’t any trees, so we finally had some really great views of Big Snow Mountain. It really made me want to come back some time!

We got back to our camp with an easy hike up the other outflow, and then put on our packs and headed down. We enjoyed the trail much more now than we had the day before, it was very pleasant to be in the woods with occasional views of the mountains and of Dingford Creek. About a mile from the lake, we came close to Dingford Creek for this first time. It was beautiful water, and Catherine wanted to stop and wet a fly.

The stream through here is my favorite kind  of mountain creek: about 5 feet across, with little pools that are maybe 2 or 3 feet deep in the middle tucked between big boulders. On her first cast Catherine got a strike but it threw the hook. She cast a few more times to different pools and then I cast a few times a bit upstream without any luck. Right when we were about to leave Catherine cast to the first pool again and hooked a beautiful little trout. It wasn’t more than 7 inches long, but had about the prettiest colors I’ve ever seen. It had the parr marks and spots like a stream run coastal cutt sometimes does, but it also had this brilliant bright red color, almost orange, through the parr marks. We deemed it some variety of redband, after looking at lots of pictures on the internet after we got home.

Whenever I think about fish that live in those little streams I’m impressed by how tough they are. What do they do in the wintertime? There is a big waterfall separating Dingford Creek from the Snoqualmie so I doubt they can get down to the big river, and it sure looked like it would be hard to swim up to Myrtle Lake. Maybe they just hunker down under the snow in the deepest pool they can find? Whatever it is they do, I’m always glad for the opportunity to look at those little mountain trout.

The rest of the hike down was very pleasant. We ran across one man headed down from Hester Lake, and one man headed up to Myrtle Lake. Traversing the boggy parts was easier in the full light of day, and even though hiking down the steep section was rough on knees I still think it beat the hike up. We made it back to our car around 7, which was much later than we had planned, but we had a very lazy hike down. I’m always sad to head back to civilization after spending some time out in the woods, but I was very happy that we finally made it out to Dingford Creek, plus it’s nice to know that such nice lonely places are just a short drive away from Seattle.

On the drive out we saw this confused elk

On the drive out we saw this confused elk

Advice for future travelers:

  • After you get to the Middle Fork Campground, it is about 5 miles of a very rough road to the Dingford Creek Trailhead
  • The 5 miles to Myrtle Lake feels like more, make sure you have lots of time
  • Bring bug spray
  • To get to Big Snow Lake, follow Myrtle’s outflow to the pond, then follow Big Snow’s outflow

Sometimes when you’re looking for something, you first need to rule out all the places that your quarry isn’t. Even if it’s improbable that your keys are sitting inside the freezer, it’s easier to look there than underneath the couch cushions, right?

With this philosophy in mind, Catherine and I set out this weekend to search for some trout along the various tributaries of the Skykomish along the scenic highway 2. Rumor has it that the summer runs of steelhead are in the lower stretches of the Skykomish right now, but the Sky is a little big for our gear and looks like it would be frightening to wade, so we thought we might ambush some fish on  the Sky’s lesser tributaries. I compiled a list of various creeks and rivers in the area where people on the internet  claimed to have once caught fish, and off we went.

We left Seattle after I finished teaching friday afternoon, and headed down 2 for the Beckler River campground. The weather was lovely this weekend and this was the first weekend in a while where there wasn’t any particular reason for Seattleites to get of the city, so it was of course very crowded. We got the last of the 27 campsites, and it appeared that the nearby Money Creek campground was full too.

We still managed to get a great campsite right by the water, and rather than being bothered by all the people we enjoyed the fact that folks were out enjoying the great outdoors, especially the families with small children.

Our campsite on the Beckler

Our campsite on the Beckler

As soon as we got our tent set up we went to scout out the river, and soon discovered that the meek Beckler was also terrifying to wade. The mountains are still very snowy, so it stands to reason that the rivers would be really high right now, but I was still surprised. As you would expect, there were some promising looking holes on the other side of the river, but nothing that we could get to. We stayed on our side of the bank that evening, and practiced our casting.

Catherine casts in the fog

Catherine casts in the fog

That night, we finally got to use the two burner Coleman stove that my parents gave me for my birthday. We cooked steaks, and they were quite tasty.

Testing the old stove

Testing the old stove

The next morning, after verifying that our stove could cook breakfast too, we set out in search of some smaller creeks. We first headed towards the Miller River, on the other side of the Sky from the Beckler. It was a little smaller, but still very swollen. It was fun to go way back on the forest roads; the road along the Miller River ends at Dorothy Lake, which we tried to reach from the other side a month or so ago. We were stopped by the snow then, and there is still a lot of snow high up in the hills. We turned around where a little creek ran over the road, but not before casting a few flies. We planned to fish this little stream down to where it enters the Miller, but there were so many logs in the way we were just able to fish a few holes.

A stream running into the Miller River

A stream running into the Miller River

Next we drove up Money Creek. It was too steep to think about fishing except in a few spots, and some locals were camped right on top of the most likely spot. It was a beautiful drive though, there was a nice waterfall and lots of good views of snow capped hills. We tried Index Creek after Money Creek, and there was actually some good water there. We fished close to where the creek enters the Skykomish, and it only took some light to medium trespassing to get on the water. We still didn’t have any luck, but I at least halfway expected to catch something while we were fishing.

After striking out on the angling front, we stopped by the Heybrook Lookout tower on the way back to Seattle. It is an old fire lookout that overlooks the Sky valley, and there’s an easy mile or so trail that leaves right from the side of the highway. Even though it’s an easy hike, there is quite a view from up there. It made me want to go climbing!

Fear not good reader! Summer has just begun, we’ll find out where the trout are hiding eventually.

After nearly a year of absence, I’m sure that most of our readers assume that Catherine and I are lost somewhere in the wilds of Idaho. Perhaps you think that our GPS misled us onto some old unused road, where our faithful xterra was hopelessly mired, and that we are still waiting for a rescue party. But fear not– even though that basically happened, we made it out ok. There were many good trails and good trout in the Frank Church, but we are based in Washington now, so that’s what we should talk about.

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Westslope Cutt from a tributary of the Salmon River

I haven’t had as much luck fishing for trout in Washington as I hoped; the rivers here are known mainly for their anadromous fish, and I don’t know very much about that kind of fishing. However, we have had a lot of fun looking for coastal cutts and rainbows in some of the rivers in the Puget sound area, as well as hiking around the Cascades and Olympics. I think to date we have landed exactly 3 fish in our many hours on the water, but it’s the getting out there that matters, right?

Our most recent expedition was to the  Colonel Bob Wilderness, where we hoped to climb Colonel Bob Peak and fish the Humptulips river. The Colonel Bob Wilderness abuts the Olympic National Park,  south of Lake Quinault. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Seattle, and as such it wasn’t as crowded as places in the Cascades close to Seattle, or even in the Eastern part of the Olympics. We learned about it from Exotic Hikes, and there are great instructions about how to get there and information about the hike on their blog.

We found some of the famous banana slugs on the trail at lower elevations.

We found some of the famous banana slugs on the trail at lower elevations.

It was a beautiful day, but unfortunately it was too snowy for us to make it to the top. I did make it high enough to realize that I am not in the best hiking shape right now.

After we made it down, we headed over to fish the Humptulips. Forest Road 22 crosses the Humptulips close to Pete’s Creek Trailhead, and there is nice access at a bridge there. All my books said that the Humptulips was mainly a salmon and steelhead river, and indeed, the only action was a steelhead parr that Catherine landed. It was very pretty water though, and I had the feeling that if I knew anything about fishing these waters, this part of the Humptulips would have been a good place to catch something. However, I’ve noticed that while we’re on the river not having any luck, there’s never anyone else also striking out right upsteam– we’re always by ourselves. Maybe our fellow flyfishers in Washington know something that we don’t.

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Catherine casts to a rising fish.

We will definitely be back to the area soon; this is close to the Quinault River, and rumor has it that the Quinault river in the National Park has some good fishing. Hopefully we can do a little backpacking trip there later this summer.

We’ve had lots of other fun adventures this spring in Seattle, (We’re engaged now! But this is old news if you’re reading this, since it’s likely that you are one of our mothers) and maybe I can find the time to write about some more of our trips this summer. We’re planning on going to the Skyhomish this weekend, so if you’re lucky you’ll hear about it in a year or so.

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May your line land straight!

(the internet at our motel isn’t the best, so no photos on this one)

After the good people at Doc’s automotive in Taos heroically repaired my car, me and Catherine were off again. That evening (June 30th) we made it to the Cruces Basin Wilderness. It’s a lovely wilderness area in  northern New Mexico, and we accessed it by traveling about an hour on forest roads off NM-285. If you’re going north from Tres Piedres, you turn off to your left on Forest Road 87 which is right south of San Antonito Mountain, and follow the signs for 87 until you see a sign for 572. The roads were fine for my X-terra, but we might have been in trouble on the last stretch if it was wet. The trailhead was about 25 miles in, and the first 22 or so could be comfortably traversed in a sedan.

Once you make it to the trailhead, it’s about a 30 minute walk to the confluence of Beaver, Cruces, and Devil creeks. There are no official trails, but there is a fine fisherman’s trail down to the creeks, and unsigned trails follow the creeks. We camped about another half an hour up Cruces creek, and fished that afternoon and the next morning. All the creeks are tiny, about two feet across in most places, with a few larger pools at bends. The trout were spooky, and we only caught two. There were a lot of fish though, typically when you got close enough to see the lay of the the creek you’d also see five or ten brookies rushing for cover. It was a nice drainage though, and I’d love to get more time to explore it in the future.

After leaving the Cruces Sunday morning, we headed to meet my family in South Fork. We then caravanned to Big Blue Creek in Colorado. To access Big Blue you just take 149 through Lake City then turn left at the appropriate sign north of town. I was glad that my family was with us, since my car overheated again on the way up.

I’d fished there many times before, so I knew that we had good things in store. We made camp with 8 adults and two dogs that night, and went out fishing the next morning. If angling for gorgeous brookies using dry flies on little creeks gets you excited, then Big Blue is the place for you. We caught boatloads of fish, and my brothers-in-law and Catherine all caught their first fish on a flyrod our first morning. The fish are small, but they are fun to catch with light tackle. It’s also nice because you’ll have the place to yourself; I don’t think I saw a single person fishing who wasn’t in our party the whole time, and we were there during the Fourth of July.

While we were at Big Blue we visited Slide Lake, which is about 5 miles upstream from the campground on Big Blue Creek. The trail follows the creek most of the way, and most of the way looks like great fishing– although we were too busy hiking to wet a fly. Below the lake there were a few bigger brookies, but the water is fast and the creek is treacherous. Catherine did manage three monsters down there though, and my dad and Matt caught a few as well. If you make the trip I would plan on camping at Slide Lake, as we only had a few hours to fish and there is a nice campsite there.

After Big Blue we came in to Lake City to stay in cabins for a few nights, which was a welcome change from tents. On Friday, July 6th we went to Joe Bob Lake above Vickers’ Ranch in honor of my sister Susan’s birthday. I’m not sure about access if you aren’t staying with the Vickers, but if you are it’s an easy jeep ride. The lake was filled with fat, dumb, stocked rainbows, and although they were very pretty and a decent size (maybe 10-15 inches) I can’t say they were very good sport; I’d take smaller wild trout any day. That night we had a nice dinner at Bruno’s in Lake City, and on Saturday we attempted to traverse the Alpine Loop in a rented jeep.

The Alpine Loop is a mountain road that connects Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. It’s about a 30 mile drive to Ouray, and to give you an idea of how rough the terrain is, if you want to go to Ouray without taking a jeep it will be over 100 miles. The road goes through old mining towns and has some great views of the numerous fourteen-ers in Hinsdale County. The highest point is Engineer’s Pass at 12,800 feet, and you feel like you can see all of Colorado from there. Unfortunately our car had a nail in a tire, and when we discovered that we also had no jack we decided to go back.

Sunday morning we went for a nice hike on a trail right outside of Lake City, which I believe followed Sheep Creek. It was a fun walk, but there were several treacherous log bridge crossings. That evening, Catherine, my dad, and I fished the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. The Gunnison below Lake City is a nice fast river, with good riffles and some big pools beneath the canyon walls. My dad caught a huge rainbow there a few years ago, so we were hoping for similar luck. I caught a small rainbow and Catherine fought something big for a few seconds, but the weather was poor and we didn’t have much luck. However, right as we were leaving I hooked on to what I thought was a log, until I felt a few wiggles. I cautiously fought it, and with hardly a struggle I hauled in the biggest trout I’ve ever caught. He must have been at least two feet long. He was right at my feet and I hollered to Catherine and my dad to come see, but as I reached down with my landing net he spit out my nymph and swam away. I’m still beating myself up about that one.

Monday morning, July 9th, me and Catherine struck out for Utah. We were headed for the High Uintas Wilderness (Uinta is pronounced you-in-a), and the only snag in getting there was my car overheating as we crossed a pass north of Grand Junction. We accessed the wilderness by going north on 200 in Roosevelt, Utah, and following the signs for Uinta Canyon. We camped in a Forest Service campground that night, and fished in the Uinta River the next morning. The river there was a just a small creek, and we caught a few nice brook/brown hybrids. We broke camp right as a storm hit, and as soon as it lifted we headed out on the trail towards the wilderness. My reading of the map said that there was a good place to make camp and fish in two miles, and four miles later there we were. A warning if you visit the area: we hiked about 8 miles up the main trail during out trip, and saw exactly one campsite.

The Uinta below our campsite was a wild fast river, much bigger than the one near the campground. This was very mysterious to me since we were above where we had been fishing that morning. We caught some nice brookies in the river and the fishing was very fun in the fast water, but it got a bit scary at times. We decided that Wednesday we would try to hike to the Chain Lakes, following Krebs Creek. I wasn’t sure that we could make the lakes, but I thought that we could fish the creek along the way at least.

Again I was wrong, the trail which on the map appeared to follow the creek was nowhere near it most of the time, and when it was the creek was in a deep inaccessible canyon (in my defense, there were no contour lines between the trail and the creek on my map…). We managed to climb down in the canyon for lunch and Catherine gamely made a few casts, but the conditions were much less than ideal. However, there were a few nice holes in the creek, and if one had a lot of time on their hands perhaps they could find a way to get down there and nab an unsuspecting trout. We fished the Uinta again that night, and headed out Thursday morning. The two parties we passed along the trail were headed for the lakes, and I think that I would do that same if I came back.

Today we aimed for Cascade, Idaho, in hopes of heading to the Frank Church tomorrow (Friday, July 13th). My car was doing great until climbing above Salt Lake City, when it began to overheat. Utah and Southern Idaho were very hot today, so most of the rest of the day was spent trying to prevent my car from overheating. We could rarely run the A/C, and often had to have the heater on. At one point we were in a traffic jam in Ogden, Utah and were forced to turn the heater on. With the heat on while sitting in traffic in 100 degree heat I half expected Catherine to leave me to continue the trek on my own. We pressed on, and as the day grew cooler the car gave us less trouble. We made it to Cascade by descending a road north of Boise; we went up for about 2 miles and then down for about 50. It was a gorgeous drive down– the sun was setting over the mountains and the highway follows the Payette River and it’s associated canyon. It was a bit of a harrowing road, but Catherine safely guided us down.

We’re spending tonight in a motel in Cascade, and are heading for Big Creek in the Frank Church bright and early tomorrow. Cross your fingers that my car makes it!

Cheers,

The Traveling Flyfisherman

Me and Catherine have embarked on our fishing and camping trip across the rockies. Yesterday we drove from Austin to Santa Fe. It was a surprisingly humane drive, especially since we were tired at the beginning and we lost an hour waiting for some medicine at a Walgreen’s in Abilene, and we made it to a nice campground right outside the city as it was getting dark. We weren’t 20 minutes from the Plaza, but we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t crowded either; only two other campsites were occupied. One of them was occupied by a family and two cats. If your interested, here is a link with information about the campground. It’s much nicer than the review makes it sound.

After poking around Santa Fe a bit, we drove to to Taos and went straight to the fly shop for some advice and some licenses. Our plan was to head to the Cruces Basin wilderness area, where we would pack in and fish the creeks. The folks at the shop thought the fishing would be great, so our plan was to eat lunch in the plaza, then head out. The trouble began right as we were looking for parking around the plaza, when we noticed that the A/C wasn’t working. It wasn’t working because our engine was dangerously hot, so we pulled into the parking lot of a bank to assess our situation. The coolant looked low, so we hoped that adding more coolant would solve our problem. There was a shop right down the street, and a mechanic there put in some more coolant, idled it a bit, and pronounced our vehicle roadworthy.

Exhilarated after dodging that bullet, we were back on the road, and of course immediately our engine began to get too hot. We reluctantly took it back to the shop, where it was determined that we needed a new thermostat. Of course there were no thermostats for my car in the Taos area, so we would be stranded in Taos til Monday, missing our rendezvous with my family on Sunday and with completely useless one day fishing licenses. Fortunately the good mechanic, Andrew, sensed our distress and called his brother who lives in Albuquerque, and who is serendipitously headed to Taos this evening.  Andrew’s brother got the part, and Andrew will have it ready for us in the morning and we can be on our way. Or at least that’s what we hope…

My forlorn pack waits in the corner.

Cheers,

The Stranded Flyfisherman

 

I’m heading for the airport in about an hour to spend a few days in Gainesville. Jackson has been really fun, I got to eat a lot of good food, hang out with Catherine’s friends and family, and play some croquet.

Last night we ate at the Mayflower cafe, which is this really old seafood restaurant in downtown Jackson. I had broiled oysters and snapper, and it was incredible. Right as we were finishing a huge storm blew in and we were stuck inside the restaurant for about 45 minutes or so. Eventually when we realized that it wasn’t going to stop any time soon we made a run for the car, and we got completely soaked in about 10 seconds (my clothes are still wet in my suitcase, unfortunately). It was a very memorable way to end the trip, however Marilyn was none too pleased when we got home.

Marilyn doesn't like storms.

Now it’s off to Florida and the rest of the summer!