August 19, 2019

Stompin' Around The Park

Seven hours in the car can be a long time. But it's time well spent if you have something to look forward to.

With K.C. & Lilly choosing to go do Walt Disney World for the weekend, and me opting to stand pat on my stance to not visit the mouse in the summer heat (remember, we live two hours away, so we go frequently, and it's not a big deal), I was looking at a "bachelor" weekend. Not keen on staying put in Jacksonville, I packed up the car and headed north to the mountains, where it was at least ten degrees cooler and home to some trout.

Making the time pass on such a long drive can be a difficult chore. I had already listened to most of the regular podcasts in my queue over the course of the work week, so an audiobook kept me locked in and time moving at least a little faster. The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie Jr. transported me West, even though geographically, I was pointing North. Yes, I've still got that case of wanderlust.

Arriving at my accommodations around 11 PM, it was time to get some sleep. I was intending on an early morning.

The alarm on my phone went off far too soon, but the sun was coming up and I was eager to get on the water. I hopped in the car and headed over to a favorite stream on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One might have called it chilly that morning. It probably wasn't, but coming from Florida, your internal thermometer can be a bit "off." Donning a light jacket, I descended down into the shade of the stream. The water looked great, moving swiftly, but not too fast nor high to be problematic.

It only took a few casts to find one of its residents.

This continued on repeat for several hours. Plunge pool after pocket after calm run. There were so many areas that were the likely home of a brown, rainbow, or brook trout, although I only found two of the three species.


It felt good. Really good.

Not realizing the time, I glanced at my phone and was surprised to see it was approaching 4 PM. I had been fishing for more than seven hours, but it didn't seem nearly as long as the drive up from Florida. I suppose focusing on reading water, casting to, and landing fish makes the time melt much faster than an audiobook.

A few quick notes about some of the gear at hand. I used the Oni Type III tenkara rod for much of the day, although I did switch over to the Nissin Royal Stage 320 for a bit, just because I enjoy that rod as well. Both cast a 3.0 Dragontail level line beautifully. Much like swapping rods, I also swapped flies, just to see if it mattered, (it didn't). Most of the fish were caught on a beadhead Road Kone kebari, but I also caught some on a Creekside Peacock & Hen Pheasant, some Three Rivers Coulee Killer nymphs, as well as a buggy black wet fly that Graham Moran gave me at the recent Tenkara Summit. I don't recall what he called it but it was a simple black thread bodied fly with some black, swept back rooster hackle. It seemed to be a rainbow trout magnet, particularly when twitched out of the white foam of a plunge pool.

Out of the water and now late in the afternoon, my stomach wasn't happy. I had gotten up so early I didn't grab any breakfast, and in the haste to get out the door, forgot to stop to grab any snacks for an on-stream lunch. Now in the car and headed to the hotel for a quick shower, a fortunate Google Search pointed me in the right direction.

Sure, I probably should have moved the knife for the photo (it was how they presented/served the platter), but damn if Haywood Smokehouse in Waynesville, NC doesn't make some of the best BBQ I've ever had... The ribs in particular were phenomenal.

It was a wonderful way to end a enjoyable day on the water. The full belly also ensured I'd sleep well that night, something I desperately needed, especially considering I had that equally long drive back to Jacksonville awaiting the next morning.

So you might be asking, fourteen total hours in the car (round trip) for a single day of mountain trout fishing and first class BBQ?

Absolutely! And it was definitely worth every minute behind the wheel.

August 5, 2019

Colorado 2019: A Hike Through Greenback Cutthroat Country

You know when you're really looking forward to something... but kind of try to lower your mind's expectations just in case? This was the scenario for Sunday's outing in Colorado, the morning after the Tenkara Summit.

I was to meet up with Adam Klagsbrun & Chris Zimmer for a full day on the trails and waters of Rocky Mountain National Park. Adam & I had set up this outing in advance a good month out, and after two half days of fishing, I really couldn't wait to get out and about in a much larger way. 

As you'll see, I was very fortunate. Lowering those expectations was a precaution I simply did not need to take. While I think the term is greatly overused and I try to remove it from my vocabulary, "EPIC" is the only way I can describe it.

After an early morning meetup up, we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park for that aforementioned day of fishing. Our original plan was to fish the Big Thompson River as it ran along the Fern Lake Trail.

However, much like in the other spots noted in my previous Colorado outings, there was a lot of fast water everywhere. We tried a few spots, but once we saw "The Pool," Adam, (playing the role of guide), suggested that instead of messing with the high water, we either leave the trail altogether and try somewhere else, or take the trail all the way up to Fern Lake (and perhaps beyond). We chose the latter and it proved to be a good call.

The hike up the trail to Fern Lake was stunning. There were so many scenic overlooks, a few cascades and waterfalls, and the air occasionally smelled of elk (although we only saw deer). Good conversation made the travel seem to go by relatively fast (even though we did have to stop a few times so I could catch my breath). 

While my sea level lungs were on fire by the time we reached Fern Lake, once the trees parted it became an afterthought as we were greeted by some eye-popping surroundings.

It was also great to actually see the greenback cutthroat trout before we tried to fish for them (as if I needed re-assurance all that hiking wasn't going to be for naught). Looking down from a small footbridge that crossed the lake's outflow, you could easily see them holding in the current.

On to fishing!

We headed along the shoreline and all got into fish relatively quickly. It took me a little bit to get comfortable casting my tenkara rod around the trees and such, but I did get rewarded with my first cutthroat of the trip. (Which incidentally may have been my smallest of the day).

Eventually, we made it to a section of the lake that had a inflow from a small feeder creek.

There was a nice rocky shore with no overhanging trees, so we sort of made that area and its immediate banks "base camp" for a few hours. That creek must have been a primary highway of food into the lake because the fish were just stacking up in the current and ravenously feeding. We all caught more than our fair share in that particular spot. 

While I stuck with my tenkara rod, both Adam & Chris also brought ultralight spinning outfits and found much success with those as well.

At that point, it was probably around 2 PM, so we had a choice to make, keep fishing Fern Lake for a little bit more and then head back to the car, or push on up the trail to  up to Odessa Lake. Well, we got this far, so it was a no-brainer to go up to Odessa.

The trail to Odessa was arguably even prettier than the trail to Fern Lake. There were a lot of heavily wooded areas, but eventually outflow appeared and it was some beautiful water to fish.

A few fish to hand, we eventually made it to Odessa Lake and we were pretty much the only people there. Solitude in nature. Doesn't get much better than that!

Much like Fern Lake, we found a section of the lake that was being fed by a creek, actually a small waterfall.

The fishing was similar to Fern Lake. The fish were holding in one general area taking whatever was flowing down those falls. The trick was they really couldn't be reached easily from the shoreline (at least with tenkara rods). They were popping like popcorn about 60 feet out. Luckily, the lake was relatively shallow and we could easily reach them by wading in to about our knees.

For a good stretch while the sun was out and the wind was calm, I think I easily caught a dozen fish on what seemed like virtually successive casts before the bite died off a bit when cloud cover rolled in. Even after it slowed, the fishing was still phenomenal. That spot was awesome. Adam definitely caught the biggest fish, and while the photo below doesn't do it justice, let's just say it was one FAT cutthroat!

Now a little after 5 PM, it was time to call it quits. More than content with our fish counts and perhaps a bit sunburned and hungry, we headed back down the trails to the car. The hour and a half hike out was long, but effortless. We had a full day of awesome memories to recollect, both those recounted on this blog, and a few best left hiding up in the Colorado altitude. :)

I had an absolute blast fishing with Adam and Chris, (thank you guys!), it was definitely one of those experiences I'll not soon forget and hope to get to do again some day. I really couldn't have asked for a better way to close out my amazing (albeit too brief) 2019 Colorado getaway.

About my fishing partners for the day... 

Adam Klagsbrun (Klags) is an extremely knowledgeable tenkara angler. He's a student of the sport and its techniques, even visiting Japan to learn directly from the source. He's truly a great dude to spend a day with. While he's probably best known in tenkara circles for "stirring the pot" on social media in the past, when you hang with the guy in person, he's awesome. Personable, respectful, intelligent, and a fantastic "guide." He can also forage a mean mushroom. Check out some of his writings over at Of Rock & Riffle.

I've known Chris Zimmer for almost as long as I've fished tenkara. He's the brains behind the Zimmerbuilt line of ultralight outdoor bags & packs. He's always been nice to chat up at tenkara events, but I never really got to spend much time with him, as I always felt loitering at his table would get in the way of him selling gear. This outing being away from the retail side of the biz, fishing with Chris was a pleasure. He's the type of persistent angler that dials himself in and won't say no until he catches that fish. Plus, he's an absolute beast on the high-altitude incline trails.

For More Colorado 2019: