On the day before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, we headed for the high country in search of late-summer brook trout. This is the best time of the year for mountain lakes. The mosquitoes are gone, and so are the summer crowds. And the brook trout are turning their bright fall-spawning colors.
The lake was slow in the morning, but when the wind picked up a bit and put a chop on the water, the fishing turned on. At one point, I must have landed nearly a dozen fish on a dozen casts.
Sam fared well, too, and put on a clinic on how to release brook trout, as evidenced in the above video.
With fall rapidly approaching, there won't be much time left for high-country brook trout. It's only a matter of time before the mountains get their first coating of snow.
For an upland bird hunter, making a double on grouse is the equivalent of hitting a homerun, kicking a 50-yard fieldgoal, or scoring a menage a trois.
It happens, but not very often.
Skill, of course, is involved, but so is luck. Both elements merged for me this morning on a blue-grouse outing.
Blue grouse have a knack for quickly disappearing into trees, so doubles are rare. Today, though, two blues flew out of the bottom of a side canyon with nothing between me and them but blue sky.
I kept my cheek pressed to the gunstock, swung smoothly through the shot, and two blues were on the ground. I picked up the closer one while Xena made a nice retrieve on the farther bird.
A little later she put up another bird (or maybe more) but I only heard it flush in the trees and never saw it. That's more typically the case with blues.
While a double is special, I've made enough that I don't remember many of them. However, my two triples are etched in deep memory. Both were on prairie birds with no trees to get in the way.
In 1984, my 9-month-old English setter Georgia went on point in the middle of a huge flock of sage grouse. About 20 birds rose at once, and I just kept pumping my Model 12 blam, blam, blam until three sage grouse were in the dirt. (Note: the limit was three back then.)
The next triple was two years ago when Xena went on point and three sharptailed grouse came up. The Model 12 gave a repeat performance, and I notched my second triple.
A lot of hunters use nothing but a double barrel shotgun. Unless they hit two birds with one shot (which can happen), they are limited to only the possibility of a double.
In case you haven't heard, beetles have killed millions of pine trees in the Rocky Mountains. The devastation can be seen in most national forests of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Mountainsides often have more dead, red lodgepole pines than live, green trees. The beetle-killed forests aren't pretty but have made for easy firewood gathering in recent years. This weekend, though, I got a taste of the future of hiking in our new forests, and it wasn't good. On a hike to a lake that I had never been to, I had to climb over and around numerous trees that had fallen across the trail. At times, the detour around trees was so long that I had a little trouble finding the trail again. Most of the popular trails in our local national forest are pretty well maintained for downed trees, but a trail crew hadn't been on this route for a while. The situation will only worsen as more dead trees fall from high winds, heavy snow or their roots rotting out. On windy days, it might be a good idea to just stay out of the forest. As for the lake, it was a small body of water set in a high alpine ridge. A few fish rose, but I only managed to catch one brook trout. I ran into a bowhunter with a decent six-point bull he downed that morning. The weather was sunny and cool, a harbinger of fall days to come. The trees, though, are what I will remember most about this particular hike.
Notes from the first night of the Snowy Range Music Festival in Laramie, Wyo. Best band: Chubby Carrier brought down the house with his zydeco sound. As one of his songs said, "Ain't no party like a chitlin' party." The audience: Definitely an AARP crowd. First show ever that I sat next to a retired guy. (You rock, Pete, you old hippie!) Best song: Neville Brothers doing "Drift Away." Great song (originally by Dobie Gray) performed by a great singer (Aaron Neville). Best beer: Borracho, a Mexican brew I hadn't tried before. Reminded me of Fat Tire but better. Best bartenders: At the Bailey's stand. Where did they get these women? An escort service in Denver? Best female artist: Dana Fuchs by default. She was the only one. And she was hot. Best boobs: I don't want to touch this one but I need it as a lead-in to my next category. Did I mention Dana Fuchs was hot? Best man boobs: No contest - Aaron Neville. Dude, you used to be ripped in a prison sort of way. But now gravity is having its way with you. Get rid of those tight T-shirts! Best food: Fish and chips from Norman's food cart. Tomorrow night's headliner is Michael Franti and Spearhead. Should draw a younger crowd and could turn into an herb fest.
My dog turned 9 last month, and I become a 60-year-old in a few months. Neither of us are spring chickens any more.
I've been hunting blue grouse for nearly 30 years, and it's never been easy. Blues live in the mountains and hunting them requires a lot of walking up, down and back up again. But the alpine country they inhabit keeps drawing me back every season, whether I find grouse or not.
Such was the case this morning, opening day of the 2011 upland bird season. I hit the same spot as last year because it's relatively close to town, has a cold creek flowing at the bottom of the canyon, and sometimes even holds a few birds.
The grouse were there this morning. Xena pointed a covey of young birds and I managed to scratch one down. She made a spirited retrieve of the wounded bird, and the new season was off to a successful start for both of us.
I noticed my dog wasn't ranging as far away from me as usual. She seemed to be a step or two slower than in the past, like a veteran NFL receiver who still has a nose for the goal line, but just takes a bit longer reaching it.
I also noticed my surgically repaired knee ached, along with my lower back that's been sore since a backpacking trip three weeks ago.
We took a lot of breaks, climbing down to the creek bottom so Xena could drink the icy water and lie in it to cool down on the hot day. I filled up my hat with the refreshing liquid and poured it over my head. Then we headed back uphill.
This will be an interesting season hunting with an old dog. Xena will get baby aspirin after each hunt to try to keep her aches and pains in check. I'll take Aleve for the same reason.
We won't set any speed records this fall, but hopefully we each have learned enough tricks from many years of hunting together to put a few more birds in the game pouch.
When I was a kid, my grandfather always told me to fish in the rain. That's when they would really bite. We'd sit through drenching downpours no matter whether it was in a boat fishing for smallmouth, a creek fishing for trout or a bog filled with 6-inch bullhead. If the rain was really bad, we might put arm and head holes in a garbage bag and wear it. But we'd keep fishing. I still believe in fishing in the rain, although these days I'm usually better prepared with breathable raingear. However, I now think the period right AFTER it rains is often the most productive. That was the case this week when I was fishing a nearby river. Brown trout were hitting all morning on woolly buggers, but when it clouded up, the action picked up. During a rainstorm, I kept fishing and caught a few nice ones. But for about a half hour after the rain, a hatch of drakes came off like gangbusters. I switched to a drake nymph and got into the brownies on that. Even though the hatch was heavy, I only saw a couple fish rise. But they were taking the emergers, particularly with the Leisenring Lift technique. If there's a lot of lightning close by, I usually take shelter when fishing during a rainstorm, no matter how great the fishing is. Otherwise, I still believe in my grandfather's advice.
For our summer ski trip Saturday, I wanted to rig up my Flip video camera as a hat cam to get some action footage. First, I rigged it up over the bill of my cap, using a headband to secure it. The Flip didn't fall out when I tested it on a run, but the only footage I got was of clouds and sky. The camera was just mounted too high on the hat to shoot the snow.
Next, I put the hat on backwards and again used the headband to hold the camera.
That tactic didn't work for long. Without the cap's bill to support the camera, the Flip slipped out on my first turn and landed in the snow.
As a result, the video du jour is your standard fare, albeit a cinematic tour de force.
But I'll keep trying to perfect the hat cam. Maybe some duct tape?
My old friend Jan, that Soul Skier from Montana, traveled south this weekend for some extreme backcountry ski action. His timing couldn't have been better. Highway 130 over the Snowy Range finally opened Friday afternoon, just in time for a Saturday mountaineering trip up Medicine Bow Peak.
We experienced good spring snow conditions, marred only by the unexpected appearance of some snowmobilers, who befouled the air and the solitude.
Undaunted by the interruption, we managed to put together two sick telemark runs, and found some previously unskied (by us, anyway) lines.
To paraphrase the late Randy "Macho Man" Savage, we felt the madness.
If you've followed the Hullabaloo for long, you know I like to flyfish for carp. Fifteen to 20-pound Hoover-mouths on the long pole are about as close to saltwater flyfishing as I'm likely to get.
I even bought a saltwater rod with a fighting butt a few years ago as my go-to carp rod.
But the most important part of carp-flyfishing gear, I've learned, is your backing. Be sure to have enough of it and be sure it's not tangled.
Today, I learned that lesson the hard way. A big carp was on a long run, steadily peeling 7-weight line off my reel. Finally, he reached the backing and the screech of my reel went silent - my backing was tangled.
I waded deeper into the lake hoping to turn the bruiser, but he must have sensed a weakness and made another big run. My line went slack and I reeled in a flyless leader.
So tonight, one of my chores is to fix my backing problem.
I checked out a small lake in Colorado today that was reputed to contain a variety of warmwater species. It was 88 summerlike degrees, so I eschewed the waders and went wet - shorts and wading shoes. Casting a small stimulator, it didn't take long to hook up with a bluegill. I don't remember the last time I caught one of these sporty little guys, but it had been a while. Too long, really. They pounced on the stimmie when it was floating, and hammered it when I stripped it subsurface. In the shallow water, I'd sometimes see a wake coming from 20-30 feet away as the bluegill streaked toward the fly. After moving to the south end of the lake, green sunfish got into the game. These beautiful panfish are the memories of my youth, fishing off my grandparents' dock. Considering it was snowing in Wyoming just two weekends ago, the warm water was just what the doctor ordered. The 'gills and sunnies were a welcome bonus.
We were wondering where the ranch dogs went. Several years have passed since Sam and I last saw the two big, white dogs at a Colorado lake we sometimes fish. They always seemed old, so we suspected the ranch dogs might have passed on to whatever heaven it is that dogs deserve. The ranch dogs are legendary creatures to us. They first achieved that status thanks to a drunken loudmouth who told a nervous couple at the lower lake that the approaching ranch dogs were nothing to worry about, and they "keep the wolves away." Apparently, the ranch dogs do a helluva job since there hadn't been any wolves seen in Colorado for over 100 years. The dogs live at a ranch in a creek bottom between two popular fishing lakes. They like to visit the lakes occasionally to beg for handouts and snacks. Presumably, they also are patrolling for wolves. There's a second story in their legend. I was fishing at the upper lake one day when the ranch dogs showed up. A woman with a foo-foo poodle was afraid to let her precious out of the SUV with the wolf-killers lingering outside her car door, waiting for a piece of sandwich or some Tostitos. She finally drove off angrily, flipped me the bird, and cursed at me to keep my damn dogs on a leash. I tried in vain to explain they weren't my dogs, but she would hear none of it. I was glad to see the ranch dogs today, as well-fed and unkempt as ever. They are part of the total experience when fishing these two lakes. In a way, they seem partly like my dogs. And, come to think of it, I had no problem with wolves today.
Usually, the Ph.D. of Ski and I skin up Medicine Bow Peak for a few backcountry runs on Memorial Day. But this year, Highway 130 to the base of Bow Peak is still closed due to the deep mountain snowpack. So, instead we decided to hit the closed Snowy Range Ski Area. We had the place to ourselves except for some drunken college kids who showed up in the afternoon with sleds and energy. We braved the wind, sun, snow, clouds and other spring weather conditions for three runs, Marty on AT gear and me on telemark skis. The snow was mostly mid-deep slush, but conditions approached the mythical corn snow in places. Even though it wasn't our first choice, a day at Snowy Range turned out to be all we needed.
While I was fishing a lake for smallmouth bass today, I had some unexpected company. I had kicked my float tube out to an island, and then walked the shoreline casting a crayfish pattern. As I was working my way down the shore along a 12-foot cliff riddled with swallow nests, a snake surprised me from about 10 feet away. As always, I first suspected he was a buzzworm until closer inspection revealed no rattles on the end of his tail. I think he was a bull snake, about 3.5 to 4 feet long. I watched him slither up the cliff and work in and out of the swallow holes. He was probably looking for eggs, baby swallows or an adult, if he should trap one in the nest. I never saw him catch anything, but the swallows were not happy with his presence. They kept divebombing the cliff, but were careful not to get too close to a hungry reptile. The only other time I observed a snake hunting cliff swallow nests was on the Smith River in Montana, but that time it was a prairie rattler. I didn't mind sharing the island with a bull snake today. A rattler would be different.
If you only catch one fish in a day, it might as well be a memorable one.
That's what happened today when I caught my first Wyoming trout of the year. I traveled to a lake where some friends had a banner outing last week. Armed with their information on what flies to use, where to fish and how to fish, I felt confident of repeating their success.
Of course, that didn't happen. Two days of snow in the intervening period had totally changed conditions. I cast futilely for about 90 minutes before moving to the boat ramp where I thought rainbows might be attempting to spawn.
The fish were there and on my second cast to a cruising 'bow, the big boy turned and went right for my egg/chironomid combo. After a short battle, a guy fishing nearby netted the fish for me and also shot some video of my poorly executed release.
The 24-incher turned out to be my only fish, indeed my only strike, of the day. But it could well turn out to be the biggest trout I catch all year.
It took four months and three days, but I finally caught my first fish of 2011 today. I must admit that I had only been on the water twice so far this year. But usually I've caught a few, if not a lot, of trout by now. The cold, windy weather this spring has kept me indoors, however, and the fishing has been slow anyways.
This morning, I headed to one of my favorite lakes where I almost always have success. Many times, this lake has produced 30 or more fish in a day. So I was optimistic.
It was cold and windy when I arrived - no big surprise there. I started off with chironomids with no success. I switched to a beadhead prince nymph, again with no results. After lunch, I switched to the old, reliable Woolly Bugger and started getting some action.
Six brown trout and two cutthroats later, I was happy. As a bonus, I saw two bald eagles and a moose.
This spring has started out slowly for fishing. I've been out twice - one day for maybe an hour and the next for an hour and a half. It's just been too cold for me and for the trout, apparently.
But all the snow in the mountains during April means skiing is still good, as the Ph.D. of Ski and I found out Saturday, April 30, when we skinned up the slopes of the Snowy Range Ski Area.
We experienced the usual smorgasbord of Wyoming spring weather - sun, wind, clouds, snow - but also had 4-6 inches of new snow to shred. The base was sketchy in places, but solid in most, so we didn't have to ski very tentatively, but could let it rip.
There was some weirdness, of course. For some reason, a rake and several shovels were stuck in the snow on one slope. (You can see a rake briefly in the video.)
I assumed it was installation art. In any case, we didn't collide with any of the yard tools, and ended the day quaffing some microbrew in the Beartree Inn.
Every winter, I hope there is one day on the slopes that will be stored in my ever-shortening, long-term memory.
This winter, one day stood out. On a Wednesday morning, I checked Snowy Range's conditions and was amazed/skeptical to see 24 inches of new snow reported. It hadn't snowed at all in town.
I thought, "Screw work." I could get caught up that evening.
So I rousted Dave out of bed, and we headed west to check it out.
Once we reached Centennial, there was some new snow. As we climbed higher, the snow depth increased. But near the Forest Service Visitors Center, only one lane of Highway 130 was plowed. The other lane held at least 20 inches of new stuff. I could almost reach out the Toyota window and touch the snow.
As we rounded the corner before Barber Lake Road, there was a snowplow stuck off the highway, with another snowplow trying to tow it out. That's not something you see everyday, but was another sign that an epic ski day lay ahead.
Once the plow was back on the road, the two of them ran uphill, clearing both lanes at once. We pulled into the ski area parking lot and were not disappointed.
Snowy Range had not groomed any of the runs, and there was actually too much new snow on some of the less-steep slopes. Even on the steeper black diamonds, we could barely gain enough speed. I found it easier and faster to ski in other people's tracks, where there was only about 18 inches of snow that sloughed back in.
A few other shredders made it out that day, but it wasn't hard to find great snow anywhere on the mountain. It was a day that will not be soon forgotten.
Eric is retired and living in Laramie, Wyo. He taught journalism in the University of Wyoming's Communication and Journalism Department for 26 years. Before that, he worked at the Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle for 11 years.