Saturday, 31 January 2009

Jenny Lake Ski

We skied up to Jenny Lake along the base of the Tetons and back on the main trail. The weather started fantastic. By the time we reached the lake it had started to deteriorate. Clouds came in and the wind picked up significantly gusting to 30 MPH or so. By the route we traveled, the trip to the lake and back was about eight miles.

The parking lot was almost full when we arrived and filled up quickly while we geared up. There were a number of baby sleds (just visible in the right side of the photo above) being set up to tow babies on the groomed trail -- which pretty much looked like a highway.

With a population of just a hair over half a million people, Wyoming is geographically large but socially small. When we had just about reached the lake, we ran into Bronwyn and her husband. Bronwyn was at Art school with Penelope in San Francisco. This chance meeting four miles from the nearest road was a bit of a surprise.

Bronwyn and her husband skied back in the trees to avoid the wind. We'd skied out to the lake that way and so we returned to the parking lot on the main trail. The short video below shows Penelope skiing back to the truck in the weather. By the time we got out, the trail was quickly filling with windblown snow and the parking lot was nearly empty when we got there.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Snake River, Jackson Hole

Arrived in Jackson in the afternoon. Just enough time to walk around a bit and grab a bite before heading to the town ski trail along the Snake. The parking lot is on the east side of the bridge crossing the Snake river on the road to Wilson. It is a dog party place; We skied from about 4:30 until almost 6 and people were out in force on a warm evening walking their dogs. The trail has a track and is groomed for skate skiing too. Lots of joggers. Saw three moose. The ski up the river is just shy of two miles one way. Further up river is protected winter range for elk and moose.

When we arrived there were a couple of fly fishermen working the water on a little side stream of the snake just about the bridge. They said they were killing 'em on midges.

The Tetons are magnificent. Dave Pearson and I climbed the Grand Teton in 1993 (or was it 1992?) We arrived in Jackson in late June and there still was way too much snow. We had planned on doing the Direct Exum Ridge, but it was heavily iced and so we did the Owen Spalding route instead. At the Upper Saddle we ran into a guy who was soloing who asked if he could tag along on our rope, which we agreed to. Clouds were scudding by and as we exited the icy cracks to the summit they intensified. I lead up (still roped) to the summit first. And then I felt something on the top of my head, like some one gently scratching my scalp, but through my hat. And then I hear a bit of a humming sound. I realized that I was about to be hit bu lightening. I yelled down to Dave and Georgia I was coming down. I tossed the ice axe and rand down the snowfield off the top to a small rock ledge real quick, stacked some rope under me and crouched down. We were not hit and after the cloud passed we all three dashed to the summit. A few minutes later the same cloud passed over Mt Moran and let loose with many lightening strikes. We only stayed on the summit long enough to snap a photo and then got back down as fast a possible to avoid the next cloud which was approaching fast.

The Tetons are an amazing place.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Skiing Chimney Park again.

Six inches of new snow (finally) and it's still falling. We skied Chimney Park again today with the snow coming down. Bumped into Carlos and Teal in the parking lot. The video shows Carlos breaking trail. He passed us and disappeared into the falling snow. We only saw two other people besides him, Abby and her dog and an another woman we didn't recognize. After a while living here you start to get the feeling that you should know everyone you see.

We skied the Jelm loop, about 4 miles. Made a mistake at one point (forgetting the map seems to be standard procedure) and ended up coming back on our own tracks and missing what promises to be the best part of the loop. Next time.

The air temperature was, I guess, around 22°F. I waxed up about the middle half of the Tuas with Swix Extra Blue which proved to be too soft a wax and too much wax, I guess. I was OK to start, but as we skied farther along the trail they performed worse and worse. Little or no glide at all and occasional sticking. This can be pretty frustrating. We stopped and I scraped the bottom down and re-corked which made them a bit better, for a while. Then the sun came out for a while and the skis started picking up even more. I don't really know what was going on, seemed like the Blue should have been just the ticket, but I do not have a thermometer to measure snow temps, just looked at the outside thermometer before we left. The snow buildup on the bottom of the ski continued so I stopped again and scraped a bit more off and rubbed some glide wax on, things worked much better after that. Pen's skis were picking up some snow too. The moral of the story is that there may be an advantage to the waxless fish scale skis like the Rossignol Randonees Pen is skiing on, but the mystery of alchemy is not there with a waxless ski. For now, I'll stick with wax and play alchemist. Lesson learned: when in doubt, go with the harder kick wax.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Skiing Chimney Park

Penelope and I skied Chimney Park today in spring temperatures. There's a decent base of two to three feet and we skied the five mile Porter Loop.
Chimney Park is about six miles from the house, at much higher elevation and in the forest so, while the snow is pretty much gone down here in the sage country at around 7600 feet, there is still plenty of snow up at almost 9000 feet.

Our ski touring equipment is all 15 years old or more. Penelope is skiing on a pair of 200 cm Rossignol waxless skis with a fish scale pattern which do pretty well in the warm conditions. They have a beefy old Chouinard 3 pin binding and she is wearing leather Asolo Snowfield boots. I was on a (borrowed - thanks Joe) pair of Tuas that have a Rainey Superloop cable binding and I'm also wearing a beefy pair of Asolo leather boots. The Tuas were waxed with Swix Red Silver for the warm conditions. This worked incredibly well until the end of the loop when temps were up around 47° and the snow in sun was getting slushy. But by then the fishscales weren't doing that much better.

The trails are cut through some gently rolling country in Medicine Bow National Forest near Fox Park. This is lodge pole pine forest and it is just starting to get hit by the pine bark beetle. I expect that within a few years all the trees here will be dead. You can see some of the red/brown trees in the background of the photo of me on the trail.

The great thing about Laramie (as opposed to more popular and chic places in the mountain west) is that there are no people. Skiing midday on a holiday weekend, we ran into eight other skiers total. Of course, if you don;t want to see anyone, you are not restricted to the trails and can ski just about anywhere up there, but it is nice to not have to break trail, and easier for the dogs; we had Erdos with us (and Aldo was visiting too.) There is more spectacular skiing up in the Snowy Range but that is a 20 mile drive. We'll save that for after we've more firmly got our ski legs under us.

We saw a few squirrels and a rabbit. The elk and deer move down out of the forest onto their winter range which is more open. The moose don't seem to mind the snow and although we did not run into them, there is a cow moose and her calf living in the Chimney Park area whose fresh tracks and droppings are everywhere.

Skiing is an ancient mode of travel dating back to prehistoric times; men have been skiing for 6000 years. Moving through the forest on skis is very special. When conditions are right you glide over the snow and at moments seem to just fly.

Proper Impetus

Datus Proper was a retired Foreign Service officer who wrote What the Trout Said: About the Design of Trout Flies and Other Mysteries, one of the best books ever published on fly tying. That's saying something since fly fishing and fly tying literature are some of the earliest books published in the English language. The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, attributed to Dame Juliana Berners, was published as part of the second edition of The Boke of St. Albans in 1496.

Sometime in the late 1980's, browsing the shelves in the Ben Franklin Bookshop in Nyack NY, I ran across a copy of Proper's Pheasants of the Mind: A Hunter's Search for a Mythic Bird; until I held it n my hand, I did not know it existed. I did know that beside his fly tying book, Proper had written a travel book about Portugal but I was completely unaware of his bird hunting book and, in a real way, it changed my life.  It was reading Proper's Pheasant book that was the impetus for me to buy a shotgun and hunt game birds; for fly tying materials and to eat wild meat.

As far as I can tell, aside from a blurred and tiny reproduction of the same image, the photograph above may be the only  photograph  of Datus Proper on the web. I photographed the back flap of his Designing Trout flies to get it.

Datus Proper died on July 27 in 2003 while fishing near his home in Montana at age 69. It was a kind of freak fishing accident; fishing with a friend, but alone at the moment, he apparently fell, hit his head on a rock and drowned in shallow water. He had an erudite appreciation of sporting traditions, fine firearms, hunting dogs, good cooking and fine food. Although I never met him myself I miss him.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

North Platte at Grey Reef

Fished the North Platte at Grey Reef with Garrett on Sunday. The weather was supposed to provide spring like temperatures, forecast to get as high as 62°F. Garrett and I have fished at Grey reef a number of times and typically know how to catch fish there. I caught a 27" rainbow there years ago and on Sunday I hooked three and landed two around 18" and Garrett hooked four and landed three. One of his was huge, estimated at 25". He kept a measured 21 1/2" fish at the end of the day and the one he released was significantly larger. The photo above is of the larger fish. These fish proved to be redemption for our failure earlier this month on the South Platte at Deckers Colorado.

Grey Reef is one of the hottest fishing spots in the west and we were not alone fishing there, though it was not crowded by Grey Reef standards. American Angler magazine called it the number one big fish destination in the world. That kind of publicity tends to attract some people. Most of the license plates are WY and CO and there was one from NY. Typically, the fishing is rather technical and it is another situation where tiny flies mostly rule the day. All of the fish I hooked up with took a size 22 or smaller fly. I talked to a few other anglers, none of them hooked up at all. Streamers are also reported to work, but I've never tried them myself.

The day was beautiful if a bit colder than expected. When the clouds cleared off in the afternoon the colors in the river were extraordinary and the day warmed up to around 52°F. There was even a few moments around 2 PM when the midges started coming off, though the hatch didn't last long enough to bring the fish up.

Flows were around 550 CFS which is about as low as it gets. Flows can be as high as 2000 CFS. In higher flows, the rocks where the photos above were taken are spots where we have caught good fish. The river has a dramatically different character with these vastly different flows.

I forgot my camera and the photos shown here were taken with Fuji disposable cameras with prints written to a CD. The photos are not the quality I get with the Canon G9 but they are not bad.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Tiny Flies

It can be difficult to comprehend how small a fly really could be. The photo shows a few of the flies out of my midge box (click on the photo for an enlarged image.) They are really really small. With my eyes, I need a magnifier to tie them and reading glasses and a hemostat are almost required to tie them on a tippet to fish them. I forgot the reading glasses the other day on the South Platte and managed to tie them on without them, but it wasn't easy.

In the tailwater fisheries of the west, tiny flies are essentially required. These are the streams that flow out of bottom release dams and therefore offer the fish a year round consistent water temperature. In the summer it's nice and cool and in the winter it is relatively warm. The bottom release temperatures may actually be too cold to be optimal for trout, say as cold as 39-40°F. But some dams, like the one at Flaming Gorge in Utah on the Green River are designed to mix water from various levels to provide optimal temperatures for trout growth, around 50°F. And indeed, there are more trout per mile in the Green below Flaming Gorge than any other river on the continent. These dams simulate the great spring creeks like the Henry's Fork of the Snake and Silver Creek both in Idaho. Other great tailwaters beside the Green include the Bighorn in Montana below the Yellowtail dam, the San Juan in New Mexico below the Aztec dam and the North Platte below Grey Reef. There are more. I think of the Big Horn, the Green and the San Juan as the big three.

Because these waters provide such uniform temperatures, they grow huge trout. On the other hand, the aquatic bug life is pretty much restricted to smaller bugs; Chironomids (the midges), and a couple of species of smaller mayflies; Baetis (Blue Winged Olives) and Tricorythodes (Tricos).

Since these tailwater rivers have so many fish, they're fished hard and generally have mostly catch and release regulations in force. On the North Platte, you can keep one fish over 18" (I think) and similar rules apply on other rivers. That means that in a lifetime, most of these fish are caught many times, and that makes for so-called educated fish. They stick to eating the natural foods that are in the stream and maybe once can be tempted to take a bit of some larger buggy thing that they've never seen before. When they do, they learn quickly not to. They key into the natural foods available, and that is pretty much all they will take. They'd eat a real worm, but regulations in these places usually restrict the choice to artificial flies or flies and artificial lures only. Some places even make a restriction that the hooks must be barbless.

Anyway, there are lots of big fish, and they're feeding constantly and exclusively on the tiny aquatic insects; on the nymphal (mayfly) or larval (chironomid) forms underwater and on the winged adults when there is a hatch and they come to the surface.

I was on the San Juan a few years ago and when I started fishing, around 9 AM or so, there was a older guy fishing in the best spot on Texas Hole. This is a deep hole just by the parking area with an astounding number of really really large trout; mostly rainbows. Texas hole fishing is done combat style, shoulder to shoulder, and altough it's less than an acre in size, all the drift boats stop to fish it for a while too. Anyway, this older guy was in perhaps the best spot to fish the hole; in the braided water that flows in on the south side. I fished upriver most of the day and around 4 PM I was wandering back to the parking lot and saw the same older man wading out of the good spot. He'd been there all day. I decided that, well, since the best spot was opening up, why not fish it for a bit. As he walked out, I asked him how he'd done. He was disgusted. Amazingly, with huge trout continually feeding literally right at his feet, he hadn't caught a single fish all day! People all around him were regularly catching them, and he hadn't hooked one. He was about to explode. I asked him what he was using. "Oh, my best fly." He showed me a pattern called a halfback which is a brown fly about an inch and an half long. A great stonefly imitation, but useless on the San Juan. He added hopefully, "It always works on the White River back in Arkansas." I showed him some of the tiny midge patterns, and gave him a couple to use the next day. "But how the hell do you tie 'em on?" He asked. I just shrugged and told him that if he wanted to catch a fish, he'd have to use what they were eating. I stepped into his spot and hooked up right away with a 20" rainbow and caught a half a dozen more before I decided it was time to quit and go get some dinner.

My favorite reference for tying tiny flies is Ed Engle's book Tying Small Flies. Even on these small flies different tiers exhibit different styles. I like Ed's style.

Sometimes it's only the teeny tiniest of flies that will enable you to catch a big trout.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Winter Fly Fishing

I fished the South Platte River near Deckers Colorado with Garrett yesterday. The fishing itself wasn't great, but winter flyfishing is always an adventure. Someone once said that fly fishing was the best excuse for standing around in rivers. Standing around in a river in a gentle snow fall is even better. And if there is the expectation of catching a big trout, all the better.

Deckers is not such an easy place to get to. Last time I was there was in the late 70's to climb with Don Hamilton. We climbed at Turkey Rocks for a few days after a disastrous trip to the Bugaboos in British Columbia. We'd backed off the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, a beautiful route put up by a bunch of older Gunkies in 1958. We were traveling in my little Subaru and, rather than drive home to NY from the Bugs, Don said, "Let's go climb at Turkey Rocks." I didn't even know where it was. "Colorado, not to far." We arrived in South Platte about twenty hours later. It is to far. There was no one there then. We hadn't seen anyone else for days when, walking along the base of rocks looking for a climb, we heard familiar voices. It was Ivan Rezucha and Annie, friends from the Gunks. A casual hello was exchanged and we didn't see them again until we were back at the Gunks.

During winter, the fish are mostly eating midges (Chironomids). These are mosquito sized aquatic insects and for these educated fish to take a fly, it has to be a damn good imitation. If you are lucky (we weren't) there is a short hatch of these insects during the warmest part of the day and if the fish key in on them, you have a chance to actually catch one on a very tiny dry fly. Mostly, if fish aren't rising, you fish a pair of imitations of the larval form underwater. The classic midge imitation is the South Platte Brassie which is just a bit of fine copper wire wrapped around a very small hook, maybe with a tuft of some dubbing wrapped on the head to represent the hard and gills. I fished yesterday with a size 22 metalic bodied green midge and a larger size 20 brassie as the dropper. I was using two #6 split shots about a foot above the flies to get them down into the little troughs where the winter fish are most likely to be. The size 20 brassie was a monster in comparison.

We fished hard for about three or four hours and neither of us managed to raise a fish. We did see some other anglers, and Garrett talked to one local after seeing him hook, land and release one decent, but not extraordinary sized fish. His advice, "Go home."