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A Sunday To Be Thankful For

It's incredibly hard to have a bad day around here.

The alarm chirped at 6:00 AM last Sunday, roughly 15 minutes after I was already up and getting ready to go. Coffee was poured, bags were packed, and boots were tied tight. We love summer morning subalpine adventures and always feel lucky when we can get out for a trip. The morning was peaceful, yet energetic. The sun was already bright and the weather was warming quickly. Thunderheads began to build in the distance, providing the gift of urgency in an otherwise tanquilo weekend morning. By 6:30, we were on the road up the hill to a place we last visited in 2017.

We parked before the turn of the hour and were on the trail just early enough to fight the morning mosquitos. I'd like to thank bug spray for the support all of these years. The trailhead starts with a quick, steep climb. We bargained for breaths as our steps grew shorter and shorter, until we eventually flattened out to grab some water and air. As we regained composure, I took a peek around and found one of my favorite summertime treats -- huckleberries!

We gathered a few quick berry bites before setting back up the well-marked trail. As we mozied along, often stopping to enjoy the view or take pictures of cool nature stuff, the air grew colder and the plants grew damp. This summer has been abundant in rain for our mountains; sometimes beneficial, sometimes detrimental. We are fortunate to be in the former category and in turn, have enjoyed the fruits of a plentiful summer. We began getting into prime mushroom territory and before too long, we found our first King Bolete, also known as the Porcini mushroom.

I am a firm believer in the bounty that nature provides. We gathered some mushrooms along the way, leaving some behind for animals or other folks. As we picked and poked our way through the forest, we talked about what to do with the berries and mushrooms we've already found. We hadn't even tossed a line yet.

After a prolific foray through the woods, we finally got to our destination. It's hard to describe the magic of finally walking up to the lake you've set as the day's destination. We paused for a moment to soak in all the good juju before continuing along to the first spot of the day.

We settled down at a beautiful, spacious campsite and set up our rods. We both opted for 9-foot 5wt graphite rods for the day. I chose this standard trout rod for a couple of reasons:

  • Subalpine and alpine lakes often have tree cover close to the edge of the lake. Oftentimes you have to use a roll cast to get a fly out onto the ledge,

  • These rods handle dries, dry-dropper, and streamers very well. I suggest learning how these rigs can roll cast before trying them out up high,

  • I made my rod; it breaks down into seven pieces and fits well into my pack,

  • I only have three rods and this one is my "ol' reliable".

The first fly I tied on was a mini sized slumpbuster. Small streamers have been my first choice in the highlands this year and I've had some great results. As I rollcasted from the bank, I saw an immediate wake head towards my freshly drowned fly. The tradition of landing a fish on my first cast took over as I landed a beautiful colored-up brook trout.

Brook trout can be voracious in these lakes as their feeding window is much shorter than typical lakes, rivers, and streams. They will eagerly take almost any fly, but having a close match to anything on the surface is recommended. If they aren't taking on the top water, moving into the column with a dry-dropper opens up more windows of opportunity. If you're a dirty meat chucker like I have been as of late, animating your streamers with quick and fast strips taps into the predator instinct of brookies. I recommend bringing a little bit of everything in your fly box.

As I sent the fish back to the depths, Skylar fished a ways up from where I parked. I grabbed my gear and headed her way to snap some photos. As I approached, we witnessed something truly unique, that lends further to the insatiable hunger of brook trout:

Skylar had set into a brook trout on her dropper fly, when another broke surface to attack her dry. As the trout is mid-air, yet another brookie launches out of the water, deflecting the first, and taking the dry. These photos are from a moment that happened in less than a second; fish move quickly when there's food at their door. Wide-eyed and astonished, Skylar fought the two fish before the dry fly diner jumped ship. She netted the original brook trout and quickly released it back to the water.

We took a moment to appreciate the silliness of eager brookies. We've always had good luck tricking them into a take, but have never witnessed them selflessly flinging themselves at our flies. What a life.

Lunch hour set in not long after the brookie battle, and so did the cloud cover. We had already spent the morning reveling in nature's beauty, so we packed up and headed down the mountain (collecting more mushrooms and berries along the way).

We were so fortunate to have the experience, albeit simple, of hiking, foraging, and fishing that day. These are the days we live for and reminisce on most often - the days that begin with coffee, make you work for it, and provide amazing memories in return. We will certainly be back to this lake (especially because the trailhead is 15 minutes from home), but this day's memories will be with us until they are outdone.

Fish on, my friends.

NOTE: Please do not base any mushroom or berry identification on this blog. I am not responsible for your consumption of wild edibles, safe or otherwise. Be smart, research, and get out there.

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