No Bad Days in “the Bob”

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This summer provided lots of opportunities to hang out in the wilderness in the amazing west. The American wilderness means many things to many people but it has been defined in the Wilderness Act of 1964, in this way –  “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape … as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

This idea of being a visitor is important. In the Grand Canyon, for example, we never saw one trace of humanity – except of course the change in the river due to the Glen Canyon Dam. Every visitor who makes a trip down the Colorado knows not to leave a scrap of paper or even crumbs on the beaches of the Canyon. Everything that comes in, goes out – and that means everything!

We booked a second wilderness adventure over a year ago with Joe Sowerby’s Montana Flyfishing Connection. This trip took us to the South Fork of the Flathead River in Northwestern Montana, 30 miles in to the Bob Marshall Wilderness area by horseback and mule train for our supplies. This area has the distinction of being the first designated wilderness area in the country. The mules brought in tents, boats, the kitchen, food and any other supply needed for a week in the wild. It was actually a little embarrassing to see 13 mules in tandem for our “wilderness” trip.

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We had planned on getting some practice horseback riding throughout the summer, but were never able to fit it in – and we wish we had! We rode for eight hours on the first day and understood why cowboys often walk bow-legged. The next day we put in another eight hours! We camped for three nights at this site and took a day off riding and instead wade-fished for the day. I found a great hole that housed a large West Slope Cutthroat that I worked to catch all day, but he was way too smart for me. I caught lots of other beautiful 14-16 inchers, but I was on the hunt for the big daddy.

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We rode another seven miles the next day to get to Meadows Creek where there was an abundance of cutthroat and also humongous bull trout – although it was past season for fishing for them. They liked to chase our smaller cutties and fortunately, they didn’t latch on to any.

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On the 4th day, we climbed into our rafts and had 3 1/2 days to float down this pristine river. It’s known to be one of the most untouched rivers in the country and this certainly appeared to be the case. The water is gin-clear and you have to work not to catch a fish. There are occasional rapids that might seems challenging to some, but after our trip down the Colorado, everything is relative to those we had encountered there.

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Throughout our horseback ride up and float down, we observed a forest that had been decimated by forest fires – one as recently as Spring 2016 known as the Elk Creek Fire that had burned over 1000 acres.  Other fires over the last 25 years occurred in 2011, 2003, 1998 and 1981. The fireweed was abundant, signs that the forest is recovering and becoming alive again. It was a different kind of beauty – stark, haunting and hopeful.

It’s so easy to be present when on the water – the sounds, sights and smells. You leave behind all that doesn’t present itself in the moment. New friendships are made based on shared experiences and you walk out a different person. It is with great thanks to the guides and wranglers on this trip, for without them, I would have had to be a better hiker, a better boats person and a lot more knowledgeable about “the Bob.”  Cheers to all, especially old friends Canadians Myles and Duane and new friend Wyoming Anne.

Quite the Adventure

PoolLee’s Ferry, AZ. June 2016.

When my friend, Judy Poe, offered me two seats on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon in May 2015, I jumped at the opportunity. Even though I had a whole year to prepare for the trip, the time passed in a flash, and I found myself driving to Lee’s Ferry where my husband and I would launch.

The trip was organized through AZRA (Arizona Rafting Adventures), which did a top-notch job, but what made it special was that is was centered around the Klema family from Durango. Father Tom has been a river rafter his whole life; mother, Barbara, an incredible artist and outdoors woman; Matt and brother Nate are extreme adventurers – at least in my mind – having broken the record for making it through the Canyon in kayaks; sisters Julia and Mariah, are equally adventurous, with Julia serving as one of the oars women as well.

RaftsThe Klemas and 21 other clients took off in six rafts with all our gear, kitchen and food for two weeks. If you want a challenge in organization, just try that! Two other AZRA long-time guides – Kim and Somer – also joined us for the trip.

I was so gung-ho about this trip that I read every book I could find on the topic. One was “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko, who also came to speak at our library. I loved his book, but I was also made aware of some of the challenges we would face in the Canyon, namely, Lava Falls, with its 20 foot waves!

We took our fishing rods, but discovered that it was all the guides could do to get us down the river and through the rapids without also trying to get us over to the banks or other “fishy” spots. We tried casting a line in a side stream for part of a day, but didn’t see a fish on this trip. No worries, we have another adventure trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area in August.

peopleI could write a book about the two weeks we spent on the river. From temperature changes, to the geology, to the people, to how pristine the Canyon had been kept, to the hikes, the music, the rapids… oh yes, the rapids. I can’t believe I made it through the rapids. I loved the trip but I also realized how much a love my gentle river rafting trips that allow me to fish for mountain trout. Each to his own.

Enjoying Winter

Southwest Colorado has already reached 104% snowpack this winter, which is greatly welcomed after many years of less than normal snowfall. It’s been really cold since before the holidays, so the snow is still piled high on my deck. This week we have finally seen a warming trend, which has inspired me to get back to out on the river – in this case the San Juan.

Colorado BlueI have yet to fish for trout this winter, perhaps because I was spoiled by my second trip to the Bahamas in a year to do some bone fishing! (Better do it while we’re still working.)

 

Instead I’ve enjoyed snowshoeing up through the trees in Hermosa and Haviland Lake with deep blue Colorado skies as a canopy.

It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about rivers. I wonder how the Animas is doing after the mine leak last year. All reports indicated that the river has done quite well, but you’ve got to wonder about a river that turns the color of cheap mustard.

I’m heading out this weekend to fish the San Juan in New Mexico with singer-songwriter Thomas Chacon who’s also a great guide. Serenaded on a river?

Guide and Friend Extraordinaire

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Marshall Whiting has had a life and a half and is alive and well to share all her challenges and successes. She has spent the last few decades in Telluride working as a therapist and playing as an angler. Although she is heading down to lower elevations in the near future, we were able to spend a weekend with them at their beautiful home in Telluride overlooking Wilson Peak, and then up to a “cabin” near the West Fork of the Dolores, near Dunton Hot Springs.

You know, some friends last a lifetime; some friends come into your lives fast and furious, leave an impression and don’t remain, and others you meet late in life and just want to squeeze every moment you can out of your time with them. Yes, that’s what I want with Marshall.

Telluride Weekend

I had the good fortune of meeting Becki and Marshall Pendergrass at the annual Colorado Trout Unlimited event in Redstone, CO earlier in the year. Becki had arranged a most extraordinary event for women at this event and I knew that I had made a new friend with this charming and giving woman.

Fast forward six months. I had a scheduled book signing in Telluride and Becky and her husband were going to the local TU fundraiser in town. Becki kindly arranged for us to stay at some friends of hers – Richard and Marshall Whiting.  For the TU fundraiser Marshall and Richard offered to take a couple fishing high up in the mountains near the West Fork of the Dolores, just south of Dunton – the high-end hot springs resort.

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Not only did we get to fish and chat and breathe in mountain air, we hired a mushroom guide and spent the better part of a day tracking down chanterelles. My husband and I remarked on how long it took for us to get in tune with the environment to spot these delicious edibles. But in tune we became and that evening we had a meal of fresh trout and chanterelles.

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We also fished at supposedly the highest gated community in the country at Hidden Lake – several miles above Trout Lake. This pristine wilderness preserve is surrounded by national forest and the lake houses some really nice rainbows. After hearing from our hosts for the weekend, my husband immediately went home and bought a smoker so we could cook the trout properly. It was the best trout we’ve ever tasted.

So, I’ve broken the spell of catch and release. Although it’s still my preference to release, I now salivate at the opportunity to eat one of these treasures.

It Really is About the Whitefish

November, 2015. Durango, CO  During my year on rivers, I had been told both that Whitefish were an insignificant catch and that they were a sign of a healthy river.

Mountain WhitefishThis  month’s Hatch magazine has a great article on Whitefish and their importance. As they say in the article, ““If you don’t have a healthy population of whitefish, you don’t have a healthy population of trout.” They really are a rather “cute” fish with their puckered mouths. You can’t help but want to kiss them… kind of.

The one thing I really don’t like about catching Whitefish is how difficult it is to take the hook out of their very soft mouths. I’m not skilled enough or quick enough to avoid causing the fish to have a very bad day.

In the end, I’m just happy to catch a fish, and to be honest – I can’t really control what goes on under the surface of the water at this point in my fishing career.