Sunday, May 31, 2015

Brookies and High Peaks in the Dix Wilderness, Part 1

For Memorial Day Weekend, a few of the usual Peak Enjoyers and I took some time off of work to head into the backcountry. The plan was to explore the Dix Wilderness, hike a few peaks, and circumnavigate a pond and explore a few streams.

I was particularly keen on finding some High Peaks Brookies. Contrary to most peoples' beliefs, the Adirondacks are on the road to recovery from the crushing acid-rain damage caused a long time ago.

While the largest fish remain in the lakes and ponds of the Adirondacks, the streams that flow in and out of them can hide reasonable populations of fish. We started our hike in with the promise of a light drizzle and a guarantee of below-freezing temperatures at night.

At first we thought we might get away with a warmer evening than forecast. We walked down the trail and passed a few streams that must have been feeders to Elk Lake.

We got to our intended campsite and set up at the "camp here" disc. Unless you're at the disc, you must be 150 feet from the trail or water. This campsite put us a little closer to the stream, which makes for a beautiful campsite and for me, a better night's sleep.  

I snapped a few photos and fished for a moment. I got a few hits but nothing landed. At least it gave me an opportunity to see what was there... very small brookies. A good sign. It was tough to hook any and I soon diverted my attention to building the fire and eating some dinner.

Someone had set up a frame to hold a tarp and trap some heat, potentially over the winter. There was a deep fire pit and we made that our home base for the weekend. It started to snow as soon as we had our dinner. Typical memorial day weekend in the mountains.

After going to bed before midnight, I awoke around 2:15 am shivering. I put on all my layers, extra socks, a hat, and zipped up my sleeping bag and closed up the top around my head. That did the trick just well enough and I went back to sleep for a bit. 

The cold settled in and the morning was just as bad. I was awake again just as the sun was coming up. I made some hot chocolate and got the fire started again.

 There was ice coating a lot of things around the stream. But the sun's warmth was quickly taking effect on the surrounding area.

We decided to save the peaks for the warmer of the two days, and set out down the stream to explore and fish, as well as to find a waterfall on our map...

This meant crossing a brushy lowlands swamp in the ADK - not an easy task. We were all eager to strengthen our map and compass skills for future trips into the wilderness.

We started down the stream toward the pond we intended to cross below. 

There were beautiful spots for fishing and for taking it all in.

The air was incredibly clean and smelled of pine and earth. There was a gentle breeze all day and the cooler temperatures kept the bugs mostly at bay.

We chose our destination and turned away from the stream to head below and around the pond.

The brush was thick, the undergrowth was starting to get tight, but it was early enough and surprisingly dry enough that we were able to pull this off without an issue.

There were isolated pools and channels of water that ran through the swamp. Along the way we spooked a few fish of varying sizes. I got excited... more evidence of the fish I knew were here, even at higher altitude.

We emerged from the thicket right where we needed to be, aiming for that low ridge straight ahead.

The views were epic. The drier lower part of the pond was mucky, but just strong enough for a crossing. After some fun hopping around logs and figuring out where to put our feet without sinking in, we made the crossing and headed into another thicket on the other side.

After emerging from that thicket and underneath a large, segmented beaver dam, we found a prime stream-side spot to eat some food and fish.

This pool below the beaver dam was deep. It held a few larger brookies in the 10-12 inch range. Most of the others were 5-9 inches. I tried a few flies and couldn't get any strong takes. The one good take I had was a miss.

Down the way I landed some small ones near the larger rocks that were being used for cover.

We moved on but decided not to push on to the farther stream and waterfall we had originally planned to find. It had taken a long time to bushwhack and we still had a ways to go around the pond before we could find the trail and get to our site again.

Heading into the woods on the other side of the pond, we followed the bottom of the hills just above the wetlands to avoid the thicker growth. Using the mountains around us we navigated to a specific point and then cut back to our right and though the forest again.

Emerging from the woods we crossed the headwaters that feeds the pond and knew we were on the right track. As if on cue, a few moments later, we were back on the trail and heading towards camp.

The top of the pond was the nicest view of it all day, and we stopped to enjoy.

But I was more keen on walking up the stream near camp and fishing it for little brookies. I knew that the water temperature was warmer and that the fish would be feeding again in the evening and I started working my way up as soon as I got back.

I was getting hit after hit, but a combination of a long rod and too much slack in the line, with the fact that the bead head flies I had (the only ones getting regular action in the water) were just a bit too big, meant that I only landed 3 fish.

The nicest fish of the evening (and the trip, I should mention) was also one of the nicest fish I think I've ever caught, if we are talking about unique colorations and overall appearance. This Brookie was the king of its pool, was clearly older than its size appeared, and displayed the colors of a much larger fish.

Like many of the other Brookies I saw up there, this one had very pronounced purple cheeks and a deep purple undertone along the body. It was just brilliantly colored. These photos do it no justice. I quickly released it back into its pool and watched it run back to the large rock shelf it called home.

That evening I had a headache and hit the sack on the early side. I fell asleep to the sound of the stream, knowing that the next day held more adventures - high peaks, more brookies and one of the most beautiful views in the high peaks wilderness.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Genryu in the Catskills: fishing the headwaters of one of the most respected trout rivers in the northeast USA

Last weekend was a bit of an adventure. It was Mother's day, yes, but my mother happens to be in another country and so I found myself free for the weekend. I wanted to fish "Genryu" or headwaters for wild trout.

 I sent a Mother's day note via email and headed off with a friend in a similar situation, to explore the headwaters of one of the most famous trout rivers in the northeast - and certainly in New York State.

Other than the bugs being completely relentless, we were in for a prime weekend in the mountains. The ferns were just coming up, providing me with some nice zenmai, or fern-fuzz to try to tie a few more kebari with the stuff. Still haven't had a chance to try one out yet.

The spring flowers were in bloom, but I sense they would have been even more plentiful had more rain fallen in April.

The forest was hot - the trees were waiting for that spring rain and held back their leaves from emerging as they seemed to want to do so badly. Our first stream crossing was welcome.

This small tributary to the river we were hiking towards was my first opportunity to fish. It was mostly small enough to jump across. That was not reflected in the numbers of wild brookies hooked in a 10 minute break.

They took everything from bead-heads to dries and were all small, between 4 and 7 inches each.

We moved on and hiked another mile or maybe less to the second feeder stream, which was more productive and held slightly larger fish. 

I was enjoying really getting some time with dry flies, the first real weekend of the season that I was seeing the fish rise readily to them in all the riffles and pools.

Beautiful flowers lined the banks of each stream we encountered.

 At this point we decided to hike on to the headwaters of the main river we were there to camp along-side of, and it wasn't far away. We crossed this beautiful mossy creek that flowed from a pond.

When we arrived at the headwaters, there was a riffle section that I fished up to this calm pool. There were few fish here, and they were very easy to spook.

Further up river there were some beautiful rock formations.

Right before the trail started to gain a little elevation, we noticed a large beaver dam created by a split in the river.

I couldn't resist the urge to fish it. While I got lots of little hits, none of the fish were large enough to get a good hook set. The big ones were jumping far off in the distance, reachable only by some sort of water-craft.

The trail we were hiking on was basically an old mountain road no longer in use. There was some kind of old junction in the path where clearly a bridge had once stood to cross the river. It had been washed out long ago.

The path beyond was smaller and more overgrown, clearly abandoned and turned to foot path years before the section we had been hiking on so far. We set up camp nearby and prepared some hot food.

I noted some nice places to fish in the morning.

My friend Greg had his Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1.

I'm always impressed with my newer camera's ability to take detailed photos at night with a flash.

These days I almost always bring my Zpacks Solplex. Its so light, has lots of room inside, and allows for lots of airflow, if desired.

The next morning I awoke early and went to hit the prime headwaters section I had come here to see. It was a bit low, water-wise, but was just absolutely beautiful water.

It ran over mossy rocks in the flatter sections.

As the elevation increased it became a mix of rock-shelf pools and longer pool/run hybrid sections where the water had created deep channels in the rock.

Plenty of undercut rock shelves, submerged boulders and large rectangular bricks created an ideal habitat for trout, as well as for sitting and enjoying the nature around me.

In this next pool I hooked and lost the fish of the trip. It was at least twice the size of the others I caught, and much more along the lines of the fish I had expected to see in the stream. 

The stream must just be too accessible and too tempting for others to fish while camping or exploring the area... otherwise I would have expected many brookies in the 10" plus-range. Back to the maps to find something more remote for next time, maybe?

We took the back roads for some of the trip home, and the views were spectacular.

All in all it was a relaxing weekend in a beautiful location. Even though I didn't catch any larger fish, I got to see a part of a river I had never explored before, and I only had a few bug bites to show for it. That's still a win in my book any day!