Friday, February 24, 2017

Wishing for More Winter on the Trail

Winter is problematic for many fishermen, especially when the weather is all over the place. As of recent, most of my higher elevation Tenkara streams have been snowed in or iced over, with most of the beautiful days yielding freezing water temps and dripping icicles along the trail.

Sometimes, I enjoy walking the streams during these times and simply not fishing. In fact, I often wish for winter to come so I can enjoy these snowy days.

There are beautiful sights all around, and the silence is captivating. The last few seasons have been mild, and we need more snow.

The only sound beyond the silence is the water, flowing over and under ice-formations and under the cover of snow. It doesn't hurt to bring a rod along, but usually the fish are semi-dormant in these circumstances, and its more fun to observe than to cast a line or fight the conditions on the chance of one lucky (or determined) strike.

Other times, I prefer to hike outright, with no focus on rivers whatsoever. Winter hiking is glorious for this... the trail, padded with snow makes for faster and easier movement over the rocks and roots which would threaten ankles and reduce your speed during the other seasons. There is less stress on your joints, and if you choose nice days, the weather isn't a deterrent at all. 

Feeling like it might be my last shot at some local winter hiking, I headed out to Mohonk preserve to put some miles behind me, and enjoy the beautiful weather.

Now before you get too excited of these wonderful photos of small streams here, and go looking for Mohonk on google maps for your next fishing trip... keep in mind this ridge is ultra-poisoned by acid rain. Not a fish can survive up here, and believe my, I've tested it out just to be sure.

It doesn't stop me from hoping for a better future, but it will be many years still until the acid balance in the water is back to where it needs to be for healthy fish populations. The soil cover here is considerably thinner than the ADK, and we all know that story already...

Mohonk preserve is a unique place, and looks more like the southwest than the northeast in many ways. It tends to attract a crowd but there are trails less travelled if you are looking for some solo time.

There are frequent lookout points for great views, many of which are dominated by layers of rock forming picture-perfect cliffs. This area is the premier climbing destination for the East coast of the USA, and for good reason.

This set of foothills and the ridge is called the "Shawangunks," which is a name derived from the Dutch pronunciation of the Native American language name. The history of the naming is actually quite complicated, and too long to reproduce here. 

The ridge is essentially the eastern-most ridge of the Appalachian mountains in the area, and is part of the same rock formation running from the Kittatiny ridge in NJ up to the Catskills, which you can see in the photo, below.

However, the landscape here is nothing like the Catskills; with exposed cliffs more prevalent, a less dense forest, and many small evergreen trees that make the area look like a northeast version of Joshua Tree, CA.

There were many people out on the trail on this holiday weekend, but it wasn't too crowded. It was an interesting mix of people - it always is up there. I really like that.

I ran into a dreadlocked-dog named Marley...

And then, after seeing a women's hiking group at this trail junction...

... I turned around and noticed a tourist group more suited for 5th avenue than a mile into a snowy trail.

But it was good to see everyone out having a great time.

The snow was not very deep, and by the end of the warm & sunny day it was all granular and beginning to melt out.

I moved quickly on this terrain, but mostly because of the micro-spikes I was wearing on my boots. They are necessary for safe and effective winter hiking, and many people were slipping and falling without them. Make sure you use them if you hit the snowy trails.

As I neared the end of the loop, I noticed someone had made this funny-looking snow creature, and I stopped to photograph it in the long shadows of the winter afternoon.

I called it a day just a little early, enjoying my drive south with less traffic, and was happy to have some nice beer waiting for me at home.

I've been trying to expand my horizons a bit since I'm no longer working in wine, and I'm learning quickly about craft beers at the moment.

Hazy beer seems to finally be more popular, not so far off from what's happening in the natural wine scene these days either.

Barrier reminds me a little bit of the Other Half brewery, which is local to Brooklyn, NY. Next time I take a trip down there I'll post some photos for all to see. I hope you take some time to enjoy the snow this winter and get out on the trails!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unfinished Business - Tenkara USA Summit 2015

Well I'm excited to hear that Tenkara USA will be hosting another Summit this year in Estes Park, CO in September. I was at the last one, and it was the kind of experience that helps connect the dots, if you know what I mean?

I was looking at old photos and it dawned on me that I had never really finished the third and final installment of that series as I had intended to, which covers the last day of the trip on some beautiful water. Better late than never...

The morning started when a number of us gathered to fish a meandering meadow section of river. I'm not sure if I remember the whole crew but I believe it was Daniel, his wife, TJ, Yoshikazu Fujioka, Go Ishii, Adam Trahan, Mike Willis, Mark and maybe someone else? Its been almost two years, so cut me some slack ;)

The meadow stream was pretty, but it was full sun and the fish would surely be spooky. At this stage I was still nymphing with a Keiryu rod quite often and I must have looked silly casting with the rest of the crew, who were mostly fishing Tenkara... its funny to look back and laugh at myself now.

Daniel was taking some photos, and I was kind of just enjoying the surroundings and trying to reach the overhang on the far bank, hoping that I could annoy a trout into darting out from its cover to grab my fly. I got a few nice strikes but somehow failed to connect. 

Walking back down stream, I found Ishii-San casting to the only set of riffles in the whole area, created by a very minimal change in elevation on the stream. Unlike everyone else, he was fishing downstream disco... and pulling them in one after another. It was quite funny to watch. He knew something most other people didn't, and he was one of the only anglers catching fish on this stretch.

After a while we all gathered back near the cars and waited for a few lingering anglers. While we waited, a large bull-elk walked out of the forest and slowly meandered towards the road. Undeterred by cars and people, the elk clearly wanted to cross the road and get to the meadow we had just fished.

As is the case with wildlife, this bull-elk didn't really care much for cars or people and decided to pay no mind to any of that... the driver of the car, which was moving quite slowly already, clearly didn't understand this basic reality of life and almost got trampled by the elk. It was quite entertaining to watch.


We got the message and backed away as it walked along the fence, looking for a place to access the meadow and be on its way. Everyone laughed nervously and looked on as the elk harmlessly walked by, snapping photos in awe.

After that we said some goodbyes, and I was off to explore some more! I started by driving the road that went towards the Continental Divide, gaining some serious altitude and watching the mercury dive. It was breathtaking to say the least.

What you can't see in the photo below is the way those mountains USED to look, with glaciers and snow remaining ALL YEAR. I wish my camera hadn't cut that off. It was a shocking reminder that Climate Change is undeniably real. There's a feeling I can't quite communicate here that I felt, and it was deep.

Glaciers or not, the scenery was spellbinding.

I continued up to the area where the Divide is and it was basically like alpine tundra in all directions.

I started to feel a little light-headed from being that high up so suddenly, and so I decided it was probably a good time to head back down to a reasonable altitude below 9K. I headed for a section of stream I had wanted to fish the previous day.

And it was heaven.

I was catching some rainbows in the lower section of the stream and enjoying the afternoon sun.

The fall colors were just setting in, and I was lucky enough to be able to experience some of this magic in person.

On this stream I ended up landing rainbows, browns, brookies AND cutthroats. It was a particularly fun day due to this "grand slam."

I cannot remember if each of these photos of fish were my catches, or if some were caught by another angler I had met at the event, as we fished together for some of that afternoon. I believe at least a couple are his...

I believe his name was David? But again, its been a long time.... if you're reading, please comment below so we can re-connect if you plan to return to the Summit again this year?

After a while I was starting to feel the altitude. I stopped to eat some lunch and take a break to enjoy some of Colorado's finest "special green dubbing" material ;) I am glad I have good balance, because at 24% THC, this was was a heavy hitter. I instantly felt better and my appetite returned... it was a much needed break.

After lunch, my blood sugar was back to normal and I felt great. I continued to fish up the stream - the increase in the gradient was yielding more plunge pools, and more brookies & cutts than down below. These fish do much better in the headwaters than the browns and rainbows.

Things got tight higher up and I switched from Tenkara casting, to lobbing a bead with a shorter line.

This is a pretty typical example of a bead head fly that I tie. This one was tied in about 30 seconds the night before, with borrowed materials. I wasn't even planning to use it, but it was the only bead left in my box at this point. It must have grabbed 20-30 fish... and still going strong.

These shaded pools are perfect habitat for headwaters trout.

Up top it was mostly cutties, as even the brookies began to fade. I began to hear branches breaking around me and I hoped it was an Elk rather than something else. I couldn't see whatever animal it was, and (maybe) luckily I never found out.

I was too distracted by fishing and climbing between some nice plunges to be concerned about the wildlife, and I figured I would have seen whatever it was if it was something approaching me and posing any danger...

On the way down I snapped one last photo of the early fall colors. My adventure may have been at an end for this trip, but the memories and people have stuck with me since that day.

Looking forward to the 2017 Tenkara USA Summit, hope to see you there!