Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Julie Get Your Gun

Here is the next installment of our Way Out West adventure...

Our week at The High Lonesome Ranch was to include horseback riding, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, sporting clays and of course fly fishing.  When I booked the trip, I explained that while my wife and 3 teenage boys like to fish, it is not their passion. Sure…Aaron (my oldest) is a good fly caster, but fishing isn’t his thing.  That’s why I was puzzled our first full day at the ranch when Shannon and John introduced themselves as our fly fishing guides for the day. I certainly didn’t need two guides and I wasn’t sure how much fishing the family would do. Turns out, they knew better…by the end of our stay even my wife Julie was a fly fishing fanatic!  That says a lot about the guides and their skills. Hell, at one point John said, “You’ll have to learn to sneak out of the house with your fly rods and lie that you are headed to the bar rather than going fly fishing, otherwise Julie will want to go.”

Maybe it’s just that this place will spoil you…it could turn even a “peta person” into an avid fly fisher!

The view from our cabin at The High Lonesome Ranch

The trout water on the ranch is somewhat unique.  There is a spring creek, but in this dessert like environment it spends most of its time down below, away from the dry heat. If not for the beavers and the ranchers this stream wouldn’t be much to talk about.  Instead it’s a series of natural and man-made spring fed ponds.  The trout that patrol these ponds are big, but they are not fed.  These are born-in-the-pond wild trout that grow large thanks to an ample food supply of natural bugs, fish and other aquatic critters.  These trout also have plenty of “fish-smarts,” they see anglers frequently and can spot a bad fly cast or poor imitation of a natural in a split second.  The ponds are managed but not stocked.  The fish that reach 20-inches or more (and there are lots of those) are not push-overs.  They are wild, wily, strong, piscatorial specimens that will stretch any fly fishers skill as well as their fly line.

Fish on!

That’s why we started that first day in one of the ponds that had a lot fish, albeit on the smaller side.  The guides figured it would be the best way to ensure some success.  All five of us caught fish that first morning.  Aaron and I completed the local grand slam by bringing to the net a rainbow, brown, brook and cutthroat trout.  In fact, I caught a bunch of fish that day…all on a dry fly.  I could have quit that morning and considered the fly fishing a success (of course those that know me know I wouldn’t have quit).

"Bapper's" first trout!

Now, before you trout purists and fly fishing snobs get your dry fly hook bent out of shape or get your wader panties twisted in a wad and put down what amounts to still water fishing, think about this…how cool is it to see a 20 inch brown in 6 inches of water, cruising right to left, knowing your only chance of hooking that fish is a near perfect presentation requiring you to gently drop your dry fly in its path, leading it ever so slightly and then watch as its nose breaks the surface of the water and its mouth close gently on the fly, realizing that you have a split second to set the hook before it spits it out, and once the hook is set you worry that you don’t have enough rod or strong enough tippet to get this trout to the net all the while you are cackling like a school boy at the joy this one instance is bringing you?  IT’S VERY COOL!

This was an "average" fish at HLR

And guess what…it happened over and over again that week with much larger trout!

Here's a better one...23 and 1/2 inches!

Yep…it was a great first day of fishing…or really just half a day.  You see…it was hot the first few days of our trip…real hot.  One hundred degree hot.  Sure…it was a dry heat but to the trout who tend to prefer more humid conditions, it was just plain “shut the front door” hot.  That’s why I was impressed that as the morning grew longer and headed down the home stretch towards lunch, our guides began checking the surface temperature of the water.  When it hit 68 degrees, we were done fishing for the day, but the fun wasn’t over. 

The H-R-Q Gang at The H-L-R

The first two days we fished in the morning, ate an excellently prepared gourmet lunch at the lodge and then headed to the sporting clay range.  While I love to shoot clays and hunt for quail each year, I’m not a great shot, a good shot maybe, but not great.  Oh sure, I can say that I’ve been a shot gunner for 20 years, but just like someone that fly fishes once a year for 20 years that doesn’t make you a proficient fly fisherman.  I only shoot a few times a year (although I always hope to do more).  Julie and the boys don’t shoot that much either, but as long as we follow the safety rules, we are a fun group on the range.

You maybe be an Eagle Scout Aaron, but you are no Annie Oakley!

And so it was the two afternoons we shot clays.  We had a “blast!”  It helped that our fly fishing guides were also our shooting guides.  They were simply a hoot.  They egged us on.  As we made fun of ourselves they joined in and made fun of us too.  They introduced us to a game we had not played before called, “Annie Oakley.”  The jist of the game is simple…the first in line shoots at a clay pigeon, if they miss the next in line can shoot at it, if they hit it the person ahead of them is out.  You can also knock a player out by breaking a piece of clay that the shooter ahead of them hit.  If you shoot out of turn you are also out.  Teenage boys have a built-in competitive response with their father…mine were no different.  Let’s beat dad.  The problem is they forgot about mama.  I think Julie won the first two rounds that we played.  She can’t tell you how she won, but she did.  I can’t wait until we are all sitting around the campfire and Julie reminisces how she beat us all in Annie Oakley.

Mamma Needs a New 5-weight for Christmas
Shit…I just realized something…I went from having a wife that always supported my hobbies to one that wants me to support her as she learns my hobbies.  She has already asked if I have a fly rod for her. She has already confirmed she is quail hunting with me this year.  What have I done?!

Well…if nothing else I will enjoy Christmas shopping for her this year at my local fly shop and hunting outfitter.  Hmmm…I can give her one of my 5-weights and that means I get a new one!  Oooh…a new angle on getting new angling gear!
Fortunately, my wife and I are best friends. I won’t mind a bit having her on some of my trips, especially if that means traveling to exotic places. She is a lot of fun and is a whole lot better looking than my usual fishing and quail hunting buddies (no offense Cope, Fin, DB, Sep and others).

"Just hold it right there!"

So go ahead Annie…uh, Julie get your gun.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Way Out West - The Prolog

We made it to The High Lonesome Ranch
And so it begins…a tale about an epic trip.  A trip with enough ups and downs and wild curves that will make you think we were riding a roller coaster the whole time. This 10-day Colorado Rocky Mountain trip had us dodging wildfires, fly fishing for big trout, shooting clays, eating great food, drinking local brews, white water rafting, horseback riding and even a trip to the ER.

Where to start?  How about the wildfires?  First, let me offer my condolences to those that lost property and even life to those record wildfires. For weeks I had been following the news and wondered whether the wildfires would impact our travel.  At one point I even felt guilty because my connection to the fires was a vacation. The best justification? The state was losing tourist dollars and at the time there were no major fires near The High Lonesome Ranch. We were encouraged to go and spend our tourist dollars...a very, small action to a natural tragedy.

So…about a week before I contacted the ranch and simply asked, “Would the current wildfires hinder our travel to Denver or the drive to De Beque?”

The answer, “no.”

Friday before we left, I pulled up the internet to check on the progress of the Colorado wildfires.  Even though the fires I knew about were not going to affect our travel, I was rooting for the fire fighters to contain them to limit further loss.

But what popped up on my screen, was not believable at first.  There was a new headline, “Wildfire Near De Beque Grows to 12,000 Acres.”  Not only was this a new fire, but as it turns out it was just 10 miles from the ranch.  Down went my emotions, screaming the whole way. I texted my wife the news…then called the ranch.

Fortunately for us and of course the people of De Beque and the ranch staff, the fire fighters contained the flank headed towards the small town.  The ranch was in a completely different canyon, and given the conditions the fire was nearly impossible to spread that direction. So with a little less uncertainty we boarded a plane the next day and flew into Denver.

The following day we loaded up the rental vehicle and drove west. As we exited I-70 in De Beque we could see smoke rising in the distance. While still burning the fire was being contained.

God bless those that battled those blazes.

The High Lonesome Blues

I haven’t posted anything in awhile, mainly because we were busy traveling, playing some cool gigs, attending my niece’s wedding, my son’s high school graduation and his Eagle Court of Honor.  I spent the spring fly fishing locally and shedding a few pounds as I shredded some local single track.  All this as we prepared for our big trip way out west.  The highlight of our trip west was a week at The High Lonesome Ranch near De Beque, Colorado.  I’ll be sharing some of our adventures there over the next few days and weeks…in stages, just like the Tour de France.  Of course, now that we are back, I sure do miss that place, so much so that I’m sufferin’ the High Lonesome Blues. 

The High Lonesome Blues
by Tbone Hackett
Feelin’ out of breath, heart pounding way too fast
Not sure how much longer my nerves will last
These danged ole’ blues got me wound up tight
I need a Rocky Mountain high to get myself right.

That’s why I’m gonna take a little jaunt
To the High Lonesome Ranch, as wild as you want.

Aunt Linda makes sure you start the day out right
Shannon and John find you trout that’ll bite
Follow that up with a round of clays
Nothing like some shootin’ to chase them blues away.

That’s why I’m gonna take a little jaunt
To the High Lonesome Ranch, as wild as you want.

As the day ends, settle into The Homestead cabin
While Mark plans out tomorrow’s fun action
Amber, Scott and the rest of the staff
Make you feel at home, make you laugh.

That’s why I’m gonna take a little jaunt
To the High Lonesome Ranch, as wild as you want.

Now it’s back to the real world, how long will I last
Before I’m out of breath, heart pounding way to fast?
No time to travel to my Rocky Mountain High
Unless I sprout wings and learn to fly.

So In my mind I’m takin’ a little jaunt
To the High Lonesome Ranch, as wild as you want.