Thursday, July 21, 2016

Spring Alpine Retreat

Spring had sprung in Southern Utah, which meant it was time to go fishing. The plan for this trip was to return to our favorite high alpine mountain and chase large fish. Last October, Mike and I set out to a new destination on this mountain following the intel from a local Utah DWR biologist. He informed us of some of the better lakes that hold bigger fish. While we caught an OK amount of fish, we didn't catch any of the trophies we were desperately seeking. After that trip, we knew we would have to come back in the spring, knowing that it would be one the best time to chase large fish. With approval from our lovely wives to spend three nights on the mountain, we were off.

Early on, it became apparent that this trip would be different than others we had done. This trip was to be somewhat more of a laid back expedition. With life's struggles pressing on the both of us, we were both in search of a state of mental relaxation. There would be no alarms in the morning, quick food binges, and no set plans.We would take our time doing things we usually hurry to do. In all honesty, it made the trip that much better. Getting adequate sleep while camping is a must for me. I love my sleep, and function much better when I get enough. Also, taking in good nutrition and spending the time to eat quality food provided the much needed energy for this trip. After all, we hiked roughly fourteen miles and walked thirty six thousand steps. Slowing down, and taking the time to prep our bodies was key.

The first destination was a lake that we got skunked on last year. We had high hopes the weeds that made it so difficult last year would be gone and allow us to get to the fish. Fortunately, our hopes were answered and most of the weeds were gone. However, we still were skunked. This is a very tough lake to fish. There weren't as many weeds, but the weeds that were there provided great safety for the fish. We presented many flies right on the border of the weed line, hoping for a bruiser to shoot from the depths and snatch our flies. Unfortunately, the big brookies never wanted to play.

Upon inspection. scuds were highly proliferated near the weeds. These fish don't have to move an inch to get food. I imagined scuds just freely swimming right up to their mouths and the fish sucking them in with ease. The fish in this lake(if any, due to the fact we have never actually seen one) are the equivalent of the fat guy on the couch with endless junk food within arms reach. Why take a helpless artificial fly two feet away when you have all the natural food right in front of you? Dang fat, lazy fish. I don't know if i'll ever catch anything from that lake, let alone fish it again. With Mike's float tube leaking, causing him to have to physically blow it up while out on the lake every five minutes, and no fish to hand, we called it and headed back to camp.

After refueling our bodies, our plan was to head further up the mountain to some lakes I had never been to. We didn't know how far we would get up the road due to the possible snow that was still around. Sure enough, a mile and a half in, we began to run into snow. Luckily, Mikes jeep handled it pretty well thanks to the four wheel drive. We eventually came to a big snow drift that covered most of the road, and decided we better not chance getting stuck. We parked just below the drift, and readied our gear. My pyro sense was urging and I just had to light off a few bombs that my uncle (who sells fireworks) had given me. These are not your everyday M-80. They are custom made with my uncles secret blend of gun powder. I lit the first one and hurried away in search of cover. Ears plugged, we waited. Nothing. After a couple minutes I returned very cautiously and discovered that the snow I had thrown the bomb onto put the fuse out. I lit another, this time making sure the fuse would not touch the snow. Tick...Tick....BOOM. The blast from the explosion sent a wave through me and I let out a big smile. OK, now i'm ready for some fishing. 

After a short half mile hike through slushy snow, the lake came into view. It was a beautiful lake that was bigger than I had imagined. I could see the rim to the top of the mountain, which was still blanketed with snow. Definitely still winter-like conditions on this mountain. As far as the lake was concerned, luckily, there was open water. It was a huge relief having open water. Much of the lake was still covered with ice, however the edges were open. "Perfect", I said to myself.  This was going to be good. Fishing ice off on a high alpine lake was something I have always wanted to do. Mike began working the open channel and was soon onto some fish. I was getting jealous, trying to ready my rod as fast as possible. I tied on a black leach, walked over to the bank and began working the channel. Within a couple minutes, I had my first brookie of the trip. It was on the small end, but pretty as ever.

We eventually made our way over to another end of the lake with even more open water and had lots of luck. Black leeches were the ticket. Subtle four inch strips proved to be too much for these ten to fourteen inch brooks to handle. We each caught a handful and decided to head out to another lake nearby in search of larger fish.

There was a fairly clear cut trail at the beginning to this lake, however it soon diminished due to the snow pack. We had thought we were headed in the right direction, however suddenly we realized we were lost. The lake we were in search of was only .8 miles away, and shouldn't have taken more than twenty minutes to get there. Due to waist deep snow in some spots and walking completely in the wrong direction for too long, the excursion took upwards of an hour and a half. Thanks to Mike's trusty map locator app, we were able to inch closer and closer to the lake. The map would show us the direction we had walked. so we used this to our advantage and checked it every fifty yards to make sure we were heading in the right direction. The excursion was brutal. Climbing over logs, breaking branches, and sinking into four foot deep snow sure built up the lactic acid ( I was just grateful I wasn't carrying a float tube). At one point we came to a beautiful open mossy meadow with a spring running through. It was a nice break from the treacherous thick forest. I whipped out my camera and snapped a few shots. At the corner of my eye I noticed what we thought was some bear scat but could not pinpoint.  It was a bit scary, walking through dense forest knowing bears were out of hibernation looking to fill their empty bellies. Luckily, we ended up not on their menu. I tried to make our presence known throughout the hike by banging my walking stick on trees. Luckily, we eluded any bears, and eventually made it to the lake.

It was a huge sigh of relief to see a doughnut shape ring around the lake of open water. What a blessing it was, as we had just trudged through loads of snow and wasted so much time getting here. Our efforts paid off. There was open water, with big tigers and cutts waiting to strike our hopeful flies.

We spotted a good section across from where we were that was abundant with logs, and decided to trek across to the other side. I rigged up with a leech pattern and a scud trailer and tossed my line into the dark abyss.  A few casts later I had a huge hit. Fish on. With rod bent and heart pounding I fought the beast for a few seconds until a powerful head shake broke me off. So much for 7lb flouro. I felt confident I would not break off with this line, turned out it failed me many times this trip. I guess it was perhaps past it's expiration date? Who knows. The adrenaline from that fish was still flowing through my veins and I was desperate to hook into another.  I re-rigged and let the line fly. After another minute or so I had another solid hit. I saw the flash of a tiger trout and was ecstatic. The pull from this fish was big and I knew it was a nice one.  But once again, the flouro failed me and I  broke off. After a few choice words I cooled off, took some deep breaths and tossed the flouro into my pack, never to be used again. Two big fish lost due to weak line was extremely frustrating. I switched out my line and tried to move past from the two big fish I just lost.

I ended up catching a few, one of them being a decent size cutthroat. It gave a great fight and provided relief from the ones I had lost earlier. After a fun battle I brought the specimen into my net. It was my biggest cutthroat of the trip, a solid seventeen. I marveled at it's beauty and then quickly released it back to the cold alpine water. I then sat a moment and treasured the beauty of my surroundings. There I was standing high upon a rock, surrounded by a tall snowy mountain to my back, and a serene apline lake to my front. I was at peace, taking in each breath of cool air with gratitude for our beautiful world. This is why I fly fish. This is why I put considerable effort into catching fish. To escape the world and feel one with nature.

With dusk creeping upon us, we decided that we better call it and head back to camp, not wanting to risk getting lost again. This lake had been a true success, and it was hard to leave. We would be back again though, with stronger line and new knowledge of these fish.

After trudging through deep snow and a thick forest, we made it back to the original trail. We made sure to keep checking the GPS every five minutes to make sure we were going the right direction. During the drive back we stumbled upon a lake with tons of rising fish. With an hour left of light, we hurried and grabbed our rods and tied on dry flies. Many small little brookies were brought to hand, though they tested our patterns. These fish would not take the standard adams, like we confidently thought. Turns out they preferred a CDC baetis pattern. Although, even this pattern was shunned many times. Mike had luck subsurface with a leech pattern, and brought a few to hand. With sun nearly down and a cold chill about, we drove back to camp. At camp, we enjoyed one of my best camping meals yet; A slow cooked pork taco on a crisp flour tortilla. It was the perfect end to our adventurous day.

We had fun doing long exposure shots.
We hacked this tree down, only to find it got hung up on another tree...
The following morning, we arose and set out for an entirely new destination. We would hike to what the Utah Fishing book called the most remote lake on the mountain. This sounded like a good idea. It would be roughly a three mile hike in from where we were. We ate a solid breakfast, readied our gear and set off in search of new water.

Camp oats
Overly cooked eggs-still tasty however
The hike was mostly uphill, gradual, with some steep inclines. We hiked through scorched forest most of the time that was from a fire a while back. As we got closer to the rim of the mountain, tall green pines towered over us, and the lake finally came into view. The lake was an awesome vibrant green color. I had never seen a body of water with that type of color. There was also no ice on the water. This was good news, although a little would have meant a true ice off. Regardless, we were just glad there was open water. Rumor had it there was large brook trout in here, and we were ready to find out. We found an abandoned camp site nearby with some logs to sit on and ate a quick snack and readied our rods.

Photo by FishEatFlies

Rigging up

Rod of choice- My grandpas old graphite Fenwick 5-6 wt.
Time to refuel.
Second cast in, I had a fish on. The red crimson fins and white tips radiated through the lime green water as I fought him. Not huge by any means, but beautiful. I caught many more in this same spot.

Photo by FishEatFlies

This lake had a buffet line of food for these fish. Basically every stillwater bug was prevalent, and in large numbers. We took a break from fishing for a bit and examined some logs near the shore. Lifting the logs revealed giant dragon fly nymphs (were talking an inch plus), chunky scuds, and quick slender damselfly nymphs. We messed around with them for a bit, taking pics to chart color and size so we would be ready next time with our imitative flies. It was fun to see all the bugs. I am somewhat of a bug nerd thanks to fly fishing. I like to pull up pics I have taken when tying my own flies.

The kings of the underworld- dragonfly nypmhs


We eventually made our way onto the other corner of the lake. Downed logs and deep water made for a super fishy spot on this end. Mike cast out his trusty purple haze in-between the logs and waited patiently. He cast again, and again. Nothing. I decided to try my luck with a leech imitation. I went to the other side and found a good position to cast. I sent the leech right between the logs and stripped in slow. Heart pounding. Knowing there had to be a bruiser in there waiting to crush whatever came within it's territory. Nothing. Cast again. Strip, strip, BAM! Fish on. Rod bent-over, senses erupting, heart pounding, I fought the beast for a quick five seconds, until I broke off. Speechless, I sat in despair over the missed opportunity. Again, my line had failed me. I questioned again- are these fish really that big? Or does my line seriously suck? Or both? Who knows. All I know is I will never come here again without some 0X. I cast to the same spot at least forty more times, hoping to piss off the beast enough to play again. Nothing. I called it, and headed over the steep ridge to the other side of the mountain.

The ridge was still blanketed with a thick covering of cold snow. In a couple spots, we sank right to our hips. Rocks also covered the ridge, making for a tough climb to the other side. After a couple slides and close calls, we made our way around.

Mike casting from an old abandoned wood raft.
The rest of the day was very successful. We both caught some big brookies, and a few splake as well. The biggest brookie I landed was a solid seventeen to eighteen inch football. It fought harder than anything up to that point. Once in my net, I marveled at its beauty and size. I quickly released the hook and sent him on his way, hoping to maybe meet again another day.

Night was now falling upon us, and we decided we better head back to camp. It was hard to leave such a beautiful serene place. However, we had already decided we would be back again in the fall. This made our conclusion easier to bare. Down the mountain, it became so dark we had to use a headlight. The trail was pretty clear-cut, however we did go off trail a couple times. A quick glance at Mikes phone and we found the trail again. We made it back to the Jeep, and back to camp and crashed into our sleeping bags.

The trip was full of adventure, and everything I wanted after a cold long winter in Southern Utah. Countless miles were hiked, big beautiful fish were caught, and good times were had. We would be back again in the fall, eager to catch these even brighter more colorful fish with the changing leaves.


  1. Awesome post man! This is your cousin Mikey Barrus. Im jealous of your adventure. Sounds like an experience of a lifetime! If you are ever up in Salt Lake, hit me up and lets go fishing! also, if you have anyone that is looking for a guide on the Provo or Weber rivers then send them my way. I started up a guide company called Mendflyfishing if you havent heard already. It would be much appreciated! Tight lines my friend!

    1. Hey Mikey! Its been a while! Glad to hear from you again. Thanks for checking out my blog, I appreciate it. Ya I would love to get together and fish sometime. DM me on instagram your phone number and I'll let you know when I head north again. And yes, if you ever come down south let me know and maybe we could get out (lots of good fishing down here). I did hear about your new guide company-that's awesome! I hope it's going well. I would love to book a trip with you someday. I do know lots of people that fly fish and I'll send them your way.