Sunday, February 1, 2015

Trip Report: Cañones de Invierno (December 22-23, 2014)

O, wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

                                                        __ Percy Bysshe Shelley
                                                           (“Prometheus Unbound")

I could tell you that winter becomes a time when I slow down a bit, spend long hours at my tying bench, and contemplate the next summer guiding season.  I could tell you that, but I won’t, mostly because I would be lying to you.  My tenkara has kept a busy pace going into winter and shows no signs of doing anything different!

Winter tenkara in the canyons is all about finding trout in the pools and big pockets where they're holed up until spring.

Since I last posted in Tenkara Tracks (I don’t post nearly as often as I’d like to), I’ve been busy!

In mid-December I gave my frequent backpacking companion, hunting partner, and surrogate younger brother, Eric Lynn, a call and threw out the idea of poking up into one of my canyons (or, more precisely, cañones) for a multi-day backpacking/tenkara trip, weather permitting.  It doesn’t take much arm twisting for Eric to jump on ideas like that with full force, and this was no exception.

Best friends in the wilderness.  Eric Lynn and I in the canyons.
Well, the weather permitted it, and on December 22nd we stepped off into a winding crack in the mountains, punching through thin ice on the edges of the creek as we made our way upstream.  It was a balmy 45 degrees.  There was no snow at all in the canyon, and we enjoyed lots of open water.  On the way to our camp, five miles distant, we encountered 24 bighorn sheep on the wall across the canyon, and about half of them were rams.  We saw one very nice ¾ curl ram that was frequently coughing…not a good sign for bighorn sheep, given their propensity for respiratory disease.  Eric and I both said a silent prayer for that fine ram, and wished him healing.

Making my way upstream, passing by a newly-created beaver dam, frozen over.
Watching a band of bighorn sheep on the canyon wall. 
We chose a campsite that Patrick Smith and I had used many times in the past.  Once we started nailing down camp, I discovered that I had left all of my tent pegs back at home.  While I carved fourteen pegs out of seasoned juniper, Eric took care of the rest of the chores.  This is a perfect example of the usefulnessof a good tomahawk, and I always carry one in my pack.  The wind blew in snow flurries and graupel throughout the afternoon and into the evening, but that didn’t keep us from fishing and bringing two rainbows and two browns back to camp for supper.  The trout in this canyon this late in the year will only fall to a Killer Bug, placed right in front of them.  They will not move much at all to take a fly.  Takes are so very soft and slow, and we frequently could not tell we had a take until a lift of the rod told the whole story.  Mist blue, oyster, nymph…the color of the Killer Bugs didn’t seem to matter nearly as much as the placement and presentation.  Accuracy was key.

Replacing forgotten aluminum tent pegs with sturdy, field-expedient ones crafted from juniper.
A nice 12" rainbow, caught on a mist blue #14 Killer Bug.
This is why we come!
Grilling trout over an open fire, using some pieces of old barrel hoops we found at a homestead ruin.
Our secret weapon…the famous Killer Bug!
That night we warmed ourselves beside our ultralight takedown Kifaru wood stove, cooking up a special meal that included dehydrated chunks of backstrap from the cow elk I had killed a month prior, paired with our four trout.  Good living!

A backcountry palace for two…my Kifaru Sawtooth.

Breaking in Eric's new fish pan with our supper.  
The next morning we listened to the ice cracking and popping as the sun warmed the canyon.  The rushing water and cracking ice…sounds you can only hear in a canyon like this in the winter.  There will be no one else here, and there will be no tracks on the trail, other than those of the bighorns, mule deer, and an occasional coyote.  This canyon is a winter home for Eric and I, and it was good to visit it this late in the year.

Eric negotiating the crux move, heading back downstream along the canyon wall.