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Birthdays used to be such a huge deal. For one person in the house, birthdays are still met with tremendous fanfare, but for those of us not named Drake, birthdays seem to be just another day. No gifts, no party, no week long celebrations, no special dinner, and hardly a Happy Birthday salutation. I’m not bitter. It happens when one decides to procreate. We do, however, have one standing order for my birthday, it must be celebrated in the high country.

While the standing order has remained the same the last several years, our planning has shifted. Picking a location was never a big deal, but now it has become a process. You see, about a year ago, Dustin was bit by something carrying the Big Fish Fever virus. It is kind of an annoying virus because he’s all of a sudden become super selective about where to go. I could fish a tiny high country stream and be happy as a clam. I love watching those wily alpine stream trout surface and sip my dry. There truly is nothing better. Planning in years past included mapping a route, and securing a permit if need be. Also, in years past, we’d fish the lake, but we would also take a good amount of time to fish the outlet, inlet, or the meadow stream before the approach. Planning now focuses on the end goal; it includes hours pouring over internet info, various conversations with Rod, constant checks of our Fishing Bible, and navigating CPW’s fish map. Gone are the days of opening a map, and picking out a place that looks to give us a challenge, pretty fish, and alone time. The Fever has caused him a bit of amnesia as to what high country season is all about.

DSC09684North Fork Reservoir

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This virus has created a chasm between Dustin and myself. I hike/backpack to fish in solitude. I am an introvert; I like to have my time quiet, reflective, and solitary. If I catch a nice sized cutthroat, all the better. To me, solitude and a beautiful fish on the end of my line, regardless of size, is what brings me happiness. It used to be the same for Dus as well.  These days, however, Dustin wants to catch big fish, no matter how many people are around.

Lucky for him, Chaffee County (our new alpine stomping ground) is home to big high country fish, but it is also home to lakes with easy access. Easy access means little solitude. Somehow it feels wrong that someone can drive up in his/her high clearance vehicle and see the views we do, and catch those beautiful alpine cutthroat. We’ve always talked about our reward that awaits us at the end of a hard hike. Now the rewards are easy, and when things are easy they are less appreciated. This is evidenced by the deep ruts scarring the tundra, trash littering the dispersed campsites and banks of the lake, and the poopy t.p. scattered about. These things bug me, but Dustin shrugs and continues his mission to land a hefty cutthroat.

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I think my birthday’s destination was apt because I feel like I am on an island these days. Not just because the difference in our fishing preferences either. Being a mom is isolating…but that is a post for another day. The birthday destination can be reached by a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. Our Honda made it this day, but as of last weekend can no longer make it up the road. There is also an option to continue to get closer to the lake, but that road is even more difficult to navigate. The un-maintained road will take you to an old ATV trail that you can follow to the lake. This is a longer, but easier hike, as there is a nice trail and the elevation gain is minimal. Given our difficulty on the country road, we chose to stop at the reservoir and do the off trail route.

We crossed the dam on the south side of the lake and hoped to cut a little off the hike down by crossing the outlet and following the inlet up to the lake. This early in July, however, the outlet was too high for us to cross in just our boots. We had to backtrack north and take the social trail around the lake to hit the inlet on the west side. We followed the inlet most of the way to the lake. The hike was surprisingly easy with little dead fall and plenty of game/social trails that made the trek up relatively quick.

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By the time we arrived to the lake, storms had already started to build. A fact that was overshadowed by all those lunker cutthroat nestled next to the littoral zone. There are a lot of high vantage points all around the lake. I love lakes like this because you can perch and observe before you commit to a spot. We probably should have strung up right away, but we wanted to explore the lake a bit and find a good spot for Drake to play after the long car ride and hike up in the pack. Normally these areas are the worst fishing spots, but it is another one of those sacrifice things.

All around the lake, the mosquitoes were horrible. A constant buzzing filled our ears as we snacked and got our rods together. Before we had our first cast, I felt a raindrop. Our day, I knew, would be cut short. Luckily the rain held off long enough to fish a couple of different spots and for me to see a ptarmigan. We normally don’t have trouble catching fish in the high lakes, but we did this day. The fish weren’t spawning, and I don’t think they were staging either. I thought they were post spawn given how long the lake had been ice free, but the fish weren’t eating. We only managed to hook a few. Truly, I think it was a timing issue. Since we have been doing day hikes, we get to the lakes post-AM hatch. Our backcountry excursions have told us the best time for us to get into a slew of fish is in the AM and the late PM. Neither which are possible unless we backpack, or unless we are sans kid (which never happens). Sure, we could hunker down and wait out the afternoon storms, but to fish the PM hatch puts us home close to midnight. Not great for someone that gets up at 4AM to head to work…To be truthful, I did have to chuckle a bit that Mr. Big Fish was a bit disappointed. He has been spouting that it is size over numbers these days, but I am not so sure.

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As always, the afternoon storms rolled in with a bang, and we had to skedaddle down to the lower elevations. The storm held off long enough to fool a few small cutthroat in the reservoir before the heavens opened right as we got back to the Honda. I cannot stress how nasty the road is. It took us an hour to go five miles. It is rough, but does see a TON of use by those with the right equipment. To give you an idea of the pressure this lake receives, there were seven campsites on the east side of the lake alone. However, if you don’t mind fishing with a lot of other folks, there are some true monsters in there…we’ve seen them!

On our way home, we decided to pull into Hecla Junction for dinner. It was high time we got a look at this new home water of ours. It was still a bit too high to wade at Hecla, but Drake was able to get his toes wet. A good way to end the weekend.

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My job as trip planner has become a bit more difficult since the fever first manifest itself. Instead of taking an evening to pick out a spot, research it, and prepare for it, it now takes all week to determine where we will go. Life is all about adapting, evolving. Dustin has been a fly fisherman much longer than I have. Perhaps it is his time to evolve. I am not quite to that stage, so I shall adapt to his change in preferences. After all, I do still get to see some spectacular places and net some beautiful fish…

Just the Facts:

Trip Date: 07/05/2015

Location: Chaffee County, Colorado

Snow Depth: None Encountered

Beginning Elevation: 11,000’

Top Elevation: 12,003’

Elevation Gain: 1,003’

RT mileage: 3.25

Successful flies: Hot-spot Pheasant Tail (red), Elk Hair Caddis (green), Parachute Adams (gray).

Species: Cutthroat trout

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Written by Stephanie Mullins

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