Sunday, September 30, 2007

Black Range Backpack-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Hiking around the gorge in Holden Prong is quite a haul. Now,exhausted, we were looking for a camping spot. Coincidentally, the canyon had narrowed considerably and there really wasn't any space to pitch a tent. Eventually, we did find a slightly wider area and decided it would do. It's amazing how much better you feel just by getting the pack off. The next morning I caught a few more fish, all good fighters, until we reached the often photographed series of waterfalls that marks the beginning( or the end in my case) of the fishing water on Holden Prong. I tried the deep pool below the falls without success.Then, I decided to just dunk myself in the cold water.We did see a five-legged leopard frog on a rock face above the pool. The Rio Grande cutthroats had been great fun: each one a classic. Now we started the considerable task of reaching Sid's Prong saddle. It was a much longer hike to the crest than I remembered from a previous backpack,but we did make it to Holden Prong saddle, and after a good rest we set out on the Crest Trail. It just so happened, as we stood out on the exposed ridgeline, that the first thunderstorms in 3 days began to the west and south of us.The humidity soared in this late afternoon as we tried to speed to Sid's Prong saddle.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Sadly, this beautiful area was within the Silver Fire ( June, 2013). Expect vastly altered conditions in the future.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holden Prong Fishing-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

After lunch we packed up and started up the Holden Prong trail. In a short while I saw trout- Rio Grande cutthroats- cruising in a deep blue-green pool. A minute later I had caught a nice fat one. As we continued on I would cast at only similar looking pools- the fish weren't anywhere else. They seem to have an instinct,because of the extreme fluctuation in water levels,to stay where they know the water will be, even as long stretches of the rest of the stream dry up. I caught maybe four or five more. It was a little difficult taking on and off my backpack to fish. I tried leaving it on a few times but it was more than a little awkward, especially when I was scrambling on rocks or bending down to release a fish. The weight of the pack had me constantly fighting a nosedive into the water or a headsmash on a boulder. I also had to worry about the patience of my non-fishing companion.She was very, very patient while I tried my luck at more than half of the promising spots as we hiked upstream. To try every good looking pool, or close to every one,would have not been feasible given our schedule: we were doing a 25 mile loop in three days, and we have never hiked more than about 8 miles a day with a full pack. I was happy with the fish I caught. Their strength,their beauty, their very existence in this remote canyon on the dry side of the pretty dry Black Range, had me in a constant smile.
At some point I had started using a Black Ant, because real black ants were everywhere streamside. At the last crossing before the trail makes a steep climb out of the canyon to bypass the narrow gorge,there is long,wide stretch of flat water , less than 2 feet deep , with a small falls at the head and another at the tail. There was no gravel here, just a thin layer of organic matter that had accumulated on bare rock. Upstream , there was a series of cascades over the same bare bedrock.I drifted that Ant in the narrow seam of flow at both ends and came out with good fish each time.That was exciting I thought. That was well done.IMPORTANT UPDATE: This hike is within the  Silver Fire burn area. Expect vastly altered conditions from those described here (October,2015).

Along Las Animas Creek- Gila National Forest

A beautiful place. UPDATE: unfortunately, this idyllic scene may be vastly altered due to the Silver Fire( June, 2013).

Murphy Place- Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Holden Prong/Las Animas Creek Backpack - Aldo Leopold Wilderness

It was chilly on Mcknight Mountain. A little bit raw compared to the already balmy weather in the lowlands.The clouds were rushing by.The wind and chill , and the tortuous drive up the Mcknight Road, completely exposed the fact that my backpacking partner had zero enthusiasm for this trip. Still I was determined. I had been hoping to get back to Las Animas Creek for 5 years. 3 years ago I made a mental note of the then marked turnoff for the Water Canyon trail when we hiked the Crest trail to Mimbres Lake. Why I can remember things like this - I don't know. The turnoff was no longer marked and the trail no longer obvious.There were remnants of a cairn hidden in the grass and aspen saplings and about 10 yards down the hill an actual tread to follow.The Water Canyon trail is rapidly becoming more like a place where a trail used to be than a real trail. Small aspens and locusts grow in the path. Downfall crossings are frequent. Most of the lower end has very little tread to follow and many steep stream crossings. In addition to those trail conditions, the rising temperature and humidity as we descended to the bottom(3'500 feet lower) made the chill on the mountaintop a distant memory. Even though it is entirely downhill and only 5 miles long(supposedly) it took us over 4 hours to reach the Holden Prong trail. We hadn't backpacked in few years,but our skills were still good and we set up camp. Bear sign was everywhere. It had not been a carefree ramble in the woods.IMPORTANT UPDATE: much of this hike  was within the perimeter of the Silver Fire, conditions may be vastly altered(June,2013).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts of a Fly Fisher

Fishing is cruel. It's also mysterious. Even the small, fragile and sometimes ridiculously transparent world of a trout in a stream has something in it of the leviathans lurking in the dark ocean. Creatures living in these tiny rivulets of water amidst all this land. Stranded as if on another planet so far from, and at least here in the southwest, with no way to get back to their mothership ocean. It's cruel to pull them up to the air, however briefly. The pain of the hook I've felt in all my fingers many times over, probably not the same as in the lip.Somehow it seems more cruel just to terrify them and, let them go, rather than kill them and eat them. I can't deny the cruelty,yet I can't deny the compelling hold fishing has over me. Perhaps it's an instinct, a link to a primitive self: stalking one's prey, wandering the forest. Or perhaps that's some kind of rationalization. I don't think I'll stop anytime soon.Somehow not denying what seems to be obvious, clears my mind.Yet in those moments,when a release doesn't go 100% the way it should, or there's a foul hooking, or swallowed fly- the strange cruelty of what I'm doing surfaces.But it's usually quickly forgotten in the adrenaline mainline of the next fish tightening the leader.Then I redouble my resolve for good releases off short plays. I move on to the next mystery.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bonito Creek Camping-Lincoln National Forest

Crest Trail

Nogal Peak

Wild irises

South Fork Bonito

In late May I started things off with fishing trips to Three Rivers for brookies, and Bonito Creek for rainbows and brookies. Fishing was good and I did catch one truly large rainbow in Bonito Creek just below the confluence with Aspen Canyon. I also encountered other fisherman for first time in the seven or so years that I'd been fishing in the White Mountain Wilderness.

In early June we went on a trailer camping trip back to Bonito Creek. We found a good spot on a dirt road along the creek. We hiked up the Argentina Trail to the Crest and then back down the Little Bonito and Big Bonito trails. The crest was spectacular! The third day it was starting to get windy, cloudy and a little cold. We drove around until the sun came out and then hiked some of the South Fork and the Bluefront trails. I did a little fishing,but only caught a few small trout.By the time we returned to the campsite, it was really blowing a gale. We could hear trees cracking all around us and decided to get out. It was a long drive back to Las Cruces with 60 mph headwind the whole way.
Argentina Canyon trail
Looking down Argentina Canyon
Argentina Spring on the crest

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Day in Black Canyon-Gila National Forest

Black Canyon Gila Trout
Sometimes you wait so long for something, you think it's never going to happen.Even as the day approached I thought something would go wrong. But nothing did. I made it to Black Canyon. I fished for Gila trout. I made the wrong choice choosing trails walking in, which led me onto a narrow ledge of a cliff, which to fall from would mean death, not just injury. I left my lunch in the truck. Somehow I didn't secure the cap of one of my water bottles so I soaked and ruined my camera, but I fished for Gila trout. I didn't change my cap for the one with the cloth that protects my neck from the New Mexico sun. I didn't put on sunblock.I turned down and parked on the road that was 50 yards before the road I wanted, which added a half-mile to my hike, but I fished for Gila trout. I fished for Gila trout and I caught Gila trout. At the first pool I cast from behind a giant Ponderosa pine: there was a bite. A short while later, kneeling in some tall grass, I blind casted into a calm, narrow pool and waited a few seconds with just the fly sitting on the surface. The line tightened with an undeniable hook-up, and a few moments after I held a pure strain Gila trout in my hands. I continued upstream, catching a nice fish in almost every deep pool.The few where I'd failed, I made up for on the walk back. It was hot, a little too hot for mid-September. I didn't mind. My lunch wasn't back at the truck, like I thought, but back at the house in Las Cruces. So, it would be at least another 2 hours before I could stop at the Lota-Burger in Deming and get something to eat. I didn't mind. The drive out was just as slow and rough as the drive in. I didn't really mind. The waiting was over.