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Camping

It took a while to go to sleep the night before, thanks to the noisy neighbors, but once I fell asleep I was out.  It was the only night we would be sleeping above 10,000 ft and I feared it would be the coldest night of the trip, but it wasn’t, it was actually quite mild and I was very comfortable.  I needed a good night’s sleep too as we prepared to hike in about three miles to the lake we wanted to fish.  This time we would be targeting arctic grayling, another new species to us.

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We planned to fish Marjorie Lake, a lake that according to Utah DWR was last stocked in 1952 with grayling, so the population has been naturally sustaining itself ever since.  I don’t think grayling were ever native so Utah, so I’d say that was as close as we were going to come to a natural population – at least on this trip.  Here’s more from Utah DWR about fishing for grayling in the Uintas:

The hike in from the Crystal Lake trailhead was relatively flat, there is one mountain you have to skirt around, but the grade is not killer.  The hike takes you past several ponds, open meadows full of wildflowers, a few creeks, and it has great views of some of the nearby mountain peaks, like Mt. Watson for one.

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About two miles in we ran into some local wildlife, a herd of cattle.  It’s kind of amazing to see them at such a high elevation.  They had a bull with them who was keeping watch, thankfully he wasn’t aggressive and we were able to navigate around them.

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I had some time to think during the hike and I was a little nervous that when we’d arrive at the lake we’d find that it was just like the lakes we fished yesterday and action was going to very minimal – I didn’t know what to expect having never been there.  The good thing was that there are several other nearby lakes so we had options should one not work out.

The lake was so beautiful at first sight that any kind of mild tension I had of how the day would go vanished, because even if the fishing sucked, at least the scenery didn’t.

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When we got alongside the lake we noticed several rising fish just at the edge of our casting distance.  There wasn’t any discernible bug coming off the water so I tied on a Griffith’s gnat and hoped for the best.

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After a few misses I was finally able to get one on the line.  They have very quick takes and you really have to be ready to lift the rod when they eat.  I also suspect we were around a lot of small fish and they were just a bit harder to hook.  Catching them was just a matter of casting to a rise ring and waiting for the eat.  If you could get it in the ring shortly after you saw one then chances were good it was still in the area and would find your fly.  Thankfully the fishing here would not suck!

We started making our way around the lake, looking for bigger fish.  Fish were rising all around the lake so it wasn’t like we were leaving fish to find fish.

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I didn’t have to go too far to find the big fish on the day.  I made it to a point that was surrounded by deeper water and cast to a rise out in the deeper water and was rewarded with a good eat from a solid fish.  With the water being a bit deeper any fish with size put a bend in the glass rod and this one was giving me some solid runs.

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I don’t know what his size was, I just know he was the biggest on the day, and he was bigger than I really anticipated we’d run into.  I ended catching a few more fish off that point before I caught back up to Blake.

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When I did catch up to Blake he was catching some nice fish from some old tree trunks sticking up out of the water.  Someone came up here and sawed them off years ago and now they made for great casting platforms.

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After catching several grayling we decided to make a move to another nearby lake that I read had a population of cutthroat in it.

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I had read some good reports from Long Pond so we decided to check it out.  The name is pretty self explanatory, it’s a long pond that is part of the outflow to Long Lake.  There were not nearly as many fish rising here, but we managed to catch a few.

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They just weren’t cutthroat, they were brookies.  It was still a pretty place to fish though.

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As we were fishing Long Pond the clouds began to grow, thunder started to roll, and our once bluebird day turned into one that looked pretty ominous.  Rain started to fall and that even turned into hail at one point so we decided that we should probably hike out.  We caught our grayling, we were currently only catching brookies, and we still had a slam to complete so it was time to move on.

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Thankfully, we got back to the trailhead without getting soaked.  The rain was fairly light and patchy, but the clouds were still dark and foreboding, so we drove on down the mountain to go find the last campsite we’d need on our trip.  We were on the home stretch, just needed to catch a Bonneville cutthroat to finish out the slam.

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With it being Sunday afternoon finding a campsite was a breeze and after setting up our hammocks we headed to a Weber River trib right off the highway to try and complete the slam.  It looked fantastic from the road and I think we both thought it wouldn’t be much of a problem.

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I should have known that if the only fish to attack my fly in a good pool was some kind of shiner that we’d be in for a tough afternoon.

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We covered a lot of ground, fished a lot of good looking water, there just wasn’t many fish.  The water was a little on the warm side, I have no idea why they weren’t there.  Blake was finally able to catch one small cutthroat and with that he had completed his slam!  The pressure was off now for him so it was now up to me to catch one.

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I never caught one though.  It was a bummer, but we still had tomorrow.  It would be our last day to fish, so I had to complete the slam then.  We headed back to the campsite, got a fire going (with wood someone had graciously left behind), had dinner then called it an early night.  This time there weren’t any neighbors around to keep us up.

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We woke up the next day, packed up the hammocks, and headed to another Logan River trib to fish for a few hours that morning before heading south.  This was a stream I wanted to fish after looking at it via aerial imagery.  It looked like it had a lot of beaver activity on Google Earth and looked too fishy to pass up.  We hit the trail and hiked a mile or us up before we started fishing.  It was nice to have camped so close to where we planned to fish because it’s an awesome feeling to park and be the first ones at a trailhead.

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Once we started fishing it did not take long for me to get on board that morning and I was able to pull a nice cutthroat from the tail of a good run.

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The stream was a small one in a beautiful sagebrush prairie valley.  The first section we fished didn’t have much beaver activity at all, it was faster, with riffles and runs, much like a smaller Logan River.  It did not fish as well as the other trib we fished the day before, which was albeit harder to fish with a much denser canopy.

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Blake wasn’t able to pull any browns out of the main stem of the Logan, but was able to connect with a good one here.  Gotta keep pace in the diversity game.

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I only managed one more cutthroat out of this stream in our short time fishing here.  Normally, I’d be disappointed in a day like that on a river at home, but I really didn’t even notice.  The scenery was beautiful, the weather was nice, life was good.

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Life was good up until we got to the section I had been drooling over while on the computer back home and there was a guy already there fishing it.  I guess he hiked past us and we didn’t notice him.  I know we weren’t deep in a wilderness area, we weren’t far from a city, and this is probably a pretty popular stream, but he couldn’t have given us a bit more room to fish?  We hiked around until he was out of sight (no trees around so this was quite a distance), gave him plenty of water to keep him busy – that section had lots of braided channels and beaver ponds.  Basically we left him sufficient water so that he wouldn’t catch back up to us.

We dropped in on another beaver complex further up and started fishing.  It was slow going, we didn’t see much fish activity and weren’t getting any bites.  We were moving fairly quickly, leapfrogging each other and before we were even out of that beaver complex here comes that guy passing us on the trail again.  My mind was blown.  At this point I was ready to just leave, but out of spite we again went around him giving him lots of room.

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We didn’t fish much longer before we hit the trail and hiked out.  Right before we got to the vehicle we stopped to fish a bit of fishy looking water right next to the trailhead.  We knew that guy couldn’t high hole us here because he actually passed us while we were walking out on the trail.  Maybe we southerners move too slow?

Just as in the trib yesterday Blake was able to end the morning on a high note and pulled a decent sized cutty out from under some brush.  I actually looked back at him and thought he was foul hooked on the brush, but he was actually hooked up trying to keep the fish from breaking him off.

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It was a good feeling to end with that fish.  The Logan Canyon area treated us very well, it is a tremendous fishery and one we probably would not have fished were it not for the Cutt Slam.  I could come back and just spend the week in the Canyon and have an incredible time fishing a lot of different water, such a cool place.

It was time for us to get moving though to our next destination, so got in the car and followed the Logan on up to the head of the canyon.  Just over the pass we could see the brilliantly blue Bear Lake and the town of Garden City.  I had read that when in Garden City one must stop for a raspberry shake so we did and it was fantastic.

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This town is serious about it’s shakes and there were at least a half dozen within sight of the Quick N Tasty that we stopped at – quite the competition.  After the shakes we headed south to Evanston where we were able to restock on a few supplies and fuel up at a local brewery, Suds Brothers.  No trip is complete until I stop at a local brewery for a flight of beers.  Suds Brothers is no Wind River Brewing Co, but it was still a mighty fine way to have lunch.

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After lunch we kept going south, on our way to the north slope of the Uintas and away from modern day amenities for the next couple of days.  It was all dirt roads from here.

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Our next target species was the Colorado River Cutthroat.

 

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The Colorado River cutthroat are native, in Utah, to streams that flow into the Green and Colorado Rivers.  On the north slope of the Uintas those are going to be east of the Elizabeth Ridge.  Bear River cutthroat reside west of the Elizabeth Ridge in streams that flow into the Bear River.

Our destination was a popular trailhead near the Hewinta Guard Station for a trail that led deep into the wilderness of the High Uintas.  Just as at our last stream we wouldn’t be hiking deep into the wilderness, just a mile or so before we began to fish.

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One cool thing about this part of the Uintas is the number of old tie hack cabins.  We saw a few while on the trail and several more as we drove on the North Slope Rd.  Lots of old railroad history in this part of the country.

We left the trail and headed down to the creek at a section where it ran through a big meadow.  I’m a sucker for high alpine meadow streams and could tell this one was going to be fun.

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It was a small, shallow stream with lots of pocket water and at each bend it’s runs ran into slightly deeper undercut banks.  We were on fish as soon as our flies touched the water.  What the cutthroat lacked in size here, they made up for in numbers.  We caught so many fish in this creek, it was almost unbelievable.

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My best cutthroat from the stream wasn’t any bigger than the others, but it was a bit more colorful.  These fish get bigger and a lot more colorful in those high alpine lakes, especially down on Boulder Mountain.  We really didn’t have time to head down to southern Utah for this trip, maybe something to think about for a future trip.

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Fishing really just doesn’t get much easier than it was here which makes me think how great a place this would be to take a kid.  Once we fished through the meadow section the stream started to go into a forest and take on some elevation.  It was here that we headed back to the trail and made our way back to the trailhead, passing more tie hack cabins and an old abandoned truck.

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The drive east on the North Slope Rd. was a fairly bumpy, fairly slow ride.  The weather had threatened to rain on us while we were fishing, but we were able to avoid it.  While in the car though we saw rain at a distance, but also were treated with the rare double rainbow and we were left to question just what did it all mean?

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We set up our next campsite at Little Lake Lyman, which was a nice, quiet lakeside campground that had plenty of rising fish and resident bald eagle.  Pretty satisfied with the day we didn’t even wet a line.  A cold beer by the fire was good enough for me.  We’d get after the Colorado River cutthroat again in the morning, hoping to catch some bigger versions of the ones we had caught today.

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The first night of hammock sleeping on a week long camping trip is always tough so as soon as I saw twilight the next morning I was up and at ’em.  A short, chilly walk to the bathroom began to reveal the beauty of the Raft River Mountains and the valley we were in.  We had arrived in the dark so I didn’t know what to expect, but this campground had some of the best views out of any that we stayed in.  The remoteness of it was pretty awesome.  If you’re interested in heading to NW Utah to camp, Clear Creek Campground is the only campground option in the Raft River Mountains and it is free to stay there.

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Shortly after my walk we packed up and hit the road.  After a brief drive through Idaho the next stop was the Logan Canyon where we would be targeting Bear River cutthroat.

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The Bear River cutthroat is not actually a formally described species.  Federally the cutthroat in the Bear River system (including Bear Lake and the Logan River) are considered Bonneville cutthroat trout.  Obviously the state of Utah thinks otherwise so I had to do some reading to learn what makes these cutthroat unique.  It has been pointed out by scholars, most notably Dr. Robert Behnke, that the cutthroat in the Bear River system actually are more closely related to Yellowstone cutthroat trout due to a Bonneville Basin high water diversion between the Bear and Snake River drainages some 34,000 years ago.  If you want to learn more about native trout and native cutthroat I can suggest two books for you.  Trout and Salmon of North America by Dr. Robert Behnke and Cutthroat: Native Trout of the West by Patrick Trotter are absolute must-owns for any fish nerd.  They make great coffee table books as well.

We started our fishing on a Logan River tributary where we parked at a trailhead and planned on fishing up from there.  I got ready a little quicker than Blake so I made my way over to the creek to check it out and as soon as I did I saw a cutthroat holding next to the bank.  One float of a dry fly in front of him and my second cutthroat species of the slam was checked off the list.

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Then I caught another one.

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And Blake caught one of his own.

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Now that the pressure was off we were ready to spend the rest of the day looking for bigger ones.  The stream was pretty tight in some places and had lots of overhanging vegetation – great fish habitat, but kind of tough to fish.  In other places it was more open and easier on the fly rods, especially where there were beaver ponds and slower water.  There was lots of variation throughout which made for a pretty interesting little creek.  I feel like the size of the cutthroat we caught was pretty good for the size of the water, it was a great stream for 3 and 4 weight glass rods.

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We had covered maybe 3/4 mile of stream and caught several nice fish before another group of three anglers passed by on the trail and dropped in at a trail intersection just upstream of us.  We had one more fish in us on this stream before we broke for lunch and Blake made his fish count.  It was the biggest on the day so far and a great way to end that session.

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We hiked out and set out to find a suitable campsite for the night.  Sleeping in hammocks requires sturdy trees to hold us so sometimes finding a good campsite can take a little extra time than with a tent.  There are numerous campgrounds in Logan Canyon though and despite them starting to fill up for the weekend we found one without too much hassle at Wood Camp.  We set up camp, had lunch and then hit the water again.

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We fished a section of the Logan that ran away from the road a bit just upstream from the campsite.  It was big water compared to what we were used to and the wading was pretty difficult mainly due to the depth and volume of water moving through.  We weren’t getting many strikes and then finally I get a good take on my dry.  I can feel the weight of a solid fish, I know it’s a good fish because I can feel each deliberate head shake.  Then just as quickly as I was hooked up here comes the fly back at me.  I pulled it from his mouth.  I’m guessing it was a big brown since the Logan is known for them, but I don’t really know.  I do know that it would have been a good fish, best of the trip for me.  After that we decided to move a bit further upstream, hopefully find some safer wading.

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I’ve heard the Madison River called a 50 mile riffle and I had read that the Logan was like a mini Madison and from what I was seeing this was fairly true.  The river was dominated by riffles and runs.

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I was throwing a dry-dropper with a stimulator up top and a green caddis pupa style nymph below and at some point I began holding my mouth right and hit a rhythm.  I had 6-7 cutthroat in a row fishing the different seams and holding water.

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I caught my biggest cutthroat on the day in that stretch.

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I even had a few browns come up and slam the dry.

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Blake didn’t fare as well, it was one of those rare times when I out-fished him, but he did come away with a solid cutty from the Logan.

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Things slowed down for me after the good stretch more of a return to normal.  It was starting to get dark and we were starting to get hungry so we hit the road back to the campsite.  It was nice already having the hammocks set up, so all we had to was make a fire and cook dinner.

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We generally eat pretty cheap on these trips, just boiling water and eating dehydrated meals, but tonight was different.  We actually bought a couple of ribeyes and some potato salad and ate pretty good that night.

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For Day 3 we’d fish another Logan trib and then hit the road to hit the North Slope of the Uintas.  The next cutthroat on our list was the Colorado River cutthroat.

Blake and I just recently got back from a week in Utah, chasing the four native cutthroat of that state.  Flights for the trip were booked seven months ago so it’s safe to say that the trip has been on my mind in some capacity throughout all of 2017.  Admittedly though, having an infant certainly cut down on the amount of space that the trip, or any fishing trip for that matter, has occupied in my brain.  Want to think about fishing less – keep having kids – it totally works!

Fishing in Colorado in 2012 was enough to convince me that I needed to take more trout trips out west.  Having an interest in native fish and more specifically native trout meant that the Wyoming cutt slam was on a very short bucket list after Colorado.  After the success we had fishing in Wyoming in 2015 I knew I wanted to do something similar for the next trip.  I’m always thinking about the next trip, logging things I read in books or on the web for future use.  I gravitate toward the slam style programs.  They provide great outlines for planning a western trout trip.  If you want to catch four different species in their native ranges you typically have to travel to four different watersheds.  It’s a great way to fish a lot of different water and see a lot of sights that you can’t see back home.  Driving to the destinations at times is as much fun as fishing.

I looked at California’s Heritage Trout Challenge, but that seemed impossible to achieve in a week and I wasn’t looking for a two or even three part trip just yet.  Nevada has a Native Fish Slam that seemed a little more plausible, but I was a little hesitant about some of the remoteness of the destinations we would need to go to find those native fish.  At some point I want to make it to New Mexico to chase Rio Grande cutthroat and Gila trout and Arizona for Apache trout, but those are likely separate trips, otherwise that would be a lot of driving for one week.  Then in April of last year, my planning suddenly shifted to Utah as they debuted their own cutt slam program with a really fantastic website – www.utahcutthroatslam.org.  After looking into it further it just made sense for the Utah cutt slam to be our next trip.  Salt Lake City is an easy destination to fly to with relatively inexpensive flights and as a bonus you can catch all four cutthroat species within a three hour drive from the city.

To achieve the Utah cutt slam you’ll need to catch the four native cutthroat trout of the state – the Bonneville, the Bear River, the Colorado River, and the Yellowstone.  Here’s where they live:

 

Since the Yellowstone cutthroat required the longest drive, was in the most out-of-the-way destination, and lived in some of the least impressive looking water I decided we should try and knock that one out first.

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We got the earliest flight we could into Salt Lake City from New Orleans and after a few stops for supplies we set off for the Raft River Mountains, in the NW part of the state.

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Miles of interstate were followed by miles of dirt roads, but we finally arrived that evening at our first creek.  It was a small one and it was heavily used by cattle.  The cattle and the creek shared the same narrow valley and there was only so much space for the both of them.  The Yellowstone cutthroat were supposed to be there too, but it was obvious they wasn’t a very large population in the creek, so we went to work and started covering ground.

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Thankfully the cattle weren’t around at the time, but the cow shit was still there and avoiding it was impossible.  I noticed how covered my boots were when walking back to the car.  After fishing a few prime runs with nary a bite I was a little nervous.  It didn’t make me feel any better when the skies opened up, so I took off my dry and started fishing a nymph.  All we had to do was catch one right?

The heavy rain didn’t last long and as we moved up the stream things started to look better.  Blake caught a trout to get things rolling.

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I followed up with one of my own and all was right in the world again.

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More fish were caught and once you got past all the cow shit the stream wasn’t really that bad of a place to fish.  The treeless mountains at the head of the valley made for a pretty cool backdrop too.

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The size of the fish picked up as we went upstream, we never found any studs, but we found our target species and to catch the first of the four cutthroat species we needed on our first day in Utah was a pretty good feeling.

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We only spent a couple hours on that stream before we figured it was late enough and we still needed to find a place to sleep and set up camp.

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Much like Wyoming we’d be hammock camping each night in National Forest campgrounds (I like a real toilet).  Unfortunately the nearest campground was still over an hour away, so we’d be navigating to and setting up camp in the dark.  Thankfully I had printed out directions to get from place to place because there is not much cell coverage in rural Utah.  We did well finding the roads we needed to turn on and dodging jackrabbits in the dark, but we were pretty confused when we pulled into someone’s driveway at 10:00 at night and three dogs surrounded the car barking up a storm, then we realized we made a wrong turn somewhere.  We backtracked to the main road and righted the ship pretty quick, but that could have made for an interesting conversation should anyone have stepped out from that trailer.

The next day we’d wake up and head east, over to the Logan Canyon where we hoped to catch our second cutthroat species, the Bear River.

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Tomorrow is the annual Beer & Gear event over at Pack & Paddle.  This is always a great event to see the latest in outdoor recreation gear.  The craft beer from across the US is a plus too.  It brings two of my favorite things together so I’m hoping I can slip away and head across the Atchafalaya Spillway.  It’s from 5-8pm so if you’re anywhere near Lafayette tomorrow evening, be sure to head over because you don’t want to miss it.  I hear the big raffle this year is Steve Lessard’s kayak from the 2016 Hobie Fishing Worlds event!

With Beer & Gear tomorrow, that also means it is the start of demo season.  On Saturday Pack & Paddle will be doing a kayak demo from 10am – 2pm over at Vermilionville.  Acadiana residents – head over there if you’re interested in trying out the latest kayaks.  Also on Saturday, if you’re around New Orleans, Massey’s will be holding their first demo day of the year at Bayou St. John, which will be from 10am – 3pm.  The location is across from Cabrini High School, 1405 Moss St.

It’s that time of year, there’s no excuse if you’re in the market for a new kayak or have been wanting to try out the new models not to head out to a demo.  They are free and are the best way to try out as many different makes and models as possible to see what will fit you best.  Whenever someone asks for some good advice in picking a new kayak, the best thing anyone can tell them is “demo, demo, demo”.  I’ve found it really important to try as many different boats as you can before making a purchase because sometimes which one is your favorite will surprise you.