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Fishing

After a peaceful, quiet, and especially good night of sleep we packed up our hammocks for the last time, loaded up the car, and headed down the road and through town toward Bonneville cutthroat trout territory.  For the first time all trip we stopped for a legitimate breakfast at the Woodland Biscuit Company.  It was very good and I’d recommend it to anyone driving through Woodland on Hwy 35.

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The stream we fished was a tributary to the Provo River and like I mentioned before is home to Bonneville cutthroat trout, the last species we needed for the slam.

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The Bonneville cutthroat is Utah’s state fish, they can be found all around the state in coldwater streams that drain into the Great Basin.

We put the AWD Kia Sorrento to the test driving to our destination, but the bumpy dirt road was no trouble for such a capable vehicle.  I’m not being sarcastic either, okay maybe a little, but honestly we had one for both the Wyoming and Utah trips and it made it through everything we threw at it so I’ve got a lot of respect for them.

The stream was fairly small, but had a lot of character, it had lots of different types of holding water and made for great fish habitat.  We hiked down a ways before fishing it and in retrospect we should have hiked down even further because the lower section was far more open than the upper section.  I was first up since I didn’t have the slam yet and it only took one run to catch the fish I needed.

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Slam complete.  Blake was up next and didn’t waste any time catching the fish of the trip.  IMG_3107

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I had no idea we’d run into a cutthroat of that size here.  The pool he lived in was tiny by comparison – see below:

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It was a good thing I was downstream of Blake with a net because once hooked the fish went to flopping and with his size and the strength of the current he was prepared to put up a pretty mean fight.  The current worked in our favor though and took him right to me waiting with a net in a pool below and we were happy to lay eyes on a supersized Bonneville cutthroat.

We spent the rest of the day leap frogging each other and catching cutthroat trout.

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Blake got a pretty good shot-for-shot sequence of one that I put a bow-and-arrow cast to.

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The stream fished pretty well, it wasn’t on fire, but the action was fairly consistent.  Aside from the big fish Blake caught, the size of the cutthroat was about what I figured it would be.  As we moved upstream we moved out of the more open casting water and into heavier streamside vegetation.  It was getting pretty dense in places and we had been seeing several yellow jackets hovering just above the water.  We finally found a nest, then another, and considering how many bushes I had been walking through during the day I was happy we had not been stung yet.  I figured it was best to quit while we were ahead since things were getting skinny and our cutt slam goals were accomplished, so we called it a day, found the trail and headed out of there.

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We made it back to the vehicle, drove down the bumpy dirt road, then hit the pavement and headed back towards civilization.  We stopped in Park City to do the tourist thing and grab some lunch at Red Rock – the Elephino DIPA was pretty tasty for anyone keeping score.

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After lunch we headed to Sugar House to stay with my buddy Eric that night.  He graciously accepted us into his home where we were able to do the one thing we had not done all week – shower.  One big difference in campgrounds in the south and campgrounds out west is the lack of shower facilities.  We are blessed with an abundance of water though.  There really is nothing quite like that first shower after a week of fishing and camping, it’s truly sublime.  After cleaning up we hit the town, another brewpub for dinner, and a stop at the Black Sheep at Epic Brewing for a tasting of some of the best beer Utah has to offer.  I only mention this because I was seriously impressed with the number of beers Epic has to offer and they will let you sample anything for $1 or $2 – whether it’s on draft or in bombers, they will open a bomber and pour you a 4 oz taster not bat an eye.

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We had a great time that night and I want to thank Eric for his hospitality and letting us crash at his house before our flight out the following morning.  I’ve known Eric since kindergarten and though I hadn’t seen him in a few years it sure didn’t feel that way while we were hanging out.

The trip went incredibly well, Blake and I really enjoyed our time in Utah.  A lot of planning went into the trip in order to ensure we’d have success and with that planning came a lot of outside help from a number of different sources.  Books, maps, websites, forums, social media, people – all were used to put together an awesome trip.

I’ve got to thank a couple of biologists with Utah DWR who were a big help when I was trying to narrow down where we should chase each cutthroat species down, Matt Mckell and Michael Slater.  We probably could have completed the slam without their help, but with it we were confident in the places we fished.

Another guy we need to thank is Matt over at What Are You Wading For? who was a good follow on Instagram (@whatareyouwadingfor) leading up to the trip because his big browns and cutthroat were getting us giddy down here in Louisiana as the trip approached.  He was a big help when we were up on the Logan.

I really enjoy these slam trips, I enjoy planning for them, and then getting out there and accomplishing the goal of catching the slam.  Talking with other folks who are just as stoked on catching native fish as I am is a big plus too.  If you want to do something similar and think I might be able to help you, get in touch with me, I’d be more than happy to.

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 were three days into our trip and we had already caught three of the four cutthroat species we needed to complete the slam.  With three days left on our trip, things were looking pretty favorable for us to achieve our goal.  A longer trip had given us some wiggle room in case something were to go awry, but so far things were going pretty good, so instead of moving on to the Bonneville cutthroat on day 4 we planned on taking our time and fish another Green River trib, and then fish a few High Uintas lakes before we’d complete the slam on a Provo River trib.  That was the plan, anyway.

On both the Wyoming and the Utah cutt slam trips Blake and I used the ENO OneLink system.  Making the decision to go the hammock camping route was an easy one when you’re planning for a trip like this.  The system packs very small, it’s easy to set up and break down, and it’s quite comfortable; especially after a day or two when your body adjusts to sleeping in a hammock after normally sleeping on a mattress.  After a long day of fishing it’s usually not a problem to fall asleep anyway.

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While planning out this trip I read through a lot of old fishing reports online from various fisheries around northern Utah that were potential places for us to come fish on our trip.  One report from the stream we were about to head to really stood out among the others and I knew that when we made it out to Utah we had to come fish it.

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Similar to what I mentioned yesterday, there is something about a high alpine meadow stream that really resonates with me.  We parked the car and took one step out of the vehicle to take in the view and then proceeded to get rigged up as quickly as possible to get down to the stream.  This was going to be a larger stream than the one yesterday, so I was hoping that also meant a few larger cutthroat would be thrown in as well.

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Blake started the day off with a small cutthroat on a chubby chernobyl, but the cutthroat proved to be few and far between.  The consistent action early on was from the brook trout.  The first time we had seen them so far this trip, but they were all over this stream.

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As we made our way further upstream the brook trout action started turning into whitefish action, I had no idea they were in this stream, but I landed a few good ones and one in particular gave me a nice fight.  It was enough for me to get a picture with him.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and I wasn’t sore on catching whitefish.

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Eventually each of us did end up catching a decent sized cutthroat so it wasn’t all brookies and whitefish.  I think had we gone a little further up the road and fished the stream farther upstream, closer to the mountains in the background, we would have probably done better on the cutthroat, but I still had a blast catching whitefish and brookies.  The action here wasn’t as consistent as the small stream we fished the day before, but it was still steady and no matter the species that is all you can ask for when you go out fishing.

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When it got to be lunch time we decided to make our way back to the vehicle.  The walk back was a bit further than we had expected – we covered a lot of ground on this stream.  Around every bend was another hole, run, or riffle that looked too good to pass up.  It was an awesome fishery, a beautiful stream, and I couldn’t help but crack open a beer and snap a few more pics.

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It was a good spot for a sandwich as well and after we had lunch we made our way westward on the North Slope Rd.  We passed over the Elizabeth Ridge and into the Bear River watershed.  The dirt road finally ended at Mirror Lake Hwy and then we headed south and up.  Our goal was to try and camp as close as we could to the trailhead we wanted to park at and hike from the next morning and I honestly thought it would be pretty impossible to get a campsite on a weekend night during summer, but I guess since we were there around lunch time we were able to beat folks coming up from Salt Lake City.

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After we got set up I had a few lakes picked out where I thought we could catch another new species to us, the tiger trout.  The tiger trout is a hybrid between a brown and a brook trout and they are known for their big appetites.  They can be found in the wild, but here they are more commonly caught after being stocked by the Utah DWR.  We set out from the campground and, with the help of my Garmin GPS, navigated our way through the woods a couple miles to a lake that I had been told was a good one for tigers.

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It was a beautiful lake, no doubt about that, but there really wasn’t much fish activity going on around the lake.  I don’t remember if I even saw a trout rise there.  Blake had a swipe at his dry once that I recall, but that was the only action we saw.  We moved on to another lake.

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The next lake looked worse.  It was still very pretty, but the beaver activity here was massive, mounds and dams in lots of places.  It looked like they had even managed to raise the lake level, submerging stands of pine trees in the process.  Those submerged pines put tannins in the water and really threw off the water clarity.  It looked like a cypress swamp you’d see on the Florida panhandle.  That lake was a complete bust, thankfully it was not out of the way from where we were headed, which was back by the campground.

We stopped at the lake by the campground and tried our luck just to see what was in there.  There were fish rising, so we knew it wasn’t dead, but there were also lots of other folks fishing, the lake was well worn around it’s edges.

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I took off my streamer and changed to a dry-dropper that had a small dry with an CDC emerger pattern hung off the back.  Not too long after changing I was able to spot a rise and put a cast in the middle of the ring, a few seconds later I was rewarded with a fish.  It had swiped at the dry and I ended up hooking him with the emerger.  Foul hooked fish always put up a great fight.  It was a tiger trout, but I felt a little dirty catching him like that.

I went back to fishing and was able to repeat the process shortly after, only this time the fish was actually properly hooked.  He took the emerger and after bringing him in I felt a little bit better about my tiger catch this time around.

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Tigers are pretty cool looking fish, even if this one was propagated in a lab at some fish hatchery, they still have pretty fantastic patterns.  I was happy to be able to add another species to the life list.  I’m not keeping a tally anywhere, I just like to catch anything that swims.

We’ve had pretty good luck throughout both Wyoming and Utah finding quiet campgrounds with respectable neighbors, so much so that I guess I overlooked picking one right off the main highway.  Our luck had finally run out here at Lily Lake.  We had some real winners on both sides of us.  It probably didn’t help the way our site was situated, we were on a hill, with all the other campsites in a loop below us – we could hear everyone’s conversations, it was terrible.  While setting up camp at lunch we had some real dude-bro talk in the site next to ours.  No big deal, I’ve overhead idiots talk before, but the mouth on this one cat was a bit much considering he had a kid with him.  This may have been his dad, but I couldn’t figure that part out.  I’m hoping he was just an idiot brother.

Potty mouth dude-bro wasn’t the worst though.  As it is getting dark (which out there happens after 9pm) and things were starting to calm down around the campground, people were turning in and calling it a night and we were looking to do the same.  It wasn’t happening though thanks to the neighbors on the other side of use.  I like to think I’m a pretty open minded guy, but the conservation they were holding was beyond distasteful.  I should have never been subjected to hear what Grady, Cara, and Jeremy were discussing around the campfire.  They had all hit the sauce pretty hard and did a great job projecting so everyone around could hear them go into a number of backstories.  I’ll rattle off a few.  See Grady has certain sexual preferences and his girlfriend Cara, whom they share 5 kids together, likely not all from the same parents, is not exactly as adventurous as she was and he was upset that she wasn’t into the same sick shit he was into.  Meanwhile Jeremy’s wife had cheated on him and they had split up and Grady and Cara were trying to convince Jeremy that he was still hurting emotionally, while Jeremy was adamant that he was really alright and he had the laundry list of one night stands to prove it.  That’s just a small snippet of the crap we were subjected to for at least 4 hours.  I guess we’re just too polite, I’m sure someone with less couth would have just gone down there and set them straight.  However I wasn’t interjecting myself into some drunken love triangle while I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Upon arrival I thought the campground hosts were pretty awesome, but I guess they were a little too much like the “cool parents” in high school and just let the whole quiet hours after 10pm thing slide.  Never again am I camping at a campground off the Mirror Lake Highway, or Utah’s Redneck Riviera as my buddy Eric put it.  Hopefully we’d have better luck tomorrow after our hike in to more High Uintas lakes.

 

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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