Guest Entry by Driftless Flyathlete Dave Kuntzleman
After hearing that the Driftless Flyathlon (my favorite event of the year) would be cancelled and it would be replaced with a virtual Flyathlon this year, I quickly decided it was time to do the Chicago Carp Marathon. It’s a ridiculous idea I had been kicking around for quite some time- and now I had no excuse not to do it.
I started out on a nice cool Friday morning on July 31 and was on the road at 6:15 to see the sun coming up over Lake Michigan. The route for the day would follow the shoreline of Lake Michigan up, cross to the Chicago River and follow it down to the fishing spot, then cross back to Lake Michigan and take the trail back towards home- combination of mixed use trail and streets with a little bit of “Chicago single track” thrown in for good measure.
The first 15-or-so miles clicked off pretty easily. It was a beautiful morning as I set an easy pace listening to the LM waves crashing on the shore. Chicago is flat as hell so I threw in a few hill repeats for some “elevation gain” over at Mt Trashmore (65 feet…) on my cut west to another trail along the Chicago River.
I hit my canoe at mile 15 “the turnaround” so I had to have to the traditional whiskey shot. Except in this case it was a local barrel aged Malort- Chicago’s finest liquor. Nothing better than a 9 am shot! I got the canoe in the river and paddled down to my favorite carp flat. Solo carping in the canoe is always tough but it’s doable. I gave myself about 3 hours to fish the area before I’d give up and begin the trek home. My goal was a 24+ inch fish.
An hour-and-change of seeing few large fish and having no good shots at them had me a little anxious. But this is how carping tends to go. I finally decided to just take what I could get and take the pressure off. So I presented to the next fish I saw and quickly stuck an 18”er. Got the photos I needed and was feeling better. But I still had plenty of time so why not try for an upgrade? Soon I saw her- a solid fish cruising looking for a meal. It took a couple casts to get it right and she sucked the fly down on the drop! I set the hook and she tore off towards the middle of the river and deeper water. I started back paddling my canoe off the flat while attempting to keep tension on her. I cleared the flat and tightened up the drag just as I started to see backing coming off the reel. A few minutes and another line peeling run later I managed to bring her in and she’s in the net, in the boat and onto the tape! Just the fish I was looking for- a fat 29” carp! I quickly snapped a few pics and got her back into the water. She gave a good splashy kick and she was off! Mission accomplished and feeling good! Time to head back to the ramp and finish the back half of this run!
On the way out I happen to see a couple tossing something off the pedestrian bridge into the river. “Great” I think “Now I have to go pick up after someone.” I roll over to the bridge to find something that I wasn’t expecting- a Santeria sacrifice. I paddle up on a dozen of yellow roses and four headless chickens floating in the water. I leave them alone. Here’s hoping it helps their loved one recover from whatever is ailing them. The local snapping turtles- most the size of garbage can lids- will take care of it, regardless.
I got back to the launch and get the canoe put away. Now it’s time for the home stretch! Just 11-or-so miles to go with a stop along the way celebratory beer! I head east back to the lakeshore for a few miles, hit Cricket Hill for a few more mini hill repeats (not worth it) then head over to Half Acre Brewing Co. I manage to snag an open patio seat and enjoy a Steve (Kolsch) and a The Art of Holding Space (a 3% “hydrating” table beer).
With the final part of my Run- Fish- Beer finished it’s time for the last mile home! Overall it was a great full day enjoying my 3 favorite things.
Guest Blog by Paul Kusnierz
This morning I participated in my first (socially distanced) flyathon. It was a good one and I think I might be hooked.
At about 6:30, I found myself at the trailhead. When planning this outing the previous night I had grand visions of doing a 15 mile run and catching a 6” redband rainbow trout… but it was too late for me to run that far and still be at my work desk at a reasonable time. The creek I chose to fish comes out of the foothills. While the creek starts at an elevation of greater than 5,000’ among fir and ponderosa forest, it quickly descends to the valley floor where sage and rabbitbrush reign, and it gets hot, 100+ hot. This creek is small, dries up in places, and only contains redband rainbows.
I had heard about these fish and though I’ve driven over the creek many times, never even seen it due to the thick riparian vegetation. The trail started out above the creek with some nice rocks to scramble over (at least that’s what the mountain biker ahead of me was trying to do) then quickly found its way next to the creek. For the majority of the 5.5 miles in to where I planned to fish the slope was relatively consistent but with plenty of short steep spots to slow me down and make breathing a bit more difficult. As I ran, I took in everything I could while remaining upright. I saw bluebirds fly up the trail, observed the handiwork of some beavers, watched the vegetation around me change from grasses and shrubs to trees, and noticed that there is a lot of sand in the creek…
This sand is likely the result of the roads and trails that are ubiquitous in the watershed. While I suspect that the much of the sediment is the result of legacy road building and logging, there were multiple locations where the trail was definitely contributing. It was a reminder that even when in a beautiful place with few people, things aren’t always perfect. I’m thinking some volunteer work to shore up the trail and reduce sedimentation is in my future.
When I reached my planned fishing spot there was some bumbling around before I caught a fish. The creek was choked with brush and I had to remove the leader from my 7.5’ tenkara rod so that I could drop the fly into the creek without getting caught on anything... pieces were lost. However, once I got the parachute blue-winged olive in the right spot, I had a fish on. The 5.5” fish was on the bib for a photo and back in the water quickly. With that I turned around and headed back down the trail. I had planned to only catch one fish (if I caught any) and stuck to it. Knowing that I was going to put in a solid trail run, having landed a trout from a new creek, and assisted by the mostly downhill grade, running out was a breeze.
I did drink a tasty local beer after the run, albeit after my workday. It gave me a chance to consider the morning’s activity. I really like creek fishing. The fish are usually plentiful and willing to bite and competition from other anglers isn’t a concern. Running along that creek before and after fishing gave me a different perspective than driving up and hopping out of the truck to fish. I saw what was great about the creek, but also what could be better. This creek is very small and conditions are tough for it’s inhabitants. I wouldn’t fish very often; probably only as icing on the top of a good run. But whether or not I fish it, that creek is a special place, like so many others that are out there to be discovered, explored, and protected.
Guest Blog Entry by Flyathlete Ben Wostoupal
On Sunday, July 12th I set out from the Wild Basin trailhead in a much different place than I did during last year's Flyathlon. 2019 was my very first year of the Middle Creek Flyathlon, and to say I had a blast is an understatement. Both me and Michelle (my fiance) were blown away by everything surrounding the Flyathlon. A fantastic community, important conservation, wonderful place to camp, as many great beers as you wanted, live music, BBQ, and a challenging Flyathlon course. We had an absolute blast last year, and it was fun to reminisce about this during my 2020 solo run.
I decided only a day or two prior to get my Flyathlon run done on Sunday. Available weekends for the Summer were starting to dwindle fast, and with work being as busy as ever I was ready to get out for a day in the mountains. I decided on Wild Basin because it is far and away my favorite place to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Essentially every good hike past the main waterfall in Wild Basin requires a 6+ mile approach, which keeps crowds away and adds a nice little challenge. I’ve hiked quite a bit of Wild Basin, but only just got into fishing, so I was excited to try out both.
Luckily, only a few days before fishing on Left Hand Creek, I broke a segment of my Tenkara rod trying to put it away too quickly (word to the wise: don’t do that). I won this Tenkara rod during last year's Flyathlon, and it is truly a perfect lightweight fishing companion, so I was bummed that it wouldn’t make the trip to Wild Basin. This may have turned out for the better as I was casting pretty far during my fishing attempts.
Anyways, back to the run, I started off from Wild Basin TH around 8:00 AM or so. My destination was Thunder Lake, which sits around 10,500 ft., is a 13.2 mile run with 2,250 ft. of gain. Actually pretty similar to the Middle Creek long course. The first part of the trip was mostly getting used to the trails and avoiding the many tourists that frequent the first mile. Once I peeled off on the campsite trail (little shortcut), I was pretty much alone save for 2-3 people until I made it to Thunder Lake. The ascent was relatively uneventful, but super quiet and peaceful, past wooded areas and several creeks. I ran/hiked most of the trail and made it up there in about 90 minutes.
Once I was up there I beelined for the inlet to Thunder Lake. Something in my novice-fishing mind told me there would be fish there. After fishing near some boulders on the North end of the Lake, and after snapping off two Parachute Adams to poor casting (this happens a lot), I made my way to the actual inlet of the lake.
Right at the inlet were several huge cutthroat trout, and I could hardly tie on an elk hair caddis fast enough. I threw this dang fly about 15 times right over several cutthroat, actually getting a really nice drift, and they couldn’t have been more disinterested. I tried out several other colors of elk hair caddis (red, black, etc.) and no luck. A local fisherman passed me by (he was actually quite chatty) and told me he caught one on a black beetle. Since my fly inventory is nearly always lacking (I lose quite a few as you can tell), I switched over to a #12(?) Black Flying Ant, at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.
It only took two total casts to get a nice strike from a pretty big cutthroat. I’m pretty notorious for hooking fish, but letting them fall off the fly, so I was very focused on keeping my line tight and getting this beautiful fish up to my bib. After about a minute or two of struggling, I finally landed a wonderful cutthroat trout (my personal best!) and took a picture. I had to use my old Flyathlon bib from 2019 because the USPS apparently does not want me to have my new one.
I was elated after catching this fish, since it is always nerve-wracking to run 6.5 miles one direction and potentially not catch a fish. Afterwards I took a break and ate half a snickers and a mini-Coke (true ultra-running fuel), and headed back along the shore. I tried a few more casts, and actually got a few good strikes, but couldn’t land any, so I packed up and headed down.
The great thing about running uphill oneway is that the downhill is so cruiser. I was absolutely cooking on the downhills and having a great time rock hopping on some of the more technical sections. After about 45 minutes I was back at the TH and my car, and I was a happy camper.
I ended the day with a bag of Lays chips (true ultra-running fuel), a slice of cold pizza, and an ice-cold barrel-aged Avery Fortuna, which was fantastic. All-in-all a very successful day out on the trails, and my first Flyathlon attempt of the year. I have a few more ideas about long Flyathlon attempts in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, of which I may wrangle a few other runners this year to join me on.
Enjoy the summer, guys!
This past Thursday, I took a day off of work to assist Colorado Parks and Wildlife in stocking hundreds of baby Rio Grande cutthroat trout into watersheds around the San Luis Valley. My assignment was a remote and rugged small watershed near the Conejos River called Sheep Creek. So with the help of 2/3 of my terrier pack (the third was in Denver getting a haircut) and a couple of retired homeowners who knew the area, we loaded my 105 liter Osprey with 2 bags filled with trout fry and pointed south.
On our hike over to the creek, we stumbled across a herd of about 60 elk and watched for 10 minutes or so as they crossed over the drainage, regrouped, and then headed out over the ridgeline. Eddie Vedder gave a menacing (but just soft enough so that only I could hear it and be impressed) growl to let them know what he would've done to them had they stuck around...
On arriving at the overgrown creek, it was immediately clear that it was already inhabited by a robust population of cutthroat trout, and a single bow and arrow cast with my trusty 7-foot-3-weight produced a nice 10-inch cutthroat. Nevertheless, our assignment was to release this next generation of trout into the wild. I identified a couple of pools that did not appear to have any sharks in them, allowed the temperature in the bags to slowly equilibrate to the temperature of the creek, and released the Rio Grande cutties.
An though I would've loved to stick around and fish for a while, with the rest of the family waiting for us in Westcliffe, we began the slow trek back to the truck. After a sweltering hike out, during which we walked through an aspen grove that had ample evidence of recently housing the herd of elk, we arrived and began the drive home.
The dogs were completely spent, a tired that only a wilderness adventure on 4-inch long legs can deliver.
It was a good day.
I've been wanting to do the Comanche / Venable Loop for a while, and it certainly was all that I had hoped it would be.
There was very little running on the way up the Comanche Trail due to it's relentless grade (and my advancing age), but moving slowly allowed us to take in the incredible views along the way. It was windy as hell at Comanche Lake, which made fishing a challenge, but there were a ton of cutthroat cruising the northern shoreline and I was able to pick up one (~13 inches) with a size 12 stimulator.
From Comanche Lake, we began the steep uphill climb to Comanche Pass, which sits somewhere around 13,000 feet. It has been a while since I have been at 13,000 feet, which may explain the brief period of light-headedness and tunnel vision... Following a nice a cruiser of a run from Comanche Pass over to the top of the Phantom Terrace (on the SLV side of the mountains), we descended across Phantom Terrace to the perched Venable Lakes. While a little bit sketchy (pucker factor 4/10), I never felt at any real risk of plummeting to my demise, though I can imagine that the risk level goes up in weather or during melt out...
On the descent, I had the unlikely but pleasant surprise of running into longtime Flyathlete Katie Burgert who was hiking / fishing the loop in the opposite direction with some friends. They had just left lower Venable Lake, where they reported that they had crushed a bunch of cutthroat using the same size 12 stimulator, which fortunately remained rigged up on my rod...
Lower Venable Lake was as advertised, with 4 identical 10 inch cutthroat trout landed in a dozen or so casts. Plenty of casting room, eager fish, I would highly recommend this lake to anyone who is learning to fly fish and wants to be successful. The one caveat is that it is pretty exposed up there, so if weather rolls in, I'd be prepared to descend quickly into the Venable Valley.
With clouds beginning to build, we decided to bail out and head towards home. The descent was punctuated by a whole lot of sloppy running (tired legs and jagged rocks), a side diversion to Venable Falls, and finished off with an iconic breakfast stout from Founders Brewing.
An outstanding way to start my Socially Distanced Flyathlon Challenge summer...
As those of you who have participated in past Flyathlons know, before every event, we sacrifice a shitty-mass-produced-domestic-beer to the craft beer gods.
This year, there was one beer that was the runaway winner when cruising the swill aisle in the liquor store...
And now that we have spilled your low calorie and refreshing 4.6% ABV blood in the woods, let the Socially Distanced Flyathlon Challenge officially begin.
run. fish. beer. six feet apart.