October 1st - 9th: Return to the Winds and on to Silver Creek
I would have enjoyed staying longer at Steamboat Lake but after breakfast I packed up and drove on towards Pinedale and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. If the weather held so beautiful and warm I could take a short backpack or explore areas that weather had interfered with on my way out.
I had read in an old guidebook about arctic grayling at a lake near a little-used trailhead in the middle range. Finis Mitchell's "Wind River Trails" agreed with the usual prodding - "this is your public lands so you should use it". I am not sure if the locals would be so encouraging and overt, so for now I'll call it Grayling Lake. The DeLorme atlas showed the road into this lake incorrectly but Mitchell's book had it right. I found it and set up camp as it grew dark.
Thursday morning dawned red and warm, with mist on the lake but no dew on the tent. I put the espresso machine on the stove and walked out to the water. In the distance the lake was an expanding and silent orange rose glow as the first light tinted the mist steaming off the lake. The steam reminded me of the coffee, and back at camp it was just starting to flow in a steady stream of rich reddish brown into my plastic cup. When it sputtered and stopped I shut the top valve to build up pressure while I readied the milk to be steamed. After a minute I dipped the metal tube in the cold milk and opened the valve. If it is any help in philosophical debates, it is absolutely true that when you steam milk in an empty campground it still makes that glorious sound.
It is possible to enjoy a cup of coffee on a break or even while working, depending on what you do, but if that is enjoyment then there is no proper word for what you feel when you look out over a lake at dawn and inhale the steam as you sip the hot coffee from below the surface of white milk foam in a cup of capuccino. This is one of my indulgences on this trip, to make up for the homeless feeling of long term vagabonding. The coffee as good as what I'd get in North Beach in San Francisco helps make it home wherever I am.
After the coffee I sketched with wet on wet at the edge of the lake. Nothing would dry in the misty dawn so for now this one is done. A larger work, it had to be scanned in two parts and I couldn't get rid of the line that shows between the two parts. Oh well.
I went out in the tube to try the fishing. I had never caught a grayling. They were rising all over the lake. I rigged a floating line and tried six flies - two dries, a scud, hares ear with and without bead, prince nymph, with not even a nibble. I changed to a full sinking line and the Christmas leech and got a hit immediately as it sank. Ten fish in an hour came to the trusty fly that you cannot buy anywhere. Grayling seem like octopus in that they turn on their brilliant coloring in the dorsal fin as they get excited. The fish is a pinkish purplish gray and you can see the giant fin, and as you get it closer all of a sudden you see brilliant turquoise flashes in the fin. As long as the fish keeps flopping and fighting the fin stays brilliant but then as you subdue it, it is back to a beautiful but plain fish. Here is a picture but this is not what it really looks like.
My fishing was cut short by an increasing wind that grew whitecaps on the lake as clouds drifted in from the west. Giving up plans for a day hike to higher lakes, I had everything broken down and in the truck by the time it rained. I drove through Pinedale without stopping and on up the Green River all the way to the lake. Two people were fishing, sitting in their parked truck with lines out in the water. I watched for a while but they had no action, and I couldn't paint in the rain so I started back out to try the river. The rain stopped long enough to set up my tent and put on waders, then drizzled while I fished. I used a sink tip line and big black beadhead bugger, going deep for the big rainbows and brown trout rumored to be there. Got a good bite on the way down and missed it but caught it on the way back, a sixteen inch fat rainbow.
Friday I slept late. The weather was clear, cold, and windy. I fished in the morning with a few bites but no fish landed. I painted from a hillside looking up the river then started the long drive out of Wyoming. I was sad to leave but determined to return during a warmer time for a long backpack into the Winds.
October 6th-10th: Silver Creek, Idaho
I drove into the night towards the Nature Conservancy at Silver Creek. Saturday when I arrived it was too windy to fish so I sketched and scouted a bit. Sunday I fished with intensity and hooked two big rainbows but one broke my line and the other got off with a good jump close to me. It was very windy and the dry fly specialists were having a tough time, but I was mostly using small nymphs. I thought just hooking two good ones was satisfying enough an accomplishment.
Monday I went back to the same pool and sketched as the fish became accustomed to my presence to resume their subsurface feeding. Eventually I fished and caught two good ones there, and another good one downstream that I spotted walking by. They were sixteen to eighteen inches, not very big for this river but it felt good to spot and fish for them individually in the difficult wind.
That evening rain moved in and I packed my gear and prepared for an early morning departure for the drive back to California. I have three sketches but nothing worthy of this precious water. Silver Creek, whether you are fishing or painting, needs to be approached with care and delicacy of presentation. I cannot hurry this one and the quick sketches are not adequate. It will take some time to refine the sketches into a worthwhile painting, so for now the best I can show you is a snapshot.
This marks the end to the Rocky Mountain portion of my travels. I am satisfied with the fishing, and I have sketches and snapshots to work from all winter long. But first there is more fishing to do before winter sets in. My brother is coming out from New York State for a convention in San Francisco and I hope to get him into an Eagle Lake rainbow. After that I'll be heading to the Northwest. It may get tough painting outdoors, but after what I saw in the Rockies I feel as ready as I can be for steelhead weather.
November 17th: Back in Berkeley
It took me a few tries to get a painting of Silver Creek that I felt good about; perhaps it was that I tried to work out the peace and pastoral beauty while apartment hunting back in the Bay Area a month later. It was nice to revisit it in my mind.