Indian Creek Volunteer Work Weekend

Top of WTF Hill

Top of WTF Hill

This past weekend, several incredible flyathletes demonstrated that they truly get what the Flyathlon is all about by ditching work on Friday to take a weekend to build trail in the Middle Creek watershed, drink tasty beers, and catch a few trout.

The project, which was a joint endeavor with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, brought more than 40 people to a remote part of Saguache County to rehabilitate nearly a mile of the Indian Creek trail.  For those of you who participated in the long course of the Flyathlon last year, this is the first mile of the course between the starting line and the Indian Creek, including a steep descent that was previously very dangerous.  Importantly, this trail work dramatically improved this short section of trail for hunters, horseback riders, fishermen and trail runners alike.  Additional demarcation of the Indian Creek was also completed, including the building of cairns throughout the watershed and the installation of signage (including one at the top of WTF Hill!).

Special thanks go to our incredible sponsors Mad Greens, Noosa Yoghurt, and Upslope Brewing who provided healthy food and (way too much but super tasty) drink for the weekend.  Also, thanks to sponsor Tenkara USA for providing the weekend’s top raffle prize.  Our volunteer chef won the Sato rod package, who while new to fly fishing, got an extended briefing from Tenkara flyathlete Bert Garcia…

Oh, and extra special thanks to Carmen Hardin, who came all the way from Wisconsin to help out.  Unbelievable.

Have no fear, we plan to have more of these volunteer opportunities in the coming years, so get psyched!

run. fish. (volun)beer.

 

 

 

Terry honored for work protecting native trout in San Luis Valley

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Upper Sand Creek Lake, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Super psyched for my great friend and Flyathlon board member, Kevin Terry.  Native fish are lucky to have you on their side, KT!

Originally printed in the Valley Courier, May 20th, 2016

ALAMOSA

For Kevin Terry, preserving native trout is a passionand his colleagues in the conservation community are taking notice.

The Trout Unlimited fisheries biologist and project manager, based in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, was recently awarded the Gila Trout Award at the Native and Wild Trout Conference in Phoenix in recognition of his contributions to native Rio Grande cutthroat trout recovery.
 
The Native and Wild Trout conference is an annual gathering of fisheries biologists, project managers and conservation enthusiasts dedicated to preserving the Southwest’s rare native trout species Gila, Apache and Rio Grande cutthroat trout which face serious threats from wildfires, drought, climate change and invasive species. 

The Gila Trout Award, which recognizes outstanding individual achievement, cited Terry’s “remarkable work with Rio Grande cutthroat trout and his contributions towards public education and protection/ proliferation of the species,” and praised Terry’s “strong working relationships” with a variety of stakeholders, from water providers to recreational interests, ranchers to state and federal agencies. 

Through these partnerships , Terry has spearheaded numerous habitat improvement projects on the Rio Grande River watershed in the San Luis Valley, including instream and riparian habitat restoration, irrigation infrastructure upgrades and fish-friendly diversions, as well as stream flow improvements to help native fish communities. 
   
Among other projects, Kevin has taken a lead role in studying how to reintroduce Rio Grande cutthroat to the Sand Creek watershed in Great Sand Dunes National Park, a project that the nomination called “an extremely complicated mix of conservation science and public engagement.” The project involves evaluating multiple high elevation lakes and numerous miles of mainstem and tributary habitats for suitability in reintroducing Rio Grande cutts. The project could help provide an important additional refuge for the species in the face of rising temperatures and climate change. 
   
Besides his project skills, Terry has a gift for connecting with people about the benefits of native fish and educating them in fun, creative ways. For example, he and partners launched a local Flyathlon event, an offbeat athletic competition that combines trail running with trout fishing and craft beer: what’s not to like? Each year, the race course follows a local stream that is the focus of native trout recovery, and raises funds for work such as trail-building or habitat restoration. 
   
He also developed a colorful, fact-filled brochure and poster about Rio Grande cutthroat trout that was widely distributed in southern Colorado and New Mexico. 
   
“Kevin’s enthusiasm for native trout is contagious, and he attacks all challenges with a fresh perspective and a can-do attitude,” said the award citation. 
  
 “It’s an honor to receive this award and to be recognized by my peers near and far,” said Terry. “I have been blessed by the opportunity to follow my heart in my life’s work. Working for an organization like Trout Unlimited has only fed the fire. The outstanding people and energy of this organization, from chapter members and volunteers to staff.”

Trail Runner Magazine

In mid-October, 2015, I decided to attend the U.S. Trail Running Race Directors’ Conference in Estes Park, CO.  It was a bit of a stretch, as we had just wrapped up the second year of hosting our non-traditional and relatively small Flyathlon event…  Am I seriously a race director?

Boy, am I glad that I went.  The knowledge that I absorbed was incredible, and will help improve the Flyathlon for years to come.  The reception I received from the trail running race director community was outstanding, as everyone urged me to continue to pursue my weird  but innovative vision.  And finally, the people I met were wonderful.

Including the crew from Trail Runner Magazine, who I chatted with over more than three but less than six Old Chubs at that evening’s function.  Paul and Jeremy couldn’t be cooler, and I talk too much.  The result of that conversation, and a follow-up conversation on the phone with Paul, is this article.

Thanks to Paul for excluding all of the f-bombs that I am sure were a part of both conversations.

Middle Creek

still water 5-2

On paper, there is nothing exceptional about Middle Creek. It is not Wild or Scenic, nor has it been bestowed with any Gold Medals or Blue Ribbons. No, on paper, Middle Creek is just like the countless other small tributaries that make up Colorado’s headwaters, an arteriole of our vast hydrologic circulatory system. These humble creeks quietly feed the streams that feed the rivers that feed our Colorado way of life. To get to these waters, you have to drive on paved roads until you get to dirt roads until those dirt roads narrow and then run out. Even then, to truly appreciate the complexity of these creeks, you will still have many miles to go, on foot, on trails that may not have been maintained in a while. You will encounter ticks, mosquitoes, stinging nettle, rattlesnakes, moose, bear, downed trees, and sketchy creek crossings. But if you are patient and dedicated, you can catch and release a spectacular relic of Colorado’s natural history, one of our three remaining sub-species of cutthroat trout.

It is the celebration of these unheralded streams, lost trails and majestic native fish that drove me to create the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. As a trail runner and life-long flyfisherman, fusing the two disciplines seemed natural to me, as trail running allows me to explore and fish our remote cutthroat waters more comprehensively.  And then, back at the trailhead, to make it a proper celebration, I add one of the finest uses of Colorado water; our superior craft beer.

run. fish. beer.

Simple as that.

Three years ago, I decided to share this vision with others.  In 2013, fifteen people crawled out of their tents to participate in an “unofficial” Flyathlon race event held around Monarch Lake in Grand County, CO.  In 2014, we made it official, and thirty-five people toed a shoe-drawn line in the dirt at the base of Middle Creek (yes, the one with ticks and rattlesnakes).  And this year, just weeks ago, our sold-out race brought fifty flyathletes from both near (Crestone and Salida) and far (Maine, Wisconsin, and Texas) to the Middle Creek woods near Saguache, CO.

Flyathlon race-day rules are fairly simple. Complete the prescribed trail run, catch a fish at any point during the run, take a picture of said fish on your race bib, and do it all as quickly as possible.  The bigger the fish, the more time is taken off at the end of your run (with a special double bonus for catching a native cutthroat trout).  In 2015, of the fifty race participants, all but four hooked, landed, and documented their catch, some for the first time ever.  And back at our tent city, all fifty enjoyed BBQ, local craft beer, and an awards ceremony loaded with prizes from local Colorado companies thanks to Osprey Packs, Scott Fly Rods, Ascent Fly Fishing, and Rolling River Anglers.

Each Flyathlon race is specifically designed to get people excited about recreating in the most beautiful parts of the Western United States, to infuse the stuffy old sport of fly fishing with a youthful spirit, and to raise money for and awareness about critical cold-water conservation issues.  Relying on a crowdfunding model with our 501c3 partner Colorado Trout Unlimited, this past year, our flyathletes raised an incredible $22,200.  At least 50% of this money will be re-invested into projects to maintain and enhance the trails, creeks and fisheries within the range of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, ensuring that our activity is sustainable into the future.  The remaining monies will be used to tackle important coldwater and native fish issues around the Centennial State.

Moving forward into 2016, I hope to take the Flyathlon to the next level.  With my outstanding volunteer planning board, I have created an ambitious agenda with additional events added in several other basins in Colorado, as well as potential out-of-state races.  If you feel like you have what it takes to be a flyathlete, please visit our website www.flyathlon.com to get on our email list.  If your organization would like to partner with or sponsor the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon to enable us increase our impact, please contact me directly at cutthroat@gmail.com.

I look forward to seeing you on a small creek somewhere deep in the Colorado woods.

run. fish. beer.

Western Native Trout Initiative Grant

Rock Lake RGCT 2

We are more than excited to be partnering with Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project on a small grant that was recently funded by the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI).  With the money provided by WNTI, we will be printing a poster that we have designed (using $$$ raised by 2014 flyathletes) that highlights the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, one of Colorado’s remaining native trout species.  We will make these posters available to cutthroat trout fans through the Flyathlon, through Colorado Parks and Wildlife, through New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and through WNTI.  Further, we will be printing several signs for placement at the trailheads of select Rio Grande cutthroat trout streams, to educate visitors about the fish and its importance.  If you are interested in receiving a copy of this poster, please send me an email.

Please be sure to visit WNTI’s webpage to learn more about the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other Western Native trout.

Fish Pictures 101- Kort Kirkeby

Hello Flyathletes:

Let me start by saying that, as a fish biologist, the best way to photograph a trout is in your mind. Handling trout out of the water can cause a lot of stress on the fish. The best way to catch and release a trout is to keep it in the water as much as possible. It is also great to use a rubber net, keep the fish in the water while removing the hook, and have another person take a photo if necessary. Unfortunately, unless you enjoy running with rubber nets, not all of these techniques are feasible when running the Flyathlon.

With that said, we saw a lot of photographs last year that were…well…difficult to discern.

Kelly DiNatale

Exhibit A: The “uh, could be 5 inches, could be 9…” mystery trout.

Klobie 1

Exhibit B:  The “I’m not dropping you this year” death grip…

I have provided some tips below that will hopefully help flyathletes successfully capture that important trout photograph while minimizing our footprint on the Middle Creek trout fishery.

  1. Be prepared. Between the trail running, keeping track of where other fisherman are, rigging your fly rod, deciding on a fly, checking your back cast, and catching your breath, it can be difficult to remember that you will need to photograph a fish if you are successful. My suggestion is to lay out your race bib near the shore or keep it readily accessible along with your camera/phone. Don’t forget your hemostat/ketchum tool as well for easy hook removal.
  2. Catch a fish. Often easier said than done. Good luck.
  3. Speed is key. Obviously, this is a race so anything you can do to speed up the photo process is good. It is also the most important thing you can do for the survival of the trout. Try to minimize the fight, and make sure your camera is ready to shoot prior to handling the fish. Once you have brought the fish in near your race bib, wet your hands before handling. Removing the slimy coat that covers a trout is very harmful to the fish.  Try to quickly transfer the fish to the race bib and line up its nose (or tail depending on orientation) with the 0 mark. Hold down the fish with one hand while focusing the camera with the other. Remove your hand from the fish and start snapping. Take as many photos as you can before it starts flopping. Don’t be stingy with the amount of photos!  You only get to submit one, so make sure you get a good one.  Once you think you have a couple of good photos, wet your hands and bring the trout back to the water. Hold the fish in the water until it swims out of your hands. Do not try to rock the fish back and forth as their gills are not designed to take water in from backwards; rocking is actually more harmful to the fish. Let it regain its equilibrium in clean moving water rather than water that’s been muddied up by your feet (as I heard it once described: “How’d you like to run a 40-yard dash and then recover in the smoking lounge at the airport?”).
  4. You caught a trout! Tear down your gear and keep running.

Every fish will react differently to being handled. I find quickly handling them (almost surprising them) can be very effective. There are other times where the fish will just freak out. If the fish starts flopping, immediately bring it back to the water upright and hold it there until it settles and then try again. It might be a good idea to leave the hook in its mouth while photographing in case the fish darts back into the creek. Remember, keep the fish in the water as much as you can.

My fish from last year’s race came off of a barbless hook as soon as I got her to shore (I almost lost it). Once I was able to secure her in the water, I quickly transferred her to the race bib and got three decent photos with my phone:

Hopefully these tips help! I’d be happy to discuss this topic over a campfire and beers if you have questions or comments. Good luck this year and see you on Middle Creek!

Kort

Kort Kirkeby

The 2015 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon Approaches…

IMG_1934

We are just over a month away from the 2015 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon, which will again take place in the Middle Creek drainage near Saguache, Colorado.  This year’s event is bigger and better, with a crushing long course, more participants, more awesome schwag, more prizes from our outstanding sponsors, and of course, more high quality Colorado craft beer.  Of course, the primary reason that we hold these events is to raise money for coldwater conservation and education projects, and so far in 2015, we have raised nearly $8000 of our $10,000 goal.  Money raised through this CrowdRise campaign will go towards collaborative projects with Colorado Trout Unlimited, Colorado’s premier coldwater conservation organization.  If you haven’t already, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.  Pick a flyathlete to donate through (the top fundraising flyathletes get a ton of great gear…), or donate to Team Flyathlon Board if you want your money to go towards developing additional Flyathlon events:

https://www.crowdrise.com/2ndflyathlon

Looking forward to seeing you all in Saguache in August!

Trademarked

IMG_1660

Why Trademark?

Thanks to my good friend Katie O’Grady, as of March 10th, 2015, the Flyathlon name has officially been trademarked.  Why on earth would I take such steps for a concept that involves running / fly fishing / craft beer in the woods?  Well, first off, I’ve never trademarked anything, so this was my opportunity.  And yes, that gold sticker on that paper is even shinier in person than it appears in this photo…  Seriously though, I went this route largely to do what I could to ensure that no one would try to personally profit off of this idea.  As you can see in our principles, the fundamental goal of the Flyathlon is to create a fun and accessible venue to get new people out trail running and fly fishing, while raising money for the conservation / preservation / restoration of trails and trout water.   Anyone who seeks to do otherwise can expect to be attacked by my golden seal…

2014 Year in Review

As 2014 draws to a close, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the best beer, runs, and trout of my year.

Happy New Year to all you Flyathletes out there. I hope to see you on a trail, in a river, or at a bar in 2015. Look for an announcement soon about the 2015 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon…

Cheers.

Andrew (a.k.a. The Stout Runner)
Founder and Flyathlete
www.flyathlon.com

Top Five Beers

  1. 40th Birthday Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor 40 oz: Yes, that Mickey’s. The Mickey’s of my youth (wait, that sounds bad…). Yes, to celebrate my 40th birthday, I drank a Mickey’s 40 out of a paper bag (actually an insulated “paper bag” themed coozy) while playing poker with some of my closest friends. Also smoked a cigar that night. Pushed all-in at 1:30 am on a marginal to poor hand, to ensure that I would be somewhat coherent to parent the next day. That plan didn’t work out all that well…
  1. Crooked Stave Raspberry Origins: In 2014, I was a member of Crooked Stave’s Cellar Reserve Club, which provided members a series of exclusive sour beers unavailable to the general public (and at a significant price). Many of these beers were outstanding, but for me, the Raspberry Origins was a standout. I still have one in the cellar, so if you are nice to me in 2015, you just might experience the sourtasticness of this beer. Note: Fortunately, for the stability of my marriage and personal finances, the Cellar Reserve program was terminated. Fortunately for you, this means that Crooked Stave will be releasing more unique beers to the public. If you like sour beer, seek them out…
  1. Three Barrel Thurday Special: I have been drinking Three Barrel beers ever since I discovered this brewery being operated out of the back of an insurance office in the bustling metropolis of Del Norte, CO. Well, times have changed, and Three Barrel just opened their official legit tap-room in Del Norte within the last couple of months. As an official sponsor of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon, the good folks at Three Barrel donated 5.5 gallons of Thurday Special, a unique coconut brown ale, for the post-race party. Polling confirmed my feelings about this beer, as it was selected as one of the best that we served at the event. If you happen to find yourself in Del Norte, please stop in to Three Barrel and fill a growler.
  1. Elevation Beer Company Arete: Coming in 2015, the Flyathlon will be supercharged, in the form of the Troutman Team Challenge. In short, the challenge is to run a full trail marathon (with more than 4000 feet gained), catch all four trout resident in Colorado (brook, brown, rainbow, and cutthroat), and slam a 12+% ABV beer, all in under 12 hours. Ah, but what beer to drink after running 26.2 miles? Everyone knows that I love our Trophy Sponsor’s beers, but until very recently, Elevation did not have a beer over 12% ABV. All that changed with the release of Arete, a deliciously strong barleywine. I just hope that there enough time on the clock to savor this bad boy come September…
  1. Oxbow Brewing Company Cletus: What, you may ask, is a backwoods Maine beer doing at the top of this year’s beer list? Well, as you may or may not know, my best friend lives in Maine, and he and his beautiful wife made the journey all the way to Denver to celebrate my 40th birthday. But they did not come alone… No, they brought with them an assortment of this America’s most wanted beers, including a Three Floyds Dark Lord, a Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, a Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, and the limited release Oxbow Cletus. Needless to say, each of these beers is likely to show up near the top of future year-in-review beer lists, but for 2014, we threw down the Cletus. Which was delicious. And special, because it came from one of the most selfless, genuine (and yes, surly) people I know. Thanks SOG. You really made my 40th.

Top Five Runs:

  1. Sand Ramp Trail: Let me begin by stating that this run was not planned. In fact, it came about as the result of poor work planning on my part (shocker, I know). The initial plan was to backpack with heavy packs over several days from the headwaters of Sand Creek to its mouth, and then to hike back over the Sand Ramp Trail to retrieve the car where it was stashed in the woods near Great Sand Dunes National Park… What I didn’t anticipate was the shit-storm of bloodthirsty mosquitoes that we would encounter over the bottom 7 miles of the hike, complicated by the half-dozen tricky river crossings. Once we staggered out the bottom of the watershed, it was painfully clear that my team had no patience for an additional 8 mile hike through hot, powder-fine sand. So it fell to me to recover the car. Let’s just say that the Sand Ramp Trail is aptly named. That was the longest 8 mile run of my life. Honestly felt like I was hallucinating at one point. Emptied my shoes 5 different times. Epic planning failure. Epic run.
  1. Bluebird Lake Run: Another work-related run, this run came after several days of work in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin. On the last day, I decided to run past our field site on Ouzel Creek, all the way up to Bluebird Lake. Getting to Bluebird Lake is no easy task, particularly running it, as the last mile or so is aggressively steep. To complicate things, I clipped my knee on a boulder on the ascent, which turned into a spectacular bleeder. The journey was worth it though, as Bluebird is a spectacle. Since Bluebird is fishless, on the descent, I stopped to fish Ouzel Lake and soak my battered knee in its ice-cold waters…
  1. Colorado Monument Run: Ah, yet another work-related run (seriously, I do work). At the end of a long week of electrofishing near Grand Junction, two co-workers and I decided to bang out a 10k up onto the Colorado Monument. I have never run the Monument before, but there are two words I would use to describe it. Steep and Stone. Not rocky, like the loose , razor sharp rock of the Leadville Heavy Half. No, the majority of this trail was running on exposed bedrock, like running on really poorly poured concrete. Every step on the descent was a potential train wreck. Didn’t trip, and washed it all down with a Ska Mexican Logger. Or maybe three. Excellent.
  1. Imogene Pass Run: If you are interested in the details of this bad-ass Colorado run, please visit my race report
  1. 40th bday 40k: To celebrate my 40th birthday, I decided that I was going to run 40 miles around Cheesman Park. Yes, laps around Cheesman Park. But since I was nearly 40, and because of the long-term wear and tear that comes with being nearly 40, I decided to revise this birthday run to 40k. A metaphor for life, I asked friends and family to join me for a lap, two laps, or however much they wanted to run with me. The result was incredible. The 1st lap I ran solo. Then, over the next 17 laps, I picked up my father, my siblings, my children, my cousin, my childhood best friend (who HATES to run), my wife’s best friend, my neighbor, my mortgage broker, my lawyer, my former lawyer, my competition for a recent job (he got it), my EPA boss’s boss, etc… After the run mercifully came to an end (at 40.000k), we all gathered back at my house for sandwiches and Left Hand Fade to Black stouts. Such a great way to celebrate (lash out at) getting old. NOTE: Not one to take failure lightly, I still plan to attempt a 40 miler sometime in this, my 40th year. Stay tuned.FullSizeRender-6

Top Five Trout:

  1. Stupid little brookie at the head of the only pool on Canyon Creek during the Imogene Pass Run: As noted above, I have already summarized this experience. There have been many memorable brook trout in my life (the most memorable of which, to date, is the brookie that Kate hooked on her own in Telluride), but this one saved my bacon. Thanks, you crazy little brookie.
  1. Pig Rio Grande cutthroat trout that I caught in the exact same spot last year in Medano Lake, except one year larger: Compare the trout from this video to the one pictured below. Same fish, right? I love my annual pilgrimage to Medano Lake to catch these clueless Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Each year, they are a year bigger, yet, due to their isolation, not an ounce wiser…photo-11
  1. The 1000th 1.5 lb cutthroat trout hybrid that I caught in Lower Sand Creek Lake: If I tried to describe the awesomeness that is the Sand Creek watershed, I would fail. This place is so spectacular, and absolutely teeming with trout. Look at these pictures, and let me know when you want to join me on an expedition back there sometime this summer…
  1. The trout that made the difference: In the 2014 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon, the difference between 1st and 2nd place was a brilliant orange slash. From my race report:“Our fastest finisher was screamin’ fast.  To run 3.5 miles up a significant rock-strewn hill, navigate a flooded aspen grove twice, string up a fly rod and catch an 8-inch brown trout, and run 3.5 miles back in just over an hour and 23 minutes is flat-out awesome.  Ah, but running the same run six minutes slower, but with a shit-eating grin plastered on your face, producing a photo of an 8-inch native Rio Grande cutthroat trout at the finish line…  That is just slightly more awesome.”
  1. The one that got away: I am privileged to be able to (infrequently) fish a secret stretch of the Blue River, somewhere between Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs. It is an even greater privilege to be able to fish it with my dad and the 88 year-old landowner, Sam (who regularly out-fishes folks less than half his age). So this October, when I got the opportunity to fish the Blue again, I strung up my 5-weight Sage, picked up my dad and Sam, and drove to Summit County. After the customary breakfast burrito / huevos rancheros, we hit the water. My primary job during these trips is to remain downstream of the pair of them (in case one becomes entrained in the streamflow as a “drifter”). In working my way back upstream towards them, I hooked a gigantic rainbow trout while drinking a delicious Stone milk stout. As I horsed this pig out of the pool he was in, I saw a flash of something much, much larger deep in the deep, dark depths of that hole… I landed the milk stout trout, and reluctantly rejoined the team upstream.
    Stone Coffee Milk Stout / Blue River Rainbow Trout

    Stone Coffee Milk Stout / Blue River Rainbow Trout

    But that shadow haunted me… With less than 30 minutes remaining on our fishing expedition clock, I again broke away from the pack and made a b-line for that magical stretch of the Blue. Creeping through the riverside willows, I dropped a perfect cast at the top of that run, watched the parachute hopper indicator drift slowly across the stillwater surface defining his lair, and then WHAM! It was on.

    Within seconds, it was clear that I was totally screwed. My decision to retain 4x tippet was fundamentally flawed, and I knew it. And he knew it. As he languidly rolled downstream, it was just a matter of time. Yet when the line went taut, and then snapped, I was somehow surprised… Fortunately, the roar of the surrounding rapids drowned out the multitude of f-bombs that I hurled downstream at that beast. I reeled in my fly line, hung my head, and returned to civilization.

    Hopefully, I will get another shot at this monster. Perhaps in 2015. If’n I do, I will bring 1X tippet and the 8-weight TFO…

    Happy New Year!!