All Fins and No Feathers

My favorite season of the year snuck up on me this year. It went from spring to fall and I seemed to have skipped summer. Between work and multiple friends weddings the summer seems to have flown by. I’m not trying to complain that fall is here, more so surprised by its sudden appearance.

Fall doesn’t just bring cool and crisp mornings, changing leaves and fancy coffees. It also heralds the beginning of bird season and some of the finest fishing of the year. We decided to bring this fall in with a trip to chase a few of Arizona’s less famous residents, Blue Grouse, Apache Trout and Grayling.

Blue grouse (technically now a Dusky Grouse for all you serious birders out there) are an elusive upland bird that are native to Arizona’s high country. These birds blend into their forest home perfectly and are notorious for holding so tight you can practically walk right over the top of ’em. This was to be our first outing chasing grouse and our dogs first hunting trip of the season.

Sage is our one year old German Shorthaired Pointer. She is full of energy (an understatement) and does a great job covering ground. In our summer time training sessions she has begun to develop a good point and is getting more and more steady to the shot. We were excited to hunt but the dog was over the moon to get out in the woods.

Upon our night time arrival the dog was beyond excited by all the new smells and scenery. It was tough to get her in the kennel for bed that night but we had no problems getting her going the next morning!

Colorful dawn sky

The morning began cold and with the smell of fall in the air. A light dew covered everything lending a magical quality to the landscape and the promise of wet boots to come. Sage was off like a shot, her long stride easily eating up the distance and making the hills seem flat. She zig zagged back and forth across the landscape beautifully and seemed unfazed by the heavy dead and down timber that covered the forest floor.

Making the dead and down look easy

We plodded along behind the dog, wishing the going was as easy as she was making it look. The morning held a few pulse quickening points, but they turned out to be Northern Flickers gorging on a Common Juniper and a tree squirrel that froze on top of a stump. The dog did great, and we thought we had done great choosing some grousy looking country. We were wrong. After many miles covered and few hours past we discovered no grouse. So it goes.. but for a first try we could hardly be disappointed. We hiked some incredible country and saw some spots we never would have gone if not for the hope of a grouse.

A good solid point, the wrong bird.. Next time!
All that runnin’ ain’t easy!
The squirrels were barkin’
Thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it
Post hunt water break, this is why she’s a bird dog and not a fishing partner

All hope was not lost though! The second goal of the day was yet to even begin, fishing. With the promise of an active day of monsoons to come we quickly headed to our spot. A little gem hidden up in a wooded valley. We were greeted upon our arrival by little ripples and the soft splashes of rising fish. After a rushed rod set up we began casting. The hoppers we had on were catching fish regardless of their ability to float.

If you see this before noon you can plan on being rained on
Kayla got the first fish (as usual)

Kayla’s new rod was bent nearly in half by one of the pond’s larger residents. Its finely spotted golden body thrashing wildly, trying to break hook, line and rod. What a fish to break in a new pole with! It will certainly be hard to top.

What a fish! (She also got the biggest, once again as usual)
Golden sided Apache
The grayling of the day, it quickly escaped the net and all we managed was this rushed picture
Finely spotted and tough to see just a few inches down

The monsoons quickly rolled in once the afternoon came, with inch deep hail and drizzling rain encouraging us to begin our trip home. Tough to complain about such a beautiful hike in grouse country followed up by some red hot fishing in a spot we had all to ourselves! It’s a great start to the fall and I’m looking forward to the rest of it, however this will be hard to beat. The amount of opportunity to be had in America’s public lands is truly incredible. So get out and take advantage of it and if you have a few moments take a second to advocate that it stays in the publics hands!

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