2 Days in the Woods (and Fly Fishing) with the Fiddleback Forge Ladyfinger
The weekend of August 27, 2016:
You know those late summer mornings that just feel like fall has finally arrived? Saturday the 27th of August, the first day of my weekend adventures, was one of those mornings. It also happened to be the first day of Colorado Archery Season, but I haven’t quite picked up that hunting method yet. The temperature was brisk, somewhere in the mid-fifties and fitting because I was heading out for my first “glassing” session of the year. Glassing is short for sitting on your butt looking for animals through binoculars or spotting scopes, “glass”, sometimes for hours on end. It can be a very uneventful endeavor, but once you spot some elk or deer doing their thing a few miles out it feels pretty rewarding, especially if you’re holding a tag for those species. I got up around 6AM, a late start for glassing but being the first glassing morning of the year I wasn’t in a big rush. There’s a drive and then a short hike to the area that I glass and by the time I arrived the sun was already illuminating the ridges and hills that I would be perusing from a couple miles away. The animals would have already been starting to bed
Gazing through the eye pieces of binoculars, picking apart a tree covered ridge from several thousand yards away, trying to spot a hint of movement, the shine of an antler, or most easily, the whitish rump of your quarry, can be a methodical task but it demands quite a level of focus. As we established previously, this was the first day of the year, I was already late so that forced me to be a little less thorough than I would normally be. Only hitting the high traffic areas and likely spots, and skimming over the smaller areas that require a much closer examination. I figured that many of the animals would have already bedded down for the day so I was solely searching for the last stragglers heading to their beds. My strategy ended up working out when I spotted a group of about half a dozen mule deer heading to the shade of a lone ponderosa pine. The group had at least three bucks, one of which was pretty good looking for the area, definitely a “shooter” if we cross paths in November. In the time it took me to switch from my binoculars to my spotting scope, most of the deer had already bedded down in the scrubby mahogany bushes, however the big buck was still up getting in the last few bites of foliage from the surrounding brush. This picture was taken with a PhoneSkope through my 65mm spotting scope, the buck was probably a mile and half away.
Once that buck bedded down I checked the time and was surprised to see that it was already almost 9AM. Satisfied with my first spot of the year, I packed up my stuff and got back on the trail. I had plans to check out a few mushroom spots before heading back into town and had about 45 minutes to drive to get there. On the way I noticed small patches of aspens starting to turn yellow, further reinforcing the feelings of fall that I had that morning.
The woods in my mushrooms spots seemed to have gotten rain recently, however the mushroom activity did not support this observation. A normally lush section of forest was mostly devoid of mushroom life and those that were around, near streams and areas that hold water, were showing signs of drying out or had already succumb to the insects that also enjoy snacking on mushrooms. Slightly discouraged, I still trudged on to check my spots hopeful that I would find a few mushrooms that didn’t care about the apparently poor conditions. First stop was an area right on a stream bank that always has hawks wing mushrooms, Sarcodon imbricatus. This year was no different, A handful of small ones were hiding in the moss, but nothing compared to previous years!
Aside from the hawks wings none of my other spots had any activity, but at least I wasn’t leaving empty handed! My final goal for the day was to find some fatwood. I promised a friend that I would ship them a small package of that resin saturated wood for some of their fire starting tasks. Luckily, fatwood doesn’t care about the rain or the temperature! I stopped on a dry ridge dotted with pine trees and started wandering around; the best fatwood comes from pines. I crossed paths with a few large trunks with lots of fatwood and some spots that were actually oozing pitch. I was able to harvest a couple chunks off of those that would fill my needs sufficiently. The fatwood collection would mark the end of my first day in the woods…
Note: Fatwood, for those who are unaware, is wood that is impregnated with resin from the tree. Typically it occurs when a pine tree dies suddenly, such as being blown over by a strong gust of wind or cut down. The resin gathers into the wood, especially in the heart wood, roots, and joints, and creates a wonderful product that is used for more than just fire starting. Other uses include pitch, pine tar, and turpentine production. It is wind and water resistant, takes a flame very readily, and can be lit with a spark from a fire steel if prepared properly. Fatwood is a great replacement for birch bark for us westerners that don’t have that luxury.
The next day, which was just as beautiful and filled with feelings of the fall, myself and two friends, headed up to a section of river to compete against each other in a fun little fly fishing competition called a Grand Slam. A Grand Slam in reference to fishing is when you catch a certain number of different species in a day or over specific area. In our case, four species of trout over a few miles of river. Brown, rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout were the targets. I started the day off strong by catching a brown which is one of the more difficult species to find in that stretch. The brookies and cutthroats are easy to convince with a fly and all three of us quickly caught many of both. The rainbow trout, as it has in several past attempts, eluded all of us, making the final score 3 for me and 2 for both of my friends.
My Fiddleback Forge Ladyfinger rode on my hip the entire day and actually saw quite a bit of use because I forgot my line clippers. Every time I need a new fly or some more leader the Lady got to trim all the knots. She also got to pose with some of my fly fishing gear; my favorite fly box the Tacky Fly Fishing Day Pack and a custom 4wt rod that I built for my girlfriend last year. Her rod is much nicer than mine so I borrowed it for the day.
I always run into interesting plants and mushrooms along the river here and this time was no different. I picked what I guessed were honey mushrooms, Armillaria mellea, to take home for further examination, I also saw a few young fly agaric, Amainta muscaria. To our delight, we also ran into a ton of wild raspberries, Rubus occidentalis, perfectly ripe wax currants, Ribes cereum, and some Oregon grapes, Mahonia repens.
Even though I was late for glassing, my mushrooms spots were mostly barren, and we yet again failed to finish a Grand Slam, I wouldn’t trade time spent in the mountains for anything else! I’ll echo what others have said before me; having a knife that makes you smile every time you unsheathe it makes those times even more enjoyable.
Note: If you enjoyed coming along on this weekend adventure keep watch for future entries! I’ve got a ton of stuff planned this fall and winter that will include knives from Fiddleback Forge, Osprey Knife and Tool, and maybe some of the other makers that could show up on Fiddleback Outpost in the future. I would love to get some comments or suggestions, future topics you’d like to see, or anything else you might think of!
Thanks for joining me,
Contributed by Orion Aon, freelance blogger for Fiddleback Outpost & avid fan of Fiddleback Forge knives. Check out Orion's YouTube Channel 'Backcountry Bounty' for more great stuff!