I lay warm and toasty buried deep in my sleeping bag, listening to the early morning bugling of an elk and thinking of my trip to date: five days fishing the Rio Grande and hanging out at the family cabin with my Mom, followed by a day hiding from the rain in an old mountain cabin and finally a Colorado grand slam on what I thought of at the time as the prettiest stream in Colorado. Life was good and I had hoped it would get even better.
As I climbed out of the tent after the luxury of rolling back over for an hour or so of extra sleep, my eyes were dazzled by the heavy frost shining like diamonds where it caught the now solid morning sunlight. Once again I thought it couldn’t get any better… … and it had.
I snapped a few more early morning pictures as I boiled water for oatmeal and enjoyed the warmth of the day creeping into my bones.
After that I spent a little while sitting by a small morning fire thinking about the most delicious and provocative decision a fly fisherman can think about … where to fish … and with multiple streams to choose from in just a few short minutes drive. I had been doing great in the fish catching department and I remember thinking that whatever stream I choose the scenery will be wonderful and I can surely catch fish. Well one out of two will get you into the major leagues won’t it. I made my decision and grabbed my rod and began a long hike to the stream I wanted to fish. From the very beginning of the hike I was right about the scenery, I don’t really believe either words or pictures can do justice to the beauty of that hike. When a fifty year old fat man like me can hike several miles on a mountain slope and not stop to feel winded, tired or even out of breath you know that the scenery has got to be beyond simply beautiful it has to be bordering on supernatural. And I will let the pictures try to describe what I simply am not capable of bringing to life with mere words.
By the time I heard the sound of the water I was practically euphoric with the beauty that surrounded me, but by the time I had seen this gorgeous water up close my mind shifted gears to all of the fish my talented fishing self was going to catch. And with water like this who wouldn’t be thinking about lots and lots of fish.
The short stroll to the riverbank stirred up 11 grasshoppers as I clumped through the willows and grass. I tied on a big yellow stimulator and a little soft hackle dropper thinking the whole time of all the fish I was gonna slay. As I took my first steps in to the crystal clear water and felt that first sharp bite of cold seep through my waders I felt myself laugh deep in my soul about what a wonderful “catching” day this was going to be. The first couple holes were absolutely beautiful and my casts were a thing of beauty and dropping almost exactly where I wanted them to. My big yellow stimulator was riding high on the current and I was unbeatable... … … and very, very happy. A couple hours later after fishing some of the fishiest looking water I have seen in a long time…
I realized that I had drawn only one half hearted strike and missed him wildly. Obviously I did what all self respecting fly fishermen would do… … I changed flies and kept casting. Then when I had worked through several more wonderful holes without any slashing strikes or even soft bumps or at a minimum even a rolled refusal… I changed flies again and kept casting… … still no luck… so what do you think I did, of course changed flies yet again and kept casting. Soon enough I realized that I had covered many miles of gorgeous wonderful water and had seen two fish … one I had missed altogether on the strike and the other I had foul hooked on the dropper, had him on for a head thrashing heart pounding second only to lose him too. (and no I didn’t actually admit to foul hooking a fish we fly fishermen never do that … … at least not that we would admit to anyone else).
I rounded the corner and found myself with another long stretch of gorgeous water and I told myself that this would be the stretch and if I couldn’t find fish in this water well then I must not be a very good fisherman … … and I am sure you can see why.
Yet I found myself still fishless a couple hours later and several river miles further upstream… … but definitely still fishless. Mother Nature especially in the fly fishing arena has a unique way of keeping your ego in check and about the time you start thinking you are a pretty dang good fisherman she will laugh and show you that you still have a lot to learn … …I truly think that is part of what keeps us coming back. But the strange thing was I that I felt as happy as I could be, the rhythm of the fly line rolling out in graceful curves and the warmth of the autumn afternoon and the dazzling scenery all around me was more than enough to make my heart rejoice and while the lack of fish was intellectually puzzling to me, it really didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the days fishing. Don’t get me wrong I would have loved to catch fish … … but if you asked me if I would hike 4 or 5 miles back into this same stream again knowing that the fish were “difficult” … … I would go in heart beat. But unfortunately “go” is what I had to do as I had many miles to walk back down stream to get back to my camp. I made myself and those hiding shy trout a promise that someday soon I would make a trek back in here and introduce myself to those fish the proper way … barbless hook to mouth … but until then I had enjoyed my fishless day immensely and silently laughed at the old saying about “that is why they call it fishing and not catching”.
The scenery on the way out was as gorgeous as on the way in and I didn’t believe that could happen but it did.
And I am betting that the scenery represented in those pictures would almost guarantee that very few of you readers out there would turn down a chance to fish that very same stream … … even if you didn’t catch a fish.
I finally got back close to the camp site and began to wade across the Rio Grande, not like the big river down at the cabin but a smaller thinner “high country” version of itself … … yes like I was a smaller thinner version of myself 30 years ago but you didn’t have to mention that did you. As I was splashing across the river muttering to myself about my lack of fishing skills I noticed a shadow lurking near the cutbank on the opposite side. I thought to myself man that is a pretty colored rock and isn’t it amazing how it keeps changing from black to that golden color in the sunlight, then it hit me… … you dumbass, that is a nice brown over there feeding on bottom. I idly wondered if I could catch it when I thought to myself … …your carrying a fly rod and at least a couple hundred flies… … duh, do ya think this might be a chance to redeem your fishing self??
Soon enough I had pretty cherry brown bugger tied tight and was wading silently into a casting position stripping line and false casting. My first cast was on the money but the fish refused and I tried a couple more with the same results. I was getting near the fish but not really getting into his feeding lane. So I took a time out and stopped and thought about my approach and how to catch this fish, something I don’t do nearly enough on a trout stream … strangely enough because I am too busy “fishing”. Anyway I realized that due to a current eddy I would actually have to move downstream and behind the fish and let the bugger tumble down stream like a drifting dry until I got in his line of site and could give a quick strip or two. So that was what I did. And believe it our not planning your approach and presentation can be pretty dang effective. Man, I love it when a plan comes together. The brown took the bugger with such a surge that he actually crested out of the water and lit out like a freight train headed down hill. Fortunately for me I had grabbed the Phillipson 7 ½ ft 5 wt this morning which had enough back bone to turn him slightly and keep him out of those low water gravel sections where my 6xtippet would get shattered like my fishless ego had been only moments ago. It worked and he turned back and sounded in a little deep pool and just hung there thrashing like a wildman but staying put. Eventually I was able to tire him out a little and glide him into the shallows where I talked him into posing with my Phillipson for a little picture memento before watching him swim off back to his cut bank. My fishing honor was restored and the skunk scent that had haunted me all day drifted away on the cool late afternoon mountain breeze.
I returned to camp a happy and contented man. I spent the last of the days light taking a few pictures while I strolled around my mountain paradise… … and yes you are right there was bourbon and a cigar involved, but even so I think the pictures turned out pretty good for once.
I cooked a quick dinner and spent the rest of the night sitting by the fire and listening to music while waiting on the full moon to rise from behind the mountain and light my night sky like a negative shadowed full daylight. I was listening to Jerry Jeff Walker and then his son Django Walker and thinking about their different musical styles yet I was struck by their hauntingly similar voices. And I spent some time listening to James McMurtry and the “Lights of Cheyenne” which deals with a relationship between a dad and his kids and thought about how different his story telling style was from the author, his dad Larry, yet once again they could both touch me with the words that they wrote. That struck a cord with me as I thought about Fathers and Sons, the relationship they have of always wanting to be different but yet in the end always being eerily similar in the core ways that count. I though of my grandfather and my father, my father and myself and even myself and my own two boys, as young men we fight so hard to set off on our own and carve our own personality into the world yet in the end we find that we have drifted right back into the shadows of the man our father was … deep down in our soul we want to mirror the good things we found in our own fathers soul. I pray that I have passed something of importance to my kids and that they found things in me that are worth them carrying forward into their own lives and into their own souls. I guess only time will tell now.
I woke to find another incredibly gorgeous crystal clear day, a mirror image of the day before. And of course I decided to go fishing. I headed out of my little valley and found another small stream that I had always wanted to fish making this the second day in a row I had fished streams I had never fished …which is in my opinion another of life’s great luxuries to have plenty of water that you haven’t explored yet. That thought always reminds me of Hank Jr’s song about women and things he has never had. Anyway this narrative is getting long … so for this day let’s just suffice to say scenery was found and admired, fish were located and caught, another small stream was added to my personal must do again list, bourbon was drank and cigars were smoked. And here is a small quick picture sample for your viewing pleasure.
And I know that some of you out there are saying to yourself will this ever end… doesn’t all this fishing and scenery ever get old… … well no actually it never does… … thank God.
But unfortunately all good things must eventually come to a close and soon enough I found myself lying in my tent contemplating my last full day of fishing in the mountains before I had to drive to the airport for the next day’s trip home. I felt a sinking sensation realizing my trip was coming to its conclusion but my spirits swiftly rebounded as I realized that the trip home was tomorrow and for today I had a full days fishing and yet another unexplored stream calling my name. I had wanted to try this stream for many years and I was hoping I had saved the best for last. I climbed in my big *** Ford F 150 and began the drive up the single track four wheel drive road that led to the creek. The road just kept getting smaller and smaller and rougher and rougher and even higher and higher. My spirits sank and I truly began to worry about getting stuck. I probably would have turned around and abandoned my search for the stream but I couldn’t find a place to turn this giant vehicle around if my life depended on it. So I just kept pushing on listening to that odd scrapping screeching noise like fingernails on a blackboard as branches dug their hooks into the paint of the truck trying not to think about what the rental car company was going to charge me for all of this damage. (it is amazing what a little rubbing compound used properly on an automobile paint job can do … … even 15 minutes before you turn a rental car in). I knew I was in trouble when I ran into a group of 10 ATV riders who said they had abandoned their planned ride to the same area due to beaver ponds and rough terrain… but since I am stubborn and physically unable to turn a truck around in tight spaces I just kept plowing ahead. And I am so thankful I did. Eventually I reached an open park and crossed a mountain stream that I was positive was the one I was looking for… alright I wasn’t positive at all but I had come all of this way and I was gonna fish no matter what … even if I had to fish in a drainage ditch. So I rigged my rod and started off up the trail. I hit this first hole of water and thought I was probably going to be okay.
And literally on my first cast this one came out to play I knew I was going to be okay.
And literally on my second cast his friend came out to play … … I didn’t care if I had to buy a whole new truck… I knew I was in the right place
The water was phenomenally beautiful both from a scenery standpoint and a “fishyness” quotient.
But the Rio Grande Cutts were so willing and so pretty that they upstaged even the scenery which is pretty dang hard to do.
But the scenery didn’t suck either
By the time I staggered back to the truck tired but happy to the deepest depths of my being I was a man in love. I had been seduced by beauty (scenery), spirit (the free flowing crystal clear cold water) and soul (the dancing lively jewels of the Rio Grand Cut Throats). This had been a stream exploration like none other that I have ever experienced I usually fall in love slowly over time but this stream was true love at first sight. And I am betting that no one out there could resist her charms.
Not even the bumpy, rough, scraping ride home could shake from me the total feeling of peace and contentment that filled my heart. By the time I got back to camp sunset was starting to spread her magic across this already wonderful landscape turning beauty into divine.
It is always amazing to me how one simple vista can look so different. One set of unusual rocks from three different angles at three different light patterns all within about an hour and three remarkable different views of the same thing. Much like each of our own viewpoints and perspectives, truly different even when faced with the same realities, I guess.
The light continued to fade and I captured a last few pictures to try and hold me over for the long drought ahead for my soul until I could visit this visual oasis of the Colorado high country again.
As the sun finally disappeared behind the mountain, the cold night air finally drove me back to my fire pit where the flames warmed me, much like my trip which had finally disappeared from site and was now just a burning memory to keep me warm until my next visit to these wonderful mountains which my heart and soul call home.
Having trouble getting this too post sorry..... I think i got it to work
Thanks. I am enjoying these postings and trying to figure out how get out there.
Very nice reports! I've fished all over and Colorado is my favorite!
Southern Colorado is amazing, with so much water and so very few people. I've never fished the headwaters of the Rio Grande proper, but the headwaters of the Conejos, Rio de los Pinos, and the Alamosa are very nice. I've caught Rio Grande cutts in four differents streams between the three watersheds - including one stream that produces consistant 16" Rio Grande cutts.
Again, beautiful photos!!
VERY impressive report...thanks!
Great Pictures! What camera were you using if I may ask?
Beautiful scenery and fishing! Nothing like it! I noticed you left some drinks on the picnic table. No bears around there, I take it.
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