Colorado - Small Stream Fishing - Part II
I had planned the trip to Colorado for quite some time and studied several of the streams in terms of camping opportunities, difficulty of hiking in and, of course, the fishing potential. After catching breakfast on Labor Day Morning in Platoro, we decided we needed to head west and see how the San Juan and Piedra rivers were looking. Rather than make a third traverse over Park Creek Road (30 miles of bad dirt/mud road), we decided to head south for the shorter trip to pavement (23 miles) and the southern route (into New Mexico) to Pagosa Springs.
By 2pm we had reached Pagosa Springs to see the San Juan churning along a heavy Chocolate Brown. So we headed farther west. Outside of Chimney Rock we passed over the swollen/chocolate mess that was the Piedra River. We decided that our fishing/camping options were going to be limited for the time being, so we headed west to Durango.
Durango was a very pleasant surprise. I had never been there before and was not sure what to expect. They have a great downtown area with minimal touristy feel to it. It felt like a real town, not a tourist trap. Drew decided that at some point in his life, Durango is where he wants to live. It helps that there are three major watersheds within 30 minutes of town, as well as an airport, a ski resort, a mall and tons of great restaurants.
We stopped into Duranglers to see if they had any advice on where to fish, now that most of the streams were blown out (after all they were two of the guys who wrote the book "Flyfishing in Southern Colorado" that I had dog eared and nearly memorized). While we could have fished some of the tailwater sections, our small stream fishing choices were limited until some of the higher elevation streams cleared. We decided to call it a night and wound up staying at the Hampton Inn and drying out our wet gear and washing our clothes. We were going to be flying out of Denver on Thursday afternoon so we needed to maximize the time we had left.
On Tuesday Morning we headed north after checking out Junction, Hermosa, Cascade and Lime Creeks. Junction and Hermosa were fishable with some color, but Cascade and Lime Creeks were impossible to get to with a non-4wd vehicle. So we headed further north. At Montrose I finally decided that we would complete our tour of the state by fishing the place I first learned to flyfish. I had not been back there in almost 10 years, but I figured it was as good a place as any and I knew Drew would be able to catch fish (since to this point he was still without a fish).
We made it up to the Flat Tops above Glenwood Canyon in time to setup camp, cook dinner and make plans for the next day. We stayed up until about 10pm to watch the stars. For anyone who has seen them at altitude, on a clear night, they are spectacular. Plateau Angler has one of the best picture I have ever seen of them, but even that great picture cannot do the scene any justice. If you ever make it out that way, stay up a few hours after sunset and be prepared to be amazed. We were camping up at 11,000' and a cold front had moved through the area, so with a clear sky, the temps plummeted. We slept very restlessly in the cold. My 40 degree sleeping bag was having trouble keeping up with the temps in the low 30s.
Wednesday (9/3) we woke to a beautiful Colorado blue sky and prepared to make our way down to the stream. The stream we were going to fish is somewhat of a guarded secret. When I was first taken there in 1992, I was told that I couldn't tell anyone where the stream was or talk about it by name, unless I took them there personally. I have kept that promise for 16 years and don't intend to break it. Honestly, its a pain in the neck to get to and in some ways not worth the trouble. But the fishing is great.
We hiked the 1.5 miles down into the canyon and geared up. Since the stream wasn't that large and since Drew wanted to catch his first Rocky Mtn Trout we used just one rod. At the first pool, he caught his first fish. At the second pool he caught his second fish. He kept hooking fish with ridiculous regularity. About 30% of the time he was able to hook the fish well enough to land it, but many times the fish leaped out of the air and spit the hook or rolled hard before he set the hook and the fly came popping back out of the water. Regardless, he was having a ball. We traded off and on for a short while and I managed a nice 12+" Cutt. After he landed about 10 (and lost 20 more, at least) he got out of the water to warm his feet up. I managed 6 fish within 15 minutes of fishing, while he was warming up. The sun was starting to drop and I knew we had a 1500' hike over just 1.5 miles to get out of the canyon (at 10,000' elevation, to boot), so we made it back to the original pool (and our other gear) and I started to get ready to head out. Drew was convinced he wanted to try and catch that first Brookie again so he could have his picture taken with it (not just his hands). And while I told him it was not very likely that he could catch the same fish again, he gave it a shot anyway. We had been fishing with a Royal Stmulator, and the brookie actually came up a few times, looked at the fly (no doubt remembered getting a lip piercing from it the first time) and turned back down to his holding spot. I was amazed that the fish was coming up at all. I told Drew that he should give it up. But being a teenager, he wanted to keep at it, so I suggested switching to a different fly. We went with a Pink Trude and after a few refusals I went back to gathering up our stuff. As luck would have it, the Brookie finally came up and took the fly. Drew was able to set the hook, land the fish, get his picture taken and prove his Dad wrong all at one time. Needless to say, it will be a story I'll get reminded of time after time...
The hike out was a brutal 90 minutes up and out of the canyon and back to our car. It took awhile to recover from the hike. And while we knew the star gazing would be fantastic again that night, we called it an early night.
The next morning we woke to frost on the tent and around the campsite. The temp had dropped even further than the night before and was in the upper 20s when we broke camp and headed back to Denver and our flight home.
It had been a great trip with too much driving and too little fishing. But the time spent fishing was the best time I have ever had in the water. The fact that my oldest son is now addicted to flyfishing from a trip to the same place that it started for me 16 years earlier, only adds to the satisfaction. There was so much more that made this trip special and honestly the pictures do the subjects so very little justice. The true grandeur of the places we visited were impossible to capture on film. If you ever go out that way, you'll see what I mean.
Totals for the second part of the trip:
Miles Driven: 650
Hours in the Car: 15
Miles Hiked: 4 (but with some nasty elevation gains, at high elevations)
Hours Fished: 3
Fish Caught: 30+ (25+ Cutthroats, 5+ Brookies)
Fish Hooked but not brought to hand (LDRs): 30+
"Even a fish wouldn't get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut."