*******REJUVINATED BY new mexico and colorado, stay tuned!*******
As a long time aficionado of New Mexico and Colorado trout as well as the excellent local fly shop Living Waters, i’m excited to feature their trailer for the upcoming feature on trout fishing in both of these wonderful states.
A new short one by the man, the legend, Yukon Goes Fishing. Small water, small rods, small fish, BIG FUN!
Colorado is amazing, there is no doubt. It is truly a land of extremes, laden as it is with low lying desserts, and expansive meadows, as well as snow capped mountains hovering high overhead. It has endless tiny spring creeks many of which could almost be stepped across, but also roaring, frothing waters, both of which trout call home. There are towns that have embraced the strip mall march of progress which will have everything you need, but also towns that rely entirely on small businesses and the community to keep the town afloat (oddly, these towns also have everything you need.)
All of these various excesses wind and weave their way through Colorado, creating a dynamic and scenic state that any nature seeker would call home, but when you add in the fact that 35% of Colorado is public land you can easily understand why a wanderer such as i feel the tug to return to this state annually.
I obviously have a healthy dose of contrition in me, because as much as i love spending time in Colorado, i’ve always gone to great lengths to try and keep myself from falling hard for its waters mostly because they are exactly the waters that a fly-fisherman like me is SUPPOSED to daydream about. This is the same condition (defect?) by the way, that has kept me from enjoying many bands, books, movies, etc. over the years simply because somebody else suggested it, meaning i didn’t find it and therefore any possibility of it being attractive to me was highly suspect. Luckily i’m now in my mid forties and able to laugh at internal idiosyncrasies like this and even enjoy things that may brain tells me i shouldn’t.
I love New Mexico and was thankful to spend days fishing the ever challenging Cimarron, but as i piloted the Element across vast grasslands and started working my way into the snow capped San Juan mountains around Creede i had this intense and unmistakable feeling that this was where i belonged. This was where my heart felt at ease. Where i felt i came from and where i might be headed. Where my my molecules blended indiscernibly into those of the water, hills, and trees around me. Where my stars aligned and where i truly felt the absolute bliss that seems so hard to find otherwise. It was a comforting feeling to say the least.
Pulling into the Williams Creek campground outside of Lake City i was ecstatic to find that only three of the 23 campsites were occupied and with tents, a major change from the generator fueled RV infested campground along the Cimarron that was so claustrophobic in comparison. Not only were neighbors so distant as to be virtually non-existent, but stepping into the small meadow at the center of the campgrounds enabled one to take in the grandeur of the 14,000 foot mountains that framed it on all sides during the day while also granting one a front seat at night to a truly mesmerizing display of celestial grandeur that could sufficiently put one in their cosmic place with just a glance.
The few days spent at the campgrounds were beyond reproach in both the kindness of the camp hosts and the healthy supply of fish caught in the long, winding “Lake Fork of the Gunnison” a river that collects many snow fed creeks into a Tour de Force before blustering through Lake City and on to the Gunnison river proper. In a nod to the regions past as a mineral gold mine (literally) many parts of the river are private property due to mining claims from many, many years ago. While this can be annoying to a populist like me, there are many stretches in between these private waters that feel as wild as the scenery that surrounds them.
It was bliss to be sure, waking up with the sun, brewing coffee and cooking a calorie heavy breakfast to get me by until dinner, and forgoing the waders (despite the ice cold water) in an effort to simplify the process of hooking into trout. The Lake Fork can be a challenge to be sure, but it’s also thick in many stretches with brown trout that seem almost naive when it comes to certain flies. Nymph rigs worked their usual magic, but it was the Amy’s Ant (easily my confidence fly for New Mexico and Colorado) that once again took the majority of the trout caught on these high and steady waters.
After a few days of amazing luck on these bigger waters, that were night and day from the trickle that was the Cimarron, i decided to find a good compromise, and headed high into the mountains to work my way down Cebolla creek from top to bottom.
It’s a strange thing to see where a river or creek begins, as it’s usually no more than a trickle, especially in these mountain creeks. Yet, as it winds its way down the mountain, taking the path of least resistance, its invigorated and encouraged on by smaller contributing creeks. On the Cebolla you can see this all play out as the dirt road bobs and weaves along side the creek, allowing you to witness its gaining momentum.
Finding a fishing spot was incredibly simple since all you had to do was drive a bit, spot a good stretch, pull over and then wander your way up or down the creek until you found some fishy water that agreed with you. Since this option goes on for miles so you can imagine how easy it would be spend a few heavenly days along this creek spotting only the occasional other angler. In short, it’s a great destination for those that want to feel remote and isolated, but also might be operating on a limited amount of time.
This being my last full day to fish before heading back, it was the perfect way to end the trip. I’d love to offer you a play by play but honestly i was so lost in a state of bliss on that final day i couldn’t do it anyway. What i do remember though is this…
- Waking up in the cool mountain air to the distinct feeling of inner peace and calm.
- Sautéing the grill cheese / salmi sandwich in to much butter / knowing i needed the calories. Yum.
- Stopping the car quickly when i spotted a female moose towering above the rush and grass, and staring in awe.
- The first cast on the creek (Amy’s Ant on the end of the tippet) and the 13″ brown that inhaled it.
- The rain storms that would creep over the mountains and spook me every now and then with shimmering lightning and bombastic thunder.
- The aggressiveness with which every trout attacked a fly and the insane fights they would consequently put up.
- Stopping the car again at the sight of a male moose, getting out to snap a photo and getting that inspiring / scary feeling you get when you are looking at 1,500 plus pounds of wild…with horns.
Later that night, back at camp, after a day full of so magic and wonder that it felt a dream, lying horizontal in my hammock, a lo-fi charcuterie board and boxed wine at my side, and the headlamp illuminating the three hundred year old text of “Don Quixote” i dimmed the lamp and stared up into the crazy carousel of celestial activity. As the stars and memories of the day flitted just out of reach, the curtains of the universe were pulled back and i experienced a kind of ecstasy that was the culmination of all around me.
Needless to say, i’ll be back soon Colorado.
Want to go?
Lake City Tourism Page – seasonal information for fishing the Lake City area.
The travel guide “Colorado Camping” by Moon books which offers a wealth of information including fishing advice for hundreds of campsites. Invaluable.
Groceries – Country Store is the place to find everything you’ll need. Plus, they don’t need a website to get your business, they’re that good.
Camping – There are a few options in the Lake City area, but i highly recommend the Williams Creek Campground. The hosts here are incredibly kind and helpful and the fact that ATV’s can’t unload here means it’s much quite than nearby campgrounds.
Showers / Laundry – I was tipped off to the Highlander RV Campground by my awesome camp host. The shower facilities / bathrooms are super clean and charming for a flat $5 fee. Apparently the laundry rates are the best deal in town, so wash away your troubles.
Local Fly Shops:
The Sportsman Outdoor and Fly Shop – This is a great shop that has only what you need for fly fishing this area, plus guides and fly fishing equipment rentals and a super friendly staff.
Dan’s Fly Shop – I didn’t get a chance to catch them open (since i was fishing dawn to dusk), but it looks like a pretty great setup.
Of course you can pick up a Colorado license at the above fly shops, but if you’d like to pick one up before heading there go here to purchase one online.
Son of legendary singer / songwriter Townes Van Zandt, his son J.T. Van Zandt has forged his own eclectic path as a fly fishing guide (All Water Guides), a fly fishing purist (the amazing fly fishing film “Low and Clear”), and a wood worker of the first order (Escobedo Construction).
This well done documentary featuring J.T. does an excellent job of demonstrating how finding our own way in way in life is the real key to self-actualization. It’s also a wonderful reminder that whatever trail we decide to establish, we need to be sure it constantly loops back to those we love, for them and us.
It was a mad dash, Neal Cassady style, attempting to make the 12 hour drive between Austin and Eagles Nest, NM. I’d driven this route enough times to know that the twelve hours it was alleged to take would doubtless turn into fourteen due to either major construction, dust storms, or flooding roadways, all things i’d encountered in the past. I managed to avoid all of those this time, but just as i was approaching the eleventh hour of the drive with the sun setting, the tire on the pop-up camper i was towing blew out, the rim hit the pavement and the entire shit show i was comandeering slammed to a halt on the shoulder of a virtually trafficless two lanes road with minutes of light left. Fifteen hours total.
It was a less than ideal way to begin a week and a half fishing adventure, but luckily that misfortune was so frustrating that every single moment that followed was solid gold.
The next day i awoke from the camper to news that the Cimmaron, which had been flowing at .05 CFS for days had been cranked up to 8 CFS to (luckily) appease water right holders downstream. Having fished this river many times over the years i was familiar with it between 30-50 CFS, more or less ideal flows for the small banks, so to see it at 8 CFS was a little disheartening, to put it mildly.
Initially stepping into the river on the periphery of the camp ground i was shocked to notice that the water barely made it past my ankles…not a good sign. Of course i knew the flows would be low, but standing there in what could only generously be considered a trickle, i started to wonder whether or not i should cash my chips in and abandon this much beloved stream for bigger possibilities north.
As i was deliberating the options, a salmon fly landed on my hand and scarcely moved while i fumbled for the camera and snapped photo after photo of this tiny beast. Minutes later i cast a similar sized Amy’s Ant into the riffle and landed the first trout of the trip, a beautiful brown (below) that put nice bend in the 7’4″ 3WT as it pulled and tugged, its shoulders working across the current.
Surrendering the technicolor trout back to the low and slow waters, my hand lingered in the flows as i realized that i needed to stay here and fish here. All the things that made it difficult, low flows, crystal clear waters, overgrown canopies, and skittish fish, would make me a far better angler if i would just put my time in.
Fortunately that’s exactly what happened, as over the next few days i learned to spot pockets i never would have seen if the waters were higher and the previously seeming limitations turned into beautiful red spotted reward after red spotted reward reward. The waters may not have been ideal to begin with, but as skills were added to the quiver the odds seemed to become more and more stacked in my favor.
The Cimarron has always been one of my favorite since the very first year i started fly fishing, and thus the desire to return again and again. It was heartbreaking at first to see it so low, but as mentioned above, if you look at anything from the right angle it just might provide the promise you were looking for, if not more.
It’s not easy by any means, other than the low flows much of it’s super tight and technical, but as with any challenge, ANYTHING caught here will help build your knowledge and confidence.
So if you’re in the neighborhood or looking for a breathtaking challenge, be sure to check it out. Not only are the surrounding hills drop dead gorgeous, the waters and fishing are amazing despite the conditions. Just be sure to tag a few hours onto either end of the journey, like the flows and the fishing, the travel can be just as uncertain.
Want to check it out yourself?
Doc Thompson’s High Country Anglers – basic overview, flows, and fishing reports.
Taos Fly Shop – “The” fly shop located in nearby Taos.
New Mexico Game and Fish – Official NM page with stocking information and fishing reports.
Past die Fische post on this river with information here,
For camping alone the Cimmaron River i highly recommend the Maverick campground for those looking for RV or pull in campsites. One half of the campground is reservable (here) while the other half is first come first serve. If you have a tent and prefer more privacy i HIGHLY recommend the Blackjack tent area up the road which is a walk-in campsite that is all on a first come basis and one of the nicest campsites i’ve ever stayed at.
For groceries, ice, and other essentials the Lowe’s grocery store in Angel Fire can’t be beat. In addition to a great wine and cheese selection they also offer liquor and many random camping essentials.
Local guides / knowledge:
I’ve been fishing this area for years and have always stopped in at the Taos Fly Shop due to their impeccable guiding service, amazing wealth of knowledge, and incredible selection of flies and more. These guys are the real deal, folks 110% into everything fly fishing.
You can pick up a license at the above mentioned Taos Fly Shop but if you want to get to the Cimarron and fish immediately you can purchase a license online here.
Leaving in three days for southern Colorado, solitude and trout. This excellent video just helped crank the anticipation up to eleven! Time to pack!
From the folks at Frenzy, check out their Vimeo page here.