Shangri-La, you won’t find it on any map. It’s a fictional place dreamed up by author James Hilton for his 1933 novel “Lost Horizon”, and therefore can’t be tied to a certain longitude and latitude. It’s location is a personal one, a different local for every person willing to go out and discover it for themselves.
Shangri-La, the words alone are magic. Just uttering the word conjures images of beauty, tranquility, and bliss, so much so that Merriam-Webster even defines it as;
1) a remote beautiful imaginary place where life approaches perfection
2) a remote usually idyllic hideaway
For me this spot is the immense wilderness that holds the town of Crested Butte at it’s epicenter, and it was the second stop on my three legged tour of Colorado. The area has been an annual return for me for years as i’ve found it to be a place where i could feel the tenseness ooze away, the swirling thoughts dissipate, and the stillness return after being stirred daily by the city. It’s a place that’s remote, quiet, idyllic, and overflowing with creeks, ponds, rivers and lakes filled to the gills with fish. It is my Shangri-La
On day one, shortly after setting up camp (the pop-up trailer) in record time, i started stalking the Taylor like a heron in withdrawal, intent on catching something in the last few hours i had before the sun would quickly fall behind the western cliffs that appeared so precarious i half expected them to crumble into the river at any moment.
The Taylor is not for the faint of heart or easily frustrated. The water on the stretch below the reservoir (which is freezing cold because of the bottom drawing dam on Taylor Reservoir) falls at an average of 60 feet per mile over slick and constantly shifting freestone, making it an incredibly difficult river to fish, but also an extremely rewarding one when eventually your line goes taut.
Feeling a tad depressed after an unproductive two hours of casting dry flies it became obvious that i needed to switch it up. The fish weren’t biting and my loops were getting looser and looser as the frustration set in. Reeling in my line, i worked my way down along the bank until i found a deep pool that swallowed the bulk of the river within before spitting it out to the rapids that continued far below and off around the bend.
Tying on a nymph rig with an indicator i cast over and over into fast water, constantly raising the indicator after each cast and adding split shot after each six. After thirty minutes or so, the indicator made a deliberate dive below the surface and my heart stopped. As my mind stumbled and struggled to comprehend that my first fish was on, my fingers re-acted without thought and worked the line. The incredible energy the fish had, along with the crazy flow moving through the pool could be felt at the base of the rod, and it turned into a delicate dance of working the fish hard, but not so hard that the 5X tippet would let me down. Eventually the handsome brown (above) was coaxed to the net and a sharp cry of delight echoed up and down the canyon walls.
The Crested Butte school’s soccer field plays hosts to hundreds of tents and cyclists. You don’t see sites like this often elsewhere.
The next day i set out for waters above the reservoir (below), hoping to follow the road as far as i could. Stopping at “The End” (yes that is the actual name of the end of Taylor River Road) i exited and made my way through the forest trying to fish what was, at that point a creek less than two feet wide. While i’m sure their were tiny fish in there, it was simply to tight and winding to do anything but get caught in every limb and blade of grass that framed the bank.
Taylor Reservoir, calm and serene.
Working my way downstream i eventually found a spot where the canopy opened and the water widened. Slowly and stealthily i worked my way downstream, and it wasn’t long before the size 12 Elk Hair Caddis i was tossing with my 2WT caught the attention of the one trout (the brook below) in the small pool that clung to the bend in the creek.
While i love all kinds of fishing and fish, there is something incredibly exciting about fishing with lightweight gear and catching eager, wild fish that have obviously never seen a fly. Although bigger is always nice, it’s the energy that they (whatever size) hit the fly with that can turn a 4″ fish, like below, into an adrenaline rush that no stocked trout twice that size can compete with.
A tiny but intensely colored brook trout.
If you like variety and make it up to the area, i recommend hitting some of the many small creeks that contribute to the bigger rivers. While you could spend all day working one particular creek, i suggest hitting multiple ones and working the last 100 yards or so before they merge with the major rivers. It’s here that you’ll find the biggest fish (relative to the water) that managed to work their way upstream in hopes of solitude and food (wouldn’t you). Since these waters have almost no angling pressure and have water that is moving quickly by these high altitude fish, they are not picky at all. A nice two weight and a handful of small dries will keep you busy for hours.
The creek that i ended up spending half a day exploring and found to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G is Italian Creek, one of the many tributaries above Taylor Reservoir. Traipsing through small meadows (below) chock full of wildflowers was almost as rewarding as the ambitious fish that were laying in the creek.
Wildflowers, and incredible views surround Italian Creek.
It was here, after making my way through the Technicolor field that looked like something out of the “Sound of Music”, that i gradually ended up ankle deep in some of the clearest water i’ve ever seen. The water looked more like liquid crystal than most of the water that one sees elsewhere.
Casting the dry against a three foot deep cut against the outside bank of the creek, i watched as the fly arced in front of the soil that was slowly falling over time into the moving current.
The pool was small (as most pools this high up are) so it didn’t take long for this brave brown (below) to inhale it and use the current to put up a fight that made the 2WT shiver with apprehension.
It’s hard to even think about Crested Butte, sitting here at home with the AC cranked just to get it close to the comfort zone that the mountains so easily provided. But i do think about it and how for me it’s the place that recharges my soul.
It’s peace. It’s solitude. It’s my Shangri-La, and i’m counting the days until i return.
“Where’s your Shangri-La?”
BTW If you’ve been there before, you know what an amazing place it is. To you i recommend reading this post as a reminder to go there and revisit a much beloved creek or river. For those that haven’t been there, this is your wake up call. Buy your tickets (or fill the gas tank) tomorrow, pack your rods, dry flies and nymphs and get going, you have two months or so before the winter inhales everything in the vicinity.
- Fishing - June through September. Hopper-droppers, nymphing and streamers in the bigger waters.
- Lodging – Rosy Lane campground is right on the Taylor River, and there are MANY free sites along Taylor River road above the resevior (with some of the best along Italian Creek).
- Food – there is a local grocery store in Crested Butte with everything you need but the prices are slightly cheaper at the Gunnison grocery store. Tons of restaurants from $ to $$$$.
- Fly Shops – my personal favorites are Gunnison River Fly Shop as well as Almont Anglers located at the confluence of the East River and the Taylor.
If you’re considering heading to the area and would like more information please don’t hesitate to shoot me any questions.