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Archive for September 4th, 2017


photos by Joshua Money and Nate Imig

Late summer in Central Texas. Your local honey holes have dried up. You can’t bear the heat any longer. The spots that are still flowing and fishable are far too often flooded with tubers and, unless you’re okay with waiting 20 minutes in between casts to let these floaters go by, can be hardly worth your time. This leaves an avid fly fisherman two options… sit around, tie some flies, and day-dream in a depressive state about the adventures that you’d much rather be on, OR grab a buddy, throw some sleeping bags, a tent, a Yeti full of food, and your favorite fly rods in the back of the truck, and head away from the crowds, and to a far cooler climate.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love our Texas fisheries. Some of my fondest memories are of sticking beautiful rainbow trout on the Guadalupe River with my dad on a cold afternoon, or watching bass blow up the surface of the Blanco in pursuit of that fruit cocktail deerhair popper, or even of landing dozens of sunfish just before sunset out on Brushy Creek. Every time I’m out on the water, I’m reminded of how blessed we are to be able to fly fish all of the wonderful opportunities that the state of Texas has to offer. But after being out in more days over 100 degrees than I care to count, and catching more smallmouth bass than I care to count, the tall mountains, cool weather, and the chance to land monster, wild trout were all calling my name.

And so early one August morning, we headed out on what would prove to be one of the most amazing adventures of my life thus far. The first stop was Antonito, Colorado, a 13 hour drive from home. Well, typically 13 hours, assuming you don’t run into one of the most epic, intimidating, powerful storms you’ve ever witnessed, have to make far more bathroom stops than intended, or almost run over an elk. Unfortunately for us, all three of those events occurred, setting us for a much slower pace than expected. But hey, that’s why I called it an adventure…

At around 3 AM, we found our campsite at the edge of the Rio Grande National Forest, nestled among the pines. Completely and utterly exhausted, we hastily set up our sleeping bags in the bed of the truck, and slept out under the stars. That is, until the stars were no longer visible thanks to the clouds, which then decided to dump freezing rain unto us around 5:30 AM (who needs sleep anyways?). After a quick breakfast of camp tacos, we were off to the mighty Conejos River, a beautiful fishery, winding through the Rio Grande National Forest, home to some feisty, massive browns.

First cast into the clear waters of the Conejos goes exactly where I wanted it. I watch my indicator slowly drift through a run that looks as if it’s certainly holding something special. The anticipation is killing me. Long into its drift, my strike indicator shoots underwater, with a visible flash of silver in the depths below. A better start to the day then I could have ever imagined. Unfortunately, the ending of this first fish encounter wasn’t as pleasant. A long, energy depleting battle with this stocky, powerful rainbow trout, ended with a mistake that proved to be critical. A little too much tension on the line while trying to net this fish resulted in my flies heading one direction (directly at me), and the fish going the other (directly away from my outstretched net). I was obviously disappointed, but stayed level-headed, as we still had days of fishing to go, and although a big fish, the rainbow lost was not the fish of a lifetime. Little did I know, this was only the beginning of my frustrations to come. I walked down river, and caught up with my fishing partner and best friend Nate, who had just landed and released a stunningly colored rainbow. We fished a few hours longer with no success, made the decision to call it a day, and headed up to the truck and off to our next destinations; The Gunnison River and Spring Creek.

The “Gunni” yielded much more success for the two of us that next morning. Three solid, hard fighting browns landed between us in quick succession had us fly fisherman smiling from ear to ear. Things were starting to look up from the day before, and the thought of losing that big Conejos Rainbow was quickly fading from my mind with each fish that found its way into our nets. The afternoon fishing on Spring Creek, a beautiful dry-fly fishery high in the Gunnison National Forest loaded with brookies, browns, and cutthroat, was just as exciting. The creek browns just couldn’t resist those big orange stimulators being so delicately presented in front of them in the gin-clear water. Although we landed some decent fish in the creek, our minds kept wandering back toward those big brown trout landed early in the day on the Gunnison. We knew when morning came, we had to head back in search of that 20 inch brown trout we each so desperately wanted to land. And so at sunrise, we left our campsite, hidden in the forest at over 11,000 feet, in the shadow of Mt. Elbert and made the 30+ mile off-road drive back to Gunnison.

After doing some scouting, and wading through a swamp that sparked thoughts of Louisiana rather than western Colorado, we came upon a spot that appeared to come right out of a fly fisherman’s dreams. It was a deep, but easily wadeable run, spanning close to half a mile long, flowing right into the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Soon into this excursion I hooked and lost another long battle to a 20+ inch rainbow, who refused to do anything other than repeatedly launch itself out of the water for a good 5 minutes before finally shaking the flies and heading off to deeper water. Still remaining positive at this point though. Minutes later, I hooked into a fish so massive, that until it made it’s first big run, I just assumed I was snagged on a tree limb. But boy was I wrong. A brown trout, in the 25-27 inch range, thought he would make a feast of my flies. For time’s sake, and for the sake of me not having to relive it, I’ll skip to the part where I threw my rod in the grass after a 20 minute fight and having the beast within feet of the net. I vividly remember looking at Nate and saying “I’m done fishing”. And for about a minute and a half I truly meant it. But after my brief 90 second retirement, I pulled out my Scott 6 weight, and set it up for a new approach, streamer fishing. My decision to stay out on the water (and change tactics) paid off in a way I could have never expected as two beautiful rainbow trout, both over 20 inches were landed after long, adrenaline fueled battles. Sweet, sweet redemption. And Nate, who hadn’t managed to land a fish that day on the Gunnison, had some big time redemption headed his way too.

The last destination was the Dream Stream, a stretch of Colorado’s South Platte River, that Nate so boldly put, is, “Like the New Zealand of the United States”. Just on appearance, The Dream Stream lives up to its name. Surrounded on all sides by mountains, the river twists and turns through an expansive, flat, open field. Due to the 27 degree temperature, steam was rising from every inch of the water. Large flocks of Canadian Geese flew directly overhead as the sun rose above the mountains in the distance. Before I even wet a line, I could tell that this place was truly magical. But the real magic began once my size 22 midges made their way into the water. A few minutes in, I’d hooked and landed a healthy male brown trout, that fought way above his weight class. Not long after that, Nate hooked up with a fish that, I could tell just by looking at the bend in his rod, wasn’t your average 15-16 inch Trout. Without hardly a thought, I threw my rod and pack in the bushes, unclipped my net, and made a dead sprint to my friend who was in the battle of his life with this fish. After what seemed like hours (closer to 10 minutes), crossing the river probably 5 times, running up and down the banks of the Dream Stream, and taking a brief swim, we landed his fish, a beautiful rainbow trout that broke the 20 inch mark. I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard to land someone else’s fish, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and I can also honestly say that (despite the event to come) that helping my best friend land his personal best trout was my favorite memory from this adventure.

But I couldn’t let my friend get away without doing some work for me too. Within about 5 minutes, I’d hooked into another fish of my own. And this one wasn’t messing around. I withstood run after run after run, my Hatch reel whining as this mammoth trout strained my drag. This fish had every trick in the book, making long powerful runs, using the current to prevent me from reeling him closer, tucking himself into a hole that ran deep under the bank, and diving down into deep pockets. But I refused to lose another trophy fish. After about 20 minutes, and Nate running up and down the bank, across the river, and taking a swim in the deep stuff, we netted the monster, a cutbow that exceeded the 23 inch mark (see title bar for photo). We got our pictures, and sent the beast on his merry way. Completely drained, I laid down in the tall grass on the bank of the South Platte, and thought to myself, “What a perfect end to an amazing trip”