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Gierachs-ghost-main

Pulling into the clearing, i shut down the engine and surveyed my surroundings.  There was enough space for thirty or so vehicles, but there was only one in residence, a small red truck that obviously had been used almost to the point of exhaustion, parked right next to the trail head.  Exiting my vehicle and setting my small fold out stool on the ground, i grabbed my boots and neoprene socks and started the strangely tiring ritual (altitude i guess) of applying both.

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I had spent days pouring over maps (the real paper kind, since there was no internet in our neck of the woods) and had located this spot which looked like it would either be flowing water of solitude peppered with fish or a complete bust.  Still unsure, and debating the wisdom in driving an hour  and a half from our campsite (which was right next to a lake with a prodigious amount of trout) i pulled on my boots, wondering what the hell i was thinking, or if i even was.

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It was at that moment that he emerged from the camouflaged dance of the forest and made his way to the truck.  The whooping crane colored beard, the practical full brim hat, and the wise eyes set off alarms up and down every fly fishing muscle in my body, “Was it Giearch?!”  Knowing that John Gierach (if it was in fact the fly fishing bard in question) was about as fond as i am of social interaction, i managed a sort of half smile that was reciprocated while he quickly packed up and made tracks out of there, seconds before i summoned the courage to engage the stranger.  Damn.

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Minutes after the mystery had sailed i had my rod strung, crossed the field, and stepped into the unknown brown and green canopy with the same amount of nervousness and excitement that i imagine an actor feels before stepping through the velvet, burgundy curtains to confront his or her audience.  Eyes on the moist, damp dirt trail i was quickly able to discern the mysterious fly fishers boot tracks from those masked underneath it.  Following their path in reverse i sank into the wilderness, my eyes fixed on the imprints with every step.

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Eventually the tracks veered off on to a side trail where i stumbled out of the woods into the lower terminus of a canyon that seemed to reach up and hug the sky, squeezing the color out of it, both it’s blues and whites dripping down the cliffs and back into the water.  The river was exposed here, and pocket upon pocket laid ahead of me with trout anticipation holed up and each one (or so i imagined).

Finding a deep hole that hugged a steep canyon wall, i worked the water until the first trout of the day (the rainbow below) erred and mistook my wire and thread nymph for the real thing.   A couple other rainbows followed in quick succession, promptly making it obvious that these waters  must see very few fisherman.

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Working my way back to the trail, i was surprised by the veil that the foliage between trail and water provided.  One could be 20 feet from amazing pocket water and simply have no idea, thanks to the immense and dense foliage that loitered casually along the creek’s bank.

Bend after bend provided on going challenges as well as trout after trout as i made made my way up the trail continuing to follow the tracks that had already provided with me with so much.  Footstep after footstep i started to wonder if i wasn’t fooling myself, maybe this wasn’t my guy at all?  After all, there must be 100 flyfishers in Colorado that look like Gierach, driving the same same kind of utilitarian truck that he’s always mentioning in his well thought out, yet seemingly off-the-cuff stories.  What were the chances of it really being him?

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Thinking this, i suddenly stopped dead in my tracks, or more accurately, dead in his tracks as i noticed his trail going straight into what looked like impenetrable thicket.  Confused and baffled i used my newly found walking stick (a.k.a. branch) to try and find a way through when the path abruptly opened up.  My man, his tracks now clearly visible, had cut branches from numerous plants on the opposite side of the trail and placed them here, covering the lightly worn trail from view.

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Shoot dang.  If the man i had seen in the parking lot wasn’t the wily, crafty character that wrote the many stories i consumed with delight and awe, then surely it was his ghost.  Minutes later when the path lead me to the deepest bluest hole i’d seen, with decrepit ridges towering above it, where first rainbow, then cutthroat and finally brown trout were coughed up in rapid succession, i had no doubt.  That was my man, and he had a secret.  As much as i’d love to share it with you, you’ll have to enjoy it vicariously here, because it now dawns on me that the “half smile” wasn’t him being friendly, it was him telling me that i better keep my lips tight and not ruin this small treasure that he had found.  I know better than to cross famous angling authors or their doppelgängers, but there is hope for all.

There are a million places like this out there, just be observant and poke and prod, you never what path might open up before you.

Oh, and to Gierach (or his ghost)…

“Thank you.”

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Like many, i’ve always wished that i could speak and read all the worlds languages.  If i ever somehow manage to acquire this skill, i’m going to immediately put it to use reading the blog www.westlerorrbeck.se in it’s native Swedish because it’s obvious viewing the translated version via Google that i’m missing out on something that is simply lost in translation.

 

Westler & Orrbeck may have only been around nine months but they’ve managed to put together some killer content in that short amount of time, including some beautifully shot videos.

If you are fortunate enough to speak Swedish check them out at www.westlerorrbeck.se.  If not go here for English.

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Cimarrón: defined as  1) Unruly, uncouth and wild. 2) Rough, not domesticated.

Yep, that sounds about right. Both the creeks i was temporarily calling home (two distinct forks of the Cimarron that converge at Silver Jack Reservoir) and the ancient, crumbling mountains  that surround them fit that description to a T. Each one of them (creeks and mountains) demonstrates an utter disregard for polished lines and subtle suggestions of wilderness. Instead the waters mirror the peaks, all jagged lines and jutting formations that look as though Ornette Coleman had danced through the valleys millennia ago spitting rock and water from his sax, creating a visual and tangible, free jazz landscape that would inspire folks for millennia to come, including me.

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For a good week i was privileged enough, on my recent month long Colorado tour, to spend numerous days wandering the converging creeks with a 7’6″ 3WT and a small sling pack who’s volume was consumed more by water, nuts and jerky than it was fishing paraphernalia (the best part of small creek fishing is that you don’t need much). For the first few days i had the place to myself, exploring runs, pockets, and deep pools with a giddy sort of enthusiasm doubtlessly brought on by pursuing my new goal of here on only fishing new waters, a plan that was already paying off handsomely with incredible surroundings, crystal clear, undisturbed water and a creel load (hypothetical of course) of fish.

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While i had three or four amazing and otherworldly days on the creeks (before discovering the Cimarron River below the reservoir…post to follow), it was the first day on the creeks that seemed to set the mood for the next few weeks of my adventure. Let it be known that I am by no means the kind of fisherman that has double didgit days on a regular, or even semi-regular basis. If anything, i am competent at best when it comes to enticing fish on my home waters, and slightly less than that when working foreign waters fishing for trout.

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Never the less, i was fortunate enough to have one of THOSE days you always hear about. The smile on my face would have given it away (had anyone been there to notice it), i was having a great fishing day, and only my rusty trout skills kept it from being better. In that first day, i brought well over 25 trout to hand and lost half that many to bad hook sets and broken tippets due to the high amount of trees and random wood that washed down stream during runoff (Tip #1: Don’t use 5X on high mountain streams). Many more fish and photo opportunities were also missed because i hadn’t thought to bring a net, guessing that that the fish would be so small that a net would just be extra weight. The reality was that the water, while low, was dropping elevation at a considerable rate, and the fish had been strengthened over time by these flows, two facts that meant losing a majority of the fish before the camera was even drawn. (Tip #2: Always bring a net, even just a small one.)

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Early in the day i naively spent my time on only the deepest and darkest holes, assuming that the trout would find the shallow riffles to be undesirable.  With 50 yards or so between the deeper holes (we’re talking three feet deep) it took a while to cover some serious miles before working my way back down stream, testing out the riffles and being reminded by Professor Trout, that you can pull some nice fish out of water not much deeper than their bodies are.

While the majority of the fish were rainbows and browns, there were the occasional cutthroat that added some technicolor tones to an already vivid day. While landing my first of these beautiful fish (above) i was worried that i had somehow let the hook sink to far into the gills and figured that to be the reason for the redish /orange marks  that seemed to be emanating from the jaw. Much to my elation, it was just a beautiful and vibrant fish that seemed only slightly miffed to have me gawking at it’s coloration.

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None of these fish were huge by any means, most fell within the 12-16″ inch range with the occasional 18-20 inched, but they were wild as all get out and made sure to let you know it, running and jumping like they were trying out for next years fish olympics. Considering that i was wet wading, and fishing a tiny 3WT with alternating nymphs and dries, in such a visual knock out of a land, unfettered or bothered by fellow anglers, they might as well have been three foot monsters. Staring up at the crumbling mountain crags that towered against the sky, and then down to the crystal clear water quickly working it’s way seaward, and finally at the trout recomposing itself in the back eddy at my feet, i couldn’t help but feel that i was in on a wonderful secret. I’m also fairly certain that the statuesque female moose, the male elk with the fresh velvet rack, and the crazy cacophony of deer, herons, water fowl, marmots and hummingbirds, all of which  i happened to come across in the creek during my lonely fishing hike added a degree of wonder that took the whole experience to a level that i previously thought impossible. Strangely enough, this was only the begining of the magic…but that’s another post.

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If you want to go:

Closest town: Ridgway, Colorado has some amenities, and Montrose to the north has many more.

Fly shop: R.I.G.S. Flyshop (These guys have consistently been cordial and helpful over the years and have an amazing selection of flies.)

Campgrounds: Silver Jack Reservoir campgrounds is a fee campground and there are tons of free camping spots all within a mile of the reservoir, most of them on the upper end of the reservoir where the creeks converge.

Local foods, drink and other visitor information: Ridgway is a classic Colorado small town (less than 1,000 people) that more or less serves as an adjunct town to the much more expensive and popular Telluride. The town is pretty mellow and laid back, and not surprisingly one of the few towns that chose to legalize marajuana and reap the tax rewards. The downtown is situated along the Uncompahgre river (fishable) and host numerous art shows and festivals in it’s quaint and lovely city park that is bordered by local boutiques and breweries.’

While i’ve only eaten out a handful of times in this town over the years (restaurants seem to come and go in these small towns like migrating geese) my new favorite is Taco del Gnar  for providing adventurous culinary explorations into what a taco can be (the special taco of the week, scallops and gorgonzola put me over the moon.)

As far as fisherman are concerned it provides the R.I.G.S. Flyshop for all your fishing and guiding needs as well as a local grocery store to stock up on camping items. 

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Holy smokes, it’s been a month my friends. In that time i’ve had so many fly-fishing adventures in southwest Colorado that it’s going to test my writing patience just to share them all in addition to whatever trips happen over the next few weeks here in the land of insatiable heat.

There is a wealth of beta to come for sure, in the mean time i hope that you all enjoy the fact that die Fische is now being sported on a Gunnison River groover. Personally, i find the fact that our sticker is on the “groover” to be the highest compliment possible. (Tons to come soon, stay tuned!)