RSS Feed

Search...

Category Archive:   Colorado State Fishing


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”

IMG_1516

Luck and good fortune can be measured in many ways. For some it’s winning the lottery or inheriting crazy money. For others it’s finding fame via social media or possibly even landing on reality television.

For me i felt like the luckiest bastard alive when I recently was fortuitous enough to spend two separate vacations in Colorado this summer fishing my brains out for trout, and exploring many waters i’d never even heard of, much less fished.

One such water was the upper reaches of Taryall Creek within the Lost Creek Wilderness area in central Colorado. My angling parents, my son and i all spent a couple of days using my parents small and humble pop-up camper as a home base for some small water fishing that alternated between tiny browns and wildly impressive fighters.

IMG_1510

Day one was filled with endless amounts of small browns taken 10 feet from our camper, in the Tarsal that flowed through the magical campgrounds.

Day two was an odd, yet wonderfully succulent event as we climbed over fence ladders that welcomed us to private waters upstream that entitled our group to miles of shoreline and fish without anyone else cramping our style. Most of the day was spent guiding my 12 year old son on some wild waters with not much to show other than a few occasional missed strikes. At some point, with his frustration rightfully growing, he decided i needed to fish and catch something just to lighten the mood for the both of us.

IMG_1513

I realize that this sounds like complete bull shit, but within minutes i cast my 7’6″ 2WT rod nymph rig into a deeper hole and suddenly felt a (relative) leviathan doubling my rod over as it shot from bank to bank. As the fish cut back and forth across the whitewater all i could think of was the 6X tippet and the tiny percentage of a chance that i had of landing it on such a small and light rig. Luckily my son took command of the net and landed the fish tenderly and gracefully, and together we made it happen.

A few minutes later, still high on the success of our teamwork, i spotted a larger trout held tight in a feeding lane close to shore, in the shade of an evergreen and pointed it out to my son. With the intensity level rising to a fever pitch we snuck downstream and worked our way back up with me giving every tip i could summon in hopes of some sort of chance of things working out.

IMG_1511

And like that it happened. One cast by my son, and one shocked dry fly inhaled, and one massive trout in the net with us tripping over ourselves trying to snap a photo to prove that the most absurd of the absurd had actually happened. While we trying to snap a photo it tossed the hook, did a belly flop and reacquainted itself with the water and was gone in a flash leaving both my son and i in shock at just how much had gone down in the last 30 seconds. We didn’t get the photo of the fish, but the smile on my sons face tells the whole story.

The next day began with my father and i wandering upstream from the campsite and exploring some of the trails along the creek that were either lightly trodden, or simply hidden to thwart off those that couldn’t commit to a true adventure.

While the private waters were absolutely magical and wonderful in many ways, we both hiked out of the upper stretch of public waters agreeing that we had literally stumbled on some of the most scenic and amazing fishing waters that we had ever seen. Pockets, riffles, and giant stones seemingly placed haphazardly by gods filled the waters bed and provided one with a myriad of options to work the countless seams that bounced from rock to rock.

The private fishing is great if you can swing it, but if not, just walk. The truth is always just around the bend.

IMG_1512

IMG_1485

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.

IMG_1486

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.

IMG_1477

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.

IMG_1482

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.

IMG_1488

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.

IMG_1479

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.

IMG_1487

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.

IMG_1481

Want to go?

Resources:

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.

Accommodations:

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.

Fishing License:

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.

IMG_0228

;

IMG_1478

into-the-gorge-main

“Into the Gorge”

Trying to get a few last hours of sleep in our small camper along the Gunnison river, i was suddenly awaken by my father, his outline bathed in an ominous glowing ambience provided by a sudden strike of lightning, his words indiscernible over the loud crack of thunder that ripped open the sky before dumping a deluge of water onto all our fishing gear spread around the outside of the camper.  It didn’t take long to run out and tuck it all under the camper, and even less time to fall back asleep, but that’s only because i didn’t know what the onslaught of moisture meant for our drive the next day into the heart of the Gunnison Gorge, it’s a good thing too, because had i known i wouldn’t have slept at all.

IMG_0519

The next morning as the six clients (John his wife Pattie, Alan, Greg my father and i) loitered around the van, the guides (Patrick, Stuart, Steve and their assistant Tom) seemed to be taking their time corralling us and boarding the bus.  Oddly enough, as we turned off the main highway out of Delta, and turned onto the dirt road, their already soft tones came to a halt, like birds before a storm, sending off warning signals, but for what i had no idea.  A few miles further Steve (our driver / guide) stopped in the middle of the innocuous looking dirt road that was freshly bathed in rain water, stepped out and locked the hubs on the four wheel drive van.  Hopping back in the seat and giving the monster gas, Steve caused the giant white egg to move forward.  No sooner had i started to form my question “What was that…?” than we started sliding in odd and mysterious ways on the strange “mud” that due to the nights rain had become a cross between ice and soap, causing an already difficult four wheel drive to take on a whole additional level of fear.  Suffice to say that any ride where gravity’s downward pull on your vehicle is halted not by brakes or friction (two things i will never take for granted again), but by catching a muddy rut broadside, bringing you, your compatriots and a two ton vehicle (plus a ton of gear) to a tenuous stop inches shy of a 200 foot cliff, will be a quiet ride, since all riders will be so busy trying to remember to breathe that words will be surely be kept to a minimum.

IMG_0506

Pulling into the parking lot i almost jumped out and kissed the ground before noticing that folks were already heading down our mile and a half decent down, down, down into the heart of the Gorge.  Hoisting my 75 pound pack i started slipping and sliding down the trail that felt like it was coated in chocolate pudding, sliding an extra three feet with every step taken.  As my steps progressed, i started running through the inventory and wight in my pack, making sure to curse each and every item for the undue exhaustion it was causing.

In an effort to save my dad and i some money from having wine brought in by mule the day before, i had thrown two Bota Box wine bladders in my pack, obviously not expecting this sort of death march down to the river.  As much as i love wine, i have to confess that those two bladders were cursed under my breath with every sliding footstep, and every article of clothing in my pack was accused of crimes of treason.  Of course, once we got to the water all was forgiven and i pardoned both the wine and the clothing, assuring both of them that i would make their extra weight well worth my while, especially that damn wine.

IMG_0525

“Random Moments”

– On the morning of day two, this immense stonefly (below) was found climbing up one of the boats and passed around so that all could see what these monster trout were feeding on.  After that my size 20 nymphs seemed like shallow attempts to convince fish used to double cheeseburgers with bacon to change their diet and be tempted by mouth watering grains of rice.

– Forced relaxation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it’s pretty damn nice.  After fishing hard for hours and pulling over for a wonderful lunch in the shade of the river edge foliage, it’s a little hard to get up and tear up the water in the worst part of the fishing day (high noon), especially when you know you have hours of fishing left.  Not to say i didn’t do that, but it’s still nice to know that you’re expected to use your PFD like a pillow and stare up through the gnarled branches of the Juniper trees and doze off for at least 15 minutes dreaming of the last few hours and those that lie ahead.

IMG_0520

– If you hike drinks into a remote float like this, you are like the King Midas of the trip.  Totally worth breaking my back for an hour or two, just to be able to offer our group something usually taken for granted back in the “real” world.

– ALWAYS BRING A NET.  In my confusion as to what this trip might be, i somehow imagined us always fishing from the boat and using one net.  This is almost never the case.  Numerous times i was dropped off on my own and hooked numerous fish that were lost because i couldn’t get them to hand, mostly because of intense flows and lack of a net.  You’d think i’d learn, i left a net behind on a high mountain stream on this trip and paid the price, and i didn’t bring one on my guided steelhead trip a few years back and yet STILL managed to not bring a half pound net while simultaneously being sure to drop an extra pound of vino in my pack.  No matter what trip you are undertaking, i can’t stress enough, always…always bring a net.  (At least for fast waters.)

IMG_0513

– Fish are tougher than you think.  Time and time again we’d be heading down some class III rapids (above) and i’d make a half ass cast into a pool only to feel an immediate tug and suddenly find a trout and myself bound together by some 2X tippet and working our way down a run together in what one of our guides called “A trout relocation program.”  This was absolutely my favorite expression of the trip.

IMG_0511

“Best. Day. Ever.”

Waking slowly and downing some grade “A” campfire coffee, i packed my bags and was escorted across the river by our guides and their raft, within easy sight of our camp, but fishing wise on another planet.  Working the inside bank, i rather quickly landed a few browns that put a decent  in the 5WT and once at hand looked to be around 12-14 inches.

Working my way down the river, to where the pool i’d been fishing bottled into a healthy run of whitewater and small pockets, i managed to hook the 16″ fish (below) from a hole that was obviously ripe with fish.  Shortly after, a second fish about the same size was pulled from the same hole when i noticed a deep pocket behind a larger rock.

IMG_0524

Making the cast, i visually followed the indicator as it crested over the rock and then quickly dove out of my site, like a shy actor at Cannes avoiding the paparazzi.  The reel quickly began to hum as it tore into the backing with a wild ferocity as both fish and line took off downstream leaving me with a 5WT that suddenly was feeling like a wet noodle fighting the fish and flows, and a reel that was more naked than i’d ever seen it.  As any fisher knows, time in a fish battle is relative, but i swear that it was somewhere between 5 minutes (real time) and 15 minutes (fishing time) before i managed to coax this handful of joy from the whitewater.  Escorting him back into a slow flowing pool, i sat down and watched this amazing fish for a good while before he broke off into the current on his own volition, leaving me alone sprawled out on the bank, eyes to the sky in utter dismay at the fish i had landed.  After that fish (caught early in the day) i was so relaxed that fish after fish seemed to come to my fly easily, two things that i assure you are not common for me.

IMG_0523

Strangely enough the fish that made the day wasn’t even close to the biggest for me, he just happened to be the one that i was able to land.  The next was dug up in a slow pool, and worked to the boat where it immediately became obvious he (of she) had a few pounds and at least 8 inches on the above fish.  Shaking and nervous i asked our guide for the day, Stuart, to row me to the bank where i might be more comfortable fighting the fish of a lifetime.  Working the fish in to the bank i looked down through the waters glare to see it looking up at me with knowledgeable eyes that sent a chill up my spine, and then…”SNIP”…it was gone.  I had been played like a sucker by a pro.  I swear that fish knew EXACTLY what it was doing as it built it’s reserves for the inevitable bolt that would snap my 2X so quick and cleanly that i honestly felt zero tension in the rod as the tippet gave way.  Fortunately i was still riding high from the previous fish, and i found that Stuart was far more upset at loosing the fish than i was, sub-conciously telling me it was every bit the trophy fish it looked to be before it decided to leave me alone on the bank.

IMG_0509

Later in the day after an incredible lunch provided by our guides (chicken salad and Pringles rule when you’ve been fishing for five hours straight) i had a glass of wine and dozed off under the aforementioned juniper only to wake and find that the group had all waded down stream.  Slowly rising i heeded to the contrarion in me and headed upstream to some heavy whitewater, looking once again for the pockets that had brought me so much success earlier in the day.  After a few smaller fish (20 inches) i finally hooked into a serious rainbow that shot across the current causing me to shake like Jello in a waterbed before once again being taken into my backing.  The size of the fish (32 inches plus, pinky swear) combined with the flows of the whitewater immediately drew up flashbacks of my steelhead on the Deschutes into my muscle memory.  As the fish tore downstream, leaping like it was trying out for Cirque du Soleil, i quickly made my way down the bank, glancing around at my incredible surroundings, and back at the fish jumping and fighting with an athletic vigor.  With the closest guide 75 yards downstream, i called out for a net before feeling an odd chuckle welling up inside.  A few moments later i truly felt everything in my small universe come together, the experience of wilderness i was knee deep in, the adventure of it all, the isolation, the mountains, the Juniper, the weeks away from humans and their inadvertent treachery, the cool water, the fish…EVERYTHING came together and i laughed and laughed a manic laugh that was the most celebratory sound i’ve ever made in praise of life…true life.

Of course the fish got off before the guide could make it there.  Doubtlessly, that was as it should be. Even the loss made me laugh, and that felt right.  I don’t want to sound corny, but i have never been happier and closer to the spastic dance of the cosmic wheel than i was at that moment.

There is so much more, and if you want to hear it all, buy me a drink.  I’d love to share my best day ever as well as the information absorbed with each and every one of you.  (A pinot noir will surely get you the story of the golden eagle, a whole other post.)

Final thought. Go do it. You will never feel the same afterwards.

Also, always carry a net.

IMG_0423

If you want to go:

Closest town: Hotchkiss, Delta and Paonia, Colorado

Fly shop: Gunnison River Fly Fishing not only has a fly shop and camping on the premesis, they also were the guide service that provided me with three of the best days i’ve ever had on the water via their amazing guide service that i can’t recommend highly enough.  (Note, they had no idea who i was and i received no special service because of this blog, which is how i prefer it.)

Campgrounds: As mentioned above Gunnison River Fly Fishing provides camping services via Pleasure Park.  The Berau o fLand Management has an adjacent property called Gunnison River Forks that also provides camping as well as hiking access to the lower stretch of the Gorge.

Local foods, drink and other visitor information:  There are some amazing wineries in the area, with Terror Creek Winery in Paonia being our absolute favorite.  While the food options in this area of Colorado are stretched a little thin, the Flying Fork in Paonia provides top notch food and service that you would usually equate with a town 100 times the size.

 

IMG_0424