Category Archive: Slideshow
It started with the stag.
After writing my previous article, wherein i found myself relating with a baby deer being chased by a coyote (read it here) i set out for Barton Creek (my local haven) to try and re-discover my passion for fly fishing as well as a sense of self that has been missing for a while.
It was a glorious day punctuated with hiking, swimming, sunfish and bass. Late in the day, on one of the few uncrowded stretches, with the sun beginning to dip behind the limestone cliffs, i was switching flies when i heard what i thought was the splash of children or dogs coming downstream from around the bend. Looking up, and expecting some minor nuisance, whether two legged or four, i practically lost my breath as a giant stag, taller than me, charged energetically down the main channel of the creek, just a few feet away, sporting a rack that looked more like an elaborate chandelier than a set of horns. After passing by, it quickly stopped 20 yards downstream and glanced back at me as if noticing me for the first time, and then suddenly it bolted into the thicket.
It felt like the most dramatic, and staged signal life could throw at me. It couldn’t have been any more obvious, i needed to have the renewed confidence of that stag. No more being chased around by doubt and coyotes.
Hoisting the YOLO board onto the car i suddenly noticed that i was casually (and curiously) taking my time in my driveway. The plan was to hit the lower Colorado near Smithville, a place where i seem to be one of the only people that continually strikes out on this reportedly fertile water. Add to that the fact that i’ve had the worst luck on this stretch of water (four broken rods, one broken reel, and a broken Hobie Mirage drive) and it’s not to surprising that every bone in my body was subconsciously trying to keep me at home, far from broken rod tips and getting skunked. But recalling the Lesson of the Buck, i set off, psyching myself up the entire way and trying to convince myself that this time would be different.
In classic fashion, three quarters of the trip involved paddling against the current just to enjoy a disproportionate amount of time floating and casting into the shadows of the bank. I paddled earnestly until my arms turned to rubber and i couldn’t paddle anymore, and located a nice gravel beach that though devoid of shade, allowed me to rest.
On the paddle up i had caught nary a site of any fish other than the ubiquitous red horse, but upon launching downstream i immediately spotted drum, carp and bass working the waters around me. But with the current strong (being released at Tom Miller dam) I floated a spell before stumbling on some slack water where i immediately spotted a swarm of gar schooling around in the shadows.
As many of you know i am a long time aficionado of the gar, but it had been months since i’d had the pleasure of dancing with this scaly beast. Much like fishing in general, i’d been starting to doubt my devotion, but all of that was about to change. With the first cast a gar powered past a few others and cocked its head to sink its teeth into the fly, jerking it back and forth and quickly applying tension on my line. As the gar raced with my line and went airborne over and over, the passion for fishing sparked and emanated throughout my body for the first time in weeks.
That passion only grew as gar after gar was caught and released, with me eventually finding myself with the most foreign of thoughts, that “ten plus gar was enough” and moving onto something different. It turned out that a large white popper (seen in the title bar after hours of torture) would be the ticket to bass after bass. Any cast that involved that fly, and a little structure on the bank seemed to result in dishoveled water, a brief second of chaos, and a Guadalupe bass coming to hand full of vim and vigor.
Floating downstream and landing fish after fish surrounded by the sound of nothing but the breeze and the call of birds was unreal. It felt good to be back in a place with passion and purpose, a sphere where i felt competent, and comfortable. It also felt good to be alert and present in nature and in tune to all the glory it provided.
Mostly though, it felt good to be the stag splashing down the stream of passion with a ebullient smile on my face, and no coyotes in pursuit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In reality i probably shouldn’t have been out wandering the shores of my beloved Pedernales. I had spent the previous week with an illness that found me slowly slipping back and forth between 14 hour days of sleep and walking around my work like a zombie trying to keep busy just so i wouldn’t notice how miserable i really was.
While i was lucky enough to acquire many wonderful traits from my parents, i was also unfortunate enough to inherit a healthy dose of stubbornness that causes me ignore the advice of others (“Go home and get some rest!”) and do what i think i need to do (“Strap on a 20 pound pack and head out to wade in a raging river and try and catch some fish dam it!”) despite the fact that i really probably should have waited for the illness to leave and the flows to get back down to something resembling normal.
This scenario played itself out recently when i hiked into the lower waters of the Pedernales with all intents of breaking up the monotony of the sleep/cough/zombie shuffle. Although flows were only hovering around 250CFS that’s enough of a flow in this shallow riverbed to turn the water into heavy flows from bank to bank. Pools that had previously been waist high and wadable were now over head high and full of such powerful flows that simply trying to stand your own was a chore.
Making my way along the shore i eventually found temporary reprieve in a small pocket out of the main current. Working the ubiquitous black Wooly Bugger through the mellow waters i felt a sudden tug that i figured would likely be an eager sunfish trying to scarf down a quick meal.
As the line went taut, i struggled to catch a glimpse of the sunfish only to find myself playing tug o’ war with a small gar that seemed a little peeved to have been fooled. I oohed and awed over the fish, snapped a couple of quick photos while informing him/her that he/she was my first gar of the season, a noble title to be sure, but the fish just kept eyeballing me without any discernible change in attitude.
Shortly after that spotted, and needle jawed wonder, i turned and headed back to the car, sweating, exhausted and seriously wondering if i could make it back to the car without passing out. Maybe everyone else was right and i should have stayed at home?
Not that there was ever really any question of course, the great thing about stubbornness is that it not only makes you want to prove everyone else wrong, it also makes you want to prove yourself right.
Exhausted but smiling, i made it to the car, returned home, laid down and immediately fell into an incredibly restful sleep where i dreamt of flowing crystal waters, lines tearing into backing, stalwart cypress, endless sand, majestic black spots and radiant, prehistoric golden scales glistening in the sun.
Maybe stubbornness isn’t always bad after all.