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Category Archive:   Trout


 

A new short one by the man, the legend, Yukon Goes Fishing. Small water, small rods, small fish, BIG FUN!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The news was sad indeed. My grandmother had encountered increasing health problems and finally passed to the other side of the veil early last week. A wonderful  grandmother in many ways, one of my favorite things about her was the way she actually got my teenage, offbeat and ironic sense of humor in the early eighties long before sarcasm was mainstream (yeah i’m looking at you hipsters!) In addition she also had AMAZING cooking skills, and somehow managed to find a way to live with a die hard fisherman for decades without visibly (to me at least) being upset with his constant desire to be on the water.

The day after the news i was driving alone through the north half of Texas, all of Oklahoma and the vast majority of Kansas. It was a fourteen hour trip (one way) of reflection that only allowed me time to cement the obvious, namely that all life is transient, loved ones should never be taken for granted, and any time spent with children (even if they think they’re not enjoying it at the time) will probably provide them with cherished moments that they will take to their grave. (For example, my aversion of fishing in my youth that turned into an addiction many years later.)

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After a whirlwind 24 hour stay that felt like a waking dream, seeing extended family i hadn’t seen in many, many years and a small town that has changed dramatically in the decade since i’d been there last, i spun the Element southward, leaving the Land of Frozen Water, planning to return home, but feeling an increasing need to pause somewhere along the way for some quick down time to process the onslaught of emotions i’d been bombarded with.

Hours later, i was propped up in a hotel bed in Tulsa, Oklahoma and locked into their WI-FI searching for information on Broken Bow in southeast Oklahoma, a trout fishing destination that i’d heard many people rave about over the years. It took no time to find reviews and pinpoint directions to Broken Bow, but the generated enthusiasm was short lived when i read that floods in December had wiped out fishing spots and fishing shops along the Bow, shutting the entire park down for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately in my research something else did pop up, although with far less fanfare and information, the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area in south central Oklahoma. For whatever reason, information on the Blue River fishery is almost non existent, though i was eventually able to discern that there were healthy flows and they did indeed stock the river with trout on a fairly regular basis which was more than enough reason to invite myself to her strange and unfamiliar waters.

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The backwoods drive in had me worried i’d made a huge mistake, especially when i pulled into the local convenience store to find that they no longer sold fishing licenses as the internet had purported. Grabbing a gallon of water i strolled the grounds looking for a cell phone signal in hopes i could register for my license (very, very slowly) online since the nearest physical license would require a one hour (each way) drive that i simply didn’t have time for.

Eventually i found  a signal, paid my nominal fishing fee, and wandered along a trail into one of the most magical fishing experiences i’ve ever had. The Blue River was truly unlike any body of water i’ve ever seen. Not really your basic contained river, it’s more like an endless network of massive creeks flowing in and out of each other, with falls and plunge pools punctuation the beginning and end of every aquatic sentence along the many miles of trout stocked water.

Hiking and fishing as many of the miles of trails that i could manage in my painfully brief stay i was constantly shocked by the seemingly endless cavalcade of falls and whitewater that were not only scenic post cards in the making, but also full of energetic rainbows that got more naive the further you traveled along the trail and away from the highway.

The best part of the experience? There was not a soul in sight. It was exactly what i needed, hours spent among the trees and open waters, with nothing but the calm stillness of nature. Falls, clear water, conifers, ducks, hawks and trout seemed to offer their respects, keeping chatter to a minimum.

With the memories coming on heavily in the silence, i cried, as much out of sadness that my grandma was gone as out of the happiness of knowing that she was back with her husband, the mad hatter that somehow imparted in me the love of fishing decades before it would become so much to me.

I love you both. Thank you for all the memories.

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Want to go and experience trout fishing in Oklahoma?

Websites:

Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area – The official state run Facebook page with a wealth of information on stocking dates, stocking sites, directions and more.

www.blueriverok.com – One of the very few sites with information on what is otherwise a difficult to research trout fishing haven.

Camping: 

Camping sites are on a first come, first serve basis and are shockingly (to those of us from Texas) FREE! More details on camping can be found at the www.blueriverok,com site mentioned above.

Oklahoma Fishing Licenses:

www.wildlifedepartment.com/license.htm – There is no spot anywhere close that sells Oklahoma licenses, so we recommend buying and printing them up before setting out.

Distance:

From Austin it’s a five hour drive, which isn’t that much if you think that northern New Mexico and the Cimarron are 14 hours away. For those in north Texas (Dallas and Fort Worth) it’s so close that you need to make it happen, if you haven’t already.

 

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After a few windy, shaken hours of pushing ahead, the Element crested the hill and started to descend into the Texas Hill Country that houses the Frio River, audibly breathing a sigh of relief. In a fit of celebration it signified its enthusiasm by lighting up the empty tank light, causing immediate consternation and stress among it’s passengers, especially yours truly who knew there was a good half hour of nothingness to go before hitting anything resembling civilization. Sinking the weight of my body into the steering wheel, i envisioned myself half physically pushing the car along and half willing it along the asphalt trail sprawled out in front of the dashboard.

It was the first of a handful of small but frustrating, unexpected twists and turns in our family’s three day trip to Garner State Park, an escape of sorts that has become an annual pilgrimage for us. The focus was once again, as it has been in the past, was some serious family time in the outdoors, and trout…ideally lots of trout.

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Garner State Park lies on the Frio river, one of the coldest, clearest, and most scenic rivers that flow through the Hill Country here in Texas. While it’s mostly thought of as a “Tubing River” by the throngs of people that float the cool water in the middle of our sauna like summers, it’s also an amazing bass fishery in the summer, and a well stocked trout fishery during the winter months thanks to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

For any first time visitor to the Frio, it’s easy to scoff (as i did initially) at a body of water that looks to be less than a few inches deep across its waistline. Wading in, one will quickly find themselves with water over the waders just a few feet from shore. The water is so incredibly clear that there is truly no way to tell if the water is six inches deep or six feet deep without wading out into overhead water of paddling across its glossy surface. (The photo below is a shot of the river bottom. The camera is one inch below the surface and the rocks are easily six feet below though you can’t tell it from the photo.)

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Camped as we were on the north side of the park, a drive away from the southernly stocked section of the park, i was fortunate enough to be required to paddle one of our two watercraft down to the trout stocked pool on the south-side of the park to meet up with my wife and son who would be shuttling the other boat that way with the car.

Setting off alone and gliding the boat into the small but ferocious flows, the current (around 130 CFS) quickly sucked me in and dictated the course for the day which was essentially “Downstream. Quickly.” It was amazing, to put it mildly.

It was once again proof that in an overdeveloped and privatized state like Texas there were still ways to see this states most scenic aspects just by hopping in a floating craft and letting her guide you along some of her most beautiful routes.

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In two days of fishing (in a family man sort of way, which is to say “less than normal”) i never caught the trout i was looking for (though i did mange to catch an unseasonably hyperactive bass during the float (below), the only fish of the trip, and a hell of a lot of fun in the higher flows.) Having been stocked back in December there were very few trout left (50 or less of the 1,000 by my estimate), and those that were still there were seemed to have figured out how to avoid fools like me with aplomb.

Fortunately for anyone that can find the time, a fresh batch of 1,000 just went in today (1/22) and another batch will be dropped in on 2/12 for all those lucky to break away from city life and make their way to this jewel in the hill country. So if you have a watercraft and unused sick days, i suggest you get there soon.

Just be sure to top off the tank when the opportunity strikes.

If you want to go:

Closest town:  Leaky, Texas which now has at least two 24 hour gas stations. The local grocery store Leakey Mercantile is your one stop shop for any forgotten provisions.

Campgrounds: Garner State Park sits on the bank of the Frio river and provides both tent and RV camping as well as screened shelters.  There are numerous other RV sites and summer rentals in the area and any Google search will point you in the right direction.

Other visitor information: There are a handful of restaurants and stores in the area, but hours are spotty at best during the “off-season” winter months so i HIGHLY recommend calling ahead to see if what you want is open between Thanksgiving and spring break.

Important Note: The park will be closed from 10 p.m. on Feb. 8 until 8 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2016. – from the TPWD website

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