A special edition for all my ice-bound northern angling friends—here are some pix from balmy Florida to help thaw you out. Got this nice slam—redfish, speckled trout, and snook out in the Gulf near Everglades City. Did I mention the big 31” snook, tarpon, and baby shark last week? Now get back to salting your sidewalks while I salt my margarita! 😎
Just received a belated Christmas gift from Santa–in its January issue Southwest Fly Fishing published my article on fishing Treasure Creek in Southern Colorado! Click on the link below to see the full article.
Greetings to all my friends and readers. I hope your holidays have been peaceful, and here’s wishing you the best for a great 2020. It’s been a very interesting and rewarding year writing my blog. In addition to providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places and share them with my friends, my main goal continues to be helping reinforce and building the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places fish inhabit. Given the current state of politics in the country and multiple threats to our environment and natural resources, it’s more important than ever to take a stand and do whatever we can to protect Mother Nature and her finny denizens.
I was especially gratified to have some of my piscatorial peregrinations published by Florida Sportsman magazine in an article about kayak fishing in the Everglades. You can find a link to it in my October post.
It was also great to see that by late December, the Hooknfly blog has had over 53,000 views and over 23,000 visitors, a 40%+ increase over 2018An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world.
Among them are readers from over 60 nations. Now it’s easy to figure out why people who follow my blog are mainly from English-speaking countries, but who am I to ask why anyone from Belarus, Ukraine, or Russia would read my articles. Hmmm, but on second thought perhaps there is indeed a common thread here—could it be I’m on Putin’s watch list after posting a not-so-flattering wise crack and photo of him in a 2018 article on upper Saguache Creek:
“By now it’s nearly 2 p.m., and the sun is beating down and things are heating up. I decide to shed some clothing and strip off my long-sleeve fishing shirt and polypro T under it, reveling in my bare-chestedness in the mountain air with no prying eyes. Visions of Vladimir Putin, similarly bare-chested and buff, riding over the ridge float through my mind. No wonder Agent Orange couldn’t resist him at Helsinki! What a hunk!!”
But seriously, as the year comes to a close it gives me great pleasure to look back on the best, the bummers, and the blood-curdling moments of 2019 from an angling perspective. It’s been a treat to have you with me! Here we go…
For some earlier articles on fishing the Arkansas River, see my posts from late 2018
I was well into packing up for my annual migration to the Florida Everglades for the winter. The first snow had already fallen, leaves were falling fast, and the wind had been blowing like a banshee all week, making fly fishing a dangerous sport.
But then as if by magic, the winds relented and the angling gods beckoned, an irresistible siren’s call. I hadn’t been out on my old home water, the Arkansas River, that flows close by my cabin near Salida, Colorado, since March. When I moved to Colorado back in the late 80s, the Big Ark was undiscovered. I could fish all day on a weekend back then and rarely bump into another angler. But it wasn’t long after that rafting on the river turned into a big business, industrial-style tourism. Then the state designated the Arkansas as Gold Medal trout water, followed soon thereafter by creation of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. Both events were the equivalent of putting a big neon sign that said come on over, ye hordes from Denver and recreate. And they did.
Today Denver has over a million more residents than back then with easier access to Salida, the result being flotillas of rafters, kayaks, SUPs, float fisherman, and other assorted riffraff to drive wade fisherman berserk.
It’s virtually impossible to find a quiet spot on the river for piscatorial pursuits, even on weekdays. Now if I am sounding like an old curmudgeon, I plead guilty. Rant completed.
But suddenly to my wonder, the winds have died down, the water level on the Ark is 275 cfs, perfect for wading but too low for most rafters and kayaks, and the cold weather dipping into the 30s at night has sent fair-weather anglers scurrying to warmer climes. Now if I can dodge the increasing legions of placer miners on the river and avoid the smoke bellowing down valley from the big Deckers fire, I may find some solitude like the old days and even some fish.
Grape Creek southwest of Canon City, Colorado, is one of my favorite backcountry creeks, offering over 30 miles to explore in a rugged canyon where the wild brownies and bows are plentiful. And happily, with only a few public access points the entire length, boot marks are scarce.
Most anglers fish the stretch upstream of Canon City, gaining access where County Road 3 crosses it a few miles outside of the town.
From the bridge an adventuresome angler has over 10 miles of state and federal land with beautiful water to explore before reaching the next public access at Bear Creek Gulch. The canyon and stream gets wilder the further up you go.
But what of downstream from the bridge into Temple Canyon Park, owned by Canon City? I’ve rarely seen any serious fisherman head that way.
The creek disappears downstream a few hundred yards into the cottonwood-studded canyon, and most of the hikers venturing into the rocky, spectacular canyon have as their goal the magnificent natural amphitheater on a side canyon off the creek that gives the park its name. I’m intrigued by the fact that there’s nary a mention online of anyone fishing the five-mile stretch down to the confluence with the Arkansas River, and my piscatorial appetite is whetted even further by the alluring twists and turns in the creek that Google Earth reveals, promising deep pools and maybe big fish. Who can resist!
Temple Canyon and Grape Creek Canyon upstream beyond have a fascinating history. The intrepid explorer John Fremont traversed the rugged terrain during the winter of 1806 as he explored the Great American West. He followed a trail used by the Ute Indians that led from the plains to their summer hunting grounds in what we now call the Wet Mountain Valley. Incredibly, in the late 1800s a narrow-gauge railroad line was carved up the canyon to tap the wealth of the silver and gold mines around present-day Silver Cliff and Westcliffe. But it operated for only a few years, landslides and washouts dooming the line. Remnants of this amazing feat can be seen today in the form of old bridge abutments and rock walls along the original rail bed. Workers in those bygones years discovered a spectacular natural amphitheater high above the creek which became something of a tourist attraction.
Temple Canyon Amphitheater
Temple Canyon was transferred to the City of Canon City in 1912 by the federal government and today is managed to maintain its wild environment. The road from the city to the park is scary rough in places and there are only a couple of primitive campgrounds for the hearty visitor. No motorized contraptions of any kind are allowed in Temple Canyon, only leg-powered hikers. All of this is great news for the intrepid angler!
While in the old days the canyon experienced wild floods, today the waters are controlled, for better or worse, by the (so-called) Arkansas Water Conservancy District through its DeWeese Reservoir on upper Grape Creek near Westcliffe. The reservoir holds water for downstream irrigation by ranches and farms around Canon City. Flows can still fluctuate greatly depending on irrigation demands, but in summer the water can get dangerously low—down to 4 CFS—as water is stored up for periodic releases. State and federal wildlife agencies are working with the district to assure adequate summer flows, reportedly with some progress, albeit halting. The controlled flows have also allowed heavy willow and brush growth along some stretches of the creek, vegetation that would have been swept away by annual raging floods before the dam was built.
Last night I checked the flow on the conservancy district web site and found it to be at 20 CFS, low but eminently fishable (I find 30-50 cfs is optimal.). So it’s a go.