August 21, 2015
Day 2: After a relaxing, easy day of fishing yesterday and a good night’s sleep, I’m rearin’ to explore the more remote middle section of Cochetopa Creek. I haven’t been up there for a couple of years. Over five miles of beautiful, meandering meadow waters are bracketed by two steep canyons above and below that make access a challenge. The hearty angler can hike in on the Colorado Trail or four-wheel in on one of the rough access roads, then walk to the good water. A detailed topo/trails map is a must before venturing into this backcountry—the National Geographic Trails Map #139 LaGarita/Cochetopa Hills is a good place to start plotting your trip.
I’m up before dawn, and find there is a little ice on my windshield when I head out at 6:30 a.m. Yikes, it’s only August! But as soon as the sun breaks over the mountains to the east, it starts to warm up. An hour later I’ve descended into the canyon and am hiking along the creek, drooling over all the good-looking pools and beaver ponds. Finally I cut down to the creek, sloshing through the tall wet grass and beaver channels and fighting the tangle of willows. I emerge a couple of bends below a big beaver dam. The old trusty Royal Coachman Trude and caddis dropper are ready to go, and in the first bend pool I take three fat 12-inch browns that clearly have not been missing many meals lately. When I get up to the beaver dam, I peer carefully over it—usually it’s best to cast while standing on the base of the dam just peeking your head above it. Because the water in the ponds is usually slow-moving and very clear, casting from the shore will likely spook any trout finning in the depths. And when one spooks, a panic parade usually follows. I see trout dimpling the surface off to the side of the current and manage to drop the flies ten feet above the risers so they get a good look at the tasty Coachman. Wham!! A colorful, fat brook trout slams the dry and makes a mad dash upstream before I turn and land him. A second cast produces the same result. I spend the next half hour pulling another ½ dozen trout from the pond before the action dies down. As I climb over the dam and wade in the pond, I see a dozen more trout scattering in every direction.
The day is sunny, so the fish are doubly wary today, which means I spend a fair amount of time casting from my knees to keep a low profile. If I wore regular waders, my aging knees would have semi-permanent indentations from the stones in the stream bed, but I learned years ago that waders with foam pads in the knees are the ticket. They are hard to find these days, but Cabela’s still makes a few models that fill the bill. By noon, I have caught and released over 40 trout.
After a leisurely lunch, I keep working upstream, and the fish seem to get a little bigger the further I go. Some of the larger ones like this 17-inch brown were warming themselves in the sandy shallows, soaking up the sun. I make sure to scope out the lower reaches and shallows in every pool before casting and often can spot the trout before they spot me. It’s great fun sight fishing and watching a trout’s behavior as it inspects the fly, sometimes turning away, sometimes opting for the nymph, and sometimes chomping on the dry like it was the last meal before winter. These small trout streams provide a great education that can be used on bigger waters. One lesson: Don’t pick up your fly too quickly off the water even when it floats by a trout you can see. Let that fly float all the way down to you and even downstream. Many times today I watch as a trout turns and chases the fly and gulps it down before it exits the pool.
The fishing is good in every pool, and I entice a couple of 14- and 15-inch brownies plus some more flamboyant brookies. After it clouds up and spits a little rain, the beadhead caddis nymph seems to work better. Finally, some big
claps of thunder chase me off the water and back down the trail to the SUV. I’ve made the Century Club again today—over 100 fish, mostly browns and a few brookies.
As I bounce and rock and roll along the rough road back to camp, I spot a small herd of antelope. They turn tail and run, but at the top of the ridge stop and gawk—always curious—then speed away. I watch as they come to a fence and disappear into thin air. Where’d they go??? An oddity: Like white guys, antelope can’t jump. They are prairie animals and never had to, using their speed to escape predators. So they crawl under fences rather than jump over them. A perfect ending to another perfect day on Cochetopa Creek!