Daily Double–A long shot bet won by choosing winners in two consecutive races.
I am always on the lookout for a new, scenic, out-of-the-way creek overlooked and rarely visited by other anglers, where there is solitude and hungry fish. But sometimes the little gems are hiding in plain sight. That’s the case with the upper reaches of Tomichi Creek, just over Monarch Pass from my cabin near Salida, Colorado. I have hustled by the creek many times on the way to fish fabled waters like the Gunnison River or my favorite backcountry streams like Cochetopa Creek. As you come bombing down the twisty, turny U.S. 50 from one of the highest paved vehicle passes in the USA, you descend into a lovely valley where gorgeous little Tomichi Creek flows through private ranchland–visible and within a stone’s throw of this major highway. But last fall on my way to Cochetopa Creek, I noticed a sign on a fence along the highway declaring special access, so I turned around and took a look. I was surprised to find that the Colorado State Land Board owns a full section along the road called Daley Gulch, and it was open to fishing. I tucked away that information till early July this year when I was hankering for a mid-week trout fix but had to be back home for a conference call by 4 p.m. Oh those pesky clients! I figured if I left early and was on the water by 8:30 a.m. I could fish till 1 or 2 p.m. and make it back to the office with ease. Now this was admittedly a long shot–a little like the Daily Doubles I used to bet on at Arlington Park in Chicago. The creek is very small as it flows through Daley Gulch, and with public access so close to a major highway I expected it probably got plenty of pressure. But with high hopes, that evening I rigged two rods, got the waders and boots out, set the alarm, and hit the rack with chubby trout dancing in my head.
I am on the road by 7:45 a.m., a little late, but it takes me only 45 minutes to drive west from Salida, over Monarch Pass, and down to Tomichi Creek just above the little hamlet of Sargents (where you can get gas, food, and drink at the local convenience store). I decide to start my explorations at the lower end of the property and fortunately spot a overgrown driveway a quarter mile past the Colorado DOT facility where I can park next to a fence with a gate. The sign says no vehicle access, so I open the gate and walk south through the meadow that is covered with dazzling wildflowers soaking in the bright sun. It’s already 70 degrees, and the wind is light for a change this week. I see some faint vehicle tracks, but no distinct trail to the creek, which is encouraging. But be careful–the walk to the creek is an up and down affair that crosses several soft marshy areas with uneven footing. Finally I come to the south boundary fence and follow a bubbling little rivulet down to Tomichi Creek. I love what I see! The water is crystal clear with just a tinge of tea color and has a very curvaceous character, with nice runs between alluring S-Bend pools. The flow at 50 cfs is a bit high, but better now than later in the summer when irrigators deplete the flow. I do see a few boot marks at the first pool, but as I proceed upstream, they become fewer and fewer and finally it appears no one has fished a good part of the Daley Gulch stretch. Whew!
But I also find I can’t buy a bite and don’t see any fish as I work upstream. I’ve checked the stream rocks and they are loaded with little caddis and mayfly nymphs. Caddis and a few big Green Drake mayflies are hatching and fluttering above the water, but nothing is rising. For an hour and a half, I flail the water with my trusty Royal Coachman Trude and CDC Green Caddis Nymph. Nothing. I try a grasshopper pattern and a plethora of other nymphs with the same result. Now I am starting to wonder if there has been a fish kill or maybe heavy metal pollution from the numerous old mines above in the peaks. Couldn’t be my lack of skill! But finally a little guy–a 12-inch brown–takes pity on me and attacks the caddis nymph. Well at least the skunk is off. Ten minutes later another small but chunky brownie inhales the dry. But it’s still slow, almost noon, and my stomach is starting to growl Maybe I should call it a day. Fortunately around the next bend is the alluring site of a small diversion dam with a great looking pool below. If I can’t catch anything here, maybe it’s time to fold the tent. I do notice that the caddis that are hatching are a light tan color in contrast to the dark body of the dry I am using. I substitute a tan foam Puterbaugh caddis tied on a #18 hook, a bit smaller than what I have been using. I sneak up carefully and place the fly just below the turbulent water flowing over the dam. The current catches it and spins it downstream…and out of nowhere a good-sized brown nails the fly and takes off running for the undercut bank filled with snags. Luckily I’m using my 5 weight Sage rod that has enough backbone to turn the fish and finally bring him to the net. He’s a 14″ beauty. Ah, my reputation is saved. Now I have at least a little something to show off and brag about back at the fly shop. I decide I have earned a break so break out some peanuts, beef jerky, and an apple, kick back in the field of daisies along the creek, and enjoy the warm sun.
Alas, the vexatious deer and horse flies soon put an end to my relaxing recess. They have been particularly pestiferous this year wherever I have fished–must have been all the rain back in May. After lathering up with bug repellant, I continue upstream and immediately see some risers. Things seem to be coming alive as the sun rises and the water warms–now it’s almost noon. The wind is coming up, so I am very happy to have the 5 weight rod, especially as several of the pools and runs demand long casts. Just upstream from the dam, another decent sized brown slurps down the foam caddis dry followed by a couple of lilliputian trout, one 0n the nymph and the other on the dry. They seem to be advertisements for the old adage “his eyes were bigger than his stomach.” The good news is there appears to be a healthy range of age classes of the brown trout that dominate this water. Interestingly, the bigger trout seem to be mid-stream in the deeper runs and the small ones are hugging the banks. It’s often the opposite case in small streams as the larger ones hide underneath the undercut banks, relegating the puny ones to more exposed lies.
Now the action is steady. I am catching trout in every pool, or at least getting good looks and strikes. However, it’s after 1 p.m., and I know I should be heading back to the SUV and lunch then home. But every bend beckons with another picture-perfect pool. At 2:30, I vow this one is the last as I loft the flies a long distance towards a good-looking run. The caddis dry alights daintily, and immediately a big brownie shoots out of the current and inhales it. The fight is one, and it’s a good one. He runs lickety-split upstream with me in pursuit and then reverses course and gets down below me. If I don’t turn the fish and he gets in the fast current, it will be break off time. I put big pressure on the rod which bends double, but succeed in turning his head and angling him into the shallows where I pounce. He’s a well-fed, beautious brown that goes 15 inches, the biggest of the day. With a tip of my hat, I release him, and he zips back to his favorite haunt. I look upstream and see another series of alluring serpentine bends….but they will have to wait. There is still a lot of good water above–I have covered only about two-thirds of the creek in 6 hours of fishing. A great day, and truth be told, I never won a Daily Double at the horse races. I’ll take a Daley Gulch long shot any time!!