“… when the lawyer is swallowed up with business and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip-banks, hearthe birds sing, and posess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams…”
Late May 2017
I’m hunched down behind a big beaver dam high in the Colorado mountains. I gingerly step on the twisted mass of branches in front of me so I can peer over the dam, the preferred way to scout out a beaver pond where the trout are often very skittish. I carefully elevate my head and spot a nice foot-long brown trout finning in the slow current not 30 feet away. With an extra abundance of caution, I begin my casting motion, making sure not to snag in the overhanging willows behind me…and promptly spook the fish that heads pell mell into the next county. I can only laugh! Fortunately, I haven’t scared off all the fish and am able to seduce a couple of brightly colored little brookies that are hiding in deeper water out of the sun.
I’ve just gotten off the road after two weeks, my annual migration from Florida to my cabin in the Colorado mountains near Salida. It was time to escape the 90 degree heat and pesky, voracious salt water mosquitoes in the Everglades as well as the incessant political chatter about Biggly 45. So I am in serious need of a wilderness injection and trout remedy. The problem? The Big Ark, my home water, is running at over 1,000 CFS, which means any real wading is risk of life. And most of my favorite streams are also blown out with runoff from the peaks. Fortuitously, one of the local fishing gurus, Fred Rasmussen (founder of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited and conservation raconteur par excellence) has suggested trying Silver Creek as an option. It’s only a short drive from my cabin…so here I am and let the fun begin.
Silver Creek is a pretty little sliver of water that springs from the high country near Sheep Mountain south of Poncha Springs and Salida. From the intersection of U.S. Highways 50 and 285 in Poncha, it’s a quick drive five miles up 285 to the right turn onto Marshall Pass Road (CR 200) which parallels Poncha Creek for about another two miles to the confluence with Silver Creek turnoff (CR 47YY on Google Maps). From there, it is about five miles to the Silver Creek trailhead, along the way skirting a small gated subdivision with summer homes and ponds and fording a couple of small creeks. The road is rough in spots, but should be passable in dry weather for a high-clearance AWD vehicle. The lower portion of the creek below the subdivision has some nice primitive camping spots, but accordingly the water gets pounded fairly hard, especially on weekends. So I continue upward towards Sheep Mountain that looms in the distance , its flanks still covered with snow.
About 3.5 miles from the Poncha Creek/Silver Creek confluence, I hit what I call the lower creek meadows. The water is running high, but fairly clear and certainly fishable (There is no state water gauge for Silver Creek, but Poncha Creek is running at 86 CFS downstream at Poncha Springs according to the Colorado Division Of Water Resources stream level monitoring site at http://www.dwr.state.co.us/SurfaceWater/Default.aspx. Resolute, I resist the urge to fish and continue to the trailhead about another 1.5 miles up the road. On the way, I startle a couple of deer, looking scraggly as they shed their winter coats, spot a bright yellow evening grosbeak plus a bunch of fat rocking robins, and drive through a beautiful stand of aspen just leafing out in delicate hues of lemon-lime green, sure signs of Spring in the high country.
I park my SUV at the trailhead, then hike back down towards what I call the middle meadows, some good-looking water sprinkled with beaver ponds that I can see on my GPS.
There is no cell service up here, but Google Maps is working fine thankfully. The valley here is very brushy, the stream hidden from view for the most part so a GPS app on your smart phone can be a big help. I pick my way carefully through the lush, marshy thicket, fighting through the tangle of willows that grab at my rod. I spy lots of hoof marks in the soft ground, elk and deer, many more than the few boot marks I will see later today.
Suddenly I’m at the creek, gushing down the valley but clear. I check under some rocks in the stream to see what the insect life looks life and find some big caddis cases and scads of small dark green mayfly nymphs that scurry for cover. And just on cue, a caddis fly alights on my sleeve. So I tie on my old reliable # 16 Royal Coachman Trude (a good all-around attractor and caddis fly imitation with its down wing profile), with a #18 beadhead Micromay dropper. I am using a 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod which is great for making long-distance casts called for in the beaver ponds, but in the overgrown stretches between ponds, a shorter 7.5-foot rod would work better to angle in tight spots. I often carry two rods, but that would be a quick ticket to the insane asylum given the heavy brush along the creek. Pick your poison. The guiding principle on Silver Creek is P & P. Patience and pinpoint casting. You have to take your time, fishing carefully and slowly. The willows and assorted snags will make you pay a dear price if you don’t. I find that a shorter 7.5-foot, 5X leader is fine—easier to cast amongst all the branches and the fish don’t seem leader shy, especially at this water level.
I come to the first beaver pond (the one described in the opening paragraph of this article), and promptly scare the wits out of a good brown that’s finning in the open in the faster water from the inlet that is coursing down the middle of the pond. I can’t make decent cast from this position, so creep around the dam to the side of the pond where I can get a better angle. I throw my flies into the current just above where it slows over some deeper, darker water. SPLAT!! A small brookie rockets from the depths and nails the Trude. She’s a feisty little beauty, a gargantuan six inches! This is followed by a behemoth male pushing eight inches, all showy in shades of orange on his belly and fins.
I bushwhack a few hundred feet upstream to the next beaver pond, and the scene is repeated. This time the hot spot is a deep channel the beaver have dug out around their lodge. I stay low, casting over the deeper holes and let the current slowly carry the fly to the darker water where the brookies are hiding. Sometimes the action is immediate, other times calling for a very slow retrieve. I’m surprised that most of the fish come on the surface although there is no hatch going on.
Now I’m ready for some stream fishing in the stretch above the beaver pond. It’s challenging—lots of overhanging branches and a strong current. I look for quieter water, a back eddy at a bend in the creek or below a log in the water, where I usually can count on a strike. I spy just such a spot that has barely enough room to lay out a short cast between the overhanging willows. The fly drifts out of the fast current into the slow water below an overhanging branch and Bam, a nice brownie nails the dry. After a good tussle, he comes to the net—a 10-incher, one of the bigger fish of the day.
By 2 p.m. I have worked up to a point where the county road turns very rough and angles sharply east towards Bonanza, one of those odd little occupied former ghost mining towns inhabited by an interesting cast of mountain characters and snowbirds. My stomach is growling so instead of following the Silver Creek trail up the valley and sampling more beaver ponds in the upper meadows, above the imposing rock outcropping called The Gates, I walk down the road back to my SUV and lunch. The wind is light and it’s a balmy 70 degrees, so I lounge in the sun! But I see some dark clouds looming down valley and decide I’d better fish the lower meadows in case I have to make a quick getaway if a storm hits.
I drive about 1.5 miles back downstream until I come to a spot where my GPS shows some beaver ponds hidden in the valley. When I get to the water, I find there’s lots more of it than above, and it’s getting cloudy as the high country warms and runoff increases during the afternoon. Looks like a good time to change my dropper to a red beaded San Juan worm, often the ticket when the water has a slightly murky, off-color green tinge to it. Here the water is wider and not quite as brushy and overgrown. Certainly there are more open stretches where casting is easier, but by no means easy. When I check the creek insect life, I find the water more fertile with mounds of caddis larvae and mayfly nymphs and even a couple of stonefly nymphs. To boot, I see a few small hoppers flitting about on drier slopes above.
The beaver ponds again prove productive, but here in the lower meadow browns dominate. Nary a brook trout to be found. Also, the San Juan worm proves to be the ticket in the ponds, the browns often hitting as the dry/dropper rig floats slowly over the darker, deeper water. A slow, sporadic retrieve often coaxes a slashing strike. In the stretches between the ponds, the Trude rules wherever I can find a pocket of slack water where the browns can duck out of the current and feed with less effort.
Now it’s 4:30 p.m. and after navigating the thickets and clambering over beaver dams and through beaver ponds all day, coupled with the thin air taxing my Florida lungs, I am ready to kick off my waders, kick my feet up on the cabin deck and enjoy some libations. It’s been a fun day, with about 18 fish, half browns and half brookies coming to the net. Don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed catching such Lilliputian fish as much. Size doesn’t always matter! I’ll be back when the water calms down…and look forward to exploring all those untrammeled beaver ponds and twists and bends in Silver Creek that show up on my GPS beyond the Gates and several miles above the trailhead! (See my early June 2017 article for a follow-up trip on Silver Creek.)