Colorado Dreamin’ On Such A Winter’s Day: La Jara Creek Near Alamosa, CO

“Most of the world is covered by water.  A fisherman’s job is simple:  Pick out the best parts.”  …..Charles Waterman  

January 2018

It’s a cold wintry evening, wind blowing and snow flying at my cabin in the Colorado mountains.  I’ll be heading to Florida soon, but for now I’m sitting in front of a blazing fire with a good glass of fresh apple cider. My mind wanders with pipe dreams of the secluded mountain creeks I want to explore or return to in 2018.  My list is already up to eight, and near the top is La Jara Creek just south of Alamosa in southern Colorado.  As I doze off, visions of my trips there the last couple of years are dancing in my head…..

Summer 2016……my home water, the Arkansas near Salida, Colorado, is running twice normal level—practically enough to float a battleship.  Yet its banks are already beginning to fill with anglers attracted by the recent state designation as a Gold Medal Water.  I decide to flee south, having heard whispered tales among some fishing buddies about La Jara Creek, hidden in a 15-mile long remote canyon where 20-inch wild browns supposedly lurk.  I am a little skeptical, because the creek was little more than a trickle late last summer when I hurried over it to my annual trip to the more famous Conejos and Los Pinos Rivers further south. I check on-line and find the state water gauge for the creek registering around 10 cfs, a low but decent level for fishing.

It doesn’t take long before I am heading south over Poncha Pass, gassing up in Alamosa, just north of the New Mexico border, then turning off US Highway 285 at the small town of La Jara.  I drive west into a different world, a slower pace, old churches, small farms, two-lane roads, and abandoned adobe houses.  Now I am in the nearest thing resembling civilization, the tiny frayed community of Capulin.  I continue driving a half hour from the last bit of pavement outside of town, and after dodging a couple of dozen rabbits in this aptly named Conejos County (Conejos—Spanish for rabbits), I arrive at La Jara Reservoir—and am shocked to find it almost bone dry,  and upper La Jara Creek below it barely a trickle!

Heart sinking, I turn downstream on a rough four-wheel drive U.S. Forest Service road for another two and a half miles, fording the creek and hoping for the best.  I finally come to a gate blocking access to the canyon and state land trust board property and wildlife management area below.  I walk down to the creek for a peek.  It has more water here than above thanks to a couple of spring-fed feeder rivulets, and I spy a couple of decent trout darting for cover.  So with high hopes, I don my waders and hike another hour into the canyon, paralleling the beautiful creek the whole way.  I spook a cow elk and her calf as I make my way downstream.  They clamber up the rocky slope into the woods as picas chastise me for the intrusion.  I take that as a sign to start fishing–then two days of non-stop fun begin.

Click on the link below to view a pdf of my article about fishing La Jara Creek from the summer 2017 issue of Southwest Fly Fishing magazine.

La Jara Creek Article pdf

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Lower La Jara Creek Near Capulin Is A Slower-Moving Meadow Creek
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Fishing Buddy George Vaughn With Good Upper Creek Brownie
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Lower La Jara Creek Holds Some Big Brown Trout

Ringing In The New Year With Some Big Bad Boys: An Arkansas River Bash

January 3, 2018

I’m standing in the ice-cold Arkansas River just after noon watching my little white bubble strike indicator bob slowly downstream.  After barely making it to midnight on New Year’s Eve before crashing, I resolved to get out among some Banana Belt bad boys early in 2018 for a little fun.  So here I am, decked out in my finest New Year’s costume, ready to party.  It’s a balmy 46 degrees, not bad for early January at 7,500 feet.

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Decked Out For Arkansas River New Year’s Costume Party

Then wham!!  Something slams into me, almost knocking me off my feet.  It’s not a fish, but a big chunk of ice four feet long, one that could sink a small boat.  The cold weather the last few nights has frozen up the shallows, and now as the sun shines and temps rise into the upper 40s, big pieces are breaking off and flowing downstream in the fast current. I dance around trying to evade some more chunks while keeping one eye on the strike indicator…which I notice seems to have disappeared.  I reflexively lift my rod tip quickly and feel the surge of a good fish.  So begins my first outing of the New Year with what will prove to be some big bad boy brown trout on the Arkansas River near Salida.

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