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 ranch land–visible and within a stone’s throw of this major highway. But awhile back 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 near the hamlet of Sargents, and it was open to fishing. I tucked away that information till a year later 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 Trifectas and 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.
Day 1: Daley Double On Tomichi Creek–See my July 2016 article on fishing Tomichi Creek at Daley Gulch
Day 2.5: Tomichi Creek: Exploring The Headwaters–See my June 2018 article on fishing the Tomichi Creek headwaters
Day 2: Tomichi Creek: Hidden In Plain Sight—The Lower Canyon Stretch
I was bragging to a friend and fellow trout angler about my good day on Tomichi Creek at Daley Gulch, he asked if I had ever fished the mile or so of public water on Tomichi along U.S. 50, just below Sargents. I hadn’t—just assumed it was private property. But a little research revealed that indeed there was an attractive stretch of water sandwiched in between a couple of private tracts that was open to the public….it looked good on the Google Earth map satellite view sporting some nice twisty bends and deep-looking pools.
My fishing fever was stoked, but before I got too excited I figured with the low snow pack and drought conditions plaguing southern Colorado this year, I’d better check the creek’s water level on the Division of Water Resources surface water flow web site. I was bummed out to find that Tomichi was already extremely low, running about 30 cfs at Sargents which is late summer level. 100 cfs is normal in early June. Still 30 cfs is plenty to float a fish so off I go.
I’m on the road at 8 a.m., heading over Monarch Pass on U.S. 50, a scenic paved highway that skirts the sky. I slow as I pass the State Land Board stretch of Tomichi Creek at Daley Gulch and breathe a sigh of relief—while low, the stream has a decent flow. Things look even a bit better below Sargents with a couple of rivulets adding their waters. I drive past the ranch above the canyon stretch, a barbed wire fence clearly marking where the private property ends and the public section begins. I decide to scout a bit and drive to the west end of the public water, where again fences and a smattering of cabins mark the lower boundary. I whip a U-turn and drive back east to the main turnoff on the south side of U.S. 50, about in the middle of the public water. By 9:15 a.m. I have donned my waders and am walking back downstream past the turnout on the north side of the highway, keeping a cautious eye on the traffic that is speeding through the canyon on the highway.
As I start to bushwhack down to the creek, I stir up a bunch of hoppers, a good sign. My Royal Coachman Trude #16 will be a passable imitation for them, and a #18 green hotwire beadhead dropper is a reasonable facsimile for the scads of caddis I find under the rocks below the first pool. On my double-nymph rig I have a #16 Tung Teaser and a #18 lime caddis nymph. I end up not using the nymph rig much today, having plenty of action on the dry/dropper.
This canyon section of Tomichi Creek is an interesting one topographically. It has, as expected, some narrow, fast runs flanked by big boulders with deep plunge pools. But it also has lengthy sandy/gravel runs that require long, accurate casts; these are interspersed with deep “S” bends that remind me of a meadow stream. This variety of water and secluded nature of the creek, thanks to willows and assorted brush lining the bank and blocking views of the highway, makes this stretch a delight to fish.
In the very first pool I pull out three frisky brownies, ranging from 6-11 inches. From there it’s steady action till I make it back to my SUV by 12:30 p.m. The water is low but for now in beautiful condition, clear and cool. Both the Trude and the caddis nymph produce, as well as a #16 lime caddis nymph.
Oddly, the weighted nymph rig results in only a couple of fish, even in the deeper holes. That’s not to say the fishing is easy, especially in the flatter stretches where long pin-point casts are required over the shallow water into the small pockets just below riffles where the trout are holding. Similarly, I find some good brownies up tight against the banks (and under them) along swifter glides in a few feet of water. If the fly drifts down more than a foot away from the bank, it draws a goose egg. Within six inches, a fish is almost sure to jet out and nail it. In this faster water it can be a challenge to get a drag-free float or avoid getting the line snagged in overhanging branches. But all that adds to the satisfaction of luring a trout from its lair.
I end up catching and releasing over 40, all brownies, mostly 6-12 inches, but a couple over 13-inches. And I am sure I hooked and lost one a couple of inches bigger than that in a pool just below the SUV in full view of traffic whizzing by on U.S. 50. Even though I didn’t get a good look at the leviathan, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.
The verdict? A great stretch of water, easy to wade, loaded with spunky brownies–the only drawback being the vehicle noise from the highway.
But when the fish are biting it’s easy to tune that out. And of course there’s another almost one-half mile of water I haven’t explored yet!! Just remember to treat this short stretch of public water with respect, pick up your trash and that which others left behind. Enjoy the beautiful wildflowers that line the creek. And release those brownies carefully so others can enjoy!