For my earlier adventures fishing the Middle Fork of Saguache Creek, see my articles from the summer of 2017 and 2018.
As my readers and angling friends know, the Middle Fork of Saguache Creek, coursing out of the high peaks of the La Garita Mountains in south central Colorado, is one of my favorite fishing haunts. Because it is a fetching, secluded water with very cooperative fish, I usually look no further when I venture into the broad expanse of Saguache Park about two hours south of Gunnison, Colorado.
But earlier this summer when I was scoping out a new stretch of the Middle Fork on a topo map that I had not yet fished, my eyes wandered to some of its obscure tributaries like the North Fork, Johns Creek, Bear Creek, and several others. All looked a tad hard to access which usually means good fishing. So I resolved to give them a try, the first on my list being the North Fork.
The dozens of times I have fished the Middle Fork over the last decade I often forded the little North Fork just above Stone Cellar campground with hardly a second glance.
It’s overgrown and only a few feet wide at that point, nothing to really pique my interest. But my topo map reveals that just upstream in a canyon away from the road or any official trail it looks less brushy with some interesting twists and turns. Who can resist!!
After a couple of days of throwing heavy nymph rigs, navigating unruly rapids, and muscling out some big trout on the Conejos River (See my article from September 28, 2019.), I’m ready for some backcountry small creek angling and a dose of solitude. When I learned through a little on-line sleuthing that the feds and state have collaborated to create a sanctuary for rare Rio Grande Cutthroat trout on the Lake Fork of the Conejos River, I was intrigued. Rio Grande Cutts are some of the most gorgeous trout in the world, bar none, with their flaming orange and red colors looking like something out of an artist’s dream. They are also rare, occupying only about 10% of their original habitat that actually extended into Texas at one point. Fortunately they are making a comeback thanks to the dogged efforts of federal and state fish and wildlife agencies. The bonus is that they live in some of the most scenic, remote creeks in Colorado. A little more digging revealed that I could get into some good fishing after a relatively moderate 2-3 mile hike, some a septuagenarian like me could handle. I was sold! I went to bed thinking of leaping trout.
Conundrum: “A confusing and difficult problem; vexatious.”
I have fished most of the big Colorado trout waters—the Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, South Platte, Rio Grande, and Yampa. Like many of my fishing friends and readers, I fancy myself a fair-to-middling do-it-yourself angler that can figure out any river and its piscatorial denizens on my own. I learned the hard way a decade ago that isn’t the case with the beautiful Conejos River in southern Colorado near Antonito. The word vexatious comes to mind when I think of the Rabbit River. It’s one river I now always hire a guide on my first day of my annual trip to the Conejos—and give the same advice to anyone headed that way. I have found the best flies and successful techniques can vary dramatically year-to-year and from section-to-section of the stream. Biologists tell us it’s one of the most fertile rivers in the state, a veritable smorgasbord of stoneflies, mayflies, caddis, and assorted other bugs, not to mention a good grasshopper hatch. Indeed, scientists say there are more varieties of stones in the river that any in Colorado!
The trout just have so many choices to munch on, which results in a weird assortment of fly patterns that rule here, many of which I have never either heard of let alone used: the McGruber, Jig Assassin, Sparkle Green Body Elk Hair Caddis, Purple and Chartreuse Psycho Prince, Lightning Bug.
The list goes on depending on the month, water levels, etc., etc. But despite these angling vicissitudes, the Conejos’ big trout, gorgeous scenery, miles of public water, and absence of annoying rafters, kayakers, paddleboarders, and other insolent intruders, I keep coming back. I was reminded again this year not to fool with the Conejos on my own.