Late July 2020
For Part One Of My Annual Birthday Fishing Trip, see: https://hooknfly.com/2020/07/27/spry-sly-septuagenarian-scores-birthday-slam/
It has been my tradition over the last decade to take a solo multi-day fishing trip into the Colorado backcountry to celebrate my birthday. Helps clear the mind and get back closer to nature and the beauty of the world. This year I set up my mobile fish camp near a high-mountain lake and fished some old standby streams and some new waters for five days. To make things interesting and test my angling skills, I always try on one day to catch and release as many fish as my years on the planet. As my years pile up, it becomes more of a challenge. But this year, my first day out was a smashing success, and I was able to reach my piscatorial goal and even exceed it while scoring a nice slam—cutthroat, brown, and brookie in one day. OK, OK I won’t mention that monster cutthroat that got off . He was aided by a rascally brookie that helped him escape by hitting the trailing dropper on my two fly-rig while the big boy was cavorting about with my dry in his mouth. At least I landed the little brookie!
Now the pressure is off and I can relax even a little more on my second day out. I’m on the road early for the long drive to the trailhead. The temperature outside is a balmy 38 degrees. The weather report is for the monsoon rains to abate today, but as I drive down the bumpy gravel road the rain is spitting on my windshield, and dark clouds are hanging low over the nearby ridges. Suddenly, however, as the sun begins to peek through, the clouds start to lift and a blazing, big rainbow appears. Got to be some big trout at the end of that rainbow!
By 8 a.m. I’m at the canyon rim overlooking the small creek that I have never sampled, far in the backcountry. I scouted it out last summer, but this time around the hike down looks a little more daunting. Could be my knees talking. But then I see a few cows in the meadow below and figure if they can scramble down so can I. After a little searching along the rim I find their narrow path that snakes down to the valley floor.
Once I get about halfway I see I can detour to a gentler slope that emerges at a series of beautiful serpentine bends in the creek that shout “trout!”
I stow my lunch box under some bushes and take off downstream with my new Temple Fork BVK rod that the company was gracious enough to offer me as a replacement when I lost the top section of my favorite TF Lefty Kreh rod when bushwhacking along another stream back in June. It’s an ultra-light, 4# fast-action 8.5 foot fly rod made out of some new high-tech graphite, weighing less than three ounces. It has the power to make long casts that are often required in small creeks when the water is skinny and ample backbone to handle bigger fish in tight quarters when they bolt for brush in undercut banks. I’m rigged under a 5X leader with my old reliable #16 Royal Coachman Trude as the dry with a #18 Tung Teaser that worked well yesterday trailing a couple of feet below on 5x leader material.
My aim is to walk downstream about a mile and work my way back up for lunch, then after lunch explore upstream. Of course who can resist taking a couple of casts in the alluring pools on the way down. Certainly not I! The first one, a big pool at a serpentine bend in the creek, I approach carefully from below. While the water is at a decent level—maybe 20 cfs—it is very clear so any careless wading will quickly alert the fish. The water is shockingly cold as it was yesterday so happy I am wearing some waist-high waders that are made for hiking. I make a cast off to the side of the current to get a feel for the new rod and BAM! nice brownie slams the dry. He’s a fat 13-incher that will be the typical catch today.
I take one more fish then decide I better get back to the mission. I am aiming for a beautiful pinnacle that juts up downstream from the valley floor in the distance. I’ve gone about a half mile when I hear cattle moowing then start to see a steady stream of them going the opposite direction from me. Then more and more bellowing and finally I hear a whinny. A cowboy soon appears with two border collies. I’m in the middle of a full-fledged cattle drive!! After the cattle pass the rugged looking old cowboy and I chew the fat for a while.
He apologizes for interrupting my fishing, but I tell him I’m headed further down. I tell him I know, having been raised on a farm in Kansas with some cows, how tough a job it is tending the critters. He smiles and answers he agrees but wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world—lets him be in the great outdoors every day. I tip my hat to this sign of the Old West as he trots off.
As I proceed downstream I stumble on the site of what I am told is one of the cowboys’ favorite pastimes when they take a break from the trail—a cow pie Frisbee field. I am told tossing and catching these enormous organic Frisbees is a true physical feat and I can see why.
Unfortunately these contests have been temporarily banned here in Colorado due to Covid19. Maybe next time I’ll get to see the real thing.
In other 15 minutes I’m at the palisades and am greeted by a swarming flight of cliff swallows. I soon see why—they have created dozens of little mud houses on the sheer cliff. Talk about homes with a view!
It’s a treat to watch them wheeling and dealing in the air, then returning to the nests to feed their young. I decide to start fishing in a nice run a little further down the faint trail and immediately catch a couple of browns, then just as I am congratulating myself on my piscatorial perspicacity I hook and lose near the shoreline what looks to be a 16” plus cutthroat.
For the next couple of hours I proceed back upstream, catching two or three fish out of every likely spot—most are 12-13” fat and healthy brownies with an occasional 14-incher. About half are on the dry and half on the numph. Some of the larger ones are in the shallows warming themselves in the bright sun, and the fish get bigger as I work back up. I score a couple of doubles—two fish on one cast, one on each fly. One double results in a wild fight as the fish are both 13 inches and have a mind to go in opposite direction. I get several browns that go 14-inches, then just before lunch see one rising tight against the bank just below where a nub of brush sticks out in the run. I kneel and make a perfect cast upstream in the current, and as the fly whirls past the little protrusion a big brownie rises like an apparition and gently sips in the fly. I’m mesmerized watching the take, but finally snap to it and set the hook. All hell immediately breaks loose as the big brownie jets upstream with me in hot pursuit—this old coot stills has some wheels! He reaches some rapids at the head of the pool and immediately reverses course and jets by me the other way. He heads back to his hideout in the undercut bank that is loaded with snags, but my rod is up to the task, and I’m able to horse him away from danger. A minute later after a great tussle, I slide him to the shoreline.
I think this is a good conclusion to a great morning, and my stomach is making noises, so I walk up to a nearby big rock formation with overhanging ledges that offer some shelter from the bright sun, the temperature now pushing 75 degrees.
Now to get my lunch. Fifteen minutes later I am still looking for that pesky lunch box. I start to think maybe some animal got it or that a stealthy cowboy is now feasting on my victuals. I thought I knew exactly the bush I stowed it under, but how they are looking all the same. Finally after walking a quarter mile back downstream I spot a little bit of red under a bush that I walked right by earlier in the morning. There it is! Note to file: Tag the bush or tree where lunch is hidden in shade with short piece of bright orange construction tape.
Lunch is a relaxing affair under the ledge. When I finish I lounge for another 15 minutes rerigging my flies, substituting a caddis nymph with sparkling mylar ribbing for the Tung Teaser and then kicking back and watching the puffy cumulus clouds drifting overhead. It’s an activity that every angler should engage in a few times each season. Makes you feel like a kid again and helps recharge the batteries. Can you see the cloud that looks like a happy elephant??
I’m back on the stream around 2 p.m. and fish till 3:30. It’s hot now by mountain standards—and the water has warmed a tad. I have good steady action and get a couple more nice muscular 14-inch browns and several surprise cutthroats.
Finally I say to myself for the fifth time, this is the last pool. No sooner does my fly alight then the water explodes in a double hit. It’s utter mayhem as the two trout dash up and down the pool. Usain Bolt would have been proud of my speed scurrying up and down the shoreline, splashing as I go. When the duo finally come to the net I am amazed to see that the two fish I have caught are different species—one a brown and the other a cutt, both about 13 inches. While doubles are not uncommon, even on small stream, they are still unusual and a pleasant surprise. But in all my years of fishing, this is a first, a real rarity—two different kinds on one cast.
With a smile, I release the two beauties and think what better way to end the day. Also as I check the sky out, I see the cumulus clouds are starting to bunch up and darken. Time to start the hike out which turns out not to be as bad as I anticipated.
My wading staff helps me weave back and forth across the steep slope, and then I hit the cattle trail to speed to the top. Huffing and puffing, I come out a few hundred yards from my SUV and pause to look back into the canyon.
It’s been another fabulous birthday trip adventure replete with lots of fish, great scenery, and solitude–with a little excitement thrown in being in the middle of a cattle drive. I am already thinking about my next outing on little Nutras Creek, one of the few I haven’t explored in the La Garita Wilderness area. I’ll take one day off to rest the old body then off I go again!! Join me!