It’s barely 50 degrees—frigid for South Florida–as I load up my yak and push off at 8:00 a.m. for a day of snook fishing on the Faka Union River, one of my favorite Everglades upcountry waters.
Riding a falling tide, I glide through a tight mangrove tunnel for 30 minutes and finally emerge into the first shallow lake. Belying the weatherman’s prediction of calm winds, there’s a stiff breeze blowing out of the north, and my usual honey hole, where I caught a couple of dozen snook only a few weeks ago, fails to produce. I valiantly try to take a video, but almost get blown off the water. I pedal on dejectedly. I manage a few smaller snook in the next lake and connecting creek but it’s beginning to look like an ecotour rather than the epic fishing day I had hoped for.
Then I hit what I call snook flats, a nondescript stretch offshore of a mangrove-studded shoreline further downstream that produced a couple of 25” plus snook back in February. It may be my last hope. This trip the snook seemed to be ignoring my usual redoubtable white Gulp curlytail, so I switch to a gold DOA paddletail. The old veteran anglers down here swear gold is the ticket for big snook.
I pitch a long cast out in front of the kayak and start to crank it back. Something big swirls and my rod nearly jumps from my hands….a big snook erupts from the surface and a furious fight is on.
“So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And walked off to look for America.”
America…Simon and Garfunkel
It’s time for my annual migration to Florida and warmer climes. The late fall and early winter weather in the Colorado mountains has been positively pleasing, allowing extra sunny days to explore remote canyons and chase wild trout. But now the cold is seeping in, so I get ready to hightail it to the subtropics.
I like to take the back roads when pulling my travel trailer (aka mobile fish camp) on the long 2,000+ mile journey, avoiding the big trucks roaring by on the interstates with their big backwash that sets my rig to swerving back and forth on the hitch. Anyway, it’s lots more fun, relaxing, and enlightening to get off the straight-as-an arrow highways and see the real America. Back in the 60’s the Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” was my generation’s anthem….they’ve all gone to look for America. I continue to do so. More and more it seems like a country and place I don’t always understand. When I served as a city councilman in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the 80s I always felt that if citizens got the facts they would eventually make the right common-sense decisions in the country’s and fellow American’s best interests. Now I am not so sure. But each year I come away from my peregrinations around the country feeling hopeful, optimistic. So here we go…
“Most of the world is covered by water. A fisherman’s job is simple: Pick out the best parts.” …..Charles Waterman
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.
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.
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.
“Nothing Makes A Fish Bigger Than Almost Being Caught!”
December 30, 2017
Some of my cheeky friends accuse me of being a tad balmy for my dedication to piscatorial pursuits. Just to confirm these suspicions, I decided this last week of 2017 to take advantage of balmy weather in Colorado’s Banana Belt to chase trout several times in the Big Ark River around Salida, Colorado.
Locals use the term “Banana Belt” somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At an elevation of some 7,500 feet, Salida admittedly does not have tropical or even subtropical weather any time of year. But in truth, it is a remarkably warm high mountain valley when compared to surrounding alpine communities–Fairplay, Gunnison, Saguache–just over the passes to the north, west, and south. They are truly frigid! Indeed, this past couple of weeks we have been just as warm in Salida, and often much warmer, than mile-high Denver. The temps pushed 60 degrees several times. That’s not to say the fishing is a snap. Some tips follow that may put a big rainbow trout or brown on your line before winter really arrives.