The Big Ark: Row vs. Wade Revisited

Late September 2018

The creeks around my home base of Salida, Colorado, are barely a trickle reflecting the drought gripping Colorado.  The Big Arkansas River, my home water, is running at 200 CFS, the lowest I have ever seen it since I started fishing here in the early 1990s.  I can wade across it just about anywhere.  Normal is about 350 CFS.  But at least it has some water and is fishable.  Indeed, the fishing gurus at the Ark Anglers fly shop report that the fish are actually doing better than usual because they haven’t had to fight the usual artificially high summer flows that result when upstream reservoirs dump water to support the recreational whitewater rafting industry.  The Arkansas is the most heavily rafted river in the world bar none!  Literally thousands of rafts careen down the river each day all summer and into the fall.

Back in the 90s, the Big Ark was my favorite water.  During the week, it was mostly deserted, with only a few hearty anglers scattered over almost 50 miles of good trout water.  But even then, it was starting to be a battle with the recreational rafters.  I was writing a conservation column for American Angler back then, and penned an article titled “Row vs. Wade” that documented the growing conflicts between the rafters, float fishermen, kayakers and the lonely angler like me in chest waders.  After having boatloads of cheerful whitewater rafters plunging through honey holes I was targeting and asking me “how’s the fishing?”, flotillas of kayakers porpoising in rapids only a stone’s throw away that I knew held big rainbows, and float fishing guides letting their clients cast in pools just upstream from me on my side of the river, I suggested a river code of civility that respected the traditional wade fisherman with his limited range on the water (e.g., if you are a float fisherman and see a wade fisherman downstream, quit casting immediately and hug the bank on the other side of the stream till you are a quarter mile below him).

Unfortunately, when the Ark was declared a Gold Medal Water by the State of Colorado, which was like erecting a big neon sign for every angler in Denver and Colorado to come get it, and the creation of the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area (AHRA), a joint federal-state effort ostensibly to better manage the 148 miles of river between Leadville and Pueblo, that actually resulted in attracting more hordes of campers in RVs and every other imaginable form of shelter to primitive campgrounds along the water, things just deteriorated.  The weekends are a total write-off for any sane fly angler, and even during the week it isn’t unusual now to see dozens of anglers along the river in addition to all the hoi polloi on it in watercraft (oh, did I mention the addition of SUPs stand-up paddle boarders to the mélange??).

Now I know I am sounding like a curmudgeonly, grumpy old F**T, but as a result I just gave up fishing the Ark altogether during the summer and, like this year, just waited to early fall for my first outing on my beloved home water.  This September I chose a stretch far enough above the AHRA campground at Rincon where float fisherman, rafters, and kayakers often use the boat ramp to launch and far enough below access points upstream that I might get lucky and not have to curse and wail when I got run over by knucklehead watercrafters—at least until later in the day.  On a beautiful sunny fall day, I set out with high hopes….

Continue reading

North Fork Sampler: The Three Faces Of The North Fork River

Early August 2018

Photography by Jody Bol

For more about fishing the North Fork Valley, see my articles from July 2016 and 2018

 With the surfeit of beautiful and productive lakes in the North Fork Valley, the valley’s namesake river often gets overlooked.  I’m as guilty as anyone—I fished it once some 20 years ago when my boys were youngsters, and we caught some nice rainbows.  But since then I have scurried by it numerous times headed to the lakes instead.  In all of those trips, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone fish the North Fork River.  But when I trekked across the North Fork Reservoir Dam a few days ago and ogled the good-looking water below the spillway, I vowed to change all that.

Continue reading

North Fork Sampler: North Fork Reservoir–An Alpine Movable Feast

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake”…Wallace Stevens

Late July 2018

Photography By Jody Bol

For more information on fishing other waters in the North Fork Valley (Island, Arthur, and Hunky Dory Lakes) see my blog articles from 2016.

 The rugged North Fork of the South Arkansas River Valley is loaded with a bevy of beautiful lakes and streams.  I’ve explored its remote high mountain lakes—Arthur, Island, and Hunky Dory—and was rewarded with some gorgeous cutthroats, but ignored the large North Fork Reservoir at the upper end of the valley.  I’m not a big fan of waters where you can drive up to the shoreline, walk a few feet, and settle in a lawn chair to fish.  But in this case, boy, I didn’t know what I was missing!  I discovered a proverbial movable feast replete with a smorgasbord of big fish and stunning carpets of wildflowers all in the shadow of breathtaking scenery.  It’s particularly well-suited for family outings.  But the reservoir is a body of water that takes a while to figure out.  Here are some tips to connect with its finny denizens 

Continue reading

Falling For Saguache Falls (High Above Gunnison, CO)

“Run wild and free like a waterfall”

Anancha Mishra

Mid-September 2018

Waterfalls—especially backcountry ones—are like magnets to most people, including me.  Now admittedly, while I love their scenic beauty, I plead to an ulterior motive:  They usually create a series of deep plunge pools below that inevitably harbor some muscular trout.  So when I read mention of a spectacular falls on a remote section of the Middle Fork of Saguache Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness Area, I vowed to make the trek.

Earlier this summer I had fished up about a mile from the Middle Fork trailhead, the gateway to the La Garita Wilderness area (See my July and August 2018 articles), but it’s another three miles to the falls, and those pesky fish kept biting in the creek and beaver ponds, so didn’t make it very far.

Now an eight-mile roundtrip hike doesn’t leave much time for angling, which meant I needed to get a very early start if I was to make the falls AND get some fishing time in the creek and the series of alluring beaver ponds below the falls that showed up on my GPS map.

I am on my annual September fall fishing expedition with my mobile fish camp parked at the Dome Lake State Wildlife Area above Gunnison, Colorado.

The weather report is for five perfect days with light winds, clear skies, and temps in the mid-70s–so if I can get on the road by 6:30 a.m., I can be at the trailhead and humping up the trail by 8:30 a.m., which should give me time to reach the falls and engage in a little piscatorial research.  I set my alarm at 5:00 a.m., and doze off, counting leaping trout.

Continue reading

Thanks Readers And Friends!!

It’s been a rewarding year writing my blog, and as of September 1st the number of views and visitors just surpassed all of 2017! 50,000 views and 20,000 visitors are in sight for 2018. As well as providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places, my main goal is to help reinforce and build the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places. An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world—readers from over 50 countries. One example—a fellow from Australia is planning to come over and kayak fish with me next year!! But I think most gratifying and unexpected have been the heartwarming stories from readers like the young college student who wrote to say she had been searching for the name and location of the lake where her grandfather, who had recently passed away, took her fishing as a young girl. She wanted to revisit that special place as a tribute to him. She couldn’t find it until she happened to read my article on Island Lake in Colorado, and when she saw my photos knew that was the place. Brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the fishing trips I’ve been taking with my little granddaughter Aly and her Daddy this summer. Other readers shared happy memories of having fished, in their younger days, the creeks and lakes featured in my blog. In doing so they have enriched my life and made me determined to share more stories of special places in the coming year, knees willing and the creeks don’t rise!

Let’s All Take Someone Fishing And Make Memories For Them And Us!