Colorado Dreamin’ On Such A Winter’s Day: La Jara Creek Near Alamosa, CO

“Most of the world is covered by water.  A fisherman’s job is simple:  Pick out the best parts.”  …..Charles Waterman  

January 2018

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.

La Jara Creek Article pdf

Lower La Jara Creek Near Capulin Is A Slower-Moving Meadow Creek
Fishing Buddy George Vaughn With Good Upper Creek Brownie
Lower La Jara Creek Holds Some Big Brown Trout

Ringing In The New Year With Some Big Bad Boys: An Arkansas River Bash

January 3, 2018

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.

Decked Out For Arkansas River New Year’s Costume Party

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.

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Happy New Year: Going Balmy In The Balmy Banana Belt (near Salida, CO)

“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.

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Florida Keys Fishing Sans A (Motor) Boat: Bridge, Wading, and Kayak Angling Along Highway 1

Hello From Florida….When you say Blizzard, we think of Dairy Queen!

Winter 2017

Want to catch a monster barracuda or maybe a big snook, hefty grouper, or gigantic shark in the Florida Keys?  Maybe a mess of snapper?  Got to have a big boat, right?  That notion was being firmly dispelled as I watched Mark Resto of Miami, with the help of a fishing buddy, fight a big barracuda on the Seven Mile Fishing Bridge near Marathon.  His rod bent double, Michael was on the edge of exhaustion.

The four-foot-long cuda was churning in the fast current 20 feet below, threatening to snap his line at any moment. Arms aching, Michael finally brought the fish to the surface, quickly passed the rod to his buddy and threw a bridge net down in the water next to the barracuda, corralled it, and slowly winched up the prize.

Shore-fishing is one of the great delights of the Florida Keys. Starting at the Tea Table Bridge, Mile Marker 79, and heading southwest on Highway 1 towards Key West there is accessible, exciting fishing right near the road.  Numerous bridges, wadeable nearshore flats, and close-in hotspots easily reached by kayak or other cartop vessel offer access to good fishing.

Kayak wading flats (2)
Wading And Kayak Angling Opportunities Abound Along Highway 1 In The Keys

Not that this fishing is a snap.  Ferreting out the honeyholes can take a little sleuthing and successful bridge fishing is an art, not for those who  like to lollygag in lawn chairs! The article below reveals some of the best nearshore spots and offers tips from experts at local bait and tackle shops who specialize in bridge fishing and wading and kayaking to stalk their quarry.


FS Keys Article 11-16 reduced pdf

The Ice Man Cometh–And With Him A Time To Reflect On 2017 And Hopes For 2018

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.”  Henry David Thoreau

December 19, 2017

The Ice Man Cometh this weekend sayeth the weatherman….so time to sneak away for one last outing in the water and dances with trout.  With 50 degree weather and light winds in the forecast, I decide to visit my home water, the Arkansas River just upstream from Salida.  I know a stretch where the valley is broad and the sunshine plentiful, even in winter, and hopefully the fish cooperative.

When I arrive at just after noon after a short 15-minute drive from my cabin, I am treated to a picture-perfect scene, abundant sunshine, and no ice flow on the river.  Two weeks ago several  nights of single digit temperatures had clogged up the water with ice, but now it’s flowing freely, at least for a couple of more days.

The Arkansas River Below Big Bend

I used that spate of cold weather profitably, hunkering down inside with the fireplace going to tie up a bunch of my favorite fly pattern for the upcoming season—a concoction I created called a green hotwire beadhead caddis.  Naturally, it’s a simple tie—I am no Rembrandt at the fly-tying vise.  But it works, and how!!

This Vise Is An Eminently Acceptable Vice To Pursue
Hotwire Beadhead Caddis Nymph

I wade into one of my familiar reliable pools, the water frigid despite wearing three pairs of socks underneath my neoprene waders.  On my third cast the little yellow yarn strike indicator, below which dangle two nymphs, hesitates ever so slightly.  I lift my rod slowly and it’s FISH ON!  Just a little brownie, but a good start.  No skunk for me on this final 2017 outing.

For the next hour or so, I have a ball laying out long casts over the crystal clear water.  At the end of the year fly casting becomes so natural, so easy, so graceful that it’s a treat in itself to watch the line unfurl, and the tiny flies alight delicately on the water exactly where the cast was aimed.  A bonus is hooking an occasional trout.  The first half-dozen are small (all on the beadhead caddis except for one on a big stonefly nymph), but then a nice 14-inch brown surprises me by nailing the caddis in a shallow, fast mid-stream run where the fish are not supposed to be this time of year.

Trout On Ice

Usually they retreat to deeper pools where the slow-moving water is warmer.  Then if to prove the point, 15 minutes later an even bigger, stronger 15-inch rainbow gobbles the caddis nymph in a deeper hole off the main current.

Chunky Rainbow Provides Exclamation Point For 2017 Angling Adventures

As I release the shiny beauty, I take a seat on the bank and reflect on what a wonderful world we have and what a wonderful year 2017 has been thanks to family, friends, and yes, fish.  Great gifts and a refuge in turbulent times.  My little sweetheart of a granddaughter, Aly, went from baby to toddler in a flash, and along the way exhibited a strong predilection for running water and playing in creeks.  Sure way to grandpa’s heart!!

My Sweetheart Aly–That’s a Stick In Her Hand, Not A Flyrod…Yet!

I have had many great adventures in the wilds this year, alone and with friends.  Solitude and pristine nature abounded and surrounded me, kept me peaceful and sane.  It has been written that fishing is a perpetual series of occasions of hope, elusive but attainable.  And so it is with life.  2017 has been a wonderful year, and I see hope on the water and in the world for 2018.  My best to all my readers, compatriots, and friends for the New Year.  Here is a tribute to 2017 in pictures….indeed a wonderful world!!