Just back in Florida from a fun holiday week in Colorado with my sweetheart granddaughter Aly, her Daddy, and Grandma. The week was a vertible movable feast of merrymaking. I arrived in Denver to a frigid temperature of -7 degrees, but warmed up immediately with a big hug from Aly at the airport. We were soon off to do some last minute shopping together followed by a wonderful Christmas celebration–what’s better than opening presents with a six-year old. Then we tackled some of her new Legos projects–with Grandpa relegated to a role of organizing the myriad pieces by color and she doing the construction work, hit three playgrounds in one day, spent a morning at an indoor pool, and played new games like Villain Monopoly and Exploding Kittens card game, both in which she crushed Grandpa, showing no mercy. A record snowstorm hit a few days later so we got to play in the white stuff with some sledding and building a snowman on the agenda followed by some real snow snow cones. On New Year’s Eve we rang in the new year with a tour of the best decorated holiday houses in the neighborhood and a stunning light show at a local venue. What a grand finale to a perfect stay.
I took the red eye back to Florida on New Year’s Day and immediately started the thawing process!
It’s the last day of my annual fall fishing fling in southern Colorado, and I’m on the road early at 7:30 a.m. from the Woods and River RV Park in Del Norte where I have been staying for the past week in my mobile fishing camp.
My aim is to explore Torsido and La Jara Creeks above La Jara Reservoir. I have had some terrific days fishing La Jara Creek below the dam, but this is my first venture above in the expansive treeless meadow. My research tells me both tiny creeks offer some fun fishing for small, colorful brookies and maybe even some cutthroats.
It’s about a two-hour drive from Del Norte to the lake, the last 20-mile stretch on a scenic but bumpy gravel road (Fdr240/259) that clearly hasn’t seen a grader blade since the end of our long monsoon season. The aspen on this route are at their best, so I just slow down and enjoy the brilliant display.
As I crest the hill, La Jara Reservoir greets me with a mirror-smooth surface reflecting the surrounding trees and foothills.
I continue north on the gravel road that flanks the lake and then above where I reconnoiter for the best jumping off point. The wide meadow hides any sight of either stream until I’m a mile or so above the lake where I catch a glance of La Jara Creek as it twists and turns, just a stone’s throw from the road. But I’m puzzled as I can’t see Torsido Creek anywhere, and up another mile La Jara Creek fizzles out completely at a big bend in the road. So I turn around and drive back down towards the reservoir, and finally decide about a mile above the lake to go exploring in the meadow, parking by the side of the road not far from a long hillock a couple of hundred yards to the east. My hunch is that Torsido flows in La Jara Creek somewhere on the other side of that hill out in the meadow. But it’s hard to gauge from the maps I have as the reservoir is low, exposing a lot of ground that’s usually underwater.
I suit up in my lightweight chest waders and carry my 4# wand rigged with a #18 Royal Trude to imitate the little hoppers that are still flitting about teamed with a #18 sparkle caddis larva dropper. I head south and, in a few minutes, cross La Jara Creek.
This is going to be challenging I think upon spying the tiny dimensions of the stream flanked by tall grass that will make casting challenging. Not only that, the shoreline in most places appears to have been the scene of a cow dance party, stomped into mush by the big bovine I can see in the distance. Did I mention the long in-stream strands of vegetation that promise to snag any fly beneath the surface? The good news is that the flow is strong and water cold, plus it’s a beautiful sunny day. Perfect for an easy ramble in the meadow.
I soon come to a lovely stand of grass with feathery purple spikes swaying gently in the light wind. I check with my favorite phone app, Picture This, and learn it’s called wild or foxtail barley.
The app notes that it is an easy plant to grow, suited perfectly for brown thumbs! As I admire the scene, something white catches my eye in the distance. I focus and see that it’s a big herd of pronghorn antelope lolling around at the upper end of the meadow. Then something spooks them, and they take off running lickety split.
Later I will cross paths with a big coyote which may explain their flight. It’s always a good sign to see some antelope when exploring a new water—usually means there aren’t many people around.
I continue south, aiming towards a big jumble of rocks surrounded by grazing cattle in the middle of the meadow not far from the lake. I hope to get up higher for a better view and maybe see Torsido Creek.
I use my farm boy mooing talent to scatter the dumbfounded bovine, except for the big bull who just glares at me. I hustle past him and scale the big rocks, a safe haven. They look strangely out of place in the serene meadow, seemingly plunked down randomly. I scan 360 degrees but the errant creek is nowhere to be seen. I think maybe it’s hidden in one of those ravines, hidden among the aspen, so I continue the trek.
To reach the foothills, I end up sloshing through some mucky marshland, then have to navigate a barbed wire fence. On reaching dry ground, I head east to check out one ravine, but only find a trickle there. Perplexed, I reverse course and check out another gulch.
Same story, including another stout barbed wire fence to surmount. Then as I crest another hill, a big coyote with a raggedy coat flashes by me, only 20 feet away. No wonder those pronghorns were skittish.
With no Torsido in sight, I decide to circle back to towards the road, have lunch that I stowed by La Jara Creek on the way in, and focus on fishing that water. It’s almost 12:30 p.m. when I reach the hillock close to La Jara Creek, having completed a fruitless three-mile circuit around the meadow. Thankfully, my magic RC Cola elixir banishes the depression and desperation that were starting to grab hold of me.
By 1 p.m. I’m ready to go again. I approach the stream cautiously and immediately spy a trout rising casually upstream. Casting is tricky if I stay too far back or kneel, courtesy of the tall grass and reeds along the shoreline. But if I get too close, I risk spooking the fish as well as having to deal with the mushy soup the cattle stomping has created. Against all odds, I throw a decent cast, and the fish inhales the dry without any hesitation. To my surprise, it’s a small tiger trout, a sterile hybrid of a male brook and a female brown trout that have been stocked in the lake.
They must be moving up the creeks in search of food, maybe snacking on the brook trout reputed to be here. Some anglers turn their noses up at tigers, but I am not complaining after wandering in the proverbial wilderness all morning.
I continue upstream and get several more small tigers, miss a good one in a big bend pool, then spook several more. The going is tough trying to work standing back from the shoreline so I defy conventional wisdom and start wading right up the middle of the creek that fortunately has a fairly firm bottom. I also dispense with the nymph which hasn’t produced anything except a lot of slimy moss to clean off after most casts. Those two moves are the tickets. By now the sun has warmed the creek, and trout are rising steadily as I work upstream. I have a ball casting for rising tigers and start to pick up some brilliantly colored brook trout as well.
They are modest in size—ranging from 6-to 12-inches–but scrappy. Who can complain with a couple of dozen caught and released.
Then I get a wakeup call. Just below a big bend in the creek, a large blue dragonfly zooms upstream a couple of feet above the water, zigzagging this way and that. All of a sudden, a big trout rockets into the air, just barely missing snagging the insect. How it could have seen that dragonfly scooting by while underwater let alone react quickly enough to almost dine on it is beyond me. Probably not much chance he’ll surface again, but I decide to wait a minute to let the pool calm down, then place my dry just above where he was hiding along the shoreline. No sooner than the Trude alights and the mini-brute gulps it down in a showy rise. I set the hook, and the fish explodes in the air, then heads upstream. My rod bends double as I put pressure on to stop the run. It’s nip and tuck for a minute or so, but finally I tame the tiger and slid him into the net. He’s a muscular beauty, pushing 14-inches!
I continue around the bend and see another showy rise. This time a gaudy brook, biggest of the day, slams the Trude.
Then it’s several more nice tigers followed by another colorful brook trout. But then I hear a menacing rumble! In the midst of all the fun, I didn’t notice the storm clouds welling up from the southeast.
I throw caution to the wind, which has started gusting, and trudge on. Good move. I come to another bend in the creek, see a trout rising, and fool him on the first cast. It’s another ferocious tiger who thrashes on the surface before diving for his lair that is full of snags. I run upstream, applying pressure to horse him out of the mess. Miraculously, he slides out into the open with the Trude still in the corner of his mouth. From there, it’s a battle of inches, him gaining the upper hand, then me. Finally, he gets close enough to slide the net under his silver flanks. What a beauty, measuring 15+-inches!
As I release the shimmering beauty, as if by magic, the angling gods push the clouds away momentarily, allowing me a few more casts before the rain comes….and I cash in. A flashy brook trout is followed by another nice tiger, then the Lilliputian of the day! A good way to close out an interesting outing!
Later when I get back to camp and have service for my Google Maps and can scrutinize some USGS topomaps more carefully, I figure out where Torsido Creek was hiding. I see a gap in the middle of the mile-long hillock near the road. I had thought Torsido would meet La Jara Creek below and other side of the hillock in the big meadow where I wandered about for a couple of hours. In reality, Torsido cuts through the hillock in the gap and joins La Jara there, near to the road. But it is all but invisible if you don’t know where to look as the creek is so narrow and obscured in the tall grass. In my excitement and haste, I completely missed it.
Ah, another good excuse to come back next year to tame some more tigers and brookies…as if I needed one!
I’m on my annual fall fishing trip to southern Colorado, my mobile fishing camp set up on the Rio Grande River in Del Norte at the venerable Woods and River RV campground. Yesterday I finished up a day of field work for an article about nearby La Garita Creek for a national angling magazine, so I started nosing around for another creek to fish while enjoying the spectacular Colorado fall weather and scenery.
One of my standard fishing research references is the excellent guide 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado by Williams and McPhail. Paging through the book, Park Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of Rio Grande near the town of South Fork, caught my eye. It’s only a short 45-minute drive from Del Norte to the turnoff for the creek west of South Fork on US 160. The authors have this to say about Park Creek: “A Rio Grande feeder stream, this jaunty creek is one of our favorite sleeper spots in southern Colorado.” Case closed!!
I decided to spend the day scouting Park Creek and other nearby waters. I took a jaunt up Demijohn Road (FR380) along Park Creek for a few hours at the end of the day to take a look and spotted two inviting stretches.
The first one, only a few miles off the paved highway, called for a short but very steep hike into a scenic canyon that paralleled the good gravel road. The other, several miles further upstream in a broad scenic valley, would require a longer but less daunting hike from the road. They promised two very different experiences with a bonus of some solitude in an area with a fair number of campers along the creek and ATV types cavorting about.
Next morning, I decided to lounge around a camp a bit since the fall sun wouldn’t shine in the narrow canyon till late morning. That would give the water and fish a chance to warm up after a cold night. Yesterday I spotted a couple of alluring pools in the creek with decent-sized fish fining in the current, unaware of my presence far above. However, on further examination, I soon concluded that decent access points to the creek in the canyon that wouldn’t risk a nasty tumble are few and far between–unless you hike from the bottom or top of the canyon. Which of course is where there would be more angling pressure.
By 11 a.m. I’m driving up and down the road searching for a safe route into the ravine. I finally notice a faint trail that zig-zags across the slope to the water.
It looks doable, especially for a septuagenarian. I slide my SUV into a tight turnout and suit up. I immediately regret wearing my felt-soled wading boots—I’ve left behind at camp my other pair with good rubber treads that would have made the hike in…and out…less treacherous. Fortunately, I navigate the steep slope without serious incident, holding onto bushes a couple of times to slow my descent. Then I bushwhack downstream, following a faint wildlife trail through and around the streamside thicket. I finally emerge below a pool where I am pleased to see there are no boot marks in the shoreline sand. The creek is running clear and low, maybe 15 cfs.
I check for trout victuals underneath several rocks, but don’t find many aquatic goodies. Well at least the sun is shining into the canyon by now, the temperature in the low 60s. It will reach 70 later in the afternoon. I’m using my lightweight #4 rod with a small Chubby Chernobyl as my dry and my special Dirk’s Delight caddis larva in a size 18 as a dropper. The Chubby is a good imitation for the hoppers that are still around, and as a bonus floats like a battleship and can be seen easily by aging eyes.
With great anticipation I throw a good cast upstream into a seam that swirls down against a good-size boulder. It looks very fishy, but a half dozen drifts later, I’m still scoreless. I move up into the next small pool, but the results are the same. Where are the fish??
Then I come to a stunning, picture-perfect pool, right out of a fly-fishing magazine. A log lays across the creek mid-pool, creating a nice pocket. But it’s going to take a long, delicate cast to get a good float.
Fortunately the angling gods are with me, and my dry lands quietly just below the log, then starts to bounce downstream. It floats a couple of feet, then disappears abruptly. I set the hook and am onto a….little guy! But at least it’s a fish, a chunky little brownie that puts up a worthy battle given his size.
I continue upstream and fool another couple of Lilliputians on the nymph, but don’t see anything bigger and start to wonder what gives. At least that’s what I am thinking when I spook a couple of 12-inchers in shallows below a big boulder. I run my rig through that pool and several others without success. The alluring deeper holes don’t seem to hold any fish.
Then I come to another “can’t miss” pool with a log conveniently positioned to make casting an adventure. But before I throw a long cast into the upper reaches, I make a short one into the sun-lit shallows and voilà, a foot-long brownie shoots out from the shoreline to nail the Chubby!
With renewed confidence, I work the deep upper end of the pool, but come up empty.
That will be the scene for the next couple of pools, the fish sunning themselves in the shallows. I catch another 12-incher and execute a couple of long-distance releases. I come up empty in the deeper pools and don’t see any larger fish. The creek also gets to be rockier and tougher to navigate as I go up further, with big boulders forcing me to exit the stream and claw through the underbrush. I also start to see a few boot marks.
I ponder why I am not seeing more and larger fish. Is it lack of food? Just then I look upstream and see huge logs piled on top of big boulders in the stream blocking my route. By the looks of the jumble of logs there have been some tremendous floods in this narrow canyon.
On other similar water like Grape Creek near Westcliffe, I have seen the results of flash floods in a narrow canyon that scour the stream of aquatic insects and fish. Of course, my relative lack of success certainly could not be my lack of piscatorial acumen! This jumble of huge tree trunks and an impassable thicket on the shoreline convince me it’s time to throw in towel and head to big valley. That turns out to be good decision.
There is light but steady weekend traffic on the road, a combination of leaf peepers, travel trailers, tent campers, hunters, and ATV tourists—the scenic route leads all the over Summit Pass to Summitville and beyond. The angling key is to get away from the primitive campsites along the creek just below and above the Fox Mountain turnoff that have easy access to the creek directly off the road. Fortunately, an old primitive two-track trail heading upstream from the turnoff along the creek deep into the valley has been blocked off requiring a hike to get to good water. I end up following Demijohn Road (FR380) as it turns away from the creek and tracks high above valley to the east. I find a turnout, disembark, and hike west back down to creek.
It’s only about a 15-minute hike traversing a moderately steep slope along a cattle trail, but it pays off—I won’t see anyone on the creek all afternoon.
In the meadow, Pass Creek is only about 10-15 feet wide with long shallow stretches, so I start looking for a bend pool which I find a few hundred yards downstream. I wade in carefully and loft a cast above the bend. The Chubby swirls into a shadow, and I lose sight of it. Then I see my line tighten and set the hook. A nice brown trout rockets to the surface then dives deep. After a good tussle, he relents and comes to the net for a quick photo. Over 12-inches, he’s a good start.
From there I have steady action as I work upstream, mainly against the shoreline where there is a good flow and depth to provide cover. It takes pinpoint casting—there are lots of overhanging limbs, so I spend some time doing aerial retrievals up in branches, the result of errant casts. I do see a few risers and manage one fish on the dry, but the dropper caddis larva is the ticket. By 4:30, with the sun starting to dip over the mountains to the west, I have caught and released 7 or 8 fishing. All 11-13 inches, strong fighters and in good shape, most in sunny stretches. A bonus has been the beautiful creek-side scenery with golden leaves shimmering in the breeze.
Now the big issue is whether I should head home, having had an enjoyable day, especially this afternoon in the meadow, or see what’s around that big bend in the creek above. I can see some rock outcroppings through the trees along the creek, which often indicates a deep run. Who can resist!
I soon come to best looking stretch of the day at a bend in the creek where a big boulder looms over the water, creating a beautiful pool with just enough depth so I can just barely see the bottom in the shadow. I catch sight of a sign on a tree above, a dedication to an angler who must have plied these waters.
A kneel to keep a low profile and make a short cast towards the riffle above the pool. Off target a bit, the flies bounce off the rock and alight perfectly in the shadow. Whew! And then the Chubby is unceremoniously yanked under and all hell breaks loose. A big fish has inhaled the caddis larva and rockets upstream when he feels the hook. But the water is shallow there, so he reverses course and porpoises back to his home. Then as I creep closer to net the leviathan, he rushes downstream past me, almost slashing between my legs. I pirouette to avert disaster and splash downstream after the cagey critter. The epic battle wages to and fro for another minute before he sulks, and I lunge to slide the net under a beautiful 14-inch brown trout.
I release the valiant fish and, deciding it’s a great way to end the day, begin the hike upstream to a game trail I can see that will lead back up the hill to the road.
But wouldn’t you know it, as I get up higher above the creek, I can see the stream ahead runs up against a sheer rock palisade as it makes a hard turn to the south creating a fishy looking pool. I cannot resist, so descend and standing on the shoreline throw a cast over some bushes upstream below the pool. Immediately I get a strike but miss. At that exact moment, the sun dips low enough to throw the pool and palisades into a deep shadow. A cool breeze gives me a chill. I take that as a sign to call it a day. It’s been interesting. Next time, I think. Lots of water upstream to explore.
This past August I hosted fishing buddies from the East Coast, Steve Spanger and Paul Hughes, in their quest to catch some manly, muscular Colorado trout. Under my watchful eye and refereeing to ensure no funny business, they chased their quarry on the South Arkansas River, Carnero Creek, and the South Fork of the South Platte. In three pugnacious, fish-filled days, the eastern contingent proved up to the challenge, catching and releasing dozens of fiesty fish including a 17-inch brown plus a rare two-species double (brown and cuttbow) by Mr. Spanger and a slam by Mr. Hughes (brown, brook, and cuttbow in one day). A quartet of flies proved to be the downfall of many hungry trout.
All-in-all, it was a fun time with two gentlemanly anglers who also proved their mettle by dodging amorous llama to reach the water one day as well downing copious amounts of Colorado brews and a variety of fruits of the vine in post-fishing celebrations. Here’s a slide show with a little music that captures the spirit of the week. Hats off to the beastly boys from the East.
Last month I enjoyed a week-long visit with my old college roommate and buddy, Morris Douglas Martin, at my place on Chokoloskee Island in Florida. Morris flew in from Kansas where we both grew up, and we proceeded to chase snook in my motor boat a couple of days during his stay. We got some nice fish, but I think the highlight was the afternoon we decided to relax and do some road fishing along the historic Loop Road in the Everglades. Our quarry was anything that would bite, except gators, of which we saw quite a few. We had a blast catching lilliputian Oscars and Atomic Sunfish (aka Mayan Cichlids) and just being goofy. We capped the trip at a Red Sox spring training game featuring $10 beer!! Morris hasn’t changed much over the years–he’s remains a fun-loving, amiable guy with a twinkle in his eye and still is handsome….just ask him! In one short week we proved conclusively we’ve grown old, but not up. Here’s a tribute to my old friend and all the good times we had together over the years.