Crafty Coots Bewilder Cutts: A High-Country Getaway

Early September 2020

I just rolled in from my annual two-week backcountry fly fishing trip in the Colorado high country during which I was accompanied by my fishing buddy from Florida, Robert Wayne, Esq., internationally known angler and barrister (AKA “Insane Wayne”). We chase snook, redfish, tarpon and anything else that will bite in the winter in the Everglades, but during the summer he joins me in Colorado to devote two weeks to chasing Salmo truta (brownies), Salvelinus fontinalis (brookies), and other members of the trout family. Our mission on this outing: Search secret high-elevation creeks for cagey Oncorhynchus clarkia—native Colorado cutthroat.

Both of us are 72-years old, grizzled veterans of numerous trout-hunting campaigns across the USA. On this quest we faced riled-up rattlers, marauding bears, pesky camp robbers (Clark’s Nutcrackers), drought, an August snow storm (honest!), and steep canyon trails not to mention arthritis, sciatica, cataracts, and other assorted ailments well-known to septuagenarians. I am happy to report it was a rousing success! Using our small RVs as mobile fish camps, we managed to catch and release dozens of trout while covering three-to-seven miles on the water each day without any major disasters that might have called for hitting the rescue button on our emergency satellite phones.

We called upon our accumulated wisdom and prodigious casting skills to overcome skinny, crystal clear water in narrow creeks, pernicious grasping overhanging trees and bushes, and other impediments to outwit wild and shrewd trout (with brains the size of a quarter). Our best flies were the redoubtable Royal Coachman Trude dry that imitates both grasshoppers and caddis flies and the Tung Teaser and Beadhead Sparkle Caddis Nymphs that are excellent facsimiles of the two predominant aquatic bugs in these creeks, mayflies and caddis.

Mr. Wayne had his sights set on catching native cutthroats in each of the waters we plied which he accomplished in admirable fashion, the high point being a muscular 14-inch beauty, a big fish for any small water. Add to this piscatorial slams on several of the streams we fished—brownies, brookies, and cutts–and it all added up to a grand expedition.

Mr.Wayne’s culinary skills were also on display each evening back at camp, featuring delicious homemade meals including a hearty chicken vegetable stew and zucchini lasagna. When coupled with free-flowing bottles of pinot grigio and pinot noir and a daily ibuprophen fix, all bodily aches and pains were eased while assuring strength and nimbleness for the following day.

Here’s a visual recap of our trip:

Cutthroat Quest In The Rockies

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #2

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists. I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine. So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each. I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.” I will be posting the list in a series of five installments. I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This second installment covers three categories from the list below:  Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Installment 1 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7807

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7877

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

THE STORYTELLERS

Some of the best fishing books are those penned by accomplished storytellers—writers who relate short, entertaining vignettes and brief evocative descriptions of the angling experience.  John Gierach immediately springs to mind among today’s authors.  Most anglers have heard of him and enjoy his work as I do, but what about Robert Traver?  Traver and Gierach are at the tip top of my list of storytellers, always able to make me laugh and reflect as I recognize my own trials and tribulations on the waters chasing trout.

Trout Madness, being a dissertation on the symptoms and pathology of this incurable disease by one of its victims–Robert Traver (Judge John Voelker)

Before Gierach, Robert Traver was the king of spinning fishing yarns. Trout Madness was published in 1960 under the pseudonym of Robert Traver. In a bygone era when hardly anyone made a living out of writing about fishing, attorney John Voelker (AKA Robert Traver) published Trout Madness which recounts through 21 short stories his adventures and misadventures on the streams and ponds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the most entertaining is the piece delving into the history of his fishing car, Buckshot. By 1958 Voelker had already established himself as a gifted writer with his best-seller, Anatomy of a Murder, a true story that Otto Preminger turned into an Academy Award nominee starring James Stewart. Voelker soon thereafter retired as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to focus on his writing. He followed up with another popular angling book, Trout Magic.

Trout Bum–John Gierach

Gierach is a worthy successor to Robert Traver as the sports’ premier storyteller and his early work, Trout Bum,  is one of his best.  A Colorado resident, Gierach published Trout Bum in 1986, popularizing that term in a book that has become a cult classic and is still my favorite among his prolific productions.  In a series of short stories and tales he captures in a witty fashion the essence, delight, and sometimes comic nature of fly fishing.  Since then he has published 19 other books in the same vein, one about every two-three years. His latest has just been released—Dumb Luck And The Kindness Of Strangers.  All are good reads but are somewhat repetitive.  One of my favorite fishing quips comes from an angler in one of Gierach’s tales, a definition of a fishing buddy:  “Yeah he can be an a**hole, but we get along most of the time.”  As an aside, Gierach probably has the most mispronounced last name among fishing authors.  Variations include Gee-rack, Guy-rish, Guy-rack, etc.  It’s Gear-ash from his own mouth in a musky fishing video that can be found on the web.

ANTHOLOGIES

Fishing has generated more books and literature than any other sport, reflecting its long history and millions of practitioners.  Perhaps as much as any genre of writing, fishing also has a surfeit of anthologies—a collection of stories by multiple authors in one book.   Usually made up of short stories or brief excerpts from a book, anthologies are perfect when you only have a limited time to read a story or two and don’t feel like plunging into a book-length commitment.  They are also a great way to introduce yourself to new writers and their works that you may decide are worth delving into.  I discovered Jim Harrison in that way.  I have listed three of my favorite anthologies below, each compiled by a noted author or publisher who is also an avid, accomplished angler.  Get one, settle back, and enjoy. 

Fisherman’s Bounty/The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories/Hook, Line, and Sinker—Nick Lyons

Perhaps more than any one person in the modern area, Nick Lyons is responsible for identifying and publishing gifted angling writers.  Lyons was a college English professor and then an executive editor for Crown Publishers, a major press. He went on to create his own publishing company, Lyons Press, which has earned a deserved reputation as the leading publisher of quality fishing books.  His first anthology and still one of the best is Fisherman’s Bounty which came out in 1970.  It includes writings from historical figures like Izaak Walton as well as stories from modern day authors who changed the course of fly fishing with their books in the 1950s-60s like Ernest Schwiebert (Matching the Hatch), and Vincent Marinaro (In The Ring of The Rise).  More recent anthologies like The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories, which sports an incredible array of writers from Rudyard Kipling to Tom McGuane and John McPhee, and his latest, Hook, Line, and Sinker, carry on his tradition of wonderful anthologies.

Because of his tremendous impact on fly fishing literature, I am including this illuminating interview with Lyons from Fly Dreamers:

Fd: When did you start fly fishing? Can you tell us your memories from those days?

Nick: I had fished from before memory but I only started to fly fish seriously in my early 20s and was immediately mad for it. I had no instruction and found that I could not cast well when I threaded the line through the keeper ring. I fished in Michigan when I was in graduate school and caught nothing in the great AuSable. Back in NYC I fished a little club stream in New Jersey to which an army friend belonged–and finally began to get some fish, which made it all more worthwhile.

Fd: What are the reasons that made you start writing about fishing? What do you think drives people to do that?

Nick: I had been writing literary criticism but one day in my thirties I took a memorable trip to the Beaverkill with a remarkable new friend and immediately wrote “Mecca” and a little later “First Trout, First Lie” about a trout I had gigged in a small Catskill stream in mid-summer. FIELD & STREAM published them a few months later, my first writing about fishing. I loved the new “voice” I had found, so far from the heavy academic prose I had been writing.

Fd: How did you start working on publishing fly fishing books? How did you come across such great authors and works on the early days?

Nick: I was teaching English at Hunter College and (with four young children) took a second job at Crown Publishers. I wanted books closer to my heart than the commercial fare they published. Art Flick’s STREAMSIDE GUIDE was out of print and I wanted a copy so I got the rights and that was the first. Crown asked me to put together an anthology and I compiled FISHERMAN’S BOUNTY and happily this put me in touch with a whole host of first-rate writers, like Marinaro, whom I published next.

Fd: What can you tell us about the process of finding new authors?

Nick: There’s no substitute for reading widely, in all of the magazines on the subject, and in my case I asked just about everyone I came in contact with–or published–for their suggestions and pursued matters from there. I always leaned toward the literary but for non-fiction I tried to think of what “needed” to be done–Lefty Kreh on saltwater fly fishing, Swisher-Richards on new patterns–always the best I could find on worthwhile subjects.

Fd: Out of curiosity, what are the all-time top selling books on fly fishing?

Nick: SELECTIVE TROUT, ART FLICK’S STREAMSIDE GUIDE, PRACTICAL FISHING KNOTS, and THE ORVIS FLY FISHING GUIDE.

Fd: What are your thoughts on the amount of information available on the internet in contrast to the magazine and book industry?

Nick: I try not to follow the internet and consider most of it too simplified, in too many “bites”.

Fd: What are your all-time favorite books and authors related to the outdoors and fly fishing? What recent books would you recommend?

Nick: Ted Leeson, THE HABIT OF RIVERS. Roderick Haig Brown, A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS. Norman Maclean, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Tom McGuane, anything he writes.

Fd: You have published the collected writings of Hemingway and Traver on fishing. Do you think it is possible, in these times, to have another outdoors writer of this level? Or having one that achieves the success of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It?

Nick: I doubt if anyone can match the sales of Maclean, which had a movie to push it along. But McGuane is every bit their equal, though very different.

Fd: How do you envision the future of fly fishing literature?

Nick: It’s getting harder to winnow out the best, with so many people in the pool–but you don’t need a lot of strong writers at any given time, and there are a lot I like. Practical writing is becoming more sophisticated in technical matters–color photography, for example.

Fd: A good fishing story is surely not enough, and a good writer still needs something to write about. What advice would you give to those who want to write about fly fishing?

Nick: Always read the best being written by others–and write from the heart not for the purse. Quintilian says: The heart makes the eloquence.

Fd: Being a key figure in the fly fishing editorial world, have you got a particular aim or message to give out to the global fly fishing community?

Nick: Write less, write more carefully, read the best, write from the heart, avoid all fads.

Fd: Do you consider it important to know about fly fishing history? Why?

Nick: Sure. Faulkner says the past is never past and fly fishing is no exception: knowledge of the past colors everything we do. I’m a passionate supporter of our museums, which preserve and celebrate the past. Some writers, like Theodore Gordon, are eminently wise and readable and often tell us much that we’re forgotten.

Fd: Some fishing. What is your favorite kind of fly fishing (dries, nymphing, streamers, etc.) and what are your favorite spots?

Nick: Dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks (like a couple I know in Montana).

Fd: As a final point, what does fly fishing mean to you?

Nick: Too much to answer briefly. I guess all the books and articles I’ve written address this. Or I hope so.

Silent Season—Russell Chatham

Russell Chatham, who passed away recently, was a prolific writer of fishing books, but was best known for his beautiful, highly-sought-after artwork that often featured outdoor and angling scenes.  His anthology, first published in 1978 and again in 1988, introduced me to a bevy of writers I had never heard of like Jim Harrison, Jack Curtis, and Harmon Henkin.  It also includes Tom McGuane’s jewel, “The Longest Silence.” A bonus is the illustrations in the book by Chatham.

Into The Backing—Incredible True Stories About The Big Ones That Got Away—And The Ones That Didn’t—Lamar Underwood

What angler could possibly resist a book with this title?  An interesting anthology as it has a unifying them—fighting big fish!  Underwood definitely has the credentials to pull together such a tome—he is the former editor-in-chief of Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. This is one of my favorite anthologies with a smorgasbord of authors ranging from Joe Brooks (The Hat Trick), Roderick Haig-Brown (Episodes from Fisherman’s Spring), and Zane Grey (The Dreadnaught Pool). 

ODDITIES

There is a select group of fishing books that can only be described as outside-the-box oddities.  After reading them you can only shake your head, bemused and semi-bewildered at the fertile mind of the authors who concocted these books and tales.  The first in particular is a mind-blower!

Trout Fishing In America—Richard Brautigan

Leading the pack by a fair margin is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America.  Brautigan, a cross between a beatnick and hippie, was a counter-culture, youth movement icon in the riotous 1960s.  Trout Fishing America was published in 1967 and sold over 4 million copies—probably a record among modern angling books.  This is a challenging book to read.  Trout Fishing In America turns out to be a person searching for the meaning of life.  If you can get by this and other odd constructs in the book (perhaps with the assistance of a little cannabis), you will discover some real gems like my favorite vignette, “The Hunchback Trout.”  Brautigan was clearly an avid angler as well as a writer, poet, and free spirit.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously on a dock and then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

The Feather Thief, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century—Kirk Wallace Johnson

Another book by a journalist, The Feather Thief could be in a class of its own.  It is an oddity not because of the idiosyncrasies of the author and his writing style,  but because of the outrageously bizarre true tale it tells.  Try to imagine a secretive group of fly tiers who will do just about anything and pay any price to get their hands on plumes from endangered and extinct birds so they can tie their gaudy traditional salmon flies to exact specifications set forth in antique books.  Then further imagine among them a young accomplished American flautist/fly tier who in 2009 breaks into a branch of the British Museum outside London and steals the skins of hundreds of rare birds, some centuries old that were gathered by renowned explorers and naturalists.  He proceeds to sell them for thousands of dollars.  Will he be caught and punished?  What happened to all those priceless skins?  It all adds up to an intriguing true-crime novel.

Installment Three will cover Funny Bone Ticklers, Zen of Fishing, and How To/Technical Expertise

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME

August 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded many of us the time to fish and also catch up on reading and do some reflecting on life. When I’m on the water and catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I sometimes find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 40).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists. I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine. So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each. I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.” I will be posting the list in a series of five installments. I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7807

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7877

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

Best Literature

I distinguish this category from others by several measures.  First, does the book and writing appeal to non-anglers?  If it does, that definitely says something.  Second, what do other accomplished authors who have written acclaimed books have to say about it?  The authors on my list below are real craftsmen with words.  And finally, was it interesting enough to be made into a movie? 

1.  The Longest Silence:  A Life In Fishing—Thomas McGuane

The Longest Silence is a series of keenly observed essays about the lessons and insights McGuane gleaned from a lifetime spent fishing. James Harrison, a peripatetic poet, novelist, and essayist who himself wrote about fishing and whose novel Legends of the Fall was made into a movie, calls it the best book on angling of all time. I must agree. In his essays, McGuane takes us around the world fishing for tarpon to trout and introduces us to some memorable characters along the way. McGuane, who lives in Montana and continues to write and fish, wrote several other notable books on the outdoors and fishing including his debut novel, The Sporting Club, a dark comedy about the intergenerational conflict between young whippersnapper Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation. Sound familiar Millenials and GenXers? Another good read, Ninety Two In The Shade, a tale of a young fishing guide running into trouble in the Florida Keys was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.

2.  A River Runs Through It—Norman Maclean

Norman MacLean was an English professor at University of Chicago while I was studying there to become a lawyer.  He never wrote a book until he retired, but when he did in 1976, Maclean produced a lyrical, heartbreaking semi-biographical story that became a blockbuster.  One line in A River Runs Through It describes how many of us anglers feel about our sport: “I am haunted by waters.”  In 1992 Robert Redford directed an excellent movie that was true to the book starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.   As an aside, Maclean’s son John penned a riveting book, Fire On The Mountain, about a wildfire that took the lives of 14 firefighters near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

3.  The River Why—David James Duncan

How can any angler resist a book that mixes fly fishing, family, and baseball?  However, this is a book that has probably been read by more non-anglers than any other on this list.  The main character Gus is a child fishing prodigy who after he graduates from school sets out to fish his brains out according to a rigourous schedule on the mythical Tamanawis River.  After he finds the body of a dead angler, Gus starts his real journey in life, finding love along the way.  The author Duncan wrote several other acclaimed novels, and The River Why was turned into a movie starring Zach Gifford, Dallas Roberts, and William Hunt that unfortunately did not live up to the book.

4.  Big Two-Hearted River—Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for his story Old Man And The Sea, so I risk sacrilege by saying for my money his Big Two-Hearted River, the concluding installment in his semi-autobiographical series The Nick Adams Stories, is a better one, especially for anglers.  This tale is about a young man, Nick Adams, just back from World War I and suffering from shell shock, who takes off on a fishing trip to clear his head.  Hemingway’s writing in Big Two-Hearted River is his usual spare, pure style.  As a young law school student in Chicago and aspiring fly fisherman, I loved that title, read the book, and set out to fish the Big Two-Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Fortunately, before I set out I learned that like many in the fishing fraternity, Hemingway was damned if he was going to give away the name and location of a favorite fishing spot.  It was actually the Fox River which I fished one summer between classes, a canoe trip that featured clouds of man-eating mosquitos, few fish, and ended in near disaster when our canoe flipped and we lost our paddles 10 miles from civilization in a dense forest.  Fortunately soon after we started to walk out I spotted one paddle in a sweeper, and we were able to retrieve it and float to safety.

5.  My Moby Dick—William Humphrey

Of all the books on this list, this spare short one is probably the least known and rarely mentioned in the same breath as any of the others.  But as one reviewer wrote, “one of the finest fishing stories ever published, My Moby Dick is a small masterpiece about a whale of a fish.”  In a nutshell, Humphrey spends an entire summer chasing with his fly rod a huge one-eyed trout that he serendipitously stumbles on in a small creek near his vacation home.  Along the way, through his elegant, erudite writing, English professor Humphrey shows us what real literature and writing are like even in telling a fish story.  Humphrey came to writing My Moby Dick after penning acclaimed non-angling books such as Home From The Hill and The Ordways.  Thank our lucky stars he was also an aspiring angler and shared this hilarious tale with us.  It is chock full of wry, smart observations about fly fishing and anglers who pursue trout. Here is but one example:

I had never known a fly fisherman. Since my ignominious failure to make myself one and my retrogression to worms, I had not wanted to know one. …But even if I had known one, known him well, I would not have trusted myself to seek his help now. Indeed, I would have shunned him altogether. He would have surely notice my state of excitement. His curiosity would have been piqued. My eagerness, my impatience to learn and to put my knowledge to work, would have given me away. A wild look, that of one who has gazed on wonders, haunted my eyes in those days. Fly fisherment are a suspicious crew, and their suspicions run on one thing. My secret would have been guessed, and I would have been shadowed to its soure in Shadow Brook.”

Honorable Mention:

A couple of other books that could be on this list are Howell Raines’, Fly Fishing Through The Mid-Life Crisis and Harry Middleton’, The Earth Is Enough: Growing Up In A World of Flyfishing,Trout, and Old Men.  Raines had a storied career with the New York Times before he penned this book after a nasty divorce, producing a beautiful meditation on the “disciplined, beautiful, and unessential activity” we call fly fishing.  Middleton’s book is a memoir of his growing up in the Ozarks and chasing trout with the two old codgers who raise him.  In the process he learns not only the art of fly fishing but also about the beauty and value of nature in life.

The next installment of Best Books will cover Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

The Sweet Trio Of Creeks Of Stewart Peak

July 2020

I’m on one of my frequent summer trips to fish remote creeks in and around the La Garita Wilderness area south of Gunnison, Colorado. For several years on these outings I crossed over three small creeks that feed into one of my favorite waters, Cochetopa Creek, miles downstream. All three have one thing in common—they spring from the flanks of mighty Stewart Peak which, along with nearby San Luis Peak, towers over the wilderness area.

But honestly, all three looked too small—often barely a trickle—to hold any fish at all. Nevertheless, several years ago I rolled the dice and decided to sample Chavez Creek and found out how wrong I was. The next year I tested Pauline Creek and had a further awakening. Both were loaded with fish, some bigger than 15-inch bragging size. But I never got around to sampling the third, Nutras Creek, always flying by it as I hustled to the nearby Eddiesville trailhead where I could hike in to fish the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek. I should not have been surprised Nutras Creek would turn out to be another small stream delight—beautiful water, great scenery, carpets of wildflowers, and eager fish with nary a boot mark anywhere. It lived up to its meaning in Old Spanish—”providing nourishment.”

The article that follows below recounts a recent day on Nutras, just outside the boundaries of the wilderness area. I have provided links to my previous articles on fishing Chavez and Pauline Creeks at the end of the blog.

I’m up early and on the road to Nutras at 7:45 to cover the almost 20 miles from my mobile fish camp at Upper Dome Lake. It will take me about one hour to reach the Nutras Creek trailhead on FS 794 (County Road 14DD), a decent gravel road suitable for high-clearance 4WD and AWD vehicles. As I climb higher and round a bend in the road I come face-to-face with the stunning pyramid mountain that is Stewart Peak.

Stewart Peak Looms Over La Garita Wilderness

It is one of the biggest 13ers in the state at 13,983 feet, and although 31 feet shorter than nearby San Luis Peak, it dominates the landscape being closer to the road.

As I explored the terrain via Google Maps before this trip, I discovered that not only do Chavez and Pauline Creeks spring from Stewart’s rugged volcanic flanks, but Nutras as well.  To further whet my angling appetite, using Google Maps I spied a series of more than a dozen big beaver ponds above and below the access road (FS 794) that looked very promising.

Google Map Promises Beaver Ponds Along Nutras Creek

I couldn’t find much more on-line that was written about fishing Nutras, except a  post from an old guidebook that mentioned the fishing was “good to very good” for brookies “6-14 inches.”  Now that’s hard to resist!

As I drive up FS 794, I cross over Pauline and Chavez Creeks and find, not surprisingly, they are very low given the serious drought gripping this part of Colorado. But in the past I have noticed Nutras consistently had a better flow than Pauline and Chavez, and when I get to the trailhead I see it still holds true.

Springing from the south flank of Stewart and Baldy Alto peak, the water is clear and the flow a decent 10-15 CFS.  In the past I have seen vehicles parked at the trailhead, mainly hikers, but today I have it to myself. 

My game plan is to hike downstream about two miles to a second in a series of beaver ponds below the road that show up on Google Maps and fish up from there. I’ll have lunch at the trailhead then fish above the road hitting five big beaver ponds that Google Maps reveals.

I’m hit the trail by 9:00 a.m., suited up in my waist-high waders and carrying an 8.5 foot fly rod.  The trail is on a slope above the north side of the creek, but gets fainter as it penetrates the valley below, sometimes disappearing altogether. 

Trail On North Side Of Creek

It’s an easy descent into the valley with plenty of shady spots to provide a respite from the bright sunshine this morning.  I resist the urge to hit a small beaver pond and inviting stretch of creek water a few hundred yards below the road. 

Creek And Beaver Ponds Just Downstream From Road

Soon I start up an incline that peaks at a barb-wire fence then descends to the first beaver ponds. But my jaw drops when I see that only one beaver pond is visible, and it is partially blown out and shallow.

Remnant Beaver Pond

The ones supposedly just downstream from the first are gone, breached or destroyed several years ago judging by the height of the meadow grass and bushes above what’s left of the dams. I quietly chastise Google Maps for not updating the satellite images on line. This has happened to me before on other creeks courtesy of outdated Google Maps information. However, just as I am about ready to turn tail and head back upstream, I think I see a rise dimple the surface of the last remaining pond. That persuades me to continue downstream another mile or so to a second alluring string of beaver ponds showing up Google Maps, while fishing the creek along the way.

As I continue my march, the path fades in and out, now more of a game trail than one for hikers. But at least there is solitude and gorgeous abundant wildflowers to savor. Soon I come upon a stretch of creek below another blown-out beaver dam that features a nice plunge pool that surely must hold fish. I sneak carefully down to the creek and lay out a long cast from a kneeling position….and draw a goose egg. Second and third casts, same result. Puzzled, I decide to wade in and see if I can scare any fish into revealing themselves. I spy a few mini three-inchers scurrying for cover, but nothing of catchable size. Unfortunately, this pattern—no bites and mini-fish, will be repeated all the way down to the next set of beaver ponds. Or should I say former beaver ponds. As I round a bend in the valley and climb higher on the slope for a better view, I can see every one of the ponds promised on Google Maps is gone, deceased, departed, defunct.

Phantom Beaver Ponds On Google Maps

Suddenly I catch the distinct odor of Mephitus mephitis, AKA a pesky polecat!  Is a skunk in the offing?  With tail between my legs, I do an immediate about face and head back to that lone pond back up the trail where I think I saw a rise. 

My disappointment is salved somewhat by one of the most prolific wildflower displays I have seen in this year of the drought. 

I find that Nutras is fed by many small rivulets, each creating a haven for three of my favorite wildflowers—mountain bluebells, monkshoods, and elephant heads. Even the drier slopes are ablaze with red skyrockets. At least it’s going to be a good ecotour if not a productive fishing trip.

Soon I am back at the shallow pond, a mere shadow of what must have been a magnificent water judging by the size of the dam. 

Big Old Beaver Dam No Longer Holds Big Pond

As I sneak down from the trail I see a couple of showy, splashy rises that confirms the pond does indeed hold some fish despite being very shallow. I carefully approach from below the dam and peer over the edge and smile when I spot 20-30 trout schooled up in the middle—only about three feet deep—and others rising and feeding actively along the edges and below the creek inlet. I tie on an attractor dry, a #16 Royal Trude, and a #18 Tung Teaser nymph below.

Shallow Remnant Beaver Pond Still Holds Plenty Of Fish

I throw a long cast to where I see some trout feeding at the inlet and as soon as the flies hit the water something smacks the nymph before it can sink.  The fish is small—a 6-inch brookie—but puts up a valiant fight. 

First Fish Of Day–A Wee Brookie

Next cast produces a colorful, bigger fish. For the next half hour I catch about a dozen more alternating as my targets the school in the deepest hole, the inlet, and fish cruising the edges.

A Fat “Lunker” From Beaver Pond

Half succumb to the dry and half to the nymph.  Great fun, but finally I worry the remaining trout into retreat.  The skunk has been avoided with an exclamation point!!

Given my success in the pond, I decide to try the good-looking stretch of creek below the dam, but no dice again.  I don’t even see a fish!  And by now my stomach is growling so I tip my hat to the pond brookies and climb back up to the trail and start upstream towards the road, admiring the abundant wildflowers on the way. 

However, before I reach my lunch, I get sidetracked by a rise in the creek a few hundred yards downstream of the road. The creek here is slower moving and has more bends where fish can hide out in deeper pools. I carefully bushwhack down and promptly spook the fish that was rising, but he’s at least bigger than the three-inch Lilliputians I saw earlier in the day.

Creek Brookie

Soon I come to a very enticing but tricky pool where the creek flows through a narrow slot between two bushes.  The water is deep enough that I can’t see the bottom.  I luck out and thread the needle with my first cast, laying the dry/nymph rig just below the opening.  The dry is immediately pulled under as a nice brookie eats the nymph.  He puts up a good fight, another colorful 10-inch plus fish. 

The next pool and run below an intact beaver dam are filled with eager brookies, a half a dozen or so succumbing to the lure of my flies. 

Productive Run Below Beaver Dam

Then I add another half dozen in the shallow pond above as I execute a high-wire act tip-toeing across the top of the dam to reach the deeper areas, saved twice by my wading staff from a cold dunking when I misstep off the dam and start sinking in the muck.

Once off the dam, I continue upstream and catch a few more in the stream right below the road—all healthy, feisty 6-10 inch brookies. 

By now it’s almost 1 p.m. and with my wrist aching from the tugs of the behemoth brookies, I decide it’s lunch time. Up to now it has been a beautiful sunny day, but the afternoon monsoon clouds start to pile up and spitting rain just as I set up my folding chair for lunch. I retreat hastily to my SUV. Fortunately as I finish eating, the rain lets up. I decide to walk up the trail to higher ground to do a little reconnaissance and get another surprise—all but two of the beaver ponds shown on Google Maps above the road are gone.

Remnant Beaver Ponds Above Road

Upon investigation I discover one is stagnant, not longer being fed by the creek, and the other is only two-inches deep! My only option is to try the stream, and it soon produces a 10-inch beauty.

Grand Finale Brookie

I continue working upstream, but the creek narrows and is soon overgrown by bushes, making casting an adventure.  I trudge on, and am about to call it day when I spy a hidden pool where the creek makes a bend to the south.  Then I see a big trout—at least 14-inches—finning in the crystal clear water.  I can’t tell if it’s a brookie or cutthroat, but it is by far the biggest fish I have seen all day. 

The fish has positioned himself right at the bend, perpendicular to the creek stretch where I am wading up from below. I have two choices now, either throwing a tricky curve cast around the bend so the flies alight above him, or climbing out of the creek and sneaking up from behind through a tangle of branches and thorny bushes where he is less likely to see me. Not being partial to some serious bushwhacking this late in the day, with great confidence I decide to throw the curve cast. Before the flies can alight, the bruiser immediately sees me as I wave my wand back and forth. When I look again he is long gone to who knows where. I have to smile, gallows humor I suppose, scaring of the best fish of the day. Because I don’t fancy bushwhacking through more of the tangled vegetation above in pursuit of his brethren, I decide to call it a day.

As I trudge back through the wet meadow to my SUV, I start comparing Nutras in my mind with Chavez and Pauline.  Certainly the brookies here can’t match the size of the fish in those two streams, but the scenery and carpets of wildflowers make up for any deficit.  And I’ll always wonder what it would have been like if those big beaver ponds were still intact.  Or maybe I should have hiked downstream further to where Nutras feeds into Cochetopa Creek in a canyon below.  Perhaps next time!

Below are links to articles on fishing the rest of the Stewart Peak creek trio:

Chavez Creek: 

https://hooknfly.com/2017/08/06/return-to-chavez-creek-high-above-gunnison-colorado/

Chavez originates on the northeast flank of Stewart Peak and picks up water from its tributary tiny Perfecto Creek.  Above the confluence is good fishing for brookies with occasional brown trout, and below there are big beaver ponds and stream stretches harboring some sizeable brown trout as well as a smattering of rainbows and cutthroats.

Pauline Creek:

https://hooknfly.com/2015/08/27/the-perils-and-pleasures-of-pauline-creek-that-is/

Pauline springs from the north side of Stewart Peak and is also fed by water from Baldy Chato mountain.  Below FS 794 and its confluence with Chavez Creek you will find some extensive beaver ponds and pools that hold nice browns and rainbows, but require a short, but steep hike to the water below.

Birthday Fishing Trip Part Deux: Grizzled Grandpa Garners Rare Double

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!

Somewhere Over The 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. 

The Cowpath To Paradise

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. 

Cowboy Frisbee Equipment

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. 

Nice Runs And Pools Below Palisades

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. 

15-Inch Brownie Caps Good Morning

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. 

Ledges At Foot Of Rock Formation Provide Shady Lunch Spot

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??

Laughing Elephant Cloud Formation

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. 

Nice Afternoon Brownies

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.

Brownie-Cutthroat Double Caps Great Day

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. 

Up Up And Away We Go

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. 

Homeward Bound

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!