2021 Retrospective: The Best, The Botched, And The Blood-Curdling

January 2022

What can you say about 2021?  It certainly was another interesting and challenging year.  Despite the vicissitudes and travails that all of us went through, it was rewarding overall with plenty of delights, fun times, and frisky fish.  Here goes, taking a look back at the best and some busted times as well.

An unexpected and wonderful delight was the extra time I got to spend with my little sweetheart granddaughter Aly. Because of day-care problems associated with Covid, I drove to Denver every week for 8 months starting in October 2020 to take care of her for two days, just her and me, what she called “Grandpa days.” Boy did we have fun exploring creeks, catching crawdaddies, and fooling some fish in metro Denver lakes!

I was also happy to welcome an expanding group of readers from all over the USA and internationally. It’s been a treat getting to know several better, trading fish stories and becoming friends. Thanks to Jim, Bill, Jason, Ed, Jerry, Tim, Brian and the rest of the gang. Despite Covid which led me to remain in Colorado all of 2021 and only spending two weeks in Florida with only one new post, readership stayed steady at the high level established in 2020–over 86,000 views.

In a typical year, new Florida posts account for a quarter of all views.  Now that I am back in Florida for the winter and spring, you can bet I will be getting out on the water and sharing new trips and tales.

Like most senior citizens, I can’t let the opportunity pass to gripe about various aches and pains.  In October 2020 I came down with a severe case of sciatica due to a couple of ill-advised back-to-back hikes into rugged canyons in search of trout.  It was so bad—had me hobbling with a cane–that I began contemplating a life without the hiking, kayaking, and fishing remote backcountry areas that I love.  Fortunately, I was referred to a wonderful doctor of physical therapy who correctly assessed the problem in my aging back and put together an exercise routine that has me feeling better than ever and ready for more adventures exploring this beautiful Earth.

Most Popular Posts And Published Articles

By a wide margin, the most popular articles were a quartet about fishing for rare Rio Grande Cutthroat trout in southern Colorado. The series garnered over 5,300 views, including the single most-read article —exploring Medano Creek in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, with 2,700 views.

Perhaps the most rewarding response to any post was the continuing popularity of a five-part series I wrote in late 2020 entitled “The Best Fishing Books Of All Time.” It garnered over 1,600 views in 2021, and several times was featured in the daily Google News post as the leading article on the subject. It was particularly popular around Christmas time as people searched for gift ideas.

For saltwater angling, the article I wrote several years ago on fishing around Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys continues to lead the pack with almost 1,600 views.  I am planning to get back down there in May for some additional piscatorial research and updating. 

Covid has been particularly tough on national fishing publications. One of the first angling magazines I wrote for back in the 1990s, the venerable American Angler, folded in 2020, and in 2021 one of my favorites, Southwest Fly Fishing, was consolidated with five other similar magazines by the same publisher into just one called American Fly Fishing. The new one is excellent, but the competition to get something published is tougher.

Despite all of that, I was pleased to have two articles come out in 2021. The first, in Florida Sportsman, is a bit of an oddity for me–fishing for Peacock Bass in the freshwater canals of a big residential development near Naples, Florida. I’m mainly a saltwater, backcountry fishing devotee when I come to Florida, but had a good time learning new tricks while catching in a suburban setting these big, colorful exotic fish from South America.

The second article, which I am particularly proud of tackled the looming catastrophic impact of climate change on the insects trout subsist on and what can be done about it.  Entitled “Insect Armageddon,” it appeared in the May 2021 issue of American Fly Fishing

Another article I wrote for American Fly Fishing, “Mission Impossible?? Searching For Fish And Solitude In South Park, Colorado,” will be coming out in early 2022. 

Perhaps the biggest bummer in the realm of publishing came with my Everglades kayak fishing guide that was to be published by Wild Adventures Press in Montana.  I completed a draft of the guidebook and was well into the editing process when the company ran into staffing issues as well as production problems linked to its printer in South Korea.  Because the press was unlikely to be able to publish the guidebook anytime soon, I parted company with it and am searching for a new more reliable publisher.  Any thoughts?

One last note, I was honored to be asked by two fishing clubs, one in Florida and one in Colorado, to make Zoom presentations to their members.  The one in Florida focused on kayak fishing in the Everglades and the Colorado meeting on beaver pond fishing savvy.  Give me a buzz if you’d like me to make a presentation to your club.  Always fun!

Most Rewarding Trips

An expedition to explore the remote Adams Fork of the Conejos River in southern Colorado turned out to be the most rewarding trip of the year for a couple of reasons. First, I was able to successfully test my recovery from the aforementioned bout with debilitating sciatica. I hiked in about three miles then down a steep slope into the canyon below and out again with no ill effects. Better yet, the beautiful, rare Rio Grande Cutthroats, the native trout that is making a comeback in southern Colorado, were very cooperative. What a day!!

Close behind was another hidden gem in the South Luis Valley of southern Colorado, La Garita Creek, that flows out of a gigantic volcano caldera.  Accessed only by a rough 4-WD road, La Garita Creek is loaded with eager brown trout, but only if you can find an opening in the overgrown stream to make a decent cast.  Can’t wait to return next summer.

I also had what I call ten fin-filled, fun days in late summer on two separate trips with old fishing buddies, Bob Wayne and Steve Spanger.  We fished seven different rivers and streams in those ten days ranging from the South Arkansas to the Chama River including waters like Saguache Creek and the Adams Fork and the Gunnison River in between.  Fortunately, the fish were sympathetic to us old geezers, and we had a blast. 

Most Humbling Trip, Burst Bubbles, And The Blood-Curdling

Without a doubt, the most humbling angling experience of the year was fishing the beaver ponds of Trout Creek near Buena Vista, Colorado.  I fancy myself a beaver pond maven, but in May almost lost all my mojo to the lock-jawed brownies of Trout Creek.  I flailed the water for an entire day, spooking many fish and landing only three despite heroic efforts that included sloshing through beaver pond marshes in knee-deep muck, fighting willows for my flies, and scaling steep slopes to get to hidden ponds.  Nothing worked!  

Fortunately, I got a measure of revenge and partially rejuvenated my mojo with trips several weeks later to tackle the beaver ponds of Pass Creek not far from my cabin near Salida, Colorado.  I managed to catch dozens of nice browns and brookies including a 14-inch beautiful brownie. 

With my mojo partially patched up, I am planning a return encounter this summer with the baffling Trout Creek denizens! 

Another particularly humbling experience came in the fall at the hands of brook trout on the upper reaches of the Huerfano (Wear-fano) River in the wilds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. Fishing in one of the most scenic valleys I’ve ever set foot in, I was sure this was going to be a banner day when in the first pool I came to I spied nice brook trout finning in the depths. However, three hours and many epithets lates, I flew the white flag. I had scored nary a bite the whole time as the spawning brookies made clear amore was more important than eating. With the air redolent of skunk, I slunk back to my SUV and headed back downstream where I managed to salve my bruised ego and rid the myself of the scent of skunk with a dozen or so nice brown trout. Sometimes persistence pays off!

On the blood-curdling front, in the past close encounters with alligators and moose have topped the list.  This time it was a close-encounter of the cougar kind.  Picture bushwhacking through heavy, tall brush along a creek to fish a beaver pond, stepping out on a sand bar, and seeing the fresh tracks of a mountain lion!  That’s what happened to me on Pass Creek last summer. 

Needless to say the last few hairs on my follicle-challenged head stood straight up! I hadn’t seen or heard a thing, but had no doubt the cat was watching me. Fortunately he must have thought my skinny, old body wouldn’t be much of a snack. I made plenty of noise the rest of the day, and had my knife close at hand just in case. A 14-inch brown trout made the fright worthwhile!

Most Surprising

For every Huerfano River or Trout Creek debacle, there always seems to be one or two pleasant surprises each year where I discover a new, unexpectedly good water to fish. Upper Tarryall Creek in South Park, Colorado, wins the award for 2021. I stumbled onto the creek in June when I stopped with my sweetheart granddaughter Aly to have lunch and explore a “haunted house” at the Cline Ranch State Wildlife Area on the way from Denver to my cabin outside Salida, Colorado.

When I pulled into the parking area, I noticed that the four spaces were all prominently numbered. On a nearby sign I read that each parking space was assigned an exclusive “beat” on nearby Upper Tarryall Creek, a beautiful small stream. It reminded me of the beat system the English use on their rivers where waters are divided into beats or stretches and the number of anglers allowed on each limited to help spread out the fishing pressure. I made a mental note to return, which I did several weeks later. After parking in one of the designated spots, I walked north to the corresponding upper beat and had a fabulous day fishing for nice browns in the creek and several big beaver ponds. All of this not much more than a stone’s throw from traffic whizzing by US 285. And I had the water to myself all day in South Park that is sometimes overrun with anglers from Denver and Colorado Springs. What a smart idea!

On The Horizon: Looking Forward to 2022

So what’s on the agenda for 2022? First and foremost is to get back down to Florida to get my saltwater chops back.  I arrived in Everglades City a couple of weeks ago, got the kayak and Gheenoe ready to go, and started executing that plan.  A 24-inch snook on my first yak outing led the fish parade. More stories and tall tales to come from the Everglades backcountry!

I also want to explore some of the remote brackish canals east of Naples, Florida, that are impossible to access except with a kayak.  Big snook are rumored to hide out there along with the gators!

While in Florida, I hope to get the Everglades Kayak Fishing Guide back on track and will be sending out the manuscript to several publishing houses.

I’ll be hauling one of my pedal kayaks with me on the way back to Colorado in May so I can stop at Port O’Connor, Texas, and fish that wonderful inshore water inside the barrier island for redfish and sea trout in my kayak.  The yak will also come in handy as I try to explore some high-mountain lakes in Colorado that are accessible with my 4-WD SUV.

Also high on my list when I return to Colorado for the summer will be to fish another remote tributary of the Conejos River, the Middle Fork up in the high country not too far from the Adams Fork.  I also want to explore the upper, wild reaches of the Rio Chama near the New Mexico border. 

Of course, I will chase some trout with my sweetheart Aly!!

Beaver Pond Saga, Chpt. 2: Mojo Rejuvenation on Pass Creek (near Salida, CO)

Late May/Early June 2021

For my recent befuddling foray on the Trout Creek beaver ponds see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/05/23/__trashed/

and for some tips and techniques for beaver pond angling see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/05/27/runoff-blues-try-a-beaver-pond/

Beaver ponds are my go-to alternative when my favorite rivers and creeks in Colorado are blown out from spring runoff.  This year I decided to try some inviting new waters close to home that I had overlooked for years.  Based on decades of experience, mostly in the school of hard knocks, I fancy myself a fair-to-middling beaver pond angler.  However, as documented in a recent blog post in May (See link above.), my first beaver pond outing of the season on a stream near Buena Vista, Colorado, one with a very promising name—Trout Creek—left me bewildered and despondent.  After some four hours of hacking my way through a willow jungle and numerous casts on picture-perfect ponds, I netted only three modestly-sized fish!  Needless to say, my piscatorial mojo was severely depleted.  Undaunted, I promised I would return to take on the insolent critters, but decided first I better get some semblance of my full mojo back.  To do so, I settled on a series of beautiful beaver ponds that dot Pass Creek, a small stream only a mile from my cabin near Salida, Colorado, as a potential antidote. 

Pass Creek originates high up near the Continental Divide at the foot of 12,850-foot Chipeta Mountain, flowing out of beautiful Pass Creek Lake which holds some gorgeous cutthroats. 

Pass Creek Lake With Chipeta Mountain Above

It then cascades some eight miles to its confluence with Little Cochetopa Creek just below my cabin.  I had fished the lake and upper four miles of the creek a number of times over the years and had a ball catching some nice cutts in the lake and smaller cutts and brookies in the creek below, with a few surprise out-sized cutts mixed in.  However, further down below the remnants of a little mining ghost town, I hadn’t given the stream much attention, primarily because it is heavily overgrown in its lower stretches or runs through private land. 

In 2020 curiosity had finally gotten the best of me, and I sampled a couple of the beaver ponds a mile or so above the Little Cochetopa Creek confluence, landing several hefty brownies. 

Alas, sometime in the past year those little waters had been blown out by the runoff, which often happens with beaver ponds.  Fortunately, one fine winter’s day in 2021, I had decided to get some fresh air and drove up the bumpy gravel road that parallels the creek to do some recon.  And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a series of beaver ponds that had been invisible all those years, hidden by a thicket of bushes, vines, and trees.

I marked the location on Google Maps and then bided my time.  Now that time had arrived with my beaver pond mojo needing some readjustment!

On a sunny afternoon in late May I was bouncing up CR (County Road) 212 that winds above the creek.  The breeze was light and temperature in the 70s.  I could see the creek was high from the runoff but reasonably clear and definitely fishable.  I drove up about two miles up from the junction of CR 210 and 212 and pulled over at a turnout in the road where I had spotted the ponds earlier, then walked about a quarter mile back down just below where I estimated I would find the last of the ponds in this stretch. 

The ponds were completely hidden, but relying on my keen navigational skills and some prayers, plunged into the thicket for a serious bushwhacking session. 

Let The Bushwhacking Begin

Soon the wild roses and other assorted thorny bushes were grasping at my waders, and just as I was about to utter some choice expletives, I spied what looked to be a pond and could hear the rush of the creek. 

I Spy!!

I navigated carefully around a waterfall above the pond, but despite my stealthy approach, sent a squadron of small trout in the shallows scurrying for cover.  Well, I thought, at least the fish are here.  I decided to let the denizens of the pond settle down and fish the creek right below the waterfall.  I checked some stream rocks and found them loaded with small mayfly and caddis nymphs.  Caddis and mayflies along with midges were also flitting around in the air above the water.  All signs were looking good!  I was carrying two rods, one a 7.5-foot three-weight fly rod that I rigged with a bushy #16 Rio Grande King Trude attractor below which I tied on a #18 red Two-Bit Hooker to imitate the mayfly nymphs.  The other, blasphemously, was a 5-foot ultralight spincast outfit that I figured I might need to be able to cast in the overgrown stretches above where fly casting would be impossible or to get down deep in the ponds.  It was rigged with a beadhead sparkle caddis nymph and a #20 red zebra midge.

Dynamic Duo Is Good Combo To Tackle Overgrown Beaver Ponds

I knelt carefully on a sandbar 20-feet below the waterfall and targeted my cast at the foam line along the grassy undercut bank.  The trude floated jauntily down the little run and promptly disappeared.  I set the hook and was on to a trout that scampered back and forth in the small pool.  Finally a Lilliputian brown came to the net. 

Given my baffling experience on the aforementioned Trout Creek, I celebrated with a victory dance.   Never has there been such rejoicing over an eight-inch fish as there was for this little guy.

Now I was ready to tackle the beaver pond.  I concentrated on the darker, deeper water near the dam, but came up empty.  Next I proceeded cautiously up the long south arm of the pond.  Despite my stealth, again I scared the daylights out of a school of small trout that promptly jetted to safety above, no doubt alerting their brethren.  Cracks began to appear in my still fragile, recovering mojo.  

I retreated to the north arm of the pond and climbed back around the waterfall.  Above, the creek narrowed, requiring me to claw through the overhanging branches and brush to reach open water.  But the effort was worth it as I emerged just below the next good-looking beaver pond. 

I crouched below the dam to avoid spooking any fish in the pond, and had just enough room to make a short backcast.  As soon as the dry hit the water it was inhaled by a spunky brown pushing 9-inches.  That was more like it!  Surprisingly, however, a dozen more casts came up empty.  I decided to mount the beaver dam and use the spincast outfit to probe the deeper water with the double-nymph rig to which I had added a split shot.  No sooner had the flies sunk out of sight into the dark pool than something hit hard.  It was another brown enticed by the zebra midge, this one a little bigger. 

Now the action turned fast and furious, and I quickly fooled five more.  The mojo meter was inching steadily up!  As I worked to the upper end of the pond where the trees and brush receded, I switched back to the fly rod and fooled several more browns on the Two-Bit Hooker.

As I continued wading upstream I stepped out on a sandbar for easier going and immediately saw some fresh animal tracks.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I realized they were those of a mountain lion.  Yikes. 

Close Encounter Of The Cougar Kind

Chaffee County is reputed to have one of the largest cougar populations in the state, but I have yet to see one here.  I had the feeling something was watching me, but fortunately didn’t see or hear anything the rest of the afternoon if the big cat was indeed spying on me. He probably figured there wasn’t much worth gnawing on this old grizzled body.

From here on up, the going thankfully got easier as the ponds were spaced more closely together. The next one featured a big dam and plenty of casting room for the fly rod on the south side.  I carefully scaled the south end of the dam and worked my way to an open spot where I knelt carefully in the shoreline grass.  A few fish were rising along the opposite shoreline where the water was deepest.    I unfurled a long cast that alighted delicately near the risers and was rewarded with an immediate strike on the dry.  I set the hook and was onto the biggest fish of the day.  He immediately headed towards the safety of the deepest part of the pool up against the dam and its riot of sticks and branches.  My little rod was bent double as I tried to horse the trout away from danger.  It was nip and tuck, but he finally relented and came in—a 14-inch beauty! 

Catch Of The Day

After my nerves calmed down, I made several more long casts with the dry/dropper rig but to no avail.  So out came the spincast outfit.  I cast across the pond again and let the nymphs descend to the depths of the pool.  I cranked the reel handle a couple of times and was jolted by a hard strike.  Another good-sized brown had inhaled the red zebra midge.  He would also go near 14-inches!!  This was definitely the honey hole, and three other brownies over 12-inches soon followed.   My mojo meter was spinning wildly!!

When things quieted down, I proceeded to the next pond immediately above that was smaller and required a tricky backhand, sidearm cast to squeeze the flies into the main current under some overhanging dead branches.  My first two casts were just out of the flow, but the third swung in gracefully just below the little waterfall created by the dam above and glided under the twigs.  BAM!  There was a miniature explosion as another nice brown that would measure 13-inches gulped down the dry.  He dove for the undercut bank but I was able to winch him out into open water and into my net.

This would be the last of the good-sized fish, but who can complain. 

The next pond upstream turned out to be shallow, yielding only a couple more diminutive trout.  From there I ventured back into the fast-running creek upstream.  As my flies floated pell-mell past a little brush pile at a bend in the stream, several miniature browns came flashing out in hot pursuit.  I decided to have a little fun and made several more casts.  They tried fearlessly again and again to nail the little imitations, but to no avail.    Nothing like ending the day with a good laugh, a smile on my face, and the mojo meter recharged.

Eager Little Brownies In Fast Run Help End Good Day With A Chuckle

After I bushwhacked my way back up the slope to the SUV and had shed my waders, I quaffed a good NA beer.  With another hour or so of daylight, it entered my trout-addled brain that maybe I should drive another mile upstream to where the creek flowed out of a stretch of private land to see if there were any more decent looking ponds up that way.  Look what I discovered that some busy beavers had built since my last sojourn up here a couple of years ago. 

Who Could Possibly Resist?!?

Guess I’ll have to sample them next week…somebody has to so might as well be me, and maybe I’ll supercharge my angling mojo for the return bout on Trout Creek. I think I’ll need it.

Beaver Pond Recon: The Perfect Antidote For Post-Covid Second Shot Fishing Fever

February 28, 2021

While being a septuagenarian has increasingly few benefits, one major exception is jumping to the head of the line to get the coveted Covid vaccinations.  After scoring my second one last week, I didn’t suffer from any serious side effects–except found myself nursing a mild case of fishing fever in its wake.  No one warned me about that!! What to do??  Fortunately I found the perfect antidote:  A two-hour recon mission scoping out the beaver ponds on a little creek near my cabin just outside Salida, Colorado, that produced some good brownies last spring. 

Spring 2020 Beaver Pond Magic

And with spring just a few weeks away so must the spring thaw that will let this small stream aficionado get on back on the waters he loves.  What I found definitely lifted my spirits but oddly only stoked my fishing fever.  What’s an angler to do??

It was a bright and sunny day when I embarked on my exploratory mission, albeit a brisk 29 degrees at 8,000 feet.

Sunny Day For Beaver Pond Recon

Nevertheless, the first big pond I came to that produced that nice brown trout was already showing some open water! And in the creek up above I even heard and then caught a glimpse of running water!!

A Hint Of Open Water Already!
See That Running Water?!?

To further stoke the fever, a mile upstream I stumbled on a promising series of beaver ponds, replete with a picturesque lodge, that had been hidden by overgrown vegetation last time I was up that way. Got to be some decent fish in there!

Hopefully it won’t be long before I am boasting about my piscatorial acumen accompanied by photographic proof of my beaver pond exploits. To all my fly fishing friends out there, keep the faith—winter is about over!!

Goodbye To A River: A Sweet Afternoon On The Big Ark Near Salida, CO

Late October 2019

For some earlier articles on fishing the Arkansas River, see my posts from late 2018

I was well into packing up for my annual migration to the Florida Everglades for the winter.  The first snow had already fallen, leaves were falling fast, and the wind had been blowing like a banshee all week, making fly fishing a dangerous sport.

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Early October Snow Cools Fishing Fever!

But then as if by magic, the winds relented and the angling gods beckoned, an irresistible siren’s call.   I hadn’t been out on my old home water, the Arkansas River, that flows close by my cabin near Salida, Colorado, since March.  When I moved to Colorado back in the late 80s, the Big Ark was undiscovered.  I could fish all day on a weekend back then and rarely bump into another angler.  But it wasn’t long after that rafting on the river turned into a big business, industrial-style tourism.  Then the state designated the Arkansas as Gold Medal trout water, followed soon thereafter by creation of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.  Both events were the equivalent of putting a big neon sign that said come on over, ye hordes from Denver and recreate.  And they did.

Today Denver has over a million more residents than back then with easier access to Salida, the result being flotillas of rafters, kayaks, SUPs, float fisherman, and other assorted riffraff to drive wade fisherman berserk.

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It’s virtually impossible to find a quiet spot on the river for piscatorial pursuits, even on weekdays.  Now if I am sounding like an old curmudgeon, I plead guilty.  Rant completed.

But suddenly to my wonder, the winds have died down, the water level on the Ark is 275 cfs, perfect for wading but too low for most rafters and kayaks, and the cold weather dipping into the 30s at night has sent fair-weather anglers scurrying to warmer climes.  Now if I can dodge the increasing legions of placer miners on the river and avoid the smoke bellowing down valley from the big Deckers fire, I may find some solitude like the old days and even some fish.

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Beaver Pond Perspicacity: Solving The Puzzle

For another article on beaver pond fishing see my article from late May 2020: https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

July 2019

Per-spi-ca-ci-ty:  The quality of having a ready insight into things; keenness of mental perception; shrewdness

With the epic runoff this year and most rivers and streams blown out till mid-July or later, smart anglers are turning their attention to beaver ponds, many of which remain fishable.  But truth is, beaver ponds can be honey holes any time of the fly fishing season and loads of fun.

They are usually lightly fished and often hold scads of eager fish plus occasional lunkers.  Did I mention the wildlife that abounds around them??

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Close Encounter Of The Moose Kind In Beaver Pond Country

But they can be challenging, often calling for a distinctly different approach than the waters that feed them.

I still remember clearly that first beaver pond I met in Colorado as a novice teenage fly fisherman.  I saw trout rising everywhere in a picture-perfect pond featuring a big beaver lodge in the middle, and promptly spooked them to the next county as I confidently walked up to the shoreline and started casting.  Bass and bluegill never did that in the Kansas farm ponds where I had practiced learning this new art.  Like most small mountain trout waters, stealth is critical, and even more so on the often clear, shallow, and still waters of beaver ponds.  But as experience taught me over time, there is much more to successful beaver pond angling than stealth.  They are not all alike, sometimes differing dramatically on the same creek.  They can also vary radically from year-to-year, sometimes disappearing completely as high flows bust them up or silt fills in the best holding water.

Blown Out Beaver Dam

Here Today…Gone TomorrowHere Today, Gone Tomorrow

Never fear!  Here are some tips on solving the riddle of these unique and intriguing waters that I have gleaned over the years in the school of hard knocks.

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