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!!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

December 2021

I hope the holiday season finds you hale and hearty.  Needless to say it’s been an unusual and challenging year for everyone.  But in the midst of all the turmoil, I am thankful for all the blessings and good times 2021 brought as well.  I treasure the memories of four in particular.

First was the unexpected opportunity to spend so much time with my little sweetheart granddaughter Aly in Denver.  Like many grandparents, daycare duty called me in the fall of 2020 and continued until June.  I was so lucky to get to spend two days a week together with Aly in what she called “grandpa days.”   There was a lot of playground and trampoline time, hiking, playing games, and of course sessions with Barbie and Ken dolls before and after her afternoon preschool. 

Then when her school summer break began in June she got to spend a week with me in the mountains at my cabin, just the two of us.  The trip started with a visit to a “haunted” ranch house in a state park on the way followed by a dip in a local outdoor hot springs, one of her favorite things to do.  The next day she showed off her angling skills catching three trout at a nearby lake which was followed up with a trek to the alligator farm/reptile recovery center just over the mountain pass in the San Luis Valley. 

There she fed the big tortoises and held an alligator (a little one) with Grandpa for a quick pix.  After the gator caper we splashed around in the warm shallow creek flowing through Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

To top off each day Aly choreographed a marshmallow roast.  In between adventures we frolicked around in the little creek that flows by the cabin and put together new Lego sets from the local toy store.

After the aspen leaves began to fall, I decided it was time to take the road home to Kansas where I hadn’t visited for almost two years.  On the way, I stayed with my old fraternity roommate one night and traded stories of our college hijinks. Then it was on to my little hometown of Buhler, a Mennonite farming community.  There I got to see my cousins, one of whom is the last farmer in the family, drive by the house I was raised in, tend to the family plot, and stopover at the old farmstead few miles outside of town.  The highlight was a visit to the Mennonite farm museum in a nearby town where I stopped in to see the old 1934 Ford V8 wheat truck I drove as a kid in the ‘60s during harvest.  It’s pictured on the card.  I had the truck renovated back in the ‘90s and donated it to the museum.  I was so happy to see it in great shape, still running, and being used in museum events.  The museum director told me it was her favorite display. 

The grand finale of the year was a week-long trip with my son Matthew, Aly, and Grandma Jan to visit my son Ben and his wife Sara in their wonderful new digs in Las Vegas.  It was a great family gathering. We had a tasty Thanksgiving dinner followed by a trip to the Strip to see the fabulous Christmas decorations at the Bellagio.  We walked off some of the calories the next day with a hike in the stunning Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  What a treat to explore this beautiful desert landscape and spend so much time with the entire family.

In between these memorable times, I continued to write for angling magazines like American Fly Fishing and Florida Sportsman, publishing several articles including one entitled “Insect Armageddon” that chronicled the threats to aquatic insects and trout brought about by climate change. https://hooknfly.com/2021/03/04/anglers-it-better-bug-you-the-coming-insect-armageddon/

I also enjoyed speaking to three dozen judges at a National Judicial College conference in California on land use and environmental law. My blog “hooknfly.com” continued to be rewarding, connecting me with new friends and readers across the USA and around the globe.

I’ll be heading to Florida in January for the season and am looking forward to 2022 with great hopes for all mankind.  Wishing you a peaceful holiday and the best for the New Year.

The Florida Glades Beckon

October 2019

It’s been a wonderful summer and fall with family and friends in Colorado. The trout have been more than cooperative. A lot of good memories etched.

But the arrival today of little slate-colored juncos at my cabin to be followed tomorrow by sub-zero temps and snow signals it’s time to think about island time in the Florida Glades…and soon! Then again maybe time for a couple more backcountry outings before I hit the road.

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Thanks Readers And Friends!!

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

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

Day 2.5 Of The Tomichi Creek Trifecta: Exploring The Headwaters (near Gunnison, CO)

I am always on the lookout for a new, scenic, out-of-the-way creek overlooked and rarely visited by other anglers, where there is solitude and hungry fish.  But sometimes the little gems are hiding in plain sight.  That’s the case with the upper reaches of Tomichi Creek, just over Monarch Pass from my cabin near Salida, Colorado.  I have hustled by the creek many times on the way to fish fabled waters like the Gunnison River or my favorite backcountry streams like Cochetopa Creek.  As you come bombing down the twisty, turny U.S. 50 from one of the highest paved vehicle passes in the USA, you descend into a lovely valley where gorgeous little Tomichi Creek flows through private ranchland–visible and within a stone’s throw of this major highway.  But awhile back on my way to Cochetopa Creek, I noticed a sign on a fence along the highway declaring special access, so I turned around and took a look.  I was surprised to find that the Colorado State Land Board owns a full section along the road called Daley Gulch near the hamlet of Sargents, and it was open to fishing.  I tucked away that information till a year later when I was hankering for a mid-week trout fix but had to be back home for a conference call by 4 p.m.  Oh those pesky clients!  I figured if I left early and was on the water by 8:30 a.m. I could fish till 1 or 2 p.m. and make it back to the office with ease.  Now this was admittedly a long shot–a little like the Trifectas and Daily Doubles I used to bet on at Arlington Park in Chicago.  The creek is very small as it flows through Daley Gulch, and with public access so close to a major highway I expected it probably got plenty of pressure.  But with high hopes, that evening I rigged two rods, got the waders and boots out, set the alarm, and hit the rack with chubby trout dancing in my head.

Day 1:  Daley Double On Tomichi Creek–See my July 2016 article on fishing Tomichi Creek at Daley Gulch 

Day 2:  Tomichi Creek:  Hidden In Plain Sight—The Lower Canyon Section—See my June 2018 article on fishing Tomichi Creek below Sargents, Colorado.  

Day 2.5:  Exploring The Tomichi Creek Headwaters 

After a good half-day of angling for scrappy brown trout in the canyon stretch of Tomichi Creek below Sargents, Colorado, I decide to drive up to the headwards—about 9 miles north of the town.  The colorfully named U.S. Forest Service Snowblind Campground is my destination for a late lunch before I explore the upper reaches of the creek.

The turnoff for County Road 888 is just over a mile north of Sargents off of U.S. 50.  Then it’s a scenic drive through the Cross Bar Ranch, a well-tended working spread.  I nearly bump into a momma cow and her calf as I salivate over the picturesque creek wending its way through the valley.

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How Now Black Cow?!

The ranch is reportedly owned by a millionaire businessman out of Miami, and there is no fishing access for the public until you reach the campground, about nine miles from the U.S. 50 turnoff.

The pavement ends about three miles up followed by six miles of a decent gravel road.  The county road crosses Tomichi Creek just before it reaches the campground.  Up here at about 9,000 feet elevation, it is rollicking little mountain freestone water, with canyon walls starting to pinch in and spruce and pines covering the slopes.

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Tomichi Creek Headwaters Fishing Starts At Snowblind Campground

The campground is a so-called “primitive” one because it has only vault toilets and water.  No 50 amp hookups for those roughing it in 40-foot RVs!  But a nice little travel trailer or tent would be just perfect in this well-laid out facility.  The bonus is that Tomichi Creek runs right through the middle.  There were plenty of open sites this day, so I got get one right next to the creek for my lunch break.

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Attractive Snowblind Campground Is A Good Base To Explore The Tomichi Creek Headwaters

Very relaxing and just what I needed after the ordeal of having to land all those fish earlier in the day.

After lunch I reconnoiter upstream.  A mile or so up the road I pass the well-tended White Pine cemetery then in another mile the former ghost town of White Pine, now a little village of summer homes.

There is a lot of history up here, mostly related to mining.  Silver was discovered in 1878, and a boom let to the creation of White Pine, named for the dense stands of pine on the surrounding slopes.  The boom peaked in 1884 when the town had almost 1,000 people, a newspaper, three saloons and several hotels.

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Hearty Miners Of White Pine

It’s hard to imagine all that development shoehorned into this cramped valley.  Indeed the tough topography made building a challenge and transportation in and out a travail , not to mention deadly avalanches.  When the Silver Panic hit in 1893, White Pine soon became a ghost down.  There was a revival in the early 1900s when the Akron Mining Company drove an almost mile-long tunnel into nearby Lake Hill and pulled out coal and zinc.  The mine continued in operation until the 1950s, supplying critical metals like zinc, lead, and copper in two World Wars.  When the mine closed, White Pine again faded.

Of course what got left behind was a legacy of pollution and scars upon the land, a story repeated throughout Colorado and the West.  Toxic sediment from a huge pile of waste rock and mine tailings  that abutted the creek near White Pine for years damaged the trout population in the Tomichi.  Downstream the Tomichi Mill site on the stream was also heavily polluted.

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Mine Tailings Along Creek

The fish—browns and brookies—were still there, somehow managing to survive, but the long-term future of any aquatic life in the upper Tomichi was dim.  That is until the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. EPA teamed with other agencies and Colorado Trout Unlimited in 2015 to clean things up.  This award-winning $1.5 million major earth-moving and remediation project, has recently been successfully completed and things are looking up and the results are promising.  The photos below depict the heavy earth moving required and before and after conditions.  (These project photos are from an excellent 2017 article on the remediation efforts by Jason Willis, the Trout Unlimited project manager, available on-line.).

Not that things are completely hunky dory.  When I start to explore a promising stretch of the creek below White Pine, I find very few bugs in the water—almost no mayfly nymphs and a few caddis nymphs here and there.  Further downstream around Sargents the predominant bug is still the caddis which can withstand pollution better than mayflies, indicating that heavy metal pollutants are likely still present courtesy of the upstream mines.  But the fish are there in the headwaters, as witnessed by electroshocking done prior to the remediation project.

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Pre-project Electroshocking Results Shocked The Shockers:  Big Brownie

This is no stream for beginners, especially between the campground and White Pine.  Rarely will you flip a cast longer than the length of your leader.  The creek is mostly fast-moving water with tiny pockets where the fish hide.

My first little brownie flashed out lickety-split to nail my #16 Royal Coachman Trude, but any bushy high-floater will do.  I also get one on a small #18 green hotwire caddis nymph trailing a foot under the dry—any longer dropper will just result in more snags in the willows and assorted trees and brush crowding the creek.

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Patience And Persistence Will Be Rewarded

You will get snagged and probably break off a fly or two, and you will be tempted to scream epithets, but it is still fun.  And just remember there are some sizable brownies that rarely see a fly hiding underneath the thicket.  Did I mention there are also several miles of beaver ponds on Tomichi Creek above White Pine that I have yet to explore….let me know how you do!

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Big Beaver Ponds Upstream From White Pine:  Big Trout Hangouts??