As a young farmboy in Kansas, I was raised on catching freshwater catfish in the Little Arkansas (ARE-Kansas) River near my hometown. It was easy. When the river was up, the catfish went on the feed and liked the live leapfrogs we suckered them with. But the more I chase snook, reds, and tarpon in saltwater (and just about anything that will bite), the more complicated angling seems to have become. Some days my head spins thinking about how the tides, salinity, wind, moon phase, depth, bait, currents, and time of day are going to affect my next outing fishing inshore and in the backcountry of the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands near Everglades City. Periodic cold fronts that have blasted through the area this winter have made water temperature an even bigger factor, often trumping everything else.
In late December and then again in mid-January air temperatures fell precipitously from the 80s during the day into the low 40s for several nights in a row. That dropped water temperatures into the 50s. On one trip soon after the December cold snap, I saw literally thousands of Oscars and Mayan Cichlids killed on the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve’s East River. The piles of dead fish made for vulture heaven.
Fortunately, I saw only a couple of dead baby tarpon and no snook. However, other angling friends sadly reported seeing dead sportfish in the backcountry as well as manatee.
Mercifully for us snowbirds, a couple of weeks post-cold front, things started to recover. Inshore the fish had the luxury of retreating into deeper water of the Gulf during the frigid weather, and then the tides coming in from the nearby Gulf warmed things up quickly. But in the Everglades backcountry where I like to explore, the story was different. I was surprised to find that a temperature difference of five degrees between 60 and 65 or 65 and 70 in locations not far from one another made a big difference, making fishing a real challenge. The problem was that the temperatures at my launch in Chokoloskee were usually warmer than in the backcountry which made predicting where to go a crap shoot–or even whether I should venture out at all. Here is an example of the conundrum I was grappling with. In early January, my fishing buddy Steve Keeble, drove down from Georgia to thaw out and chase some snook. The water temperature in Chokoloskee Bay was pushing 70 degrees, so things looked good when we plotted our backcountry trip, within the comfort range for snook and redfish according to a handy-dandy temperature table I had cobbled together based on some on-line research.
PREFERRED WATER TEMPERATURE (IN DEGREES)
SPECKLED SEA TROUT
Avoids Temps Below 65
Avoids Temps Below 60
Seeks Deeper Water Below 40
But when we motored into the backcountry in my Gheenoe, we were skunked with nary a bite in one tidal creek where the water temperature was 65 degrees. I was ready to give up but decided to try another nearby creek, and there we found hungry fish, including a big mama snook that Mr. Keeble adroitly landed after some mangrove mayhem–despite the water temperature being just over 60.
After some head scratching, we concluded the difference apparently was depth. The first creek being only three feet deep and the second having narrower channels where the depth was four-to-five feet which gave the fish a sanctuary to retreat to during the earlier cold snap, warmer than the surface temperature. Now the puzzle was how to predict water temperatures in the backcountry more accurately before I headed out.
A few weeks later Mr. Keeble, back north freezing his derrière off, sent me an email that clued me in on a valuable tool that has helped me gain some insights into the water temperature conundrum—an obscure website with the bureaucratically inspired name of National Data Buoy Center (NDBC). A part of NOAA (the federal National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), the center bills itself as “the premier source of meteorological and oceanographic measurements for the marine environment”—and it is! The NDBC maintains hundreds of buoys around the United States.
Fortunately, the NDBC maintains four information gathering sites near Everglades City within Everglades National Park. They are: 1) CNBFI-Cannon Bay, (2) LMRFI—Lostmans, (3)WLFI—Watson’s Place, and (4) WIWFI—Willy Willy. The Willy Willy site is particularly relevant for my backcountry peregrinations because it is farther away from the waters of the Gulf than the other three and located in a tidal creek rather than a wide tidal river or big bay—not a foolproof indicator by any means, but certainly better than flying blind.
Now before any trip into the Everglades backcountry, I open the NDBC web page, click on the four sites, and get the inside skinny on water temperatures and other data. Then when I get to the areas in my motorboat I have decided to explore, I check the water temperature and depth displays carefully on my Garmin Echomap to home in on the most likely spots.
If out in my Hobie Outback kayak, I go more rudimentary, dropping a water thermometer overboard (tied to my yak!) for a temperature reading and extend my collapsible paddle to full length to determine the depth. Temperature is also important in freshwater lakes in the Everglades for tracking down bass and cichlids.
I assiduously record this information in the journal I maintain for every fishing trip which allows me to feed it all into the giant mainframe computer I maintain at home that spits out exact spots to fish next time out with 100% reliability. I wish. But having this information does often provide a leg up and leads me into the likely areas without a lot of fruitless experimenting by hoping from place-to-place.
Things will be different during the summer around Everglades City when the shallow backcountry waters heat up rapidly, exceeding the upper comfort limits of many sportfish. Then the most likely fishing spots will be inshore among and just off the Ten Thousand Islands closer to the cooler waters of the Gulf, but the process of checking the NDBC site will be the same. Of course, all the other variables—tides, wind, currents, moon phase, etc.—have to be factored into the equation….but that’s what makes fishing, and hopefully catching, such fun and provides anglers with ample excuses to get out on the water and figure it all out.
January 2022 dawned sunny and bright, with me salting margaritas down in the Everglades instead of sidewalks in Colorado and, better yet, wrestling snook instead of shoveling snow! Covid was finally in the rearview mirror for the most part and promises for a bountiful piscatorial year are looking good. So how did it turn out? Here’s a look back at the best of 2022 and some bungled episodes as well.
It’s hard to believe that I hadn’t fished in the Everglades–or anywhere in Florida for that matter like the Keys—in the winter for almost two years! Despite that hiatus and fewer articles about fishing in the Sunshine State being posted in 2022, I was grateful my readers stuck with me and that the number of visitors and views stayed steady at the peak levels established in 2020. Many thanks!
Fishing Buddies And Family
As I age (slowly and gracefully), the connections angling brings with fishing buddies and family become ever more important and treasured. I had some fun and productive outings in Florida with Jim Cannon (former owner of the renowned Blue Quill Anglers in Colorado), my Colorado neighbor Charlie Cain, Esq., Steve Keeble, Robert Wayne, Esq. (who lives in Naples, FL), and my old college roomie Morris Douglas Martin.
We had a lot of laughs together while we boated a lot of fish, and better yet, I learned some new tricks and tips from them. You ought to see Cannon and Keeble fly cast from a kayak—impressive! In Colorado during the summer the fish parade continued with good friends Bob Wayne and Steve Spanger as we chased trout in the Colorado wilds. I also enjoyed fishing with new friends Tom Palka, who writes the newsletter for our local Trout Unlimited Chapter, and Kim LeTourneau, an accomplished guide for my local fly shop Ark Anglers who also covers fishing for the Mountain Mail newspaper.
Whether in Florida or in the Rockies, they all had the chutzpah to outfish me!!
In March my son Matthew came down for a week to soak some rays and relax. The day we spent in the Everglades backcountry together warmed this father’s heart. It was a smorgasbord of feisty fish—snook, sea trout, ladies, jacks, and even a gafftopsail catfish that put up a great fight before sliming us when we wrestled with him to remove the hook. The video says it all.
This proud papa was thrilled when Florida Sportsman published a short article in the fall that I wrote about fishing the Tamiami Trail country around Everglades City. It featured a couple of great photos of Matthew and yours truly with some nice snook.
Come summer back in Colorado my little sweetheart granddaughter Aly showed off her casting skills while catching some nice rainbows in a high mountain lake along with her Daddy Matthew. The mile walk in and out to the lake was a great nature hike featuring beautiful wildflowers and a close encounter with a big buck mule deer.
Most Popular Posts And Published Articles
The continuing popularity of a series of five blog posts I penned in 2020 entitled “The Best Fishing Books Of All Time” is remarkable. It garnered over 3,000 views this year and on Google searches for ‘best fishing books’ has become the most popular link on that subject, even outpacing Amazon’s sponsored ads. Take that Zuckerberg!
The most read angling posts, with almost 4,000 views, were again a quartet about finding and fishing for rare Rio Grande Cutthroat trout in southern Colorado. For my latest foray on the fab forks of the Conejos with my photographer Jody Bol, see: https://hooknfly.com/2022/08/15/conejos-river-capers/
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. I have already made plans for a two-week fishing trip to the Florida Keys in late April.
When the weather was uncooperative or the winds howling, I hunkered down and continued to write articles for American Fly Fishing and Florida Sportsman. The article about fishing in South Park, Colorado, was titled “Mission Impossible: Searching For Fish And Solitude.”
It was the lead featured piece in the July issue of American Fly Fishing and focused on finding hidden and remote creeks in the famous valley near Denver, home of the South Platte River, Dream Stream, and other popular waters and lakes that sometimes feature combat fishing. https://hooknfly.com/2022/07/21/south-park-under-the-radar/
Florida Sportsman ran two of my articles in 2022. The first was a fun one in which I discussed the very controversial gar conversion therapy. Under the heading “In Defense Of The Antediluvian Gar,” I stood up for this hard-fighting, oft-underestimated fish while documenting the successful conversion of a tarpon aficionado to gar fishing in the Everglades. https://hooknfly.com/2022/11/19/gar-conversion-therapy/
The second piece, noted above, recounted the variety of angling opportunities along the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami.
Most Rewarding Trips
One of my favorite streams close to home is a remote twenty mile stretch of Grape Creek between Westcliffe and Canon City, Colorado. Over the past decade I have had many memorable trips into the canyon where the creek runs, chasing plentiful and hungry browns and rainbows. But disaster struck a couple of years ago when two giant flash floods only a few weeks apart scoured the canyon and practically wiped out all insect life in the upper reaches. Without food, the fish abandoned the stretches I frequented. After a couple of fruitless trips, I decided to wait a couple of years to see if Grape Creek would recover. Thankfully, it did, and I was rewarded with my biggest trout of the year—a 19-inch brown—during a July trip.
Another trip up the headwaters of the Conejos River high in the mountains of southern Colorado provided some unexpected and mostly pleasant surprises. Exploring the five forks of the Conejos River is on my bucket list. I have had terrific days on the Lake and Adams Fork chasing beautiful, rare Rio Grande Cutthroats. This year I had my eye on fishing the Middle and North Forks, both of which can be reached as they branch off the Upper Conejos River about two miles above Platoro Reservoir. Being remote streams, I expected a plethora of feisty fish including cutthroats that I had found on the nearby Adams Fork. But after pounding the lower reaches of each for an hour, I was beginning to have my doubts. I decided to try one last pool on the Middle Fork that looked particularly inviting and struck a bonanza. On my first cast I watched transfixed as a huge brown trout rose slowly from the depths and inhaled my fly. Then it was off to the races, trying to run down the rascal who had managed to fly by me and head downstream into a brush pile. Somehow I managed to extricate that big brownie and followed that miracle by catching his large mate on the very next cast.
Given that result, I decided I’d better retrace my steps and go up higher on the North Fork. However, I only managed a few small browns on that stretch before it disappeared into a ravine above the valley. Needless to say, I was perplexed. Why so few fish on the Middle and North Forks, albeit big ones on the Middle Fork? The revelation would come as I fished back down on the Upper Conejos below the fork to the trailhead where my SUV was parked. Here on a mile stretch I caught a passel of brown trout, most over 15-inches. The answer?? As confirmed by a local angler at the general store in Platoro, the big fish migrate out of Platoro Reservoir into the Upper Conejos and grow fat and sassy eating all the little guys. Of course, now I must return in 2023 to confirm this theory!
In 2022 I thankfully avoided any scary incidents with moose, mountain lions, sharks and the like that I have had in the past. But the year’s most blood-curdling incident was self-inflicted, with an alligator playing the villain. Normally the many gators I encounter during my trips into the Everglades backcountry bolt at the first sign of my kayak or Gheenoe. Once in a great while a young gator will venture too close when I am catching lots of fish, attracted out of curiosity to all the jumping and splashing. Usually smacking a paddle on the water sends him scurrying for cover. Alligators that are aggressive down here tend to be ones fed by humans, mainly tourists.
My most memorable gator encounter for 2022 took place on a sunny day in March when I took my college buddy Morris on a trip along the historic Loop Road near Everglades City. I figured we would take a break from the serious day-long fishing trips into the backcountry and find some easier targets in the bass and cichlids in the canal along the gravel road as it winds its way through the swamp. The alligators were everywhere. Being teenage boys at heart, we couldn’t resist tossing one of the small fish we caught to a big gator lounging in the slough near a big culvert.
The fish bounced a few feet down the slope but didn’t make it to the water. All of a sudden, the docile reptile came rocketing out of the water at warp speed to gobble down the fish. His momentum carried him up the incline almost onto the road. It must have been comical to watch two old coots scrambling back towards their SUV in utter terror, but thankfully no one was there to record the incident. Lesson relearned: DO NOT FEED THE GATORS!!
The biggest bummer of the year followed in the wake of Hurricane Ian that struck southwest Florida in late September. I had dutifully rigged my Gheenoe, a motorized canoe, under my house on Chokoloskee Island near Everglades City as advised by old salts down here. Following that advice, my boat had survived in good condition a five-foot flood tide that swept over Chokoloskee during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Unfortunately, either because I didn’t insert the bilge plug or the ropes anchoring the boat and trailer to the building pillars were too tight to allow them to float, saltwater surged a couple of feet deep into the boat and destroyed the electrical system.
When I returned to Florida in early November, I took the boat to my local marina in Naples and got the bad news. A month and $5,000 later everything was put back in order, and fortunately the damage was mostly covered by my boat insurance. The big relief was that the motor was undamaged. Whew!
In the category of confusing was an exploratory trip to find brook trout and maybe some cutthroats reputedly swimming in a remote creek in the Colorado high country south of Del Norte. One of the best angling guidebooks for exploring secluded waters around my neck of the woods in Colorado is 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado by Williams and McPhail. They sang the praises of Torsido Creek, a tributary of La Jara Creek south of Del Norte, Colorado. I had fished La Jara Creek below La Jara Reservoir a number of times with great success, so was anxious to explore the upper La Jara and Torsido Creek. After a long and bone-jarring ride over a narrow, bumpy gravel road that hadn’t seen a grader for some time, I made it to the lake and drove to its upper reaches where La Jara Creek flows in. Trouble was, the creek was next to invisible in the expansive meadow above the reservoir, and it wasn’t clear where it was joined by Torsido Creek. To exacerbate matters, I had run off and left my detailed maps of the area in my travel trailer back in Del Norte and the GPS on my cell phone wasn’t working. No worries I thought. Torsido had to be out there somewhere. But after wandering about for almost two hours, marching through muck, dodging a big bull, and clambering over a couple of barbwire fences in my waders, I flew the white flag and turned tail back to my SUV. Fortunately, on the way back I had to cross upper La Jara Creek, and serendipitously where I did some trout were rising. That was the start of an epic afternoon of catching not only some fat, beautiful brook trout, but also some muscular, truculent tiger trout that apparently are stocked in the reservoir and run up the creek to eat. https://hooknfly.com/2022/10/24/taming-the-tigers-of-torsido-and-upper-la-jara-creek-near-del-norte-co/
Not until I got back to camp did I discover the confluence with Torsido Creek is hidden in the gap in a ridge about a quarter mile from where I stopped fishing that day. Darn, guess I will have to schedule a return engagement in 2023!
Persistence Pays Off
Like many things in life, persistence pays off in angling. Two years ago I experienced a particularly humbling experience 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 20 expletives later, 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. Now fast forward to the summer of 2022. I decided to return to the scene of the skunking for a measure of revenge. But this time things looked even worse when I hit the water after navigating the rough road to the Lily Lake trailhead. It was mid-summer, and the brook trout weren’t spawning. Indeed, none of the alluring pools seemed to hold any fish. So after two hours of flailing the water, I started back to the SUV, tail between my legs. Luckily, I had to cross a very narrow, but fast-flowing tributary of the Huerfano in the meadow to the west of the river. As I did, I happened to see what appeared to be a rise at a bend below me in the creek. What the heck, I thought, and threw my fly downstream. It floated a few feet, then was sucked in by what turned out to be a chunky brook trout. So that’s where the little devils were hiding. That was the first of more than a dozen nice brookies from what I have dubbed the West Fork of the Huerfano. You won’t see it named on a map, but believe me, it and the fish are there. Indeed, persistence pays off.
And speaking of stick-to-it-of-ness, a case of avian persistence opened my eyes. I am a confirmed amateur birdwatcher, especially at my mountain cabin in Colorado where a steady cavalcade of western tanagers, evening grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and many others at my birdfeeders provides a steady stream of pleasure. But those bird feeders have also attracted pinon jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers, drawing me into a never-ending battle with these noisy, wily, and voracious, albeit handsome, birds. Imagine their fright when I come storming out on the front porch hurling expletives till the Colorado sky turns even bluer. I did some research on-line to see if there were any better strategies to deal with these smart, raucous marauders, and in the process learned that because of habitat loss, notably destruction of pinyon trees they rely on for food, and climate change, these iconic western birds are declining precipitously.
Indeed, one report estimated the pinyon jays have declined 85% of the past 50 years and that there are only 700,000 left worldwide (versus 8 billion humans)! All of this made me realize I need to focus closer to home on saving the world. That will mean nurturing the pinyon trees already growing on my land and planting new ones. It will also mean biting my tongue when the raiders come to my bird feeders and dutifully hanging another suet cake when they take their leave. My thanks to them for their persistence and opening my eyes.
On The Horizon: Looking Forward to 2023
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 months 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 not to mention a 33-inch leviathan out in my Gheenoe with buddy Steve Keeble in the New Year!
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! Fishing some remote islands in the Florida Keys is also on the agenda.
On the writing front, my article on fishing the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in the Everglades is scheduled for publication soon in an issue of Florida Sportsman to be followed by a piece on the top ten tackle, gear, and techniques tips for kayak anglers in the Everglades. On the trout side, American Fly Fishing will carry an article this spring about my adventures this past summer on La Garita and Carnero Ceeks, two remote high-country streams in Colorado, to be followed later in the year by shorter pieces on upper La Jara and Tarryall Creeks, also in Colorado.
In the keep it under your hat category, I am also in initial negotiations with Kevin Kostner for a new TV series now that it looks as if he’s dropping out of “Yellowstone.” It will tentatively be called “Tales of a Zombie Fisherman” and will be based on my 2022 shenanigants on Halloween night when I went trick-or-treating with my favorite little witch Aly. Stay tuned!!
Of course, I will chase some trout with my sweetheart Aly and find Torsido Creek at long last.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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.