Greetings and my best to all my friends and readers for a great 2019!! It’s been a very fulfilling and fun year writing my blog. 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. Given the current state of politics in the country and multiple threats to our environment and natural resources, it’s more important than ever to take a stand and do whatever we can to protect Mother Nature.
An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world—readers from over 60 countries. As of Dec. 31, the blog has had over 40,000 views and 16,000 visitors, a 50% increase over 2017.
Now it’s easy to figure out why most of my readers are from English-speaking countries, but who am I to ask why someone from the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Brazil, or Turkey would take a look.
As the year comes to a close, I found it enlightening and gratifying to look back on the best, the bummers, and the blood-curdling moments of 2018 from a piscatorial perspective. Here you go….
My annual birthday backcountry fishing trip continues, this time with a trek into the upper La Garita Wilderness to fish the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek high along the Colorado Trail. The last couple of summers I have explored the stretches below and above the Eddiesville Trailhead that leads into the wilderness and had a blast catching lots of frisky browns and brook trout (See my July 2015 article on fishing Cochetopa Creek for more detail.). But what really intrigued me was when I bumped into another angler on one of those trips who claimed there were some big cutthroats higher in the wilderness area, beyond the first mile I had hiked up into. Now we all know that, present company and readership excepted, anglers are a mendacious lot, obscuring secret spots and misdirecting others to barren waters. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist as the tale had a ring of truth to it.
So I am on the road at 7 a.m. from my mobile fish camp at Dome Lake high above Gunnison, Colorado, for the 20-mile, hour-long drive to the Eddiesville Trailhead.
It rained last night, a godsend in the midst of this terrible drought, and at least the dust has settled on Forest Service 794, a wash-boardy, circuitous gravel road that crosses several creeks on the way.
I pass an historic marker that reminds me I am on an old 1874 toll stage route that navigated over the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide to the gold mines in the remote San Juan Mountains miles and miles to the west. Just when I think I am quite the adventurer the sign serves notice that I shrink in comparison to the hearty, tough souls who trail-blazed here years ago. It’s hard to comprehend how they built this road hundreds of miles by hand with mules and horses over this rough terrain. It was supposed to become a rail line, but was eclipsed by other equally daunting routes to the north and south.
It’s an endlessly scenic route, with the pyramid of Stewart Peak a prominent landmark looming in the distance and grand vistas revealed at every bend in the road.
However, when I make the first ford over Pauline Creek, I am aghast to find that it’s barely a trickle. Then I cross Perfecto, and find one of my little favorites is actually dry!! As I make my way up higher, Chavez Creek is almost dry, and while Nutras is gurgling along fairly well, Stewart Creek appears to have given up the ghost. Will Cochetopa have any water???
As soon as I arrive at the trailhead, I bail out of my SUV and hightail it to the nearest overlook… and breathe a sigh of relief. Cochetopa appears to have a decent flow, certainly enough to float a trout. So I pull on my waders and wading boots and set out on the hike up into the wilderness.
I intersect Cochetopa Creek after about 1.3 miles. It looks beautiful in the morning light, with perfect temperatures and just a light breeze greeting me. The fishing gods are smiling on me.
After a brief breather and a tremendous display of willpower to refrain from jumping in the creek and start fishing, I continue another mile into the wilderness, hoping I have ventured far enough to run into some cutthroats.
When the valley narrows, and trail veers away from the creek, I bushwhack down the slope to the creek and break out just below a sweet-looking little stretch where the water emerges from a willow tunnel and plunges over a small boulder into an alluring pool. I have seen a few grasshoppers in the meadow above, and when I check under rocks in the stream, I find them chock full of small mayflies and a few caddis nymph cases.
So I tie on a #16 Royal Coachman Trude, my old reliable, to imitate the hopper and a #18 Two-Bit Hooker as a fake mayfly nymph. I am using a nine-foot, five-weight rod I find performs well in these small creeks when a big fish hits and runs for snags under the banks. It will soon prove its mettle.
On my very first cast just below the boulder, a substantial fish flashes out and nails the trude. He proceeds to dive under the boulder and gyrates off the hook. Hmmm…looked suspiciously like a cutthroat, so maybe the guy wasn’t pulling my leg last summer. I flip another cast towards the boulder, and am fast onto another decent fish on the nymph. But this one is a brookie.
A couple of casts later, I score a double—two brookies, one on the dry and one on the dropper. Maybe I was only imagining that first one looked like a cutt. Anyway, that double signals what will be an epic century-club day, landing and releasing dozens and dozens of eager fish who act like they haven’t had a meal in weeks.
Fortunately, only a couple of pools later the truth emerges, and I am smiling. I land a beautiful cutt—not a big one, but hope springs eternal.
As I work upstream, I find the best bets are the pools gouged out by the rushing creek below blown out beaver dams. Indeed, the first one I come to I see a trout feeding.
I sneak into position, launch a long cast, and SLURP, he sucks in the trude. I can tell immediately from his flashy colors that it’s a good cutthroat. After a respectable to-and-fro battle, he slides into my net, pushing fourteen inches. A quick release is followed by a celebratory jig on the bank! Yahoo!!
The further I move upstream, the more the cutts predominate. Sometimes the stunning scenery detracts me from the mission at hand, but I snap out of the daze at the next run below another blown-out beaver pond. There I spy a good-sized trout sucking down mayflies in the quiet water below. On my first cast, he studiously ignores the dry, but on the next, can’t resist the nymph. The pool explodes as the finned critter realizes he’s been pranked with a fake. To my surprise and elation, it’s a nice brown trout—completing another La Garita slam (See my July 2018 articles on fishing Saguache Creek in the La Garita Wilderness just over the Continental Divide a few miles.). It turns out to be the only brownie I catch all day, a bit odd since only a mile downstream the browns are plentiful.
It’s snack time, so I sit on the bank and soak some rays while taking in the picturesque setting. But not for long! I see on my GPS there are some big beaver ponds just ahead, so gird for battle. Beaver ponds are always an interesting, and often frustrating, challenge. I sneak up on the first one and peek over the dam. It’s a gorgeous big pond, with trout dimpling the surface in every direction. It doesn’t take long before I am fast onto a frisky little brook trout, followed by many others.
I continue to cast to risers, with long throws often required. But what fun, including a couple more doubles.
And as I emerge from behind the dam and skirt the shoreline, I spot some foot-long plus brookies cruising the shallows just below the creek inlet. I throw another long cast at a big boy in the crystal clear water, and he jets over to nail it before the little tykes can grab his meal. Another good tussle and quick release.
After my beaver pond delight, I continue upstream, catching more 12-13 inch cutts and brookies. When I finally glance at my watch, I’m surprised it’s almost four o’clock. Maybe time for another pool or two, but I can’t tarry long because it’s at least an hour back to the SUV and another to the mobile fish camp.
Around the next bend I find yet another blown-out beaver pond with a nice deep pool below. As I creep into casting position, I spook some small trout at the bottom end of the pool, so decide to loft a long cast over them before they tattle on me to their brethren.
And no sooner does the trude alight on the water than something big inhales it. The fish thrashes and churns the pool, but finally comes to the nest, a handsome 15-inch cutthroat, the biggest of the day.
The cutt quietly poses for a quick photo and soon is finning his way back to his hideaway. I am thankful once again for having brought a five-weight rod with enough backbone to throw long casts as well as handle the big fish in tight quarters filled with snags.
I can see some more pools upstream that cry out to be sampled, but resist the urge and head back to the trailhead. Fortunately it’s a fairly flat hike, perfect for a newly-anointed septuagenarian. Next year I’ll venture up even further into the wilderness to check it out those pools and beyond…assuming the old body holds up!
When fly fishing, nothing is more fun than watching a hungry trout zip from a hiding place to nail a dry fly with a showy splash on the surface—except maybe if you are using TWO dry flies, and the fish is in trouble from seeing double which means double the fun for the angler!
But there aren’t many times when double dries really work, one tied to the other, trailing behind a couple of feet. On bigger waters, the current will inevitably mess things up, dragging one fly too fast or dunking the other. Which is a sure sign to the trout of a fraudulent bug! But I discovered it’s the perfect technique on Archuleta Creek, a little sister tributary to Cochetopa Creek, high in a mountain valley 20 miles southeast of Gunnison, Colorado. (See my earlier articles about Cochetopa creek in 2015.)
The stretch of Archuleta Creek I have my sights on today is a tailwater below Lower Dome Lake, a
state wildlife area with primitive camping facilities. Being a tailwater that draws its flow from the surface of the lake, the creek’s temperature is warmer and fairly constant, and the water very fertile. It has an abundance of aquatic vegetation, which is good for growing bugs and for hiding trout, but not so good for the typical rig I and most trout anglers use these days—a dry fly on top with a nymph tied onto the dry that sinks and trails behind. It’s a deadly combo that gets fish on top and down below (where fish feed most of the time)…except in places like Archuleta Creek which is shallow and where a sinking nymph will pick up a lot of moss and other detritus or just plain snag on streambed rocks. Which can lead to extreme consternation and blue language against a blue sky.
Archuleta Creek trout are partial to very small flies, feasting on tiny mayflies, caddis, and midges that hatch throughout the summer on most days. I’m talking microscopic—size 20-24. Flies this small are extremely hard to see, especially if floating against the bank in a foam line, if you are looking into the sun in the afternoon, or it’s cloudy. In other words, most of the time. For me, the savior on Archuleta Creek and others like it has been to tie a bright yellow strike indicator—a piece of yellow yarn—a couple of feet above the fly so I have a general idea where the little thing is which allows me to set the hook more quickly when a trout sucks in the dry fly. Sometimes the trout will even strike the yarn!! Which got me to thinking, why not use a larger dry fly as a strike indicator, in this case a size 16 green parachute grasshopper pattern to imitate one of the hordes of hoppers buzzing about the meadow here in August. It would be easy to see with that big white parachute top and floats like a battleship.
Now I am off to test my new rig and theory on Day 1 of a five-day stay in my mobile fish camp parked at Upper Dome Lake, formed by a big rock and earth dam across Archuleta Creek. Let the experiment begin!!
I am always on the lookout for a backcountry creek, preferably in a remote canyon or wilderness area, featuring great scenery, abundant wildflowers, and eager trout. I love that feeling of discovering an untrammeled piece of our planet Earth or at least one that is very lightly trodden.
I have had my eye on a little stream called Perfecto Creek and its partner Chavez Creek since last summer when I crossed over them to fish the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness Area south of Gunnison, Colorado. With a name like Perfecto, how can one resist?? Where the gravel U.S. Forest Service road crosses over, it’s barely a rivulet, but I spied some big inviting beaver ponds not too far below. And with some topographical map and GIS sleuthing, I find that just a mile down downstream Perfecto is joined by Chavez Creek then paired up they descend into a canyon on the way to a rendezvous with Pauline Creek (See my article on Pauline Creek from 2015.). That may mean enough water to float some decent-sized trout.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like the autumn leaves.” John Muir
Day 3: Today I sleep late to recuperate from Day Two’s long hours on the water, the two mile hike back to the SUV, then the hour-long 4WD trek to camp. With plenty of good winks, I am ready to explore some new water, and as things start to warm up around 9 a.m., head out to the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness area. It’s about an hour’s drive on Forest Service 794, a wash-boardy, circuitous gravel road that ends at the boundary of the wilderness area.
Enroute, I cross over a handful of alluring little creeks—Pauline (hardly a trickle, but I’ll fish it downstream tomorrow and have a great day—see the entry entitled “The Pleasures of Pauline.”), Perfecto (aptly named, pristine and sprinkled with good-looking beaver ponds), and Nutra (more beaver ponds). It’s a challenge not to stop and sample. I am surprised to see a sign saying I am on an old 1874 toll stage route that navigated over the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide to the gold mines in the remote San Juan Mountains miles and miles to the west. Just when I think I am quite the adventurer, I see a prompt like this that reminds me of what hearty, tough souls those trail-blazers were. It’s hard to comprehend how they built this road hundreds of miles by hand with mules and horses over this rough terrain. It was supposed to become a rail line, but was eclipsed by other equally daunting routes to the north and south.