Birthday Fishing Trip Part Deux: Grizzled Grandpa Garners Rare Double

Late July 2020

For Part One Of My Annual Birthday Fishing Trip, see:

It has been my tradition over the last decade to take a solo multi-day fishing trip into the Colorado backcountry to celebrate my birthday.  Helps clear the mind and get back closer to nature and the beauty of the world.  This year I set up my mobile fish camp near a high-mountain lake and fished some old standby streams and some new waters for five days.  To make things interesting and test my angling skills, I always try on one day to catch and release as many fish as my years on the planet.  As my years pile up, it becomes more of a challenge.  But this year, my first day out was a smashing success, and I was able to reach my piscatorial goal and even exceed it while scoring a nice slam—cutthroat, brown, and brookie in one day.  OK, OK I won’t mention that monster cutthroat that got off . He was aided by a rascally brookie that helped him escape by hitting the trailing dropper on my two fly-rig while the big boy was cavorting about with my dry in his mouth.  At least I landed the little brookie!

Now the pressure is off and I can relax even a little more on my second day out.  I’m on the road early for the long drive to the trailhead.  The temperature outside is a balmy 38 degrees.  The weather report is for the monsoon rains to abate today, but as I drive down the bumpy gravel road the rain is spitting on my windshield, and dark clouds are hanging low over the nearby ridges.  Suddenly, however, as the sun begins to peek through, the clouds start to lift and a blazing, big rainbow appears.  Got to be some big trout at the end of that rainbow!

Somewhere Over The Rainbow…

By 8 a.m. I’m at the canyon rim overlooking the small creek that I have never sampled, far in the backcountry.  I scouted it out last summer, but this time around the hike down looks a little more daunting.  Could be my knees talking.  But then I see a few cows in the meadow below and figure if they can scramble down so can I.  After a little searching along the rim I find their narrow path that snakes down to the valley floor. 

The Cowpath To Paradise

Once I get about halfway I see I can detour to a gentler slope that emerges at a series of beautiful serpentine bends in the creek that shout “trout!”

I stow my lunch box under some bushes and take off downstream with my new Temple Fork BVK rod that the company was gracious enough to offer me as a replacement when I lost the top section of my favorite TF Lefty Kreh rod when bushwhacking along another stream back in June.  It’s an ultra-light, 4# fast-action 8.5 foot fly rod made out of some new high-tech graphite, weighing less than three ounces.  It has the power to make long casts that are often required in small creeks when the water is skinny and  ample backbone to handle bigger fish in tight quarters when they bolt for brush in undercut banks.  I’m rigged under a 5X leader with my old reliable #16 Royal Coachman Trude as the dry with a #18 Tung Teaser that worked well yesterday trailing a couple of feet below on 5x leader material. 

My aim is to walk downstream about a mile and work my way back up for lunch, then after lunch explore upstream.  Of course who can resist taking a couple of casts in the alluring pools on the way down.  Certainly not I!  The first one, a big pool at a serpentine bend in the creek, I approach carefully from below.  While the water is at a decent level—maybe 20 cfs—it is very clear so any careless wading will quickly alert the fish.  The water is shockingly cold as it was yesterday so happy I am wearing some waist-high waders that are made for hiking.  I make a cast off to the side of the current to get a feel for the new rod and BAM! nice brownie slams the dry.  He’s a fat 13-incher that will be the typical catch today. 

I take one more fish then decide I better get back to the mission.  I am aiming for a beautiful pinnacle that juts up downstream from the valley floor in the distance.  I’ve gone about a half mile when I hear cattle moowing then start to see a steady stream of them going the opposite direction from me.  Then more and more bellowing and finally I hear a whinny. A cowboy soon appears with two border collies.  I’m in the middle of a full-fledged cattle drive!!  After the cattle pass the rugged looking old cowboy and I chew the fat for a while. 

He apologizes for interrupting my fishing, but I tell him I’m headed further down.  I tell him I know, having been raised on a farm in Kansas with some cows, how tough a job it is tending the critters.  He smiles and answers he agrees but wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world—lets him be in the great outdoors every day.  I tip my hat to this sign of the Old West as he trots off. 

As I proceed downstream I stumble on the site of what I am told is one of the cowboys’ favorite pastimes when they take a break from the trail—a cow pie Frisbee field.  I am told tossing and catching these enormous organic Frisbees is a true physical feat and I can see why. 

Cowboy Frisbee Equipment

Unfortunately these contests have been temporarily banned here in Colorado due to Covid19.  Maybe next time I’ll get to see the real thing.

In other 15 minutes I’m at the palisades and am greeted by a swarming flight of cliff swallows.  I soon see why—they have created dozens of little mud houses on the sheer cliff.  Talk about homes with a view! 

It’s a treat to watch them wheeling and dealing in the air, then returning to the nests to feed their young.  I decide to start fishing in a nice run a little further down the faint trail and immediately catch a couple of browns, then just as I am congratulating myself on my piscatorial perspicacity I hook and lose near the shoreline what looks to be a 16” plus cutthroat. 

Nice Runs And Pools Below Palisades

For the next couple of hours I proceed back upstream, catching two or three fish out of every likely spot—most are 12-13” fat and healthy brownies with an occasional 14-incher. About half are on the dry and half on the numph. Some of the larger ones are in the shallows warming themselves in the bright sun, and the fish get bigger as I work back up.  I score a couple of doubles—two fish on one cast, one on each fly.  One double results in a wild fight as the fish are both 13 inches and have a mind to go in opposite direction.  I get several browns that go 14-inches, then just before lunch see one rising tight against the bank just below where a nub of brush sticks out in the run.  I kneel and make a perfect cast upstream in the current, and as the fly whirls past the little protrusion a big brownie rises like an apparition and gently sips in the fly.  I’m mesmerized watching the take, but finally snap to it and set the hook.  All hell immediately breaks loose as the big brownie jets upstream with me in hot pursuit—this old coot stills has some wheels!  He reaches some rapids at the head of the pool and immediately reverses course and jets by me the other way.  He heads back to his hideout in the undercut bank that is loaded with snags, but my rod is up to the task, and I’m able to horse him away from danger.  A minute later after a great tussle, I slide him to the shoreline. 

15-Inch Brownie Caps Good Morning

I think this is a good conclusion to a great morning, and my stomach is making noises, so I walk up to a nearby big rock formation with overhanging ledges that offer some shelter from the bright sun, the temperature now pushing 75 degrees. 

Ledges At Foot Of Rock Formation Provide Shady Lunch Spot

Now to get my lunch.  Fifteen minutes later I am still looking for that pesky lunch box.  I start to think maybe some animal got it or that a stealthy cowboy is now feasting on my victuals.  I thought I knew exactly the bush I stowed it under, but how they are looking all the same.  Finally after walking a quarter mile back downstream I spot a little bit of red under a bush that I walked right by earlier in the morning.  There it is! Note to file:  Tag the bush or tree where lunch is hidden in shade with short piece of bright orange construction tape.

Lunch is a relaxing affair under the ledge.  When I finish I lounge for another 15 minutes rerigging my flies, substituting a caddis nymph with sparkling mylar ribbing for the Tung Teaser and then kicking back and watching the puffy cumulus clouds drifting overhead.  It’s an activity that every angler should engage in a few times each season.  Makes you feel like a kid again and helps recharge the batteries.  Can you see the cloud that looks like a happy elephant??

Laughing Elephant Cloud Formation

I’m back on the stream around 2 p.m. and fish till 3:30.  It’s hot now by mountain standards—and the water has warmed a tad.  I have good steady action and get a couple more nice muscular 14-inch browns and several surprise cutthroats. 

Nice Afternoon Brownies

Finally I say to myself for the fifth time, this is the last pool.  No sooner does my fly alight then the water explodes in a double hit.  It’s utter mayhem as the two trout dash up and down the pool.  Usain Bolt would have been proud of my speed scurrying up and down the shoreline, splashing as I go.  When the duo finally come to the net I am amazed to see that the two fish I have caught are different species—one a brown and the other a cutt, both about 13 inches.  While doubles are not uncommon, even on small stream, they are still unusual and a pleasant surprise.  But in all my years of fishing, this is a first, a real rarity—two different kinds on one cast.

Brownie-Cutthroat Double Caps Great Day

With a smile, I release the two beauties and think what better way to end the day.  Also as I check the sky out, I see the cumulus clouds are starting to bunch up and darken.  Time to start the hike out which turns out not to be as bad as I anticipated. 

Up Up And Away We Go

My wading staff helps me weave back and forth across the steep slope, and then I hit the cattle trail to speed to the top.  Huffing and puffing, I come out a few hundred yards from my SUV and pause to look back into the canyon. 

Homeward Bound

It’s been another fabulous birthday trip adventure replete with lots of fish, great scenery, and solitude–with a little excitement thrown in being in the middle of a cattle drive.  I am already thinking about my next outing on little Nutras Creek, one of the few I haven’t explored in the La Garita Wilderness area.  I’ll take one day off to rest the old body then off I go again!!  Join me!

A Sleuthing Challenge: Where In the World is Shambala Creek?

“Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind

On the way to Shambala

How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala

–3 Dog Night

Late August 2017

Last summer I stumbled on the proverbial angler’s Elysium—a hidden creek with big trout tucked away in a mountain valley deep in a Rocky Mountain wilderness area.  For weeks I had studied maps, taken a gander at all sorts of trail and fishing guides, and chewed the fat at local fly fishing shops to ferret out this little jewel.  Then in September, armed with all this intelligence, I strapped on my day pack and struck out to see if whispered tales of leviathans in that tiny creek were true.  As I descended into the narrow gorge, I was treated to a scene right out of the Lost Horizon, James Hilton’s novel and Frank Capra’s film about a secret utopia in the Himalayas where peace reigned and people didn’t age.  The low-scudding clouds suddenly parted to reveal a green nirvana with a beautiful stream coursing down it, bending and tumbling through meadow and canyon stretches upstream. img_9234

The Lost Horizon reputedly drew on Buddhist lore of a mythical, pure kingdom called Shambala whose reality is spiritual as much as physical.  I felt that spiritual feeling as I wended my way down the switchbacks into the lush, broad first meadow.   That day the sun shown, the fishing for outsize trout epic, and my spirit was calm and content.  As I hiked out late in the afternoon, crossing the two fords of feeder creeks, I vowed to return to what I dubbed Shambala Creek.

Now almost a year later I’m saddling up for a horse pack trip back to Shambala Creek with my erstwhile fishing buddy, Bob Wayne.  We have a lot in common.  Bob is a recovering attorney like myself, and lives just across the road from me in the Everglades.  Like me, he loves the outdoors and chasing sport fish both in fresh and saltwater.  Bob is one of the most astute fly fishermen and accomplished fly casters I have plied the waters with.  On the other hand, we are a tad dissimilar in other ways.  He was born in the East and hasn’t been on a camping trip in 40 years (That might explain the big pack of baby wipes in his gear bag, six big apples for what he called digestive roughage, a $250 Thermarest camping mattress, and a his own personal tent to accommodate his sleeping needs!). We make a nice Mutt and Jeff pair with me at 6’3″ and Bob about 5’10” in his elevator shoes.

Bob is a bundle of nerves as he mounts his steed, a mule named Nelson.  According to the apocryphal tales Bob recounts, he has never met a horse who hasn’t bit, bucked, or trampled him.  Fortunately Nelson proves to be a gentle sort, and soon Bob is imitating Roy Rogers as he canters around the trailhead like an Olympic equestrian.

Bob Wayne And His Trusty Steed Nelson

We are on the trail with our mountain of gear and outfitter by 10 a.m. and arrive at 12:30 at a commodious camp site I spotted last year, only a stone’s throw from the creek that will act as our water source and refrigerator for the libations we have toted to the high country.  By 3:30 the tents are up, gear stowed, and we are headed to the first deep pool just upstream from our camp.


The rocks in the creek are super slippery, so after fording a feeder stream, we cross the creek and bushwhack up the overgrown far shoreline, growling at the snatching spruce and wild rose bushes.  Finally we stumble through an opening in the thicket and emerge just below the honey hole I took three big trout of last year. We creep up slowly and what we spy makes our eyes bulge.  A leviathan is slurping down big mayflies as they drift to the tail of the pool, which is barely 20 feet long and 10 feet wide.  Being a gracious host and friend, I give Bob first shot.  He drops a size 18 Adams parachute, delicately above the rising fish….and nothing happens.  He repeats, and this time the big boy rises slowly and insouciantly inhales the fly.  The pool erupts as the trout realizes he’s hooked.  He churns the water, but Bob’s stout five-weight fly rod finally subdues the brute…or at least that’s what we think until he makes one last lunge for freedom and gets loose.  He looked to be a cutbow in the neighborhood of 18-19 inches, huge for such a small water.

We agree to let the pool rest a few minutes, and before long another hefty one is rising, just upstream from where the first nailed the fly.  As soon as the Adams hits the water, the fish inhales the fly and the fight is on.  The pool is churning again like a whirling washing machine as the big trout makes a bid for freedom.  This time I’m able to get him in the net for Bob before he can wriggle off—a fat, beautiful 16-inch plus rainbow!  Bob has a wide grin on his face and fist-bumps me.  I breathe a sigh of relief—the pressure is off his guide!


We again let the pool rest for a few minutes, then it’s my turn.  I move to the head of the pool where the creek plunges over some small rocks and crashes into a boulder before it swirls into a deep hole in the pool below.  Last year I got a nice one here on a dry/dropper combination, a big rainbow nailing a size 18 Two-Bit Hooker nymph that imitates the small mayfly nymphs clinging to the submerged stream rocks.  I make a couple of casts along the boulder, but no dice.  Then on the third I see a big trout jet downstream into the pool and realize he has my fly in his mouth as the high-floating Royal Coachman Trude dry is yanked under the surface.  He’s on the nymph and promptly turns and jets upstream, trying to swim over the rocks into the open water above.  I pull back hard, my Sage #5 rod bending perilously.  Then he reverses course and heads downstream.  If he gets below me, it’s curtains because with his bulk coupled with the strong current, my leader will snap.  Again I haul back hard and he turns.  The fight goes on back and forth before he finally comes to heel—a giant rainbow just over 18-inches long.  The Two-Bit Hooker does the trick again.  What a start!!


We explore upstream for a half hour, but it’s getting late and we are tuckered out, so decide to call it a day.  Shambala Creek is an interesting one, with few fish in the long, shallow runs between deeper pools, usually at hard bends in the stream where the big ones hide.  We don’t see another fish after the first pool where we struck gold.

Back at camp as the sun disappears behind the high palisades to the west, Bob (whom I peg as an aspiring pyromaniac) finds his niche as chief campfire maker as I cook up a delectable freeze-dried dinner of chili mac to which I add some fat, succulent diced hot dogs washed down with ice-cold beer that has been cooling in the creek.  Fortunately the camp site is surrounded by scads of downed and dead spruce, compliments of the pesky spruce/pine bark beetle that is ravaging western forests, so Bob soon has gathered a gigantic pile of firewood for the evening and morning bonfires.   We sit around the blaze for a couple of hours sharing belly laughs at ourselves, two geezers in the woods.  A little assistance from Mr. Jim Beam steels us for the cold night ahead.


I hear rustling at dawn just outside my tent.  Bear?  Elk?  Deer?  No, It’s junior fireman Bob at work.  By the time I unfurl from my warm sleeping bag and don a stocking cap, he’s got a good blaze going, assisted by a little Coleman fuel.   I rustle up some hot oatmeal topped with peaches, then we wait for the sun to peek over the high ridge above our campsite.   No need to get out early before the sun has a chance to warm up the water and stimulate the trout.

We start upstream at about 9 a.m., and hit the first decent pool at a bend in the creek just off the trail about a half-mile above the camp.  Purist Bob renounces nymphs and casts the Adams dry that garnered his big rainbow last afternoon.  Nary a look after several perfect floats along the undercut bank where the fish were hiding last summer.  He waves me forward, and on the first cast, something big yanks my dry under, tugging on the Two-Bit Hooker.  Both of our jaws drop as a hefty rainbow thrashes to the surface then takes off to the races.  Fortunately the creek is wide at this point, and I have a lot of room to maneuver him away from the snaggy undercut bank.  In a minute he’s at the net, a strong 17 inches.

We continue working up the creek, wading through long stretches of skinny water that seem to be devoid of any fish, large or small.  So odd, because the water is fertile, every rocked chock-a-block with mayfly and caddis nymphs.  As the air warms, a few mayflies begin to flutter about, and we spot some risers in a back eddy above a big boulder that has created a deep pool.  Bob makes a perfect cast under an overhanging bush and immediately entices a rise, but flubs it.  My turn….and I do the same.  Then I get snagged and that puts the fish down.

On to the next pool, and we spot another riser on the other side of a large mid-stream rock.  Bob executes a beautiful cast upstream of the rock into the pool, his line draped over the boulder.  WHAM!  A big fish nails his fly and bolts upstream.  Before long, a gorgeous brook trout sporting outrageous colors is at the net, an impressive 15 inches, very large for a brookie in a small water like this.

Bob With Trophy Brookie

Now it’s my turn, and I trudge upstream looking for the next hole.  I spy a nice trout rising under an overhanging bush, in a nearly unreachable spot.  The only way to wangle my fly into the enticing hole is to cast downstream and let it float under the grasping branches.  The Trude rides the current, somehow avoiding the snags, and a big fish flashes up but misses the faux treat.  Damn!  I wait a few minutes and try again, hope fading.  But to my surprise, the trout rises again and nails the fly.  I haul back hard to force him upstream and out of the hole.  It’s nip and tuck for a minute, but finally he’s in the net, a stocky, silvery 16-inch rainbow.


I look around for Bob to gloat, but he’s AWOL.  I holler, and after a bit he emerges from the brush with his special solar eclipse glasses on.  He informs me that for the next hour he will eschew piscatorial pursuits in favor of watching the moon shadow the sun, a once-in-a-lifetime event he informs me.


Since I have seen a near-full eclipse as a kid in Kansas, I opt for chasing more trout.  And while Bob remains awed, in truth we are in a spot with only 85% shadow and the sun barely dims.  Fortunately, the camera catches some spectacular images.


After the eclipse passes and we have a leisurely lunch, Bob and I continue upstream.  But the water is getting thinner and thinner and good water scarcer and scarcer.  Every good pool harbors a big fish—nothing less than 16 inches!  But when the thunder starts to roll and thunderheads roll in from the south, we decide to head back.  Good decision—just as we hit the camp, the rain lets loose.  We ride out the storm comfortably ensconced in my big six-person dome tent, big enough to set up two camp chairs in while we enjoy a good bottle of wine. Finally the rain lets up, and Bob builds a fire and I grab some beer and wine from our “refrigerator”, then warm up a couple of big juicy steaks I had barbecued back at my cabin.  My idea of roughing it as a senior citizen.

Refrigeration Wilderness Style

Bob’s fire keeps us warm along with a little help from Mr. Beam.  I have come up with an excellent concoction consisting of Earl Grey tea, French vanilla creamer, a little sugar, and a jigger of whiskey that warms the cockles.   Highly recommended as a pre-sleeping bag palliative for the near-freezing temps to come later that night!  With our stocking caps and long-johns deployed, Bob and I retire to our respective tents.


The next morning we decide to head downstream into the cataract where the creek drops in a head-long rush for a mile or more before emerging in a wide meadow that is inaccessible from above.  On the way in as we rode the horses along the canyon rim, we caught glimpses of some tempting pools where the creek butts up against the sheer palisades on its flanks then executes bends that create some holding water.  Google Maps reveals there are a surprising number of these bends in the canyon where we expected the stream to be straight and wild and not likely to hold many good fish.  It takes us a while to find a spot where we can traverse a steep slope down to the creek then continue downstream in search of the pools we sighted from above.  It’s not optimal to work downstream when fly fishing as the trout are facing upstream into the current and can spot an intruder more easily, but that’s the only option as it is impossible to access the creek from below because of the sheer walls and then work up.  We hack through the willows and brush and ford some gnarly marshy areas that clearly haven’t seen anything but wild critters in a couple of years.  Finally we emerge at a spot where the creek executes a sinuous S-curve, creating a couple of deep pools.

I give Bob the first shot, and he delivers a deft cast that lets his dry fly float down a fishy looking foam line mid-stream.  A huge trout rises slowly and sucks it in and proceeds to tear up the pool.  Bob weathers the initial runs then adroitly eases the fish to the far bank.  It’s another big rainbow that poses for a few shots before finning his way back to his station.

Rugged Canyon Stretch Yields Big Rainbow

Now it’s my turn, and with confident anticipation I run my nymph through the long, deep run just above where Bob fooled his trout.  Shockingly, a dozen casts later, I come up empty.

We move downstream to the lower part of the S-curve and see a nice fish rising just above a big boulder and in a pocket of quiet water just out of the main current.  Bob graciously lets me have a shot, and the trout swirls at the Trude but misses.  Second cast, it swirls again.  Third cast, another look but a refusal.  I switch to a small grasshopper pattern and get more looks, but no prize.  I switch again to the Adams parachute that has worked for Bob and imitates the mayflies that are starting to float downstream.  Another trio of more eager looks, but no hook up.  Shaking our heads, we navigate downstream, vowing to stalk this guy on the way back out.

For the next couple of hours, Bob and I hop-scotch downstream, alternating wading on the slippery rocks or walking on the game trail featuring tall grass, downed trees, and wild rose bushes that parallels the creek on the canyon floor.  Where the palisades drop right to the water’s edge and stop our progress, we cross the stream, often having to climb over huge downed spruce to continue on the other.  On the way, Bob coaxes a pair of muscular fish on the Adams, and I lose the biggest trout of the trip that nails a #18 Tung Teaser nymph then zooms downstream before I can put the brakes on.  My 5X leader parts with a sharp snap as the weight of the fish and heavy current do their work.


We break for lunch just below a scenic pool, then decide it’s time to head back to camp.  I fool a nice 16-incher on the Trude and Bob a larger one on the Adams, then we’re back at the boulder pool where the trout said no thank you to me nine times earlier in the day.  We creep up slowly and peer around the boulder.  He’s still there and feeding steadily.  I tie on the Adams sans nymph and through a curve cast around the boulder.  There’s no hesitation this time, and I’m fast onto a heavy fish.  He rockets upstream, heading for some jagged rocks at the head of the pool.  I struggle to turn him, my rod bent double.  He lunges again and again, but the leader holds.  After a marathon battle, I manage to ease him over to Bob and the waiting net.  It’s a chunky 18-inch rainbow, the biggest of the afternoon.


That leaves one last pool, the one where Bob started the day with a big rainbow.  He creeps up stealthily from below and pinpoints a cast along the sheer wall of the palisades.  The dry fly floats jauntily in the current then disappears in a flash.  Another enormous trout.   Bob plays him cautiously, and after a couple of abortive attempts to bring the fish to the net, slides him up on the shore for a quick photo and release.


What a fabulous way to end the trip—a grand total of almost 20 trout, all bigger than 15 inches! Virtually unheard of for a diminutive creek.  And nary another angler’s boot mark anywhere.  Now it’s time to hustle back to camp—the monsoon rains are threatening again, and we can hear thunder rolling down the canyon towards us.

We make camp to the tune of rain spitting on our tents.  It’s 4 p.m., and a perfect time for our afternoon siesta.  When we awake, the sky is showing a little blue among the dark clouds, so we hustle and get a fire going and cook up some mouth-watering freeze-dried teriyaki chicken dinner.  Then settle in for a relaxing evening in front of the fire with the last remnants of our wine stock.  But it’s not to be.  Big drops of rain sizzle down into the fire as we scramble to get our gear under cover.  Then it rains, and hard for a couple of hours, finally giving way to a clear starry sky when I awake around 3 a.m.

The good news is the next morning it’s bright and sunny, just what we needed to dry out our tents and camp miscellany before the outfitter arrives around 11 a.m.  When he arrives, we are happy to see he’s brought an extra mule that makes packing our enormous cache of gear a lot easier and quicker.  After a few memorial photos, we’re on the trail just after noon.


All’s well for an hour or so until my saddle straps loosen, and I lurch to one side.  I hail our guide, and he jumps from his lead horse, runs back to me at the rear of the pack train, and gets things adjusted.  But in the meantime, his horse decides to continue the trek without him, pulling the three pack mules behind.  In the wink of an eye, the horse and all of our gear are out of sight!  The young wrangler takes off in hot pursuit, but in his chaps and cowboy boots, he can’t gain any ground.  Finally after a mile or so hoofing it at a fast pace, he takes up an offer to take my horse and give chase while I walk behind.  It takes almost a half hour before he and Bob catch up with the pack train, which is waiting patiently at a creek crossing, enjoying the shade and cool, refreshing water.  I huff and puff in about 15 minutes after that.  All our gear is in good order, and we have a good laugh before continuing.  What could have been a disaster is just another good story to tell back home!  Then it’s onward, up a series of steep switchbacks before we descend to the roaring little creek that will guide us up the wide valley back to the trailhead.



By 2 p.m. we are back at the horse trailer and loading our gear into my SUV.  As I police the area for any errant items (missing the wading boots that Bob somehow leaves behind), it occurs to me that I probably won’t be back this way in my lifetime, a thought given my age that flashes through my mind when I visit most remote waters these days.  So I wrestle with the age-old question of whether I should share this special stream—my Shambala Creek—with others?  Bob lobbies to keep my mouth shut.  It is so small and the fish so wild, it could easily be fished out by skilled anglers who aren’t into catch and release.  Twenty years ago, I would have been hush-hush about it, not even breathing a word to angling friends.  But now….So I decide to have a little fun with it all.  Throughout this article, along with the photos, I have scattered telltale hints that the discerning reader can put together to pinpoint its location and figure out its real name.  If you think you have the right creek, write me and I’ll let you know, along with tips and advice on where and how to fish it.  Just promise to cherish this spot if you make it there and leave no footprints, only the trout you release back to the wilds.

 Beating The Runoff And Hitting The Bonanza On Silver Creek–Near Salida, CO

“… when the lawyer is swallowed up with business and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip-banks, hearthe birds sing, and posess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams…”

Izaak Walton
The Compleat Angler  (1653)

 Late May 2017

I’m hunched down behind a big beaver dam high in the Colorado mountains.  I gingerly step on the twisted mass of branches in front of me so I can peer over the dam, the preferred way to scout out a beaver pond where the trout are often very skittish.  I carefully elevate my head and spot a nice foot-long brown trout finning in the slow current not 30 feet away.  With an extra abundance of caution, I begin my casting motion, making sure not to snag in the overhanging willows behind me…and promptly spook the fish that heads pell mell into the next county.  I can only laugh!  Fortunately, I haven’t scared off all the fish and am able to seduce a couple of brightly colored little brookies that are hiding in deeper water out of the sun.

I’ve just gotten off the road after two weeks, my annual migration from Florida to my cabin in the Colorado mountains near Salida.  It was time to escape the 90 degree heat and pesky, voracious salt water mosquitoes in the Everglades as well as the incessant political chatter about Biggly 45.  So I am in serious need of a wilderness injection and trout remedy. The problem?  The Big Ark, my home water, is running at over 1,000 CFS, which means any real wading is risk of life.  And most of my favorite streams are also blown out with runoff from the peaks.  Fortuitously, one of the local fishing gurus, Fred Rasmussen (founder of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited and conservation raconteur par excellence) has suggested trying Silver Creek as an option.  It’s only a short drive from my cabin…so here I am and let the fun begin.

Continue reading

North Fork Sampler–Island Lake High Above Salida, Colorado

CAVEAT: The North Fork Road has reopened, but is still very rough.  Call ArkAnglers in Salida, CO for latest information.

For my articles about fishing nearby Arthur and Hunky Dory Lakes see:

August 11, 2016

Monsoon rains blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico have been soaking us here in the Colorado mountains most afternoons.  It’s no fun and dangerous to be up near the Continental Divide hiking and fishing when a storm blows in.  Temperatures can drop from 75 degrees to 45 in a few minutes replete with mountain pea-sized hail that imageresembles snow.  So when the weatherman predicted a sunny day this week, I fetched the day pack from the basement along with my mountain lake fishing gear and plotted a trek to a high-country lake I have been hankering to try–Island Lake far up the North Fork Valley about 20 miles west of my cabin near Salida.  It’s perched at 12,000 feet just below Sewanee Peak that pokes up into the sky at a mere 13,132 feet.  A thirty-year old guidebook I have tells tales of huge, but finicky cutthroat trout in the lake, a story confirmed in hushed tones by some local fishing guides.  So I hit the road at 7 a.m. the next morning, figuring it will take an hour to drive up the rough 4WD road to the trailhead and another hour to hike in.  Visions of behemoth trout are dancing in my head.

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