Lake Fork Of The Conejos River: Solitude In A Sanctuary For Rare Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout

Early September 2019

If you want to tackle the main stem of the Conejos, see my article: https://hooknfly.com/2019/09/26/solving-the-conejos-river-conundrum/amp/

After a couple of days of throwing heavy nymph rigs, navigating unruly rapids, and muscling out some big trout on the Conejos River (See my article from September 28,  2019.), I’m ready for some backcountry small creek angling and a dose of solitude.  When I learned through a little on-line sleuthing that the feds and state have collaborated to create a sanctuary for rare Rio Grande Cutthroat trout on the Lake Fork of the Conejos River, I was intrigued.  Rio Grande Cutts are some of the most gorgeous trout in the world, bar none, with their flaming orange and red colors looking like something out of an artist’s dream.  They are also rare, occupying only about 10% of their original habitat that actually extended into Texas at one point.  Fortunately they are making a comeback thanks to the dogged efforts of federal and state fish and wildlife agencies.  The bonus is that they live in some of the most scenic, remote creeks in Colorado.  A little more digging revealed that I could get into some good fishing after a relatively moderate 2-3 mile hike, some a septuagenarian like me could handle.  I was sold!  I went to bed thinking of leaping trout.

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Solving The Conejos River Conundrum

Early September 2019

Conundrum:  “A confusing and difficult problem; vexatious.”

See also my article on fishing the Lake Fork of the Conejos for rare Rio Grande Cutthroats. https://hooknfly.com/2019/09/27/lake-fork-of-the-conejos-river-solitude-in-a-sanctuary-for-rare-rio-grande-cutthroat-trout/amp/

I have fished most of the big Colorado trout waters—the Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, South Platte, Rio Grande, and Yampa.  Like many of my fishing friends and readers, I fancy myself a fair-to-middling do-it-yourself angler that can figure out any river and its piscatorial denizens on my own.  I learned the hard way a decade ago that isn’t the case with the beautiful Conejos River in southern Colorado near Antonito.  The word vexatious comes to mind when I think of the Rabbit River.  It’s one river I now always hire a guide on my first day of my annual trip to the Conejos—and give the same advice to anyone headed that way.  I have found the best flies and successful techniques can vary dramatically year-to-year and from section-to-section of the stream.  Biologists tell us it’s one of the most fertile rivers in the state, a veritable smorgasbord of stoneflies, mayflies, caddis, and assorted other bugs, not to mention a good grasshopper hatch.  Indeed, scientists say there are more varieties of stones in the river that any in Colorado!

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Conejos Stonefly Feast

The trout just have so many choices to munch on, which results in a weird assortment of fly patterns that rule here, many of which I have never either heard of let alone used:  the McGruber, Jig Assassin, Sparkle Green Body Elk Hair Caddis, Purple and Chartreuse Psycho Prince,  Lightning Bug.

Conejos Flies
Conejos Mystery Flies

The list goes on depending on the month, water levels, etc., etc.  But despite these angling vicissitudes, the Conejos’ big trout, gorgeous scenery, miles of public water, and absence of annoying rafters, kayakers, paddleboarders, and other insolent intruders, I keep coming back.  I was reminded again this year not to fool with the Conejos on my own.

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