Day 3 of Three Grand Days On the Rio Grande—Near Creede, Colorado

September 14, 2016

img_9175The Rio Grande pours out of the Box Canyon (See my Day 2 fishing article.) below Rio Grande Reservoir into a broad img_9628open valley, then flows for miles, undulating its way towards Creede.  From there it picks up speed and hustles past the scenic Palisades on the way to the little burg of South Fork.  In between it grows some big trout and in good numbers—enough to warrant Gold Medal water status from the state.  The challenge?  Lots of it flows through private land, but with a little sleuthing you can find plenty of good water that doesn’t get pounded too hard.

When I last visited the area as a teenager, the Rio Grande valley up high was just some big ranches and wide openimg_9286 range.  Now there’s lots of cabin sprawl, and the story is being written again of how the West was lost. We have had mining, logging, overgrazing…and now the most pernicious long-term threat to the landscape and environment is scattershot second home development, often plunked down in the meadows where elk, deer, and other critters roamed.  Habitat fragmentation as wildlife biologists would say. As that great ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote of another time and place, “We are rearranging the Alhambra with a steam shovel, and we are proud of our yardage.”  Ah, but that’s a story and diatribe for another day.  Thank the stars for public land!

Upper Coller SWA
Upper Coller SWA

I have my eye on three stretches of water that look to hold some hefty fish:  A long winding three-mile section aboveimg_9310 Marshall Campground (about 8 miles west of Creede on Highway 149), public water a few miles below at the Antlers Lodge, and the Coller State Wildlife Area between Creede and South Fork.  I find the keys in all three areas to be to (1) look for water that requires a bit of a hike or (2) to wade across the river and fish the side where the anglers’ path is fainter.   Throughout this area, be sure to pay heed to the special  regulations that have helped keep this such a terrific fishery.

Tung Teaser
Tung Teaser

This time of year, there are scads of mayfly and golden stonefly nymphs in the water, so royal trudethat’s a good indication of flies to use.  I choose a #16 Tung Teaser, that doubles as both a mayfly and small stonefly imitation.  There’s grasshopper still around, so my dry is a yellow #14 Stimulator or #16 Royal Coachman Trude.  Other good nymphs are my old reliable green hotwire CDC caddis and a silver Copper John, both in #16 and #18.

This time of year the Rio Grande is flowing a very wadeable 280 cfs at Wagon Wheel Gap (Check the Colorado Water img_9291Talk website.), and the water is a beautiful clear green color.  A 5X leader on a five-weight fly rod is ideal—there are some very substantial browns and rainbows plying these waters and puny sticks are simply no match for them in the big current.  I find the browns in the usual spots:  Up against the banks in tricky lies around logs and snags, quieter plunge pools just below rapids, and off to the side of foamy currents in just enough water to give them cover.  Rainbows seem more eclectic in their choice of hiding places—I catch them in fast runs, but also in slow back eddies up against cliffs.  On a big river like the Rio Grande, it helps to size up each pool or run, breaking it up into bite size chunks before plunging in and casting blindly.  A wading staff helps as do felt soles.  I find the new high-tech, so-called sticky rubber soles are just that…so-called.

img_9076After some bone-rattling four-wheel drive expeditions and some vigorous hikes to remote img_9089sections of the river earlier in the week, fishing the lower Rio Grande around Creede is duck soup.  A quarter of a mile walk and maybe a little scramble down a slope to the river is all that’s required.  And the rewards are substantial—I manage to land a sleek 17-inch brownie and a muscular 18-inch rainbow on two different sections, one on the Trude and the other on the Tung Teaser, along with scores of brownies from 10-15 inches.  Now it’s back to the img_9295Antler’s Lodge where my mobile fish camp is ensconced in the lodge’s excellent RV park, a quick shower, and over for a gourmet dinner at the lodge’s excellent restaurant overlooking the river.  Something to be said occasionally for the perquisites of civilization.

 

 

Day 2 Of Three Grand Days On The Rio Grande–The Box Canyon


September 2016

“Box Canyon:  A narrow canyon with nearly vertical walls and a flat bottom with only a single access from above or below.”

img_9212In the mid-1960s I caught my first trout on a fly near Creede, Colorado, just below Thirty Mile campground–on a stretch of the Rio Grande known as the Box Canyon.  The name Box Canyon intrigued me then and so it did again 50 years later as I scanned the map looking for a stretch of the river where I could find some solitude….and big fish!  The Box Canyon is a five-mile long section about 20 miles above Creede that is pristine and relatively untouched, primarily because the river veers away from Forest Service Road 520 that provides access to the upper Rio Grande River.  I was champing at the bit to revisit this water, but this time wanted to probe deeper into this wild area where hefty trout reputedly hide.  I find there are two ways to venture into the canyon–either hike down from Thirty Mile/River Hill Campgrounds or up from below, starting at the Texas Creek Trailhead near the San Juan Ranch.  I would find both are worth the hike!

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Three Grand Days On The Rio Grande Near Creede, Colorado

September 9, 2016

Day 1:  The Headwaters

imageNicolas Creede hit the silver motherlode in 1870 high in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado.  He sold outimage the aptly named Holy Moses Mine for millions and headed to California, leaving behind a boom town named for him.  Now the mines are gone, and Creede is a fishing, tourist, and second-home mecca.

In the 1960s I caught my first trout on a fly up here on the Rio Grande Del Norte—the Great River of the North to Spanish settlers.  It was on the one and only out-of-state vacation and break from our Kansas farm our family took as I grew up.  Plowing was done, and I somehow persuaded my Dad to rent a little camper and make the 500-mile drive to what an article in Outdoor Life claimed was the least populated county in the lower 48, chocked full of hungry trout.  Six of us slept in that little camper for a week!  I had taught myself how to fly cast from a Sports Afield book borrowed from the local library.  I practiced up in local farm ponds casting cork poppers to hungry bluegill and bass.  I hadn’t been back since 1976 when I took a horsepack trip into the Weminuche Wilderness Area.  With the promise of a week of Indian Summer fall weather, I figured it was time to revisit.  Anyway, I needed to shed the five pounds I had gained at my 50th high school class reunion.

imageI stop in Creede, now a bustling little mountain town with a year-round population of only about 500, but replete with a decent grocery store, an acclaimed summer repertory theatre, and two fly shops.  The venerable Ramble House was the main place to get fishing and camping gear in the 1960s, and it still is today, run by the same extended family.  I duck in and get the local skinny on patterns and places from a fly fishing maven Stacia, a young woman who obviously has lots of

Rio Grande River At The Antlers Lodge and Campground
Rio Grande River At The Antlers Lodge and Campground

on-the-water experience.  Her advice will turn out to be right.

Now it’s mid-afternoon and I am hustling off to set up my mobile fish camp at the Antlers Lodge and Campground, just a few miles outside Creede.  It not only has spots for travel trailers but also a nice one-mile stretch of private water on the Rio Grande plus a gourmet restaurant.  Who said fly fishing the backcountry has to always be a hardship!!

I sample the water, catch some nice brown trout that dominate on the lower section of the river, then start packing up for my expedition to the headwaters of the Rio Grande, a long drive from here up to near the Continental Divide.  With visions of trout dancing in my head, I set the alarm at 5:00 a.m. so I can be on the water by 9 a.m.–then nod off.

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