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:

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, something a septuagenarian like me could handle.  I was sold!  I went to bed thinking of leaping trout.

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Ice Out Doubleheader–Grass Lake and Hunt Lake Near Salida, Colorado

I’m cruising through the Wet Mountain Valley on the last leg of my annual migration from Florida, eager to get a look at my home water, the Arkansas River, to see if it’s fishable.  My heart drops as I come down the hill into

North Fork Of The South Arkansas
North Fork Of The South Arkansas

Cotopaxi–the Big Ark is BIG.   When I check the water levels later I find it’s running at 3,500 cfs–I fancy myself a strong wader, but don’t go near it when it’s over 750.  AARRGGHH!!! Well, maybe the smaller creeks are in better shape….but no, when I cross the usually diminutive North Fork of the South Arkansas on the way to my cabin just outside Salida, I find it’s jumped it’s banks and is blown out.  Plan B seems to be in order–maybe a hike to one of the high country lakes near the hamlet of Monarch/Garfield, just up the road.  Next day I check in at my local fly shop, Ark Anglers, and get the good word.  Ice is out on Grass and Hunt Lakes, two of my early season favorites.  The weather report is perfect–70 degrees and sunny.  My alarm is set at 5:00 a.m!!  Grass Lake or bust!

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Hunky Dory Lake Near Salida, Colorado

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

For my article about fishing nearby Island and Arthur Lakes see:

August 8, 2015

More rain this week kept me off the local waters, and with the weekend looming along with the  attendant crowds from the Front Range, I decided to head to a high country lake for some tranquility and, hopefully, some hungry trout.  I dug out an old 1980s guidebook to lakes in the area, and the name Hunky Dory caught my eye.  With a moniker like that, it had to be good.  (More about that name later.).

Hunky Dory sits at 12,000 feet, perched high across the rugged North Fork Valley from Mt. Shavano, a 14er.  The turnoff of US 50 up County Road 240 is at Maysville, about 10 miles west of Salida.  What made it especially intriguing is that the guidebook said there was no trail to the lake.  The hike was described as fairly short—just over a mile—but very steep, gaining 1,200 feet in that short distance.  A check on the internet revealed a couple of entries describing the fishing for cutthroat trout as good.  Who could resist. 

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