“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” –Thoreau
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be on the water at dawn on New
Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of the year…and so I am. I peddle out from the launch point at 6:45 a.m. in my trusty Hobie Outback kayak and head towards the oyster beds just south of Chokoloskee Island, my new home. The oyster beds are happy feeding grounds for fish, birds, and other critters. I am not disappointed. What a peaceful and hopeful feeling I have as the sun peeks over the clouds and welcomes in 2016.
“Most people cannot see beyond the Tamiami Trail to the heart of this vast region. Many look but few see. Few see the harmony of nature’s creation; few understand the relation of terrain to animals, of animals to plant life, of plant life to water, and of water’s importance to the survival of man, beast, and plants.”– From an historical study of the Big Cypress Swamp
One of the real joys of living in Everglades City is being able to explore hidden wild creeks that flow slowly out of the Everglades, under the Tamiami Trail, then through the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge or the Big Cypress Preserve into the Gulf. The Big Cypress Preserve covers almost 600,000 acres. It is still home to the Seminole Indians who sought refuge here and were the only tribe never to surrender or be subdued. One of my favorite haunts in the preserve is called Halfway Creek, a twisty turny creek deep in the preserve. It gets its name because its mouth is located halfway between Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island. Even on weekends it is rare to see anyone here although less than an hour from the teeming masses in Miami.
“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.
Day 2: After a relaxing, easy day of fishing yesterday and a good night’s sleep, I’m rearin’ to explore the more remote middle section of Cochetopa Creek. I haven’t been up there for a couple of years. Over five miles of beautiful, meandering meadow waters are bracketed by two steep canyons above and below that make access a challenge. The hearty angler can hike in on the Colorado Trail or four-wheel in on one of the rough access roads, then walk to the good water. A detailed topo/trails map is a must before venturing into this backcountry—the National Geographic Trails Map #139 LaGarita/Cochetopa Hills is a good place to start plotting your trip.
Day One: I’m in my little travel trailer a.k.a mobile fishing camp parked next to Dome Lake located in a high country state park near the Continental Divide, not too far from Gunnison, Colorado. I drove up early this morning, sorely in need of a multi-day injection of nature and zen trout fishing time on one of my favorite waters—Cochetopa Creek. It’s mid-August, the rain has finally stopped, and the streams are clearing and fishable.
Maybe 15 feet at its widest, Cochetopa Creek arises at the foot of an imposing 14,000 foot+ mountain, San Luis Peak, in the La Garita Wilderness area south of Gunnison. Miles below, the creek squeezes out of a canyon stretch into a vast open sagebrush and grass valley called Cochetopa Park. There it meanders for a good 10 miles with gentle runs and S-curves before plunging into another canyon and joining Tomichi Creek which flows into the big Gunnison River, a fabled trout water. Cochetopa Creek is loaded with healthy, eager fish and steeped in history. In other words, my kinda place!