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 resembles 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.
The North Fork of the South Arkansas River springs from three high-mountain lakes–Arthur,Island,and Billings– about 20 miles west of Salida,Colorado. Arthur Lake is one of my favorite early summer destinations, ensconced in a gorgeous setting just below the Continental Divide, loaded with hefty cutthroat trout, and requiring some substantial effort to reach its shores. Which means I usually have the place to myself, particularly during the week. It’s late June, and the report from ArkAnglers fly shop is that Arthur is ice-free, so I’m on the road early for the hour-long drive west from Salida to the trailhead at North Fork Reservoir. The turn off of US 50 is at Maysville, then about a ten-mile trek up County Road 240 that starts out as a smooth, scenic paved road but which turns gnarly about four miles up just past the public Shavano Campground. From there it is a very rough road suitable only for high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. You’ll be lucky to average 10 mph. Buckle up! Some big cutthroat are just up the road!