2021 Retrospective: The Best, The Botched, And The Blood-Curdling

January 2022

What can you say about 2021?  It certainly was another interesting and challenging year.  Despite the vicissitudes and travails that all of us went through, it was rewarding overall with plenty of delights, fun times, and frisky fish.  Here goes, taking a look back at the best and some busted times as well.

An unexpected and wonderful delight was the extra time I got to spend with my little sweetheart granddaughter Aly. Because of day-care problems associated with Covid, I drove to Denver every week for 8 months starting in October 2020 to take care of her for two days, just her and me, what she called “Grandpa days.” Boy did we have fun exploring creeks, catching crawdaddies, and fooling some fish in metro Denver lakes!

I was also happy to welcome an expanding group of readers from all over the USA and internationally. It’s been a treat getting to know several better, trading fish stories and becoming friends. Thanks to Jim, Bill, Jason, Ed, Jerry, Tim, Brian and the rest of the gang. Despite Covid which led me to remain in Colorado all of 2021 and only spending two weeks in Florida with only one new post, readership stayed steady at the high level established in 2020–over 86,000 views.

In a typical year, new Florida posts account for a quarter of all views.  Now that I am back in Florida for the winter and spring, you can bet I will be getting out on the water and sharing new trips and tales.

Like most senior citizens, I can’t let the opportunity pass to gripe about various aches and pains.  In October 2020 I came down with a severe case of sciatica due to a couple of ill-advised back-to-back hikes into rugged canyons in search of trout.  It was so bad—had me hobbling with a cane–that I began contemplating a life without the hiking, kayaking, and fishing remote backcountry areas that I love.  Fortunately, I was referred to a wonderful doctor of physical therapy who correctly assessed the problem in my aging back and put together an exercise routine that has me feeling better than ever and ready for more adventures exploring this beautiful Earth.

Most Popular Posts And Published Articles

By a wide margin, the most popular articles were a quartet about fishing for rare Rio Grande Cutthroat trout in southern Colorado. The series garnered over 5,300 views, including the single most-read article —exploring Medano Creek in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, with 2,700 views.

Perhaps the most rewarding response to any post was the continuing popularity of a five-part series I wrote in late 2020 entitled “The Best Fishing Books Of All Time.” It garnered over 1,600 views in 2021, and several times was featured in the daily Google News post as the leading article on the subject. It was particularly popular around Christmas time as people searched for gift ideas.

For saltwater angling, the article I wrote several years ago on fishing around Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys continues to lead the pack with almost 1,600 views.  I am planning to get back down there in May for some additional piscatorial research and updating. 

Covid has been particularly tough on national fishing publications. One of the first angling magazines I wrote for back in the 1990s, the venerable American Angler, folded in 2020, and in 2021 one of my favorites, Southwest Fly Fishing, was consolidated with five other similar magazines by the same publisher into just one called American Fly Fishing. The new one is excellent, but the competition to get something published is tougher.

Despite all of that, I was pleased to have two articles come out in 2021. The first, in Florida Sportsman, is a bit of an oddity for me–fishing for Peacock Bass in the freshwater canals of a big residential development near Naples, Florida. I’m mainly a saltwater, backcountry fishing devotee when I come to Florida, but had a good time learning new tricks while catching in a suburban setting these big, colorful exotic fish from South America.

The second article, which I am particularly proud of tackled the looming catastrophic impact of climate change on the insects trout subsist on and what can be done about it.  Entitled “Insect Armageddon,” it appeared in the May 2021 issue of American Fly Fishing

Another article I wrote for American Fly Fishing, “Mission Impossible?? Searching For Fish And Solitude In South Park, Colorado,” will be coming out in early 2022. 

Perhaps the biggest bummer in the realm of publishing came with my Everglades kayak fishing guide that was to be published by Wild Adventures Press in Montana.  I completed a draft of the guidebook and was well into the editing process when the company ran into staffing issues as well as production problems linked to its printer in South Korea.  Because the press was unlikely to be able to publish the guidebook anytime soon, I parted company with it and am searching for a new more reliable publisher.  Any thoughts?

One last note, I was honored to be asked by two fishing clubs, one in Florida and one in Colorado, to make Zoom presentations to their members.  The one in Florida focused on kayak fishing in the Everglades and the Colorado meeting on beaver pond fishing savvy.  Give me a buzz if you’d like me to make a presentation to your club.  Always fun!

Most Rewarding Trips

An expedition to explore the remote Adams Fork of the Conejos River in southern Colorado turned out to be the most rewarding trip of the year for a couple of reasons. First, I was able to successfully test my recovery from the aforementioned bout with debilitating sciatica. I hiked in about three miles then down a steep slope into the canyon below and out again with no ill effects. Better yet, the beautiful, rare Rio Grande Cutthroats, the native trout that is making a comeback in southern Colorado, were very cooperative. What a day!!

Close behind was another hidden gem in the South Luis Valley of southern Colorado, La Garita Creek, that flows out of a gigantic volcano caldera.  Accessed only by a rough 4-WD road, La Garita Creek is loaded with eager brown trout, but only if you can find an opening in the overgrown stream to make a decent cast.  Can’t wait to return next summer.

I also had what I call ten fin-filled, fun days in late summer on two separate trips with old fishing buddies, Bob Wayne and Steve Spanger.  We fished seven different rivers and streams in those ten days ranging from the South Arkansas to the Chama River including waters like Saguache Creek and the Adams Fork and the Gunnison River in between.  Fortunately, the fish were sympathetic to us old geezers, and we had a blast. 

Most Humbling Trip, Burst Bubbles, And The Blood-Curdling

Without a doubt, the most humbling angling experience of the year was fishing the beaver ponds of Trout Creek near Buena Vista, Colorado.  I fancy myself a beaver pond maven, but in May almost lost all my mojo to the lock-jawed brownies of Trout Creek.  I flailed the water for an entire day, spooking many fish and landing only three despite heroic efforts that included sloshing through beaver pond marshes in knee-deep muck, fighting willows for my flies, and scaling steep slopes to get to hidden ponds.  Nothing worked!  

Fortunately, I got a measure of revenge and partially rejuvenated my mojo with trips several weeks later to tackle the beaver ponds of Pass Creek not far from my cabin near Salida, Colorado.  I managed to catch dozens of nice browns and brookies including a 14-inch beautiful brownie. 

With my mojo partially patched up, I am planning a return encounter this summer with the baffling Trout Creek denizens! 

Another particularly humbling experience came in the fall at the hands of brook trout on the upper reaches of the Huerfano (Wear-fano) River in the wilds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. Fishing in one of the most scenic valleys I’ve ever set foot in, I was sure this was going to be a banner day when in the first pool I came to I spied nice brook trout finning in the depths. However, three hours and many epithets lates, I flew the white flag. I had scored nary a bite the whole time as the spawning brookies made clear amore was more important than eating. With the air redolent of skunk, I slunk back to my SUV and headed back downstream where I managed to salve my bruised ego and rid the myself of the scent of skunk with a dozen or so nice brown trout. Sometimes persistence pays off!

On the blood-curdling front, in the past close encounters with alligators and moose have topped the list.  This time it was a close-encounter of the cougar kind.  Picture bushwhacking through heavy, tall brush along a creek to fish a beaver pond, stepping out on a sand bar, and seeing the fresh tracks of a mountain lion!  That’s what happened to me on Pass Creek last summer. 

Needless to say the last few hairs on my follicle-challenged head stood straight up! I hadn’t seen or heard a thing, but had no doubt the cat was watching me. Fortunately he must have thought my skinny, old body wouldn’t be much of a snack. I made plenty of noise the rest of the day, and had my knife close at hand just in case. A 14-inch brown trout made the fright worthwhile!

Most Surprising

For every Huerfano River or Trout Creek debacle, there always seems to be one or two pleasant surprises each year where I discover a new, unexpectedly good water to fish. Upper Tarryall Creek in South Park, Colorado, wins the award for 2021. I stumbled onto the creek in June when I stopped with my sweetheart granddaughter Aly to have lunch and explore a “haunted house” at the Cline Ranch State Wildlife Area on the way from Denver to my cabin outside Salida, Colorado.

When I pulled into the parking area, I noticed that the four spaces were all prominently numbered. On a nearby sign I read that each parking space was assigned an exclusive “beat” on nearby Upper Tarryall Creek, a beautiful small stream. It reminded me of the beat system the English use on their rivers where waters are divided into beats or stretches and the number of anglers allowed on each limited to help spread out the fishing pressure. I made a mental note to return, which I did several weeks later. After parking in one of the designated spots, I walked north to the corresponding upper beat and had a fabulous day fishing for nice browns in the creek and several big beaver ponds. All of this not much more than a stone’s throw from traffic whizzing by US 285. And I had the water to myself all day in South Park that is sometimes overrun with anglers from Denver and Colorado Springs. What a smart idea!

On The Horizon: Looking Forward to 2022

So what’s on the agenda for 2022? First and foremost is to get back down to Florida to get my saltwater chops back.  I arrived in Everglades City a couple of weeks ago, got the kayak and Gheenoe ready to go, and started executing that plan.  A 24-inch snook on my first yak outing led the fish parade. More stories and tall tales to come from the Everglades backcountry!

I also want to explore some of the remote brackish canals east of Naples, Florida, that are impossible to access except with a kayak.  Big snook are rumored to hide out there along with the gators!

While in Florida, I hope to get the Everglades Kayak Fishing Guide back on track and will be sending out the manuscript to several publishing houses.

I’ll be hauling one of my pedal kayaks with me on the way back to Colorado in May so I can stop at Port O’Connor, Texas, and fish that wonderful inshore water inside the barrier island for redfish and sea trout in my kayak.  The yak will also come in handy as I try to explore some high-mountain lakes in Colorado that are accessible with my 4-WD SUV.

Also high on my list when I return to Colorado for the summer will be to fish another remote tributary of the Conejos River, the Middle Fork up in the high country not too far from the Adams Fork.  I also want to explore the upper, wild reaches of the Rio Chama near the New Mexico border. 

Of course, I will chase some trout with my sweetheart Aly!!

Thanks Readers And Friends!!

It’s been a rewarding year writing my blog, and as of September 1st the number of views and visitors just surpassed all of 2017! 50,000 views and 20,000 visitors are in sight for 2018. As well as providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places, my main goal is to help reinforce and build the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places. An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world—readers from over 50 countries. One example—a fellow from Australia is planning to come over and kayak fish with me next year!! But I think most gratifying and unexpected have been the heartwarming stories from readers like the young college student who wrote to say she had been searching for the name and location of the lake where her grandfather, who had recently passed away, took her fishing as a young girl. She wanted to revisit that special place as a tribute to him. She couldn’t find it until she happened to read my article on Island Lake in Colorado, and when she saw my photos knew that was the place. Brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the fishing trips I’ve been taking with my little granddaughter Aly and her Daddy this summer. Other readers shared happy memories of having fished, in their younger days, the creeks and lakes featured in my blog. In doing so they have enriched my life and made me determined to share more stories of special places in the coming year, knees willing and the creeks don’t rise!

Let’s All Take Someone Fishing And Make Memories For Them And Us!

 Beating The Runoff And Hitting The Bonanza On Silver Creek–Near Salida, CO

“… when the lawyer is swallowed up with business and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip-banks, hearthe birds sing, and posess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams…”

Izaak Walton
The Compleat Angler  (1653)

 Late May 2017

I’m hunched down behind a big beaver dam high in the Colorado mountains.  I gingerly step on the twisted mass of branches in front of me so I can peer over the dam, the preferred way to scout out a beaver pond where the trout are often very skittish.  I carefully elevate my head and spot a nice foot-long brown trout finning in the slow current not 30 feet away.  With an extra abundance of caution, I begin my casting motion, making sure not to snag in the overhanging willows behind me…and promptly spook the fish that heads pell mell into the next county.  I can only laugh!  Fortunately, I haven’t scared off all the fish and am able to seduce a couple of brightly colored little brookies that are hiding in deeper water out of the sun.

I’ve just gotten off the road after two weeks, my annual migration from Florida to my cabin in the Colorado mountains near Salida.  It was time to escape the 90 degree heat and pesky, voracious salt water mosquitoes in the Everglades as well as the incessant political chatter about Biggly 45.  So I am in serious need of a wilderness injection and trout remedy. The problem?  The Big Ark, my home water, is running at over 1,000 CFS, which means any real wading is risk of life.  And most of my favorite streams are also blown out with runoff from the peaks.  Fortuitously, one of the local fishing gurus, Fred Rasmussen (founder of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited and conservation raconteur par excellence) has suggested trying Silver Creek as an option.  It’s only a short drive from my cabin…so here I am and let the fun begin.

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Day 2:  The Hidden Stretches Of Archuleta Creek Near Gunnison, CO

August 23, 2016

Earlier this week I had a delightful day on the lower section of little Archuleta Creek just above where it joins with Cochetopa Creek 20 miles or so southeast of Gunnison. (See my article titled Day 1 on Archuleta Creek.).  Yesterday I drove over the Continental Divide to beautiful Saguache Park and fished the headwaters of Saguache Creek.  The brown trout and brookies were ravenous.  So after a long day of fishing and driving over rough backcountry roads, I

Dome Lake
Upper Dome Lake

am lollygagging about and staying close to camp on Upper Dome Lake.  Around 10 a.m. I decide to take a stroll out on the rock-faced earthen dam to see if any fish are rising in the lake….and they are!  But even more intriguing, I see dimples on the surface of the water below the spillway, a very short section of Archuleta Creek that flows into Lower Dome Lake.  In all my times fishing and camping up here, I have never seen anyone fish this stretch below the lake, hidden in plain sight!  I retreat post haste to the mobile fish camp and rig up my fly rod with a tiny #20 black midge dry fly that has done well for me in the lake and the creek.  I double-time it back to the dam and creep down the rocky slope towards the lake, not wanting to spook the rainbow trout that are rising all along the shoreline.  A good-sized one cruises insouciantly in front of me, picking off small bugs on the surface, apparently oblivious to my presence above.  I carefully loft a cast so that the microscopic fly alights gently five feet in front of him.  He spots it, jets forward, and WHAM, he’s on!!

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Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun–Day 1 On Archuleta Creek Near Gunnison, CO

Walk Softly And Carry A Big Fish”….Anon

August 21, 2016

When fly fishing, nothing is more fun than watching a hungry trout zip from a hiding place to nail a dry fly with a showy splash on the surface—except maybe if you are using TWO dry flies, and the fish is in trouble from seeing double which means double the fun for the angler!

Arculeta Creek To The Right Of Cochetopa Creekl
Archuleta To The Right Of Cochetopa Creek

But there aren’t many times when double dries really work, one tied to the other, trailing behind a couple of feet.  On bigger waters, the current will inevitably mess things up, dragging one fly too fast or dunking the other.  Which is a sure sign to the trout of a fraudulent bug!  But I discovered it’s the perfect technique on Archuleta Creek, a little sister tributary to Cochetopa Creek, high in a mountain valley 20 miles southeast of Gunnison, Colorado.  (See my earlier articles about Cochetopa creek in 2015.)

The stretch of Archuleta Creek I have my sights on today is a tailwater below Lower Dome Lake, a

Dome Lake
Upper Dome Lake

state wildlife area with primitive camping facilities.  Being a tailwater that draws its flow from the surface of the lake, the creek’s temperature is warmer and fairly constant, and the water very fertile.  It has an abundance of aquatic vegetation, which is good for growing bugs and for hiding trout, but not so good for the typical rig I and most trout anglers use these days—a dry fly on top with a nymph tied onto the dry that sinks and trails behind.  It’s a deadly combo that gets fish on top and down below (where  fish feed most of the time)…except in places like Archuleta Creek which is shallow and where a sinking nymph will pick up a lot of moss and other detritus or just plain snag on streambed rocks.  Which can lead to extreme consternation and blue language against a blue sky.

imageArchuleta Creek trout are partial to very small flies, feasting on tiny mayflies, caddis, and midges that hatch throughout the summer on most days.  I’m talking microscopic—size 20-24.  Flies this small are extremely hard to see, especially if floating against the bank in a foam line, if you are looking into the sun in the afternoon, or it’s cloudy.  In other words, most of the time.  For me, the savior on Archuleta Creek and others like it has been to tie aimage bright yellow strike indicator—a piece of yellow yarn—a couple of feet above the fly so I have a general idea where the little thing is which allows me to set the hook more quickly when a trout sucks in the dry fly.  Sometimes the trout will even strike the yarn!!  Which got me to thinking, why not use a larger dry fly as a strike indicator, in this case a size 16 green parachute grasshopper pattern to imitate one of the hordes of hoppers buzzing about the meadow here in August.  It would be easy to see with that big white parachute top and floats like a battleship.

Now I am off to test my new rig and theory on Day 1 of a five-day stay in my mobile fish camp parked at Upper Dome Lake, formed by a big rock and earth dam across Archuleta Creek.  Let the experiment begin!!

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