ROPE-A-DOPE ON THE COCHETOPE??

For some of my earlier outings on Cochetopa Creek, see:

https://hooknfly.com/2015/10/05/three-perfect-days-on-cochetopa-creek/

Mid-June 2022

As I finished cleaning the last window on my place near Salida, Colorado, I figured I had earned a fishing trip.  I had driven in from Florida, my winter getaway, on the heels of a big late May snowstorm in Colorado and whiled away a week tidying the cabin till the cold weather lifted. 

Now that domestic duties were successfully completed without serious injury and the dust had literally settled, I was ready to feel the tug on my fly line.  But now that rascally young girl La Nina was giving all of us anglers fits just like she had done back in Florida.  For months the wind howled down there in the Everglades, keeping my buddies and me off the water days at a time.  The same scene was being repeated here in Colorado.  Fly casting into 15-30 mph winds is not exactly a relaxing interlude. 

Fortunately–and after another week holed up in my cabin writing and reading–the forecast is for the wind to die down in a couple of days, at least for a few hours in the morning.  But now I’m hit with a double hex—the nearby Arkansas River, my home water, and neighboring creeks are too high because of runoff from late snow on the Collegiate Peaks.  Plus, most streams over the pass in the drought-plagued San Luis Valley/Rio Grande watershed are just a trickle already.  So, I decide to treat myself to fishing some private water on one of my favorites off Highway 114 near Gunnison—Cochetopa Creek.  The Gunnison watershed got decent snow over the winter, and according to the state water gauge near Parlin, Cochetopa Creeks is running at 30 cfs, a bit low but based on my experience should still be eminently fishable.

I’m up early at 5:30 a.m. and on the road over Monarch Pass by 7:00, the plan being to start chasing trout by 8:30.  The traffic is light, and I’m suiting up on schedule.  I’m carrying two rigs.  The first is a new 8 ½-foot 4# TFO BVK lightweight wand with surprising backbone.  Based on many days experience sampling the waters of Cochetopa, I’m using a #16 Royal Trude dry to imitate small hoppers or caddis flies I’m likely to see on the water teamed with a #18 Tung Teaser to emulate the small mayfly nymphs I expect will be scurrying around under the streambed rocks.  The second outfit is a 9-foot 5# Sage rod with a double-nymph offering—a #18 Two-Bit Hooker up top trailed by a #18 bead-head sparkle caddis nymph.

The Fab Four (clockwise from top): Royal Trude, Tongue Teaser, Sparkle BH Caddis, Two-Bit Hooker

I walk 10 minutes downstream from a turnout on 114, staying back from the water so as not to spook any fish.  The pasture is carpeted with golden pea, feathery purple Rocky Mountain iris, and the appropriately named meadow foxtail. 

It’s so good to be back in nature, surrounded by all this beautiful, delicate flora.  I see a nice-looking stretch of water and sidle up to the creek.  It’s lower than I expected, running around 20 cfs, probably due to upstream irrigation diversion—it’s that time of year. 

Cochetopa Creek

The water is also very clear with lots of wispy green tendrils of aquatic vegetation waving in the current and covering the bottom in shallow stretches.  I shake my head–that should make things interesting!  Nothing like a little green goo on a nymph to elicit expletives.  I slip carefully into the water and check under some rocks to see what’s on the menu.  I turn one over and I spy some small mayflies fleeing for cover and some crusty caddis cases that reveal their green denizens with a gentle squeeze.  At least the expected trout victuals are here.

I walk slowly upstream in the shallow water and don’t see any fish.  I get to a slightly deeper run where the current plunges over some bigger rocks, but come up empty after a half dozen casts, except for the green slime on my nymph as it bumps on the bottom.  Ten minutes later I am still looking in vain for anything with a fin.  I’m starting to grumble to myself—this was reputed to be lightly-fished private water with lots of eager fish.  I don’t smell the stench of a skunk yet, but my ebullience is waning.  Has someone played Rope-A-Dope with me and my checkbook??

Before long I come to a big bend in the creek, which on Cochetopa usually means deeper water.  Above me, the current rushes along the bank, creating an eddy, and then turns the corner and plunges headlong down the shoreline.  I can’t see the bottom, a good sign.  I loft a cast upstream above the bend and watch as the dry bounces jauntily over a riffle and then plunges into the deeper stretch.  Just as it hits the bend, the fly disappears!  With the patented quick reflexes of a septuagnarian, I set the hook.  My rod bends double, the weight of the fish and heavy current combining to put a major strain on it.  Fortunately the new rod has plenty of spine, and I’m able to ease the trout out into calmer water.  He’s not done yet, but after some slashing back and forth, I’m landing a fat, feisty brown trout who poses for a quick photo. 

Let The Fun Begin!

Another brownie follows a few casts later.  That’s more like it.

I continue upstream and start to see a few smaller fish fleeing here and there.  Then I come to another tempting looking bend in the creek. 

Rainbow Liar

Again I cast above the pool and let the fly scoot along next to some driftwood.  Nothing doing!  I start to lift the fly as it starts to slide underneath the overhanging branches of a tree, but suddenly something erupts on the surface and smacks the fly.  This one is bigger, and when I see a silver flash, I know it’s a nice rainbow.  The fish dives deep and when I move him, jets upstream with me in hot pursuit.   I catch up with the fish and stop the run. He doesn’t give up easily, rocketing away whenever I get him close to the net.  Finally, after several more frantic runs, the fish submits–a colorful, healthy 13” bow!

Rainbows Join The Hit Parade

Now the bite becomes steadier although not yet exceptional.  Soon I see why the water is so low—a sizeable irrigation diversion dam across the creek is sucking out about half the flow!  The good news is the dam has created a nice pocket of fast water that gives up two more rainbows, one on the dry and one on the Tongue Teaser nymph.  Today most of the bows are where you might expect–spots with more flow, sometimes in shallower runs.

Mounting the dam with the grace of a mountain goat, I continue upstream and find a long stretch of three-foot deep, slow-moving water.  It looks inviting, so I work it carefully, staying low and throwing long casts.  But I see no fish and get no action.  Then out of the corner of my eye I see a showy rise a hundred feet upstream close against the opposite bank where the current looks stronger.  As I creep carefully into casting position, I notice some yellow mayflies flitting in the air, then some yellow caddis.  More fish rise, feasting on the tasty morsels. 

The Honey Hole

I kneel and throw a cast up and across stream.  It lands in the short grass just above the water, and when I twitch it onto the surface, a good fish explodes and gulps the Trude, his golden body reflecting in the morning sun.  It’s a fat, sassy brown trout.  Now the fun really begins.  On my next cast, something tries to gulp down the dry, but misses.  Not to worry.  The flies continue to slide down against the bank, and suddenly the dry unceremoniously gets dunked as a substantial fish grabs the nymph.  The trout zooms downstream past me as I try to put the brakes on. It’s nip and tuck, and I fully expect the leader to snap.  But somehow I manage to ease the critter, a good rainbow, out of the current and into some slack water where I can wrestle him to the net.  He’s a respectable 14-inch fish, that will be the biggest of the day.  Not bad for a small creek!

As more and more mayflies and caddis flies pop to the surface and flutter about in the air, the fishing gets really hot—the proverbial angler’s nirvana.  I pick up another half dozen from the same stretch, half on the dry and half on the nymph.  The best approach is to cast into the grass and then slowly coax the flies into the water.  When the action slows momentarily, I switch to the double nymph rig and fool a couple of 12-inch brownies who can’t resist the allure of the Two-Bit Hooker! 

After 30-minutes of action, I move upstream where the lies are trickier.  The only deep holding water is at the bends, each of which seems to be guarded by overhanging branches that promise to claw at and snag anything passing by on the surface.  At the first good hole, after sizing things up, I cast 15-feet upstream of the bend, and watch as the dry glides past the curve in the creek and towards the beckoning branches.  I crane my neck to keep an eye on the fly, and just before it is snatched by the snag, it disappears.  Throwing caution to the wind, I sweep my rod sideways and set the hook, fully expecting the fly to be embedded deeply in woody tendrils.  There’s a short pause, then the line moves!  It’s a nice brown trout who makes a fatal mistake of leaving his protected haunt for open water.  After a good battle, I ease him into the net.  On the next cast, his sister can’t resist.

Now the mayfly and caddis hatch is turning into a mini-blizzard.  I decide I should get a closer look at the bugs so that I can appropriately identify them by their Latin names to impress my more serious angling brethren.  I forego using the little extendable bug net in my vest to capture one of the dainty insects, instead opting to relive my former illustrious, glory days in the Chicago lawyers’ basketball league where we players made up for our lack of skill with truculence on the court.  With a leap into the stratosphere that gave me my nickname—Juris Dr. CJ.  (Remember Julies Irving??), I soar at least an inch above the water’s surface and…manage to come down empty handed.

Dr. J Doing His Juris Dr. CJ Imitation

After several more valiant but unsuccessful attempts to snatch one in flight, I opt to crawl into the tall grass and find a succulent stonefly that manages somehow to elude my grasp.

Cagey Caddis Eludes Capture

Well, hell, the trout are feasting on yellow ones today.  That will have to do for the aspiring entomologists!

Feeling a mite less cocky, I decide to proceed upstream where the action continues with a succession of 11-13” browns, oddly most favoring the nymph despite the hatch.  Around noon, I come to the upper end of the property signified by a menacing looking barbed-wire fence.  I want another fish or two before calling it quits for lunch, but that last pool looks like double trouble.  Not only will I have to use a tricky sidearm cast to sneak the flies under the overhanging branches but will then have to perform some gymnastics with the line to keep the flies in the foam/feeding lane near the shoreline. 

Got To Be Fish In There!!

The first two efforts fail abjectly, although I escape getting snagged.  However, the third time is the charm, and as the Trude sidles up against the bank in the foam, it is jerked under.  Success!  After a worthy tussle, another brownie comes in for a quick pic and release.  Another two quickly follow with nary an errant cast.

Success! Ok, Maybe A Little Luck.

Feeling somewhat smug and with the wind kicking up on schedule and my stomach starting to growl, I decide to call it a day.  I clamber across the creek and into a wide meadow.  In the distance a rugged bluff towers over my SUV. 

As I soak in the scene, I come to a boggy-looking area that is covered with a raft of lovely little yellow wildflowers, a variety I have never seen before. 

I am intrigued, so wade carefully into the marsh and pull out my cell phone app called “PictureThis” that is remarkably good at identifying wildflowers.  I snap a shot, run it through the app and violà, the plant is identified as Gmelin’s buttercup.  Here’s what the app has to say about this wildflower, quite a surprise: “Gmelin’s buttercup is a perennial flowering plant that can be found in wetlands and other wet habitats.  In some cases, it can be completely aquatic, floating on water.  The species is relatively rare in the wild and it is considered endangered in Wisconsin.  All parts of this buttercup are toxic to animals including livestock.”

Who would have thought the high point of this excellent day of fishing, catching and releasing upwards of two dozen handsome trout under a beautiful blue mountain sky, would be a rare wildflower? That’s why so many of us love to fish the small out of the way creeks, close to nature, with solitude…expecting to discover the unexpected.

Getting A Leg Up By Going Downstream: The Cochetopa Creek Test

Late September 2020

Like most fly anglers, when I get to a favorite stream or river, I invariably immediately start working upstream in the traditional fashion, coming up behind the trout that are facing into the current.  But increasingly as our waters become more and more crowded, I find it often pays to go against the grain and head downstream first where there is usually less pressure and work my way back up.  A prime example of that is a recent outing I had on Cochetopa Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness Area north of Gunnison. 

I’ve set up my mobile fish camp at Dome Lake State Wildlife Area, just few miles off of CO 114 between Gunnison and metropolitan Saguache. 

Mobile Fish Camp

This location gives me access to miles of one of my favorite small waters, Cochetopa Creek. On this trip in late September, I have decided to fish the upper stretch of Cochetopa near the La Garita Wilderness Area. The lower section near Dome Lake is very low due to the drought gripping this area, running less than 15 cfs, and the water is warm. I’m hoping to find better conditions upstream in the high country where the nights have been cold with snow a couple of weeks ago. It’s about a 25-mile, one hour drive from Upper Dome Lake to the trailhead at Eddiesville. I have fished up from the trailhead into the wilderness area many times, hiking a mile south to where the trail intersects Cochetopa Creek. I usually cross paths with a few hikers and occasionally some anglers, although rarely do I fish without seeing a few boot marks on the shoreline. Only once in the past have I gone downstream from the trailhead, about one-half mile, and it was productive, especially in a string of big beaver ponds that were teeming with brown and brook trout. This time I decide to go contrarian again and walk another mile or so further downstream.

I’m up early and on the road at 7 a.m.  My SUV thermometer registers a balmy 29 degrees, and I have to scrape ice off the windshield. 

BRRR!!

But the hour drive is so scenic, the aspens peaking, framing the scenic mountains along the Continental Divide, that I soon forget the icy temps. 

When I arrive, a couple of hikers have pitched tents at Eddiesville, a stopping point along the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails, but fortunately none are anglers. I also breathe a sigh of relief when I see the creek has adequate water and is flowing nicely, low but definitely fishable. And thanks to the frigid nights and snow melt I will find it is ice cold.

Just Enough Water!

I suit up in my lightweight waist-high waders, my Simms Vapor wading/hiking boots, my trusty wading/hiking staff, and of course my fly vest loaded to the gills then start hiking down the trail by 8:30.  The going is slow because I am stopping every 10 minutes to soak up the gorgeous scene and snap a few photos of the sun rising, bright yellow aspens, and snow-covered peaks. 

The trail is relatively flat with only a few moderate up and down stretches until at about one mile I come to a barbed wire fence and gate.  Below there, I begin to hit a series of rocky, rugged, steep stretches high above the creek that is flowing fast, straight, and shallow in a narrow section below. 

It doesn’t look too inviting from a piscatorial perspective so I continue downstream, making liberal use of my wading/hiking staff to keep my balance and prevent my aging body from sliding in the loose gravel and down the steep slopes.  My objective is a broad meadow Google Maps promises another half mile further on where the creek twists and turns in a serpentine fashion–which usually signals deeper pools at the bends where the fish can hole up in safety and feast in the slower moving water without expending a lot of energy.  It’s about 10 a.m. now, and the sun is up higher and quickly warming the air into the 70s with light winds—a perfect Indian summer day.  To my delight, as I round a bend in the trail I see a big beautiful beaver pond below with fish dimpling the surface and a few actually jumping high out of the water to snatch a meal. 

Beaver Pond Utopia

  This is a pleasant surprise since the usually reliable Google Maps doesn’t show any beaver ponds in the vicinity.  This I think must be fair compensation for what happened recently to me on nearby Nutras Creek (See my blog article from July.) where Google Maps promised a series of a dozen or more beaver ponds, all but one of which I found to be blown out after hiking a couple of miles along the creek.  I decide to stow my lunch near the pond and hike down another 45 minutes to near the confluence with Nutras Creek, then work my way back up.   

It’s 10:45 when I spy a pool below the trail in the meadow that screams fish.  I descend, and as I come up from below the pool, can see a couple of decent size trout finning in the crystal clear water at the tail end of the pool. 

First Honey Hole

I kneel to keep a low profile, and on my very first cast a 13-inch brownie nails the #18 sparkle caddis nymph that trails under a #16 Royal Trude dry.  Ten minutes and five fish later, I sneak up further to make a cast in the riffle that cascades into the head of the deep pool. The Trude slides quickly into the pool where a big trout rises slowly from the depths, scrutinizes the dry, then turns up his nose and disappears from sight.  I quickly try another cast, and get a nice drag-free float.  Just as I am about to pick up the fly and recast, the Trude suddenly disappears, and I set the hook into the big boy who seconds earlier had impudently ignored the dry fly.  He turns tail and bores deep towards some submerged snags along the opposite bank, but with my rod bending perilously, I coax him away.  After a couple more strong runs, he’s in the net, a beautiful, muscular 14-inch plus fish that will be the biggest of the day.  I see the brownie has fallen for the nymph.  Not a bad start! 

Big Brownie Starts The Day Right

From there my plan is to hopscotch past the shallow, fast stretches where I don’t see any fish, to concentrate on the deeper runs and bend pools, all of which prove productive for chunky, healthy 11-13 inch browns. By noon I am back at the big beaver pond where I carefully work towards an elevated spot covered in bushes just below the middle of the dam.

Approaching Beaver Pond From Below To Avoid Spooking Fish

Here I can peer over the top without revealing too much of myself and still home in on the fish that are rising steadily all over the pond.  No sooner does my first cast hit the dark green colored water in the middle of the pond, and the Trude is unceremoniously yanked under.  It’s a scrappy 12-inch brownie that’s inhaled the caddis nymph. 

Beaver Pond Brownie

For the next 15 minutes I cast to risers, catching three more between several long-distance releases while only uttering intermittent profanities when my line gets snarled in the tangle of sticks and other detritus at my feet the busy beaver employed in their construction efforts.  When the action slows I creep gingerly south along the top of dam with the help of my wading staff to the shallow section of the pond that luckily has a firm enough bottom for me to wade across and up to the inlet where a couple of fish have been rising steadily.  Here the creek is flowing with a good current creating a deep run along the north shoreline of the pond.  I spot some good fish finning in the depths, so I stay back from the shoreline and throw a long cast across the pond into the current on the north side.  The Trude floats jauntily over the hole where the trout are holding.  One immediately rockets up and nails the dry. He’s a stout brownie pushing 14-inches.  I take several more out of that run on the nymph then move up higher.

Beaver Pond Magic

 Now I cast upstream into the creek just above where it empties into the pond.  As the Trude slides into the deeper, slower water, it disappears, and the fight is on.  After a good tussle, I find to my surprise it’s a handsome 12-inch cutthroat, the first I have caught in the creek anywhere less than a mile and a half upstream of the trailhead. 

Browns and brookies are the rule until then.  I manage to fool a couple more browns at the head of the pond, then my growling stomach reminds me my lunch is stowed back downstream under a bush near the dam.  I walk upstream a few yards and cross over to the north side of the pond and work my way along the shoreline past the beaver lodge where I fool several more brownies while scaring the daylight of many more that are putzing around in the shallows and in a skinny arm of the pond.

After lunch, revitalized by my RC Cola energy drink and a cooler full of victuals, I continue my approach of skipping the fast, shallow runs and concentrating on the bends and plunge pools.  As I walk along a game trail that parallels the creek, I do spook some fish in the shallow stretches that are hiding along the banks or under the long strands of dense vegetation midstream.  However, the strategy pays off with steady action for the next hour including another 14-inch brown and a nice brookie to boot that completes an unexpected slam. 

Around 3 p.m. I sight a good-looking plunge pool far upstream, so hop out of the creek and start to follow the game trail again, bypassing a long shallow stretch. As I near the pool, out of the corner of my eye I catch some movement up on the slope just ahead above me and hear some cracking of branches. I think bear, but see it’s a huge bull moose. He’s making his way down to the pool I was aiming for. I yell “hey Mr. Moose” to make sure he knows I’m nearby—moose reportedly have very poor eyesight to go along with their truculent nature. He slowly looks around and finally spots me waving at him. The big guy gives me the once over then turns and thankfully proceeds nonchalantly back up the slope to the main trail. He’s coal black and at least six feet at his shoulders with massive horns, the biggest moose I have ever seen, including those in Yellowstone and Alaska. When he finally disappears down the trail I decide that’s a sign for me to vamoose back to the trailhead.

Close Encounter Of The Moose Kind

As I get back on the main hiking trail above the creek, I can see plainly the hoof marks he has left.  Thankfully we didn’t meet face-to-face.  Despite the fright, I guess I prefer that over boot marks, nary of which I saw anywhere on the stream all day.

Moose Track On Trail

I take it easy of the way back, soaking up the scenery–it will probably be my last outing into the backcountry this year.

By 4:15 I am back at the trailhead and popping a celebratory NA beer and eating some peanuts. My little picnic is quickly joined by my fan club of Canada Jays.

The cheeky winged little devils show no fear as they search for anything edible they can steal from me, including a half-eaten granola bar that they pick pocket out of my fly vest. But who can complain. It’s been a fabulous day with dozens of fish under a sunny sky and a double bonus of pure solitude and a slam. Going against the grain and that extra mile downstream definitely paid off, something I’ll keep reminding myself of when I set out on another creek or river. Back at camp a couple of hours later, a gorgeous sunset coupled with a good glass of wine makes for a perfect ending.

Falling For Saguache Falls (High Above Gunnison, CO)

“Run wild and free like a waterfall”

Anancha Mishra

Mid-September 2018

Waterfalls—especially backcountry ones—are like magnets to most people, including me.  Now admittedly, while I love their scenic beauty, I plead to an ulterior motive:  They usually create a series of deep plunge pools below that inevitably harbor some muscular trout.  So when I read mention of a spectacular falls on a remote section of the Middle Fork of Saguache Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness Area, I vowed to make the trek.

Earlier this summer I had fished up about a mile from the Middle Fork trailhead, the gateway to the La Garita Wilderness area (See my July and August 2018 articles.), but it’s another three miles to the falls, and those pesky fish kept biting in the creek and beaver ponds, so didn’t make it very far.

Now an eight-mile roundtrip hike doesn’t leave much time for angling, which meant I needed to get a very early start if I was to make the falls AND get some fishing time in the creek and the series of alluring beaver ponds below the falls that showed up on my GPS map.

I am on my annual September fall fishing expedition with my mobile fish camp parked at the Dome Lake State Wildlife Area above Gunnison, Colorado.

The weather report is for five perfect days with light winds, clear skies, and temps in the mid-70s–so if I can get on the road by 6:30 a.m., I can be at the trailhead and humping up the trail by 8:30 a.m., which should give me time to reach the falls and engage in a little piscatorial research.  I set my alarm at 5:00 a.m., and doze off, counting leaping trout.

Continue reading

Cagey Codger Confounds Cochetopa Cutts–Scores Slam In La Garita Wilderness

Late July 2018

My annual birthday backcountry fishing trip continues, this time with a trek into the upper La Garita Wilderness to fish the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek high along the Colorado Trail.  The last couple of summers I have explored the stretches below and above the Eddiesville Trailhead that leads into the wilderness and had a blast catching lots of frisky browns and brook trout (See my July 2015 article on fishing Cochetopa Creek for more detail.).  But what really intrigued me was when I bumped into another angler on one of those trips who claimed there were some big cutthroats higher in the wilderness area, beyond the first mile I had hiked up into.  Now we all know that, present company and readership excepted, anglers are a mendacious lot, obscuring secret spots and misdirecting others to barren waters.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist as the tale had a ring of truth to it.

So I am on the road at 7 a.m. from my mobile fish camp at Dome Lake high above Gunnison, Colorado, for the 20-mile, hour-long drive to the Eddiesville Trailhead.

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Eddiesville Trailhead, Gateway To The La Garita Wilderness

It rained last night, a godsend in the midst of this terrible drought, and at least the dust has settled on Forest Service 794, a wash-boardy, circuitous gravel road that crosses several creeks on the way.

I pass an historic marker that reminds me 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 the sign serves notice that I shrink in comparison to the hearty, tough souls who trail-blazed here years ago.  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.

It’s an endlessly scenic route, with the pyramid of Stewart Peak a prominent landmark looming in the distance and grand vistas revealed at every bend in the road.

However, when I make the first ford over Pauline Creek, I am aghast to find that it’s barely a trickle.  Then I cross Perfecto, and find one of my little favorites is actually dry!!  As I make my way up higher, Chavez Creek is almost dry, and while Nutras is gurgling along fairly well, Stewart Creek appears to have given up the ghost.  Will Cochetopa have any water???

Pauline Creek Crossing Enroute To La Garita Wilderness
Pauline Creek Reduced To A Trickle By Drought

As soon as I arrive at the trailhead, I bail out of my SUV and hightail it to the nearest overlook… and breathe a sigh of relief.  Cochetopa appears to have a decent flow, certainly enough to float a trout.  So I pull on my waders and wading boots and set out on the hike up into the wilderness.

Into The La Garita Wilderness
Into The Wilds

I intersect Cochetopa Creek after about 1.3 miles.  It looks beautiful in the morning light, with perfect temperatures and just a light breeze greeting me. The fishing gods are smiling on me.

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Cochetopa Creek At Intersection With Colorado Trail In The La Garita Wilderness

After a brief breather and a tremendous display of willpower to refrain from jumping in the creek and start fishing, I continue another mile into the wilderness, hoping I have ventured far enough to run into some cutthroats.

La Garita Wilderness Scenic Trail
Trail Into Upper La Garita Wilderness

When the valley narrows, and trail veers away from the creek, I bushwhack down the slope to the creek and break out just below a sweet-looking little stretch where the water emerges from a willow tunnel and plunges over a small boulder into an alluring pool.  I have seen a few grasshoppers in the meadow above, and when I check under rocks in the stream, I find them chock full of small mayflies and a few caddis nymph cases.

Cochetopa Mayfly Goodies
Small Mayfly Nymphs Are The Primary Stream Insect

So I tie on a #16 Royal Coachman Trude, my old reliable, to imitate the hopper and a #18 Two-Bit Hooker as a fake mayfly nymph.  I am using a nine-foot, five-weight rod I find performs well in these small creeks when a big fish hits and runs for snags under the banks.  It will soon prove its mettle.

On my very first cast just below the boulder, a substantial fish flashes out and nails the trude.  He proceeds to dive under the boulder and gyrates off the hook.  Hmmm…looked suspiciously like a cutthroat, so maybe the guy wasn’t pulling my leg last summer.  I flip another cast towards the boulder, and am fast onto another decent fish on the nymph.  But this one is a brookie.

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Chunky Colorful Brookie Kicks Off The Fun

A couple of casts later, I score a double—two brookies, one on the dry and one on the dropper.  Maybe I was only imagining that first one looked like a cutt.  Anyway, that double signals what will be an epic century-club day, landing and releasing dozens and dozens of eager fish who act like they haven’t had a meal in weeks.

Fortunately, only a couple of pools later the truth emerges, and I am smiling.  I land a beautiful cutt—not a big one, but hope springs eternal.

img_1343

As I work upstream, I find the best bets are the pools gouged out by the rushing creek below blown out beaver dams.  Indeed, the first one I come to I see a trout feeding.

Blown-Out Beaver Pond Honey Hole
Pools CreatedAround Blown-Out Beaver Dams Are Cochetopa Creek Hotspots

I sneak into position, launch a long cast, and SLURP, he sucks in the trude.  I can tell immediately from his flashy colors that it’s a good cutthroat.  After a respectable to-and-fro battle, he slides into my net, pushing fourteen inches.  A quick release is followed by a celebratory jig on the bank!  Yahoo!!

Cochetopa Headwaters Cutt
Nice Cutt Confirms Rumors

The further I move upstream, the more the cutts predominate.  Sometimes the stunning scenery detracts me from the mission at hand, but I snap out of the daze at the next run below another blown-out beaver pond.  There I spy a good-sized trout sucking down mayflies in the quiet water below.  On my first cast, he studiously ignores the dry, but on the next, can’t resist the nymph.  The pool explodes as the finned critter realizes he’s been pranked with a fake.  To my surprise and elation, it’s a nice brown trout—completing another La Garita slam (See my July 2018 articles on fishing Saguache Creek in the La Garita Wilderness just over the Continental Divide a few miles.).  It turns out to be the only brownie I catch all day, a bit odd since only a mile downstream the browns are plentiful.

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Nice Brownie Completes The Slam

It’s snack time, so I sit on the bank and soak some rays while taking in the picturesque setting.  But not for long!  I see on my GPS there are some big beaver ponds just ahead, so gird for battle.  Beaver ponds are always an interesting, and often frustrating, challenge.  I sneak up on the first one and peek over the dam.  It’s a gorgeous big pond, with trout dimpling the surface in every direction.  It doesn’t take long before I am fast onto a frisky little brook trout, followed by many others.

I continue to cast to risers, with long throws often required.  But what fun, including a couple more doubles.

And as I emerge from behind the dam and skirt the shoreline, I spot some foot-long plus brookies cruising the shallows just below the creek inlet.  I throw another long cast at a big boy in the crystal clear water, and he jets over to nail it before the little tykes can grab his meal.  Another good tussle and quick release.

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Biggest Brookie Of The Day

After my beaver pond delight, I continue upstream, catching more 12-13 inch cutts and brookies.  When I finally glance at my watch, I’m surprised it’s almost four o’clock.  Maybe time for another pool or two, but I can’t tarry long because it’s at least an hour back to the SUV and another to the mobile fish camp.

Around the next bend I find yet another blown-out beaver pond with a nice deep pool below.  As I creep into casting position, I spook some small trout at the bottom end of the pool, so decide to loft a long cast over them before they tattle on me to their brethren.

Cochetopa Creek Headwaters
Lair Of The Big Cutthroat

And no sooner does the trude alight on the water than something big inhales it.  The fish thrashes and churns the pool, but finally comes to the nest, a handsome 15-inch cutthroat, the biggest of the day.

La Garita Cochetopa Cutt
Big Beautiful Cutt Caps Birthday Outing

The cutt quietly poses for a quick photo and soon is finning his way back to his hideaway.  I am thankful once again for having brought a five-weight rod with enough backbone to throw long casts as well as handle the big fish in tight quarters filled with snags.

I can see some more pools upstream that cry out to be sampled, but resist the urge and head back to the trailhead.  Fortunately it’s a fairly flat hike, perfect for a newly-anointed septuagenarian.  Next year I’ll venture up even further into the wilderness to check it out those pools and beyond…assuming the old body holds up!

Return To Chavez Creek, High Above Gunnison, Colorado

July 9, 2017

Last summer I made my first foray into the La Garita high country south of Gunnison, Colorado, to explore the hidden waters of Chavez Creek and its tributary,

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Where’s The Water??  Don’t Be Fooled!
Perfecto Creek. (See my blog “Perfecto Creek Perfection”—July 2016).  I had a banner day, catching dozens of frisky browns and brookies—but didn’t get to  sample the waters down in the canyon where Chavez empties into Pauline Creek or the good-looking stretch above the confluence with Perfecto Creek.  On my way back to the SUV last summer, I scouted that upper stretch and was surprised to see some big brownies scrambling for cover alongside scads of smaller brookies.  I vowed to return!  So here I am, up early and

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Upper Section Chavez Creek
driving the back road that snakes away from Cochetopa Creek and my camp site at Dome Lake State Park.  About  nine miles after I cross Cochetopa Creek, I ford Pauline and Perfecto Creeks on Forest Service Road 794 then veer left on Forest Service Road 740-2A, a faint dirt track that dead ends at an old corral above Chavez Creek.  From the top of the hill neither Perfecto nor Chavez Creek are visible in the grassy meadow below.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think no way there is anything down there deep enough to float a trout.

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