Into The Backcountry Day 3: Prospecting For Trout On Carnero Creek (near Del Norte, CO)

Mid-June 2021

For a recount of the first two successful days of the trip exploring La Garita Creek, see the following link: https://hooknfly.com/2021/07/04/into-the-backcountry-prospecting-for-trout-on-two-new-remote-creeks-near-del-norte-co/https://hooknfly.com/2021/07/04/into-the-backcountry-prospecting-for-trout-on-two-new-remote-creeks-near-del-norte-co/

Day Three: Carnero Creek

After two days of chasing trout on La Garita Creek featuring teeth-rattling drives down a rough 4WD road and some advanced bushwhacking, I am ready for something a little more easy on the old body. Today I have my sights set on Carnero Creek (Ram or Sheep Creek in Spanish) still remote but definitely easier to access.

This is my first overnight outing in 2021 with my little travel trailer/mobile fish camp.  I have gone a little soft and opted to park it in the relative luxury of the venerable Woods and River RV campground in Del Norte, on the banks of the mighty Rio Grande.  The temperatures are finally rising in the Colorado high country, the runoff is subsiding on a few creeks, and I’m itching to chase some trout on a couple of remote creeks that I recently discovered through some internet sleuthing—La Garita and Carnero on the western edge of the San Luis Valley. 

Back in May I was searching on-line for some new small waters to explore not too far from my home base in Salida, Colorado, preferably ones that would call home for Rio Grande Cutthroats. Serendipitously, I stumbled on a U.S. Forest Service document that listed creeks in southern Colorado and New Mexico that harbored these beautiful, rare trout.  All of the waters mentioned were small and remote, including two of my favorites—Treasure Creek and the Lake Fork of the Conejos River (See my article and blog about these two gems).  Two I had never heard of—La Garita and Carnero–despite them being only a 90-minute drive from Salida and just over in the next valley from Saguache Creek, which I fish several times each year.  To pique my interest even more, not only are they close to home but there was very little mention anywhere on-line about fishing Carnero Creek and nothing about La Garita.  In fact I had to laugh when the only article that popped up when I search the phrase “fishing La Garita Creek,” were ones I had written awhile back about fishing Cochetopa and Saguache Creeks in the La Garita Wilderness which lies about 70 miles to the northwest as the crow flies.

So on a nice sunny day in late May I decided to do some on-the-ground recon on both creeks since they lay only a few miles apart. I liked what I saw on that day trip.  While La Garita Creek was too high to fish, running at about 50 cfs, the angling prospects there were to my liking.  Over  five miles of the creek are on public land accessible by a rough 4WD road.  The scenery is spectacular as might be expected of a creek named La Garita, which in Spanish means sentinel or overlook.  Carnero Creek access was more civil on a decent gravel road.  While Carnero was running a bit high and cloudy, there was plenty of water with public access I actually was able to wet a line on, catching about a dozen or so brown trout on the South Fork. 

I also spotted some promising stretches downstream on the main stem below the confluence of the South, Middle, and North Forks for a future trip.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the Middle and North Forks that reportedly hold only Rio Grande Cutthroats were too tiny to fly fish except in occasional beaver ponds.  I plotted my return in June when the gauges on the state water level site showed them both falling to a more fishable 15-30 cfs level.  (To find stream water levels in Colorado, Google “Colorado Water Stations” to access the Division of Water Resources gauging stations at https://dwr.state.co.us, then hit search to find the Rio Grande Division, then scroll to find the creeks by name and click on “view”.)

When the day arrived in mid-June with water levels falling rapidly, I hustled to load up my mobile fish camp and made a bee-line to the Woods and River campground in Del Norte the next morning.  I set camp up at warp speed and by early afternoon was chasing some very cooperative trout on La Garita Creek. Now two days later I am heading out at 7:45 a.m. to beat the rain that is in the forecast. I’m on paved Highway 112 north out of Del Norte, Carnero Creek on my mind. I stay on 112 till it intersects US 285 where I turn north until I come to paved County Road G where I turn west towards the hamlet of La Garita. Just past La Garita (don’t blink or you’ll miss it), I turn north on County Road 41G which turns into a decent gravel road that snakes through several ranches until at about 5.5 miles the public lands begin beyond a narrows called Hellgate. From here until the confluence with the South Fork there are several stretches of public water interspersed with private lands.

Carnero Creek At Hellgate
Approaching Hellgate From The East

Soon I spot a turnout above a good-looking stretch of water and quickly suit up in my chest waders. I opt to carry one rod, my light 4-weight 8.5 foot outfit rigged with my old reliable Royal Trude #16 and a #16 beadhead sparkle caddis larva dropped about two feet below.

As I start walking upstream, I can’t help but wonder if I may be trodding the same ground that explorer John Fremont’s ill-fated fourth expedition in 1848-49 covered in search of a rail route over the Rocky Mountains. We know Fremont and his men made it as far as nearby Boot Mountain at the headwaters of La Garita Creek where a blinding snowstorm forced them to turn back in January south to Taos. Before reaching Taos in February, 10 of the 34-man party died of hypothermia, starvation, and exhaustion, and the body of one was eaten by his companions. Two others were killed by Ute Indians. Quite a contrast from the bucolic meadow carpeted with wild irises and wild golden peas I am traversing along the creek today.

Carnero Creek Above Hellgate

But all’s not that easy. I’m surprised to find that the creek that had looked so open from above is actually heavily overgrown for the first eighth of a mile or so. Undaunted, wherever I spy an opening I hop down to the water and try to flip my flies into likely looking pools while avoiding the overhanging branches. I attribute my flubbing the first five strikes to the odd casting angles, tight quarters, and the fact that I can see the trout rising to my fly which prompts me into striking too soon. Thankfully my ego is soon salved when a feisty 13-inch brown shoots out from under a snag and gulps the Trude so greedily that I can’t miss.

To my great relief, the brush soon recedes, and I am treated to beautiful open runs through the wildflower-covered meadow. The brush still often crowds on one side of the creek, and of course if there is a good pool it often has a branch overhanging that calls for a tricky sidearm cast. But wherever there is some depth or slower water, I can be sure to find several brownies eager to please.

As I continue upstream, the fishing really heats up when I come to a series of log jams and small beaver dams that provide deeper pools and quieter runs, safe harbor for the fish.

When I finally take a break for a snack and to soak in the rugged scenery surrounding me, I have caught and released a couple of dozen scrappy browns ranging from 10-to-14 inches. (Ok, Ok maybe 13 1/2″).

As I lounge, I see some dark clouds starting to roll in just after noon, so I figure I better get back on the water. In the very first pool I quickly fool two trout, and as I fight a third, I hear a long low rumbling sound. I look up and see a very angry looking black cloud scudding over the big ridge to the west, and sure enough it begins to spit rain. I break out my rain jacket and keep right on casting, and the fish keep right on biting.

The rain abates and the sun tries to peek through, but more rumbles of thunder echo off the cliffs, which I take as my cue to hightail it home. I scramble back up on the gravel road, take one last look at the creek, tip my hat, and double-time back to my vehicle.

Hats Off To Carnero Creek!!

I manage to stash my gear and dive into the SUV about 1:30 just as the clouds let loose. Despite the fact I haven’t caught any Rio Grande cutthroats, I can’t complain. Carnero Creek is a sweet little water in a wild setting with eager trout. Can’t ask for much more than that…and I haven’t seen another angler all day to boot! I’ll be back to explore some more….lots of good looking water upstream on the main stem and South Fork.

NOTE: Carnero Creek was running at around 15 cfs on this trip which is a good level. By late July it was running at 5 cfs which would be too low to fish.

Into The Backcountry: Prospecting For Trout On Two New Remote Creeks (near Del Norte, CO)

“I don’t know, I don’t now

I don’t know where I’m gonna go

When the volcano blows.

Jimmy Buffet

June 2021

For two of my adventures chasing the rare Rio Grande Cutthroats on Treasure Creek and the Lake Fork of the Conejos River, see

https://hooknfly.com/2020/01/08/treasure-creek-co-its-a-gem/ and

https://hooknfly.com/2019/09/27/lake-fork-of-the-conejos-river-solitude-in-a-sanctuary-for-rare-rio-grande-cutthroat-trout/

Day One—La Garita Creek

As I bounce down the rough single-track road searching for an open section to fish on La Garita Creek, Jimmy Buffet’s volcano song is running through my head. Just 28 million years ago one of the largest known volcanic eruptions in Earth’s history took place near here, between the towns of La Garita and Creede in southwestern Colorado. It was a supervolcanic event that dwarfed the more recent eruption of Mt. Saint Helens and even the giant volcano that created the massive Yellowstone Caldera. The caldera the La Garita eruption left measures in at about 22 by 47 miles!

This is my first overnight outing in 2021 with my little travel trailer/mobile fish camp.  I have gone a little soft and opted to park it in the relative luxury of the venerable Woods and River RV campground in Del Norte, on the banks of the mighty Rio Grande.  The temperatures are finally rising in the Colorado high country, the runoff is subsiding on a few creeks, and I’m itching to chase some trout on a couple of remote creeks that I recently discovered through some internet sleuthing—La Garita and Carnero on the western edge of the San Luis Valley. 

The Upper Red Point Is Location Of Carnero Creek

Back in May I was searching on-line for some new small waters to explore not too far from my home base in Salida, Colorado, preferably ones that would call home for Rio Grande Cutthroats. Serendipitously, I stumbled on a U.S. Forest Service document that listed creeks in southern Colorado and New Mexico that harbored these beautiful, rare trout.  All of the waters mentioned were small and remote, including two of my favorites—Treasure Creek and the Lake Fork of the Conejos River (See my article and blog about these two gems).  Two I had never heard of—La Garita and Carnero–despite them being only a 90-minute drive from Salida and just over in the next valley from Saguache Creek, which I fish several times each year.  To pique my interest even more, not only are they close to home but there was very little mention anywhere on-line about fishing Carnero Creek and nothing about La Garita.  In fact I had to laugh when the only article that popped up when I search the phrase “fishing La Garita Creek,” were ones I had written awhile back about fishing Cochetopa and Saguache Creeks in the La Garita Wilderness which lies about 70 miles to the northwest as the crow flies.

So on a nice sunny day in late May I decided to do some on-the-ground recon on both creeks since they lie only a few miles apart. I liked what I saw on that day trip.  While La Garita Creek was too high to fish, running at about 50 cfs, the angling prospects there were to my liking.  Ove  five miles of the creek are on public land accessible by a rough 4WD road.  The scenery is spectacular as might be expected of a creek named La Garita, which in Spanish means sentinel or overlook.  Carnero Creek access was more civil on a decent gravel road.  While Carnero was running a bit high and cloudy, there was plenty of water with public access. I actually was able to wet a line on, catching about a dozen or so brown trout on the South Fork. 

I also spotted some promising stretches downstream on the main stem below the confluence of the South, Middle, and North Forks for a future trip.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the Middle and North Forks that reportedly hold only Rio Grande Cutthroats were too tiny to fly fish except in occasional beaver ponds.  I plotted my return in June when the gauges on the state water level site showed them both falling to a more fishable 15-30 cfs level.  (To find stream water levels in Colorado, Google “Colorado Water Staions” to access the Division of Water Resources gauging stations at https://dwr.state.co.us, then hit search to find the Rio Grande Division, then scroll to find the creeks by name and click on “view”.)

When the day arrived in mid-June with water levels falling rapidly, I hustled to load up my mobile fish camp and made a bee-line to the campground in Del Norte the next morning.  Quickly I set camp up and by early afternoon am heading northeast out of Del Norte on paved CR 112.  Soon I turn north on Highway 33 that turns into a good gravel road.  In seven miles it intersects with E39, a rougher but still passable gravel road that heads directly west paralleling La Garita Creek.  It winds four scenic miles by ranches and second homes till it hits public lands.  That’s when the fun and bumps begin. 

I shift into 4WD and get ready to rock and roll.  The single-track road starts out tamely, but then alternates between fairly smooth dirt sections and rocky, teeth-rattling stretches. 

It should not be attempted except in a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle with AT-rated four-ply tires.  Trust me on this.  Also, I would avoid it after a good rain as it crosses several deep washes.  Aside from that it’s a piece of cake.  My goal is to find a stretch that is not completely overgrown, of which about 80% of the creek is, making fly fishing virtually impossible there.

In a couple of miles I come to a sign announcing I am entering the Little Garita Creek State Land Board property that is open to public use.

I am a little confused at first, but soon figure out the road continues to follow La Garita Creek with its little tributary veering off to the north. 

Several Fishable Stretches On The Creek Can Be Found Upstream of the State Land Board Sign

Finally a ways up the road from the sign I spot a wet meadow dotted with wild iris where I can actually see the creek.  Bingo!  I will find that meadows like this one are a good sign as apparently the streamside brush can’t grow so thick because of all the wet ground the iris love.  I make a mental note of the spot and keep 4-wheeling up the road, which becomes increasingly worse and overgrown.  A couple of time I have to veer off the road that is narrow and hard to navigate because of overhanging tree branches and follow some tracks through adjacent meadows then navigate back on the road. 

Wet Meadows With Wild Iris Often Mean Open Water On The Creek

In a few miles I enter a ponderosa pine forest where the terrain is more open and spot a couple more fishable stretches.  At about 5 miles from the start of the public land, I come to a creek crossing that is too fast and deep to attempt by myself alone in the middle of nowhere.  While lower than in May, La Garita Creek is still running at a healthy 25 cfs.

I retreat a mile or so back downstream to an open stretch and suit up in my chest waders, anxious to get in the cold creek water as the temperature is pushing 90 degrees with very little wind. I’m in the creek by 3 p.m. checking under some stream rocks to see what the trout might be dining on and find them loaded with green cased caddis larvae and dark mayfly nymphs.  There are also some caddis flies flitting about and as a nice flight of mayfly spinners dipping and dancing above the water. On my 8 ½, 4-weight fly wand I tie on a bushy #16 Royal Coachman Trude to imitate the caddis flies as well as the small hoppers in the meadow and a #18 green sparkle beadhead caddis larva about two-feet below it.  The action is fast from the get-go and continues that way for the rest of the afternoon.  I soon conclude they haven’t seen many faux flies lately.  Indeed, I won’t see another vehicle or soul and no boot marks either today or tomorrow when I return. 

In the first promising pool above a beaver pond I quickly net two spunky browns that attack the flies without hesitation, one on the dry and the other on the caddis.

I work upstream a few feet and spy a beautiful pool at a bend in the creek.  Looks like the liar of a big trout….and it is.  I cast up into the riffle above the pool and watch as the Trude bounces down jauntily.  Suddenly a big trout, maybe 15-inches, appears out of nowhere and intercepts the dry, but I yank the away from him before he clamps his jaws shut and miss.  Luckily the fly hook didn’t sting him, so I get a second try.  Again the fly floats down into the bend pool and again the trout rises boldly alongside of it and nonchalantly sucks the Trude in.  Whoosh!  I sweep the rod back and set the hook, immediately and feel his weight, and just as quickly execute my patented long-distance release.  I contemplate committing hari-kari, but decide to try again, beyond all hope.  Alas, although the fly floats over the same spot again, this time the big fellow refuses to make an appearance.  But just a few feet below against the bank, another sizable trout, this one around 14-inches, nails the dropper.  But I miss again and pricked him with the hook so now he’s off his feed as well.  I have to laugh at my ineptitude.  Fortunately my ego is salved on the very next drift through the pool as a nice 12-inchers nails the dry at the tail end of the pool, and in the run just upstream where I catch and release three brownies in quick succession. 

Lair Of The Big Brownies
Third Fish Is the Charm

That will be the pattern for the rest of the afternoon.  In every bend pool or quiet stretch off the main current or behind a boulder, I can count on several strikes and catching at least a couple of fish.  It becomes ridiculously easy, making up for all those times in previous years when the finny buggers have outwitted me.

The fishing really gets interesting when I come to a couple of big beaver ponds.  I work the deep current in the middle of the first and lure a couple of feisty brownies from the depths. 

Out of the corner of my eye I see a good rise just below the next beaver dam.  I sneak up and get into casting position on my knees, then pinpoint my cast between two bushes on either side of the current.  

Another Big Trout Lair

The dry floats about five feet below the bushes and my jaw drops when it is sucked under by a tremendous swirl in the water.  Unfortunately, the fish that made that giant swirl missed the fly!  I try again, and again there is a huge swirl and another refusal.  Clearly the biggest fish of the day has been toying with me.  Then all goes quiet.  I proceed further upstream, doing a high-wire act to mount the big dam and cast into the current flowing down the middle of the pond above.  The dry is abruptly jerked under and when I set the hook my rod bends perilously.  The trout heads towards some shoreline bushes but I manage to turn him away from the snags.  The fight goes on back and forth before the handsome brownie comes to the net.

I continue working upstream to the head of the pond where a small sandbar with brush on it cleaves the stream creating nice flows on either side.  I wade out carefully to probe a fast run between the sandbar and far shoreline, keeping my balance in the soft bottom with my trusty wading staff.  I flip a backhand, side-arm cast upstream, and immediately a mini-geyser erupts around the dry fly.  I am onto another good fish. 

Tricky Stretch Produces

The battler finally comes to the net for a quick photo and release, another 13-inch plus muscular brownie.  Three more fish succumb to siren’s call of my flies in that run, then several more on the other side of the split. 

It’s five o-clock now, and as I size up the next tantalizing pool and beaver pond above, I am thinking of those tasty dishes and Dos Equis amber beer at my favorite restaurant in Del Norte, Los Chavolos.  To fish or not to fish more? The low, rumbling sound of thunder and a few flashes of lighting on a ridge in the distance make the decision for me.  

As I walk up the slope to the road, I start laughing, feeling a bit giddy–and believe me it takes a lot to make a septuagenarian giddy. I have caught and released in the neighborhood of 50 fish in about 2 ½ hours and lost probably that many more.  It’s been one of those flat-out fun days like I used to have in Kansas as a kid, catching countless bluegill in a local farm pond.  Today the trout were where they were supposed to be, usually in numbers, and cooperative in the extreme, a tribute I think to their carefree, unschooled life in La Garita Creek.  Who am I to complain?!?

Day Two On La Garita Creek

After a hearty Mexican dinner at Los Chavolos in Del Norte, I get a good night’s sleep and am back on the road at around 8:30 then trundling up E39 20 minutes later.  Today I vow to slow down and enjoy the scenery and wildflowers on the way to fish the Little La Garita State Land Board stretch several miles below where I chased the trout yesterday.  The bluffs, buttes, and ridges are spectacular under a blue-bird Colorado sky. 

And the landscape is dotted with gorgeous white blooms of the soapweed yucca and the bright orange and red splash of Indian paintbrushes.  It’s cooler today with a little more wind, a refreshing combination. 

A mile or so into the State Land Board wildlife management area, I come to the open stretch I spotted yesterday.  I am using the same outfit and flies—why trifle with success!  I catch a several small brownies in the first two pools then come to a beautiful waterfall flowing cascading from a blown-out beaver pond.  I score a couple at the foot of the waterfall, then move up into the wider flow above.  The action is again crazy good from the get go.  I catch and release five hard-fighting brownies from 11-13 inches. 

The creek above the beaver pond executes a big S-bend, with each curve yielding several  brownies pushing 13-inches.  Above the upper bend a riffle plunges into a fast, deep run, and more willing brownies come to the net.  For the next two hours it’s lights out again, with the trout favoring the caddis larva dropper 2:1 over the dry, although the dry seems to attract more of the bigger fish.  The dry is clearly the best in faster runs where the trout slash out at light speed to nail the fly.  A couple of browns push 14-inches and all are healthy and sleek. 

Around 11 a.m. discover the hackle has been unceremoniously ripped off the Trude by some toothy brownie.  I decide to keep right on fishing without changing flies, and the trout don’t seem to notice any difference. 

No Hackle? No Worries!!

By 12:30 I’m getting hungry, and if on cue the bushes close in, making casting nearly impossible.  Still in that last postage-stamp size pool below the midstream boulder three browns give me a nice bon voyage party. 

After partaking lunch back at the SUV, I drive leisurely back down the road, stopping to snap photos of the wild roses, blooming prickly pear cactus, mountain blue bells, and other wildflowers lining the drive and soak up the spectacular vistas.

It’s been another rare day on La Garita Creek.  All the fish were brown trout—the cutthroats that are supposedly in the creek must be higher up.  No worries!! Miles more water to explore.

When I get back to camp, I immediately contemplate soaking my right elbow in Epsom salts, hoping to ward off a debilitating case of trout elbow that such a prolific piscatorial day can produce.  After all, there are glasses of wine to be hoisted in celebration,  and Carnero Creek awaits tomorrow!

Carnero Creek Beckons

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.

Spry, Sly Septuagenarian Scores Birthday Slam

July 2020

It has been a tradition of mine over the last decade to take a solo multi-day birthday fishing trip into the Colorado backcountry.  Helps clear the mind and get back closer to nature and the beauty of the world, and no reminders of Covid! This year I set up my mobile fish camp near a high-mountain lake and fish several old standby streams and some new waters for five days.  The annual monsoon rains started early this summer—thankfully, because we are in a serious drought—and rain has been hanging around off and on with more in the forecast. 

Daily Monsoon Rains Make Fishing Dicey

I need to get in a full day on the water to reach my annual benchmark—to catch and release as many fish as my years on the planet—72!  I’ve been successful each year, but as the years pile up, it becomes more of a challenge.  Will the rain relent?  Will the angling gods smile once again on a grizzled old codger?  

Can Cagey Old Codger Do It? Hope Springs Eternal!

Will my knees hold up when I hike into the canyon where the small stream I have my sights on flows?

Here goes!  Come on along where the rivers love to run.

On The Cusp Of 72–Years And Fish

Did I fool 72??  See for yourself!

Out In The Country….Where The Rivers Like To Run

I made the grade just after lunch. Most appropriately #72 was a native cutthroat, a feisty little beauty.

Number 72–A Beautiful Native Cutthroat

Of course the proverbial biggest fish of the day gets away just as I am thinking of how I will be bragging to my fishing buddies. I am working up a narrow section of the creek between two broad meadow stretches. Instead of deep bend pools, I am suddenly hopscotching over rocks between fast-running plunge pools. I come to one featuring a big boulder that splits the current with a swirling deep hole of water behind it. Perfect spot for a big one….and it is. I drop a short cast right behind the boulder, and as my Royal Trude pirouettes around the pool it suddenly, but not unexpectedly, disappears in the maw of a big trout. The battle is on. It’s a full minute before I get a glimpse of the leviathan, a big colorful cutthroat that is pushing 18-inches! The biggest fish I caught earlier in the day was 14-inches. Slowly I persuade the big boy away from his hideout and then keep him from running downstream where he will surely break off. I keep applying pressure oh so carefully and have him almost to my net when suddenly my line is jerked sideways. Another fish has taken the trailing Tung Teaser nymph. This of course spooks my trophy who takes off running pell mell downstream in the opposite direction. I watch helplessly as my prize pulls loose. I am left with a lilliputian eight-inch brook trout. The skies turn a darker shade of blue as epithets careened off the rock walls.

But the story doesn’t end on that sour note. A couple of hours later I have joined the century club–over 100 fish–and have scored a coveted slam: cutthroats, brookies, and brownies. Not a bad birthday present!