Birthday Fishing Trip Part Deux: Grizzled Grandpa Garners Rare Double

Late July 2020

For Part One Of My Annual Birthday Fishing Trip, see:

It has been my tradition over the last decade to take a solo multi-day fishing trip into the Colorado backcountry to celebrate my birthday.  Helps clear the mind and get back closer to nature and the beauty of the world.  This year I set up my mobile fish camp near a high-mountain lake and fished some old standby streams and some new waters for five days.  To make things interesting and test my angling skills, I always try on one day to catch and release as many fish as my years on the planet.  As my years pile up, it becomes more of a challenge.  But this year, my first day out was a smashing success, and I was able to reach my piscatorial goal and even exceed it while scoring a nice slam—cutthroat, brown, and brookie in one day.  OK, OK I won’t mention that monster cutthroat that got off . He was aided by a rascally brookie that helped him escape by hitting the trailing dropper on my two fly-rig while the big boy was cavorting about with my dry in his mouth.  At least I landed the little brookie!

Now the pressure is off and I can relax even a little more on my second day out.  I’m on the road early for the long drive to the trailhead.  The temperature outside is a balmy 38 degrees.  The weather report is for the monsoon rains to abate today, but as I drive down the bumpy gravel road the rain is spitting on my windshield, and dark clouds are hanging low over the nearby ridges.  Suddenly, however, as the sun begins to peek through, the clouds start to lift and a blazing, big rainbow appears.  Got to be some big trout at the end of that rainbow!

Somewhere Over The Rainbow…

By 8 a.m. I’m at the canyon rim overlooking the small creek that I have never sampled, far in the backcountry.  I scouted it out last summer, but this time around the hike down looks a little more daunting.  Could be my knees talking.  But then I see a few cows in the meadow below and figure if they can scramble down so can I.  After a little searching along the rim I find their narrow path that snakes down to the valley floor. 

The Cowpath To Paradise

Once I get about halfway I see I can detour to a gentler slope that emerges at a series of beautiful serpentine bends in the creek that shout “trout!”

I stow my lunch box under some bushes and take off downstream with my new Temple Fork BVK rod that the company was gracious enough to offer me as a replacement when I lost the top section of my favorite TF Lefty Kreh rod when bushwhacking along another stream back in June.  It’s an ultra-light, 4# fast-action 8.5 foot fly rod made out of some new high-tech graphite, weighing less than three ounces.  It has the power to make long casts that are often required in small creeks when the water is skinny and  ample backbone to handle bigger fish in tight quarters when they bolt for brush in undercut banks.  I’m rigged under a 5X leader with my old reliable #16 Royal Coachman Trude as the dry with a #18 Tung Teaser that worked well yesterday trailing a couple of feet below on 5x leader material. 

My aim is to walk downstream about a mile and work my way back up for lunch, then after lunch explore upstream.  Of course who can resist taking a couple of casts in the alluring pools on the way down.  Certainly not I!  The first one, a big pool at a serpentine bend in the creek, I approach carefully from below.  While the water is at a decent level—maybe 20 cfs—it is very clear so any careless wading will quickly alert the fish.  The water is shockingly cold as it was yesterday so happy I am wearing some waist-high waders that are made for hiking.  I make a cast off to the side of the current to get a feel for the new rod and BAM! nice brownie slams the dry.  He’s a fat 13-incher that will be the typical catch today. 

I take one more fish then decide I better get back to the mission.  I am aiming for a beautiful pinnacle that juts up downstream from the valley floor in the distance.  I’ve gone about a half mile when I hear cattle moowing then start to see a steady stream of them going the opposite direction from me.  Then more and more bellowing and finally I hear a whinny. A cowboy soon appears with two border collies.  I’m in the middle of a full-fledged cattle drive!!  After the cattle pass the rugged looking old cowboy and I chew the fat for a while. 

He apologizes for interrupting my fishing, but I tell him I’m headed further down.  I tell him I know, having been raised on a farm in Kansas with some cows, how tough a job it is tending the critters.  He smiles and answers he agrees but wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world—lets him be in the great outdoors every day.  I tip my hat to this sign of the Old West as he trots off. 

As I proceed downstream I stumble on the site of what I am told is one of the cowboys’ favorite pastimes when they take a break from the trail—a cow pie Frisbee field.  I am told tossing and catching these enormous organic Frisbees is a true physical feat and I can see why. 

Cowboy Frisbee Equipment

Unfortunately these contests have been temporarily banned here in Colorado due to Covid19.  Maybe next time I’ll get to see the real thing.

In other 15 minutes I’m at the palisades and am greeted by a swarming flight of cliff swallows.  I soon see why—they have created dozens of little mud houses on the sheer cliff.  Talk about homes with a view! 

It’s a treat to watch them wheeling and dealing in the air, then returning to the nests to feed their young.  I decide to start fishing in a nice run a little further down the faint trail and immediately catch a couple of browns, then just as I am congratulating myself on my piscatorial perspicacity I hook and lose near the shoreline what looks to be a 16” plus cutthroat. 

Nice Runs And Pools Below Palisades

For the next couple of hours I proceed back upstream, catching two or three fish out of every likely spot—most are 12-13” fat and healthy brownies with an occasional 14-incher. About half are on the dry and half on the numph. Some of the larger ones are in the shallows warming themselves in the bright sun, and the fish get bigger as I work back up.  I score a couple of doubles—two fish on one cast, one on each fly.  One double results in a wild fight as the fish are both 13 inches and have a mind to go in opposite direction.  I get several browns that go 14-inches, then just before lunch see one rising tight against the bank just below where a nub of brush sticks out in the run.  I kneel and make a perfect cast upstream in the current, and as the fly whirls past the little protrusion a big brownie rises like an apparition and gently sips in the fly.  I’m mesmerized watching the take, but finally snap to it and set the hook.  All hell immediately breaks loose as the big brownie jets upstream with me in hot pursuit—this old coot stills has some wheels!  He reaches some rapids at the head of the pool and immediately reverses course and jets by me the other way.  He heads back to his hideout in the undercut bank that is loaded with snags, but my rod is up to the task, and I’m able to horse him away from danger.  A minute later after a great tussle, I slide him to the shoreline. 

15-Inch Brownie Caps Good Morning

I think this is a good conclusion to a great morning, and my stomach is making noises, so I walk up to a nearby big rock formation with overhanging ledges that offer some shelter from the bright sun, the temperature now pushing 75 degrees. 

Ledges At Foot Of Rock Formation Provide Shady Lunch Spot

Now to get my lunch.  Fifteen minutes later I am still looking for that pesky lunch box.  I start to think maybe some animal got it or that a stealthy cowboy is now feasting on my victuals.  I thought I knew exactly the bush I stowed it under, but how they are looking all the same.  Finally after walking a quarter mile back downstream I spot a little bit of red under a bush that I walked right by earlier in the morning.  There it is! Note to file:  Tag the bush or tree where lunch is hidden in shade with short piece of bright orange construction tape.

Lunch is a relaxing affair under the ledge.  When I finish I lounge for another 15 minutes rerigging my flies, substituting a caddis nymph with sparkling mylar ribbing for the Tung Teaser and then kicking back and watching the puffy cumulus clouds drifting overhead.  It’s an activity that every angler should engage in a few times each season.  Makes you feel like a kid again and helps recharge the batteries.  Can you see the cloud that looks like a happy elephant??

Laughing Elephant Cloud Formation

I’m back on the stream around 2 p.m. and fish till 3:30.  It’s hot now by mountain standards—and the water has warmed a tad.  I have good steady action and get a couple more nice muscular 14-inch browns and several surprise cutthroats. 

Nice Afternoon Brownies

Finally I say to myself for the fifth time, this is the last pool.  No sooner does my fly alight then the water explodes in a double hit.  It’s utter mayhem as the two trout dash up and down the pool.  Usain Bolt would have been proud of my speed scurrying up and down the shoreline, splashing as I go.  When the duo finally come to the net I am amazed to see that the two fish I have caught are different species—one a brown and the other a cutt, both about 13 inches.  While doubles are not uncommon, even on small stream, they are still unusual and a pleasant surprise.  But in all my years of fishing, this is a first, a real rarity—two different kinds on one cast.

Brownie-Cutthroat Double Caps Great Day

With a smile, I release the two beauties and think what better way to end the day.  Also as I check the sky out, I see the cumulus clouds are starting to bunch up and darken.  Time to start the hike out which turns out not to be as bad as I anticipated. 

Up Up And Away We Go

My wading staff helps me weave back and forth across the steep slope, and then I hit the cattle trail to speed to the top.  Huffing and puffing, I come out a few hundred yards from my SUV and pause to look back into the canyon. 

Homeward Bound

It’s been another fabulous birthday trip adventure replete with lots of fish, great scenery, and solitude–with a little excitement thrown in being in the middle of a cattle drive.  I am already thinking about my next outing on little Nutras Creek, one of the few I haven’t explored in the La Garita Wilderness area.  I’ll take one day off to rest the old body then off I go again!!  Join me!

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!

Day One Fishing The Hidden Waters Of Saguache Park: The North Fork Of Saguache Creek

August 2019

Photos By Fran Rulon-Miller and Chris Duerksen

For my earlier adventures fishing the Middle Fork of Saguache Creek, see my articles from the summer of 2017 and 2018.

As my readers and angling friends know, the Middle Fork of Saguache Creek, coursing out of the high peaks of the La Garita Mountains in south central Colorado, is one of my favorite fishing haunts.  Because it is a fetching, secluded water with very cooperative fish, I usually look no further when I venture into the broad expanse of Saguache Park about two hours south of Gunnison, Colorado.

But earlier this summer when I was scoping out a new stretch of the Middle Fork on a topo map that I had not yet fished, my eyes wandered to some of its obscure tributaries like the North Fork, Johns Creek, Bear Creek, and several others.  All looked a tad hard to access which usually means good fishing.  So I resolved to give them a try, the first on my list being the North Fork.

The dozens of times I have fished the Middle Fork over the last decade I often forded the little North Fork just above Stone Cellar campground with hardly a second glance.

The Red Dropped Pin Denotes Start Of Hike Along The North Fork

It’s overgrown and only a few feet wide at that point, nothing to really pique my interest.  But my topo map reveals that just upstream in a canyon away from the road or any official trail it looks less brushy with some interesting twists and turns.  Who can resist!!

Continue reading

Beaver Pond Perspicacity: Solving The Puzzle

For another article on beaver pond fishing see my article from late May 2020:

July 2019

Per-spi-ca-ci-ty:  The quality of having a ready insight into things; keenness of mental perception; shrewdness

With the epic runoff this year and most rivers and streams blown out till mid-July or later, smart anglers are turning their attention to beaver ponds, many of which remain fishable.  But truth is, beaver ponds can be honey holes any time of the fly fishing season and loads of fun.

They are usually lightly fished and often hold scads of eager fish plus occasional lunkers.  Did I mention the wildlife that abounds around them??

Close Encounter Of The Moose Kind In Beaver Pond Country

But they can be challenging, often calling for a distinctly different approach than the waters that feed them.

I still remember clearly that first beaver pond I met in Colorado as a novice teenage fly fisherman.  I saw trout rising everywhere in a picture-perfect pond featuring a big beaver lodge in the middle, and promptly spooked them to the next county as I confidently walked up to the shoreline and started casting.  Bass and bluegill never did that in the Kansas farm ponds where I had practiced learning this new art.  Like most small mountain trout waters, stealth is critical, and even more so on the often clear, shallow, and still waters of beaver ponds.  But as experience taught me over time, there is much more to successful beaver pond angling than stealth.  They are not all alike, sometimes differing dramatically on the same creek.  They can also vary radically from year-to-year, sometimes disappearing completely as high flows bust them up or silt fills in the best holding water.

Blown Out Beaver Dam

Here Today…Gone TomorrowHere Today, Gone Tomorrow

Never fear!  Here are some tips on solving the riddle of these unique and intriguing waters that I have gleaned over the years in the school of hard knocks.

Continue reading

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