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.

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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!!

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Beaver Pond Perspicacity: Solving The Puzzle

For another article on beaver pond fishing see my article from late May 2020: https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

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??

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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.

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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.

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THE KANSAS THREE AMIGOS RIDE AGAIN:  Can A Mennonite Prairie Populist, A Mormon GOP Puerto Rican, And a Mild-Mannered Baptist/Catholic Pediatrician Find Fraternity And Trout Together After 50 Years?

August 2018

 Fifty years ago I was thrown together in a dorm room as a college freshman in Kansas with a kid from Junction City and a guy from Hutchinson.  It was to be one of those serendipitous positive events that helped shape my life.  I have heard horror stories from parents about their children’s and grandchildren’s college roommates from hell.  Mine couldn’t have been better!

Josúe Perez was a  tough, smart little sucker who, as the son of a decorated Sergeant Major in the Army, had been all oer the globe and knew how to take care of himself.  He spoke fluent Spanish and was studying to be a teacher.  Freeman Lance Miller, a music major and violin whiz, was a gentle soul who grew up in a “big” city close to my small rural hometown, but whom I had never met during high school although our paths had surely crossed dragging Hutch main street on Friday nights.  I was just a tall, skinny kid just off the farm who loved nature and science and had aspirations to be a doctor.

We survived that first year as a team, and then became fraternity brothers, having a ball along the way as they corrupted a Mennonite kid by teaching me to dance and drink beer.

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AKL Fraternity Circa 1968–Can You Find The Three Amigos??

Lance transferred  to Kansas University his junior year, and he became the doctor as well as a devoted Jayhawker!  Joe went on to teach at our college then led an impressively varied international career including a stint as president of a technical college in Phoenix.  I decided to forego medical school (damned advanced calculus) and opted to save the world as a lawyer, at a time when the country was in great social ferment.  I was elected as chair of Kansas Collegiate Young Democrats (I think there were maybe 10 of us.) and my political fate was sealed.

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Day 2 Of The Sagacious Septuagenarian Seducing Saguache Trout–Into The Wilds Of The La Garita Wilderness

“To those devoid of imagination a blank space on the map is a useless waste; to others the most valuable part.”–Aldo Leopold

Late July 2018

Note:  For more information of fishing upper Saguache Creek, see my July 2017 and August 4, 2018, articles

It’s the second day of my annual birthday wilderness fishing trip.  After a banner day yesterday, I’m champing at the bit to get back to Saguache Creek in the La Garita Wilderness Area south of Gunnison, Colorado.   Visions of trout cavorting in beaver ponds danced through my head last night.

Speaking of last night, heavy rains continued late into the evening, so as I navigate back to the wilds, my route on the gravel and dirt CR 17FF is much sketchier today, eroded and etched from the torrential runoff.  I’m getting nervous, fearing that the creek may be muddy and blown out, but won’t find out for another hour when I get near the Middle Fork trailhead.

Forty-five minutes later I’m fording the North Fork of Saguache Creek just above its confluence with the Middle Fork, and it’s running clear—but that stream drains a different valley.  Ten minutes later my jaw drops.  The Middle Fork is running much higher and is a sickening milky color at the second ford.

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Murky Middle Fork Muddies Fishing Picture!

I get out of the SUV and assess my chances of running the creek without getting stuck and decide it looks passable, but hard to tell with the murky water.  I gun the Xterra, shift into four-wheel drive, and plunge in.  Not to worry.  It’s not as deep as I feared.  But the rear end fish tails as I navigate the steep incline above, so I shift into four-low and take it easy the rest of the way.  The road is a mess, with muddy sinks at every water bar along the remaining three miles, but I muddle through.

Fifteen minutes later I’m parking near the Middle Fork trailhead and walk with trepidation to the canyon rim to take a peek at the creek…and let out a big YAHOO when I see it is running clear, maybe a little high, but clear!  Game on!!

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