With the surfeit of beautiful and productive lakes in the North Fork Valley, the valley’s namesake river often gets overlooked. I’m as guilty as anyone—I fished it once some 20 years ago when my boys were youngsters, and we caught some nice rainbows. But since then I have scurried by it numerous times headed to the lakes instead. In all of those trips, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone fish the North Fork River. But when I trekked across the North Fork Reservoir Dam a few days ago and ogled the good-looking water below the spillway, I vowed to change all that.
It’s mid-November, and I am traversing down a steep slope into the canyon where Grape Creek runs free. It’s a balmy 50 degrees, but I’m crunching through a few inches of snow left over in shaded areas from a storm earlier in the week.
After stowing my RC Cola and Almond Joy candy bar in a snow bank, I ease into the water. It’s icy, and I do mean icy cold–only increasing my growing doubts about finding any willing fish. The sun is just climbing over the canyon rim, lighting up the good-looking u-shaped pool created where the creek plunges over a riffle and head first into a big rock palisade. I start throwing a line, and to my surprise on the third cast something big nails the caddis nymph that trails a couple of feet below the Royal Coachman Trude dry. After a good tussle, a brightly colored 15-inch rainbow eases into the net. All doubts evaporate. It’s the start of another banner late fall angling escapade.
BADGER CREEK: LEGEND OF THE LATE FALL #1 (Near Salida, CO)
Note: Please read this article in tandem with my Dec. 6 blog on late fall fishing in Colorado that discusses gear, tackle, and technique in greater detail.
Late October 2017
I have heard rumors for years about big trout in a remote small stream called Badger Creek near my home base of Salida. But I have always pooh-poohed them based on the sparse little rivulet I see that empties into the Arkansas River above Howard. The water is so thin at the mouth that the creek couldn’t possible sustain trout, small or big, through a hot, dry summer! Or at least that’s what I think.
It’s a beautiful late fall day in October and the sun is out and the temps are predicted to be in the mid-60s by mid-afternoon. I’ve run through my to-do list for the day by noon, and am hankering to cast to some trout, but my favorite high-country creeks are already beginning to ice up. So I decide to see if the tall tales are true. I load up my fishing gear around noon and head for Gribbles Park northeast of Salida, the headwaters of Badger Creek.