The North Fork of the South Arkansas River springs from three high-mountain lakes–Arthur,Island,and Billings– about 20 miles west of Salida,Colorado. Arthur Lake is one of my favorite early summer destinations, ensconced in a gorgeous setting just below the Continental Divide, loaded with hefty cutthroat trout, and requiring some substantial effort to reach its shores. Which means I usually have the place to myself, particularly during the week. It’s late June, and the report from ArkAnglers fly shop is that Arthur is ice-free, so I’m on the road early for the hour-long drive west from Salida to the trailhead at North Fork Reservoir. The turn off of US 50 is at Maysville, then about a ten-mile trek up County Road 240 that starts out as a smooth, scenic paved road but which turns gnarly about four miles up just past the public Shavano Campground. From there it is a very rough road suitable only for high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. You’ll be lucky to average 10 mph. Buckle up! Some big cutthroat are just up the road!
I’m cruising through the Wet Mountain Valley on the last leg of my annual migration from Florida, eager to get a look at my home water, the Arkansas River, to see if it’s fishable. My heart drops as I come down the hill into
Cotopaxi–the Big Ark is BIG. When I check the water levels later I find it’s running at 3,500 cfs–I fancy myself a strong wader, but don’t go near it when it’s over 750. AARRGGHH!!! Well, maybe the smaller creeks are in better shape….but no, when I cross the usually diminutive North Fork of the South Arkansas on the way to my cabin just outside Salida, I find it’s jumped it’s banks and is blown out. Plan B seems to be in order–maybe a hike to one of the high country lakes near the hamlet of Monarch/Garfield, just up the road. Next day I check in at my local fly shop, Ark Anglers, and get the good word. Ice is out on Grass and Hunt Lakes, two of my early season favorites. The weather report is perfect–70 degrees and sunny. My alarm is set at 5:00 a.m!! Grass Lake or bust!
More rain this week kept me off the local waters, and with the weekend looming along with the attendant crowds from the Front Range, I decided to head to a high country lake for some tranquility and, hopefully, some hungry trout. I dug out an old 1980s guidebook to lakes in the area, and the name Hunky Dory caught my eye. With a moniker like that, it had to be good. (More about that name later.).
Hunky Dory sits at 12,000 feet, perched high across the rugged North Fork Valley from Mt. Shavano, a 14er. The turnoff of US 50 up County Road 240 is at Maysville, about 10 miles west of Salida. What made it especially intriguing is that the guidebook said there was no trail to the lake. The hike was described as fairly short—just over a mile—but very steep, gaining 1,200 feet in that short distance. A check on the internet revealed a couple of entries describing the fishing for cutthroat trout as good. Who could resist.