One of the real satisfactions and enjoyment I get from my Facebook fishing groups is reading posts from young 20- and 30-something anglers like my son as they hone their fly fishing skills while catching (and releasing) some beautiful muscular trout here in Colorado. But I have to admit to an urge to scream and gnash my teeth when these young bloods refer to their trophies as Toads, Slabs, and Pigs/Hogs. I think some of this jargon may have been imported from booyah southern bass fishermen, but whatever the case it seems sacrilegious to use four words in the English language that conjure up ugliness to describe something so rare and stunning or to introduce those terms into the gentle and civilized sport of fly fishing! So in the spirit of imparting some tips on nomenclature from an irascible septuagenarian who has been chasing trout for over 50 years, I offer the following guidance on acceptable terminology for describing your trophy.
First, a short primer on what is NOT allowed:
TOAD—this is what a toad looks like:
SLAB—this is what a slab looks like:
PIG/HOG—this is what a pig/hog looks like:
Now that those pejorative descriptive terms have been banished from your youthful vocabularies, here are some suggestions for more appropriate adjectives to describe your outsized catch: Monster, Huge, Gigantic, Gargantuan, Colossal, Titanic, Whopper. And for those of you who want to project a more erudite, cultured aura, please consider Leviathan or Brobdingnagian.
Thank you, dudes, for considering this rant from an increasingly curmudgeonly old codger. Please resume fishing at your earliest opportunity.
“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.” Henry David Thoreau
Late July 2016
It’s a cloudy morning at my campsite on the Conejos River west of Antonito, Colorado. I’ve slept in a bit late after a long day on the water yesterday, and anyway, rain is in the forecast. But by noon the sun is starting to peek out, and I’m getting the itch to explore. Given the late hour, I need to find something close by that won’t take hours to reach so settle on the Los Piños river, a popular stream only 20 minutes away. I have fished the Pine below Trujillo Meadows Reservoir near the New Mexico border and have had decent results. But I have never been in the more remote headwaters above the lake where the banks are not dotted by cabins or tromped by cattle.
I talk with one of the experienced old hands at the campground, and he draws me a little map. It’s a tricky route to the trailhead up the river canyon, so I am happy to have some directions, especially later when I find the topo maps are out-of-date. I load up and head out on Highway 17, over La Manga Pass and then hit the turn off for the Trujillo Meadows Reservoir just before the road angles over Cumbres Pass. It’s a beautiful drive, capped by a close-up view of the narrow gauge train chugging along the lower Los Piños on its way to Chama, New Mexico. I keep my eyes peeled for the sign for Forest Road 118 to the upper Los Piños and a waterfall that is a popular scenic attraction…then it’s off into the wilds, four-wheel drive at the ready!!
The gravel road is fairly smooth at first, but all that changes when I follow my hand-drawn map and make a right turn a couple of miles up the road. I cross a little creek that runs under the side road in a culvert, then switch into four-wheel drive as the road begins to climb and gets much rougher. The next waypoint is an orange barrel where the road splits, and I have been cautioned to stay left–and rightfully so. The fork to the right looks smoother, but it soon turns nasty, big rocks and muddy holes making it nearly impassable in places. Not to say that the left fork is a picnic. Passenger cars need not apply!! It’s four-wheel only. Lots of deadfalls across the road from the beetle kill (hello climate change) mean I have to thread the needle several times where the Forest Service has cleared the way. After a couple of more miles, that include a very rough steep stretch, I arrive at the waterfall trailhead…and find a cadre of ATV’s and a jeep already there. When I have more daylight, I want to hike up above the waterfall, which acts as a barrier to non-native trout, allowing the beautiful native Rio Grande Cutthroat to thrive. But for now I’ll go contrarian and head back down the road for a 1/2 mile where I spotted a section of the river down in the canyon that looks inviting! And I should have it all to myself. I suit up in my waders and carefully pick my way down the steep but short slope that is overgrown with wildflowers and bushes–this is a lush valley that gets plenty of moisture. I see fish rising in the pools!!
I am always on the lookout for a backcountry creek, preferably in a remote canyon or wilderness area, featuring great scenery, abundant wildflowers, and eager trout. I love that feeling of discovering an untrammeled piece of our planet Earth or at least one that is very lightly trodden.
I have had my eye on a little stream called Perfecto Creek and its partner Chavez Creek since last summer when I crossed over them to fish the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness Area south of Gunnison, Colorado. With a name like Perfecto, how can one resist?? Where the gravel U.S. Forest Service road crosses over, it’s barely a rivulet, but I spied some big inviting beaver ponds not too far below. And with some topographical map and GIS sleuthing, I find that just a mile down downstream Perfecto is joined by Chavez Creek then paired up they descend into a canyon on the way to a rendezvous with Pauline Creek (See my article on Pauline Creek from 2015.). That may mean enough water to float some decent-sized trout.
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!
Day One: I’m in my little travel trailer a.k.a mobile fishing camp parked next to Dome Lake located in a high country state park near the Continental Divide, not too far from Gunnison, Colorado. I drove up early this morning, sorely in need of a multi-day injection of nature and zen trout fishing time on one of my favorite waters—Cochetopa Creek. It’s mid-August, the rain has finally stopped, and the streams are clearing and fishable.
Maybe 15 feet at its widest, Cochetopa Creek arises at the foot of an imposing 14,000 foot+ mountain, San Luis Peak, in the La Garita Wilderness area south of Gunnison. Miles below, the creek squeezes out of a canyon stretch into a vast open sagebrush and grass valley called Cochetopa Park. There it meanders for a good 10 miles with gentle runs and S-curves before plunging into another canyon and joining Tomichi Creek which flows into the big Gunnison River, a fabled trout water. Cochetopa Creek is loaded with healthy, eager fish and steeped in history. In other words, my kinda place!