Tuesday, September 25, 2012
As hard as it was to leave the Frying pan and those monster mayflies , I think we were all looking forward to getting up in the high-country most of all. Friday morning we awoke to clear skies and a heavy dose of frost on everything in sight. The plan was to load up the truck and drive about an hour higher up in the White River national Forest and then hike two or three miles into the headwaters of one of the local drainages for some cutthroat action. The usual order of business would have been to cook up some breakfast before departing but some of the "locals" in the area had caused some problems recently which altered our cooking plans.
After being informed that all cooking utensils , stoves , coolers and just about everything else would need to be loaded up in the truck whenever we left camp we decided to opt for something not as time consuming for some of our meals. After a quick cup of coffee and a granola bar or two we were packed and ready to hit the road.
We arrived at the end of our road and the beginning of the real work around 9:00 in the morning. Kevin and I had fished this same drainage two years ago and the memories of the stream and those beautiful cutthroats had been drawing me back ever since.
The first mile or so of this stream contains a few brookies and then as the elevation rises the fish seem to just kind of disappear. My guess is that most folks don't venture much further , but if you keep pushing forward you'll come to a small five foot waterfall , and above that is where you can expect to start catching the cutthroats. It was almost 11:00 when we shed our packs and sat down in the clearing just downstream of the waterfall to gear up.
The valley and stream itself were just as awe inspiring as I'd remembered , now to see if the fish were still there and willing to cooperate.
The stream is relatively small up here (10,500 - 11,000 feet) and so are the fish that inhabit it , but what they lack in size they make up for in sheer beauty. It didn't take long until we were hooking up with those brightly colored specimens fairly regularly.
Every deep pocket or pool seemed to have at least a couple of fish lurking in the dark areas just waiting to ambush our small hoppers or EHC imitations.
After a streamside lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon leap-frogging each other , taking turns flipping flies into likely looking spots and being rewarded with some of the most stunning fish I could imagine.
It was hard to turn around and start hiking back downhill at the end of the day , but with 2 1/2 more days of fishing left we all decided that a return trip was in order regardless of what fishing we encountered elsewhere.
That night we got back to camp late and not wanting to unpack the truck decided to head into Basalt for dinner. The Riverside Cafe was our eatery of choice and we spent the remainder of our evening sucking down beers and trying to discuss tomorrows plans over the din of loud music coming from the live band in the corner. Miles of hiking and more than enough libations made for an early night once we got back to camp , I'm not sure my head even hit the pillow before I was out!
Saturday came with a new plan of action , we needed to pick up a few items from the flyshop and re-stock our coolers with ice so it was decided that we'd go back to town and then head over to fish the Roaring Fork once we were done. Kevin and I had failed to make time to fish this freestone river flowing down from Aspen on our last trip but Ron had spent a couple of days plying it's waters several years ago and knew of several access points we could hit.
Our first stop after leaving Basalt was Jaffe Park (I think that's right?) alongside the Roaring Fork. From the parking lot a walking trail headed upstream , following the river for almost 4 miles until reaching the town of Aspen. To me this was the kind of water that just screamed Colorado , lots of fast runs and riffles and a bottom substrate made up of multi-colored round river rock.
There were a few other fishermen with our same idea but surprisingly we had no problem finding vacant water to fish. It didn't take long before hooking up with a brightly colored rainbow on a size #20 red copper john dropper.
Between the fish and the strong current it was all my five weight could handle to bring the fish to hand. These fish that had spent their lives in the fast freestone water had more energy than ten fish from the rivers around home. With so much water available we split up and worked the likely looking spots with our nymph rigs throughout the morning , all of us catching decent numbers of fiesty rainbows.
The only negative to the morning was when I stupidly began chasing another healthy bow downstream after hooking up , those round slick rocks don't make for much traction and the end result was a crash and burn on my part. Surprisingly I managed to land the fish despite crushing my Lamson against a boulder and busting my knees up pretty good. My first thought was... "What did I break?" , and I wasn't even thinking about my flyrod. Luckily no bones were broken , it just felt like it for the next few days every time I tried to bend my knees!
Sometime around noon we met back up in the parking lot for a quick lunch and discussed our plan for the afternoon. The fishing was good where we were but the idea of seeing new water appealed to everyone so we got out the map and found a couple of other accesses on the Fork that we could hit on the way back towards Basalt. While we caught a few more fish at the next two spots we hit , it probably wasn't as good of fishing as we had in the park.
Sometimes the grass is greener...sometimes it's not. We ended up spending the last couple of hours in the day back on the Frying Pan trying to fool a few fish. I found a pod of small browns rising and finally managed to land a couple of them on a size #22 Parachute BWO. With that (and another cold beer) I was ready to call it a day.
Sunday would be our last full day of fishing and while the decision was tough , we decided to head back up to our cutthroat stream and spend the day in beauty and solitude. We packed lunches and anything else we might need on our backs and headed up for a full day of "Rocky Mountain High". Ron and I decided to hike in 4 miles to a big meadow up in the valley that we hadn't seen or fished yet while Kevin hung back and fished the same waters we had hit on Friday.
It seemed the farther up we went , the clearer the water and the sky became. Not sure if it was the ultra-clear skinny water or just us but the fishing wasn't quite as good up high as what we'd encountered downstream a mile or so. Not that either of us minded at all , the views from up there were amazing and worth every step it took to get there regardless of the fishing!
After wandering around up there for a while , taking photos and just basically soaking it all in we headed back down the mountain to where we knew we would find better fishing. By this time the large caddis were coming off and the little cutts were looking for them dancing across the water. If you've never experienced this kind of small mountain stream fishing...you're missing it.
Even now , I can visualize the cast...the fly plopping down on the surface of the gin-clear water...and then watching those beautiful little cutthroats come out of nowhere and follow along , an inch under your fly , sometimes the entire length of the pool before deciding to finish the deal. Simply AWESOME!!
We left the truck before 8:00 in the morning and didn't make our way back until after 4:00 , just in time to see the falling sun light up the aspen covered hillsides down in the valley.
With a few hours of daylight left and knowing it was our last day we stopped off and hit a few spots for small brookies on our way back to camp. High mountain cutts and brookies to finish off the trip , I don't think I could have planned it any better.
That day always has to come , you know the one , after a week of playing like a little kid it's time to pack up the toys and head back to reality. We only planned to drive about half of the thirteen hours on Monday so we had a few more hours available to fish so it wasn't all bad. Our plan was to pack up camp and hit the road , stopping off at a couple of smaller creeks on I-70 for a few hours to finish the trip off right. On the last creek we fished before packing it in for good I landed a brown , a bow and a cutthroat all within 50 yards of each other. I knew that was as good as it was gonna get and just broke down my rod for the trip home right there. Walking back down the trail towards the truck I started thinking about the events of the last week , the fish...the scenery...the company...life is definitely good!!
Saturday, September 22, 2012
It's good for the soul to have something to look forward too , everyone seems to have something different that sparks their sense of anticipation within , for me it always seems to be a fishing trip (aside from the daily ritual of looking forward to quitting time). It's not always the big trips that bring about the strongest feelings of anticipation either , sometimes during an extra long workweek just the thought of hitting the local pond on Friday evening can have the same result. This trip however was anything but small. For this self described trout bum , a week of camping and fishing on some of the best streams in Colorado is comparable to dropping your kid off at the local candy store with unlimited fundage .
For the past month my side of the garage has been filling up with miscellaneous camping and fishing gear , home projects have been put on hold indefinitely and the fly tying desk has been in a constant state of disarray from long evenings of whipping up semi-recognizable patterns. I'm pretty sure my productivity at work has suffered too , but when you're a long time underachiever like myself nobody even seems to notice anymore.You know it's getting pretty bad when the wife starts telling you to....just leave already!
Finally the day of departure rolled around , it was Tuesday and by this point I was relegated to sitting on my pile of stuff in the garage waiting for Kevin and Ron to arrive. The pre-arranged departure time was set for 3:00 but like flies flocking to fresh.....well , you know , they both arrived early and rearing to go. Only by the grace of God were we able to get all of our gear in the back of Ron's truck , in all honesty it didn't quite fit , we ended up leaving a few non-neccessary items sitting in my garage to keep from having to use a winch strap to keep the camper shell door closed. At that point though no one really seemed to care , we were headed West for a week of fishing that we'd all been looking forward to for quite some time.
That first day we covered a little more than half the required distance to our final destination before stopping in Limon Colorado for the night. Anyone who tells you that getting there is half the fun hasn't traveled on I-70 across the great state of Kansas , unless you're interested in the five-legged steer in Salina or the worlds largest prairie dog outside of Oakley there's just not much to get excited about. We spent the night (5 hours at most) at a small establishment that would have made a Motel 6 seem like the Four Seasons Resort and then hit the road early the next morning to finish the drive. Just West of Denver the scenery takes on an entirely different look , this is what I rode thirteen hours in a cramped truck for.
Tumbling streams , glowing aspens , mountain tops piercing the clouds...for a guy from the flatlands of Kansas it seems like nothing short of Shangri-La. It goes without saying that this part of the trip goes incredibly fast compared to the previous 10 hours.
After the obligatory stop at the fly shop , Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt , the grocery store and the liqour store, we headed up Two Rivers Road toward our campground. As we drove along the Frying Pan river the anticipation hit a crescendo and it was all I could do to stay in my seat.
Every corner brought another incredible looking riffle into view which invariably caused oohs and aaahs from my friends and I.
Finally free of the rivers grasp we pulled into Little Mattie Campground on Reudi Reservoir just after 1:00.
After a quick lunch of sandwiches washed down with a couple of celebratory beers the next couple of hours were spent unloading and setting up camp. Once tents were up and a basic camp prepared we got to the important tasks of stringing flyrods and organizing fishing gear.
By the time we got back to the river it was almost 4:00 , too late for the afternoon hatch of green Drakes that we were told about at the flyshop but still plenty of time to ply the fabled waters for one of the local browns or rainbows. The beautiful fall weather had obviously not gone unnoticed and we had to search for a spot where the three of us could fish comfortably without crowding other fishermen. We spent the remainder of the evening hopping from spot to spot , catching a few browns... or rainbows , on what I can't honestly remember.
What I do remember is the sound of the water crashing over the rocky riffles , the fragrant smell of pine and the way the sunlight made the redrock canyons glow in the evening light. Sometimes it's all about the fishing...sometimes it's not.
We celebrated our arrival that evening with some thick ribeyes on the grill and a fair amount of adult beverages to help wash them down. The night finished off sitting around the fire making plans for the upcoming days and thinking of green drakes and rainbows , cutthroats and caddis , brookies and red humpies.
Thursday dawned another beautiful day , bright skies with an unmistakeable crispness in the air that seemed to smell of fall.
The plan for today was to focus on the closest river to camp , the Frying Pan , and try to catch a hatch or two for some dry fly fishing. After some coffee and a little breakfast (the Pan isn't really an early morning river anyway) we made our way down to the river and started fishing the area below the flats. Fishing was slow most of the morning as we jumped around from one spot to another , a few rainbows and browns were caught nymphing but nothing to write home about.
Just before noon we noticed the traffic increasing around the access and spots starting to fill up in anticipation of the afternoon hatch. We staked out a spot of our own and ate some lunch while we waited for the bugs to start coming off.
Normally I wouldn't be excited about having to stake out a spot on a river , I prefer to fish areas where I can choose my own company and getting a spot isn't an issue. But this was different , as I sat streamside and looked at the box full of Green Drakes , the anticipation of the hatch and the selection of flies just seemed to make the whole experience.
Whether the bugs came off or not , this was all part of the Frying Pan experience.
While the "Big Hatch" never quite happened that afternoon we saw enough Green Drakes , PMD's and Caddis coming off to give us some memorable fishing. Theres nothing like watching a fish come up under your size 12 drake comparadun and follow it for three feet before slurping it in.
I got to witness that enough times on this afternoon to make me a very happy camper , definitely my best day of dry fly fishing in a while.
As the afternoon wore on the crowds started dissipating and we moved around some , trying new spots and catching a few fish as we went along. Not a bad way to start off the trip....tomorrow we'd hike up into the headwaters of a close-by watershed and hopefully spend the day catching cutthroats at 11,000 feet.