Fly fishing, something I have done less and less of as a father but am determined to resurrect this year with my boys, is my taste of heaven. Now saying that, I do not like waters that anglers necessarily are supposed to like. I have a very high beauty aesthetic for one; I appreciate watersheds where, when I get skunked (an unfortunate regularity post-fatherhood, as I apparently forgot almost everything about angling except how to pull a woolly bugger out of my ear), at least I spent a few hours in a beautiful place. So you will NOT see local haunt Eleven Mile Canyon here because I practically boycott that zoo of trucks, sedans, dirt bikes and dust. Nor will you see brown-lining for carp behind REI in Denver. The Dream Stream? The Blue? No flywater nicknames Asbestos Ally (because of I-70 semi’s using low gear), populates this list, no matter how big the trout. Nor is my fly line so desperate for a tug to go for a ride behind the golden Rocky Mountain bonefish.
You will see some places you hopefully have never heard of. I will hopefully ruffle some feathers about giving away secrets. In almost all cases, the specific time I mention makes the fishing pretty stupid easy. A good number of these involve hoofing it. One involves some serious cash. There is some really choice stuff ahead.
Each of these will be discussed in more thorough detail in later blog posts.
10. Arkansas River above Salida and below Brown’s Canyon, late April to Mother’s Day: this is classic, Montana-style water and offers some of the best caddis-nymphing in the west. At times, the fish are spectacularly stupid and compliant just before the famous Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch, a hatch so epic, wives of anglers throughout Colorado are known to cook their own breakfast the second Sunday morning in May.
9. Roaring Fork River through the Aspen Institute, late Fall: this is really cool water. It’s a mini-gorge on the outskirts of Aspen, and it goes through the world-famous Aspen Institute with all it’s awesome, Bauhaus architecture. And it’s fly-fishing only water.
8. Colorado River Pumphouse Float, post run-off: It’s with sad news that I must announce my father sold his 14′ self-bailing Hyside raft last weekend. The Pumphouse is where Summit County guides take clients to look like rock stars who actually know how to catch fish. Not near anything, about 45 minutes downstream of cosmopolitan Kremmling.
7. Big Thompson and St. Vrain, Rocky Mountain National Park: my preference for these streams is to wet wade them (no waders) in late afternoon in the summer. But it’s also fun when you have to leave the stream by 5 pm because the elk bed down there in the fall. Mostly tiny fish, but what a setting.
6. Long Lake Inlet, 4th of July: talk about specific. This is the nirvana of gem-like trout (Emerald Lake strain rainbows that are half vermillion and leopard spotted) without brains that like to eat anything that floats or egg flies. I’ve been told I’m going to hell for revealing this spot, but Long Lake gets a good 700 Boulderites a weekend along it’s shores, and I’m sure they’ve seen fools in rubber pants plying the waters. The key is where and when.
5. Cheesman Canyon most months of the year: the nearest local legend, a nice half mile hike over badly worn scree, this place is no secret. What is a secret is how to catch some of the five to eight pound fish that live in gin-clear water and eat insects the size of hair follicles.
4. Tomahawk, Middle Fork of the South Platte, mid-August: the lesser-known local legend fishes wonderfully when all other rivers are too warm, and since I’m into getting bit by horseflies repeatedly, it’s not a problem for me to leave the waders behind and work this straight upstream. It is rare that I have less than a half mile of water here to myself. Best fish I’ve landed on this little 20′ wide stream? 22″ brown on a parachute hopper. Next best was a 21″ brown on a size 18 parachute Adams on 6x. Pretty cool when the previous 25 fish for the day could fit in the palm of your hand.
Now the Natal Waters. The Western Slope
3. The San Miguel, Labor Day to Fall Color Peak: I believe my name on God’s white stone is Miguelito. The most ethereal dry fly day I’ve ever had was in a constant fog on slightly milky water with constantly rising wild rainbows slurping comparaduns while the hillside looked like a Cheeto-explosion in the riot of aspen fall color. A true, undamned freestone in Colorado’s Southwest. I’ll post my tarantula video from that day when I blog this.
2. The Bar ZX, Paonia, CO: talk about legends. I have seen photos of 25 pound rainbows caught here and have personally seen 20 pound brown trout. The largest trout I ever landed was here, a ten pound rainbow in a driving rainstorm. It is the only place I have had trout take my line to the backing, and I have had that happen regularly. Add to that probably the finest elk habitat on the planet and a sheer 2500 foot granite face covered in waterfalls on the northeast horizon and well… bring your check book for some fun with Dean Lampton.
1. The Gunnison: Where to begin? Want to start with compliant brookies above Crested Butte in the main tributary, the East? Or how about New Year’s Day below Taylor Reservoir dam casting for fickle 15 pound whales? Or how about breaking a rod on a kokanee salmon that goes through your legs in August? Or how about your wife’s first trout, a 17″ brown? No? What about the best four mile float in the state, where you get out and eat dinner at the take out, Garlic Mike’s? What about the definition of frustration, casting to 20, 20 inch trout obviously slurping caddis at dusk but steadfastly refusing your offering in Neversink? How about the prettiest trout in the state in the veritable cathedral of angling, the Black Canyon? What about a walk/wade/swim for two days, where you go down one trail named Wildcat and come out another named SOB? How about a poor man’s drift on the south bank at the Gorge’s mouth? To ask what my favorite part of the Gunnison is, is a little like asking which of my kids is my favorite. The river is unmatched, perhaps in the west, for diversity, extremes, trout density, size of fish, and all of it within 150 miles from start to end.
Now a coda to this post: I hope to add another to this list in 2011: the Blue River below Green Mountain Reservoir, probably in late June. The Blue is the previously derided Asbestos Ally up in Silverthorne. You actually fish off the sidewalks for the Factory Outlets. But way downstream, below big Green Mountain Reservoir, it’s a beast to access. But the word is, the trout are pretty beastly too. Here’s an example.