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Trout Magic

“Take up the fly rod, and the shotgun, and before you know it, you’re an outcast, a social leper, rejected by your family, despised by your neighbors, mistrusted by your community….The final question is, should any man turn his back on ambition, profit, security, and a parking place in the city, just to pursue a fish?”

-Harry Middleton – The Earth is Enough

I really enjoy outdoor stories and also enjoy finding quotes that seem to sum things up so succinctly – so – hope you’ll enjoy a few too…

Most of you know I am an avid outdoorsman – junkie I wrote the other day! Well the fly rod was essentially the first thing I took up that I went nuts over – even tied my own flies for a period of time. Back then I was living in NYC but had a place in the beautiful hills of NW Connecticut and the Housatonic River was my home water.

Locals used to tell me that fly-fishing on the Housatonic River has been compared with western rivers and is among the finest for trout in the eastern United States. I was very fortunate that my “home water” was the most popular stretch for fly fishing — between the Falls Village Dam and the town of Cornwall Bridge in Litchfield County. My place was up the hill from the covered bridge in West Cornwall – a picture postcard experience

Well I figured since I was near some actual western rivers, maybe it was time to go fishing. My fishing buddy R had already chastised me (will sound familiar to long time followers!) for not yet “staring into the eye of a trout”

So fully recovered from my summit of Mt Sneffels and needing to move to a different campground – but definitely not interested yet in leaving this magnificent area – I moved only 15 miles north to Colorado’s newest –and some reported – its finest State Park – Ridgway State Park.

The park stretches along nearly 5 miles into the Uncompahgre River Valley. The river is dammed creating a large reservoir for boating – and – fishing!

And, the river below the dam looked like it might serve up some good fly-fishing – sweet!! The park has three distinct camping areas: Elk Ridge is the most popular on top of a mesa; Dakota Terraces has the best mountain views; BUT , Pa-Co-Chu-Puk campground is located on a stretch of the Uncompahgre River below the dam.

Guess where I camped… 300 yards from what looked like some promising water…

Now, as good as this was – I also wanted to get on to some trout fishing on one of Colorado’s Gold Medal Waters – the nearby Gunnison River

What are Gold Medal waters? Glad you asked…

These fishing areas have been designated by the Colorado Wildlife Commission as providing great spots to catch those large trout. These waters are defined as being able to produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, and at least twelve 14″ or larger trout per acre. Only about 168 miles of Colorado’s 9000 miles of trout streams, and three lakes, carry the “Gold Medal” signature.

I had enjoyed fishing some of these waters in the past but it had been years –

I have extremely fond memories of camping and fishing on the South Platte River in Cheesman Canyon; on Spinney Mountain Reservoir; on both the Fryingpan River and Roaring Fork River – outstanding trout waters

The nearby Gunnison was on my bucket list too.

I was hoping for a big day…

“Down at the core of every fisherman’s heart is the belief that on any day something wonderful and unlikely could be made to happen, and that if you’re careful and patient enough it could happen to you.”

-John Gierach, “ Standing in a River Waving a Stick”

The Gunnison is simply a great fishing destination – a report I had read put it so well…”it varies in width and character throughout its course – but no stretch is more beautiful than the Black Canyon section. Known throughout the West as a popular destination for rafters and anglers, the Canyon section is controlled by the dam at the tail end of Blue Mesa Reservoir, located near Montrose, Colorado. In some stretches, the Canyon walls drop nearly 2000 feet – almost vertically – into the river, providing some of the most spectacular scenery in the country on top of some great fishing”

Rigs Fly Shop, in Ridgway, was just the ticket to get on this spectacular river. The kind of local fly shop that is every avid fly-fisherman’s dream shop – top of the line products; extremely nice and knowledgeable guides; and, access to some incredible public and private waters.

Well, as luck, or misfortune, would have it, the torrential rains that had hit every afternoon like clockwork had blown out the Gunnison. But, like Gierach said: at the core of every fisherman’s heart is the belief that on any day something wonderful and unlikely could be made to happen

And, that is exactly what happened – Matt, my guide, called an “audible” ( yup- I know some of you hate sports metaphors but it works here –OK?). We would fish the Uncompahgre – the same waters I had scouted when I arrived at the park – waters that I figured might have some nice fish.

Matt, however, smiled mischievously when I mentioned that and suggested that he knew better – the river below the dam holds some monster trout – ‘cuts, rainbows, browns – they’re all there. And, since the reservoir/dam acts as a filter, the river would be running clear.

Damn it if that guy wasn’t absolutely spot on…

Well, they say any day fishing is better than a day in the office; some days are good, others great. And then there are days that are pure magic – like my day on this very fine river section – perhaps some of the finest fishing I have experienced.

Now I don’t count fish; nor do I like to boast – but – size matters

In one spot alone we pulled out 8 fish and, with only a couple of exceptions, every single one of them was 18-20” in length – huge “shoulders” and stunning colors…a magical moment for sure…

yup, it was raining (so no pics so just trust me on this!), thunder was rumbling, and we were pulling hogs out of one of the finest holes I have fished – only has happened once before like this – in Cheesman Canyon on the South Platte – and, that water is Gold Medal Water – damn it if I was thinking more folks should know about this stretch of water…but then again , I liked that virtually no one else was on the water so you’re all sworn to secrecy about this special spot… 🙂

And, this happened more than once. Neither Matt nor I could believe what was happening at just about every hole we scouted for fish – holes that he knows by virtue of hours afield in the winter when low water flows give him an opportunity to determine where the big fish hang out; what holes are the best habitat; the spots where we were simply killing it. Absolutely astounding…

The fish were aggressive and readily took a well-presented nymph. But these were also “educated fish” so good fly fishing techniques – casting and mending – were the order of the day and extremely tiny, size 22 nymphs were the choice of the day.

Matt had things dialed in for sure. The right fly, the right amount of weight for good drifts, and, I was casting the cutting edge Sage ONE fly rod – a rod that has won reviewers over with its build and accuracy. I had heard about the rod but I was amazed at how light and sleek the rod was – the new technology that Sage uses seems to give it an aerodynamic look – stealth like. Light, thin, but really very stout – a real pleasure to cast all day for big fish. Very cool rod.

Now I don’t need a $700-plus fly rod to catch fish, but if you looking for ideas for next Christmas….

So now, thanks to Matt, I have some local knowledge – knowledge I will put to good use over the next couple of days.

Thanks Matt for a superb day on the water…

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite portions of trout fishing writing –

Testament of a Fisherman

“I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful and I hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun..”

–Robert Traver, Trout Magic

take care…see you down the road…

for now though, I am going fishing….

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