Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Deep Creek Deserves Wild And Scenic Status (Vail Daily)



                       Deep Creek Area Being Considered For Wild And Scenic Status

Yesterday, I went to a public meeting sponsored by the BLM, US Forest Service and American Rivers putting forth a proposal to list the Deep Creek as a Wild and Scenic Area.  Deep Creek in western Eagle County, and the idea of giving it some level of added protection has been bandied about for at least twenty years. When I first heard about this latest proposal last spring, I was slightly skeptical despite being generally in favor of protecting our wild western landscapes.  

  The reason for my skepticism was twofold. The first is that the there's currently no existential threat looming over Deep Creek. Though the potential for mining operations or water resource development exists hypothetically, no one is talking about doing it, at least not at the moment.  So what exactly are we protecting it from? The second reservation I had was what might happen to the area by listing it as "Wild and Scenic", in terms of drawing attention to an area that sees very little human traffic as it is. It is extremely rough country, with no real trail running through it. Its as close to impassable as you'll find in Colorado, and so is already self-limiting by its very nature.  Would making it "Wild and Scenic" have the unintended consequence of making it less wild and scenic, by encouraging people to visit the area more?

  This summer I made several trips up into the Deep Creek area to better know it.  I've tried to access it in past, but been rebuffed by high spring flows.  This time I went in the summer with a fly rod in hand, often using the creek itself as a means of egress.  It is an extremely wild and scenic place,  a point which everyone agrees on. Deep Creek is a pretty amazing area, dropping from subalpine fields of wildflowers at over ten thousand feet, to high desert at six thousand in just under fifteen miles. There are some feisty, colorful brown trout in there, a sizable arch, wildflowers aplenty, and one of Colorado's best views from its easily accessible overlook.  It is also home to one of the most extensive cave systems in the world. Its also already under federal control, with Forest Service land on top and BLM below. No private property is affected. But is a new federal designation right for Deep Creek, and is the time to do that now?

  I'm a fishing guide who lives beside the Colorado River, and Deep Creek is practically in my backyard. At the meeting yesterday, many of my neighbors who ranch in the area showed up, and most had levels of skepticism that were much higher than mine.  They had concerns that such a designation might impact the ranching operations they've conducted in the area not for just years, but for generations.   They know this area better than anyone else, and their worries and opinions need to be seriously considered.   

 As for me, after chewing this proposal over in my mind all summer I've come to opinion that I am in favor of the new status for Deep Creek, with the caveat that the interests and concerns of the local ranching community are addressed to their satisfaction.  I'd also like to see the BLM and US Forest Service leave the area just as it is to their utmost ability.  That means, no bridge over the creek near the bottom switchback, no trail improvements, no fancy visitor center and a minimal amount of new signage.  In other words, if the purpose of the new designation is to preserve the area just as it is, than they need to leave it just as it is, to the greatest extent possible.  And now is the time to get it done, before some potential threat to the area becomes manifest. Keeping out a mining operation with its associated issues, and leaving as much water in the creek as possible to support the truly unique riparian ecosystem is a noble goal. Keeping out good ranchers who've spent their lives working and living in that landscape is not. But in the end, having such a wild and scenic place our backyard is worth protecting. 

  So let's move forward with recognizing and protecting the Deep Creek area, and then try our best to just leave it the hell alone!  

Colorado Water Plan (reprinted from Glenwood Post Independent 2/20/2016)



                                 Keep The Colorado Water Plan Momentum Going

Since I live on the banks of the Upper Colorado River, and operate a float fishing business along it, I pay a lot of attention to river issues.  Although subjects pertaining to the Colorado River get my special attention, any impact to any river in Colorado or even the west are of interest to me, since rivers and streams represent an interconnected web of life.  What affects one will surely impact another eventually.  In the past, people tended to view rivers as standalone entities.  They saw them through the narrow keyhole of whatever river segment happened to flow past their view.  I grew up in a small mill town in Massachusetts, and back there rivers used to be seen as a mere conduits with which to flush away the effluent of the Industrial Revolution. 
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from that mentality.  People are generally more aware now than they were a hundred years ago of how important clean waterways are to having a good quality of life.  In the western United States, where water is in much shorter supply than it is in the east, this acknowledgment is even more important.  Every drop of water is likely to be used multiple times for many purposes on its trip from the high mountain snowpacks of the Rockies, to their ultimate evaporation in some distant southwest desert, or to an even more distant ocean.
 In Colorado, this more enlightened view has become manifest in our new statewide water plan, which Governor John Hickenlooper announced late last year.  The plan prioritizes conservation measures, sets robust statewide water conservation targets for cities and industry, proposes annual funding for healthy rivers, and creates ongoing unprecedented financial support for river assessments and restoration. It represents the culmination of many years effort by parties working together, most of whom in the past used to work against one another’s interests.  If only for that reason alone, the State Water Plan represents a landmark document.
Specifically, the plan recommends that Colorado invest in unprecedented stream protection and restoration, starting with stream management plans for many of our rivers and streams. The importance of preserving and restoring the environmental resiliency of our waterways cannot be overstated. According to this year’s Colorado College Conservation in the West poll results, 77 percent of voters in Colorado believe that the Colorado River and its tributaries are at risk. Keeping Western Slope rivers healthy and flowing is unquestionably one of the most important ideals to protect the economic, environmental, and social well-being of our state.
Now that the plan is complete, we must not let sit idle on the shelf.  We have to keep the momentum going, and direct our efforts at funding the plan’s components. We need to make sure that we invest in environmental and recreational projects which benefit the Colorado River and its tributaries as proposed by the plan. Legislators should work with the governor to meet these goals.  After all, keeping rivers healthy is a bi-partisan goal, for rivers have no political party affiliation.

The Passing Of The Torch (& its follow-ups)

This is a bit of a different blog post.  I recently received an email from the grieving widow of one of my customers.  She was trying to reach friends and angling acquaintances of her late husband to let them know about his passing, and when his funeral services would be. 

  I forwarded her message to most of the people on my fishing email list, not knowing whom might know her husband and who might not.  Fishing makes for some pretty strange bedfellows.  Anyway, I added a few words of my own to her missive, and ended up getting quite a response from it.  Below is her email to me, my forwarded email, and a few of the responses I got back. 

                                                               Jack

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Dear Jack,
>
> I don't know if you knew my husband, Don Cushing, but he was an avid fly fisherman and attended the Cutthroat Chapter meetings for a number of years until his arthritis and hearing got the best of him. Don passed away early Monday morning and our family is asking that donations be made to Colorado Trout Unlimited in his name. Don was a Colorado native and grew up fishing with his father and brother, then going on to teach our son who is now teaching his own son and daughter. Many hours were spent on rivers, lakes and streams, enjoying family, friends and nature, with the main focus on catching one more trout for the day. My mother-in-law thanked me several times for "allowing my husband to go fishing". I replied that I was always happy for him to go fishing because he returned a better husband and father. I am so thankful he participated in an activity that was so fulfilling and, I believe, spiritual for him.
>
> Don's memorial service will be held Sunday, Feb. 28th, 2:00 pm, at the Horan & McConaty Mortuary at 5303 E. County Line Rd., Centennial, CO 80122.
>
> I know only one member of the Cutthroat Chapter and left a message informing him of Don's passing. If there is a way to notify other members of that chapter before Sunday, I would appreciate your help in passing on the information.
>
> Don and I always looked forward to your special articles that were so on point and powerful. Thank you for your dedication and service.
>
> Fondly,
> Peggy Cushing (Mrs. Don Cushing)

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On Feb 26, 2016, at 3:14 AM, jack bombardier <jack@confluencecasting.com> wrote:
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To All My Fishing Friends,

  If you are receiving this email, the odds are good that you've spent a day with me floating down what I like to call the "Upper Lower" Colorado River.  As a result, you might be under the impression that surely, the life I live must be the most perfect and desirable existence possible.  After all, I get to do what I love the most, in the place I want to do it, while married to a woman younger and smarter than me who makes five time what I do while doing what she loves to do. Who could want or ask for anything more?

  Well there are two types of individuals that I envy. The first is couples that fish together.  Just two days ago I was bringing some people down to Denver along Clear Creek in an SUV while working my winter gig as a limo driver, and saw a young man and woman stringing up fly rods together and felt a major pang in my heart. I love my wife, but she considers catch and release fishing as mere torture, and to be honest she sort of has a point, even if I don't agree with it. 

  The second type of situation I envy is the father-son dynamic, where I spend the day on the river with a father and son, and getting to be a tiny part of watching a father pass his love of fishing and the outdoors on to his son.  Even if the son (and maybe even the father) might not know it, those precious hours spent on my boat will likely be hours that both of them will be thinking of for the rest of their lives.  Hopefully, those hours of bonding will be looked back upon as some of the best  times they'll ever spend together, no matter what twists and turns their lives journey's will bring them.

  So what then to make of that scenario on steroids, that of a father and his son and his son all together on my boat for a day?  That is to say, grandfather, father, and son?  That particular combination has happened only three times in the dozen years I've been taking anglers down the Colorado River.  I know that its been three times exactly because  all three times its been memorable.  On all those three trips I've spent most of the eight river hours wishing that I could be one of the three other people on my boat.   Would it be best to be the grandfather, being lucky enough to see that not only were your values being passed on to your son, your very blood, but to your grandson as well?  How incredibly special must that be?  But what about being both a father and a son in that dynamic?  To be spending the day in an extraordinary setting with both the man who made you what you were, and being in the position to pass those lessons on to your offspring as well?  Or might it best to be the fine young man to be so lucky to be in presence of both generations at the same time, to be the recipient of such unconditional, multi-generational love? 

  The reason that such questions have come to the forefront of my mind tonight is that Colorado has lost a dear member of it's angling fraternity.  His name was Don Cushing, and he and his son Jon and his grandson Nate spent an afternoon floating with me down the Lower Upper one perfect September day a couple of years ago.  I spent entire eight hours undecided as to which of the three I envied the most.  I'm sure back in the "real world" their lives were no more perfect than mine appears to be. But one could not help buy admire the passing of the torch so evident in the love and support they all had for each other.

  I don't know the particulars of Don's passing, and can only hope that the end of this life's journey came as peacefully and painlessly as possible. After all, everything we know of someday must come to and end, and that is the best any of us can hope for.  But I have to think that in Don's final moments, knowing that the values he had treasured had been passed on to Jon and Nate (and hopefully on to Nate's kids someday) were in good hands must have been of some solace to him. 

  The time we will all get to spend on this little verdant rock we call Earth is fleeting indeed.  The best we can hope for is to leave it a little better than we found it, and to instill those values in those who will follow along behind us. Don Cushing was a person for everyone to admire who treasures the natural world we are lucky enough to inherit from the fathers and grandfathers who came before us. To paraphrase a Coldplay lyric, those who are dead, are not dead, they're just living in our heads.

  Below, I'm copying you all on the email I got from Don's widow Peggy.  I have no idea whether or not you knew Don, but even if you didn't, if you love rivers and fishing and family know that Don was a kindred spirit, and please wish Peggy and Jon and Nate and Stacy the best in your thoughts and prayers.

                                                                Jack
c
>
<CushingsAtJackFlats.jpg>
<NatesHugeBrown.jpg>
<DonsBigBrown.jpg>

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Jack-
Would you mind if I used your story on Don in a cutthroat 
chapter email blast notifying members of his passing? Quite well written
 and would be great for all to read
 
-Matt

*************************************************************************
Jack--

Thank you for this poignant piece.  Having 14 grandchildren (taught 2 to flyfish) and being 75 years old made it hit right in the solar plexus.

Hopefully, Bob Willoughby and I will float with you this summer....maybe a half day this time.

Herb Luhman

On Feb 26, 2016, at 3:14 AM, jack bombardier <jack@confluencecasting.com> wrote:
************************************************************************************************

Thanks for taking charge of this Cam.  I was away yesterday and just picking this up now.  Let me suggest the following:
1.       Notification of funeral services:  there is obvious urgency in this.  Matt/Mike, could you send out an email blast to the CCTU membership today?  I think it would be appropriate to attach the very caring and loving note from his wife, Peggy.
2.       CTU Fund:  It appears that Don’s wish was that donations be made in his name to CTU.  Cam, do you know of a way to set that up?  Is there an address where donations can be sent? 
3.       CCTU recognition of Don:  Let’s work on putting something on our website and Newsletter.  I would suggest including the very moving piece written by Jack Bombardier yesterday (with his permission). I’ve attached that email, as I don’t believe it was sent to everyone.  Having a picture of Don would be great.  I think we should also recognize Don’s passing at our next CCTU membership meeting.  We can discuss the particulars of that at our Board meeting on Tuesday.

That’s all I can think of right now.  We can all only hope that folks will have similar thoughts and caring for each of us when we are gone.

Allen

Allen Adinoff, MD
President Cutthroat Chapter Trout Unlimited

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Thanks Jack!!!  I love your letters. Keep em comin'!!!

My dad and brother were fortunate enough to go on a float trip several years ago (in WY). I speak for all of us when I say it was a special trip and one we will always remember. 

Joe Chickey, Jr.

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Don Cushing sounds like a guy we'd all have liked to meet, caught a couple trout with and had a couple beers besides afterwards.

I really appreciate your emails,

Matthew G Leman
Fort Collins, CO

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Dear Mr. Bombadier:
I want to thank you for the heartwarming tribute you wrote for my brother, Don.  It was beautiful and true.

One of the last things he and I talked about when we were saying our "goodbyes" was that he was able to get his three generation together for a float trip.  This meant a lot to him.  He also asked me if I would take Nate fishing on the Big Thomson River.  Nate's early fishing were in spots where catching was fairly easy, and he wanted me to reveal to him that it can also be "slow."  Though I can't wade streams anymore, I promised I would take Nate and Jon to the stream and Jon can wade/fish with him.

If you would be kind enough to send me your mailing address, I'd like to send you a couple of books I've published on rivers, streams, and fly fishing by way of thanks.

Sincerely,
Bert Cushing

**********************************************************************************************************************************
  Dear Jack,
Words cannot express the gratitude our family feels for the help you have been in passing on the news, but most of all, your response to my note was so much more.  Thank you so much for your tribute to Don, and sharing of the experience you had with Don, Jon and Nate.  Including the pictures was so special.

You are indeed an exceptional man, and I thank God for you.  May God bless you, your family, and the work you do.

Sincerely,

Peggy Cushing
(Mrs. Don Cushing)





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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Collected Fishing Emails For 2015



     Below are the fishing-related emails I sent out in 2015, in chronological order.  It makes for a nice window into what a year along the river is like!

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                      The Colorado River Is In Great Shape      
To All,                                                                                                                                             4/6/2015

  I've been chomping at the bit waiting to write this email, and now I finally can!  The Upper Colorado River is finally in good shape for fishing, two months after the ice melted away.  There were a couple of low, clear weeks right after ice-out, when it looked like an aquarium and not a wild river.  But even as good as the water looked, it was still too cold for the fish to be very active, and bugs were nowhere to be seen. Then the weather warmed a bit, and the level rose, and the river turned tea-colored which is how its been for most of the past month. 

  But in last few days, a couple of things have changed.  First, the level stabilized at around 1200-1300 cfs, which is a very nice flow.  If you've got a drift boat, this might be a good time to bring it up this way.  Typical summer levels in a dry year like this one is shaping up to be are around 900 cfs, which can be a little bony for a hard sided boat.

  The second thing is that ranches have begun to irrigate, and that means a lot of the little tributaries that tend to muddy up the river are being captured by headgates and all that sediment is now watering alfalfa and grass pastures instead. The result is a much clearer river. 

  The final factor that finally prompted my keyboard time are bugs!  The hatches aren't dense or widespread yet, but they are happening and as the water continues to warm they should only increase over the next couple of weeks.  So far its only been some BWOs and caddis, but the important thing is that the bugs are finally on the move, and the fish can't be too far behind!

  As far as any prognostications as to what the spring fishing and flows might be like, a lot of that will depend on the run-off.  The latest Snotel number for the Colorado River basin have our snowpack at a measly 76% of average.  That's not a great number, unless you compare it to California or the southwest part of the state.  Luckily the reservoirs are in good shape, and so assuming that the summer isn't especially dry, we should be in good shape on the Upper C.  The closest parallel to it would be 2012. That year, the best fishing of the whole year ended up being during the springtime, not late summer and fall as it usually is.  That year, what run-off we had was captured by the reservoirs to store for late summer releases, and the river ran low and clear in May and June. The fishing was great, and that was without the Hofer rainbows that were stocked here that September.  Much of the summer that year ended up getting washed out by some torrential thunderstorms, one of which resulted in most of the fish below Sweetwater Creek getting suffocated (which is why we got the rainbows in the first place). 

  So the bottom line to all that is, there's no way to predict what the river will look like later on in the year, but its in damn fine shape right now!  If you've got a boat, this is an excellent time to think about coming up here.  If you don't, then its time to call me! I'll keep my off-season rates in effect ($100 off) until we start having dozen-plus fish days.

                                                        Tight Lines,

                                                               Jack


                         Early Runoff This Year

  The spring runoff on the Upper Colorado River began on May first, a couple of weeks early.  Considering that the river ice melted off five weeks earlier than I’d ever seen it, a slightly premature runoff probably made sense. 

  But oh what a great few weeks it’s been for the snowpack and river systems of Colorado!  A month ago, the snowpack was looking pretty low and having much of a runoff at all was in doubt.  In mid-April, I attended the Colorado Trout Unlimited Rendezvous in Redstone, and that was the week if finally started to snow and rain again.  Some of the attendees had some difficult driving conditions to get there.  But after a dry month, seeing all that beautiful white snow on the ground was nice.  Unfortunately, it came too late for late-season skiing, as most areas including Vail and Aspen closed that very weekend.

  There were several talks and presentations given that day in Redstone, given in the local chapel.  It was a strange juxtaposition between what words were passing through my ears, and the images my that my brain processed.   Experts were talking about how dire the current and future water situation is, while the view outside the soaring chapel windows were filled by quarter-sized flakes of snow slowly wafting down.  An 1815-type Currier and Ives scene, during an April day in Colorado, circa 2015.

  Later that evening, there was an awards ceremony and I got one for The Guide Least Likely To Drown A Client (or something).  I got to say a few words, and started by thanking CTU for all the good things they do for Colorado rivers in general, and the Upper C in specific.  I finished by noting how wonderful it was to see the snow that afternoon falling, and how most normal people would hate the associated hassles with that, like difficult driving.  But I was in a room full of folks who could appreciate how precious each and every flake was, for in a drought every drop of water is important.  And most everyone there also seemed to love that fact that it was snowing, finally. 

  That was a month ago, and how things have changed, and almost all for the good.  I skied the last weekend at Beaver Creek, and then at Vail, and have been to A-Basin twice in that time.  The ski season ended strong, and A-Basin is looking great.  As I write this, it’s Saturday May Ninth, and the mountains and foothills are getting up to 20 inches of snow this weekend!  Down here on the Colorado River at 6,200 feet, its mostly just dark and gloomy, with an occasional drizzle.  But all the good stuff is falling upstream, and will flow past my door sooner or later.

  On Tuesday last week, I had the honor of speaking to the Cheyenne Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited.  They are pitching in to help preserve the last remaining native habitat of genetically pure Greenback Cutthroat trout, so cheers to those guys!  On the way home that night, I decided to take I-25 north to I-70, instead of my original plan to go through South Park.  One of the nice things about my 4Runner is the huge rocketbox I have mounted above it, which has gear for fishing, skiing, camping and other assorted tools and conveniences.  Instead of fishing the Dream Stream, I was going to do some hands-on snowpack inspections the next day, otherwise known as alpine skiing, A-Basin style.  Heading west on I-70, I noticed how bright the moon was shining through my glass sunroof. It occurred to me that we were in the middle of some pretty mile weather, but that there had been two feet of snow in the central Rockies over the past week or so. 

  It occurred to me that it had been some time since I had skied in the moonlight at Loveland Pass, and this might be a perfect night to do so. But by the time I would be getting to Loveland Pass, it would be about one am, and who but tanker truck drivers would be going over at that hour? I decided to take Loveland Pass anyway, since I would be sleeping in the back of my 4Runner in the A-Basin parking lot.  Then as I approached the tunnel, a large CDOT message board said, “Rollover Accident in WB Tunnel – use US Highway 6 Loveland Pass As Alternate Route”, and I thought, “This is my lucky night!” Instead of practically no traffic going over Loveland Pass, 100 percent of little traffic there would be would be going that way! 

  I parked at the bottom of the switchback to where all trails off Loveland Pass lead, put on my ski gear, and walked over the outside of the turn. I stuck my skis into the snowbank, looked up into the still night air, and waited for a car.  Within minutes, a pair of headlights was coming up the road, and as they rounded the bend I was caught in their headlights.  The first car started to slow, but the second one closed in on his bumper and they sped back up again. A half-minute later, another set of headlights approached, and this time they pulled up right beside me.  I had been hitchhiking for perhaps a minute and a half.  It was a new Tacoma, and I pantomimed just hopping into the back to its driver, and he nodded.  So climbed in back, knocked on his back window and gave him a thumbs up, and soon we were climbing up into the sky.  On the way up, I was able to scout some good lines from the top of the ridge, and could see several options.  It was a waxing moon, perhaps three or four days shy of being full, and the landscape was as easy to see as it would have been at noon.

  At the top of the Pass, 12,990 feet, I climbed out, thanked him through his driver’s window, and set off for the top of the ridge.  Its possible to simply put your skis on at the road’s edge and ski from there, but that means either doing a long boring traverse or dropping into some trees.  Bright as it was in the open, it was pitch-dark in the trees so that wasn’t an option. If it were the brutal weather that could often be found here on the Continental Divide, on the very spine of the North American continent,  I might have opted for the traverse of to the bottom of the bowl, with a run out back to my truck. 

  But on this night the weather was perfect, with the sky almost cloudless and the air very still.  So I hiked up to the top of the ridge, the night quiet except for the crunching of my feet and the sound my own deep breathing.  I took my time, just putting one foot in front of the other and tried to think of nothing else but that next step, and the one after that, and so on. Sooner than I would have I imagined, I was on top of the divide, able to see forever even at 2:30 in the morning.  I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful spot to be on earth than where I stood. Not knowing what to expect on top, I had dressed with an extra layer and laid down in the snow on top, warm and snug.  I watched electric white clouds drift past, looking like horses, then poodles, then lizards.  It was so clear that even the stars were very bright, despite the moonlight.  It was so high that there was very little atmosphere for the moon to illuminate. 

  Finally I clicked my boots into my skis, and began to slide down the hill.  I sank a little deeper into the snow than I expected, so I went a little faster to plane up.  Once I did it was effortless, and I glided across the blindingly white plane like a low-flying night bird, an owl swooping down to snag an unlucky mouse.  The endless mountains made me feel both insignificant, and intricately tied to everything else all at once. Even as I was living that moment, I wanted to hold onto the way it made me feel forever. If you are reading this during the second week of May, odds are that you’ll able to so this for at least one more phase of the moon this year.  Go for it!

  Since this is ostensibly a fishing blog, I guess I should mention how the river fished over the pre-runoff period. Actually, it was pretty good, especially if you could catch it running clear.  The warm sunny weather in March did turn some of the tributaries muddy, but once ranchers started irrigating, it captured a lot of that silt and the river looked pretty good. 

  But since there weren’t many bugs hatching that early, fishing consisted mostly of running big stonefly nymphs or tossing streamers.  During the clearer waters, watching trout charging out of a hidey-hole chasing streamers is pretty entertaining! I’ve done if for fun with the hook cut off just to watch them do it.

  So it fished pretty well this year, if inconsistent.  We caught a couple of nice rainbows from the Class of 2012, but one was so vibrant it looked like it might have some from a different planet.  Maybe it was some kind of genetic holdover from the pre-Whirling Disease era, some of which have been found on the Gunnison. Epidemics usually don’t kill all of anything, just most, and if you are one of the survivors then perhaps your genetics are superior in some way. This rainbow sure looked like something special, that’s for sure. This was the Angelina Jolie  / Tom Brady of fish. 

  Then things changed in a hurry.  Between last Friday and Sunday, the river went from 1100 cfs to 2200 cfs. Over the course of the last week, it’s risen to well over 3000 cfs, and looks like its not going to go down anytime soon.  In addition to the increasing snowpack, Front Range drainages are already saturated and on the verge of flood, so none of this western water will be needed in their inventory. 

   A river is a very dynamic ecosystem, and one ever-changing variable on the Upper C is clarity, and how it’s affected by river levels. Generally, as the river goes up, it gets cloudier and more opaque.  When it stays at a fairly constant level for a while, it will clear.  If the level drops, it clears much faster.  That’s usually a good time to be on the river!  The worst time is when the level goes up dramatically.  By those metrics, that would make last Saturday the lousiest time to be on the water all year, right in the middle of its doubling in size.  And of course, that’s when I would host a famous fishing writer, during the worse fishing weather of the year.  I’d loved his prose for many years, and was pretty honored to be able to show him my little slice of paradise.  But then the fishing sucked.  He only caught three, though  they were at least spaced out, into an early one, one during the middle of the day, and finally one late.  But still, when two people who know what they’re doing only land three fish all day? We did get really close up to some bighorns, and the weather was OK.  But usually when the river fishes slow, its because its been sunny, and the canyon is so spectacularly colored that you don’t mind not catching that many fish.  When its bright, the canyon scenery and wildlife are reasons enough to be there. Or if the canyon is a bit dull, its because it overcast and its probably fishing great.  But last Saturday was neither, and I could only wish that this person whom I admired could have seen it all in a better light.

  The last time I had a fishing writer on my boat, the day could not have better choreographed by Robert Redford or Izaak Walton.  The weather was great, the canyons colorful, the browns aggressive, and we caught fish on nymphs, dries, streamers, grasshoppers, and a tenkara rod. Just the kind of day you want to have with someone who writes about fishing, to experience in your boat.  Last Saturday was kind of a worse-case scenario from both a fishing and a visual perspective. 


  In addition to all of the precipitation lately,  the news has also been good on the insect front.  Before the water level rose, the temperature had been stuck around 35-38 degrees, and other than some midges and BWOs there weren’t many bugs around.  But few days before the river went up, the temperature rose to 52 degrees. That kicked off caddis hatches that have continued ever since, in the most copious numbers since the pre-2011 high water.  The BWOs numbers also went up, to the point where their dorsal fins could be seen slicing through the foamy eddies where their spinners would finish their watery journey. Once the river starts to come down in a month or so, the grasshoppers will be in play and thus will commence the meat of the fishing season, Hopper/Dropper Time. 

  So that’s the time that Upper Colorado River appreciators need to start thinking about, just after the runoff has peaked, and begins to drop. It should clear quickly as long as it’s not too rainy, and the fish will be aggressive once its clear because they can become efficient predators again.  Hoppers will be out, and fish will be onto the hoppers.  And best of all, at flows above 2,500 the Lower Upper can be a pretty fun stretch to run, with waves you don’t see at lower levels.  If you are a watcher of river gauges, keep an eye on the Dotsero gauge, sometimes listed in places as the Shoshone number.  If you subtract the gauge number for the lower Eagle, from the Shoshone one, it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what’s flowing through the “Lower Upper”, Burns to Dotsero. (The Kremmling gauge upriver is also a good resource, but is so far upriver that it usually under-reports the flows between Burns and Dotsero).

  The main message is, we’ve got more water and snow now than we had a month ago. If the Front Range gets through it without any flooding, than that’s a very good thing.  Things are looking rosy for the summer of 2015!

    I’ll be watching those gauges very closely, and when they start to drop you will get another one of these, (unless you choose to Unsubscribe at the bottom). I’ll try to keep the next one shorter, at least to where you can read it in one bathroom visit).

                              Tight lines,

                                   Jack Bombardier

                                   2015 CTU Award Winner;
                                       Guide Most Likely To Not Kill You


                 A Cure For The Runoff Blues

  It’s May 26th, and we are officially into the Spring 2015 Runoff. What was looking to be a below-average flow year only six weeks ago has changed dramatically since then.  In mid-April the rain and snow began to fall, and has been falling almost every day since then.  Last week I went up to A-Basin, and since that time it’s only kept on snowing up there.  Their original closing day of June 7th may be getting pushed back, since their base has been growing this spring when it should be melting off.  This is of course a very good thing, because what’s good for Summit County is good for the Blue River, and what’s good for the Blue is good for the Colorado River.  Last time I checked, there was 1500 cfs coming out of the Dillon Reservoir, and eleven hundred coming out of Green Mountain.  By the time this is over, all of the Colorado River reservoirs (and those on Front Range) should be brimming full.

  The exception is Wolford Mountain Reservoir, whose impoundment has shifted more than its original designers foresaw.  Since it was finished in 1995, its moved two feet downward, and eight inches out.  The Colorado River District is keeping a very close eye on it, and has installed sensors on it to monitor movement, so at least if my world disappears under a furious wall of water someday we’ll get enough notice to get to safety.  (Unless I’m already on the river fishing, and twenty blissful miles away from a cell phone signal, that will be some memorable whitewater!) If the dam ever had a catastrophic failure, it would easily be the biggest natural disaster to ever strike Colorado. One estimate I saw guessed that if it ever went all at once, there would be 600K cfs roaring down Muddy Creek into the Colorado just above Gore Canyon.  At 12K, the river runs alongside my house and sump pumps run continually to keep it out. I’ve tried to visualize what 600K would look like, and even my fertile imagination is left wanting.  Such a flood would take out everything along the Colorado River Road, and I-70 from Dotsero to…Utah?  Forget the Union Pacific rail line, and a big chunk of Glenwood Springs, and anything near the river down to Grand Junction.  Sounds like a great premise for a Michael Bay movie. 

  But back to happier thoughts.  All this rain we’re getting should be good for the fish for later this summer.  It has ended what was some pretty decent spring fishing, but I’ll take the short-term hit in exchange for happy trout in August. However, instead of letting everyone know what they can’t do for the next few weeks, I thought I’d mention somewhere that you can go.  My friend and partner Ryan Herbert of Yampa River Anglers tells me the fishing up in the headwaters of the Yampa has been on fire. 

  That area, also known as the Bear River or Stillwater, has become one of my favorite places to fish anywhere in the state. I had heard about it for a long time, but had been living up here for about seven years before I finally ventured up there.  Once I did, I was kicking myself for not getting there sooner.  For years, I’d wondered where the headwaters of the Yampa were, for on any map you don’t see any little blue lines labeled “Yampa” until the town of Yampa itself.  Turns out that “Yampa” is the Ute word for “Bear”, or at least that’s what I read somewhere.  (If there are any native Ute readers who would like to contradict that, please do!).  Stillwater (the name I use for the area) consists of three fairly large man-made reservoirs, the upper two of which feel more like natural lakes.  You are surrounded on three sides by the escarpment of the Flat Tops, including Flat Top Mountain, the highest point around.  In addition, there are some high mountain lakes you can hike to with brookies and cutthroats in them, but if you don’t want to work that hard the lakes below are frequently stocked.  It’s also worth noting that although impoundments are not high enough to create true tailwater fisheries, with low and stable river temperatures and mysis shrimp, they do provide a clear water refuge during times of run-off in the bigger rivers below.  Of course there are lots of lakes this time of year that have that, but how many pieces of moving water can you find that do?  Especially ones that are relatively easy to get to, with easily accessible campsites, facilities and boat ramps.  If you are anything like me, lakes can be kind of boring compared to rivers and creeks.    But the neat thing about this area is the diversity of the water you can fish. Bank fishing on a lake or pond, check.  Want to fish for the big ones from a boat, and cover more water? Check.  Fishing your three weight (or Tenkara) on a small stream, Check.  Want to cook a guilt-free put and take stocker rainbow on a grill only a short walk from where you caught it?, check. For those of you who have seen the PowerPoint presentation I give, and have been interested in the Derby Creek section but don’t want to make the 4WD trip up to it, the Stillwater area is very similar but with far easier access.  Of course, with good access comes many more people, especially in the summer, but this time of year the crowds are still somewhere else. 

  So if you want to check it out with a guy who knows it better than anyone else, give Ryan at Yampa Valley Anglers a call at 970-819-4376.  If you go up there and see an old 4Runner with a huge rocket box up there, stop by and say “hi”, that’d be me getting in my licks before I start taking all of you out onto the Colorado River.  If you have beer I might even tell you about a good spot or two. (Ryan knows way more good spots than I do, but he prefers cash or credit card).

   There’s one nice thing about having a decent runoff – the longer it lasts, the hungrier the fish are once its starts to come down and the water clears.  That’s when you’ll get your next email from me, right after the peak of the flow.  Until then you’ll find me either at A-Basin or Stillwater with a big smile (that rocketbox holds a lot of fun gear!)

                                      Jack Bombardier


                             Runoff Without End, Amen

To All My Fishing Friends,

 Its June 22nd, and the Colorado River continues to run very high.  I thought that the river would have been in dropping mode by now, but the water continues to come from somewhere.  This has really become a memorable runoff, especially since only two months ago, it looked as though there would be very little runoff to speak of.  And yet for three weeks, there has been water in my yard, and having the Colorado River only a foot from my house instead of fifty seems to be the new normal.  The Piney River, which had been over 500 cfs a week or two ago, is down to 300 cfs and so hopefully that means the snowpack is past its peak melt. But the reservoirs area all full, and so there is nowhere to put what is still coming down the hill other than in my backyard. 

  Just over a week ago, I went to A Basin for closing day, and even though conditions were surprisingly decent, a lot of the snow had melted since my previous visit a week earlier.  A pond of cold water had formed at mid-mountain, and people were pond skimming across it. On my last run down the hill after the lifts had stopped, I decided to try it.  Unfortunately, what I hoped to be a pond skimming run turned into a pond sinking run, as I only got about three-quarters of the way across before slowly dropping down to about mid-thigh in the icy water.  Shuffling my way out through the frozen blue slurpee I was stuck in took forever with skis on, but I didn't dare remove them.  One guy who went before me lost his when they came off, and he'll probably have to hike up there next August to find them.  

I've had to cancel three trips in the past couple of weeks, which is a little frustrating because the river is so much damn fun right now! Its more of a whitewater trip with fishing, as opposed to a fishing trip with a little whitewater.  But its not scary whitewater the way that the Arkansas or Eagle are right now.  Those rivers are much smaller, and since they don't have much storage, their hydrograph each spring is close to what it was before dams.  The Colorado though has about seven dams on it, and so its much more subdued.  Historically having peak runoffs of 20K cfs were typical before the dams upriver were built, so even 8K cfs is really not that much, the river channel was formed by water that big and can easily accommodate it. The waves are formed by sheer water volume, and take the form of fun, regular wave trains, perhaps twenty feet from crest to crest.  In my smaller boat, the effect is a lot like being on a cantering horse. The only dangerous spots are the two bridges you have to pass, but they're only sketchy if you are in the wrong line before going under them.  I've done this float about five hundred times, so I know exactly where to put the boat as I approach them.  

  The fishing is not as good as it will be in a couple more weeks, but you can still catch fish.  For all its volume, the water clarity isn't bad.  Its been high for three weeks now, and so as the flow has stabilized so has the temperature and visibility.  Since there is very little holding water along the banks, the fish are concentrated in the eddies, making them much easier to find.  This makes the fishing a bit more boring, for instead of carefully mending your line as the boat makes it way down the river, we are simply sitting on the inside of an eddy casting towards the seam.  It doesn't take too much skill to hook a fish in those settings, so its more akin to fishing a beaver pond.  

  The river will drop at some point, and with this scorchingly hot weather we've been getting, that moment should be soon.  As much as I look forward to that, I'm gonna miss this big water.  I just wish there were a few brave souls out there who would want to experience it as well.  If you haven't floated the Upper C at this level, you don't know what you're missing!

                                                    Tight Lines,

                                                               Jack

***********************************************************************

                                        Fishing The Peak
Its June 7th 2015, and river flows (and the snowpack that create them) are looking good on the Upper Colorado
River Basin.  The river is at or near its peak right now, flowing at about 7,500 cfs past (and into) my backyard right now. The flows this spring are much higher than I would have expected only a few weeks ago, but that's what five weeks of almost daily moisture will do for a watershed.  In my last email, I promised to let everyone know when I thought we were at peak, and when that peak might start to drop.  I think that moment is nigh at hand.  The fishing still isn't great, but the river looks good and it should be fishing great very soon. 

   One thing that's different with this email than past ones I've sent is that I'm going start putting in links to stories that might be of interest.  There's a blog I read by a sportswriter who does a lot of that, and I've noticed that I really like to take those internet side trips sometimes.  For example, the day I ran across a story about Arctic Char being stocked in Dillon Reservoir, and instead of just telling you about it I can just do this....http://www.summitdaily.com/news/16658384-113/free-fishing-weekend-comes-to-rivers-and-lakes .  How fun is that?

  More good news is that the clarity of the river is better than you expect for this time of year and for this high a flow, its much clearer.  Although the visibility is still under a foot, it looks like water and not coffee.  The main reason for this is that upstream reservoir operators are coordinating dam releases to provide flushing flows for endangered fish near Grand Junction.  These impoundments include Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Lake Granby and Wolford Mountain.  (To learn more about that, check this link at " http://www.vaildaily.com/news/16665578-113/colorado-reservoirs-coordinate-to-provide-peak-flows-for  ). Since the water that's flowing my way is coming out of the bottom of these reservoirs and not from surface runoff, its colder and clearer that we typically see in June.  These releases are supposed to end during the middle of the next week, which means that the river should drop quite a bit, clear, and warm up.  This is turn should also increase bug hatches, and the metabolism of the trout.  By next weekend, the fishing here on the Lower Upper should be ON.

  I've done three floats this week, two of them just to enjoy the whitewater with friends and one to fish.  The fishing trip was one we scheduled over a month ago, when the timing of the runoff was more uncertain.  As our date drew nearer, I let my client know via email that it was looking like the river would still be high, and the fishing poor.  But then on my second whitewater float we saw rising fish and decent caddis hatches, and I realized that it might be possible to catch a trout in this big water after all. My customer still wanted to come despite sub-par conditions, for he had heard about my stretch of river from a good friend and wanted to experience it himself, good fishing or bad. I priced the float as if we were doing a scenic float instead of a fishing one, and in our email exchanges I kept downplaying the likelihood of catching anything.  Even worse, in the three days between my second whitewater float and the day of the fishing trip on Friday, the river kept on inching up even more.  On my last email to him, I wrote him that I couldn't promise him great fishing on Friday, but that I could promise him a great time.

  My customer showed up on Friday morning eager to go, and after a quick primer on fly casting we set off up the river.  Along the way, I showed him some of the big wave holes you can see from the road.  We stopped at Pinball Rapid so I could show him the line we'd be taking, which would be to the right of the bridge pylon.  In normal flows, going left of the bridge is the only feasible option in a raft, but above 3,500 cfs or so the right side is in play.  The slot is fairly narrow going right, but the reward is a nice set of big waves to run through that can make a raft feel like a cantering horse.  When we got up to Derby Junction, I took him to the top of the mesa to check out the overlook on top.  Its only a mile from the road and river below, but you gain almost a thousand feet in elevation and its one of my favorite views in Colorado.  From that vantage point, you can see downriver for five miles, or the entire first half of the float we do. 

  When we got back to the river, instead of going to my put in which is just across the River Road at the mouth of Derby Creek, I drove him up to Rodeo Rapid, aka Burns Hole.  Rodeo was formed by a rock slide almost thirty years ago that created a Class III  feature in the river.  At most fishing levels, its a nasty piece of work, for at the bottom of the rapid is a shark tooth-like snag that the fast current tries to push anything in the water up into. The first time I ran it twelve years ago, I got stuck on that rock for over an hour, until some campers downriver saw me and walked up to see if they could be of assistance.  I ended up throwing them my bow line, and the four of them pulled and pulled until my big cataraft finally came free. Over the next few years, I got the rapid pretty dialed in to where I could get through it without any other issues, but I never enjoyed it. I've witnessed several boats flip in it, including one rowed by a guide working for me who put two eighty year-olds into the river.  Now my river access is below Rodeo and I don't miss having to deal with it, but when the river rises it gets easier to run, since the rocks that might otherwise cause difficulties are well under water.  At the 7,300 cfs level or so it was running Friday, it becomes almost easy, and so I showed my customer what it looked like to give him the option of whether he wanted to run it or not.  Being a former Marine, he was not only up to the challenge but looking forward to it. 

  We launched from Burns, rowed through the flat water above the Rapid, and then ran it just left of center without incident.  The waves were huge and rolling but my big cataraft just bombed right on through.  As we made our way past Derby Junction, we began to focus on fishing, and how to "read" water to determine where the fish were.  My client had done mostly still water fishing on lakes and oceans, where fish are on the prowl looking for food. I explained that in a river, the fish like to hold in feeding lies and let the food come to them, a very different scenario.  These feeding lies can often be located by determining where the seams between the moving and still water are, and those are usually delineated by bubble lines. During this whole description to him of what we were looking for, I kept interjecting that given our current high water conditions, it might be difficult to actually catch anything, but in theory at least this was where we would try to locate feeding trout.  I was trying to keep his expectations low, but in our first big eddy, Echo Hole, he caught a fine fifteen inch rainbow right out of a spot I told him to cast into!  Over the next hour, he caught two more rainbows as well, and it looked as though we would have to start raising our expectations a little!

  Unfortunately, those three fish would be the only ones we'd catch all day.  After those three he did fish less, and we just enjoyed the brisk float.  The nice part about fishing high water is that you don't have to fish every foot of the river the whole way down.  That's because there's not much holding water along the banks, and so the fish tend to stack up in the big eddies to wait out the high water.  This causes the fish populations to be concentrated into very small areas, making finding them easier to find.  So a trip this time of year tends to be short sections of very fun whitewater, interspersed by pulling out of the current to fish the eddies along the way.  The only caveat is that with the water clarity under a foot, you need to get your fly or lure within a small visual window close to a trout's eyeballs.  The upside to that poor clarity is that the fish aren't too spooky, and you can get the boat pretty close to them. 

  As we made our way down the river that day, the clarity seemed to worsen.  We also saw plenty of floating wood in the water, another sure sign that the water level is increasing. So whether it was due to that, or from our halfhearted attempts to catch more, we got skunked the rest of the day.  But my client didn't seem to mind, for the fun waves and the always-spectacular setting more than made up for it.  We did get several bumps and chasers, some right up to the boat, but didn't land any more of them.

  So the snowpack is looking good, and the Front Range is even wetter so their reservoirs are even fuller than ours.  If you were on top of A Basin right now, you might think that it was the middle of February.  The Snotel number for the Upper Colorado River basin is at 95% as of this morning, (http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/reports/UpdateReport.html?report=Colorado .  This means that all that beautiful water is coming west, where it belongs.  There is one place I like to look to get a feel for what the snowpack is doing melt-wise, and that's the gauge on the Piney.  The Piney River is a great window into what the snowpack is doing. (This gauge can be found at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/co/nwis/uv?site_no=09058500 ).  The Piney begins above Vail at Piney Lake, nestled up in the Gore Range.  It has a short steep run flowing northwest to its confluence with the Colorado River at State Bridge.   Denver Water owns most of it's water rights, and if the proposed Wolcott Reservoir ever gets built, water would be pumped uphill south over the divide into the Eagle River watershed.  That water would then be stored in a reservoir for late summer releases into the Eagle, which would satisfy downstream water commitments. In low water years this would be bad news for the Colorado River, since water that currently flows past this stretch in the summer could be substituted by that Eagle water, which might mean less here and more of it going east through the Roberts Tunnel.  The only irrigation taken out of it now is at Magnus Lindholm's ranch down near the bottom, but its not that significant of a diversion.  The resulting flow number at the Piney gauge is a good real-time look at what the snowpack is doing from day to day, without the variabilities that reservoir storage or ranch diversions add to the picture. The Piney peaked on Tuesday and has begun to drop a little since, so I feel pretty confident that once the dams start releasing less water come the middle of this week, we'll see the levels begin to drop.  As you might remember from previous emails, or from personal experience, the period immediately after the peak flow when the river begins to clear can have some great fishing, and right now that looks like next weekend.  Of course weather and other variables can have a big impact on that, but for now somewhere around June 12th should be the time to get your fishing rods back out. 

  Of course, the neat thing about getting out this time of year is that river is so much damn fun at this level, and really at anything above 3,000 cfs.  The waves trains just seem to roll on and on, caused by the sheer volume of water being squeezed between canyon walls.  Whirlpool Canyon has some really big waves, whereas normally there are none at all.  Rodeo Rapid goes from being a dangerous rapid to avoid, to being a fun play spot to seek out.  The Twin Bridges can be safely run by going right down the middle, and there's a good half mile of fun, fast water below. One difficulty we did have on Friday was finding a place to stop for lunch.  All of the usual sand bars and eddies we usually stop at were under deep moving water.  We ended up at the Pinball boat ramp, which was perfect.  It's mostly under water right now, and so you can float right up to the spot you are usually maneuvering your truck, and hang out there out of the wind and current. 

  If you live on the Front Range, you've had such a wet and cold past few weeks that its probably hard to even think about doing any wet outdoor recreation.  You've probably had enough of that just walking to and from your front door each day. But out here, its a different story.  I lived in or around Denver for seventeen years, and never appreciated how much nicer and dryer it is over here on the western slope. We get way less rain and snow here at 6,200 feet of elevation on the river, as opposed to what we see often see on the Denver TV newscasts.  So the water is just where we like it - watering pastures, flowing past our wader-clad ankles, or in a frozen state crunching under our skis.  (Yes, A Basin is still open and will be until at least the 14th, maybe longer. Find out more at http://arapahoebasin.com/ABasin/snow-conditions/summer-season/default.aspx ).

  So if you want to experience Colorado at its best, and ski / whitewater float / fish / golf all in the same weekend, this is the time to come up and do it!  (I can help you out with two out of the three).

                                                              Jack

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                          The Time To Get Up Here Is Now!        July 15th 2015

 Here on the Upper Colorado River, what turned out to be the Great Spring Runoff Of 2015 has finally past its crest, and begun its long, slow decent.  The other night I went home the back way, taking the river road via McCoy and Burns, and the river looked as perfect and sensuous as I've ever seen it in the 28 years that I've intimately known it.  As I drove along it’s northern flank, the river looked like Natasha Kinski suggestively wrapped around a writhing serpent.  The valley colors were made of deep warm browns and reds and olive.  It made me want to pull over and jump into the river to feel its cool embrace.
 The “Lower Upper”
Colorado River peaked at about 8000 cfs this spring, but now I can see the wood of my riverside dock for the first time in a month. The rocks which helped hold it down against the river's relentless flow are all poking out above the waterline again.  As I've noted in previous emails, when the river rises, it goes off-color. When flows stabilize, it clears.  When flows drop, it clears faster.  After three weeks of high water, the river had already shed itself of turbid sediment.  Now that it’s dropping, it looks clear and perfect. 
  Float fishing the river at levels between 8000 and 2500 cfs might sound like a scary number to those accustomed to floating the Lower Upper at its 1000 cfs summertime norm.  Such high flows do reduce the fishable areas of the river, but if you know this water then that's a good thing, not a negative.  In 2011, we had some of the best fishing here ever from 10,000 cfs on down to where it is now, since it was clear and the fish long overdue for a good meal. I never thought I'd see those high, wonderful flows again, but here we are! While most of the west suffers from dry conditions and low water, and the east has its usual crappy weather,
Colorado is probably the best place to be in the United States, if not beyond.  If you look at the national Snotel map, the Centennial State is a huge moist blue blob surrounded by a sea of blank nothingness or pale green. The wildfire season has begun in other places, which is making for some nice sunsets here downwind. If you live in Colorado, thank your lucky stars!
  Two days ago, I took one of my wife's new employees for a quick float.  For me a "quick float" means putting in at Pinball, and taking out at my shop five miles below.  Though its not many river miles, this float encompasses running Pinball Rapid (going right of the bridge abutment, into a meaty wave train), checking out the rock with dinosaur tracks, doing multiple laps around Whirlpool Canyon, running the exciting center line of the Twin Bridges, and cantering through the continuous waves below that for a half-mile all the way past Rancho Starvo. In short, this is the most fun time to be on the water! Its mild whitewater, plus all the fish are stacked up in the eddies where they're easy to find and they’re hungry.
  My wife's employees name is Ashley, and she grew up on the
Chesapeake Bay, and she’s only had the most fleeting brush with the Great American West.  Thus far being here has been everything she had hoped for when she came from back east. Being from Massachusetts originally myself, I can relate to what its like to be someone from the east coast turned loose onto the spectacular visceral experience that is western Colorado.  I last took Ashley on the river a month ago, just before the river rose from the 5000 cfs range to 8000 where it peaked. On our first trip, I didn't bother bringing any fishing rods and regretted it, for there was a nice caddis hatch that night and we saw trout noses in every eddy.  The other night I almost made the same mistake again, and only at the last minute did I remember to bring my ten foot Loomis three weight.  The Loomis was already rigged with two caddis patterns, a Hi-Vis Elkhair all ginked up, and a tiny, natural-looking caddis pattern left trailing behind it undressed so that it would sink just a bit subsurface.  
  Ashley and I stopped next to the Dinosaur Rock, and then sneaked past the right side of the
Pinball Bridge. We flew on to Whirlpool Canyon, where I tossed my cataraft around in the waves multiple times.  Then it was through more fast water all the way to Jack Flats, where it suddenly occurred to me that we had a fly rod with us.  I eddied left and as the boat was being carried back upriver I showed her where the fish should be, though I didn't see any riseforms.  Caddis flies were dashing about in their erratic flight paths, and I knew that at least some of them were being consumed.  Remembering the rod, I took it out of its holder, showed Ashley the flies that were attached to it, stripped out some line, and made a cast upstream ahead of the boat.  I needed a couple more feet than I had, and pointed out the wakes the flies were making to demonstrate what a non drag-free drift looked like.  I pulled a couple more feet of line out, made a bit of a reach cast to get a better drift, and after only a couple feet of floating the Hi-Vis Elk Hair suddenly had a little tug.  I set the hook and felt a stronger tug in my hand.  A trout had taken the second fly which was just below the surface, and the battle was on.
  Ashley was looking on wide-eyed and smiling.  "Do you want to land it?" I asked, and she sprang forward to grab the rod before even answering.  I told her to keep the rod tip high, and not to give the fish any slack but also not pull too hard.  With the net at the ready, Ashley steered the trout to the boat and soon we had a handsome fifteen inch brown trout on board.  It was the first trout she had ever caught, and was utterly delighted to see it up close and personal.  My small cataraft has an open floor, and we were able to hold the net in the water and let the trout swim around at our feet like it was in a live well.  I had hooked not only a fish, but a new fisherperson as well!
  I let Ashley know that a ratio of one fish caught per two casts made is not to be expected, but when you know where the trout are, and they're feeding, then fishing can be pretty easy sometimes!  And that's how it is on the Lower Upper right now.  There is still little holding water along the banks, so the trout are stacked up in the
Colorado's multiple big eddies.  It’s been a little tough for them to get a meal over the last few weeks, but now that the water is clearer, and the bugs are moving again, the warming water temps (64 degrees) have their metabolism going.  It’s all come together in a perfect storm of trout (and trout fisherman) nirvana.  So you've been waiting for the water to come down before doing a float, don't, come now before the river drops the rest of the way, and the fattened trout scatter!

Jack Bombardier
 -  13403 Colorado River Road Eagle County CO 81637                            970-524-1440 (home)  -  jackbombardier/blogspot.com – jack@confluencecasting.com


The Denver Post Ends It’s Outdoors Section, and Scott Willoughby’s Column

To Colorado Outdoor-Loving Types,

  If you were one of those people who only bought the Denver Post on Wednesdays or Sundays, primarily to read Scott Willoughby's Outdoor columns, you might have wondered where his column was yesterday. That column wasn't printed, nor will any future columns be, because the Post has decided in its infinite wisdom that things happening in the "outdoors" are no longer of interest to its dwindling readership.  

  If you've read any of Scott's stuff, you know he was a worthy successor to the proud tradition the Post had with its outdoor coverage.  In Bob Saile, Charlie Meyers, and Scott, the Denver Post had three of the best writers on subjects outdoors and otherwise that could be found in any American newspaper.  But in a changing media landscape, why waste such valuable newsprint real estate on something as pointless as the "out of doors", when it could be used for something more important like Kardashian family updates, or an American Chinese Furniture Warehouse ad?

  I've always admired that way Scott and Charlie could take a complex subject, and winnow it down to the small amount of word room they had to work with, and make it informative, funny, and to the point.  Both men also had the ability to turn a phrase or two in their stories that made whatever subject they were writing about linger in your mind. We no longer get to be enlightened by Charlie's words, but I'm sure we'll be hearing from Scott again very soon in some new outlet (or at least I hope so!)

  Below is the column you would have read on Wednesday, if the Post had enough class, taste and wisdom to print it.  Of course if they had, they wouldn't have been consigning the Colorado outdoors to the dustbin to begin with, and Scott would not have had to write it in the first place.  

                                               Jack Bombardier

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  Scott Willoughby's Last Denver Post Column (unpublished)
The best stories have always originated in the outdoors.
Be it the fireside tale that never grows old no matter how many times it’s told, or a modern classic born of the latest adventure, the wild outside has always offered the ideal backdrop for compelling drama.
Like the rest of the world, the genre has evolved over time, taking us beyond the campfire to the Ted Trueblood era of Field & Stream, establishing local newspaper legends like Charlie Meyers, Bob Saile and Ed Dentry before making its way to the cutting edge of social media and contemporary brands like Yeti Coolers that urge through advertising: Be the guy with the story about the bear.
Along the way, it found folks like you and me: Drawn in by nature’s allure, hooked by the sensations of adventure, dedicated to enriching and sharing the experience so that others might come to understand our collective passion for the outdoors and embrace it as their own. The stories are the things that connect us best to the land, the water, the wildlife and one another.
There will always be a place for compelling outdoor stories and storytelling in Colorado, just no longer here on these pages. Or perhaps just no longer here by me.
As of this week, The Denver Post has decided to do away with its traditional Outdoors pages, and by extension, my position as Outdoors writer, photographer and columnist. I’ve been invited to continue writing stories about Rams, Buffaloes and Falcons, but like those college sports mascots, the gesture feels symbolic at best. In all likelihood, this is the final column, outdoors or otherwise, I’ll be asked to write for The Denver Post.
Among those outside the paper already aware of this decision, the disappointment has been universal. The pervading sense of loss has less to do with me personally than to Colorado’s collective outdoors community as an entity. In the absence of an uprising — and likely even in its presence — the voice of that community expressed for so long on these pages will soon fade to black. So many stories are left untold.
It can be easily argued that these stories of wild places and the people drawn to them are more important now than ever. As our sprawling world grows ever more crowded, battle lines drawn over resources in greater demand, such places offer respite and reward that can’t be found or recreated anywhere else. And they require the voices of those who know and love them best to keep the fire lit.
My ambition is to continue down this path, although where it leads is anyone’s guess right now (and yes, I am open to offers). After more than a decade dedicated to the cause of Colorado outdoors, the mission and message remain as compelling as ever. It’s the job I was born to do.
First though, my heartfelt thanks are due for the opportunity I’ve had to do the job I’ve most aspired toward. While there is much more to achieve, for a time, at least, I could lay claim to the best job in Colorado.
But like the campfire that gave birth to so many stories and outdoor traditions, this chapter is about to go up in smoke. I have no doubt the fire has not gone out, however. The flame will reignite and grow. The stories — maybe even some told by me — will linger. And new ones will emerge.
The void is great. But the tale is never-ending.

                                             By Scott Willoughby


                        Let The Denver Post Know What You Think
To All,

  I got this email from Bill Dvorak, and thought that it was worth passing along to everyone. I moved to Colorado in 1986 after being transferred here for my job, and didn't really know much about the area other than the fishing and skiing was great.  Growing up back east I always loved reading newspapers, and was the editor of my high school newspaper. From the Southbridge Evening News, to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, to the Boston Globe, to the New York Times, and even USA Today when I traveled overseas, newspapers provided news and information that I would never have gotten anywhere else. 

 When I got to Denver, I chose to subscribe to the Post instead of the Rocky Mountain News because I preferred the format of a "real" newspaper to a tabloid.  Much of what I learned about the Rocky Mountain west came from reading the columns of Bob Saile and Charlie Meyers.   My wife and I moved to the mountains in 2003, and I stopped subscribing to the Post because we couldn't get it delivered here to my house, which is on the Colorado River and 22 miles away from the nearest town.  But I always made a point of getting the Wednesday edition, which would have Charlie's column, and the Sunday Post if I was in town. Later, when I started my guiding business I got to know Charlie personally, and there was no finer gentleman or more interesting person to spend eight hours on the river with than Charlie.  When Charlie got sick and then eventually passed away, I didn't think that it would be possible for anyone to fill his wading boots.  I was curious to see how they could possibly fill that huge void. 

 The first time I saw one of Scott's columns, I was very pleasantly surprised.  Scott had written for the Vail Daily and I'd seen his byline there, but his writing in the Post was even better.  Over the past few years, I began getting the Wednesday Post for the same reason that I got it when Charlie was alive, to keep my finger on the pulse of the Colorado outdoor scene.  Scott proved to be every bit the writer and keen observer of the world that Charlie was.  The Denver Post was very lucky to have three writers as talented as Bob, Charlie, and Scott, and so was its readers. 

  But now the Post has decided to kill its outdoors coverage, and to end a long, proud tradition, for what? Why do away with one of the few reasons to subscribe to the paper, or go out of your way looking for a newspaper box to stuff some quarters into?  Anyway, Bill and his group would like sportsmen in Colorado and beyond to express their opinions about this decision to the Post's editorial staff, and so included are the links to their email addresses.  The possibility that they will reverse their decision is probably pretty small, but at least when they find themselves out on the street in a couple of years they will know that it was decisions like these that contributed to the death spiral that newspapers find themselves in. 

                                                          Jack Bombardier

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                                        Flashflood

  Its tempting to look at a landscape like the Rocky Mountains, and to think of them as being a finished product.  But of course we know that everything is in transition, and that nothing is ever “finished”, and that the only thing that stays the same is change.  If you’ve seen John Fielder’s coffee table book where he duplicates photos from a hundred years ago taken from the same spot today, that change is evident.  New buildings and vegetation aren’t the only things that have evolved in that time span, subtle differences in hills and ridgelines can also be seen. Canyons like the Grand of the Colorado River get carved grain by grain over the eons, a little bit at a time.  But then things happen now and then on a much quicker timescale, and big water can accomplish in hours what might take normal flows millennia to sculpt.

  Such an event happened very close to where I live yesterday.  Two small creeks and a dry wash got very wet and deep very quickly, as an otherwise insignificant thunderstorm turned into a major flash flood. It was very entertaining and awe-inspiring to watch Mother Nature's creative juices flow.  Apparently, those creative juices are red, for red is the color of our immediate environs now.  Red mud covers the road, and sagebrush up to a few feet high, and guardrails and the mailboxes that didn't get dragged under by the force of it. 

 There were three main blowouts. One is right across from my in-laws ranch, the second at Alamo Creek near all of our neighbor's houses a half-mile away, and the third under the train tracks at the mouth of Posey Creek. Alamo Creek does have a very small perennial flow, but Posey is usually just a trickle, and I've never seen a drop of water in the wash above my in-laws.

  Yesterday I had a last-minute float trip, and spent the morning getting ready for it.  As I loaded drinks and got other gear together, I watched the skies with a little wariness.  There were clouds building in the distance, but that's usually no big concern.  They do that frequently, but it doesn't actually rain or snow much down here at 6200 feet. In fact, we have some of the best weather in
Colorado right here along the Lower Upper. 

  The customers were due at my shop at
1 pm, and by noon I noticed that it raining on Sugarloaf.  "Mount" Sugarloaf is not really a distinct mountain at all, but merely a bump on the eastern flank of the Flat Top Mountains.  It only looks big, because seen from the prospective of the valley floor, it does seem to dominate the mountains right behind it, even though it’s much lower. Rain on Sugarloaf means that there’s a good chance it will rain along the river too.  By 12:20 it did start to rain, and I called my customer’s cell phone in hopes of saving him a trip up the river in case he wanted to cancel.  I got his answering message, which meant that he was probably already on the River Road and outside of cell phone service. 

  My customers showed up at 12:45, just as the heavens really began to pour their guts out.  While it did we huddled in my shop, trying to decide whether to go or not.  In the end we decided to pull the plug on our adventure, but I showed them on a map how they could take the back way along the river to Arrowhead.  At least then they could see the canyon by rental car that they weren’t going to see from my boat. 

  They left, and I began to unload all of the gear in my boat that I had just packed up.  I was unloading one of the hatches and I began to notice a strange shhhhhh… sound coming from a distance, and getting louder.  It sounded like the river had suddenly gotten much closer, or higher.  But the river has been dropping quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, post-runoff.  Then I looked up the hill towards the River Road, and saw a sight that my eyes couldn’t quite believe.  Up where our driveway meets the road, red mud was pouring over the guardrails and flowing down the steep hillside like cross between Niagara Falls and the elevator in The Shining.  I’m sure I did a double and maybe even a triple take.  I started to head up the road towards it to get a better look, and then noticed that the river of blood was coming down the driveway that I was walking up.  I looked back at my Landcruiser and raft sitting there in what might be its eventual path, so I turned and ran back to the Cruiser, jumped in, and moved it to higher ground.  In my shop I called my father-in-law to let him know what was happening, and put on some waders and boots. 

  By the time I got back around to the driveway, it was red with mud although most of the flow had turned off of it.  I went up through the slippery slime to the top of the driveway, and was absolutely astounded at what I saw.  The little wash across from our driveway had what looked to be about 300 cfs of liquid red mud crashing through it, enough to float my big raft. It was coming out of a narrow gap in the hill, past my in-laws mailboxes, and across the road.  Some of it went down the driveway, but most of it turned right and downhill.  As my father-in-law Jerry and I watched, the red river went more and more down the road as large rocks and tree limbs plugged the gap under the guardrails, forming an elongated dam.  Soon a couple of neighbors stopped by on their way home, and all we could do was stand there shaking our heads at the sight.  Jerry went back to call the sheriff to let them know what was happening, and I roamed around with my camera trying to document it all. 

  Very soon the flow began to drop, and within a half hour had mostly stopped.  But what changes it had wrought in that half-hour!  The entire hillside from the driveway down was covered in a layer of mud. Some very large rocks which had supported the River Road had been excavated away, and rolled down the hill.  The road itself was undamaged, but its underpinnings are possibly compromised. Two of the signs advertising my fishing business were gone, though I found them later snagged in some sagebrush with one broken in half.
 
  Recently the property below the mailboxes had been purchased, and the new owners had just carved out a small clearing for their RV the previous week. The short-lived river had followed the path he had made with the tractor, and carved out a temporary conduit for the flow.  I carefully followed the slippery trail down to the river, and saw that one of my favorite fishing holes was now doubled in size, caused by the temporary stream carving out a huge chunk of river bank.  I call this spot Last Chance Hole, because its your last chance to hook a fish just before my take out.  Last week, in three of the four trips I did we caught fish in that perfectly formed spinning eddy.  Now it had a ragged figure eight shape, and was filled with brown and red scum. 

  Eventually, the county emergency crews showed up along with the highway crew. They’ve been out there for the last day and a half cleaning up the mess on the River Road.  This afternoon, I went out to check on the other two points where it flooded, Alamo Creek and Posey Creek.  Posey is a little trickle of a creek that I’ve seen turn the whole river red after a good hard rain, the very definition of a gullywasher. There are a couple of guys who live there, and to get to their place you have to drive under the Union Pacific bridge that also spans the river.  Right now it’s a soupy mess, and it will be some time before its cleaned out.  Posey is still putting out some red color into the river. 

 The other blowout hits a little closer to home.  Alamo Creek is where my father-in-law used to get his irrigation water before a similar storm in July of 2008.  That one blocked his headgate too, and we spent two days digging it out by hand.  Once we did, the water flowed towards his ranch once more for about three minutes, when the flow suddenly stopped.  His underground pipe was blocked somewhere in along its five hundred foot length, and no water has flowed through it since. This spring and summer he bought some replacement pipe and was getting ready to try and fix it, and now the headgate that we had cleaned out seven years ago is under is buried beneath a few feet of mud, rocks and trees.  And, the creek channel has veered away from the headgate and now runs towards our neighbors.  Its quite a mess, and there’s no easy way to visualize putting it back the way it was.  Making matters even more complicated, the headgate lies within BLM wilderness, and they’re not too amenable to going in there and fixing it with heavy equipment, which is why we had to dig it out by hand the last time. 

  So that’s the news from the Lower Upper Colorado, where even a minor rainstorm can turn into something memorable!  Luckily the river is still in fine shape, and its level dropping.  It fished very well last week, with the most rainbows that I’ve seen in the river since the late Eighties.  Hopefully this flood is a one time event this summer, but just plan on catching your last fish of the day somewhere above Last Chance Hole!

                                        Jack Bombardier


   What Happened To the Animas, or Why Headwaters Matter

    A few days ago, after a perfect day on a perfect river (the Colorado) I got home to watch a sickening series of images shown on the nine o’clock news. They were aerial images of the Animas River, looking like a bright orange ribbon winding through pastures and past golf courses. The Animas is a river I would have considered just as perfect as my own not long ago. It will be beautiful again one day, but it will probably remain tainted for the rest of my lifetime. The Animas begins in the highest of Colorado’s high country, the San Juans, birthplace of five of Colorado’s greatest rivers. The Rio Grande, the Dolores, the Uncompadre, the San Miguel, and the Animas all begin here.  There are very few places on earth that are the natal source of so much life, spreading out like spokes in a wheel. The Dolores feeds the Colorado, just before turning its crimson flows towards Moab.  The Rio Grande helps water the lower San Luis Valley and is the lifeline of Taos and much of northern New Mexico all the way to Texas and the Gulf Coast.  The Uncompadre nurtures one of Colorado’s true breadbaskets, bolstered by an amazing irrigation project built a hundred years ago underneath a mountain using waters from the Gunnison.

  And then there’s the Animas.  If you grew up back east the way I did, you probably hadn’t heard of the Animas.   The Animas has a pretty colorful history, in all meanings of the word.  There are plenty of mines above it, and despite the history of men and women doing amazing things at high altitudes in tough condition,s the main legacy of the mining era is its toxic waste.  But the Animas feeds into San Juan, and the San Juan merges into the Colorado at Lake Powell, and the Colorado below that is the lifeline of Phoenix and Las Vegas and the Imperial Valley. The Animas is feed by a little creek called Cement, probably not so named due its bucolic properties.  Abandoned mines leach into Cement Creek, which has been fishless for as long as miners have been extracting wealth from these hills.  One of these is called Gold King, and it was walked away from by the last men to work it in 1923.  Gold King was one of the many holes in the ground trickling nasty stuff into Cement Creek, which in turn flows the Animas.  EPA crews were poking around that hornet’s nest of toxicity when something breached and the small trickle turned into a small flood. 

  The problem with Cement Creek is that it’s a really stupid creek. The water in it wasn’t content enough to just stay where it was, and enjoy the wonderful views it had of the surrounding countryside.  No, that deranged Cement Creek water wants to run downhill towards Silverton due that pesky unseen force known as “gravity”.  Gravity is something that scientists can explain the effects of and manipulate, but don’t really understand the true cause of.  All we really know is, unless external pressure is exerted upon it water runs downhill, and on the western slope of North America, that means that the true connected end point of Cement Creek is the Pacific Ocean, via the Animas, the San Juan, and the Colorado rivers.

 The EPA was attempting to mitigate what they knew was an impending problem, and in the process triggered the exact outcome they were hoping to avoid.  Whomever was operating that track hoe or bulldozer probably feels badly right now, or if they don’t they should.  But the EPA at least had good intentions, and was trying to do the right thing, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. 

  The thing that really all brought this to forefront to me was a conversation I had with a neighbor the day after the news broke.  We were having a nice conversation, and admiring how perfect the Colorado River was looking. Knowing that he is also a lover of rivers, I asked him if he’d seen what had happened on the Animas. Our properties are more that fourteen miles from a cell phone signal, so sometimes it’s easy to get a little behind on world events. Turns out, he had.
We exchanged a few comments about it, and then he looked at me with a pointing gesture and said, “Do you know that the EPA did it?”

  Now my neighbor is a wonderful person, and one of the nicest people I know.  But he’s made his career in the uranium mining industry, and I’ve made my livelihood dependent on having a clean river to run.  This is one of those things that happen which some people are just going to look at from different perspectives. In strictly technical terms, he was right.  The EPA “did” it. If they had just left it alone, and just gone and done something else with its increasingly limited resources, then maybe the Animas River would have have kept being one of the most beautiful rivers in America for another year or two, or for the rest of my life, or maybe even longer. But maybe not.  The point is, the EPA didn’t create the problem, they were trying to fix someone else’s mess, and that’s not the same thing. 

 Then my neighbor said, “Well they didn’t break any laws, there were no rules back  then”, as if to say, “if it wasn’t illegal then they did nothing wrong”.  He was referring to the miners a hundred years ago who had dug the mine, extracted whatever wealth there was to be had from it, and then walked away.  That’s a scenario which was repeated a thousand times in the west. There are an estimated 18,000 abandoned mines in Colorado, and 250 of them are leaching toxins into our watersheds.  Once again, he was a hundred percent correct.  Back then, doing that broke no laws, or least no meaningful ones.  But bad behavior back then is why we have laws to try and regulate that kind of behavior now. If the unfettered free market could be allowed to do whatever it wanted and not just walk away from the mess it had created, then we wouldn’t need an EPA in the first place.

  The EPA was created in the early seventies, and signed into existence by a radical environmentalist called Richard Nixon. What’s happened on the Animas should be a wake-up call for everyone that protecting watersheds is important, for they make life as we know it possible.  I’ve heard one suggestion that this might be a “Cuyahoga River Moment” for watershed awareness, referring to the Ohio River which caught fire in 1969 and was one impetus for passing the Clean Water Act in 1972.  I hope something good like that can come from the poisoning of a beautiful river like the Animas.  There are those who would defang the EPA in any way possible, up to and including getting rid of it altogether.  They might use this horrible but inevitable accident as a rationale to blame or tear down the EPA, which after all exists to help mitigate problems like these and not manufacture them. 


  Recently, the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers have moved to restore the protections given to headwaters under the Clean Water Act, (also passed by that Edward Abbey doppelganger Nixon).  These logical rules, which understood that Cement Creek is connected to rivers below and not somehow distinct from them, were relaxed under the Bush administration.  Trout Unlimited has been calling attention to this issue, and urging its members to contact their congressperson and ask them to not stand in the way of restoring the original language and intent of the Clean Water Act.

  The Yakima River TU chapter in Washington State recently printed up a large number of “Headwaters Matter” bumper stickers.  They were created in response to some of the issues faced by the Yakima River, including placer mines.  But though the issues might not be exactly the same, the message is.  Headwaters matter. We all live downriver, and downwind, from someone else.  What they do above, has an impact on us below. The higher up a watershed you go, the more lives and ecosystems below are affected by your choices.


  The bottom line is, one of the most verdant and beautiful spots on the plant has been irrevocably harmed, not by someone living and breathing today, but by someone who has long since passed.  (Unless you believe in reincarnation, in which smashing the next mosquito you see might balance the karmic scales).
The point is, how do we try to make some good out of something that has virtually no upside to it?  Supporting the restoration of headwaters protection by the Clean Water Act is an obvious first step.  Another positive thing that might come from this is for people to acknowledge that all of the waters that flow from the highest peak to the widest ocean estuary are all one thing, not separate and distinct.  Like an aspen glade consisting of what seem to be individual trees actually being just one big plant, so too is water from mountain streams all the way to the sea.  Just one thing. Stop trying to make one set of rules for the water on your right hand, and another for the water on your left.  It is all one water, indivisible by God or whatever deity you are accountable to.

  As science explores the universe, and searches deep into the cosmos for worlds suitable for human habitation, one thing becomes abundantly clear.  The best possible habitat we’ll ever find in our lifetime or in our grandchildren’s is the humble old rock we’re currently stuck on. As lush and verdant as Avatar looks, we’re probably not going to have sex in trees with green lizard women anytime soon, so let’s protect the planet we have now.  Headwaters matter, and so do everything those headwaters are connected to, which is to say, everything else. They are especially important, because they are upstream of everything we hold dear. If the source becomes fowled, then everything downstream of the source becomes impure, as well.  Its our duty as citizens and temporary guardians of this planet to keep the waters we depend on as clean as we can from as high up as we can all the way down to the ocean’s edge.

  Watching the toxic orange progression make its way from the highest peaks to the southwest desert should really drive home the connectedness of it all.

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                 Sometimes Guides Need To Fish, Too

I just got home from a day and a half of fishing, but it felt like a week.  That’s because although I’m a fishing guide, I don’t get to actually fish myself very often, at least not during the summer. What I do quite often is watch other people fish. Oh, I  spent five or ten minutes most evenings just before dark standing out on the end of my dock trying to catch the same small brown trout.  I’ll usually toss flies to them until I fool one, or can’t see the river anymore.  But that’s not really fishing, there’s no skill involved in the doing of it. Its just a bit of methadone, and not a real heroin fix.

  Summers have gotten busier in each of the eleven years I’ve done this. There are a lot of outdoor-minded people coming to Colorado in the summer, partly due to the fact that the Centennial State is a pretty darn great place to be.  Dry weather, full reservoirs, and not many bugs. More people seem to figure out every year that Colorado is where its at in the summertime. (The cliché is that people come to Colorado for the skiing, but stay for the summers).  Most of my July and August days are spent rowing, then recovering from that day’s float trip, and then getting ready for the next. 

  But this weekend, two things happened simultaneously.  First, we had a torrential rainstorm on Thursday night that turned the river bright red on Friday.  Also on Friday, my wife left town to go visit her sister in Arizona for the weekend.  Suddenly I found myself looking at a couple of off-color days in which I couldn’t extract any filthy lucre from the Colorado River.  Just as important, there was no one around to tell me how I should be filling that gap instead.  And so on Saturday morning, I mowed the lawn to fulfill my legal minimum spousal requirements, and then went fishing. 

   Not only did I get to go fishing, but I got to try a couple of new spots I’ve been wanting to try,  plus I can write the whole thing off to research. Another guide I work with has been trying to turn me onto a couple of high-mountain lakes I’d somehow missed, so this would be a chance to check them out first-hand before bringing any clients up there. 

  Since the Colorado River was off-color, and probably would be for another couple of days, going up above the red sediment sounded good.  So I to  an area that shall remain nameless, one I had spent some time in before.  Even though I’d fished it many times for fun, this time I would look it at with the cool eye of a trained professional, tasked with getting someone who had never held a fly rod into fish.  I started at a lake large enough to paddle around in, but not big enough for a motor.  To do the paddling part, I brought a water vessel I’d never used before, a small one man raft called a Tote-N-Float.  Its fits into its own bag with carry straps, and is fairly sturdy.  It’s designed to use oars, but the oarlocks it has are a hard to find design, and so lacking those I brought a kayak paddle. 

  Things with the Tote-N-Float started poorly and didn’t improve much.  I had a difficult time getting the pump hose to seal, and it took about five times more pumping than it should have needed to fill it up.  Once I got it filled, I paddled out in to the lake into a slight headwind, but couldn’t really take efficient strokes with the paddle due to the protruding obsolete oar locks.  The boat was very wide, and had a blunt bow that gave the wind plenty of rubber to push against.  With my paddle blades having to be held way out away from the boat, the little craft had a pronounced yaw first right then left as I made my way across the lake.  I looked over my shoulder and saw that I was leaving a zigzaw pattern of bubbles behind me.  And then there was my cold, wet ass, and other body parts that are neighbors of the same physiological region.  The Tote-N-Float had a rigid seat made of plywood with an attached stadium seat, but it was only about a half-inch out of the water with me sitting on it.  If I could have just sat still there without either me or the water moving, my crotch might have stayed dry.  I realized too late that I should have worn waders, and not simply quick-dry pants.  For those pants to stay dry, certain moisture-free time intervals need to be observed between wettings, and I didn’t get any of those on the Tote-N-Float.

  I got out into the middle of the lake, and sat there resting all of the new muscles in my arms, shoulders, and back that I never knew I had.  The motion I had adopted to propel the boat was one akin to crawling out of quicksand or a grave.  I leaned back to rest a moment, and heard a slight hissing sound.  I’ve had a lot of inflatable devices in my life, and in that rich experience one thing I’ve learned is that hissing sounds are not good to hear around inflatables.  Over my left shoulder I could see a steady stream of bubbles coming from the boat in a spot that I had gotten patched.  The Tote-N-Float only cost me fifty bucks a couple of years ago because it had a small tear.  I spent more than twice that getting a patch put on in Denver, but the boat had sat in its carry bag for two years before I finally got around to trying it.

  Now I was in the middle of the lake with a difficult to row leaking boat, and a cold, wet ass.   I wasn’t worried about running out of air, for I did bring the pump with me along in the Tote-N-Float’s ample storage area behind the stadium seat.   But I questioned whether I could be doing something more fun and productive instead, and which didn’t feel so much like being in a wet diaper.  I crab-rowed my way back to shore, the steady breeze at my back.  When I got back I stuffed the Tote-N-Float back into its handy carry sack, and it may be there for another two years. 

  Now I had to decide how to try and salvage the afternoon.  There was a sweet small river that meanders through a big meadow nearby, one I’ve fished before, so I headed for that.  It’s a short, steep walk down to the river, but worth the hike.  I had fished this river several times before, but usually during the morning or early afternoon when the fish are kind of spooky.  Now it was late afternoon, and I could see small bugs about and some rise forms.

  I cracked open a beer and put it in the river to keep it cold (my favorite temperature for beer is whatever temperature the river is). Then I had to decide which rod to use.  I had with me a ten foot three weight, and a twelve foot Tenkara.  I was going to start with the conventional rig, but then I noticed a hole that presents just the kind of situation that the Tenkara really excels at.  The small river went around a bend, and just beyond the bend there was a small reverse eddy like a bursitis bump in an old man’s elbow. The Tenkara rod was pulled from my bag and extended, and soon I was dropping my two-fly cocktail into the spinning foam.  After several spins around in the foam without interest, I decided to switch back to my conventional rig.  Looking up the river, I knew I’d have to make longer casts and so the Tenkara got closed back up. 

  There were little pale mayflies hatching, and I thought that my standard rig should work.  That consists of a ten foot 5X leader attached to a hi-vis Elk Hair Caddis, trailed by a little mayfly.  There were occasional caddis flies flitting by, so I figured I was covered either way.  But neither fly elicited much interest, but when I noticed that they were rising for something I knew I had to make an adjustment. Then I came to hole that just said Tenkara. The river split into three channels, and there were three little back eddies to fish, all around the outside of a small gooseneck.  One could stand at the center of the gooseneck, and fish all three uisng the Tenkara’s reach without hardly moving one’s feet. Before I cast into the first pool, I replaced the mayfly with another elk hair caddis, this one without the hi-vis orange tuft on top. There had been a couple of hits on my top fly with the ten footer that I’d missed, but none on the mayfly.  I flicked the flies into the first swirly spot, and after a couple attempts at divining the complicated little hydraulic, got a rise to the second caddis fly.  Steering the fish away from the other holes, I tipped the Tenkara rod way back over my head and landed a nice little six inch brookie.  I kept fishing the Tenkara, and in the third hole I caught a small brown, this one about nine inches, (or what known in the Colorado River as preyfish).  Neither fish was big, but they were beautiful and feisty. I worked my way up the little stream, getting more hits but missing them. Then near the top of the meadow I pulled out a really nice cutththroat, fourteen inches of bronze color with black Sharpied spots and a slash so red I thought he was bleeding.   It was the nicest cut I’d caught in some time. 

  After working my way up the river I got to then end of the bigger pools, and in the waning light decided to explore what lay downstream.  I was able in spots to just walk along the river with my arm extended and the fly just floating alongside me like a dog at heel. The fly came to a small riffle, and as I took my eye off it to look at what was below I felt a tug in my hand and realized that I had a trout on. It wasn’t a big trout, and as I gently brought it to the bank, before I could see what kind of trout it was, I had the thought, if it’s a rainbow then you’ve gotten a Grand Slam.

  Now I am not normally the kind of person who cares much about How Many or How Big a day we have trout-wise.  Fly fishing for trout is mostly just an excuse to be in the beautiful places they tend to live in.  But I had never caught all four main species of trout in one day, let alone out of one river. And at this point, I was only lacking a rainbow, and I knew that the state fisheries people loaded the lake below with them.  It was like being a baseball player who had already hit a home run, triple and double, and only needed a single to hit for the cycle.  So as I drew the trout closer with my arm held as high to land the fish, I was disappointed to see that it was another brookie.  Immediately I chastised myself for feeling that way, for brook trout are my favorite trout.  They are the fish I grew up chasing in New England.  To my eyes they are also the prettiest, (though I’ve seen a tiger trout in person), and photography just doesn’t do trout justice.  I released the brookie, fished my way down to the end of meadow ‘til it was almost dark, and gave up on the Grand Slam idea.  I would have just enough time to get back to my truck before dark, and put away the Tenkara so that I could photograph the sunset over the mountains.

   Reaching for my camera, I noticed that I was missing something, mainly my camera.  It was a new waterproof camera I had just gotten less than two weeks earlier, after losing my last one overboard off my boat. Trying to remember where I had used it last, I realized that it been when I took the picture of that gorgeous cutthroat.  Walking briskly upriver, I tried to remember which hole I caught it in, but the little goosenecks looked a lot alike and it was almost dark.  But then I saw it, on the bank right below where I had steered the cut towards to photograph it. 

  I secured the camera in a zippered pocket, and looked up the steep hill towards the 4Runner on the shoulder above.  Starting to head that way, I remembered that I was still one rainbow trout short of a Grand Slam.  Since it wasn’t completely dark yet, there was still time for a couple more casts, so I pulled the Tenkara back out.  I cast towards the spinning foam pockets, and missed one hit on a tiny foam line.  The flies were barely visible in the dark purple light that was left.  I moved down the river a bit to the next hole, tried a couple of casts, and then moved down one more.  I was fishing more by feel than by sight. I put the fly in a likely-looking spot, or at least I think I did, when I felt a little pull on the rod.  Raising it slightly resulted in a splash on the water, and the fight was on.  I decided that no matter what was on the end of the line, and that it was going to be my last cast of the day.  Of course, that promise was made easier to keep when I got the fish in my net and saw that it was a seven inch long rainbow trout.  I had gotten my first Grand Slam of trout in less than two hours, in a very small river using a Tenkara rod! 

  Fishing for trout has never been much of a results-oriented pastime for me, but still it was hard not to feel good about it. It made the steep hike back up to my truck go much easier!

  That night I resupplied in town, and then drove back up to start doing the “research” part of the trip. There were three small lakes that my buddy and partner took paying clients to, and if I got familiar with them then it might give me an alternative way to earn money guiding when the Colorado River was off-color. The first lake was really a small impoundment, located in national forest so I could park the 4Runner for the night wherever I wanted.  I followed my friend’s directions up an increasingly smaller and steeper road to a dead end, where I saw signage for the lake.  It had begun to rain as I went up into the mountains, and it was impossible to see the lake in the dark.  Every now and then a flash of distant lightning would allow me to get a sense of it, but really scoping it out would have to wait until morning.  I got a great night’s sleep that night in the back of the 4Runner, listening to the tap tap tap of the rain on the soft top that I had just reinstalled for summer. An ’88 4Runner might just be one of the best small SUVs ever made.  It the only year they put a V-6 into the first generation body style, which is also the only 4Runner made that allowed for the removal of the fiberglass top an the addition of a soft jeep-style top. It’s a great truck in the winter, and even better in the summer.  With the left rear seat bottom taken out, a six-footer can easily sleep in the back.  I love dirt-bagging it in the 4Runner, and gladly did so that night. 

  In the morning I walked over to the lake to check it out.  The first thing that I had noticed on the Forest Service sign was that the lake had grayling in it, or at least it did when the sign was erected.  That sounded interesting – maybe I could follow up my grand slam with my first grayling?  I made some hot coffee, and went down to the water’s edge where I had yogurt, orange juice, a banana, and apiece of apple pie for breakfast.  Across the lake (which was maybe thirty acres in size) was a bald eagle,. On the surface of the water there was a disturbance, and in the shallows I could see a trout-sized fish finning along.  I wasn’t sure if it was a grayling, and the tail seemed to be breaking the water more than the famous dorsal fin, but I’d never seen a trout so stupid as to be that obvious and exposed to predators.

  The only two other people out there were a pair in a small johnboat tooling around the lake with an electric trolling motor.  They were fishing, but I never did see them hook up. There were some intermittent rise forms, but they tended to be out towards the middle. To get to them I’d have blow up the Tote-N-Float again, and wear waders, and I wasn’t inclined to do either.  After breakfast, I got my nine foot Fenwick five-weight and lofted a pair of dry flies out as far as I could into the lake, but that got boring pretty quickly, and the lake itself wasn’t pretty enough to distract me.  One hillside was blanketed by aspens though, and I bet in another month when the leaves were changing it might be a different story.  I was more interested in the other two lakes, and so catching my first grayling would have to wait. 

  The next lake was bigger, but required either a twenty dollar fee to access by boat or by a hike in from the national forest. Since I don’t mind burning a little shoe leather to get to good fishing, and I’m cheap, it was the low-cost option I took. From the trailhead it was about a mile long walk, and the reservoir once I got down to it was once again uninspiring.  There were many more rise forms though, as well as substantial amounts of algae floating about.  When I got to the lake, I saw a rocky promontory with a heron sitting on the point of it, and that seemed to be as good a spot as any to start fishing.  One of the three small tributaries that filled the lake also ran past that area.

  Walking closer to that point, I realized that it was a small island, not a peninsula.  The water across didn’t look far or deep, but by the time I got halfway to it my arms were upraised and the water halfway up my chest.  Where the line is between “wading” and “swimming” can be blurry.  If I had been wearing waders, it would have overtopped them, so technically this might have qualified as “swimming”.  Once onto the heron’s perch, I could see why it liked this spot so much.  Trout could be seen cruising through the pods of floating green gunk, occasionally popping their noses into the surface to slurp some yet-unidentified bug.  After watching them for awhile, I began casting about ten feet in front of the trout I could see hoping that one would check out my offering.  Two did, but both turned abruptly away as soon as they got a closer look at my flies.  At the far end of the lake it looked as though there might be another inlet, so I walked down there to see.  There was a very small and very cold creek of about five cfs that ran in, so I  walked up that to see if there were any small pools.  The water made my sandal-clad feet numb, and I did find one babbling brook dropoff that was worth photographing but not fishing.  I was OK with that though – once more the fishing rod in my hand was merely the ticket to a secluded, beautiful spot that I would never have found if not for the pursuit of trout.  Fishing might have been the reason I was here, but it wasn’t really the reason. On the way back, I watched an osprey making silent circles above the water, playing avian god.  Which of you fish will soon die in my talons? As I watched the osprey, a sudden shadow passed over me like that of a passing plane, and I looked up to see an immature bald eagle fly twenty feet over my head. I was tempted to fish some more, but not really that much.  I had verified that there were fish in the lake, maybe even a good number, but figuring out what they wouldn’t turn their noses up to wouldn’t be that hard to determine. I had noticed huge tricos the size of damselflies hatching, and am pretty sure that I could have imitated one of those pretty well and tempted a fish with that, or a grasshopper. 

  I hiked out from there and went to lake number three, possibly the most promising of all.  It was also in a national forest area, and the road access pretty good. Though it was well off the beaten path, when the lake came into view I saw that there were some people scattered on the bank either spin or bait fishing.  There were two dories out on the lake, both operated by friends of mine.  It was just past noon, and I was preparing to make a long hike to the lake’s inlet, when I saw both boats heading to the small boat ramp.  Instead of hiking, I drove there instead and got to the ramp just as their clients were climbing out of the boats.  I asked my friend if he wanted to give me tour of the lake, but he’d been guiding for several days in a row and was ready for some home time.  But he offered me his boat, and after the previous days experience in the Tote-N-Float I was more than ready to take him up on that.  After attaching his trailer to my truck, I rowed out into the middle to take it all in.  This was a much prettier lake than the last two, though there were more people here as well.  To the northwest was a bold escarpment that was the edge of the Flat Top Mountains, and on the southern edge a dark forest of big trees were guarded over by a big bald eagle.  To the south and north were dark black clouds, and I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to hang here forever before the weather moved in.  I rowed from one end of the lake to the other to get an idea of its size, and the whole time I did so was surrounded by rising fish, some not merely rising but jumping clear of the water in pursuit of their quarry.  My friend had left me a rigged rod, and said to just use that, they had hooked forty fish in under four hours using it.  It was six weight Orvis, rigged with a large foam hopper and a neon green egg pattern suspended beneath.  Out in the middle of the lake I chucked that thing out there, watched in land with a Plop!, and waited.  I made a few more casts towards the heavier concentrations of rings, but no one was interested.  It was everything I hate about still fishing, and why I do so little of it. Fishing moving water has a pull on me that all but the most beautiful of lakes lack.  There is really very little skill involved in still water, just cast it out there, watch closely, and when a hungry fish happens to cruise by be ready to set the hook.  Whoop de doo.  

  The weather seemed to be getting closer, and so was the lightning, and I began to wonder how safe a large aluminum dory would be in the middle of the lake.  I rowed back to what I thought would be striking distance to the ramp, and took out the Fenwick still loaded with a couple of dry flies.  Since fish were still rising aggressively in the face of the oncoming storm, why fish something below the surface? I wanted to see the fish before he hit my fly, and not watch some chunk of foam disappear in the water.  In short order, I caught several fish, mostly small stocker rainbows and one nice brown.  Then the wind kicked up, and the sky was not only black but had turned tornadic green, with the clouds hanging low like the Hulk’s testicles.  I knew it was time to make my break for the ramp, and was just finishing strapping the boat down when the hail began to fall.  By the time I got halfway to town, the roads were covered in a layer of white ice that looked like snowfall.
  After dropping the boat off with my friend, I made a leisurely drive home.  When I got back home to the Colorado River I was glad to see that it was clear enough to fish.  Visibility was a foot and a half looking down off the Catamount bridge, and presumably clearing. A fishable river meant that it was time to go back to work, and my mid-summer two day holiday was over.  It was time to watch other people fish again, and help them catch some. 


                                 The Peak Of Fishing Is Upon Us!

  When people ask me when the best time to fish is, I say mid-September to mid-October.  As I write this, its September 14th, which is about as “mid” as September can be.  So why now?  After all, the river fished pretty good after ice out but before the run off, when all those rainbows that were planted three years ago were on the move.  July was great too once the runoff had peaked, as those hungry fish were ready to eat once they could see their food supply again.  August was a bit slower, especially with the many bright, sunny days we had, though the mornings and late afternoons the river fished fine. 

  But now it’s September, and the browns should be getting ready to spawn soon. That flood of hormones makes them more aggressive than they are the rest of the year.  The weather patterns have stabilized and afternoon monsoon rains should be over, so off-color water should be done.  The tricos are still making their dense orgy clouds every morning like clockwork, but now they’re joined be huge red quills all day, and some caddis in the afternoons. It’s also been a great year to see critters along the river, and we’ve been seeing eagles, bears, otters, and bighorns fairly regularly.  The leaves have just begun to turn a little, previewing the month ahead when colors along the river should be in their full glory.  In short, this is when everything comes together – the fish, the bugs, the weather, and the glorious colorful backdrop to tie it all together.  Oh, and the summer crowds are gone, not that my little stretch ever seems too crowded even on the busiest of days. 

  So if you want to have a sublime Colorado river experience, this is the time of year where that is practically guaranteed. Give me a call or email if you want to experience the best Colorado has to offer!

                                                                  Jack          



                                 Reauthorizing the LWCF

  The Land and Water Conservation Fund, established by Congress in 1965 to help fund and support a wide array of outdoor goals, is set to end this fall unless reauthorized by Congress.  Over its fifty year lifespan, the LWCF has arguably been one of the most successful public programs ever, and its support in our current Congress is testament to that. 

  Although it’s a national program, its benefits to Colorado in particular have been noticeable.  Whether it was helping to make landowners whole again after the Big Thompson Flood of 1976, or purchasing ranch easements to protect them from development, or building new boat ramps in Eagle County, the LWCF has helped sustain the Colorado lifestyle in numerous ways over the last fifty years. 

  Reauthorizing the LWCF is a fiscal no-brainer.  Colorado has received 239 million dollars from the LWCF fund since 1965, but generates 34 billion dollars in outdoor-related activity.  4.9 million dollars are raised every year in state and local tax revenue, and there are 313,000 Coloradans employed in the outdoor recreation industry, 18,000 in hunting and fishing alone.  Best of all, most of the LWCF is funded by royalties on the energy industry, meaning little or no cost to the taxpayer. 

  Of course all of those are just numbers, but here in Eagle County the LWCF has had an effect on the ground that means more than just statistics on a page.  As a fishing outfitter on the Upper Colorado River, I’ve seen how projects supported by the LWCF have made the quality of life here better.  There are now several more boat ramps on the Colorado River than there used to be, which means increased access and recreational opportunities for both Coloradans and others from all over the country and the world that come here to experience our wonderful state. 


                                        The Eagle Feather

Spending most of my days on or along the Upper Colorado River, I get to see lots of wildlife. Deer and rabbits are too many to be counted, and in the winter elk are not only near the road, but sometimes bedded down in the middle of it.  On my river floats, we often see otters, bighorn sheep, ospreys, many types of waterfowl, bears, moose, beavers, and of course, brown and rainbow trout.  But of all the creatures who live on the river, none are quite as majestic as the bald eagle. They are more numerous during the winter, when the dark contrasting colors of their feathers blend in perfectly with the snow-covered hills above.  But there also are several mating pairs that live year-round on the river as well, and they’ve become a frequent and welcome sight on my river trips. 

  One bald eagle in particular has been around a lot this summer, and I’ve begun calling him Burt, mostly because “Burt the Bald Eagle” has good alliteration (I used to call the osprey that hung out here last year Oscar for the same reason). Burt was seen by us on the river pretty much every day in June and July, and for most of August.  He was usually in the canyon section that I run, below the Pinball boat ramp but above Jack Flats.  Sometimes we’d even see him twice – once in his favorite tree on the shuttle ride up, and again on the way down from the boat. 

  I’d never expected to have any other contact with Burt other than visual, and that’s always been enough for me.  Even though you can practically see a bald every day if you are on the river, and several if you drive the length of the Colorado River Road in the winter and have sharp eyes, I never get tired of seeing them.  Maybe because when I was growing up in western Massachusetts, they were still quite rare.  DDT use was finally outlawed in the Sixties in the wake of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, and their comeback was steady but slow.  I can still vividly remember the first bald eagle I saw, it was from a high viewpoint overlooking the Quabbin Reservoir. My girlfriend at the time and I had road-tripped there for the weekend, and while looking down at the huge body of water below we suddenly saw a bald eagle float by, hundreds of feet in the air but hardly moving a muscle. Years of hearing about bald eagles and seeing them on TV had not adequately prepared me for the sight of an actual living one, and I can remember it as if it were yesterday and not almost thirty years ago. 

 Early this July, I took a family of four on a fishing trip, and we saw Burt on his regular perch on the way up the road to our put in.  We paused for a moment on the road just opposite to look at him, Burt bright and backlit by the morning sun. Then we moved on, got the boat in the water, and began our trip.

  Later on, we were in the canyon section, and the dad hooked a nice brown trout.  I moved the raft over to the left bank, and as I did someone noticed a big bald eagle up in a tree watching us intently. As I netted and released the fish, Burt was looking down at us with an expression that seemed to say, “You guys going to eat that?”. Then, with a couple of swipes with his huge wings, he flew out of the tree and headed downstream. We all looked around at each other with big smiles, both for the close encounter with the eagle and the even closer one with a wild brown trout. 

  Soon thereafter we were out of the canyon, and began floating down the straight section of river above Jack Flats.  As we rounded the corner, one of my passengers noticed an eagle in a tree that leans out over the Colorado River.  I suggested that we keep our rods down, and try to stay as quiet as possible, and see how close we could come to Burt this time.  As it turned out, it was very close. My big raft hugged the left bank, and due to the high water we were able to float directly underneath Burt.  He looked down on us unperturbed, slowly rotating his head around as we passed.  Luckily he wasn’t due for a bowel movement, for if he had he would have pooped on our heads.  Once we were below him, I gently rotated the boat around so that we could look back up at him, with the bright red backdrop of Derby Mesa behind him. 

  Then something unusual happened.  The wind, which had been intermittently gusting all morning, suddenly kicked up a little extra, and we saw a white tail feather blow off of Burt’s bottom, and begin to swirl around in the air high above the river. Then, even more oddly, a swallow swooped in from nowhere, and began chasing the tail feather around as it made huge loops in mid-air high above the river.  It was quite a sight, bird and feather having what looked liked a dogfight, but then the wind blew the feather across to the other side of the river, and we thought the aerial display was over.  But then the wind shifted again, and then the feather was doing big circles over the water again, and when it momentarily stopped blowing, the feather dropped straight down into the river.  \

  The first thought that popped into my head was, “There’s an eagle feather in the river!”, and I immediately rowed hard for the left bank to see if perhaps we might see the feather floating downstream.  By now we were two hundred yards downstream from the tree in which Burt still sat, and the feather was out of sight.  I wasn’t sure whether the feather would float or for how long, but in short order there it was, coming down the middle of the river like a little white sailboat.  We were excited to see it, and when it was about fifty yards above us I began rowing out to the middle to intercept it.  When we got close, I handed my landing net to the mother of the group in front, and she deftly used the net to pluck the errant feather out of the water.  She took it out of the net and held it up for all to see.  We had an eagle feather on the boat! 

 She tried to give it to me, but I insisted that she keep it.  After all, this was their trip, not mine, I was just the operator of the boat getting them down the river.  I told her that she should keep it forever, and that it would bring her good luck.  Secretly, I really wanted that eagle for myself, but it seemed like they were the ones that should keep it.  Later, when they were getting ready to go home she offered it to me again, and again I reluctantly told her to keep it. 

  Once they were gone, I got on my bicycle to begin riding up to the put in to get my truck and trailer.  On the way, I saw a couple of my neighbors, and stopped to tell them about the eagle feather.  “Hey! You’ll never guess what happened today!  We were on the river, and saw this eagle, and its tail feather blew off, and we were able to pluck it out of the river!”  Before I could get much further, they said, “That’s really illegal! You better not tell anyone about that!”  That sounded crazy to me, but they didn’t know too much more about it, other than that Native Americans were the only people allowed to keep any eagle feathers.  I didn’t really believe them, for I didn’t see how there could be anything wrong with keeping an eagle feather, especially the way that we came about getting it, but figured I could just look into it later. 

  As I made my way up the road on my bike, I saw another neighbor, and stopped to relate the story of the feather to him.  Once I got to the park of snagging the feather out of the river, he said, “You better get rid of it!  Its illegal to have that!”.  Once more I was dumbfounded.  How could have an eagle feather be illegal, and why did everyone but me seemed to know about it?  Later that night, I went on-line and did a little research, and soon learned about the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940.  It turns that when eagle numbers were in serious decline, Congress passed the Act to help protect them. Perhaps they didn’t know that their dropping numbers were due in large part to DDT use, but in any case the law was still on the books and in 1962 the Act was expanded to included golden eagles as well. 

  I tried to get a hold of my customers to let them know about this, but was unable to reach them.  I wanted to let them know about it before they told the wrong person about it and ended up in some kind of trouble. The next day I finally did, and when I told them it also seemed like a crazy law to them as well, and that they would have to consider their options. Of course, the easy thing to do would be to simply go to the nearest trash receptacle, toss it in, and be done with it.  But somehow, that just didn’t seem right to them or me.  They were on their way out of town, and said that they would have to think about the best thing to do with it. 

  We kept in periodic email contact over the next month, and during that time I came up with the best idea I could about how to deal with our Feather Problem.  If she could get the feather to me, I could simply take it out on the river on my next float, and place it back into the water in the same spot we plucked it out.  She seemed to like that suggestion, and a few weeks later when they were back in Vail, I swung by their hotel and picked up a sealed envelope from the front desk clerk, feeling like I was consummating some kind of illicit drug or arms deal. 
  So now Burt’s discarded tail feather was back in my possession, and I had to get it back into the river where it belonged. The next day I had float with some folks that I hadn’t met before, and I wanted to wait to do it with someone I knew could appreciate the moment.  The following week I was going to take a regular client of mine out on the river with his brother, and was going to wait until that trip, but when that day came I forgot the feather in my shop, and so I had to be a felon a little bit longer. 
  Then coming up soon on my schedule was a trip taking out some filmmakers from CNN who were filming a feature about the Colorado River and its water issues.  That seemed like it would be a perfect moment, to make myself right with the law once more in front of plenty of witnesses.  That way, in case I ever found myself before the Supreme High Court Of Animal Parts, I could call them in as witnesses, or at least get their depositions.
  They came on a perfect day, and we had an almost perfect day on the river.  About the only thing that didn’t fall into place was that we didn’t get to see Burt while we were out that day, but the guys in the other boat did.  He was in one of his usual fishing holes (i.e., in a branch looking down on one) and he flew off, we were in the Whirlpool Canyon looking upstream at a bubble line while trying to put the show’s host onto a fish.  He did hook a nice trout on a hopper moments later, but by then Burt had flown away downstream to one of his other spots. 
  Later we were a mile further downstream, and about a half mile from Jack Flats. It was time to put that eagle feather back into the river.  As we approached the leaning tree, I pointed it out to those on my boat, and as we passed the tree, leaned over to place it gently back.  My boat kept wanting to float right along with the feather, for since there was no wind we were all floating along at the same speed.  I had to back row my boat to keep it away from the feather, and finally some distance began to grow.  The crew shot some video of this, and possibly a still image, but there were so many different cameras on both boats that day that I rarely used my own. But it occurred to me almost too late that I should get one of my own, and blindly shooting pictures downriver at the shrinking feather I managed to take one. 
 We did get to see Burt that day, but not from the river. Before we began our float, I took the crew up to the top of Derby Mesa, to see what I consider to be one of the best views in Colorado (and that’s a long, lengthy list). It’s only about a mile from the River Road, but about 900 feet higher after winding past some tight switchbacks.( I take most of my river clients to this overlook, and not just the national media). Sometimes I get pretty funny looks from people who see me taking my big green river raft up there, into country more suited for 4 X 4s.
   The crew was awed by the view, as am I even after having seen it a few hundred times.  While taking in the view, which included looking down at the first five miles of Colorado River we’d be floating, a big Golden Eagle drifted past, heading down valley, and we got to see it from just above, and not from below like you usually see them.  Then a couple minutes later, riding along the same thermal, came Burt.  I had been pretty sure that he lived in the canyon three miles above, in a nest the size of an upended Volkswagen Beetle.  We got to look down on Burt from above, and I was instantly transported back in time almost forty years, to being high on a hill in Massachusetts seeing my first bald. 
 Over the past month since then, I’ve continued to see Burt and always wave hello to him.  I’ve wondered if he recognizes me or my boat, and something happened last week that maybe he does.  There were two guys on my boat fishing, and as we approached Jack Flats I told them about the eagle feather. As I finished, I rotated the boat around and there was Burt, over in a dead tree river left.  He was watching us float by with his usual nonchalance.  We got below him and temporarily forgot him as we fished the big eddy next to the campsite, but one of them got a tangle and the current slowly brought us back up to Burt.  It was raining a little, and Burt held up his wings and began preening himself.  As he pecked and poked his chest, a small white breast feather came slowly drifting down, which we could all clearly see against the deep red backdrop of Derby Mesa.  Its seemed to take forever to fall, and it landed directly below him in a small willow.  I looked at my companions, and said, “Maybe we’ll just leave that feather alone this time!”

                                       Jack Bombardier


               And Now For Some Shameless Self-Promotion….

To All My Fishing Friends....

  This link showed up in my Inbox last week, and I almost deleted it without opening it.  Once I did open it, I was pleasantly surprised!  Since I got it I've debated whether to share it with you folks on my email list, since forwarding it might make it appear that I am a self-centered narcissistic egomaniac, which of course I am.  The few people I already shared it with suggested that I do send it out, so here it is.  I don't do any social media stuff, but apparently its already found its way onto something you kids call "FaceTubeBook" or maybe "LinkedPlace".

  The link is to a blog post in Field and Stream, a magazine that I used to read when I was younger, and as interested in the "field" part as I am now about the "stream" part only. (Sometime in my forties I lost my stomach for killing things). It was written by Tim Romano, whom I don't know all that well because every time he comes up here fishing he finds guys who are better fishermen and company to be with than me to fish with. I first met him years ago, when he was on a multi-day river float with some of his friends for a bachelor party.  The star of their entourage was an inflatable anatomically correct sex doll, and at my suggestion they took "her" with them for a few awkward leaps off the rope swing that hangs off my train bridge.  Tim is now the managing editor of Angling Trade magazine, which the general public might not know about but which people in the fly fishing business know very well.  He also does a lot of the photography for Trout magazine, which all you TU members get four times a year. 

  Anyway enjoy the read, its brief but after you read it you might understand why my hats are fitting a little tightly lately!

                                                                       Jack

http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/flytalk/how-all-fishing-guides-should-be?dom=fas&loc=contentwell&lnk=read-more

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                                   Tenkara Epiphanies

  For the last few years, I’ve been using a “new” method of fishing called tenkara.  The reason for the quotation marks around the word new is that tenkara has been around for hundreds of years, but only recently has the idea been imported to the US.  Tenkara is basically what your parents or grandparents might have called cane pole fishing, in that it involves using a very long rod with no reel, with the line, leader and fly attached to the end of the rod. A tenkara rod uses the same basic idea but uses modern technology, making the rod telescopic for easy transport and light enough to use all day without developing shoulders like Serena Williams.

 I first heard of tenkara a few years ago during the Fly Fishing Show in Denver. The person who brought the idea to the United States, Daniel Galhardo, was demonstrating it in one of the casting pools, and then I went to see his presentation in one of the conference rooms afterwards.  It was an intriguing idea, but I wasn’t quite ready to buy in yet. 

  Then one my fishing customers did a float with me using one, but being on a big river we didn’t use it much.  The next day, we four-wheeled up to Derby Creek where he used his tenkara for most of the day, and let me try it a little.  Using it first hand finally got me off the fence to actually purchase one, but for the first year or so I owned it the tenkara rod it was more of a novelty than anything else.  I would bring it with me when I went fishing, but almost always used my conventional gear instead. 

  But then one day, I was using the tenkara up on Gore Pass while fishing Big Rock Creek, and had the first of what I now call my Tenkara Epiphanies.  These are moments where I’d suddenly realize that although the tenkara approach had limitations, it also gave me abilities that “normal” fly gear didn’t.  On that day on Big Rock Creek, I was on my hands and knees in some tall grass sneaking up to a pool and flicking a dry fly into a foamy seam trying to induce a some small brown trout to eat it.  Due to the fact that you are limited how far you can cast a fly with a tenkara, on some small streams you have to get closer to the water’s edge to get your fly in there without spooking the fish.  As I was making my short casts and mending my line, I looked up and realized that I had been casting left-handed without even realizing it!  I don’t do anything left-handed, so seeing that rod held high in my left hand came as something of a shock.  It occurred to me that using a tenkara is so easy and intuitive to do, whether casting or mending, that it might be a great way to turn my beginner clients onto fly fishing.  That was what I think of now as my First Tenkara Epiphany, that it was so easy to do that you could do it with either hand. 

  I began to use the tenkara a little more after that, especially on smaller waters.  When I’d fish small streams I’d take the seven foot long three weight my best friend made for me, and also the tenkara which I’d have closed up and attached to the underside of my fanny pack. On day up on Derby Creek, there were some cutbows sipping bugs out of a small foam eddy just beyond some fast current, and I just couldn’t keep my flies in the foam long enough before the moving water would pull them out, even using reach casts with lots of mending, So I put the three weight aside, and brought out the tenkara.  With the tenkara’s extra reach, I was able to drop my fly into the foam, and keep it spinning around in there until a trout was able to see it and eat it.  I caught and landed three fish out of that hole!  I realized then that the tenkara’s length made it much easier to mend than with a shorter rod. I’ve since switched to a ten foot three weight as my conventional rig for small water, and the seven footer now lives in my backyard to fish off my dock with in the evening.  The fact that longer rods equals better line mending was Epiphany Number Two.

  The second epiphany came the following winter.  My friend Ryan and I went to the Frying Pan River one cold February day, when the air temperature topped out at twelve degrees.  We were fishing the Toilet Bowl Hole, where the water comes out of the bottom of Ruedi Reservoir.  There are some huge fish cruising in this hole, and its justifiably famous, but for most of the year, there are plenty of other fishermen around to share it with who also want a get crack at catching a big fish.  But a twelve degree day has a wonderful way of thinning out the crowds.  It was one of those days that it’s actually warmer to stand in the forty degree water than to stand on the bank.

  Ryan and I were working it, and every five casts or so we’d have to stop and clear the ice out our rod guides.  I’d also stop frequently to rotate out the gloves I was wearing, to keep a warmish pair on my hands while sticking the cold, wet ones under my coat. At one point, I was poking the ice out my guides with my thumbnail when Bing!, I broke off the top guide to my rod.  This really pissed me off, since I hadn’t brought another rod with me.  I was just about to break my rod off just above the next guide down so I could keep fishing, but I really didn’t want to do that since there was still two good inches left, and I knew that I could simply glue on another top guide on when I got home.  As I gripped the rod tip, about to snap it off but hesitating, it suddenly occurred to me that I had my tenkara rod up in my Landcruiser, and my conventional rod was spared from further shortening.  I waded back to my truck and got the tenkara, and very quickly realized that this was a much better way to fish the Pan than my conventional rig was anyway!  It was long enough to cover the whole water, my hands weren’t getting wet and cold from running the icy line through them, I could mend the twirling micro-currents better, but best of all, there were no guides to ice up!  The light bulb over my head lit up brightly that morning, and this was Epiphany Number Three.

  The next spring, Ryan and I again found ourselves in a cold tailwater, the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir.  It was April and they had just opened up the road to it, and not too many other anglers were there.  By now I was solidly into the tenkara camp, at least for my own personal fishing, though I wasn’t using it much on my commercial float trips.  I caught a couple of small fish on the tenkara, but as usual Ryan caught more, as he always does.  But then his line got tangled, and I asked him if he wanted to try the tenkara, while I re-rigged him.  He’d always been a tenkara skeptic, and still is to some degree, but he agreed to try it.  After just a couple of casts, he was soon into a fine fish, one bigger than I thought the tenkara might be able to handle.  But as I watch him play what turned out to be a twenty inch rainbow. I noticed how much that rod bent and flexed under the trout’s considerable pull.  I realized that once you’ve got a fish on, the line and leader don’t stretch very much, but the rod does.  Your rod in effect changes from being a fly delivery tool into a big shock absorber.  And a twelve foot rod is a much better shock absorber than a nine foot one! That was Epiphany Number Four. Ryan landed his fish, and though he’s not a complete tenkara convert yet he seemed to have gained a bit more respect for what they can do.

  Starting last year, I began to carry a tenkara rod of two in the hatch of my boat, in case my guests might wanted to try it.  Some days we’d be into rising trout in one of the Colorado River’s many back eddies, and for those up close fish the tenkara can be deadly.  Most of these back eddies have many spinning foam lines that the trout follow around sipping bugs out of.  Long casts are not only unnecessary here, but they can be detrimental.  People will see a splashy rise twenty feet away and cast towards it, putting down the fish five from the boat with their line.  Also, having that much line on the water can be impossible to mend, whereas keeping your casts shorter with a tenkara not only forces you to focus on your short game, but gives you much better control over your fly once its in the water.  This was more of a gradual appreciation, than an epiphany.  The other thing about tenkara rods that I only realized over time was what a direct connection you feel to the fish, versus a conventional rig.  With a normal rod, the fish is connected to the tippet, leader and line, which is then connected to the rod via the reel.  But with a tenkara, your hand is on the rod, and the rod is one with the line and leader and therefore the fish.  When a fish moves or shakes or begins to weaken, that life force of the fish is transmitted to you in a far more direct and personal way than it is with conventional equipment. 

  This summer, due to the high prolonged runoff we spent more time in those back eddies, since the fish were stacked up in them for most of the summer before the water finally came down.  I also seemed to have more beginners this year than in the past.  As a result, I’ve been using the tenkara rods more and putting minimally-skilled people onto fish more often.  One day in what I call Echo Hole, I had a nine year old girl hook a fish with the nymph on a hopper/dropper rig, which she lost when she dropped the rod tip and let the line go slack.  Her ten year old brother caught and landed one out of the same hole and she began pouting, but on her next cast she had a nice rainbow destroy her hopper and we landed that one.  Her demeanor changed radically after that, and I hope that she is as hooked on fishing as surely as that rainbow was on her hopper. The next day in the same hole, an eighty-five year old woman who had only done spin fishing caught a nice fish, using what she called her “cane pole”.  Another day, I two brothers from Chicago who had never fished before do well catching trout on dry flies, ten minutes after they got onto my boat in squirrelly water that that even experts have difficulty mending flies in.  Two weeks ago, I had three raw beginners learning how to cast in a stocked pond.  After exposing them all to conventional fly rods, I took the tenkara out of my rucksack and rigged a hopper/dropper on it.  On her second cast, one woman hooked a fly on the hopper, and before she could land the fish a second small bass took the hopper, and she landed both! 

  Another day this summer, I had a couple of days without a float scheduled, and headed up to Beaver Creek to try and drum up some business with the hotel concierges up there.  When I first started my guiding business years ago, I took some concierges out for some scenic floats to show them what I do and where I do it. Over the past few years I had kind of neglected them, but having the two Chicago neophytes doing well with the tenkara reminded me that there was potential customers up there that I might be missing out on.  When I talked to the different concierges I took one of my tenkara rods along to have something to show them.  Since not many guides are using it yet, it is something that I do which differentiates me from my competitors. 

  I dropped by the Beaver Creek Lodge, and was told that their concierge would be gone until two pm, and since it was only one-fifteen I went to the Osprey Hotel and chatted with them instead.  Later, I was on my way back to the BC Lodge, walking along Beaver Creek, thinking that it must be two when I noticed that it was still only quarter til.  Since I had fifteen minutes to kill, I hung out behind the lodge on the sidewalk that runs along the creek, staring into it to see if I could see any fish.  The creek was crystal clear, and running at its summertime low of about five cfs.  Try as I might, I couldn’t see any fish, but then it occurred to me that I had my tenkara in hand, so maybe I should look for fish with that.  It didn’t seem like there could be any fish in such a small, public stream, with kids splashing in the wading area just below the covered bridge only fifty feet above.  But I extended the tenkara out to its full length anyway, and from the sidewalk I dropped my standard double dry setup into the gin-clear water.  Expecting nothing, I was surprised to see something come up and try to eat my elk hair caddis on the first short drift! I yanked the fly out of its mouth, and made a couple more casts, and on my fifth one missed another.  Looking into the almost transparent water, I still couldn’t see any fish, and concluded that they must be so small that their mouth was too small to get around the fly.
Then I went down to the next pool down, which had be round rocks which had been carefully placed there that formed a smooth tailout.  I dropped the flies into the beginning of that little tongue and Slurp!, had a small feisty fish battling on the end of my line. 
Some of the kids just above noticed this, and came down the sidewalk to watch the battle.  Within a few moments, I had a gorgeous six inch brookie in my hand, to their utter astonishment (and mine). Here was a wild Rocky Mountain Brook Trout, caught ten feet away from the swimming pool behind the Beaver Creek Lodge!

The latest (but hopefully not final) epiphany I’ve had with tenkara came a week ago.  I had a very experienced fisherman was coming up to fish with me for the third time, but the day before our trip he had a bad fall and hurt his right arm.  He called the night before to tell me about it, and said that they were still coming but that he was going to just fish left-handed all day using his own tenkara rod.  I got thinking about that, and was glad that he was open to trying to compensate for his bad wing. But I doubted whether you could be successful fishing the long straight sections of the river given the distance limitations that a tenkara setup imposes.  But then another light bulb went on over my head.  The length of a total line and leader that rig with a tenkara is typically set by not making it any longer than you can land a fish yourself by.  So, if you’ve got a twelve foot rod, than you don’t want to make the total length of your line and leader more than fourteen or fifteen feet, otherwise you can’t hold your arm up high enough to net your fish.  However, if someone else is landing your fish, as we do from a boat when that person with the net is me, then suddenly that line and leader can be much longer.  And so the night before my client came, I rigged up a new tenkara rig that had about eighteen feet of line and leader.  The next day, he was willing try to new long-line rig, and he ended up using it all day long, left-handed, with his right arm almost literally tied behind his back. The results?  He caught and landed as many fish as his able-bodied partner did, who used conventional equipment (though his friend caught a twenty inch brown just above our take out, that might have tipped the balance a bit!).  A few days later, I floated with a couple consisting of a very experienced man and his less-experienced girlfriend, and she caught more and bigger fish that he did using the long-lined tenkara setup, while he used conventional gear. 

  The final thing that happened this summer which firmly placed the tenkara rod among my fishing tools to use first, and not just as an amusement, was an hour spent on the Bear River above Yampa.  The Colorado had blown out due to a thunderstorm, and so I cancelled a scheduled float trip and went fishing myself instead.  In an hour and a half, I caught my first Colorado Grand Slam, landing a brown, a brookie, a cutthroat, and a rainbow, all on the tenkara while my ten footer lay on the riverbank, unused and unneeded. 

  I haven’t even mentioned some of the other advantages to using tenkara rods that are already more widely acknowledged.  Among which are how light they are to pack if you are hiking or horse-packing into the high country.  Or how much easier they are to use if you’ve come back from Iraq with just one arm, or lost the use of one to a stroke.  Or, how quickly you can replace their delicate tip section with a new one if it does break off. 

  The bottom line is, tenkara is not a fad, and its not going away, and if you’re not using one now you probably will be someday.  Tenkara will never replace conventional gear, but it’s a really nice compliment to it.  I’m still more likely to use my old Fenwick or Loomis in most fishing situations, but the more I use the tenkara the more I enjoy doing so.  Try using one once, and you may never go back to the same old way of doing things!

                                                       Jack Bombardier
14503 Colorado River Road
Eagle County, CO 81637


                                      Late Fall Fishing
To All,

  The best time of the year for fishing is here now. The leaves are changing, the browns are hormonal, and best of all, the crowds are gone! (There have been three twenty inch plus browns caught this week that I know of).To that last point, I sure would like to have more trips on my schedule than I do now, so I'm slashing prices to gin up some interest. 

  Instead of $525 for a full day float, how does $300 sound?  Call me soon and keep me out of trouble.  My wife's Honey-Do list can wait, I'd rather be out on the river with you!

                                                          Jack

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                                     Being In The Now
  Last weekend I attended a TU meeting in Steamboat Springs that was very illuminating.  I learned new things about the realm of trout conservation, which is what I hoped for and why I went. But I also got some nuggets to consider in terms of life itself that I didn’t expect hear, and I’ve been rolling them around in my mind for the last week. 
  On Saturday, I left before dark to drive to Steamboat, to make to the first morning meeting which started at eight am.  The drive between Steamboat is seventy-five of the sweetest driving miles one can do in Colorado or anywhere in the world.  First there’s the twenty miles of the Colorado River Road, and then over fifty from that across Egeria Park, with views of the Flat Tops and rock formations along the way.  It’s a beautiful drive and by the time I get to Steamboat I’m usually in a good mood.  Apparently, others feel the same, because I don’t know of any other town in America more likely to put a smile on your face than Steamboat Springs.
  That morning I got to meet new people, some of whom I’ve heard of before and others of whom I had not.  Presenters got up and talked about the stream projects they had been working on, and they all seemed to be pretty wonderful people. After all, doing things to improve the living conditions of trout tend to also improve the living conditions of us all.  So indirectly, these folks might have been making some trout’s life better on some creek you’ve never heard of, but indirectly that makes your life better to, whether or not you know it. 
  After several TU and habitat-type talks, just before lunch a gentleman got up from the local chapter to give what I assumed would be an update on local doings.  His name was Todd, and after acknowledging the assembled audience started talking about why we fish, and what it is we are looking for standing out in cold trout water freezing our asses off. Then his talk strayed away from fishing, and towards deeper questions, such as how we prioritize our busy lives and whether or not we devote enough of that precious discretionary time to the people in our lives who are the most important to us. 
  It was fascinating to listen to Todd’s words, because not only did I agree with most of them but many were ideas that often bang around in my head, too. I’m fifty-four years old, but last week I was only twenty-five.  Or that’s how it feels sometimes.  Even long lives are short.  My wife’s grandmother lived to be ninety-eight, and she could remember that FDR feller the way I might recall Clinton.  So the question is, how to make our limited time count?  One idea that been in my brain for over thirty years, since reading “Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance”, is the idea of being in the now.  “Now” means fully appreciating this exact moment in time at this very instant.  And that means everything about it, from who you are with and to what sounds are coming from the background and what the light is like and etc., etc., etc. 
  Modern life is always throwing so much stimuli at us that its hard to live in the right now. We’re always planning or rehashing things, or it’s the phone or internet beeping at us.  There is always something that wants to take us from now to tomorrow, or back to yesterday.   
  Which brings me back to fishing, and especially the fishing around here.  If you are anywhere within a hundred miles from where I write this, and you’re wetting a line, then you’re probably in a pretty nice spot.  One that’s quiet, and visually stimulating, and populated by plenty of trout if you know how to find them. This is especially true of my immediate environs.  My home is fourteen miles from the nearest cell phone signal, and the spot we launch my float trips from is twenty-two.   We spend all day on my boat floating past gorgeous scenery, completely out of contact with the rest of humanity and its distractions.  It makes it very easy to be in the moment, because even if the fish aren’t biting, it’s usually a good moment to be in anyway. I occasionally float the Eagle or Roaring Fork rivers, and both have pretty good cell service for most of their lengths. The difference is obvious. We’ll be having a good day on the boat, and someone’s phone will ring, and they’ll get out of the frame of mind they were in, for now they’ll have to make a second phone call in response to the first.  Even once the phone is put away, for the remainder of the float, half their brain will be in the boat, and the other half back in their office or kitchen.  They are no longer in the moment
  Once I was listening to a conservative Christian on the radio derisively explain that environmentalists don’t believe in God, but instead worshiped the natural world around them instead.  He said it like that was a bad thing.  But the more I thought about it, the  more I realized that he was right. I did feel more of a connection the natural world around me than I ever have to some invisible diety.  I was raised Roman Catholic with all its attendant rules and laws, most of which never seemed to make much sense. Other organized religions just seem like variations of the same theme to me.  “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”, or the Golden Rule, has always seemed like the only rule any religion really needs.  Doesn’t that really cover it all?
  Some people only get to go to church once a week a Sunday.  But when I am out in my boat, that’s my church, and every workday is a Sunday for me.  Some people find natural inspiration in mountains, or on ocean beaches, or boreal forests or deserts.  I can find whatever passes for God in those places too, but have chosen to make my regular place of worship the Colorado River.  Creeks and rivers are the arteries of our planet, and their continued health is essential to the well-being of our little galactic rock.  Monitoring and promoting the health of trout in our waterways is entirely in our self-interest, as well as theirs.
   On my boat, I can feel the pull of the water, and the caress and song of the wind, and hear the birds calling out to everything within earshot like a chorus up in the balcony.  It is every bit as religious an experience that being in the huge cathedral in my hometown was, and more.  For this is not a constructed place to find God, this is God writ large. It is all sacred, all divine, all a manifestation of the Big Holy Picture, and not contained in some man-made box no matter how large. To go from the zen-like repetition of casting a fly one moment,  to actually holding a trout in one’s hand the next, and feeling its life force and seeing its sublime beauty, what is that if not a kind of magic? If God exists, would he or she not take the form of this trout, instead of some dusty book?
  The thing that makes my float so great is that most people, even if only for the time they are aboard, get that on some level.  The nine miles of Colorado River that I float tend to bring out the best in people, and whether they are like that or not in their home or place of work is not my concern.  The only thing worse than dwelling on your own past or future is worrying about someone else’s.  Not everyone finds the trip down the river as wonderful as I usually do, but they are in the minority.  All I can do is give them the opportunity to be their best selves, and our surroundings usually take care of the rest.  
  During Todd’s talk, he never mentioned the “G” word once.  What he had to say wasn’t religious, but it was spiritual.  It reminded me of an unusual performance space that was created one winter at the top of Beaver Creek Mountain called the Crystal Grotto few years ago but never built again.  It consisted of two large igloo-shaped structures formed side by side, with a space at the bottom for musicians and rows of benches for people to sit on.  Everything, including the instruments, was made of ice, which gave the spot some extraordinary acoustics. Before every performance, the man who created this space came out to tell about its construction, but then point out how ice was merely water in a frozen state.  One day soon it would not be cold anymore, and everything we could see would be gone, though not really gone.  That’s because although the ice would melt, it would the evaporate, and then go up into the sky, and fall back to earth again as rain, and fill our rivers and reservoirs. Then we would drink it or eat food nourished by that water and then that water becomes part of us and the whole cycle just repeats itself endlessly forever.  He talked about how water is life and is connected to everything, and like Todd he never once mentioned God but the message was implicit. I went to the Crystal Grotto three times that winter, and felt like I was in a sacred space each time.  The last time I went was after it closed, and roped off, and in the initial stages of its inevitable decay.  I just sat in the there, listening to a thousand little drips as it began its transformation from ice back to water.  I was truly in that moment, and if I close my eyes I can be in that moment again. 
  Making every moment of our lives count is impossible, but attempting to is not. I’m lucky enough to do something I love in a place that I love to be, but even I lose sight of that sometimes.  This spring, I took a famous fishing writer down the river, and I tried to describe what and how he wrote to my wife. She hadn’t heard of him since that’s not her type of subject matter. Thinking of how he got to travel all around the world fishing and writing about it, I finally told her, “he’s got the life I’d like to have someday, I want to be him”.  She snorted at this, and said, “Are you kidding? Everybody I know wants to be you!”.  That might not be exactly true, but she was right in that the life I’ve got right now, in this moment in time, is a pretty damn good one.  We all need to try and appreciate what we have and not what we don’t, and to be in the now moment as much as possible.
                                              Jack Bombardier

                       Epilogue to “Being In The Now”
To All,

  Well that last email (Being In The Now) sure got an interesting response!  I had about thirty positive responses, and three Unsubscribes. 
  I didn't mean to offend anyone, but I guess you can never make everyone happy, so nine out of ten isn't bad.  Three of the people who did write back had some variation of this interesting saying, which I'd never heard before but really liked. It was,

  "Some men go to church on Sunday and think about fishing, and some men go fishing on Sunday and think about God."

 
I don't know who first came up with that line, but I love it!

                                         
                 Jack  


                                        Flipping The Switch

This past Wednesday, the switch in my brain flipped from it’s “Fishing ” setting to “Skiing” in a very abrupt fashion.  Most years, it takes longer to change between the two, and the transition is counted in days or even weeks.  But this year, it came much quicker.
I spent the whole week in Avon, training to be a bus driver at Beaver Creek. For one work day each week during the ski season, my wife and I will both get a ski pass. Wednesday was no doubt this winter’s first reality slap. Above 7,200 feet or so, it was full-on blowing snow and slippery roads.  Being of solid French-Canadian stock, I was loving it though.  Winter means hockey and skiing to me, so bring it on!

  The previous few days before had been sunny and mild, and I was tempted to put the top down on my old convertible Saab. The Colorado River in my backyard was astoundingly
low and clear, and I was wondering why no one else wanted to float it right now.  I’ve gone out each night and made some casts with my little seven foot three weight, knowing that the days I can do so are numbered. Soon enough, there will be an ice skating surface out there with goalie nets at either end, but for the moment it’s a calm, clear river. A couple of weeks earlier, I had written the people on my email list letting them all know that the river had finally done it’s late fall level drop, and that it was a nice time to be here. The river can also this transparent in the spring right after iceout, but the water level is much colder then, and the fish less active.  In November, the temperature is dropping but still well above freezing.  The bigger, smarter fish have been through this change before, and they know to put some more calories into their bellies before winter.  So the fishing can still be pretty good, but the days are just a bit shorter.  It’s really cold in the morning, and it takes some time for the bugs and fish to get moving.  Then, in the afternoon the sunset comes early, technically at five-thirty pm but really much sooner than that in the heart of the canyon.  Trying to do all ten miles can mean being cold at both ends of the day, but by doing a shorter trip time can be managed to maximize the sunshine.  And at 6,200 feet, the days here are much sunnier and milder here than they are thirty miles away in Beaver Creek or Vail.

   Winter tends to sneak up on us down here along the “Lower Upper” Colorado River. Only last Sunday, I was mowing my lawn and looking up at the Flat Top Mountains, covered in pristine white snow from a recent storm.  It occurred to me that there were people not so far upvalley at that moment wielding snow shovels and blowers, while I was pushing an icon of summertime through my backyard. 

  The storm that blew in Tuesday night had been predicted, so I car camped in my 4Runner the night before to avoid a snowy commute the next morning.  On Wednesday morning I awoke inside of what looked like an igloo.  I turned on the 4Runner’s rear heater, got things toasty, and then crawled out of my sleeping bag to peer outside.  As soon as I cracked the door open, I was greeted by a blast of wind and a face full of huge cold snowflakes. I licked a pile off my upper lip and smiled.  This was definitely winter!

  For most of that day of training, we drove around a 4WD Ford Vanterra which was excellent in the snow.  Compared to the two-wheel drive propane trucks and oversized buses I’ve spent years driving, a Vanterra feels as nimble as a snowmobile. We went to some of the upper neighborhoods above Beaver Creek where the weather was the worst, cruising in total comfort.  The small roads curved in, out, under, and over some of the runs I’d be carving down in only a couple more weeks. It got me very excited about skiing again! 

  And then it happened, an almost audible “thunk!” in my brain as my switch went from “Fishing” to “Skiing”.  I looked around and realized that I would much rather ski than fish at that precise moment, and that “moment” would probably last until March or April.
Thankfully, living in Colorado means not having to choose between one or the other.  In springtime, the river starts fishing after iceout in March, but Vail and the Beav are open until April, and A-Basin stays open until June.  That’s quite a lot of time that you can do both.  In the fall, ski areas open in late November but the river can be fished from a boat until the ice shelves start to grow, which is usually mid-December.  It’s a much smaller overlap.

  By Thursday morning, there were many dozens of tracks covering the lower face of Beaver Creek Mountain.  Other eager skiers had also contracted The Bug the day before, and had hiked up to get that first feel of sliding snow underfoot. The lifts would not be running for another two weeks, unfortunately.  Seeing those tracks made me want to add a pair of my own, so that night I dug out all my ski gear and a small backpack so I could climb the hill after work the next day. 

  Friday was to be my last day of training, and since we had covered most of the things we needed to know about, I figured there would be time for at least one run after work.  But then we were finished by 10am, and it occurred to me that Breckenridge was opening that day.  So instead of walking up the hill once or twice, I did some low level flying in the Saab over Vail Pass, and was skiing at Breck soon after.  This totally secured the “Fish/Ski” switch in my brain to its winter setting. 

  Friday the thirteenth was as perfect an opening day as one could have wished for.  Cobalt blue cloudless skies, very little wind, soft packed powder snow, and lots of smiling faces. So many happy souls, all out enjoying the frozen water on top of a mountain. I couldn’t think of a better place to be. 
 
  For once I didn’t stay until the last lift, as I normally do.  I left myself enough time before dark to take the River Road home, instead of the interstate.  The mileage is about the same either way, and though the interstate is faster the River Road is much prettier. It also gives me more time to be with my lovely aquatic mistress.  I drove home with my head full of snow and skiing, and wondering when I could get back up there for another fix.  But then the road dropped down to the river, and as I traveled along her curving banks and peered into her clear waters, I could feel the switch begin to change positions again. Maybe I’ll do another float or two before winter finally makes its way down to here…anyone else want to come with me?

                                               Jack Bombardier



Three Cheers For The Colorado Water Plan – Now What’s Next?

On November 19th, the final draft of the Colorado Water Plan was finally delivered to Governor John Hickenlooper.  In the future, this might be looked back upon as being a watershed moment for Colorado (pun intended).  Since our fair state was first settled, water disputes have been a constant source of contention.  But after fourteen years of drought and a never-ending flow of people wanting to live here, the problem of supplying enough water to keep everyone happy has never been more urgent. 

  There are two main issues underlying all of the others.  The first is supply and demand, since drought is chipping away at the supply and more folks moving here all the time are increasing demand. The second is the fact that 89% of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range, and 84% of our water flows west. These realities make it impossible for everyone to get everything they want, and the new Water Plan represents a good first step for planning for our future, but it’s only that, a good first step. 

  I live beside the Colorado River, and with only a slight turn of my head I can see it flowing past my window as I write this. For most of the year, I run a float fishing business called Confluence Casting and take people from all over the world down the river. From my perspective, I see a precious resource, one that not only provides me income but that helps people connect to the natural world in a very deep and almost spiritual way. River corridors like the Colorado and others are why people come here to live or visit in the first place.  Quality of life is hard value to define, but you know when you have it or when you don’t.  And here on the Western Slope, we definitely do, and its way people come from all over the country and the world to be here. Without rivers, and the mountains that create them, this would just be Kansas.  (No offense meant to the midwest, but I know far more people who have come to Colorado from there, than have gone in the direction).  

  Currently, 60% of the water that should be flowing west in the Colorado River basin flows east instead to the thirsty Front Range, and there are already a couple other projects in the pipeline that will divert even more. From my selfish standpoint, I’d like to preserve the natural values that make Colorado what it is, and keep it a place that people want to come to in the first place. 

  As much work as it took to get the Water Plan done in the first place, now is really when the really heavy lifting begins.  The plan outlines the main issues we face, and a number of different methods that we might use to help ensure our water supplies for the next fifty years or longer.  But there is nothing in the Plan that is really mandated, its sort of an “all of the above” wish list of things.  Since all of the various stakeholders were involved in crafting the Plan, it includes things that everyone likes and dislikes.  Compromise is what diplomacy and negotiating is all about.  From my narrow perch, I don’t want to see any more trans-basin diversions or dams, and not a drop more water going east. But could I live with those if they only diverted water in wet years?  Possibly.  But we are talking about a resource that could be managed a lot better than it is now, whether by reducing waste at the municipal or agricultural level, or by amending outdated water law.  Colorado water rights have a “use it or lose it” provision that discourages landowners from keeping water in the rivers when they don’t need to take it.  It can also be in a farmer’s short term interest to sell their water rights to a city, but why not make it easier lease it instead?

  I’m as happy as everyone else is that the Water Plan is now a real, living document.  It may only be a first step, but every great journey begins with that.  And the great journey our State began towards a comprehensive water policy began on November 19th, 2015. Hopefully, the end result of that will be a Colorado that in 2065 looks a lot like it does now, and not like Kansas in 2015.


                            Final Fishing Email Of 2015

To All Of My Fishing Friends!

2015 has come down to its last few days, and though it’s had its ups and downs, its been a mostly good year, especially on the fishing front.  The river fished better this year than ever, and it seems as though that’s something I’ve been able to say for the last three years or so.  It’s definitely trending upwards!

  I’d like to thank all of the people that were able to find the time to come up here to do a float this year, and hope to see you all again in 2016. Judging from the response I got for my pre-season sale, it looks like I will be!  I’d like to give an extra thank you to those of you who took me up on my offer!  I thought that I might have to sell off a kidney to get through the winter, but now I don’t think that will be necessary. 

  One link I’d like to add to this is to an Op-Ed piece that got published in the Grand Junction Sentinel this past Sunday.  The Sentinel is the kind of meaty, informative newspaper I grew up reading and loving, but which seem to be a dying breed these days.  (Those of you who have watched the continued evisceration of the once-great Denver Post will know what I mean).

Looking forward to next year, I’ll be speaking at the ISE show in Denver on January 14th through 17th if you have any spare tomatoes you would like to toss. Also sometime in February, I’ll probably have about five seconds of air time on a special CNN is doing about the Colorado River.

Finally, there are some people I met late in the year who’ve asked me to copy them on the ones I sent out earlier in the year.  When I was compiling them all, it made for a nice walk down memory lane as the complete arc of a year on the Colorado River came complete.  The river is now under a thick blanket of snow and ice, which is what it was looking like when I wrote the first one way back in April.  So if you missed any of those from earlier, here they all are in one complete document, which I’ll attach to this email.

  I hope that everyone has a wonderful 2016, and that I get to see you all!

                                              Jack Bombardier

Confluence Casting LLC
14503 Colorado River Road
Eagle County, CO 81637
970-524-1440
jack@confluencecasting.com