Living and working in Colorado has many benefits, and one of those is that I’m usually not too far from a spot to fish, even in the winter. People assume that because I’m a fishing guide that I must get to go fishing all the time, but that’s only technically true. What I really do is spends lots of time watching other people fish.
Since I live fifty feet from the Colorado River, getting a line into the water can be as quick as grabbing the little rod that hangs next to the gate on the way out to the back yard. From the end of my dock, I can usually fool one of the small browns that feed in the slow current out there just before dark.
Of course, some times I look for a bit more of a challenge, and there are productive places to wade all along the river. I’ll use my bike to reach the closer spots, which has the added benefit of helping to get my legs in shape for ice hockey. But living so close to good fishing spots means that all I need is an hour or two to be able to fish, so its not a huge time commitment to do so. Last Sunday was an example of that. I spent most of the day getting caught up with office stuff and yard chores, and by three was done doing the things that I absolutely needed to do. So I hopped in my truck and drove up the river to the canyon, where I used the railroad bridge below Pinball Rapid to get over to the other side. On river left is a small boulder garden, one that I can’t reach from my boat when I take clients through. (The spots that I usually like to wade are the ones that I can’t reach from the boat).
Wading across the lower end of the hole, I sloshed up through the current to a large rock that offers a perfect perch to cast from. Although trout can be found behind some of the rocks, the most reliable feeding lie is where the current runs back along the bank. After a couple of short casts to get my distance set, I peeled off a couple more feet of line and dropped my two dry flies right on the bubble line a foot or two off the bank. The flies, and Elk Hair Caddis and small PMD, drifted perfectly and I held my rod tightly ready to set the hook. The flies went through unmolested however, as they did on my next presentation. On their third trip, the flies were at the end of their drift, and as I took my eyes off them to scan upriver for my next cast I felt a tug in my hand, and noticed that I had a fish on. I landed a thirteen inch trout on the mayfly, and felt a bit guilty about it since I never saw the take. After releasing the fish, I made more casts further up into the hole and soon caught a much nicer brown, and felt better about this one since I put the fly right where I wanted it and saw the take this time.
Now that I had caught two out of this hole I was ready to move on, and so I went back to my truck and drove towards home, to another spot that’s hard to reach from a boat. When I got there I realized that the water was still running faster and higher than I expected it to be, and spot I was going to try was still a bit blown out. So I went a little further down to a sizeable eddy below, and cast from there. This hole was deep, and had a nice bubble line below where the river ran past a big rock on the bank. I watched for a moment to see if there were any surface action, and I saw a rise, and then another. From the bank I began casting to areas where the current would bring my fly into the swirling bubbles. After one such pass, instead of pulling the flies out after they went under, I stripped them back to me like a pair of streamers. Soon a felt a strong tug, and landed a small rainbow. I kept tossing the dries into the eddy line, and soon caught a much better rainbow than the first, this one was about fifteen inches. I didn’t think that I’d better that fish, but kept casting in the bubbles and had to do lots of mending to keep my flies on top. Then I saw a fish rise to my fly and he was on, fighting much harder than the other two. Once I got him close I saw why, he was foul-hooked. It was another rainbow, bigger than the first and smaller than the second. After releasing that third fish, I decided that it was time to go, three fish out of the same hole was plenty, what would I prove by continuing to pull fish out of it?
Making my way out along the bank, and saw the rise of a nice fish not far away. I didn’t really want to catch another fish in the same spot, but the siren’s call of a feeding trout is hard to resist. The caddis pattern I was using was pretty beat up, and would be getting retired anyway, so I cut off the hook and the second fly and cast that towards the unsuspecting trout. The fly drifted towards the intermittently appearing olive nose, and as the fly drifted over it the nose came up and gulped down the fly. Since I had no hook I didn’t want to pull it out of his mouth, but did get to feel a good solid pull on the line before the trout opened his mouth back up and spat it out. Fishing without hooks isn’t something that I do a lot, but every now and then its fun to do everything involved with trying to catch fish, except for the sticking-a-sharp-hook-into-a-trout’s-mouth part.
Of course not all of my fishing occurs along the river I live. My other main working gig is driving a propane truck, and that takes me all over the back roads of Eagle and Garfield counties. Usually I have my tenkara rod and a couple of flies on hand, just in case I end up on some private property I can fish during work. But last week I knew that I would be making a delivery to Piney Lake above Vail, and so I made sure I had my other travel rod as well, an old telescoping Trimarc. After delivering the propane, I drove about a mile downstream from the lake to a spot I’d been eyeing on previous trips. There were spots closer to the resort that I’d already fished in past, but since I already knew that fish were there I was ready to find some others.
The Piney was much lower than it had been three weeks ago. The water wasn’t more that a few inches deep in most places, but I did see a little riffle that looked a bit deeper than that which would have made for a good feeding lie. I extended the Trimarc to its full length, and added a second mayfly to the caddis already tied on. On my very first cast, a small brookie inhaled the mayfly and I quickly pulled him out of the hole so that he wouldn’t spook the others. It was only about six inches long, but beautiful in a way that only a brook trout in spawning colors can be.
I released that, and on my second cast a fish came up for the caddis. My hook set was too quick though, and I pulled it out of his mouth. After a couple false casts to dry my fly, I gently dropped my flies down into the bubble line once more, and the moment my caddis hit the water a nice brook trout was waiting with its mouth open to eat it. This one gave me a better fight than the first, and when I worked it in over to the shallow water by the bank I saw that it was a foot long beauty, in colors that no oil painting or mere photograph could ever do justice to. After pulling the hook out of its mouth and watching it swim away, I raised my rod to try another cast. Before I could I noticed my line was still animated, and realized that there was still another fish on the end of my tippet. This was a three inch rainbow fry that had eaten my mayfly at some point, without my even realizing it!
I was going to keep casting, but remembered that I was supposed to be working, not fishing. I had only made three casts, had three strikes, and caught three fish. Not a bad way to kill a few minutes at work.
The following week I was asked to speak at a lunchtime Denver Angling Society event, and after giving my presentation was talking with some folks there. One of them mentioned a body of water I’d never heard of before, the Old Dillon Reservoir. This was a little lake that the town of Dillon used for its water supply when the town was in its original location, before the creation of Lake Dillon. He said that he had hiked up to it recently, and that after being recently expanded it had been stocked with Golden Trout. Goldens are native to California, not Colorado, and I’ve heard of them being stocked in places but have never seen one. So on my way home from Denver, instead of fishing Clear Creek or the Blue as I often do I decided to check out this spot I’d never seen or even heard of.
The trailhead to the Old Dillon Reservoir is located off the dam road between Frisco and Dillon. I’ve noticed cars parked there in the past, but never given it much notice. Before hiking up the hill, I grabbed my rod and fanny pack of gear. After a short hike, I came over a rise and saw a small round lake perched at the top of the hill with a commanding view of the “new” Dillon Reservoir, Buffalo Mountain, the Williams Fork Mountains, and Keystone off to the east. Traffic from I-70 could be heard just to the west and downhill, but not seen.
The little reservoir itself was not very impressive, and my first thought was that I was an idiot for even carrying my rod up there. It covered perhaps ten acres, and was surrounded by rock, cement and gravel, with no vegetative cover whatsoever. I left my Fenwick broken down in two pieces, and decided that instead of fishing that I’d just go for a hike around the “lake”.
When I got down closer to the water’s surface though, I noticed something that I didn’t expect to see, riseforms from feeding trout. I usually associate trout with living in beautiful places, in fact it’s a big reason that I am a trout fisherman to begin with. Though there was a nice view from here above the little lake, I can’t imagine that the trout would appreciate that much.
So I put the rod together and strung it up, and made my way down to the water’s edge. Now that I was closer, I could see plenty of dimples in the water, created by what looked to be very small fish. On my first cast the a trout rose to my fly almost immediately, but when I set the hook I pulled it away from it. The same thing happened on my next cast, and my next, and my next, for maybe twenty casts. I stopped setting the hook altogether, but still when I’d raise the rod tip there would be nothing there. It was frustrating but amusing too. I considered replacing my mayfly with one that had a barbed hook, for I was curious to see at least one of these “Golden Trout”.
Finally on about my twenty-first cast or so I was able to get the hook to stick, and brought a very small to hand. It was not a Golden Trout, but an immature rainbow with golden color and deep parr marks. I put him back into the water and watched him shoot off to rejoin his clan, with a great story to tell about the abusive giant he had just encountered.
Curiosity satisfied, I broke the Fenwick back down and resumed my trek around the little reservoir’s circumference. It was a beautiful fall day and the colors on the hillsides rivaled those on the baby trout. The lake itself was not beautiful, but the setting was and it was yet another pretty spot that the pursuit of trout had taken me to. One of hundreds of such places that I’ve found in Colorado, with hundreds more yet unexplored. So many places, so little time…