• A Gunnison Adventure

    A co-worker popped into my office a few weeks ago to let me know that my presence would be required at a meeting in Fountain Colorado sometime in late June and to ask me when he should schedule it for. I quickly replied that Thursday or Tuesdays would be best and the later in June the better. Now you smart fisherman in the audience have already figured out why but for the rest of you … this would allow me to fish the weekend before or the weekend after and the later in June the better the chance of the rivers being clear.

    As luck would have it the client wanted their meeting on a Thursday which meant I could get a business trip to morph into a fishing trip and that is always one of life’s sweetest “shot and a goal” tricks. My Colorado expert sources said that most of the high country streams and the bigger rivers were still pretty blown out but that the Taylor River should be fishing okay, still high but fishable. Which means I was practically skipping as I made my way to the rental car Thursday afternoon, bolting from the warehouse and my meetings, ready to start a long weekend of fishing and relaxation. I was meeting Bernard and Sam at Harmel’s a Gunnison area Taylor river institution since when my 76 year old mother was a teenager and staying there with her parents… which even my limited Arkansas math tells me has been a long, long time… … although I better not let her hear me say that or she will take a switch to me.

    The first look at the ranch made me laugh out loud as the small quaint cabins spread around the classic American “dude” ranch are a Colorado icon. My one bedroom cabin with a “kitchenette” was built long before I was born and would probably be there long after I was gone. But for what I wanted out of this weekend it was absolutely perfect. Quaint and charming and less than 30 feet from the river with a bench sitting at the river’s edge that was just made for cigar smoking and letting the world flow right on by, which was exactly what I had in mind.

    Bernard and Sam weren’t arriving until the next evening so I had the remainder of the evening to myself so I spent it with my friends Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver and Guy Clark and yes we visited Woodford Reserve and even had a side trip to Cuba where we visited with my other friend Monte #2.

    I slept late the next morning, maybe due to the previous night’s prolonged visit with Woodford. But by the time I was up and around my fishing partners had arrived and we suited up and got ready to go fishing. Having friends that are good fishermen is a nice thing, having friends that are expert fisherman is even better but when you have friends that are expert fisherman and also experts on the intricacies of the water that you are fishing… … well that is just about as good as it gets. So I found myself tying on a fly so small I couldn’t even see it and hoping like hell that I didn’t break off too many times because I had forgotten my magnifying glasses. Bernard hustled us off to the water and even started me out on his “idiot” proof honey hole where he claimed even I could catch a fish and sure enough not only did I manage to catch a fish on the first few casts it was even so big that my arms weren’t long enough to get the whole fish in the picture …….. either that or I suck as a photographer.

    I caught a lot of fish out of that same hole, and was feeling pretty good about my fishing skills until the sun got a little higher in the sky and I realized that there were literally hundreds of fish schooling in this back eddy and that indeed I had been given the “honey hole” to start with. So I moved on to give Sam and Bernard their shot with my cruising friends. The river was running very high but was mostly clear with just a slight coloration. As I fished I wondered if I could find the fish myself without Bernard pointing my way, in this high and fast water but my question was answered when I produced two fairly nice fish out of some white water seams that I had flipped a cast into almost out of instinct not as a particularly nice pool or hole. So by then, my fishing day was really starting to shift into high gear.

    The rest of the day was spent in that frantic rush of fishing that comes when you have been too long off the water and are starved for fishing time. I caught fish all afternoon out of all the likely looking spots and enough out of those hard to find out of the way places to keep you casting at all the potentially likely looking spots you may be able to find. We were drifting a midge pattern 20 inches or so behind a big stone, picking some fish up on the stone and some on the midge, the strikes were soft and subtle so I was depending on my strike indicator, cause I cheat, while my fishing partners were good enough fishermen that they were picking up the strikes without an indicator. But we all caught fish consistently. We were even close enough to the cabin that we could from time to time, stop by for a cold porter or stout that I had brought in for just such an occasion. So all in all it was a wonderful afternoon of fishing.

    The only thing that wasn’t wonderful was my friends decided to play a horrible trick on me. As many of you know I have a fairly extensive collection of Bamboo rods and I like to think that they are some of the most wonderful rods around. And indeed they are, which is what makes their trick so tough to take from people who I actually thought were friends. Well my so called friends asked me to fish the late afternoon with a prototype graphite rod that they were designing for a new rod company. It was a very sweet looking 9 ft 6 weight which would be a great match for the bb size shot and heavier weighted stones and dropper rig that I had been throwing all day. Little did I realize how devious these guys were as I started to cast this rod, even my crappy sloppy casts started to turn over like a pro. My usual side arm trash casts rolled out smoothly. The roll your elbow over and hook one around the side of the tree into that back eddy cast actually started to hit the target. I was amazed at the versatility and performance of this rod. Light in hand and a casting demon with enough power to turn twenty inch fish on a dime. So naturally when the afternoon fishing demo was over I asked them where I might be able to get one just like it… …. And they told me it wasn’t even on the market yet and I couldn’t get one. Now if that ain’t crappy friends I don’t know what is, making you realize all of the rods you have collected over the last twenty years, while still wonderful, could be shown up by the latest technical marvel of the graphite and engineering world… but I couldn’t get one yet. Oh well with ****ty friends like mine …. Who needs enemies?

    Even though the guys had ruined my perception of rods, I did agree to cook them a steak and potatoes for dinner and even offered Woodford and cigars. So we spent a lovely evening sitting around listening to music and talking. I got to hopefully share a few new musicians with them that maybe would get into their heads as bad as that rod did to mine. We talked about the business of fly fishing which they are both deeply involved with which was a very interesting perspective for a business man who likes to fish … … but I had never really thought about the “business” side of fly fishing. And trust me when you get Sam and Bernard talking about building fly rods it was all way more complex and intricate than my barefoot Arkansas redneck self could understand.

    We rose early the next morning and enjoyed a giant breakfast of biscuits and gravy and scrambled eggs with bacon. And I foolishly wonder why I had a heart attack some six months back. But the pace of the fishing day was slower for me. I had caught a lot of fish yesterday and so was able to focus more on the river and the scenery than the panic for tite lines and quantities of fish… … and in the end that always brings me more enjoyment than the struggle for sheer numbers and that first release of my fishing lust. I even stopped and took a few scenery shots.

    Being a slow learner I had allowed Bernard to talk me into using one of the 8 ft 5 weight Eden Cane bamboo rods that he builds. And once again I was amazed by the beauty and quality of the rod but most importantly by how well it casts. So now there is another Bamboo rod maker that I just have to have one of his rods someday. You think I would have learned my lesson with the graphite rod but no … … I get sucked in again. At least this time, these rods are at least on the market already, just hard to come by. The water was a little higher and with a little more color due to the warmth of the day before and some additional snow melt but that actually seemed to make the fishing better.

    We fished together for most of the early afternoon taking turns on each hole and enjoying the companionship and banter. But, before long it was time for them to head back home, which left me with a late afternoon of fishing by myself. But that is one of my favorite things so off I went. For some reason the usual spots didn’t seem to be producing very well and I wasn’t catching a lot of fish. As I was crossing a bridge, absently wondering where the fish could have moved to, I looked down into the water and saw several large fish hanging in a deep seem below the bridge in the middle of the river. The water on either side was deep and extremely fast. I wandered down to each bank to see if I could find a way to get into casting position but couldn’t seem to find a route to the fish, that I thought my 50 year old fat self could handle.

    So I wandered off in search of easier fish only to find that I couldn’t seem to find any. Well naturally that hole behind the bridge that I just didn’t seem to think I could reach, keep nagging at me. I thought about all of the reasons I should be careful and cautious. Then like a bolt of lightning a response from a post I had made recently on a fishing board about a fishing trip taken to help get a handle on some personal problems, popped into my head. That response had been simple and to the point … … “Good grief, get a grip!”. And I laughed out loud and realized that was the perfect advise, to heck with all of the reasons I should be cautious … … I wanted those fish in the middle of the river and I was going to get em… … even if I did have to swim to do it. So I spent about 15 minutes inching myself into some serious fast water which was running belly button deep. My toes were tapping trying to keep contact with the bottom and I was bobbing up and down like an old fashioned bobber on a windy day. I had my feet wedged in behind rocks to keep from being swept downstream and was breathing like an asthmatic freight train. But I was in position for a cast. So I managed to shake some line off the rod and to lob an off balance shot into the general direction of the seam… … and bam almost at once I was tight to a large running fish making my reel sing like Patsy Cline… … powerful and “sweet n clear”. I somehow managed to stumble along behind, half floating downstream until I could get my feet back underneath me. I found myself still fast to the fish which was a major surprise… … and relatively dry which was an even larger surprise. So after all of that I began to get confident, which naturally means I tightened up on the fish and he broke my leader. So there I stood my legs trembling in weariness, cussing the day of that fish’s birth. My heart was beating so fast that it was drowning out my wheezing gasps for air. I momentarily wondered if I could make it back out there to try again… … and heard a “Hell yeah” escape my lips. So I tied on again … … which with my adrenalin rush shaking and a size 20 or so fly … … did take a few minutes. But soon enough I found myself inching my way back into the fearsome current. I slipped once on a rounded boulder and stumbled a step or two and partially sat down so the bottom half of my vest was soaked but didn’t run water over the top of my waders so I regained my balance and composure and once again lobbed an ugly but effective cast into the seam. And once again I saw my strike indicator dip and slide sideways and once again found myself hooked tight to large fish. I turned to try and stumble back to safer water where I could make my stand and fell again, sliding downstream a few steps while trying to stay tight to the fish. This time when I finally recovered my balance and my footing I felt that heartbreaking nothingness on the other end of my line, just the tug of the current but not the powerful pulsing of a big trout. I had lost this one too. I reeled in slowly expecting a broken leader but fortunately for me I hadn’t broken off and didn’t have to face tying on again.

    Well this time there wasn’t the slightest hesitation as a I headed back out into the current. My legs were now vibrating like a ……….. well I bet you can plug your own image in for that one….. when I lobbed yet another cast into the hole. To my great surprise this cast floated the entire length of the hole in a flash, with no strike that I could detect at all. So I cast again and again … still nothing. My ego and confidence plummeted as I realized that I had lost two fish in two cast and just made ten more casts and nothing. I was almost sure I had spooked out the hole and would be shut out. I decided my legs would hold out for five more casts and I would have to bail. The first three were uneventful meaning no strikes, the fourth saw the strike indicator dip and the resulting hook set lift felt deep heavy pressure …. but it was only a rock that I barely was able to roll cast myself back off of. By now I was down to my last cast for the hole and to be honest probably the last cast of the trip as the light was starting to fade as fast as my legs. I lobbed back into the head of the hole and watched in abstract despair as my flies tumbled the length of the hole without so much as a bump. As I reached the bottom of the seam I lifted to let the flies swing and bam … … there he was. This fish didn’t scream downstream as the other fish had he charged UPSTREAM toward the bridge supports. I actually had to follow him a couple steps into deeper water to keep my line free of the supports. But at the last minute my 5 wt turned him and he came back to my side of the bridge. I managed to stumble around and slip and slog my way back to the shallows while still attached to him. From there I made myself slow down and take my time. He stripped line I slowly recovered it … he stripped it … … I recovered it. By now I had seen him flashing in the current several times and knew that I had a pretty good fish here. But I managed to stay calm and let the rod do the work. After watching the rod designers fish for a couple of days I didn’t hesitate to put the “wood” to this fish. And eventually I was able to slide him up on the bank. I fumbled for my camera nearly dropping it once again into the river but somehow managing to keep hold of it this time. I snapped a couple of pictures of this beauty.

    I taped the fish at between 23 and a half and 24 inches which is the largest trout I have ever caught in Colorado. It took a few minutes to make sure he was successfully revived after our tussle but as he swam away, I laughed long and hard at myself wondering who was going to revive me now. I clipped off my flies satisfied in the moment and sat down on the bank for a few minutes and savored the effort and the battle, thanking the fishing gods for smiling on me today and for allowing such a bad fisherman such a wonderful fish. As my daddy used to say even an old blind sow finds an acorn every now and then.

    Sam’s leaning pine

    On my way home I spent some time in the Monarch Park area … a truly breathtaking place that my meager words can’t describe so here are a few shots which hopefully capture the beauty better than I can.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: A Gunnison Adventure started by rbaileydav View original post