• Old Time Colorado

    In John Gierach’s latest book he opens with a chapter about pursuing cutthroats in southern Colorado. You don’t have to read many of his books to realize that this man has a thing for Cutts. I do too but I’m not sure why. Could be that they are native. Could be that in the summer they are eager to take a dry fly, making bumblers like me look like they know what they are doing. I guess at least partly the reason is that catching Cutts connects me to old time Colorado. My uncle came out here after WWII and through him I got to meet a number of old-time (turn of the centrury) ranchers, cowboys and outfitters. What always got me going were the stories about how the fishing was in the wilderness streams for big cutthroats. These stories were tough to swallow. Stories about 14 inch fish being small in little bitty streams. Catching fish by hand or finding fish stacked up on riffles. Don’t think I ever bought into them--until now.

    On Wednesday, I went prospecting for new water.









    Had to head out over the high country to get to the watershed I would be searching.











    If water is reported to have cutthroats it automatically goes to the top of my list. I picked such a stream to try out. Only a short hike in, I really wasn’t expecting much.









    Starts out as a meadow stream.







    For the first mile or two, there is mostly smallish brown trout. Skittish, but catchable.










    While concentrating on one particular fish, I suddenly heard some brush crack behind me--which of course made me a bit skittish. I turned to see a guy looking around in the grass. He explained that he had eaten his lunch there while fishing the day before and was looking for a lost pocket knife. We talked a bit. He described the browns as skittish and indicated that he had found the Cutts upstream but they were disappointingly small and very few--kind of a typical easy access stream report. Hmm, at that point I decided to head on up and catch a couple and call it a day.


    I entered the stream in ankle deep water just above where the Cutts were supposed to be. Brushy with logs in the stream I wasn’t too encouraged.








    That is until I looked down and realized I was about to step on a Cutt that was about 14 inches long and the tail of a pool. This fish hadn’t even spooked yet. Visions of old time Colorado. I shouldn’t call it a pool—the water was a run about 16 inches deep. At any rate I dropped a Royal Wulff in front of the fish and of course he took it and then all hell broke loose in about a bath tub of water. I eventually lost this fish and was immediately bummed since based on the other fisherman’s report, I figured this was probably the last bigger cutt I would see.


    I shortened my leader and went on to the next run. In this turbulent water I couldn’t see the fish but figured there would be at least one. Again the Wulff attracted another good sized Cutt. Again we had the bath tub battle but this time I was experienced and brought in a very camera shy, brightly colored cutt that was again more like 14 inches instead of 6 to 8 that I had expected.









    For the next mile, this unbelievable fishing continued. Every run, pool, rock seemed to have at least one large Cutt; more often several. It wasn’t challenging fishing, except for handling the brush. The fish were more than cooperative, and not easily spooked. In some of the riffles I spooked fish that I hadn’t seen but not until I almost stepped on them. One spooked fish got tangled in a root wad and I had to remove him—so yes I even “caught” one by hand.

    Large Cutts are really hard to hold onto with one hand so I had some difficulty getting photos but here are some of the smaller ones I could hold.











    It was truly a day to remember. I now had a new connection with the old timer's and their stories. They weren't pulling an naive kid's leg. They were sharing a part of themselves. Something they longed for and the reason why they packed Cutt's on horseback all over the wilderness in places where they weren't found. I wish I had been able to share the experience with someone else; one of the perils of fishing alone. Not sure I ever want to go back since there is little possibility that the fishing could be that good again.

    There really is no skill to catching fish like these Cutts in their native habitat. The real beauty is knowing that such fish, in such streams still exist in today's world. I finished the day watching a nice 16 inch fish in a pool feed on nymphs, holding in a feeding lane, moving from side to side, doing what Rio Grande Cutts have been doing for the last 12,000 years. Serenity.

    I hesitated to even write up a report, but I thought others might like to know that there is still some old time Colorado out there, if you look hard enough.