I was sitting having a cigar on a warm summer night listening to my IPOD and watching the stars, when an old Chris LeDoux song came on the shuffle play. The song was an old favorite that I hadn’t listened to in years, Five Dollar Fine for Whining, and for those of you that don’t know the song it is about a bar full of fun loving cowboys who are sick of listening to whiny people ruining there Saturday night so they create a five dollar fine for whining. Well anyway I listened to the song a couple times and started laughing to myself as I realized that I would owe the tip jar a hell of a lot of money as I had been whining a lot lately, whining about the end of my marriage, whining about my career status, whining about my advancing age and whining about all of my health issues. Well after I stopped laughing I decided I was tired of whining and that I had better get over myself. So with that said, I started exercising hard to get myself in shape and started looking for a new job, and most importantly scheduled a trip back to Creede Colorado for early October. That is a time of year that I love in the southern Rockies and if the timing is just perfect it can be the height of the aspen color. In 2010 I had gone at that exact same time and had caught it at the apex, so even though it is impossible to predict the fall aspen color timing precisely, this time slot was as good an opportunity as any other dates so I decided I was going to go for it. We would have already closed the cabin for the winter so this would be a car camping and back pack trip. And to make the trip even more fun I was going to be meeting Rick, my oldest son who is a fly fishing guide in WY and my friend Bernard, a professional rod builder and one of the best fly fisherman I have ever been around. So to say that I was looking forward to the trip would be a severe understatement. I was also going to be seriously outclassed in the fishing department as well.
Bernard thought he had something special dialed in on the Taylor so we decided to meet over on there for the first night and first day of fishing and see if we could make that happen. It seemed to be looking perfect as starting about two weeks before the trip I was getting continuous updates about how wonderful the fishing had been and how perfect we were going to hit this. But as is often the case, in the world of fishing what we had hoped would be the perfect big fish scenario … … … was just off by about a week or so. But we still managed to have a good day fishing on the Taylor anyway. We had all started off catching fish fairly quickly and the day was picture perfect. The fish were “poded” up in several holes and we were alternating in and out of those holes. I had just cycled out and was looking for water to fish when I saw a hollowed out bowl of holding water just above a rock ledge and a heavy whitewater drop. I flipped the first cast through and saw a large shadow move on my fly but I couldn’t manage to make a connection. I forced myself to calm my heavy breathing and slow the beating of my heart. I stood still for what seemed to be about ten minutes but was in reality maybe one or two minutes max, but I knew that I if I slapped another cast in too fast and did it wrong I would definitely put the fish down… … if I hadn’t already. Next cast went untouched and I was sure I had put the big fish down. I cussed a few more times and tried one more cast. This time I saw the shadow turn and follow and I held my breath to try and keep my hand from reacting too fast … … a flash of white winked which was the signal I was waiting for and I set softly pulled up tight and then set again for good measure. Well that second hook set sent the freight train flying out of the station and all I could do was hang on for dear life and listen to that magical sound of my old 1970’s era Hardy Sunbeam singing like a diva. I managed to get the fish turned using all of the backbone my old cane rod could muster. Well when the fish turned, it started straight back at me at almost the same breakneck speed. I had to strip line as fast as I could with big giant strips, as I came down with my line hand in one of those giant strips I banged into the reel hard. I felt the rod balance change drastically as the reel slid out of the slide band reel seat and plummeted into the white water at my feet. Well I had a mental debate for one or two seconds trying to figure out if I land this hog of a fish first and look for the reel second or vice versa, but another big run put my mind back on the fish and the battle at hand. So I played the fish with the line in hand and letting the stripped line just fall into the current. Somehow I managed to land the fish with the line managed by hand, and at that point it seemed like the most important thing to do was grab a quick picture and get this baby back safely into the water.
After that I quickly began to strip back the line and get my reel back, only to find that the reel had washed down into the boulder pile that I was sitting on and which had created the hole and 4 feet of water depth. I kept stripping but could tell the reel wasn’t moving but was stuck. As the last of the line was pulled into my hand the backing suddenly stopped spooling off the reel, I knew it couldn’t be the end of the backing but nothing else was moving and the reel felt like it was totally lodged in and stuck. I gave one really hard tug and felt a sickening pop as the old backing separated. I felt the high of my big fish landing fade deep into the pit of my stomach as I realized I had just doomed my Hardy Sunbeam to a watery grave. So there I sat on the rock in the river watching my friends catching fish and couldn’t even get back in the game without a reel. But I remembered my Five dollar fine for Whining slogan … … laughed to myself and realized it would make a great story to tell on the fishing boards someday, and fortunately it was about time for us to bug out of Almont and get ourselves to the headwaters of the Rio Grande anyway.
I chaffed impatiently as everyone bought the last minute stuff in Gunnison but soon enough we were actually on the road. I am lucky I didn’t have a wreck or get a ticket as I think I set a new speed record for the trip from Gunnison to the turn off for the reservoir. The whole way my eyes were glued to the aspen trying to tell how much of the leaves had already blown down. And as we started down off Slumgullion pass it became apparent that I was about a week or so late and that a large portion of the leaves were now making a golden carpet instead of golden trees. But remembering my five dollar for whining mantra ……… I focused on just being happy to be there. And my spirits were buoyed as we found our destination campground completely empty… … which was a definite plus. By the time the camp was set up the afternoon light was starting to fade. And believe it or not this is what the world looked like around us.
My usual camping meal of Steaks, buttered corn and bourbon made our stomachs full and starlight, camp fires light, a good cigar and some great music helped us fill our souls, that and the company of a good friend and a son who would drive 900 miles just to hang out with his old man. As you can imagine I feel asleep with a smile on my face and visions of leaping trout dancing in my wee little head.
I awoke fairly early warm inside my little tent but I could see the ice crystals on the outside of the rain fly so I knew we had had a heavy frost. That was more than confirmed as I grabbed the water bottle I had left just outside my tent for a quick morning drink only to realize that it was frozen solid. But the sun was up and the cold of the night was already beginning to fade. Bernard and Rick knew that I really needed a day to fish by myself and were nice enough to let me have my favorite stream in the world to myself and they headed off to fish together on the big river. The particular stream I was fishing today is one of my all-time favorites and the place that I have already told my boys where I want my ashes scattered when that day comes. But today wasn’t about death … … divorce… … or careers it was simply about being happy to be in the midst of one of the most fantastic valleys in the world, fishing a magical stream in total peace and contentment. I didn’t even mind the couple mile hike in and you can certainly see why.
And the fishing was didn’t suck either. I started picking up fish as soon as I hit the water. Drew and I had split the stream back in July and caught a lot of fish and fishing with your son is pretty special but having it all to myself was magical as well. The water was lower than the summer and the fish seemed to be a little bigger although some of that could just have been the spectacular fall coloring. They were bumping the dry softly but crushing any small dropper although they seemed to show a preference for a red bodied gray soft hackle in a size 16. I have no idea how many fish I caught but I doubt I had ten casts in a row without a fish all day. I had a grand slam of brown, bow, brook and cut by 10:30.
The day really couldn’t get any better so I just took my time and soaked it in. Many times I would find that I had stopped casting and was simply staring at the stream and scenery around me mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the surrounding valley that I had all to myself. It was easy to imagine myself as an early mountain man alone in an untouched unspoiled valley far from the human world… … and it wasn’t even total imagination.
That last picture is my favorite hole on the whole stream and on 90 percent of my trips into this watershed over the last 15 years it has yielded the biggest fish of the day. I stopped and watched the hole carefully planning my attack. A series of tree limbs had come down since the summer and the cast would be easier but the current was a little tricky. I saw several fish feeding, two large shadows and several smaller ones. The key is that the little ones often spook the bigger ones when they are caught. The smaller ones were in the back of the hole with the two large shadows holding the prime feeding lies in the upper deeper part of the hole. I chose to push farther up into the hole and hopefully not spook the little ones but give me a chance to make my first cast deep up the hole for the big ones. The cast landed gently and smoothly. I saw one of the large shadows detach from the bottom and rise slowly to my dry. I held my breath and waited but the fish trailed the dry for a second and rolled back toward the depths in a swift but heartbreaking refusal. I started to pick up my cast in frustration when I realized I was fast to a weight in the current and realized that while I had been watching the dry the dropper had been picked up by the other large shadow. The fight was short and furious but soon enough one of the prettiest colored cutts I had ever seen was posing next to my little blonde Schaaf Creede rod.
And that my friends, was a great end to a great day of fishing. I headed back to camp looking and loving the world around me. By the time I got back the evening was starting to fall and I started the jambalya cooking and had shot or two of bourbon and watched the sun set. Dinner was almost ready as they made their way slowly back to camp. Their day of fishing had been okay but not great but we had a full week of fishing in front of us so I knew it would be easy to fix that. As the sun set on the mountains around me all I could do was say thanks to the powers of the world that are greater than me and head off to a contented night of well-earned rest.
The next day dawned clear and cold with the same promise of grandeur that we had seen yesterday. We decided to head as a group to a different stream today so we ate a quick breakfast and headed out. The hike was long but not particularly difficult but it also was some of the prettiest country that I know, so I spent more time watching the world go by than even thinking about the hike. We split up and each took a different section of the stream. I thought I knew a short cut to the top of impenetrable canyon and did but had to work down a gravel slide the last 400 yards on my ass. By the time I got to the bottom I had to take my wading boots off and pour the gravel out but it was a great place to start a day’s fishing. And the day was a blur of beautiful water and beautiful fish. Not as plentiful as yesterday, nor as big, but still a pretty dang good day.
And one last one of the last slice of trail headed back to camp. It was a fantastic day and I couldn’t imagine being any happier after a day of fishing.
We stayed up late that night talking around the campfire listening to music and smoking. Bernard needed an education on Texas music so Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Billy Joe Shaver all made long soulful introductions. The amazing part is the one doing the introductions wasn’t my 50 year old self but my 23 year old son. I guess some things are learned or genetic but passed down from father son none the less. Spending time with friends and family around a campfire is one of life’s greatest luxuries.
The next morning we slept a little later and felt the pull of strained muscles as we stretched awake and that old familiar tweak of too many nights sleeping on the ground……… but the sun was warm and trout were waiting to be caught. We all decided to go as a group into my favorite stream. This day was as perfect as the first one. The temperature was crisp and the air fresh and clean. This world was ours alone as there wasn’t another sign of life in whole valley. The scenery and the fish were beyond my descriptions so I will let them speak for themselves.
As I came to the end of my fishing day I hit my favorite hole. I of course remembered the wonderful cut I had caught earlier but what I remembered most was that even larger fish turning her nose at my dry. So this time before I got into casting position I changed to a size 14 grizzly wulff which is harder to see on the water but deadly for those big fish that remember the lazy hopper days of a month or so ago. My first cast went untouched but the second was greeted with a soft roll and the hook up created a water spout that would have made a hurricane proud. The fight was vicious but conducted on a short line as there was nowhere to run. There was a pile of tree roots underwater that she kept charging for but my little Creede rod turned her three times and that finally wore her out and she came up sliding along the top of the current to have her picture made with me. I was panting as hard as if I had run a race by the time I snapped this picture.