For more than 45 of my 60+ years, I have spent part of my summer in the Southern Rockies. No matter whether I am with family, with a friend or by myself I cherish the entirety of the experience. I'm not big into detailed agendas or plans so each trip usually has a sense of spontaneity and adventure--if adventure is described as things not going as planned. Even though I abhor detailed plans--where should we stop, what shall we eat, how long will we stay here, etc. I find that over the years an informal structure to the trips has emerged. Of course that structure is dependent on who is on the trip but it is mostly driven by goals. In the deep past, before fly fishing, the goals centered around wilderness experiences, camping, hikes, and scenery shared with a growing family. Typically, I'm not one to look back and regret decisions made in my life with only a couple of exceptions---one being that it took so long for me to take up fly fishing in Colorado and that I didn't share this with my family when they were young. Now, it seems that my goals for each trip are tempered by this regret and I try to pack in as much river and stream fishing as I possibly can to make up for lost opportunities, while I still can. High on that list goals are wilderness streams. There is a sense of urgency--fueled not only by my advancing age but also by the fact that society's appreciation and perception of wilderness along with avocations like fishing is constantly changing. Few areas, are like they once were--at least as they once were in my imagination. Some streams only hint at what they used to be while some streams are arguably better due to changing attitudes about catch and release. Not only that but the wilderness itself is in constant flux. I long to truly know the backcountry of southern Colorado, with the same familiarity of one born and raised there. I obsess all year long thinking about the next valley, the next creek to explore, making tentative plans and hoping to not go down too many wrong paths all the while knowing full well that wrong paths are an essential part of the experience. It is from this year long obsession that the structure for the trip emerges--with far more options and destinations than can possibly be fit into a 10 day time period.
My good friend Randy and I seem to be just pretty compatible as fishing partners. Neither of us can get enough stream fishing, we don't mind fishing in the rain and we like camping.
Since we are both biology teachers we understand stopping to notice, appreciate and record the natural wonders we encounter. We are not often in a hurry. (Well, truth be told, Randy is kind of like a horse coming back to the barn when he gets close to fishing one of these streams. There is no holding him back. )
We fish together a lot but can't always arrange a time to fish in Colorado, together but this year was easier, because Randy has decided to retire which meant we could fish later into August.
Arriving in southern Colorado, late in the evening after driving all day. A true sense of calm, peacefulness and a sense of place overwhelms me as we travel through the San Luis valley.
It is a good thing that the year long obsession produces more goals and destinations than can be addressed. This year much of our goals and plans had to be drastically revised due to the massive fire in the Weminuche wilderness in June and July. The fire radically changed several of the watersheds that were the target of our plans.
There was to be no fishing here, this year. The entire area was closed even though the monsoons had mostly put the fire out. The same monsoons had the river and creeks were running black with debris and ashes.
Here's what this spot used to look like 10 years ago.
Of course, we knew of the fires and also knew that we would have to change our general plans--or at least scale them back a bit. However, we didn't know the scope of the disaster until we arrived. Still holding on to the idea that we might be able to get into some of the creeks we held off finalizing our schedule for the week.
We decided to spend the first day acclimating to the altitude and fishing in a drainage untouched by the fires.
This little creek is where we often start trips--the fishing for decent sized brookies (by Colorado high country standards) is very consistent and the hike in is not too strenuous . Somewhere around 10 in the morning the fish start looking up and you can fish an parachute Adams or a Royal Wulff all day long in pool after pool. This time, seeing that they were brookies we took some home for an evening fish fry.
We each caught a couple of dozen brooke trout in a stream that should have featured Rio Grande Cutts. We didn't complain but we did take four back to the cabin for supper. The day set a pattern for those that followed. Hiking into the stream to begin fishing by about 10 or 11 in the morning and walking back out about 4-6 hours later in the rain. Sometimes, like this first day on the water, we were chased off early by thunderstorms. Almost every stream we fished was above 10,000 ft. and at least 2-3 miles from the trailhead, so lightning and thunder got our attention in a hurry.
We got back to the cabin, Randy cooked up the trout, once I finally got the charcoal going without any firestarter after a long pitiful series of attempts. The trout were done just as the skies opened up for an all night rain. After a great meal, we plotted our next day's destination.
Last year after returning home, I finally put two and two together from unlabeled photos of trip reports and murmured rumors over the years to identify a stream that simply had to be fished. This seems to happens with some regularity. Something about fishing in Colorado stimulates the thought process and I am able to join all the pieces of the puzzle from maps, books, the internet, google earth and fly shop talk to arrive new goals for the next year's fishing. What is particularly vexing though, is that these "hidden" spots are usually very close to the places we had just fished the year before. This is why I obsess over these streams. I am always tempted to just turn around and head back out. Of course, there is only so much time and resources that a person can put to chasing this kind of obsession--but I do relish it. This year the primary "new water" is a place of waterfalls, large cutthroats and no official trail. This is the epitome of the kind of stream Randy and I try to fish. We had tried a similarly described stream the year before and struck out. We didn't know what to expect this time but we were like 5 year old kids the night before Christmas. We packed our packs that evening, planned our meals for the trail and hoped the rain wasn't blowing out the watershed we had dreamed of fishing over the last year.