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Thread: Eden's Stream

  1. #1

    Eden's Stream

    Taking spare pants in our packs turned out to be a good idea. The trail we’d followed all morning was decent through the woods and open meadows, but hard to navigate through the willow stands and low mountain brush. Branches slapped you like wet hands on the front and sides of your pants so that nothing below the waste was dry.

    Three hours into an uphill battle that began before dawn, we finally made it to fairly flat ground in the morning shadows of the mountain valley. Burning thighs were about the only thing keeping our legs warm. Up here, things were cold and quiet at 8:00. No ravens squawking. No hummers whistling by. Still a little too wet for bees or flies. The dew was heavy and clung to the low aspens and spruce branches that were just overhead, dripping an occasional splat on top of our caps. Donny kicked the trunk of a small fir, sending a cold shower on all four of us. We thundered back some yells that cracked the quietness.

    It’s funny how noisy the quiet can be, and still be called quiet. Each step scuffed the rocky soil. Our clothes swished against the brush and tall grass. At 11,000 feet, every breath made more noise than normal, with occasional gasps and “whews” and “oh, mans” thrown in. James’ nose was whistling … no certain tune. And there was the constant sound of a spirit just below us. You could hear the gentle roar, the sound of falling water, splashing, gurgling, churning through spaces in the rocks and around fallen trees, tumbling across shallows and dropping into deep pools, all intertwined into one soothing, mixed melody … no one note distinguishable from another.

    There’s something pure about a Colorado morning in the mountains. A fresh feeling that’s hard to put into words. The cool crispness of the morning air filling your lungs has something to do with it. But I think the colors are the real reason. So defined and true. There are very few cloudless summer days up here. Afternoon showers are the norm, and hardly a day goes by without a mass of white and gray crowding the sun, even if the threats are idle.

    But the morning sky before the clouds hide that endless blue are something to behold. Turquoise is not defined by the stone found in these mountains, but by this ocean of color in the sky. This is true turquoise blue. A blue that somehow acts like a filter on a camera lens, making every other color seem deeper, richer, more vivid, more like God intended. The fiery reds of the fireweed and gilia along the trail. The sunny yellows of the daisies and dandelions across an open meadow. The purples and blues of the columbine and mountain bells that sometimes dangle right over the water. Colors that seem to be painted on a rich green canvas of grass along the stream’s bank.

    Even the water in the stream takes on a blueness from the sky above, as it tumbles across rocks of brown and shades of gray. Crystal clear, cold water. Water from ice, flowing from dripping snow. The birth of rivers, lakes, and seas, that He alone caused to occur in these highest of places, in the tops of His majestic peaks. A glimpse of the eternal.

    Kevin was in the lead, having gained ground in a near-perilous trip-and-slide down what the locals call Hernia Hill. It was a long dust-raising slide to home, head first; but he somehow managed to protect his fly rod case in one hand, held high above all the damage going on below. When he hit bottom, he bounced right up and headed toward
    the stream, apparently just fine. The three of us let out the required hoots and hollers, but without a glance he gave us the old familiar Kevin “wave”, and kept on walking. “The Wave” came upon his nickname honestly. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen that gesture, and won’t be the last. Nothing obscene, just a semi-polite acknowledgement that Kev’s still in control.

    We’d been paralleling the stream for maybe 30 minutes, looking for that perfect stretch. Walking close to a large creek as sweet as this one is a constant temptation. Every bend, every deep pool and beaver pond, beckoning like Sirens … softly calling your name. Not one of us would have made it this far on his own. It’s definitely a group effort. We’d have wet a line as soon as we’d caught our breath from the uphill hike and could thread on a fly. But with four it’s a different story. Walking upstream, you never want to be the first one to put in if it’s not a prime spot. If the fishing’s slow, you have to hike up and around three other guys to find some new water. And you don’t catch fish when you’re walking.

    The Wave slowed up and turned around. “Haven’t seen one track, old or fresh. We’re up here by ourselves, guys. The creek’s perfect, no breeze. I vote we get started.”

    He was right. Just the thought of a hike to fish culls out most crowds, but there are still those who don’t mind a tough walk to get to good water. Add a three hour climb on an unmarked trail to the mix, and most folks will choose a different stream. That was sure the case here. Not a sign of anyone but the four of us. These mountains, beautiful and rugged, are already one of the less-crowded spots in Colorado. The hike brought us face-to-face with a rare reality … this was our stream! At least for today.

    The Wave was also right when he said the creek was perfect. By most standards, this is more than a typical creek. The word creek brings to mind something about 6 to 12 feet wide, a few deep pockets along some undercut banks, full of small brookies or native cuts. Loads of fun to fish, but a fat 13 incher is considered a big boy. No real trophies expected. One good look and you can see this place was much more than that.

    We were changing pants and climbing into waders, and James was down at the water’s edge, checking out what looked to be a cloud of mayflies. “You guys see this hatch? It’s thick! They’re everywhere!” The sun was still low, although beginning to warm things up a little. An active hatch this early was unusual. Up here, everything wakes up slowly when the dew’s heavy and the morning cold. 2000 feet back down in the river valley things were warmer. The giant stoneflies were probably on the go, prompting the use of olive or orange #10 or 12 Stimulators. Early July is a dry fly bonanza. Match the hatch and hang on.

    Now James can get this ice cold stare that would back down a starving grizzly. There’s this certain squint, eyes narrowed, brow furrowed, that looks like it could really do some damage … cut right through you. It’s always funny seeing this “hatchet stare” on the face of such an amiable guy. Ol’ James is as easy going and mild mannered as they come. This morning, even from 50 feet away, we could see that stare drilled down into something he held in his hand. He’d picked up a rock from the bank, and was studying hard.

    Donny yelled at him, “Hatchet! Drop the rock and slap on the waders! We’re burnin’ daylight!” Hatch didn’t even look up. He was glued to whatever it was he found, and that’s just James’ way. Donny’s way is just pure fishing. Probably why we call him VanTroutman. But James loves to ponder on things, really think them all the way through. Occasionally he may even “over-analyze” a bit, which usually leads to some pretty “deep” statements. Like last night at the cabin, when we were trying to get packed up and ready for today … getting as much done ahead of time so we could sleep in and still hit the trail nice and early. Hatch thought for awhile and came up with this one …“I think I’ll go ahead and eat breakfast tonight, and save that time in the morning.” At 10:00 at night, that was pretty deep.

    A flyfisherman knows that when it comes to patience, there’s a delicate balance. The only way to outsmart a trophy wild trout in a prime stretch of water is to know him, to think like him. Know when he likes to eat, where he likes to eat, and what he likes to eat. And then serve it up made to order … just like he likes it.

    Too much patience and the “when” is gone. We knew the when, and it was then and now. Just before 9:00 am with a 3-4 hour window. Up high you can usually catch the big boys during daylight hours; but in a heavy hatch, it’d better be before they fill up and sink down deep. Yep … we were right at the beginning of the “when”, that’s for sure.

    The “where” is the easy part. When I read His Words “and a river went out of Eden to water the garden”, this was the place I see. This stream, these mountains. Pristine and pure, clear enough to see the edge of each round rock that paints the bottom. Feet-numbing cold … too icy for jeans and old tennis shoes. Mammoth trees stand guard over the banks, providing dark caves of shelter under low branches and deep inside water-logged roots. Perfect curves and bends dressed in soft blankets of grass (Miss July with one dreamy figure). Centuries of flow have carved deep channels under the outer banks of these curves, where wild rose bushes and bluebells hang over the edges.

    I guess the rich colors in the flowers and grass, and the thick forests of fir, spruce, and aspen, all come from the way this valley is designed. Wide and gentle-sloping, it catches the afternoon showers and filters them through deep and fertile soil. Soil made by timeless cycles of life and death, old trees decaying, new ones springing up to take their place. The whole valley is lined with a soft cushion of damp dirt, with occasional boulders lying around like nature’s furniture. There is not a more beautiful place on God’s earth. And we have it to ourselves.

    Hatchet’s not saying much about what he sees on that rock, but that’s OK. We’re not askin’ … we’re busy tying. It’s our normal routine. Each of us fish a different fly and then compare notes. The Wave picks out a #14 parachute Adams that he’d tied back home. Donny VanTroutman’s trying to thread on a #16 mosquito. A tough one to see, but he has awfully good eyes. My choice is a #12 olive elk hair caddis.

    “Hatch! We’re moving on up. You gonna fish this lower stretch?”

    “Yeah, that’s fine”, he calls back without looking up. The fine art of pondering.

    “OK. We’ll hike on up a quarter mile or so and hang a sock.” Each of us has a red sock. It was our way of marking where we put in, so the downstream guy wasn’t re-fishing a stretch we’d already stirred up.

    With flies tied and ready, we hiked on up a ways. Kev dropped in first. Great looking spot … but we really hadn’t seen any of this stream that wasn’t!

    Another quarter mile up, another red sock, and I was next in. Donny went up from there. We had all agreed to fish for 3 hours and meet back near Hatchet for lunch. Nothing like swapping fish stories over ham sandwiches, trail mix, and a Snickers or two.

    We had our radios that would typically reach just under half a mile up in the mountains. That’s how we verified the “what” … the fly of the hour that was working best. But we didn’t share too many fish stories until lunchtime. Handling a radio cut into casting time.

    To get the word from the last guy all the way to the first took some relaying effort, since they were typically over three-quarters of a mile apart. We expected to hear from James first, but Kev’s voice broke the silence. “Caught two cuts, about 11” each. The Adams seems to be working.”

    I’d spotted my stretch, and was making my way down to the water’s edge. I relayed the info to Donny. “The Wave’s caught a couple on the Adams.”

    “Good info, MG”, he calls back. “I’ve still got a little ways to go before I put in.”

    Nicknames. VanTroutman tagged me with “Mountain Goat” a couple years back. He says it’s because I’m blessed with a good set of lungs, a big advantage when hiking around at 12,000 feet. ‘Course my 47 year old legs don’t always want to keep up with the Mountain Goat lungs. I hope the nickname’s not a reflection of any peculiar facial features, or the weakness of my roll-on after a full days hike. Anyway, it stuck.

    I’d passed a couple of really nice beaver ponds on my hike up after I left The Wave. But we’re just not real partial to beavers or ponds. Seen too many aspen groves that look like a war zone. Even the big trees cut down just for the small twigs at the top. And anyways, we’re stream fishermen. We’ve got plenty of ponds back home.

    Waders on and my caddis Ginked, I eased into a shallow rapids part of this stretch, where the water was noisy enough to muffle my steps. And I slowly made my way upstream towards a good, deep flow along the outer edge of a bend. The rocky wall on one side was undercut, forming the perfect hideout for a King Cutt.

    Native cutthroats are the lone species up high in this stream. The 20 foot waterfall three miles back downstream prevent intruders and keep the strain pure. Below the falls, very few cutts can be found, among the hearty brookie and brown populations. Fighting a huge brown in this big creek would definitely be a blast. With all the logs, boulders, and deep currents, it’d be his battleground, that’s for sure. But for some reason, the native cutts are our favorites. Maybe it’s because man didn’t put them here … at least originally. They belong here, in this stream, in these mountains. And when nature reveals herself to you like she does up here, the more natural you can keep things, the better.

    Hey! Feeder at 1:00! About two feet out from the undercut on the right. Looked like a nice one just riding the lane, slurping up whatever was coming his way. I watched him for a minute or two, still about thirty feet downstream of him. He was content right were he was, not moving out of his lane more than a foot either way to nail whatever was floating downstream. Nice fish.

    He was definitely feeding on the top, but I couldn’t make out the bug from here. I looked above him for any signs of a hatch, but nothing visible. I did notice an occasional mayfly floating past me, so maybe that was his breakfast. But changing flies was not in my immediate plans. On secluded streams like this one, without a lot of fishing pressure, making the presentation and matching the size were usually more critical than the exact fly appearance.

    One of the beauties of this stream was the width. Wide enough for casting room without hanging on willows and bushes along the bank. I was uncoiling with some nice long casts, with the goal of softly setting the caddis down in his lane, about six feet in front of him. Slowly moving up, I was within about 25 feet of where he was feeding. He hadn’t stopped yet, surfacing about every minute. What a morning! Still crisp and cool. The sun was behind me, warming my back, and positioned perfectly to illuminate both the fish and the fly. You could see his nose protrude from the water just a little, every time he fed. No big splashes, just nice and easy.

    Ah, that’s the cast … right length, right feel … so I let it fall so gently. Three seconds later … slurp … set … bam! I had him! Yeah, he was nice! He stripped out the line with a “ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”, running upstream about twenty feet. A quick U-turn and I’m pullin’ in slack like a madman. He went right back home, down to his den in the deep part of the bend, below that undercut.

    He sat there for a minute or two. You can always tell the nicer fish. Heavy, strong, slow side-to-side shakes trying to throw the fly. The smaller fish are awfully fun when they start their acrobatics, jumping sometimes three feet out of the water, racing all over the stream. I had one jump up into an overhanging tree one time, and get tangled up in the branches just above the water! But the big boys are fun because for at least part of the time, they’re in control and you’re just hanging on, trying to keep them hooked.

    I radioed to VanTroutman. “Donny! Got a nice one! You still hiking, or are you in the water?”

    “I’m coming up on a stretch that looks really good. What’d you catch him on?”

    “Olive elk hair caddis. He was feeding, but not sure on what. Good stuff.”

    “What are you calling “a nice one”?” The Wave overheard us talking and cuts in.

    “I dunno … something bigger than 14 anyway. Give me a minute and I’ll let you know.”

    Donny replies, “Good stuff! I’ll holler back on how the little mosquito does.”

    Wave: “What’d VanTroutman say? Is his mosquito working?”

    Me: “He’s not in the water yet.”

    VanT: “Ask Kev how he’s doing. Too much static … I can’t understand him.”

    Me: “He wants to know how you’ve been doing.”

    Wave: “Tearin’ em up! I’ve caught a dozen or so really nice 11’s and 12’s. Great action. Most have been feeders.”

    Me: “He’s doing great … lots of action on the Adams.”

    Yep … the problems with being the middle man. Makes you feel like a switchboard operator. Well, in VanTroutman’s own words, “Are we gonna fish, or are we gonna talk?” I chose the former, and got back to business.

    I fought this pretty boy for three or four minutes before easing him into a quiet area against the bank. Nice 16-incher, and not bad for my first fish on this creek. The male cutthroat colors are spectacular. He was a mix of green and brown, with brilliant orange-red all under the throat and up along the gills and jaw. A beautiful, fat fish. After carefully unhooking him, I spent a couple of minutes moving him back and forth in the stiller water, admiring his colors, and making sure he was revived and ready to go. Messed up his breakfast this morning, but he should be back in shape by the time lunchtime comes around.

    For the next 2 ½ hours, I never heard a peep out of Hatchet. Donny, Kev and I bantered back and forth a few more times, but James never joined in. Kind of unusual, as he’s very much the social type. Likes to get in on the conversation, ponder it for a minute or two, and bring up some other viewpoint that you’d never dream up on your own. Kev checked with him once or twice to be sure he was still alive, but other than that it was complete radio silence from his end.

    We finished up around noon, met on the trail, and headed back to rendezvous for lunch where we left Hatch at 9:00. We figured he’d be close to where we left him. The three of us were more restless fishermen, always moving on up stream, covering a lot of ground. James was Mr. Patience. He could fish a 100 yard stretch all day long. Sometimes he’d even follow behind one of us and re-fish the same water. He didn’t care. He was just happy to be up here in God’s country for one more day. Just another reason we loved the guy.

    The air was still fresh and cool, but the sun had dried out the willows and was warming us up pretty good. Time to shed a shirt. I loved the fact that in July, while temperatures in my hometown of Sherman, TX were bustin’ 100 degrees, it was cool enough up here to layer up with a couple of shirts and a light jacket. There’s just something about stokin’ up the ol’ wood-burning stove on a cold Colorado morning that makes the coffee taste like no where else. Mmmmm.

    We left so early this morning, I was ready for a coffee break, even though it was already lunchtime. After a while, we saw James up ahead, just about a stone’s throw from where we’d left him! But he wasn’t sitting, or resting, or eating. He was in the water, up to mid-thigh, fighting something … rod bent double, line stretched tight … we thought he had to be hung up on a log.

    “Guys! I’ve got a monster on here!”

    Oldest trick in the book. Get a good snag and try to fool your buddies into thinking it’s a nice fish. Every kid that’s fished for bream in a stock tank knows that one. But Hatch really never grew up, so we kind of expected as much.

    “You need a net, or a chainsaw?” Donny yells.

    “No, guys! I’m not kiddin’ around! It’s huge!”

    That’s when we got up close enough to see that James was drenched, from top to bottom. Even his hair was soaking wet. And to get that thick head of hair full of water took some doing. On top of all that, he had that Hatchet stare goin’ full blast, glaring down at whatever was on the end of his line.

    “I hung into him about 30 minutes ago! No lie! With this 6x tippet, I’ve been babying him the whole time, just keepin’ a little pressure on him so I don’t come unhooked!” His little 3 wt rod seemed to be passing the test, but it was at it’s limit.

    Suddenly, every one of us wished we really had brought a net. Usually in the high country, nets just get in the way. The 16-incher I’d caught earlier was an anomaly, to say the least. You just don’t run into fish that big in most mountain streams. I had to slowly tire him out and lead him into some still water. It’d be a shame to lose a real trophy within arms length, just because you’re net-less!

    James was slowly pulling in line, keeping just enough tension, trying to coax him into the little cove along the right bank. The ripples distorted the view, but we could see him just under the glassy surface, about 15 feet out in front, headed upstream like the Nautilus. This boy was huge!

    All at once the three of us began barking out suggestions … “Don’t lose him!” “What a monster!” “Keep that rod tip up!” “Give him some line!”

    “I’ve been playin’ him for half an hour! I don’t need any help!” James yelled back.

    This is one of those times when you wish you had more than the disposable Kodak. When you wish you’d brought a video camera. Some way to capture this moment forever. It’s not every day that you see a 24” cutthroat caught in a small stream like this, way up in the mountain tops. It was the only time any of us had ever seen it, and we were sure we’d never see it again.

    For the next 10 minutes, our hearts pounded, our adrenaline pumped, and we each fell in the water at least once. (That’s when a video would’ve been nice.) Even James fell again, all the way to his chest, but he didn’t let out one peep and he held on tight. Stayed focused on that fish the whole time.

    The Hatchet finally landed this behemoth. Worked him over into the little cove and we all circled around him to be sure he didn’t get out. Hands and arms down in the icy water, we corralled him up onto the soft dirt in some water that was only six inches deep. When James picked him up like a newborn baby, cradling him against his sopping wet shirt, arms literally shaking, we thought he was going to bend over and kiss the dang thing! It was a sight to behold, that’s for sure.

    We spent a nice long time admiring this masterpiece that the Lord had blessed us with the chance to experience. He was one huge fish, strong and solid, with colors like the rainbow. He ruled this stream out of Eden, and after a little recovery time, he’d be back on the throne again.

    “You know, I only caught two other fish besides this guy,” James told us. “I never even tied on a dry … started nymphing from the get go. Weighted it down with a split shot.”

    ‘Course, we had to ask, “What in the world did you use?!”

    He pointed to the end of his line. “That ugly brown #10 caddis pupa. Looks a whole lot like what I found under some of the rocks. About the same size, dark color. Heck, it’s the first time I’ve ever tied one on!”

    Donny confessed what we were all thinking … “Hatchet, for once your ponderin’ paid off!”

    The lunchtime jabber was never more colorful and lively. The Wave caught the most … 39 nice fish in 3 hours. VanTroutman saw a herd of elk and a moose. He’s the hiker, and always gets out ahead where we haven’t spooked off all the wildlife. Hatch was the champion, with the biggest fish we’d ever seen pulled out of any Colorado stream. Every bit of two feet long. And I counted myself most blessed of all, to spend one more day in God’s creation with some of the best friends a guy could have.

    And the day was just half over!

  2. #2
    smallstreams.com supporter and plankowner
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    Nov 2009
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    Lawrence, KS
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    Most excellent. I can imagine two or three streams where this might happen. Thanks for taking us along.

    BW

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