Thursday, September 26, 2019

Colorado, There and Back Again

9 long months of anticipation, agony and anxiety. Time passing every so slowly. Worries about weather, conditions, what to pack, where to stay. 

And now its all over again already. 10 days flew by with nothing left but pictures, memories and new & old friends. It is great to have friends to take on new adventures, create memories and stories. The kind of friends that live thousands of miles away, you haven't seen for months, maybe years. But the instant you are in the same room, the same space, you feel like you never left. 

After last year's trip to Colorado, I felt that I can't just wait another 4 or more years to go back and enjoy the mountains, streams, fresh air, loads of trout and not seeing my friends. So I early on started making new plans and in January I bought a ticket to fly back to Colorado, for another 10 days, in September of 2019.  9 longs months to look forward...

Well, time eventually, slowly, passes. I had a really good summer fishing the Tenkara Syndicate in the Peak District but I was still itching for the fast and free flowing creeks, rivers, mountains and crips air of Colorado. And for the trout, not just brown trout but also Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and, of course, the prize - Greenback Cutthroat. 

Pushing off from London Heathrow in the afternoon of 7th September, I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep much. I was too excited. And anxious, not knowing how the fishing will be. Would it be as good as last year? Better? Worse? Luckily nowadays, even on long flights, you don't have to suffer from lack of entertainment and can get distracted easily. Loads of movies that you haven't been able to watch in theatres. And of course all that downloaded content from Netflix and Amazon on your iPad. 

10 hours later, my eyes tired from too many movies, touchdown in Denver! The mountains are still to the west, Denver is still there, halfway between airport and the mountains. The sunset is still creating the perfect Bronco colors in various shades of orange and blue. It seems as if nothing has changed since I left. 

Picking up the rental car and, of course as always, my first stop was to pickup a donut and a large coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. You probably won't understand why, but DD just puts my head into the right space for a fishing adventure. When living many years ago in NJ, I started a ritual where every fishing adventure started with breakfast at DD and I am trying to continue this tradition where I can.

Finally ready I head away from the airport down 225 towards Aurora where my buddy Graham lives and where I will spend my first night in Colorado. Graham is one of my very dear friends who joined me as an early adopter of Tenkara in Colorado almost 10 years ago. As a matter of fact, I caught his first Tenkara trout. But that story is for another time. Today, he is a fly fishing and tenkara guide of his own outfit, GEAR Colorado Flyfishing, with a license to guide in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Tired, happy, amongst good friends and after lots of catching up that evening, I was able to let go and finally drift off to some sleep before heading out to the mountains the next day.

Day 1
Breakfast with Grahams family at…. yep, Dunkin Donut! After that, a short ride up to Summit County to meet up with Dennis at his family’s cabin which would be our base for the next few days of fishing. After saying all of our hellos, exchanging of presents for the family etc. it was officially off to the water to do some “light” fishing to ease everybody into the mood for the days to come. We headed up to Ten Mile Creek. Each of us caught a few, my first Colorado brown trout and rainbow trout while Dennis also managed a rare tiger trout (cross brown with brook trout). We retired early from fishing as some pretty bad weather was moving in which gave us the opportunity to do some shopping, sightseeing and relaxing in Frisco. In of the souvenir/curiosity shops Graham splurged on a walking cane for Dennis – Dennis had broken his foot a couple weeks earlier which obviously did not stop him from going fishing with us! We sampled a few beers and brats on main street before heading back to the cabin. The evening was spent cooking, eating, drinking telling stories and tying flies.

First Colorado trout of 2019

Day 2
We needed to push off early and drive over to Jefferson, following the Blue River up to Hoosier Pass (elev. 11,542 ft) and over the Continental Divide back to where all rivers flow east and into the Atlantic. We met Matt Sment of former Badger Tenkara to fish first Tarryall Creek and then the Middle Fork of the South Platte River near Alma. Tarryall Creek was quite challenging, slow flows with one of the forks being dry and some very spooky fish. The Middle Fork however was on fire with eager brookies  and occasional brown trout hitting our flies like it were their last meal before winter. Happy and hungry we settled in a brew pub in Breckenridge, enjoying local beers and appetizers during happy hour. We were joined a couple times by a hummingbird, checking out the colourful hanging flower baskets and, oddly, Dennis.

The 4 Amagos

Dennis in action
Graham deciding on his next move
Matt targeting the next good water
Day 3
Another day, another pass. Today we headed over Vail Pass to fish Gore Creek in the morning and the Eagle River in the afternoon. Just like last year, Gore Creek feels like its either fished a lot (which it probably is) or not many fish. Each fish is hard earned but on average a bit bigger than fish from similar creeks. Happy that there was less algae than last year, the creek’s rocks were still quite slippery and had a few of us struggle with balance more than once. We then moved on to the Eagle River in the Minturn area which at first looked low but once we got to the bank we were proved wrong. It was running quite strongly and we struggled with traditional tenkara kebaris to catch many fish. Switching to beaded flies and getting the fly down quickly tremendously increased our catch rate with some really nice trout. On our way back to the cabin, as it was on our way, we stopped again at Ten Mile Creek so that Matt also could sample some of its beautiful trout. Its worth mentioning that unlike other rivers we fished so-far, Ten Mile’s substrate seems to be some sort of blue granite. The water looks colder, fiercer, maybe with a bit of a glacial tint. This has an effect to the trout’s coloration – the rainbows are dark and have a metallic look and the brown are a pale yellow compared to the golden buttery hues we were used to from other rivers.

Day 4
As Dennis had commitments back in Denver, we said our good-byes in the morning and started heading towards our next destination, Rocky Mountain National Park. Following the Blue River north to Kremmling, then east along the Colorado River we made our way to the west entrance of the park. Continuing to follow the Colorado River, we were looking to fish the headwaters of this mighty river in Kawuneeche Valley. We pulled out at three different spots before the pass, had two moose sightings and caught a few nice brown and brook trout. Alas no Colorado River cutthroat; we probably would have needed to hike in a few miles further up and away from the trail heads. We then moved on up Trail Ridge Road (highest paved road in Colorado, crossing the Continental Dived at Milner Pass and reaches a max elevation of 12,183ft). When we crossed over, we went from about 18c/64F in Kawuneeche Valley to 3c/37F at the top where it snowed!!! This road is not for the faint of heart with drop-offs right off the road for seemingly many thousand feet.

Moose #1
Moose #2  Matt in action 

Can you see him? Moose #2
Ok, zooming-in so you can better see

No moose. Just pretty. 


Yes, it is save to hike while looking at your smart phone
back at the trail head, wondering why Matt didn't trust the trail would take us back to the parking lot
quick shot while while driving - it was "sort of" save but missed the snow flurry

Day 5
Settling-in in Estes Park’s YMCA and with the cold front still lingering, we decided to stay at lower elevations and hit first the Big Thompson with the intent to fish it up along Fern Lake Trail. Did I mention cold front? Well, the wind was another matter altogether. The (cold) wind coming down from the top of the valley was gale force strength and made casting very difficult. I think between the three of us, before we gave up, we only netted one brown trout from a somewhat sheltered run. We decided to let the weather play out, hoping for the afternoon to warm up a bit while finding a more sheltered stream. We decided on Glacier Creek (which I never fished before!) where the wind was significantly less blustery but we still needed the water to warm a bit more before the trout became more active – which they eventually did. I got very lucky during a slip and slide into some sharp rocks that I only got away with a badly banged-up shin instead of a fracture but was relegated to some hobbling around for most of the rest of the day. This didn’t stop me from fishing though, of course!

early mornings at the Y

the only trout the Big T gave up to us this morning

looks like a hunch back trout, doesn't it

Matt working the pool with that one big trout. No luck tho. I tried too. No luck. Next time.
Day 6
This was the day of my only solo outing during this trip. Graham had to go back to Denver for some guiding business and Matt had a few personal errands to run. I decided to go to one of my favorite spots in the park, Wild Basin. I have been fishing the North St. Vrain in Wild Basin many times over the years and was familiar with it. This time though I wanted to fish further up as I had an early start and knew that fishing would be slow until the sun would be higher up in the sky. The short story is that I thought I knew where the trails would take me (and they did, in a general sense) however I overshot quite a bit where I wanted to start fish and in the process added some extra, unwanted mileage. I guess this happens if you are over-confident and didn't bother to bring a map or have offline GPS mapping available. Anyhow.... once I was on the river and started fishing, it was still a bit slow with the occasional brookie distracting my casting practice. It was however a beautiful setting, quite wild as once in the river, the trail veered off and you were in the midst of the wildness of a tumbling creek, boulders, fallen trees and nobody around. Pure bliss and exhaustion! Later in the day I started making my way back via Ouzel Creek falls to Cony Creek and Calipso Falls where I managed, finally, to catch my first Greenback cutthroat of the trip. I continued fishing on my way back along the river, picking up fish in the odd pools and getting my last fill of brook and a well sized cutthroat in the first pool of Copeland Falls. 

colors finally coming in
First Greenback cutthroat of the trip!

If you have been to Wild Basin, you know this place.
Nice surprise!

The elk haven't really come down to Estes or the Y yet so here is a pic of of hanging in the Y
Day 7
Another favorite in of mine in RMNP is Roaring River which I wouldn't have wanted to miss. This river is quite different than most as it's river bed between the Alluvial Fan in the Fall River valley and Lawn Lake is a deeply carved and mostly barren ravine that was carved in 1982 when Lawn Lake's earthen dam broke and about 30 Million cubic feet of water came rushing down the valley. Access comes via the Lawn Lake trail that involves a bit of hiking to get above the alluvial fan. Once in the valley, access along the river is fairly easy, fishing up, hopping over boulders. Matt and I thought that as with previous day's that action would come around noon but surprisingly, we started catching fish around 10am and kept catching lots of Greenback cutthroats until we finally, happy and exhausted, started making our way back to the trail head. 

Overlooking Fall River/Horseshoe Bend from the trail

a start but made me nervous that this might be it 

Day 8
On Sunday, Matt and I wanted to give Wild Basin another go while meeting up with a new friend and tenkara angler, Jonathan Antunez. I never met Jonathan in person but heard of him on various forums and groups on Facebook. Turns out he is quite an accomplished tenkara angler with great presentation technique and level of stealthiness I have rarely seen with other anglers. As opposed to my venture to Wild Basin on Friday, we started fishing from the bottom up and making our way up to Calipso Falls, picking up brook trout and the occasional Greenback cutthroat. I don't know about you but it is always interesting to observe how the group's "vibe" changes with a new angler joining. Also, realized that I was more appropriately dressed for salt water flats instead of fishing in the mountains as my shirt's color was far from being subtle or camouflage. Jonathan literally vanished in the background with his subdued colors in camo and made me re-evaluate how to show up on-stream in the future. We both caught our fill of trout so maybe I managed still to be stealthy enough. Or the fish didn't care. I don't think we'll ever know. 

can you spot Jonathan?
Matt - a bit easier to see but still stealthy

Matt fishing the pool from a new angle. Respect, I wouldn't have tried.

Day 9
Alas, the last day in the park has arrived and after breakfast and packing up the room at the Y, I headed into the park for a few last hour's fishing on the Big Thompson before making my way back towards Denver in preparation for my next day's departure back home.

Not an elk but on my last day, I am not going to be picky

My last Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado Trout of 2019
In summary, I had a fantastic time in Colorado with old and new friends. The fishing wasn't as hot as I anticipated due to the cold front that moved through that week but that didn't mean we didn't catch loads of fish, we just had to work for them a bit harder. And there is nothing wrong with that. 

As always, it is hard to say good-bye to friends you hold dear to your heart. I am truly blessed to still have such an awesome, welcoming, supporting and kick-ass community in Colorado that I feel I can go back to any time. And of course on the other side of the Atlantic, there is my family that I have been missing terribly the last 10 days and I will be glad to back home again. 

And so the journey ends, having traveled There and Back Again.