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Pretty trout, pretty places

6/30/2009

Lifelong angling buddies, Ed Weber of Rochester, N.Y., and Gary Giudice from Norman, Okla., are fly fishing their way up the spine of the Rocky Mountains following mayfly hatches. They started in the White Mountains of Arizona and will end on the Bow River of Alberta, Canada. This blog follows their trip.

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DURANGO, Colo — Trout don't live in ugly places. Some may but I don't know about those nor do I care to find out.

Our trout adventure has been going on about 12 days and we have finally run into our first real problem. High muddy water.

My traveling buddy and long time friend, Ed Weber from Rochester, N.Y., and I have caught maybe well over a 100 trout this trip but now we are stymied. We are out of water.

Everything north of here is blown out. The Arkansas, the Gunnison, the Rio Grande, all them are too high to wade fish. Late runoff from last winter's heavy snow is coming down the mountains torrents. We're screwed!

There's only one thing to do, go to the high country.

Snow covered peaks, cold nights and deep blue skies are a welcome relief from the desert country we've been fishing. The Rocky Mountains are so beautiful that I've never seen a photograph, a painting or the written word that accurately describes them.

Even the trout in these high places seem to have more color. I like catching big trout. Who in their right mind doesn't? But sometimes we have to sacrifice. Sometimes we all must make do with what we have. Small trout in beautiful places. I'm sure we'll survive.

Normally high, alpine streams have nothing but small trout. OK, small trout are better than no trout, so Ed and I are going to climb high and hammer them. Little creeks, beaver ponds, maybe even a lake or two.

We are setting up camp right here until some of these big rivers come down, and until they do we are going to catch trout in the little places off the beaten path. We will share the water with but a few fellow angers and fish streams that we may not even know their names.

We wanted to fish the Animas River in Durango. A guy at the Conoco station said the caddis hatch was on big time. It's known for big, smart trout. We tried but it was too high, no fun and no trout. Rafts with screaming teenagers every few minutes made maters worse. We where more than frustrated.

The guys at Durango Anglers, a cool fly shop in a cool town, suggested that we might try Hermosa Greek in the next drainage over from the Purgatory Ski Area. Back roads are passable in a pickup followed by a two-mile fairly level hike would put us on plenty of fish, they said.

Ed was ready. He loves this kind of fishing. Poking pocket water, working out where in the stream the bigger fish are and catching lots of fish. Sometimes size maters, sometimes not so much.

Wow! What a wonderful stream, this Hermosa Creek, and well worth the hassle. Brook, rainbows and cutthroat trout in every hole. Shallow runs had nothing but anyplace you thought there might be a trout usually held a few.

Caddis flies in a size 14 with a caddis emerger dropper did the trick. Small rods are needed (lots of stream side bushes and the Hermosa is mostly just a few feet wide) and about any leader will work just fine.

These fish are hungry! Not real big, 12 inches if you don't look at the ruler too close. All colored up, these trout are beauties.

We fished for hours then sat back in the cool mountain grass just trying to take it all in. Overwhelming. Sensory overload. How can some places in America be so pretty yet others so darn ugly? I'm just thankful that the trout don't live in the ugly ones.

When we came back out of the high country we heard a stone fly hatch was happening in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Wild place, the Black Canyon. A few years ago my good buddy Kenyon Hill, a Bassmaster Elite Series angler, and I almost died in a rafting accident.

The raft we were in went topsy tervy in some class four rapids. The guide was yelling "High side, oh Lord love a duck, high side!" When rafts flip they generally go over backwards. The trick is to climb to the high side of the boat to keep it from going over.

I don't think this ever works but that's what they told us in the little safety talk at the start of the float. It didn't come close to working this time either. A few hundred yards downstream, Kenyon and I washed up on the bank gasping for air like a couple of beached carp.

But the trout were huge. Big fish and big bugs, I had to show Ed. There was a hatch but there was not a single boat to be had. All of them were booked up for a month.

So it's back to the high country again, back to places that had to be seen to believed. And I'm starting to develop an affinity for these pretty little trout. They are feisty, but mostly they are easy to catch and so colorful!

This time we tried Spring Creek north of Gunnison, Colo. I fished it several times in the past and it was loaded with small brook trout. Fine by us. We planned to kill three or four and fry them up in a pan. Foiled again, no brookies. But now it was loaded with rainbows. Small by most standards, these trout are large for such a tiny creek.

And they would eat just about anything that we'd cast to them, small dry flies or weightless nymphs. They were a little spooky and we needed long casts, but oh what fun.

It was almost like sight fishing for bass. The water up there is as clear and fresh as the high mountain air. You could see the trout almost motionless by a large stone and drift a fly to them. I would jerk it away from them most of the time because, well, I just couldn't help it. Excitement often gets the best of me.

Ed, an avid fly fisher for over 40 years, not only hooked countless trout but also himself, twice in the same day. Both times past the barb, one in the finger and the other right on top of the juggler vein. He had never before done this. Removing the small hooks was easily done but not the most pleasant experience for him.

If you don't know how to remove an embedded hook with fishing line, Goggle it or ask around. Every angler needs to know how to do this. It's simple, quick and painless, well, mostly painless.

If you love trout as much as Ed and I do you'll love these little high, alpine beauties. There's also a practical side to fishing these small high waterways as well. It's the quickest way to learn about trout, how to read the water, how trout react to certain flies and most importantly how to fish pocket water.

The lessons are just icing on the cake because trout don't live in ugly places.