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Bugs, bruisers and buddies

7/10/2010

Editor's note: Contributor Gary Giudice, who penned Wannabe Trout Bums and The Slam Haunts Me for ESPNOutdoors.com, is back with trout buddy Ed Weber as they scour Colorado — which they deem the best trout state — searching for its best trout stream.


Colorado may be the best trout state in America. Ed Weber and I think so. We're no experts by any means, but we have fished every state that claims a trout fishery.

So now we're in "The Rocky Mountain State" searching for its best trout stream. Tough duty.

We know the task is near impossible. Too many steams and so little time. Thousands of miles of trout fishing waters and we're trying to get this done in a couple of weeks. Fat chance but we're giving it our very best.

Today was a good day by any standard. The fish bit, we spent some time with old friends and the scenery was beyond real.

South Boulder Creek, some 20 miles from its namesake city, is full of big trout.

We fished with Anthony Bartowski on the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club's private waters. What a treat!

Anthony was their "Guide of the Year" for 2009 and he only worked the last six months. He's also one of the best PR guys I know until he chucked it all and moved to the high country to chase trout. You've got to admire the guy.

It was the size of the fish here that blew us away. We're not talking about a bunch of piddly little trout here. We're talking big fish, big as a family-size loaf of bread. Here's an example.

A week ago I was fishing in the Sierra Madre Mountains down in Mexico at the famed Lake El Salto. My best five bass on any given morning or evening would run about 25 pounds, give or take 10 pounds. Not bad but not great for El Salto.

Today my best five trout weighed in at just about 25 pounds. Now, for me, that's some great trout fishing. Yet we're told it can get a lot better at Lincoln Hills. I can't imagine it better. I don't think I could take catching too many more of those big, fat and feisty rainbows and browns (plus a few smaller cutthroats).

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There's more to fishing than catching big fish, but if that's your measure of a great trout stream, then South Boulder Creek at the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club may be the best in America.

A big statement, I know, but these are unreal huge fish. Wild and colorful that fight to the end more often than not winning the battle.

Ed and I, with Anthony's help, brought 40 of these bruisers to the net and that many or more came unbuttoned with straightened hooks or jumping off.

Big browns don't normally jump around a lot, but these do. Rainbows you expect it, but not big 25-inch browns!
It's kind of spooky when you think about it. If you're like me, you're just happy as hell with an occasional 16-inch fish. Here a 16-incher won't raise an eyebrow. But then neither will a 20!

Anthony knows trout fishing like Shaw Grigsby knows bass fishing. In fact they remind me of each other. Both excited with every fish no matter who catches it, like it was their first one. And both have boundless energy when it comes to fishing. If they were ever to fish together they would burn enough energy to power up a mid-sized city.

Anthony had us fishing with large nymphs. We tried several but golden stones in size ten worked best. We saw several fish rise but not enough to make us try dries. It was high sticking with an indicator and strong leaders. Very subtle bites!

Dead drifting most any seam would yield a strike. We missed most but hooked enough, more than we deserved. Rains higher in the mountains started to put some color to the water, so we switched to a special sculpin streamer he ties and continued catching big fish.

Why does this place fish so well? Why are these fish so large and so healthy? A 24-inch brown might have a 16-inch girth. We asked the co-owner/founder Matthew Burkett.

"It's a matter of management," he said. "We started at an old gold mining area and reclaimed it. We've made the very best trout habitat possible. We have a full-time fisheries biologist and he makes sure it stays perfect.

"Joining our land here is our new Boulder River Ranch property. It is being developed to attract all anglers of any skill level. We will be able to accommodate the destination angler with the plans for the lodge, and instruct fly fishing enthusiasts from beginner to advanced with our Angling University program."

Cody DeGuelle, a 25-year-old Colorado State fisheries management major, is an avid angler and big-game hunter. He worries over the Club's trout.

"We manage the fish but we also manage the insects," he said. "The trees and shrubs we plant are chosen because of the benefit they have for the bugs. All the bugs were here, there's just more of them now. Everything we do here is ultimately for the fish."

By looking at the Club's land and waters you would never know it was once an environmental nightmare. The placer and hydro mines had washed away everything. Little but cobble left in their wake. Now the area is a natural beauty.

At the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club you must have reservations to fish. Go to http://www.lincolnhillsflyfishing.com. You're assigned a beat and times. A guide is needed to catch the really big ones this creek has to offer. It may be pricey but it should be in order to fish the best big trout stream in Colorado.