Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Colorado Fishing Trip With Dad

Up until about three or four years ago I used to fish. It always seemed like my dad and I would get together and fish at least one or two weekends a month. Then something happened and life got incredibly busy. It might have something to do with the two jobs, two kids or a brood of critters that resembles a small petting zoo. Seems like there is always something happening that keeps me off the stream. Now, I have sadly joined the ranks of “One of those guys”. You know, “one of those” who must actually schedule time to go fishing. I know, it is really sad story and I can hear the violins playing as I type. LOL

About a year ago I decided that if I was going to be able to fish with my dad I needed to take a pen, mark out a week in my calendar and Plan the trip. I threw four possible locations into my fishing hat. Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Cache La Poudre River on the front range in Colorado, Taylor River on the western slope of Colorado, and Valles Caldares/Jimenez River area of New Mexico. In the end the Taylor River was drawn. I spent most of the winter and spring reading about the river and all the tricks used to catch fish.  

Can you believe this is the view from camp? Here is a shot of dad as we walked out of came and down to the river.

Taylor River
If you haven’t been there, let me tell you about the Taylor River. The Taylor River is located north of Gunnison, Colorado and is a large tributary to the Gunnison River. Actually, the Gunnison River begins in Almont, Colorado where the Taylor River and East River Converge. There is a large reservoir on the Taylor River called… ironically… Taylor Reservoir. The Upper Taylor River (above the reservoir) is a typical small clear mountain stream that meanders through the moraine of a sizable glacial valley. The valley is about a thousand feet below tree line and full of hanging valleys held over from the glaciers that carved it. It is high enough that during the third week of July there was snow still melting on the surrounding Collegiate Peaks mountain range. Adjacent to the meandering river there are dozens of beaver ponds and small tributaries that seemed to be loaded with hungry Brook and Brown trout. Below the dam is considered the Lower Taylor River. This part of the river is tail water running through a narrow gorge. The moraine has been scoured out of the narrow gorge and only the larger boulders remain. The flow is much larger and the water is considerable swifter, but the fish can be monsters. Trout so big, that the Colorado state record was caught on the Lower Taylor River. The Lower Taylor continues for about 14 miles to where it converges with the East River in Almont.

The Upper Taylor River is almost completely within the public lands of the Gunnison National Forest. Assess to the river is great with a valley road that parallels the river and dozens of turn offs that go right up to the stream. There are a couple of Forest Service campgrounds, but camping is also allowed anywhere as long as the camp site greater than 100 feet from the stream. The campgrounds we visited seemed to be quiet and the bathrooms extremely clean. When I say clean, I mean clean enough that your wife would be more than happy to stay there. The area is open to motorized recreation and there are dirt bikes and ATV’s puttering around on the roads and trails everywhere. I do have to say that I was impressed with the riders. They seemed to stay on the roads and trails and I seen very little damage from them crossing the stream.

The Lower Taylor River is also in the Gunnison National Forest, but there are a couple of land holdings in the valley that are private. Of the 14 miles of stream between the reservoir and Almont probably 11 of those miles are accessible to the public for wade fishing. Camping is not allowed along the stream except in designated campgrounds. However, if my memory serves me right there are at least ten Forest Service campgrounds along the river with fishing access right out the back of most camps. The river is considerably larger below the dam and the wading is a bit rougher. A wading staff is definitely something you will want to have when fishing the lower Taylor River.

Located directly below the Taylor Reservoir Dam is a half mile of “Catch and Release” fishing. This area is where those really fat trout sit and gorge themselves on the Mysis shrimp that have just been pushed through the turbines. (See side note) The stream is fairly wide below the dam and the wading is much easier than the rest of the Lower Taylor. Since it is catch and release there seemed to be a lot of fish. Everything I read talked about the huge “crowds” that gathered to fish the catch and release area. Those writers have obviously never been to a Missouri trout park like Montauk or Bennett Spring to fish. The day we were there I saw 10 fishermen on the steam, which is about one half mile long. Compare to the 10 fishermen I saw all day on the other parts of the stream I guess it was crowded, but being a fly fisherman from Missouri, I can handle that.

My very first Brook Trout from beaver ponds on Tellurium Creek
 Italian, Pine, and Tellurium Creek Beaver Ponds
There are a number of smaller streams in then Upper Taylor River drainage basin, which we found accessible and extremely fishable. Most of these smaller streams were being used by the local beaver population and made a great hangout for hungry brook trout. As someone who had never fished beaver ponds before, I found them to really interesting. They look so quite and serene, but walking around in the peat bogs and marshes created by the dams can really be tough. The fishing was absolutely wonderful. The brook trout appeared to always be hungry and most acted like they had never seen a fly before. The biggest obstacle was trying to sneak up to the pond without spooking everything in sight.

Spring Creek
Spring Creek is a small tributary of the Lower Taylor River. It too has a reservoir in the higher elevations, but its primary use is for irrigation so there were no turbines to push. The stream below the reservoir lazily meanders around a bit, but once it hits the gorge it becomes the boulder and pocket water stream that you see on all the BUSCH commercials.

South Platte River
So you are asking yourself…South Platte River? What does that have to do with the Gunnison basin? Isn’t it miles away? Well, yes it is, but it also happens to be directly between the Taylor River and the casino Mecca known as Cripple Creek. We had 6 days of vacation and only a 5 day fishing tag. So we decided to try our luck at the Blackjack tables before we left. But first we wanted to try fishing a different Colorado stream. We fished the Platte just below a place called Eleven-mile Canyon near Lake George. The water was a bit swifter than the Upper Taylor River and since the valley wasn’t moraine chocked the river ran over mostly large boulders and bedrock. It was slick wading, but the fishing was well worth it.

Dad on the side of Spring Creek. I think he is selecting a fly

So you are asking yourself, after all this tour guide explanation I have just given, did they catch any fish? Why yes we did. When I started planning the trip I had one goal in mind. I wanted to catch one of each type of trout that Colorado had to offer. Kind of like a “Colorado Grand Slam”. But at the very least, I wanted to make sure I caught a cutthroat and a brook trout. I had never caught either with a fly rod.

The Upper Taylor River is chocked full of browns and the beaver ponds hold brooks trout by the dozens. I ended up with a monster 10-inch brook trout from one of the Tellurium Creek beaver ponds. The largest brown I landed from the Upper Taylor River was a 14-½ inch on a #12 Sofa Pillow. Definitely not a fish I was expecting to come from the small stream. Most of the fish were closer to the 10-inch size.

On the Lower Taylor River we only fished the “Catch and Release” area. I had read so much about the Mysis Shrimp that I tied up a dozen before hand just to be prepared. I had a couple hits, but the fishing was a bit slow. Then I got to thinking. (I know scary isn’t it? me thinking!) Big fish always seem to like big flies. So I tied on a bullet headed Woolly Bugger and started stripping it. My luck changed. Those big fish started hitting and hitting hard. I proceeded to lose half of the bead heads and heavy streamers in my fly box. Before it was over with I had landed two fish, a 12-inch and a 16-inch brown, however, I must have played another half dozen fish. Or as Chuck Tryon used to say…I let them go using the Long Distance Release method.

On the fourth day we hopped over the mountain and fished the upper meandering portion of Spring Creek. We arrived about mid morning right in the middle of a Green Drake hatch. I can now say I saw my first real western Mayfly hatch. The fish were jumping so much that they spent more time airborne than in the water. This worked greatly to my benefit. All that air must have dried out their eyes so they couldn’t see real well. That in turn meant they would bite my poorly tied mayfly imitations. The very first fish I landed was my one and only cutthroat about 10 inches long. The rest of the day was spent catching and missing some really fat and playful rainbow and brown trout. I even landed a rather odd looking silver and green trout that I later found out was probably a young Kokanee salmon. It took four days, but I had succeeded in catching at least one of every trout in Colorado. Then to top that off I even caught the Kokanee salmon.

My first Cutthroat with a flyrod

We decided that we wanted to try something a little bit different so we headed east over Cottonwood Pass towards Buena Vista hoping to fish the upper Arkansas River. After talking to the rudest flyshop employees I have ever met at Arkanglers we decided that the Platte sounded better. So we drove a couple hours more until we hit Lake George, Colorado and the South Platte River. The South Platte River was a much rockier stream so the fish seemed to like the shadows or deeper holes. The fish liked big dry flies like Sofa Pillows drifted near the banks or nymphs in the pools. I landed a dozen or so throughout the morning. It was Friday and about mid-afternoon the floaters and tubers started hitting the water in droves. We had four and a half great days of fishing so we decided to pack it up and head for the casino.

Nice 14 inch Brown Trout off the Upper Taylor River
 The take at the casino was not so good. I am such a BIG spender…I lost about $30 at the blackjack table then called it a night. I did, however, try a couple dollars in a slot machine called “BIG FISH”, but it took my money as well. I guess I needed my lucky fishing hat.

Lessons Learned
Since this was my first trip out west to fish I knew there would be some things I would do differently or change next time. First thing I learned, if your wife likes to eat fish, don’t go on a catch and release fishing trip. It makes it harder to justify your next trip when you don’t bring fish and prove you were there. If nothing else stop by the grocery store on your way back and buy her some fish.  Secondly, when you are camping at 10,000 feet make sure to bring your heavy sleeping bag. I liked to froze that first night or two. Low temperatures dipped to 31 degrees the first couple night. BRRRR!

Best Part
I would recommend a fishing trip to the Taylor River and its tributaries to anyone. The fish were not huge, but we caught lots of them and got to see some really beautiful country. I even caught my Colorado Grand Slam. I suspect with a little experience and the possible help of a guide for a day there are lots more really big fish to be caught, especially on the Lower Taylor River.

When it was all said and done, Dad and I had a wonderful trip and the very best part was that I was lucky enough to spend a week hanging out with my dad fishing. Above all, that memory will be the one I cherish most from my Colorado fishing trip.

Side Note:
How can the fish get so big on the Lower Taylor you ask? Is it a fluke of nature, performance enhancing steroids, or something like that? NO! It is a Shrimp. Many years ago the Colorado MDC introduced Kokanee Salmon (A Kokanee is basically a land locked Chinook) to the upper Gunnison River and Taylor Reservoir. To feed these salmon they introduced an ice age holdover called “Mysis Shrimp.” This small translucent shrimp is similar to what most people think of a Kreel. Only there was a problem. Kokanee Salmon feed during the day in the open water…The Mysis Shrimp went straight to the bottom of the lake and hung out until it was dark. They only move around in the dark waters of the bottom of the lake or at night. Bad for the Kokanee…Good for the Trout. So when the Taylor Reservoir turbines open up, the shrimp come flying out into the Lower Taylor River by the millions, killing the shrimp in the process. Once dead, the shrimp loses is translucence and turns white. As any hungry animal with a brain the size of a peanut would do…The trout sit back and feast on the carnage of dead shrimp

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