Sunday, January 6, 2019

Chasing Greenbacks in the headwaters, early season 2018

Many times I have hiked past this stretch of water with no intention of fishing it... and so it dawned on me in early 2018 that I should make a day of fishing this long stretch below a popular trail in RMNP, even if just to stop wondering what it was like as I hiked by, time and time again.

This particular stretch begins above a popular tourist lookout. Yet just a few minutes beyond that crowded place, where children and adults alike complain about all 10-15 hard minutes of walking they've just suffered through, one can step off the trail, walk up along the stream and instantly feel a million miles from civilization. Not many people fish this water, and I'm not entirely sure why. It is productive.

Maybe its because of the bushes and the need for more precise casting? Maybe its the fact that there is no easy way in here without pushing through thick scrub brush and risking surprising the occasional moose or elk? Or maybe its just that most people don't realize what that little bit of extra effort can bring...

Working my way up I grabbed a few brookies and a rainbow in these picturesque spots... a nice way to start the day, but not what I came for. I realized I'd need to get up above the next waterfall to get into the cutthroat water... but I didn't rush it because this place was special.

Walking past pools teeming with brookies and rainbows I took my time to breathe the clean air and feel that feeling you get when you first set foot back in the high mountains after a winter away from the streams. These meadows in the upper headwaters region are just beyond words. There is almost no way to put into words the feeling, the smells, the sounds... I decided to lay in the grass for a while and look at the sky. 

This particular spot is probably one of the most beautiful high alpine meadows I've ever stumbled upon while fishing, and I made sure to take it all in while I had it all to myself.

At the top of the meadow the gradient increased immediately...

 ...and above the first set of little falls I found what I was looking for right away.

This is the kind of thing dreams are made of... and in turn, those dreams are the kind of thing that can make one walk away from one life in order to embrace another.

Navigating this particular section of river is not easy... there are many tight-walled mini canyons... the underbrush is thick... there is wildlife all around. In all actuality, much of this is not that far from the trail. But it is not easy to reach from the trail.. and the sound of the water and the thick trees drown out any indication of these realities.

The best way up is usually walking right up through the waterfalls.

At the top of one set of falls is always a nice pool... and another set of waterfalls!

And in every one of those pockets a fish awaits your properly presented fly... as well as your sloppily presented fly.

The fishing in these places is not particularly hard... what matters most is positioning, angle of the light so one doesn't cast a shadow, and a light footed style of travel that attempts not to warn the fish by way of heavy vibrations from one's feet.

Sometimes I wonder if I sound like a broken recored extolling the virtues of getting to these places to see these fish, these flowers, these views...

But if the record is broken, and it keeps playing back your favorite line of the song, is that such a bad thing? 

Large boulders create small pockets of soft water at the edge of the raging current... and one can always find a fish there... it is like the promise of a healthy stream such as this.

Coming up to the upper section of the Canyon I stopped to take it all in again. At that moment, a helicopter began to circle above. I was concerned about how they began to drop low and linger, and I turned and gave the two thumbs up sign to make sure they'd see I was in this place on purpose, by choice, and to avoid wasting a ranger's time. They left right away. Good call. I later learned that a hiker had gone missing in this drainage a few days prior, so they must have hoped to have found this person... but alas it was just me, losing myself in this place on purpose for just one short day.

That moment did serve as a reminder that being in these places does not come without risk. I like to tell people where I'm going just in case I don't make it back... but thinking about those things and living in fear rather than living in the moment would be a huge mistake... of that I am sure.

In the tiny eddy on the left under the long grass, I hooked a solid 19-plus inch wild greenback. It was one of the nicest headwaters fish I've hooked in a stream this small in ages, if not ever. I was a little sad when it wiggled off the hook at my feet, because I really would have liked a photo of that one. Luckily another smaller fish was waiting for a fly right next to that one, so I got a photo of that fish instead.

By this point I had caught well over 40 fish on this one fly. I felt like it was in surprisingly good shape, and so I continued to fish it. Sometimes the more damaged it gets, the more fish seem to like it.

Which would you rather eat?

The view at the top of the canyon opens into a beautiful rocky bowl that holds a cold glacial lake. The swampy outflow is usually full of trout. Is it still Tenkara once you cross the line above the first fall into the flat/still water of the lake? Nope! It is not. Once one is in the lake... one is then just fishing with a fixed line rod. 

Yet the result is the same... now was that so hard to distinguish? 

I finished the day with some rather large and spectacularly colored Greenbacks from the lake before heading back down to the car. 

These fish are truly magnificent...

What a life it is... I hope more of you come join me for adventures in the Colorado front range headwaters in 2019!