Monday, June 5, 2006

2006 Southwest Colorado Fishing Trip

The Gunnison : East Portal

My parents live in the town of Montrose, in Western Colorado, which is very close to some of the best fishing in the rockies (so I've heard). When we arrived there the first thing I did was head to the local fly shop (Cimmarron Creek) for the skinny. All over the rockies this time of year, they said, you have to deal with runoff. Basically you have to limit yourself to fishing tailwaters which will be somewhat protected as the flow is regulated. So they directed me to the East Portal in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Amy and I fished it the next morning, and we had such an wonderful time that we went back there every day for a week. The water was muddy and had about 4" visibility. I am wondering if this actually made fishing easier for us because most of the fish we caught were at right at our feet. Literally within inches of the bank.

Anyway, on the first morning we rigged up my 5wt with a #14 orange shrimp that I copied from a fly I bought at the shop and her 4wt with #16 red copper john. That morning it seemed we could do no wrong. I would spot what I thought looked like some good water, and Amy would cast into it and bam, fish on. She hooked and released a couple of small browns. I spotted a big brown and directed her to it and sure enough she hooked him. He was probably 18" and he took off into the current and broke her off.

She hooked a 20" rainbow later and this time she knew to follow the fish downstream where she landed him on a little beach. My big fish of the day was the rainbow that I present in the picture. I also caught a brown that was probably 15". Our final tallies for the morning were 4 fish each and several lost.

Over the next week we fished that same mile over and over again and found fish all over the place. One of the highlights for me was hooking a 20" fish on a size #20 EHC. He got away though when he threw the hook after a long (and delicate) fight. I had actually hooked that same fish three other times in the previous few days (behind the same rock) on shimp and egg patterns. He got off each time, leading me to assume that he no longer has any lips with which to get caught on.

Amy's best fish (no picture) was an 18" brown that she caught in the last 5 minutes of a long fishless day (for her). We fished a pool at the end of wadeable stretch of river where I could see many browns with their tails up rooting in the dirt in shallow water. I hooked and lost two of them on my shrimp patterns. She came in and landed the 18" brown. He put up no fight at all -- clearly he had done this before. So we dragged him up onto the bank and boy was he surprised when I bashed his head in with a rock (she wouldn't do it). We are C&R 99% of the time, but my mom loves fish and she scolds us whenever we don't bring her any.

As we made the 1/2 mile trek back to the truck with the dead fish we got some looks from some stuck-up ff anglers there but here's the reality: We had been license-checked by the park ranger the day before, and he told us that they were trying to re-introduce rainbows into the river (whirling disease had decimated them). Apparently the browns were dominating (read: eating) the rainbows, so he encouraged us to take home a brown or two (under 12" or over 16").

Those who know me know that I am primarily a still water fisherman. But that might change now. I had such a great time on the Gunnison that I am having trouble thinking about going back to lakes and ponds. We'll see what happens. Maybe I will have one wife and one mistress. The Taylor River : The Hog Trough

Buoyed by our success on the Gunnison, we found ourselves lured to the (in)famous Hog Trough (as the locals in Almont call it) of the Taylor River, just below the Taylor Reservoir. The state record rainbow was caught and released there (I think it was 34 inches and 29lbs) a few years earlier. And we had talked to a gent on the Gunnison who said he landed a 10lb RB there in late April.

The Taylor river is about a 2 hour drive drive from Montrose, so we packed a bag and left our son in the good hands of my mother. We fished the morning hours on the Gunnison (see other report) and then used the lunch hours to drive to the Taylor River. We stopped at the High Mountain Drifter fly shop in Gunnison and they did everything they could to discourage us from going to the Taylor. I wish we would have listened to them, but we had stars in our eyes.

So let me set the record straight: the hog trough is a lame place to fish. Its about 300 yards of public land RIGHT BY THE HIGHWAY. Its unscenic. The fish there have all been caught 100 times and fishing for them has created a new definition of the term 'technical fishing' in my mind. Fishing the hog trough makes Rocky Ford look like a kids fishing derby.

The rainbows that inhabit this water sit around eating the shrimp that come out of the res. all day long. By afternoon they are full and they just sit there trying not to waste energy. They have learned to spot splitshot in the water and will simply move out of the way of your perfectly placed fly. Your fly better be #20 or smaller or you can hear the fish laughing at it as they simply sidle away from it until it passes and then return to their spot.

We saw a few fish caught, but they were all small (like 16" or smaller). I flossed one fish and foul hooked another but they both got off. This experience was a major bummer after our glorious week on the Gunnison.

That night we drove the 18 miles back down the river to the "town" of Almont, where were expecting to eat dinner at the bar (the only other thing in town besides the resort we were staying at). Well the kitchen at the bar was closed, so we just went in and started drinking with the local alchoholics. We made friends fast and stayed there for three or four hours drinking beer and shots with the ski bums and fish bums.

The Taylor Reservoir (above the hog trough)

I had the opportunity to talk to one of the guides who worked out of the attached fly shop -- he was an animated guy who held several of the state records for various fish. He told some AMAZING fish stories. I was pretty lit up (drinking at 8000 feet elevation) but I vaguely remember him saying that when he visited the NW, he would go out into the Columbia in a friggin float tube and fish a ball of guts the size of a bowling ball on the bottom for pike. He also mentioned that if you could get a camping permit for the Gunnison in the summer time, you could experience fishing 2" dries during some kind of locust plague where enormous flies emerged from the water and enormous browns would rise to eat them. The fly shop the next day confirmed this story and they showed me the 2" foam flies that one would use.

The Taylor Reservoir (above the hog trough)

I slept poorly that night due to drinking at high elevation on an empty stomach. Note: the little "house" cabin at the resort there was awesome. It was a definite great place to stay for only $75. Had a kitchen and everything. Anyway, in the morning we drove past the trough to the res and tried to fish the still water up there, but we had no luck and the fumes from all the 2 strokes chasing mackinaws sent us packing back to the Gunnison. The Uncompahgre : Pa-co-chu-puk

Our final day of fishing was on the Uncompahgre River, specifically at the Pa-co-chu-puk park just below the Ridgeway Reservoir. The locals call this the "Jurassic Park" because of the large broodstock rainbows they stock there. The Colorado dept. of fish and wildlife determined that the river below the res. was too fast to support good fish habitat, so they spent $200K adding structure to the river to slow it down. That's some serious fishery management right there. The river had an eerie "wild yet synthetic" feel to it.

We fished from the cold morning hours until around 11, when it was starting to get pretty warm. We hooked no fish, though I managed to raise some smaller ones to my EHC and humpies. We had started out nymphing but I changed after a couple of fish tried to eat my indicator.

A Colorado Creel Check

We had the river to ourselves all morning (it was Monday) but about 10am a young girl in a hat approached us and said she was doing a creel check and a short survey. We had to report that we had caught no fish. She asked us what we thought of this section of water. I said it was great - just beautiful! Actually, I think that if we had been standing in a slag heap looking down at a tailings pond I would have answered the same way. :)

Anyway, we had an incredible week of fishing and we can't wait to go back.

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