I had a 1,000 mile round trip reminder of why I love to live in Colorado! The four and a half days on the road to the southwest part of our state were filled with awe, wonder, and beauty – and a handful of beautiful fish.
We headed west with Gunnison as our first destination. Jannetta went to school at Western State, so she had a craving for Mario’s for lunch – the half-and-half pasta salad and calzones. We visited a couple of fly fishing shops and then headed to our hotel to check in. Then she said those magic words – “Why don’t you go fish while the girls and I go swim in the pool?” Well, if she insisted!
So I fished the Gunnison about 5 miles downstream from town. And the hatch that night was incredible. They were hitting size 12 Green Drakes and yellow caddis. I switched to an Amy’s Aunt just to see what would happen … and they were hitting that, too. By the time it was too dark to see – just a little before 9:00 – I had netted eleven fish ranging from 10” to 16”.
The next morning, we headed out of town to our vacation destination – Mesa Verde National Monument.
Before we got too far, though, we stopped for about 90 minutes and fished the Gunni again. Jannetta had four fish in short order.
On the last cast before we got in the car, I landed this nice Brown on that same yellow caddis from the night before. After he struck the fly, he raced downstream for about 20 yards and then fought all the way to the net.
We got back in the car and headed west on Highway 50.
For lunch in Montrose, we stopped at the Firehouse Restaurant – a little local place which was going to have its Grand Opening on July 1. Very nice folks! Be sure to try the unique carrot cake if you stop! We wish them the best in their new venture!
We then headed south through Ouray, into Silverton, and then to Durango. The beauty of the “million dollar highway” – from Ouray to Silverton – is so awe-inspiring. Me made mental notes to return to Ouray for an overnight visit!
Our two days in Mesa Verde were all that you could expect from such a mythical and mystical place. Once you get over the awe at the thought of the work it took to build those cliff dwellings over a span of a 130 years or so and three generations of native peoples, you really move to thinking about the stories of the people. What did motivate the native people to move from the top of the mesa to the canyon walls? What were the spiritual rituals like in the kivas (which Joclynn referred to as “the original man cave”!)? And then, even more mysteriously, what motivated the entire population of the mesa to basically have a mass exodus at the same time? 1285 A.D. came … and they all left.
And we had to leave, too, and head east on Highway 160. We were curious to travel along the highway that had been closed when we left on Saturday morning due to fire threats and fire activity in the Pagosa Springs / South Fork part of the state. For that entire 45-mile stretch of highway, including Wolf Creek Pass, we saw minimal evidence of the fire – except for the incident bases along the way where the firefighters met or camped. What we did see was the incredible amount of beetle kill just about the entire stretch of Wolf Creek Pass. You can see why the fires flash and flare the way that they do. Along the highway, signs remind drivers that there is no stopping or standing along that part of the highway. (I have to admit…the San Juan River was calling my name…).
We continued on to Alamosa to visit my sister and spend the night before we pushed on home. We had a nice dinner together at the hotel, and Jaden and Joclynn played in the pool. And again, Jannetta said those words that make you think she is reading your mind: “you should get up early and go fish the Conejos tomorrow.”
My alarm went off at 4:45 and I slipped into my fishing clothes and slipped out the hotel door. A quick stop for some coffee and a pre-packaged pastry, and then I was heading down to just around Mogote on Highway 17. I may have gotten there a little early! By 7:00, though, I was wading near the bank and throwing streamers in the dark water still covered in shade from the bluff behind me. It would be another half hour before the sun was hitting the water. The flow? The Conejos was at about 167 cfs this day.
Having no luck with the streamer, I put on a Green Drake and had a strike the first cast. Actually, more than a strike – the fish snapped the fly from the line. I tied on another dry – a large tan caddis – and a few casts later, had this fish. 7:20 a.m. and my first fish in the net. I missed a few others, and as I worked my way upstream and back to the car, I fished a couple of pools in the now-lightening river. Another 14” Brown was my final fish for the morning.
Sometimes during the home stretch of a road trip you get that antsy, horse-back-to-the-barn feeling. The 167 miles from Alamosa to Colorado Springs, the last arc of our nearly 1000 mile loop, was time to comment on what great trip it was. We saw a lot of Colorado from the central mountains to the southwest corner to the San Luis Valley. All of Colorado is not “on fire”; of course, the fires are devastating to the areas where the active fires rage and our hearts go out to those in the affected communities. And we can all support and pray for those communities impacted by these wildfires (Lord knows in Colorado Springs we have had our share of this experience these past two summers.)
Our conversation on the way back was focused on making future vacation plans. Maybe some late summer / early fall fly fishing trips to the San Juan? What better way to support the businesses and people in South Fork and in Pagosa Springs than to head back and spend some time at their motels, restaurants, and fly shops?
Colorado….you gotta see it. You gotta love it.
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Orvis 201 Streamside