Colorado has a lot of fishing options with big fish potential. Reaching these areas may require some planning and a long drive. As we roll into fall a few of these “big fish waters” start nagging on my casting elbow. The lid was lifted slightly on one spot from two angles. The BLM fences were removed and a few signs were cemented in place that stated, “Hey! You can fish here!!! Go on ahead!” When these things happen a time clock starts ticking and true fishing quality in my view diminishes greatly. People start pressuring fish and taking fish out.
“Man, I have to get in there and fish that spot!” I mumbled through most of September.
Finally the planets align and things at work open a window for a weekday PTO (Paid Time Off) fishing excursion. Loading up the truck in the dark I make off for one of my few solo runs on the western side of the mountains. After three hours I arrive at the gravel road and then park at the faded trailhead parking area. The sun has cleared the mountains and I get a full view of the landscape where deciduous river basin meets cliffs of sage. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as my eyes surveyed the fish battleground below.
“Oh this is going to be sweet.” My lips mumble as daydreams of enormous fish run through my mind. “I’m going to nail something big out of here for sure!”
The cliff dive to the water edge is a bit extreme on this fishing spot so the walk in is done with caution or repelling gear. Making it to the bottom with both ankles deserves a pat on the back before moving through a small strip of dense foliage that guards the river.
Like most good fishing spots nature has hidden this one fairly well with it’s hard to reach location. I liken this to a naturally fortified position that is easily defended. Once you find the trail that leads to the back of hell’s gates there remains a light infantry of tall grass and a thick tree line that stands as strong as any heavy cavalry. The only way to wade through it is by small careful steps and well placed feet. Weaving your fishing rod through the myriad of branches almost resembles swordplay in some fashion. At this point I should mention there is also an easy-peasy trail to the right that takes you straight to the rollover once you reach the bottom of the cliff. There is a fence and field crossing that I am not sure is 100% kosher so I still take the “foliage front line” head on. The end result is the same and I wind up at the rollover with a better view of the small public access stretch overall.
“Made it.” That was all I said lifting the light pack off my shoulders, unzipped the top and pulled out the waders.
Dressed for fish battle I set the gear for recon mode. This means throwing out fall colors in yellow, brown or gold in two lure types. One rod is set with minnow and the other is set with jig. I work the entire water column within the first one hundred feet with three basic color patterns. Nothing.
“Guess I will cross the moat and battle the thicket.” The trepidation in my voice mixed with subtle disappointment was a little more than obvious. “Water is a little bit higher than I am used to.”
With that I stepped into water and barely managed to wade across the river to the other side. The water came up to where my stomach meets the chest less than halfway across. The current was swift and difficult to stand against. My only move was to literally go with the flow and aim for the shore on the other side before running into a large pool at the end of straightaway.
“Oh man. That was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be. Going back my be real tricky.”
A few more steps and I am in what is called the “back section”, which is a bit presumptuous as the entire public stretch isn’t really large enough to have both a front and back section in my view. I simply refer to this area as “the thicket” due to the sometimes-overwhelming branch work that consumes this area. Moving through some parts is a lot like trying to push your way through a wave of hoplite spearmen. Rarely do I emerge on the other side without a scratch. But here is where I do catch most of the fish that have not been as battered as the ones on the front section. All of the fish caught were far smaller than I had hoped. It would be easy to blame the public pressure for this or even the bright, clear weather. But the blame game doesn’t put fish in my hand.
After working virtually every inch of the small section the window of time is swiftly closing. I could stay here all day but there is still a sizeable drive home and a bunch of things still on the “do list” for the day. As big as my fish expectations were, it was clear that now I would have to leave with only ho-hum results. Concern for the river crossing to get back seemed to overshadow the lack of fish bragging at this point. Due to heavy current of the river I would not be able to take the same path and would have to find another route across.
“I may have to start at the top of the stretch and wade down. Oh this could get ugly.”
Reaching the top of the stretch I can see two sandbars formed by the current. It looked as if I had a much better line of travel with the current than before. The only area of concern was the middle transition between to the two submerged sandbars (which were more gravel and rock than sand). My feet enter into the water for the second river crossing of the day. Everything is going well at first and my knees are barely getting wet. A few steps and the water is at my hips. The bar is fading in visibility beneath my feet. This is where I have to cross a deeper section to reach the bar on the other side. It looks about 3 feet, which is manageable, and after a few steps I am about 60% across.
“Almost there. Not too shabby.”
One more step with the current nudging me down the river it was as if the bottom dropped out from underneath me. I made the cut too soon and now found myself in a large hole. It was all I could do to hop on one toe keeping the waterline about a half-inch above the top of my waders. The backpack was providing buoyancy that I leaned against. This was a huge help for now but could become extra weight once it filled with water. Hopping along the river bottom at an angle I gave one last kick with my foot and barely reached the other bar. Below is a diagram that crudely represents both crossing paths and where I nearly drenched myself.
(Above: Ok so I am just going to come out and admit that sometimes my graphic’s team is really lame. They do one flashy picture for the Driving to Fish-Tips and then start goofing off again.)
When my feet touched back on dry land my lips nearly kissed the shoreline. My legs were shaking and my entire pack was soaked. My camera was dry and the river never tipped into my waders so everything was all right. Stripped off the waders, put on the semi-wet hiking shoes and prepped for the reverse cliff dive out. Funny how a vertical climb of a few hundred feet doesn’t seem to faze you after a near river dunk. The ho-hum fish results mattered much less at this point also. In the end I was satisfied with the solo trip that didn’t end up in disaster. On some trips that is about as good as it gets.
My name is Matt…still fishing.