Park the truck at the trailhead and do a time-check. The entire gear up was spent cussing myself for not leaving earlier. It was 8:30AM and already the heat was setting in. A smoky haze leftover from the Waldo Canyon fire hovered over the mountains with a faint smell of ash lingering in the air. Packed light with two bottles of water, one spin and one fly setup, my feet hit the trail.
My plan was to walk up to the dam and fish my way back. Four miles into the hike I couldn’t help myself. First cast is the spin and then I do a few roll casts with the fly rod. The width of this water varies from 15 to 20 feet wide and even my sloppy flip casts are adequate. No takers so I move on. Walking the next two miles my eyes scan the water but do not spot a single fish. This allows a small veil of pessimism to wash over my fishing outlook for the day and expectations. Undaunted however I continue forward.
Hoof past the bait and take area and then the no fish section. Sweat is beating down into my eyes and I am doing my best to ventilate. After a while I simply put my head down and beat feet up the trail.
Eventually I get to a small section that is often passed by. It sits in front of a few rollovers and large pools making it less obvious. A cast gets a look and a follow. Cast back to the spot and miss a hit and run bite on the fly. For no good reason I usually miss the first bite on the fly rod. A few moments pass, cast, flip. Move up slightly and cast again. Just when I am ready to leave the spot a small but sturdy brown hits.
Each casting spot is typically guarded by a small cliff dive in this canyon. Caution and sure footedness is required going to the water in most areas. One slip of the foot will coast some lost skin, scratched gear or worse. I usually have a few close calls and the occasional digger no matter what I do out here. Rattlesnakes are probably my biggest concern. My best rattler photo comes from this canyon stretch by the way.
Probably could have done a better job with the quick pic and go on the shot above. This year I am minimizing the photo time drastically and most of the fish on this trip were not photographed at all. Even when you let the fish go quickly, trout still have to deal with the affects of handling. When water temperatures warm in summer it magnifies the problem.
Moving down to the next casting spot requires a three-point crawl. This would be a perfect place to find a snake by accident. The water is fairly wide and deep for this stretch. Throw a few spin casts and get another brown trout. Only one fish at this spot so after several more casts to make sure, the arduous hike back out begins. Lose a foothold on a dirt-covered rock and I end up doing a small tumble with the gear. That is what I get for trying too hard and not focusing enough on where I put my feet. This is often the doom of an angler on a canyon fish scene. Canyon crawls always have to be made with patience and sure-footedness. Dusting myself off and starting back up the hill a small reminder note on this topic is made. Knees and ankles get a quick quality check once back on the trail and I move on carrying a few new scratches.
Reaching on of the sweet spots I see a number of fresh footprints, pick up some spent line and make a few spin casts. Miss a decent strike. Work the fly rod and even make a few long casts in the wider stretch. Realizing the pool has been seriously worked already today I move on.
By now I am hours and miles into the day. The sun has all but vanished behind the smoky haze and tall mountain ridges. The bottom of my feet started to ache and my leg muscles were burning. Actually they had started burning several miles ago but my brain refused to listen.
“Got to get to the top of the stretch and fish back before it’s too late…oh wait. That is a good spot right there.”
After a few fish I face another climb out situation. Reach the trail and swear to myself that there will be no more fishing until I reach the end of the line. As soon as my mind is made my legs dig in for the hard push up the last mile. But I turn the bend and start making my way down the cliff to fish yet another spot of water. On the way down I notice a cormorant sunning itself on a large rock. It flies away as my foot kicks a small boulder down the cliff by accident with the rest of me nearly tumbling right behind. This is due to fatigue and my legs are not sure if they want to keep going at this point. Work a few casts and pull in another standard Canyon Brown but this one has a small bite taken out just above the tail. Looks like a near miss from that black fish eating bird.
Crawl out practically on my hands and knees. Daylight is fading and I start to curse myself for not sticking to the plan. With the orange sunset closing in I have no choice but to skip the next three spots in order to reach the top. Finally get there and do a time-check. It is far later than expected and now minutes become very precious. The cliff dives are long and the water is deep. I work the area with both presentations. I catch a few smaller fish with the ant and then lose a really decent fish on the spin. The fish was a rainbow trout that leaped nearly two feet out of the water when hooked. In the air the fish spit the hook, laughed at me and then dove back into the drink. Do another time-check and realize I am simply pushing my luck at this point.
“Didn’t stick to the plan. Now we have to leave water behind.” I mumble in exhausted frustration.
Starting the long downhill climb I estimate the trip to take a little over an hour. Hmmm, seven miles in one hour. Clearly I would need to jog or actually do some match to correct my poor estimation. Regardless I reach the bridge, do a time-check as fear sets in.
“You are not going to make it. Parking lot is closed before sunset.”
Envisioning the gatekeeper locking my truck in the parking lot and me arriving too late my pace quickens to more or less a “speed-walk”…for the next six miles.
Legs cramping, no water reserves, I pushed on through the sunset and reached the parking lot as darkness closed in. The gatekeeper arrives as I am loading my gear. Thankfully he sees me and waits as I pull out. Three vehicles get the lock down for the night.
The best success of the day was found at secondary locations that most overlook. In a long stretch of small pools it is hard to know which areas will produce and the ones that will not. However knowing the fact that a lot of anglers “cherry-pick” the best looking spots I make sure to hit the secondary ones with as much fervor as the rest, if not more so.
Disclaimer: This trip was taken early July. It takes me some time to put these longer posts together and it somehow kept getting pushed back further and further. If you recognize the location and have the energy, fish it for all you are worth. If you blab this spot up this year you will destroy it. Trout water is at a premium right now and regulated flows may be our only chance when it comes to a fall trout situation. Keep it secret, keep it safe…just fish!
My name is Matt and I am a fishaholic. If I am not fishing I am thinking about fishing.