July 20, 2012
Here’s the setting…
I’m up in the mountains of southern Colorado with my cousin Jake and my aunt and uncle. There is a main river that runs strong through this country and is home to a variety of trout. In the lower meadows are some large, slender, and powerful brown trout…they’re rare to catch but rewarding when you do. Below the reservoir spillway lie more big browns that streamline their powerful bodies through the fierce current. See picture below for a mighty brown caught in this stretch of the stream, somewhere in the range of 17” long.
This stretch of river is also home to rainbow trout, brook trout, and splakes (which this is the only place I have ever caught them). Splakes are a cross-breed between lake trout and brook trout and they are long slender versions of brook trout with sharp teeth but not as colorful as brookies. These fish are also found right below the spillway where the water blasts out of the reservoir with destructive force. You can throw a 50 pound boulder into the spout and the force of water will project the boulder 20 feet! Surprisingly, below the fierce turbulence, the trout lie in wait of flies and ready to pounce! Above the reservoir it is a wild, undisturbed river. The river is roughly the same size as below but at the upper reaches, there are 2-3 small tributaries that converge together forming the main river. This was the territory that Jake and I chose for this long day of fishing…
Jake and I packed some PB&J sandwiches, granola bars, Hot Tamales, and some water bottles for the long day of fishing…Hot Tamales candy chews, by the way, are a great pick me up when you need a little spicy spark during a long day of fishing. The food we brought was essential for mid-day nourishment but to tell you the truth, I don’t get that hungry when my mind is on fishing, but I will devour some supper when I get back to the tent/cabin. Now, these streams are pretty, pure, and clear but they are small, only a few few feet wide at some points. We chose the small stream to the left to start off and blazed forward on the trail. The sun was blaring and we both protected our necks with bandanas from the high altitude sun. The trail along the stream was immersed in forest and would converge with the stream occasionally. Jake caught a small brown trout but one of the most colorful I have ever seen with deep red dots on its side. You could tell that this brown trout was the offspring of multiple generations of wild browns. Upstream a mile or so, the stream was in a more open meadow, which is nice to have more room for casts. Jake and I found a small pool loaded with small brook trout. This was a chance to put the Olympus TG-320 waterproof camera to the test.
The water was exceptionally clear and we were able to capture a vivid underwater view as a result. We also took a video where I positioned just below the pool, hiding behind the rocks where the water spills over, and Jake casted with a dry fly into the pool. You can see in the video that the trout eventually takes notice of the fly and careens to the surface and then the frenzy began! Check it out!
We did this numerous times. After some fun at this pool, we decided to head back to the convergence. After we made it back to the convergence, we decided to try out the right tributary to finish off the day since it was afternoon. This stream was out in the open with little tree cover and meandered through a meadow. We each caught a few brookies and I was fishing upstream of Jake when I came across this hole. See picture below.
Just as I came to this hole a green drake fly landed on my shoulder. Now, in the sport of fly fishing it is always ideal to “match the hatch”. Usually, there are always caddis flies hovering over the water and that fly is a sure shot to use. The Parachute Adams and Royal Wulff are also sure shots because they are general mayfly imitations so the odds are in your favor that you are matching a hatch relatively closely. But in this instance, a green drake landed on my shoulder and I just happened to have a fly pattern that looked almost exactly like this fly, not just a vague resemblance. See below for the comparison of a real green drake fly and a green drake fly pattern.
I quickly switched over to my green drake size 14 fly and was ready to fish this little pool (I just knew there was something special lurking within). I casted upstream of the pool and let it drift downstream with the current…no avail. I casted a second time and wham!…I saw a surprisingly stout trout pounce on the fly and just moments later I noticed reddish-orange flash and knew instantly that this was a cutthroat trout (cuttie), maybe the most colorful and vibrant I have ever hooked. This stream was very small so the trout’s instinctive reaction was to dive-bomb for the undercut bank and take shelter in the roots from the shrubs above. I was thinking “man, I might lose this fish!” but I knew it was still hooked because I could feel the occasional pull on the rod tip. I yelled “Jake! Come up here…if you can!” The fish was still tangled up in the root system so I did what any avid fly fisherman would do in this situation…I reached underneath full arm length to untangled my prized fish (see my damp left shirt sleeve). After some careful rearranging of roots and leader line, the fish was free and out in the open again. It wasn’t long and I pulled my rod tip back and had this beauty in my hands. By that time Jake had made his way upstream and was able to snap a picture when I handed him my camera.
We were both impressed by the stellar markings of this rare fish and how vibrant it was. This is a Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the native cutthroat subspecies that inhabits this drainage system we were in.
These days, it is a real treat to catch a cutthroat trout and in streams like this, the catch is unexpected when you’re catching so many brook trout and brown trout. You see, both of the latter trout species (as well as rainbow trout) have played a detriment to the populations of cutthroat trout. It is important to protect the native trout species of our streams, the fish that God originally placed there in his brilliant design. These native cutthroat trout have been diminished to the upper reaches of streams and high alpine lakes, usually small in nature and protected by natural or man-made barriers (such as waterfalls, culverts, and the like). It is these barriers along with conservation management practices that keep these beautiful fish in the numbers that they currently possess. Nonetheless, this was a great day of fishing. The fish were relatively small but they were colorful, wild, and very opportunistic. The day came into fruition with a brilliantly colored and wild Rio Grande cutthroat trout that still intrigues my mind to this day.