Wednesday, July 6, 2011

High Water? High Country...

I've nurtured an odd theory over the years that virtually always pays off, especially in years like this one, when high water threatens not just to extend into summer, but to claim summer itself.

Fly fishing during runoff is often futile, especially on big water, one of the final destinations of the earth-stained snowmelt that mere hours earlier was frozen white against a rocky slope. But get above it–or at least some of it–and the fishing gets notably better. As I said, it's a mere theory. I can't prove it, but I'm gathering anecdotal evidence.

A couple of weeks ago, on the longest day of the year, I found myself high in Colorado's San Juan Mountains, near the headwaters of the Dolores River. A string of beaver ponds and a swift, but clear mountain stream stretched out before me, marking not the beginning, but a beginning, of the storied western river. Here, in this little meadow, I knew I was high enough to get above the worst of summer's runoff and timely enough to stretch a tenkara rod over likely pools and possibly yank a few brook trout from the depths.

It was my first western brook trout effort of the year (I did manage to turn a few fish on the Rapidan in early March, but brookies in the Rockies have to wait months longer before they see a fly cast by the likes of me), and I was itching for the tug of a feisty char at the end of a supple level line. I yearned to see the tenkara rod double over into the tell-tale horseshoe, bending, but not breaking, under the weight of an Eastern brook trout reared in Western water with an attitude to match the Rockies.

And, runoff be damned, I did.

Very respectable brookies fell victim to an Adams cast lightly over dark beaver ponds. In the deep holes of the creek, where it moved between still ponds, bigger fish rose to the fly and they, too, came to hand after putting a deep bend in the 12-foot rod borne of the Land of the Rising Sun but put to work on exotic char deep inside cutthroat country.

Say what you will about brookies and their diminutive size. Say what you will about their attempt to take over Western water from native trout. There's no arguing the fire that burns in their bellies, the life force that, with a little willingness on the part of a wandering angler, can prove contagious.

On the longest day of the year, I'm pleased to say I spent the twilight hours chasing brookies in high water, gazing across high country.


  1. You have captured some of the wonders of fishing for this beautiful wild jewel.


  2. Nicely done. Brookies attacking a dry fly is a great way to spend a summer day.


  3. A great angling outing is not made by catching the largest or most fish. It's made when you have a time as you did. To overcome less than ideal conditions (high runoff) and find a little spot to pluck a few jewels from the water and enjoy yourself is what a good trip is all about. Congrats to you.

  4. Great Pics of both the area and the trout. Those brookies are beautiful. Always glad to hear about a Brookie catching adventure in the high country. Good Stuff. Tight Lines.

  5. Beautifully written. I especially like the comment... "bending, but not breaking, under the weight of an Eastern brook trout reared in Western water with an attitude to match the Rockies."

    Look forward to sharing some stories with you in the a couple weeks!

  6. You have captured it perfectly! Beautifully post!!!!

  7. Well put...describes perfectly why Colorado is my home.