Best of On the Fly 2005 |

Best of On the Fly 2005

Janet Urquhart
The Colorado Division of Wildlife plans to divert water later this summer from the lower reaches of Cunningham Creek, a tributary of the Fryingpan River, in an effort to keep Browns and other non-native species from encroaching further upstream into the habitat of the native Colorado cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Colorodo Division of Wildlife.

Fly-fishing is considered the purist’s form of angling, which is to say, it’s superior to any other means of catching trout (or other fish, I suppose). Needless to say, the anglers who recognize this truism are fly fishermen (and women). I should know. I’m one of them.I’ll confess, though, that I have been known to use a spincast rod and reel, though rarely for trout and not in a very long time. I learned to fish on the classic Zebco setup for kids – a rod about 5 feet long and a little reel with a button you push down as you cast to let the line out. I caught my first trout on one.Nowadays, when I encounter an adult with a spinning rod in hand, I sniff with inward disdain and, when I’m out of earshot, mutter condescendingly about the chump with the kiddie gear. I hope fervently that I will haul in the rising trout with my artfully placed fly while the loser slaps the water with a spinning lure and futilely retrieves it, time and time again.This has actually happened, and it’s as satisfying as it sounds.On the other hand, sometimes the unthinkable occurs.Sadly, this was the case when I recently hiked to a legendary mountain lake with my fly rod confidently stowed in my pack. I’d heard there were some monster trout there, and I planned to hook at least one of them.It was a perfect early fall day and only one other angler was there when I arrived. A spincaster. Sneer.I did indeed see a few standard-size fish cruise past me in the shallows, but none of them would do more than casually glance at what I was offering. Talk about sniffing with disdain.Suddenly there was a great commotion where the guy with the spinning rod was zinging some clunky artificial bait into the water. There was a lot of splashing and a lengthy struggle before he finally hauled the leviathan into a landing net. I couldn’t watch anymore. Until he did it again. And again.Eventually, others arrived at the lake; they, too, fly-fished to no avail. I moved to a new spot, where I indeed spied the biggest trout I’ve ever seen in a mountain lake. Looking at them from the shore was as close as I got, though.At least I didn’t resort to a spinning rod. At least, that’s what I told myself.This article was originally published on Oct. 4, 2005.

Fish tales are about as old as the pursuit of fishing itself, dating at least as far back as biblical times, when Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a great fish.I’ve told a few whoppers myself, but last weekend I added a strange-but-true tale to my repertoire that even I can scarcely believe.Fly rod in hand, I hiked up a small stream in the Fryingpan Valley with a couple of friends – sort of a hiking/angling reconnaissance mission. We weren’t sure what we’d find, but two of us brought along the essentials to cast for trout, just in case things looked promising.I figured the stream was good for some scrappy brook trout if nothing else, so I cast a pale morning dun into one small hole, where a riffle deepened into a pool behind a half-submerged log. A trout rose to strike and snapped the fly right off my line.Kiss that two bucks goodbye.Without an identical fly in my possession, I began casting an assortment of patterns, intent on catching this little bugger. I was quickly convinced this was no brook trout – they’ll take pretty much anything and this fish either warily eyed each new fly or ignored it outright. Picky like a rainbow, or maybe a cutthroat.I finally borrowed a little parachute blue wing olive from my angling companion, as it somewhat resembled the fly that first enticed the fish. Sure enough, he went for it. I missed and the weightless line snapped back toward me.We decided to move on and I reeled in my line. When the blue wing olive at the end of the leader reached my hand, I discovered the fly I’d lost many casts earlier hooked to it.That fish spit my pale morning dun back at me. I suppose I should be grateful.It was the talk of camp later that night.We moved on and caught an obscene number of what appeared to this nonichthyologist to be some species of native cutthroat. They were unlike any trout I’d seen before.I could tell you where, but then I’d have to kill you.This article was originally published on Aug.10, 2005.

If it weren’t for the browns, the Roaring Fork would give me the blues.When the caddis flies started fluttering from the shrubbery, a friend of mine started leaving me phone messages at the office: “The caddis are on, get down to the river.” Several days later, I finally managed to eke out a few hours and heed her advice.It was a hot afternoon and the caddis – those small, moth-looking insects you might notice bopping around the water in their adult stage – were indeed dancing about in the sunlight and occasionally flailing in the water. I tied on a trusty elk hair caddis and proceeded to entice absolutely nothing from several promising holes. Darting hummingbirds stopped to watch my endeavors, then dashed off to more interesting pursuits.As usual, the finicky rainbows weren’t giving me the time of day. I see them sometimes, their iridescent violet stripe waving ever so slightly as they hover above the sand and river rock, watching for something that’s not on the end of my line to pass by. On a perfect afternoon, I was bracing to get skunked.Then I gently set the imitation fly in the deep shadow of a boulder and wham, a brown trout was hooked. Rainbows have the vaunted reputation for drama – they’re the showy escape artists that leap from the water and dance on their tails – but this brown jumped four times before I had him in the net. He dashed off as soon as I slipped the barbless hook from his lip.Shortly thereafter, I landed another brown, and then a third.But it was an evening on the river nearly a week later that really made my day, and maybe my summer. The last rays of sunlight cast the landscape in gold and orange. Swallows swooped across the water, feasting on swarms of tiny bugs. Gluttonous trout were slurping the surface.I tied on a small pale morning dun and cast it wherever I saw repeated ripples on the water. Gracious, scrappy browns rewarded my efforts, tugging with surprising force whenever I managed to react quickly to their lightning strikes.I headed home as darkness fell, skunkless and thankful for the browns.This article was originally published on July 17, 2005.