April 17th 2014 might mark the best trip of my career....
No fish to the net (actually broke my net about 30 minutes into the day!), lost about 200 bugs (about 8 to HUGE trout!), and I'm sore as a clumsy rodeo clown today...but still, best day in as long as I can remember!
Fished with Jeff today. We've been hanging out in the shop for several months, I suspected he was a strong angler (he IS!), and he asked if he could hire me for a day in Cheesman Canyon. Cheesman is my favorite place on the Front Range. Big fish, super technical, short hike to get in which helps relieve pressure, and a canyon that Monet himself could not have painted better.
Jeff stopped in last week and I proposed we fish the entire canyon (something I have never done! total guide suicide!). Leave a truck in the lower parking lot, shuttle a truck to the top, hike in, fish our way to the bottom, hike out, shuttle to the upper vehicle, and wha'la!
Some of my friends warned me that the hike in from the top is brutal and my dreams of fishing all 3.5 miles was bordering on crazy. But Jeff is young, strong, and down for an adventure. No matter how little I currently exercise, I seem to forget that I'm in horrible shape when I have an adventure in front of me.
The sun was rising as we were heading north on Hwy 67. There was loads of snow up to and through Woodland Park. I forgot trecking poles and was worried about this hike in deep snow. Got to the parking lot around 7:15AM, Jeff loaded his stuff in my truck, I put a cooler with a couple cold beers in his truck, a short drive and a couple Ryan Bingham songs later, and we were wadering up at the upper parking lot! Loaded up the pack with about 20 lbs of gear, and food, and we were off! Thankfully there was way less snow in this area than Woodland. The sky was Bronco orange and blue, the trail was crusty with a dusting of snow, and I again wondered at my great fortune! The trail in was pretty tough. Definitely harder than the low trail. I think Jeff could have done it on his hands...but I was winded and thankful for many vistas where I was presented an excuse to stop and take some pictures. The descent into the canyon is steep and would be an unhappy slog out. The river below was as beautiful as anything I have ever seen! There simply are not enough adjectives. The boimass is unlike anything I had ever seen! It was a baetis factory...loads and loads of beatis and some of the biggest stoneflys I've ever seen!
Insanely hard to fish, deep holes, gin clear water, and class 5 rapids at the tail of every pool. 20" - 30" fish stacked in every hole, run, riffle and each one as spooky as a brook trout in 3" of water in RMNP. IMPOSSIBLE fishing...and that's what makes it the very best kind!!! I knew if we caught a fish, a 2 second fight would be about as long as we could expect...but we had to do it. Jeff insisted I fish (which I generally don't do) and I was happy for the chance to even move one of these beautiful creatures. We slowly worked about a mile of river. Slowly being the operative word. Suddenly it's 1:30, we have not had a sip of water, a bite of food, and were less than a quarter of the way! Jeff suddenly remembers that he left the keys to his truck in my truck! Two options, fish the upper half, hike back out of that brutal trail, or fish down hope against hope we run into another angler (which was not extremely likely given the storm the night before), and hitch a ride back up to my truck in the upper lot. And if no ride was available, that ride that took a couple Ryan Bingham songs to drive would have taken a couple hours to walk! Worse than anything, we could not access the cold beer in the lower lot! We chose to fish the entire canyon (Jeff is NOT afraid!). Part of Jeff's gaol was to see the entire canyon.Time was passing at twice its normal pace! Jeff had hooked a couple, I had hooked a couple as well...and the sun was getting lower and lower, and we still were not half way and had not seen another angler! We rushed through a few runs that we were way more likely to hook and land fish in but we spent so much time on the big fish higher up that we didn't have time to really work these pieces of water. Steve had suggested a run that can be great fishing, We decided to reel up and make it to that spot...3rd cast over beautiful trout...FISH ON! Jeff picked up the trouts cheek and the indicator never flinched! Perfect hook set, great timing, and a beautiful Rainbow at the end of his line. Only problem, he was at the tail of the run and there were big, fast rapids 20' below him. A valiant effort and a minute later the trout found the fast water, and we were left cackling on the bank!
I was struggling between wanting to get Jeff onto fish and wanting to sprint down canyon to try to ensure we'd be out before sunset and have a possibility of a ride. We walked past some criminally good water and randomly wet a line until we got to the half way point (which was the highest I had been before today. The sun was low, it was getting chilly in the shade, and we still hadn't seen another soul. Passed more amazing water and all I could do was point out fish, explain good strategies for fishing that run, and walk on to the next.
We finally saw one angler at Cow's Crossing! Jeff worked a couple runs and I stayed high to both sight fish and make sure that angler didn't sneak by us and resign us to a horrible end to a great day. The conditions were perfect for a BWO hatch, but we never saw any noses. We spent the last hour looking for rising fish...and told stories on the hike out. The good thing about Cheesman is that there are so many opportunities to stare down into the river and sight fish that an out of shape guy like myself has plenty of excuses to catch his breath.
Top of the trail we met some really cool young hikers from Chicago, asked if they'd shuttle us, (they agreed) and suddenly that fear I'd been hiking with since 1:30 vanished!
Was there a beer as we watched the sky light up at sunset? Uh....YEAH! Understand, I'm a classy guy so the choices were Hamms or PBR. Jeff had never had a Hamms, and as I described earlier, the dude is not afraid! Nice long pull, swallow, proper contemplation, and he remarked "Man, this tastes like college". Nothing could have summed up this day better than that statement!
(his 2nd beer was a PBR)