Saturday we woke up bright and early to make the 2 hour drive west through the Park and over the Continental Divide on Trail Ridge Rd. to meet up with our guide-friend Greg for a float on the Upper Colorado. The drive was absolutely stunning and leaving at twilight meant there were no other cars on the road (people start their days much later in Colorado than in Louisiana), so we had the road all to ourselves. Everywhere you looked was a breathtaking view, especially once we got above the treeline. As we approached Milner Pass we stopped to take pictures of a bull elk feeding right on the side of the road. We rolled down the window and Blake yells “Hey elk!” and almost on queue the elk struck a pose for us as we snapped a quick pic, then we were on our way. As we winded our way down the mountains and into the valley that holds the Colorado River headwaters we spotted a couple of animals we had yet to see, moose. They looked to be calves, we stopped and grabbed a quick pic of them as well. First time I’ve ever seen moose in the wild. The drive continued past Lake Grandby and followed the Colorado River until we hit our destination.
We were meeting up with our friend Greg, who would be taking us down the Colorado on his Down River raft. The plan was to float a section of the river that permitted a lot of wade fishing as well. We were in no hurry and the weather was too beautiful to just bust ass down river, plus Greg knew some good spots to wade fish. He showed us what we should be throwing and we rigged up our rods to match. Almost immediately after taking off from the ramp Blake hooks up with a fish.
I was off to a slow start at the back of the boat while Blake proceeded to catch a few fish. I caught a small brown to get the skunk off, then another that was a little bigger while wading. Blake was on a roll and caught a nice brown while he was wading.
We got back in the boat and kept heading downstream, it wasn’t long before we’d get out and wade again, but that also meant it wasn’t long before Blake would be hooked up again at the front of the boat. As for me, I was a mess in the back of the boat. I couldn’t put a proper hookset on a fish to save my life. It was only my 2nd time fishing for trout from a boat and it showed. Blake was making it look easy. I was having an easier time when I was wading. I picked up a couple rainbows at the next stop. Greg took off upstream and really showed us how it’s done, which was good, because I could just watch him and emulate. I could tell I had to work on my line control, make shorter drifts, and just be quicker on the set.
It was neat to see all the trains pass as we made our way down river, I couldn’t help but think of what an awesome train ride that must be following along the Colorado River, through multiple canyons across the Colorado countryside. We had been having a great day so far, Blake had a few nice browns and lots of other decent ones, while I caught a few decent fish, but many on the smaller side, which I’m convinced is harder to do, since their mouths are smaller. Anyway, by this time I was on the front of the boat and my luck still hadn’t changed. When I wasn’t all tangled up, I was missing hooksets, or catching dinks.
As we were approaching a set of rapids, Greg is telling us to get ready to cast at one side because fish will be holding there, but before we get there we needed to hit the holding water immediately above the rapid on each side. Naturally I’m casting left and Blake, in the rear, is casting right. As I go into my backcast his forward cast rolls through and we get tangled. I just remember thinking, “Ugh, are you kidding me?!” Luckily it wasn’t too bad and I was able to untangle us before we completely made it through the rapid. On my second cast in the rapid I get hooked up with my best fish of the day, then shortly after Blake sticks one as well, so we’re both hooked up riding through the rapid. Greg tells Blake to ride it out with the fish on as I net my fish. Well around that time, a rock comes out of nowhere and knocks the rear of the raft to one side. All I see is Blake’s body go flying toward the side of the boat, right arm high trying to keep rod up, left arm reaching out for something to grab on. Unfortunately he grabbed on to the swivel seat he was sitting on and he slipped right out the boat. So he goes in the water, but luckily is able to get his feet under himself and recover his footing, while somehow still maintaining contact with the raft. The line isn’t taught, but as he reels it in he still has the fish on. Through this whole process I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to do, but the first thought in my mind wasn’t “Are you alright?”, rather it was “Keep that rod tip up”. I know, what kind of a friend does that make me? He was alright after all and jumped back in the boat and we were able to net the fish with mine. Turns out his was bigger than mine too, go figure. It was a moment of utter chaos and one that we laughed a good bit about. It was really no fault of Greg’s that Blake was jettisoned, we were all paying attention to the the double hook up and no one saw the rock. I have no idea how we were able to land those two fish and not lose anything either.
We had to re-rig after the incident, once we netted both those fish we were all tangled up. After that we got out and did some wading and proceeded to stick some more fish. I managed to blow it on my last good chance of the day when I made a cast behind a rock and watched as a brown launched himself out of the water for my fly, full body exposed. I fought him for a few seconds, before he took my fly with him. He would have been my nicest on the day, maybe even the biggest of the trip, but it wasn’t in the cards. Really I’m just thankful I got to experience the thrill of watching him eat, it was incredible.
We popped open a couple beers and relaxed for the rest of the float, recapped the day’s events and watched a bald eagle soar through the air. It was really a great trip, one that will surely stick with me for awhile. Fishing with Greg was a lot of fun, he’s got that water dialed in, I learned a good bit from him and we came away with some quality fish stories. I felt like I was a better fisherman at the end of the day than I was at the start.
On the drive back we stopped at Milner Pass, I had to get the picture of the Divide sign, I missed it on the way there, and take a few more pictures of the mountains. We happened to make the drive on Trail Ridge for both sunrise and sunset. There were far more people on the road in the evening than in the morning. Greg gave us a tip on a place to eat in Estes after we dogged the Estes Park Brewery (good beer, below average food). It was Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ, and it was delicious, so Greg was hitting on all cylinders on Saturday. Especially considering he clued us in on where we needed to fish in the Park on Sunday.