#46: Colorado: The Last (Highest) Trout of the Trip
Early on our first morning in Colorado we stopped by a fly shop and asked for some advice on catching the Greenback Cutthroat. We were told to try the Alluvial fan, a waterfall formation in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the river above it. We headed straight there and found that the park was implementing a schedule system, where your entry ticket had to have a timestamp in order to enter between 9am and 3pm. Disappointed, we headed back to the nearby town of Estes Park to kill time and get some more advice until we were allowed into the park. We tried a couple fly shops in the town, and got the same spot recommendation from all of them, which was a promising sign. However, the snowmelt situation was unknown, and when we finally headed into the park we were hoping it wouldn’t be too bad. We were wrong. The river was roaring, overflowing its banks, and was very hard to navigate and fish. We tried following the river up on Google maps, and found that it originated in a lake six miles up the trail. The sun was already setting, due to our limited time in the park, so we decided to call it a day and wake up early the next morning to try our luck at the lake, hoping the still water upstream would be melted enough to fish.
We got to the trailhead early and Daniel and I faced a situation we hadn't encountered before. I was reading a regulation signpost while Daniel took a leak, and in our miscommunication, Daniel thought I had gone up the trail, and so headed up at speed to catch me. I waited for him, and couldn’t find him, so eventually assumed he had gone up. We had no cell service, so each of us booked it up the steep 6 mile hike, gaining 2500 feet to an altitude of 11,000 feet, each thinking we were each chasing the other. About halfway up the snow returned, and we had to push through several few feet deep of slushy snow to reach the lake. Amazingly, we arrived only five minutes apart, and to our utter dismay almost the entire lake was frozen over with several feet of ice.
There was a fishable opening at the side of the lake that the river exited, and it was filled by several creeks on the other side, where a large area was unfrozen. Not wanting to waste the time spent on the hike, and not quite sure what else to try, we decided to give it a shot. Daniel fished the near side, and I started walking around the edge to get to the open pocket of water. I passed by a small feeder creek where a tiny area had unfrozen, and to my shock I saw several decently sized Cutthroats swimming around. I ran back to tell Daniel, and he told me he had seen a few fish peek out from under the ice too. Encouraged, as it was only around lunchtime and we still had several hours of good sunlight left, we kept on fishing.
However, it seemed after a few hours that even though the fish might be there, they were not biting. We couldn’t figure out how to entice them. I resorted to throwing long casts into the side of the lake that was fed by the creek. I was standing ankle deep in the freezing water in just my Crocs, wondering if my feet were still there, and I saw a beautiful trout cruising by only about ten feet away. I quickly stripped my line in and threw out a cast in front of him, hoping not to spook the fish. I saw him swim towards it and then abruptly turn away. I was devastated, until I realized that I could no longer see my fly, and that he had actually picked it up and started swimming away with it. I set the hook and held my breath until I had him in the net. He was one of the most beautiful fish I caught all trip, I was ecstatic!
I called Daniel over, got some quick pictures, and headed off to let Daniel fish that spot while I headed back to the other pool to see if it had picked up at all. Not too long after, I heard Daniel yelling from the far side, and I ran over to him holding up his net with another stunning trout inside. We headed the 6 cold miles back to the car, tired but ecstatic that we had caught the last and possibly most difficult Cutthroat trout on our list.
That night we drove east, stopping midway through Kansas on our way to another attempt at the Arkansas alligator gar.