Things to do around Denver
The story of two Danes that took on the challenge of GFF partner Steve Schweitzer's home waters in Colorado. Browns, brookies, rainbows and even salmon fell for their flies during their two weeks September stay.
By Kasper Muhlbach (additions by Martin Joergensen)
In April 2002 I had the pleasure of fishing for sea trout with Steve Schweitzer (one of the guys behind this website) on a trip to a small Danish Island called Bornholm.
September 2002, I had the opportunity to see what Colorado was - in addition to being a rectangle on a map - and Steve invited my good friend Martin Jorgensen and myself to stay in his house, scare his neighbours, yell at his dog and throw his flies in to his home waters.
This is the story about that trip.
Luggage but no passenger
Martin's wife Birgitte drove Martin and me to Kastrup Airport (Copenhagen) where our plane was scheduled to leave on time.
Unfortunately someone succeeded in getting his luggage checked in and then get lost. We had a very patient staff that day, and they called for the guy for a couple of hours. Then they emptied the luggage room, found his suitcases, got everyone else's luggage back on the plane, I suppose, and four hours later we were finally ready for take off and did not have to worry about terrorists.
Welcome to United States of America
Our flight schedule said that we had 4 hours and 15 minutes in New York before the plane was leaving for Denver. But with the delayed takeoff in Kastrup we would have 15 minutes to get out, check out, check in, visit the toilet, check out American girls and buy gin, chocolate and shaving foam.
This was just about to cause me a minor coronary thrombosis. Martin tried to make me feel better by saying that he always got stopped it the migrations entry, the customs or where ever an authority was present.
I looked at him trying to figure out why he was looking so suspicious but could not. Martin grabbed a luggage cart and we beat the professional trunk casters, usually seen in airport areas to the migration center.
We got there fairly quickly and Martin - with the luggage wagon - stepped forward and talked with a migration officer. Two minutes later it was my turn.
- How are you?
- What's your business in USA?
- When are you leaving?
Plenty of questions hit me and I tried to sound convincing when I answered him using my best British.
- Have you been here before?
- NO! I replied.
He looked at me for the first time. He did not exactly have that warm, welcoming look in his eyes.
- What did you do last time you were here?
- Eeerhmm… suddenly I knew what he was referring to. Of course…
- eh…last time was when I landed in Hawaii on my way back from New Zealand/Fiji - yes, and I landed in L.A. on my way to New Zealand. That was I 1995. I didn't get out f the plane though - well I did on Hawaii, but only in the "Checked I Area". God the sodas were expensive
He fetched and gave me my papers back.
- Welcome to United States
Last call for flight to Denver
Three minutes later we were in a new line. Behind a desk another enormous man was sitting, checking travellers' passports. Time was running, and we were a bit in a hurry. So Martin got through fairly quick. Right, I thought, we may still manage to catch the scheduled plane for Denver.
As the passport controller looked up to follow my direction of pointing Martin, turned around the corner, and I pointed in to empty air. The big man looked at me, handed over my passport, shook his head, and I started race walking at a speed which would have given me silver at next OL.
My turn. I gave the guy my passport. He looked at it, looked at me, and then said
- You are travelling light?!
- Yes (you are by nature obliging), eh, no, my friend has got all my luggage, I said, and pointed at Martin, who was jogging down the corridor, pushing the luggage cart in front of him.
We ran through one corridor after another. We were in the right area, Domestic. Phew! "We hardly didn't notice the speaker saying something like
- Mr. Jorgensen and Mr. Muhlbach, this is last call for Flight 3935 to Denver!
I don't remember whether we were seated before we rolled to wards the starting lane.
The Schweitzer Inn
Four hours later a smiling Mr. Schweitzer sat in the lounge waiting for us. It was good to see his grin again. We grabbed our bags, rods and daypacks and headed through one area with look-all-the-same after another.
I started thinking a bit about how we would manage to find our way back without getting lost, when we were on our own….
It was nice staying at the Schweitzer Inn. A cosy living room in too levels made the base for discussions, beer drinking and tying tiny flies. Guitars, sound equipment, skies and remote controls (lots!) made the picture complete.
I got a nice room on first floor right next to a bath room - which I entered and what was that? Americans obviously put Blue Curacao in the toilet! But it smelled a bit like Dr. Peppers/Root Beer. Hmmm…
Steve handed over a beer from a local brewery, put snacks on the table and unfolded a map full of orange markings indicating where we were going to fish the next ten days.
Finally we could relax a bit and we started getting a bit excited about what was to come.
CDC&Elk in the neck
Interim by Martin Joergensen|
- You hit me in the head!
- The hat?
- No! The head!
This conversation between Steve and myself took place on a small stream that we fished already the first day in Colorado. The stream is located quite close to Steve's home, and albeit it is not the greatest fishing in the state, it is still an excellent place to get the casting arm warmed up - not to say the hiking boots honed.
After a decent hike up along the stream we spent a couple of ours entertaining ourselves with the smallish trout in the warmish water. The sport was not overwhelming, but we had good fun.
As the sun set, we decided to head back, and slowly fished our way downstream while taking turns casting to occasional risers. It was on such an occasion I had an intimate and somewhat painful meeting with Hans Weilenmann's excellent CDC&Elk.
Steve was fishing and I was watching from the steep bank. Steve was casting to a fish and I spotted a rise in the opposite
- There Steve, to your left!
Steve changed casting direction in an instant, and I - not having thought of the consequenses of this change - felt his tippet pass my ear and leave with an audible snap!
The above short exchange of words now took place, and a short check with a finger confirmed my suspicion. A CDC&Elk in the neck! Well dug into what would appear to be skin worthy of an elephant.
I will not dwell long on the details, but trust me: I was happy it was barbless. Even without a barb it took some violent tugging with a set of forceps to get it out again!
The first jetlagged day we got our things unpacked and went to one of the local fly shops to get a license and extra fine, invisible tippet material and the impression of what a small local fly shop could offer. That was quite a bit, actually.
The next day with everything unpacked and packed again, getting more used to the dry air and new time zone, we headed out for one of the streams which flows though the prairie. After a short drive (3½ hours!) we were in the middle of something I would characterize as desert.
It was hot!
I thought about my lip balm and sun lotion, which was in my room in the house.
The sun was burning and I found it hard to believe that trout -- and nice ones too -- would be out feeding in the middle of the stream. Still having jetlag and the still having the thought, that if we have been driving for 3½ hour from Copenhagen, we would have been in an other country -- either in Germany or far up in Sweden -- I tied on a leader and a fine tippet (5X). A Brown Spinner, which is my favourite dry fly in my home waters, made the end point.
We walked half a mile upstream and passed 10-12 other fishermen, who obviously enjoyed stepping on each other's toes at the same time trying to avoid being caught by one another while casting.
We have not been looking over the surface for long when the first, second, third trout broke it and sipped off something. I later discovered that they were not sipping off anything, but they were told to act like they were -- the classic books about dry fly fishing say so.
After practicing our casting techniques for a few hours it was time for a lunch-break. In the coolers we had bread, ham, cheese, trail-rail-mix (which basically consists of peanuts, raisins and chocolate), and blue, blue energy-drink. We sat comfortable in Steve's folding chairs having some kind of a tail gate party.
Back to fishing. 10-20-30 casts, absolutely nothing happened. I tied on another fly. A fish went to the surface, but stopped just beneath the fly and then returned to where it came from.
I cast again and again, but nothing happened. A bit further upstream three trout started feeding. I changed the tippet to a 7X and tied on an Adams. The fish were like girls when you have had too many beers -- not interested.
I changed the fly every 5th cast. Then I found something very small -- a white discrete fly -- which was given the chance. Two casts later I landed my first American brown trout!
I cast until a greedy bush freed me from that fly -- about two casts later. Of course I only had that single one…
I now started fishing with a nymph and some nymph strike pudding as an indicator. The fish ignored the fly, but the pudding had great appeal. I am still wondering what they took it for.
The nymph turned out to be the right choice during the day, after all. We had great fishing to feeding fish, which we sneaked up on from behind and watched while they went for our nymphs. We ourselves were hoping that a buffalo would not sneak up on us.
We are not used to that type of exciting fishing in the Scandinavian waters, mainly because our waters are more or less tee colored.
This was fantastic!
In every hole and on very current seam fish were feeding or just communicating with each other. Even though we really were beginners we managed to catch a few.
Every cast was a peak of excitement as we could watch the trout go towards the surface and inspect our leader, pudding, nymph, fly or something real just next to the fly which, of course, looked more natural.
Sometimes we caught a fish, which had been caught before, and now had ugly scars from fights and hooks.
Catch and release with care and consideration. I can not see the point of releasing a fish which will become deformed or disabled.
No, Brookie! NO!
If the trout didn't like the fly, the best idea was to change immediately. I changed and false cast preparing for a superb presentation. Snapclap…!
The line shot gently and the leader landed where I wanted. The trout hardly looked at my fly. I lifted the line from surface - back cast and… snapclap!
A new cast rolled out. The trout was moving like a statuette. Time to check the fly - which wasn't there!
I tied on a new one, while I watched Martin with half an eye, Brookie - Steve's Border Collie - found it very entertaining to snap flies from the leaders in the back cast.
Martin cast and snapclap! With no problem at all, Brookie - the Famous Fly snapper - clipped the leader and got herself hooked in the ear. But the fun was obviously worth the pain.
- BROOKIE! BACK! SUT ELLER SMUT! FIS AF! GO SOMEWHERE ELSEEEE!
A mixture of English and Danish echoed over the prairie while we took turns in getting rid of her. Actually she was a nice well-behaved dog who just enjoyed going fishing, just as we do.
Extremely small or very big
In the late afternoon most people left the scene and we were the only actors left . We acted with the trout, spinners and coyotes. In Denmark we normally fish in the late hours, so we continued.
The wind calmed and the water smoothed and the fish obviously got wiser and wiser. The small flies were getting smaller and smaller in order to entice the trout active in the surface. In the end even the smallest ones did not work.
Martin introduced the obvious weapon: go big!
Using large caddis flies - EHC's and CDC&Elk's - fished downstream and even huge Woolly Buggers and green ostrich herl damsel nymphs fished in large down stream swings, he managed to hook a few fish.
Big trout slammed our flies, fought hard, broke our leaders (4-5X), splash, T-ZING, Splash, F***! I almost had it….
All that action the first day made me forget all about the fact that I had forgotten the sun lotion, but the back of my neck surely reminded me later that evening.
Some waters are not fished as hard as others. The Arkansas River, which flows mile after mile through Colorado, offers the opportunity to fish by yourself for very nice browns.
Not big, but beautiful and there are plenty of them. Many roads will get you there, but taking a bit of a detour through the Fremont Pass (watch out for avalanches) will take you through breathtaking views.
The aspens were getting a magic luminous yellow colour which faded to a more greenish tone the nearer the bottom of the valley you came.
Old cabins from when gold was an attractor were still on the hillsides. The aspens where looking like they were taken out of an ancient tale as they stood there side by side by side brightening up the mist.
Our good friend Sean, who joined us the last evening, Steve, Martin and I enjoyed this
One is better than twoOne day it rained heavily and the river turned into something that looked as it was out of environmental control. The visibility was about two inches (five centimetres), so we gave up fishing and headed downstream.
I experimented with different nymphs. In two different pools I started fishing with one or two nymphs and found out, that one nymph was much more effective in the low, fast water than the others. Later I found out that it had no effect which nymph I used as long as it drifted naturally, got down and was tied to a fine tippet.
Suddenly we noticed that the river cleared and became fishable. So it pays not to give up. If it is everything but clear at one place it might look totally different in another.
Even though the road follows the river, the traffic is not that annoying once you have started casting and are getting into presenting, hooking etc.
Watch out for the signs indicating whether the property is private or public -- and park and camp only where it is allowed and not difficult.
Arkansas is so called caddis water. And the EHC was very effective in the pools during hatches -- even though some were not caddis hatches. I liked that river, also because the fish seemed more willing to take and less 'educated'.
When I caught up with Martin, he told me to watch his new strike indicator. I must admit, it looked a bit used to me.
- That's because it's effective, Martin declared.
The Madame X size 8 with the longest, sexiest soft, rubber legs ever seen flew through the air and landed just a few feet from where the nymph hit the water. I followed the lady downstream. Nothing happened.
- Look!, Martin eagered.
Nothing happened. Maybe he did not drink for a long time, or something else was wrong. The set-up started turning to our side, and the Madame X streamed like it was a Madam XXX. SLIM SLAM SLUM! A nice trout went right at it and a dramatic fight started.
- That's number four, Martin smiled and I took out the camera.
The Frying Pan was different. The flowers stood in contrast to the glowing reddish rocks, which covers the sides of the valley and makes it look like a hot frying pan, if you see it from a birds view.
The road to the Frying Pan followed the river upstream and we passed a few interesting spots, marked "Private".
It reminded me of a sign in South Africa saying "Private Property - trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again!"
The River had clear water and it ran fast and challenging between holes, rocks, and roots. Plenty fishermen where chasing the trophy trout that gather in the tailwater below the dam. Here the fresh, cold water brings lots of small mysis and oxygen.
The big fish were not exactly easy. They had seen a fly or two during there lives. Everything had to be perfect.
The leader had to be smooth and without sharp bends.
The flies had to be presented with 101% accuracy and match the insects of which the trout were eating.
Even the small birds feeding on insects coming off the water were tricked more often than the trout.
Because they were so hard to catch we learned a lot about tippet, flies and presentation. That probably educated us to perform better in other places. Our techniques were fine-tuned - or that was at least what we made ourselves believe.
When we were not practising catching trout we practised catching each other or observed our friends Sean and Steve challenge the trouts and trick them on their flies.
Sean fought them like a pro using Steve's handmade tip action rod. It looked so easy. When we finally - after a few thousand casts - hooked and landed one, it was such a relief.
Casting to a fish a few dozen and then watch it take fly makes it quite frustrating to know that you ever so often strike too soon. But the number of fish and their level of activity never made us loose the confidence.
Jazz on the radio
One Scotch, one Bourbon and one beer… Martin had found a radio station on the car radio, where they played jazz and blues. Encouraged by music that we both enjoy, we drove through the mountains. Outside it was as dark as ever. In a guide book we had read that the Taylor and Gunnison river system should hold as huge rainbows as the Frying Pan, but they were not supposed to be fished as hard. But more exciting was a note in the book saying that the Kokanee Salmon was on its spawning run in late September.
Unfortunately many others had had the same fantastic idea. The small pool was fully occupied by some seven to eight fishers, who were having great success pulling one salmon after the other out of the water.
We walked downstream to see if we could find another pool where the salmon would rest. We saw several salmon making their way upstream, but we did not discover another resting pool.
The small salmon - a land locked pacific salmon - were not easy to spook. Sometimes they stopped just at your feet before they quickly continued upstream.
The fishermen occupying the pool did not know anything about rotating as we know it from Scandinavian salmon rivers like Morrum.
We are used to obeying the 'one cast - one step' rule, which leaves room for everybody.
But after an hour a guide finished his day by bringing his customers home, and offered us the very hot spot.
I did not cast four times before I had the first salmon.
My 3 weight rod - which was not build for this - was stressed and I saw my first salmon jump out of the water again and again and again before it headed downstream.
I could not hold it and decided to rock dance down the bank. I lifted my line over the head of three fishermen who smiled politely and I smiled back the best I could.
When I had disturbed them all a bit, I finally reached the end of the pool and was about to fight the salmon and prove to it, who was the one in charge, when it jumped two times and took a fast, solid run and -- tzyck! My leader broke.
I went upstream to my spot and tied on another Red Tag. In the second cast another salmon grabbed the fly. It was a red Jack, which jumped seven times before it decided to make the downstream run.
I followed it, and again I took the role of the disturbing element.
When we were almost at the end of the pool my leader broke again. I stomped upstream, added 3X tippet to my leader and was about to tie on a new Red Tag.
But my box was empty.
No more Red Tags.
I could feel my heart skip a beat.
I tied on a gold headed nymph, which was a result of experimenting with dubbing brushes. I added a foot of 3X tippet to the bend of the hook and tied on another weighted nymph, so they would really get down.
A few casts and a smaller greyish female salmon was hooked in the middle of the stream. It was hard work, but it gave me my first salmon.
Martin and I decided to introduce the Scandinavian one cast one step downstream rule to each other, so we changed place every 10 minutes, but we were never more than five meters from each other.
Martin and I had great fun catching about 30 salmon in two hours. Then fishing for salmon became boring, and we decided to drive upstream to see if we could find some big rainbows. We found the allright. Monsters! But they were not interested in dating. So after having driven through the mountains for hours on end, we headed back home to prepare for our next challenges: The Denver Tackle Dealer show and the Rocky Mountain Greenback Cutthroats.
Old friends and new tackle|
Every year in September, the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show will take place in Denver. As this was September and we were close to Denver, we had early on decided to attend. Being The Global FlyFisher we had registered as media, and as expected we were admitted with no hassle - and even equipped with badges labelling us as "Working media". No denying that!
The show was a great gathering of tackle and people. We bumped into numerous personal friends and acquaintances of the Global FlyFisher. It is hard to resist namedropping a few: Ole Bjerke (Partridge), Marc Petitjean (Swiss tyer and manufacturer of fly tying gadgets), Marvin Nolte (salmon fly tyer par excellence), AK Best (just fly tyer par excellence), Soren Glerup (Danish friend of Martin's visiting AK), André Fournier Bidoz (French maker of cones, beads and tubes for tube flies) plus a host of others that escape memory.
We talked to people at the different booths and were educated on new and proven products from 3M (Scientific Anglers, J.W.Outfitters), FishPond, Monic, Redington, Lamiglass plus numerous others displying interesting new gizmos and gadgets that no fly fisher can live without and materials that will turn any bland Woolly Bugger into a killer fly (which it incidentally already is...).
We thoroughly enjoyed the well set up show and made arrangements for testing many products in the future.
If attacked, fight Back!
We drove slowly through the foothills of the fabled Rocky Mountains. In Estes Park a statue of a proud giant elk testified that it in ancient times had been the trade mark, the darling of the town until it was shot by a hunter, who unwisely boasted about his trophy at the local bar.
We ate, drank and shopped a bit the very nice Estes Park and then drove on into the National Park. Elks and coyotes were roaming side by side and the mountain sides created the framework for a magnificent view.
But that was only the beginning. The view grew even better as we hiked up the very steep hills to get to a small lake holding the jewellery of trout, the spotted green back cutthroat.
I am glad I made it, but I am sure I never would if it wasn't for Steve's home made granola bars and encouraging calls from a small squirrel, which was very busy in gaining weight before the winter would set in - which it almost did the next day.
After two hours we were in front of a sign, which in a 10 step how-to guide described how we should deal with the company of bears. The 10th point said: If attacked, fight Back!
Photo-fishing the Jewellery of the RMNP
Trout were cruising around, but I rested for bit, before we started fishing.
The surroundings were breathtaking. And I did not really feel like I wanted to start fishing, but anyway.
We had not been fishing for long when the first trout hit the artificial ant, but I did not set the hook properly.
Another fish cruised towards me, and the ant flew out and landed on the surface. The trout saw it and sped up, went right for the ant and then -- after a short inspection -- returned to its cruising trail.
The fish were both selective and greedy. Some of them took the fly right away and others just checked whether it was looking OK, had the right size and whether the leader was straight and the knot invisible.
We had many fish that day. After 20 minutes I had five of the most beautiful greenbacks with red belly and bright colours.
I stopped fishing and went for a walk, hoping that would get me in better shape for the trip down, and it helped.
I was not as exhausted when I got to the car as when I got to the lake.
So there where plenty of opportunities to get a picture of one the most colourful trout -- and they got photographed, in the water, while they were about to take the fly, when they took the fly, and when they were landed. And they deserved it. Martin did so as well. Laying out the fly, waiting for a trout, holding the rod in one hand and the camera in the other. That was photo-fishing
Martin and Steve had about 25 trout each, so I really spoiled the statistics, which Steve didn't try to hide when Sean called to check if we still were enjoying ourselves.
Equipped to the tippets|
The clothes you bring should make you comfortable at 2 degrees Centigrade as well as 30. Bring shorts along with fleece and a rain jacket. Decide when to put on shorts and not fleece and vice versa.
You also need a daypack of about 40 litres to bring in what you need (and take out your rubbish). This is only sufficient if you do not plan on camping. Bring boots, sun lotion (do not bring the coconut-oily thing -- the smell might attract bears) and lip balm as well. The air is dry -- and I mean dry. Your skin will dry out and your lips will crack if you do not treat them.
A water pack such as Camel Pack or Oasis will be valuable around noon when fishing in the streams, which flow through the prairie. Bring trail mix or even better homemade high octane chocolate bars along too. They will keep away the starvation during the late evening fishing until you are somewhere more civilised closer to a decent meal.
You also need a cap and a pair of good polarised sunglasses -- yellow lenses did well. Mount them on a nice, soft, black cord. It will prevent them from drifting downstream just after you took them off to look into your net.
It is a good idea to bring breathable waders even though it is possible to wet wade during the summer. The streams near the lakes are… refreshing.
All in all this means you fish very light.
Besides that small CDC-dries size 24 and larger Adams size 12-14 turned out to be successful from time to time.
A 3 weight 9 foot rod suited me well on this tour. When using heavier nymphs I would have preferred a 4 weight with more action in the tip. We never used anything but floating WF lines but when the water is higher a sinking lines might be useful when fishing streamers. We used 6-8X tippet. I sensed no noticeable difference between fluocarbon and ordinary tippet material -- except for the price.
We used small nymphs in size 16-20, such as the Copper John, Black Threader, EHCs in a dark and a light variant, size 16. Madame X or a large hopper turned to be a good indicator luring an occasional fish.
Black ants size 16-20 where pulling greenbacks out of the water in the lakes
Streamers size 6-8 in green and amber were effective in the late evening.
If I should choose one fly to bring to Colorado it would definitely be the Copper John size 18 copper coloured.
We used a Hopper Dropper Copper system (Flopper). It becomes a flopper system when you make a sharp nick in the tippet or catches yourself so that the tippet curls.
Hours can be spent untangling bird's nests, adding new tippet to your leader and tying on flies.
Everything has to be close to perfect.
The Sockeye Salmon (Kokanee Salmon) offer great sport on 5 weight 9' rods. Almost any reel will do. You probably won't need the brake. The nymphs or streamers are ordinary ones, which you normally use for trout, but slightly bigger -- though size 8-12 worked just fine.
We used San Juan Worms in fluorescent red/pink/white, Red Tag Goldhead and a gold beaded skin coloured nymphs, which have no name.
The tippet should be about 0.20 mm or 2-3X. You do not need a strike indicator since you have contact with the nymph all the time, but use a yarn indicator which can suspend the heavy nymphs and the current.
Many fly fishermen act as guides along their home water, and it is not difficult to find one, if you need one. It is much more difficult to find a dog, which will help you by snipping of wet dries or ineffective flies.
You need a car. So simple is that. Without a car you will waste time like… Do not rent the cheapest models. Rent one with cruise control and a bigger motor than 1.6 litres.
Electrified windows are a must. You will discover why every time you have to pay toll for getting on or off the highway. Bring some (a lot) 50¢ coins with you from the airport.
None of the rent-a-cars we used informed us about the tolls. It will cost you 1.50$ to get on and off in most places, but sometimes it costs you 0.50$ or 0.75$, So it might be a good idea to bring some quarters too, since the cash machines only accept even cash.
There are plenty of cheap to average motels. Day's Inn, Holiday Inn etc.
Near Rocky Mountains National Park (RMNP) you can also rent cabins. The one we had was settled just at the riverbank. Wonderful.
The price varies, but around 90$ for a three person cabin for one night and 45$ for a double room including breakfast is about what to expect.