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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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 two
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
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.
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