My First Guided Fly Fishing Trip
I had been up until 1:30 getting my equipment ready and packed for my first ever guided fly fishing trip. My trip had been booked with Janice O’Shea owner of Trouttrips.com. This was a pre-season price which included 2 nights of class room instruction and one day on stream.
The north fork of the South Platte is where we would be fishing on April 30, 2005. The North Fork is fed by the Roberts Portal Tunnel from the Dillon Reservoir. The stream is a water conduit for the Denver Water Board to run water down to Strontia Springs Reservoir on the South Platte River for storage. Because the flow is fairly controlled, the stream is not as subject to melt water run off as some of the Colorado Streams.
The ranch is about 3 to 5 miles west of Bailey, CO. We were to stage a convoy at the Bailey Conoco station at 8:30. So when I peeked out the window at 6 AM. on 4/30, I was running on about 4 hours sleep. The weather was clear and promised to be cold in the hills. A quick step outside on my porch confirmed the cold part. Putting on my long johns, I added another shirt and a light jacket to my clothes to layer up as conditions dictated.
After loading up my Blazer, I fixed hot tea and headed out. A quick stop for a Mickey D’s breakfast and I was off for Bailey. Pushing it some, I arrive at the staging point at 8:15. Shortly after, Janice arrived and we started for the Ranch.
If you weren’t watching for the ranch road, you could easily drive right past it. A short drive down a gravel road and around a bend, this beautiful log ranch house came into view. We hauled all our gear into the great room, warmed up while we geared up.
Stepping back outside I remembered why the long johns were necessary. The air in the valley was about 40 degrees and the water looked cold too. Janice paired us up with our guides and one other fisherman. My new fishing buddy was Larry Plagman and our guide was Greg Cunningham. I knew who he was right away from hanging out at the Alpine Aurora Fly Shop owned by Bill Louthan. Bill had told me about Greg many times. What a nice surprise for my first trip.
Greg took Larry and me down to the east end of the ranch water, tied on a couple flies for both of us and set up up for fishing. Larry was at the east boundary of the ranch water and I was upstream about 100 yards in a fast run. Before fishing, I measured the water temperature which was a cold 42 degrees. So cold, I wondered if the fish would be very active. After twenty minutes of fishing with no strikes, I moved upstream to another run and removed Greg’s bottom fly replacing it with one of my gold beadhead, flashbacked, gold ribbed hares ears in size 16.
Using enough weight to get the rig to the bottom and bouncing off the rocks in the run, I completed 5 casts with no strikes. On the sixth drift, my rig stopped in the middle of the drift. Thinking I either had a nice fish or was hung up, I raised the rod and did a small tip flip to get loose. Right away my line was running upstream and so was I trying to stay up with a large fish.
A short distance upstream and I was able to stop the fish and get play him in a calmer stretch of water.
Greg had come running when he saw I had a fish on. After a short battle, Greg netted a nice fat 4 pound rainbow for me.
Next we moved back downstream where Greg had me fishing a pool run. I was at the bottom of an 8 foot bank working a nice 20 to 24 inch rainbow sheltered in between two rock. Twice the bow took the orange San Juan worm but I was too slow on the hook set.
Greg came upstream on the top of the bank. Suddenly he exclaimed, I see the biggest rainbow I have ever seen in this water. Give me your rod. I passed it up to him and watched as he made one large backcast and rifled a cast across 40 feet of water to the far bank. As soon as the flies hit the water, there was a boil and I knew the fish was on.
Greg handed me back the rod and said, “Bring him over so I can net him for you.” This fish was heavy but not feisty as I reeled and pumped to get it over to our side of the river. As the fish got to our side of the river, it came alive and ran for the pool where the 24 inch rainbow was hiding in the rocks. As soon as my fish entered the pool, the smaller 24 inch bow went upstream like a rocket. This large fish settled down in between the rocks and got comfortable. All I could do was keep the rod up and keep tension on the line.
After 5 minutes of this exercise, I tugged the rod up a bit and got the fish out of the rocks. Floating it down to Greg to net. After a bit of a run, the fish was ready. Greg netted it and brought it up to me.
This was the biggest fish I had ever landed. Around 28 inches and some 19 to 20 inches in girth. Estimated weight was about 8 pounds. Greg had to show me how to hold a fish this big as I had not caught one this size before. There were two quarter sized patches of skin missing just in front of the dorsal fin on both sides of the fish and a talon mark behind the head. Greg thought it might have been Osprey or a Blue Heron. But I though a young eagle from the size of the spread on the marks.
After a few photos by my fishing partner Larry, Greg revived the fish until it was ready to go on its way.
I wonder if it is still in the river today.
Fly Fishing Colorado