by Jeffrey Stutsman
The cabin is five hours away, if we leave before the holiday-weekend rush of rented Winnebagos and overstuffed Subarus that clog every artery out of town five minutes before you lock the front door--no matter how early that happens to be. We miss our window, and are left to putter along and marvel at the sea swell of slow-moving humanity surrounding our car. The sun beams through the windshield as a rusting Chevrolet rolls past us with the windows down, two sweaty figures behind the dash, and my impotent rage ebbs to relief that we have air conditioning.
The property is nestled up against a national forest. And the one-lane dirt road running from the highway to the cabin weaves in and out of it, offering a building sense of sun-dappled anticipation for the final third of the drive. The cabin itself is wild, and beautiful, and homey, built by Sam’s family well before either of us were born. But my real interest lies in the creek—a gorgeous, nearly inaccessible freestone stream that runs out of the park and just past the cabin, tumbling along a equally untouched stretch of land. And it is littered with picky, skittish, wild brook trout. They hide in sun-dappled pools, wide, shallow riffles, in the calm, gently eddied water, and in miniaturized runs that disappear around bend after bend, winding up into haunting green mountains that almost feel like home.
By the time we hit the last meadow, the underused double-track has grown wild. Excitement builds and I begin to eagerly tap my feet against the floorboard. Grass along the center of the road rhythmically scrapes the oil pan and I try to keep time with the rattling of maracas from below.
It’s the kind of place where, if you start early enough—bringing well-bagged peanut butter sandwiches and full water bottles—you won’t have to leave the water until it’s almost too dark to find the cabin again. On days like this, a small group of anglers can catch so many trout between them that good-natured competition quickly gives way to gleeful confusion.
It’s an astonishing stream and it’s well suited to a tenkara rod or a very good three-weight, but it is not forgiving of amateur mistakes, of loud footfalls, incautious shadows, pile casts, or unnatural drifts. And the brook trout there, eager and dark green and magical, can be remarkably selective of patterns, though they are not overly concerned with the vagaries of size: if they’re taking beatles, they will take almost any beetle pattern, from size 12 to 16 as long as it’s black (or possibly dark brown). Unless they’re eating midges, or caddis flies, or mayflies. Which is why I bring a lot of flies to Silver Creek.
Even a bad day here, set in a virtually untraveled stretch of Colorado’s high mountains with swirling clouds breaking like waves against a jewel-blue sky, is a very good day. It’s the kind of place you dream about before and after every trip.
The stream runs down and below a short, jagged ridgeline dotted with rustling, glittering aspens and wispy pine trees. A marmot with both the proportions and ferocity (if not the size) of a grizzly bear vigorously maintains a post at the second largest boulder between the cabin and the creek. His glass-bell warning call echoes for miles until the last bit of light drains behind the mountains.
The valley is far enough removed that as you leave the cabin, walking along overgrown double track that could have been cut by wagon wheels as easily as truck tires, it’s easy to get lost in time. The closest neighbor, a little less than a mile away, on the near side of the glacier-cut valley, has erected a huge canvas teepee, and I imagine for just a moment that I am a cowboy. Then I remember that I’d be the sort of cowboy who’d get trampled by a steer his first day out and I instead try and decide what fly to start with.
Water tumbles downhill of the cabin, emerging at the bottom of a willow-choked meadow in snaking, amber bends before caroming off a rock wall and vanishing around the next ridge. And every inch of the creek you can fish holds the potential for an aggressive strike, a short fight on a light rod, and a quiet thrill as you release a strong, chunky brook trout back to the cold water.
At the end of the day, you can still hear Silver Creek whisper and crash from the cabin’s deck, so when I climb those short stairs back to civilization, before I open the door to the warmth of a waiting dinner and the requisite crackling fire, I stand in my waders for just a moment, exhausted, starving, and happy. Imagining and hoping, and already waiting for tomorrow.