By Sam Larson
Fall leads to a kind of personal accounting, a summary of the seasons in the face of oncoming winter by which I take stock of just what I got up to over the last year. There’s the annual early season trips to some larger tailwaters, freezing in the wind while I scrape double or triple nymph rigs along the river bottom, chucking the weighted flies back up stream with a slow heave. There are the high holy days of summer, with bushy caddis dries and foam hoppers. And there are the trips that I never took.
My summers are littered with the trips that I don’t take, all the adventures that never came off or made it out of the planning stages. I have yet to make it to the Frying Pan, though I have a strong inkling that it might be great. I'd dearly love to spend a week or two unlocking that river and bringing picky, pressured trout to my net. I still haven’t made my way down to the San Juan and the fish that I know are stacked below Navajo Dam. Colorado’s high-altitude lakes remain, for me, largely unexplored. There’s more than a lifetime’s worth of water that I have yet to see, much less fish. And with every summer that passes I have an increasing awareness that I will never get to see all that I want to see.
But in this accounting I also take stock of the places that I did go. The small creeks and streams surrounding Steamboat Springs. Early mornings on Boulder Creek, with brown trout and occasional rainbows in local water that I know as intimately as it is possible to know a river. I’ve crawled the Poudre River top to bottom and have my favorite pullouts, my favorite nearly private stretches that are consistently underfished by daytrippers who roll into the obvious bends. There’s a small lake I stop at on the way to the mountains that’s an obvious pullout and would typically attract gear fisherman and catch-and-keep families, but it’s full of brookies who love a flashy size 20 beadhead. I made the annual drive to the top of Cameron Pass for grayling and found them to be as absurdly beautiful as they were the first time I caught one.
I got to the WIlliams Fork this year (and got skunked there, but that’s beside the point), and scrambled through the rocks of Byers Canyon. That’s a technical scramble that I don’t enjoy, but the brown trout are large and, if you’re willing to climb some unwelcoming rip-rap, the brown trout are numerous and uneducated. I didn’t make the planned trip into Indian Peaks again because of family commitments, other trips, and then, finally, weather at the tail end of the summer. The people I know who did make it out to the lakes that I had planned on visiting told me about high-altitude brook trout and near constant wind coming off the top of Rollins Pass.
I spent four days in the cold on the Arkansas River in April sight fishing for some of the largest brown trout that I’ve seen. That trip was memorable for the trout that darted all the way across the river to hit a wet fly so hard it made my rod kick in my hand, and the pod of torpedo-shaped trout as long as my arm that sat at the bottom of a glassy, ten-foot-deep pool that I couldn’t get to with nymphs and split shot.
I didn’t make it back to the Buffalo Peaks, or to South Boulder Creek right in my backyard, but I did explore Clear Creek top to bottom and have a new respect for that drainage. I earned a Colorado Grand Slam twice this summer, catching all four varieties of trout in a single day. I landed the largest cutthroat of my life on light tackle and realized that I hadn’t used my tenkara rods in six months because I was having too much fun casting my three weight. It made me think of when I bought my tenkara rod because I couldn't cast a Western rod at all and was tired of spending my days wrapped in fishing line. I bought a nymphing rod and realized that my tenkara experience paid off since I already knew how to manage a long rod and a short, tight-line presentation.
Even when I enumerate the stuff that I did, and I did a lot, I still think about what I didn’t do more. The trips that I couldn’t take resonate within me. Maybe I’ll take them next summer, maybe I never will. Maybe they’ll be the defining trip of the year, or, perhaps, it’ll be simply another day on the water, neither terrible nor life-changing, just as amazing, and normal, and exceptional as fishing the dawn caddis hatch on Boulder Creek in the middle of town.