R e d c h a s e r . c o m
High Mountain Trout In The Sangre De Cristo's
w . w . w . r e d c h a s e r . c o m
A Breathtaking Colorado Trip
On the week of July 2nd my wife Tina and I went to Colorado, where, along with my Brother Cliff and his wife Patti we made a trip to an area called Music Pass. Music Pass is in the Sangre De Cristo mountains and wilderness area in Southwest Colorado, which was about a three and a half hour drive from Cliff and Patti's home outside of Boulder.
We arrived at the lower trailhead at about 1pm on Thursday July 2nd. The lower trail consist of a rutted out 4 wheel drive road of about 1.75 miles long. Since we were in a 4 wheel drive we were able to drive this section of the trail and adequately test the skid plates on the bottom of Cliffs truck. This is one rugged road. Once we made the drive up the lower trail and arrived at what passes as the parking area for the upper trailhead, we strapped on our backpacks and continued on foot. While the hike over the pass and into the valley where we camped is not terribly long, it is terribly steep. Being flat-landers from sea level the incline and lack of available oxygen at that altitude made the hike in a little tough on Tina and I.
After a fairly arduous hike we cleared the pass at 11,380 feet of elevation. The sight in front of us from the top of the pass was breathtaking. The trail continued down into a valley about 700 feet below us. The valley was surrounded by high rugged peaks of over 13,000 feet and blanketed with wild flowers including Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, Wild Roses, and many others equally as beautiful that I cannot name. We made our descent into the valley and made camp along the Sand Creak. Running water is a great lullaby.
Friday morning we got up, ate a quick breakfast, and made a short hike from the campsite to the site of an old beaver pond. When we arrived at the pond site we found that the beaver dam had been blown out, but the creek, and fish remained. With the dam and pond now gone the level of the creek remains a little lower, and the current a little slower than we had experienced here on our last visit some years ago, this presented challenges to the fishing. The fish, all Rio Grande Cutthroats, were holding in pods of up to 30 or 40 fish apiece in very clear, very slow moving pools. The fish were always able to get a very good look at your fly, and would quickly spot mistakes like a bad presentation, too much movement from the angler on the bank, or a too brightly colored shirt. Most of my fish were caught from either a position of being on all fours, or sitting hunched over, using grass and shade as cover so the fish wouldn't see me. In general I found that you would get the fish to take, or at least give your fly a good look for a couple of drifts, then they would be wise to what you had tied on and you would have to change flies. I went through this routine, going through almost everything in my box, then after sufficient time had past, went back to what I had tied on originally and started over again.
Saturday morning we hiked from our campsite to the Lower Sand Creek Lake. The lake is at nearly 12,000 feet of elevation so the hike up to it was pretty steep, although much easier without the weight of our packs on our back. When we arrived at the lake, it was beautiful, glassy, and fish were rising to prolific hatches that were coming off. In addition to the fish in the lake, there were also many fish to be found in the creek running out of the lake. We actually fished the creek more than the lake because the lake was situated as to be nearly impossible to cast out into from the bank with the exception of a couple of spots. The creek was also in the tight confines of trees but is so small that you could cover the entire width of it by simply extending your rod out over it.
On Saturday the fish fed with abandon. These high mountain cutthroats have such a short window of opportunity to fatten themselves up before the water freezes over again that they aggressively pursue their food, almost any food, especially big food. Small nymphs did not draw near as much attention or as many strikes as bigger flies. These fish were all over number 14 hairs ears, number 12 stone fly nymphs, number 12 and 14 wooly buggers, hoppers, beetles, and large caddis flies...especially large caddis flies. By shortly after noon I had caught about 25 fish and this seemed to be the average among us. The average size of the fish at Lower Sand Creek Lake were also considerably bigger than those we had caught at the old beaver dam the day before.
We kept a few fish for supper that night (6 fish between the 4 of us) and released the rest to fight again another day. The fresh protein was a welcome change from the diet of freeze dried food and trail mix we were living on up there. The cutthroats had a delicious pink flesh similar to but milder than salmon. When we returned to camp Saturday afternoon there was a herd of Bighorn Sheep Ewes and Lambs in the area of the campsite. They kept what I'm sure they felt was a safe distance, but stayed in the general area for a couple of hours.
Sunday we hiked back out, still awash in the beauty of the place, and feeling quite small in comparison to the scale of the peaks that surrounded us. You know now that I think of it, I don't think I was so much feeling small, but rather right sized.
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