When I close my eyes and dream what heaven looks like, I can’t help but smile.
It resembles southwestern Colorado.
There are towering, ancient peaks carved from sluggish glacial movement that line the broad horizon at every glance. There are brilliant wildflowers of all hues and tones dotting a lush landscape marked with flocks of whispering pines. And most importantly, there are sparkling streams with their constant bubbling ebb and flow that hides trout of all forms.
Every once in a while, we are fortunate enough to leave a footprint in a place and time that sticks with us on whatever other winding paths life leads us down. It could be a singular experience or a series of them, but in many cases it’s the company we keep that makes something extraordinarily unique. Sharing those experiences simply seems to make them even more noteworthy in glimpses back to previous days.
During the summer after my sophomore year in college, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with someone who doesn’t enjoy the thrill of fly fishing as much as I do, but heartily likes going along to explore new sights and sounds, especially in a place as grand as the area near the Continental Divide.
We made the trek to Lake City, a charming little hamlet steeped in its own brand of Western history nestled among some of the best public access stream and river fly fishing you may ever be lucky enough to find, and did nothing but seek out locales where we had never been. The July weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and each morning we checked a map, packed our lunch and set out in search of a new fishing spot.
And my how many we found.
There’s the Lake Fork of the Gunnison, which offers more than 20 miles of drive-up fly fishing for brown trout that always oblige when you flip a hopper pattern into the narrow nook or cranny they’ve been lurking in and can exceed 18 inches when you get lucky and unearth a bruiser.
There’s Henson Creek, a winding stream right outside town that curves against a primeval rock face for miles and houses a variety of species, including at least a few nice browns that I was blessed to be able to unhook a Parachute Adams from and dip back into the chilly ripples.
There’s Cebolla Creek, another fine fishery known for a couple of species that eagerly await any type of insect hatch and will snatch a House-and-Lot from the surface almost as quickly as you can place it there amid impressive scenery fit for a painting you’d display where everyone would notice it.
After discovering all of these striking settings for the first time and crossing them off our to-do list, we branched out a little farther in search of what a fly fishing writer friend called one of his favorite spots in all his worldly travels. After leaving the relative smoothness of pavement cracked by warm, muggy summers and frigid, snow-topped winters, we shimmied up a dusty forest road that was anything but glossy. Craggy rocks and worn gaps in the broken boulevard only seemed to get larger as we got farther from civilization, but in the end the rutted ride was worth it.
At the end of the 10-mile jaunt was a diminutive alpine stream aptly named Big Blue Creek. This jewel of a fishing hole cuts through a vast meadow area and features some of the most remarkable habitat for brook and cutthroat trout. There are countless deep runs along the creek only 20 feet wide at its greatest expanses, and it was in these scenes that I had my most enjoyable day of dry fly catching in Colorado.
I affixed a Yellow Humpy on 5-weight gear and from the first step onto the bank, I couldn’t miss. When the pattern floated across a shallow riffle, it came back with an 8-inch brookie. When it bobbed near a raised rock formation, it brought a 10-inch trout. And when it wobbled near a weathered log, a 12-inch cutthroat rose from its hiding place and inhaled it.
There wasn’t a thump every cast, but it was darn close, and by the end of a two-hour stretch of gleeful merriment at the site of vibrant, colorful fish being scooped from the water, I legitimately lost count of how many I had released.
It could have been 50 but it probably was more.
After I had freed the final brookie of the outing, I strolled back to the vehicle to find my companion enjoying a good book in the shade, and my wide grin brought an even superior smile from her as I approached.
“Did you have fun?” she asked, already knowing the casual response from an angler who had a wildly triumphant day on the water but doesn’t want to be too bigheaded.
After stowing everything for the deliberate jaunt back down the trail, we both took one concluding peek at the amazing backdrop and then looked at each other.
We couldn’t help but smile again.
Sometimes the best fishing buddies don’t actually get on the water together, but share the common bond of marking time in getting there and reveling in all that our astounding planet puts in front of us if we slow down and focus on the little things in an otherwise massive world.
Whether she partakes in the same outdoor activities with you or simply gets a kick out of you having fun, take the time not just today but always to show that you appreciate all of the things the special people in your life have provided.