If you have ever been to Colorado, you know the amazing variety of opportunities for fly fishing the state has to offer. From high mountain lakes and back country creeks to famous rivers such as the Frying Pan, the Gunnison, and the Eagle, it is a state of incredible diversity in terms of its water ways with plenty of trout habitat. It was certainly one of the states I was most looking forward to seeing for myself.
Dad and I pulled into the Gentry’s driveway in Telluride after two days of fishing in Arizona. We were excited to meet back up with mom and Parker after we’d split ways earlier that week during the middle of our midwestern road trip. I was especially looking forward to meeting the Gentry family, friends of my parents with a son my age who, I was told, is as serious about being in the woods and water as me. Baker Gentry is a retired banker and veteran who now spends his summers as a guide on the local rivers. Sarah, his wife, is a fantastic wildlife artist and close friend of my mom. Their other two children, Charlie and Abby, are a few years older than me, but Charlie is a serious angler and ultra-athlete.
Being a guide, Baker had a whole line-up of rivers and creeks we would hit over the next three days to get a taste of everything the area has to offer. Our first morning, we hit the local fly shop and outfitter where Baker guides, Telluride Outside, before loading up in “the rig,” their off-road-ready Landcruiser, and heading 2 hours into the backcountry. Will, Charlie, and I piled into the backseat for the bumpy excursion before us. Charlie was a student at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where my mom and Baker were one year apart and first met, and where Will and I, little did we know it then, would become classmates 2 years later. We had time to get to know each other a bit as we bounced down some unnamed forest road outside of Telluride, winding up switchbacks, banging our heads against the ceiling or smashing into the window after airing out yet another pothole, followed by a subtle “oops” from Baker in his slight Texas twang. We were certainly off the beaten path, and I absolutely loved it.
As we came around a curve, flanked by aspens and monster conifers, Will abruptly told his dad to stop the car. He hadn’t quite finished saying, “Holy smokes that thing is close,” when I looked over his shoulder and saw the cinnamon face of a bear peering toward us from the shadows, snout covered in blood. It bent down, picked up the back half of a fawn, and carried it off down the hill. Not a single rod had been put together, but I think everyone’s trip was already made. Will lit up in bewilderment. “Dude, that was absolutely wild!” he said in disbelief. This was my kind of adventure.
When we finally made it up to an open meadow near the creek, we got suited up and wandered through the aspens (bear spray at the ready) before bushwhacking down to the water. We popped through some thick willows into a magnificent stretch plunge pools and pocket water, shining golden as the sun reflected off the brightly covered rocks at the bottom. Some of my favorite fisheries are small creeks full of native fish, and I knew this was going to be a blast right off the bat. Charlie found the creek while elk hunting the year prior, but the Gentry’s had never fished it. We all spread out and decided we would frog hop each other from pool to pool. As soon as I hooped in, I could see fish sitting in the backs of pools. They were gorgeous in the water, all being native cutthroats with bright orange bellies and little black spots. The first fish I casted to ate, but I lost it. I spotted another, high sticked my stimulator right over its head, and stuck ‘em! I landed my Colorado trout! The whole creek was like this. We sight fished with little dry flies and hammered the fish. As the day went on and we needed to start moving back toward the car, Will, Charlie, and I did what we called “the revolver.” We would take turns casting after every caught fish, stepping out of the way as we unhooked and released fish to let the next person move up for a shot. There was one instance when Charlie landed one, then Will and I each pulled fish out of the same hole by the time Charlie had snapped a pictured and put fish back in the water. I told Charlie it was his turn, and he was baffled that we had both already landed fish. We kept this up for a while, one time feeding the same fish 4 times before catching it, jamming to Jim Croce, and taking in the forest land around us. After a few hours, we had to book it home for dinner with the rest of our families. On the way out, we were lucky to get another view of the bear munching on its prey as well as another black bear that hopped across the road in front of us.
The next day, we did something totally different. Parker took Charlie’s spot in the rig, and we headed down to the Lower Delores River. Another guide, Troy, from Telluride Outside joined us for the day as well. The “Lower D” is a relatively slow flowing tailwater that runs through a desert landscape and holds some serious fish. One interesting feature of the area that keeps the adventure exciting is the density of rattlesnakes. I got the warning call three different times—I was on full alert with every step. Baker, Will and I ventured downstream from our parking spot to a big hole that runs along a massive rock overhang. The fish like to tuck up under the rock’s shadow and subtly stick their snout out to sip tiny PMD’s that drift by. This was a whole different league from the cuttie stream we hit the day before. These fish were TOUGH…they didn’t get big being stupid. Will got the first one to respond on a size 18 pink dun, but as often happens with those small flies, the hook didn’t stick. Nonetheless, Will could really fish. He showed me how he likes to work fish in that particular hole, considering various flows and eddies that are tough to see, then passed the rod off to me. I stepped up to the plate and targeted a brown that was consistently coming up at the head of the rock wall. After putting the fly over him 6 or 7 times, we made a fly change, and I have to say that there are few things more satisfying than getting an eat on the subsequent cast. I made a shot that bounced off the wall a few feet up from the last rise and then the fly just disappeared. I raised the rod, felt a head shake, and an 18-inch brown rocketed out of the water just above where I had last seen my fly. After a few minutes of fighting him with some expert coaching from Baker, we netted a gorgeous Colorado brown. That felt amazing! Will stuck one shortly after, and we fed a few more fish before making our way back upstream to Parker, Dad, and Troy just before lunch.
We found the trio on the opposite bank staring into a long run that created a bend, carving out the bank on our side. We halted and tried to pick up on what they were looking for. It was pretty obvious—about a 23-inch rainbow sitting a few inches below the surface, occasionally coming up to take down a mayfly. Parker was lasered in on this fish. After the fish had fed a couple of times on natural bugs, Troy told my brother to make a cast, laying the fly a few feet up stream and letting it drift over his head. Parker was using 6x tippet. Our hearts all started to halt as the fish began tracking the fly downstream before quickly whipping its head back around, refusing the fly. They paused, made another shot, but no response. Again, another cast, and the same indifference from the trout.
Parker zoned in, waited until he saw the fish come up once more, then started slowly false casting, throwing a beautiful, tight loop. He laid out his cast. Stripped up slack. Waited, watching, the fish’s attention peaked. It started slowly rising and drifting back with the current, slowly opening its mouth, approaching the fly, breaking the surface, pulling it under…” SNAP!”
All the anticipation finally came to a close, and Parker set the hook with some serious umph. The 6x didn’t stand a chance… Without skipping a beat, Troy walked straight through the pool, head hung, letting out a conceded, “yep, it’s lunch time.” I think Parker’s rod was still raised, a baffled look on his face, as he watched the monster fish dart back and forth through the pool, fly stuck in its lip, but no line attached. I’m sure that fish will haunt him for a while.
The next day we got out with the entire family on a section of river that the outfitter has access to just outside of town. I knew my mom could fish, and it was really fun to see her and Sarah alongside one another wearing out the trout. Parker started the day with a really nice rainbow (sort of redemption from the day before), and Will and I decided we would work upriver together. After a slow start for me on a hopper dropper rig, I decided to change things up and throw the Sex Dungeon, a famous sculpin pattern designed to move big fish. The water was moving pretty fast, so my fly would swing through the water with some serious speed. I found a little eddy under an overhanging tree, creating some shade, and knew there had to be a good fish tucked in there. My cast put the fly right up against the bank, and one strip later, I was hooked up! Will scrambled around in the water, chasing the fish with the net before masterfully scooping it up in the current, a beat up but colorful, 19-inch rainbow. It was a much appreciated net job and also a formative moment for our friendship, I believe, leading to many more days on the water, chasing redfish in the Florida Panhandle and bass in Texas.
After that fish, I looked up to see 4 of our family members lined up on one bank, casting into a pool, laughing and having a blast sharing time together on the river. The combination of fish caught, types of rivers fished, and laughter shared with family and friends made Colorado one of my favorite states of my journey. I cannot wait to get back the water around Telluride for more fish and good times.