Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pagosa Springs, July 2010

Regan and I have not had many recent opportunities to take a trip together, due to her working towards a Master's in sustainability at Northern Arizona University, combined with my busy work schedule at several field sites across the northern part of the state. Nonetheless, we made the most of an opportunity to visit southern Colorado and northern New Mexico in the summer. I was able to fly fish in the Colorado portion of the trip, beginning with a brief foray near Pagosa Springs, where we had the good fortune to stay at a rental house at a reduced rate, thanks to friends from Flagstaff that owned the place.

The upper San Juan River flows right through town, and has a reputation for turning out some sizable browns, so it seemed a logical place to wet a line. Unfortunately, recent summer storms had created runoff conditions and turned the water into a heavy-flowing, chocolate-colored mess. The town itself was intriguing, as it had a large network of hot springs for soaking, and possessed some of that mountain small town charm that still seems to exist in the wilder, less-populated southern part of the state.

We decided to head out of town on one of the wandering Forest Service roads the following day as the clouds lifted and sunlight filtered through in spots, to track down an upper tributary that might be flowing more clearly. The landscape featured some jagged pinnacles of stone thrusting above aspen and conifer, echoing both the Southwest and the Rockies.

Sure enough, we found a cold and clear gem to hike along, with the trail terminating at a thundering cascade.

I rigged up and tied on a Neversink Caddis, as the rushing crystalline flows seemed to call out for a bushy attractor dry. In short order, my cast was answered by the swirling rise of a trout.

I wasn't sure what to expect with the identity of the fish, but was delighted to bring a Rio Grande cutt to hand, my first of this race of cutthroat, and the true native trout in this corner of the country.
Like its close relatives the Colorado River and Greenback cutthroat, the Rio Grande cutt can exhibit brilliant coloration, and this individual certainly affirmed that reputation.

Here are a couple more photos of the fish before release--Regan took all of the fish pictures in this entry, and they came out quite well. Moreover, something about these precious little trout seemed to demand multiple images in an attempt to capture their beauty.

I caught a few more fish in the next hour or so, all of them cutts, the largest pictured below, right around a foot.

And here is the same fish being returned to merge seamlessly once more with its natal stream.

We soon left the tumbling creek and headed to another trailhead, this one leading to a small montane lake surrounded by spruce and heavy clouds.

Naturally I wandered along the shoreline and prospected with casts, but I was unable to attract the attention of any fish. The lake may have been barren, but it did have an outlet, and seemed to have enough depth to avoid freezing completely (not to mention a fine little Callibaetis hatch that came off during an intermittent drizzle). Perhaps any fish present were simply not in a feeding mode. Who knows? Yet another mystery to keep things unpredictable and fascinating, which often seem to go hand in hand with fly fishing.

Life was thriving along the shore, in the form of wildflowers and butterflies occupied with pollination.

Eventually, it was time to make our way back through groves of aspen, and on towards Pagosa Springs as the skies continued to threaten rain. The following day, we were set to hike and camp in Conejos country for several days, which will be detailed in the next post.

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