Driving from Buena Vista, Colorado’s fine beer and pizza terraces, we climbed past Mt. Elbert’s snowy patches and over Independence Pass. We stopped for a tundra walk at 12,000 feet in altitude; the wildflowers and breath-taking scenery establishing an inspirational tone for the journey to follow.
I had plans to fish the famous Frying Pan River in the mountains near Basalt. We took a camp-site at Ruedi Reservoir which, for me, was most notable for a western fox sparrow singing sweetly in the shrubbery nearby. The evening river of this tail-water fishery had a very cool 45-degree (F.) temperature, but the wild browns were rising to a Black Ant that I drifted on the pools and riffles, as well as to natural mayfly spinners settling in from the waning light of the canyon.
Let it now be said, I declined the opportunity to fish the infamous Toilet Bowl– the big plunge pool at the base of Ruedi Dam, the site for trout the size of a proverbial football, rainbows that gorge themselves on Mysis shrimp, and the place of crowds competing for the hook up. No, I opted for lonelier pools and riffles downstream of the Bowl, beneath the dazzling red sandstone cliffs and canyon walls. My choice for fishing didn’t make me a better angler, but I think that I enjoyed the outing more.
Next morning I was back on the water searching for big trout I’d seen during the evening hours. The river flowed at 42 degrees. No fish were rising but I managed to fool several more brown trout– colorful, feisty specimens, 15 to 16-inches long– on an olive Woolly Bugger. The canyon grew oppressively hot by late morning, so we leapt from the Frying Pan and drove toward an Eagle River tributary known as Brush Creek.
The Yeoman Campground in the White River National Forest is about 17 miles from town and situated at about 9000 feet above sea-level. I had camped there 22-years ago with family and enjoyed the mountain serenity, the aspens and blue columbines, and the fly-fishing. Now the campground seemed larger, but the beauty remained intact. Fools Peak, a mountain I had climbed (and written of in my book Sand & Sage, 2010), lorded over the valley from its vantage on eternity.
East Brush Creek has a gravel bed, deep undercut pools and riffles, and is a delight to fly-fish for its numerous wild brook and brown trout. As in my previous experience, the trout rose handily to my dry fly offerings, particularly to a Royal Wulff or a Rusty Spinner. Leighanne and I did some hiking in the deep forestlands of Fools Peak, as well as on the 3-mile loop trail of Brush Creek, but declined to revisit beautiful Lake Charles nestled in the summits at around 12,000 feet.
On our last morning at camp, we dressed hastily in bone-chilling cold. Frost covered the blooms and vegetation along Brush Creek as we began our final hike at this location and waited for the sun to bathe the valley in warmth. We entered the forest and felt more comfortable in the sweet tranquility offered by the creek, the fir trees and the caroling Swainson thrushes.
I sampled the trout stream one more time and came to the same conclusion I arrived at 22 years before: it was one of the most beautiful and productive brook (and brown) trout streams I’ve ever fished. Unfortunately it’s no longer noted for its native cutthroats which, hopefully, still survive in the upper reaches on Fools Peak. Nonetheless, it was good to come back to this wild place on the high ground of sunny Colorado.