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Alpine Small Stream Fishing
    
Pleasure in High Places
Meeting up with mountain trout this time of the year well worth the effort

By
Charlie Meyers - article published 9/3/08 in the Denver Post


A while back I interviewed a man whose realm of expertise included the smaller streams of the Colorado high country.

"How do you locate the places you want to explore?" I asked.

"Just get a Forest Service map and look for the squiggly blue lines," he replied.

While such advice may seem a bit flippant, resulting in a certain amount of trial and error, it is at least a good start. These directional arrows point to a wonderland that, in late summer and early autumn, ranks among the grandest places on earth.

For fishermen who delight in the beauty of brook and cutthroat trout, the lure grows stronger still. Stir in the exhilaration of crisp, sunny days and the dazzling beauty of changing leaves, and the attraction becomes impossible to resist.

Colorado's mountains form a wellspring for hundreds of creeks; the miles that hold populations of trout stretch high into the thousands. At a time when anglers scuffle to find relief from crowding on the more popular larger streams, these backwoods gems offer the ultimate in solitude. One finds another form of freedom in these high places. Since these headwaters nearly always involve public lands, there's never a question of access. All that's required to claim them is a bit of research and the willingness to walk.

Where this involves those special places at high elevation, getting there is a large part of the fun. Early in the season, at the end of snowmelt, anglers find their path thatched with flowers, an explosion of colors that rival those of the trout they seek.

This has been an odd season for these high places; in fact, for Colorado angling in general. A heavy snowpack blocked trails weeks longer than normal and extended runoff kept even the smaller streams gushing larger than anyone might like.

Now, as season's end approaches, these elements of stress become a blessing.

Creeks that in dry years might be just a trickle now burble along with perfect pitch, forming ample hiding places for trout and targets for anglers who seek them.

Beyond the drama of the mountains, the opportunity to view wildlife, the delight of clear water dancing over bright stones, the main attraction will always be the trout. That they seldom grow large at high elevation is well beyond the point.

Among the more remarkable aspects of a fisherman's mind is the ability to adjust expectations to the environment. I recall an occasion a couple years back when a friend had recently returned from an ocean trip with photos of billfish weighing hundreds of pounds. He spent much of our drive to the mountains detailing these violent encounters, right down to the pulled muscles and shattered gear.

At our destination, a creek only a couple rods' length across, we began catching lovely cutthroat trout that measured half a foot, 8 inches at the most. After an hour or so, my friend let out a whoop that brought me running with the camera. The object of his elation was a brilliantly colored fish 10 inches long. It was as if he had caught a world-record marlin.

In the weeks ahead, brook trout take center stage with a spawning ritual that, for sheer beauty, ranks as a highlight of the season. In hues of orange, green and gold, they emerge from hiding places to frolic in shallow riffles.

The scene is so magnificent, so perfect, an angler sometimes has to remember that he actually should make a cast. Rarely does he think about the size of the fish.

A number of guidebooks give advice about high mountain fishing. Three will be discussed here.

John Gierach's first book, in 1984, "Flyfishing the High Country," was reprised by Stackpole in 2004. The master wordsmith, who cut his teeth on the streams west of his home in Lyons, gives practical advice on tactics that bring success.

Todd Hosman, who lives near Longmont, blends technique with directions to favorite locations in two recent guidebooks. The first, "Fly Fishing Colorado's Front Range," was produced in 1999 by Pruett Publishing Company.

"Fly Fishing Rocky Mountain National Park" followed in 2003 from Streamside.

You will find the books in local fly shops; the streams will reveal themselves as squiggly blue lines.

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