Tarns, Trout, and Good Friends

This past weekend was an annual get together of old friends to hang out, drink beer and whiskey, and catch lots of trout.

We left early on Friday morning for central Colorado, stopping for a quick breakfast and to stock up on beverages and flies. These were friends I had worked with years ago at a small outfitter in Estes Park, and although we hadn’t seen each other in at least a year, they are some of my best fishing buddies.

There are a couple objectives to the trip: see old friends, drink lots of beer, play lots of volleyball, and most importantly catch lots of fish. It’s also meant to be a bit of an exploratory trip. Instead of hitting the same river everyday, groups split up and go on exploratory missions to find new water. Sometimes there are fish there, and sometimes not.

Apart from simply catching fish, the trip is also centered around two trophies, the Finley and the Crosier. The Finley is awarded to whoever catches the largest fish during the trip, and the Crosier goes to whoever catches the largest fish out of beaver pond water.

I told myself going in that I wouldn’t care about winning a trophy. . .unless of course I found myself in the running. Then all bets were off.

Day 1

We rolled into the cabins late in the afternoon, but still wanted to get a few hours in on the water. The first spot we hit was a headwater stream that produced a handful of fish, but nothing to write home about. We fished dry-droppers and to my pleasant surprise, the undersize fish were willing to take a fairly large hopper on the surface.

The last spot we decided to check out before dinner was a lake farther down the dirt road we were on. My friends had fished it before, but I didn’t know what to expect. Turns out it was pretty full of large rainbows and huge brookies. My friend Andrew caught a solid bow on a dry while I stripped a hare’s ear and only connected with brookies.

Several beers in, my friend Ali and I had the bright idea to wade out to what looked like a grassy island. It instead turned out to be, for lack of a better description, a mat of floating sod we dubbed the SS Gentle Pastures and promptly commandeered. Our boat was unstable and sunk with every step we took. Ali somehow managed to stay afloat but I broke through the sod up to my chest a handful of times.

A woman fly fishes on a small island in a lake

On the bright side, I hooked and landed the biggest brook trout of my life, a fat 16+ incher, from our ship. This was about the time I decided that the trophy I wasn’t going to care about, suddenly mattered.

When I got back to shore I found out I lost out already to the rainbow caught previously, but only by an inch.

A woman holds a large brook trout caught on the fly
The fat brookie landed on our sinking sod ship.

That night was celebrated with volleyball, drinks, and for most people, one too many edibles.

Day 2

Day 2 was spent on the road in search of new water.

We started the day on some beaver ponds catching small brook trout and a few medium browns before heading over a pass that was barely open in spots from the snow.

It was the first time in years it had opened this early, so we took advantage of the open road. On the other side, we found a seemingly limitless little stream that we spread out on and pulled brooks, browns, and rainbows for a few hours.

After a significant hand-sunburn and catching small fish on large hoppers, we took a different route back to home base and fished a larger river, where several of us promptly fell in and flooded our waders.

Here, we were fishing for dinner, and the fact that the guy who was having the most luck forgot his net led to a jerry-rigged maneuver involving tossing fish across the river into my net, lacrosse-style.

The fish dinner wasn’t for that night. The trip ends with a big fish fry, hence the fish bucket in the fridge next to the essentials.

A case of Busch Light next to a tub of trout in a refrigerator

Day 3

On day 3, we split up. One group went to fish the upper river which in past years was always in runoff right about now. Thanks to the complete lack of snow this winter, it was actually fishable.

My group broke off to scout out some new turf, namely two alpine lakes we could see on Google Earth. What started as a small trail quickly disappeared, and we were soon bushwhacking and marsh wading to get to our destination.

A group hiking through the woods to go fly fishing
Heading off the trail.

Unfortunately, the first lake turned out to be a small tarn with no inlet, outlet, or fish. Also unfortunately, the second lake turned out the same way, only larger.

At this point we had already hiked a mile or so through the timber off trail, some of us in waders, so we decided to fish a small stream we had crossed on the way.

A small stream in the woods with bushes along the edge
Our saving grace after finding barren lakes.

This stream was chock full of tiny trout, and it’s also where I caught my smallest fish to date, a 2-incher that somehow managed to grab my fly.

We were able to find a little pond on the walk out that had some respectable brook trout, so this exploratory mission wasn’t a complete bust.

After finding out that the group on the river killed it all morning, we decided to hit there that afternoon. It fished all right for a bit before a storm rolled in and kicked us off the water.

After waiting it out for 30 minutes or so, I tried to get out and get after it again, but my rod was shocking me and Ali’s hair was standing up on end. Needless to say, that evening on the water needed to end.

That night was our big fish fry, so we stayed in from the cold and gorged ourselves on freshly caught trout.

Day 4

Our last morning was spent in search of the Crosier Cup, the trophy awarded to the biggest fish from a beaver pond.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, the same pond produces the winner every year. This effectively eliminates any fish caught anywhere else.

What’s cool though, is that from a tiny beaver pond come 16-17″ browns that would usually be reserved for large rivers and lakes. What’s also cool is that Ali took the cup!

Andrew ended up with the Finley with his 17″ rainbow, narrowly beating out both my brookie and Ali’s brown, but rounding off a solid trip.

It’s getaway weekends like these that make me remember why good fishing pals are like big trout. Hard to come by, and when you find ’em, you gotta hold on tight.

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