I said I would make it back out again, and I did, sans my son. In his place was my girlfriend Eva, and together we enjoyed a fantastic autumn drive through the Rockies. Next to Spring, this is one of my favorite times of the year (and NOT just because of College football) - the air is cool, the color is fantastic and the crowds are down to a minimum. And let's not forget that the fish are feeding in anticipation of the upcoming winter like Oprah at an All You Can Eat buffet.
Heading west on highway 285 from Denver, we made our way to Buena Vista, which is a great little town in the Arkansas Valley right next to - surprise! The Arkansas River (which has some great fishing, by the way). Buena Vista is the jumping off point for some of Colorado's best recreational activities, such as white water rafting, skiing, hiking and fishing. On top of that, this little town just seriously kicks butt. If given a chance, I would move here in a heartbeat, instantly dropping everyone's property value over night in the process.
As majestic as the Collegiate Peaks are to the west of the town, they can't hold a candle to the wonderful little drive-in, K's Old Fashioned Hamburgers. After a long day of fishing, there is nothing better than a big greasy burger, onion rings and a chocolate shake to fill your tank back up. Conveniently located on Highway 24 there is no excuse not to stop here to clog your arteries and take a few years off of your life.
From Buena Vista, we head west towards the Sawatch Range, which includes the highest peak in the Rocky Mountain range (North America), Mt. Elbert and Cottonwood Pass, which offers some incredible views.
From here, it's a short drive to the tail-waters of the Taylor River and some mighty fine fishing. Being that it was September, the crowds were minimal. Actually, let me restate that: there were no crowds. Unless one person could be called a crowd, but he left shortly after we arrived leaving us all alone on the river. And to that, all I can say is WOOHOO!
Eva made us some sandwiches while I geared up - I think I took one bite before running to the river's edge like an excited schoolgirl (and probably giggling like one, too) to see where I would put my line in. It wasn't long before I settled in and started to fish in earnest.
Like most great stretches of river, the fish are desensitized to anglers - they see so many lines thrown at them in the course of a year that they're not easily fooled. And it may just be me, but they seem to be a lot softer on the take here on the Taylor, which means you really have to pay attention to what's going on. Which is tough for someone like me, who has the attention span of a circus monkey.
In the water in front of me, maybe 2-3 feet down, there were about seven large fish, stacked up like planes in a holding pattern. I started off by throwing a #20 Pheasant Tail their way, and they didn't budge. Nothing. I followed that up with a #22 Barr's Emerger and got snubbed. I mean, these guys didn't even flinch. So, I pulled my line out of the water, added a little more weight and changed up to a #22 Bead-Head Pheasant Tail.
Have you ever been on the river, tying on a fly, and just instinctively knew that something good was going to happen? I had that feeling, and I told Eva this was it - that I was going to land me a fish. And sure enough, I did. It wasn't the foremost of the fish (which was also the biggest) but one of the 'smaller' guys behind him - but land him I did. It was a great set and I felt him shake and start to run, which for me is one of the single most incredible feelings, and one that I never get tired of experiencing. On top of that, the reel starts to sing and your pole almost bends in half, and you know you're in for a ride because you've just hooked a hog.
And then the line snaps. Yet another page to file under the 'big one that got away' heading.
I changed out my line, and decided to go with a #22 Brassie - and went back to work. The big guy at the front of the pack was down low and feeding off of a current that was coming off of the rock in front of him and it was a tough drift to hit being that it was down so far in the water. But I kept at it, and my patience finally paid off when I set my hook. He bucked, he darted, and he popped off my hook. I scratched him off my list after that and focused on the guys behind him again.
A little while later, after a brief 'snow' squall, I finally managed to hit another one - and it was a nice fish. Within seconds of setting my hook, he was up the river and attempting to wrap me on some rocks. Now, people that haven't fly fished would doubt that last statement, but let me assure you, fish are smart, albeit in a Forrest Gump sort of way. They will try to snap the line by running you behind and around rocks and trees or anything else that may potentially cut your line - it's effective and they know it. And so do I.
After the second attempt at trying to wrap a rock, I decided to take a chance, and I horsed him back towards some shallow water, all of the while praying to the Fish Gods not to let my line snap. It was a move I wouldn't normally attempt with a fish this size, but I wanted to net him. Scratch that. I needed to net him. The Fish Gods favored me that afternoon, and within a few minutes, I had this fellow netted and my hook safely removed. And with a picture to prove it (thank you Eva!).
After that, I managed to hook one more, which subsequently broke my line, but hey, that's part of the game. Fishing rivers like the Taylor are a study in futility. If you go with a heavier line, the fish will spook. If you go with a lighter line, the fish will snap it. So what to do? Well, I don't think there's much you can do other than to enjoy the fact that you're out on the river, that there are massive fish in huge quantities at your feet, and that there is a big greasy burger waiting for you at the end of the day. Anything else is just a bonus.
Since that trip, Eva has taken up fly fishing, and she's actually very good. She's picked it up quickly and, even better, she absolutely loves it. I'm trying to talk her into coming back to the Taylor one last time before the pass is closed for the winter, and if we do, know that there will be another entry for this river in 2008 with a lot of pictures.