Ah yes, the first trip of November. Originally the plan was to try and sneak in one last run to the Taylor before winter set in but, unfortunately, Cottonwood Pass was closed for the season at the beginning of this month. So, the next logical (ha! Logic, from me?) choice was Cheeseman Canyon, an old, familiar friend (that doesn't ask to borrow money or pass out on your couch) that is always there, and never ceases to disappoint.
The morning started out early, with a quick stop by - SURPRISE! - Burger King for some (un)wholesome chow to sustain us through the day. From there, we hit the road for a very pleasant, early morning drive through the foothills and on into the back-country of the front-range.
After a 90 minute drive we arrived at the Gill Trail parking lot, and geared up faster than Oprah making her way to the dinner table. There's a sense of excitement and anticipation that comes with the morning of a fishing trip, and once there, the only thought on your mind is getting on the water. Or is it just me?
Once finished, we started down the Gill Trail, a relatively easy hike that takes you through some of the remnants of the 2002 Hayman Fire, which was the largest (and costliest) wild-fire in Colorado history. Along with the monetary cost, six lives were lost as a result of the fire which, sadly, was started by a Forestry Officer.
Initially, there was great concern about the impact to the river system, and the thought at the time, was that the South Platte would take many years to recover from the after-effects of the fire. Fortunately, the damage was not as bad as originally anticipated, and the canyon was re-opened for fishing approximately two years after the fires ravaged the area.
The trail itself is a work in progress and thanks to the help of countless hours of volunteer work, it is continually maintained and in great shape. This area is also popular with hikers, and on most days, you will see plenty of folks out enjoying the scenery of the canyon.
At the mouth of the canyon, along the trail, there is an informational sign about the canyon which shows the layout of the water, and all of the specific areas along the river. If you've never been here before, it's worth taking a peek at, as you can then scope out the three-miles of water that lay at your feet. It's at this point that the trail splits in two directions - left and right, and it's here, that we usually go left, down to the Family Pool and the Ice Box. Unfortunately there is no 'middle' trail, so all of you conservative Liberals will have to choose wisely.
Once down at the Family Pool, we wasted no time in getting our lines wet. Being so late in the year, the water levels are low, the fish are moving upstream, and they are amassed in huge groups that are easily seen throughout this section of the river. We started off by pulling some streamers upriver and, while the fish reacted positively to them, we just were not able to close the deal. On top of that, it was still a little cold in the canyon, and the eyelets on our rods were icing up, which made pulling the line in a little difficult.
After a few attempts, we switched over to nymphs, which is my favorite method of fishing a river. Eva went off and started fishing some runs and riffles, and watching her, I can honestly say that she is getting her cast down nicely, and her drift is looking pretty tight as well. Being that she's only been out on the river a few times, her progress is impressive. She's already hooked numerous fish (which says a lot about her presentation) but had yet to net one. But that was about to change.
Within a short time, I heard her call out that she had hooked one and, looking over, I saw her rod bent, and her line being pulled. She had landed a pretty nice fish, and I really wanted her to net this one. So, I sat back and watched, offering up some advice here and there, but for the most part, she worked this one herself. I did net it for her though, but once caught, I turned it over to her and she proceeded to do the rest herself. I think next time, though, she'll be just fine netting it herself.
As you can see, for her first official catch with a fly-rod, it was a nice fish. Landing a catch like that will get the adrenaline going and my hat's off to Eva for keeping cool under pressure and for a job well done. Welcome to the club, Eva, you're official!
Throughout the day, she had some close calls and near misses - she lost several flies to some hooked hogs, so it was a great time overall. I've always said that it's an easy sport to learn, but takes a lifetime to master, so every day out on the river is a learning experience, and this day was no different.
As for me, well, it was a rather strange day, and one that found me in a battle of wits with an albino Rainbow that held my attention for the better part of the day. I was determined to land this guy, who was in the 25-30 inch range and easily 3 pounds, but he was having a great time teasing and taunting me with his incandescent profile, snubbing my presentation time after time, all the while laughing at my efforts (not unlike most women, now that I think about it).
To say I was fixated on this one fish is an understatement. I was Captain Ahab and this was Moby-Dick and I had to land him, if it was the last thing I did. Plus, I believe that fish like these are magical and, when caught, they will grant you three wishes in exchange for their freedom. So, the thought of a lifetime supply of Cheez Whiz got the better of me.
In the process of trying to bag Moby-Dick, I hooked a really decent fish, which I did manage to net. Another time, with my focus trained on Moby, my fly was taken by an even larger 'Bow that was behind my colorless friend. I didn't know he was there, and as my fly drifted past Powder, I started pulling my line to recast, and my fly got SLAMMED. Hard. And it actually scared me slightly, being that I was not expecting it. He took off with my line, jumped once and broke the surface, broadside to me, and I realized how big it actually was, which got me freaking out again and screaming like a school-girl. And then my line snapped and just like that, he was gone, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth and a not-too-clean feeling in my waders.
After regrouping and retying my line, I went back to Moby and our colossal battle of wills. It was as if he was daring me to catch him...calling out to me in his little fish voice "I dare you to catch me". So I did. I finally hooked him, and after such a long test of wills, I proudly shouted out to Eva "I GOT HIM!" just as he shot off up the river. I had him just long enough for him to break the surface AND my line before he swam off to skulk, beaten and outsmarted by the slow guy on the side of the river that never stopped believing (this has made-for-tv movie written all over it).
Now, I'm no rhetorician, but I know that there is a good parable in there somewhere, such as, there's no such thing as free Cheez Whiz. In any case, I take great comfort in knowing that I am smarter than a pigment-challenged fish and will always remember (and talk about) my epic battle with Moby-Dick. Even if he did use his magical powers to cut my line.