Road Tripping and Fly Fishing
Photos and Words by Buck Smith
My first look at the Gunnison River, its pristine waters slowly cutting through a deep desert landscape, reveals a scene that seemed out of place in Colorado, a drastic contrast to the normally turbid silt riddled rivers that spill out of the high country this time of year. Still six hundred feet above the river we could see mats of emerald green vegetation clinging to the riverbed, shimmering beneath crystal clear water, I felt thirsty. After spending all of my 26 years in Colorado, I again found myself in a world completely new to me, familiar, yet unique in the high desert of southwest.
Two days earlier, I was sitting in Ophir enjoying my offseason, home between spontaneous trips to the desert, Front Range, biking, more fishing, camping and everything else that peaks my interests. My phone lit up, “Thinking about exploring the Gunny Gorge for a couple days, want to join?” Bobby and I had been talking about making our way to this world renowned fishery for a while, knowing I had no tethers keeping me from checking this amazing place off my ever expanding list, my decision was easy. I quickly gathered all the gear I would need and left early the next morning, excitedly hoping that this famed river would live up to its reputation.
Unlike the high country, seemingly locked in limbo between a dry winter and the coming spring, the desert was in full bloom, cactus flowers and Indian Paintbrush grew dispersed among the Juniper and Sage, every breath was a sweet reminder that spring was here. The hike down Ute trail was quick, wanting to spend as much time as possible in the river; we hastily made our way down the 1200’ walls of the gorge. Reaching the bottom we scanned the river hoping for signs of fish rising. We both prefer dry flies to nymphing especially in such clear water, but after a moment of observation we agreed that staying below the surface would give us the best chance of tempting a monster from the depths.
Geared up and in the water, I quickly find a promising section of river, a small seam between a deep rapid and the green rocky shallow I had waded onto. A hand full of casts later my indicator jolts upstream, practice aided instinct kicks in, the hook is set and the tip of my 4 weight rod is ripped down towards the surface of the water as my reel screams, line being ripped out as the fish turns into the current. Pulling my rod to the left, I slowly battle my quarry; pulling it back into calmer water I see the yellow telltale color of a nice brown trout. Now comes the tricky part, the indicator keeps me from reeling him in any further, slowly, I pull the fish as close as possible, my arms spread wide trying to make up for the 12’ of leader and tippet separating me and the fish. I dipped my net in the water, “got him!” About an inch short from spanning the entire length of my net, a 20 incher, always a prize in my book, a quick photo and the fish is back in the water disappearing into the depths it came from. The rest of the day continued much like this, screaming reels, bent rods and quick glimpses of the natural beauties our world has to offer.
For the first time I didn’t feel like I needed to keep fishing till lack of light kept me from changing my flies or seeing details in the river. After landing a gorgeous 24’ kype jawed rainbow, one of the most beautiful fish I have had the pleasure of seeing in person, I sat on a grassy bank, completely content to watch time flow by like the emerald river in front of me. A true treasure of a day, the hike back to the top of the gorge in the afternoon sun was easy, filled with the very recent memories of the best day I have had with a fly rod in my hand.
A word from the Doctor: Buck Smith is a BootDoctors® Telluride employee that works in the Mountain Village Store during the winter months, as a key member of our rafting team during the runoff season and a Mountain Bike aficionado to round out the rest of the season.