Winter's Dream: The Lower Dolores revisited
The Lower Dolores, revisited
Note: at the original time of publishing, the river described in this article was not identified. Now, the horse is out of the barn. Sweet dreams.
On a seldom traveled highway
in Southwest Colorado there is an unmarked right turn, a dirt road that slides through pinto bean fields and descends, unexpectedly, into a sandstone and ponderosa canyon, the bottom of which is as flat as a table. Across this flat winds a river of some reputation, or rather, some reputations. It is known as the home of inspiring trout that eat grasshoppers from April into November. It is rumored the most idyllic dry fly stream in Colorado. Even the drive is hallowed, "the most beautiful drive in fly fishing," according to one former guide. It is known as a place where sight fishing dreams come true and as a place, in spite of it all, that remains a secret.
The "secret" is not in the location, but in the fishing methods of the few consistently successful anglers. On this river, things happen in specific times and places. Changes in weather affect each section of the river uniquely. The water is always too low, the skies too sunny. Hatches are thin by the standards of great Western rivers such as the Henry's Fork and Green. The extreme low water winter of 1989-1990 killed half of the fish and almost all of the big ones.
What one dedicated angler terms "wildlife difficulties" can present frustrating or frightening situations, too. Cows might be standing in your favorite pool. Geese frequently alight during the most intense moments of a hatch. Despite biologist claims that otters don't affect the fish population, we frequently see them extracting brown trout from cut banks. Beavers take up residence in certain upper river pools and scare the trout for weeks at a time. Then there are the mountain lions and snakes. Early in the summer, biologists determined that the valley holds the highest concentration of rattlesnakes yet documented in Colorado. Later, a team of cougar experts working out of the valley's only lodge treed seven lions within walking distance of the premises. According to the innkeeper, no larger population has ever been found in the state.
Yet, in spite of challenging conditions and countless distractions, the most compelling trout in our corner of Colorado swim in this river. For that reason, it is sacred.
Last week, Telluride Outside closed for a time so our guides and staff could spend some precious time together on our favorite river (right). This is what we found:
Hatches were light, but varied. Blue winged olive mayflies came off between 10:30 am and 2:00 pm on much of the river. It was sunny, so consistent risers were scarce, but the trout seemed eager to eat dry flies all the same. Several species of caddis were present, ranging in size from #18 to #10, including a floppy cream colored fellow that was approximately a size #12. Grasshoppers were everywhere. There were at least six species around the river, including some gigantic black and yellow specimens and the rare but irresistible orange-winged hopper. We saw other previously unidentified terrestrials including several species of ant and a disc-shaped iridescent green beetle that is no smaller than a quarter and sounds like a lawnmower in flight. There were, of course, midges in the mornings and evenings. Rising trout might have been eating them, or they might have been taking the fallen BWO spinners. We cast at lots of those morning risers, but caught few. The river produced a handful of unforgettable moments, including a 19" brown that ate a #8 Turck's Tarantula in plain sight of a gallery of onlookers. Todd Field caught a 19"+ brown in one of the river's most difficult match-the-hatch pools on a size #6 foam beetle, a "floating streamer" as he puts it. John Shuler tagged an 18" brown and had other moments of brilliance with a techy little BWO cripple that he tied on experimentally. Fish were caught on dries, droppers and streamers. The lower river produced a respectable count, but the upper miles, like normal, seemed to hold the most fish. Many took riverside siestas as the afternoon breezes swept hatching insects off the water.
A few of us will probably fish the river again before snow closes the road and trout huddle away. It is certain, however, that the group of 18 who fished together last week will not fish together again until next year, at the earliest. Such trips seal friendships and create memories that will be shared for many winters.
Republished from October, 2011