Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Upper Conejos River

Golden Brown Trout from the Upper Conejos River

Get ready for MAJOR RANT: Three years ago a man camped next to me at the Lake Fork campground. Seemed to be a nice guy - Berkley computer engineer from Colorado Springs. Said he'd never been to the upper Conejos River and would I mind showing him around. I talked with him some about barbless hooks, catch and release, etc. etc. and he seemed like a good guy. So, I spent the better part of two days showing him some good places to fish in my little "nature hideway" that I prize so highly. BIG mistake. After three days, he packs up and says, "thanks alot Mike, I can't wait to tell all my buddies back at the "Pike's Peak Flyfishing Club" about what a great river this is". (!) My worse fears have come true.
Last year, as I made the turn to go up the Platoro road off of highway 17, there was a big sign by the side of the road "Pike's Peak FlyFishing Club" and an arrow pointing up the road (no where else to point, it's a single road for 26 miles!). There were a half dozen more signs on the dirt road and by the time I got to the Lake Fork campground, I felt like I was in downtown NYC (or Denver)! Worse still, they had reserved about 10 campsites over the internet and they were un-occupied for some days, leaving me (and others) having to camp in unshaded campsite while perfectly good campsite remained empty?! As if all that isn't bad enough, apparently the ENTIRE club finally did come up and those guys put 20 or 30 fisherman on roughly 5 miles of upper Conejos River for a week. Those of you who aren't familiar with the Conejos, or flyfishing, probably don't understand the effect such a massive number of hard core fly-fisherman can do to a river like this. Simply put - they stress the hell out of the fish.
It was a repeat performance this year - the difference being I stayed at the lower Conejos (Mogote) campground until they left and the sign at the HWY 17 junction was taken down. I swear had I gone up there and seen my "friend", I bet I would have punched his lights out. Somethings are worth fighting about, and this is one of them. They have pretty much ruined the upper Conejos compared to what is was before their arrival. Now, every fish you catch has hook marks in their mouth, they're nervous, skiddish, and simply not as wild. There's footmarks all over every conceiveable spot. It's now like most any other river in Colorado. Man, do I ever regret spending time with that "traitor".
Don't get me wrong, they have every right to fish the river and should do so. But why are all the signs necessary? Show me one fly-fisherman who cannot find a campground on a 26 mile single dirtroad and I'll show you an idiot. Why does everyone in the fly-fishing club have to fish the river AT THE SAME TIME? I have even read articles in Colorado magazine about how fly-fishing clubs in the state are managing their time on the water (apparently not Pike's Peak). Why do they have to make so many campsite reservations that are unfilled? These guys are just bad news and NOT representative of fly-fisherman at all. They are the antithesis of the fly-fisherman I know in Colorado, most of whom are very much individualist and prefer to fish alone as I do.
Anyhow, RANT over and I will contact DOW and make my complaints official. It is not only I that am bothered about all this, I heard several other fly-fisherman around the campground and in Horca complaining about these bozos. I only hope DOW can actually do something about these guys and appeal to their sense of duty to the river and its trout. What a damn shame.
All that said, I still caught lots of fish in the upper Conejos despite these bungholes. I had two 20 fish days out of three. I hated to see that the majority of them had hook marks in their jaws already. This very rarely happened before. Regardless, the water was fast and high this year, but a good drift in a good patch of water almost always produced either a fish or a strike. Some pictures are attached below.
Also different this year was the weather. For the first time I can remember since the drought years, it rained every afternoon and turned cold. I froze my ass off one evening when I got wet at dark on the river. It's great to see all this moisture falling on the South San Juan Wilderness after all the drought, dead trees, low water, and fires of the last 8 years or so.
It is still one of the most beautiful parts of Colorado I know of.

A Cut-bow Trout

I love the orange on this Cutthroat Trout

Just your average ordinary upper Conejos Brown Trout


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael:

Came across your blog. I love the Conejos as much as you do and have been fishing it for 50 years (from the age of 5). I find it very ironic that you are ranting about a fishing club fishing your river (perhaps one week per year) when you are posting how great the Conejos is on the worldwide web for millions of people to see. Also, your daughter's cabin on the Hamilton Ranch is a much bigger environmental impact on the Conejos Canyon than any fishing club camping on the river for a week. By the way, I am not affiliated with Pike's Peak or any other fishing club. Just wanted to give you some thoughts to ponder.

Stay cool
Steve T

the_fitzman said...


There is a big difference between a guy, or a couple of guys, fishing the Conejos and a fly-fishing club like Pike's Peak that blankets the river with 30 fisherman for 4 or 5 days. So, I stand by that article, and by my blog. I don't advertise this blog -fisherman find it mostly via google - and there is lots of other information on the Conejos on the www. Most who contact me are very cool and we exchange information and whatknot. You can't stop information, you can only try to get people to act responsibly, which is certainly what I do when it comes to fly-fishing. Btw, it's not my daughter's cabin, it's Hamilton's daughter's cabin, and since they allow public access to fish their ranch, we should respect their right to build a cabin on their land wherever they'd like.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Yeah well there's 3 million people in Colorado and another million in New Mexico (where I'm from) so if there's only 50 extra folks there (and it's all your fault) that's no big deal. I remember when the San Juan was relatively fun. Now there's buses parked there and even women(!) fishing it! It's no fault of my own, only God's.
But if you think that other people have no right to fish where you do, grow a brain! Especially when you told the guy!

the_fitzman said...

I never said people didn't have the right to fish where I did - that is your own lack of reading comprehension skills. What I DID say, and what I DO believe, is that it is most irresponsible of a trout fishing club like Pike's Peak to organize a trip that blankets a small high elevation river like the upper Conejos with too many fisherman for too long a time. You may not agree with that opinion, but at least let's debate that issue rather than your false assertion that I believe "other people have no right to fish were you do". Ironically, you then contradict yourself by implying that women have no right to fish the Conejos! Someone needs to grow a brain alright...