As expected, Colorado was quite different from the most recent summers due to this winter's abundant snow pack. Some areas were 200%+ above normal. As such, the lakes and reservoirs were full and the rivers were raging. It rained every day of my trip.
Driving through Glenwood Canyon and seeing the water covering the bike-path along I-70 by 2-3 feet, I prepared myself for a less than optimal dry-fly season. I was early and I knew it - but the timing could not be avoided due to family issues. So I headed straight up to Trapper's Lake hoping a few days there to let the rivers come down was a good strategy.
But first, I stopped off at the Meadow Lake campground where I spend a day or two to acclimate to altitude and get my fly-fishing gear out for a walk on easy water. I was told my campsite was under 2 feet of snow the day before I got there. The CG wasn't even open so I camped for 2 nights for free. Good action!
The fishing at Meadow Lake was sub-par. The bigger fish were still down deep and although the area around the creek inlet was full of fish, they were smallish, dumb, and soon bored me. So, onto one of my favorite spots: Trapper's Lake. On arrival, a friendly guy waved so I hung out at his campsite. A cop from Grand Junction and his wife - a school teacher. They were all excited to go on their first over-night (2 nites) backpacking trip. As they were packing, I heard his wife say "what other food are we taking" whereby the cop says, "don't worry honey - we'll just eat fish. I always catch fish with my fly-rod". "You sure?" "Sure I'm sure!" and he grins at me. I agreed, I mean who can't catch trout in just about any backwoods Flat Top's Wilderness lake?
Trapper's Lake fishing was pretty good to me again this year. My first outing I caught 10 or 12, a mix of cutthroats, rainbow, and brook trout. This was in stormy weather while the wind blew and the rain came down in sheets. These trout were taken primarily by stripping black (and olive) woolly buggers as well as the "Fitz special" with a zebra midge dropper. A friend from Craig was doing very well on black leech patterns and I saw several leeches swimming around near the shoreline.
The "Fitz special" is the name given to a fly I have been tying for some years now. Every time I show it to folks, they say "what the hell IS that?" (or something close to that effect). So, instead of saying "oh, I dunno, I just tie it up and it works", I now say "it's a Fitz special!". This fly is very simple to tie - a gold beadhead, orange yarn or thread body, red wire wrap (like a zebra midge). A couple small pieces of flash are optional. Depending on water depth and current, I use this fly in sizes from #20 to as big as a #14. I started using this fly instead of split-shot, which I have learned over the years will lose you flies: repeated casts with split-shot on the tippet will eventually weaken the tippet right at the shot, and eventually you'll lose the fly (and usually a fish along with it) if it is not retied in time. So, I started using the "Fitz special" as a means to get my flies down quickly, and drop the main course off the Fitz special hook. Low-n-behold, on many occasions I started catching as many (or more) fish on the Fitz special as on the main offering. It has become a standard weapon in my arsenal.
Every year I make it a point to do something new when I go to Colorado. A new hike, or fish a new spot, or visit a new campground. My plan this year was to hike around Trapper's Lake, which I had never done before. However, my friend from Craig advised against it. All the trees which burned in the "Big Fish" fire of 2002 now have roots which are well rotted. When the wind blows (as it was the entire time I was there), this becomes a pretty dangerous situation. Instead, I decided to hike up to Coffin Lake and then visit Little Trappers Lake. Coffin Lake has a reputation of holding very large cutthroat up to 30". So, I grabbed my backpack, loaded it with my gear and some lunch and headed out. The lake is aptly named - it is in the shape of a Coffin and very deep. As I headed around the Lake, it became clear the side in the sun, which was relatively shallow, was pretty bare except for the occasional 14-16" cruisers that sees you way before you see them. The steep banked side of the lake was a different story. There were spawning cuts near every little trickle of water from the rains. I rigged up and was soon catching trout very easily, although fishing was quite technical due to the steep bank, all the downed trees, and all the logs in the water. I'd catch a cuttie, and then 4 or 5 others would immediately swim toward the fighting fish and attempt to mate with it. Funnier-n-shit. After 8 or 10, I felt guilty catching spawners. I waited to fish the deeper holes looking for one of the big ones. I worked all the way around the lake with no luck until the last deep whole back where I started. I thought I was hung on a log until it started moving. I caught a slight glimpse of the monster, although the water was 8' deep & dark. It was a *big* fish. I had no chance with all the logs & such and 4lb tippet. He robbed me blind but I will surely visit this lake again.
Next I headed up to Little Trappers and decided to put on my waders since the shore was shallow and no action. I must have stabbed myself while fishing Coffin because I had a relatively deep cut on my left leg. These burned and fallen trees are accidents waiting to happen. Be careful!! Anyhow, I worked my way around the entire lake, saw no fish, saw no rises, and didn't even see any fish spawning where the two creeks empty into the lake. The only lake I had seen this dead was a few years back when I hiked into Rock Lake in the San Juans. While hiking out, I ran into a woman on the trail who told me, after I commented the lake look "dead", "oh yeah, they killed it". I said what do you mean? She explained that the Colorado DOW had begun a new program of trying to restore lakes to its native fish only. According to her (i later verified with a DOW employee) they chemically treated Rock Lake to kill off all the fish (the brook trout were the problem) and then stocked the lake with only its true native fish - in this case the Rio Grande cutthroat. Well, I had convinced myself that Little Trapper's Lake was dead. But then again, the season was 2-3 weeks behind the last few years...water colder...higher...naw man, that lake is DEAD.
So, I hiked back to the truck and got to camp in time to eat and head down to Scot's bay where I caught some more cuts.
That evening, while cooking dinner, a guy dropped by my campsite to bs. He said he planned to hike up to Little Trapper's with his belly boat. I said "Ohh man, don't do it! You'd be better off fishing Scot's bay on the main lake!" Little Trappers is dead I told him and explained why I thought so. "Aw, you're crazy..it's not dead." Okey-dokey buddy, but I think you're wasting your time.
Meanwhile the couple from Craig had come back. How was your trip I asked? Great he said, but all his wife said is "are those steaks done yet?" (they smelled divine). Anyhow, he looks at me with a sheepish grin and about that time his wife said she is tired of eating freeze dried meals. "Didn't you catch any fish?" He looked a me with this kind of startled look and said, "Man, the lake was still frozen over!" I guess he tried to knock a hole in the ice to sink a hook but the slush filled in quickly. What lake did you hike into I asked? "Surprise Lake". How fitting! Bar har har - surprise, surprise, surprise!
He said they saw snow banks up there with 10-15 feet thick and doubted they would melt prior to new snow this fall.
Meanwhile Mr. Belly Boat drops by and said "Little Trapper's isn't dead!" while shooting me a sideway's evil eye. Honestly surprised I said, "Really? You did well?" "Yup" he says, " I caught several 15 inch cuts on dry flies" still looking at me as though I must have purposefully lied to him. I said "Hey man, that's awesome, I guess I was wrong. I was just trying to save you a grunt of a hike with your belly boat." I'm not sure he believed me, but I was glad to hear Little Trapper's is alive and well.