Fish America: The Rockies

If you've ever wondered what it's like to wake up beside an empty hangar overlooking the Albuquerque airport, it feels like this. With 747s descending like stars in the night, an international airport is a cool place to lay your head while you drift across the country. Ironically, I was booted from the $4 paid lot, and given a refund. The view was better from above.
My destination was Colorado. I'd always dreamt of a place of wide-open expanses and enormous mountains in the distance with tremendous fishing. The real thing would prove even better than my dreams.
The drive through New Mexico is breathtaking. The sheer size and color of the country is something that's hard to wrap your head around if you're from the East Coast. It feels as if you're constantly driving into a movie backdrop. I was tempted to stop and take a photo at every turn.
From the 99-degree desert temperatures up into the mountain climate, the air changes considerably. There was one point when I stopped and changed from shorts and a T-shirt to pants and a sweatshirt. It felt as though I was on conveyor belt moving double-time through the seasons. The foliage in October as you drive the winding roads into the Colorado mountains is every bit as beautiful as the New Mexico landscape though.
My first stop was Denver. I couldn't stay long, and no I'm not a Rockies fan. But on this hollowed ground my beloved Red Sox clinched a World Series title in 2007. I had to stop by.
After Denver it was on to Boulder. Pictured here is Eldorado Canyon in Boulder. The place is a mecca for climbers. I have two brothers in Boulder and when you're driving cross-country, you don't miss a chance at a couch. It doesn't hurt that these guys are some of the most intense outdoorsmen I've ever met, and an inspiration.
Dave and Fran are more than 15 years older than I am, but they sponsor their own mountain biking team, routinely participate in 24-hour races (that's 24 hours on a bike, non-stop), and bike hundreds of miles on any given weekend. The pictured bike is loaded down with everything from food to a sleeping bag, to replacement parts. "You get on and just go," Dave explains.
As if that weren't enough, these guys, contractors in Boulder, rock and ice climb when they're not building or remodeling houses or biking. Dave has climbed all over the world, including a volcano in Mexico. The photo here is from an ice-climb in Colorado, in Rocky Mountain National Park. Dave is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A torn bicep and labrum from a fall on his bike has slowed him to two hours of riding per day.
Fran admittedly isn't the climber that Dave is. But after beating cancer seven years ago, he's back on his bike, and was preparing for a 24-hour race in Moab, Utah when I hung out with these guys in Boulder. Any misconceptions I have about my being tough are quickly cleared up when I ask what these guys are up to.
While in Boulder, I made the hour drive up to Estes Park, a town that sits right at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The place is definitely worth a visit if you're in Colorado.
While I was there they were having the "Elk Fest" to celebrate this beloved and much-hunted Colorado animal.
Colorado loves its elk. Numerous streets had the word 'elk' in them, there was edible elk and elk merchandise.
And, not to disappoint, the guests of honor made an appearance. I saw these two smaller elk crossing a street in Estes Park, and jumped out for a photo.
The driving out West hasn't ceased to amaze me, but the drive across Colorado was particularly amazing. From Boulder to Meeker, Colorado, in the western part of the state, and my next destination, the drive was an incredible climb through some of America's greatest natural scenery.
One worthy stop, if you're making the trek, is Georgetown, Colorado. Georgetown is home to one of the largest herds of bighorn sheep in the United States, and if you're lucky you can spot them grazing the hillside.
These animals are amazing. They engage in tremendous battle during mating season, live on what most would consider uninhabitable terrain, and survive brutal winters. They'll escape predators by making spectacular downhill jumps and making perfect balanced landings despite steep terrain.
I came to Meeker, Colorado to fly-fish with John Kobald on the White River.
John, a fishing and hunting guide in Meeker, was kind enough to put me up for two nights in his home. I got a taste of Colorado living, literally. Pictured here is elk chili and tequila. The pendulum of your reality swings drastically on the road. One night you're overlooking an international airport, and the next you're seated around a family dinner table.
John's also a tremendously talented sculptor and painter, who mostly creates representations of wildlife he sees in the water and the field. These speckled sea trout are carved out of bronze.
This tarpon, mid-leap, is another bronze sculpture. John was working on a mahi chasing a school of flying fish when I arrived, and had just killed an antelope. A life-size sculpture of a montain lion shot by Teddy Roosevelt that John made is in the center of the town of Meeker. Roosevelt was known to hunt in an around Meeker. Check out more of John's art at www.kobaldart.com
But Meeker has more than just great hunting. John and I were out to fish the main stem of the White River that runs through the town. The river is a tributary of Utah's Green River and holds brown, rainbow and two subspecies of cutthroat trout in the section we fished.
The first stop was the Stage Stop Meat Market for sandwiches. I got "the Colorado," appropriately. Turkey, ham, tomato and lettuce. All business, nothing fancy.
We had a beautiful, if a little chilly, morning on the White. The sun snuck through some cloud cover, and the rain jackets would prove unnecessary. Pheasant tail nymphs and midge imitations were the order of the day.
The morning started off slow, although there was a steady whitefish bite. This is my first whitefish ever, and a larger specimen from what I'm told.
As the sun climbed and the water and air warmed, we got into a different species. Here, John hooked up with the first brown trout of the day.
The first trout of the day was a chunky male brown with beautiful coloration.
Check out the blue beneath the eye on this impressive fish. These things are just fascinating to look at, and no two are the same, as we'd prove.
Letting these trout go is half the fun.
I followed up with the largest rainbow I've ever caught on the fly. The fish hit in a pool near an undercut bank and took a pheasant tail nymph.
The Colorado rainbows are every bit as beautiful as the brown trout.
The bite picked up as we moved downstream and the sun warmed the water. Here, John lands another brown.
This was a larger female with darker coloration. The hits were subtle in slower-moving water as these fish just sipped the fly.
We estimated these fish to be in the 3-pound range, and they gave a great battle on a 4-weight fly rod.
John eases the second brown of the day back into the river.
The clock was ticking and we had to pick John's son, Shane, up from school. With one cast left, I got my first Colorado brown trout on the White River in the last pool we fished. It wouldn't compare to the size of the fish John was catching earlier, but I was thrilled.
The aforementioned "Colorado" was delicious after a full day on the water.
So how do you follow up a great day of fishing? More fishing. Shane, pictured here, has caught his share of trout, and wanted to get back on the water with Dad.
So with a San Juan Worm under an indicator on a spinning rod, we took back to the White River. I asked Shane on the car ride over how he thought he'd fare. He casually answered that he'd catch the biggest fish of the day.
Shane, six years old, is as good a fisherman as I've seen, and a great deal better than many I've seen. It didn't take him long to set the hook on his first rainbow trout of the day.
He was all smiles with this nice White River rainbow. It would be an afterthought by the time we got off the water though.
We moved downstream and Shane patiently worked a pool underneath an undercut bank near the area we'd been fishing earlier that day.
Shane wasn't even overly surprised at his car-ride prediction coming true. This beautiful male brown trout was easily the biggest fish on the day. A photo can't even do the coloration of this fish justice.
Shane had no problem setting the hook and landing this enormous brown in an impressive display for any fisherman, let alone a six-year-old.
He even released it. I wouldn't be surprised if these two meet again, when they're both a bit bigger.
I've been fortunate to fish for a number of species across the country, and even catch a few. As fun as the morning and afternoon were, catching my biggest rainbow on the fly and a beautiful brown, the evening was better. There just aren't too many experiences that can top watching a six-year old fisherman land a monster brown trout.
The fishing on the White River is impressive, and the country out here is amazing.
If You Go… John Kobald: www.kobaldart.com, kobald@nctelecom.net
John guides fishing and hunting both in and around Meeker, Colorado.