Colorado Day 1 – The Piedra River

| August 17, 2010 | 0 Comments

I awoke, alive and not inside the stomach of a bear. Those first nights, solo, at altitude, and far away from anyone else, are for attitude adjustment as well as altitude adjustment.

The altitude made for deep sleep, while the hard ground made for deep aches as the old body adjusts to new parameters. The car tent (an oversized affair I purchased after seeing how well it worked for my brother-in-law at the Navajo Quality Waters) held through the night’s rain and did not spring a single seam leak. The room inside this tent is intended for those trips that end up with a chair inside waiting the rain out. It isn’t a tent you want to carry (or drag) too far, say ten feet, from the car. It’s that big.

In case you missed the premise of the trip, let me fill in some blanks. As of “Day 1” (a wednesday), my SO had been on the trail with a group of teenagers and two other adult leaders since Saturday. I was there to pick her up and transport her from one backpacking endpoint (Pagosa Springs) to another backpacking begin point (Creede) between her coming off the trail Thursday, recovery day and getting to destination two Friday, and off toward and along the Continental Divide on Saturday – for another week of backpacking for her with her annual girl group, and solo fish-living for me.

As usual, there’s no money for guides, and the only thing I had going for me was a “Five Day Plan” created by former Colorado fly fishing guide Joel Hays (JH). Some people are “instruction readers” and some are “trial and error” and some are what I call “picture people”. “Instruction readers” don’t do a thing before they read everything they can find, twice, and are the type that would pull one part at a time to glue their model cars together at a pace akin to the United Auto Workers. The “trial-and-error” guys finished their model cars by glueing the wheel axles, “Heck, who cares if it rolls!”. I belonged to the third group. For better and/or worse, the “picture people” take a look at the instructions, pull all the first group of parts from their attachments, and start glueing … just look at the instructions to make sure it “looks” right.

Colorado’s Best Fishing Waters (Flyfishers Guide)

So, when JH was nice enough to lay out the Five Day Plan for the area north of Pagosa Springs, I not only put post-it notes on the pages of “Colorado’s Best Fishing Waters”, I also recorded video of him going through the pages and telling the when, where and how of this area – on my iPhone … talk about “instructions.” Here’s the rub. It was a Five Day Plan, and day one was actually day three, and time to cherry pick a day for potential.

From my location, I had already caught fish along Williams Creek right behind my tent, so I knew what Williams Creek had to offer. It was a highly accessible creek that had been stocked two days before, and offered a good opportunity to get acclimated to the new terrain. The twist in JH’s instructions for a day on this stretch was a turnout above the campground where hardly anyone goes. As is typical everywhere, the more difficult to reach locations are pounded a lot less by what I call the “heavies.” I would save that for a fallback day, a day for recovery, or relaxing layover.

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What was sticking in my mind were the turnoff and parking at the Piedra River. When I drove by on the washboard dirt road, I could see the trail leading up, up and up along the ridge above the Piedra River on the far side. There were a few cars, and none of the usual suspects pounding the bridge pool with fancy “S” curved casts. The plan for the Piedra, as outlined by JH, called for a full-on hike in along the Piedra trail 596 (on east side of Piedra and going southbound in my case) from the bridge down to the confluence of the Piedra and Sand Creek – more or less.

For a hike like this, you’ll want a backpack with all the things you “could” need, like rain gear, extra water, lunch and maybe anything else that would add comfort and safety. Wearing waders seemed fine for a first day out and the idea of more cushion of waders on my feet was attractive due to the kinds of distances we are talking about. Shorts under your waders this time of year can be a perfect balance. Otherwise, this is wet wading weather and country.

The climb began immediately, but was not that severe. If you are from lower altitudes, trail 596 is a great warmup for more Colorado highs yet to come. You will be conscious of airflow after about ten minutes on this trail, but it eases up pretty quickly.

As I made my way along the well worn trail, the terrain, sounds of water and rugged beauty began to overpower thoughts of trout fishing. Maybe I started off sleep-hiking, but I was waking up to clean air, rugged vistas, a river that had cut severe shapes into solid rock over the millennia . The cuts continued under the rock leaving them suspended over the river with dark cuts underneath. The water color was again frappe latte brown from the monsoons. The sun was bright and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It’s the kind of morning that will fool you – during the monsoons.

There didn’t seem to be any reason to stop, except to occasionally shoot enticing video for readers. I hit the first decision point where Williams Creek flows into the Piedra. I didn’t see an obvious continuation of 596 along the Piedra, so I headed up a clear trail along Williams Creek. According to the map, it was 2.9 miles to that confluence, and I probably did another half mile up Williams Creek.

There comes a time to stop and fish, and I finally hit that point and dropped into Williams Creek. There wasn’t a lot of pocket water, and it appeared the flows were still going strong because of the previous night’s rains. I decided to go against the grain and take a dead drifting streamer downstream in the deeper guts, and fluttering them to the slower edge of the flows.

It worked quite well for some smaller rainbows, and catching anything on this stretch, in these conditions, seemed like icing on the cake of the beautiful surroundings. I began working back to the confluence, and took a break.

It wasn’t much longer, and clouds began to gather. With three miles to go, it was time for some hit-and-run back up trail 596. I fished under the boulders that had deep undercuts wherever I could get access. More people, many more people were on the trail now, and their typical (American) loudness did a lot to dampen the experience. There’s nothing like the American tendency to want to leave an impression on nature rather than allowing nature to leave an impression on them.

One of the things I love is when I can see the fish I am trying to catch. However, a lot of times I like seeing fish, even if I am not going to try and (or be able to) catch them, just so I know they are actually there. I neither saw, nor caught any fish on the return from Williams Creek to the bridge along trail 596. I later heard in town that big brown trout are caught along that stretch on occasion, and I have no reason to disbelieve that, but no one was fishing this stretch at all.

Wicked lightning bolts, the skinny kind that travel fast, were gaining volume as I got back to the parking lot. It was there, I saw a bus, the bus responsible for all the noisy “yutes” (My Cousin Vinny) along the trail. They were literally running for the parking lot as big drops began to fall. All illusions of seclusion were being burst like cartoon bubbles overhead.

I drove back to camp and got ready for the rain.

Video Note – Just about all you will find here is scenery. And that’s what was most impressive along Piedra River trail 596. I could certainly use a second on these trips to be the focus of video!

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Category: Colorado Report, Fish Podcasting, Fishing Reports, Life Observed

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

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