The Conejos River – Day 4 – No Getting Over This Rainbow

| August 14, 2008

Conejos River Rainbow trout and observations along the way

 

Conejos Trout Habitat Sponsorship.

I sat in the Skyline Lodge restaurant earlier tonight, stretched my elbow straight, and just stared at my forearm, and smiled to no one but myself. The end of a quality day.


The new Forester was meant for this.

I managed to get an early start, and loaded up the pack vest for what I anticipated to be a long hike. According to what I had read and heard, there are two major things about the stretch of the Conejos across from The Pinnacles, and they are 1) It is considered a difficult or strenuous hike, and 2) Some of the biggest fish on the Conejos reside there. That was a good enough reason to pack the Winston 5wt. as well … little did I know.

Along the Colorado roadside north of Lake City, Colorado.

The jump off point for the trail is the same one the ladies backpacking trip started off, and will return tomorrow by that same trail. From what I could tell, markings for the split of the trails is non-existent. The best I could call this venture is a long shot. It was fast water in a rough area. You begin at South Fork Trail Head by parking, loading up and heading straight down the trail, over the bridge and then the trail goes north. The split between 724 (South Fork Conejos Trail), and 720 (Roaring Gulch Trail) happens at the gate – don’t go through the gate, [ppw id=”92839269″ description=”Details for rainbow trout on the Conejos River” price=”.10″]

just go along the fence line. When I arrived at the gate, it was time to catch my breath. It turns out the gate is the apex of the climb for the Roaring Gulch Trail. For whatever reason, I was expecting to be on the trail much longer and be in for a much more difficult traverse. This is about the time I began to question the accuracy of my directions … this just was not as difficult as it was made out to be by the maps and from talking to a fisherman much younger, and seemingly in good shape. Anyway, I followed along the fence line until the trail dead ended at Roaring Gulch – there’s no mistaking this because the fall may not kill you, but the sudden stop at the bottom will. I backtracked and dropped in to the river – literally sliding about ten feet on my bum when the sheer loam gave way momentarily. Finally at the bottom and the roar of the water was almost deafening. I truly believe this place would rock with lower water levels, but as it is, it is fast and impossible to cross or wade safely. The fishable water was limited, and after probably three hours of hitting it as hard as possible I made my way back, leaving a cairn at the gate for LK’s return greeting tomorrow.

Conejos River found art
Dude, I found your net!

Once back at the virtual starting point (down by the bridge not the parking lot), I could see a trail going up the east side of the river, so I decided to explore that. It was much more safe and civilized than the “real” trail and covered the same water from the other side. Nice. Although the first jaunt was not the workout it was made out to be, it was basically unnecessary. I hit it again from this side and began to realize this was not going to be an all day location as I first thought it would be. I worked back to the bridge, had lunch and decided to work that area since it was so easily accessed.

Now, this fisherman I talked to last night in the Lodge lobby gave an apt and accurate description of why he liked to catch trout in a bigger river. He loves the fact they go ballistic, and use the current to help them fight and how he has to work them -sometimes letting them run with the current for a hundred yards all the while trying to catch up with them, reel in the slack and keep from busting something personal on a rock. The strength of a fish fight in a fast river multiplies significantly in comparison to a the same fish caught in calm waters.

Rainbow trout habitat Conejos River

I saw this little slow spot where part of the river curved, maybe five feet in diameter, and I had a feeling. The Stone Fly stopped and I figured I hung it on one of the branches that was braided into the back corner, but then a trout exploded out of that small hole and it was on. The Rainbow skittered across rocks and shallows, in full view only half submerged, in a split second and headed for the current, with the skarkskin line sizzling out of the rod I knew to let him run. Once I put some tension on the Winston, and tightened the drag slightly, the Rainbow reset his trim straight upstream and into the bottom of a fall where he stayed motionless. I was scrambling down to get parallel, over rocks, though current and hopping dead logs. Finally (probably a few seconds) I got parallel and saw that once we got moving again I could maybe land him on the gravel point of a little debris island – to the left mild current and to the right was whitewater. There was no way I could stand up in his water and have a chance of netting him. I put side pressure on him, keeping the rod low, and finally coaxed him over to the sandbar and arrived at the same time he did, and was just as beaten and pumped as he was. I tried to make a good photograph, but it is so difficult when you are struggling to make sure the fish survives. Where’s a photographer when you need one?! I had to have some empirical way of measuring exactly how long the fish was so I stretched my right arm out parallel to the ground, and laid him right on top of my arm. From the tip of my middle finger to one-and-a-half inches past the crease in my elbow. Good enough, better than I deserve, and gone.

conejos river rainbow trout
Nice Rainbow Trout – Conejos River Colorado.

The day was still young, and it was to be the last day, so I hit some more fast water at the Lake Fork trail and ended the day fishing the meadows below Platoro. When you fish somewhere like these rapids on the meadows, you go for long stretches without seeing fish, but I was fortunate enough about an hour before dark (actually the sun going behind the mountain) to see a real feeding frenzy where there were absolutely no fish evident only minutes before they went ballistic. Unfortunately, what I was serving was not on their menu. I can guess that if you can get to these fish before they get months of pressure, they may be catchable. For now, they are still laughing at me.

Tomorrow LK finally comes off the trail. I am guessing she is pretty beat, living in a tent and getting rained on every day for the past five days. I wonder if she caught any fish up in those high mountain streams?

Conejos River Flies.
Flies used on the Conejos River in early August.

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Category: Colorado Report, Equipment, Fishing Reports, Fly Reel, Fly Rods, Fly Tying, Life Observed, On The Road, Paid Reading Content

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

Comments (2)

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  1. shannon says:

    I must be out of control, but I like it when you read it to me. True fish porn? shannon

  2. LeslieK says:

    FYI- going through the gate gets you up to the split in the trail- there are markers at the split that ID each trail, and although roaring gulch trail generally runs parallel to roaring gulch- you don’t see too much water on the way.

    AND….. if I ever am in need of ideas to spark up a romantic evening, I think I’ll remember to just reference the text in this entry (it reads like some kind of hot romance novel–except we’re talkin fish here)….”but then a trout exploded out of that small hole and it was on. The Rainbow skittered across rocks and shallows, in full view only half submerged, in a split second and headed for the current, with the skarkskin line sizzling out of the rod I knew to let him run. Once I put some tension on the Winston, and tightened the drag slightly, the Rainbow reset his trim straight upstream and into the bottom of a fall where he stayed motionless.”…… read this in a low voice and it sounds downright sexy.

    Thanks for making he trip this much fun for all of us. LK