This summer we took our ’85 VW Vanagon on a bit of a journey through the Rocky Mountain West. Between Montana, Idaho, and Colorado, we added a few thousand miles to the odometer, replaced a few crucial parts, tilted *slightly* off axis, and even hosted a rodent companion for a night (sorry, Andrew). In its most honest definition, we truly embraced the trout bum lifestyle. From fast-paced high mountain streams in Colorado, to the majestic Madison River in Montana, we got a taste of some of the finest trout fishing in the west. While the fishing was, well, incredible, it’s the people and communities with whom we shared these experiences that made it not only possible, but unforgettable.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO
With the end of our summer journey through the heart of Rocky Mountain Trout Country in sight, we had one last trip to make before heading back to our home on Bainbridge Island, and what a more fitting place than Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. At this point, the van, and ourselves for that matter, truly embodied every stereotype imaginable with a Trout Bum lifestyle. Exteriors covered in dirt, grime, and insect carnage, and the interiors boasting a distinct musk only attainable through being ridden hard and put away wet. A slight hint of campfire smoke graced the cabin, just enough to know what you see is what you get. A vast array of flies adorn the carpeted dash, and a newly discovered bobcat skull rides front and center with a tasteful potpourri of desert sage, dried in the baking sun. Hats are bleached by the sun, and skin tones are many shades darker than a couple months previous. Field mice have continued to wreak havoc on the cabinets and their contents, and conveniently found reprieve out of toilet paper rolls and fiberglass insulation from the sliding door; you don't often see them in the flesh, but rest assured, they're there.
Our friend Alex Dowd was undeterred by the aforementioned details (frankly those may have sold him even more), and he met up with us just outside of Denver for this last adventure into the Colorado Backcountry. Our mission was to find some of Colorado's Native Greenback Cutthroat Trout, which we have since learned were introduced in restoration efforts due to the eradication of this subspecies through almost the entirety of its native range. After gathering some incredibly helpful intel from our friends at Anglers All in Littleton, CO, and Kirk's Fly Shop in Estes Park, CO, we set our sights to higher ground to see what we could find.
Not the intended target, but a nice encounter regardless.
After a few miles of hiking, we arrived at a series of picturesque waterfalls and plunge pools. Now, if you've spent any time at all exploring small mountain streams, a waterfall dropping into a deep pool is like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The cool mist from the falls provides a natural A/C on hot days, the sound of the crashing water provides a calming soundtrack, and the prospect of bigger fish gets the juices flowing. This particular pool was even more fascinating in that it was separated by both an upper and lower falls, both of which are too high to allow fish to move freely between other sections of river. These fish live in this one pool; it's their home, and it didn't take long before we encountered a few of the residents.
These beautiful Cutthroat were eager to eat our dry flies, and wasted no time finding them on the surface. The numbers and quality of fish here were a clear indication of a healthy population, particularly due to the barrier falls preventing non-native Brook and Brown Trout from competing. There were plenty of fish to offer, but after a few fish landed and admired, there was no need to keep on catching. We found what we were after, a perfect cap to our first day's exploratory mission. The hike out was an enjoyable one, especially with a few cold brews waiting for us at the van. We found camp in the dark, cooked a filling supper, and hit the hay, eager for what the next day was to bring.
Day two ushered us to a different corner of the park, to a river literally flooded with history. After a mellow hike along a gentle trail we got the first glimpse of the day's arena, and the scarred riverbed shows the power the epic volumes of water had tearing down the steep valley. Through these destructive floods, and to quote actor Jeff Goldblum in the great film Jurassic Park, "Life, uh, finds a way".
As the day's light faded to gold in the first sign of the setting sun, we climbed back out of the valley and made our way down the trail. A cozy campsite awaited us just outside the park that night, and our original intent of actually making dinner with some daylight left went by the wayside once we hit the valley floor. We just couldn't resist making a few casts in the meandering meadow stream. Once the evening chill set in, we called it a day, found camp, and enjoyed an evening of stargazing, a couple of fine steaks over the campfire, and a few tunes on the 6-string. This was a perfect end to our journey, and we are so thankful for the support along the way. Now, here's to looking forward to what next season has in store...
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." - Aldo Leopold