I didn’t think that fly-fishing fell under the category of “adventure sport” until the pavement ended and the dirt and untrammeled views began.
Bumping along at Camp Hale, where the World War II 10th Mountain Division troops once trained, you forget your mission is to catch the beautiful speckled trout that populate the local streams. The views are stunning from the basin floor as your stare at the peaks around you, and the plain seems unspoiled save for a the leftover barracks and army foundations that occasionally dot the landscape.
Our guide, Tom Menas with Minturn Anglers, pulls the car over on the dirt road and announces that we’ll check out a nearby spot. Geared up with boots, waders and our rods, we wade into the cool, shallow waters. Menas shows us the basics of casting (it’s not as easy as experienced fly-fishers make it look), and after a series of unsuccessful tries, which included getting the hook caught in my hair, I finally make a somewhat successful cast.
I try not to slosh around too much and scare the fish off, but they clearly seem to know there’s a newbie in the waters and I have a hard time spotting them beneath the ripples, much less catching one. After a while, we move locations, tromping around the grassy marshes to different ponds that spread out from the stream. I slowly hone my cast and try to drag the fly across the water with my best bug impression, but to no avail. I spy a swimming marmot bobbing across the pond, but don’t get so much as a shadow of a fish.
Suddenly, there’s a pull on the line, subtle enough that I might not notice if I weren’t paying attention. I jerk my arm up the way Menas has taught me, and he suddenly appears by my side, coaching me as I slowly pull in the catch. The reward for my patience is the little flopping speckled brook trout. It’s small, but beautiful, with multi-colored dots running down its side. We release it after admiring its skin and taking a few photos.
“You’ll never go on a boring, ugly fly-fishing trip. You just don’t catch beautiful fish in an ugly, boring place,” Menas said.
From the headwaters to the big river
Beginners will enjoy some of the lesser fished spots like Camp Hale. You match wits with some of the more naive little fish. Move further downstream on the Eagle River and you’ll meet their craftier, hard-to-catch cousins. But these challenges are exactly what make fly-fishing so attractive to many people.
“Fly-fishing is like a dance, and it makes it more fair. The fish have a much better chance of getting away than you do of catching it,” Menas said.
Once you learn the basics, the sport can turn into a real science. Getting the fish to bite is all about finding out what bugs are in the water and creating flys that mimic the look of the bug.
“You can get as dorky as you want with it. In mid-July, what kind of fly you use is all dependent on water temperature. We try our best to imitate the bug that is in the river at the time,” Menas said.
In some ways, fly-fishing is a bit like golf. It’s not too hard to pick up and take a few swings (on our first outing we caught a few fish within a couple hours), but near impossible to master.
In mid-July, flyfishermen can enjoy the caddis hatch, a time on the river when caddisflies bounce across the water until they can take flight. The fish love it, and it signals the peak of the season, in a way, said Ben George of Vail Valley Anglers.
This year’s caddis hatch started about two weeks ago and can be expected to last for a couple more weeks, he said.
“The fishing is really good right now, and it’s allowing us to offer all kinds of wade trips and float trips all down the Eagle and Colorado Rivers,” George said.
Fly-fishing conditions can be just about as variable as the Colorado weather. This summer, higher-than-average runoff flushed the water, making the water up at Camp Hale gin clear. Fishermen were waiting a month ago for the caddis hatch, but the bugs don’t make an appearance until water temperatures hit 50 degrees.
“The fishing on the Eagle (River) is on fire,” said Vail Valley Angler’s latest fishing report. “Flows are ideal for both wading and floating. Flows are still a little high so use caution while wading. It should be an awesome summer of fly-fishing the Eagle!”
For all levels
Local fly-fishing guide companies will cater to every level of fishing ability. First-timers like myself will usually take a half-to-full-day wading trip. More experienced people will be able to go on a float trip, where you’ll bob down the river while you fish and hop from hole to hole.
Companies like the Minturn Anglers have even started doing destination trips around the U.S. to experience the best that different regions have to offer. I’ll offer a warning: It’s surprisingly addictive. I wasn’t expecting to be, shall we say, hooked, but I came away grinning and sad that the trip was over.
“You get away from everything,” said Menas of the sports’ appeal. “You totally lose yourself being focused on your fly and fish. You can totally get away.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.