Hooked on a feeling: RareWaters gives fly-fishers access to private waters at a fair price
Special to the Daily
It’s a crisp morning; the sun is soft, shedding mellow light that glows rather than glitters on the river. Clad in waders, up to their knees in the swift water, the two are silent.
The movement of their rods is rhythmic, ticking between the hours of a clock face from 2 to 10. As if coordinated, they release in tandem, the fly floating in a graceful arc before settling gently on the water.
After a few seconds (or minutes, time doesn’t seem to matter), the lines are slowly raised from the water and the dance begins again.
Fly-fishing is a favored way to spend the long, bucolic and too fleeting warm weather days. Many people use it as an escape; a way to unplug and reset. For Brenden Stuckey, fly-fishing was a way to decrease stress and anxiety from a high-powered corporate job.
Finding serenity and solitude
However, finding a peaceful place to fish can be a challenge. COVID-19 brought an influx of new recreationists to the outdoors but fly-fishing was already experiencing a rapid growth rate. According to market research, from 2018 to 2019 the number of fly-fishing anglers grew to a record 7 million in the U.S.; both retail sales and online fly-fishing retailer sales have increased since the pandemic.
“People go fly-fish because they want to experience serenity, adventure, solitude, exploration,” Stuckey said. “They’re not necessarily always after big fish, they just want to get away. And you can’t really get that at public fishing locations anymore.”
Traveling to various rivers, Stuckey said that it was difficult to get away from people; unplugging and immersing himself in the outdoors was almost impossible. He even contacted private ranchers to see if he could fish on their properties in solitude but there was no easy or affordable way to do that.
“It was either pay a guide $800 a day, including tip, or join a fly-fishing club that costs $3,500 to potentially $500,000 a year,” Stuckey said. “I can’t afford that. And 99% of the population can’t afford that. I wanted to create a way that was more inclusive.”
Stucky founded RareWaters in 2019 and launched it in August of 2020. Solving the problem that Stuckey experienced, RareWaters grants access to private ranches throughout Colorado and Wyoming through either a membership or a single-day use fee. Unlike some private membership groups that charge initiation fees, yearly dues and minimum use fees, RareWaters offers a punch pass (starting at $150) and a membership that’s $300 annually; access fees start at $125 a day.
“I know we’re not dirt cheap,” Stuckey said, “But I think that we do make (fly-fishing on private waters) available to the public, as opposed to it being like an exclusive, upper-class type of endeavor.”
RareWaters is geared toward fishermen with at least some experience – the pass allows you access to the river but doesn’t include gear, flies, instruction or anything else that you’d receive on a guided trip (there is an option for guides to purchase a license that grants access to all of RareWaters spots). But for those that simply want a quiet place to cast, it’s a great option.
“I’ve seen firsthand the surge in popularity and crowding on rivers and creeks I used to fish without running into many people over the past few years,” said Jens Werner, an Eagle County fly-fisherman. “The opportunity to access private water for a modest fee is brilliant.”
Giving back through fly-fishing
In addition to making private waters more accessible, there’s also a philanthropic side to RareWaters: $25 of every membership is donated to nonprofit organizations such as Trout Unlimited, Fishing the Good Fight, Casting for Recovery, and Project Healing Waters.
Fishing the Good Fight leverages the therapeutic benefits of fly fishing to support men’s health. Casting for Recovery provides outdoor retreats for women with breast cancer. And Project Healing Waters provides a fly-fishing program for disabled active military service personnel.
Last year, RareWaters donated $20,000 to Trout Unlimited. The partnerships with the other organizations are newer, Stuckey said, but they have hosted retreats with Casting for Recovery and Fishing the Good Fight already this year. There’s financial support, but Stuckey said he also sees it as helping these programs share their mission and vision.
“For me, it’s all about sharing the (fly-fishing) experience with people,” Stuckey said. “Whether that’s through a cool nonprofit or somebody just coming to our website, I don’t really care.”
Finding rare waters
Currently, RareWaters has access to about 40 miles of private fishing waters in Colorado and Wyoming and is adding another 10 miles in Wyoming soon. By the end of the summer, Stuckey said the outfit will have 55-60 miles of access.
“Our vision is to go national,” Stuckey said. “We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin and that’s why we’re focused in Colorado and Southern Wyoming right now. But by 2023, we want to be in all seven mountain states. Then, if we can continue to grow and make the business model work, we’d like to take this national. The idea is, no matter where you’re traveling, you can trust the RareWaters brand to put you in a really special property.”
RareWaters offers access to private waters in Colorado and southern Wyoming including properties in Gypsum, McCoy and Carbondale. Visit RareWaters.com to view all locations, purchase a punch pass or a membership.
These local fly-fishing companies offer full and half-day trips — choose from float or wade trips — and can not only teach you the basics of fly-fishing but impart tips and tricks from their wide bases of knowledge.
Gore Creek Fly Fisherman: The Vail Valley’s oldest fly-fishing outfitter — 35 years strong — offers float and wade trips with experts that can teach to all levels of fishermen.
Minturn Anglers: With access to both private and public waters, this hometown shop offers guided fly-fishing trips, equipment, flies and in-depth reporting of daily conditions.
Vail Valley Anglers: In addition to guided trips, this Edwards-based shop also offers a variety of classes and resources for the avid trout catch-and-release.