Salomone: October is the end of the high country season
Time for one more cast in the High Country
October is the end of the angling season in the Colorado High Country. The first snows of winter arrive, covering a blanket of golden leaves, remnants from September. The brook trout and the cutthroat trout have gained weight all summer and are all dressed up for the finale. And now sensing the long winter void, strike flies with reckless consideration for their well-being. October is time for one more cast in the High Country.
In Colorado, High Country fly-fishing is predominantly a lake or stream affair. Smaller Alpine ponds run the risk of winter kill. The deep lakes up high are prime habitat for the largest brook and cutthroat trout. Deep water allows trout to winter successfully, gaining significant weight over multiple years. Prime examples would be a couple lakes on the edge of Flat Tops Wilderness Area a man told me about years ago and that I’ve hiked to and fished. These two lakes hold brook trout up to 5 pounds. (I’ve seen one mounted on his wall.)
Flowing out of the lakes are streams. The small water streams are intoxicating. Anglers lose themselves in a place where distance and distractions fade away. Challenging casting conditions paired up with anxious dry fly eating trout lead anglers around the next bend and the next bend and the next. The fish are smaller in the stream compared to the alpine lake fish. But small streams make old angler’s feel like kids again.
Along the small streams, anglers will inevitably encounter beaver ponds. Beavers work constantly to construct the ideal habitat for enduring long winter months. That ideal just happens to be the same for High Country trout. Beaver ponds provide access to depth and structure, places where trout can survive long winters and grow with age.
Flies for trout are not difficult to choose. Opportunistic feeders that feel the cold winter months approaching these fish jump on any dry fly. Small grasshopper flies and ant flies have the flavor cutts and brookies desire. The ever popular and “always in your box fly” parachute Adams works wonders as long as the feathers and thread hold. Both cutts and brookies have small, sharp teeth. Most of these fish have never seen a fly. As a result they have every tooth they were born with and the constant action frays cheap or poorly tied flies down to a ragged hook.
Subsurface flies like soft hackles breath when slowly stripped across beaver ponds and when free drifting down streams. Drowned insects, emerging flies or just something that looks alive, soft hackles can be a knockout punch. Annelids and leeches are two tasty flies brookies and cutts devour. Scuds in olive green or the dying scud in orange color attract bites dead-drifted or slowly stripped through the water column.
Safety is a consideration when venturing into the Colorado backcountry in search of trout. Let people know where you are going and when you should be back. Preferably someone that knows the area you will be fishing. This is no time for wet wading, no matter how warm the afternoon sunshine becomes. Good boots help protect ankles when negotiating slipper rocks and willow-choked streambanks.
Pack along water for the day. A water filter in your pack is always a good insurance card to carry. Snacks to fend off the hunger that sneaks up on you while you are immersed in the adventure. Some type of fire starter is a good idea in an emergency. The Colorado High Country is in a fragile state where any errant spark could set off the next wildfire blaze so a fire is a last resort or a necessity in an unplanned overnight experience. The weather is an unpredictable beast. Plan accordingly and pack some rain gear.
October is the last hoorah for High Country angling opportunities. Grassy meadows with spring fed streams and Alpine lakes that plunge to unknown depths will soon be resting under a heavy blanket of ice and snow. The denizens are wearing their best colors and still eager to take the last flies of the year. October is time to tempt those brookies and cutts before the mountain covers their water until next year.