The last full day of our family vacation to Colorado was also my wife's birthday. So, I went fishing!
It is a rare wife who would be okay with her husband going on a fishing trip on the last day of a family vacation that also happens to be her birthday. I dare say that such a wife is rare wife indeed. I am so lucky.
I had fished a little on my own during our trip so far in various Colorado streams and rivers. I hooked a few small fish, but only landed one six-inch trout. I guess my wife felt sorry for me...a little.
When we arrived in Pagosa Springs, Colorado for the last few days of our vacation, my wife suggested I get a guide for a morning of fly fishing. She and our two kids planned to sleep in and then soak in the hot springs in downtown Pagosa Springs.
I booked a guide through Ski and Bow Rack, an Orvis endorsed fly shop right in Pagosa Springs. Ski and Bow Rack offers world-class guided fishing excursions all around the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado. My guide, Dennis Davis, is an expert guide with over 30 years experience putting clients on fish and, more importantly, helping fisherman catch lots of big brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout.
Since I had all my fishing gear, I loaded into Dennis' truck the next morning and off we went to a piece of private water on the San Juan River called "The Ranch". My hopes were sky high and my nerves were jittery as we made the ten minute drive to The Ranch.
After I donned waders, I tried to put my four-piece fly rod together with trembling fingers. It wasn't that I was cold, although it was chilly 48 degrees on this morning. I was pumped up like a high school football player about to play in a State Championship game.
I told myself to settle down, but I was all thumbs stringing up my fly line up my rod. Dennis noticed my fumbling fingers. "Looks like you had a little too much coffee this morning," said Dennis. "Let me help you get rigged up."
I thankfully handed over my rod and watched with interest as Dennis put a fresh leader onto the end of my fly line. "I always like to start with a fresh leader," said Dennis. "You never know when we will hook into a five, six or even seven pound brown or rainbow on The Ranch."
This comment did the opposite of settling my nerves. I was more jumpy than ever now! I knew, just like the first hit of a football game, the only cure to my nerves was to land my first fish.
Luckily, Dennis was patient with me. His years of experience had prepared him for a ball-of-nerves fly fisherman like me. His patient, confident comments began to ease my nerves as we made the short walk to the first spot on the San Juan River.
Dennis placed a couple foam strike indicators up high on my leader. Six feet below the indicators, he crimped on a single split shot. A foot below the weight, he tied on a stonefly imitation nymph affectionately named The Turd.
The Turd is a heavy weight nymph made of orange and black chenille with six 1/2 inch long rubber legs. A foot below the Turd, Dennis tied on a bead head prince nymph in size 16 or 18. "We'll catch seven out of ten fish on the little bead head," said Dennis. "But every once in a while, a huge brown or rainbow will eat the Turd."
I had several strikes as my nymphs drifted through the first deep run. My jitters showed again as I stuck too quick and too hard to solidly hook a fish.
We moved down to a bend in the river that contains a big boulder in front a little undercut bank. Behind the boulder, next to the safety of the undercut bank, was a perfect place for a trout to feed.
On my first good drift next to the boulder, I hooked my first fish of the day, a big San Juan brown trout. I would have lost the fish had I been alone. But due to Dennis' expert netmanship, we landed the bruiser. "I was not expecting the fish to be this big or this strong," I said.
After landing the trout and taking the customary photos, we gently released the fish back into in the cold water of the river. As the fish swam away into the depths on the deep hole, I noticed my hands had stopped shaking. "Just like the first hit of a football game," I thought.
"These aren't the little stocker fish you find in downtown Pagosa Springs," stated Dennis. "These are wild trout and they are hot when you hook them. You are going to have to wear the fish out more before we can net them."
Later that morning, I tried to bring in an especially hot rainbow to the net too early. The rainbow swam right at Dennis as he held his net in the water. Instead of turning and swimming back to the depths of the river, it jumped. Not just a little jump, but a six foot leap all the way over Dennis' head and into the water behind him.
I laughed and cheered for the fish, which I lost during the jump. Dennis put his hands on his hips, shook his head in wonder and said, "In all my years of guiding and fishing, I've never seen a trout do that!"
If I was on my own, I could have very easily fished the whole ranch without a bite. Instead, I landed more than ten nice fish that morning and hooked quite a few more. I give all the credit to Dennis. He knew right where the fish were feeding and which files to use to catch them. Thanks you Dennis for making my wife's birthday special...for me!
Ski and Bow Rack is located at 354 East Pagosa Street in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. To book a guided fishing trip, call 970-264-2370 or go online to skiandbowrack.com. Don't forget to ask for Dennis Davis. Dennis will take care of the fishing, but you'll have to handle your own nerves until you that first fish.
By Steven Bridges
The Goldthwaite Eagle