Colorado 2019: Part 3 (IPWA – Day 1)

Refreshed following our pit stop in South Park (Fairplay, CO), we were back on the road. With the afternoon passing quickly and three hours of highway between us and our destination, we limited our detours stopping only briefly at the Colorado Angler in Silverthorne.

Our route paralleled some of the regions finest waters. First the Blue,where I had landed that Rainbow in 2018, and then the famed Colorado as we swung east on US-40 near Kremmling. Both are Gold Medal streams and both served as constant temptation. But with evening approaching, we stuck to our plan and made it to the shores of Lake Granby shortly before dusk.

Having finally acquired the appropriate fuel during our stop in South Park, we enjoyed a hot meal and began preparations for the next day.

We were greeted by unexpected chill as we rose the next morning, and I instantly regretted packing a lightweight sleeping bag to save space. Though average August low rarely dipped below 50 F in Granby, the thermometer in the truck registered 38 F that morning. While Jake seemed largely unphased, it was clear two decades of southern winters had thinned my blood.

Lacking whiskey to warm me (and preferring to keep my wits about me in Mountain Lion country), I settled for tea and oatmeal before we hit the road. Today would be our first venture into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, and I wasn’t about to let the cold slow me for too long.

On the road between seven and eight, the Monarch Lake trailhead was a mere five-minute drive. Our goal was not to fish the lake, however, and we endured an additional 30+ minute hike to the IPWA boundary.

From there, it was a matter of finding water. Multiple streams flowed from the elevations above back towards the lake, and we entered the day with the intention of fishing a specific one. We quickly lost the trail, however, as we began wading and neither of us is truly certain which stream we spent the day on.

Regardless of stream name, the small mountain fish proved eager to try our offerings.

Though no insects were hatching, I tied on a #14 snowshoe hare yellow sally pattern left over from a spring visit to the Smokies and began the day prospecting a small pool overhung by dense vegetation. Within moments I was on the board, landing my first brook trout of the trip and a small rainbow on back-to-back casts before donating my fly to the overhanging vegetation.

Jake followed suit a few pools later and for the next mile or so we proceeded to alternate pools and runs taking at least one or two small trout from each.

As the grade steepened, however, the stream transitioned to a series of plunge pools. And while we prospected each with dry dropper rigs, the majority of the next few hours was spent rock hopping and bushwhacking as neither Jake nor I could relocate the trail.

Eventually, the grade lessened once again and stretches of the stream began to take on a meadow appearance. To our excitement, fish were rising to larger mayflies drifting along the surface. As we broke for lunch, I swapped my dry dropper rig for a Wulff-style Gray Drake mimic.

Unfortunately, our break was short-lived as both Jake and I realized that we failed to pack lunch before leaving camp.

Powering on, in spite of the lack of food, we began alternating pools again in hopes of reaching the point where brook trout would give way to Colorado Cutthroat. Unfortunately, we never reached that point as brookies remained the predominant fish over the next few hours.

It’s hard to complain about constant action and beautiful mountain fish, but eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that Colorado Cutthroat simply weren’t in the cards. With significant bushwhacking between us and the last spot we encountered a trail, we decided it was time to call it a day.

Fishing our way back downstream, we continued to add to our tally of brook trout, but primarily concentrated on safely making the decent through the boulders.

In time, we did just that. Reconnecting with our original trail just above Monarch Lake after a brief detour to relocate a section of fly rod Jake had lost while bushwhacking.

Pausing one last time to fish a pool with readily rising fish just above the lake, Jake managed the first brown of the day. As I rigged up on the opposite shore, I heard a loud crash and glanced up to see Jake swapping shorelines with agility I certainly lack. He had startled a bedding moose (our first of the trip), and we decided it might be time to call it a day. A quick picture of monarch lake on our way out, and it was off to the car.

Back at the car by seven, I checked the step counter on my phone. We had traversed nine-plus miles of stream on the day. Hungry and exhausted, we headed for camp and called it a night. The next day’s planned hike would be significantly more strenuous, and I needed some sleep.

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