Probably about two years ago now I read an article in Fly Fisherman magazine about fishing the alpine lakes of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area in Colorado. The article outlined beautiful lakes over two miles in elevation with cruising brook and cutthroat trout eager to take a well placed fly. I was immediately sold on the idea of joining the “Two Mile High Club” and the area made my bucket list, where it would stay until this summer, when I drug my mom up the front range to chase words on a page.
Unfortunately Indian Peaks turned out to be little more than a couple days of hiking with fly rods in our backpacks. After twelve miles of rocky trails, several breathtaking views, but only two little trout the article felt more like a fictional tale than an actual magazine article. It was in, Frank Costanza's words, “ahhhhhh……...disappointing”. But all was not lost, after all, Colorado is covered in world class trout water.
Our lucky break came from Scott Spooner, a friend and famed Clinton,
Missouri native who manages one of the largest, if not the largest, fly fishing outfitters in the west; Taylor Creek Fly Shops. He recommended we make the two mile 1200 foot climb to a couple of lakes (which will remain nameless for the sake of pure greed) near Basalt, Colorado. The lakes were both two miles above sea level and the reports were promising.
We were forced to rise at 5:30 to beat the mid afternoon thunderheads that bring rain and dangerous lightning to the Colorado high country in the afternoon. That may not sound bad to some but for a college aged fishing bum that’s pure torture. Waking up and going to bed without a shrill beeping is what I live for. I can barely make eight a.m. chemistry some days. Of course on the other hand mom gets up at five daily for reasons she can’t even explain. The gravel road to the trailhead was also conveniently bumpy enough to keep me awake the entire hour twenty it took to reach the end.
The wide spot in the road which doubled as a parking lot was empty other than a strong climber in his fifties who was getting ready to summit a nearby peak. He had the upper body strength of a guerrilla and was stretching vigorously which I hadn’t even thought about doing. Then again I’m still in that stage of my life where I could just sit in a room eating saltines for a month and still probably run a mile in under seven minutes.
We hoisted on our backpacks and each strapped on a canister of bear spray that looked more like a small fire extinguisher. Although I wasn’t to worried about bears with the climber blazing the trail, considering he looked like the type of guy that could easily take down a mother bear and three cubs if needed. The trail itself was a winding, boulder covered path that looked more like a creek bed than a trail in most places. One wrong step would break even a strong ankle so we took our time and arrived at the upper lake in a little over an hour.
The water was calm and the rings from rising trout were everywhere. Solid brooks were patrolling the shallows near the bank for anything remotely food like. I started by fishing a beaded scud and mom tied on a tungsten headed olive wooly bugger. The stalking and sight fishing reminded me of the carp I chase back home but instead of standing by a muddy ditch I was fishing in scenery worthy of a postcard. Not to mention the vibrant colors of high altitude brook trout have a little something on a carp’s dull golden armor.
The short window of opportunity for these trout to feed results in fish so aggressive you truly must experience it to understand. We had fish racing each other to inhale our flies, and they only got bigger and bolder as we worked our way around the lake. Tungsten headed streamers of any shape and color caught the majority of our fish but I’m sure a variety of flies would have worked well. The brooks had big mouths, stunning colors, and appetites that would make any fisherman giddy. In just a few hours we’d caught more than our fair share of fish and had solidy carved our names into the “Two Mile High Club” members list, book, or whatever.
Those little lakes are on a short list of my favorite places to fish and I can’t wait for the opportunity to crawl up the rocks to them again. The solitude, views, and fishing all come together in ways that some places can’t, no matter how good the fishing is or how pretty a picture it makes. This probably all sounds a little fluffed up and over written, and it probably is, after all these are just words on a page, but then again at some point, words are worth chasing.