This past Thursday, I took a day off of work to assist Colorado Parks and Wildlife in stocking hundreds of baby Rio Grande cutthroat trout into watersheds around the San Luis Valley. My assignment was a remote and rugged small watershed near the Conejos River called Sheep Creek. So with the help of 2/3 of my terrier pack (the third was in Denver getting a haircut) and a couple of retired homeowners who knew the area, we loaded my 105 liter Osprey with 2 bags filled with trout fry and pointed south.
On our hike over to the creek, we stumbled across a herd of about 60 elk and watched for 10 minutes or so as they crossed over the drainage, regrouped, and then headed out over the ridgeline. Eddie Vedder gave a menacing (but just soft enough so that only I could hear it and be impressed) growl to let them know what he would've done to them had they stuck around...
On arriving at the overgrown creek, it was immediately clear that it was already inhabited by a robust population of cutthroat trout, and a single bow and arrow cast with my trusty 7-foot-3-weight produced a nice 10-inch cutthroat. Nevertheless, our assignment was to release this next generation of trout into the wild. I identified a couple of pools that did not appear to have any sharks in them, allowed the temperature in the bags to slowly equilibrate to the temperature of the creek, and released the Rio Grande cutties.
An though I would've loved to stick around and fish for a while, with the rest of the family waiting for us in Westcliffe, we began the slow trek back to the truck. After a sweltering hike out, during which we walked through an aspen grove that had ample evidence of recently housing the herd of elk, we arrived and began the drive home.
The dogs were completely spent, a tired that only a wilderness adventure on 4-inch long legs can deliver.
It was a good day.
I've been wanting to do the Comanche / Venable Loop for a while, and it certainly was all that I had hoped it would be.
There was very little running on the way up the Comanche Trail due to it's relentless grade (and my advancing age), but moving slowly allowed us to take in the incredible views along the way. It was windy as hell at Comanche Lake, which made fishing a challenge, but there were a ton of cutthroat cruising the northern shoreline and I was able to pick up one (~13 inches) with a size 12 stimulator.
From Comanche Lake, we began the steep uphill climb to Comanche Pass, which sits somewhere around 13,000 feet. It has been a while since I have been at 13,000 feet, which may explain the brief period of light-headedness and tunnel vision... Following a nice a cruiser of a run from Comanche Pass over to the top of the Phantom Terrace (on the SLV side of the mountains), we descended across Phantom Terrace to the perched Venable Lakes. While a little bit sketchy (pucker factor 4/10), I never felt at any real risk of plummeting to my demise, though I can imagine that the risk level goes up in weather or during melt out...
On the descent, I had the unlikely but pleasant surprise of running into longtime Flyathlete Katie Burgert who was hiking / fishing the loop in the opposite direction with some friends. They had just left lower Venable Lake, where they reported that they had crushed a bunch of cutthroat using the same size 12 stimulator, which fortunately remained rigged up on my rod...
Lower Venable Lake was as advertised, with 4 identical 10 inch cutthroat trout landed in a dozen or so casts. Plenty of casting room, eager fish, I would highly recommend this lake to anyone who is learning to fly fish and wants to be successful. The one caveat is that it is pretty exposed up there, so if weather rolls in, I'd be prepared to descend quickly into the Venable Valley.
With clouds beginning to build, we decided to bail out and head towards home. The descent was punctuated by a whole lot of sloppy running (tired legs and jagged rocks), a side diversion to Venable Falls, and finished off with an iconic breakfast stout from Founders Brewing.
An outstanding way to start my Socially Distanced Flyathlon Challenge summer...
As those of you who have participated in past Flyathlons know, before every event, we sacrifice a shitty-mass-produced-domestic-beer to the craft beer gods.
This year, there was one beer that was the runaway winner when cruising the swill aisle in the liquor store...
And now that we have spilled your low calorie and refreshing 4.6% ABV blood in the woods, let the Socially Distanced Flyathlon Challenge officially begin.
run. fish. beer. six feet apart.