Fish On!

One of my favorite things about the summer is our ladies’ annual fly fishing trip. Laura, Holly, and I have gone both years, with Holly’s friend Emily joining last year and Laura’s friend Mango joining this year.

Up until the night before, we were fishing the Poudre again, and Laura and I were debating how to swing our van camping trip.

“We can take the van up and camp near Fort Collins,” she said, “so we can get one night in the van.”

I was in the middle of confirming with Blair and Holly that we could park the van in their parking lot, when Holly called to say that the guides had called and suggested we fish Rocky Mountain National Park instead because the Poudre was too high.

Laura and I figured we’d camp at Grand Lake if that was possible, but we’d sort it in the morning.

We got up at 6am and drove to Estes Park, a 1-hour drive that was longer due to a major road collapse that we had to detour. There, we met our guides – Evan, who was with us last year and with me when I caught the 15-inch, and Audra, married to Jay who was with us last year.

“You gonna pull up another hog this year?” Evan asked me. No pressure, right?

We signed some waivers, then caravanned into RMNP. Audra took Holly and me one way,  and Evan took Mango and Laura another. It didn’t matter where we went, because the river ran through stunning back country surrounded by snow-capped peaks with high grass and a quick wind.

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Holly, casting like a pro

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What an awesome place to fish.

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Holly and I en route back for lunch.

Holly and I waded in and cast all morning with no luck. Holly eventually caught something, but I caught nothing. Still, I marvel at the fact that I can still cast and mend when I only fish once a year. I’ll take that, if that’s all I get.

A quick pause here just to plug LiarFlies, the guiding company we use. They are phenomenal. Evan is humorous, friendly, and professional. Audra was the same. Every time one of us had a bite and lost it, she’d laugh at us and exclaim, “Oh man! You lost that one! He came all the way up out of the water and you lost him!”

I know, that sounds mean, but it wasn’t. She’d show us exactly where to aim, stick around while we fished the area, then guide us in a different direction, retie our flies, change our flies based on what was in the area, and encourage us. But her humor helped lighten the mood. Evan is the same way.

“He’s all about the idea that the fish shouldn’t see you,” Laura said. “So he had me standing behind a bush and casting around it. It was really tough, but a few casts in, I caught the biggest fish I got all day.”

Both of them were wary about holding our rods because they didn’t want to catch any fish.

“I talked with a guy who went out with a guide,” Evan told me, “and he said, ‘I caught one, but my guide caught seven.’ And that’s not right.”

Part of the thrill of our fishing trip is knowing we have knowledgable, fun guides to make the day fun and educational. I learned about mending up and downriver, and when to do both, which is something I did not know how to do before. Audra also helped me with my back cast, which is painful.

But, after lunch, that’s how I caught my first fish. On a back cast.

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This little guy!

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Oh hayyy

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An even littler guy!

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Holly high-sticking it as the storm comes in.

We had two storms, one around lunch time, and one at the end of the day. We’d all caught something by then, with Mango emerging the victor this year with multiple catches, including a rare rainbow.

Holly, Audra, and I ran out of the storm to the car and passed a man in the parking lot who was pointing at the hill beside us.

“Just saw a mama bear and her cub up there looking for shelter!” he said.

I hoped to see them, too, but we couldn’t see much, sitting in the car as the rain and hail pounded down. Evan, Laura, and Mango made it back shortly after, drenched but happy.

The thing about fly fishing is, if you don’t catch anything, you still win, because you’ve spent the whole day standing in a river in the middle of nature. I’d wade in up to my waist and feel the power of the current and the cool temperature against my waders, and the rocks and mud under my boots, and I’d feel overjoyed. At one point, Audra was instructing me from the bank, when she turned to see some kind of deer dart out of the bush behind her. It was huge.

The only downside is the sunburn you get on your casting hand. We all had a red patch when we met at the cars to part ways. Laura and I were heading to Grand Lake, so we drove the van through RMNP on fumes, hoping we didn’t run out of gas.

“We saw lots of moose here last year,” Laura told me optimistically.

We saw zero moose. That should be the hashtag of my western trips this year. #NOMOOSE

In Grand Lake, we found a campground called Elk Creek that seemed our best bet. We didn’t need a hook-up for the van, just a tent site, and we wanted to be close to town so we could grab post-fishing dinner. I ran into the campsite just behind a man who was checking in.

“I’m so glad you have a reservation,” said the attendant, which made me nervous. An older man sidled over to the counter and smiled at me.

“Hi,” he said. He didn’t say anything else.

“Hi…do you work here? Do you have any sites available for a VW Van? We don’t need anything but a place to park.”

He did. A tent site, right by the lake beside the teepee, for $30.

“But if you want to go the cheaper route, you can drive up the road a ways and do dispersed in the forest.”

Laura and I both agreed that he was nice for suggesting something besides his own site, but we paid the $30. As we did, the man said to the clerk, “OK, it’s time to change to NO VACANCY.”

This is the luck that Laura and I seem to carry on our trips. I don’t mean to brag. I am as unlucky as they come in so many ways. But every time Laura and I do a van trip, we end up OK. We plan by the seat of our pants, and wind up someplace marvelous, whether it’s a bluegrass festival where someone has left 2 tickets for free or an empty space in the Tetons. I think Laura has put some amazing karma out into the universe.

We celebrated our fishing trip with beers and more burgers at Squeaky B’s in town, before parking back at the campsite and falling asleep easily. Cool weather, quiet, and lake side breeze. What more could you ask for?

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Fun trick: If you don’t have a glamor filter, just don’t clean your camera lens and you’ll look all blurry.

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Fishing crew

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