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Fishing the Highway of Legends

Brian G. Angevine

            I am not much of an optimist.  There are days I decide to go fishing when I am pretty sure I will not catch anything.  The weather might be all wrong, or the rivers muddy, but I don’t really expect to catch anything.  But, still, I go.  Why?  Mainly because I like to be outside in an environment I enjoy.  That environment includes a certain amount of solitude, flowing water (hopefully clear and cold), pine trees, mountains, and trout.

            When I first bought my cabin near Weston, Colorado, I had that kind of thing in mind.  I had been looking for someplace near a trout stream and a ski area for a long time, but the prices were way out of my reach.  I finally settled on a place I could afford that was nowhere near a trout stream that I knew of and certainly no nearby ski area.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Bosque del Oso (Forest of the Bear) and the south branch of the Purgatoire River.

            The first time I drove the 25 miles to the wild area I was not impressed.  The stream was tiny, shallow, and altogether unpromising looking.  A branch wedged between rocks was literally bristling with caddis cases, though, which showed an ample food supply for trout.  The area is catch and release only, and flies and lures only.  That eliminates a whole bunch of “meat” fisher people.  I found myself completely alone on the stream.  Of course there is the annoying roar of trucks up and down the dirt road racing to drill ever more gas wells hoping to reap a profit, yet destroying the wilderness in the process.  But I have learned to almost ignore them.

            That day yielded no fish.  I was not sure how or where to fish the stream, nor what to use other than the caddis indicated by the multitude of cased larvae.  I wasn’t even sure there were any fish there.  I never saw one and was discouraged by the shallow water.  But I guess I’d have to say I’m an optimist where trout fishing is concerned.

            The next time I went back I caught several small browns.  As I got the hang of how to fish the stream I began to catch lots of fish, all of them small, all of them browns.  A friend I was trying to teach how to fly fish counted me catching and releasing 35 fish in an hour one day.  Finally as my expertise grew I landed a few 12 to thirteen inchers and even a good sized rainbow once.  How a rainbow survived in that warm, shallow water I don’t know.

            Then a devastating forest fire struck the area.  I was fishing during the fire drawing concerned looks from the firefighters driving by on the road above.  I finally quit when a bulldozer began cutting a fire line up the ridge behind me.  That is where they stopped the fire later that day.  Ash and other detritus from the fire probably killed most of the life in the stream.  When I visited a few months after the fire, there were no caddis cases, no insect life, and I saw no trout.

            Now, almost two years later, I decided to try it again.  The insects and fish are back but in fewer numbers.  But the fish I have caught are larger than any I ever caught before.  But they are also harder to catch.  Although I hate to give up my “secret” spot, I will share some of my techniques for fishing the south fork of the Purgatoire in the Bosque del Oso.

            The stream is very narrow in most spots and there is a lot of brush along most of the banks.  As a result I usually wade the center of the stream and fish upstream.  During normal water I can usually wear just shin high irrigation boots, or wading sandals and go bare legged.  In higher water nothing more than hip waders are needed.  The only problem with wading upstream is that spooked fish usually go upstream spooking other fish.

            Emerging Caddis patterns work very well, also dry Elk Hair Caddis.  Royal Coachman has landed quite a few fish along with Adams of various types.  Blue Winged Olive will work as will Pale Morning Dun.  Sizes run from 18 to twelve.  Hopper imitations do well during the heat of the day.  As usual with most streams the largest fish I have caught have been on nymphs.  Gold Ribbed Hares Ear is always good and surprisingly, for a tiny spring creek, Golden Stonefly nymphs.  The only rainbow I caught fell for the Golden Stonefly.  I haven’t had much luck with other nymphs but some fisher people might.

            Midges have always been a source of frustration for me.  I see trout taking them and try to fish them but never seem to do well, especially the nymphs.  Just my poor fishing techniques I am sure.

            One other unusual part of the fishing is that I have never caught anything before about 9:30 a.m.  I have gotten up before dawn and arrived on the river very early only to fish until 10 or so before catching anything.  I haven’t fished late since I am a little afraid of the bears and cougars that inhabit that area, plus I don’t relish the drive back home that late at night.  So far in June 2004 I have not caught anything before 11:45 a.m.  The hatches have not been starting until noon and then a lightning storm usually drives me off the river by 1:00.  But the water is high so far this year and the prospects for the future of the fishery look good if the moisture stays more steady for a few years.

            To get there take Highway 12 (The Highway of Legends) west from Trinidad or south from LaVeta.  One of the entrances to Bosque del Oso is a quarter of a mile east of Weston.  The dirt road goes south with big green signs marking the area.  The first 4 miles or so is private property, but a big sign marks the beginning of the public area.  There are about 4 miles of stream that can be reached from the road with several parking spots along the way.  Another 4 miles or so must be walked but a road still parallels the stream all the way.  Fisher folk will find many tumbling riffles and lots of corner holes where the stream runs into rock banks.  Some mud banks cause some silting, but for the most part the stream is clear.  The peace of the river and the wild area will be soothing to most souls.

            I use a four weight, full flex, 7 and a half foot rod with a double taper line.  It is perfect for such a small stream.  It has enough backbone to cast against the wind--which blows often--but is easy to handle in the tight spaces.  I miss a lot of strikes on nymphs with that rod and probably could do better with a stiffer rod for nymphing.  But I love my four weight.

            If you get bored with that stream, the main branch of the Purgatoire follows highway 12.  A few miles upstream from Weston is another entrance to Bosque del Oso with about a two mile stretch of stream to fish there.  It is also catch and release, the setting is not as pristine, but the fish are bigger.  Then there is North Lake on up the mountain on highway 12.  It is beautiful, heavily fished, and has a lot of nice trout.  You can keep some there, but no bait is allowed.  Monument Lake is a fee area that is also heavily fished.

            In all I am quite pleased with southern Colorado fishing east of the Rockies.  It is far better than I expected and very much uncrowded.  Enjoy!

 

--1335 words

Brian G. Angevine

204 Brandon

Cuba, KS 66940

913-961-3823

brianangevine@mac.com

 

20212 Deer Path Circle

PO Box 117

Weston, CO 81091